All posts by jlbhogal

‘Tis the Season to be Writing

This is it, my final blog post for this semester. Can you believe it? 2021 really flew by huh? And as much as the workload this semester was somewhat exhausting, this semester went by quick as well. I wanted to give a shoutout to a few of my classmates: @TomRolston, @AmberGently, @HugoGatica and @KelseyCarter. Congrats to you guys for graduating this semester! I am sure awesome things await you and most importantly, now you don’t have to study anymore!!! *hopefully* 🙂 But I am definitely looking forward to next semester, although senioritis is really kicking in with me now itself.

As the winter break approaches, I have to make plans about how my thesis will go in terms of the amount of writing that will be done. According to my outline of progression, I have approximately 24 chapters that will be in this book, excluding the introduction and prologue of course. However, as I was writing and finishing up chapter six yesterday, I realized I wanted to break up one chapter into two. So, I expect this to happen more often which is why I am giving myself a leeway total of 30. In addition to that, my intention is to finish up my story by the beginning of the Spring break. And yes, it seems really ambitious but it’s possible. I have done it before, and I would like to repeat that again. The reason being, I know there will a lot of editing and revision needed because right now I am just throwing out ideas as I am writing. If it can be, I would like the Spring 2022 semester to be my “Editing and Revising” semester instead of writing.

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Because my work for my other classes has been done for the past two to three weeks, I am able to dedicate my time to my thesis for at least thirty minutes to one hour everyday. I hope that continues, I will try to make it continue. If I can have everything ready to go by January 21st the latest, that would be perfect. Sometimes our goals aren’t met, so I am not tying myself down to meeting this by the specific date. If it happens, awesome! If it doesn’t, no worries. I am just going with the flow right now. I guess with this being my last year of studying, my “super-good let’s-overwork-myself this-has-to-be-done” part of me is burned out. I don’t blame her, I am surprised it didn’t happen sooner. But I just want everything to go smoothly, especially in-person next semester. Hopefully it does…but Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year in advance! May 2022 be a prosperous, healthy and safe year for everyone. See you next year in January (who knows…maybe with my thesis done!)

Baby, It’s Cold Outside!

As we are entering the holiday season, there are so many things I love thinking about. Hot chocolate, getting the house decorated for Christmas, the smell of street-cart gyros in the brisk cold air of NYC, watching Sound of Music (every year <3) and the most important and probably the most relaxing: the end of the semester. This semester has been a lot on all of us for so many reasons. Going from virtual to in-person wasn’t hard for me at all though, it was so good to be back on campus and interact with people with facial expressions and not emojis or Zoom reactions. However, work wise, it was a lot. This year really feels like the last year of graduate school, but to think that I am halfway through my last year, it brings about mixed emotions for sure.

I am really excited, because no more studying (I intend not) after May of next year. I can finally start looking for a full-time teaching position and start working. Enough of studying and having my face buried in books. My burnout time is on the brink. One thing is for sure, is that as exhausting as it was, this semester went by really quickly. For that matter, this whole year zipped by. The other day on NBC, meteorologist Janice Huff was discussing that there are only 40 days left for 2022! Woah, when did that happen? The speed of this year was the exact opposite of last year’s time duration. Only 365 days for both, but it definitely didn’t feel like it.

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I am also nervous and concerned about the semester. It’s the final leg, what else would I feel? Will I get a job secured before I graduate, just like I would like? Would my thesis be something I am happy about, and satisfied with? Will we get to graduate in the NJPAC, just like the way it was supposed to be done for graduate students till COVID hit? Uggghhh, so many things to worry about…but also so many things to be grateful for. Despite all the global health hurdles (and other things that so nicely accompanied it…), I was still able to make it this far. The professors, the peers, the support system from my close friends and family, it’s teamwork. And in just three more weeks, my thesis will be worked on everyday to be ready for the spring, and I will be able to (or least attempt to) mentally, professionally, academically and emotionally prepare myself for the coming semester in this scarf-wearing, glove-warming, nose-reddening season. Be warm out there guys! Baby, it’s cold outside!

Almost There

As we come to a near close of the semester, there’s not really much for me to say. I am still trying to figure out what emotions and details will be realistic for a character that has absolutely nothing in common with me. It’s easier to write about fictional characters that are related to you in some way. But I am a writer, and these challenges are not to run away from, but to face head on. I can definitely say that I am excited for all of my peers for their completed theses. Everyone is doing something completely different and unique, but all contributing to an important field in some way or another.

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In less than a month, I will finally be halfway through my last year of graduate school. A lot of feelings running through me, but excitement is one of them. Next semester is all about working as much as I can (without going crazy), finishing up my thesis and looking for a job (which I hope to secure before I graduate, but let’s see). There’s so much uncertainty paired with certainty next year. But one thing is for sure: 2021 flew by like anything. Compared to a dragging and slow 2020, this year was full of things that had lacked in last year’s span of time. Anyways though, just writing and getting all my ideas and I what I assume to be a realistic flow of the story. I intend to have at least 50-75% of my story done by the time the second and final semester starts, but let’s see if it goes as planned. Taking it patiently, not being too hard on myself, using the compass of time, creativity and writing to take me where I want to be. And despite the extremely packed and hectic schedule the past month, I am still almost there.

My Head in the Game

I am happy to say that after complaining for three weeks in my blogs, I am no longer going to do that! Undoubtedly, the past month was crazy, with my schedule being so busy and having so much work to do for my Tuesday class. It’s a fun and interesting class, and the work wasn’t hard, it was just a lot. But two days ago, I finally finished and submitted all my assignments for all of my classes for the remainder of the semester. It was such a huge relief but at the same time, I was extremely burnt out. My exhausting was more than usual, and I had a presentation that day in class too. But luckily, my it got postponed till next week. Some annoyance, but it was also a blessing in disguise.

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Now that everything else is out of the way, my focus is only on my thesis and lit review. The story is starting to come together, especially since I was able to outline my sequence of events yesterday during thesis. I had it in my mind, an idea of it at least, but it was all jumbled up. Having a visual to hep me gave a lot of clarity and cohesiveness on how the story is going to develop. It’s an ambitious project I have to admit, and even at this point I sometimes wonder if I should change my project to a different story line or something else altogether. But I prefer not to quit something I started, unless that choice is my last resort. I can only hope it will all be done in time to graduate (I mean, it has to be…no pressure) but it’s just that so much character development is supposed to take place and even though I have published two novels and a short story, this is definitely going to be a big challenge for me.

The success of this story and the satisfaction I will have (or hope to have) by the end of this novel is a feeling I am not too sure I will achieve. And from now to the end of the semester seems a decent amount of time, but it’s not. It will fly by and before I know it, we will be completing our last semester of Masters and looking/applying for teaching jobs. It’s crazy to think…this is it. But there’s no point brooding over the past and worrying about the future. Because that just ruins the present, and that’s a waste. So focus, act, write, and have my head in the game.

Nothing is Constant but Change

First off, I want to begin by mentioning how happy I am that everyone liked my presentation so much, especially Dr. Zamora. After the past week, I am glad that it was an interesting and well-received presentation to resume our class with. The feedback on the different POV’s confused me but also helped me. It actually made me go back to where I started (in terms of ideas), which was writing my story between both third person and first person. I had written both my books in this format, and felt it really worked. But I was skeptical of using the same method for this story. However, being restricted to only first person will limit a lot of the drama that can and will be ensued in this story. On the other hand, keeping to third person will prevent any intimacy and relatability between my characters and the reader. So either way, there will be something lacking. Hopefully with this change of using both perspectives simultaneously, I can emphasize the emotional and general characteristics of the story.

Honestly speaking though, I haven’t been able to touch my thesis for the past two weeks. My other classes have consumed my time, especially because I have a presentation every class this month for one of my classes. Like I mentioned last time, this course (with the heavy workload) is very demanding and requires attention to detail since my professor is strict on tiny elements being missed out on. And because group work affects my grade (which I don’t think is fair), I have to make sure that besides me doing my best, my group mates are on the same track as well. One mess up from one person will hurt all of us; unfortunate but true. But my goal is to finish all my work by the middle of this month. This way, I don’t have to worry about any other class and I can give the remainder of my time to my thesis, dedicatedly. Having that one hour in class to write is the best, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. I started rewriting what I had already written in the flip-flop perspectives within the chapter and it seems to me the flow is better. I am already starting to feel I can do more with this, so my worry level is decreasing. I just really hope I can pull this off because I can envision how I want it to be but I am not sure if it’s realistic…whatever it may be though, doing what I have to will help me reach there one day. And along the way, there will be things in my story that might or might not be altered or modified. After all, nothing in life is constant, but change.

Above Water

To be honest, I haven’t gotten any thesis work done this past week. As per my previous blogs, my homework load is extensive. It’s been a while since I have been so overwhelmed with work. I have to say…this year definitely feels like my last year of graduate school. Having two days off from class did help me somewhat. I was able to get ahead of my schedule and it’s making me feel relieved for the most part. But there’s still a lot that has to be done. Every semester feels this way though. It starts off slow, then suddenly starts overflowing, and then slowly stops, marking the end of the semester.

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Unfortunately, I had to even cancel my two days of work, one for this month and one for next. And I felt bad, because I miss teaching children so much. It was for a 1st grade class and I knew some of my former students from last year would have been in that class since they were in Kindergarten when I taught them. I would like to finish all my assignments for the remainder of the semester soon so that I can schedule to work again. So, because no progress has been made outside of class, there’s not much for me to say. I would hope that by next Wednesday, more would be done (at least compared to this week) and I have everything ready for my presentation for next class. I hope you all enjoy it next week! But for now, let me just try to keep my head from spinning and most of all, above water.

Slow But Steady

I truly wish I was a little further into my story, but I will take what I can get. With assignments still bombarding me from all angles, it’s hard to get a decent amount of time out to focus on my thesis. Having some dedicated research/writing time during our Wednesday night class is honestly more than a life-saver, it’s a thesis-saver. That’s the only time throughout the week that I can get so much done. And with my thesis being a novel, there’s a lot that has to be done.

In terms of research, I am satisfied with how much is done. I was able to loan two books from the library and even returned it, since I received whatever information I was looking for. Diana told me about an interesting show that came up in conversation with her extended family, it’s called “My Unorthodox Life” on Netflix. It’s a reality show about a young orthodox Jewish woman who left her community and married a man outside of her culture. It’s just like my story, except she doesn’t get kicked out of her house by her mother and is on the streets pregnant…or maybe she was? The difference is there, but I would need to see the show to learn more. I have started looking at some documentary videos on YouTube of testimonials from ex-members of the Hasidic Jewish community, as well as interviews of people who are currently practicing and sharing what is expected of them in terms of love and marriage. In all honesty, that’s all my research is going to entail for now, especially in terms of in-depth research. If anything comes up along the way, I will definitely include in. But I have a good amount of background knowledge of the orthodox Jewish community, and as long as Sarah can show herself to be a flawed, doubtful and confused human being, I have nothing to worry about.

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I am also a little nervous about next week, since I will be presenting. Everyone seems to have so many expectations from me in terms of the topic, presentation and my writing skills. Disclaimer: even though I wrote and published 2 novels and 1 short story, my writing has a long way to go. So, I am just letting you guys know in advance. I don’t want to disappoint with my project and goals, but I also don’t intend on being too ambitious about the story. I am only biting off what I can chew…well, maybe a little more than I could comfortably eat. My mouth is stuffed, but I can talk without the crumbs falling out. Whatever it is, by now, I am more contented than what I was before. Not getting as much done as I would like, but I know I am not the only one on this boat. But it’s better to be the hare than the tortoise. I wouldn’t want to race with it and not get anywhere in the end, or even feel disappointed in my work. I will take my time, feel sure about it, and ultimately, be grateful and proud of what I produced. Just like that, slow but steady.

A Piece of Cake in the Storm

I don’t feel like there’s much for me to write this week. The story is working as it’s going along, even though I haven’t gotten much done. Having a segment of time in class designated for writing our thesis will be such a great help. I am not even working full-time, but one of my other classes is very demanding in terms of its work and there’s always some presentation due. It’s not allowing me to give the time I want to give to it. And it somewhat disappoints me because I know I can do so much better. But I guess that’s what makes the thesis journey so interesting. Last year, when I started graduate school online, I really felt like it was a piece of cake. Okay, well maybe not so much a piece of cake, but easy to handle. And why? Because honestly speaking, I used to get all my homework done well in advance as a result of working on it during class :/ I know that’s not really the best thing to do, but believe me, I was multitasking. If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t have been able to participate in conversations the way I had. But this year, I really feel like I am completing my last year of education. It feels like it’s so much. All these assignments just coming at me left and right and now I have to make time to complete it, separate from having class. No complaints though, I would rather be on campus than have online classes.

Each week, it seems more and more obvious that it’s not just me who feels weird about living this new normal. All ages, all professions are experiencing the same thing. But why? Personally, I feel because everyone has basically peaked their tolerance of mental exhaustion. Although we were living like this for many years, that kind of lifestyle was normal. No masks, no fear and most of all, no CO-VID. But when life changed in March 2020, nobody was really relaxing at home. Being in a lockdown was mental and emotional stress. No one could step out freely or meet someone without worrying about either dying themselves or being the cause for someone else’s death. It wasn’t a vacation. Then, after a year and a half of living life on the edge, vaccines helped people attempt to start living life normally. Socializing, meeting friends, going to college, working, etc. Most people thought going back in time would be relaxing, but even that didn’t work. Having to adapt to another new normal before adapting to the previous new normal left no time for this unfamiliar way of living to sink in. Result? Rage, frustration, the need to detox and the temptation to explode. Everyone has just been pushing themselves to the limit. A human’s ability to feel, think and do so much is finite. We will break eventually if it is not realized and confronted. So it’s okay, just take a step back and breathe. If we made it this far, with time, maybe we will get back to our lives pre-COVID. Although I myself don’t know what that felt like anymore.

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In terms of my thesis, like I started off with, things are going okay. Not great, not bad but decent. I have actually been at a block because I have been debating whether or not to change the POV in my story. I had originally started with third person because I was intending on telling the story by sharing what Sarah, Ehsan and Jacob were going to go through. But Maura had suggested that as a reader, she would rather like to read a story from first person perspective and find out things as the character is finding out, especially with this type of story. I was in a dilemma; it might not sound that serious, but believe me, for a writer, it definitely is. So, I started writing first person side-by-side of whatever I had written so far in third person. I read both to myself and felt in my opinion, that first person was the winner. You will understand more when I share this with you all during my presentation in a couple of weeks. I am handwriting my story right now, not typing. Because I feel for me personally, there’s more of a flow and less writers block when I write by hand. Once I have a good amount done, I will start typing it. For the most part, the I was stirring up a storm for me. Should I write from the “I” perspective or someone else? Changing it to first person now would even add more meaning to my title. Isaac (the son) will not be the only I of the storm…it will be the “I” in the story itself, the POV it’s being told from. It’s her storm, her life, and her “I” that started the story in the first place. Whatever it is, I should try to remember how it feels to do something as if it’s a piece of cake and lessen my worry, while deciding what storm to brew for Sarah.

Hmmm it’s funny. I started off saying there’s not much for me to write about, but I still wrote 3 paragraphs. I didn’t lie though, it was just an assumption 🙂

Wright, Write, Right

Some form of progress is being made, I won’t deny. For this week, I was able to successfully engage in conversation two key faculty members on Kean campus: Dr. Adara Goldberg and Dr. Dennis Klein. Dr. Goldberg is currently the director of the Holocaust Resource Center, while Dr. Klein is the director of the Jewish Studies program. Per Dr. Zamora’s suggestions, I reached out to them with my proposed thesis idea and they were intrigued to learn more about my characters and the development they will be experiencing in the story. I didn’t share each and every detail with them as I didn’t know what their reactions might be. But after getting some interesting information that pertains to changing the setting in my story (with a realistic purpose, that is), I realized my time to become the wright of this story is starting to become obvious.

With the story starting to take some shape, my ideas are eager to come on paper. I know exactly what I want the flow to be, but to be able to be written down cohesively and make sense and stay compelling is my biggest challenge. With my experience of watching romantic Bollywood, Hollywood, Turkish, etc. movies and shows, I should be able to go back into my mental files and figure out how to pull everything together and make it seem real. But there’s no guarantee. The other factor is that the past two novels I wrote and published were similar to my own personal experiences. The first book was so, but the sequel was a fictionalized world that build upon reality. When I wrote “Kosher” though back in my second year of undergrad, I didn’t think I would be so happy with it. Where those ideas came from, I have no idea. But when I read it, especially the closing, all I think to myself, is “Woah, I wrote that?” and I really wish that “woah” factor comes back to me now.

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As I am entering into my second chapter and trying to figure out all the nitty gritties of the story that are small but serious, I have decided to a few things about my characters in terms of their value system and beliefs. Sarah, although raised in a orthodox Jewish society, will become a secular woman especially since she moves to NYC to join an organization called Footsteps. Where else would a person need to go if they want to be independent and cut off from their past if not NYC? She will believe in God yes, but not under the umbrella of any religion. The fundamentals of her upbringing and her mother’s reaction to her pregnancy outside of wedlock from Ehsan will be her justification for wanting to live life on her own terms. Ehsan will be someone who moves away from studying medical and decides to pursue his passion for music, causing a strain between him and his family. His personal decisions will bring him to NYC as well, hence the music teacher in Isaac’s school. And Jacob.

Jacob has never been mentioned before, but he is Sarah’s ex-fiancée. A lot of history right? Sarah had been engaged to a family friend, who had liked her since they were children. But her purpose was to leave kosher living, not dive further into it. Interestingly though, he was the one helping to finance her college studies because he supported her in studying and wanting to be educated, unlike her parents. So, when Jacob finds out she is pregnant at the end of “Kosher”, he decides to leave her. Not only because he finds it hard to accept someone else’s baby, but also because he realized he would never have her heart. Fast forward to my story, four years after she has Isaac, I plan to include that her mother and father miss her and desperately need to know where she has gone. Yes, four years is a long time, but their ego stopped them. I have seen Indian stories where parents only considered finding out whereabouts after a decade, so four years is pretty okay. Jacob will be the one who sets out to find her, and so all of her past will come back at the same time. When it pours, it rains. And there’s a lot for me to pour in this story, so let’s see. As a wright, I just have to keep writing and hope that somewhere along the line, it will all seem to be right.

2+2=4

There are a lot of thoughts running through my mind after last night’s thesis class. First, it’s crazy to think 1 month of grad school has already been completed. Went by way faster than I thought it would. But besides that, I have been reminded time and time again about how important accurate research is going to be for my story to be valid and realistic. Two blogs ago, I had mentioned that I am not familiar enough with the Jewish culture to revolve a whole character around that background. Interestingly enough, I was told yesterday that my story (like other forbidden love concepts) are not focusing only only two characters but four: the additional two are the communities that each character comes from. I decided to break my bias and take this thesis research as an opportunity to learn more about a culture that was never easily accessible to me all these years. Not only have I reached out to some people on campus for a meeting, but I have asked for some books, researched articles and have found documentaries on YouTube that discuss orthodox Jewish culture in depth.

My uncle too (my mom’s brother) was married to a Jewish woman and has lived among them all his life, even to this day. I intend on asking him about his experiences with them, especially since it will be a different outlook. And who knows? I might even transform all his stories into his very own character into my book…(that I haven’t decided yet.) However, although I being told constantly about getting my research accurate, my character Sarah, is not going to be a practicing orthodox Jew when my story starts. The prequel was all about her wanting to break free from the kosher lifestyle that she had been brought up it. Not that it was a suffocating way to live, it just didn’t suit her. And growing up in California, one of the most diverse states in the U.S., exposure to so much more had kindled that fire to live differently. I do plan to make her move to N.J., just because it will be easier for me to make the characters adapt to the setting they are in but it’s still tentative.

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The only reason the research will be necessary is so that I can mention the two communities who will be the instigating factors in the story. It won’t be that easy for her to leave her community, and her past will haunt her. Maybe that will make for an interesting progression. I was thinking to make it easy for her and Ehsan, but Sarah won’t be able to get away with it so easily. Bringing her ex-fiancée back into the picture can be dramatic and in a way, fit the mold of forbidden love, similar to the Netflix film “Unorthodox.” There’s always got to be the ex-lover coming back when you don’t want them to. So, Sarah is basically not a practicing Jew anymore and the research is not needed for her. It will only be needed when her former identity comes back to create problems.

I have also decided to take out the element of Catholicism. No Catholic women’s hostel, no Catholic school. There’s already a relationship between two other religions, and adding a third will make it too chaotic. It will kind of be the literary representation of “Too many cooks spoil the broth.” In this case, too many religions spoil the story. It will be a neutral hostel and a public school. It will be a balance of religious and secular, giving the realistic exemplification of modern-day life. 2+2=4: Chapter 1 is well underway, so let’s see how the math works for this story…