Duke of Words

one woman's love affair with life and the english language

It is no one else’s responsibility to make you feel better about yourself.

You won’t hear this in an MA

You know what I’m discovering about an MA program in Creative Writing? You don’t need it. Better me finding this out than you. I may have known it going into it, but the call to adventure, traveling to another country, and stepping back into the critical eyes of the classroom was too great. Okay, I’ll be honest, I really just wanted to jump ship to England again. But you know what I’m discovering in this classroom? Much of what I already knew. Craft a self-contained piece of narrative in 20 minutes? Sure! Forget about the first draft, it gets better the more you hammer it out. Of course! Here’s the fundamental differences between crafting narrative fiction, scripts, and poetry. Honey, don’t I know it (OK, writing serious poetry was sort of new to me and SUPER fun to study more in-depth).

How did I learn all of this? Through experience. Through trying to plug my own work as a writer (not successfully, mind you), through that internship reading tons of screenplays for 7 months after my undergrad, and through reading, a copious amount of time reading GOOD writing.

I’m sitting in class most days thinking, “I knew far more than I realized. I’ve honed my craft far more than I realized.” I’ve discovered what it is that I want to write which means – I’m leaps and bounds ahead of many writers out there stuck in the insane tin drum of What am I trying to say? and mindless imitation. But Kassie, you ask, why aren’t you published? Chalk that up to not trying hard enough and years of becoming disillusioned with the writing/publishing industry. I spent some time after my undergrad sending out short stories and figuring out how to market myself (since my undergrad course taught me NONE of that), writing novels with NaNoWriMo each November and even submitting a screenplay that I thought was a comedy to the Nicholl’s Fellowship in Screenwriting, I submitted to a playwriting contest for women (which will remain unnamed). I was also involved as an actor for a new works festival at a local theater and, through all of this, you know what I discovered? These paths are not for me. But I did discover who I am and my voice as a writer which I think is a far greater thing to find than the road to publishing… feel free to disagree.

I say the above statement for good reason(s):

  1. The best authors are not remembered for how soon or even how much they published, but for their voiceJ.D. Salinger is mainly known for his 1 great book (and collections of short stories) which millions of people zoned in on, for better or for worse, and now helpless high school students are subjected to his bleak outlook on life every year. But damn, he’s a good writer. 
  2. Bestsellers are not a marks of genius. Trends fade, as do the names of those authors, because – history. Have you ever read Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen? Did you know she wrote that as a response to best selling novel writers at the time? And this is back when novels weren’t taken seriously because they were mostly known as trivial women’s fiction full of gothic tropes and silly romantic scenarios. Did you know she’s blatantly mocking many well-known authors of the time? Can you name these authors? No? Read the annotated version of Northanger Abbey, it’s hilarious. 
  3. There’s always another path and another road to take other than the obvious. I don’t even like The Martian, but did you know Andy Weir started his novel out as a blog and it was picked up by movie producers AND a publisher AT THE SAME TIME? 

We had an agent speak to our class recently and I asked her about trends in the market place and she said, “If you’re trying to write to a trend, chances are by the time you submit your work, you’ve already missed it.” So, what’s the point?

You have to write YOU.

And it takes far longer to find that sometimes than it does to get published, but for me (maybe to my own detriment) it’s not about getting published, it’s about the writing. Getting my voice out there however and whichever way I can. I’m not going to win the contests because I’m not writing the next great shocker or politically charged piece… someone else always will. I’m not going to huff and puff to get my story published in a magazine with pretentious, existential short stories because… I just don’t give a shit, not for me. But I’m also not going to sit there and blame the publishing industry for my lack of success because the writers who truly have something to say will always ALWAYS find a way to be heard and so long as I know what I want to say, I’ll find it.

So, forget the MA, spend that time finding out how you work and why. If you can’t answer those two questions: Lather, rinse, repeat.

A Letter to You

I have something I want to say to you. As you sit there, scrolling on your tablet until 2am each night, thinking you’re doing what you have to do because of where you are in this life.  When you go to work each day wondering if this is it, I’m here to tell you it’s not. When you spend all day telling people they can do whatever they want and go home wondering if you’re just a fake, I’m here to say you’re not. This isn’t it. You are capable of great things, things that you thought you could once accomplish but have long since set aside for that other thing consuming your time and energy. What’s more important? Who can say? The only person who can decide that is YOU.

You had ideas, goals, you are a spirit that is ready to soar. I can see it. And with each day that passes where it is wasted trying to run a race that is almost over, I can see it weighing on you and that goal you once had gets further and further away as you chase that arbitrary clock of life. I’m not going to tell you – you can’t do it. I’m not going to say you had your chance and you gave it up and I’m certainly never going to say never. You’re already thinking of every reason in the book why you can’t do it. What’s one more voice saying the same thing?

There’s always a reason we tell ourselves we can’t do something.

Chase the dream.

Because the dream often requires some sort of painful sacrifice. So the choice you have to make is… is it worth it? Is the temporary pain worth the potential greater payoff in the end? You’re not alone. If you’re afraid of losing everything. You are not without. You have friends in places you don’t even realize and it’s OKAY to admit you need help to get your life going again. Swallow that pride and take the leap. Be the person I know you are deep down. The dangerous Gascon you thought was long gone, buried by years of disappointment, is within reach.

I can’t do it for you, but I’ll be with you the entire time. Even when you don’t know it, I’ll be silently cheering from the sidelines.

I Am Not a Victim

What is the most real thing I can talk about right now? Recovery. As much as I wish I was not writing this an entire year down the road from the demise of a destructive relationship (and an entire country and ocean away). I am. That’s just reality. This is not a post about empowerment or a pat on the back for achieving the goal of complete and total recovery from an abusive person, but it is one of perspective. Perspective that I hope will help someone out there in the world.

I consider myself a strong person, the last thing I want to do is admit that I let someone take advantage of me or that I still believe some of the lies about myself that he told me day after day, but I’ve realized that recovery is a road, not a wall that you hop over. I’ve had friends tell me to laugh about it, stop talking about it, you name it – everyone has a cure. The idea not to talk about it is, by far, the most tempting. I want to erase this person from my life, act like those 5 years did not happen. What happens when you do that though? You have no explanation for all your hold-ups stemming from this person.

Fast forward to now and the way I see it affecting my current relationships. The “I am not a victim mentality” breeds the idea:

“Nothing ever happened to hurt me and I am fine and will NOT behave like a person whose trust was betrayed and feelings were manipulated.”

But it was and they were. I never NEVER thought I would be someone who had “trust issues” or would push someone away when he was getting to close. So, of course, when I see myself doing that I rationalize it in another way or think of a different “logical” reason as to why I’m do it. Anything but admit that my past is now affecting my present. That he still has a hold on me.

I should be stronger than that, I shouldn’t need anyone to help me, I shouldn’t rely on someone else so much (not again), I shouldn’t be so weak, so stupid… and endless trail of shoulds

The simplest thing to do: Admit it, Duke. You were hurt. You’re a victim. And it’s going to take a while. Dammit.

I was speaking with one of my oldest friends recently who came out of a 6 year relationship with a narcissist/sociopath. Speaking with her felt like I finally found someone who gets it. I’m not crazy. There’s hope. There’s a rough patch of learning to trust again and sometimes that’s not tested until someone new walks into your life and you have to hope that he is understanding enough to deal with your confusion, because you don’t even know where it’s coming from half the time. The ones that are meant to stay will stay.

For my part, I’ve had to finally do the hard thing and admit – I’m a victim. I guess honesty with oneself is the first step.


The Rider

Still chugging through and living that expat life. Somedays it feels like I am trying to outrun the sadness of knowing all that I knew I will not know again until (almost) a year from now is far, far away. From what I’ve been reading this is something experienced by a great many people and it can linger and stay with you for a while. I keep thinking of Teddy Roosevelt’s words describing his lifelong battle with depression:

“Black care never sits behind a rider whose pace is fast enough.”

My current MA course, lord love it, is not demanding and as much as I’ve been trying to combat the daily question of: “What am I doing here?” It’s not always easy. So, I am trying to focus on one of the many reasons I moved abroad: travel. I would love it if I had a job, some sort of more structured routine as I adjust, but I’ve been told by a fellow American and flatmate over here that working students is not the norm (which is the EXACT opposite in the US). Hence, I’m starting to think the whole working-while-you-study may not be something that pans out for me.

I’ve been taking day/weekend trips (between making my way through the US version of The Office which, unlike the rest of the world, I have not seen) and so far I have made my way ’round to London, Yorkshire, Norfolk, Stratford-upon-Avon (I’ll be going back fo’ sho’), and Birmingham. See below:

I’ll be returning to London this week to visit a fellow American expat who’s going to school down there, but in the meantime I’ll be making a day trip to Coventry to see their Cathedral (well known as a stand-in for Hogwarts in the Harry Potter Films) and other sights. Keep on, Duke.


For the past week of so I’ve been experiencing what is known as “Expat Depression” or “Expat Sadness” (“expat is short for “expatriate”). This is new and different, but familiar territory. Anyone who’s ever dealt with depression knows what it feels like to to tell yourself to get out of bed in the morning and remind yourself how many things you have “going for you” and to “snap out of it.” I am more taken aback because I have lived in another country before. I have lived in THIS country before. I read all the literature that was given to me my senior year of college about how homesickness may set in and watched some of my other classmates retreat home to the US during the breaks and thought, “Why?” So, this time, I thought I had this down. I would not be homesick.

This is what I’ve wanted. I’m exactly where I need to be. Look at where I am:


Before I left home I started a series of what I’ve been calling my “Walking Videos” and the day when I was filming my last, walking around Leicester, is when I started to feel signs of this strange pull to the familiar come on:

Of course, having the mind I do, I’ve been trying to boil down: Why this time and not the last? And, why do I have the conflicting emotions of wanting to stay here and be here, but wanting to be surrounded my familiar things at the same time? To be honest, most days I could still see myself staying here after my course ends 1 year from now. These are my conclusions:

  1. Previously, I was here for a matter of months (4-5). I knew that, soon, I would be back home in the US and so I had to get the most out of my time. This time, it’s a year. That’s a big difference. A lot can happen in a year, here and back at home in my absence.
  2. I came through an exchange program. I did not realize how much your hand is held through an exchange program. The school had many options for welcoming international students, of course (that I chose not to take this time around because I’d done most of them before), but boy if I have found it difficult to do everything on my own this time. My visa, my visa checkpoint, transportation from the airport, booking my accommodation, arriving at my accommodation, opening an UK bank account, getting a UK phone number, buying EVERYTHING I need to live because: A) I wanted to travel light and B) Though I am in student housing, I am in a “self-catered” flat. I feel like I have been going NONSTOP for MONTHS. MONTHS!!
  3. I left my job of 10 years. Before, I’d been with my former company 3 years and I was still in college. Hadn’t really made my mark. By the time I had left I could walk into a room and you know people and they know you. My name had weight. Here, Kassie Duke is just Kassie Duke.
  4. My people. When I say my people I don’t just mean my friends, but I do. Let me explain. I was in a job where I was constantly surrounded by my Tribe. Theater-artsy types who think creatively and are generally outgoing people. And I knew this would happen, but let me tell you right now… writers are not the same (with few exceptions). My course mates are great, but they are just that: Writers. And while I fancy myself a dramatist, most of them are far removed from that world. I miss my Tribe. And there’s just no replacing the company of people you’ve known for 9+ years or you feel like you’ve for known that long.
  5. This is DIFFERENT. Yeah. It’s not the same thing.

Doesn’t help that I feel like I have a long list of things to do each day as far as settling in goes, but too much free time as well. I have class 6 hours a week and no job as of yet. I am on the hunt for a job… one more thing for the list. I am one of those people who has a better work ethic when I have less free time. I am then forced to prioritize. Right now, it feels like I am staring into a void of To-Dos and an endless amount of “What are we going to do today?” discussions with myself.

I’ve been so pre-occupied with completing my post-arrival checklist that I haven’t been able to focus on joining the societies I want to join or attending events I want to attend which would help me meet PEOPLE. Thank goodness for the one or two friends I’ve made so far that sought me out in a room full of people when I was hugging the wall after two days of travel and exhaustion.

For anyone who’s dealing with this currently, I don’t have a remedy or a method to overcome it – I’m just taking it one day at a time, telling myself not to sleep-in, get out of bed, and DO something. Keep that forward motion. I am where I want to be and doing what I want to do. I still have faith in that. Man, it just sort of sucks right now.

At the Beginning

So, I arrived in the UK about 3 days ago and I have no idea where the time is going. Adjusting to the change (8 hours) has been difficult and I don’t know when I’ll feel normal again as far as my sleep schedule goes. I did much better today… only slept until noon. Actually ate what I think can be considered a full meal. Eating has been… irregular, to say the least.

I can’t say embarking on an MA program has been a long harboured (<look at that, British computers are already correcting my spelling for me) dream of mine. I have looked into grad school a number of times, but I applied on a whim last year looking for an angle to get back to the UK and here I am. 2 days/1 car ride/3 planes/1 train/1 taxi later… I made it to my destination: Leicester, UK (not London – as most people seemed to think when I told them I would be moving to England). All while carrying my parting gifts: The Complete Plays of Shakespeare, The Birth of Tragedy by Friedrich Nietzsche, and Poetics by Aristotle. Thanks, Ken… you’re lucky I care about these tomes as much as you do.

I said goodbye to some of my dearest friends and my job of 10 years to change my course and I can’t say I regret it or that I will any time in the near future.

I have been out of school for so long I’ve forgotten what it’s like the first week: HELL. Pamphlets thrown in your face, a checklist a mile long of things you need to sign-up for, orientations, settling into housing. Double that checklist if you’re an international student… ie: Me. I have yet to get a UK phone plane, a bank account, and purchase half of the things I need for my room/flat.

“Self-catered,” I said, “It’ll be great!” I said.

God job, Duke – you forgot about all the food and pots and pans you’ll have to buy. And the fact that you won’t have a car. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind taking the bus or train around here, but doing all of this while severely jet-lagged is a tad disorienting. I would post some photos of my locale (and I know this would make things far more interesting) but I’m currently on a school computer and don’t have the “hook-ups”. You’ll have to take me at my word that I’m actually here and embarking on my course of study commencing TOMORROW.

A B.A. in English

When I was going into college, senior year of high school, people would ask me, “So, what do you plan on studying?”

Me: English.

Them: Oh, so you’re planning to teach.

Me: No.

Them: What do you plan to do with it then?

Me: Write.

Them: What do you want to write?

Me: I don’t know yet.

Them: Oh well, that’s hard and you’re not going to be able to do anything with that.

One of my major missions in life since those early conversations, where my desire to do something creative with my life was unknowingly poo-pooed by the vast majority of the adult world, has been to prove them wrong. What I hear people say when they give me the whole, “That’s hard” is – “Other people have succeeded in that, but you won’t.” Why the hell not? You mean to tell me that all of the published authors in the world did not have to work to get to where they are (with few exceptions)? Wow, I thought words just magically appeared in books.

I never, NEVER thought I would go for my Master’s in Creative Writing. It’s writing, you just keep writing, right?  And even now when I tell some people what I’m doing I get the, “Oh, that nice” reaction. Translation, “I really don’t know what to say to that. That doesn’t scream Money Degree.” No, no it doesn’t. Alternatively, I am lucky to be around many, many creative types in my workplace and there is nothing but an outpouring of support and excitement, but on the outside world not much has changed.

Since my undergrad, I have written a lot (good, bad, ugly) and wet my feet in various pools of the writing world, much of which has been unpaid. I’ve written for a magazine, interned reading screenplays for a literary agent in Beverly Hills, taught a summer course on writing for short film to underprivileged youth in Los Angeles, spent 2 years as a judge for a high concept screenplay competition for a non-profit in Hollywood, and staged my first play last summer at a local theater, all the while receiving numerous rejection letters from literary journals for my short stories.

This is the life.

Sometimes it takes years to prove people wrong. Since most of the world equates success with money, that’s exactly what I plan to do. Make money off my writing, someday, somehow. And if I don’t… it won’t make me love it any less. I’ll still be happy, doing what I love. Feeding my soul and honing my craft.

Preparing to Launch

I’ve still got this long list of things I am doing, checking off as I prepare to leave for the UK. But I’ve gotten this idea into my head recently that I can’t really shake. It’s been 8 years since I travelled outside the country and now that I am on the brink of leaving once again I am gripped with an insatiable wanderlust. I’ve been delving back into my love for the outdoors with hiking lately:

Ex. A

And, man, if something doesn’t make you want to just keep going, it’s getting outside and walking until your feet are dead tired. Or standing on top of a mountain and surveying the ocean or the desert (both which I have done in the past month). It’s like I’m giving myself a proper send-off. So – this idea – this thing that seems to be calling to me is: ASIA. The continent, the people, the culture. I have never been so drawn to it more than now.

In my line of work, I have the opportunity to work with groups from China (both mainland and Hong Kong), Taiwan, the Philippines, sometimes Japan) every now and then and I have grown to love, love, love these people. I love seeing the faces of the kids when we’ve connected either over my poor pronunciation of Mandarin or I’m teaching a concept which they somehow understand or just their bravery in stepping into a totally different culture and coming overseas. What I think is drawing me to this the most is knowing that these kids, after spending a brief time in the states, will go back to their homeland where independent thinking is discouraged, where people will tell them their individuality is not normal. That kills me.

I don’t know where I will go (a good friend is highly recommending Japan), but – if I do not stay in England after I complete my MA, I would seriously consider teaching English in Asia. I looked into the program years ago briefly and I’m feeling this strange pull to do it again. I want to do more, be more, and GO more.

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Kassie Duke's Writing Portfolio

Southern California based writer specializing in script writing. Please, feel free to browse my projects here on the Home Page (hover over the icons) or use the menu below to more thoroughly navigate my portfolio.

Training for Life

Loving the gifts God has given me.