[ four things]
(This is an image of me on the beach at Chincoteague Island, taken by Patrick Rosal. I love the beach.)
Right out of my MFA (well, if I'm honest, towards the end of it), I began to hit a slump in my writing life. Words, which used to tingle beneath my fingers and thrummed over my heads, fell silent, disappeared. Stories I wrote felt barren and dead to me, shells, exercises, devoid of life fever or blood.
I still wrote. I wrote a lot. I wrote hundreds of pages, then turned around and lamented to my thesis advisor that I had writer's block. I wasn't writing I said, as I turned in 90 pages of what I thought of as "scribbles". Understandably, he was skeptical.
But I knew what I was talking about. The magic was gone. Any real conversation about writing ended with me in tears, because the magic was gone and I didn't know if ever it would return. After over four years of progress, of rapture, of feeling the space in me for stories grow and grow, this was a terrifying thing. I wondered if I had written all I would ever write. I wondered if I had gotten as good as I would get. I wondered if I would be one of those people, who looked back upon the brief years I'd tried to make it as a writer, and told people, "That was fun, but then I went and moved on with my life."
I say all this because only recently, very very recently, since February maybe, or maybe it was March, did the spark start coming back. It came in little forms -- pieces that spoke to me, buzzed a little in my ear, ideas that I pocketed that I couldn't wait to get back to. Suddenly I had too many ideas, too many pieces, and best of, the longing was back. Not the empty longing of wanting to create something that could not be created, but the longing to sink my arms elbows deep into the magic only I could see.
This is preface to the four questions I'm about to answer in the blog tour Melissa Sipin tagged me in. I've dodged this tour until now: first Patrick Rosal tagged me, but then decided he wouldn't do it. But while I thought I'd be doing it, I declined Kaitlyn Greenidge's request. Well, now I've been tagged for real, and what timing. Because a month ago, when I was first tagged, I wasn't writing what I am now. So here we go.
1. What are you currently working on?
Gone are the days when I focused on a single project with intense focus. I find that these days I have multiple projects going on at once. But the one I'm most excited about, the novel that I just started (I'm literally only 15 pages in) is something I love so much I can't bear to talk about it, out of fear of jinxing it. The strange thing is that it's actually a ressurection of a novel I began a long time ago, before my MFA, except now there are elements that are so much more clear. I don't want to say too much when it's still a zygote, but let me just say that it involves a doorman, a real estate tycoon, the Chinese Mid-Autumn festival folk tale about the moon, Yappies (look it up) and the Asian club scene, and some of my darkest personal demons. I've been waiting a long time for a novel to strike me like this, and here it is. If I can pull this off, it will be the thing that saves me.
In tandem I've also been working on a bunch of other projects: a novel-in-stories involving a family saga and an imaginary circus; a collection of family history essays; flash fiction of all varieties; personal essays on depression; and short stories both weird/experimental and realist. Somewhere in there, also is a nascent idea for a book around foreigners in Taiwan post-1949, which I am obsessed with. But that hasn't been fleshed out yet.
I don't like being confined to one genre or one type of story, so I guess that's why I'm everywhere. But I'm blessed to have so many projects to work on.
2. How does your work differ from others of its genre?
I don't know, honestly. I don't like to compare myself to others (though I know, for marketing purposes, for self-promotional purposes, I'll have to be able to do so). I think all of us writers are borrowing and influenced by each other, but we all take our own personal spin on it. We have our own voices, our own obsessions, our own cobbling together of disparate techniques. I would say that my work differs from others because they're not me. They don't inhabit this same small, sometimes wild, sometimes broken, sometimes enraptured brain of mine. They don't live in my skin. Nor do I inhabit theirs. My work is different because *I* am different. I love books across so many genres and styles, from Anne Carson to Nabokov to Colum McCann to Julie Otsuka to Arthur C. Clarke to Madeline L'Engle to the Hunger Games to The Jolly Postman to poetry poetry more poetry. My work is different because I take all of those things and throw them together. Because I am not content to be stuck in a single box. Because I want to be all of those writers but in my own way, in my own time.
3. Why do you write/create what you do?
Because I can't not. Because writing is the thing that has saved me, that has helped me make sense of the world, that is the only thing that has made sense when nothing else. I write because even on the worst day, on a day when I am sad and lonely and anxious about living in this world, if I slip into the page, I come out a happier, saner, better person. I write because it's like breathing. I write because there are things that hurt, that will of course always, to a degree, but when I write about them, I feel a little part of me healing.
4. How does your writing/creating process work?
I used to be the kind of person who sat down for eight hours and watched 5000 words spill across the page, and then didn't write again for a week. To a degree, I'm still a marathon writer -- in that, if the flame catches, I can burn on and on and on. But I'm a slower writer now. I'm more intentional. And I get burnt out more easily, or I just don't have as much time. I try to force myself to write when I find a block of time, but I was never a "write a certain number of words/hours a day" kinda gal. I'm still more of a "when lightning strikes" kind of person. Logistically though, if there are deadlines I must meet, I'll hole myself up somewhere I can't be found or bothered, plug in my earphones, turn on my ocean wave track, and just gogogo. I push until I breakthrough.
During my dry spell (which lasted about two and a half years), I cried whenever I tried to write. I would force myself to sit in a chair and come up with words, and when the words didn't come, or they did but were shit, I cried and cried and felt hopeless. I felt guilty all the time -- times spent with friends, having dinners, or picking apples, or lying on the beach or eating tacos, or browsing through art fairs. In the back of my head was always the nagging thought, the loud berating: You should be writing. You're not a writer. You're lazy. You're avoidant. You should be writing.
What I've learned after all this time, now that things have come surging back, is what I was told again and again, by friends, mentors: you are writing. Living your life is writing. Loving life, enjoying a sunset, slurping an oyster, laughing over bloody marys with friends -- that's writing. We don't write in a vaccuum.
So these days my process is this: I write when I can, but also when I want to. But I also dance, feast, laugh, play. How do we write if we don't have anything to write about? What are the things in the world we're not seeing if we insist on hiding away?
I don't know who to tag who wouldn't hate having to do this, so I've tagged nobody. I'm sorry. But if you know me and you want to do this, let me know and I will edit this post and include you.