| Don’t Write Alone
Where We Write During Hectic Times, Hotels Offered Me a Safe, Quiet Place to Write
My getaways made me realize how the hotel industry has missed an economic and ethical opportunity by not marketing discounted rooms to locals.
I grew up surrounded by hotels. Oceanfront high-rises selling beginner surf lessons. Flamingo-pink palaces serving poolside umbrella drinks. Multi-complex resorts with two-hundred dollar luau packages. Hotels are an economic engine in my hometown of Honolulu.
Many of my friends’ parents—and later my friends and I—worked catering to tourists’ cocktail orders and high-end retail desires. A typical vacation for my family often involved a night or two in a hotel on the other side of O‘ahu. Being served virgin piña coladas while laying out by the pool, we felt pampered, fancy. It was a luxury reserved for when we, the locals, could afford to be treated as well as foreigners.
So, it makes sense that when I needed somewhere to sneak away and write my book (a dream realized!), I would choose a hotel. A white-walled room with a tidy bed and barely any space to putz around was perfect for concentrating. Eating room service in bed felt like an indulgence: a getaway both familiar and deserved.
Hotels also offered a reprieve during a very specific time. I got my book deal at the onset of the pandemic, and meeting the deadline for my memoir meant having to sit with memories of my dead parents and bad life choices. I was also working as a journalist covering the current chaos while remote-schooling my preschooler with my husband laptopping next to me in our tiny Brooklyn apartment. In other words, I welcomed any reason to escape.
When I began googling, I was pleasantly surprised to find that hotels were relatively cheap. With barely anyone traveling, I could get a room in a boutique hotel in lower Manhattan for about a hundred dollars a night. I would pack a bag and show up early, hoping my room was ready—which it always was. Once inside, I pulled out my computer, threw back the sheets, and got into bed. The desk was of no interest to me. The king-sized bed, spacious and soft, was where I settled in.
I gave myself tasks to complete by the time I checked out: revise an entire chapter or flesh out dialogue I had avoided writing. Once I checked off a few items, I could order something rich and comfy, like lasagna with a glass of wine, and eat it in bed without caring if tomato sauce splashed across the white sheets; I could always move over to a clean spot on the giant mattress I didn’t have to share with anyone. If I wrapped up another few pages after dinner, then I could close out my Google Doc and queue up a bunch of trashy Bravo shows until I passed out. In the morning, I’d be up by 6:30 a.m. and would grab a breakfast sandwich and a giant coffee before crawling back into bed and typing away.
I felt not only accomplished but refreshed when I returned home—almost ready to face another week of being holed up with blurred work-life boundaries. I did this once a month for half a year until I turned in my first draft. I’d be lying if I said every stay was equally productive. Sometimes the Summer House watching would be longer than the scene writing.
One of the weirdest things about choosing a space where I could completely be alone was that I was writing a book about not having to be alone. Local is about seeking connection, about how isolated I had felt as a child, about how I should instead step outside and breathe the air, feel the sun, and reach out to others.
It also is a book about exploring my identity and the history of the place I grew up, including how colonialism—and by extension, tourism, the commodification of culture—has wreaked havoc on my Native Hawaiian ancestors and fellow locals. Hotels on Maui use most of the island’s drinking water, while tourist activity has destroyed coral reefs and put endangered monk seals in harm’s way. In theory, I should view hotels as the enemy.
But my getaways made me realize how the hotel industry has missed a massive economic and ethical opportunity by not marketing discounted rooms (at more than the standard ten percent kamaʻāina rate offered in Hawai‘i) to locals who can barely afford living in these “destinations.” Like everyone else, they just need a little time away: creatives who have been priced out of a consistent space for their practice; parents who would love nothing more than a night to themselves; families, like mine, who just want a taste of the indulgence that our visitors have access to.
During a hectic time, hotels offered me a safe, quiet space where my thoughts and words could run amok — a room to harness the best part of being alone. Affordability and desperation made it doable.