| Don’t Write Alone
Where We Write I Write Wherever My Mind Can Be Free
Better than controlling my writing mind, I’ve figured out that what my brain wants most is to be free
Remember that time when someone asked Demi Lovato what their favorite dish is and their answer was “I like mugs”? My response to “Where is your favorite place to write?” would be, “In a blank notebook I got from a LitFest swag bag.” But don’t hold me to this because I’m fickle. I’m writing this in GDocs on an iPad in bed but am likely to finish with teal ink on index cards outdoors if I get too bored.
Shortly after my now-husband and I met, he suggested I get tested for ADHD because he noticed signs. I went through six hours of evaluation only for the therapist to inform me that I’m on the not-extreme ends of both ADHD and bipolar spectrums, then discouraged me from doing anything since medication for one condition makes the other worse.
My longstanding response to my messy brain has always been control, which only got more extreme after my non-diagnosis diagnosis. My writing career didn’t begin in earnest until my midthirties after three master’s degrees and a partial PhD dissertation, so I figured the only way I could write a book was to put my brain on probation and under surveillance. Out came the Pomodoro timers, the internet blockers, and the productivity apps, the writing three memoir drafts by hand because I couldn’t be on the computer without thinking about the internet. I finished my memoir in a village by Lake Atitlán in Guatemala that’s only accessible by boat, so prone I was to distraction.
Photo courtesy of author
Then last March, I went to Hambidge for a two-week residency with no internet, where the wonderful manager Mindy Chaffin told us something like this on the first day: “Forget about your application proposal and use this time however you want. If you don’t do any work, that’s totally fine.” She was particularly adamant that we shouldn’t work our first day, ideally the first few days.
One important fact I’ve so far failed to mention is that I’m a minority many times over—Filipino, first-generation immigrant, working-class background, albino, trans, and deeply weird. From earliest memory, I’m conditioned to exceed the expectations of the powers that be to keep them from casting me out as soon as I trigger their biases, and even then it hasn’t always worked. After decades of applying and getting into various things—schools, residencies, internships, jobs—this was the first time an authority figure not only said it was okay but that it’s encouraged I don’t get anything done.
Those instructions gave me the tools to meet my mind on my own terms, so I spent those two weeks doing what I felt like doing. And it turns out my mind left to its own devices will read, sleep, play guitar, dance around my cabin, and write about as much if not more than when I try to discipline myself into writing. It also really likes not being told what to do, so it’s decided to ditch the fancy dotted journal with page numbers and three bookmarks for a blank one with no bells and whistles but with good paper quality because my brain is not a monster.
Photo courtesy of author
So these days I write when and where I want using whatever means I feel like, whether on my Notes app in the locker room after swimming meditative laps at the Y or using a vintage fountain pen on thick stationery in the woods outside my Catskills home. I’ve made a font out of my own handwriting so I can type but trick my brain into “early draft” mode. I’m way too familiar with Fred, Alex, and Samantha because they’re the voices I use to dictate my drafts back to me when I’m too bored or tired to read them with my eyes. During a tough bout of internet addiction, I glamped forty minutes away from my house just to detox.
Better than controlling my writing mind, I’ve figured out that what my brain wants most is to be free, as long as I take care to treat it with kindness and keep it healthy. Since Hambidge, I’ve drafted part of a novel and written about a dozen short stories, four of which are published or about to be. And yes, this is a flex, but it’s a flex meant to inspire. Wanna hear an even bigger flex? I’m happier than I’ve ever been as a writer.