For a while, I used this old recipe box for writing ideas. It’s filled with index cards with random ideas and riffs. For a while, I used the recipe box and cards to map out Stay True. But then my friend Sana introduced me to Scrivener, and I used that instead. (Though for some reason the file is called “Islands Batman.”)
I keep random piles of things in drawers and in dividers throughout my office. They’re like mental junk drawers, I guess. Here’s one with old flyers and mementos, very old letters, random photos of people I do not know, but like looking at. If I turn around from my desk, there’s a small table with the books I’m teaching this semester, and then two bins filled with more somewhat random texts that I browse for escape/inspiration. Right now, it’s some more of those Primary Information pamphlets, some reprinted Sun Ra poetry pamphlets from Corbett vs. Dempsey, some 1960s and 1970s Asian American Movement publications, and a couple issues of The Face and URB from the nineties.
Our books are on these four long shelves. They’re probably higher up than they need to be, which is annoying and sometimes dangerous, when I’m tiptoeing along the edge of a couch to reach some book on Puritans. There are better reasons to hurt yourself. Naturally, as an only child and packrat, there are more random curios everywhere. My friend James’ late father was a well-known filmmaker, and he collected Japanese notebooks. So I have these unused notebooks that remind me of—I’m not sure what, exactly, it’s like everything—a reminder to begin projects, inspiration, the pleasures of a blank document, the ongoingness of work, the first word.
Below that are a couple pieces by this artist named Charlie Mai. (They were recently joined by some Stephanie Shih pieces.) I’m working on a book called “Impostor Syndrome,” so I think the “FAKES” thing refers to books that touch on personal authenticity and performance. I’m not calling those books or their authors fakes! I don’t do that anymore. We’re all about positive vibes now.
Hua Hsu is a staff writer at The New Yorker and the author of A Floating Chinaman: Fantasy and Failure Across the Pacific.
His work has been published in Artforum, The Atlantic, Grantland, Slate, and The Wire; anthologized in Best Music Writing and Best African American Essays; and nominated for a James Beard Award. He is an associate professor of English at Vassar College. He was a fellow at the New America Foundation and the Cullman Center for Writers and Scholars at the New York Public Library. He serves on the executive board of the AAWW and the governance board for Critical Minded.