Thanks for reading. This post is part of “My Writing Process Blog Tour.” I was beautifully coerced into doing this by Simon Phillips, who didn’t accept my digital luddite-isms and convinced me to resurrect this site.
Thank you Simon. You are seriously flattering in your determination.
I’m working on essays. I recently finished my MFA in Fiction at VCFA and am still riding the long tail of story burn out. It’s time for me to resurrect my thesis manuscript, a story collection that needs to be brushed off just a bit before I can send parts of it into the world. Maybe I am reluctant to sail ships likely to capsize. Maybe they won’t capsize.
Either way, I’m working on essays. I recently spent a few days at the San Francisco Hall of Justice, taking place in jury selection. It was the first time I had participated in this democratic judging process, and it sparked thoughts on the radical nature of a jury of peers. I hold dual citizenships, Thai and US, and (leading into the next question) I think my work may differ from others because of this split lens. I’d prefer to think of it as a wider scope and not some bifurcation of being, but multicultural, international… if I put those conceptual boxes out, I can say that’s what my work deals with, too.
It’s a fair bit of hubris, I think, to declare how your work differs from others of its genre. “My stories are like Grace Paley’s but…” is no sentence that I will complete. There is so much to learn from master writers. But my work, fiction or otherwise, deals with the intricacies of a culture that is wildly different from a Western one, seen (and felt and tasted and heard) from the inside in a dimensional way.
Why do I write what I do? Writing, first of all, keeps me sane. For me it is an immersive meditative creative process that best activates the state the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls Flow. Okay, I don’t mean that it actually keeps me sane. Perpetuating the writer-as-necessarily-crazy is not something I agree with. I mean that writing keeps me wide open, and it keeps me opening further.
I write the Thailand stuff because it isn’t done enough. I’m tired of encountering the stereotype of sexually acquiescent Thai women. It keeps my life in the US creepy. I’m amused by how tourists mistake Thais for simple-minded and imbecilic when they have the inevitably amazing trip to the “land of smiles.” Thailand, like most places, has a complex, rich and challenging culture and history. Please don’t flatten us to suit your fantasy. Please don’t try to rescue us either.
My writing process so far has been intuitive. I don’t do morning pages, banging out 2,000 words or whatever limit I sent myself. I work well from cafes. It can take me awhile to get into a story or essay, but when I am there I tend to go pretty continuously. Robert Olen Butler talks about the dream state best suited to the creative process in his book From Where You Dream. I’m not dreaming exactly, but I’m living in another reality and when I get in there it works best if I’m not pulled out.
From my perch in San Francisco (specifically, from the Mission, where cafe land is often tech land) I see that people increasingly live in what I call “short loops.” Things are buzzing and pinging and beeping at us. We wake up and check Facebook. We sit down to catch up with a friend and text converse with two other people as well. Life as regulated by robots (alarms, maps, recommended feeds) keeps our days steady as a metronome, but I try to swim in “long loops”, with less set schedule, more ability to go when the going is good, and more gentleness toward myself when the writing is tough. I’ve found that writing for a goal (for glory—is there anything else!) leads to mediocre work. That is a statement that comes glibly, but feeling it, knowing it intuitively, abiding by it, has taken years and is a work in progress.
It all sounds pretty indulgent doesn’t it? Long loops? I also code switch between my digital day jobs where I am in analytical operational mode, and my meandering writing time. The texture of time changes depending on what I’m doing.
Next up please read Elizabeth Schmuhl and Kelsy Yates. I’ll post the links here September 11.
Onwards, writing process tour!