When I booked my flight for NYC, I imagined I would write a little, but mostly take a break from working on my dissertation, an academic dissertation on how straight White men have been imaged as bad/buffoonish dancers in all walks of popular culture since the late 80s. By the time I got to NYC, I had completed my first (very) rough draft of the monstrous thing, and was very much looking forward to a break from writing.
I wrote the dissertation in a café just a five-minute drive from where I live. It’s a nonprofit café called A 2nd Cup, a coffee shop that urgently fights human trafficking in Houston, “one of the most intense regions for human trafficking according to the Department of Justice.” I decided to write the dissertation here partially because I want to support a business who actively supports the rights of others. But, truth be told, I enjoy going to this café because of its huge wall of windows (which gets painfully hot come 2 in the afternoon), and because I get to sit next to a wide variety of bodies that make up Houston. Where I live, it can still get pretty white as the neighborhood has become quite expensive, and so I cherish the businesses in which I feel free to be myself, both in my expression of gender as in the range of bodies and identities that serve me my cup of coffee, or my panini. For twelve days, working every other day, I wrote for about six hours straight, or as long as my brain and body would let me. I closed each day with an Instagram post of my travels through this text, how many days I’d been at it, whether I was writing, or editing based on the comments my dissertation director sent me.
I expected I’d still be writing the very rough draft come winter, so I was quite exhausted and surprised when I got through the very roughest of drafts in just a couple of weeks. The progress I made, however, emptied my head of academic pressures and producing anxieties, so that when I reached New York to visit a friend, a friend who I’d spent (and met) the previous summer working on my memoir outside of Portland at the Tin House Summer Writing Workshop, my mind was ready for a different kind of spatial inspiration, a different kind of writing body to inhabit. I started reading Alexander Chee’s Edinburgh, a novel that hit close to home in more ways than one, and which challenged me to re-engage with an old text yet to be published, my Young Adult novel about twins, sexual abuse, and biraciality. When I wrote the novel initially, Trump hadn’t been elected president yet, and I still believed in the kindness and acceptance of strangers. That election, and its continuing aftermath, uprooted me from my naïveté and made me aware of just how much pathology and fear bubbles in our blood, just beneath the surface, now suddenly rippling clearly in the skin. Surrounded by fam of so many kinds every where I looked, the world around me reminded me that inclusion can sparkle. In a hotel lounge with dim lights, accompanied by my friend and kin, I wrote a queer Asian coupling into my YA novel, imagining the kind of life that now seemed possible for those still teenaging themselves into the world, forcing it to reckon with them.
While I was in New York, a friend through my academic circles invited me to stay with her and some friends of hers tucked away in the woods of Vermont. I imagined I’d work on my most recent comments from my dissertation director. Vermont was nothing like the bustling excitement of Manhattan; but it was just what I needed to round out the summer. Mountains and trees for miles, lakes you could see through like birds flying through glass that’s clean enough. I sat outside each morning before my housemates awoke, smelling pretty nippy air, as the leaves on the trees danced and the birds chit chatted and the stream tinkerbelled their arrivals. It was the perfect accompaniment to imagine this new love into being, a love that was part based on me, and part based on a me I wish I could have had the freedom to become in my real youth.
Addie Tsai is the Senior Associate Editor of Poetry for The Flexible Persona.