The Writing: What writing unproductively means

On the Atlanta shootings.

Hi there,

It is Wednesday morning, a morning when I typically write a subscriber-only question and hold a discussion later on. However, I do not have much energy to hold a discussion today or the energy to even—yes, the energy to even. Because this post is not that typical discussion, I’ve decided to send it to all.

Starting this month, on weekday mornings, I’ve been waking up to write drafts of a third book that I look forward to sharing with the world one day. But today I woke up and read the news that one 21-year-old white man was able to kill 8 people, 6 of them Asian women, in a series of attacks on massage parlors in Atlanta. He is, as it was stated repeatedly in the reports, not from the Atlanta area.

The reports reminded me of how strong invisibility is. I knew instantly who the victims were just by seeing this image, when the police were still “uncertain” of a possible motive.

Photo by AP: A police truck is parked in front of a building with a large sign that says “Youngs Asian Massage.” The tinted glass windows beneath the sign have posters of women getting back massages. The door is open under a lit-up “Open” sign to four white police officers with cropped hair, three in conversation, while another is turned and looking out to the right.

I was reminded by my partner this morning about the possibility of the victims being sex workers, too, and how that would never be reported. I’m flooded right now in the sea of connections between the immigration laws written, the wars waged, the myths believed, and the genders socialized that put those women in those businesses. The racism and stigmas that encourage the police reports not to make the connections. What makes their lives easy to find. What makes them easy to erase.

Again, I don’t have the energy to explain. But it seems important that I muster the energy to respond.

The thing about extremism is that the number of adherents doesn’t matter. It only takes one person making one decision to kill another person. In a country with easy-to-obtain firearms, it only takes one person to kill eight. It doesn’t matter where I live or who my friends are. It only takes one person. One person is enough.

I heard somewhere a year ago that those with the most robust responses to the impending pandemic had already experienced trauma in some way, being more able to believe the possibility of death. When I looked at myself and my friends who shared similar experiences, this seemed to be the case. We all knew: it only takes one person, one moment, for something wrong to happen.

On a morning when I thought I would write another couple thousand words of my new book, I am writing about death again. I am tired of spending time on death. I am tired of maneuvering away from it. I am tired of being afraid of it. For myself and for those I love.

I am so tired and so angry that I have spent so much of my life repeating to the people who want to kill me, or who would look the other way during my impending death, to act as though I am here and that I matter. I am so tired and so angry that it is not them but I, and people like me, who must unexpectedly move platforms, cities, and countries, because it takes too much time to explain. Because it takes too much time to survive. Because the demands on our love will always be greater than the supply given.

On a morning when I would rather be writing my book, death occupies me instead. Death, usually so romanticized by writers, is mythologized as the stakes of a good poem or the passion of a good novel. I wonder how distant one needs to be from death in order to imagine it an elixir of life rather than an active degradation, a closing of one’s book all the way to the end. The effort needed to turn it over. The blankness of beginning again.

I am tired of death. I want to write as a way to live—to get past the broken bits; to supersede not death after life but death in life, the temptation to give in to that blankness forever. I want to write over what is murderously invisible—I want to write over my own death. I want to write over my grief.

Yet, to whom one writes—to whom one speaks, for whom one responds—that makes the writing as much as the words. It is one thing to be invisible to others; it is another to be invisible to myself.

Accepting silence is acknowledging that these deaths have occurred. And I expect years of mornings like this to accumulate into years of silence. That there are people that lay in the death that follows me. It is neither productive nor is it life. It is, however, a part of what I write.