This morning I woke up stressed drenched in sweat after back-to-back anxiety nightmare classics; “Not enough credits senior year” and “Aliens attack your hometown but you can’t convince your loved ones to leave.” You know the drill.
In reality, I had a backlog of writing and was super behind on deadlines. I got out my computer and sat down at my desk and… nothing. Well, nothing good.
So I went doom scrolling, reading all my Twitter comments and LinkedIn responses to my last piece when I came across a really nice interchange. (Yes believe it or not you can have good loving and supportive interchange on Twitter).
The Twitter chat was about how when I wrote my book I wrote outdoors, in subways, in the back of my cab, on balconies. The thrust of the conversation was that I suspected that different places triggered different mnemonic associations and I wondered if that had permeated the feel of various sections of my book Making Conversation.
So I put it to the test. I picked up and went downstairs and am writing now on my phone outdoors in a cafe on the beach. As I write this I can feel the sun on my face, warming my clothes and a slight breeze against my back while seagulls are chirping off in the distance somewhere. And so I’m sitting here thinking: Does changing your landscape change your Mindscape? And more importantly — can you feel it in someone’s writing?
Let me try to convince both you and I that it does.
What follows are 3 examples of when and why our environment affects our writing.
Example #1 —
“We were released into the courtyard, which was souring, sunlit, open and calm. There was immediate relief.”
So the entire chapter on space context in my book was the first chapter I finished and it was while in residency at Bellagio Rockefeller’s retreat at Lake Como.
If you read through the chapter as I just did again, it travels from light to dark to awe inspiring to cramped and indeed that describes the myriad of spaces I wrote in during the fellowship.
Some days locked in my damp Italian tower (literally) and others on the terrace, I continuously shifted the places I wrote firstly because I could and secondly because I had an opportunity to write in places that matched the experience I was writing about.
That line about the courtyard was written in the courtyard of the convent at Bellagio.
So what spaces did I choose and what did I do?
Example #2 —
I’m now in Palm Springs while editing this piece and I’m finding a strong sense of peace and solemnity in it.
Does it have anything to do with the sensory experience of the hot desert air and my chlorine bathed skin?
We know from neuroscience that jumping into a cold pool activates our nervous system and increases our alertness and ability to work hard, whereas sitting in a sauna or jacuzzi relaxes our blood vessels, puts us in a more contemplative state, and encourages creativity.
How we write and edit and rewrite too can always benefit from these kinds of scenic rhythms.
Example #3 —
“There’s a light, and it’s going to go out, it’s the moon tonight, it’s going to go out”.
Those are the first four lines of a lullaby by a friend that I remembered and wrote for my book on a flight out of Dharamshala as I was leaving a very cool and very inspiring visit with the Dali Lama.
You can feel it in the writing but when I read the words I can feel where I wrote it from, which is appropriate as I’m sending her lullaby into unknown places. EVEN if the reader doesn’t pick up where you do when you reread your work it transports you to a moment only you know.
Remember your book isn’t just for the world, it’s for yourself as well.
The why of where became really clear when I read my book aloud for the audio version. Locked in a box, not eating for two days in 120 degree weather (My audio book recording was not Obama’s audio book recording) was a near religious experience. And as I read the book I found myself transported, I could hear the director being transported along with me and we could all hear the where in my voice. Selfishly it was a fantastical and sprawling experience in part because I got to revisit so many places.
And that’s the ultimate joy of writing where you are.