There it was.
A picture of an empty room with white walls, concrete floors, and German-tilt windows surrounded by small squares of ribbed glass. It was an artist studio in Queens. I started dreaming about all the things I’d write and doodle there. All the self-published books I could fit in the cavernous space. All the hours I’d spend gazing out the window overlooking a tree—a tree!!!—in New York City.
If you’re wondering why I’m describing it like I just fell in love, it’s because I fell in love.
I don’t know how I got there exactly. Probably in between watching YouTubers talking about tiny houses and van-living, I’d stumbled upon the studio. And by stumbled upon I mean I Googled “studio spaces in NYC,” went through a bunch of listings, narrowed it down to a few, and landed on the aforementioned one.
“This is it,” I thought, surprising myself. After all, I’d been pretty set on buying a van for weekend escapes to quieter, greener landscapes with my little family. A studio space was the total opposite. It would further establish roots in the city and be a space for me—just me. Alone. It wasn’t something I’d ever expressed to myself, much less to anyone else, as a thing I’d been looking for.
But it apparently was.
It apparently also was more than a year into the pandemic, and I’d barely left the apartment. Which, by our own accounts, my little family and I had enjoyed (probably TOO much, well-adjusted individuals would say). On top of that, there was the looming (or existing?) recession and my five-figure grad student loans (down from six. Yay?). A studio space felt frivolous. Especially for a writer who got her start in the working world by interning at small-town newspapers, renting out rooms in strangers’ apartments, eating one Cup O’ Noodles a day and developing a potassium deficiency. An immigrant (!!!) writer bred to scrimp and save and be practical AF.
“A whole studio to yourself?!” I could hear my parents say. “But all five of us lived in a whole ass studio apartment! It doesn’t even have a kitchen! Walang hiya.”
Oh well, I thought. I screencapped it, closed the tab, and went back to tiny house vids.
There’s the you you tell yourself you are. And there’s the you that’s just, well, you.
Not to say you couldn’t become that idealized version of you without time and effort. Or that there’s just one version of you. It’s more that the most you that’s you is the you that takes no time or effort to manifest. It just is.
For me, for the longest time I had this idealized version of myself that involved being the type of writer I thought I was going to be. Like, A Very Serious Writer of Very Serious Things. At Very Serious Newspapers and of Very Serious Books.
But the me that’s me has a way of getting her way. Even if it takes a little while. Even when I force her to do something else. She does things despite my best intentions. Like, write Not Very Serious Things in a blog despite her Very Serious Job. And make comics, which wasn’t her ideal output given that it wasn’t The Great Asian American Novel. And regularly biking to the neighborhood of her future studio for a year when she was supposed to have been exploring new terrain.
In the instances I’ve forced her to do something she doesn’t really want to do, I can get her to play along for a bit. Then she’s like, “Fuck you. I quit.” And that’s when shit goes down—whether it’s physical or mental burnout, or both—and I have to go deal with the aftermath. Which sucks.
So, over time I’ve learned to listen to her a lot more.
This time, I fancied myself a van person, even though I actually hate driving. And a tiny-cabin-in-the-woods person, even though wide expanses of land terrify me. Plus, I’m not a builder. Nor someone who wants to worry about maintaining anything. (That’s why I rent, hello.)
Despite these realities, a van and tiny cabin person I deemed myself to be. Yet, in both scenarios the me that’s me got all pissy and worried about where the writing desk would go in a van situation, and whether there would be reliable internet to upload the things I did write, and how much all that vanlifing and tiny housing and hunting for internet would disrupt the writing schedule.
Which is usually how it goes. I used to always think there were all these paths I could take. But there was really only one. Because regardless of the different idealized versions of myself I’ve tried, the same one always wins.
And she’s a persistent fucker.
Whenever I’m on the verge of a major life decision, she’s usually on my case, asking questions like, “That’s cute, but will moving to INSERT PLACE HERE be good for your writing? And is being with INSERT PERSON HERE good for your writing? And will INSERT THAT JOB be good for your writing?”
She’s also an annoying fucker.
Six months after I first saw the picture of the studio, I looked it up again.
This time, I’d paid off my student loans (I’m still ?!?!?!? about that and will write about it another time). Franco and I had just come back from a tiny house getaway where I’d spent a lot of it building fires (lol) and writing in the woods, which I loved. So, I wondered if I could replicate that feeling without moving to the woods forever.
Four days later, I had the key in my hand.
“It’s happening so fast,” I said to the studio manager.
“That’s because it’s meant to be,” he said.
I opened the door, sat in the empty room and looked out the window overlooking a tree—my tree.
And the me that’s me said only one thing: “Cool.”