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How do you Write?

By CB Mako

How do you write when life is different? How do you find space in your head when you are deemed slow by your peers, but, at the same time, you’re some kind of different fast when it comes to administrative, detailed work? Even before you start writing, you know that you would not be delving into the mainstream narrative. You know that you would be writing what could be considered taboo to your culturally diverse group. You consider yourself a non-binary writer in a binary-minded, religious migrant community. One day, in the far future, you would find yourself writing about difficult topics that no one seems is keen to publish: disability from a disabled person of colour, and the intersections of disability, racism, and ableism.

How do you write when you have mental health and hearing-impaired issues that you need medication and hearing devices? How do you write in a diverse writing group if they suddenly begin creating rules about what not to write? How do you write if you’re not among the able-bodied, fully employed, writers of colour who have families and relatives that support them? You are a first-generation migrant, struggling without any assistance that you would have from an extended family.

How do you write when you are among disabled BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, Person of Colour) writers? When you are surrounded by kindred writers and you feel you are all erased from the narrative, excluded in the conversation, snubbed by other writing groups, and rejected in theme-based editions among literary journals.

How. do you write when you are a parent to two children; sometimes three when your partner is like a 17-year-old in a 45-year-old body—and you are left to do most of the house chores while Metropolitan Melbourne is the only city in stage 4 lockdown in a pandemic?

How do you write when you are a carer of a disabled child? Or a child with cancer? Or a child with chronic illness? How do you write if your child has all three combinations and you’re locked down in isolation? And how do you write when there are multiple medical and therapy appointments online?

How do you write when your local library has erased the history of the Aboriginal people on the unceded land on where you live? How do you write when your birth country had been colonised two hundred years before Naarm became Melbourne? And how do you write when your colonisers mostly focused on teaching you how to memorise prayers, novenas, and rosaries? You would never know how the patriarchy has deeply embedded itself into society. In the far future, your disassociation and distance from your own birth country would give you the perspective you need to write.

How do you write when you’re hungry? When you write because you need the extra money to feed your family while everyone is in lockdown and school students in Metropolitan Melbourne are all studying from home? Or, when the paycheck your partner brings home in minimum wage is already gone because of rent and utilities payments? How about when suddenly your child gets sick and eight years later, you are still struggling with the trauma of the ordeal, when all your savings evaporated?

How do you write on an empty stomach and at three o’clock in the morning, you wake up with a growling tummy? But you are co-sleeping with your child and you cannot move from the curled tiny body beside you, gripping you with entwined limbs, like a lifeline of tentacles while your child slept. 3:00 AM is supposedly the perfect time to write, when the house is quiet and everyone is asleep. Yet you find ourself catching up with chores from laundry, tidying-up toy boxes, and washing dishes. But in this silence—when you hear the hum of the fridge, the distant ticking of a wall clock, and the ringing in your ears—your mind is buzzing; the voices in your head are the loudest. Only then, finally, finally, you find time to write.

When you do write, you write like it is some top-secret topic. You consciously create a space. First, you hide the computer screen; you hide in the library; and you hide the journals where you scribbled your thoughts. You write with a digital pen from your smart phone; creating space in minutes and moments in between chores while waiting for your child at school during pick-up time. You write without telling anyone, even when you see people on social media gloating about their wordcounts; because you know the white, abled, and young writers get first spots to shortlists and writing competitions.

You, with a different skin colour, are automatically relegated to a separate category in writing competitions. Judges consider you to be a ‘migrant’ writer, despite having gained Australian citizenship decades ago; thus, separating you and your writing from the main narrative.

And now, you’re in another colonised land. Far, far away from your colonised birth country, you read works from diverse writers and authors from other colonised nations. You never had books written by BIPOC authors. You grew up in a house where there were several versions and sizes of the Bible—your parents were church volunteers—along with several sets of encyclopaedias, Time-Life books that focused mostly on geography, and hard-bound fairy tale books which looked like collectors’ editions.

You make a conscious choice of decolonising your reading, with the books you buy or borrow from the library. As a writer, you read with gusto, yet slowly savouring every word, every page; because you grew up reading only fairy tales and religious, saintly-sanitised stories. You, with your dark skin, in your own birth country they consider you maitim, because meztisos and meztisas are white-passing and they don’t even decolonise themselves thanks to the colloquial term ‘colonial mentality’.

Only later, when you have migrated, you realised you haven’t read a single book on feminism. You also realise, you grew up not even knowing what feminism was. For in a country with deeply entrenched patriarchal structures, despite women occupying corporate positions, despite the diaspora which would even claim your birth country was most matriarchal behind the scenes, the hold of patriarchal structures over the population are iron-clad and absolute. Thus, when you write, your parents have already condemned you and your soul to hell for dishonouring the family, for heresy, for not reading religious, spiritual, and inspirational books.

And in the future, you would save what little discretionary money you have—thank goodness for Afterpay or Zip available in some online local bookshops; some author friends would even gift you their published books; some writers, who would cull their own burgeoning book shelves, would give you books you’d lust over but couldn’t afford. And then, you find yourself building your own collection of books. You would savour these books and this—this would reflect your aesthetic. Books from Aileen Moreton-Robinson, Audre Lorde, Roxane Gay, Angela Y. Davis, Reni Eddo-Lodge, Sara N. Ahmed, N.K. Jemisin, and academics like Rukmini Pande and Kristine Aquino are on your accessible shelf. Creased books, underlined, bookmarked, with multiple yellow post-it notes sticking out from its pages, and margins riddled with your scribbled side notes. Because as a writer, you decided you would read with a pencil, and your pencils—cherished Palomino Blackwing 602—would be your bookmarks.

Other times when you have no money, you go to your multiple apps on your smart phone; apps from your different libraries—Melbourne Library, Maribyrnong Library, and your local Brimbank Library. In their various digital collections, you borrow both ebooks and audiobooks, all for free to download. And you, the writer, continue to have access to more books than you could imagine.

So, when you finally do find time, as you sort through your book collection—which ones you’ve already read and need to transfer important passages onto 5 x 7-inch index cards—you realise in your tiny rented home, with your narrow Ikea shelf, you have a TBR (to-be-read) shelf of books.

Thus, this is how you write. Surrounded by books which spark your imagination, while holed up at home for six months, from autumn to winter, with an immunocompromised child too unwell to go to anywhere, especially in a pandemic.

 

About CB Mako

CB Mako is a founding member of the Disabled QBIPOC Collective. Winner of the Grace Marion Wilson Emerging Writers Competition, shortlisted for the Overland Fair Australia Prize, and long-listed for the inaugural Liminal Fiction Prize, cubbie has been published in The Suburban Review, The Victorian Writer, Peril Magazine, Djed Press, Overland, Liminal Fiction Prize Anthology (via Pantera Press, arriving in November 2020), and Growing Up Disabled in Australia (via Black Inc Books, arriving in February 2021).

 

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