My first little creative renaissance happened when I was twenty. I had just finished my first year of law school, and in the summer, I went to London for study abroad. I had a number of formative experiences, such as: discovering the Velvet Underground Matrix Tapes (props to American Airlines inflight entertainment) during my flight there, reveling in the joy of macarons, making new friends, going to a bar for the first time, and having my first romantic experience on public transportation. During my flight home, I wrote some great material for my novel and, therefore, was completely unable to sleep during the whole trek from LHR to LAX.
I think what really happened during the trip was this: I discovered my Ne, and it was awesome. For you non-MBTI freaks, that’s extraverted intuition, the INFP’s misunderstood auxiliary function.
During parts of my childhood and adolescence, my Ne was poorly developed for whatever reason. Although I excelled in school (Fi-Si) and was sort of likeable when not trying to prove something, I could also be judgmental, selfish, and downright rude. I don’t think my Ne really developed much until my twenties. I still struggle with many social situations, but I think now it has more to do with anxiety than a dormant Ne.
In the months that followed my trip, I finished the first novel that I could be proud of. It was a coming-of-age literary affair called, “The Eastward Exodus of Julie Ashbury.” I had worked on it for years, and while earlier drafts had some good points, it was simply too disorganized to go anywhere. Certainly, this was a product of inexperience. But the root of the problem was that I was trying to do way too much. I’d had a pretty Christian-conservative worldview for much of my life, and that was a huge influence on my writing. Trying to serve God, country, and story — all at once — proved to be a tall order.
The novel was never actually published. Anyone who knows me is aware that I actually turned down an offer. I’ll be kicking myself for that for a long time. But still, I consider the final version a success in so many ways. It was a raw and unflinching look at growing up for a creative, highly sensitive, and deeply religious young girl. Stylistically, it did a great job weaving heavy dialogue, questionable pop culture references, fantasy, and weird symbolism into a kind of slippy-trippy suburban romp.
I flirted with the idea of a second novel, but I was focusing so much of my energy on law school that it seemed impossible. For a long time, I just wasn’t writing anything of substance. After I took the bar exam, I completed three short stories within a year. The first one was way too Hemingway — and not in a good way. The second one was an experiment that I respect (it’s published here). The third one is forthcoming with Writer’s Resist magazine. This is where I really came into my own as a writer. But it was less than 3,000 words, and so I had to ask: was this just a fleeting glimpse at the writing career that’s already passed me by?
There was a lull after that. I hopefully scribbled ideas in notebooks, but they didn’t satisfy. I was spinning my wheels. Personally and professionally, my life was in disarray. Through late 2019-2020, I struggled with finding a job. Then there was a failed business. I was already starting to feel isolated and lost when Covid-19 hit. I battled fatigue, depression, and mood swings. My pet bird went to heaven. Yeah, it could have been worse. But twenty-year-old me had hoped for so much more.
I settled into routines. I made bracelets. I made pizza. Also cut down on carbs. My health improved. I meditated. I replaced some of my coffees with ginseng tea. My energy levels spiked, and my outlook on life improved. It was one heck of a montage. As the narrator in my new novel says, “I’ve got a new lease on life, and this is the down payment!” You gotta love the naïvete.
My crazy ideas were tentatively impressed on legal pads. Most were useless: they were permutations of pure boredom, unfortunate puns, and meaningless pop culture jabs. But some were great. The plot slowly emerged. It was awakened more than it was actually “plotted.” An anxious-manic energy flourished.
The working title is “Cognitive Snack.” The narrator, Maggie Lovell, a salty, bat-shit INFP, goes on a quest to turn herself into an ESTJ with the aid of pseudoscience and magical thinking. She uncovers secret societies centered around microdosing, online CIA-MBTI conspiracy theories, and a personality change guru and former litigator who now operates from a shill tarot card reading booth in a Chinese supermarket in the Strip District, Pittsburgh. And yes, she discovers wonderful and uncomfortable truths about herself and the world along the way.
I simply allowed this to happen, and it did. Ne works in mysterious ways. Ne is underrated. Ne is cool. Not as cool as Se. Or maybe even cooler. It’s lustforideas meets lustforlife. No offense to other types (maybe a little), but it’s definitely cooler than Te, when used properly. Ne doesn’t hate, Ne doesn’t judge, and Ne is here for it all.
I’m not trying to denigrate my other cognitive functions. I will need their help too. Fi can help me fill up plot holes, tighten the loose screws holding together my whole emotional arc setpiece, and, more importantly, delete swear words. It takes a village.
I can’t wait for the world (more realistically, a small following of MBTI-obsessed nerds) to gawk over this romp within a farce that I’ve got going on. It’s basically a curated collection of clichés. It defies genre, balks at religion and politics, and wisely dodges the label of Literary.
It could be completely dissonant, banal, and awful. It could be brilliant. There’s really not much of a middle ground. And that’s just how I like it.