It sounds obvious to say that an author’s writing reflects their personal vision of things; that the psychology of the writer reveals itself in the writing. That is, after all, the essence of fiction. It’s all about how you see things. But I’m talking about something more specific: the particular neuropsychology of some writers. What if that personal vision is different from the majority of other people? I don’t mean a writer’s opinion or unique intellectual “point-of-view,” I mean literally how they see—perceive—the world.
And I’m not talking about psychosis or neurosis, either—although there’s a whole different, and equally large, discussion to be had about that—I’m discussing the differences in how the brain processes sensory information, or how a momentary short circuit in the brain can lead to a whole different way of viewing reality. In the case of writers—and artists and musicians for that matter—it can determine the whole nature of their creative output.
The descent into Fiji’s Nadi International Airport en route from Sydney is a spectacular one. After hundreds upon hundreds of kilometres of nothing but water, a string of barrier reefs announce themselves, made visible by the waves breaking against them. Then, the volcanic islands beyond them, mountainous and green and rocky all at once. Up ahead is Fiji’s main island of Viti Levu looms, too big to take in completely, even from this distance. Twin senses of vastness and remoteness mark this first impression.
It’s a remarkable landscape, and it’s made even more so by the fact that it ushered aviation into the 21st Century. The airspace above the islands was the first to incorporate the Global Positioning System, or as we all commonly know it, GPS, into its aviation system. In doing so, Fiji changed forever the way we get from Point A to distant Point B.
The first place we were allowed to go to alone was the McDonald’s around the corner. Our family went so often that my parents eventually allowed us to walk there and back by ourselves. At 13, I carried the $15 my dad handed me while my brother Kenny, then 7, held onto a torn piece of lined paper with our order: eight McChicken sandwiches, six cheeseburgers, and — don’t forget! — a few handfuls of ketchup packets. I could smell it before we even reached the doors: hot oil and well-done meat mixed with ball-pit musk, back when McDonald’s PlayPlace was in its heyday. Before the Burger King across the street became a Chase Bank, the red-and-gold glow of McDonald’s was rivaled only by Burger King’s towering red, yellow, and blue sign. Nothing had been that bright in my family’s district in Saigon. I was so taken by the neon all over Los Angeles, but especially by the neon of McDonald’s. When I see it today, I’m hit at once with nostalgia and remorse.
Situated at one of the busiest intersections in our town of Glendale, California, McDonald’s was sometimes more of a community space than it was a food source. We lived — and still live — in Glendale’s food swamp, where the inundation of fast food was too tempting to pass up. Walk a handful of blocks east and you’ll hit KFC, Jack In The Box, Carl’s Jr., Domino’s, and Pizza Hut. But that McDonald’s was our favorite. Usually filled with old men playing chess or teenagers crowded around Nintendo Game Boys, our McDonald’s was never empty. I learned early on not to be overwhelmed by the menu in all its backlit glory. It unfurled into infinity behind the cashiers, offering McThis and McThat, but I was trained to focus only on the Dollar Menu, where I could find our trusted McChicken sandwiches and cheeseburgers, minus the Extra Value Meal upsells.
Our love for the ’70s, equal parts homage and satire, is inseparable from the bell-bottomed music scene of that decade. Taylor Jenkins Reid has written a stylish and propulsive if sometimes sentimental novel set against that backdrop, in the stadiums, studios and pool houses of late-1970s L.A. Though the back cover suggests that “everyone knows Daisy Jones & The Six,” the book is the story of a fake band in a real world.
Quite apart from how interesting the science contained within it is, it has the power – if only people would read it – to do vastly more for gender equality than any number of feminist “manifestos”.
And when they bombed other people’s houses, we