Field Notes & Family with Christyn Refuerzo

Christyn Refuerzo (she/her) is a Filipino-American writer from the Bay Area, though currently based in New York. Her work can be found in Potted Purple, The Creative Zine, and The Weight Journal. When she’s not writing or studying, she can be found with a cup of coffee or tea, listening to music and reading. Follow her on Twitter @christynr412

O: When did you begin writing? 

Christyn Refuerzo: I can’t  remember exactly what age I began writing, but I do remember being in elementary school writing these short, little poems. Back then, it was fairly intermittent – journaling or jotting down poetry whenever I felt like it. And for a long time, I wrote for myself. From writing novels “just for fun” to short stories to pass the time on long flights, I’ve always had something to say, a story to tell. It wasn’t until my sophomore year that I realized I wanted to be a writer. Something more than just a hobby – that year, my passion (or love affair) grew into a “marriage” with the craft. Something to nurture, to love, to keep at, no matter what. 

O: Is there a writer that you look up to, whether it be someone who motivated you to begin writing or someone whose work inspires you today? 

C: Barbara Jane Reyes published a poetry collection titled Letters to a Young Brown Girl in 2020 and the titular poem in particular struck a chord with me. Though I have been writing for a much longer time, reading a poem that had someone like me (a Filipino girl) as the central focus changed my perspective. It reminds me of where I come from, my Philippine roots and culture, and that it is a story worth telling. The entire collection in general also has this audaciousness which I adore. She writes without fear. I highly recommend checking out her work and the rest of her poetry.

O: If you had to describe your work in three words, what would they be and why? 

C: Fluid, because I always want my work and style to grow and change. I think one of my greatest writing fears is staying stagnant because even though it might be reliable, it does not leave room for something better. Complex, because as a writer, I feel that it is my job to dive beyond the surface and explore the why of it all. And finally, I would describe my work as honest. In every piece I write, whether it is fiction, nonfiction, or poetry, there is a shard of my heart in there. 

O: What is your favorite part of the creative process? 

C: Those little moments of that’s it. Whether it be an expansive description of the setting in a story to just a single word, that single moment of aha is just glorious. There are a lot of quotes about soulmates that go something like, I wasn’t even looking when I found you. That exact sentiment is what I feel when I find the right word or phrase or piece to my writing. Most of the time, when these little moments come to me, I’m in the shower, or with friends, which I think makes it just that much more magical (and cool!). 

O: What does writing mean to you? 

C: If you asked me this question a few years ago (maybe 15-year-old me), I would’ve said that writing used to be an escape for me. While that has not entirely changed, writing has shifted from something I did to immerse myself in a completely made-up world to something deeper.

Writing has become a place where I can be true. Truly vulnerable, truly honest, truly myself. As a person and in my day-to-day life, there are moments where I hold myself back from doing or saying something merely because there is a part of me that says, You’re not close like that. A little barrier goes up and I stop myself from doing something. When I write, I can say what I want to say. I can write my every thought, raw and unfiltered, on a piece of paper and no one will expect me to clean it up. It can just be there, in all of its chaotic glory – and maybe someone would find it beautiful. Even if I don’t.

O: How do you write courageously? 

C: I don’t hold back. As I mentioned, I tend to hold back in other parts of my life, but I try my hardest in my writing not to do that. Because, in writing, words can be changed. The perspective can shift. In that first draft, no one can judge you. No one has to see that first draft. You do not owe it to anyone to show it to them. Keep that first draft sacred. Just let go and write. (To be completely honest, even now, I struggle with writing courageously but it is a process and all processes require growing pains to get to that moment of flourishing. And I learn something new every time I have another “growing pain.” It makes me better.)

O: How has the pandemic changed your workflow? 

C: My studies were entirely online so around the height of the pandemic, I used writing as an escape (as I mentioned previously). Because of that, I began to write consistently. I created a routine where I would write a certain time every night with a cup of green tea. I would change rooms when I started to write my stories, to signal to my brain that this is no longer “homework.” While I’ve slipped on this routine since going off to college, I think that the discipline is there and is something that can happen again (as shown by my writing almost daily during my winter break!).  

O: Your work is striking, enchanting, and solemn. Where does your inspiration come from? 

C: Thank you! Naturally, I’m inspired by life. Little moments here and there. You know, I just took a sociology class where I was tasked to observe various places on campus, study various interactions, and use it as “data” for my final hypothesis that proved an established sociological theory. I was always a naturally curious (read: nosy) person so by completing these “field notes” week by week helped me hone my people-watching skills further. I got to study different people, the way they act with their friends versus their significant others, etc.

However, these observations help me flesh out the complexities of the root of my most recent inspiration – my culture and my family. I am Filipino-American and there are stories my parents have shared with me over the years about their parents and their parents. (There are stories that I am interested in writing that I have experienced myself, but those are projects for another time ;).) Still, these stories, while rooted in memory, deviate enough from what actually happened that I can classify it as fiction, which has helped. Also knowing just a fragment of the memory helps tell a fictional story and not a memoir, which calls for a completely different set of rules. And of course, there is a fear of “getting it just right,” but as my parents always say, “It means you care.” And these stories are the ones that tend to be the closest to my heart.

O: What is your favorite piece of work so far and why is it your favorite? (Please include a link if you have one, we’d love to include it on the website!) 

C: I would like to say that I love all of my work equally, but… a work that changed my life was actually a poem. Even though I don’t write that much poetry anymore, this piece was the first I had written inspired by my culture. It is called “i see and remember the sampaguita,” and it was published in The WEIGHT Journal in October of 2021. I remember I originally wrote it for The Adroit Journal’s poetry prize in 2021, submitted it, but alas, I got rejected. But it was for the best since I submitted it (minutes after I got the rejection email) to The WEIGHT and they said yes!

I wrote the piece after the rise in Asian-American hate attacks in 2021 and I wanted to use my pen to make some noise. Something simple, something that was my voice and my voice alone. I started with my mom’s favorite flower, the sampaguita – a white-colored jasmine, native to the Philippines. From there, I was able to write just a fragment of what I felt at the time and still feel now. My favorite line from the piece is, “the white that’s on my mind is not of western beauty, not like it always is – it’s the sampaguita flower, jasmine. roots in the east—stark white, fragrant, rising sun.” It communicates exactly how I felt – that for once, I wasn’t thinking about wanting to be white. I was thinking about where I come from. Where my family is from. And how beautiful that truly is.

O: If you could give new writers some advice from what you’ve learned, what would it be?

C: I’ll give you a bit of technical advice and a bit of emotional advice.

Firstly, whenever you’re revising, always begin a new document with each draft. I’ve had two professors (whose writing styles were vastly different) who have told me this and as someone who does this: it works! It honestly feels like a new story is being told every time I start a new draft, which is really important, because it also allows for yourself to change the work and not be adhered to the same rules as the past draft. Every draft is different. They all offer something to that final piece. Whether you only keep a single line from draft 3 or an entire paragraph, it is just another puzzle added to the piece.

Secondly, write for yourself. I am currently studying creative writing at college, which means that it can be hard to separate academia from recreation. Still, writing for yourself reminds you of your roots/beginnings – the little version of you that started writing for whatever reason. It keeps not only the work fresh but it also keeps you in that ever-changing “marriage” (as put it earlier) with writing.

O: Do you have any upcoming projects that we should look out for? 

C: Honestly, I do not since I am currently writing yet another story, submitting some previous work to some journals, and doing some line-edits for SeaGlass Literary (check them out!). (My Pinterest also has some special sneak peeks into new drafts since that’s where I keep my writing moodboards.) In the meantime, please read some of my previously published work and check my social media for updates. I can’t wait to see what is coming next! 

Thank you to Christyn for sitting down and chatting with us about everything from inspiration to courage in writing to favorite works! Find out more about her through her websiteTwitter, and Pinterest.