Published author a work in progress

Brendan Shay Basham addresses assembly to talk writing and “self-revision.”

Adam Loyd
October 20, 2023
Author Brendan Basham

Like so many authors, Brendan Shay Basham knows much of the writing process is revision. And, as he told an engaged assembly audience, the road to self-discovery can take a similar path.

“If consciousness is the story that we tell ourselves about ourselves, then we have plenty of time for revision — to revise our story, to look at ourselves in new ways, to look at the world in new ways,” he said.

Basham’s debut novel “Swim Home to the Vanished” draws on his real-life experiences as a chef, dealing with the grief that comes with loss and mental health. In his assembly remarks and subsequent lunchtime Q&A, Basham shared the moments of his life that made him pause, reflect and revise his way of thinking.

Born to a white father and a Navajo mother, Basham had always been told the meaning of his Tó Ts’ohnii heritage was “big water.” He said he took that to heart, feeling as though he needed to live near large bodies of water “in order to feel like himself.” It wasn’t until later in life that an aunt explained the English translation of the name had distorted the actual meaning — “expansive water.”

“There's something about how language and translation and transliteration can throw us off. That kind of definition, being defined by another, being pushed to margins,” he said.

This subtle, but powerful piece of knowledge presented a new way for Basham to reflect on his life — his years behind a cookline, the many places he’d called home and the passing of his brother — revising his personal story while creating art in different forms.

“This is my expansive water. It looks like chaos. But that's kind of what water is, isn't it? It's kind of chaotic and it's unpredictable,” Basham says of his writing and artistic pursuits.

Basham also spoke on the topic of mental health, sharing that he was recently diagnosed and with bipolar disorder and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. He reflected on his time as a chef, crediting the way his brain works for his success in the kitchen.  

“ADHD is not a disorder, it's a different way of seeing the world, it's truly a superpower,” he said. “When I'm a chef, I have six pans on the saute station, I’ve got stuff on the grill, I’ve got stuff in the fryer, something smoking in the oven, something braising in the other oven. I'm screaming at my cooks, dancing with my dishwasher. I'm screaming at the front house staff and my business partner and I can do this all at the same time.”

As Basham met with several dozen students for a Q&A session one asked, “If life is about revisiting and reshaping your own personal narrative and your life, can stories have a proper conclusion?”

“It's cyclical,” Basham said. “I don't think it has to end. I think it depends on your culture, how we are raised and what you believe in. If you think that a story has an end, then you've stopped growing.”