On Movement & Creative Mentorship

Today I was reading Pleasure Activism and was struck at the way dear sister Doctor Alexis Pauline Gumbs wrote about the mentoring that was done by Toni Cade Bambara and how those mentees have served as examples to Lex. I was left breathless and a little jealous thinking, oh how I hope someone will write about me in that way but more important than my ego is the issue of mentorship in creating movement.

As I get older and farther from my days as a baby organizer and baby poet, I meet other fledgling activists and media makers and I honestly think my generation, those that are smack in the middle of middle age have done a pretty shitty job of mentoring those generations after us. We are often so caught up in our egos or just our day to day packed as fuck lives, that we forget to take time to share lessons while giving space for new failures (and successes). Often we are so busy wanting to mold the younger generations into copies of ourselves, not recognizing our own errors but also our own stubbornness. There also a healthy dose of fear here – fear of being made obsolete, fear of losing access, power or the trappings of it we think we have under the current iteration of disaster capitalism.

I don’t exclude myself from this criticism. I can name a number of times where I should have shown more patience, more love, more understanding to those seeking to push the movement(s) further, their creativity further. It is something that as of late I am trying to rectify by giving time and energy to younger organizers.

I have written about it before but it begs and is worth repeating, I owe so much of who I am and how I organize because I was mentored. I didn’t call it that when Richie Perez would have me stuff envelopes or learn how to do press releases in between teaching me the basics of protest planning and security and public speaking while handing me books and articles to read and sharing his own experiences but it was mentoring at it’s best. I still ask myself at least once daily what would Richie do or say in this situation I find comfort and courage in his lessons.

But when does the need for mentorship end? Can one be both mentee and mentor? These are some questions that came up in conversation today with a dear fellow mama writer and npic worker when I was lamenting my inability to find a literary/poetic home and the closest I have come is my academic work which is forcing me (in a good way) to play with poetry again on rigid deadlines and within the constraints of assignments. My dear friend, who was seeking advice on navigating a new role she was in, offered concrete suggestions and advice for me. And I will admit I was dismissive of some of her suggestions. They included writing groups that were filled with younger writers whom we both agreed may not get some of nuances of being middle age mamis while wanting to create (for example even as I’m writing this I’m lamenting how I should have been in bed an hour ago since I have to wake up to pack lunch plus there is a sink full of dirty dishes and dinner leftovers that need to be put away). I also was loath to join a writing group with a super popular current darling of the LA latinx lit scene that I just don’t get. Some of this was fear. A lot of it was arrogance but deep down I want(ed) a mentor to help me midwife the dozen of half formed writing ideas and plans that I have been incubating.

In the end my dear friend and I are sort of mentoring one another as we continue to push the boundaries of what women of a certain ethnicity and age are supposed to be doing while also mentoring those who are still coming up.

Reviving the Sleeping Poetisa

This is my third semester in college and it quite a doozy (did I really just use that word?). I haven’t considered myself a poet in a long time and one of my classes is a poetry class with the final project being a chapbook. I have wanted to create a chapbook for a long ass time but always felt a little bit at a loss as to how to even start. Where to even begin. So I am grateful that this class will give me some structure, guidance and hard deadlines to just do it.

Entering my fourth week of the poetry class I have found myself struggling with how to translate my thoughts to poetry. It’s not that I’m reaching for new ideas but rather how to bring back up to the surface some ideas that have settled in my belly (no other way to really describe where those feelings sit). Some of the themes that have found a deep home in me include displacement, cohabitation, and the twin sisters of longing and loss.

My first assignment was to write a series of haikus. I focused on ancestral altars, preparing to ride the bus in a still new to me city, things left behind by those who left, and sort of still lifes from my terrace. I thought they were shit. My instructor, who had a PhD in Puerto Rican studies said he wanted to read them on my terrace with coffee, said they invoked a poetic legacy I was part of. Maybe I could be a poet again. Maybe I never stopped being one.

In New York my poetic life was built on routines centered around readings. Having a reading in my calendar meant I had to have something new to share. Not that I couldn’t share older material but I needed to test, get public feedback on (would the audience laugh, nod their head, or stare blankly) new things. So I would always be working on new things, at night or early in the morning, when the kids were asleep, when I wasn’t chatting with lovers who lived cross borough or cross country.

After living in Los Angeles for 7 years I haven’t found that routine here yet. I haven’t found a poetic home that I feel embraced or safe enough to experiment/test in. I haven’t found a poetic family. And honestly when you’re over 40, a parent, a student, an executive director – the spaces I have found seem so compartmentalized – people see me in one way and crossing into another identity makes me and others uncomfortable in a way I haven’t been able to navigate (yet).

So for now I’m just going to keep writing, in a much more solitary way or through my class (which since it is an online program still can feel pretty solitary) and hope that it will be enough to get me through and keep me disciplined.

10 Year Cycles

Nostalgia has always been a haunting presence in my life. Too often let my mind wander into the what ifs and I hone in on key moments, key people. At age 41 you’d think I get over this nasty little habit, stop feeding the bad spirits so that they recognize they can’t have a home in me but then again at age 41 you see the cycles so much more clearly.

Tragedies, history, trauma – I have come to believe are all cyclical and I wish that all the therapy and self care in the world would wipe that truth away – allow for clean endings and even neater beginnings pero la vida no es asi.

10 years ago I was writing about politics from a somewhat safe distance. My (measly) paycheck depended on it but in a different way than now. I could write about who was running for president, family separations at the borders and within, the politicians on both sides of the aisle talking out of both sides of their mouths and the nonprofits that propped them and their policies up – the same nonprofits that were once in lust with the likes of media makers (ahem bloggers, err journalists) like me with little repercussion except for counter posts, canceled contracts, blocked access to alleged insider information.

10 years ago I was equally as careless (or carefree?) about writing about my romances, my motherhood, my lack, my want, my desires. It was the the death knell for relationships but also the opening of other realizations about what (for better or for worse) I was capable of.

10 years later I have become capable of things I only dreamed of – I fantasized about moving west with/for a chain of lovers and here I am, in a house in Los Angeles . 10 years ago, the same non-profits ,whose practices I disparaged , are now part of my day to day.  10 years ago I imagined what it would be like to not fund raise (now crowdfund) for basic needs. I don’t have to imagine but there are still basic needs unmet.

I still haven’t written that damn book(s) -although I’m working on it. I still haven’t finished school – although I’m working on it. I still haven’t found that safety that romantic/sexual love was supposed to bring. That I think I’ve given up on. I’ve provided a decent life for my daughters but have also put them at great risk and now I seek a different type of safety. A different kind of security that can only come through deep heartache and learning from that heartache.

I’ve always given few fucks about certain things like rules, expectations but now from a place of precarious comfort and privilege I give even less fucks. I still have deep desires, deep hopes, and deep expectations of what I am capable of. I have proven to myself that jumping in the pool ( to steal a baby daddy’s quote) , holding my breath and hoping I will surface yields some progress but also costs so so much.

So 10 years later- the first day of a new month, when the veil between this world and others is transparent I don’t just ask the spirits, what they would do, but I ask my past self. And the answer is clear – as Audre Lorde said – it is better to speak. We were never meant to survive and yet here we still are. IMG_20181027_170314715_HDR

Compassion & Accountability

The last couple of days have felt overwhelming.

 

If I were being honest I would actually frame the mix of sadness, shame, anger, frustration and stuckness within the timeline of when #metoo ceased to feel kind of far away and stood screaming at me in my living room through the body of my adult daughter.

 

If I were being really real I would move the timeline back to an ex who was so angry at me that what should have been a simple return of a Yankees cap and some other things left in my bedroom at my mother’s apartment turned into something that I only called rape inside my head.

 

But I don’t know if I have the capacity to be that honest or real right now. So I’ll just focus on the last couple of days.

 

I don’t know Junot Diaz personally. We have never hung out except for that one time in the mid 1990s when I danced with him at a fundraiser for Puerto Rican political prisoners at Clemente Soto Velez and he was not (contrary to his recollection) part of the Justice Committee of the National Congress for Puerto Rican Rights. But as his star rose and as I hung on the periphery of the Latino lit scene and the not so periphery of the rising (and then falling) Latino blogosphere, I heard a lot of/about him besides all of his writing credits and accolades.

 

I heard about infidelities that on the real,  I shrugged off, based on my experience with Latino men who couldn’t keep it in their pants or talk/be outside monogamy starting with my father who left my mom and married and had kids with la otra to the times I was hurt by la otra, especially when I was la otra.

 

Then I heard other things that made me more uncomfortable and downright angry as he was getting more and more praise for being a brilliant star as a Latino writer and a Latino man. He was being so real about how awkward he was, about how he was a perro, and he was building a reputation as someone who wanted to share his experience of moving through the literary world as a person of color through mentorship. I had heard about him taking advantage of women who would go to him for mentorship, this included the kind of creepy piropo that made people uncomfortable and more. I also heard from other Latino men within the Latino lit scene that they too knew of this.

 

These weren’t my stories. These weren’t my experiences to share. So instead, using the small but kind of critical platform and reputation I had as a media maker (blogger/writer/social media influencer/whatever the fuck you want to call me) to warn people to pull back all the praise a little and be critical. I did this on social media, on blogs, in comments and in person.

 

Para variar (sarcasm), I was called a hater, una cangreja guilty of quitate tu pa ponerme yo syndrome, and jealous.

Cool.

 

Except not.

 

Over the last few days I have received sincere communications from people I respect (and love) apologizing for defending him so hard. And right before that messages from fellow Latina writers/media makers/journalists sharing their reaction to Diaz’s sharing his own sexual abuse story.

 

My response/sense/feeling is the same. It’s a question and it’s something I’ve been grappling with actively for almost a year to answer : how do we hold compassion for those men (especially Latino men) who were harmed as children while at the same time holding them accountable and responsible for the harm they have caused women (especially women of color)? How do we move through and eliminate a culture of silence that felt like it was too hard to have a  talented dique golden (male) child and be critical to how they behaved towards others who were especially vulnerable because they too wanted to be seen as writers of color? How do we challenge what is essentially a white supremacist literary scene that only allows for one poc writer to take the spotlight and others hold them up at any cost, at any sacrifice.

 

Accountability is beyond acknowledgement. Junot as more people are coming forward has publicly stated that he accepts responsibility.

 

Cool.

 

Except that’s not enough.

 

Where is the atonement and repair work that he will do with himself and the communities he is a part of?Acknowledgement is not an apology. It is not a commitment to do that hard work of healing trauma that caused other trauma.

 

How many of us are part of other communities (ie the non-profit world, the academic world, media, organizing ) where there are charismatic men of color who are known to some as abusers and because of a real fear of being locked out/called out we don’t say anything and even worse, award them (I can think of some off the top of my head which means that I too am complicit).

 

How do hold compassion for those that have caused harm while making sure there is accountability when they call harm to others/ourselves? Is this even possible?

Workshopping

Never ever have I ever shared my writing for the express purpose of being critiqued and judged by others. School papers and submissions to be edited for the magazines and blogs I have written for over the course of my life don’t count to me for some reason.

 

This year I enrolled in a memoir writing class especially because I would be workshopped. The class is all online and run by a writer whom I have followed on social media for a while so the process seems trustworthy. The plan is like this. I would utilize the class and workshopping to polish some pages to submit to a writing workshop I want to attend in the summer. Then I hopefully will have more pages and maybe even may have something semi-publishable – even if just a chapter as an essay by 2019.

 

For the class, I was in the first group to be workshopped so naturally I procrastinated in turning over what to me felt like a draft of a first chapter of a memoir. I was nervous submitting something not just for the instructors but also to my fellow students who didn’t know shit about me save what I wrote in the class intro.

 

The biggest thing was of course my fear of being found out as a horrible shitty writer and having to give up as a 40 year old woman on my lifelong dream of being a “real” writer (never mind that I’ve been published before – fears can be irrational).

 

Spoiler alert – I’m not a shitty writer. At least not in the opinion of other people who are probably just as scared to be found out as shitty writers (I’m not saying they are). The feedback I received from my fellow students and instructor was actually (mostly) really helpful and seemed to follow common threads in terms of areas I need to work on.

 

This means now more writing, more polishing and then more submitting for judgement.

The Wormhole of Memory

Image by David Samuel

I have not been good at blogging. It’s not for a lack of things I want to say/write about. It’s a lack of wanting to share them. Which is strange because I didn’t used to have a problem with sharing and when I decided to start blogging again this year I wanted to share more. But I have found that as I’m working on my first memoir project, the writing work of going inward and backward, there is a conflict between that and and blogging writing.

 

I’m grateful for all the digital footprints I have left. They are useful as I reflect, remember and one day my manuscript will be a book and it will be public and people can dissect and disagree and digest. But this process of going back has me being more cautious : fact checking and memory checking, because yes the memory does need to be checked.

 

Before there were blogs, before there were bulletin boards, before there was livejournal there were regular journals and I have kept these for as long as I can remember. They are lined with images cut out from magazines and newspapers reflecting my interests and curiosities (as well as maturity). Some of them are lined with hearts and arrows and whoever was the object of my desire at the moment and whatever nickname they gave me and the names I gave them or what I called them : Nene, Stupid Married Boy, la Lengua, el Chileno, El Cubano, El Colombiano, etc etc etc. As I got older I began to put an index in the front inside covers : No more hearts around names but there were names, significant events, important places, and the date the journal was opened and closed.

 

But these handwritten musings, recollections, reflections are one sided. I’m grateful for processes that the memoir class I enrolled in have me engaged in. I’m questioning my recollections and writing notes as to who I need to ask to verify. My feelings aren’t up for debate but other things could be. But then there are people I will never ask. People I don’t ever want to speak to again or if I did speak to them could unleash a regression or worse – an obsession with nostalgia that I am prone to.

 

Cue the internet. My father never told me much about his childhood so I don’t know much about what La Trocha, Vega Baja is like. This led me to googling that then to googling his former jobs to confirm memories and scandals. Then I googled his wife and then found my half siblings – one who lives in Los Angeles. I found weddings and babies and whole life without me, my sister, my children.

 

I expected to be sadder or angrier than I was. I was both those things but in a very matter of fact way that 20 some years gives you.

 

But  there were also happier wormholes, like finding pictures of my piano and ballet teachers (yes, I took ballet and piano) and the studios where I went every Saturday Morning for much of my childhood. Despite the trite joke about how you get to Carnegie Hall (practice, practice, practice), those studios aren’t there anymore. My piano and ballet teachers have long died and my father and his kids, my half-siblings went on with their lives without me. It’s not something to be sad or angry about. It just is or rather it just was.