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.

 

 

We Are One Another’s Survival

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I haven’t written for a few days. I was travelling – physically to Detroit, emotionally and archivally much further back. Returning to Detroit after 5-6 years Detroit has changed so much. If I felt shock at the Q line and the stores and restaurants along Cass, I can only imagine what it feels like to people who live there.

The people I was with for two days felt, seemed so young to me, not just in age but also experience and I had to muster kindness and gentleness at times, reminding myself how little I knew and how much I thought I knew as a young organizer of 20, of 30 even. How hard it is to balance trying to become “professional” with your values. Not that I have that figured out. In therapy today I wondered aloud how Richie (Perez) did it. How did he work in a big non-profit while fighting so many institutions that in many ways bolstered his place of work and vice versa. I was reminded at how impossible it is really to compartmentalize ourselves when we are driven by values. For example I was surprised to see at this meeting someone I know through my professional life and I had to consciously let go of the worry that I would seem less ED like because of my life as a media maker was exposed.

As I went back – including looking back at what my connection was to Detroit – a collection of women of color some of whom I have shared almost half of my life with virtually and actually it became obvious how much we are one another’s survival. I mean this metaphorically, as I have been blessed to witness how some of these women have evolved into authors, educators, artists. Nothing makes me happier than walking into a bookstore and seeing some of their names on the spines of books but I also mean this literally. Thinking back to how I blogged, texted, and cried into computer keyboards and in some of these women’s arms when I was physically abused by one of my partners, when my gas was shut off and I was going to be evicted. They gave me pep talks as I sobbed into my phone on my way to blogger meetups and they sent me their life’s savings so that my kids and I wouldn’t be homeless. All while they too were struggling to live in a world that told us and still tells us that we don’t matter, that our stories don’t matter. We remind(ed) one another that we do matter and that together we are powerful and real.

On my last night in Detroit, three of us women of color sat in a car in the parking lot of a kabob place in Hamtramck. It was maybe six degrees outside but the inside of the car was warm and warm tears fell from my closed eyes as I listened to a dear friend of mine pray in Arabic. This is a friend of mine who has stayed with me and my kids in my tiny ass apartment in Corona, Queens and in my current home in Los Angeles. I may not know exactly what her words meant but I know they felt like our survival. They felt like our power. We all breathed differently after that prayer and I’m still breathing differently now.

We Have Lived Volumes

I’m proud of how 2018 is going, despite the heartbreaking reminders of what a terrible, unjust world we live in, country we live in, city I live in. There are sounds, breaths, smiles, whispers, words, text messages, emails, this week that remind me me how much I am held up, how much I hold others, how much we all hold each other and how will survive this and be survived – if we put some work in. If we put some love in.

 

I didn’t blog yesterday because what I wanted to share  – the rage I was feeling yesterday at so many things, situations, people, institutions – when I started to write so much came out – too much came out and it’s not for here. This isn’t the right medium for it. I poured it into my manuscript(s – because like Bianca wrote to me on twitter it’s a mash up that will turn into a brick y toma, Rosana said volumes). Oh have I lived volumes and we have lived them together.  

 

I’m proud of myself for sitting down nightly – even after feeling – even when feeling beat down and disheartened and just tired and writing. Writing for my blog, writing the book(s). This week I also start an online class on memoir writing because I’ve never taken a writing class in my whole life even though I’ve been a writer for as long as I can remember. And the process has been, is kind of amazing. Last night I wrote – furiously – about the cycles I have been able to witness and be a part of (for better or worse) and ended up smiling remembering the first time I learned to use a french press. And that memory – sweet, tender, fraught – was a metaphor for everything. How in the midst of so much we can and do still connect with people over the mundane and not so mundane. These are the touchstones to our survival.

 

There was also a bit of a panic yesterday – over the things revealed/remembered/recalled. Things that have not been made public that will see light and oh how ever would I do them justice in that light. How – technically speaking in terms of form but in terms of also the emotion that gets transferred in the process of remembering and trying to pin that memory down into a sentence, a paragraph, a page.

 

But today I am proud. Today I am grateful. Today I shared some time thanks to technology with people, mujeres who were part of an early point of my journey and I part of theirs and we spoke, planned, dreamed. Brilliant is a word that Lex uses often and rightfully so. This journey continues through the work we are all doing in our respective corners and the way we converge together.

 

It’s exciting and it gives me hope.  IMG_20180106_164927257.jpg

Of Imposed Silences

I have so many words I want to write tonight. There is much happening around me, around us that impacts me and people I know and care for/with. But we all don’t live by hashtags and selfies and the color of dress we choose as a statement. For some those things are beyond reach, beyond comprehension even.

There are things I would say and write but to do so would be to risk so much : the confidence of others, the comfort of my own steady paycheck.

So for now I hold not just my face but my tongue.

For now.

 

 

So It Begins

This is where the panic set in.

 

I decided I was going to write with the goal of publishing.

 

But but where the hell do I start.

 

What genre am I going to do this in? Is it through poetry?  A series of essays? Do I write about mami’hood? Organizing from teenage hood to now? My journey as a writer/blogger/journalist? The politics of blogging as a woman of color as tech was rapidly changing? Just the politics? Oh and the puterias – the good, bad and scary? I still journal daily and that’s where all the dirty details are. I have decades of journals. Archives of my lives, movement histories. How the fuck to cobble all those together into something tangible.

 

No pero that’s too much and I needed to focus and chill the fuck out or burn the fuck out.

And I’m not doing this full time. I’m working, mami’ing, and writing. I need to put up or shut up but I also need to be real.

 

So I took some concrete steps that sort of seemed to fall together at the same time.

 

Blogging daily is helping me get into the habit of writing for an audience.

 

I’m grateful to dear friends and loved ones who via social media and in comments have been affirming what I’m doing and also helping me frame it.

 

It doesn’t have to start as one huge project. I am volumes and so I think it’s more important that I write anything than getting stuck on the form.

 

I joined an online course on memoir writing where the outcome is an outline and a chapter or two that will be workshopped.

 

I’m working on a shortish manuscript to submit to Vona and if I get it I’m going damnit. So I have somewhat of a timeline that takes me through the summer.

 

Today I started something like a manuscript – a draft and I have a very loose outline.

 

Today I have 1500 words.

 

It’s s start

Access

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After 20 years of mamihood, I should be less surprised by the hoops various systems make you jump through in order to be “engaged”, “involved” or whatever other term these systems use to judge “parental involvement”.

But I’m still shocked, even as I go through the hoops with all the privileges that I have: language, citizenship, a certain level of education, a certain level of experience.

The latest adventure involves the Los Angeles Public School system and the hoops needed to jump through in order for me to chaperone my child on an overnight field trip.

Part of me gets it. We all want to ensure the safety of our children. But to be this level of “volunteer” within the LAUSD system means submitting oneself to physical examinations (to make sure I don’t have tuberculosis), submitting oneself to fingerprinting (to check my criminal record) and filling out a form that asks for my social security number and country of citizenship.

I don’t have much doubt I will “pass”, be determined to be healthy and moral enough. But those who can’t even read the application? Those for whom submitting to fingerprinting is too much like the biometric checks when they came to the US, were in various types of jails? Those who don’t have social security numbers? Those who see the question about citizenship and wonder what if this is used for something other than for just me wanting to be with my kid at an overnight trip?

Better to not “participate” at all but then risk becoming considered not engaged, not interested, not participatory enough.

Every Monday there is an assembly at my kid’s school. The routine is always the same. Pledge of Allegiance, some patriotic song, announcements, awards, and the school song. When I attend I’m the only parent (that I can see) who doesn’t do the pledge or sing the patriotic song.

But I submitted my fingerprints

Hold My Face

Hold my backback.

Hold my purse.

Hold my drink.

These lines

These words signify moments.

They signify places.

They signify something was / is about to go down

And your

Girls, your sisters, your women, your crew

Would be witness

Or

party to something.

On the corner around your / Our school.

In a club.

 

I graduated as an adult with a certain title

To holding my face.

Literally in a meeting I can / could be seen holding my face

Because it doesn’t  hide much.

I have a hard time holding in my expressions:

Twisted mouth,

Pursed lips,

A slight sigh of exasperation.

 

There is an expectation now as an adult

As a woman

With a certain title

To maintain a certain decorum that I will admit I’m not always good at.

 

I’ve become somewhat of an expert at holding my voice,

Holding back a curse

An accent

But my face always gives it away.

 

Today as a meeting ended I was told by a dear colleague that I was all in during the meeting.

I think I held my voice but I didn’t hold my face.

I didn’t apologize but just said something about it being a new year

With less fear,

Less desire to hold in things.

 

I’m still navigating my own presence

My own power

And balancing the expectations that come with being

A woman

Of a certain age

With a certain title

But

I need to own that I also have graduated

And have had certain experiences

That don’t require me to hold in so much.

There’s too much going on

For me

For others

For us

To keep holding in our breaths

Our faces

Our understanding of reality based on decades of

work/life.