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


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.



We Are One Another’s Survival


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

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