Wednesday, March 5, 2014

AWP, blisters and badasses

H and I went to AWP last week. We're still recovering. I'm still recovering, hard. I'm not used to being around that many people, 14,000 attendees to be specific and my energy reserves were almost completely depleted. H came up with another interesting idea: there were certain people, no matter how we do our best to keep our emotional and physical distance, who pollute our energetic resources. Something to be looked at deeper with more consideration once we're fully recovered. Poor H had to go right back to school. I've been in half-assed self-care mode, making soup and editing work. I should go for a walk.

It was at times a cluster-fuck. A friend pointed out to me that tons of the people in attendance were in or graduates of writing programs. They were looking for jobs, or looking to make connections with people who could one day offer them jobs or publish them. That explained a lot. There was an atmosphere of hunger, though it was masked with an air of insouciance, a too-cool-to-care posture that dissolved whenever a well-known author or publisher appeared in the fray. There was leg-humping, a lot of it. Not literal leg-humping but emotional leg-humping, if that makes any sense. I witnessed it first-hand a few times and it made me anxious, I stood in emotional awkwardness, watching and cringing. Hero worship is no thing for me, I've met many of my heroes and I was often disappointed. Now my heroes are people I know and appreciate.

Since I have a job I love and am not too worried about details like WHO WILL EVER KNOW ME I was able to navigate the melee comfortably. I was there to see friends, and a few panels. I wasn't overly concerned with networking or connections, though those did come, organically,as they should. I spent time with people I love, bad-asses of the no-fucks-given school of life, chaos and laughter. I met and thrived around people of the same soul and mindset; mostly emotionally sharp and intelligent women of color.  I met up with an old love for the first time since our heartbreak-up. It was calm, mellow and easy. We laughed at how we were still the same people, in older/wiser bodies, with newer, healthier loves.

I know myself well so each afternoon I'd leave the conference to return to our hotel for an hour or two of silence, meditation, hot hot baths and naps. Little self-care breaks I needed. My feet were covered in blisters. I wasn't used to walking everywhere, in boots. I had to keep reapplying special bandages to the tender spots, hoping they would harden into callouses. (hello metaphor, you asshole, way to show up and distract me. . . )

I stayed up late most nights, running around with girlfriends, ending up at small, private parties where writers whose work I worship on the page were hanging out, with holes in their socks. H and I were moving in slightly different circles but we kept checking in through the days and nights, meeting up briefly then moving independently on to events. We met up each night, spent time debriefing then slept heavy sleeps. I love him.

My AWP highs: VONA love: hanging with the loves and lights from VONA, especially spending time with Elmaz Abinader outside of VONA. The Dismantle Table. Hanging with Sharline and Patricia, my beautiful Pan Dulce sisters from VONA. Getting wild and laughing my ass off with Christine, then pausing to have deeper conversation before diving back into the hilarity/joy. The memorial (heart.wrenching.) reading for Kofi Awooner. The parties, the small lovely private parties. Showing up in a poem in David Mura's fucking brilliant new book, The Last Incantations. Meeting a few new people I hope become friends.

My AWP lows: Blisters. Blisters. Blisters. Watching the leg-humping. Wanting to save people from bad decisions I was watching them make. Having stayed so far (really, only ten minutes) from the conference.

Thanks to Chris for the awesome shirt I'm wearing in the picture above. And here are a few pics with my loves.

Thursday, February 20, 2014


This morning I sat on the balcony enjoying the quiet. The bamboo off the balcony was half in  buildings shadow, the leaves still in shade holding the dew while light steam rose from the parts of the plant in the sun, the water returning to the air. Small birds played in the stalks, singing and scolding each other. I sat back in my chair, leaned back, and put my feet against the sliding glass door for a few minutes. When I took my feet down the imprint of my feet stayed on the glass and I had a moment of wonder. It was brief but I marveled at the symmetry of the outline left on the cold glass. It was a small wonder, but still a wonder, a gratitude.

I want to leave my imprint on this world and I work towards that daily. Not just in my endeavors to write stories and poems but in my daily interactions with others. Yesterday I taught a creative writing class in the morning and I struggled. My heart was all in, giving, but sometimes there are those who don't want to receive. It had nothing to do with me but I still was blue after. I forget what it is like to be a teenager, and I have been blessed never to have had many of the struggles my students face, but I ached anyway. There was an edge of cruelty in some of what happened, words that were thrown about in jest but those words were the kind that wound for a long time, the kind that leave scars and disempowerment. They tinged the rest of my day with a disquiet that left me with a headache and sadness in my body.

Going deeper into the work and that doesn't always involve writing. Working on the book I have to go back into my own memories of high school. Working within the confines of a character who is unlike me in many ways but is still a secret-keeper. When I try to decipher the secret, inner world I spent so many years of my youth lost in, I see all these crazy patterns that followed me into my twenties. I came of age in the strangest of ways, right at adolescence leaving the cult I was raised in, the fucked up apocalyptic consciousness that had me constantly waiting for the world to end. It was a  religious religion steeped in shame and blame and secrets. Being a whole human with all the emotions and inconsistencies of just existing was not allowed. My protagonist has to keep secrets that are too big for her and in doing so she gets into the secret-keeping pattern and finds her own secrets, and they are wrapped in shame. Hard work, for her, and for me as a writer trying to hold all that on the page.

I'm turning 35 in a few days. It was me thinking about this Sandra Cisneros poem I read in high school, I'm So Depressed I Feel Like Jumping into the River Behind My House But I Won't Because I'm Thirty-Eight Not Eighteen. When I read the poem I was sixteen and being eighteen seemed like a big deal, thirty-eight was unimaginable. I'm closer to thirty-eight than eighteen. I'm not depressed, thank everything, though I did have my bout with that ugly monster a few years ago, which is entirely another beast to write about eventually. Talk about shame. Anyway, the character in my book is a reader of poetry the way I was. I used poetry as an emotional map to figure out my place in the world. I am grateful that I found poetry and that I dove into it, as a reader and writer. Poets became my heroes. My obsession. So the book is an homage in many ways to younger me, and to hero worship, worship of those in our immediate world and those who affect us across time and distance. And on the other end, the adult end of the work, to the imprints we leave long after we leave the scene of emotion.

H and I talked long about it and have decided not to apply for VONA this year. We both love VONA but we know there are other writers out there who deserve and need the seats we'd be taking up if accepted. It wasn't a easy decision. VONA is home to us, even though we didn't attend at the same time, we both feel a powerful connection to the workshop. I met a woman last night who was considering applying and I couldn't say enough positive things about the workshop, the safety and embrace of the community. I look at the friends in my life and most of the ones I hold closest are friends I made. H and I are both writing, publishing more, and are more rooted in our writing lives than we were when we attended VONA.  Still, I want to go back. Not even for the workshops, though I'd love to take one, but I love the community. That is what truly changed my world.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

turn it up, turn it down, turn it back or off

I submitted the opening of my contemporary YA novel to a workshop and have been editing and rewriting it the last couple of weeks. I also am looking at the work of some other writers, offering suggestions, asking questions. There are so many great storytellers out there, so many books I can't wait to read.

Focusing on this much editing has been interesting. The beginning of the novel has morphed several times since I first wrote it. Originally it had a prologue I loved. I was just starting to work in prose after years of poetry and the prologue was this gorgeous, honeyed piece of writing that I still love but am now trying to work without. I follow the work of a bunch of writers, editors and agents online and many of them say the same thing about prologues, that they try to do the work that should be happening in the story. Okay, I can see that. Of course I want to dig my heels in and hold on to the prologue, as it gives the action a place of context and mystery but I'l try it without. The beginning of the novel without the prologue feels like a whole other story completely. I'm erasing a lot of the poetry (I think) for narrative. I don't know if it feels right, it certainly doesn't feel natural. But all is a process, I'm in it. Work is work is work. I can always go back but I can't go back if I don't go forward.

The reworking of the beginning is a process of turning it up, turning it down, trying to get to that sweet spot of just enough. When I was in theatre productions in high school, toward the end of rehearsals for plays our director would have us go big, waaaay big, soap opera big. It felt ridiculous and over the top but it was meant to be so that when we dialed it back some of that dramatic energy stuck to the scenes. I'm letting myself go places I wouldn't normally go in these edits just to see what happens.

H and I went away for a couple of days for Valentine's Day. It was the first time I've actually done anything for the holiday. Everyone I dated before was a hater, you know? The kind who refused on the ground that V-Day was a corporate blah blah blah, consumerism blah, I'm above that blah. Good for them. We had a blast, went to Rosarito, non-tradish. No fancy dinners or flowers or chocolates. We sat on the beach and ate fresh out of the water oysters, clams and crab, downing cold beers. It was perfect. It was nice to get away for a couple of days, recharge.

Monday, February 3, 2014

travels, devotions

I spent some time in Albuquerque last weekend with my phenomenal and hilarious soul sister Andrea Serrano. I had to go back out to Texas for work but I sandwiched my trip with a little New Mexico. I love Albuquerque and New Mexico in general. I think the reason the town sings for me is that I have the best guide. Andrea is an activist, artist and organizer after my own heart and we crack each other up. She took me to a party that pretty much had me considering moving to Albuquerque. The house was on a huge dirt lot. As we drove up the first thing I saw was a huge bonfire. A huge cottonwood stood guardian. We walked up to the house and the first thing I heard was live Afro-Cubano drums. We walked in to a wall of beautiful brown people dancing their hearts out. There was ridiculous homemade food, hootch, beer and wine.  I spent most of my night out by the bonfire, dipping in and out of conversations that hinged on magical, surreal. My everything was satisfied.

Texas was Texas. I love the clients out there, super down to earth family. The town was right on the edge of the polar vortex and I thought I'd die when I felt that blast of -11F air. California girl all the way.

I've been home a few days and am happy to be back. I've been working on writing, again. I'm in a tug-of-war with myself over which project to focus on. I think I know which one I have to work on but the other, my heart-baby is calling too. I'm doing a lot go behind the scenes research for the fantasy novel, work that requires a kind of devotion that is new to me. Studying with a teacher and I'm surprised at what has been coming up. Talk about diving in to your work. The work I'm doing is intense but I know I'm feeding the creative work, learning sacred ways of approach, attention, devotion. I'm in. 

Got a rejection letter, again, for one of my favorite short stories. I was sad for about .2 seconds and then remember one of my favorite writers gave a compliment on the story that shall never be named. Know this: whenever the doldrums or self-doubt strike I remembered that comment, brush my knees off and git up. I have a feeling as to why the story keeps getting rejected, it has little to do with the writing and more to do with the content. Whatevs.

H and I are heading out to AWP at the end of the month and I'm crazy excited. There are a ton of panels I'm interested in but I'm really excited to see friends! I have friends from all over who'll be at AWP. I am super excited about our Pan Dulce reunion with Sharline Chiang and Patricia Engel. Lots of meet-ups planned with people I haven't seen in years. Lots of VONA crew. I have a feeling it will be nuts.

I went out with high school friends this weekend. Bless everything that kept me from getting married young and/or having babies young. I am so grateful for the wildness and wounds of my twenties, the scandalamaties I willingly participated in and the labyrinth of shit. It was golden and I never have to have any regrets.

Speaking of nuts. Turn up your volume, loosen your spine and listen to this:

Thursday, January 23, 2014

softening, guts, allowing

I was a kid, maybe six, when my aunt first called me mantequilla, butter. I had spilled a glass of milk and an older cousin went into this "oh great, again!' rant that crumpled me into tears. My aunt squawked "You're mantequilla, you melt for no reason!" After that, whenever I cried she'd call me butter. I hated it.

I've been thinking a lot about the layers I've built up through the years. I've always been sensitive, my feelings close to the surface, empathic. My first few years it was fine, I was in a safe environment, fully loved and supported. When I cried I was comforted, or I took my tears out into the garden, climbing the tree outside my bedroom window. Or I'd lay belly down in the grass and contemplate the lives of the ants. I'd disappear into staring at the sky. The nature world soothed, was balm.

I have memories of the specific instants that I started hardening the soft, vulnerable parts of myself. Protection, no doubt, for a world and humanity that doesn't have room for what is perceived as weak. I wonder when we started classifying experiencing emotions as weakness.

I'm softening. After a lifetime of hardening, of building up protections and walls, I'm letting my emotions back up where they belong, close to the surface. I discovered that I was softening during  my morning meditations, I'd come back from trance in tears of joy. That joy, that awareness has been staining everything in my life. There are times in my day when I feel like I'm on some strange drug, I can feel myself in the world, if that makes any sense. I'm present. Alive. All the tears keep showing up and I'm not too afraid of them anymore, they don't signify weakness anymore. I can't even tell you or explain when or how that shift happened, but it did. All this allowing, yes. I dance in public. I have this music inside that won't let me stay still.

I taught a new group of students yesterday. Mostly young men of color. They were great, alive and electric, hungry for attention. I had them do a fairly basic writing exercise, compiling lists of certain things then I gave them open ended statements where they could plug in items from their lists. They bit right in. Of course, getting them to share was a little tough but I had a couple of students who were eager to show me what they had created. This one line killed me, I barely remember anything else he said because of this: home is not safe, I have to hide my sisters. To. The. Gut. And, as much as I am softening I had to breathe back my tears. Bit by bit, yo.

All these cycles. I'm in a period of intense work. Busy as a bee. Up early, all day on ladders, home late. When I get home H and I cook and eat and talk. We spend hours laughing and contemplating, considering and talking out plot points, poems and the rest of our lives. These are the hours that feed me, though the rest of my days are pretty wonderful as well.

My writing has fallen off. But again, cycles. It will swing back around. I have moments of brief panic but I recognize them, I say hello panic, I remember you, you can't stay. And it goes. I'm torn between which book to work on. I'm studying a lot of history for the one, which I know is feeding the work, even if the work hasn't yet landed on the page. And the other one, ay. I need a little ass-kicking. But what good did rushing ever do creation? I'm sure someone has a snarky answer. I'm not worried.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

clean, then not, then clean

I've started the new year out clean, as I try to do. No alcohol, red meat (though a client made me a steak sandwich the other day and I felt obligated to eat it), early to bed, early to rise, a certain amount of physical movement. The holidays settle around my belly, a jolly layer that makes my pants hard to button and frustrates me. I'm not body obsessed by any means but I know where I feel best. Luckily, blessedly, strangely, I lose weight quickly. Cutting out the alcohol isn't big deal either, even though I do really really really enjoy a glass of red wine in the evening with a book. H is still in Canada so the dedication to my cleaning ritual is a little easier. Last night I was in bed just after 9pm and slept deeply until just before 6am. Ahhhh.

While in the Pacific Northwest I read a could of fantasy books that were a wild romp. The characters were funny and compelling, the plots were twisted but not so twisted that I was confused or turned off. The writing was clean and the storyline required a great suspension of disbelief that paid off. But one line, man, one line can really crap it all up. It may have been in a character's voice and in context but there was a line about how a book would have been considered for a national prize if (paraphrasing) some immigrant narrative didn't come out and win the prize instead. Heart. Thud. Belly. Sick. Really? Take your latent racism and suck it.

It reminded me of a conversation I witnessed once. An author who had suffered and overcome a hell of a lot of violence and chaos gave a reading. The work the author read was hard, but gorgeous. After the reading a young man  who came from considerable privilege went up to the author and said something along the lines of "I'm so jealous you have such a great story to tell! I wish I had a story I could tell like that!"  The author was gracious but those of us standing around were pretty dumbstruck.

I know, I'm judging. Not kindly or gracious but there has to be room for rage, frustration then the clearing of it. I don't want to wear rage anymore than I want this fanny pack of fat from the holidays.

The morning outside my window is foggy. I can barely see the palm trees. The sun is a white light in the gray. I have to go to work in a few. Crows are calling out to each other, the fog makes their cries louder. A friend of mine who lived by the zoo once told me that on foggy morning he would be awakened by the calls of howler monkeys. If you haven't heard a howler monkey, click on the link and imagine waking up to that.

I know this song is for kids, but I love it. It makes me cry.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

end, elbow, light

I'm sitting in a cabin in Northwestern Washington state. H and his family are here, his mother rented the cabin for the holidays. The weather is completely different from Southern California. I've been preparing for this week of winter for months. I have warm boots, a coat with a reflective lining, two kinds of gloves, and I've been preparing mentally. Usually I don't like the cold at all but this time, prepared, I don't mind it much. The cabin is warm, the days are slow, filled with tea, reading and mostly quiet conversation.

We're close to the shore, a rocky swoop of beach covered in round stones and the exoskeletons of crabs, broken oyster shells. The wind comes down from the North, icy puffs that numb our faces while we walk. The beach is stuttered with driftwood, everything from small twigs to gnarled trunks, whorled and tangled with salt and seaweed. I'm not used to being this far North, the way the sun's arc is small, the light, when unobscured by the clouds, is at an angle that reminds me somehow of a sad violin. Maybe I'm melodramatic and miss my desert sky of bright blue, the sideways light reflecting off the pale green plants of the scrublands; the green up here is deeper, hungrier.

The end of the year is sometimes melancholic for me, looking back on everything I didn't get to do. This year everything is sweeter, such change and evolution. This has been the year of really getting into practices that ground me and the least few months I've been going deeper in the work that I've been craving for my entire life. I'm grateful. And love, this strange river carrying us places I didn't know I could go; even the rapids are good, the adrenaline and joy of getting through.

The writing has been a challenge this year, definitely. It comes harder but is so much sweeter for the struggle. Three novels, I've been chipping away at three novels. I'm crazy, maybe. But I have so much love for my characters, my flawed beauties navigating a world they don't completely understand. They're my friends at times. There is one character who roars at me when I need it, she has claws and teeth and isn't afraid to use them. And the licking of the wounds, the ones she gave me or ones received elsewhere, is glory; spit sacred.

There was an eclipse last night but the horizon here is small, trees tower, clouds hover. I wanted to see the orange moon but the sky didn't cooperate. Earlier in the evening the sky was willing and the stars and planets orbiting got me in the heart-gut. I once learned a way to look at small clusters of stars or planets without actually looking at them; it's about peripheral vision. If I want to give my attention to a particular star or planet, I look at everything around it, focus on what is brighter, then what I truly want to focus on will appear stronger in my peripheral vision (oh sweet subconscious of the eye!) than it would were I looking directly.

Heading further North tomorrow into Canada for a few days, the New Year, then a solo trek back home while H spends some weeks with family and friends. I'm looking to clean up a bit at this elbow of the season, pull back on the indulgences, indulge more in others. And the writing; calling, asking, singing and singing and singing. Love and joy to all of you this season and all seasons. Stay warm.