Wednesday, September 26, 2012

the still-young years

Monday night I ended up listening to music I used to listen to when I was a teenager; Mazzy Star, The Cranberries, Tori Amos, Dead Can Dance. Crazy how music can be an emotional time machine. I was back at 14, in the drama room, the musky funk of old velvet curtains, writing poems in my journal. I was the only brown girl in drama, somehow cast as Helena in "A Midsummer Night's Dream." For the first time in a long time I had a tiny sense of belonging. I had left the cult I was raised in, the supreme and devastating hell that was junior high was over and I was starting to make friends who were as "weird" as I was. But the belonging was a fragile tread, circumstantial. I was a the fringe group of a fringe group. It would take years and years before I accepted my solitary-ness, the lone wolf tendencies that make me happy.

Last night I taught my creative writing class for teens at the shelter. It was the most challenging class I've ever taught. I have a new group of students, a small group. The group I was working with before was a unit, they all knew each other, hung out, were kind of tough and ruled by one loud voice. These new kids broke me open and reminded me of me at 14, how hard it is. They are brilliant, vulnerable, open to the point where I had to really control myself to not cry in front of them.  I think as adults we forget that being a teen is a fucking rollercoaster. We have new bodies and emotions but are still learning how to cope, how to manage the ride without getting sick. I'm grateful to have these students reminding me of that ride. I'm grateful they open up to me.

Their stories stayed with me last night. I carried all of them on my heart and body and was exhausted early. I allowed myself some tears before bed, spoke with someone on the phone who was, as always, soothing, balm to whatever is hurting me. He works with teens too and offered insights and ways to reach back to them without alienating them. I had a hard time falling asleep. The music from my teenage years was stuck in my head. I reminded myself over and over that I'm writing for her, the girl who needed to see herself as someone beautiful, relevant.

I've hit something of a wall in the writing this week. I am so close to the end. Of course, this is where all the doubts come up, raging, screaming, throwing themselves in front of me. I had a white night the other night, convinced myself I am a failure, that no one will ever care about what I write, that I'm deluding myself. I was vaudevillian in my personal drama, draped across the sofa with my head hanging off the edge. Beloved called, heard my weepiness and got me straight. He reminded me ego is showing up, crazy because ego likes status quo. Ego would rather I stay in place, not grow because growth is opportunity for growth, opening. If When I do this, finish this book, I'm then opening myself up for possible success, as well as failure. He told me that it gets harder the closer I get. Labor pains. I was mollified.

So yeah. I'm in labor. Dilating. Pushing this book baby out. I think of the moms I know who while in labor have said they never want to go through it again but as soon as the baby comes, they forget the pain. Hmm. I really hope the same things happens with this book because this crap hurts.

Speaking of dramatic, when I was 13 I listened to this album on cassette over and over again until I destroyed the cassette. I loved this song and hated we lived where there was no snow. I really wanted to listen to this song while walking through the snow. Ha! I love teenage me, the dramatic little shit. But listening to it now, I see why it appealed to me.

Monday, September 24, 2012

this for that

I really am a creature of habit, solitude. Last night I struggled in my falling asleep for the first time in months. Something was eating away at me, a dissatisfaction. I realized it was that I had writing goals this weekend and I didn't meet them.

My weekend was beautiful. Friday night I took a group of nine of my students to see Saul Williams perform spoken word. I saw him before the show, hanging out outside and went up to introduced myself and told him I was bringing my students. My students showed up while we were talking and he was gracious and kind, he took a picture with them. The show was wonderful. He is a dynamic and passionate performer; he commands attention of the room without arrogance, presence. I wish I had taken pictures of my students watching him. They were transfixed. I could practically feel them opening up to the possibilities of what their writing could do. It'll be interesting to see if any of their writing is inspired by the show when I teach later this week.

Saturday was my baby sister's 25th birthday party, and my aunt's 60th surprise birthday party. I went over to help early and got sucked into errands galore. It was fine, I enjoy helping out my family. But all day I had the little voice in my head Get away, you have writing to do! I ignored it, family is important. The party was fun, a mix of age ranges and people. Again, I saw how solitary I am, or how solitary I have chosen to be, keep myself. Everyone was there with someone, or connected to someone. I was alone, wandering from group to group, mingling and listening. I left while the party was in full swing, I wanted to write. But when I got home I ended up on the phone with my beloved for an hour and didn't write. Yesterday was the same. Family and no writing. So it goes.

I've been thinking a lot about fairy tales. The stories that spark fantastical imaginings, dreams of other-worldness. So much to put into my book. Friday afternoon I managed to get a good amount of writing done. I had one of those a-ha! moments. Weeks ago I put in a character and a scene that I didn't quite understand, the new character gave my protagonist something, I was a little confused about it but decided to trust myself, leave it in. Apparently my subconscious is way more of a plotter than I am because I wrote a scene on Friday that was entirely dependent on the given gift, and it will weave in nicely with the mythology of creation.

I also am weaving in some crazy sadness. One of my favorite characters is mostly part of the back story, the history. But he's going to show up in the second book, heavily wounded in  way I haven't seen in a lot of stories. I love how close I am to finishing this book. The second book is jumping up and down, waving me! me! me! Soon enough. Maybe I'll get out a first draft during NaNoWriMo. So much, so much, so much. I love all of it.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

cycling back

This morning I feel the initial chill of the changing season. I woke up in the middle of the night with my blanket wrapped tighter than usual and got up to turn off my fan. When I got up this morning to make coffee, the kitchen window was open and the early morning breeze gave me goosebumps for the first time in months. There's a particular scent as well. Fresh, oceanic. It reminds me of the school year beginning. Rituals of wrapping text books in brown paper bags and sitting for a long while with my colored pencils, figuring out the best way to decorate the book covers. The first week of school, heading into the school library to greet the librarian, see what new books were available.

I started teaching again last night. We took a break over the summer, though I did work with the kids for their showcase in early August and co-ran a workshop later that month. The place where I teach is a transitional shelter so I have students who will show up for months, then their family will find housing and I never see them again. I get attached to the students, build relationships and trust with them, so when they leave it always pulls at my heart a little. Last night I found out three students I've been working with for almost a year will be moving out. I'm pretty sad to lose them but happy that they'll be living in their own homes. I also have new students who are excited to write, create.

As I was leaving the shelter last night I ran into a former student on the street. He and his family moved out of the shelter month ago but he is still attached to his friends and community who live in the shelter. In his new neighborhood, he and his brother were jumped because they were walking down the street, and their skin color made them targets. That shit kills me. The former student has an insouciance about the situation that both scares and impresses me. Those kind of dramas are so far removed from my life, but the reality is that they're happening not too far from where I live. I hugged him, told him to stay safe, remember he is strong. I didn't know what else to say or do.

One of the things I love most about working with teens is watching them go through the teen things. (Not the getting jumped, that isn't something anyone should go through.) My class is optional, every student who attends is there because they want to be. There is always an initial resistance when I give out an assignment, grumbling. But they eventually get into it and grumble again when I call time. They also talk to me. I get to witness their emotional lives, the first loves, the first betrayals, the insecurities, sometimes the rage. I love all of it. It keeps me close to the flesh, that truth of emotional adolescence, how intense it is. And when I sit down to write I can carry it for my character.

The writing is intense these days. Flowing. Last night I didn't to sleep until midnight because plot points kept popping into my head, fixes for concerns I had. Oh beloved hypnopompic state. You do me good.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Who ARE you people?

I was looking at my blog statistics and wondering who you are, dear readers. I've been getting a lot more traffic lately and wonder why. And who you are. Say hello in a comment! Feel free to comment as much as you like.

I've chosen to be extraordinarily solitary lately. Not that that is much different from my normal life. But I haven't gone out to the bar, I haven't reached out to friends. I realize that one of the gifts my lifestyle offers me is time. Lots and lots of time. And I'm finally appreciating it and using it for my writing. I've started a writing ritual that works for me. It involves meditation and a little self-hypnosis. I've had conversations with two hypnotists I respect and the advice they gave me is working.

Work is slowing down, as it always does at the then of Summer. I feel Summer ending, wringing itself out. The sun sets a little earlier. This morning at 6 when I woke up the sky was still rather dark. Heading into Fall. I have to get shirts with sleeves and buy socks. I'll have to pull blankets out of my closet soon and wash them, put them on my bed and drape one over my sofa so I can snuggle into it.

One of the more interesting things that has been happening in my morning meditation is plot. Plot ideas, fixes and twists bubble up constantly. I have to tell my mind Shhh, not now, I'm meditating. But I inevitably forget a few when I come out of my meditation. They appear like dreams, something I think I'll remember but when I'm fully awake they turn into vapor and float away. I've decided not to fight it, or chase after it. They're there. They come up because my mind is quiet. They don't go anywhere, they're still inside but my mind chatter drowns them out. I trust myself, my subconscious, to hold on to what matters.

I'm reading this saturday night at The Spot in Barrio Logan for an event honoring local women of the Chicano movement. I'm reading a poem I wrote for one of the honorees and something else, I haven't decided what yet.

I've been listening to a lot of Carla Morrison lately. Digging her much.

Monday, September 10, 2012

writing for this young adult

I posted this picture of myself over my desk, the horrible seventh grade school picture. When I'm stuck I remind myself I'm writing my books for her.

She didn't know until two years after this picture was taken that it was even possible to see herself in literature; the closest she'd come were the Indians in the Little House on the Prairie books. She used to be sad that her family didn't come to the USA via Ellis Island. She was sad that there was no history in her family of covered wagons, or pioneer days, or trees growing in Brooklyn. There was no babysitter's club possible in her life because there were always tons of relatives around willing to babysit.

She was a lonely kid with a big imagination and she had no literary role models who looked like her or came from places her ancestors or relatives came from.  Books for Latina young adults? Not back then, barely even now.


I remember the day in ninth grade when my teacher handed out copies of The House on Mango Street. I was a bored student. I liked English classes but I was sneaking The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty and reading the Ayla/Jondalar sex scenes over and over again from the Clan of the Cave Bear series. Ms. Lopez handed out the book, I popped it open started reading and felt mind blown.

Really. I took that book and read it as soon as I got home. Then I read it again. And again. I went back to school the next day and asked my English teacher if there were other writers like Cisneros. She gave me a reading list. I started checked books out and was a little angry I had never heard of any of the writers I was reading.

I look at this picture, pinned above my desk and when I'm struggling I think of her, all the shit she could have avoided if she felt relevant, that she belonged. I think of this awesome girl no one told was awesome, no one said ever said to her Your history matters. You matter.

Anyway. Writing a lot these days. Happily productive. I'm nearing a place in the story where I have to (or should) end the first book. I thought it was over at an earlier place but I kept reading over the manuscript while editing and I felt I could add on. I introduced a character today, someone I had no idea was going to show up and I like her. She's kind of creepy and dark, but has a good heart.

No more this song, I'm writing!!!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

overripe and the muse

The end of Summer here in San Diego isn't so much an ending as it is a swelling, a building up. It gets hot, sticky, still. We're an irrigated desert and we forget it. Between the sea and the mountains, we get trapped in the heat. Ay.

I've been feeling a little strange the last few days. Full in my body and my mind but extraordinarily lazy too. Not morose or melancholic but like a dog in heat, panting, trying to find a cool spot for my body and breathing. I feel like overripe fruit, too heavy to bear the weight of myself but if I drop, I'll burst.

This morning in my meditation I came to the truth that I am overripe. I have been doing way too much research and planning when it comes to the fantasy novel. I've been so caught up in the how of things that I've forgotten the why. I'm stuffed full of Joseph Campbell, Mexican and Central American Pre-Colombian mythology, plot ideas, themes around  masculine v. feminine power. Ugh. I need to release the valve and just finish telling my story. My character doesn't care about patriarchy, she has people to find. My antagonists aren't concerned about the symbolism of fire, they want to take someone down. My beautiful beast has a mission and isn't at all interested in his role as the stranger on the road. I need to get over it and get under it, into it.

My friends recommended a couple of Steven Pressfield books to me and I am really enjoying Do the Work. A no bullshit look at writing and the creative process.

I have a writing playlist. I have songs in my head as I work on the book. I looked at it and realized it is mostly Aterciopelados. Andrea Echeverri is pretty much my favorite singer of all time. Her lyrics slay me, her music thrills me.  It embodies the kind of woman I want to be. She gets to a truth in her music that drives my writing, living. She pretty much has a song for every chapter in the book.

Monday, September 3, 2012

every ritual was once a whim

Today is the symbolic end of Summer, for me, and tons of others. This Labor Day. Bbqs, beaches, last struts in the sun, beer guzzle, the chemically sweet stink of sunscreen. I too see Summer as the stretch between Memorial Day Weekend and Labor Day Weekend. Those three-ish months of heat, late nights, exposed skin. 

My start to Summer this year was intense, my sister's wedding was Memorial Day Weekend. I was sick, sick-sick with aches in my lungs and body, a virus took me down and I had to stagger through, smile plastered because you can't be sick on your sister's wedding day. You have to be joyous. I was, but I was also tired and sad because I was sick. Regardless, it was a good day, a good weekend full of family and laughter. The months planning up to the wedding were chaotic and busy so I planned to get the hell out of town right after and I did. I got in my truck and drove to New Mexico.

I love the road. I love driving longs hours, listening to music, audiobooks, my own thoughts. I love the solitude of the road, passing cars and trucks, moving into my own. I was ready to get away. 

I'd spent a lot of the last year working on myself. I was a mess a year ago, angry, betrayed, and mostly pissed off at myself for not listening to my instincts. After the mess I had a few months of chaos, distraction; I bumbled through somewhat rudely until I couldn't anymore. Enter a more consistent meditation practice, contemplation, the clearing out of years and years of crap.

Fast forward to the beginning of Summer. I was ready ready ready for change, for joy. 

I put a lot of myself into my writing, a lot of my vulnerabilities show up, the sharp or rough edges, especially in my poetry. I'm okay with that, the best writing is open and emotional. I wrote a short story before Summer. I wrote it for Las Dos Brujas Workshop, but I also wrote it to exorcise some demons. I remember working on it, crying so hard into my keyboard I couldn't even type. I chucked all sorts of wounds into that story, The Half Wife, so I could be rid of them. After I finished it I lay down on the floor and cried. I had so much to get rid of. I felt exposed and raw after writing it.

I'm so grateful I wrote that story, that it tore me open. I'm so glad I bled all over those pages. I needed it.  I was still open when I got to the desert. Everything changed there. I reconnected with old friends, I reconnected with the best part of myself, I made new friends, I fell in love.

The last couple of months I keep looking at myself and wondering why I feel so strange, then I realize this"strange" feeling is happiness. I didn't realize how much of the last few years I've spent in a kind of holding pattern while I worked through things, while I struggled with my writing and my relationship to being a writer. No more, no more. I am happy. I am comfortable in my creative skin and joyous in the work. I know it'll ebb and flow, such is the nature of creativity but I've been in the flow and fuck, I like it.

I've decided to go ahead and work on the second book of the trilogy even though I still am working on editing the first book. I need to get into that place, where my lovely character is growing and moving on, transforming. I've been frustrated with a lot of the female protagonists I've been reading. I want to yell at them Rescue yourself!!! So much plot. So much history. Last weekend my new Love was visiting me and I talked with him at length about the world my books inhabit and I was really surprised at how much I know. I really have worked my ass off to think about the mythology and culture of the place; I have so many interweaving plots and nuanced characters. I have to trust myself more, trust that my subconscious knows the deal and keep moving forward. I love it.