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: