Archive for category the Writing process
A Guide on How To Write About Sexual Violence, In Reaction to “Mellie’s Rape” on Last Night’s Episode of Scandal
TweetIt was horribly done.
Last night’s handling of sexual violence. Scandal writers “explaining” the history of Fitz and Mellie’s marriage, how Mellie came to be how she is now. The writers took us back 15 years ago and gives evidence of how Mellie came to be the kind of First Lady that she is.
There are many ways to interpret the script and delivery, but how I took it in and how I’m seeing the aftermath on social media is troubling.
First, there was no trigger warning whatsoever. I guess after so many years of editing the anthology about sexual violence, I knew it was coming. The scene opened with a drunk father in law, power obsessed, in a dimly fireplace lit den with a young, bright eyed “asset” of a wife, Mellie. My writing brain scans the scene in seconds. My first thoughts rushed forward to predict what was going to happen. Flash thoughts were:
1. Why is this scene going to be important? There are no mistakes in television. Every second counts toward the story line. Scandal doesn’t do subtle.
2. What would mainstream writers do to try and bring sympathy for a female shark character?
3. Why do I feel like something horrible is about to happen?
I was right. They wrote a rape scene into Scandal last night and it was terribly done.
The next morning when Mellie smiles and says she will never mention it again, she then wields the familial and political gavel from Jerry’s grip and the story moves onto her pregnancy.
As much as I suspected Mellie’s rape, it still bothered me, all the way up until I fell asleep. Eyes woke up this morning still troubled by the way it was handled. Perhaps it’s triggering for all of us – survivors and allies alike – to have visuals of rape so suddenly thrust into our homes. A violence so strangely normalized in media and yet so profoundly sickening when it echoes in our living room, a mere few feet from our sleeping children.
What has the narration of rape become? How is being so callously and nonchalantly written about, show in the beloved characters of stories that circulate every watercooler conversation the next morning, “Can you believe last night’s episode?” and thus unfolds more notions and missed opportunities to deconstruct the cultural problems that bolster sexual violence and rape.
Writers are responsible for their creative power. And just as we do do research in fields before we write details about the who what when and why — we should have standards that evoke sensitivity and tact when writing about this issue. Here is a brief guide for writers out in the world contemplating writing sexual violence into their story.
And for the love of all things holy, Scandal writers — USE TRIGGER WARNINGS.
TweetOn so many levels, this explains my intrepid spirit to go, do, be, feel, experience anything and everything. And simultaneously, the sardonic evil emotional twin that accompanies this. I would argue, however, that my writers’ greed has another contradicting face: the voracious need for community.
TweetI never earned a degree in photography, but I call myself a photographer.
No one ever taught me how to write creatively, but I call myself a writer in creative non-fiction.
There’s an illusion of permission, particularly in the arts, that you really should have the right kind of credential or background before you call yourself anything, before you utter the word “artist” or “poet” as a descriptor.
Of course credentials are helpful. There’s no dispute that a formal program or academic certificate offers professional development and advancement. But what I’m referring to is the community level, grassroots, center-of-the body need to create and express ourselves. And the unfortunate tendency is to self-dismiss our drive because we are not really “authorized” to do so. In other words, we – those without permission – dare not dip our toes into the creative process or artistic world. We let it slip away.
Who has the license to create? Who gives YOU permission to move, bend, and contort paper, pen, ideas, words, clay, textile, paint, beads, voice into something that expresses a peace/piece inside you?
Today I was talking to someone about photography and she asked me how I got into photography, if I had ever taken a class. I’d never taken a photography or lighting course. I never joined a club. Hell, I didn’t even own a camera until I took my first job after graduate school.
But, photography always moved me. The color. The symphony. The patience of waiting for the right moment. I always felt that photography was about observation and timing. And as the youngest of four children, my whole life was spent observing the world around me. There were three eyes on by body, I often thought. The two on my face and the one in my brain, clicking a camera to capture a moment. The way Andrew smiled at me right before I received my first kiss. The shadowed foot steps of my family when we walked the beach in 1992. The electric blue bubble letters on a sign that read “Vote for Lisa” when I ran for class president in 4th grade. My father’s hands as he drummed the steering wheel to old classic music in our Ram van.
The lesson plans of the camera are formidable and can be frustrating. There’s a slight math and science to the camera; a sophisticated vocabulary that must be decoded before one can smoothly operate the camera as a tool. But I stuck with it. It started as fascination, then grew to a hobby, then flourished into a passion. And then I committed to it. I dedicated myself to learning it, with my love for photography tucked under my elbow. That’s when I knew I was a photographer. I not only loved doing it. I committed myself to it.
It’s very similar to romantic relationships. The real-ness of the relationship, what legitimizes it, what affirms the relationship to be authentic and solid and heavy does not come from those outside looking in. It comes from the commitment of the people to one another, to the relationship.
You must commit to the process, to the art as action. You must commit yourself.
Photography, as an art, takes practice. It takes vision.
I told my friend to stop waiting for someone to give her permission. “If you keep waiting for someone to tell you that it’s ok to try something, you’ll never start. And the only person waiting and sitting in disappointment is yourself. There’s no permission needed. Just start creating.”
I thought about that for a few hours afterward.
I thought about how long I waited to try. I waited for someone to tell me that I had an eye for photography. That day never came. It’s no wonder either. The “you have a good eye” compliment never came because I wasn’t DOING anything and therefore had nothing to show; nothing for anyone to reflect upon, critique, or admire. When you wait for permission, you wait in stillness.
Why did I wait for permission? Why do we figure we need to earn something EXTRA before we allow ourselves to draw or sketch or, dammit, even just TRY something creative. To raise our fingers to an unfamiliar block of clay, an untouched canvas, or a blank page takes a steel rod of bravery.
We are moving into an age where the single nomad, crushing himself into a starving corner is no longer the picture of an artist or master creator. Today, artists are single mothers with two jobs
and a bus pass. Photographers can be world travelers or lifetime small town dwellers. The elitism is bleeding out. Art is everyday. Artists should be as common as a worn kitchen table.
We may grow old. We may lose that fresh inspiration that wakes us up in the middle of the night. But the goal of creative work is not to be legendary or even remembered. The goal is to be free.
TweetI’ve been a writer all my life. I cannot remember a time when my right hand did not grasp a pen and moved left to right on a page, documenting the significant and insignificant morsels of living.
A few years ago, I was struck by lightning and had the tremendous opportunity to work with make/shift magazine, and with Jess Hoffman, and slowly begin learning about the fundamentals of editing.
Editing has its moments of excruciating difficulty. It is not the free flowing creative river that is writing. It can be an unpredictable whiplash that stings every time you work with a new writer. I’ve had the magnificent pleasure of learning from many different kinds of writers and editors and, today, thought of the countless similarities I began seeing in my relationship with God and my relationship with editing.
This is what I found…
The Twelve Startling Similarities Between God and the Right Editor
1) The Editor works with you and your ideas, trying to observe and guide and not intercede.
2) When you are excessively verbose, the Editor gets to the heart of what you are saying.
3) The Editor is patient, but nudges you from time to time.
4) The Editor knows that the writer must equally trust the Editor and believe in herself.
5) The Editor has worked with so many different kinds of writers, you know there’s nothing that the Editor hasn’t seen.
6) The Editor knows what is sacred and carefully addresses issues close to your heart.
7) The Editor has a vision, but it is co-authored.
8) Ultimately, the Editor wants your best self, your best work, and works with you to make that manifest.
9) Often times in conversation with the Editor, you realize hidden truths underneath a lot of rubble.
10) “I know what I know, what do YOU think?”
11) The Editor will never give you an assignment that is too large for you to handle.
12) The Editor has a way of arranging things that leaves you mystified, dumbstruck, and grateful.
So, to all the writers out there: I wish you not only deep, rich soil to till your work in, I wish you a gracious and visionary editor who believes in your ability to fruitfully open a truth for yourself to share with the world.
TweetA dream I’ve always had is to preach from a pulpit. Ever since I was a kid, I always wanted to stand in front of a congregation and lead others in a reflection of God, scripture, and its relevance to our lives today.
And, who would’ve thought that I’d be able to actually do that in the Catholic church. Amidst all the controversy and criticism, I’ve found a parish that I have built my community, a place where I am building my faith in people as well as in God.
This week is Holy Week, the holiest days of the Catholic calendar. And on Friday, Good Friday, I will be delivering a reflection after the gospel is read – usually when the priest reads his homily – and offering my thoughts on what Good Friday means to me.
Since this is something I’ve wanted to do since I was six years old – before I learned women could not be priests or deacons, before I knew I’d have to practice a different faith to if I wanted to preach from a pulpit – you’d think that I’d feel fireworks go off in my organs.
But there were no fireworks.
As I sat down to write my reflection last night, it felt like it did any other time I saw down to write my thoughts: natural. There was nothing spectacular about the moment my fingers hit the keyboard, no electric current coursed through my hands. I didn’t feel like a prophet, savior, or even a disciple.
I felt the same as I normally do: a writer recognizing a difficult subject to address.
It felt natural to contemplate the meaning of Good Friday as a Catholic, as a woman, as a mother, as a 31 year old free spirit who simply wants to share what I have inside with my community.
It felt natural; as if this is what I have been supposed to be doing all along.
TweetSome weeks ago (my memory is really bad since pregnancy), my dear friend and much respected writer, BFP, wrote something along the lines of saying that she was less interested in “activism” and more interested in the lives and journeys of artists.
That struck me. For numerous reasons.
The first thing that struck me is thinking about my blogging life. When I first began blogging four years ago (yikes! has it been that long?), I remember wanting my “writing” to FIT into the feminist blogosphere. I read many blogs then, wanting to understand what was important to the “Feminist Community,” and, truthfully, always struggled in that genre.
I struggled because writing is, essentially, an extension of one’s self. What interests me is what I will write most intimately about, what I love is what will illuminate the page (or screen) with my words. Making my writing fit is like trimming my own self, trying to make ME fit.
What I was always interested in were topics like God. Addressing sexual and gender violence in our everyday relationships through deconstruction and critical questions of gender norming. Family. Humor. And love. Always love. These were my interests.
I didn’t know it then, but my writing came and continues to flow from a very deep, supremely sensitive place where I process my memory, my life experiences. Of course, current events and news are always interesting, but the writing I connect with is the writing that comes from LIFE, my life. And I’m always interested in how others live or lived their lives.
How did Gloria Anzaldua live with diabetes? How did my mother live through immigrating to this country on her own? How did my cousins live through the passing of both their parents? How did my 8th grade science teacher feel when she decided to get teeth braces at the age of 48? What is it like for young women of color writers in the US?
These were my questions, they weren’t “feminist,” I suppose, but they came from a very real place that questioned the systematic punishment and guardrails around women.
Feminism exists for all of us to live richer, deeper, more fulfilling lives. Feminism exists for us to question what we want to question and to live as we want to live. The lives of artists, the lives of those who create are lives that are often imbued with resistance; they live counter-culturally. Artists, the souls who create something out of nothing, those who build from ill-fitting pieces possess a strength that reveals itself in their life choices.
I no longer worry about whether I or my writing fits. Rather, I focus on whether or not I am truthful, committed to creation and relationship, and love. Always love.
TweetSO – my new website is underway and I am feel like a kid peering into a toy store that hasn’t opened yet. I’m fascinated by any and all glimpses of what could be inside.
I have to say that this experience – co-creating a website with a webmaster – has brought me to a high level of admiration for artists, creators, designers who truly LISTEN to clients, who genuinely desire to incorporate feedback and thoughts into the final project.
My webmaster is this kind of brilliant, listening soul. I absolutlely cannot wait to unveil her work.
Even more, I am excited by how excited I am by her work. Isn’t that the synergy of artists and creators? I am inspired by HER work and that makes ME a better writer.
There have been a few delays due to my pregnancy and catching a bug a few weeks ago, but we’re back on it and as the time draws closer to its launch, the more eagerness, inspiration, and fear eat at my toes and fingers.
I am going to be writing from the place where I feel most comfortable, the place where I feel most passion, the place I reference as the Unapologetically Me space. It’s a place that I was hoping to arrive at as a writer – the place where you know exactly what your voice is and how you want to use it.
My new website will be a place for ALL my readers and audiences to find me. And, unapologetically so, will have to get used to all the facets of my writing that I am experimenting. Family and friends, strangers and critics, bloggers and readers – all will find me at this ONE place. To centralize myself, to stabilize my writing – Unapologetically – has been a long time coming.
It’s with blissful uncertainty that I begin a new website and attach a this blog as a cargo behind it.
And, thanks to the many readers and emailers who encouraged me to take the high road, the answer is YES – I will be staying with Ecdysis as its title.
The evolution was A Womyn’s Ecdysis, My Ecdysis, and now Ecdysis.
You don’t want to miss the molting I have in store for you.
Dedicated to Don Manual Montiello
My Nicaraguan father, who I had not seen in eight years, died this week. A man with a heart condition, he fell onto a street, his face purple, and died. He was walking the barrio, our home, Catorce de Junio, in Nicaragua where I used to live.
I don’t know where this piece is going. Like a storm, I sense something brewing. The signs are there: quiet moments (dark clouds), tears (rain), and fear (wind). A perfect writing storm. This time, though, I have no predictable end. Something is needing to come out and so I write. I write. There’s a lot that’s been thrown in the eye of my hurricane. I’m going to try and let it out…
* * *
In feminism, particularly the feminist blogosphere, the word “intersectionality,” is strewn around like a popular masthead. For those unfamiliar with this term, in a nutshell, it’s a nugget word of the third wave of feminism, a term to explain one’s ability/responsibility to see/understand the complex layers of oppression and severity. It is a theory by I don’t even know who that suggested we look at the varying intersecting locks of lived experience. To put it bluntly, it says that the middle of the wheel is braced together by several spokes. Look at the spokes, it suggests. Consider the spokes.
I’m not the best person to talk about intersectionality. I’m not the best person to talk about intersectionality because I was introduced to it in the feminist blogosphere and the way I have observed its lack of application – its sore failure – makes me a non-believer in the term. I just don’t see any difference “intersectionality” has made in the lives of womyn offline.
My momma raised me to see the soul, not spokes.
* * *
February 11, 2009
I am in a coffee shop. I see a sign: Imported from Nicaragua.
A small thump hits my gut.
* * *
“Buenas dias, Dona Adelia! Como estas usted?” I called out to a neighbor while I was walking in the barrio. It is a hot morning in Managua.
My friend Julia who was walking beside me smiled as Dona Adelia opened her mouth and fired off a response so quick and urgent, I blinked in surprise.
Julia translated for me, “She said, ‘well, that depends. Do you want to know how I am doing economically, physically, emotionally, mentally, politically? It depends.’”
I’ve thought about Dona Adelia’s reply to my simple greeting for nine years. She is a woman, elderly in her seventies, who loves people with so much strength that I pray I am like her when I mature into my later years.
One moment. One response. To my face. And just like that. I understood “intersectionality,” or the multiple intricacies of being. Language, culture, soul. There are so many layers to people; so many things that affect how we perceive one another.
I didn’t need a theory. I needed a teacher.
* * *
The failure of intersectionality is not surprising. Most correlate the term as a method to measure oppression and study its affect on diverse individuals, as if there is a way to truly trace the insidious and camouflaged roots of societal and social demons.
What troubles me about this method is its obsession with oppression and lack of focus on liberation. From what I have observed, most feminists want to understand the surreptitious spreading and practice of oppression – they want to understand that justice is unevenly distributed because of skin color, race, ethnicity, physical and mental mobility, religion, citizenship, class, education, property, age, sexual orientation, gender, and sex – but they don’t want to listen when it comes to transforming the world for liberation.
If liberation means a radical, and by radical I am referring to the Latin origin of radical meaning ROOT, transformation of the world, we need feminists to become more visionary. And fast.
Intersectionality is useless if it merely raises your consciousness but does little else. Ok, so YOU’RE enlightened. Great!
The life of intersectionality is brief. It’s a theory. Nothing more.
* * *
Don Manual has a heart condition. Somewhere, in the maze of awkward translation, I learn his quiet demeanor cloaks a very gentle man. After a long trip to Bluefields, the eastern coast of Nicaragua, I return to my home in the barrio. Once in my room, exhausted, I begin unpacking.
Don Manual walks into my room.
Puzzled and a bit anxious because he has never entered my room before, I turn to face him.
Just a few pebbles of his words were caught in my translation. There are two things I remember, “Allegra. Muy allegra.”
He was happy to have you back home. He was relieved. Others translated the conversation for me later.
And then I remember that he covered his heart, his weakened and diseased heart, as he spoke. He softly tapped it as he told me he was glad I was home. Then he and his eyes smiled into me and turned away.
* * *
Thursday, February 12, 2009
I am nearing the end of my three month writing stint at Bitch magazine. The experience has taught me so much about writing and confidence, I find it difficult to translate it to those who do not engage in writing practice.
Recently, I wrote a piece about Nadya Suleman, the woman who recently birthed octuplets and is now a mother of fourteen. In my article, where I raised questions about the issue of choice outside the realm of abortion, I asked that we engage in critical and rich discussion but to do so without berating any one woman or a segment of population of women.
That didn’t go over well.
The feedback and comments ranged from, “I think this has nothing to do with race, I never even thought of the idea until people like you to inject race into the subject to cause controversy,” to suggesting that I “become a conservative,” to “What a goddamned shithead.”
Simultaneously, I received an email from Alex Blaze, the managing editor at The Bilerico Project, who let me know that there had been good news concerning a post I had written two months ago about Agnes Scott College, a private all woman’s college, allowing a degrading and anti-feminist movie film on its grounds. The update alerted me to heightened policies the college had adopted in response to the online noise generated by senior, Louisa Hill.
I learned about Agnes Scott debacle from Jess Hoffman, a visionary friend and co-founder of make/shift magazine, where I am a section editor. It was through her that I heard about it, connected with The Bilerico Project, and helped create some online shaking.
The result: not perfect, but improved policies.
While the situation at Agnes Scott College is not the most ground breaking news or the most inspiring story, it gave credence to the power of blogging and communities working together. As Blaze wrote in his email, “Blogging can improve the world!”
It can also destroy.
These are the opportunities before some of us. And there are many sides to align yourself with. What do you choose?
Do you align yourself with the offense, berating women like Nadya Suleman, defining what is right and good for a woman of controversy and poor decision, but nonetheless a women in the name of feminism and “liberalism”? Or the side that tries to outreach and make one corner of the universe slightly better than it was yesterday?
It’s not that simple, I know, and the situation calls for reflection.
But is calling her a “shithead” how we move forward?
* * *
Thursday, February 12
A friend is driving me through Cedar Lee, an area of independent theaters and coffee shops. A wide sidewalk is cleared for winter, but in the summer, Christina says, the restaurants have great outdoor seating.
Out of nowhere, a thought slips through my window
I haven’t talked to my Nicaraguan family in years.
And here is where they have five dollar theater tickets with all you can eat popcorn.
I haven’t even thought about them in months. What happened to when I used to think of them everyday?
You’ll love it here, Lisa.
Raquel would be…my G*d, twenty-one years old now. They wouldn’t want to hear from me. What would I say anyway? My Spanish has depleted so much. Let it go.
* * *
Both on and offline, it’s not our race, class, ethnicity, sexual orientation or any other spoke on the wheel of “intersectionality” that divides us. It’s our objectives. It’s how we measure liberation and what we are willing to do with our privileged lives in the name of transformation. The differences in our objectives are as transparent as our URLs. Some are here for fun and professional advancement. Those of us who are here for more than business are here to question the systems that contort liberation.
Is there any wonder that there is a divide?
For me, there is only one question: what are you willing to do for liberation?
If it begins and ends with blogging, then don’t bother reading the rest of this piece.
If you say you want a world without rape, what are you doing to transform binary definitions of sexuality, relationships, and love?
If you say you want a country of peace, what cost is paid by other countries?
If you say you don’t know the answers, what are you doing to rectify that?
These are the questions before us. What are you doing?
* * *
The face of G*d for me is the liberation of those in pain, myself included. My definition of feminism is not a worded explanation, limited by my westernized and elitist tongue. It is a drive, dare I write spiritual drive, to do what I can, when I can, and make one thing, or as many things, better for another human being born in my lifetime, on our planet, this place we all call home. With all the mystery and fear in my body, soaked in ethnocentric alcohol, I sober my life by sitting on the edge of my bathroom sink and pulling the bathroom mirror into my face.
I look up.
* * *
February 16, 2009
* * *
For the most part, generation X has been the largest population which the digital age has watered. We’re the first generation of this “new media” and its shifted the way we think, communicate, and organize. It’s even changed our dreams.
As little girls, I would bet those who journaled and dreamed about writing imagined hard cover books or putting pen to physical paper; their name in print.
Blogging has ushered in a new alternative to traditional publishing and while it has created this avenue for information exchange and sharing, it has also created a monster. We, privileged activists and writers with the most immediate form of communi/gratifi/cation at our disposal, gladly reap the surface benefits of new media and, I fear, are satiated by that. We’ve yet to fully incorporate a feminist energy and discourse to digital media. Bloggers, writers, web-users have yet to fully embrace the power and responsibility to transform knowledge, journalism, and expression and bring it to a feminist standard of acceptability and practice.
There has been no sustainable on-going and consistent effort to confront the communication patterns of womyn/gender-centered/feminist blogs or dialogue ethos. Who has time to create that analysis, to write about it? To try and put a lasso on a thousand bucks gone wild?
We’re either too busy feeding our children, finding sustainable employment, caring for our ourselves and loved ones, and making ends meet to commit to dismantling the ways blogging and new media perpetuate the existing kyriarchal systems. It is, after all, a flick of a hand to turn off our screens or we can simply walk away.
Or we’re too busy maximizing our latest idea to utilize blogging as a means to further our professional careers.
There’s a pull in two legitimate different directions that leaves the middle empty. What’s left? The space of blogging. THIS space that we say is the resting pulse of the “women’s movement.” All of it goes unchecked, with no accountability, no rules. We can call each other out, but in the end, if you think it, you can write it. We obviously don’t want a hierarchy or limitations on our speech, right? It’s as if we have lost the capacity to freely explore options and conversation, we don’t know how to dictate basic premises of decency on how to relate to one another over lines of difference.
And so the cyclic, vicious feminist problems continue. The conferences are divided, the blog wars are revisited, the colonialism/racism/classism/capitalism/ everything-ism continues in its original score. Actually, I think this screenplay was written decades ago by our ancestors. We’re all just assuming their roles.
(Who wants to play Sojournor Truth?)
* * *
February 16, 2009
I receive an email telling me of Don Manual’s death just hours after he had passed. I read the words and am confused.
My emails are usually about the latest happenings in the activist world, listserves I love, writers I follow, blogs I cherish, and updates from friends. This message was nestled in the midst of RSVPs to my 30th birthday party. Requests from writers to blog about a spreading story. The message startled me, but not more than my own reaction.
My heart continues to audibly break with each letter I type to admit this: momentarily, I didn’t even recognize Don Manual’s name.
That is how removed I have been.
For a moment, I did not recognize the name of someone with whom I lived, had spoken, formed some of my brightest moments of life, embraced, and breathed.
* * *
That night I muster every strength I could to get over my own guilt and self-consciousness.
I call my family in Nicaragua.
With no fallback of translators, my mind rewinds itself to its rusted Spanish files, long put away.
I speak first with my sister, Lynette, who now has three children. When I lived with her, she only had one son. She is mopping and I can hear her smile into the phone.
Her father just died and she smiles at me.
“Necessitas, Lisa, regressar a Nicaragua pronto.”
You need to return to Nicaragua, soon.
I sputter out my condolences, whatever is left in my vocabulary and try to twist it, try to offer whatever G*d-awful limiting words that remain and tell her how much I miss her and will always miss her father. How grateful I am for all that they gave me.
All I can make out from her response is “triste.”
She asks if I want to talk to her mother.
I remember why I was so afraid to speak to my host mother. She was soft spoken and that made translation even more difficult. I am shaking inside.
Unearthing itself after nine years, my intense desire to articulate the depth of my emotions runs again into the language barrier and I feel ashamed at my lack of Spanish practice.
It’s not just about language. Language, as once famously stated, is the house of being. It is a bridge of culture, a valor of heartfelt effort and humility. It’s not just about communication; it’s about respect and offering.
Her voice is barely audible and I want to weep in her arms. Or have her weep in mine.
Neither would happen.
I tell her that she and her entire family is always in my heart.
We have deep pauses of silence. I let them rest between us knowing the loss of her lifelong spouse cannot be explained in language.
We communicate what we can. We communicate love.
* * *
There comes a time to revisit our promises and commitments. We are forever in need of smoothing them over, enhancing the details for better fits.
I remember promising to write my Nicaraguan family. I said those words. In English. They understood.
But I broke that promise, repeatedly.
I broke that promise to write when I decided to put it off and write about what I knew – feminism – instead of a what I needed to write, letter to my family. For every post on this blog, now past seven hundred, I allowed myself to slip away into what I knew was so dangerously easy about life in the United States: living individualistically.
Oh, I’ve learned how to be a married activist, a warrior poet salivating after Audre Lorde. I’ve written letters to lovers, biological family, posts, articles, and even begun book projects. I’ve collaborated with strangers who became confidants and healed broken relationship.
“Individualism” is no longer about singularity, it’s about living in a disconnected state, where we are accountable only to those who are like us, agree with, nod with us. Nuanced individualism is serving not just ourselves but only those we choose to be in our communities, those whom we deem supportive and relative, staunchly defining who we want and gives us what we need.
Gifts of baking pans, trinkets, and money mean nothing without connection and in some realms of life, attempted communication trumps clarity. I wanted to communicate safely, with a translator so they knew precisely what I meant and they understood me. I forgot that tapping one’s heart in gesture can convey more about concern and relief than words.
I waited for perfect communication. That day never comes.
In my subconscious fear of not wanting to be uncomfortable or reminded that I lazily let my Spanish subside, I never wrote a letter. Not one. I didn’t want to be reminded of my helplessness, the nightmarish panic I had of not being able to connect transnational experiences with my own damn life. I didn’t want to look at the clock and see that I had allowed so much time to pass.
And in the customary selfish rape of wandering foreign lands merely for one’s own enlightenment, I took my “enlightenment” and applied it to my own life.
I never wrote one letter.
I’ll set up a feeble social network online and write flip responses on the digital walls of high school acquaintances who have taught me nothing, but I won’t confront my own fear of inadequacy and contact a community, a family who gave me shelter and food.
And for those who do not understand the significance letters hold, paper that’s traveled the winds of ocean, just know that it delivers more than anything that can be conveyed in language. It conveys that they, the recipients of the letter, are remembered in a walled country that makes you forget.
* * *
Feminism is not about self-flagellation or “saving” the world, or even piping ourselves up by saying we have the capacity to do so. But I do believe it is about living an authentic existence that challenges our comforts, our talents, and agenda. I believe that we, those with unspeakable luxuries that we cannot put in context because few other nations can even compare to our excessiveness, must be held accountable to our neighbors. Not out of obligation, but out of love.
We are accountable. In our lives. In our letters. In our writings. In our blogs.
As I repeatedly learn in painfully elementary ways, “Not everything is about you.”
Your guilt. Your discomfort. Your understanding. Your. Your. Your.
“I don’t feel like engaging.”
“I don’t want to be attacked or misunderstood.”
“I don’t want to risk.”
“I don’t want to put myself out there.”
“I’ve earned this.”
“I already explained myself.”
“I need to defend myself.”
“I don’t know what you expect me to do.”
I. I. I.
If you can, unstick yourself.
Move beyond your self-consciousness.
We are accountable. To someone.
Without accountability, without liberating practices for all, there is no “Movement.”
Find someone to whom you are accountable.
TweetI wrote this several months ago after reading portions of This Bridge Called My Back.
I sit on a quiet evening, at a white desk with a light, transparent curtain filtering out the summer sun with the scent of strawberries on my breath. In this space, I realize the world is imperfect. I am not, should not be the one to tell you about feminism. We should be hearing it from those who experience the harshest edges of this life. They are the ones who need be telling, who need to be talking. Am I qualified to write this? Am I enough? Who am I to say, demand anything from anyone?
I write this because Amazon just delivered my ordered feminist books written by women of color. Their covers simple, their language comforting, I tore into each one, fumbling, excited, completely unaware of anything except the feel of their legacy in my fingertips.
I wonder if I will fit. Will their words find me? Will I be loved between these pages? Will I finally, somehow belong, even if it just to a ghost speeches, to thunder that clapped before I was born?
For some reason, I begin remembering the way I used to sign letters. I would write “With you,” I thought this was the most intimate form of goodbye that I could muster. I had never known or witnessed anyone else to bid farewell and I often asked others Do you like it? I was always concerned with if it was acceptable. No one ever gave me a straight answer. I stopped writing, With You and went back to tradition Sincerely, Best, Much Love and hated signing my name to such commonality, such Insincerity, not MY Best, and it wasn’t ALL my Love, just much of it. But I never wrote With You again. I didn’t want to be over intimate, too much.
I opened Bridge and read a stirring letter from Gloria Anzaldua. My heart breaking off into pieces of joy with each resounding verbal explosion.
I thought my heart vanished for a moment when I read her signature farewell. She signed off:
Euphoric joy over such simple and trivial alliances can usher the outsider inside the room, away from the door, away from the cold air of isolation.
I am pacing, my self-doubt returning. My shelf is screaming, pleaing with me No More Books. Stop Buying your worth and knowledge! I close and lock the door, unpack groceries and eye Bridge. I put it down. I feel schizoid. Comfort. I need comfort. Quickly, pulling off my clothes and bra, my butt covered in my favorite underwear: a green dinosaur on the hip of coral satin. Falling in love with the soft sunlight streaming through the apartment windows. Do I write that I write naked? What would people think after such a disclosure? Who in the world would understand how I feel a sense of liberation when I feel the heat of a screen on my breasts, or loving the cool slick paper against my stomach? I almost reach for my shirt, but reach Bridge instead. Casually, without direction, the book opens itself.
Ah yes. Another letter from Gloria. It begins
Dear mujeres de color, companion in writing – I sit here naked in the sun, typewriter against my knee trying to visualize you.
It is at this moment that I no longer wonder if I am qualified, insane, misplaced. I have so much to say, it matters not in how I say it or in what attire I address the world. What matters is my voice, my ability to record what is happening in my lifetime, to note the progress, to annotate the struggles. It is at this moment that I am no longer fearful if I am accepted or acceptable. What I have to say is worth three rocks at the moon, and cupful of the ocean. What I am is worth more than my body, outlasting even the most beautiful meadows, and stronger than any quake. There will be interruptions. I do not know everything. I am so very human and real. True equality evades me, us, women of color, and I cannot pretend otherwise. The denial of such a truth is no longer passivity and reluctance, but swallowing and stirring the spoon of poison and evil.
Gloria, you saved me, with your nakedness and Contigo, you built a bridge before I was even conceived. And as I cross the bridge you built, I know you will accept what I have to say when I write that you were mistaken about something. You write We can’t transcend the dangers, can’t rise above them. We must go through them and hope we won’t have to repeat the performance.
I, we, the women of color of this generation are living through what you hoped would not come to pass again. But we are not afraid. I know the movement is far from over and my time has arrived to speak. My truth has been delivered. I would rather die than be silent anymore