Who decides to become a writer?

Reading Siva Vaidhyanathan’s meditation on the value of the humanities this morning got me thinking about my own inclination for the humanities. I know these articles are in vogue nowadays, and I try to stay away from what’s in vogue (not self-righteousness, just an adolescent knee-jerk) but I can’t help but delve into articles about the humanities. I still feel a connection to the academy, to the humanities. and I enjoy participating in those conversations. Am I a humanist, even outside of the academy? i guess you could say yes.

Anyway, this part really resonated with me:

I explained that I was back in school to figure out how I could learn to write books. I had bigger and different questions in my head than my current writing outlet would accommodate”

The passage reminded me of why I went to college in the first place. I told myself i wanted to teach, but really, I wanted to become a writer. I know, I know, I’ve talked about this before. I think that’s what made my transition from academic to freelancer easier: there was something else that made my heart sing, and it was words. teaching was the shape that love was supposed to become, the practical thing. Funny how now teaching seems like the least practical option, in light of the poor state of the academic job market and dismal working conditions for adjunct instructors.

But where did I get this pesky idea of becoming a writer, anyway? My parents were working-class folks who found their way to the middle class when working-class jobs  could actually pave a way through to the middle class. I was a first-generation college student and, later, a first-generation graduate student. My parents touted the benefits of an education, especially in terms of how that would affect my future earnings, but statistically speaking, I am an anomaly. Do you know how many Puerto Ricans get a PhD?

Additionally, one of the reasons I ended up where I did (graduate school) is because i realized in high school that I had smarts; if boys didn’t pay attention to me because of how i looked, I was gonna focus on one of the things i *did* have: my brain. I was good at school and at learning. My smarts and my wit would get me the heck out of Dodge. I thought too much. The humanities seem to be where I’d be most at home, despite the fact that career counselors didn’t know what the heck to do with this tendency of mine to overthink everything.

But still, where did I get the idea that someone like me, a Puerto Rican who lived in the country, far away from any lively urban areas (San Juan was close but we only drove the two hours to san juan if necessary, and my contact with the city was mostly through the newspaper and gossip)? I don’t know. Nuyorican writers would come to my life in college. All I know is that I enjoyed reading books, and writing became something necessary for me.

I had a diary. I wrote stories. I crafted poems. I even published some of those poems! You’d be hard-pressed to find them online, but I keep hard copies of those small literary magazines who published my work. (In other words, they exist, but not on the internet. Sorry!) But I didn’t know anyone who made a living off of writing. That wasn’t something we talked about at school job fairs. It wasn’t something people in school talked about.

In fact, the popular thing when I was in high school was engineering; many people I went to high school with wanted to study engineering, particularly because the closest public university was an engineering majors powerhouse on the island, so I guess that was the socially-acceptable way to move up socioeconomically. Me, I couldn’t see why anyone wanted to study engineering. I didn’t have the slightest idea what engineers did, and no one explained it to me either. So I stuck with what I knew: writing and books.

I don’t remember telling my parents I wanted to become a writer, but I don’t remember telling myself that either, in all earnestness. I remember submitting a short story to a Seventeen Magazine writing contest when I was in middle school. I typed it on my parents’ typewriter, and even though I didn’t win, I remember my mother being very excited that I wanted to submit something. Later, when I was a grad student and I was having an career-related existential crisis of sorts during my dissertation, she would tell me that one of my skills was that I knew how to write. “Writing comes so naturally to you, Liana. I don’t know how you do it, but that’s your talent. You’re so good at it.” The critic in me thought, nah I’m not that good at it because I would have published by now and I would have finished this dissertation by now and I’d have tenure-track offers left and right, but then and there I decided to let her thoughtful words sink in and warm my heart.

Spring Training

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Or not. Depending on who you ask.

Spring Training is the time before baseball season where players practice in exhibition games. For me, Spring Training is me going cold turkey without my husband after several months of having him at home day in and day out. He leaves and is gone for about four weeks. Spring Training gets easier year after year, but I don’t think it’ll ever be easy. We just learn how to deal.

Contrary to other baseball spouses who may travel with their significant others to Spring Training, I usually stay behind. It’s always work, usually money. And soon it will be E’s school.

The first time my husband left for Spring Training, our relationship was in a rough patch, so his departure eventually meant that we broke up. Even though he may have felt sad for our breakup, all I knew was that I was heartbroken and mad while he was out in Phoenix enjoying baseball and sunshine.

The next year his job as pre-game and post-game show host required him to go to Spring Training as soon as pitchers and catchers reported—which is usually around Valentine’s Day. I was pregnant, and this would be our first big separation after his return back to the East Coast after the end of baseball season, and our reconciliation. My mood swings crept through the phone waves, and every solo trip to the grocery store made me angry at Major League Baseball all over again. (He was there for the birth, if you’re wondering. MLB couldn’t take that away from us.)

The year after our first Spring Training as a couple I spent it in Kansas City with a baby. I was teaching and trying to make progress with my dissertation. You could say my dissertation is the background of my relationship with baseball—my whole graduate career even. You can also turn it around: baseball is the background to my professional career.

When you’re in this position, you eventually figure out how to handle the distance. Video chat. Text messaging random thoughts or pictures of your adventures throughout the day. Emails with business that must be taken care of. Questions from well-intentioned people who didn’t know that their questions about my husband’s travels felt like pin pricks in my chest. “When is he coming home? Are you going? Do you have family who can help you?” Every answer carefully thought out. You don’t want people to think you can’t keep it together when you’re by yourself.

And I can keep it together when I’m by myself. After all, I lived by myself for a while. But I needed the company. I needed people to spend time with me. It seemed like it was during this period where I needed company the most. I didn’t want to feel alone.

I started to make up travel plans to New York City. There was always a conference or meeting to attend. That year I was pregnant I had not one but two baby showers. I was grateful for the distraction just as much as for the presents.

The next spring Training, I stayed in Kansas City, again. I was finishing my dissertation. It was the first time I sent away my daughter to daycare full time. My husband, the man flying to Arizona for six weeks, encouraged me to put her so I could dedicate more waking hours to writing instead of always fitting in dissertation work before I was fully awake or before I went to sleep. I needed the time, but I felt guilty that I was home alone and she was in the care of someone else. This prevented me from flying out to Arizona.

The year after, my husband left later, but only by a week. The play-by-play broadcaster doesn’t need to be there when pitchers and catchers report. We had an extra week and it didn’t make any difference because it would be three months until we saw each other again. It was his first Spring Training calling games for the Houston Astros. I stayed behind because I had a job and because someone had to pack up the apartment, right? Three months. 90 days total. I counted every day.

Every Spring Training seems to be rife with emotions. So many things going on.

I wonder if Spring Training in MLB is also a season for me, for my soul: maybe Spring Cleaning? Balance my emotional checkbook? Get back in touch with me and my goals? Every Spring Training up until this year had been intense, fraught, painful. Yes, painful.

I had to allow myself sometimes to cry, to miss him. It’s okay to get upset. I’ll have to make sure to teach our daughter that, even if some day that will come back to haunt me. Now I travel for work. She knows our work take us away from home for periods of time. She may think we love our careers and we love that it takes us away from home. We do love our careers. We do not love that it takes us away from her.

This year, things were different. Spring Training went by so fast, I didn’t even get to enjoy the time to check in with myself.

Because we’re finally both gainfully employed and not borderline broke, we could afford a trip to Florida to spend time during Spring Training. I’m still getting used to the baseball life, as you can imagine. However, Spring Training coincides with an intense time in the Spring semester: conference season. With my new job I have to attend academic conferences.

March was a whirlwind of activity. I finished putting together the rough draft of the newsletter and got on a plane to Florida. In between meals and sightseeing in Florida, I would check my email or double-check article edits. I then packed up for Baltimore to attend NASPA for work. While at NASPA I had to copyedit the manuscript and cover panels for future WIHE articles. My mother came to Baltimore to see me, and we spent time with family there. I then returned to Houston and met my sister in law at the airport. She’d be staying with us for a week and watch Miss E while I went to another conference, this time in Fort Worth. By the time she left on Thursday, I was already thinking ahead to what I wanted to take care of before my husband came back to town. This past weekend was the first free weekend I’ve had in weeks.

I may have overdone it this time.

Life snippets

Another installment of “False Starts,” this time the “Spring Training” Edition:

1) This morning I was driving back to our Kissimmee hotel after dropping my husband off at work (“work” being the Astros’ Spring Training complex) when R.E.M. came on the radio. Satellite radio allows for long-forgotten hits and random b-sides to find airplay again. “What’s The Frequency, Kenneth?” played on the 90s alternative station, and it took me back to my pre-teen years. The pop culture references, foreign to my Puerto Rican life in the countryside, motivated me to find out who the heck Kenneth was and why R.E.M. were making a reference to Dan Rather. This was a little harder than it would be today, since it required me looking at issue after issue of music magazines bought at the only popular bookstore close to Sabana Grande. Pre-teen me would have loved the Internet. I’m almost certain that listening to R.E.M. increased my vocabulary by at least a grade level.

2) When my husband and I got married, we had no wedding rings. The officiant asked us during a pre-wedding meeting whether we would exchange rings. We said no. We didn’t tell him we couldn’t afford the rings. We just left it at “no rings.” After the wedding, with some wedding gift cash, we went to the KAY Jewelers at the mall in Overland Park, Kansas, and looked at rings. I hate those “every kiss begins with Kay” commercials, but we bought our rings there. They’re not a wedding band pair; we picked two rings from the “Wedding” case, two that matched and that we could afford. My wedding ring is a simple silver band with a small diamond. When I first got my ring, I couldn’t wait to wear it everywhere. Yesterday my husband remarked that I take my ring off all the time. I felt sad admitting to him that my ring fits too snug because of the weight I’ve gained, and so I take it off when it’s too tight.

A year and a half apart. Also, my lovely nail polish

3) The art in our hotel room makes me feel out of place. I’m sure it’s supposed to evoke warmth, sun, relaxation. In short, it’s supposed to evoke Florida. It has the opposite effect on me: it evokes Puerto Rico. I’m half expecting to step out of our hotel room and find myself on the streets of Isla Verde, or smell la AMA pulling up to the bus stop. But every time I step outside, it’s a hotel hallway. Every hallway on every floor looks the same. No San Juan. Nostalgia comes back in mysterious ways.

Hotel selfie 1

Hotel selfie 1

Hotel selfie 2

Hotel selfie 2

Hotel selfie 3 (also, possibly my new Twitter avatar pic?)

Hotel selfie 3 (also, possibly my new Twitter avatar pic?)