Gimme a Break

I took a break because I didn’t want to blog. A couple of Mondays ago I woke up early to write, like I always do, and after a few attempts at starting a blog post I realized, “I really don’t want to write a blog post.” So I didn’t. I wanted to sit with my thoughts, not force anything.

To be honest, the little break came about because I received not one but two rejections in less than a work week’s time right around the date I published my last blog post. I know, rejections are par for the course in academia, in writing, in life. That doesn’t mean the rejections hurt any less. The rejections didn’t dampen my confidence in my abilities as a writer either; in my gut I know I have some good pieces in my repertoire. It just made me wonder about what I am doing as a writer. (Yes, it made me wonder what I am doing wrong, but I realized that might be the wrong question to ask when it comes to putting your writing out there.)

So I stayed away from blogging for a little bit. Somehow, I felt like blogging would be putting pressure on myself to produce when, really, I didn’t feel like it. Also, blogging was starting to feel like a job. Sure, I should treat blogging like a job if I want my writing to reach a broader audience, but I didn’t want to feel like I was always producing, always putting out without putting back in. I thought, no one is telling me when to blog. I’m the boss around here. So I stopped.

What did I realize during the past couple of weeks?

1) I’m trying to do too much at once. Pitching, blogging, looking up references for my writing advice posts, reading to stay current. I know, I know, I should be indefatigable when it comes to my craft; I need to commit to being a writer and hustle all the time if I one day want to publish my writing outside of the blog. Don’t stop the hustle! But I felt like I wasn’t taking the time to digest ideas, to read and think. The race to pitch each week and produce two blog posts each week on top of editing and prepping for class and teaching and all the other craziness I have in my life made me feel like I wasn’t enjoying writing any more. I became a business, man. Not to mention teaching and editing are my main gigs.

2) In the meantime, I felt like I lost sight of what was my thing. What am I good at? In the race to pitch and blog, I wasn’t developing my craft. I was just producing. Even now that I am trying to get back into writing, when I sit down to work I feel a little lost, like I have nothing to hold onto. It’s all foggy up in here.

3) I need to embrace my strong suits. There are some topics that suit me better because I have extensive knowledge about them. If those topics are academic-y, I need to find a way to make them attractive to others, but I also shouldn’t shy away from them. Also, I’m very good at writing the personal stuff. So, writing about my connection to something apparently is more effective than just writing a typical introduction. I’d been trying to step away from that because I thought that was too personal of an approach. Maybe I’ll write more personal essays from now on. My last post is certainly in that vein.

4) Maybe I’ll pitch more personal essays. Not sure who would want them. The subjects I want to talk about are not necessarily news-y, so that’s always tough to sell. A lot of the personal essays I read are on blogs. But if I pitch, I may pitch a personal essay because that seems to be my strong suit. It also seems to be the thing I want to write about.

5) I should use the blog to post works in progress. More writing, less talking about writing? Maybe. I enjoy doing the Friday Free Writing posts. But I need to write more for me. There may be less Friday Free Writing posts–or they’ll at least be less regular.

My plan the next few weeks? Nurture the writer inside me. Let her say what she wants to say, even if it’s not necessarily pitch material. Sometimes all we need to do is just write. Sometimes that’s the hardest thing.

False Starts (Or, My Collage of Blog Posts)

Today’s post is one of those posts where I’m not sure if I’m coming or going. I decided to do a round up of posts I’ve left halfway. (Full disclosure: this collage post and title come from this Daily Post blog post from last May.) I’m not even entirely sure if I want these drafts out there for all to see, but hey! What’s the worst that could happen: someone thinks I’m a sloppy writer? They’re drafts, folks.

If there’s one you, my dear readers, would like to read more of, let me know in the comments and I’ll give it a shot.

 

Part I

I didn’t always want to get a PhD.

When I was very very young, I played teacher. One time, my parents ordered an encyclopedia set, and the day they received it I had a friend over; I remember taking out the new books and using them to “teach” my friend. I don’t know how fun she thought this was, but I loved it. Later I wanted to become a vet but, get this, I decided against it when someone told me I’d be in school for 12 years. I moved on from vet to oncologist. The doctor who operated my wrist when I was 11 was an oncologist, and I was amazed at what she had done and the intricacies of the procedure. Later, it was writing; I wanted to become a music journalist because I read a lot of Rolling Stone and I was a fan of alternative music.

Eventually, books and writing became more and more important in my life, and I wondered what to do with my love for books and for writing. I had very few hobbies outside of reading, writing, watching tv, and hanging out with my friends. I was also a voracious reader. So when 11th grade rolled around and I had to consider what I was interested in and what schools I would apply for (after all, that’s what the other “smart” kids in my class were doing), I decided that I would do something related to writing and reading. I looked into a summer camp for prospective teachers, and applied for this exclusive program. I loved it, and the next semester decided to apply for English programs. (Why English over Education? I figured the best way to learn about books and about writing was to immerse myself in good books. Very simple thinking.)

With the handful of articles about going or not going to graduate school that have appeared in the last few months, I have found myself thinking a whole lot about my own decisions. I went from a BA in English and Modern Languages to an MA in English to a PhD in English back to back to back. Even though many articles suggest a break between degrees (to see if you’re “Really ready” to go to graduate school), I just plowed through semester after semester, all the way to my PhD.

 

Part II

Years ago, in high school, someone told me–someone who could see into the future–that I was destined to travel. I know some of you don’t believe in that, but I sort of do. Yes, me with my PhD. Leave it at that. Little did this seer know that travel had already marked my world, an indication of how it would become a trope in my life.

I was born in New York, the child of migrants: Puerto Ricans who had moved to New York, part of a mass exodus in the mid twentieth century that would later be called diaspora. Before I understood what being a New Yorker meant, my parents decided to move back to Puerto Rico and as a result my sister and I were uprooted and subsequently planted in a sleepy country town. By the age of seven, I was already caught in between traditional notions of what it meant to be Puerto Rican and stereotypes of Nuyoricans.

I would not stop there though. At 18, I moved to San Juan to attend la Universidad de Puerto Rico, and later I moved to Binghamton, NY, for graduate school. I probably should have been more selective about my criteria for graduate school–all I was looking for was PhD programs in Translation and closeness to New York City–but nevertheless Binghamton changed my life forever: I met my now-husband there, I met some wonderful people there, and I had my daughter there. Her birth certificate says “Binghamton, NY” on it, but as of summer she now lives in City #3: Houston, Texas.

I was always mentally prepared to leave Binghamton. I went there for graduate school, and at the beginning I dreamed of going from Binghamton to New York. Later, when I met my husband, we both agreed that we couldn’t see ourselves staying there, for professional reasons. Binghamton is a wonderful place to raise a family, and we would be close to our loved ones, but we were thinking about our careers at the time: him, broadcasting; me, college teaching. Also, many of my friends had left Binghamton by the time I got pregnant . A handful had stayed, but I had already dealt with the blow of seeing people leave and having to separate myself from others; I knew eventually I’d have to say good-bye too. Leaving to teach/work somewhere else is the fate of a lot of graduate students. We know that comes with the territory.

But leaving Kansas City was tougher than I thought. Sure, by May 1st I was ready to get in my car and drive down to Texas just to have my family back together again. But for almost three months I ruminated upon my departure. People asked me about Rob’s move, they asked me about my move, they asked me about my job prospects, they asked me about apartments. For a while it was all we could talk about. And so I thought about it even when people didn’t talk about it. Amid all this thinking I remembered how I had wanted to make Kansas City a home for us. Eventually it started to feel like home. It was probably the first city I really felt was home, not because I was born there and still mourned my departure (New York) or because I grew up there (Sabana Grande) or because I went to school there (Binghamton, San Juan). I told myself, this will be our home for a while. I stood on our terrace, stared out onto the street, and told myself, yup, this is where it’s at.

So the move to Houston was of course a move to a new home. I embraced the adventure that was moving to a new city (the fourth largest city in the United States). I loved the idea that we were staying in an urban environment–our fondness for cities is one of the things my husband and I have in common. But that meant I would have to let go of Kansas City and the things that made it a home for me. Or was it the other way around? Can I say that Kansas City became a home, or would it be more accurate that I tried my best to make it a home for myself? Is it fair to say that a city is our home, or do we claim them as our homes? It all brings me back to my dissertation research and the idea that home is more of a social construction than a natural, organic thing that stems simply from where we were born (or not).

So Houston will become home again too. That process of home-making will look different from the process in Kansas City…I think. And that’s alright. Meanwhile, I will continue to travel.

 

Part III

I sometimes dream of having a whole day to just respond to emails. Not work emails, mind you. Emails from friends, the “let’s catch up” kind. I don’t get them anymore because, surprise, I’m bad at responding to them. If this were a blog post in itself, it would be called “Dear Friends I Don’t Write To Anymore.” A post explaining why I am a jerk and why I don’t write back to people immediately.

Letter writing. Didn’t that used to be a thing? People would write letters. People would stay in touch that way. Now I find myself just sending a text in between other activities. In the parking lot after I drop off Elena at daycare, I send off a quick message. On Twitter I do a quick tweet. On Facebook I like a post. We move on. There has to be time for long messages, right? For long, rambling messages to friends. To explain where we are and what’s up. Is that what the phone is for?

I do miss having my friends all in one place. (Facebook is not the same thing, in my universe.) It’s not that I miss having friends, because I do have them, but I miss the presence of my old friends in my life. The people I hung out with. The people I went drinking with in my early twenties. The people who nursed me back to mental health through break-ups or dates gone bad. The people who worked on their homework with me until dawn.

Dear friends who I haven’t spoken to in years: It’s been a while, hasn’t it? I mean, just yesterday I liked your Facebook picture with the puppies in the living room, or something of the sort, but we haven’t heard each other’s voice in years, haven’t we? Some of you, we don’t even chat through Facebook. What has happened? Why can’t we keep in touch? Why can’t I keep in touch? I know I let it go, Lord knows I had my own drama to take care of. And maybe it was my fault. I always blame myself anyway.

Or do we simply keep on growing? Do we shed people as we go through life? Is that right or wrong or simply life? And why do I seem to hold onto all of you in my head, thinking, wow, I should do a better job of keeping in touch with people?

It’s weird. There are these people we meet and who become a part of our lives for a period of time. We can’t fathom living without them there. And then one day you move away. Or they move away. Or they go to another department. Or they start another job. Or you start another job. Or, simply, life happens. And you live on. And you lose touch.

Where do our friendships go to die? And I don’t mean the friendships that are toxic or that are meant to die a quick death, but the ones that we really thought would live forever, and then didn’t.

I feel like I want to reach out to so many folks, but I don’t. I feel it’s too late. Or I’m too embarrassed to admit that I am complicit in letting these friendships die. Or I wasn’t the only one, but I did let the die. And as far as I’m concerned, that’s all I can focus on, on what I did or did not do.

 End transmission

I Grow Old

No, no, I’m not talking about T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (although it is one of my favorite poems of all time). I’m talking about growing up, and growing old.

Today, on my way to pick up my daughter from daycare, I heard part of a Trent Reznor interview with NPR’s Melissa Block. I caught the interview toward the end, and I ended up listening to it tonight after she went to bed. However, from the bit that I heard in the car, something stood out to me that Trent said (yes, I call him Trent because that’s what my friends and I called him when I was in 9th and 10th grade–and yes, we listened to Nine Inch Nails when I was a teenager, and I don’t know what that means.)

Trent said to Melissa Block,

I’ve kind of watched with amusement as the press has latched on to ‘Reznor, now 48, happily married with two kids and an Oscar winner,’ as if I can be summed up as that now. ‘He made a song with a major chord in it that we don’t understand’ is something that references Joy Divisionand New Order. It’s pop-punk. That’s the tagline for who I am now. I’m not the same person I was 20 years ago, and I’m happy to not be that person. When I’m onstage, the songs that we’ve chosen to play from the back catalog are things that still resonate with me and matter to me, and when I’m in those songs, I get transported into those songs. It can be draining to go through that.

Whoa, Trent, whoa.

"nine inch nails @ ippodromo delle capannelle, rome - July 22, 2009 - by Pitto" by Flickr user Daniela Vladimirova, CC-BY-2.0

“nine inch nails @ ippodromo delle capannelle, rome – July 22, 2009 – by Pitto” by Flickr user Daniela Vladimirova, CC-BY-2.0

So, Trent and I are years apart. I’m in my mid-30s, he’s in his late-40s. We’re different people. And it’s not that Trent has kids and I have kids and that makes me feel old. No. What stuck with me as I drove in the later afternoon was the feeling that this man had penned songs that meant something to me when I was younger. R.E.M. meant something to me when I was younger too, but that is different. I’m not a Nine Inch Nails fan, but I had friends who were. Nine Inch Nails is part of a certain period of my life, and listening to those songs I listened to back then (some of them aggressive, some of them precious, some of them harsh, some of them obscure) transport me to a different time and place. NIN’s The Downward Spiral was a staple of my middle school/high school years, what the cool alternative kids in Puerto Rico were listening to. (They were not listening to R.E.M., in case you were wondering.)

So hearing Trent Reznor talk about how he didn’t play some of his old songs any more made me smile. It felt like he was admitting he had outgrown some of the songs, and it reminded me that it was okay to outgrow some of the songs/artists that you once upon a time listened to. It doesn’t mean we’ve become uncool as we grow up–maybe we do, but that has nothing to do with the music we listen to or don’t. That’s who I was. And I still love music. I just…I don’t know. Maybe I’m listening to something different (in the music, not just in terms of artists). It’s…weird. I still recognize myself in some of those old tracks I play, tracks by Aterciopelados, Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, Toadies, Nirvana, etc.

It also takes the pressure off of me to try to keep up with music nowadays. Seriously, I can’t keep up, folks. I listen to NPR and sports radio in my car, for goodness sake. I get my new album recommendations from folks I follow on Facebook or Twitter. Or in this case, NPR.

I’ll be listening to the newest by NIN (which came out on September 3rd, by the way). In the meantime, here’s an oldie from my high school days. Don’t laugh.

NIN, “Hurt” (1994)

Obsessing Over An Old Obsession (Or, Tired of Thinking About My Weight)

"Weight" by Flickr user m4r00n3d, CC-BY-2.0

“Weight” by Flickr user m4r00n3d, CC-BY-2.0

It’s not the first time that I have written about my concerns about my weight. In fact, I revisited that post before writing this one, in order to remember what I had told myself back then and to see whether this post would be any different from that one.

It made me sad to realize that I ended that post with “No more hatin’. End of story” and that, so far, the story hasn’t ended. Part of it has to do with the fact that ever since I wrote that post I gained even more weight. I didn’t expect that. I also got a full-time job (yay!) but I spent most of my time sitting at my desk (boo on behalf of my waistline). I could have worked out after I got home from work, but guess what? I was too exhausted to even do that. Mornings? If I had to choose between writing in the early morning and working out in the early morning, I will choose writing every. single. time.

Yes, you read that right: I will choose writing over working out.

Some may say that’s exactly the problem with why I haven’t lost weight. But here’s the thing: Writing makes me feel good. Writing feels necessary to me. When I write, I feel like I’m doing something. When I click “Publish” on my posts, I get a thrill. It’s just a blog, sure, but blogging has allowed me to do something I’ve always wanted to do: write for an audience. Even the tough posts or the really personal posts, when I post them I get jittery. Yes, I enjoy writing even when I have writers’ block. I’ll get frustrated that I haven’t written, but I also know I have to write in order to push through that block. And I’ll sit down and do it, even if it’s tough. I get personal fulfillment out of writing.

As I typed the above, I realized that what I just said about my connection to writing could be applied to anything; many feel that same jolt and joy when they exercise. I don’t feel it though. Exercise to me feels like punishment; while writing this post it dawned on me, that feeling may be because it is what I’ve always done when I don’t feel good about how I look or when I notice my pants fit me a little too tight–or a lot tight. I understand that’s probably why I don’t exercise more often, and I know regular exercise is good for you, but this is what happened. I have never worked out because I liked it. I worked out because I needed to fit back into something.

Losing weight has never been easy for me.

I joined Weight Watchers a couple of months ago when I hit 201 pounds. That may sound like nothing, really. Plenty of people are bigger than me, right? Ok, point taken. But I’m certain that those who have seen me in person before probably think, wait, what? She can’t be that big. (And I know how problematic the term “big” can be; I heard all throughout my adolescence how I was “big-boned,” which I am not.) But yes, I got there. It’s a far cry from the 165 that I weighed when I got pregnant and the 180 I weighed when I wrote that blog post. Heck, I still weighed 180 last November. But over seven months I have gained 20 pounds. And that weight gain has been hounding me.

Those 20 pounds creeped in slowly. One day a pair of pants felt a little tighter. One day I noticed my face was a little rounder. One day a bra I loved didn’t stretch all the way. I would weigh myself but I always thought, eh, that’s just because ____ (fill in the blank with random explanation as to why I gained another two pounds) and I’d go to work, vowing to eat less or fit in a walk. That day when I weighed myself and saw I was back at 200–I’d only been over 200 once, and that was when I was pregnant–I cried. I’ll admit this to you, cyberpsace. I cried.

So I got back on Weight Watchers, vowing to lose weight because “this can’t be good. this can’t be healthy” I told myself. That was late April. Ever since, I have lost probably about 5 pounds, while I

  • left my job
  • drove halfway across the country down to Texas
  • moved into a new apartment
  • tried to break into a new job market (which, again, requires a lot of time sitting at my computer).

Meanwhile, 5 pounds.

I decided this past weekend that this obsession with weight was bullshit. When I wrote that last post, I proclaimed it “bullshit” because I was raising a daughter and I knew I had to love my body in order to teach her how to love hers. Today I proclaim it bullshit because I’m trying to figure out where I can begin to love my body, and something tells me I gotta start by making those numbers that shame me go away. The only way I know how to make them go away is by ignoring them.

I read recently a great post on Everyday Feminism titled “Exercise Your Right to Bare Arms” about how we often hide our bodies because they don’t look a certain way. After I read it, I felt good and thought, you know, I shouldn’t hide my arms and suffer in the Houston heat. Yes, one post does not a revolution make. But I want to try not to care.

I am giving up on losing weight. I am working on eating healthy, and will try not to guilt myself about frozen yogurt or a slice of banana nut bread. In the meantime, no pants, just the flowy dresses that make me feel good about myself, and plenty of time in the pool at our apartment. I love feeling weightless.

I want to thank my tweeps who chimed in last Friday on Twitter when I was feeling a little down and out, and sent me messages cheering me: @Jovanevery, @rgfeal @triciamatthew, @megfab, @emilleryozell, @nmhouston @reneemc @eetempleton @deborahbrian. Also, my husband, who reminded me he loves me how I am. 

Turning 32

"Birthday Cake" by Flickr user Will Clayton, CC-BY-2.0

“Birthday Cake” by Flickr user Will Clayton, CC-BY-2.0

This is not a birthday post. Well, maybe it is because it emerges from the fact that when I wrote it it was my birthday and I was thinking about these things. Also, I had no Internet, so I just typed this on my iPad and let it sit there until I could come back to it.

So let’s close our eyes and pretend it’s June 5 again…

Somehow, thinking about turning 32 today made me think about John Mayer’s song “83,” from his 2001 album Room for Squares. If you’ve never heard, it’s a song where John Mayer waxes nostalgic about being 6 in 1983 and the simplicity of things as they used to be. Maybe it was the coincidence of 3′s (my mind often finds patterns in things that a lot of people don’t really care about) but I kept on humming the song in my head until I decided to just sit down and type this post.

I’m not about to wax nostalgic about wanting to be younger, or wanting to relive an earlier period in my life. On the contrary, I’m feeling pretty good about my 30s. I am not about to romanticize what my life used to be in my 20s; it was lots of fun, but I also spent a lot of time figuring out who the heck I was. As far as I’m concerned I’m still working on that. And maybe we never really stop figuring that out. (Is that what being in your 30s is all about?)

As for me, this is where I am today:

At 32 I live in Houston, Texas. Years ago, I would have never imagined myself living in the state of Texas. I’m a liberal who had some liberal stereotypes (heck, I had them about Kansas too, and I made it through three years of KC, unscathed), and frankly, I dreamed of moving to NYC when I was done with school. But things change, and my family situation brought me to Texas. Right now, we’re loving Houston. It’s not New York, but I only want one New York in my life.

By 32 I have lived in three different U.S. states, and one U.S. colony. I’ve also done plenty of traveling, thanks to my academic career: Hawaii, London, Calgary, Vienna, Mexico…and I hope we don’t stop.

I’ve worked at three different schools, and two of them were research universities. I’ve created and taught college-level courses, although only one of them is a literature course I’ve created. Teaching that course changed me, and I wish I could teach literature again. But I also had the chance to work in student support, and I enjoyed working with my writers day in and day out.

I have realized that dreams can change. People change, feelings change, desires and needs change. Our dreams can change, too. My dream of becoming a tenure-track professor has morphed into something else entirely. That doesn’t mean that change is easy. But admitting to myself that I’ve changed is a big step, and I’m glad I’m on the other side.

I have realized that some dreams will never change. Just recently I moved to Houston, leaving behind one job I enjoyed tremendously and leaping into the void of uncertainty. But even though unemployment scares the crap out of me, I am also choosing to see it as an opportunity and try my hand at something I’ve been thinking about for a while. (I’m not saying everyone who is unemployed should do this. I’m just saying that this is the approach I took. Unemployment is NOT a laughing matter. We were also fortunate to have the financial means so that I could try something that might not be profitable at first.) So I’m taking the plunge and resolved to dedicate more time to writing. Writing is something that has always meant a lot to me, and I was fortunate enough to spend the past two years working with graduate student writers. Now I have the chance to dedicate myself to that, to take it seriously and go from teenage fantasy to reality.

I have a child. Unlike some people, who dream their whole lives about being parents, I focused more on my career. Now, almost four years since I found out I was expecting, I have the brightest, cutest kid. (I’m biased, so don’t take it personal.) She is a little adult in a toddler’s body, and she marvels me.

At 32, I feel like I can do so many things, and it doesn’t mean I have to do all of them, or that I can’t do one if I do the other. I feel a lot more possibility in my 30s than I did in my 20s. (Maybe it’s the medication? Who knows.) But I do know that I’ve chilled out a lot when it comes to the day-to-day craziness and uncertainty that can happen at any given moment.

Me at 32 is embracing a new career path, and it scares me but it’s also exciting. Jumping onto the freelance wagon is crazy. But jumping is also freeing. I always liked being able to create my own schedule, and lately I worried a lot about not having time to explore my own writing and research. And if it doesn’t work out? I can always try something else. Four years ago I would not have dared consider the possibility of trying something else. I’m going with what makes me happy right now.

As I wrote this post, I had John Mayer’s “83″ on repeat, if you can believe that. One line that stands out to me as I type is this:

“Most of my memories have escaped me, or confused themselves with dreams.

If heaven’s all we want it to be, send your prayers to me care of 1983.”

If you’re the praying kind, just send your prayers to me care of 32. Things are looking pretty good.