Scenes from a Week: The International Edition (11.3.2014-11.9.2014)

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This week I am posting more pictures than text. It’s been a whirlwind of a week, visiting the west coast of Puerto Rico, putting together the next issue of WIHE (have laptop will work), and also getting ready for NWSA 2014. But I’ve been doing my daily writing and I’ve been taking pictures.

I also have lots of thoughts about Sabana Grande, being in Puerto Rico, coming to my parents’s home and sleeping in my own bed, and renting a car. If you write a dissertation about home spaces, you don’t get to come back to the home where you grew up and not have thoughts about how home has changed. Especially because I left home when I was 18 and have only come back on vacation to what used to be my house.

But I’m leaving that one for a longer essay/musing on home.

Here are some highlights from Week One in Puerto Rico.

Throwback Tuesday

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Wednesday in Ruins

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Saturday Shadows

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Sunday Sunshine

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An Imaginary Reader

Do you, dear readers and writers, have someone in mind when you write? Does that help you write?

Thursdays are a book day. I tried to give every day of the work week a theme so I can stay focused and make progress on my different projects, even if slowly. It also helps keep my anxiety at bay. (My system has been around for only two weeks and I’ll be in Puerto Rico next week, so let’s see if I can keep it going.) Yesterday I read some pages from William Zinsser’s On Writing Well as part of book research/development. And although it’s not content-specific research, I’m trying to learn more about this overarching genre, nonfiction. So I file it under “genre research.”

Got my drink and my...oh, wait.

Got my drink and my…oh, wait.

I enjoy how clearly Zinsser wrote his book (a good example to follow) and how concise the chapters are. I’m not sure that I’m loving the book though. It’s a good reminder of what matters in writing, particularly in nonfiction, but I think I was expecting something else from it. Maybe because I’m in a frame of mind where I’m starting my book and I’m thirsty to find something that looks like what I’m hoping to do.

As I read Chapter 4 “On Style,” the following quotation stood out to me. The reason he encourages writers to write in first person is,
Writing is an intimate transaction between two people, conducted on paper, and it will go well to the extent that it retains its humanity.

I used to get this question a lot as a Graduate Writing Specialist. I even wrote about it for Minority Postdoc“Writing From a Personal (Academic) Space.” I am a fan of using first person singular in my writing. But Zinsser didn’t make me think of that when I read the above passage. He made me think instead about who my ideal reader is. I wondered, who do I imagine reading my book? if this is an intimate transaction between two people, who’s on the other side? I’m still not sure of that.

Honestly, I hadn’t thought of this point. I had thought of a general audience, of faceless people with wallets who pick up my jacket-less book and take it to a blank register. But I hadn’t thought about putting a face to those people. How do I even choose my mental reader? How do i choose who of my friends I’ll write it for? or am i writing it to inspire a certain person?

I want to explore some more this idea of who my reader is. I think it’s important to think about who is reading this book. Not the audience, mind you. That’s another level of thinking about the book. I’m focused more on when I write, who do I imagine reading this book? Austin Kleon said in an episode of Otherppl (my new favorite podcast) that when he writes he envisions his wife as the reader of the text. Kelly Klautz at Copyblogger talks about how inventing an imaginary person can help your writing. The author gives some specific questions to create your imaginary reader. But I like the idea of writing for a particular person. You already know their reactions, you already understand what they like.

Postcard Wednesday: Looking Good

2014-10-28 07.22.34This postcard is an ad for a book titled Women in Clothes. I picked up several at Brazos Bookstore here in Houston when I attended a reading in September. They were on a table, for free! I probably took more than I should have, but I wanted to have one of each of the three postcards on display, and I wanted a few more that I could send out.

Out of the three postcards available for the taking, one stood out to me. “When do you feel your most attractive?” By looking at the postcard, it seems most respondents said “Jeans.” One apparently did not say jeans, hence the strikethrough.

That would probably have been me.

I’m not liking jeans lately. And when I say “lately” I mean the past four years. I have a denim dress, a dark denim jacket, and one pair of capri-cut jeans that might be on their way out. I also have a pair of chambray pants that look like jeans, but let’s be honest: I bought them because they look like jeans but don’t fit like jeans.

I have a problem with jeans. (And pants in general, but I’ve found a pair at Old Navy that fit me well and I’m slowly buying a pair in that style in every color.) It’s not about style but more about fit. Jeans don’t fit me well, not anymore. When I try on jeans, I feel tight constricted uncomfortable–generally not good. So I try to stay away from jeans.

From time to time I take a pair to the dressing room, hoping to find a daily staple that I can wear when I’m not feeling dressy or that I can wear with my cool t-shirts. I’ve only succeeded in finding one pair, my capris. And even those are on their way out. I haven’t found a pair that fit me right and that still won’t squeeze me in all the wrong places.

It’s hard to fit this postpartum, plus-sized body into jeans. Jeans are not made to give. They are molded into a certain figure, a certain size, and I’m afraid I don’t fit that mold. Depending on the brand, the mold is different, and that presents its own challenges.

Once upon a time I had lots of Gap jeans. That was my brand, Gap. I fell in love in grad school with their straight leg jeans. 12, straight, regular (or short, depending on the look I was going for).

I miss the ease of my Gap jeans.

I miss the ease of my Gap jeans.

I could buy them with my eyes closed. Even when I was thinner I had problems fitting this curvy, Puerto Rican body into jeans, so when I discovered this particular style from Gap I was thrilled. I knew the fit and I knew how they would look. And I felt great in them.

Now, I don’t think my postpartum body is made for jeans, not the way they’re made for plus-sized women at least. Wait, let me flip that around: there is a lot less jeans variety for women who are bigger than a size 12.

Meanwhile, despite the messages that mainstream media sends us about how bodies like mine are not good (overweight, not healthy, taking up too much space…), I’m still learning how to love my body the way it is. For one, my body has gotten stronger. Sheesh, when I was a size 12 I ate poorly and slept at weird hours. I now try to eat healthy (although sometimes, like last week when I visited Under the Volcano and discovered they have this delicious thing called Italian Queso, I might go a little crazy and eat whatever sounds tasty). I also swim, semi-regularly. Conference season (compounded with the end of baseball season) messed up my swimming routine, but I’m trying to get back into it! I started walking too because I want to get stronger in the pool. I remind myself to drink water regularly. And I try to tone down the negative messages when I try something on and it doesn’t fit me.

For me, one of the ways I practice self-care is to dress in ways that I feel good about myself, that I feel attractive in. And being plus-sized that means I need to be more careful about the pieces I buy. I can’t go bargain rack, like I used to; have you seen what the bargain rack for plus-sized women looks like? Now, I search for online stores/boutiques that specialize in fashion for plus-sized women. And that can get a little pricey. Old Navy is still my go-to for budget-conscious fashion.

Target used to be my go-to for affordable, cute outfits. Not anymore. I may buy pajamas there or tights, but I can’t buy their clothes like I used to. They don’t fit me right. I guess that’ll cut down on my Target habit.

Who am I kidding, I’m still gonna go to Target every chance I get.

But back to the question: when do I feel most attractive? Lately it’s when I wear lipstick. Lipstick is my sexy weapon of choice.

My two favorite colors nowadays: Nars in Schiap, and Urban Decay in Jilted.

My two favorite colors nowadays: Nars in Schiap, and Urban Decay in Jilted.

I remember feeling very self-conscious about lipstick when I was in my 20s. Lipstick made people notice me, and I didn’t want to be noticed. I felt very visible in my body, my brown curvy, Puerto Rican body. I didn’t want to bring more attention to my body. I wanted people to notice my brain, something I was more comfortable showing off.

Or maybe I wanted to be noticed but I didn’t want to seem like I was trying too hard. In grad school, I wanted people to take me seriously, and with bright lipstick who would do that? With lipstick, I would feel like I was trying too hard. And the introvert in me sometimes didn’t like all that attention (most of the time didn’t like the attention).

But in the past year, I’ve ramped it up. At the age of 33, I’ve embraced the visibility of lipstick. I’m okay with being seen. It’s an act of defiance.