reading and writing the poetry and stories of our people and places

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Working on the Word Across Aztlán y Beyond C/S

Or, Confessions of a Teacher and Would-Be Writer

(Note: I thought I was going to write something else, but this is where the writing went.)

Last fall, I stopped in at the Lunada hosted by Sandra García Rivera. I signed up for the open mic.

Before moving to Albuquerque—Burque or Búrque, as Sandra spells it—I had never signed up for an open mic. I doubt I would have started. But when I moved here, no one knew me or my work. I figured no one would ever ask me to read if they didn’t know what I wrote. I signed up. I read. Now, I get asked to read.

That night last August, Sandra found room for me in the open mic. Later, we took a few minutes and caught each other up with our lives. Condensed versions. I told her about the vibrant writing and arts community here. I told her my wish for an exchange between the two communities. After many e-mail messages and fbk postings and a few phone calls between us and much more work on her part, it happened.

The Lunada reading: it was great to hear, to share, to be warmly received. To see faces I haven’t seen in more than four years or longer.

Even before I moved away, I didn’t see a lot of folks. I was high school English teacher by day and tired person at night. It was more than that: I had given up on my writing.

I told myself that I became a high school teacher so I could write in the summers. But I didn’t push myself to scratch down the poems buzzing in my head in the summers, and I didn’t fight for the time during the school year to write the stories that haunt me.

I’ve been jealous of lovers. Insecure. Possessive. When I saw someone more jealous, insecure, and possessive that I realized how truly ugly they make us look. Not to mention small and weak.

When I wasn’t writing, sometimes I read other peoples’ work and thought: I can write better than that. I saw books and wondered how they got published. Then I’d remember the ugly insecure and jealous people. I’d tell myself: write your poem, your story, your book.

I wanted to. But I didn’t want to enough. I was scared. I thought, someone might not like what I wrote. Someone might not agree with me. I wondered, What would my family say? My friends? Who was I? Who did I think I was? What did I have to say? What if I failed?

I wasn’t meant to be a writer, I told myself. Where was my work? Half finished, hidden.

When my partner Geen asked me to move to New Mexico with her so she could accept her dream job, she told me there was a writing scene here. She told me that I could work part-time and write full-time. I didn’t demand the time to write. She offered it.

I knew that I couldn’t move only for her. I mean, I could have. Like I thought about doing in my 20s and 30s for someone else. I could have just followed Geen, but I knew that I shouldn’t. I had to have my own goals, my own reasons for leaving home 1,000 miles behind. We agreed on a 3 to 5 year plan and I packed my bags.

I had trouble admitting it to myself, but I decided to come to New Mexico to write. If I admitted that I was coming to write, it would mean admitting that I hadn’t been writing. I had done some writing but not what I could have and should have. Could have, should have--those words we aren’t supposed to say.

Before moving here, I admitted that not only did I want to write, I wanted to teach on the college level. I fantasized about the University of New Mexico hiring me. Total fantasy considering my meager college teaching experience. On the positive side, it felt scary and exciting to fantasize, to dream, to wonder: what if I take my writing seriously?

I love how I feel when I teach, but I also I love how I feel when I write. I feel like I’m another person. I get absorbed. I explore. I laugh out loud. I sob. I talk to myself. OK, I talk to myself more. When I write, it’s more like I have conversations with myself. Though not only with myself. With my relatives and characters inspired by my relatives. They talk to me and to each other. In the middle of all that, I feel like I’m more me. I feel more connected to myself and the world even as I’m alone with my laptop or journal. (Years ago, I read Alice Walker describing hearing voices when she writes. I thought she was full of it. Oops.)

Last fall, Geen left her job—the one she came out here for—to go back to school for a Ph.D.

I’m still teaching and loving it. I love being a writer again. Maybe for the first time. I squeeze minutes during the school year. I rework lines and words of poems and stories when I should be grading or prepping. I write for hours, days, and weeks in the summer.

Last week’s Lunada meant, means, and will mean so much to me for a long time. My uncle was there. My mentor/spirit relative was there. Old and new friends came together. On a cold, wet, full moon Tuesday night. It was a party complete with ambulance sirens screaming down 24th Street.

This was one Lunada out of many Lunadas at Galería. One reading out of many in the Mission, in the City. But it was integration and renewal for me, two things I needed.

I know I can live here for another year or five years. I also know I can go home any day. I wish I could say that I know I’ll write wherever I am. That’d be a lie. I hope I would continue to write if I moved back home tomorrow. I do know that as long as I’m here I’ll work on it.

I'm scheduled to have a chapbook published this fall by Momotombo Press out of University of Notre Dame. I’m scheduled to teach a creative writing class at UNM in Fall 2011 and another one at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Spring 2012. 

I don't list these to brag. I list them to remind myself what is possible and what I could so easily not have.

I still don't know all the answers to those questions that stopped me. All I know I can't wait to find out. 

Last Tuesday, May 17th was the Galería de la Raza’s Lunada Literary Lounge and Open Mic hosted by the dynamic, gracious, eloquent and funny--in English, Spanish, and S(p)LANGish--Sandra García Rivera. It was the final night of the Spring series and the end of Sandra’s first full year. Gracias and Bravo!

Much thanks to Darren (DJ Aztec Parrot) Deleon for promoting the "Búrque to the Bay" Lunada on his Radio 2050 show.

Ten years ago, Marc Piñate started the Lunada in San José. He continued it when he moved to SF. 

With gratitude.