Reading the Relentless Files

Dear Reader,

Good Sunday morning! I hope you’re doing well and that the writing is flowing as well as the coffee and that you’re doing the work you’ve always wanted to do.

It’s been a busy week for me and this upcoming week will be even busier. But I wanted to share this essay with you from my friend Vanessa Martir’s website, Digging into Memory. She is an essayist, poet, fiction writer, and all around badass. This year, she’s pledged to write an essay a week and man, she is sticking to it! Great job, Vanessa!

This particular essay I’m sharing from her series has so many truth bombs. Love me a good truth bomb. The first sentence alone drips with truth and feeling. Here’s another section that jolted some truth in me, when she talked to writer Chris Abani about self-care:

“Then he got serious and said that I will come up with ways to take care of myself, like the boxing I was doing at that time and my walks in the forest. But there will come a time when those things won’t work and I will have to reinvent my methods of self-care. ‘You will always have to reinvent those ways, Vanessa.'”

I haven’t written much about self-care on this site but I’ve hinted at it. (This will be something I’ll be correcting real soon.) Part of the writer’s life is to dig deep with your work (yes, even genre writers have to do this. Especially genre writers, I’d say.)

Sometimes, while digging some emotions/feelings/thoughts bubble up that you don’t want to deal with. We have to pick at the scabs and pour alcohol on them to re-bleed on the page. It isn’t pleasant. It’s not supposed to be. But the craft is empty if it isn’t followed by the emotional work. That’s what makes it authentic.

I’ll write more about this soon. In the meantime, read Vanessa’s essay and her Relentless Files for more truth bombs. Definitely worth the read and the time invested.

Doing the work,

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Vanessa Martir's Blog

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*An essay a week in 2016*

Here’s the thing no one tells you about digging into memory and writing about the ghosts that haunt you: you will have to relive those moments and it will leave you reeling and you will carry that reeling in your chest and you won’t know what to do with it or yourself, and you will snap at people, the people you love most, who hold you when you’re heaving, and you won’t know what to do with that pain so you lash out and you can’t help yourself…in the moment, you will blame those people, say it is them, their nagging, their demands…and only later, when you’ve had time to calm fuck down will you see that it wasn’t them, it was you and your shit coming up…and you will be so fucking sorry but sorry doesn’t heal the pain you already caused…so what…

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Artist Profile: Icess Fernandez Rojas

I am so excited to be featured on Trevor Boffone’s website today. I love sharing what I’m working on and my thoughts on the writing process but I forgot to add…I’m still working on the Afro Latinos anthology! Yikes! That was my bad.

Hope you enjoy the interview!

Trevor Boffone, Ph.D.

Name:  Icess Fernandez RojasIcess Fernandez Pic 1

Hometown:  Houston, TX – baby!

Residence:  North Shore

What is your earliest memory of writing? 

The womb, as I was writing my grievances for the tiny room of which I was assigned. I’ve been giving my mom headaches ever since. Ha! It’s part of my charm, she says.

How did you become a writer?

That’s a really hard question. I wrote short stories and things in school and as a hobby (it is no longer a hobby). I always knew I’d write books but I believe that I began learning some of the fundamentals of writing as a journalist. It’s a great training ground for the nitty gritty like writing to a length or word count, writing on deadline, keeping the reader in mind, asking questions of characters (sources). However, I think what launched my writing ahead, really solidified it in my head and brought me…

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Why do I love teaching writing?

Dear Reader,

Someone recently posed a question to me. When you think about teaching creative writing, what does that mean?

The answer was easy and came to me quickly. This is all about empowerment. Writing, especially creatively, is about being empowered and empowering others.

This is why I love teaching writers. In my career, I’ve taught children, college students, and adults.

Me teaching

And each time I’ve taught, no matter what the age group, something magical happens. Students’ opinion toward writing change and, while they may or may not get into it, they start appreciating it and writing becomes accessible.

Accessible: (adjective) easy to approach, reach, enter, speak with, or use.

For me, English wasn’t always accessible. That’s because another language came off my tongue first.  My first language was Spanish. I went to kindergarten not knowing that much English, just whatever I heard on Sesame Street and Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. I remember a teacher thinking I wasn’t very smart when I first started school. Surprise, surprise, East Harris County in the 80s was not nice to daughters of immigrants.  My mom, with her limited English, complained to the point that the teacher was fired.

I was put in ESL classes and had to have extra tutoring in English. My mom would read to me every night in her broken English until I practically memorized books.

And then, in 5th grade, something amazing happened. I skipped a reading level. Now I was one level away from the gifted kids. That’s when I made a promise to myself. I was going to do this English thing — reading and writing —  better than the smart kids. If being able to command this language in the written form was seen as  a magic trick, I was going to do that magic trick better than anyone else.

By high school, I was in English honors courses and taking AP English classes. For me, writing was empowerment. It meant that I could write and understand the world around me in a way that other people couldn’t. And that meant, if I got really good, I could write my own ticket in life.

Empower: (verb) give (someone) the authority or power to do something.

Fast forward to my first adjunct English class. I started my college teaching career in Louisiana.  And in my class, I had students who were parents, adults who worked, folks who returned to college after being gone for awhile. For all of them, English was the subject that they couldn’t pass. They weren’t good at it. I didn’t understand. They grew up speaking this and reading this language, why was it so difficult?

 

Because no one told them that this space was for them and that they’ve already succeeded just by showing up. No one told them that this is how they make a mark in the world and that these words are just building blocks to create the thoughts in their heads.

No one told them that their voices matter.

And my existence tells them the opposite of what they’ve have been lead to believe. If that’s not empowering, I don’t know what is.

In life, as I’m learning, you get a microphone, a chance to do or say things that help impact the world. The size of the microphone depends on popularity, I’m sure. For example, Beyonce’s mic is bigger and has a longer reach than this website. But this is MY microphone, my change to change the world. While Queen B does it with music and concerts, I do it one student at a time, one word at a time, one class at a time.

When you make something that was formerly non-accessible completely approachable and relatable, you’ve just empowered someone. That’s why I teach writing.

So here’s my new motto: Empower to elevate.

Eso mero.

 

Feeling like She-Ra,

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Shame on NBC and in praise of Simone Manuel, Gabby Douglas, Simone Biles & Laurie Hernandez

This post right here!

I love it when a great writer posts what I was thinking. Here’s an example. Especially during this election season, stuff like this needs to be said and often.

Aya de Leon

IMG_9774Last night, as Simone Manuel stood on a podium to be the first black woman to earn an individual gold medal in swimming, NBC decided it was more important to cover Russian gymnastics from several hours before…

Dear racists of America, we are coming for you. Coming for your pools and your balance beams. We’ve already come for your NBA, NFL, National Leagues (yes, Dominicans & Puerto Ricans count). We been done came for your Pulitzer Prize, your Nobel, your White House.

We, people of the African diaspora, have proven that we are some of the baddest folks on land, but now we came to claim air and sea. Watch us fly through the air on the floor, the vault, the uneven bars. Watch us glide through water so fast, even your shit talking about our hair can’t stop us. NBC, you can cut away to something else—

We interrupt…

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What’s your writer’s purpose?

Dear Reader,

I have an interesting story to tell.

A good friend told me this the other day and for the first time I believed this of myself. I’ve spent much of my adult life telling other people’s stories, learning and writing about what made them interesting to read for cities in Texas, Kansas, and Louisiana. And finally someone has noticed that my story was at least as interesting as the folks I wrote about.

The person who told me this was my very good friend and a friend to the site, Ashley Northington. She guest blogged on the site over a year ago and gave us some insight to book launching.

So if Ashley says I have a story to tell, then I do. I’ll be telling that during the Dream Fest Digital conference in November. Ashley has invited me to speak to tell my story and I am so thrilled to do so. (More info when the date comes closer, including how you can participate!)

My story isn’t a Cinderella tale, that chick has nothing on me. It’s a story about dreaming, crashing, burning, and stubbornness. It’s about walking through fire, facing your own demons and figuring out how to win against them, even if you can’t. Above all, it’s about survival. Scrappy with a shank in your hair survival.

Sounds interesting? Not as interesting as living it.

I have a couple of weeks to solidify what I will say to the world but what about you? What’s your story?

Writers have the best stories. We just do. It’s kinda our thing. We are the keepers, creators, and tellers of the human condition but, often our stories aren’t told.

That’s why so much of our work is autobiographical. Even fiction writers. (We tend to put everyone we know in a story eventually.) Because even just a sliver of truth belongs to us.

So, I’m asking you, writer…what is your story? Is it also one of survival? Triumph? Pain?

Writer, do you know why I’m really asking these questions? Because I want to know, and I want you to know, the answer to this question:

Why do you write?

Yes, I’m speaking to purpose. Why do you do this? And no, the answer is not just simply because I can’t NOT write. That’s a given. Why. Do. You. Write?

Chris Abani, the amazing writer, had this writing group during a conference a couple of years back. I was in grad school at the time and we shared space with the conference. At lunch, a large group of writers would sit next to me at the table, their eyes like the inside of a watermelon. They were sniffling and some were still crying.

“What’s wrong,” I asked concerned.

“Chris Abani asked us why we write,” one of the said.

“Okay. So what’s wrong with that?”

“It was bullshit. He kept saying bullshit until we finally got down to the real reasons.”

“Oh, shit!”

That was scary but damn if I wasn’t jealous. While they all looked like they were drained from the tears, they looked light, liberated from whatever was weighing them down. They looked ready to do the work. Darn straight I was jealous because I wanted to be that liberated, that in touch and in tune with my purpose.

Because purpose is everything. It’s the game AND the game changer. It is the and all stories. You ain’t got purpose, you ain’t story. Period.

Since then, I’ve done my own crying and soul searching and dragging. Last year, I broke down at my own writing workshop. I stopped writing for more than a month. I created space for Afro-Latina writers. I wrote about the darkness, embraced it, gave it a kiss and put it on paper. I flirted with death time and time again and inked my demise. There was more crying and soul searching and soul hearing. And more until there was purpose.

I write because I want my humanity acknowledged. I want to be seen. I want to be heard. I want the world to know I was here and existed and I had something to say.

Note: that doesn’t mean that I am seeking acceptance. That’s not my purpose. It’s nice but not my purpose.

See, that’s why Ashley said I had an interesting story to tell. And I do. Just you wait.

What’s your story, writer? Why do you do this? Why do you write?

For your first answer, whatever that may be, I call bullshit. Try again. Dig deeper. It’s good for you.

Dig, writer. Don’t make me get Chris Abani to come for you.

 

Well wishes,

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Don’t call me brave. Call me chingona

Dear Reader,

I’ve been thinking a lot about bravery recently, what it actually means and what it takes to be brave. This bravery thing seems like a simple thing to figure out but I’m not quite so sure.

I’ve been called brave once. About a year ago. See, I did something that most people wish they could and I’ve been fortunate to be able to do. After working in journalism most of my adult life, I walked away from a career and a stable paycheck and decided to start over. All the way over and do what is in my heart to do. That means not taking opportunities unless they fulfill me in some way.

That is why I was called brave.

But is that bravery? That act of drawing a line in the sand and saying, “Here. I want to stop with this ridiculous merry-go-round here.” Is that brave or is that just being fed up?

Listen, I don’t want you walking away from this post thinking that I left the evil mass media. Yes, I have my opinion about what happens inside America’s newsrooms and they are strong opinions, but it was the best gig for a long time. It was a gig that allowed me to go on assignment in Mexico twice. I knew the news before the rest of the city. It allow me to impact the world in a substainal way and for that I’m grateful. But I want more. I want to write and write well and write books. It was kinda my thing for a long time, something I had to keep hidden at times.

This writing thing, this gave me my voice and empowered me to be a journalist in the first place. See that sentence. That’s an important sentence, reader. The order of it is so telling. WRITING came first, not journalism. For some people it’s the other way around.

Yes, I stepped off the merry-go-round a year ago. Not an easy year but I still wouldn’t call myself brave. I didn’t run into a burning building to save a baby. I didn’t fight in a war. I didn’t put on a uniform and swore an oath to protect. I didn’t stare down the barrel of a gun so others wouldn’t. That’s brave. All of that is so much bravery. No, all I did was demand more for myself and my life.

All I did was try to live the life I always wanted.

Actually, when you see it on the screen like that it reads a bit selfish. Who am I to demand that of the universe? To be happy, to live my waking hours doing something I love and to help humanity in that way? That’s selfish! That’s … audacious.

Yes, that’s what I am. I am audacious. I am a high clearance level chingona who defied textbook definitions of things a long time ago. I am a chingona who is learning her lessons from the university of hard knocks with a major in I do what I want. And yes it comes with bumps, hill sized bumps, headaches and heartaches, but love is like that sometimes – worth the fight and being fulfilled up to the brim.

Please, don’t call me brave. What I am doing isn’t bravery.  I want more for my life than what I settled for originally. I’ve chosen that road Robert Frost talked about. I don’t know if it’s made all the difference because I’m still creating it as I go.

Bravery means there was fear to overcome but I was too busy wanting to live a life (and keep it) to live it in fear.

 

La Chingona,

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4 ways to write through tragedy (w/prompts)

Dear Reader,

The weekend is over and Dallas, Baton Rouge, and Minnesota are probably still on your mind in one way or another.

You want to forget but it’s still gnawing at you enough to sense you’re restless about it. But you don’t know what to do or how to start. You have to write that stuff down.

You have to write that stuff down.

I know what you’re thinking. Not everything is a writing exercise, Icess. True but not everything is about exercise either. Sometimes, writing is about healing and pouring something out of you onto paper so that it’s tangible.

Also, when writing through tragedy it doesn’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to publish. Other people don’t have to see it and you don’t have to share it. It’s just for you, to sort your thoughts.

I learned how powerful it was to write about the tragic moments in life when my dad died. I wrote awful, dark poetry, that will never be seen by another human being ever. But when the tears flowed and my heart hurt, that page was my security blanket. It helped me cope with death and what it meant in my life.

Writing

Free write

This is the easiest, low stress, basic way to write about the tragedy. Take a paper and pen and just write what you feel and what you think.

It doesn’t have to make sense.

There is no judgment.

It can be a grocery list if you want.

And you don’t have to do it for long.

Set 10 minutes on the clock and write about the first topic that comes to mind. Don’t stop for anything just keep going. Don’t hold back.

Write a poem

Poetry writing isn’t my forte but I dabble. Something about the poetic form is freeing. You can use figurative language (those similes and metaphors you don’t usually get to use). And…here’s the thing…

It doesn’t have to rhyme.

It doesn’t have a structure.

It could be about something small.

There are lots of different types of poems that could help you focus on your situation. One of my favorites and basic forms is an ode.  This poetry form gives praise (or not if you want to be sarcastic) to an item, a thing, a feeling, or an experience.

This form uses lots of descriptions and imagery to give it heft.  Here are some more tips http://www.powerpoetry.org/resources/writing-ode-poem

Writing prompt: Write an ode to a favorite memory. Be as descriptive as possible. For an added bonus, use the five senses in your description.

Short story

For me, dipping into science fiction or fantasy while writing about trauma has helped. The flexibility is endless with these forms. Science fiction doesn’t have to be the traditional form of spacemen and aliens. Think Doctor Who or Orphan Black or any comic book-based tv show. It can be basic on reality with some one aspect — time travel, cloning, etc — being extraordinary.

I like reading Kurt Vonnegut’s  Harrison Bergeron for many reasons. At its core, I could be called science fiction if we’re looking for a simple genre. The story about how all people are made equal is dystopian, a sub-genre of sci-fi. It’s rooted in some reality but it usually deals with the ending of something, sacrificed for the common good. It brings up complex issues against the backdrop of fiction, allowing the writer to explore difficult topics.

Writing prompt: Write a short story where something human or an aspect of humanity had to be sacrificed to the continued life of the planet. Feel free to use time travel, cloning, a superhero (or two) or a complex equation to aid in your story.

Opinion/Column Writing

This is probably one of my favorites.

I’ve written commentary for Huff Post Latino and the Guardian and it’s been great. It’s also the most direct way of getting out the pain and the hurt while focusing on logic or argument.

Note that this is different than freewriting which has few rules. Opinion writing follows a logical stream of thought and includes examples and facts to back up the argument.

What I love most about opinion writing is that it can take may forms. It could be the basic letter to the editor in your city newspaper to a creative non-fiction form to even a grocery list.

Writing prompt: Write a letter to someone or something that made you angry or treated you unfairly. Don’t forget to include examples add facts to back up your argument.

I hope this helps. I’m actually writing through my pain and have written some new pieces I’m excited to revise and submit to places.

Remember, on the page, no one can tell you what to do.

Enjoy,

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Want to take it a step further? Join my online writing class starting in a couple of weeks.  I’ve got some great things planned and I’d love to see you there!

 

Top 5 links to read this weekend

Dear Reader,

There are lots to read out there after the events of this week. I’ve tweeted a bunch of them out though I’ve been quiet on Facebook. Thought that there should be at least one place to escape.

So the links I have below are a mixture of self-care, business writing, and prompts. All empowering things to help you spring into action.

Because this is when we should be writing, by the way. This is when writing can be both escape and revolutionary. It’s your choice. Remember, it’s about a writing LIFE not just what happens on the page.

I REALLY wish I was going to this but, alas, I will be elsewhere when the class begins. He’s amazing and has written plays that not only entertain but make you think. He’s in Houston for this class and it’s a bargain to get to study and write with him.

  • If you’re not in Houston and need some writing direction in your life? Try this prompt. 

It’s from my other friend, poet Rich Villar, who teaches at the School of Poetic Arts in NYC. He, along with they great folks at Sofrito for Your Soul have partnered for this prompt.

I love this prompt not only for poets but for prose writers as well. One thing that we do well, unfortunately, is that we can grow words about place like weeds. Here’s an exercise that can keep you focused.

I’m not quite at that point in my life yet but it’s nice to have this list of books that can be guiding forces. Look, every writer has the potential to be a creative entrepreneur regardless of how you sell your art. The business part of the writing life can always use a polish.

I’m into self-care this week. I unplugged from social media for long chunks of time. And I was so grateful that I did it.  I also spent time with friends and protected myself from what was happening for awhile. It’s not avoidance because I came back but the break away gave me time to collect my thoughts, reflect, and remember some good life lessons.

This makes things all that much easier for novelists. Researchers have done the work and say all books follow one of these six arcs.

There you go, enjoy!

Oh, and as a reminder, I am teaching  an online writing class in the next couple of weeks and would love to have you guys join us!

Take care and keep going,

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Being a writer in the age of Alton and Philando

Dear Reader,

This is a website about writing. And the writing life. It is about dispelling those myths about what the writing life actually is.

It takes courage to live this life. It takes more courage to live this life as a writer of color. Today is one of those days where writing is my salvation. Reading is my salvation. And reflection is needed.

As a writer of color, I can’t ignore a day like today when we are mourning the murders of two black men at the hands of the people who were sworn to protect.

I’ve personally seen both sides of officers. I live in Texas — guns, God, family and country — is the motto of every die hard Texan. We have an allegiance to those who put their lives on the line, a duty to support them to the ends of the Earth. It’s a blind duty that has hurt more than helped. It has hidden instead of honored.

The State of Waiting
My dad

I was about six when a Harris County deputy slammed my father to the ground in the front yard of our house. I was in the car. My mother came out and screamed at the top  of her lungs, “He has a heart condition.” The shrill is still there as I remember this memory. The only other time I heard my mother that way was when we found my dad had passed away.

That day of the bad deputy, I yelled, too. “Get off my daddy!” I wanted to get out but he had closed the door. Dad told me not to get out for any reason. “Get off my daddy! Get off my daddy!” My piercing screams filled our family car. My ears rang, the tears like coals on my checks. I banged on the window

The deputy’s knee was in the middle of his back and dad couldn’t breathe. Then, the deputy looked me. His cowboy hat didn’t hide the angry in his eyes. My pigtails didn’t make my anger any less than his. I hated him, right there, for doing this. Why? Why would he do this to my daddy?

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Because Dad didn’t immediately stop when the deputy put on his lights. But the deputy flashed his lights in front of our house. Dad pulled into the driveway because there was no other room on the street. Did he deserve what happened for that?

The deputy stopped. Picked Dad up. Ticketed him. And left. I never saw him again.

We, at the time, were one of the few families of color in the neighborhood.

Flash forward many years, on vacation to visit family in Central America. Dad stays behind. Mom receives a phone call. There is a shooting. An attempted robbery at the house as Dad was coming home at night. Guns were drawn. Dad shot first. He is alive.

When we arrive home, our driveway is still stained with the bad man’s blood. Dad is still shaken. It was the typical stand your ground case. No charges.

A deputy, different than the one from my childhood, drives by the house to check on us. He asks us if we are okay. When he catches me speeding in the neighborhood a week later, he looks at my face and he sees trauma. A warning. “Call if you need me,” he says. “Anything. That’s why I’m here.”

I don’t see him again after that.

Yes, I’ve seen both sides. But I see one side more than the other. That 6-year-old girl is frightened. She doesn’t want to see anyone else’s daddy on the floor. She doesn’t want anyone’s mommy crying. She doesn’t want her tears to be repeated. And yet they are. So many times.

See, to be a person of color right now is to live in a constant state of fear. Alton and Philando and Trayvon and Sandra and Tamir and everyone else is the reason why. Because I never saw the good deputy again but I see the bad deputy all the time.

Because when I get pulled over in the weeks after Sandra for a taillight being out, my body tenses even though it’s not my fault. Because if I had known the light was out I would have replaced it. Because I place my hands on the steering wheel and hold my breath. Because I am grateful that it’s a busy street down the street from my house. Because my body relaxes when I see the deputy is black. Because he just wanted me to know it was out. Because I tell this to my mom and her eyes grow wide and she realizes that her daughters are in constant danger. Because the country she immigrated to, worked in, and built a life in are hunting her greatest assets and there’s nothing she can do.

I’m tired. For me, the hunting of black bodies didn’t start in the past couple of years. It started when that deputy slammed my dad on the ground of his own home.

I write. Write about this. I share my story. I share that I’ve seen the good and the bad. I share that the bad has cause trauma. I share that I have no solutions. What I have is a magazine, a notebook, and some books to read.

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My self-care today.

So, I immersed myself in self-care today until the words bubbled like grease. I poured them into this blog post. Now, I spread them like dandelion seeds across the universe and watch what grows if anything.

That is what the writing life is today for me. Sometimes, that’s all it can be.

In a state of sorrow and fear and praying for strength,

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Let me help you get your writing on point!

Dear Reader ,

Here’s my big announcement.

I’m offering creative writing classes in a couple of weeks. Online!

Yes, that’s the big announcement. I haven’t taught my online class since 2013 and so I’m opening up and teaching “How to write like a Rock Star.”

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The class is the jump start you need to work on your fiction and your non-fiction. With this class, I’ll teach you the beginning how-to  to get your writing in gear, on point, in process, and on the page.

Here’s more information about the classes. They’re going to be offered soon. The exact date will be determined by the class. Also, it’s SUPER cheap.

Hope to see you in class,

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