The Act of Patience in the New Normal

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The first ray of sunshine I saw after Harvey

Dear Reader,

The weeks after Harvey has been, let’s say, a crash course in patience.

Patience in and with FEMA.

Patience in myself and my own healing.

Patience in the new normal.

Patience. So much of it.

And then, without warning, or maybe with some warning, my sister in Cuba dies. She dies after the hurricane it but her death was a long time coming. As most Fernandez do, she suffered from high blood pressure and there was no medicine on the island.

Let me repeat that, an island with the best doctors in the world, the same that found treatment for a specific type of cancer, did not have blood pressure medicine for my sister. So she died after not being able to take her blood pressure medicine. She’s buried in Havana.

This was my Harvey aftermath. At first, I was mourning in private and then when I couldn’t anymore, I went to my Facebook page and announced her death.

They say, when you are mourning, it’s important to take time and mourn. It’s important to have a routine so you take comfort in it once you are done mourning enough.

Mourning enough? Who says what is enough? How do you mourn when a piece of your flesh and blood is in the ground?

I’ve cried enough tears to flood Houston all over again. I’ve yelled enough to make ears bleed. But I feel like it’s not enough.

So I go about my business, teaching my online classes, grading, running errands only because they have to get done. And when I drive around, I remember something I want to tell my sister. I begin to make a mental note to tell her the next time I call and then I remember. There’s no one to call.

When those times happen, I open up my bullet journal for the week she died. In the to-do list, my guilt is marked in black ink, the proof of how bad of a sister I truly was. I was supposed to email her the Monday before she died. But I scratched it out and moved it further in the week. But I didn’t end up emailing her. I was busy…with other people’s shit. Busy enough not to take 20 minutes to email her. Busy enough, just enough, to put her on my to-do list right next to “FEMA” and “finalize beginning online lessons”. Busy enough to write the words on paper but not do the action.

I had moved my sister’s return email three times that week — Monday, Tuesday, Friday — remembering her last email “Everything is fine. We’re okay. Don’t worry. Write me back.”  

That’s when I cry the most. When I remember how bad of a person I was to her.  

But patience. In this new normal. I live with regrets like boulders. They sit on my chest.  They crush me in the moments that I forget. Forgiveness right now is just a word in the dictionary, as foreign a concept as I have ever encountered.

But patience. This passes slowly, this grief, this guilt. These flashbacks of the one and only time I met my sister in Cuba. She was so happy to meet us (my blood sister and I). Hermanas. She always called us that. Not Icess. Not Leslie. But her hermanas. No names needed. Blood recognized blood.

But patience. When I hear her voice still in my ear. The Skype call surprisingly clear. Her reminding me she was an old woman. Me reminding her that we were ageless.

But patience. When I place my fingers on the keyboard and nothing comes out. I want to write about her, immortalize her in words with a poem, a story, a memory. My fingers freeze. My mind punishes me with blankness. Bad sisters don’t deserve to use their gifts.

But patience. Hiding my tears from my own mother, who is afraid I’ll go into a depressive state again. Mourning but not fully mourning. The agony of keeping it hidden is a kind of atonement.

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My dad and my sister. The last time they saw each other. 

But patience. Adding my beautiful sister to our family altar. The act of buying her flowers. The act of lighting her white candle. The sucker punch to your throat and you yelling to God and all the Saints how it was too early. The candle is too early. The white roses are too early. Her picture next to dad’s is too early. Not getting a response back.

But patience. A message. Dad, please take care of my sister. Watch out for her in the hereafter. Tell her that I love her. Tell her that I’m sorry.

But patience. Opening windows to sunlight is a kind of unexpected healing, just like the first time I saw the sun after Harvey. The world continues but in a different way and yet somehow you’re grateful.

The new normal is a reminder that life starts over again and again. Usually without warning. Always in the most inconvenient of times. And even here you must have patience. You must move in the world slowly but deliberately.  You must take care of yourself if only just enough. Your moments are deliberate. Your anger will subside. Your bargaining will stop. Acceptance? Only when you’re ready. You will know when. To hell with the world, you will know when.

The lesson is to be present beyond mindfulness. It’s the small things that bring you the most comfort. A message from a friend. Time with a loved one. The invites to attend events, even if you can’t, even if you’re still dying on the inside. The first time you smile or laugh is the biggest relief. The second biggest is, of course, remembering to breathe.

All this requires patience. And it will come, as it always does, when you least expect.

Like in a simple ray of sunshine after a storm.

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The rain, the flood, the trauma

Dear Reader,

I wasn’t going to write, not anymore. I promised myself that this week. I was prepared to end my love affair with the writing life, not out of frustration but of trauma.

My words, they failed me and the energy wasn’t there to pursue them.

Since Harvey sucker punched Houston, I wasn’t interested in putting my experiences out into the world. Outside of my morning journal pages, I was not interested in pushing myself. But I did try. As soon as we returned from evacuation, I opened up my computer and put some words down but they weren’t right. I waited more days. Tweaked the words. They still weren’t quite right.

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When a writer friend led a Harvey recovery writing workshop, I thought this was my chance to write the words that would convey what I was feeling.

But I didn’t want to talk to anyone.

I still don’t. I don’t want to see my friends. I don’t want to see strangers. I don’t have the energy to answer the “how are you” question.

Not great, I want to scream.  I just want to sit still.

I’m faking my smiles. My bright eyes. I dance when people ask. I laugh at jokes, even if they are not very good.  I have a horrible poker face until it’s important to have one. That’s when I’m a beast at faking it.

Since the waters receded, I have kept myself together by diving into work. It’s a superpower, to throw myself into work like it was an emergency. That’s how I was prepared to evacuate–one duffle bag, priceless things in Ziplocks, to know what exactly to pack — antibacterial wipes, flashlights, ibuprofen, and know what to leave behind–my beloved memories only worth a breath in between sobs.

Then, today, it started to rain. Three weeks of dry since Harvey and now it’s pouring. And I cannot look at rain the same. Thunder is a warning, not a signal of a lazy summer storm. Rainwater is acid on my skin. The shiver in my bones originates from ghost droplets of Harvey rains scraping my back like the Devil’s fingernail.

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Images from Harvey and Irma (and what will be Maria) have carved themselves into the gray matter of my brain and I am scared in places only I know about or can access.  Rain now is a trigger. Where I have used it to relax from long, hard days or as soothing background noise to the writing, it is now a cause for concern. Rain sounds force me to look out my front window, mentally measuring puddles against ticking minutes. How fast do they grow? Will it flood? Can the drainage system handle it?

The bright yellow duffle that held my clothes and provisions during evacuation have yet to be unpacked. I’ve dug in there for some things but the big things like t-shirts and pants are still there, just in case.. Because hurricane season is not over.  Because I saw the image of five twisted hurricanes on the monitor today. Because people have lost everything and me very little and the next time it will be my turn. Because everything was taken away from me once before so I should be able to handle it a second time. Or a third. Or a fourth. Because I fake strength. Because I am good at lying when it counts. Because, because, because…

I don’t know what compelled me to write today. I’m not even sure how to end this thing, whatever it is. It feels like I’m rambling like my thoughts are shooting out of me because they don’t have anywhere else to go.

Or maybe this is the only way I know how to process and old habits die hard.

Or maybe I wanted to answer the how are you doing question without seeing people’s reactions. I can’t bare it. Not now. Maybe next week.

Or maybe it’s the rain triggering me in the way it used to, a signal that it is time to sit down, create, and share.

Until next time,

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How Mercury Retrograde can help your writing

Dear Reader,

A week ago, my beloved MacBook died. DIED!

I was about to start that day’s Rockstar Writers session when the screen died. Everything else was working but the screen said no more. After my hysterics, my  second thought was to look at the calendar. Mercury Retrograde was the next week. Then everything made sense. It was time to hunker down.

What is Mercury Retrograde? 

It’s the period where the planet Mercury slows down its orbit so much that it looks like it’s moving backwards, there for it is in retrograde motion.

It happens a couple of times a year and it lasts about 3 weeks.

What does that mean?

Mercury rules communication, clear thinking, travel, and mechanical tool related to those things like automobiles and computers. The past also comes back to haunt you in several ways. Maybe someone you haven’t hear from appears about of the blue. Maybe you think about situations and things that you had forgotten about from your past.

That also means that you’re going to have several conversations over and over again. There will be misunderstandings  and things. And, yes, your computer may join mine in that microchip in the sky.

Also, this isn’t a time to sign contracts or make life-altering decisions. Just FYI.

How does that apply to your writing?

The great thing about Mercury Retrograde is that it is really about pausing and taking a deep look at things. It’s about reassessing, revising, reviewing, relaxing. It’s about getting some things done.

Which is probably why communication and travel are so wonky at the moment. Seriously, Mercury Retrograde is bad for communications but FANTASTIC for writing. While I don’t recommend starting something new, I do recommend to take this time to look at some things associated with your writing.

Reassess and Review

Don’t start your new project until after Sept. 22.  A new book or project is technically a new contract, which is a no-no during this time. However, this means that that story you started but couldn’t finish is up for grabs. That means that that book you’re still working on (cough Jennie Manning cough) is still good to tinker with.

The difference? You have to reaccess and review. That means slow down and have a deep think about your work and the direction it’s going. Some good questions to ask would be:

  • Is this the direction I want my work to go in?
  • Is this the direction I want to go in as a writer/artist?
  • Does this fill me and make me happy?
  • What do I need to do to streamline my process (if at all)?
  • Do I understand my process?
  • Does this work make sense right now? How does it need for it to grow to its full potential?

This is a great time to take something you started but then put away and to play with it. Who knows what will come from it now!

Revision

As I’ve told my students before, revision means to re-envision the writing. Revision is the act of molding your work over and over until it is where you want it.

Retrograde is a perfect time to get that done since you have to slow down and think. Go crazy in this aspect of things. Rework and re-envision your work.

Also needing some revision is your creative space. This is a perfect time to clear and streamline the space where you create. That could be your desk, your bookshelf (creation also happens during reading), or your cell phone/tablet apps. Indeed, anything that you use to create.  Since you’re being more intentional with your work during this period, then you should start with a clear slate.

Relax

This one is will be hard because it’s the beginning of the submission season. And if you’re anything like me, you’re wanting to go hard right now on the submissions. It’s the perfect time to attack submit!

But haven’t you been busy writing? Isn’t it time to take a break anyway?

I know the compulsion now is to submit, submit, submit. I, personally, am going to limit my submission these three weeks and focus more on the revision part of my writing. I only have one day scheduled for submissions during this month.

Here’s my logic for this: the deadlines will always be there, especially after Retrograde. For those I feel compelled to submit to, I’ll do during the submission blitz. After the 22nd, I’ll pick it back up.

Meanwhile, I’m gonna chill because Retrograde.

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I can’t say much about my departed MacBook Pro (sigh) but the work continues and so does the writing. Until Retrograde finishes, I’m taking it easy and maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to finish the second draft of Jennie Manning.

Happy writing!

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Where to find places to publish your writing

Dear Reader,

I can’t believe I haven’t written this post before now.

I was with writer friends recently when we talked about where to submit our work for publication. For some writers, especially for new writers, this is a confusing thing. It used to be that you look at the Writer’s Market and submit a SASE with a pitch and then cross your fingers. Or go to a bookstore, check out the lit journals and send things along.

Things have changed so drastically now. It has been such a drastic change that it’s sometimes difficult to figure out which rules are still in place. Now a lot of the heavy lifting  happens online. Lots of lit mags are online only, while there are those that still publish psychical copies. Then there is social media, where some networking with writers and editors could help get your publishing credit.

Here are some places to start looking.

Author’s Publish Magazine

It’s not really a magazine, it’s a great list-serv. Sent to your mailbox at least once a week, the organizers send a list of not only lit magazines but book publishers looking for work. They also have interviews with new magazines coming into the market and articles about useful stuff like the top 5 publishers for new writers. In addition, they offer free e-books about different aspects of the writing life.  

The cost for all this awesomeness? Free. Super free. Great resource.

Submittable

This is the apex of  submission life since almost every lit mag uses this service to organize work that comes in. Because of that, the Submittable blog usually has a LONG list of publications whose deadlines are coming due. 

Here’s the thing, you’ve got to have things ready to rock and roll because you only get a couple of days to submit. Sometimes, a couple of hours. It depends on when they post in relation to the deadline.

Facebook groups

There’s a couple of Call for Submissions groups and pages. I’ve linked to one of the open pages above. Some of them are closed but if you ask to be included they usually respond pretty quickly.

What’s so great about these groups is that editors for literary journals are usually part of the group so if you have a question, they can answer you rather quickly. It’s also one of the first places where these journals will post their calls for submissions.

There are tons of these groups on Facebook including those for poets, genre writers, and fiction/flash fiction writers. Non-fiction is a bit more difficult but can be found on Facebook.

Poets and Writers

This is the go-to site everyone goes to. Why? Because there’s not only a literary journal database but a small press database and a writing contest database. There’s also some writing articles about writing and interviews with writers. Great resource. Also free.

Doutrope

This one will cost you some money. Not a lot of money, though. The submissions list is extensive and goes across genres and disciplines — poetry, fiction, non-fiction. They work to constantly update their site.

The subscription also comes with a submissions tracker, a calendar of upcoming themes, and interviews with editors. Good stuff here.

Sofrito for your Soul

My friend George’s website nearly 20 years strong, celebrates the voz of the nation by creating space for Latinx writers. Here’s snippet from their Write for Us page.

Sofrito For Your Soul invites you to become part of our cultural revolution once again. As we begin to rebuild some of the archives that have blessed these pages over the last 15 years…we once again open the doors to hear your voz!

Sofrito For Your Soul is a reality because of people like you who contribute and help us grow. We are looking for articles, columns, short stories, music, written and spoken word poetry, video as well as all kinds of artwork to document the evolution of our culture in the United States.

 

There are a lot of places looking for your work. Although that may not make it any easier to get work accepted to places but it does open a whole new world of possibilities.

 

Happy hunting,

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