Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Fighting the Fight

Being creative sometimes feels like a constant battle. It is a blessing and a curse. It comes and goes in waves. When it comes, it is exhilarating, refreshing, like I am a complete person. When it fades it's as if a chunk of me is handicapped, incomplete, defected. Its absence allows doubt, fear and self-criticism to creep in. It can become crippling.

When I'm on a roll writing comes natural. Scenes percolate in my brain, characters feel alive, settings are vivid. It is relentless. I think about the story throughout the day, my fingers anxious to hit the keyboard. I pull up my story and get right into it. You ever turn on a gadget or motor and everything hums as it's supposed to, all smooth with no setbacks or trials? You fill with relief that you can use it as intended? That's what it's like when me and creativity are on the same page. 

Unfortunately, creativity is fickle. It doesn't appear on demand, or cooperate with my schedule. It can evade me for weeks at a time. Those times feel like my best friend is on vacation with no texting or Facebook access. I know it's not completely beyond my grasp, but it feels too distant to reach. It's essence exists, but it isn't strong enough to materialize. 

This is not only frustrating, but sometimes paralyzing. Writer's block becomes paramount, a wall I can't get over or chip away. I grow irritated with myself, feeling like a fraud because I am not being the writer I know I can be. When I allow life to get in the way of a steady writing routine (blogging not included) creativity becomes more and more allusive the longer I go without writing. I liken it to a muscle that grows weaker from under-utilization. You can be the bulkiest, strongest person in the world, but if you don't eat the right foods and keep at the weight training, your muscles turn to fat, the tone you once saw blends into your body, no longer distinguishable.

When I don't make the time to write on a regular basis it's easy to berate myself that I am not truly a writer like all those posting #amwriting. They deserve the title. I am a fraud, a girl with a writing hobby. I tell myself that my dream of publication will never come true. Self doubt tells me that creativity was a fluke, and will not return. I am destined to be a one-novel writer. It makes me sad to think that the bliss I felt while in the world of my making will not happen again.

As most perfectionist type-A personalities can attest to, this feeling of defeat is hard to get rid of. It puts you in a choke-old, your sensibilities become tangled in what you haven't accomplished, overshadowing facts and past achievements. I did it once, I can (and most likely will) do it again. But, that was when I had monthly writing deadlines and a critical eye ready to read and react to everything I wrote. I had the on-going support of friends and family who encouraged me and helped me make time away from every day responsibilities so I could focus on writing. That is no longer the case. School is over. There are no expert readers with sage advice and challenging questions. To say I need some alone time to write feels like I am burdening someone with my responsibilities. It feels selfish and wrong. 

But, that is exactly what I need to do in order to defeat the Fear Demons that settle in with me when I don't write regularly. The fears have distinct names associated with their roles:
  • Failure: tells me that I will fail at accomplishing my dreams. I will not become a published author. I will be a disappointment to myself, and all those who believed in me.
  • Inadequacy: teases me with thoughts that I lack the creativity and drive to come up with a story that anyone will want to read, my agent and editors included. It defies the logic that I have talent, skills and experience in writing that cannot be taken for granted, but I do it anyway. I also discredit it as a fluke, as though it came about by happenstance, even though I know better.
  • Mediocrity: whispers that my best is not as good as all those other writers who are more disciplined than me, who lead lives that allow for regular writing time and spaces that breed their creativity. 
  • Depletion: laughs at me because I've used my one good idea. From here on in I can expect a series of half-finished stories with no decipherable plots, and characters that are unappealing and uninteresting. 

Failure, Inadequacy, Mediocrity and Depletion are loud, unfeeling, and strong-willed. They feel like living, breathing monsters ready to devour my spirit. At times I feel up to the challenge and defiant. Other times they win and I feel defeated. It's a tough cycle that I imagine I will have to face the rest of my life, even if I ever get published. With every book, every rejection, these demons will surface, making me doubt myself, worry that I've wasted so much time, money and energy pursuing something I should have left alone a long time ago. But, if so many creatives can face these demons and write on, then I have to remind myself to soldier on, too and be stronger than the demons. My creativity is worth the fight.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Life's Paths

As a teen, if anyone had told me that I would one day write for teens, I would have laughed and thought them naive. As a small child I would write and illustrate stories in a notebook, and perhaps I fantasized about becoming a writer, but I mostly recall wanting to be a teacher.

I hear that a lot of kids say they want to be a teacher, and it's not surprising. Most young children don't know many professions, but they interact with teachers every day. As a child I recall playing school and forcing my siblings to be my students. My Barbie dolls were teachers by trade, and I had a classroom play set for them. I also had a collection of notebooks that I pretended were grade books, and I practiced my teacher voice often. Even though I didn't have a Latina teacher until sixth grade, it seemed entirely possible that I could be a teacher. It did not seem so for becoming an author.

I went to a tiny private school with only 5 classrooms for kindergarten through eighth grade, and each teacher taught two grade levels in one classroom, so I got the same teacher for two years. I lucked out in third and forth grade. My teacher for those two years made me feel loved and cared for as a student. Her enthusiasm and energy cemented my love of learning. Her classroom was bright and colorful. I looked forward to being there every day. She gave us weekly progress reports so we always knew where we stood. Although we had lots of homework and tests, she handed back graded work in a timely fashion, which had to be a lot of work keeping up with assignments from two grades at once. She was kind and understanding, even though she must have felt out of her element teaching at a predominantly Latino and black inner-city school her first years out of a mostly white college. Also, she was the first Canadian I had ever met, and I was always amazed at how "American" she was. 

With an example like that, never in a million years would I have imagined myself getting a degree in marketing and entering Corporate America. To have lasted ten years was quite a feat. When I think about the days of wanting to emulate my teachers, it isn't all that surprising that I eventually gravitated towards non-profit work. It allows me to mirror their willingness to help that was so impressionable, and fulfills me more than contributing to the bottom line ever did. 

Yet, I still have days when I ask myself what I want to be when I grow up. It still feels far-fetched to say that I want to be a writer. While I love it. it is a very solitary profession and I enjoy interaction with others. It is also frustrating work filled with writer's block, plots that elude me, characters that fall flat, stretches of time when I don't feel the least bit creative, and lots of rejection. The publishing industry is overwhelmingly white, as are the protagonists most of the public is used to learning about, which makes me feel like an outcast who has to prove that my stories are worth the investment. It can be draining and exhausting, even if the only movements are from my fingers and eyeballs. 

While I am optimistic that I will be published and that publishing as a whole will change, I still don't know if writing is enough for me. There is still a part of me wondering if I am answering my calling. I enjoy speaking in front of audiences and working with youth in a more active way than just writing for them, but I no longer feel led to teaching. Mad props to teachers all over the world, because loving to work with kids all day eludes me. I love academia, even as I read and hear about the politics, and the red tape many professors face. There's politics, glass ceilings and other ailments in all professions. I have battled it since I entered the work force so it doesn't deter me from envisioning myself on a college campus, passing on what I know about writing to aspiring writers, or running writing workshops. These thoughts take me back to that desire to be a teacher. Is that where my absolute passion will lie? Who knows. Perhaps one day my career will come full circle and reveal that mystery. Then I can stop wondering what I'm going to be when I grow up.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

A-Z About Me, for Fun

I sometime see chain letters going around social media that look fun. Instead of getting sucked into the abyss of social media, I rather partake on this blog.

This one that recently caught my eye, maybe because it's based on the alphabet and I'm a Word Girl.

Don't worry, I'm not going to call anyone out to keep this chain going.

About me from A-Z...

- Age: 36
- Biggest fear: stagnancy
- Current time: 6:11am CST
- Drink you last had: water
- Every day starts with: wishing I didn't have to be up so early
- Favorite song: Vivir Mi Vida by Marc Anthony always lifts my spirits
- Ghosts, are they real?: I hope not. They deserve to rest in peace.
- Hometown: Nowhere feels like home
- In love with: Creativity
- Jealous of: anyone on vacation on a beach somewhere drinking something cold with an umbrella in it.
- Killed someone?: Not in real life; in my mind, all the time, every day.
- Last time you cried? last week
- Middle name: Aida
- Number of siblings: 2 bio, many of the heart
- One wish: to be published and tell stories that matter
- Person you last called: my mom
- Question you're always asked: What's up with your book?
- Reason to smile: family, friends, love, writing,  reading a good book, sleeping in, wine, knitting, being healthy and safe, warmth, spring
- Song last sang: Hella Cravings - Hello parody
- Time you woke up: Which time? I wake throughout the night
U - Underwear color: N/A
- Vacation destination: Ireland? Costa Rica? Puerto Rico? Still deciding. In the meantime, San Diego in April
W - Worst habit: Sarcasm and impatience
X - X-Rays you've had: teeth - all good :-)
Y- Your favorite food: I love it all, but Pad Thai, panang curry, egg rolls, tres leches cake, and brownies elicit extra happiness
- Zodiac sign: Scorpio - no surprise there - it fits me to a T

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

A Month to Ponder

March is National Women's History Month. I remember hearing about this several years ago and thinking that it was a dumb idea. With half the population being women, I didn't understand why there needed to be a month dedicated to their history. Wasn't it inevitable that women were a part of history? Why designate a month to recognize that? But, therein lies the problem. Society doesn't recognize women's roles in history. 

Thinking about the history classes that I took, most focused on the contributions of men - white men, with the occasional sensational black man, like Martin Luther King, Jr. There were brief mentions of women, like Marie Curie and Rosa Parks, but that was pretty much the extent of female contributions that I remember from my childhood. However, I think we are so conditioned to applaud men that I was blind to the absence of women from most of my education. 

Looking back, the omission of women wasn't isolated to history classes. There was a lack of women in literature classes, humanities, science and math. The first Latin authors I learned about were Pablo Neruda and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. They are both fabulous, but why did I have to wait a whole semester to read Isabel Allende and Sandra Cisneros? No wonder I didn't consider it a possibility that someone like me could write a book! 

As the mother of a girl, I try to surround her with positive, strong female role models, point out how she is strong, independent and important, and show her that she can be and do anything she wants. I constantly point out women who are changing their realities, who are pioneers. I am always on the lookout for those examples, and it's sad that I even have to do that. If women were drawn into the landscape for all their worth and accomplishments, and given their earned place in history at the pace with which they change the world, I would have some help. 

All I can do is use my talents to change this. Aside from running a leadership program for women, I am conscious of gender as a writer. I create strong female characters. They are what I am drawn to when I read, and they are what excites me about writing. That is why we still need to designate a month to Women's History. Until the inclusion of women who make a difference is the norm across disciplines in school and the media, we have to take time to show our girls that they cannot be stopped because of their gender. It is imperative that they know that it makes them just as valuable as males, and we have to keep highlighting phenomenal women so our girls believe us.

When I look at the women in my life who dedicate themselves to a cause I am often in awe at how naturally they lead, taking on their passions while often nurturing families and other women. They are at the forefront of change, yet many times they are still in the shadows when it comes to recognition. As my daughter gets older, I want her voice and confidence to grow. She will face obstacles that I cannot tackle for her and she needs to draw on the strength and courage of the women who came before her, and those who will one day look at her as a role model. Until I know that she believes that she is as powerful and capable as any male, I will keep working to uplift women. My hope is that within her lifetime she can say that there used to be a month dedicated to celebrating the historic accomplishments of women, but that over time it became second nature to recognize women's contributions and that a designated month was no longer necessary. Until then, I challenge everyone, male and female to include women at the table, in discussions and decision-making. 

Women, encourage one another instead of putting each other down for the choices we make. We must be our own allies if we want to become a force to be reckoned with. Strike words like "bitch", "whore" and "hoe" from your vocabulary when it comes to women, and let the young ladies in your life hear you honor and support other women. They will emulate that and in time, we will see March as the month that welcomes Spring, and not the month that reminds us that we have a long way to go towards gender equality.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Making a Living

In these months fueled with politics, so many issues flooding the media. One that always makes me think, is the issue of minimum wage. In reality, it baffles me that in a country of excess, we use the term "Minimum wage". Essentially we are looking for the least amount of compensation for someone to do a job. When you think of it like that, where is the incentive to do a good job? Where is the respect for the person performing the job? 

A huge argument for current wages is increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour. It used to be that minimum wage was for teens in their first job, or summer jobs they have no intention to keep past the first day of school. Sadly, the majority of workers earning the minimum are adults well past their teens who are forced to work multiple jobs in order to make ends meet. 

I try to stay away from politics on this blog, but the wage issue hits home on many levels. First, as a woman, it angers me to know that I earn less than a man for doing the same job. I don't understand how having a vagina translates to me not deserving the same compensation for creating the same results as someone with a penis. When I think of the talented women I work with and meet, it boggles my mind to think that their employers would deny them the earnings they deserve for no reason other than their gender. So many women I know, especially my friends who are single mothers work more than one job. Would they have to do that if they earned what men in their positions earn? As a woman with multiple jobs, it angers me as I run from commitment to commitment that I have to hustle twice as hard to provide for my family. When I think about how hard it is to run a household on my earnings, I can't imagine how my parents did it.

Living in Iowa is considerably less expensive than living in Chicago. The cost of living is one of the lowest in the Midwest, and is a reason my parents chose to move here over ten years ago. Before moving to Des Moines, I recall my dad working multiple jobs to take care of the family. My mom worked in the home and outside the home. They were raising a house full of kids in one of the more expensive cities in the country on wages that were probably not far from the minimum. They did labor jobs that took a toll on their bodies. They woke up before the sun and sometimes had less than fifteen minutes to eat a meal between shifts. Yet, their employers looked at them and tried to pay them the bare minimum to get their jobs done. How is that just? 

Today people complain that fast food workers don't deserve $15 per hour. They argue that the job isn't difficult enough to merit that kind of wage. I have never worked in the food industry, so I cannot speak to the level of difficulty involved. However, I know how hard it is to afford to put food on a table for multiple people, and keep the lights on for a family. It's certainly not easy to ensure safe housing and maintain transportation, and I say that as a person who earns far from the minimum wage. Do I deserve more financial security because I have a college degree? Does it separate me from those whose circumstances led to a different path? Because someone else may not have the college loans I once had should they face greater poverty while I have more income options? Is their quality of life less important than mine? Absolutely not. And let's not even get into the ridiculousness that is the state of college loans these days, and how even college grads are competing for those low wage jobs as supplemental income to help make ends meet once those loans become due.

The injustice of wage inequality can make for a heated entry that could go on and on, but I don't want to do that. This isn't a politically slated blog, nor do I want it to be. This issue happens to be one of importance and personal to me on many levels. I am grateful for those who organize demonstrations that highlight the gaps and challenge those in power to make changes. I support them and would join them if I wasn't running from one job to the next.

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