Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Facebook as Comfort

For all the scrutiny that social media gets, I have found it can be an effective grieving tool. In particular, I have used Facebook to connect to other mourners who miss Warren.

Over the past four years I have posted memes, photos, memories, and thoughts to Warren's wall. Within minutes I get likes and sometimes comments, that remind me that I'm not alone in missing him. While there are times when seeing other's people's happiness can be painful, for the most part, I found relief when browsing my timeline and his. We shared dozens of friends and those friends still sometimes post on his wall, and it lessens the loneliness of missing him.

When I post something to his wall, it feels like I am sharing something with him. It sounds weird, but it gives me a place to share with him. There are still so many things I want to show and tell him, and his wall allows me that space. I realize it's public and many see social media as a shallow means of communication, but it also provides a visual place where I can see his photo, read past posts in his own words, see what others have said to and about him, and it makes me feel more connected to him. 

Along with comments and shared memories, there are several grief forums that I see through Facebook. Many of them post beautiful poems about missing a loved one, or articles about grief that have helped me understand that what I experience is normal. Some of the things I've learned from these forums are things that I wouldn't even have thought about exploring, but upon learning, was able to make many parallels that have been informative and helpful.

Even though I'm a lover of words, grief often stole my words, or maybe they just weren't part of my lexicon. Either way, there are times when I can't find the appropriate words to express my pain, longing, loneliness, fear and sadness. It isn't enough to say I am sad, hurt, miss Warren, feel lost and broken. When I say that, I don't always feel understood. But, through some of these forums I find partners that make the load bearable. As mentioned many times on this blog, grieving often feels as though I do so in a silo, especially as time passes and life goes on and I see how much has changed since his passing. Posts serve as a reminder that while it feels lonely, I am not alone. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Subtle Messages

After a year of dating the same man, I am finally comfortable talking about it to those outside my immediate circle of trust. It's not because of him, because he's a great guy, it's because of me. It's my hesitation at dealing with reactions from others. Generally, I don't care what most people think, however I do have to face judgement head-on when others know about my personal life. Keeping a tight lip on what's going on outside this blog helps me avoid that. But, there are inevitably times when this is not possible.

The other day he and I were at an event and someone I like, but would not consider a close friend, asked me who he was. I introduced him, but didn't use labels, just names. Once he had moved on to talk to others she leaned in and asked if we were seeing each other. I knew she meant no harm, so I confirmed what she suspected. Her first comment was about how nice it was to see me smile so much again, but it was overshadowed by her second. She asked me how long it had been since Warren died. It felt like judgement even though I know she didn't mean for it to. But, the message was that there is a certain amount of time after becoming a widow before dating again is acceptable.

I immediately felt defensive, and guilty. It passed right away as she congratulated me, but it marred the entire event. I think about it and those feelings sneak back. The memory is tinged with embarrassment and doubt, even though I know there is no set time when it becomes acceptable for a widow to date after her loss. It is an extremely personal choice, and every widow I know approaches it differently. 

I wasn't confident that being in a relationship again was in the cards for me. As I've blogged about before, it felt selfish and unreasonable to think that I could find love again when the one I'd lost had been so good. That made me feel extremely sad because I enjoyed being married. I wanted that again, but didn't believe it would happen. I'm not on my way down an aisle any time soon, but it certainly feels more possible.

Unfortunately, I imagine that any direction my love life goes, it will come with some tie to the one I lost. There will always be someone who says something that makes me wonder if I'm entitled to the new love, experiences and feelings, as it relates to what I had. It's unfair, but I find solace knowing that in most cases it doesn't come from a place of mal intent. Unfortunately, that does not alleviate the sting of those moments, or make them any more justified. But it has been a life lesson. Because of these instances, I am careful about saying things that might come off as judgmental. I know how it feels to be on the other side and don't want to make others feel the way I have felt. I'm not always successful, but I am twenty times better than I was before becoming a widow.  

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

From Other Eyes

Becoming one with my characters is something I love about writing fiction. It's no surprise that I write a lot of cis-gender, hetero, able-bodied, English-dominant Latina protagonists. They aren't always Puerto Rican, or from a major American city, but my comfort zone definitely falls within that sphere. I write non-Latina support characters in many stories, but they have yet to shine as the main character. 

I try to stay on top of what the publishing industry is up to as it relates to diversity (which on many levels is a sad state of affairs), and the lack of diversity in children's publishing makes me wonder whether I could authentically write a non-Latina main character when I see white writers writing protagonists of color. The more I thought about it, I asked myself why I would want to.

The industry is flooded with non-POC stories. There is no need for me to try to take on an experience I have never lived. Those stories exist and are written by those who know it from the inside out. Why bust my butt trying to make a non-Latina character become real to me, and in reflection, to my reader, when someone of that group can do it from a place of authenticity? That is not where I come from, nor are they the stories of my heart.

Writing from the point of view of a young Latina fills a void in children's literature. There are more Latina protagonists now than when I was growing up, but considering the large Latino population, there is still a definite need for more.

Publishers are not immune to the growth of this segment. They have been putting out Latino imprints for over a decade trying to reach that market. There are lauded Latino authors, and awards like the Belpré named after Pura Belpré, the first Latina librarian at the New York Public Library. The award is "presented annually to a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth." Talk about a pipe dream...but I digress.

In graduate school I based my thesis around how to write an authentic Latina protagonist. I did it with my audience in mind, which were vastly non-Latinas. But the truth is, I never really came to a conclusion about non-Latinas writing Latina characters. Yes, I believe that a writer should write what she believes in, and honor the characters that come to her. That is why female authors write male protagonists, and humans write animal stories. It is why writers in 2016 write about life in the 1700's or create settings on other planets. They are writing the story they have to tell, and I'm not knocking that, but I have to admit that when I hear about a book with a Latina protagonist, I always wonder whether the author is Latina. When the author is not, it bothers me. I immediately feel protective and defensive of my culture so vulnerable in the hands of someone who has not lived it day in and day out. I find myself disappointed, cynical and a little miffed.

It's hypocritical because I believe we should have more such stories, but on the other hand, if non-Latinas are writing the Latina experience, who's going to give a Latina the chance to do it? We live in a country of quotas. A publisher will pass on a book because they already have book by an Asian, Latino, gay, fill-in-the-blank book coming out that year. Marginalized writers don't have the luxury of assuming their ethnicity isn't a factor in whether or not a publisher wants to take on their book, even if the topic has nothing to do with race, gender, sexuality, abilities, etc. With so few options, it feels as though white authors who write outside their ethnicity are stealing an already minuscule space for such stories. It's a selfish and controversial way of looking at it, but as my book gets passed from editor to editor operating within these confinements, I can't help it. 

That's not to say that a writer can't do a good job writing outside her experience, but so often there is a person of that experience in the background as a reference, guide and muse who goes unrecognized, or uncompensated, or under-appreciated and that bothers me. I've heard the argument that if a person can write from the perspective of another species, era or planet, then they should be able to write from the perspective of another gender, ethnicity, race or sexual identity. The problem with that theory is that there are no animals, extra-terrestrials or historical figures coming back from the dead to tell their stories. But, I am here. I can tell my own story. I can let readers in on what it's like to live in brown skin in a world that looks down on it. I offer a true depiction of what it's like to be a woman of color in a country that forces me to prove my worth on a daily basis. More importantly, there are other women just like me who need me to tell stories from their perspective. It sounds self-important, although I don't mean for it to. It's just my way of keeping it real.

If a writer wants to write about another experience, by all means I applaud the interest. However, when that desire infringes upon the opportunities of others telling their own stories, it becomes another example of a privilege I am denied. If publishers understood the importance of kids reading about themselves from a place of shared experience in the way they would like us to believe they do, they wouldn't limit the number of books they publish and support by ethnicity, gender identification, creed, etc. But, historically, as with many other art forms, the gatekeepers have a limited tolerance for diversity. There is an unsaid understanding that most publishers are not going to publish more than a few titles per year of any given non-norm topic or non-white writer. It is an antiquated way of doing business that negates the demand, but it is the way it is done. There are several writers, whites included who are working to change this, but there is a long way to go before we will live in a world where all stories are judged by the content of their characters, and not by the color of the skin of the writer.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Refreshed and Ready

I got to spend a few days away in California and it was a welcome retreat from the norm. It came at the perfect time when I needed a reminder that winter doesn't last forever - literally and metaphorically.

It was a time to see new sights, embrace old friends, and listen to the ocean. Waves crashing on the shore is one of my favorite things to hear and it reaches deep to places that otherwise go untapped.

My favorite part of escaping to one of my favorite states was the time I spent with friends. Some of them I've known over fifteen years, and we reconnected as if we'd laughed together just yesterday. Another was an ally through graduate school, and is a fellow writer. She is at the same stage in her writing career as I am. We're part of the same tribe. She is navigating the world of literary agents (with a fabulous one, I might add), revisions and the fear that no one but she and her agent will love her work. Having read her writing, I know this won't be the case, but I understand the sentiment one-hundred and ten percent.

It felt amazing to talk about writing with someone who could so personally relate to the good, bad and ugly of it all. We laughed at references to books we'd both read, shared disgust at how slowly the publishing world is mirroring the diversity we live in, and marveled at the talent we have had the opportunity to witness in our peers and past advisors. We spent time browsing books, and writing side by side. She read my latest work and offered thoughtful feedback. It was encouraging and affirming. It made me long for a local writing/critique group. Writing is solitary and requires a lot of discipline to ignore life for a while and put words on a page. As I've stated several times on this blog, I am not always good at keeping my writing time sacred. Many probably have this problem, and please share your woes with me and let's commiserate.

The truth is, that I try to set aside time to write on weekly basis (I gave up on the daily thing a long time ago). I have some time while my daughter is in practice that I have deemed my time to write. However, things like groceries, laundry and work meetings have creeped into that time. I should push them aside and just write, but then they loom over me, like a rain cloud, reminding me that the next pocket of time I might have to complete those tasks might not be for another week. How many peanut butter sandwich dinners can I feed my kid before she demands that I go to the grocery store and feed her real food? That's all it takes to yank me right out of my story and into the real world.

But, there's something about being in front of the ocean, witnessing its vastness that sheds a new light on the mundane. It's like it whispered to me, "Do it."
Do what you don't think you can do, and see how it makes things happen.
Do what you think you don't have the time to do and see how life makes time in other ways.
Do what you love and see how the other tasks in life become easier, lighter to bear.
Do what you know you must do and in time, it will become second nature.
Do it now.
It was the message I needed to hear. The conversations I shared with my ally were the conversations I needed to replenish my creative spirit. The time spent in different surroundings was what I needed to feel like I could face the every day with a new sense of possibility and renewed energy for my craft. It was much needed and I'm thankful for it.

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