Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Finding my Force... and Junot Diaz on “The Total Silence of the Human Experience”

Junot Diaz on "The Total Silence of the Human Experience"

Allow me to be honest… and confess something…

I want to talk about what this silence means to me and how it has shown up in my life… the idea for the blog title Finding your Force… has to do with FINDING my strength… finding my source… finding and tapping into that thing that quiets me… for me this translates to my VOICE… so Finding Your Force – is really about freeing that VOICE of mine that has been silenced for FAR too long.

For my writers and those who just want to read thoughts from an incredible writer, Junot Diaz, author of Drown and his latest novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, winner of this years Pulitzer.

Junot has really inspired me to change how I see myself as a writer - - he doesn't know it but just listening to him speak has moved me into a new way of seeing myself and the words I put onto the page… it doesn't hurt that he's from my motherland… which makes me incredibly PROUD~ He's a role model… I hope to be his mentee one day~

These are my notes from an interview with Junot Diaz during his book tour for Oscar Wao here in New York.

I was sitting in the nose bleed section and couldn't even get into the auditorium to see him live. I had to sit outside in the lobby of this institute where they had a plasma TV for all the folks who got there late. He talked about the many reasons people are silenced and the NEED to have our stories told.

"The voices we need are so utterly absent –totally and completely missing… anybody who writes anything is writing a fucking revolution…"

He talked about the dire necessity to have stories that truly represent who we are and the only people who can tell our stories are US….

He talked about his frustration with the libraries – that even with the many books that are housed - - he finds that there are really NO books that represent us.

"What we have is an utter distortion of who we are - - honestly if all that survives are our libraries – we're in some real fucking trouble - - 99% of who we are will be gone."

He used an example of the library he fantasizes about:

"The library in my mind is completely empty of books - - it's the size of the universe…"

"The books that need to be written - - haven't been written by people."

"At the basic level that's what drives me…. It's the vision of the empty library"

"You can take all of the books that we've written and it will fill one little cart - - it's clearly not what we need…"

He talked about people, who are afraid to tell stories, subjects that may be considered wrong to talk about:

"There's also that fact that as a country we don't value anything that doesn't participate in the myth of what we call the Americas - - so on a more micro level - - anyone who writes anything that sheds light on how life is really led is making a very positive and political contribution…"

His thoughts on writing subjects that are considered taboo… Subjects that have silenced…

The interviewer asked him to talk about/draw a comparison of books that have been written about the Dominican Republic and the examples used were Julia Alvarez's, In the Time of the Butterflies and Feast of the Goat, by Mario Vargas Llosa. He compares these two books and his use of footnotes.

"Both those books are closed texts - - they don't refer to other books – which sucks because if ONE book survives it should at least have a trail. Each book should serve as a labyrinth – each book should have a string to other books. So when I was writing this book I tried to think of how many books on the Dominican Republic I could name."

"If you want to increase your authority – keep other books out of your pages - - that's the best way to seem very authoritative - - pretend that you're the only ONE who's ever written a book about the Dominican Republic - - it's like Trujillo."

"You want to encourage others to think of you as a second rate hack - - who should be argued against just include a bunch of books so that people read it and make up their own minds. In this way the book isn't CLOSED… for me footnotes had everything to do with that terror that runs through the book - - that terror - - the danger of the single voice speaking. The dark lord of the book - - is the single dictatorial voice…"

"What is a novel other than an aesthetically pleasing version of a dictatorship?"

"In DR there was ONE voice and it was Trujillo…"

"For me the footnotes were A) to undermine the narratives authority because every step of the way – the footnotes pull you out of the book as if to say hey - - challenge this… look at these other books. B) The person writing the books admits to error. The footnotes pretend to be giving the history of DR but what they're really doing is providing a function of challenging a single voice of a dictatorship."

He talked about language… writing with a language that makes others comfortable (Spanish, English, Urban Intellect, Ivy League educated, and slang) borrowing language…

"You're punished for using words that people aren't familiar with - - that challenge or threaten people – you're not rewarded for what you know."

"I think there was apart of me that got sooo sick and fucking tired of it. I mean there's nothing like coming to a country that hated Spanish - - learning the wrong fucking English from all your little black friends – having to learn English again – twice – once when you went to high school and then when you went to Ivy League - - then losing your Spanish because your parents are like "No, no no ustedes son Americanos - - ustedes se creean Americano aqui" "no,no, no, you all are Americans - - you're all being raised American" and then having to relearn your Spanish but not relearning it with the accents that make Dominicans comfortable. By the end your like dude – ain't nobody fucking happy and is there a space where I can just be - - NOT an individual - - but a person where all my languages can be present and available at the same time – without ONE having to hide… I always felt like I lived in an apartment for ONE but where five people lived with me and the super came by everyday and three of my languages had to hide under the bed."

"Honestly guys - - it's only with this book - - whether good or bad where I felt like I was able to deploy my languages openly and with some sense of freedom."

He was asked the question: "Do you get shit for exposing stuff about the DR?"

He called this the "dirty laundry question"

"The bigger question I have is – who's supposed to be the audience? You're only airing your dirty laundry if your worried about outsiders judging you – but in my mind it's always a conversation within the community. I grew up in this place (he's talking about DR) it's just my opinion - - I'm sorry write your own fucking book - - we need a million versions … one person cant embrace 10 million people."

He admits that he doesn't get that question asked as much as Dominican Women Writers - - who are asked to maintain the culture of respectability.

He said, "Nobody will ever fucking ask me - - why do you have to represent Dominicans this way?"

"But everyone is always asking female writers (he mentions a female writer from Haiti I couldn't make out the name...) "Do you think your portrayal of a Haitian community is honest?" There's a lot of gender stuff that goes on. - - in a lot of ways men are absolved of those types of questions."

For him it's about keeping the dialogue open… and accepting that people WILL NOT always like what we have to say:

"Your community is not determined by a snap judgment when a book is released… it's a long term conversation - - it's a process – I think that anyone who takes a look at a book and says this person thinks this way or that way about their community is really missing the point of how art works and how complicated people are - so people can say oh – you're really fucked up - - maybe I am…."

How has your voice been silenced?
What keeps you quiet?
How did you find your VOICE?
How do we get to this place of being really FREE to say whatever the fuck we wanna say - - however we wanna say it - - and to whomever you wanna say it to - - without worry or fear?


Tuesday, April 29, 2008

"My illusions..." and temptation…

I'm currently reading a book titled: The Country Under My Skin a Memoir of Love and War, by Gioconda Belli and there was a line that jumped out of me:

"My illusions of changing him into a happy man quickly evaporated. I was furious at the trap I found myself in—all because I had been so innocent, so romantic. In my terrible hurry to get on with life, I had married a man who longed to hide from it."

And then I came across this line and was like INTERESTING…

"It had never crossed my mind that a man could think he had the right to stop me from being who I was."

So I got to thinking about relationships…

How do we get the girl/guy?
How do we keep the girl/guy?

Then I arrive to another section in the book:

"One day, a day like any other, the Poet closed the door behind him as he walked into his office, a conspiratorial look on his face. As soon as the door shut, he kissed me. I slapped him across the face.

"How dare you! You know I'm a married woman!"

"But I'm in love with you. I was dying to kiss you," he said as he smiled playfully, unfazed by my reaction, which made me uneasy. He began to talk about my mouth, about how sensual and irresistible it was…."

"As time went on I got used to the Poet's advances but they still bothered me mainly because, despite my objections, I didn't want him to stop. They made me feel desirable irresistible."

"I tried to get my husband to react to me the way I thought a man in love should, but his listlessness was a constant barrier that blocked all my efforts. He said he loved me but he seemed to think there was no need to show it."

"We were as different as night and day."

What keeps the flame burning???
How does temptation play into all of this?

And I automatically jumped to the lines people use to rationalize why they cheat:

"How she got me is how she will keep me"
"He let himself go"
"She's boring in the bedroom… he only does ONE position"
"The relationship got old"
"She/he doesn't turn me on - - they don't do it for me anymore…"
"She/he fell out of love…"

And then we have many types of relationships:

The introvert & the extrovert in the relationship~
The extremely social and the anti-social~ Socialite and the hermit~
The relationship where both parties are identical~ each others mirror image~
The homemaker who's life is the home/the kids & the spouse who works outside of the house/the spouse with a life outside of the home~

How important is it to select a partner whose energy matches your own?
Do opposites really attract?
If you enter a relationship at such a high and then it dwindles – how does this relationship last?
What does it take for a relationship to work?
What does it take for a relationship to last?

The illusion that we can somehow make our relationships into what we'd like them to be… the idea that we can somehow alter another's personality into who we would like them to become - - to fit some pretty little mold that WE'VE created in our OWN minds.

The illusion of the PERFECT relationship…

And then we get disappointed when all of our efforts to try and change someone into what we'd hoped they'd become… "If you love me you'll --------" (fill in the blanks) FAIL.

Do we really accept people for who they ARE?
Do we really see people for who they ARE? And not what we'd like them to be…

How important is it to select a partner whose energy matches your own?
Do opposites really attract?
If you enter a relationship at such a high and then it dwindles – how does this relationship last?
What does it take for a relationship to work?
What does it take for a relationship to last?
What keeps the flame burning???


Saturday, April 26, 2008

No Day But Today~

"There's nothing to it – but to do it!"

Part of my writing process is to procrastinate a bit before I sit down to write… I pick up the house a little, make my bed - - attempt to create a space in my living room and then I finally sit my ass down with my thoughts…

I start by writing around thoughts and ideas and today it was notes from an interview I heard with Junot Diaz (which I can't wait to blog about - - he's fucking brilliant). So I just finished transcribing the notes from that discussion I heard with Junot and decided to play a musical to get me in the mood for writing and the soundtrack I selected is RENT…

I was going through the booklet that came with the cd and read the dedication to the creator of RENT Jonathan Larson - - it talked about his passion for life, creating music and art - - and what he wanted to leave behind for the world… the last line in the dedication reads:

"Jonathan's sudden, unexpected death on the very day his dream came true is a sobering reminder to make the most of the time we have. Listen to his music, reach out to community, and celebrate all the love in your life."

If you don't know the story about the creator of Rent – you should totally read it… the man died before his show went to Broadway - - a show that's been on Broadway for over ten years…

So today I'm thinking about what it means to:

Live our dreams…
Pursue our life's purpose…
Remove all obstacles…
STOP fighting inner demons…
Know our worth…
Know we're worthy…
Know what it is we are fighting for…because there ARE things worth fighting for…
Know what we want…
Never take NO for an answer…
Push forward no matter what…
Let go of people who are crutches…
Let go of people who are harmful to our health…

I'm thinking about how far I've come - - and how there's NO DAY BUT TODAY~

I had a conversation today with one of my closest friends - - one of those friends who knew me when…

Knew me when my life was FULL of drama
Knew me when I never kept a promise
Knew me when I wanted to do a little bit of everything but never completed anything
Knew me when my life was upside down
Knew me when I was a disaster
Knew me when I lied to myself and loved me anyway
Knew me when I was hard on myself
Knew me when I was always angry and full of rage
Knew me when I was self destructive
Knew me when I didn't trust myself to make the right decisions and relied on my friends to help me process and make the right choice for MY life because I didn't know how to…

She's one of those friends who shoot from the hip… that friend who never tolerated my shit and called me on all of it…

It's so important to keep those people in our lives - - those who KNEW us when…

So out of the blue… I see a call on my cell coming in that's UNKNOWN… and of course I'm tempted to dodge the call wanting to hit END – you know those calls when you're hiding out from the bill collectors. Yeah those calls - - I know you know what I'm talking about…

And to my happy surprise it was my dear amiga Rie… and she is one of those friends who KNOWS me well. She and I met when I was the secretary of an elementary school and she taught 3rd grade ESL at a school in Rhode Island 13 years ago. We spent so much time together, movies, dinners, dancing, countless conversations, we ate lunch together daily at work, we were always at each others houses - - she got me through so many difficult moments – a true and brutally honest friend…

These days we speak only a few times a year… life and location does that… but she's still really good at sending me cards for Christmas and on birthdays… she has been there for me when it counts - - and on my end I try leave quick voicemail messages periodically just checking in… and this week was no different I sent her an email asking her to save the date for an event my friends are throwing me in June and I made the message really vague so she would HAVE to call me back to get the news in person…

It worked she called… we were on the phone for like 45 minutes it was sooooo wonderful to hear from her and catch up really quick. She told me she had just finished reading my article and I shared with her what has happened since… particularly the incredible opportunity that has come my way… (I will share with you guys soon)

And what she said surprised me and didn't…

She yelled – I could hear her excitement for me… she was like "Are you fucking kidding me~ I am so happy for you" I just smiled and laughed listening to how full of joy she was… and then she said, "YOU DID IT… you did what you said you were going to do… you stuck it out - - you didn't let anyone get in your way - - or words like I have said to you – words like get a real job – a steady job with benefits…" she said to me, "Alicia you did it!"

Just hearing that gave me pause because I am doing it - - there is NO DAY BUT TODAY~ and I am NOT done…

What are you doing with TODAY?


Thursday, April 17, 2008

I can't pretend~

I was waiting for the train during lunch today and I scribbled this thought:

I can't pretend the things you say don't affect me~

I can't pretend that your truth doesn't leave me questioning~

I can't pretend that your form of questioning doesn't make me question me~

I don't want to pretend I'm ok~
Because I'm not ok~
This is not ok~
Is it meant to be painless?

It's so painful~

I'm filled with this emotion… it's extremely hard to describe.

How do I put what I'm feeling into words that you'll understand?


Understand ME~

It has this hold on me.

Words they do that to me. They can fill me with love and purity and then turn on me with a quick.

Quickly filling me with anger, negativity, hurt, pain, ugliness - - Self pity.

Is that what I'm feeling? SELF PITY~

Now that I can't have - - pity for my self.

I feel pitiful.

Pity filled.

In this PITY state I will hurt those I love the most - -the people closest to me… this pity can transform into poison. It's so fucked up how sometimes the only way we feel better about ourselves is by making someone feel like shit.

Is this really how I want to show up in the world?

How do you show up in the world?
If I walk by you on the street – how do you appear?


Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Junot Diaz awarded 2008 Pulitzer

Congratulations JUNOT DIAZ...

This is huge family...

I will be back to write more - - I just needed to share~


Sunday, April 6, 2008

I hear you LOUD & CLEAR~ Latina Writers speak~

Day in a writer's life:

My writers group meets once or twice a month depending on schedules and we have two types of meetings – either a critique group/potluck dinner (a bit more social) or an all day writer's workshop. Our last workshop was on Saturday, March 8, 2008 ten woman showed up on a rainy, dreary day to spend their day writing with me at Brooklyn College~ we laughed, we cried, we shared, we wrote… BOY DID WE WRITE… so I wanted to blog about that experience…

I usually start the workshop with introductions – each woman tells us who they are, what they write, and what special project they're working on or would like to begin work on. Once the intros were complete - -we immediately jumped into a free write. The purpose of the free write is just that… to write freely - - the women write nonstop - - they keep writing, not censoring themselves, not crossing out words… just free writing… so I asked them to free write about their morning or something that might be bothering them from the week and they wrote for five minutes…

Here's my 5-minute free write:

This morning I awoke with a smile on my face~ I looked up and said THANK YOU~ as I put my feet on the floor - - I was smiling because I knew what today would be bringing me JOY, LOVE, PEACE, learning, and strength. I know when I leave today my cup will be filled - -filled with the love and goodness of the women that surround me. The past few weeks have been difficult - - I have had all kinds of emotions flowing through me – pain, sadness, guilt, shame, - - what I must remember is there is nothing I can't get through… there is nothing my force won't protect me from. I am very blessed and know that "thy will - - WILL BE DONE" I am so grateful for this day. I am looking forward to the growth that is constant - - creator thank you for all you have given me - - continue to guide me, teach me and walk with me on this journey - - thank you for all you bring - - I write for you because I have to…

Then we set our intention for the day (what we hope to gain and we also offered our writing to someone):

My intention for today is to love ME and those around me - - to tell the TRUTH – even if it's raw. My intention is to speak and walk in truth for this is what my name means~ my truth may NOT be YOUR truth - - but it IS MY truth… and I will speak it~

Unfortunately, I realized that in sharing my truth – stating my truth - - owning my truth I will lose people on the journey - - there will be people who do not agree with me - - there will be those who will not like what I have to say - - there will be those who will hate me - - there will be those who don't accept me - - but in the end I AM the truth - - that this is the ONE constant… my truth is absolute and unconditional. My INTENT is never to hurt anyone – but I will not lie to myself or anyone EVER! I no longer do things that make me uncomfortable so that I can make YOU feel comfortable – that's not my job - I no longer dishonor me in order to HONOR YOU~ I no longer put your happiness before my own - - while I suffer silently. I no longer need, require, desire nor am I desperate for your love - - because the love that I give me is ooooooh girl - - OH SO FUCKING magnificent~ and even when I walk down the street - - that love seeps out of me by the gallons~ my intention today is TRUTH – because yes the truth does set you free - -and my love - - I am SOOOO good with me!

I offer my writing today to my mom and dad~ to all the parents who should LOVE their children UNCONDITIONALLY regardless of what society, community, family, culture, religion or history dictates~ I am still ME… I come in love - - I walk in peace. I am your daughter and nothing can change that. I offer my writing to YOU both because you created me (and in your blessing me I am able to create these words and share it with the world and for that I am thankful… I am thankful for being born…) and I am beauty because of you~ sending you peace, love and blessings.

Your beloved daughter~
Alicia Anabel

These are some of the WORDS that were used in the writer's intentions that morning… what they hope to gain from the day…and their thoughts on WRITING:

"Simple and not censored"
"A weight to carry - - takes bravery to write"
"We are connected"
"A cleansing"
"We write for them – the young" J
"Going within" (digging deep for this….)
"Sheltering the storm - - escaping the shadow"
"To commune"
"A way to be free"
"Words that stop the suffering"
"It called us – we didn't call it"
"Teach to let go"
"Write to free the soul"
"Write to free the fear'
"Writing to understand me"
"Writing to find me"
Pilar said: "and I write… cries that are free at last"
Gloria said she dedicates her writing; "TO UNFOLDING MY SILENCE"

After the intentions were set for the day - - we moved on to the business of writing… of CREATING… J NOW the real fun begins J Vanessa and I co-moderated the opening discussion – the sessions focus was on FINDING YOUR VOICE. So we spent some time looking at what that means - - and discussed what that looks like for each of us individually.

The experience of writing together in this way (this day dedicated to writing) is that we are able to tap into a place that for some might be uncomfortable or something that has been bottled up for so long that has been aching to come out. And in coming together in this kind of setting we can at least - - if anything begin – get it STARTED and together we can give each other support or a hug if necessary. This day is about doing what it is we DO as writers. We write because we have to get it out - - while there are people who release in other ways on the dance floor, in prayer, acting on stage, singing their hearts out - - we as writers have a very important gift - - we've been given WORDS - - these words that we allow to come through us and onto the page… and this workshop is a safe place to find our voice without judgment or internal censors.

We talked about writing… and different ways to come into your own… we talked about the ways we come to the page - - my girl Vanessa shared how she free writes… she doesn't have a rigid strict schedule – she allows it to come when it chooses to flow through her… MOST of her TWO novels were written on the train J

And for me writing is very much a religious experience, a spiritual practice… much like when I do my yoga and do my meditations… I come to the page ready… I know why I am here - - I always come to the page ready to create… I don't necessarily wait – I sit in front of the page and start with a word and go where it leads… I too allow for the words to flow through me in free writes and unscheduled… but for the most part I like the routine of coming to the page at set times… and starting my writing with either a prayer, a word, a meditation an experience that haunts or pleases me - - something that happened at the start of my day…. And when I don't write I feel incomplete…

Vanessa led us with a free write - - she started us off with:

I remember…

And from there we needed to go where it led us -- never putting the pen down – we wrote for 15 minutes… and here's what I wrote:

I remember… when I was little girl forced to be a big girl and take care of my sisters.

I remember…getting hit for things that were so minor but must have been or felt so MAJOR to them~

I remember… when you were born - - my life changed - - I know my life would never be the same - - I vowed that I would not only be a good mother BUT the greatest mother to you~

I remember… writing you a love letter as you slept so peacefully with all my wishes for you. My beloved child you never cease to amaze me - - the beautiful Liz has taught me something profound today - - I put a lot of my shit on you - - but as parents isn't that what we do…THINKING of you as my greatest investment… that somehow you belong to me or that you owe me something… (I hope your able to filter out my shit and create your own J) wow baby that must be quite the cross to bare - - I have wanted to give you everything - - more than I've even given to myself - - you impress me beautiful with your strength, purity, innocence, truth - - rebellious side (and you say FUCK - -mommy's so proud J) you hate authority just as much as I did… but at the same time you maintain your self respect and respect for others.

I remember…when we met on myspace - - it started off innocent~ you requested me as a friend and I accepted your request. A friendship was formed – two writers talking about writing – two mothers talking about our children – two women supporting each others dreams from miles away~

I remember…when you flirted with me - - and I flirted back~

I remember…feeling something and I immediately went on the attack.

I remember… hurting you with words because what I was feeling did not seem normal~ did not seem right~ this connection we had before that moment was wonderful just two friends talking… getting to know each other - - but then it became more…

I remember… when I told you I love you - - I could no longer fight what I was feeling. The truth is I am at home with you. The truth is I love you - - the truth is I can't wait to marry you~

Then we moved onto the next free write was titled: How do I feel about being a woman? What does being a woman mean to me? (I already posted this blog a few weeks back – titled: xxx)

As the day came to a close I had the women write a LETTER OF REFLECTION - - where I simply ask that they reflect on the day… the ladies wrote a letter to me about what they liked or didn't like - - gained… and so on… here's my letter:

A letter for my daughters~

In no particular order:

VANESSA~ my new friend, kindred spirit, soul sister, my writing comrade - - the pen is your sword~ I am thrilled to march with you~ my love…there are some good things to fight for - - don't completely let that go of that… don't fuck with that… "YOU KNOW THEY AINT READY."

PILAR~ there is beauty in pain - - your messages for your mom come from a pure place ~ there are things you want her to SEE and KNOW and in time…. She will SEE~ but if she never does - - keep getting ready.

LIZ~ I see my Courtney in your eyes~ you bring a mature innocence that touches me~ you write with intention.

LORRAINE~ there is gentleness in your voice - - we've been together for a while now and with every meeting I see you - - I see the WRITER coming out more and moreJ.

DAKOTA~ you make me smile~ I love your voice~ I aspire to play like you – on my knees crawling around…touching everything…FEARLESS - - what must the world look like through your eyes - - not yet tainted by the toxic forces of this place.

DIANA~ your SPIRIT is powerful~ I'm not sure you even KNOW how powerful you are - - but I hear it in your VOICE – in the way you stand – how you hold your daughter - - you are like Lenina's FIRM TREE - - FIRMLY PLANTED~ the cloud will pass. BELIEVE THAT~

LENINA~ you are brilliant~ and I don't use that word LIGHTLY~ you talk about coming from a strong background and history of being socially aware and I see it in you… you walk with your legacy…there are things you KNOW - - that have been taught, things that have inherited and those passed down to you, and others that you've learned from your schooling - - but the VOICE I HEARD TODAY was YOURS~ a FORCE in your own right!

GLORIA~ there is much you have to say - - there is much to learn from you and with you~ we are a SLOW BURNING PROCESS J I am thrilled to have met you and am grateful for the opportunity to burn with you - - LETS GET IT DONE~

My LESLIE~ my brave warrior~ your words truly touched me today - - you went to a place that I'm sure you weren't prepared for~ and I am so proud of you for doing so… it took great courage to be THAT OPEN… I feel honored.

What I gained today~ IS to SURRENDER… that is my biggest gain. To be able to walk with these women today and come as I AM - - requires a great deal of faith and trust. Surrendering…. To not be worried about how I will be seen - - will my words sound smart? TRUST -- FAITH - - believing… What I walk away with today is an incredible amount of love~ a love that I get to bring home to my daughter and this amazing self love that consumes me - - this incredible love that this day has blessed me with. My wish for each of you is that you keep writing~


These are some of the words that came from the other reflection letters about the experience and about each other:

"A reunion - - a union of warriors"
"Unrealized powers"
"Honor voice"
"Willing to endure the slow burning process"

The fact that these women were WILLING to give up their entire Saturday to write just shows me that they are ready to do this~

For my writers…what is your writing process?

Share how you found your voice~

For my readers… what's your process? We each have a voice in any area we're in - - what's your process?

Share a day in your life~