Thursday, September 15, 2016

Radical Self-Love

At the beach in the DR
“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” — A Burst of Light: Essays, Audre Lorde


For the last four months or so, I have been trying really hard to practice self-care and practice radical self-love. It is the only way I can psychologically and emotionally carry all of the various traumas around in my body. (racial battle fatigue, illness, infertility etc) While I have been healing a great deal from the physical trauma chronic illness has wrecked on body over the last eight years, I am now more vulnerable, attune to and receptive to emotional trauma brought on by the crazy world we live in and by needing to come to terms with what I have lost because of chronic illness. 

The charts and the stars and the mystics keep telling us that 2016 is a year of transitions. I can agree with that. I have started so many new things, been on many new adventures, met new people and felt and experienced things I swore I never would. In the process I have cried a lot, questioned a lot and felt really lost and scared at times. If I let myself go I could fall into a pretty bad place. But I also know, that right now, I still have a choice in the matter. And as long as I have that choice, I choose to take care of myself and not let the emotions and the grief overrun all the good that is in my life. 

So, while I may often post that eating a cupcake, or drinking a glass of wine or taking a lavender bubble bath is "self-care" that's not the only kind of radical self love I want to talk about today. For me, it's more than that. I recently read an article on The Mighty about how another woman practices self-care, and some of my suggestions are similar. 

Radical Self-Love Includes:
Quiet time and writing time.

1)Nonnegotiables: I learned about this in my first teaching gig almost ten years ago. What are the things you are NOT willing to compromise on? Make a list and stick to it. These are your non-negotiables. For me, I decided four years ago that I would not and could not work full-time outside of the home. Period. It is not good for my mental or physical health. I am lucky enough to be able to financially afford to do this thanks to the support of my husband, but even if and when we have struggled financially he has never let me backtrack on this nonnegotiable and I am so thankful for it. A few of my other nonnegotiables include (and sometimes this list changes a little depending on how bad I'm flaring and what my body needs)
A) Quiet time at least once a day (through meditation, deep breathing, alone time)
B) Writing time (as often as I can get it)
C) Time with my husband--anything that gets too in the way of that has to go. 
D) Rest- I have to find the time to rest
E) Flexible weekday schedule to go to doc appointments and take care of adulting responsibilities
F) Of course my health is a nonnegotiable. Anything/anyone gets in the way of that, they gots to go.

When you make your list and it's a true and honest list, the hard part will be not compromising...which leads to my second act of self-love---

2) Learn to say NO: Boy do I struggle with this one. Us Type-A people often do (notice how Type-A people are THE ONLY people that constantly remind you of and define their "Type?" We like labels and lists). I am a people pleaser and I want to be of use. I want to show the world that I CAN DO THIS! I used to over commit myself so that I wouldn't let anyone down. Boy did that ship sail once scleroderma and lupus decided to have their way with me! I am a flake. Period. Get used to it. Get over it. Love me anyway. 

I can't help it sometimes if/when my body decides to shut down, so plans I made weeks ago may just fall through. Instead of beating myself up over it I've just learned to say no or "maybe" on the front end. If I know I have a busy week of work or readings coming up and someone invites me to dinner or hanging out that week I usually say "I can't promise anything. Maybe. I'll text you the day of." My real friends understand this and at least to my face have never give me slack for it. (Thank you real friends!) Instead of "flaking" out and seeming unreliable I just have learned to say no and create a flexible and reasonable calendar and schedule for myself that allows me to do what I need/want to do without sacrificing my emotional or physical health. What's more radical than saying no?!

My bedroom...when it's clean :)
3) Clean Up/"Adult": Yes. Do some damn chores and get your adult life right. Now that I have the energy and the physical ability to wash the dishes, fold laundry, sweep, mow the lawn, vacuum, wash my car and bathe the dogs, I feel like a normal real human being again. I know that cleanliness isn't everyone's personality...but trust me even just organizing your clutter can go a long way to making you feel better. I hate the sight of mess and clutter it stresses me out. Taking the time out each day to clean up and tidy even just one corner of my personal or professional space makes me feel really good. I feel like: "hey I love myself enough to take care of the things I worked so hard to get." 

I have a strong sense of pride in taking care of my home and doing this on a regular basis keeps me motivated and happy overall. I usually start the day with one small chore. It's also where I find my quiet time. No music or TV, just me and the "boring" task at hand. I get some great ideas for writing, I think of my to dos for the day, I contemplate life. It centers me and I feel good. Also, what's more feminist than taking care of your man and your house because you CHOOSE to? :) 

4) Treat Yo'Self: Of course! And that is going to mean different things for different people. Does a pedicure and a massage make ME feel good? Hell yes. So sometimes I indulge. Does the gym and a swim in the pool also make ME feel good? Yes, so I do it often. Does a cupcake and wine sound good too? Damn right. But those are my "treat yo'self" options. Sometimes indulging means roaming the bookstore for a few hours, buying a new book and sitting in a coffee shop to read it. Sometimes it involves reading tabloid magazines while bathing in a lavender bath. Sometimes it involves planning nothing on a Saturday and Sunday morning and cuddling with the hubs to binge watch Netflix all day.
Treating myself also has involved making time for and allowing myself to laugh. At a movie, at my husband at myself. Laughter is the best treat you can give yourself any time of day.

All of those things are "treat" to me and I do them often. Because, I can't take care of others if I don't take care of myself. And...most importantly DON'T FEEL GUILTY! The guilt ruins the act of self-love. Enjoy it because you deserve it. You've earned it just for making it through another damn day. No guilt!

5) Stand Up for Yourself: Like saying no, this one can be hard. But it is so important, especially as a woman of color. It's hard for most anyone, but I definitely feel like WOC are often silenced more than any other group. (I experienced this this summer at my MFA program and boy did it almost destroy me). The only way we will be heard is if we speak up. In an age of social media cyber bullying and trolls where anyone and everyone says the most racist, ablest, sexist, obnoxious things we must find a way to speak our truths and be heard. (I am not suggesting that you engage with racist trolls on the internet) What I mean is, if you are in a situation like at the doctors, or in a group of friends/family/co workers, and you are in conversation and someone attempts to silence or worse "correct" your point of view or your story, don't stay silent. Speak up and speak your truth. Don't be afraid of the confrontation (I HATE confrontation but know it only eats me up inside later). Showing that you will not be silenced and that they cannot walk all over you is the most radical form of self love and political warfare you can engage in without picking up arms. Microagressions are real and they can eat away at you if you're not careful. Standing up for yourself is a way of healing those wounds before the cut gets too deep. 

Galveston, TX
6) Unplug: Yes, it's hard. I love social media too. But close the lid. Turn off the screen. Back away. Sometimes it's just all white noise (pun intended). And you need to find the silence. Silence is good. Listen to the silence. (no screen distractions, no beeping phones, no email alerts) It's hard. I unplugged from FB last year for 30 days---most restorative time of my life. I signed off this year for almost two weeks (yes I did suffer withdraw) and now I only come back to share writing links and see pics of my niece. I need to step away from all of that because it is draining and emotionally taxing. I suggest you find a way to unplug too even if just once a week like a Tech free Tuesday or something. I know we need our devices for work, but disconnect from social media for 24hrs or more. Trust me, you'll thank me for it later. 

I'm sure there are other things I can/should or am doing as self-care but it's 5:45am on a Thursday and I have to get to work...because...you know, I like living in my house...so technically going to this job is self care too because well..you know..I also like to eat. 

These are just the first few things that came to mind. The ones I practice regularly or am learning to get better at in order to save my sanity amidst the chaos. 

What are YOU doing to practice radical self-love? What is keeping you from it? 

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Write to Heal: Summer, Summer, Summer Time

At RWW- PLU Campus

"Ocean--/get up. The most beautiful part of your body/is where it's headed. & remember,/loneliness is still time spent/with the world." - Ocean Vuong - Someday I'll Love Ocean Vuong in Night Sky with Exit Wounds 

Aaahh! Ok, so I cannot possibly even begin to capture ALL that has happened in the last six weeks and how I have grown as a person, a writer, a poet, a woman....too much...too much.. but I will try to do my best. (And maybe give a quick health update at the end too)...so here goes..more in depth analysis of these moments to come...for now a recap.

1) Macondo Writer's Workshop

Was a great four days spent in the company of writers from across all genres. I was challenged to write in ways that make me very uncomfortable and about topics that I tend to feel indifferent about (place poems for example). I spent some time building relationships with wonderful writers like Raina de Leon, Sara Rafael Garcia, Monica Teresa Ortiz and Javier Zamora among many others. My writing family grew exponentially because of Macondo and although I have a way of often sabotaging my own happiness at times, (I got really down on myself for being only one of two Afro-Latinas in the whole group, making me feel, as usual, like I didn't belong) I am thankful for my wonderful hubby Lupe who knows just want to say

Me & Lupe @ Macondo
and when to say it to bring me back to reality. Overall it was a great experience made even better by Laurie Ann Guerrero's strong leadership, passion, kindness and attention to detail. Also...Tim Z rocks and I love his facilitator skills! I will definitely be back next year if they'll have me and I'm really looking forward to helping out more in the future in any way I can.

2) CantoMundo (as a guest, tag along)


Juan Felipe Herrera
AAAhhh!! Is all I can say. Fan girl. Fan girl. Fan girl. That's all I was able to do all weekend. I met Elizabeth Acevedo for the first time in the flesh and it was like reuniting with a long lost cousin. She is a beautiful poet and soul. I also sat front row and saw Carmen Tafolla and Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera perform their work. Along with all the other talented poets that performed, the weekend was truly magic.
I was also able to share an Air BnB with two of my favorite people now Yesenia Montilla(who is everything!) and a new sister Denice Frohman (whose extent of fandom I didn't realize until she kept getting approached by random strangers in Austin). We had a blast hanging out, telling stories, talking politics and going to the Canto Mundo readings with all the Canto Mundistas.

Me, Liz, Denice, Malcolm, Christina, Lupe
I realized what a great community the Canto Mundo family is and I hope that one day I can join them officially.  (Lupe, you were right. There I said it.) Their application opens September 1st and hopefully by October I'll have a group of poems that I can deem "fit" enough to send them. (Even though I'm struggling with calling myself a poet these days- that's a topic for another day)

3) Tintero Readings

All I can say is, I think we made history! I was able to open for Malcolm Friend and Raina deLeon at Inprint house in late July and I'm pretty sure it's the first time the Houston literary scene has had that many Afro-Latinx writers in one room together. :) I felt so blessed and excited to be sharing the space with these talented poets (CantoMundistas) and I only hope that they can come visit us some day soon to recreate the magic.

Tintero Reading Flyer 
(Side note, La Casa Mendez will probably go down in history. We've had over 7 famous or soon to be famous writers and poets stay at our house in the last six months...so I think our house qualifies as a historical landmark..or will one day in the future, including all those in the pic on your left!)

4) My MFA Journey-Rainier Writing Workshop

This should really be a complete blog post by itself. But, I'm going to try and condense it here for the sake of brevity. And because, in the greater scheme of things, the smaller details don't matter much anymore. So here's what does:

A) I am THE ONLY black/Afro-Latina in the ENTIRE program (including faculty). This was a bit of a shock. I knew the program would not be super diverse given the fact that it's in Washington state. However, I didn't realize there would only be one other African-American in the program, who graduated this year, making me THE ONLY ONE. Once I let that sink in (took a couple of days), and I realized the heavy burden I was to carry, I decided to carry it with pride and just do what I do best: poet and write.
RWW Swag

B) Writing workshop sessions were actually the least of my worries. I had a great time workshopping my pieces and listening to feedback. It was really enlightening. There was one moment of anxiety that I will not get into here, but I was fortunate enough to have the support of the MFA director who talked me through it and supported and understood my position.

C) I felt very fortunate that the writers of color in the program were able to come together and talk about the community and how we can work together to make it a safe space where we can grow and learn as writers and as people.

D) I met some amazing people that I am really looking forward to becoming lifelong friends with.

E) The campus is lovely. The weather was a nice relief from the Texas heat and humidity and I'm looking forward to exploring more of Seattle (not really Tacoma) when I go back each year.
PLU Campus

F) I got a great mentor, who is aware of my desires and needs as a female writer of color and I'm really excited about all the reading selections she has chosen for me so far. I am a little nervous about generating new work each month since she wants me to focus on new work and not my current manuscripts (which is fine!) I just hope that the new work is genuine and that I don't fall into the trap of "writing for school" instead of for myself.

Performing at RWW Talent Show
Overall it was a good first residency and I learned a lot about the process and about myself. I even got a chance to do some of my spoken word, folks loved it and even asked me if I wanted to sing in the RWW band next year! lol, I'm not much of a singer but hey YOLO, I'll try it! I'm excited about what grad school can offer me as a writer and I'm looking forward to the next three years.

5) Health
Is good. Protein levels down. Kidney function is good and stable. No physical pain. Started working out. Trying to eat better. There is a fear of osteoporosis thanks to years of prednisone use, but I won't know for sure till later this week. So say a prayer and light a candle that my bones aren't completely ruined for life.

I'm still on all the meds, but we are hoping to lower things as I continue to improve and remain stable. I'm down to my lowest prednisone dose EVER 5mg/a day and I haven't had any flare ups so that is a great sign.

Other than that, life continues to move forward. My body is definitely headed in the write direction and for once I feel like my life goals and dreams are too. And yes, it is a beautiful thing. More updates and reflections soon, just wanted to recap the amazing summer that everyone keeps asking about. Now I gotta get back to the daily grind and earn a living.

Hugs and Chocolate!
Love & Light!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Reentry

I know I walk in and out of several worlds each day. - Joy Harjo

So this was not the post I was intending to write, but it's been lingering on my mind the last few days so I need to get it off my chest. (My trip to the DR will have to wait, for now). 

Last week I went in for my third round of infusions (6 month follow up) and next week I will do the fourth and hopefully final one. It was just as easy and smooth as the first two and the only side effects were drowsiness and hot flashes for a few hours afterwards. Easy peasy. 

But after my return from the transformative experience that was VONA(which these infusions made possible), I've had a lot on my mind and have been in and out of really high highs and really low lows. 

I know that just one year ago, my body would not have been able to handle the physical work that it took to make it through all the walking, the heat, the long days, the poor sleep, and the emotional exhaustion that was VONA. And while it makes me very happy and very proud of myself that I DID actually survive without any major incident (aside for sleeping for 16 hrs straight when I got home), knowing that the state of "remission" I'm currently in is and may only be VERY temporary keeps me grounded, and scared, and humble, and cautiously happy. 

You see, these infusions have granted me a temporary visa into the land of the well again, but much like our own troubled immigration system in the US, I know that this visa can be revoked at any time. If I make the wrong move, eat the wrong food, lower my dosages just a milligram too much, stress too often or hell just because my body decides to say "fuck you" and rebel again...I could be thrown across the border into the hell that is chronic illness and pain. 

This knowledge has made my "reentry" into the land of the well a bit hard to swallow lately. The longer I feel "normal" again, the more I worry about relapse. As more and more days pass where I am pain free, the scarier "real" life becomes. The more the questions haunt me:

If I feel normal, does this mean everyone expects more of me now? (Like the "old" Jasminne?)
What if I can't live up to the dreams and goals I've set for myself now that I have the strength to try and achieve them?
What if I succeed at this?
What if I fail?
Will this be the time in my life where I will look back and say: "Well at least 31 was a good year"?
What if I forget what it feels like to be sick?
Will I be strong enough to handle a relapse after so much time feeling well?
Why don't I hurt anymore? Is something ELSE wrong?

These questions and doubts nag at me day and night. One minute I am enjoying all the wonderful moments, people, and experiences that have entered my life in the last year, and the next it feels like I'm suffering from some form of PTSD. I get anxious. I cry at nothing. I stalk chronic illness and chronic pain twitter feeds to remind myself that I am only one missed pill away from being where they all still are again. (Seems torturous I know, but when all you've known for 8 years is pain and illness, you tend to find comfort there)

You see, everyone talks about "a cure"...talks about the glory of "remission"....just like prisoners talk about "being free"....but no one, not doctors, or nurses, or even pinche therapists talk about reentry. How does one transition back into the land of the well, back into normalcy? 

I don't know how to live a care free, spontaneous life anymore. I don't know how to make plans whole-heartedly and just jump right in. I live in a constant state of "maybe." I live in a constant state of anticipating and preparing for the worst. 

To better understand where I'm coming from, I'll put it in perspective. Lupe and I have been married 7 years. If all continues to go well, and I continue on the path to remission, this will be the first summer in 7 years where I will not have ended up in the ER or hospitalized. THAT was MY normal. 

I've been writing about my "new normal" for the last 6 years if not more. Trying to convince and accept myself that normal was just a setting on a dryer. Normal is subjective. And that I was ok with chronic pain and illness as my normal. 

And now (for the better), that normal is gone (for now). And I have to readjust again. I'm not complaining about my good health, please don't misunderstand me. I am incredibly grateful. But I'm also a realist and I also know that there is no handbook for this transition. That I worry day in and day out that I will do something to sabotage my good health because being in pain and being sick is all I have come to know. 

Dreaming again is hard. Dreaming again is scary. Acting on those dreams is absolutely petrifying and often debilitating. 

If my body hurt all over and was falling apart, I wouldn't be expected to try. Getting dressed every day and brushing my teeth would be good enough. Now that I can push myself to do more, I want to push myself more, but of course I worry that at any moment it will all be stripped away again. (Realism, not pessimism) 

I'm trying to focus only on the now, like all the good philosophers, yogis, and smart people say to do.I guess I've just had a lot of time to think lately and that is what has been weighing on my mind. 

Yesterday was the 4th of July and all I could think about was my state of imprisonment. I am shackled to a body that has been temporarily set free from pain, but am also fully aware that these diseases I carry within me are a life sentence I will inevitably have to keep facing. 

Monday, June 27, 2016

Wound Care

"I've started dreaming in Spanish, which has never happened before. I wake up feeling different, like something inside me is changing, something chemical and irreversible. There's a magic here working its way through my veins. There's something about the vegetation too, that I respond to instinctively-- the stunning bougainvillea, the flamboyants and jacarandas, the orchids growing from the trunks of mysterious ceiba trees..." -Cristina Garcia
My VONA Fam

Wound care, I've been doing it all wrong these last few years. I've been treating infected cuticles, bones and finger tips with saline solution, bandages, surgeries, pain killers and warm gloves. But this past week, I realized that wound care begins on the inside.

I knew this. But I didn't really know it. Because the thing is, how can you care for a wound you didn't even know existed? This past week at VONA I became woke to the wounds I had buried so deep I had convinced myself they didn't hurt. But the reason they were buried was because they hurt the most.

I am an open book to anyone who knows me. I will tell you everything about my chronic illness and pain, my miscarriage, my surgeries, the pills I take, how brown and black I feel, how alone I feel as an Afro-Latina in Texas, how much I love my parents and my sister. I laugh off my relationship with my brother. And we laugh when things are uncomfortable. This past week, I was made to confront that discomfort. (And that's all I have to say about that)

A few weeks ago...
And because of that, something truly wonderful happened (aside from the internal healing that began when I wrote the "real hard poem")...my finger (the one I've been trying really hard to save from amputation)...started to scab. I'm not kidding.

Just the week before, while in the DR I was really concerned that the finger was headed back down the ugly rabbit hole of infection and amputation, I just couldn't stay positive when progress wasn't being made. However, when I woke up Saturday morning (I slept for an hour before getting up to catch a 6am flight) the wound actually started to look and feel like a scab that was healing.

That is no coincidence. The poets in my VONA workshop
helped me care for a wound I didn't even know I had self-inflicted. They treated that wound with love, and compassion and understanding and care. And in doing so, the physical wound on my finger has finally decided to heal.

Now
We are only as sick as our secrets. I finally shared one of mine with others. And in that sharing, these people these poets became my family and that space, wherever we all are, became another home.

I am not ready to write about the full extent of my VONA experience, and I don't know that I ever will. But I know that I have been changed. As a writer, a poet, a woman of color, and a survivor. I know now how to care for wounds both big and small and I have a team of caretakers willing to help me through it.

Monday, May 30, 2016

The Write to Heal Series

It's been almost a month since my last post! So sorry..but you know...life. So instead of dropping bombs or getting all heavy I thought I'd share what's been keeping me from blogging...my extremely busy writing life! Here's a recap of all that's gone on since the last Write to Heal Series.

1. Residency & Workshop Acceptances: I have the great pleasure of announcing that I was accepted into BOTH the VONA/Voices Workshop for Writers of Color at the University of Miami AND the Macondo Writer's Workshop for Latino Authors!!!

I am thrilled, scared, nervous, intimidated and just ready to be surrounded by mi gente. I am really looking forward to getting feedback on my work and just being in community with inspiring writers. It definitely means that I will be very busy this summer, so blogging may be put on hold, but as soon as I can get back to this page and share with you all that I learned and experienced, I definitely will.  

2. Publications:  If you've been keeping up with my sporadic posts, then you know by now that my creative non-fiction piece Shades of Red was recently published by the University of Edinburgh's Dangerous Woman Project. (I just thought I'd plug it one more time) It was great to be included in this project and hey they even paid me a small honorarium...so...WINNING!

Trevor, Me, Lupe, Kayla & Alvaro @ NP Showcase
3. Performances: As you probably remember, April was National Poetry Month so I was very busy. To wrap up the month I read and sold over 19 copies Island of Dreams at the Nuestra Palabra 18th Anniversary Showcase. It was a long night but it was amazing. All the old and new NP folks gathered for a night of literature, film, art and fun. It was great to see old friends and to be able to make new ones.


Also, I had the privilege and honor of being asked to read at HCC central for the student creative writing group. It was a great experience because the students asked really great questions about what it's like to be a professional writer...and I just kept thinking to myself "I'm still trying to figure it out too!" Everyone was very gracious and I always love reading on college campuses because the students are like sponges and really enjoy my work.  There were even a few Afro-Latinas in the audience who approached me afterwards and thanked me for writing the work that I do.

It's been over a month since that reading and just last week, the young lady who booked me for the even sent me an email...(one of the few pieces of "fan mail" I've ever received and it almost made me cry!)...She wrote:

"I just wanna say that I just finished your book and it resonated so much in so many ways!! Even though I'm Mexican, there's so many things that I went through just like you said. I wanna thank you for writing this and for sharing your art with the world. I just came back from Barnes & Noble trying to find a new book to read after yours but I came back empty handed. I got that feeling you get when you just read a great book that nothing comes close after that. I seriously can't wait to read more from you! I loved your performance that day at HCC and your book!

Thank you thank you thank you!!!"

Aaah! How sweet! I was so excited to read this and it reassures me that my stories matter and that they resonate with the audience I hoped it would.

Lastly, the hubs and I had the wonderful and rare opportunity to share the stage as the featured poets at Inprint's First Friday Reading Series earlier this month. It was a truly rewarding and fun night. He and I took turns on the mic and even read a piece together (which never happens). I love what we do and I love when we can do it together.
First Friday Reading

4. Upcoming Gigs & Stuff: This summer is full of writing experiences and opportunities. I know I will be tired by the end but I know I will also be fulfilled. Aside from VONA and Macondo, I will also be attending my first summer residency at PLU for my MFA. I am currently working on editing my workshop submissions and am again very intimidated and nervous about the process and the experience. But I want to take it all in and just learn from it.
I have also been asked to be the keynote speaker at a Teen Summit for girls in Baytown at Lee College. I have never been a keynote speaker, but they are allowing me to perform some of my poetry and just talk to the girls. I will be working on preparing that later this month.

While I have a busy couple of months ahead, I will have some down time starting next week. Mom, sis and Baby B and I will be taking a trip to the DR to rest and relax for a few days and I simply can't wait! The beach, the sun, the food...I'M READY! I also think it will provide me with the space and quiet to get some reading and writing done before everything gets crazy.

Looking back at the last month and half I realize how truly lucky I am to live this life and to be able to move forward in order to do more. As many of you know I didn't always feel this way and my ailing health often makes it hard to see things in a positive light, but all in all I can say confidently that things are good...and truthfully...all is well.