Tuesday, December 15, 2015


*Disclaimer, this may not be a "brief" post..too much to tell today*

"Seriously ill people are wounded not just in body, but in voice." - Arthur Frank

“I had grasped well that there are situations in life where our body is our entire self and our fate. I was in my body and nothing else…my body…was my calamity. My body…was my physical and metaphysical dignity.”-Jean Améry

Why do I write? Because I don't want anyone else telling my story. It's what I always tell people when I get asked that question. It's the only answer that makes sense to me. 

Everyone has a narrative. Everyone has a different version of the same the event. Everyone has a right to share that narrative with others and be heard. 

This past week I experienced some of the best moments of this past year. No, THE best moments of 2015 and possibly of the last 5 years overall. These moments are reshaping my narrative, and making the outcome of my story clearer. 

1) I got accepted into the MFA program at Pacific Lutheran University, The Ranier Writer's Workshop...AND...they offered me a scholarship! Here's a piece of the acceptance letter (not a generic one, but one from the director of the program himself): 

"Congratulations! We think that you--your accomplishments so far, your talent as a writer, and your mature commitment to your writing life--will be a tremendous addition to the RWW community. I hope that everything falls into place, and that you join the program this summer.

Especially in the memoir pieces, 'Pelo Malo' and 'Change,' you are able to illuminate the personal and cultural energies that converge in your experiences as an American whose heritage is also drawn from a vivid elsewhere. And in poems like 'At the Greyhound' and 'Disorder,' you create compelling balancing acts between statement and music, heaviness and lightness, identity and art.

Your work in poetry and prose has so much fierce passion--and there's much more ahead in terms of the breadth and depth that your work can encompass. Given the foundation that you already have, your time in the RWW will be a time for bringing more artfulness and more craft to your work as a writer. You'll be challenged, you'll be transformed. And you'll bring gifts of energy and intelligence that will, in turn, deepen the RWW." - R.B.

There was A LOT more to the letter but that was probably my favorite part! How awesome is that?!

2) On the same day I learned of my acceptance to the RWW program, I found out that my creative non-fiction piece El Corte is a finalist for Barry Lopez Creative Non-Fiction Prize with Cutthroat Magazine!!!! I was NOT expecting that! Even if I just get honorable mention, the piece gets published in this great mag. There is a monetary prize for 1st and 2nd place, but I honestly am not worried if it doesn't make it that far..just being one of the 20 finalists out of over 200 submissions is AWESOME! And...it's being judged by one of my favorite authors- Nick Flynn! How cool! 

3) My love, my rock, my everything finally finished one of the longest chapters of his life this weekend by defending his masters thesis at UTEP. I was able to sit in on his defense and cheer him on. He told HIS narrative and his committee embraced him with open arms. Literally, the only "critique" he got was: "Cut some of this ish out so it can be publishable." lol He is my inspiration, my muse, my guide, my soulmate. I am beyond proud of him and am ready for his "thesis" to become his MANUSCRIPT. I'm telling you people...I may be a "good" writer...but this man is GREAT. I feel it in my bones...and no, that's not the Lupus talking! 

4) I felt a baby kick for the first time. (NO not mine lol) My bestie Cam is preggos and she came over for the graduation celebration. I placed my hand on her belly and felt her baby boy kick! It felt like a little alien, but it was so cool. Just really made me emotional about how true it is that all of life is a miracle. 

This weekend, Lupe and I were surrounded by so much family, friends and love. It was blissful and overwhelming. I saw people I hadn't seen in years and felt so elated to have them there to share in these special moments. I tell you all of this not to brag or boast, but because all of these events and these people are a part of my story, a part of my journey..to where? I'm still not sure yet, but what once was a path paved in darkness, is now becoming more of a foggy wooded trail and I've found a flashlight. 

Part of my application to grad school required a personal statement that I explain why I wanted to be in the program. I explained that I was struggling to balance the two "disparate" narratives that constantly played in my head: I am Afro-Latina vs. I am chronically ill. I said that I hoped being a part of the program would help me find ways to allow them to coexist. But I had a revelation this morning and I think I know why I have been struggling with it so much.

For the last 7 years I have seen my illness narrative as just mine. The stories and poems I have written (until recently) were all "me, me, me." As if I were experiencing my illness alone. But I know (and I've said this many times before, but I guess never infused it into my writing) that I am not in this narrative alone. Lupe has a narrative about my illness. My parents have a narrative about my illness. My friends have a narrative about my illness. In much of what I have written about this journey, I have kept everyone else on the periphery. But I cannot tell this story without them. And that is where the Afro-Latina side of my identity will play a part. 

I have been telling most of my chronically ill narrative in a "vanilla" sort of way. Hoping to appeal to the masses. Hoping to tell a story that anyone could relate to. But by doing so, I am only telling part of the story. I cannot exclude my racial and ethnic identity and influence from my illness narrative any longer because by doing so, I risk sacrificing my truth. 

Sunday, December 6, 2015

A Box of Books

All these years, I have only been "playing at" being strong. I know what strength is supposed to look like, and sound like, and act like and so I did those things. I woke up every day and got dressed. I took yoga classes and meditated to be "at peace." I tried new foods, new meds, new hobbies, new doctors and even made some new friends. I only cried when I had no other choice but to let the tears fall and very few people ever heard me say I wanted to give up. I've had people tell me time and time again how "strong" I've been to be able to handle it all. But the truth is, I was merely being complacent. 
You see, it got to the point where the pain and the suffering, and the diseases and the stress became a part of me. Something I accepted as normal and permanent. Dictionary.com defines complacency as: "a feeling of quiet pleasure or security, often while unaware of some potential danger, defect, or the like; self-satisfaction or smug satisfaction with an existing situation, condition," That. Wasn't. Strength. 

I see it like this: Imagine you have to move a heavy box of books from one end of the house to the other and you don't have a dolly. You can do one of three things, push the box of books, pull the box of books, or try and pick it up and carry it. True physical strength would come from carrying it, maybe even pulling it (though that's more like dragging it around). Me? I was slowly kicking the damn thing forward with whatever little bit of energy I had in my legs, while often sitting on the box and taking cynical breaks while others tried to cheer me on. I am a pusher. I pushed my pain and my burdens forward because that's what was safe. It was easier that way. It was secure. No matter how many more books (problems) got put inside my already heavy ass box, I just shrugged and kept kicking it forward. There was no strength in that, it was like "meh, as long as I can push or kick it forward, I'm good. Bring on the books! If I can't push it anymore one day, I'll just sit on it and read the books." That is no way to live, because if you can't get the box to the other end of the house, you'll never build your library. This is no way to live.

The other day, a kind and caring doctor gave me the strength I needed to pick up the box and carry it across the house. She treated me like a person. For the first time I felt heard. (Don't get me wrong, my rheumatologist and nephrologist are GREAT...when it comes to my scleroderma and lupus...but NO ONE has bothered to listen to me regarding my vagina, ovaries, uterus and other lady parts) I don't know why it's mattered so much to me that SOMEONE take me seriously and actually listen to me regarding that particular part of my body, but it felt so empowering and liberating to know that steps were being taken to try and find out what is wrong.

The first thing she said to me was "let's pretend you're normal, you don't have any of these other things going on and try to fix this." In that moment, it felt like I could bench press the damn box. While she knew that my illnesses could possibly be causing what's wrong, she didn't focus on that. She didn't focus on what was already broken. Instead, she saw me as whole, and wanted to zero in on this problem instead of blaming the other problems and dismissing me.

It's a weird dynamic that you may only understand if you're chronically ill. But to be treated like a normal healthy human being by a DOCTOR is a rare thing. People might say "you shouldn't have to wait for someone ELSE to make you feel strong"... well clearly those people haven't dealt with the medical industry. As a patient, I can't schedule my own MRIs or blood tests or X-Rays, I need a doctor's referral to do that, and if no one is willing to listen to you and be proactive, then you are left helpless and dis-empowered. It's how I've felt 90% of the time over the last 8 years.

This doctor gave me my power back. I cried all the way to my car and all the way home simply because I finally felt hopeful. Simply because I knew I no longer had to "play at being strong" but had finally been given the strength to carry the burden.