Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Seeing Red Part II

How do you enter a room? How do you claim your space, assert your identity, and "own it?" Own who and what you are. Own your ideas, your right to be where you "don't belong." Own your body, your words and yourself. We all do it differently, some of us have yet to learn how to do it at all. But as women and especially those of us who are women of color or women who are chronically ill "owning it" and claiming our space is necessary and important to our sanity and our survival.


Because we are often in places and situations where we feel "less than" or "othered."

At a doctor's office.
At a literary event.
At a business meeting.
In a room full of men.
In a room full of white people.
At the gym.
At a gala or fundraiser.
At the hospital.

If we do not assert who and what we are and what we will and won't accept we can become victims. Victims of micro aggressions, victims of criticism and patronizing, victims of verbal and even physical abuse or discrimination.

I have recently been in many spaces where I needed to make an entrance and assert myself. It's taken years for me to learn how to do this and to do it well, and in some spaces I'm still trying to get better at it. I often feel like an impostor that I'm only faking it till I make it..but hey it's a start!

For example, I am often nervous before a reading (especially at colleges or universities) because I feel like there is an "expectation" for me to deliver a certain type of work, aesthetic, or answer certain types of questions. This still scares me, that people see me as the expert or the professional when it comes to writing. The responsibility of that is terrifying as I try to inspire and engage "new" writers when I still consider myself a new and emerging writer. But, I try and do several things to make an entrance, take up the space I deserve and own it:

1) I dress the part. I wear clothes and jewelry and even make up that is a reflection of how I'm feeling that day and that make me feel beautiful but comfortable! I rarely wear heels to these things because I'm self conscious and hate walking around in them since they cause pain. But dressing in a way that makes me feel confident allows me to exude confidence.
2) Speak only what I know. Instead of trying to tell people what they want to hear, I tell them MY truths based on MY experiences. I let them decide what advice they want to take.
3) I speak to everyone like a peer. I don't act "more than" or above anyone else and I make people feel comfortable enough around me to just chat.
4) I make no apologies for my word, my words, my story or who I am. If it offends you...good.

While there are times when I still struggle with this (I am trying to learn how to own it when I am my doctor's office. Doc's and all their knowledge still intimidate me at times, but I'm learning to be my own health advocate since I know my body best) I am getting better and only hope to continue growing.

Last week I shared some stories of my friends and the first time they wore red lipstick. This week I share some more, and as you will see for some of these women, red lipstick is one of the ways they make an entrance, exude and inspire confidence. Why? Who knows. Maybe it's because red is the color of risk, danger, fire, love and lust. Maybe it's because red demands attention and says "look at me" and we feel noticed in a bold shade of red. Whatever the reason, I urge you to try it. See what wearing red can do for you!

"I was a tomboy growing up and I hated the thought of makeup. I did participate in this ritual however when I started going to dances at the Copa Cabana. I felt alive dancing all those cumbia songs. "Juana la Cubana," made my heart beat faster."-J.T.

"I started wearing red lipstick when I was eight or nine years old. No, I was not raised in a brothel; I was born into a theatrical family. Here I am at age 10 about to dance “Waltz of the Flowers,” and though it is not a color picture, I was most definitely wearing red lipstick. When I was a teen, we all wore pink lipstick; red was for old ladies, like you know, women over 30. Of course, I was an actress then, so I did wear red lipstick when I was working. During most of my adult years, I’ve worn many different shades, but I did not start wearing bright red lipstick again until a few years ago. Now it’s the only color lipstick I wear. It makes me happy and looks great with my silver hair."-B.D.

"I have never had the courage to wear red lipstick. I have always liked the color as red is one of my favorites, but haven't worn it for two reasons. First as a dark skinned black girl I was always told that I should avoid red, cause I was too dark for it. Second as a dark skinned black girl with big lips I was double discouraged. It has taken me years to actually like my skin and my lips. I'm going to buy me some red lipstick!!!"- I.G.

"Adolescence in the 90's meant a LOT of brown lip liner for me. My core clique in high school looked like a scene right out of 'Mi Vida Loca'; pencil thin brows, spiral perms, flannels and baggie jeans. My love affair with hip hop had me intersecting the two worlds, but it wasn't until I saw a matte ruby red velvet pout on Selena Quintanilla that I wanted to wear red.
It was bold, and feminine, and when she sang you could not HELP but to watch her mouth. It was mesmerizing.
I wasn't as bold, to be honest. My first attempts with red were still lined with brown. And to be equally honest, I don't think anyone even noticed it.
Eventually the brown lines I confined myself with faded away, and red lips became a signature look for me. Always ruby red. A matte velvet pout that makes me feel classic, timeless, empowered and iconic...
And sometimes, I even pop my lips together when I look in the mirror and sing 'Bidi bidi bom bom.'" -C.D.

"I was made fun of for having VERY big lips as a child and, of course, was self conscious of them. Every time I attempted red it seemed to plump them up 3x's bigger so I completely stayed away until very near adulthood. When I published my book in 2010 I did so under a pen name and decided to assume another identity (to hide my own). Red lips were a shot at that - but now I love it. Instead of hiding an identity I discovered the true (really beautiful) me, with a gorgeous smile to boot." - A.S.

"We went to Sephora and she got new make up. Then we sat and played make up in her bathroom. You can't stay in with a full face of make up on so we went to a bar with my parents and laughed at the awful dancing. It was fun!"-C.G.

"I was sixteen 
Bathed in Exclamation perfume
Freshly curled hair
eyeliner heavy
a brand new fire red lipstick
We all wore red lips that day 
1 tube shared by four
We ran to catch the crosstown bus
to a jam in the South Bronx
Visiting the boys with their Timberland boots, 
fitted hats and "Yo shorty come over here"  attitudes
 which seemed to amuse us Manhattan girls
That night,  smiles, laughter and secrets mixed with pigment.  
Today,  there are smiles, laughter and secrets still." -Vanessa F.

"The first time i wore red lips in public... I was 35, after losing 110 lbs. And I wore it work. A huge global tech company. Everyone kept asking where am I going or who am I going to see. So I went in the bathroom and took a selfie. I wore the red lips for me. I wore them to see what the world would say.."-J.L.

One more Found My Red story coming next week! Special blog post by my friend Carolina Hinojosa-Cisneros. Check out her blog: Cisneros Cafe!!

To see my original story of finding my red check out Shades of Red on the Dangerous Woman Project website!

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Seeing Red Part I

This week was unbelievably hard. Between spilled coffee days, cancelled appointments, stress at work and a finger that won't heal and has been in pain for the last three days I am utterly exhausted. I guess all these months of good health have made me weak. This kind of week used to be the norm 9 months ago, now I can't even handle a few days of the chaos. Buck up Jas!! :) But of course, the bad times are meant to teach you something. This week I learned how brave I really am. I'm not as afraid of losing another fingertip as I thought I was (though I hope it doesn't have to come to that), I'm not as afraid of the future in general, and I am brave enough to share stories that may not always be pleasant for all to hear/read. I did that this week and I'm proud of myself for it.

As a writer, you sometimes have the privilege of getting published. This week was one of those times for me. I submitted my creative non-fiction piece Shades of Red to the Dangerous Woman's Project for consideration. They accepted it almost immediately. I was thrilled. The editor said the piece was "evocative and powerful." I was nervous because the story I shared does not show everyone in it with a favorable light- me included. But I figured if it's going to go in the book I'm going to have to face the music sooner or later. Well, within three days of submission, we edited the piece a bit, chose a cover photo and it was up online and I even got paid for it!
Flaunting my red


The purpose of the Dangerous Women's project and online publication is to highlight women's stories from around the world where they answer the question: "What does it mean to be a dangerous woman?" I had written the piece several months ago and plan on including it in my second hybrid-memoir so decided to put it out in the world to see if it was publishable. Apparently it was! I then shared the link with many of my girlfriends and also received some great feedback.

While talking about the implications of what it means as a woman to wear red lipstick I came up with what turned out to be a fun idea. I asked all my girlfriends on social media to tell me when and how they "found their red."

For those of you that may not understand: Red lipstick in many cultures comes with a lot of baggage. You do not wear read if you are "proper lady." Red is scandalous too sexy. Many women are often fearful of how they look in red, red lipstick, red dresses, red shoes etc. So, for that reason, many of us "found our red" later in life and did so in order to feel something: courage, beauty, sexiness, joy...something..anything than whatever it was we were feeling at the time.

I thought to myself, what a great ask women to share these stories, how empowering and fun! And it was and I hope it will continue to be. I am still brainstorming ways on how I can get more and more women involved in sharing their red stories with me- maybe a cosmetic company can use it as a new ad?...but for now, I will leave you with some of the awesome, stunning and beautiful stories and photos of some of the women in my life who are being brave and have found and are flaunting their RED. **I only use initials to protect identities and respect their stories**

(May I also share, that at least two women who had never dared try red before, finally did because of this post and said they loved it! Yay!)

These are only 10 of them...Part 2 next week will share 10 more! Yes I received THAT many responses and am still getting them!

Photo Credit: Angelie Eggert

"It's a constant struggle all young Latina women share. I discovered my red lips at 23 when I dressed up as Harley Quinn for Halloween. And it wasn't as scary as our moms told us it would be. Embrace those red lips ladies!"- Y.C.

"The first time i wore red lipstick i was 21 years old and it was for a friend's retro birthday party. I worried the whole night!"- J.M.

"The first time I put on red lipstick was when nothing else worked to make me feel alive again. I had survived a serious car accident and I thought I was okay. But when my friend got hit shortly after and did not survive his, it felt like the life I had was not my own. I was laid low for weeks. Finally, I woke up one day, and bought some red lipstick. I put it on and walked out the house. The shocking color that had never existed on my face before made the world stop looking like a black and white movie. It shocked me awake and informed me that I was still bold, I was still alive, I was still here: and it was okay to celebrate. It was okay to live my life." -H.B.

#4 "At 20 years of age I began wearing red lipstick because I wanted to be noticed, to command attention. I was tired of feeling like I didn't matter, I was gonna be bold. Mi prima gave me a lipstick named fire truck red and I never looked back. Now I wear red whenever I'm nervous or scared."-M.R.

"I was 26 and it was around December 2009 for a company holiday party. So I decided to wear a red sweater, of course, I have to match. Also, to impress a boy. Lol! His favorite color is red and I hate the color red. But I thought I looked cute. I wore the red lips again for New Years and was getting used to the red lips. I haven't done it again since then. I think I'm gonna have to bust it out."- C.dR.

"The first time I wore red lipstick was for a dance performance celebrating Mexican traditions. It made me feel like I was the face of the 'Mexicana.' Like I was in costume 100%. Now many years later, I wear it when i feel like spicing up my makeup. It's very bold on my white skin, so it definitely makes me feel like I'm making a bold statement; 'I am woman'."- K.C.M

"I spent years letting my eyes speak for me because they can't be sexualized. Lips, on the other hand...
So I wore earth tone lipsticks (if I wore any at all) until about two years ago. A make-up artist friend would lovingly chide me about my 'naked from the nose down' face. One day I walked into a drug store, saw red and said 'Why not?'

Red lips made me smile more.
It was just that simple for me.
I wanted to smile more. - S.C.I

"I have never been a 'Red' lipstick kind of girl...give me maroon...burgundy or deep plum any day. Well, now I just wear gloss and liners etc. Anyway, let me get to the root of it all. Maybe I just never really felt it suited me because standing out like that in my earlier years was just not me. Until I stopped caring what people thought (in my 20's) Red means being bold, proud, and sexy. It wasn't red lipstick that did that for was wearing it. wasn't me. But wearing that's what I love about the color."-U.L.C.

"I've always been more into the earthy/natural type tones. Maybe it was because growing up I didn't like drawing attention to myself. If you're a big booty Latina, you're looked at like a sexual object. Boys were jerks in school. It wasn't until mid 30s that I felt comfortable wearing red lipstick and dressing a bit more sexier from time to time. I'm stronger and comfortable with myself now. Red is bold and beautiful."- B.A.

"Red has a wonderful and extraordinary way of defining the plump edges of my lips. With every word I speak, the color and movement define the mood I am in because my words speak respect and empowerment. With my tongue I can love you and school you. Bless the hearts of the men that kiss and cross these red lips. I am woman." D.B.R.

#foundmyred on Twitter!
My Projects on my website to learn more!

Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Write to Heal Series

"I wanted to be my own heroine." -Jesmyn Ward

Venice Beach w/Poets
So last week, I'm pretty sure it was the fatigue from the traveling and the stressful experience it is to go to AWP for the first time that had me in an unbearable and very sad funk. When my body gets tired, my emotions plummet as well and it is harder for me to be reflective, thankful and happy. Such is life. 

But, this week, thanks to a wealth of wonderfully rejuvenating and affirming writing experiences....I'm back to conquering the world. One Afro-Latina narrative at a time. :) 

Is there still a threat that I'll lose another fingertip? Yes. Has a new painful ulcer started to form on my OTHER hand that scares me just the same? Yes. But...."ain't nothin gonna break'a my stride..ain't nothin gonna hold me down...oh no...I got to keep on moving!" And as long as I can type these blog posts, then clearly...I can keep here goes...the last THREE weeks of writing adventures in as quick a recap as I can muster...there's a lot to tell so I won't get on my soapbox for any of it..just want to share some of the highs and lows...

1) Good Friday Reading @ The Woodlands United Methodist Church- I will admit, I was a little nervous performing a new piece in this space...a church that is predominantly white in one of the wealthiest suburbs of "Houston" (way outskirts). I was almost waiting for someone to yell "get that nigger off the stage" while I was performing my new piece about living with invisible illness and disability. I am always fully aware of my otherness in those spaces, yes even in a place of worship. I wasn't sure what to expect.
Poets & Pastors
But, the truth is, people are more compassionate and inclusive than I often give them credit for. After the four poets read and the service was over (an amazing and emotional service at that, kudos to everyone involved), church members came up to us and thanked us for our words, said they were extremely moved and welcomed us back anytime. 

It was really a privilege and an honor to share the stage with the poets (Lupe, Corinna and Dream) and I am grateful that we were so well received.  The pastor even thanked me for speaking with such strength and conviction and said he wanted his parishioners to hear more of that. And thanks to Hana for making the connection!

Afro Latinos ....and... Lupe
2) AWP Conference- Where. To. Begin. I'm not going to go off on a tangent right now, I will summarize a few moments and share one of the videos Lupe and I made while there. 

Highs- Meeting new people and spending time with friends. It was a great experience to be in the same space with so many amazing and talented writers that I admire.
Lovely Ladies- Dominicanas Represent!

Learning all about different publishers, journals and magazines I could submit to. It was a bit overwhelming at first but I came away with a good list of folks I want to submit my manuscript to and I've already started. 

I saw my girl Marilou from the Afro-Latina writer's retreat and we were able to catch up and hang out. This girl is fierce and will be making moves one day so watch out!

Willie Perdomo!
Meeting Willie Perdomo! Omg I totally fan girled out on him and cried and couldn't keep it together. It was literally a dream come true and he was so sweet and gracious and just gave me a hug and thanked me for coming to the session. I think I literally felt Miguel Pinero's presence floating around us lol. 
Picking up my copy of The Best of Cutthroat and realizing that my work is sitting in a book with Martin Espada, Joy Harjo, Sandra Cisneros, Rita Dove and so many other talented writers! It feels so good to know my words sit between those pages amongst greatness. 

Going to Venice Beach with three poets I admire, respect, and want to emulate one day. It was the perfect ending to the weekend. 

Lows- Not. Enough. Panels. For. Writers. of. Color. And the panels that they did have were scheduled at the same time so it was like we were forced to choose and split up. (Strength in numbers, you know they don't want that)

The systems of oppression they have in place to keep minorities and the disadvantaged out of their privileged spaces is sickening. I won't go into what it takes to even form and sustain a caucus at AWP, but if you want to know, just ask me or Lupe. (Vomit)

We didn't get a chance to go to any of the offisite next year. 

Here's a video for some more of our thoughts on the conference

3. Women's Stories from the Margins Workshop and Reading @ MECA- YES. YES. AND MORE YES!!! How fun, amazing and inspiring can it be to share the stage with three other amazing Latina writers?! Extremely is all I can say! 

Las Muxeres Chingonas!
This past Thursday I was able to host a workshop and share the stage with writers Sarah R. Garcia, Isabel Qunitero and Edykah Chilome. Wow, what a night. We each read/performed poetry and fiction and then were able to sell our books and merchandise. 

The night was a celebration of women voices and honoring each of our stories, our lives, and our art. I felt welcomed and loved. 

I sold out of books. Yay! And made some new friends and contacts in the process. They even wrote an article about us in the Houston Chronicle!

4. College Language Association Convention - My peoples! I found my peoples! This conference was everything AWP wasn't. It was a gathering of Spanish language and literature professors, women's studies professors, African American and African diaspora professors, poets, writers, scholars and artists of color. Panels were in English, Spanish, French and Portugese. They even had a panel on Afro-Germanic literature! 

I presented a panel on the black lives matter movement across borders with my sisters Icess F. and
D.E.E.P. While we only had 4 people in our session (we were in a back room and no one really knew who we were's to be expected) the folks that were there really enjoyed it and gave us some great feedback. of all, I made a great connection with a Ph.D. student from Dallas who is doing her dissertation on black women and disabilities in literature. She's really intrigued by my work and wants to be in touch. Said I inspired a new chapter in her dissertation!!! 

The other highlight to the event was listening to Jesmyn Ward give the keynote address. While I am not familiar with her work (yet) what she had to say brought me to tears and was very inspiring. She talked about being a black woman in the south and how she grew up and what she was and wasn't exposed to in school, she mentioned Treyvon Martin and her own brother's death, it was very moving and I am looking forward to reading her latest memoir. (Since memoir is "my thing" right now, I need examples of good writing!) 

It was really refreshing to know that there are folks out there studying authors of color and it lets me know that my work DOES matter and is "good enough." 

5. Other Things & Projects- 
Saturday I attended a publishing workshop that helped shed light on what to look for in a publisher and a publishing contract. It really helped me think about and look more closely at the presses I want to submit to next. Yay! Always love learning new things about the business side of writing. 

Me & Lupe staying positive
By the end of April I will start "shopping" my second manuscript around to presses, contests and publishers. It is a collection of creative non-fiction pieces about my life with chronic illness as an Afro-Latina. When it finally comes out, you may recognize some of the pieces, since a few are revised versions of former blog posts. It promises to be moving, funny, inspiring and provocative! Stay tuned!!! 

I have a few more National Poetry Month Events coming up where I will be selling books and performing. Check my website for more details!

Next week I go in for the amnio procedure on my finger ulcer. Doc will remove dead skin and scabs and then put drops of this magical stuff on the wound in the hopes that the skin will regenerate itself and begin to close and heal so I can avoid amputation or a skin flap. Wish me luck!! I'll let you know how it goes next week. 
It's been a busy few weeks, so today I rest. Thanks to everyone who's been there and continues to support me and all that I do.

Sunday, April 3, 2016


“The only real battle in life is between hanging on and letting go.”
Shannon L. Alder

I want nothing more than to be in a place to share with you all the highs and lows of my time at AWP this weekend. But whether it's the Sunday night blues, or the reality of life hitting me like a MAC truck right now I'm just not up for it. My AWP post will have to wait until next time, for my next "Write to Heal" series...if and when the doc can confirm for me this week that writing will still be a part of my future, my healing, me. 

Sounds cryptic, I know. But here's the truth, my right hand ring finger ulcer (though it once showed promise of healing well) has taken a turn for the worse. The ulcer is beginning to spread again, further down the bone and it is red and swollen and hurts often. This is not a good sign. 

While I had a great time at AWP this weekend, meeting people, going to panels, learning about publishers, it was bitter sweet. I had to keep repressing the urge to just throw my hands in the air and say fuck it, I might not be able to write for much longer anyway, so what's the point?

Thinking about all the self-doubt and fear I heard at AWP and hear at least once a week from most writers about rejection letters etc. I can't help but think: At least you have hands that work. At least you are not afraid of losing the physical ability to write.

I submit everything, to everyone, and try to write often because I don't know when it will all be taken from me. So please...REJECT least it means I wrote something. It proves my body, my hands are still good for something. 

I know I'm being dramatic, two missing fingertips isn't the end of the world. It doesn't even have to mean the end of my writing I type this now I'm only using 8 of my sure.. why the hell not..go ahead and just chop the damn thing off like I did the last time. But I guess I just wonder...why does that have to be the answer? 

I know my current hand doc is going to do everything in his power and ability to save my fingertip, but I know that that will also come with a cost. Financially, emotionally and psychologically. And just the mere thought of that exhausts me. 

 I have had to reimagine so much in life, change course, bury dreams, start over. Just not sure how many more times I can keep reinventing myself.

I let go of acting because my body said no.
I let go of teaching full time because my body said stop.
I let go of motherhood because my body said I won't and I can't. 

I don't want to have to let go of writing. 

Sure, I can try my damndest to be the one-handed/8 fingered literary genius that takes the world by storm, but it's going to cost me and it won't be easy. It takes me twice as long to get the words down, I make twice as many errors trying to get my fingers to reach the right keys, and one day of writing leaves me with cramping, tingling excruciating pain in my wrists and fingertips for two days after. 

I try to pace myself, take breaks, stretch and only do what I can. But it's frustrating to have to stop when you're in the middle of a good writing moment or when the ideas are flowing. And yet, I succumb to the pain and let go of the urges to press through. 

It won't be easy, no one ever said life would be and I'm not willing to give up just yet..on this wicked finger or on writing, I guess I just hoped the pain free, angst free days would last just a little bit longer.