Thoughts on Writing and Fragility


All day, I’ve been pondering this: Becoming a stronger writer implicitly means becoming a less fragile person.

This notion has everything to do with my own journey, in that I’ve begun to see a correlation between writing and a more rooted sense of self, centeredness, and confidence that’s not contingent on outside approval or praise.

Now, to be clear: Developing some muscle, so as to be able to meet the world, needn’t come at the expense of being sensitive or tuned-in. If anything, I think they complement each other. But fragility — that to me has to be with being easily shattered, be it by feedback or negativity.

Practice is practice. The more I write, the more I write. And the more I risk sharing, the more I’m able to see that I am in fact risking very little. We’re conditioned with a lot of fear — what people will think of us, how we sound or look, whether we’re good enough or ready to share our writing. And the fear, in most cases, is unfounded in reality. If there is truly something at stake, it’s failure — and that can of worms is fodder for a whole different conversation.

My pondering here also has to do with social justice and the intersections of creativity with activism — the more you write and share and engage, the more you can become a participant in an urgent, ongoing conversation, as opposed to tip-toeing around and/or having an inflated sense of importance — neither of which is productive.

In my work, I want folks to get to practice writing, writing, writing — learning that they won’t die if the writing sucks, learning that inner critics are liars, and learning that ego has a lot to do with what keeps us small, stuck, and silent. Fragility dies on the vine, slowly but surely, when something deeper and more true begins to thrive.

The more you practice writing, the more confident you become in your own voice and the less defensive and threatened you need to be when confronting others’ perspectives and experiences.

The more you explore your own story, its shape, its contradictions, its nuance, its beauty, and its pain — the greater your capacity to recognize fear and limited thinking and the clearer your courage in speaking out.

The more you show up, risking being seen and heard, however imperfectly, the more you learn how to sidestep ego and the desire to look good or be right, in the name of something greater: Truth and beauty, connection and community, justice and equality.

None of this happens overnight, nor is it a process that’s ever finished. Poems, essays, books may be written. But the learning, the practice — it’s there that we return, over and over, to begin again, to go deeper, to strip the layers we hide behind that we didn’t even realize were still masking and muzzling us.

It’s work, and it’s play. It’s where work and play meet. It’s intentional and intuitive. There’s no prescription and there’s no magic eight-ball. There’s just one requirement: You have to show up. Roll up your sleeves and get out your pen. The world needs your strength.

And one more thing about strength: Like courage, it may not feel strong or brave at all. It probably feels questionable at best and stupid at worst. It’s likely to be vulnerable and sometimes uncomfortable and sometimes thrilling.

Yet you, on an ordinary day, telling the truth about your life and being willing to get more and more honest and real? That is strong, my friends. And it’s just the beginning.

Let fragility be nothing more than the shell that breaks open, revealing the pearl. And no matter what — keep writing.

Atonement and Action


I just ate a bowl of chicken noodle soup.

In Puerto Rico, millions of people are facing not only devastating conditions, but genocide.

Our president is an evil man. Worse than evil. Less than a man.

The rabbi’s sermon this morning stirred my soul. He spoke to our “rich and haunted” history as a people, and the need to watch for Jewish “erasure.” He also paired this with a powerful and much-needed message to our congregation, in the context of white supremacy and who is its target today: He noted that there is a big difference between bring triggered and being threatened.

As Jews in America, we are not under threat, not in the way that African-Americans are every day. Our great-grandparents came to this country to escape pogroms and worse. They came and built better lives — on land “soaked with the blood of Africans.” Of slaves. Of native people obliterated to make room for our future. These are sins for which we need to be atoning through action for the rest of our lives — whether it was “our” people or not who committed these acts. As people who have benefited in this country, we are — in the words of the rabbi — also perpetrators of oppression.

I’m so thankful for this kind of leadership and eloquence on a subject the Jewish community must grapple with and act on. And while today we prayed, while today we atoned for our inevitable shortcomings as individuals and as a community, tomorrow, he said pointedly, “we march.” It is not an either/or but a both/and; our activism is borne of both a deep identification with oppression, as well as an acute awareness that we are not, currently, an oppressed people. Nobody every pulled over a Jew, saw the name Schwartz or Rosenberg on their license, and shot them dead. It’s crass but it bears saying.

I was grateful for his strong stance. There was nothing neutral about his sermon; he acknowledged both the complexity and simplicity of our role as Jews in white supremacist culture. And later, woven seamlessly into the end of the morning service, came unflinching words about the humanitarian crisis that’s growing by the day in Puerto Rico, where millions of fellow U.S. citizens are facing life-and-death conditions.

Fasting, the rabbi pointed out, does not help us concentrate on our prayers. On the contrary, it heightens our embodied awareness that to be hungry makes it difficult to concentrate on just about anything other than the hunger. This is the texture of Yom Kippur.

There are two equally potent aspects to Jewish tradition. One is to cultivate ritual and sacred refuge, sources of prayer and peace where we can turn for solace during challenging times. Thank goodness for this, for without spaces in which we can restore our inner equilibrium, we risk burnout, self-righteousness, and a loss of connection to the source of our actions. But the other aspect of who we are as a people is also crucial: To pray with our feet, in the words of Abraham Joshua Heschel. To take to the proverbial and literal streets to work tirelessly for social justice — for racial justice, for an end to poverty and hunger, for environmental repair.

There were opportunities to stand on the bimah during the Torah and Haftarah readings, one for those who wished for a blessing, to shore up practices that support inner scaffolding, the second for those seeking fortification for action. An important point here is that according to this rabbi, when faced with the question of which of these branches defines our tradition, the answer is “yes.”

Isaiah’s lesson is that fasting alone is not enough, unless there is a moral and ethical foundation to the ritual behavior. {Source: My Jewish Learning}

As Jews, we hold the epigenetic memory of genocide, expulsion, and trauma. It’s what first woke me to my own Jewish identity as a teenager; dreams of being ripped apart from family, of running through the forest, of hidden identity and of being led into gas chambers haunted my dreams as a senior in high school when I dove into the beginnings of learning my own history for the first time.

Some people will always hate Jews. This is irrefutable.  But as Jews, we are also no longer victims. In fact, we have thrived in this country in ways that are disproportionate to our numbers — a source of both pride and shame. Without forgetting who we are, it’s critical that we also recognize that our whiteness is not separate from the relative prosperity and privileges we’ve come to enjoy, even as there are still plenty who will hold our success up as reason for more hatred.

After services, Mani and I came home and took a rest. I slept for three hours, dreams informed by hunger and the kind of clarity borne of sustained prayer. As the Book of Life closes and the year 5778 commences, I pray that my work in this world be driven by the desire for all people to be free. I pray for humility and inspiration that allow me to be of continued service, holding spaces for others to dive into their own histories and roles as fellow humans to each other on this beautiful, broken planet. I pray that my fellow Jews grapple with the complexity of our moral obligation, while not getting theoretical about things that are urgently tangible.

Also, I plan to ask Rabbi Weiner for a written copy of his Yom Kippur sermon, to read again, to study, and to share.

G’mar chatima tova. May you be sealed in the Book of LIfe. 

PLACES TO GIVE :: EVERY $1 COUNTS

Black Lives Matter :: Donate

American Black Cross Disaster Relief Effort

A List of Trusted Organizations Offering Aid :: Help Puerto Rico

10 Ways to Show Puerto Ricans Love

ViequesLove

Unidos por Puerto Rico

Two Kinds of Quiet

px2j3zadqk4-carolina-sanchez-b-1There have been many times in my writing life when I’ve wondered why on earth anyone would want to read my words. There is so much good stuff to read from people so much more on the front lines than I am. And still — I come here.

I come here tonight after taking a shower and climbing into bed. Mani is talking on the phone with her oldest daughter. Today was a mish-mash of working, a short run, grocery shopping, napping, and more working. The kids are at their dad’s. I miss them, though I keep the missing in perspective given that they are just a few miles away and I will see Pearl tomorrow morning when she comes over for breakfast before the school bus, and V and I have been exchanging silly texts for the past two hours.

I’m inundated with articles I want to make sure I read, a list of books I admit is daunting given how long it takes me to complete a single memoir on my nightstand, and thoughts about how best to participate in this moment of historical urgency.

I’m terrified of not doing enough, and yet aware that that seems like a self-fulfilling prophecy, an unacceptable cop-out. So instead, I am focusing on what I can do. One of those things is this — show up here and just write. Just say hello, how are you? Where are you? To myself, to you reading.

It’s very tempting to stop writing when things are murky and I’m less than clear on my contribution to this mess — both in terms of cause and solution. I notice the impulse to get really quiet.

There are two kinds of really quiet. One is the kind that would have you listen hard — listen in to the quiet. Listen for the knowing that will surely find you when you get very still (as if you are hunting wabbits and conquering injustice, for example).

But the other kind of quiet is something else. It’s a bit insidious. It may masquerade as the listening-hard variety, when in fact you are slowly receding, giving away the work to those who appear more vocal, more comfortable speaking out, more knowledgeable about what to say or do.

I am pretty sure there are a LOT of people who don’t feel comfortable writing or speaking, not our of lack of outrage but out of not knowing what the hell to do beyond circulating other people’s blog posts and news stories. “Thank god for good writers” is a thought I have frequently, these days more than ever. I won’t hide behind the quiet, but I’m also not the loudspeaker type.

These are not exactly times of balance, and yet to be effective — as writers, as parents, as fighters, as lovers, as friends, and as allies — it goes a long way to have some connection to your own values and voice. This connection comes in part as a result of cultivating quiet as a way of being present as opposed to quiet that is a disguise for checking out out of a sense of personal impotence and powerlessness.

You are not powerless.

Take your anger, your grief, your fear, your overwhelm — whatever states you find yourself cycling through — and let them be guides. Show up without knowing what you will write or say. Trust your instincts: join up with people you can learn from and move away from people who make you feel unsafe or crazy. And if the quiet of really listening for where you belong is trying to get your attention, let it. There is information there, and you are the only one who can convey it.

You are not crazy for feeling crazed. In the words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel from a speech on January 14, 1963: “What we face is a human emergency.”

It’s enough to make any one — writer or not — have to gather up her wits and words and figure out where on earth to start. And as usual, the answer is simple: Start where you are. Then keep going.

Nasty Women Unite

nastywomenunite_3_4_sleeve_t_shirt-rf6c25bc291014e9db08a7815d1c84c3f_k2g1v_512
“Such a nasty woman,” Trump said, interrupting HRC AGAIN in the third and final debate. Blech.

I’d already posted at least a dozen times on Facebook Wednesday night, but this one took the cake. “Nasty Women Unite,” I wrote, prompting my nasty friend Meghan Leahy to leave a comment suggesting a hashtag. In a  late-night, hell-hath-no-fury rush of adrenaline, I announced to the world that I’d make a t-shirt in the morning. Proceeds will go to Planned Parenthood.

Then the next morning came after too-little sleep, and two cups of coffee and one learning curve later, a Zazzle store was born. Every possible “nasty woman” store name was already taken, so I called mine “Jenafication.”  There are a number of styles and colors available. Get yours today and wear it to the polls.

Why? Because we will not be silenced, bullied, intimidated, or degraded. Because you can call us names and it will only galvanize us further and unite us to win this thing. Because let’s channel our fear, our fury, our trauma, our passion, and our love into action.

Buy yours here! Wear it proudly. And be sure to snap a picture and share it on Instagram or Facebook with the #nastywomenunite hashtag.

 

The Roar Sessions: Leticia Hernández-Linares

Guerra
by Leticia Hernández-Linares

Salvador Map

Our skin and hair legitimized only by war,
the professor of history explains.

Suddenly I am content rich, boasting validated facts,
dates, and legitimate battles. War as identity–

my expertise, despite my inexperience.
I embody what so many survived,

the only marker despite my distance.
You are the troubled little country

with possible concrete, and civility, to the south.
Born foreign–––to live nationless. If you

are not a refugee, you do not get a box, certainly
not of us. Growing up a body wrapped in two

languages, without singular origin, I often let
the curve and angle of other’s questions

knock me off balance. Steady on the third rail
that no one owns, no one overpowers,

my acrobatic prowess proposes to
surpass cartographic limitation.

“Wars of nations are fought to change maps.
But wars of poverty are fought to map change.”
-Muhammad Ali

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Leticia HernandezLeticia Hernández-Linares is a poet, interdisciplinary artist, educator, and author of Mucha Muchacha, Too Much Girl (Tía Chucha Press, 2015). Widely published, her work has appeared in newspapers, literary journals, and anthologies, some of which include: U.S. Latino Literature Today, Street Art San Francisco, Pilgrimage, and Crab Orchard Review.  She has performed her poemsongs throughout the country and in El Salvador.  A three-time San Francisco Arts Commission Individual Artist Awardee, she lives, works, and writes in the Mission District, San Francisco—20 years strong.

Visit her website: joinleticia.com
Follow her on Twitter: @joinleticia

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The Roar Sessions is an ongoing series featuring weekly guest posts by woman of diverse backgrounds and voices. Read them all