All of This

All of this

One of Pearl’s birthday presents was a little one-piece plastic basketball game, the kind where you catapult an orange marble into a tiny hoop. After assembling a solar-powered robot and placing it on the kitchen window sill Saturday afternoon in between birthday shin-digs, she sat down at the kitchen table and started playing the basketball game. Within moments, two of the three marbles had shot across the room and rolled under the stove. I’m sure they are joined there by all manner of dust and ancient food debris… come to think of it, just the kind of thing I should probably be starting to think about cleaning before Passover.

But cleaning for Pesach has been the furthest thing from my thoughts this week. Between last week’s flu and this week’s hormones, let’s just say I’ve written and deleted three sentences already here, unable even to quite find the words, or at least ones I want to use and share.

It’s not always pretty. It’s not always easy. It’s not always anything. How is it I can burst with love one week and fold into existential oblivion the next? Hell, forget one week — sometimes this will happen not only in the course of a day but at the same exact moment. Yesterday, I had one of those huge cries — the kind that rock me to the core, remind me of all the other times I’ve been rocked, and feel brutal, like it’s all I can do to hold on tight and get through it to live and love another day.

Luckily, I have someone here who gets it, gets me, and holds me tight so that I can actually let go and go there. It’s not something I seek out or set out to do; on the contrary, these storms come monthly but their form remains unknown until it’s upon us, and is usually a surprise.

The particular trigger — does it even matter? Not really, because it will always be something. I have to remind myself with all my might that NOTHING HAS CHANGED externally.

The magical mystery tour hasn’t ended abruptly, leaving me and my charges stranded roadside without so much as bus money; the angels haven’t forsaken me and moved on to someone with more spark and potential; and I’m not yesterday’s news. In fact, I’m not tomorrow’s news or today’s, either. I’m not news at all. Being news is not my aim; being stable and happy and kind and generous is.

And so when everything logical and good is occluded by the sudden, inexplicable plague of darkness known as Part of Being Human, what is a girl to do? Fuck. No, no, let me clarify — I didn’t mean, a girl should fuck (although that actually is a very good release)! I meant, fuck. As in, sometimes it just feels relentless and brutal, this being alive business. Bone tired and one day at a time and wearing so many hats and desperately not wanting to sink into the stink and mire of self-pity but going that way fast, all of it pouring out, my marbles rolling across the floor, under the stove, into the dark and unswept corners better no one sees.

Better no one sees.

That’s the thing. It seems better that no one see this me. This one who isn’t sparkly. This one who isn’t wild and successful and wildly successful. This one who goes under dark waves of pettiness and envy and doubt, right alongside the gratitude and connection and joy. Better keep her under wraps, right? Better to share just the “good stuff.”

Rabbit hole ahead!

The minute I become someone I can’t be all of… what am I? The minute I start shunning or judging parts of myself I think of as less lovable… who am I?

My life and work are so inextricable, and sometimes I think I mistake this for “having to be” a certain way. But there are no parts of me, any more than there are parts of you. We are not neat and tidy creatures. I was scared last night, that my heart might permanently harden. I reached though my grumpy exhaustion for Mani’s hand and placed it there while we watched The Americans. She promised me it wouldn’t.

Today I woke up and made coffee and got kids of to school and grocery shopped and had a wonderful coaching call and then got a call from Aviva that she didn’t feel well and could I come get her and dragged my weary ass over the Notch to her school then back home again, where finally I made a tuna melt and got to work. Life’s a Lot of Work, I’m Tired, remember?

But it’s not as pithy as that. We live in a culture where so much is distilled into bullet points and numbered lists and trackable timelines, and I’m so not feeling it. Last night, I took Pearlie to Dick’s Sporting Goods to get cleats and baseball pants after her first practice — she liked it so much that she asked if she could play baseball every year and did I think maybe she could even get a scholarship someday?

She brought her excitement right into the store and was very commanding when it came to trying on cleats and sussing out the right size for her rapidly growing feet; I was trying hard to be patient but it was well after 7:00pm and I also wanted to get home to eat and, well, get home.

Later, Pearl thanked me for cooperating with her. I wasn’t even sure what to make of that; isn’t it supposed to be the other way around? But I am pretty sure (or at least choosing to believe) that what she meant was she appreciated my patience with her at the store. She knew I was tired–and it had also been my idea for us to go then and get that errand done.

It’s nice, when people and things cooperate, isn’t it? What I’m seeing as I write is that I get angry at life sometimes, for the ways it hasn’t cooperated with what I thought I wanted. I get angry that Mani’s body doesn’t cooperate with her mind. It’s not always an easy or simple “reframe” or “shift in perspective” to find a different way or relating.

I do a lot of driving, cooking, cleaning, and working. Every now and then, I do a lot of crying. I also do a lot of loving, napping, playing, laughing, and creating. A lot of talking, listening, singing, and seeing. A lot of imagining and experimenting and trusting. I do a lot of wishing and waiting and diving in and doing. I defer and deter and deflect, and I also relish and risk and free fall.

Over and over and over and over, I land. I am anchored here. I am safe. I am loved. I stay.

Which is the default? Does there have to be one?

I am all of this. I am all of this. I am all of this.

The Roar Sessions: Juli Fraga

Juli-Fraga1Unleashing My Inner Storyteller
by Juli Fraga

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”- Maya Angelou

“Speak up, dear, I can’t hear what you’re saying,” said Sister Isabelle, my first-grade teacher. Her words echoed the request of many adults in my life. As an introverted child, my words were often no louder than a whisper.

This drove my mother nuts. As an extrovert who made small talk with strangers at the grocery store, it was challenging for her to understand my more subdued personality. When we went to social gatherings, she coached me beforehand, “Be sure to speak up at the party, you never talk,” she said. She hoped her advice could help puncture my silence.

I wanted to share my voice, but I often felt as if my words were trapped somewhere deep inside of my body. At times I imagined that they were swirling around in my tummy, mixed with feelings of worry, accompanied by thoughts like, “What if they think what I have to say is silly?” “What if they don’t understand me?” As a way to quell my anxiety, silence became my Band-Aid. “People can’t hurt you if you don’t give them any ammunition,” I thought to myself.

And yet even in my shy demeanor, I stood out. I was the only Asian American girl among a Nebraska community of Caucasian women, my mother included. As an adopted child, the racial difference between my mother and I exposed our biological differences, too. Family friends, teachers and relatives asserted how I must feel as an adoptee; often they wove my narrative for me, assuming that their fantasies about my story were fact, not fiction.

“You must feel so lucky to live in America!” family friends often declared with glee.

“You must feel so grateful to have a real mother now,” they often said.

These platitudes left me feeling confused, ashamed and dehumanized. Without any information about my birth mother, my life story began mid-paragraph, and the way that others tried to write the first lines of my birth story felt intrusive as if my identity were being hijacked.

Yet in 1990, I found my savior. Oprah Winfrey. I’d rush home from school every day and turn on the television where I watched as Oprah sat on her peach colored leather sofa. She invited guests like Matt Damon, The Spice Girls, and Ben Affleck to share their stories with her. I was especially transfixed by an episode in which a spiritual medium talked with Oprah about healing your inner child. Even though I was just sixteen at the time, I figured that my inner child could use some healing, too.

By no surprise, when I left for college the following year, I majored in psychology and went on to graduate school to become a psychologist—a receiver of people’s stories. Daily, I witness the scenes of my patient’s lives, tuning into details that they may not have spoken about before. I help them rewrite the meaning of their narratives in a way that brings healing.

But, I didn’t always want to become a psychologist. I actually wanted to be a writer. As an English minor in college, I wrote short stories about my stepdad’s obsessions with ventriloquism, my parent’s painful divorce, and my narcissistic boyfriend.

“You should submit these for the Vreeland Award,” my English professor encouraged me.

But my insecurity thwarted this dream. Sequestering my desires as I often have, I decided to help others tell their stories by becoming a psychologist instead of pursuing an MFA to continue sharing mine. It wasn’t until 2008, eleven years after my college graduation that I rediscovered my need to write again. It was the birth of my daughter and the gift of motherhood that re-awoke this part of myself.

“What do I want to model for her?” I thought to myself.

Even though she was just an infant at the time, I wanted to let her know that you should always follow your aspirations and work hard to find your voice, no matter what. And so I began writing again. I started with her birth story and eventually wrote about my adoption.

As someone who’s always felt most comfortable with the written word instead of the spoken one, I notice that when I put my pen to paper, the shy girl inside of me moves off to the side. I no longer feel a swirl of anxiety in my stomach as I thread together my own words to tell my story.

In the end, my professions of psychologist and writer have taught me that our stories are the experiences that make us who we are. When they live inside of us without being told, we can spin the fiction any which way that we want. But, when we write our narratives, taking command of our words, we rewrite our life events in ways that spark emotions and insights that we never discovered before. At the end of the day, this is why I write. Like a trail of breadcrumbs, our words hold the clues to our being. By following the trail, we never know what we might discover along the way or what story we might tell.
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Juli-FragaJuli Fraga is a psychologist and writer in San Francisco. Her stories have appeared in the New York Times Motherlode, The Atlantic City Lab and the Washington Post.

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The Roar Sessions is a weekly series featuring original guest posts by women of diverse backgrounds and voices. Read them all

The Roar Sessions: Lesley Salas

Lesley1Mira, mami: A Story of Lost and Found
by Lesley Salas

I can hear them but I don’t understand. It flows smoothly over the tongue. “Mira, mami!” I repeat over and over again. I always want my mommy to see what I’m doing but now I want her to see me doing it in my Cuban identity.

They came to our house in rural Illinois, my cousins, not knowing what was going on except that they were out of Cuba and that their former home was no place to be.

They spoke only to my father, eye conversations is what we had. I, being the oldest and most curious, stared and tried to speak the most. Their names – Pepito, Bebo, Cuqui, Thelma (without pronouncing the T) – were poetry to me.

Mira, mami, I’m talking to them, haltingly, because I don’t know the actual words. Perhaps that’s why I’m a reader of feelings. The brush of palm trees flickered behind their eyes. I could see it in between blinks. They brought me the food, they brought me music, they brought an intermittent breeze of sadness as they put on their winter coats. Funny, I felt like the uprooted one in Illinois. Can you be born somewhere yet not belong?

The throwback. The Cuban one who had been to Cuba only five times. The urgency to learn more than “mira, mami.” The rush to perfect the sounds delicious as the slurp of an ice cream cone once you have the dripping verb tenses under control. The search for a homeland that fit better than the Midwest.

Lesley-porch

It was a substitute, Mexico. For a long time, I thought I had found my homeland after living there for over three years and being surrounded by Mexican people for nearly thirty years after.

But then, mira, I was uprooted, some would say, from the Midwest to Florida. Miami fucking Florida. Mira, papi, I’m home. I fit, even with the strong American overtone, even with the mixed-up accent, even with the hybrid Cuban-Mexican expressions. This is the homeland for me, because people born in Midwestern suburbs are not so keen after all on uncivilized toilets like the ones in Cuba. I get it all here instead, the music, the taste of guayaba in every pastry, the strong coffee, the strong opinions, the pulsing life force of the Cubans. Mira, mami. I did it.

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Lesley-BioLesley Salas is a Cuban American lesbian mother of two from Illinois who was recently transported by the fates to Miami, Florida, to work on her dream job writing grants for legal services for immigrants.

She has published literary translations, personal essays and the occasional poem. After a long hiatus, she is resuming her creative writing career.

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The Roar Sessions is a weekly series featuring original guest posts by women of diverse backgrounds and voices. Read them all

 

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