WHY I WRITE AND WHY I READ
Why do I write? This question like the tide comes in and out of my life.
I always had an assortment well rehearsed answers, which I would dole out. I love to read therefore I write proclaimed my eleven-year old self. Or I write because I read. As a teen I would say: my father is a writer. He wrote for El Diaro de la Prensa, but he’s more than that. He cries during the sad parts of novellas, and sings the lyrics of old vallenato songs like he penned them. In my early twenties I would proudly state: books saved me. I would pause just long enough to wait for the raised eyebrows, tilt of the head, and the slight gape of the mouth. I would then proceed to march my questioner on the life path of a young girl filled with dysfunction, chaos, and loss. Then told with the right amount of anger and sadness: I could get lost in books. During the early part of my thirties I would say it was Mami. Mami is a natural born storyteller. Her rants were my first introductions to monologues and soliloquies. Her wild descriptions were my first lessons on imagery. Her stories woven with quotes from the scriptures and layered with humor taught me voice. The importance of a flawed and strong main character she taught me that too. She would simply say, mi vida hacido de perro, pero aqui estoy.
I’m silent not mute. I never could hear my voice. Mami was always so loud. In order to hear myself— to even know I had a voice. I took to paper. Maybe I hoped the words would grow throats, gain tongues, and get loud. I think I was a writer before I could even read sentences let alone write them. Once I recounted an India Maria movie to Mami. I was four. I had hopped off the sofa and walked myself to the kitchen where she flattened platanos with the bottom of a mug to make thin and crispy patacones. I added details to my version of the movie that fit better, scenes that I wrote as I spoke, and a wild ending. She laughed and looked down at me with a smile before telling me to ir a jugar y que no molestes mas.
Once I got to fifth grade I read as if it was required to keep me alive. Books under my pillow, stacks by my bed, piles in my backpack, and tucked in pockets. I would tell schoolmates that showed off sticker collections and bragged about their extensive my little pony figures that I had all the Babysitter Club series books. A long pause, an odd look, and silence always followed. I would cast my eyes down and mumble that I had over twenty Sweet Valley High books. And with every birthday I read more and discovered authors that made me want to write my own stories down too.
As a teenager the solitude of a reader had invaded and I wanted to keep afar and apart. Dressed in all black I would tag up my army backpack with black sharpie and scrawl in my big loopy cursive quotes from Jean Paul Sarte. Hell is other people was written across my back, and like a shield I felt protected. Sometimes those words were not enough. And I would have to break it down. I would roll my eyes and twist my lips with perfect fourteen-year girl sass. I am anti social and I hate people I would smile and say with pride. And if that were not enough of a statement I would pound my fist against my chest and say: my best friend and I have a club in high school. We are the only two members. The: I hate people club. And those words were often like the batons that police use to keep the crowds away.
Books over people overtime got carved deep inside of me. There have always been the brave who have seen my no vacancy sign and knocked. They have insisted for room certain there is room despite the sign. A few jokes always got me to crack the door. In that space my laugh exploded and escaped. Stories were shared and I couldn’t help but to listen. The door widens because a story junkie is always looking for a fix. The people I have let in are broken too. It seems safer that way. They come with stories that you are drawn to and kidnap your mind. I keep them separate from each other because I tell their stories. I recount their lives like an omnipotent narrator. They become collections from a book, the stories Connie Tells.
My narrative style in my own storytelling is unreliable. I keep parts hidden and tucked away. I share bits of details, omit scenes, and the voice is altogether tailored for my audience. No longer a teen or in my twenties or mid thirties for a matter. I label this being the Great Pretender. A persona that has perfected pretending since my first story made me get lost in the words and a smile creep on Mami’s face, however brief it was. So, with one foot in the real world and one in the world of the pages in front of me I have walked much of my existence. Not sure where my story began, the ones in my books, or those broken characters in my life.
Weeks before my thirty-eighth birthday I met a group of writers in a week retreat. We were twelve and a writing mentor made thirteen. As the days unfolded I fell in love with writing all over again. When they talked about my main character and who she was they saw her on page and loved her despite her being broken. They named all the parts of her and in turn told me who I was. Then like in a game of hide and go seek I became it. I looked at the pages I had written and kept finding myself in every sentence and around every paragraph.
I’m finding days later that there is little need for watery versions of my own truths. That I don’t have to hide all the different parts of me because I have found my voice in writing. I have always had a voice. I was so busy trying to be heard over the boca de mami that I didn’t hear it. Hear that I had all these voices.
“Learners today we are going to learn why stop and jot is such an important tool as a reader. Watch me as I try this…”
My I’m around a lot of white people voice:
“Yeah I totally agree…That’s so neat! Yea that makes sense…
“Hola, mi vida como estas mi amor?”
“Mami did I tell you your hands look like starfish, and you have the cutest Barbie feet? Papi did I tell you I want to swim laps in your dimples?”
Sunset swag voice:
“Why are you sweatin’ me? Whose you tryin’ to step up to me? Back the fuck up and shut the fuck up!”
I’m around a lot of Colombians voice:
“Pues como esta Ud? Esta beraco, sierto?”
I’m chillin’ with Laina homegirls voice:
“Guuuuurrrrl… you saw ese Papi, he be lookin’ pretty fly, con ese cuerpo!”
Then lastly there is my writer voice, what she sound like? Come listen closely… she’s all of them.