I’m one of those people who hates social media. I think it’s vapid and one big social mind fuck. I only got Facebook the summer of 2015, with a new-found writing community, I wanted to stay connected. My Facebook page is shaped by my writing, but I’m known to post quotes and pictures of my two children on occasion. This summer, plagued by fears of being seen as a selfish mom I forged ahead, and posted my joy for writing with abandon. Hopeful that my breadcrumbs of joy would lead me to great chunks.
During Christmas break I took my kids to watch the animated movie Sing. And as I sat snuggled between my daughter and son I laughed at all the funny moments of the movie, like when the koala music manager used himself as a sponge during a fund-raiser car wash. I smiled at the teen gorilla’s rendition of Elton John’s I’m Still Standing. But it was Rosita, the pig mom, who made me weep.
Rosita came out on stage in her regular mom clothes and an apron, a drier machine behind her and a laundry basket in her hands. Then as she began to belt out the words to Taylor Swift’s Shake it Off, she transformed. Rosita looked at the camera with a steady gaze, which forced me to sit up in my seat. My eyes glued on her, I watched her disappear behind a black screen, and come out dressed in a costume straight out of Iris Chacon’s closet. Rosita strutted with her hand on her wide hips and swayed with effortless movement next to her partner Gunther. Rosita went all out, full beast mode, as she was swung around by Gunther, like some bedazzled hybrid, half mom, half wife, and half artist. Homegirl looked so fly and so sure of herself on that stage. Sexy as hell, Rosita kept to the beat, her voluptuous legs and her eyeliner on point, she commanded to be admired. Then the camera panned to her litter of piggies and her pig husband in the audience, they clapped and cheered for her. Rosita beamed. Then I wept, those thick tears that spring from the soles of your feet, and weave up your legs, only to sit in your chest, and buckled under the weight you cry.
Rosita was ready to burst when she first appeared on the screen, surrounded by chores and a litter of piggies, Rosita hummed to herself to hear the echoes of who she use to be. But. Scraps are never enough when your hunger is so great. And, Rosita was compelled to sing. Rosita was an artist. Video
On our walk home I cried as I told Holden and Ruben about Rosita.
“Really Mom, a pig?” Holden looked at me, the light of the street lamp lit her face. Sarcasm dressed her voice, but her eyes searched to understand.
“I know how that pig feels.” I hung my head. Tears were foreign to me like starry nights in New York City.
“Rosita?” Holden smirked.
“Mama it’s just a movie.” Ruben slipped his hand into mine, his small fingers laced through.
“But that desire to sing…” I gulped the air, as sobs threatened to leave me breathless. “That doesn’t go away…”
“Like your writing Mama?” Ruben looked up at me and searched my face, to see if he had gotten the right answer.
“Yes,” I whispered.
“Mami,” Holden cried. The smirk she wore minutes before was washed away by tears.
“But you love us, right?” Ruben asked, his voice small.
“Holeeeey! Of course she does Ruben!” Holden wiped her tears with the back of her hand. But, at almost fourteen, Holden embraced adolescence impatience, like an Instagram Star does likes.
“You are my Queenie and my Angel Dust,” I said. Pulled close to me, we walked linked, like a three bodied person.
“You should do what Rosita did,” Ruben said.
“Yeah, Ma go be a writer,” Holden said. She nestled her head under my arm and looked up at me and smiled. “Not just your writing group, but like go all out…”
“Really?” I sniffed. “I want to.”
I consulted with my husband, my best friend, and a friend or two, they all encouraged me to seek this writing life. Then, VONA 2017 applications came out in February, and I decided to apply again. When my Assistant Principal mentioned The Cullman Writing Scholar Week at the main library in the City I wondered if this was a nudge from the universe. I decided to go ahead and fill out that application too, what the hell I thought. Then Las Dos Brujas application came, and I applied, certain that I would be invited to at least one of the three writing weeks. I did not think I would get into all three, well maybe I did, hope just a little.
The first acceptance rolled in the month of March. I screenshot the email from the Cullman Writing Scholar and sent out to my husband, writing friends, friends, and called my mother and sister. I was proud, but I wanted them to be prouder.
The day after I got back from my family road trip to Iowa I got my acceptance letter to VONA 2017 at UPenn. Shocked and thrilled, I would be working with the same fiction teacher of 2015, M. Evelina Galang. La maestra, whose sassy and sweet style, checked me in 2015. Told to write my character without apologies, fearless of conflict, and certain in her strength. I listened. And with the help of my writing teacher, Colleen Cruz, and my writing group I revised and wrote. Pages of a bolder Delores who hurdled conflict sometimes with the grace of a track field star, but most times not. La maestra noticed and brought me back for another round, 2017. And in UPenn, of all places, never dreamt I, Connie, would walk the campus grounds of an Ivy league school as a student. I told my principal within days about my acceptance, and requested the last two days of work off. Proud and excited for me, she agreed right away. I sent my deposit for VONA, though worried how I’d pay it all. I reached out to my sister friends, and was shown love through my gofundme , which I did not make public, but chose to share only with some friends.
Three weeks later on a Thursday as I shuttled back and forth from soccer practice for my son and dance class for my daughter I checked email in between. As I waited for my daughter to come down from the apartment so I could run her to dance I saw a Las Dos Brujas email. I held my breath. Christina Garcia author of Dreaming in Cuban had written me a personal email to compliment my writing sample, invite me to her five-day writer’s conference in San Francisco, Las Dos Brujas. I stared at the email through blurred tears, and when Holden slipped in, she studied my face. And through sobs I told her I would attend three writing conferences, I felt closer to my dream. Holden wept alongside me.
Last August after I turned thirty-nine, many asked me if how I planned to celebrate my fortieth. I joked and said I wanted to do something fun like have a spin party. Some nodded at the idea and others gave me odd stares. But as the weeks and months passed, writing began to be the light in which I saw myself, and the one that illuminated my journey. My path.
It was Rosita that singing pig, who made me want to reach for my dreams. Because of Rosita, I stood in front of my daughter and son and confessed that I too had a dream. I desired to sing, not on stage, but have my words be heard through the pages of my novel. Later that week Vanessa Martir posted on her status that she challenged other writers to start the new year with the same challenge she had just completed. Fifty-two essays, one a week for the year of 2017 #52essays2017 . Scared to share myself, hidden and tucked aside have always been the angle I saw myself best. Vanessa saw my hesitation, and asked me to lean in anyways. I did. Decided to open up, expose myself behind the thin gauze of writing.
And those around me noticed, but my sister stands out the most:
“Your essay on Mami made me sad,” Joann whispered over the phone. “It helped me understand Mami more.” Mami essay
“Me too,” I said.
And the following week when I wrote my essay on Papi. Papi essay
“I didn’t comment because it made me feel sad,” Joann’s voice quiet on the other end.
“Me too,” I said.
Weeks later after many essays.
“I get it, you see the inside of people. I just see the outside, but when I read your essays I get to see the inside too.” Joann sighed into the phone.
“That’s why I write.”
A summer of writing, the greatest gift I could gift myself, the summer I turned forty. A gift to the many versions of Connie that occupied inside of me. My eleven-year old self who realized at that age that nothing greater could exist, but to write, and write. And to my twenty-one year old self that graduated Hunter College with a degree in English Creative Writing, who left for Colombia two weeks after, to write her novel. But back under a year, with a half filled red leather journal, the only token of my dream. That twenty-three year old Connie, that sunk into the hard plastic chair in the New York City Department of Education offices in Downtown Brooklyn, when she was told in order to continue to work as a public school teacher a Masters in Education was needed in the next five years. A Masters in Fine Arts did not insure me permanent certification. Angry I finished my Masters in Education in three years, not five. Though the words of the man, who went over my credentials as he looked at me with pity, stamped through my mind. Slumped, in the chair. He offered me an out stretched hand in the forms of words: Connie, you can get that MFA after. I hoped. Considered it was possible after Holden, thought it would look great coupled with my Masters in Education, but never thought of it again once I had my son.
I was told by my writing teacher and by many others in VONA 2015, that an MFA did not make you a writer. That writing seminars and master classes were the places to learn the craft, be exposed to great articles, readings, lectures, be around great writing teachers, and also a place to find your tribe. The gente that get drunk on words, eat books, and think writing is both holy and fun, but know the grind. This soothed my ache.
My husband and children witnessed me squeeze writing in my life throughout the years. But this was different. I was now making time to write. Woke up early or late to bed, chapters to be written, essays to be posted, applications to be filled out, and writing community to be cultivated. I stepped up my reading game, and read for fun, but also to learn. Television watching was downsized, friends now knew a quick text I’m writing meant I’d catch them later, and my subconscious took note. It began to write. And write.
This summer in order to give myself the summer of writing I had to juggle Holden and Ruben’s schedules, and the ever annoying summer homework. My husband needed to ask for days off, and my mother, my in-laws, and my homegirl Zoraida had to pitch in with kid duties. I also worked a week of summer school to pay for part of my Las Dos Brujas week, though I received aid through a generous work-study they offered.
Once back from my week at VONA my children clung to me. They said they missed me so much, that it was less fun, their lives without me here. I reminded them about my Rosita moment, they understood, but they missed me a lot, and it was a cartoon after all. My week in the City at the New York Public Library, from nine to five, my family waited for me as I walked into the apartment at six ready to tell me about their days and ask about mine. Exhausted, the world of my novel occupied my mind, and left little room for anything else. I endured. And watched Games of Thrones with my husband, went out as a family to see Spiderman, spent a Friday evening at the pool, and listened to music and sang during family car rides. And before Las Dos Brujas my husband confessed he felt jealous of my writing in the dark as we laid on our backs. He reached for my hand and I clasped his. Worry and guilt settled into my chest. How could I juggle all the demands on me, and still chase this writing dream?
On my last night in San Francisco after the Las Dos Brujas’ open mic, and across the street at a bar called, Pops, was when I found some of the answer to that question. My sadness and worry loosened. This question and worry, which snaked itself tight around my neck and coiled in my chest, began to unfold. The answer, its beginning, came in form of a conversation with fellow bruja and writer, C.F.
“I heard great things about the amazing Connie Pertuz-Meza.” C.F. eyes opened wide greeted me.
“Me? Really?” I laughed. “I heard you are mad wise.” I deflected, heard from my roommate, Mariana, how this wonderful person in her memoir class gave great perspective to not just your writing, but life shit too. So, when I met C.F. I was shocked C.F. was another writer person. I expected the three eyed raven from Game of Thrones. But, C.F. was better than some fantasy all-knowing creature. C.F.’s humanity and connection came from experience, and a gift for words. And C.F. did not disappoint.
“Tell me something you never told another human being?” C.F. asked. Small talk not part of C.F.’s lexicon.
Unsurprised by the depth of the question, and around enough writers to know that deep conversation is our only style of talk, I rolled with it. Bit my lip and thought.
“I will make it easier for you,” C.F. offered, “and tell you something I never told anyone.” C.F. proceeded, a handful of soul excavated.
I listened. The way a writer does, careful to note words spoken, observation of the contrast of the light in the room, the touch of my elbow on the bar, and the clink of the glasses in the back.
“What about you…” C.F. smiled, a crooked smile in my direction.
I spoke for a long time about my fears of being a mom and a writer and my fears of being a wife and a writer too.
C.F. nodded. “You must show the world the transition of being not just a mother, wife, and teacher, you are a writer. It’s your job to teach the world how to embrace the writer in you.” C.F. paced back and forth, the words flowed.
“It’s that simple?”
“Yes, but you have to do it.” C.F. said. “You have a great life, you must see how much love you have all around you. Embrace this new version of you, but give others a chance to get to know her. Everybody already loves her, they just have to get to know her…”
This is my introduction. I am Connie. A writer, who is a mother, wife, daughter, sister, friend. A writer, that is a teacher, a Brooklyn homegirl, a Colombiana- Americana. Damn it I’m writer! Come get to know me.