Leave your soul on the page. Evelina Galang
Those were the words that struck me the most after my first experience at VONA, 2015. For two years, the words refused to peel themselves from me, certain there could be no better writing advice. But, then Evelina offered something else during VONA 2017. Words, not her own, but given to her, ones that moved me, and made me want to be brave.
Saturday night, my husband, daughter, son, and I went to a bookstore in The Lower East Side, called Blue Stockings. I left my daughter’s soccer game with a copy of Evelina’s Galang’s latest book, Lola’s House,tucked under my arm, ready to be signed by my two-time fiction VONA teacher. During the thirty minutes it took to drive from the soccer game in uptown Manhattan to the bookstore in lower Manhattan, I thought back to my week at VONA this past summer. The first time I saw a copy of Lola’s House, Evelina passed it around to the nine of us, whom made up her class, like a proud mother. Later that week Evelina read from Lola’s House at the at the faculty reading. And I recoiled as these Lolas, Filipina elders, recounted their stories, of abductions and rapes. Their brave souls seeped out of the book, and settled in my chest. Women raped over and over by Japanese soldiers during WWII, referred to as comfort women, these Lolas survived being sex slaves. I wondered how they could speak about their pain, tell their stories, and not collapse under the weight of it all.
My story, a love letter to myself, nowhere as harrowing and graphic, yet being unable to speak it, pressed itself into a sharp edge, and cut at me. No, greater ache than a story untold. And in order to tell my story, I had to look at the oppressed and oppressor in me, my interactions in the world as a woman. No, great crime, no torrid infedility, just a betrayl of self. All in my quest to be noticed and wanted, never seeing that the reflection I most wanted to see was my own.
Little by little it leaves your heart. Evelina Galang
On the last day of class at VONA 2017 I read my writer’s prayer, and overcome with emotions. I wept. Buckled by the weight of years spent policing my words, being silent, as I choked under all of the things that I have left unsaid. Swallowed. And when I looked up, Evelina quoted one of her Lolas’ words: little by little it leaves your heart. First in Tagalog, and then in English. Filled with relief I sighed, as the echoes of all the Lolas invaded my heart, and believed that one day I too would be brave.
But, bravery does not happen in one single act. It’s little bitty acts, which build on one another, and bulge like muscle. And the heart is just that, a muscle.
In the web page, Inner Body I found this definition of Cardiac muscle, and at first it read text-book and boring, but after a closer reading. I saw the poetry that is the human body, the heart itself, something of great beauty. Cardiac muscle tissue is an extremely specialized form of muscle tissue that has evolved to pump blood throughout the body. In fact, cardiac muscle is only found in the heart and makes up the bulk of the heart’s mass. The heart beats powerfully and continuously throughout an entire lifetime without any rest, so cardiac muscle has evolved to have incredibly high contractile strength and endurance. And because the heart maintains its own rhythm, cardiac muscle has developed the ability to quickly spread electrochemical signals so that all of the cells in the heart can contract together as a team….
The fact that the heart beats powerfully and without rest its entire life, and that in order to pump the way it does it relies on the cardiac muscle tissue. A muscle tissue, individualized and wrapped around the heart to be strong, be fierce. Hearts, are made to seem so fragile, shattered, broken, and achy with pain, but the heart, the heart is so much more. The heart can grow strong again as you release your pain, the muscle will stregnthen.
Upset and unsure about a particular situation, I set out on Friday to write an essay that I knew I could not share on this blog. Freed by the fact that my essay would not be seen by others, and would live in my laptop, I wrote my bravest essay. Uncensored, the dark shadows that creep alongside my soul and mind, found themselves on the page. I dug. And when I thought I had exposed this other side of myself, I worried I would no longer be able to find my way back to the Connie that tucks and hides. Ashamed of the layers that had fallen by my feet with every truth I typed, I looked for a penance.
Penance from my VONA sisters, Yesenia and Elizabeth. A writing trio, bonded by our roles as mothers, wives, Latinas, and writers. I sent out a batman signal in form of a messenger text: I just wrote the rawest essay ever. My bravest one. Can I send it to you both? Quick were the responses of: Yes! Of course. I warned them that it was deeply personal, that I trusted them with my writing. What I meant was, please don’t judge. I wanted to be brave, like the Lolas, because I believed, little by little it leaves your heart.
But, to write an essay that kicks ass, you must write that sentence that is hard. That line that you shrink back from, the one you don’t even whisper to yourself in the dark. Ann Hood’s Tin House podcast on How To Write A Kick Ass Essay lists among her Ten Commandments on essay writing, that writing brave is the road to writing those essays, which take the writer on a journey. The writer starts one way in the essay, but by the end they are someone altogether. And that is what I did.
After I wrote my last sentence Friday night, I hit save on my document, and shut my laptop down. The waves of truth forced me to stay awake. I waited for the relief to come. It didn’t, not until days later. Once truth and fear had been confronted. A new Connie has emerged since then, one not afraid to draft around the darkest corners of herself. And, yes little by little it leaves your heart.