“Some people don’t know why they are put on earth,” said Yaffa Schlesinger. ”I do. To tell good stories, and to tell them well.”
Story is what saved me as a child. Countless books taken out of the public library as I became lost in the world of the chapters pressed together, and held sturdy by a spine. And, story is what saves me now. Hours spent writing on my laptop in a corner of my apartment, my face propped by the heel of my palm. Words long ago stuck in my throat, loosen, and unclog.
Mornings are the hardest. An assault of questions and request fired at me by Holden and Rubencito. What time will you be home from work? Can you pour me another cup of orange juice. Don’t forget my soccer practice ends later today. Do we have yogurt? We need more contact solution. I pad around my bedroom in acupuncture sandals, in an effort to combat the hands that have climbed up my chest and rest on my neck. The sun a thin glimmer out my window. I fix my bed, open up the towels on the mesedora in my room, and find solace in these simple acts, as the day awaits behind the windowpane.
Cafe con leche in hand, my husband sits propped on one of the arms of the sofa, the morning news on. I walk over to the kitchen, dressed, makeup applied, in search of caffeine. I look at the clock above the stove, not even seven am, and I feel besieged. Coffee in hand I make my way into the bathroom. The small stones of the acupuncture sandals pierce the bottom of my feet, and the two claws on my chest retract, some. The bathroom, my escape room since the early years of mothering, I suspect mothers across the world discovered this before me. I sit on the closed toilet seat, phone in hand. I scroll. First personal email, writer’s email, and last work email, this is the order I check most mornings, only five minutes alloted. I scan: a meeting to be reminded of, curriculum links, a message from a parent. Then, an email from a colleague about the latest essay on my blog.
I was just about to snap off my computer and your essay popped on my FB feed. I’m so BAD about reading anything on FB, (I just scroll), but just read it… SO good, Connie. SO GOOD and not just that, I can’t believe you are DOING IT, like writing so damn much. You have my total and complete admiration. Dayum girl.
I read it twice. Smiled. Resumed with the rest of my morning. D’s words surrounded my thoughts, as I kissed my husband good-bye, gulped the rest of my cafe, and washed the breakfast dishes. Wished my daughter a great day as she walked herself to school. SO GOOD, invaded my mind as I drove my son to school, and then turned on Fourth Avenue to drive myself to work. And, as I got closer to work I composed a list, never intended to be voiced to my colleague. Yeah! I must be good, I got into VONA twice, didn’t I? My writing mentor thinks highly of my writing, his words, not mine. I got into Christina Garcia’s Las Dos Brujas. Salvatore Scibona said I was a wonderful writer, surely he did not say that to many. I have a near complete manuscript. One of my blog essays back in August got over 160 plus readers. There was that editor from an imprint of Penguin that liked my sample writing. Also, the essay that was picked up by an anthology of Latina writers. Of course I was good! And, as quick as the cockiness overpowered me, so did the self-doubt. It wasn’t that impressive who was I kidding! Only later did I realize that the list was not for my colleague, but for me.
In high school I once wrote a poem about love. Inspired by Carlos I submitted it to an anthology in search of nation wide high school poets. Several weeks later I received a letter from the competition. My poem was accepted, and if I wanted a copy of the anthology a ten-dollar check was needed to cover the shipping and handling. Checks and credit cards were held with great suspicion by Mami, and a money order was sent instead. The anthology came in a huge manilla envelope with a generic congratulations letter. Excited to see my words in print I tore the package open. Bible thick, a cover like melted rainbow ice from the pizzeria, a swirl of colors, more blue. I searched for my poem and flipped through the pages like a mad woman. My fourteen line poem in the corner of a page. Name underneath. Read and re read that poem several times that day, clutched it to my chest, sure that it was the first of many.
That was twenty three years ago. Decades have elapsed since then. My publishing credits are near nonexistence. What proof do I offer the world that I am a writer?
Another student wrote how her grandfather told his dying wife a funny tale so she could make God laugh. ”It’s gold!” Ms. Schlesinger said. ”
Mid college one of my sociology essays became part of an anthology. My professor, Yaffa Schlesinger whose class, Introduction Sociology, I took my second semester at Hunter College. Mesmerized by Yaffa’s lectures and passion for art, life, and teaching I became a groupie. I took several of her classes over the next four years. Quoted her to friends, and waited for them to marvel at her wisdom. And when they did I unleashed more pearls at their feet, but when they shrugged their shoulders, I scooped back Yaffa’s discarded words. Overjoyed by her selection of one of my essays, an interview of my paternal grandfather. Embellished and decorated to sound better than the real thing, I wrote what I thought it should be. I confessed to her after class that I wanted to be a writer. That I wrote fiction.
“It was a great essay,” Yaffa nodded.
“I have a story I’m working on, would you read it?” I rushed to ask.
“It will be my pleasure,” Yaffa smiled. She tucked her short brown hair bob behind her ears.
“I will bring it to you next class.” I said and with my books pressed close to my chest, and my back pack heavy on my shoulders I skipped out of that classroom. “I’m going to be a writer one day,” I whispered to myself.
Next class I brought the first pages of what would later become my first manuscript. Delighted I slipped them into a blue folder and placed them on her desk. Days later she returned the folder back to me, and once I walked out of the classroom I pulled out the pages and looked through them. Yaffa marked them with words like: nice, lovely image, great description, and at the bottom she wrote: Keep Writing! Disappointed I wanted more. Now, I understand what I craved at that moment was something Yaffa could not give me. But, what I needed the most, to believe. I needed to give myself that, believe that I could tell stories. And be a writer.
This week I spent my drives to and from work listening to videos from writers on writing. Stephen King’s thoughts on writing, And, Keyese Laymon. I also listened to J.K. Rowling. This is how I armored up to protect the creative soul housed in my body. The one that has to deal with staff meetings, writing report cards comments, laundry, an evening of trick or treating, my son’s homework, lesson plans, chats with my daughter about makeup and boys and life, trips to soccer practice, phone calls to my Tia Lola, best friend, and sister. Because everyone one of those things mentioned must be done. I am a mother, wife, a teacher, a daughter, sister, a friend. And, sometimes writing is paused, and unlike before I’m vigilant for bits of time when I can take my finger off the pause button. I now write because I cannot not write.
And, on a day like today that I was able to read a lot about writing, work on this essay here, and read Yesenia, my home girl’s short story and offer feedback. I cannot think of anything better, writing in between house chores, a dinner of gyros, and reading beautiful work that make me think, me too. And, I think of my writing, my words are good. Maybe even, so good, but I know believing is the hardest. But, I have started to believe.