Over the past few months so much has changed for me personally. I feel like I’ve awakened to a new and improved self but only after a very painful beat down, a humiliation really. But I see things so much clearer now. It was necessary and worth it.
I didn’t see it until all of this happened – “all of this” being the isolation of Covid19 and the social unrest of what has always been issues in my personal life regarding race – but has come to the forefront lately because of the non-chalant killing of yet another soul, this time, George Floyd. – what I didn’t realize was how much I restrained my voice whenever I created or spoke particularly to an audience that tended to be White.
As I write that sentence, I feel a knife piercing my creative soul. How could I have ever restrained myself? My voice. My truth. Why would I ever do that?
It’s subconscious. It is not intentional. This is what racism or any “ism” has the power to do – it changes how we interact in the world because fear dominates that initial interaction. The creative process is mitigated by fear of not being heard “correctly”. Dismissed by bias. Fear stifles our honest voice to generate truthful work.
How did I notice this? Well, it’s been having conversations in person but also on social media during this volatile time in our world. Sending emails and tweets back and forth between people of different races and noticing how easy it was to write one tweet or email, verses another. Feeling my comfort level change instantaneously when writing to “Becky” verses when writing to “Chantel”. I tend to have less regard for how Black folk or People of Color view my words than White folk because I know Black folk (POC) will “GET” me. I hate to admit this, but it’s been like this my entire life.
Now, some of this may seem clearly also cultural. I mean, when I speak Spanish with family that’s because we all grew up speaking Spanish and so we “get” each other. There’s a comfort there. But that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about just straight up writing and not being worried about if I’m “writing this easily for White people to digest and not to get too upset by it” kind of thing. Making sure I don’t use certain words that may push “readers” away – and when I say “readers” what I really mean is White folk who might buy my book if they’re not too offended.
It is not my intention to not share the true breadth of my talent. But I share this revelation because for me, it is a profound turning point in my work as an artist, as a creator, as a writer. I didn’t know I was doing it. I share it because racism is infused in every part of our society so much so that we don’t even realize how much it has constricted our voices. All of our voices. What have you learned during this time about your creative self? Have you been stifled?
So much time is spent on hating and “other-ising” that the counter punch to that hate is always trying to get people to understand they have nothing to fear from me or others like me. And yet as much as I scream, I still have to mold myself, package and pretty myself to make it palatable and likeable enough so you might be willing to understand just a piece of the real me…
I won’t do it anymore. This is me in freedom. This writing voice of mine.
You’ve been warned.
*This blog post is part of the #AuthorsToolboxBlogHop. If you’d like more information please check out the link.
If one more person asks me how to be an ally, I’m gonna…
I’m gonna help.
So how can you be a better ally to people of color as a writer or creative person? I’m gonna give you the same answer I keep giving every other person who asks: Listen. Be considerate. Be open to learning more. And remember, it’s not about how you FEEL, it’s about THEM.
If you feel uncomfortable right now, then you’re doing it right. If you don’t know what to say, what to write… good. I don’t say this to be cruel but I’ve been uncomfortable for most of my life, so if you’re finally feeling uncomfortable about racism, you’re probably on the right path. We’re all mostly on the same page now.
Honestly, being an ally just means being a good person who cares about other human beings. Period. But I get that it can be a scary and confusing time for people. All people. I’m here to help.
Maybe an example can clarify this for you. Hear me out.
When marriage equality was an issue for the LGBTQ+ community, I didn’t sit back and wonder “how can I be an ally?” It didn’t even dawn on me to ask the question. I didn’t call up every person I knew who happened to be Gay or Lesbian and ask them, “Is there something I can do to help?” I’m not part of the LGBTQ+ community and I have no real idea what they’ve gone through as individuals – but I’m sympathetic because I value them as human beings fully and completely. I have much empathy for any LGBTQ+ person being treated badly or wronged in any way. Even if I don’t understand all of the complexities of their particular “ism” – when I SEE hurt, I understand it as PAIN and I react accordingly.
So, why is it so easy for me to relate to the LGBTQ+ community and act as an ally when it may be hard for White folk to know what to do during this horrible time in our country regarding police brutality, Black folk and race relations?
Well, part of the reason could be that I grew up around people who were gay and lesbian. I was a dancer as a kid and most of my instructors and dance mates were gay or lesbian. I was comfortable around people who were not “heterosexual”. I also frequented many clubs as a dancer. Transgender folk didn’t scare me probably because I didn’t understand it fully and Drag Queens were performers to be envied and revered. I didn’t see them as “other” or less than me – not subconsciously or ever. When you know different people, it makes it harder to dismiss them for any reason.
But still. It’s hard to know what to do to help. Especially if you don’t know Black people or people of color in general. Even if you do know — it’s a tough time. I mean, I get it. I completely appreciate the want and the need to know. So, here’s what I did.
First, I listened. Listening to people is always a good place to start. As writers, actors and creative folk in general, we’re observers, so listening is easy. And when I didn’t understand something like the plus (+) sign or what the “Q” means at the end of the acronym “LGBTQ+”, I used Google to figure it out. So second on the list, is research. When I had a question, I first tried to learn what it meant on my own so I didn’t burden my friends who were going through a difficult situation. Timing is a thing people! There is a time and place to ask questions – be sensitive and choose wisely. Again, don’t make it about you and what you need. Instead, observe, listen, learn and research. When people are crying and protesting over the murder of George Floyd, it’s probably not a good time to ask what you can do. Instead, just be supportive. Listen. Listen. Listen.
The most important thing I did to be an ally was to make sure other people in my circle were aware of my standards regarding the subject regardless of how intricately I understood the subject. These are common things I said during the whole California “same-sex marriage” time period in 2008, to people in my life. Family and friends:
“No, you will not use that kind of language to talk about Gay people like that in my house.”
“No, we cannot be friends if you have a problem with Gay & Lesbian people.”
“If you don’t like the idea of a Pride Parade, you don’t have to go to one. I don’t go to the Tournament of Roses parade and I don’t make loud announcements about it. I just choose not to participate.”
“Are you sure you want to use the Bible as your evidence for why two men can’t marry? Okay. But do me a favor and watch this clip. It says it so much better than I ever could – but if you still want to argue your discomfort with the Gay community by using Bible verses, let me know. I have twelve years of Catholic school under my belt and like Martin Sheen’s character in this West Wing scene, I’ve read my Bible from cover to cover so…we can go there if you want too…let me know when you’re done.”
“Honestly, I don’t know what being Gay has to do with raising a child. I was raised by a single mom till 11 and then raised by a neighborhood of people that included gang members, teachers and coaches. I turned out just fine. But clearly, you’ve never met a foster child who’s been in the system, have you?”
I could go on and on…
My point is this: as writers, as creators, as storytellers, you have the sensitivity and the ability to be an ally just by being compassionate. Then, you can use your voice loudly to be an advocate. You don’t need to walk in my shoes or know my every emotional thought about the President, the protests, the murders, the police, etc., to be a good and decent person – to be an ally. You don’t have to write about Black people or develop new characters based on something you don’t know – that would go against that one principle of always ‘writing what you know’ and probably turn out pretty bad. My question would be, why don’t you know more people of color? It may be where you live, it may be part of your upbringing, but then do THAT – change THAT! Get to know people of color. Do your research. Ask questions – yes, at the appropriate times. Read books and articles from artists who are NOT like you! My goodness, if you can’t name at least 10 authors who are people of color, then yes, you have some work to do.
Being an ally, just means being a good person. That means, understanding that you may have possibly never valued Black life as much as your own. It’s nothing you did wrong, it’s just part of a systemic angst our country was built on. No one is blaming you personally or hating you for being White. No one. What we are screaming about is that by doing nothing about the systematic racism and oppression that exists in our country and even at times, denying it’s truth (even when you have video proof), yes you are contributing to the pain of so many people – and that, we will no longer allow. Its just not in anyone’s best interest. It really isn’t.
Look, I’m here. I’m happy to answer whatever questions I can. I may not have all the answers and I’m certainly not speaking for all people of color, but I’m listening and learning too. One of the most recent things I’ve done is reach out to White male friends and ask them questions about what’s happening right now, and seeing how they’re doing – honestly, I think they’re stunned that someone’s asking. But yeah, we’re all in this together. And the only way we’re going to get through it, is if we keep having the conversations…
My book Canela, is at its core a book about people being “allies”. Remember, being an “ally” is just the new trendy way of saying, loving thy neighbor. When we can see each other as worthy and precious, taking care of your fellow human being, standing up for them when they need help and valuing them, becomes real easy and natural to do.
I may not know much, but I still have faith in the best of who we all can be…
Thanks for stopping by. This has been a post I’ve included in my Author Toolbox Blog Hop. If you’d like more information on this writer’s group please visit:
My first book was not intentional. After receiving a large bonus check from the company I worked for at the time, that basically amounted to more money than my mother had probably made her entire life, I realized I hadn’t gotten here on my own. I wanted to reach out to everyone who had helped me. The process started out as a series of letters to specific individuals I wanted to thank for helping raise me after my mom passed away. I posted one of these “letters” onto my website and after receiving much encouragement from friends and strangers, I went through the creative process of finding a way to weave a connective thread through all the letters. That’s how my first book Canela came into existence.
Now, I’m writing my second book. This time, it’s very intentional. The story continues on in the same vein, a “fictionalized memoir” – authentically true moments, captured in a chapter – spliced with other moments and/or characters to make a bigger point. But this time, it feels a harder. It IS a harder.
I’m still writing what I know and what I want to write, but my head now knows it’s for other “readers” or anyone who wants to read it. When I wrote Canela, each “chapter” was specifically a letter to one person. The entire book is me having a conversation with one person. Taking those letters and going back and weaving together all the stories to make them into chapters was actually the part I enjoyed most, even though it was the most difficult.
So, because I’m an “author” now and deemed a “real writer”, I’ve been studying and considering all the ways to go about writing this second book. You know, more professionally. More organized. Like a real writer would. The best way to do that is to learn from the masters, right? Read what they wrote, read all that I can about how to write, how to develop a story, how to create characters…
Damn, if I didn’t just get all messed up in my head real quick! Doubt set in almost immediately. I was waking up at night wondering, why am I even bothering? I never said I was a writer! I’m a friggin’ dancer. A performer. A goddamn financial adviser on my worst days. Writing? When did I start writing “professionally”? I already wrote one book. I can tick that off my stupid-ass bucket list, which seems to have things on it I never wanted to accomplish! “Author” wasn’t even ON my bucket list – so yeah, I’m done! WTF? Why am I putting myself through this again? I’m not a writer. I can’t do this anymore…
I’m gonna go off on a tangent here but there’s a point. I got hung up on these four male characters. Real men in my life at one point or another – honestly, it’s not even really about them per se, but about my ability to write and portray them “correctly”. The problem of course, is that while I’m writing, I’m learning about my own “isms” and it’s becoming emotional. There’s so much self-analysis in the process. This is part of what I’ve been contemplating: the thing that makes a person (character) attractive visually is not the same thing that makes a person (character) attractive for real.
What does that mean exactly?
Well, we all know someone who is physically stunning, but the minute they open their mouth or a crisis appears, they reveal their true colors and somehow all that “beauty” you thought they had disappears instantaneously. That’s easy. But how do I write that for each individual person (character) in the scene/situation? To make it even more annoying, as I’m clearly over-thinking this writing process, I realize I’ve dated some major assholes in my life – regardless of how “pretty” they may have been! Since I’m the common denominator in all my relationships, clearly that says more about me than it does about them, right… Ugghh! But I digress!
And down the rabbit hole we go…
I got so hung up on “character development” that I ended up over-analyzing who these men were that I honestly just couldn’t write. It was emotionally draining. I just had to put the pen down.
There’s a lot going in our world for sure, but this wasn’t about that. I got stuck. I got sad. I then reinforced the idea that I wasn’t a writer anyways, because look – I can’t even figure this out. So, see? Why. Am. I. Bothering. With.This?
Then, there are signs. Whether you believe in it or not, when you’re least expecting it, even if you’re not hoping for it – you get knocked upside the head with an idea, with a solution, or just a reminder.
Jonathan Capehart, an American journalist for the Washington Post and also an MSNBC contributor, posted his latest podcast on Twitter that featured the magnificent Billy Porter. Let me be clear: I don’t listen to podcasts EVER. I am the ONE person on the planet who does not enjoy listening when I can watch or better yet, when I can read. I don’t know what it is, but whenever I try and listen to a podcast my mind wanders and I’m off doing something else. I really have tried. I hate that I don’t enjoy them. It’s just not my thing. Until yesterday.
I’m not a crazed fan of Jonathan Capehart’s or of Billy Porter – both of these men are just fabulous at what they do and I have much respect. And for whatever reason, (SIGN. SIGN. SIGN.) I clicked on the link, thinking it was a written article by Mr. Capehart and when I realized it was a podcast, just listened to it.
In 30 minutes, I changed my whole perspective on writing my book. Again, the podcast is not about writing at all. Honestly, it’s just a wonderful interview with Billy Porter. But Billy Porter said more than a few things that just rang true to my soul – the most impact to my creative heart was this:
“Your authenticity is your service…lean into that…”
My authenticity. It’s not only good enough, it’s needed! How I write a book, how I go about the process, however I choose to make it fit, is exactly what I’m here on the planet to do. I don’t need to be like anyone else. I don’t need to write like anyone else. I can’t. I’ll be unhappy. I’ll surely fail. But if I want to be of real service to the world, to my community, to myself, then I need to be authentically me. That means being okay with HOW I write and how I go about the process of writing, creating, producing whatever it is.
I am a writer. I’ve written for as long as I can remember. It has been my therapy, my best friend, my sounding board, my comfort. Writing is part of who I am. Just like being a performer, a dancer, an actor, will always be the best parts of me. It doesn’t matter the level of money I’ve received for my service, what matters is that being authentically me and sharing THAT with the world is my contribution. My talent, my greatness doesn’t lie in how I copy someone else’s work, but instead how I learn all that I can to be my best self and share all of me as best I can.
As far as writing those four beautiful men into fully developed characters…well, I was able to flesh out much more easily their entire ethos once I stopped trying to write like everyone else. Once I stopped beating myself up for being and writing like ME.
I’ve got so much work to do. I honestly didn’t intend to write this much today, but at least now I can share this with the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop. That makes me happy. For anyone reading this who doesn’t know about this Group, please click on the link and check it out. If you are a writer – this may be a great group for you to be a part of.
In the meantime, if you did listen to the Jonathan’s podcast, you’ll know he made reference to this clip. Oh, what joy! I really am all about the JOY. And if you don’t know who Billy Porter is, find out – but also, watch this and enjoy true talent. This really is a beautiful soul creating authentically some fierce JOY. What an artist!
It’s always comforting to look back and see what you’ve been able to endure. But while you’re going through it – whatever it is in the present moment, it really does feel unbearable.
There are gut wrenching moments like the break-up of a “true” love or when someone close to you dies unexpectedly like a parent or a friend. Those moments are deeply painful and seem impossible to get through while you’re in it. Of course, once we muddle our way through and a little time passes, we realize it was “bearable” after-all.
I moved out to Los Angeles right after college. I came to the City of Angels not knowing a soul, having no place to live and exactly $800 dollars in my pocket. I remember counting the crisp 100 dollar bills over and over again right when I got off the plane – somehow hoping there’d be more if I kept counting. The fear I had in my belly that crept up to my chest was intense, but there was also a tinge of excitement. The move from Boston wasn’t just an adventure, it was a much-needed life change. In my head, I was reclaiming a life that had been ripped away from me for so many reasons. The most important reason: I was supposed to be a dancer but instead went to college. Moving to Los Angeles was compensation to finding my way to where I was supposed to be anyways. Righting a wrong sort of speak. That scary time in my life was about leaping into a new world to make myself whole. Mission accomplished by the way…
Another vivid time in my life where I remember being scared was years ago before online dating was the mainstream thing it is now. I started talking to a guy on yahoo personals. Yaaaas, it was THAT long ago. The site no longer exists. This was before everyone had webcams – instant messaging was the “cool” thing – and yeah, back then, online dating was an embarrassment. No one admitted to using it. Honestly, I’m still amazed I was on the site myself back then. I’m a lot of things, being a “trailblazer” is NOT one of them. But online dating was new and I remember deciding to take the leap and agreeing to meet this man I’d been talking to for months. The thing is, I had to fly to another state to do it. Even as I write that I realize how fearless I was. Or stupid. Stupid is probably the right word there. I’d taken every precaution necessary and controlled the situation as much as I could – and yet, I remember that fear too. It was the fear of putting myself in a dangerous situation with a stranger who could have been a serial killer mixed with the possibility of meeting “the one”. In my head it was that stark: He’d either be a bad person or the one. Ha! Well, fast forward to him clearly not being a serial killer. But I remember that gnawing pit in my stomach – that incredible fear in my belly as I made my way to the airport to see him. Luckily for me, he turned out to be a decent guy, a good man. We’ve worked together over the years – but the dread of thinking I’d made a mistake getting on that plane years ago to meet a stranger…I still remember that gut-wrenching knot of uncertainty like it was yesterday.
Dread mixed with uncertainty. Moving to Los Angeles on my own and yeah, meeting a stranger in another state. In a lot of ways, it’s the same feeling I’m having nowadays during this Covid time. And yet, it’s something deeper – more painful…
Even with things that were out of my control or bigger than my personal decision making, like 9/11 or the Challenger Disaster, straight up fear and dread is crippling. Not being in control of what’s next is hard for most human beings. 9/11 touched me personally in that I lost a college friend – Cesar Murrillo – in the twin towers who I’d just spoken to on the phone a week before. And although I didn’t know anyone personally on the Space Shuttle Challenger – I was a teenager and remember exactly where I was when it happened. I’d just gotten off a bus in downtown Boston and everyone was talking about it. I’ll never forget the panic faces. The tone of sadness in everyone’s voices. Collective despair. Again, that familiar fear of dread. Unknowing. No control.
We’ve all been in challenging and scary situations at one point or another. And each time although it may be a different circumstance, that belly fear is the same. While we’re IN IT and no matter how many times we experience it, it’s uncomfortable and confusing. You’d think that being scared on a semi regular basis would make us less prone to reacting to it the way we do, but no. Fear, unlike confidence, is not a welcomed feeling to the human spirit. We never get used to it no matter how many times we experience it. And that’s a good thing actually. Fear helps us know when something is wrong, gives us an ability to reassess and re-consider things. And yet, fear still sucks. Straight up. I don’t care how important and unavoidable a feeling it is to the human psyche – I hate feeling like this!
The one thing I do know for sure about all of these fearful moments is We Do Get Through It. We endure. We get to the other side. This damn little light of mine keeps searching through the darkness always looking for the light. That has always been my super-power. No matter what comes our way, no matter how tragic, no matter how disappointing or dreadful, we persevere. The human spirit survives anyways.
One of my favorite quotes that I’ve written way too many times is by Winston Churchill. It’s simple, but so tangible especially in this particular moment:
“If you’re going through hell, keep going.”
Don’t stay in one place, keep moving forward, find the light – it’s the only way to get out – keep walking through to the other side…
Don’t get me wrong, it’s hard to see the light or positivity especially when we’re lacking leadership, people are losing jobs, there’s no income, no end in sight, and the death toll is an everyday occurrence in mind-numbing numbers. Being isolated doesn’t help either… and yet, we can do this! We can get through this. Together.
I find joy in the littlest of things. The kindness of early morning walkers waving to say good morning because masks cover their smiles. The act of people clapping on their balconies at 7pm at night to honor those on the frontlines or people being kind to cashiers and delivery people – it’s good to finally see, all of us finding our way to being nice to one another.
I take joy and much needed comfort in reconnecting with old friends on zoom, by phone and the like – and yes, even that “man” I flew to meet long ago named Robert on Yahoo personals who is still a friend today. Finding happiness in little moments daily against the large dark clouds feels insignificant as I write it, but all you need is a little tiny light in a dark room to brighten the entire space. I’ll continue to take the little moments and shine anyways…
We’re going through a difficult time. Yes, it’s scary. I’m not pretending it’s an easy trek. I’ve never been down this road before either. Personally, it’s a combination of dread, loss of control and an adventure I don’t want to be on. To be honest, I fall twice a day and cry every other – but when the tears let up, I get back up on my feet, wipe my eyes and look for hope. That’s the light. Choose to hold onto that. We will endure.
Friday, March 27th, 2020 – 6:24pm – The Ending Of my Challenge.
The good news is, in so many ways, my 30-day challenge, that I only ½ completed, was a great success. It pushed me to write at times I’ve never written before. That was huge. Breaking out of my systematic way of writing by hand and then transferring written work to a digital format was/is time consuming. I feel comfortable in saying, I don’t need to do that anymore. Don’t get me wrong, I still prefer to write with pen and paper, especially when it comes to my journal or writing the first draft of my second book, but I’m not against writing straight from keyboard anymore. In that sense, mission accomplished!
My failure is that this coronavirus situation in our country and world has done me in something fierce.
Emotionally, I’m an absolute mess. I’m keeping it together, mostly for my friends and family. I have family who work in hospitals and clearly we’ve all heard the horrible circumstances they’re dealing with just not having enough of the basic equipment and gear (PPE’s) to do their jobs. But there’s also a mental toll they’re taking on. Watching people die. That’s hard at any time. Sure, it’s part of their jobs but it’s never easy. It’s made even harder because it’s continuous. And, I’m sure, some people would not die during this pandemic if we had been more prepared. If our government…
I can’t even go there. This is not about THAT. My point is, being there for my friends & family on the front line as best I can – listening to them when they finish a shift, is what I can do to help them. But hearing them vent and just watching the toll it’s taking on them has been heart-wrenching to say the least. I don’t let them know I’m crying, I want to be strong for them. But inside I’m dying. And when I finish the call, I cry. Deeply. And then I move onward.
I have friends – mi familia – with young children who’ve never had to spend this much time with them regularly. In one way, it’s very funny. I remember these friends wanting so desperately to have children. And of course, they love their kids, but yeah, damn! I couldn’t spend that much time with a 6 year old either, let alone 4 of them. I’ve done my best to answer every call and be the “Auntie” who’ll talk to the kids for a bit on WhatsAPP or Skype or Zoom just to give mom or dad a break. I mean it’s not much, but it’s what I can do to help. Again, I don’t share how bad I feel for them – but after I’m done, I say a prayer for all them.
I have a couple of friends whose marriages were on the rocks to begin with but now this situation is making it even worse in a lot of ways. Relationships are hard always. Harder when you’re basically in quarantine and your responsibility is to your kids. So… I’m happy to hear them vent too. One of my friends shared a glass (or bottle actually) of wine over Zoom. I literally watched her get drunk via video cam, all while she complained about her fiancé. Yikes!
I’ve also had to revamp my own job/business. Like everyone else, I’ve been considering long-term changes to my own industry and possible job/client loss and adjusting accordingly. It’s tough. I’ve seen major businesses get stuck in this and I’ve heard small business owners and CEO’s cry because they had to let their staff go and can’t pay them anything because they have no sales to cover the costs. Better to let them file for unemployment… It’s been sad to listen too and yet I continue to do my job as well – even though I know I’m not getting paid either. It’s the right thing to do.
My epic failure, if you will, is not being able to finish the challenge because by the time 9pm rolls around and I eat my dinner and think about my writing challenge, I end up falling asleep – lately on the couch, with the TV on, watching some show I was sure to start binging, humming in the background.
So, I’m okay with finishing my 30-day challenge today. I didn’t complete it, but I accomplished my goals and for that I’m so grateful.
More importantly, I’m so blessed to have so many friends and family who feel comfortable to talk to me or reach out to me when they need a hand. I wish it were like normal times where life was just doing it’s thing and we were all hanging out together because that’s what people do – but this works too. Our true character is tested not when things are easy, but when things are hard. And so far, I think I’m doing okay.