photo credit: Picasso’s Le Rêve (The Dream), 1932
“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” – Pablo Picasso
When I was growing up, I wrote through everything.
What I mean is, back then, I wrote through all of my childhood fears, disappointments, and shame. I wrote all of the time, despite any sadness; I wrote in bed, at school in the courtyard during lunch; I wrote in my living room after my family went to sleep; I wrote in tears, when my dad announced, “It’s none of your business where I’m going,” as he walked out of the door to see his new lover; I wrote sitting alone on the school bus, as I stared out the window and watched the viejitos sell giant avocados in the street. I wrote on Saturday mornings for fun, to pass time, to feel part of this world. I wrote because I was so often alone.
This is how I got by. This is how I learned the joy of writing.
The year my father went to prison, to cope, I scribbled short stories onto scraps of paper after school.
In 7th grade, when my weight exploded because my parents’ marriage was falling violently apart, and after my best friend started rumors about me at school, I wrote earnest poems that won me my first poetry slam.
In 8th grade, when my father moved out to be with the next door neighbor, I journaled quietly in my room and hid from my mother’s wailing. Instead of getting high and checking out like most of the kids in my neighborhood, I read books and kept a diary.
I will always believe that literature saves people.
Writing was always my exit strategy. It gave me solace, a guaranteed instant relief. When I was a kid, I wrote through every failure, every humiliation, and every small transgression that ever hurt me. The last Christmas Eve before my dad finally left for good, he didn’t come home for the holiday; he was out drunk with the neighbor again. That night, I wrote in my journal next to the sparkling Christmas tree and pet my dog until I fell asleep.
Today, at 30, it is much harder to write through my fears and insecurities. When I’m even slightly emotionally disturbed, I push the paper and pen away. I won’t even look at it. I’m often too afraid to dig in.
Now that I’m in an MFA program where I’m supposed to be writing like a motherfucker, I find myself resisting. I procrastinate. I make excuses; I think, God, I’m so stressed about money or Man, I have to read this book for class tomorrow.
Every day I wake up and wish I could still write like I did when I was 7, or 10, or 13.
The best part of writing when you’re a kid is that you don’t put the immobilizing pressure on yourself; you don’t carry that heavy backpack full of grief and anxiety that regularly weighs you down.
Writing isn’t so loaded when you’re very young; it’s not an obligation or a duty. If you grew up like me, you had no audience, no sense of publication, no adult obligations; there was nothing coming between you and the writing—a gift you can only appreciate in retrospect.
This year, I’d like to try my hardest to write like I did when I was a child: Freely. Fearlessly. And with love.
I will always miss those days the most. When I was 12, lying on the couch and scrawling words into my journal. Mami would walk in after a long day of work and say: “Que haces, Mi’ja? You writing something?”
“Yeah, Mama,” I’d say, smiling. “I just started a brand new story.”