Blurred Lines in Life & Writing

This is a different sort of post. I don’t know even know what to call it. A meditation, maybe? I’ve just been thinking a lot lately and chasing down my thoughts in circles, and I want to put some of it out there.

As a writer, I can divide my writing into “eras.” There are common themes, tropes, even similar characters that appear over and over again in every era. It’s like I’m constantly trying to work out the emotional knots in my brain. Repression has always been my response to trauma, and maybe that’s why all my anxiety and hurt gets channeled into my writing like this.

When my grandmother died in 2014, it was a trauma that took me three years to be able to talk about with anyone. It took another year and a half before I could acknowledge it publicly. But even as I kept my public silence, that grief found its way into my writing constantly. I had a “grandma” writing era.

I published “Red Tides” in my 2017 writing collection, In The Nucleus.

I’m so proud of this poem — “Red Tides.” I’m so proud of verbalizing a grief that took me three years to accept. But still, I’ve never read this poem out loud. I’ve never performed it, never even shared it with anyone outside of workshop or my closest friends and family. There is so much symbolism layered into this piece. The idea of picking it up and saying publicly, “These are the things that haunt me every day of my life” feels so daunting.

And then there’s my “family dynamics” era. For the past three years, everything I’ve written can be traced back to an obsession with family sagas and dysfunction. I can’t stop trying to heal these fictional families and bring them closure.

Anyway, the main point is this. The first half of 2019 was rough. It felt like my life imploded in the spring, which is a very dramatic way to describe it, but there it is. My relationship ended badly, and a friend violated my boundaries, and both incidents — and the resulting gossip — left me reeling.

After all that, now I can see myself entering a new era of writing, and you know what, I don’t like it. It’s true that I don’t really talk publicly about my personal life, but I’ve certainly put forth work that draws heavily from my personal life. And while I guarded my springtime drama from exposure online, I didn’t hesitate to pour all my confusion into my writing, giving so much of it to imaginary characters. But now I’m thinking maybe it’s possible to draw too much inspiration from your life.

I want to discuss this Instagram post for a second. This “within / without” piece was a poem I wrote the day after I decided my relationship had to end. It composed itself in the back of my mind as I drove to a creative writing workshop with Rios de la Luz. It’s half-fancy, half-nonfiction. (That workshop, by the way, was the safest space I’ve ever known. I was a little bit of a wreck, and everyone in that workshop was so welcoming and wonderful, and I had a creative breakthrough while there. 1000% recommend taking her workshop if you can!)

As for the double selfie pic that accompanied “within / without,” I’d been saving that for a while in the back of my Instagram folder. I took that mirror selfie on a night I felt beautiful and triumphant, on a night I felt supported in my relationship. The flipside of that feeling was that I hadn’t expected to feel supported. On my end, the pattern of my relationship was one of almost constant hurt and disappointment, especially toward the end. I was actually shocked the night didn’t end in me crying.

It was almost a week between my deciding to cut my ex out of my life completely and when I actually sat down for The Conversation. In those days between, though, this night when I took the mirror selfie is what I kept thinking of. I kept thinking, “You should’ve ended this the second you started expecting to be hurt instead of expecting to be loved.” Outwardly, I’d felt like a success that night, presenting my work to the world. Inside, I was a mess, walking on eggshells, trying not to make the whole situation hurt more than it already did. On this night, I didn’t recognize the person I’d become — someone who sat around begging for scraps of affection. I’d always thought I knew my value better than that.

I never knew I could feel so unworthy. And not to get all preachy, but no relationship, friendship, or acquaintance-ship should ever make you feel like that. I’ve always known that intellectually, but I’ve never experienced just how easy it is to convince yourself that it’s better to stay and keep trying to fix things.

Long story short, the breakup got finalized, for lack of a better word, and it was as over as it could ever be. At some point in the healing process, I wrote a short story in which I poured the last of my “that was a bad breakup” feelings. And by the end, I still felt raw and confused, but I felt more peaceful than I had since the relationship began. By giving my distress and my journey to a fictional woman, it became someone distant, something I could look at and say, “Yes, you do deserve better.” And I could forgive myself for my mistakes and for hurting as much as I was. That part of my dramatic spring was over, but then friendship drama stepped in to mess with my peace.

The friendship drama isn’t so simple. There isn’t a simple way to say, “You made me feel unsafe, and you crossed my boundaries in a way that I didn’t even know how to make you leave me alone.” And I tried to express that later, but my words were ignored. So my last resort was to avoid, avoid, avoid until the end of the academic year.

In a lot of ways, I don’t know if any of this will ever be over, social circles being what they are. But I know I want it to be over. I don’t want to keep re-opening this bottomless pit of anger that sits in my stomach. I’d like to let go.

All of this is to say, where is the line between reaching for understanding and sinking into self-mythologizing drama? My grandmother’s death felt like it really needed that much time to heal, and indeed, now that my grandfather has also died, that wound is open all over again. I’m living with unasked questions that will probably never get answers. But friendship and breakup drama? We’re all still here, stuck together. Doesn’t it just continue to hurt everyone if we — if can’t move past this? Even if it’s just in my writing.

I put together a Spotify playlist just for myself when I was still in the middle of everything, and I got stuck on Julia Michaels “Worst in Me.” It doesn’t match perfectly, but still, the dysfunction she sings about mirrored the dysfunction in my own life.

It’s what she says about writing this song that especially stands out to me. “There are some things that you don’t want to keep… reopening the wound, and every time I sing them, I do that. But every time I do, it makes me stronger, and it makes me grow.”

I don’t know how to feel about what she’s saying here. I understand all too well about reopening wounds because that’s exactly how I feel about continuing to put the emotions from my spring drama into my writing. When I keep rereading these poems I wrote about stolen agency and violated boundaries, it keeps me in this place where I feel angry, confused. More than anything, though, it keeps me feeling weak. It makes me feel weak to confront my own hurt. It’s such a relief to feel mostly just annoyed now that this is a couple of months later. It’s easier to be annoyed than to feel so hurt that I never want to see any of them again (which, okay, is also a little bit how I feel constantly, but at least it’s not the dominant feeling anymore).

I don’t feel like I get stronger by re-engaging with this subject matter continually in my writing. I feel weak. Does engaging this this hurt make me grow, or am I stunting myself?

It feels like a key difference between feeling strong and growing vs. weak and stunted might be how much you’re still living in that emotional place. I’m leaving behind all my springtime drama, but other things I can’t stop writing about — dysfunctional families, traumatic deaths, my own relationship to being Latina — are all things that are always surrounding me like a fog. So in those cases, writing about it brings clarity or comfort.

I took my time to heal, but now I’m sick of thinking about it. I’m sick of talking about it. I’m sick of this being the first thing anyone thinks of when they think of me.

So again, where is the line? I don’t really know, but I guess this is me drawing one.

Yes! to writing about emotional things that are still lurking around me with no easy answers. No! to writing about emotional things that it would better serve me to leave in the past.

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