a bit of sunlight
As a creative, your work is often enlaced with who you are. If you are to create with authenticity, then whatever happens in your deepest self — the moments of upheaval, stillness, darkness — will demand expression in your work.
There is a boundary between the intimately personal & what we share in public spaces. Yet creativity holds the promise of a liminal space — a fire escape, as Ocean Vuong proposes in this essay from 2014.
Creative work can be that space where the rawness of being human is given a voice, invited into full expression. For this to happen, we have to loosen our grasp around what is “respectable” for public display.
In this post, I share creative writing I’ve been working on over the past year, including two poems from my senior capstone (a 38-page manuscript of poetry, most of which I've only shared with my advisors).
These pieces explore themes of womanhood, hope, sadness, & being a writer. Over the next week, I’ll return to this post & continue to revise.
Some of these might seem "too dark." All I can say is, if I were to write anything else at this point, it would be white noise.
and I think that’s the great crisis of the first & second generation: the first generation made it here, & to live at all is such a privilege... to work, fade away, get your meals, and live a quiet life. And I think the second generation, the great conundrum there, the great paradox, is that they want to be seen. They want to make something. And what a better way to make something and fill yourself with agency than to be an artist? So many of us immigrant children end up betraying our parents in order to subversively achieve our parents’ dreams.
~ Ocean Vuong, from the podcast “On Being” hosted by Krista Tippett
An address to restlessness
My next tattoo was an address to restlessness. An insatiable impatience with the passage of time. Far from the scrupulous introspection behind my first tattoo, I rushed into a concept both classic & cliché: a golden rose and the word for hope in Spanish. In this word, you hear the word for wait, espera. In English, esperanza means, “Wait in hope.”
One of my lolas, her middle name was Esperanza. My other lola’s name was Rosana. Born of restlessness, this became a gesture towards these women to whom I owe my existence. One of whom died before I was born. The other I remember, suffering from dementia in the last years of her life.
Left to imagine, I imagine them frowning upon the permanence of this decision. Their gazes trace the lines of my tattoo with disapproval. Our religion condones this, but not our respectability.
Left to imagine, I imagine them as women my age. In the warmth of their voices, I learn to hear my own. In the buried days of their youth, I trace the effervescence, ephemerality, esperanza, of my own.
[a young woman works behind a bakery counter]
Sometimes, a little girl waltzes clumsily through the bakery, ushered in by her parents. Her presence, pure light. How bizarre and saddening that she, too, will grow up, come to know the heaviness of being a woman.
If only she could stay as she is.
But perhaps in growing, she will meet heaviness with bravery. Perhaps in breaking, she will become strong. Perhaps, in tasting hopelessness, she will learn to heal.
In my next life make me a thin white woman
Every man I fall for ends up choosing
a thin white woman
with sparkling eyes — with stern eyes — shadowy eyes
who has learned to sip
a never-ending stream of attention
like red wine — like honey — like coffee.
She breathes in desire like sunlight.
She has never tasted
the bitterness of seeing everyday
how her body will never be enough.
In my next life, make me a thin white woman,
whose breath has never felt heavy
from knowing her shame
dishonors her ancestors.
A thin white woman, surely,
has never starved to be chosen.
In my next life, make me her.
Is there such a woman?
[a brown-skinned woman sits in bitter cold and sunlight]
i am nourished by creative work because it is the merging of one truth into another: the truth of brokenness, into the truth of beauty. without any concern for function. without hiding from the heaviness within reality.
within a deepening awareness of destruction, i have misplaced the entirety of truth.
today, as when i wrote that “silence seems the only possible soundscape,” to assume positive energy seemed equivalent to ignorance of how this world is teeming with destruction.
in creative work, i find solace in believing beauty is enough.
like sunlight, i find it life-giving, awakening color inside my skin: the abandonment within this belief. the suspension of weight. a plunge into insisting, as if a little girl still, upon golden roses in a world otherwise colorless. not out of denial but because, one way or another, one must learn to live.
her laughter, rinsing air / sudden sunlight / effortless, thoughtless betrayal of / the lightness (willingness to break) it takes to become / so accustomed to / succumbing / to the act of / grasping for light (any means to sight) / behind broken windows / dusted in shadows / how uncanny, the ease she finds in / grieving