Angelique Imani Rodriguez is a second generation Puerto Rican writer born and bred in the Bronx, NY. She double majored in Multi-Ethnic Literature and Multi-Ethnic Women and Gender Studies in the CUNY BA program at Hunter College in NYC. A 2014 VONA alumni as well as an alumni of both the Acentos Poetry workshops and the first round of Vanessa Martir’s Writing Our Lives workshop, her work has been published in the September 2014 VONA newsletter and the So To Speak Online Feminist Journal. Angelique is currently working on a collection of vignettes and continues writing for her blog www.penhittingpaper.wordpress.
I think that I am a fraud most of the time. That’s just how it is. I often sit with ideas scribbled in my journal and stare at them. I know it would only take a few hours of research and work to get what I need to write the piece and yet, I often just close the journal and procrastinate with distractions, wine, food, sex, social events. I am completely aware that in terms of my passion, I lack some discipline and it is why I often rely on my writing peeps to hold me accountable. They usually don’t and quite frankly, they don’t have to. Shit, they’re trying to hold themselves accountable for their own work. So, I journal and edit pieces that have been in edit stage for months, I read and re-read work I have written and tell myself , “This is not authentic. It is weak writing. It is shit.”
And then I write some more. Masochist, much?
Why do so many of us artists feel like what we accomplish, even if it’s just a journal entry, is not “real” work? Despite countless workshops, articles, and books encouraging us to be proud of the small steps, that encourage us to create these small steps in a ritualistic way, we so often tend to focus on just the producing, on submitting, on applying, on creating a brand for ourselves….we so often focus on the big screen of our dreams. This is not to say this is all bad, of course. To want to succeed in your passion is one of the most normal things in the world and to celebrate those successes is just as normal.
What I struggle with though, is the beat downs we administer to ourselves when we are not producing as fast as others, when we are not as productive as others. The self-loathing of not being “there” yet, wherever “there” is for us. We all do it. I have one writer friend who is a beast at producing work, constantly writing at all wee hours of the night, writing and writing and writing. I have another writer friend who is submission crazy…constantly submitting here and there and there and here. Both are amazing and accomplished writers and both have told me in their own ways that they don’t know how the other does it.
And here I am, asking what the hell is holding me back from it all? Welp, I am currently unemployed, looking for work with the shadows of way too many bills looming over me, selling some of my things in order to make too short ends meet, and struggling every day with anxiety attacks that leave me drained and exhausted. I can sit here and say all of that because it is my truth and my reality. I also sit here and beat myself up over all of those things, telling myself that I’m just using my circumstances as an excuse. Didn’t Frida Kahlo paint when she was completely bed-ridden? Didn’t she produce despite the shit going on? What’s holding me back from doing the same?
It’s the burrs.
When I was in high school, I, being the logophile I have always been, was in an AP English class, not that in hindsight, that shit means anything to me. But, back then, it meant everything. I handed in a paper on something, I forget on what, probably some Greek epic or some bullshit that I could care less for. But I was proud of it. So proud that when the teacher pulled me aside after class, I was sure he was going to applaud my work and tell me how good it was. Boy, was I wrong.
“This is weak writing, Ms. Rodriguez. I don’t know what you think you are capable of, but with this writing it must not be much.”
The words are often what I repeat to myself when I read my work: This is weak writing. This is weak writing.
There is always a moment in our lives, a word, a phrase, a glance that we take so personally, that we hold onto it and sabotage our lives with it. A moment that sticks to us like burrs and though we continue forward, this annoying little thing clings to us as we go, a reminder to never think too loftily of ourselves. Sometimes, we have no idea we’re carrying them.
It’s funny. I found this specific teacher on Facebook and actually praised him. Told him it is because of that day that I work so hard to become a “strong writer.” Now why would I go and do something like that? Because I do strive for that. I do want to be a strong writer. I can acknowledge that ugly moment as the moment I realized I was going to prove him wrong. He was thanked for giving me that. Nothing more.
I wonder if he realized that when he said that to me that he could have crushed my dreams and stunted my passion? I tell myself that when I have published my first book, he will cringe and feel remorseful. Remember those words he said to me and reflect on how wrong he was.
The reality is he won’t.
That’s the funny things about the burrs. We’re the only ones carrying them.
I have accomplished some things as a writer. Attended the Voices of Our Nations Arts workshops in June 2014, an essay I wrote was published in So To Speak Online Feminist Journal, I completed a nine-month writing workshop that left me with a decent chunk of a manuscript, and I am now reapplying for the VONA workshops in June 2015. I’ve done some work that I am extremely and utterly proud of, but yet, I still feel as if I haven’t done enough.
Reapplying to VONA is bringing those burrs all to light. I have changed and re-organized my work a million times. I have cried to my boyfriend and my friends about how horrible it is, how much I hate it, how lost I feel. I have shut down and avoided, I have called myself a hack and have decided to forego the application and then change my mind. Thankfully, I have until March to stop being such a pendeja about it.
The fear of rejection is definitely part of it. Now, if I don’t get into VONA, I won’t be too mad. Someone else who can benefit from the workshops, who has never experienced VONA for themselves, will get that chance in my absence if I am not accepted. But it’s not the rejection from the program that truly unsettles me. What bothers me, is that through that rejection, the rejection of my work that will drive a stake through my heart.
This is weak writing. This is weak writing.
I’ve told my boyfriend this. I have told my writing peeps this. They all give me the same look. It’s one that starts as a smirk because they just can’t believe that I, so confident and open for so many other things, could possibly think I am a no-good fraud of a writer. Then their eyes soften, they smile warmly, they offer encouragement, they offer love. Trust me, it’s like a snort of coke. It helps me escape momentarily, but that blinking cursor is that burr digging in my shoe. It’s still there.
This is weak writing. This is weak writing.
But, perhaps this part is the work, too.
This part. The shedding of the burrs. Perhaps, as Dr. Clarisa Pinkola Estes says, we need to realize that continuing the work, IS the work, no matter the process, no matter the production, no matter the length of time to get to our “theres.”
I’m going to stick with that. I should. I should stick with that.
This piece was originally published on Pen Hitting Paper.
Photo credit: “Sunday Morning Still Life” by Pen Waggener is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.