First day at VONA. Staceyann asks us what the essence of our story is? What is your story about? i answer , it’s about my life and healing with the seasons. Her response, what the fuck does that mean?
Healing after VONA! 8 days later.
I needed space, any space, a space of healing after VONA. I was emotionally exhausted, tired at the core of my being. Walking around eyes wide shut seeing with my third eye things I had spent years not wanting to see. Fighting my little girl who wanted to be let out and find her voice among the pages of my book. I felt blind only able to see what I had disconnected from all these years. My adult self and my little girl playing tug of war in the back yard.My team made up of the characters of my past. I was in between countries, America that raised me and the Dominican Republic that gave birth to me, in between worlds, my spirit trying to soar and set me free in the ocean called my life and my ego looking good wanting to shop to protect me from the pain that would come if I stopped to remember.
VONA Day 2
Staceyann : “Tears give us water so we can swim across the shit we go through in our lives” With what voice are you writing your story? Who is writing your story? You must bring your heart into your memoir , you have to be emotionally present or get the fuck out.
Me: This is like a fucking healing circle for writers, I need florida water and sage.
Staceyann: Memoir writing is a very deliberate process, its always a compromise. You want what you put on paper and what the reader receives to be as close to the emotional truth your trying to tell. The reader can only feel what you are feeling, the only thing they dont feel is that which you the writer haven’t felt. You are Creating a universal language where non exist. The journey of writing a is memoir magical.
VONA, 8 days later, I hear slamming kitchen cabinets set to go off every morning without failure lasting about 2 hours even, from 5-7am in the morning 20 years in the making. I had forgotten how angry she was with me and the world.
VONA DAY 3…
ME: Entering the classroom with a box of tissues…
This workshop is deep and oh so healing for us all. Staceyann is taking no prisoners and getting to the heart of the matter of our stories. For as we all know that readers know when there is more to a story than what you are saying.
Staceyann: We are cued as human beings to hide the places we are most vulnerable in. That which you protect and defend so much is what you should be writing about. You the writer must achieve transparency or your reader will not trust you and put the book down.
The reader needs to locate us in a place that they can stand in solidarity with the writer, where they can be deeply emotionally aligned to the writer.
Staceyann: What makes a memoir memorable is if the reader feels like you are writing about their life( there is something in your story they recognize) or if the reader is like wholly shit I never heard or read some shit like that before. Writing a a memoir is about being at the intersection of something old and something new. When people read memoirs they imagine that this person is living this somewhere out there and through this book they have a sneek peek into your life.
VONA 8 days later, I needed to hold something, anything, I was falling while standing. I wanted to sleep but afraid that i would miss or remember something, anything. I was thirsty, I needed water but afraid i was going to drown in my own memories coming at me in hot flashes. i was turning old but growing young as they took over, nudging me on my shoulder, my inner child, my adolescent, do you remember now, remember this, remember that…alcohol, names, anger, fear!
VONA Day 3
Staceyann: so what pages do you want to read?
Me: page 6 and 8 and 9.
Me: Second attempt. My story is about a Dominican Lesbian journey of self love and healing from her mother leaving her when she was born towards a BOLD rebirth of her identity etc etc ………… Finish reading.
Staceyann: Fuck, I don’t recognize you in this story. I don’t see a little girl whose was born in a hospital, left and almost died. Fuck Man, what gives you the fucking right to tell this story? What gives you the right to tell the story of people who have not given you the right to tell their story? Why do you think you have the right to this story as your own?
Stacyann: I admire you but I don’t empathize with you. You don’t have anyone’s name in this story not your children, not your fathers or your name . Your protagonist is silent. Is it that you don’t want compassion?
Me: I don’t want any compassion from anyone!
Staceyann: What the fuck, I ain’t never heard someone say some shit like that?
Your memoir is your defense to the people about why you have a right to tell this story. What is unique about memoir writing is that you can’t make the shit up, its a story that you have already experienced. If it doesn’t exist then its a lie and if its a lie then it is non fiction, it’s not a memoir. In a memoir you have vixens and heroes, all types of characters from your life. But every story is a love story. Sometimes its an abusive love story, sometimes its a love story and then something tragic happens, sometimes its a love story that falls apart. Who are the characters in your love story?
Staceyann: What the fuck man! Nobody will thank you for writing this book!
Crying, healing, writing…..
VONA 8 days later. Death greeted our doors leaving post it notes of memories captured in time, telling us to not forget to write this in your book. Post its that represented pieces, parts of me in pieces of paper, parts of me dying dying slowly, pieces of my life scattered on the floor like a puzzle at first glance impossible to put together but once complete giving birth to a brand new me. I felt broken like a mirror that has been smashed into a million pieces but is in tact, whole but shattered. Between the tears I could see my reflection in every face I met. Searching, searching no longer for the write words, this was no longer a book but my life happening now in the present past.
VONA DAY 5
Staceyann: Recraft the kid, how did she become this adult?
Me: Flash of my mother slamming kitchen cabinets.
Staceyann: your adult self is re-interpreting the events to mean something and its coming out as a lot of commentary in your writing, this is all hind site cause in the moment when it was happening that was not what you where thinking.
Me: Flashback of being in my abusers car going to the supermarket when my dad died and my heart racing, hands touching the window so my mother can let me out, hearing the click of the locked doors, tears forming in my eyes as my mother reaches into her pocket to call me and talk to me all the way to the supermarket and back.
Staceyann: When you cant access your emotions you cannot ask your teen to talk about the child or access the adult to talk about the teen. You have to access the emotion of that present moment in their voice. You have to become that child.
Staceyann: There is a way that you are still a victim, so you cant even come to the rescue of this kid. You are so busy angry on her behalf that you cant even look at what happened to her, to you!
Staceyann: Why do you want to write this book?
Me: Questioning in my head: I am not sure I want to write this memoir anymore?
VONA 8 days later. They came to me 1, 2, 3, 4 and 6 eagles at a time. My hair flying in the wind, calling me to play, to pray, to cry, to heal. It was Pride in California and I was at Sutro Baths in San Francisco. Six Eagles singing my ancestors song, telling me its going to be okay, fly dee , fly! The ocean invited me to walk forward, my sisters hand told me I was not alone. The sun played peek a boo on my skin reminding that the journey was going to be both warm and cold. I stood at the top of the stairs and imagined what was beyond the water. I wondered if I could swim home from here. I needed nurturing, a mothers touch, a mothers hug and I knew I would only find it in the waves of the ocean as they crashed against my feet, cleansing my soul and welcoming me home. 1, 2,3,4 and 6 eagles reminding me to take my heart and gather my courage for the journey ahead. Writing this memoir was a gift and an opportunity to soar above this life I had created for myself. But I felt like I was at a crossroads, did I want to write this memoir and why? Why take myself on this journey? I know that if I put my fears aside and trusted my wings, I could fly above my life , I could see beyond the tapestry of experiences, emotions, people, places and things that shaped my sense of self above what is presently visible. But could I? Did I trust this red headed sister in front me with fire in her eyes, she asked us over and over again do we trust her? Standing in front of paradise, surrounded by earth, wind, water and fire , the question wasnt if I trusted her it was do i trust myself to tell this story as it happened. To get out of my own way and rescue this little girl with my words, tying knots on a rope that I can throw to her to pull her back to safety?
VONA Day 6.
Me: I have sage and florida water. Do we need to set up an altar?
Vona staff: Dressed in white, ” the other group already created one but you are more than welcome to bring an offering and add anything you want. Tears rolled down her eyes in solidarity with the sisters who had lost a loved one this week and the fact that she had to give us the news on the same day we were celebrating the completion of our VONA journey. She reminded me of me in New Orleans, 3 years later after hurricane Katrina. I was one of ten women dressed in white on a journey of healing among the dead and the resiliency of those still living. My ancestors told me the altar needed flowers so I picked them on my way to meeting. The smell of sage greeted me at the door, it took me back to the seventh ward where yellow Oshun cloth adorned the space and the altar we built for the courage and power we will need after the storms of our lives. White seven day candles burned on the four corners of the community for peace, remembrance and mourning. Today at VONA we where remembering those that had passed this week, the parts of us that had died with them too and celebrating theirs and our rebirth. It was the first day at VONA that I was sure about who I am.
Me: On behalf of Staceyann Chin and to bring humor to this moment, What the fuck man! Take a deep breath in making a sound that will get bigger every time you exhale. Scream for you , for love lost, for all those that cannot tell their stories. Be compassionate, leave the guilt, the doubt, the fear, the anger here, take back love. Grab the hand of the person next to you and know that you are not alone. We are writing to be seen and to be heard so, when you open your eyes turn to the person next to them, hug them and tell them you see them.
Me: Exhaling gratitude, inhaling love. I am home!
VONA 8 days later, I find peace in my sisters tears, in their stories, in the laughter we shared amongst the shadows creeping into our paper. My ancestors say that the eagle is a bird that brings illumination so we can love the shadows of former realities, as well as the light of the heart. It is when we see the beauty in both that we will take flight like the eagle. Staceyann says that our memoir is a love story, the question is with who? On this day at the beach, while the eagles sing and dance over my head I realize I came to VONA with clipped wings and left with mended wings. NOW I CAN FLY! I have permission to go back into my life without any apologies. What heals broken wings is love and you loved me unconditionally, I love you all. Thank you to all my sisters and brothers at VONA for loving me anyway!