I find myself thinking about spaces and the creation of spaces. I also find myself thinking about what it means to create space and to fill up a space.
I know there are lots of people who have thought about this before, and this is probably a thought that I keep returning to and which I will inevitably return to time and again. But still, I wanted to put my thoughts on the page, because I don’t want to forget them. Someday, I may return to this page and say to myself: look, you said that and so you must not forget about it.
Anyway, today’s train of thought was prompted by a question one of my students raised about the anxiety they feel when they start to write. I took some time before replying because I was very much reminded of the anxiety that paralysed me and kept me from writing or putting out any words for a very long time.
So today, I revisited Gloria Anzualda’s essay “Speaking in Tongues: A Letter to Third World Women Writers”, and then I went and re-read Marjorie Evasco’s “The Other Voice: Reply to Anzualda”. Reading these two letters helped me to think about what to say to my student.
I had to think about my own struggle with different kinds of anxiety. In the beginning, writing and setting my stories in the setting of mountain culture, felt uncomfortable. I worried about whether I would be seen as commodifying culture and history. What if the stories I wrote strengthened a stereotype? What if people got angry at me for writing in this way? What if I failed to live up to expectations? What if I made a mistake?
There also was a time when I was angry at my failure to be content to just be someone who took care of the kids, cooked the food, cleaned house, washed and ironed clothes, and tended to the needs of a husband. There was always this struggle to find time, to find enough energy, to carve out space, to make my voice heard, and at the same time raise my kids, help provide for familial needs, and be the ideal partner/wife/daughter-in-law. Let me tell you already that I often felt like I was failing in spades.
In the period after my husband died, after my sister died, after my father died, I remember feeling stranded and bound by anxiety and fear. I was hobbled by trauma and grief and loss, and I thought that maybe I should just forget about writing.
But I think that writing, once it has taken hold of you, will not easily let you go.
I didn’t say all of these things to my student. (The above is about me and my student needs to know what will be helpful to them in their journey.)
Instead, I asked what it was that made them anxious about the writing. What is stopping you? and most importantly, what do you want to write about (not just aliens or other worlds, but the issues you want to tackle in your stories)?
Then, I told them about what it is that I do when I feel blocked.
These days, I find myself reading and rereading essays, books, fiction, nonfiction. I walk a lot and talk to myself out loud. I drink lots of tea. Eat chocolate on a regular basis, and I write as much as I can whenever I can in any form that feels right for the words that come to me.
I attached Gloria Anzualda’s essay and sent it off in the hope that Gloria’s words will inspire and encourage another young writer to keep on writing and making space.
(Saw this mushroom on one of the walks we talk sometime last year. Mushrooms are marvellous beings.)