I’ve been de-virginized

Here in the café. Haven’t slept much. My mind is a-whirl. I’m thinking about my Writing Our Lives Workshop yesterday and what I shared. How wonderfully the ubuntu philosophy works when applied to teaching. How sharing my humanity, my wounds, why I write, why I write memoir, helps my students open up, trust me, share and participate. Cry and release and trust themselves.

I go into a zone when I’m teaching. I surrender in a way that I sometimes wish I could do more regularly in my writing. And the more I teach, the more I realize (and share) that we’re all new jacks when it comes to the blank page, approaching a story, finishing it, editing it, preparing yourself to release it to the world.

I was de-virginized last week. Yes, I have a kid, my hymen was ruptured long ago, but this was a different kind of de-virginizing. I submitted my first memoir piece to a journal. Yes, yes, Hooray, I did. I did it though I was terrified. Because I was terrified. Because it’s time.

We writers have a strange, keep-myself-safe tendency of sequestering ourselves and our writing. Though I’m out in the writing world, teaching and sharing my stories, I confess that I’ve held back from submitting to journals. Porque? Because the rejection that is the nature of the submission process (for everyone) is something my soft heart wasn’t ready to handle. Not when it came to memoir. Not when it came to this journey. See, I’m scared. And I let this fear paralyze me for a long time. Not paralyze me from writing. That I’ve conquered. Or, rather, I conquer that fear every time I sit and write, because as I said before, we’re all new jacks when we sit down to write. No matter the honors and accolades. No matter how many times people have reached out and told us how amazing our stories are. No matter any of it. It’s a new confrontation every single time.

But I did let this fear paralyze me from submitting. See, with fiction I could detach. I could twist and turn the narrative. I could say, this isn’t me, this didn’t happen to me. No, no, no, imposible, that’s not my story. Though the truth is that in both my novels, the foundation, what I built the house on, was inspired by my truth. My experience. My heartbreak.

But in memoir, there’s no detachment. Sure, there is a fictional element. After all, I’m writing stories about my life. And memory is flawed. But I’m writing these stories as I remember them. I’m writing the truth of how it felt to have a knife held to me by my mother. The truth of how Millie loved and protected me. The truth of the resentment I carried (and, I confess, still carry some semblance of) for so very long. How I blamed myself for 29 years for being molested at 6. How having my daughter has brought so many memories flooding back. Like the other day, when she was struggling with her multiplication tables, I taught her a trick, she smiled with satisfaction, and my memory ricocheted to being made to kneel on rice, to being beat, and made to stay up into the night until I learned the multiplication table by rote. How I could not for the life of me remember what the answer to 8 x 8 was. How the number 64 still haunts me to this day. How I had to check my calculator just now to make sure that the answer is 64. How I blocked out this memory for so long. How remembering reminded me that I am not my mother. How that realization, that so-fucking-beautiful-reality just made my heart unclench. I’m so scared of being my mother.

So when I write this, when I work at it, when I move paragraphs around, and close my eyes and relive it all, when I let the remembering surge in and through and make me laugh and cry and re-feel all of it, the idea of it being rejected has fucked me up. Still fucks me up. But I have to do it anyway. I have to submit. I have to get my stories out there. Because this is the writer’s life. I chose it and so I have to live it.

So today I cheer myself for taking the risk. For continuing to take these risks in my writing, in my life. In showing my vulnerability, my hurt, and how no matter what, I go in. Because the only way out is in. So in that my chest cavity feels like it’s going to explode. Porque, carajo, I can’t, won’t live any other way. Not anymore. Word.


  1. Vanessa,
    I am so blessed to know you beyond the Blogosphere. Your words always have a way of striking a cord with me. Bravo for that first submission. do another one before the trail gets cold and print out acceptance or rejection emails/letters as post-its and reminders for how far you’ve come. A submission is a submission no matter what their response is. One feather in your cap; endless possibilities to go!

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