Relentless Files — Week 9


*An essay every Friday in 2016.*

What a week! I started feeling both the full moon and my moon cycle last week. The build-up was jolting, as they usually are. Coupled together? Let’s just say this week was especially intense.

I read on Elephant Journal that this past Monday’s Full Moon in Virgo was “the climax point in the war over our hearts.”

One of the most important emotional aspects of the is moon is that there are some big cumulating energy here that ties back to whatever was going on in September for each of us.

It’s been six months of in-depth changes and a lot going on underneath a seemingly calm surface. Sometimes it’s been frustrating because it seems as if things haven’t been moving as fast as our egos would have liked.

But the thing that we have to remember is that even though things may look one way—the reality can be very different.

This time we are being asked to open our eyes to what we’ve previously chosen to stay blind to.

We are being asked if we just want to float along, or ride the hell out of whatever wave comes our way.

Six months ago I finally shut my mother out of my life after decades of abuse. Six months ago I chose love. I chose to love myself and love my partner. Lots happened six months ago.


Last Saturday was the first day of my six week Writing Our Lives Essentials of the Personal Essay class. I went around the room and asked the fifteen writers (some who don’t claim themselves writers yet) why they want to write personal essay. Two didn’t know how to answer the question. The answers from the remaining thirteen ranged: one overachieving PhD student sobbed that she was still trying to prove herself smart; another, an established poet, said she’s fled from structure for so long, she was looking to push herself to write what didn’t fit in her poems; someone said she’d been quiet for too long. When they were done with the Round Robin, I confessed, “essay gives me the chance to prove to myself, again and again, that I am worthy of love.”


Over dinner on Sunday, my partner Katia asked me “What do you expect to get out of this book?” The result is what she was asking for. I talked around it. Said, “Now I know the question I’m trying to answer…” I felt the fear rise up into my throat. I tried to push it away. She stared at me the way she does, this look that haunts me, so filled with love and adoration. That look that tells me she’s all in, she’s mine, she wants no one else but me. I told her to stop staring, that it was making me uncomfortable. I stared out the window of the Thai restaurant at the Broadway traffic. I chugged two leechee martinis, my hands shaking. I stared down at my food and around the restaurant, which got crowded as we sat. She kept asking, “What’s up? Talk to me.” Finally, I said: “Sometimes I don’t feel worthy of your love and Vasia’s love…” I started crying as soon as the words left my mouth. She reassured me for the rest of the night. “I love you. I see you. You’re so smart and gorgeous and loving and…”

I know it doesn’t make sense. In my mind I know I’m worthy of love. I know I’m a good person. But the voice in my head that sounds like my mother often gets in the way.


According to an article on, the most common symptoms of imposter syndrome “are negative self-talk: a need to constantly check and re-check work; shying away from attention in the workplace; and forms of overcompensation like staying late at work or not setting appropriate boundaries around workload. Internally, people struggling with the syndrome experience persistent feelings of self-doubt and fear being found out as phony. They over-internalize and blame themselves for failures even when other factors played a role.”


On Monday night, I finished Lacy M. Johnson’s The Other Side. I thought of Katia and the question she asked the night before. I found the answer in the reading.

Pg 177: There’s the story you’ll have after you put down this book. It’s an endless network of stories. This story tells me who I am. It gives me meaning. And I want to mean something so badly.

Pg 186: My girlfriend asks how this book is going and I say, I’m sooooo ready to be done. It’s not fun to write this, you know. She picks at the tip of her straw, or fingers the arch of her eyebrow, and tells me that my children will someday feel lucky to have this book. We might be sitting on her porch or at a picnic table in the park or the only outside table at a restaurant. I say, This will be the last version of the story I ever tell. I know how ridiculous this sounds. How foolish. How naïve. because the truth is: I’m afraid of what will happen when it’s done. I’m trapped, I say. A prison I’ve built with this story. I don’t know how to escape it, I say.

But I do know.

The story is a trap, a puzzle, a paradox.

Ending it creates a door.

Pg. 194: In the pulse of silence that follows, a story begins unfolding. Where it may take me, whether it will end here, I don’t know. I don’t need to. Because in this moment, when I’m alone in the darkness, all I am and was and ever will be is gathered up inside me. And every last bit of it urges me on.

And on.

And on.

I reach for the door. It’s here. It’s opening.

That’s what I hope to find at the end: a door to a new story…


the wounds have changed me.
i am so soft with scars
my skin
breathe and beats stars
~nayyirah waheed


“Move at your own pace. You’re the one you’re saving so you’re the only one you have to answer to.”

I told myself this the other day, but this week, when the anxiety had me by the neck, squeezing, I was caught in the story: that I’m 40 years old and I’m still a mess. My credit is a mess. I haven’t paid off my college loans. Not even close. I still live in a one bedroom with my kid. I sleep in the living room because I didn’t have my own room until I was 17 and started college and it’s important that a girl have her own room. That I still haven’t healed and being unmothered still has me all fucked up so it affects every relationship I’ve ever had including my current one…

Yesterday I recommitted to self-care. I made the calls to start therapy again after almost a year and a half. Yesterday I told myself I was going to be gentle, that I was going to seek help, that it’s okay. That I’m okay. That I will be okay. That it is brave to say I need help. That the trauma I endured is real, that being unmothered is devastating and it makes sense that it still walks with me, that I’m still very much damaged. I reminded myself that I am beautiful with all my damage.


I came across an excerpt of Lidia Yuknavitch’s TED Talk “The Misfit’s Journey.” She confesses to feeling like an imposter, even after winning a big award and being flown to NY to receive it. “I’m trying to tell you something important about me,” she says. “Misfits don’t always know how to say ‘yes,’ or how to choose the big thing or say we want it, even when it’s right in front of us. It’s a shame we carry. It’s the shame of wanting something good. It’s the shame of feeling something good.”

Yuknavitch has now written two novels and a memoir. “It just took me a little while,” she said. I sighed at that moment. I’m 40 and still trying to write this damn memoir. I’m not alone.

Then she starts to speak directly to her fellow misfits in the room. “There’s a myth in most cultures about following your dreams. It’s called the ‘hero’s journey.’” I thought of my mentor and friend Chris Abani who’s told me more than once: “You don’t need that archetype, V. You’ve really suffered.”

“I prefer another myth to the side of that, or underneath it maybe,” Yuknavitch said. “It’s called the ‘misfit’s myth.’ You may not know this yet, but you have the ability to reinvent yourself, endlessly. That’s your beauty.”

“You can be a drunk. You can be an abuse survivor. You can be an ex-con. You can be a homeless person. You can lose all your money or your job or your husband or your wife or, the worst thing of all, a child. You can even lose your marbles.”

“You can be standing dead center in the middle of all of your failure,” she says, “and still I’m only here to tell you: you are so beautiful and your story deserves to be heard. Because you, you rare and phenomenal misfit—you new species—you are the only one in the room who can tell the story the way only you would.”

I suddenly realized I wasn’t breathing. I felt like these lines were written just for me, at the exact moment I needed to hear them.

A little while later, I called to make an appointment with a therapist.


I lost my USB memory stick yesterday. I don’t know how. I had it in my pocket and by the time I got to the library, it was gone. I finished doing what I needed to do, thinking I’d left it at home and I had everything I needed anyway so it was all good. When I got home two hours later, it wasn’t there. I panicked. I scoured my room. Looked around my desk, under it. Dug into the garbage, the disgusting piles of meat from dinner the night before, discarded food from the fridge, filled with nastiness soaked in rotting juices. Nothing. I looked under and around my bed. I looked in my daughter’s room. Even took everything out of my dog’s kennel. Turned his bed inside out. Nothing.

I retraced my steps to and from the library. Nothing.

I sent my daughter in to see if someone had handed in a lost USB stick. Nothing.

I posted it on community Facebook pages. Nothing.

I cried. No, I sobbed. I shook. I thought about all the writing on that USB. I thought about the last time I backed it up, maybe four months ago, and all the writing I’ve done and saved on it since. I thought about the writing on my blog and thanked God for it because at least I have that.

I thought about all the chapters in my book, before I realized at Tin House what it’s about. I thought about the writing I’ve done since, and started shaking again.

I thought about all the writing I’ve emailed to myself, and thanked myself for that.

I thought about this idea of starting over and recommitting myself to this healing. I thought about how the universe always speaks to us, in sometimes brutal, shake-you-up-so-you’re-rocked-to-your-core style. I thought maybe the universe is telling me: You don’t need that writing. That I have what I need. That I know these stories. That I’ve written so many of them. That I can go in with what I have, or maybe start fresh.

I thought about my first memory when I was two and broke my arm. My mother is not in that memory and that reality, that she wasn’t there, wasn’t unusual to my two year old self. I wasn’t heartbroken about it or hurt or lacking. By the age of two I was accustomed to her not being present.

At forty, I long to feel that again…okay with her not being there.

I am starting anew. I am searching for that door.


I’m reading Dorothy Allison’s Trash. I was introduced to her via an excerpt of the intro to the story collection which was featured in Writing Women’s Lives, edited by Susan Cahill; a thick paperback I bought years ago at The Strand for a dollar. The intro starts: “One day I decided to live.” When I read that line, I thought about Lidia Yuknavitch: “…you have the ability to reinvent yourself, endlessly.” I thought about the many times I’ve decided to live.

When I left home at 13 to make my way in the world.

When I left that six and a half year long abusive relationship with the drug dealer when I was 22.

When I wrote my first book and called myself a writer for the first time, and believed it.

When I left my daughter’s father.

When I left corporate America and vowed never to return.

When I quit my editing job in 2010 and committed myself to this writing life.

When I created the Writing Our Lives Workshop.

When I left the last emotionally unavailable man and promised to love myself better.

When I threw myself into my grief after my brother died, knowing that that grief had the ability to destroy me and the only way out was to feel all of it.

When I walked away from my mother in September.

And this week when I recommitted to healing and finally called a therapist.

Dorothy Allison called it deciding to live. I call it saving my own life. I’ve been doing it since I started climbing that plum tree in my backyard in Bushwick to tell myself stories. I was imagining a different life, one that I’m still creating.

In this life, I believe I am worthy of all the good and beautiful things.

In this life, when my daughter tells me I’m her best friend and she’s so glad she chose me to be her mom, I believe her.

In this life, when my girlfriend stares at me across the table, I stare back. I don’t shrink away. I let her envelop me with all her love.

In this life, there is a door. I’ve walked through it and the view on the other side takes my breath.

There are fields of wildflowers. A hawk soars overhead. Hummingbirds whiz and dip. Wolf cubs frolic, biting eachother’s ears, yipping and tousling while mama wolf looks on. I am there, face up to the sun. I am smiling. I am glowing. I am free.


It came to me this morning, as I was reading an essay on the Rumpus, “Are We All Our Own Vanishing,” about a brother’s suicide.

I thought about how Carlos’s death triggered so much and sent me reeling into a grief I’m still climbing out of. A grief that’s made me confront so much, especially this mother wound and all the trauma I’ve carried as an unmothered woman. I am remembering how much he loved me. The way he’d look at me, with such complete love, like he both adored and looked up to me…the way my partner looks at me. And maybe that’s why it makes me squirm. No one loved me the way Carlos did. No one believed in me like he did. No one defended me and encouraged me and said, “I’m proud of you, sis,” the way he did. And when he died, that went with him, his love, his adoration, his encouragement…until Katia.


  1. Thanks for this, Vanessa. Thank you for sharing your vulnerability and for your raw honesty. Your writing about the ‘misfit’s myth’ reminded me of one of my own that I struggled with for years: the myth of the ‘wounded warrior’. For so many years, as a healer and helping person, I felt like I was a fraud (mad ‘imposter’ syndrome) because I felt damaged and broken after my father’s death and experiencing losses and self-destructive behaviors. It’s taken me a long time to stop seeing myself that way. And turning 40 this year is making me aware of the ways I feel like I don’t have my shit together. This full moon in Virgo definitely brought up a lot of baggage about that stuff, especially for my perfectionist Virgo ass. You are healing and guiding with your work, with Writing Our Lives, right now, just as you are. We gon’ be alright, sis. ❤️

  2. So well written as usual. And it does take a lot to surrender our pain after surrendering to that pain for years. I stopped having all contact with my mom just before Christmas 2015. It is tough. I miss her voice, even if it was telling me how fat my legs are, that it was my fault I was abused. Etc etc etc. it’s strange to miss something so painful. Thanks for diving into your life, as it’s helped me with mine 💜

  3. Thanks for writing about your experience. I live in a pentecostal home, wear long skirts, speak in tongues and so forth but I can’t help but the experience the judgement because I am bisexual. There are LGBT supporting pentecostal groups BUT there are none in the area. I want to move, wear pants but financial situations prevent me. Thank you reinforcing I am not alone in this world.

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