By Roberto F. Santiago on Monday, April 6th, 2015 at 9:15 am
I always wanted to be a writer. I loved writing stories and poems about things I knew (mostly) nothing about. Writing was an escape from the shitty life I could have had. Growing up in the South Bronx, I didn’t have many outlets. There was riding my bike up and down the Concourse, graffiti, dodging gang recruitment, bottle rockets, and police, the latest installment of Mortal Kombat, and watching the fathers on the block play dominoes until the their wives stopped feigning interest in the click-slam of palms on folding tables.
Though I always wanted to be a writer, I don’t remember reading many, or any, authors that had surnames like mine. I do remember thinking that my writing was this big secret. Something I did in-between classes, or more accurately, in detention or when I should have been studying for Mr. Burke’s next math exam. In high school, I won a small poetry contest and began getting some attention for my writing. In a meeting with the principal, he remarked on my writing in front of the entire senior class and I pretended to be mortified. I actually felt pride. This must be what it felt like to be on the baseball team or to have won a talent show, I thought. Being recognized for creating worlds out of words made me powerful. There is power in having one less secret.
I got my MFA and loved/hated/loved the experience. So many other people have written about the demerits of the MFA experience, ranging from lack of diversity, to groupthink, erasure/ignorance of cultural blindspots/”isms” and emphasis of certain established aesthetics but I am glad I got mine. Yes, there were moments when I would be able to side with Mr. Diaz, but in my own experience (and mostly in hindsight), I found more out about myself as a writer and person than I believe I would have otherwise. In the MFA world, I was able to sit and talk poetry with people who also loved the line and the breaking of it. That banter is invaluable. As if the world stops for, and because of writing. It felt the way people feel when discussing the new season of Orange Is The New Black with coworkers instead of the looming deadlines for mid-year reports and the state of our health care system.
Flash forward to life after the MFA program: I have a book coming out April 10, 2015! I wish I could say I can’t believe it, but honestly… I have always wanted my name on a shelf, so “can’t” was never really an option for me. I write because I have to. The scariest part of it all is that once the book is out, it is no longer all mine. Maybe this is what it feels like to be a parent of a soon-to-be empty nest? As a person of color in the United States, I have not really felt I that had power over much more than my education and what I create utilizing it, so this empty nest fear is palpable.
You see, once other people get their hands my book, it will belong to them. Yeah I know, that is the goal, but I spent so much time wishing and workshopping, revising and trashing, begging and [insert several other steps before the release of a book] that I didn’t consider the ramifications of other people taking my work and making it their own. They can love it. Hate it. Misinterpret it. Use it for the greater good or the lesser of two evils… and I can’t do much to stop them.
That is really scary. Whenever my work has been published in the past it could be hidden between the works of other writers. There is some comfort in anonymity in the crowd. Now there is no such comfort. I know boo-hoo, what a problem to have?! A dream coming true is something to celebrate…but (the following question should be read in as a Carrie Bradshaw voiceover) is there no room to mourn the end of an era? I spent years creating the worlds housed in Angel Park (did I mention the release date is 4/10/15?), and now I worry that I will feel the same way I feel when I visit the old `hood only to see it has been torn down to make room for a Whole Foods Parking lot.
That is not to say I am unprepared to dole out cleverly reworked clichés about how excited I am to have a book out in the universe, but I think that sometimes it is important to talk about the not so glittery aspects and emotions of being a writer:
- • It is lonely.
- • You don’t get the recognition or fellowships or fame you think you deserve.
- • You often feel as if you never will get that big break. And you know what? You probably won’t get the big break in the way you planned.
- • But you know what else? It will seem like everyone else will. And they might.
Ok, maybe I should throw in some glitter, because the outlook is getting bleak. Sometimes you will write something that will make you feel as if you are awesome. As if you made the world a bigger or better place for a little person like you once were (or still are) #itgetsbetter.
If you really can’t imagine doing anything else, keep writing. Today, it is so much easier to become Vine/Insta/Youtube famous…but writing, the good, the bad, and the monochromatic-YA-werewolf-S&M between, is crafted to changed the world. And to become a HBO miniseries, or multi-part big budget film sequence, but I digress. I want writers and readers to talk about their relationships to writing and reading as if it isn’t a mystery. Unless what you are reading is genre fiction, wherein it very well might be a mystery, so carry on mystery lovers!
I rambled my way through this to hopefully convince writers and readers alike to not just think about the bio at the back of the book, but also about the blood, sweat and, ink poured into the books we hate and love. Writing is dangerous and crazy and messy. We should encourage each other to talk more openly about it. Otherwise Hanna Horvath becomes the voice for all writers… and that is just scary.
Santiago’s first full-length collection of poems, “Angel Park”, will be released April 10, 2015 on Lethe Press. It is available for pre-order here.
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