Rebuilding the Essay

April 16, 2020 § 1 Comment

By Jennifer Silva Redmond

I met writer/editor Amy Roost and immediately knew that I wanted to be part of any project she was putting together. We’d connected at the Southern California Writers Conference, where she told me about the idea for an anthology, which would become Fury: Women’s Lived Experiences During the Trump Era. She was also starting a podcast on the same subject, so I came to her studio to tell my story. We’d talked a little bit before about our shared experience of the five stages of grief, beginning on 11/9/16, but it became clear as we talked how much more we had in common; our conversation was wide-ranging, deep, and full of laughter. So I wrote a piece for the anthology, based on my podcast episode, about growing up a hippie kid in Venice in the 1960s with a peace activist mom, and how my own activism had sort of gone dormant in my adulthood, but had resurfaced once Trump was voted in.

Fast forward a few months to when the book, now called “Fury,” was sold to Regal House Publishing’s Pact Press imprint: we contributors were told that the editors felt too many of the pieces were, like mine, focused on the election and the immediate aftermath, rather than being put into a more universal context. Also, the editors wanted stories from a more diverse group of writers, including Latinx women. I was excited to take on that challenge—to write about what the current administration’s immigration policies looked like to me as a Mexican-American woman, and hopefully substitute that for my original essay. Amy couldn’t confirm that the editors would include it, so I had to simply write my truth and see what happened.

I began with a very short biography of growing up in California in a turbulent time, and how I had gotten away from my activist roots until Trump was elected and started demonizing migrants and (the final insult) separating families and putting kids in cages and all of that madness. I used the opening section from the previous essay but I changed it from being strictly about my nuclear family—my mom and my brothers—and brought in my Mexican grandmother. Nena came to Los Angeles from Mexico City as a small child, and her father, Cesar Ulysses Silva, was a philosopher, poet, writer and an activist of sorts; he wrote about being proud to be Mexican in Los Angeles, back when that was not a popular stance.

That cultural pride was passed down to my grandmother, who passed it down to us grandkids—she would say when anyone spoke of things that were Spanish, “We’re from Mexico, we’re not Spaniards, we’re Mexicans.” I focused my essay more on her and my forbears, shifting away from me as a hippie kid and more about me as a Latina. The more I looked back, writing about my feelings and experiences, the more I remembered. I even included the time, just a few years back, when a friend commented that I didn’t need to “bring up” my ethnicity, like it was something I would want to hide—I guess so I could pass for white.

I wrote quite a lot to start with, about 3000 words, then started cutting, keeping my eye on the new point of view. As an editor, I always tell my clients that with memoir (it is true of all writing, but memoir above all) the hard part is not deciding what to put in, but what to leave out. In “Viva La Raza,” a tangent about my grandmother’s name didn’t make the cut. She was named Edmee, but called Nena—“baby”—all her life. We grandkids called her Nena, not knowing the word’s meaning; it was basically the same as “Nana” to us. But the tangent wouldn’t mean much to anyone outside my family, so I cut it and just kept her name, Nena. I also went around in word-circles, trying to explain her wonderful immigrant family, with its songs and dances and parties and passion, before shortening to a “typical” immigrant family. Since every immigrant family is full of talents and brimming with love, one can be typical of them all.

I read the complete essay aloud again, listening for the through line, and trimmed some more, to about 1700 words. Once I’d reworked it to my own satisfaction, the editors at Pact had a couple of edits (including changing Nena to Nana, of course!) and they liked it. “Viva La Raza” made the cut for the final collection in Fury, which I’m extremely proud to be part of. I am particularly happy the book is coming out right now, as we turn to another national election, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it resonates with my “tribe” out there—especially women writers and activists of color. Viva!

*

From Viva La Raza!

Now I get that a lot of Americans are casually racist, in a mostly invisible and unacknowledged way. I’ve been told with a smile, “You don’t look Mexican, so why bring it up?” I even had one dear friend say to me, sincerely, that I wasn’t “really Mexican” so I couldn’t understand what real Mexicans are like. (To top that off, he told me, “California never belonged to Mexico.” I mean, Jesus Cristo, seriously?)

______________________________

Jennifer Silva Redmond is a freelance editor and writing instructor. Formerly editor-in-chief at Sunbelt Publications, she is on the staff of the Southern California Writers Conference, teaches at San Diego Writers, Ink. Editor of Sea of Cortez Review, she was prose editor for A Year in Ink Vol 3. Her essays, articles, and fiction have been published in anthologies and national magazines, including Latinos in Lotusland, Books & Buzz, Sail, Cruising World, Science of Mind, and A Year in Ink, Vol 11. She lives in California on a sailboat with her artist-writer-teacher husband, Russel, and their dog, Ready.

“Viva la Raza!” appears in Fury: Women’s Lived Experiences During the Trump Era.

 

Heart Restart

July 13, 2017 § 31 Comments

By Susanne Fletcher

On the cusp of 60 years old, I ran away to Baja California Sur, Mexico to let my heart bloom. I needed to escape–at least briefly–37 years of marriage, 35 years of office work, and 22 years of motherhood, to reclaim an old dream, so I signed on to a writing retreat, Writing Down the Baja. I intended to reframe my life in seven days. I hoped not to recognize myself when it was over.

I panicked on the plane. I restrained my arm with the opposite hand, jamming it into the armrest so I wouldn’t press the flight attendant call button. My head said relax. My heart threatened to bust out of my rib cage and plunge from the plane without a parachute. I wanted to yell “Turn the plane around and let me off. There’s been a terrible mistake. I’m not a writer!”

I arrived at Serendipity Bed and Breakfast on the fringe of Todos Santos as palm shadows stretched across the desert. Relieved, I sprawled on a warm plastic lounge chair facing the ocean and let my eyes absorb light and distance. My muscles lengthened and my sight lingered on the line dividing the Pacific Ocean and sky. Gradually the adrenalin surge of rushing through three airports and release from confinement in a spot as small as a honeycomb segment, and the sweat of self-doubt, settled.

The Pacific side of the Baja, a long hot finger of sand and cactus, felt cool and the wind off the ocean raised goosebumps. I saw a little white eruption against blue. I sat up, raised my hand over my eyes and stared. Again and again fountains burst out of the water. Whales.

Each morning, I chose a spot at the outdoor writing seminar table with intention, for inspiration and a view. While the teacher led us through morning writing exercises or we read aloud the previous day’s homework, the horizon pulled my attention to its edge, every gush in the water like a jolt on an electrocardiogram interrupting the gentle waves of my sister-writers’ discussions.

Afternoons I propped myself up on a lounge chair facing the breached blue and swaddled myself in a beach towel, knees up, blank page waiting, pen poised. Mostly I watched as a blooming cactus plant suckled hummingbirds as plentiful of marsh mosquitoes. I counted six, their long needles sipping nectar from funnel-shaped flowers and zinging to the next and next and next.

At the end of each day, I lounged under a palm tree, eyes to the horizon, book in hand, where I dozed and dreamt. An egret visited me once. Awakened by my book dropping in my lap, I looked up to see her a few strides away. White and slow, she picked up her chopstick legs, her toes opening and closing like a blown-out umbrella as she moved through the gravel with a soft tick, tick, tick. She stood forever and together we stared at the hummingbird cactus. Me, amazed. She? I don’t know, but I welcomed her stillness.

I attempted writing in a covered circular tower above my room–a Mexican garret–standing up this time. My pad of paper rested on a ledge. The wind ruffled the pages. I removed my glasses for short-sightedness to work in my favour–no more whale-gazing and daydreaming. What would I daydream about anyway? My heart reassured me I was where I wanted to be.

Head down, ink flowing onto the page, the lines filled as I pumped out prose like a gasoline nozzle–high octane, unleaded, intoxicating. Something darkened my peripheral vision. I looked up and, despite my blurred eyesight, recognized a hummingbird hovering at shoulder-height less than half a palm-frond away. I’d worn a coral-coloured t-shirt that day and undoubtedly she thought she’d found the biggest flower ever–the treasure of the Sierra Baja. Me immobilized and enchanted, she greedy and hungry, so close I heard her 80-wing-beats-per-second–or perhaps that was the rush of blood to my brain. I blinked. She buzzed away with a trrrtrrrt, a tiny defibrillator.

My heart shocked, I exhaled and wrote nothing familiar, something about jacaranda pods and penises and eyes the shade of scentless bougainvillea and Baja mutts the colour of sand. A different persona had appeared and I hardly recognized myself in my words. I was still me–wife, mother, office worker–but something else had emerged with a freshly started heart. A week at a writing retreat had pushed back the fear of claiming a new name for myself to add to the existing string–wife, mother, office worker, and writer.

 

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Susanne Fletcher writes fiction, nonfiction and poetry. Read more about her Baja retreat time and her work at her blog, Wuthering Bites.

 

Sol: English Writing in Mexico

July 24, 2013 § Leave a comment

2013-02-12 11.09.34“Sol: English Writing in Mexico,” an online literary magazine, seeks literary nonfiction submissions. Next deadline: September 1, 2013. We also publish fiction and poetry, but are especially looking for quality literary nonfiction. We have just published a book of selections from the first three years of the online magazine “SOL English Writing in Mexico” which is available on Amazon. All of the profits from the readings and book sales generated by Sol go to at-risk Mexican youth through the local chapter of PEN International. For submission guidelines and to see the magazine www.solliterarymagazine.com

 

Sol: English Writing in Mexico

October 26, 2012 § Leave a comment

Sol: English Writing in Mexico, an online literary magazine, seeks literary nonfiction submissions. Next deadline: January 1, 2013. We also publish fiction and poetry, but are especially looking for quality literary nonfiction.

We have just published a book of selections from the first three years of the online magazine, SOL ENGLISH WRITING IN MEXICO, which is available on Amazon.

All of the profits from the readings and book sales generated by Sol go to at-risk Mexican youth through the local chapter of PEN International. For submission guidelines and to see the magazine go to www.solliterarymagazine.com

Memoir en Mexico

July 5, 2008 § 2 Comments

Fully one-third of our editorial staff are south of the border for a few weeks, investigating the state of memoir en Mexico.  No report yet, but for now, this:

loboo

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