“You live like this, sheltered, in a delicate world, and you believe you are living. Then you read a book… or you take a trip… and you discover that you are not living, that you are hibernating. The symptoms of hibernating are easily detectable: first, restlessness. The second symptom (when hibernating becomes dangerous and might degenerate into death): absence of pleasure. That is all. It appears like an innocuous illness. Monotony, boredom, death. Millions live like this (or die like this) without knowing it. They work in offices. They drive a car. They picnic with their families. They raise children. And then some shock treatment takes place, a person, a book, a song, and it awakens them and saves them from death. Some never awaken.”
— Anais Nin
Sometimes, the difficulty of life is how it rarely pauses, takes a breath, or slows down. Life passes by you quickly, like a thief in the night, and there are moments when you forget that time is slowly drowning you. In the past three weeks, I flew to Berkeley for a week-long fiction conference, then the next week had a hectic time at work catching up, and the weekend afterwards celebrated my anniversary with my lover and best friend in Orlando, Florida. It was a really, really fun three weeks. Our anniversary was a milestone. We’ve been together for nine years, and this anniversary was a first of firsts.
How can begin to talk about these past three weeks? It was a mixture of everything in that quote above. I woke up in Berkeley. I faced a lot of fears because that beautiful place symbolized a kind of personal betrayal. I guess you can say I’m overly sentimental, but the night before I flew to Berkeley I threw up continuously. I was scared, but I didn’t really know what I was scared of. And even though I was late to VONA because of a mishap of events at the airport, I immediately fell in love with California all over again. What was amazing was that I was accepted to VONA in the first place. Over 350 people applied to VONA, or so I’m told, and only 95 people were accepted into 9 workshops. The fiction workshop with ZZ Packer, a brilliant and beautiful author, was one of the most competitive, and I was accepted into it. Just by that alone, it was another moment that told me, “I can do this. I can become a writer.” I met up with many precious friends in Berkeley: Barbara Jane Reyes, Rachelle Cruz, Margaret Rhee, Alicia Lu, and Cas Ruffin (his fake name needs a story that can own up to its uniqueness, a Catcher-in-the-Rye kind of story). I met many new friends, many wonderful writers, and I can definitely say I found a family at VONA. Junot Diaz, one of the co-founders of VONA, is one of the sweetest authors I’ve met, and he is inspiring in his own erratic ways. I found a place where they accepted and supported my writing, but, more than that, VONA was a space where they pushed you and challenged you. They wouldn’t take mediocrity as an answer.
But, the moment at VONA that awakened me was this simple realization I had during the nightly meetings with my fiction family. Back in Charleston, I was going through the motions of life. I was trying, very hard, to get over something that consumed me. I was working on myself, working on my relationship with my husband. I was trying to be happy with what I had. I wouldn’t write because it brought me to too many tears. I didn’t know how to transform my feelings into writing without these heavy emotions I had. But, whenever I read a book, a short story, an article, a blog post, or watched a film that touched me, it would remind me of what I am, of what I want to find in this life and question. I would relapse and become restless. And then, just before VONA, a cyclical thought consumed me, and it was simple, like a growing seed in my mind. It was this: “Maybe I can just live this way. Maybe I don’t have to try and be a writer, it’s too depressing anyways. Maybe I can just grow old with Josh, and be satisfied that way.”
And then, in one week, I was reminded that I couldn’t live this life that way. There is something I have to find, something I have to say, and I know I can’t live blindly in the enclaves of this dark world. I am not one who can be satisfied with the shadows. Ever since I’ve learned of Plato’s cave, I realized I could not live how I used to. Though I grew up not wanting to be a writer, and instead grew up expressing myself only through writing, I realize now that it is through writing, through communicating, through storytelling, through language where we can see what shadows we have created, what shadows of truths we accepted. Writing can create shadows, but it can also dispel them.
Now, after two weeks post-VONA, I realized how easy it is to come back to the shadows. Work can easily strip away your thoughts with the mundane concerns of routine. Comfort can lead you astray with its pleasures and temporary highs, but again, these pleasures are transitory. That is why we need the reminder of good friends, that is why we need a family like VONA to remind us of what we are searching for.
I’m really happy, for now. Though the South is undergoing its maniacal raining spells—at one point it’s ridiculously hot and the split second after it’s down pouring with heavy rain—I am, for now, really happy… with my life, with my good friends and family, with my loving husband. I guess the one thing that VONA left me with, the one thing it impressed upon my soul, was this: “It is okay to start where you begin.” It is okay. And this little caveat applies to every part of life. I grew up with a lot of anger, a lot of emotions, a lot of heartbreak. I grew up in a broken family where we made a lot of mistakes. I made a lot of mistakes. But, like in writing, it is okay to begin where I began. I am growing, as a writer and as a human. I am perfecting my craft with time, and I am perfecting myself with practice.
I know this blog is not as cohesive as it could be. But all in all, I hope my lessons will inform yours.