** Me and my mom right around the time I wrote the short story.
About ten years ago, I wrote a short story. It’s the short story that served as part of my creative manuscript when I got into graduate school for my Masters in Fine Arts. The very first section of the story (just a few hundred words) is absolutely autobiographical. The rest is a work of fiction. I don’t have three brothers. BF did not propose to me four times (BF was not in my life when I wrote this story). I AM the daughter of a cancer patient, but it is my father- not my mother. And both of my parents are, thankfully, still around for me to drive crazy. The rest of my creative manuscript for graduate school consisted of poems. I went into graduate school with big plans to be a never published poet and a lifelong high school teacher. When my first advisor saw the short story, he said, “you have to write prose.” I said, “I don’t have any other fiction in me.” He said, “Then write non-fiction. Write essays. Write memoir. I don’t care. Just write long.” I said, “oh no, I can’t write non-fiction. My mom would KILL me.” He said, “you have to write like your mother is dead” which is what, I believe, Alice Walker said at some point. I said, “Oh god, I can’t write like my mother is dead. My mother is not dead, and she’s a scary Puerto Rican woman.” We compromised. I wrote both poetry and non-fiction and had a final manuscript, called Giving Up Beauty, that featured both forms. But I am so eternally glad that he introduced me to the long form. I am not brilliant at it, but I am better at it than poetry, and his recognizing that gave me a gift. Thank you, Jaime Manrique.
One thing that I am fascinated about as a writer is the way that we repurpose our work. The opening to this piece– the part that is autobiographical– started as a poem. When this short story flashed into my mind, on a snowy day when school was cancelled and so I had nowhere to go but to my computer (and no internet hook-up, oh those were the days of some real productivity), I forced that poem into sentences and paragraphs and then had my introduction. Then this story, this short story, just found it’s way out of me. A year into graduate school, and this story got repurposed into the truly non-fiction version (redudant, I know) of itself. It became the essay, “The Latina in Me.” But that wasn’t enough. The Latina in Me eventually became the premise of Hijas Americanas: Beauty, Body Image, and Growing Up Latina . All this from my mom telling me that I needed to find a husband one day and that she was praying about it and me responding that God had better things to do then find me a husband so I’d appreciate it if she wouldn’t pray for that. Thanks for that conversation, mom, it changed my life. And not because it found me a husband.
Anyway, I thought it would be fun to do the story as a serial read this week on the blog. In a few hours, the first installment of I am The Commonwealth will post. And over the next few days, I hope that you’ll follow the story– the story that I wrote in one fell swoop on a snowy day and that ultimately launched my writing career- along. I hope you enjoy it and that you’ll share your thoughts about it and it’s themes.
PS: I’ll still post a “life at home” related blog on Thursday and a “wildcard” blog on Friday– twofer the price of one days!