You see that lady? The vacant stare? The irritated-looking but adorable baby? This was just the very beginning of my struggle with post-partum depression, and the beginning of my Logan’s colic. It was a hard first few months, made worse by my already existing anxiety disorder and what we would later discover to be a burgeoning Sensory Processing Disorder for Logan.
Since then, it’s gotten harder in many ways. In other ways, it’s gotten easier. What it has never gotten was boring. As our little family of three struggled with various and multitudinous mental struggles, we coped with love and, in my case, pouring my heart out through my pen.
“Organized Chaos” was a personal essay written in the height of my post-partum depression and maybe even was what led me out of it. Which is why, when I saw a call for submission to an anthology on motherhood and mental illness, I struggled to hit send. This was a deeply personal exploration of the things that made me tick, and why they caused me a struggle to cope.
But I sent it anyway. And now it will be published in the anthology, “It Will Not Be Simple: Motherhood, Mental Illness, and Trauma,” compiled by writers Liz Howard and Christina Xiong. More details are forthcoming, but I hope you will take this journey with me.
More on my other writing projects, as well as my wonderful time at the Author-preneur Workshop, to come soon. And as always, thank you for sticking by me. It’s never the destination, it’s all about the journey.
It’s amazing how easy it is to live within a bubble. I live in Bronx, NY, and I have my entire life. I work in Manhattan, known to New Yorkers as “the city”. But while I’ve been a part of the online writing and bookish communities for years now, and I’ve made appearances at events in the city on and off over that time, I somehow never managed to stumble upon some of the events going on in The Bronx for artists within my very own borough. What an oversight! And the truth of it is, there aren’t enough of them. The Bronx has been continually disenfranchised, the media doing its level best to portray us as a neighborhood without thinking minds, a place where only the strong survive. It’s a myth perpetuated by those who proliferate it, a story created to make the old white men who so often make the big decisions feel better about continually pulling funding on education and literacy programs for the area.
But strides are being taken in the right direction, often by stubborn members of the community itself, who have had enough of this wrong-minded take on our rich community. Created in 2013, the Bronx Book Fair takes place yearly at Bronx Library Center and, I’m ashamed to say, this was my first year in attendance. With the Bronx being a focal point of diversity, the organizing members look to reflect the community, with a diverse group of speakers and vendors. And this year just happened to be the first year in which the Executive Director was a woman–Lorraine Currelly, who was just a delight, her kindness and care for the community shining through every word she spoke as she made her presence known. It also happened to be the first year with a female keynote speaker, the lovely badass book lover and owner of the only bookstore in the borough, Noelle Santos.
Owner of The Lit. Bar, Noelle is really the person who pulled me into the Bronx literary community. I stumbled upon news of The Lit. Bar by accident, while looking into Bronx venues in which to do future book signings. I discovered The Lit. Bar’s website and emailed her for details. Noelle explained to be that she was still in the process of creating the bookstore, and that she’d definitely be happy to have me once they were up and running. After talking Bronx literacy with her, I have watched as Noelle gained media attention with her winning smile, her intelligence, and her real talk. “I’m not polished,” she said, but the truth is, she’s just not doing business-as-usual, and it’s about time for that. She doesn’t need to be polished. She needs to be authentic. In following her, and helping when I could (some of you have probably seen my social media blasts attempting to raise crowdfunding bucks, for instance), I tripped my way into the Bronx literary world.
As the Keynote Speaker of this event, Noelle shined as she related her story of discovering that the only Barnes & Noble, the only BOOKSTORE, in the Bronx was set to close, and how this inspired her to make a change. “I’m not signing any more petitions,” she said. She decided she was going to change the way the gatekeepers viewed readers through her own actions. She was going to show people that a real reader comes in many varieties, and she was going to do it by proving the need for a Bronx bookstore. And she has! Not only has she garnered a ton of press for herself and her cause, but she will be opening her bookstore this summer. And in many ways, she sounded the trumpets for others, looking to find a way to prove our borough is worth more than the gatekeepers of the education and literary industries believe. Hell, I heard the call! By the time I left her speech, I was itching to do something productive for the community. If her closing poem doesn’t rile you up, I don’t know what will.
If I dive into everything I did at the fair (I bought books! For me! For Logan!), this will become a very long blog post, so I’ll give you the condensed version, to the best of my ability. I unfortunately didn’t get to attend everything, due to a combination of the split between programs held in the auditorium, programs held in the conference room, and the vendor floor. Also, I ended up having to leave an hour earlier than originally intended thanks to a migraine (chronic illness and large crowds don’t mix all that well for prolonged periods). But here’s some of the compelling finds I made.
Bronx Library Center is a beautiful and rather large library, and its librarians are kind, caring people who truly believe in spreading a joy of reading. One of the panels I attended included a discussion of book recommendations from librarians that work in all age groups, and suggestions on how to break a book slump and to encourage reluctant readers. One thing I learned? Don’t discourage children from reading outside of their age ranges. Reading over their age range can help challenge them. Reading below their age range can remind them of all they’ve accomplished, thus boosting their self-esteem.
I watched a presentation about a wonderful children’s story about dealing with grief, My Yellow Balloon by Tiffany Papageorge. Following that, there was a reading of the book in Spanish, as that book had just been released, translated into Mi Globo Amarillo by Fernando Aquino and Melissa Coss Aquino. Melissa also taught a writer’s workshop that focused on narrowing yourself to one writing project and how to remain focused on it until its completion. Specificity was stressed, and the need to cut out a time to work on several small goals to contribute to your larger goals was a very helpful discussion for a writer like myself, who always has a billion balls in the air.
Another highlight was a panel titled “How to Get Your Work Published.” While I’ve been around that block a time or two, this was a great panel for people who are just starting out and are looking at the different methods of getting your work out into the world. The panel featured Carolyn Butts, Editor/Publisher of African Voices Magazine, Steve Bloom, writer, and Jennifer Baker, creator/host of the Minorities in Publishing podcast, and contributing editor of Electric Literature. The moderator was Marc W. Polite, Founder and Editor in Chief of Polite on Society. The sentiments here varied, with some discussing the advantages of self-publishing, while others discussed methods of snagging agent representation. Editing your work was stressed, as well as a need to get out into the world and make human connections. There was a general agreement that opinions are arbitrary and taste-based, and the reminder that rejection doesn’t mean the work is bad, it’s just not right for the person reading it. Writing Workshops were also discussed, reminding young writers that a writing workshop should feel helpful, not soul-sucking. Jennifer in particular discussed the helpfulness of borough-based grants in NYC.
Women in Leadership: Arts, Activism & Social Responsibility featured Yolanda Rodriguez, Co-founder and Executive Director of BxArts Factory, and Poet and Author Mercy Tullis-Bukhari as they discussed the various demands and misconceptions that circle women in the arts. A particularly interesting point was when a question was posed: Is it an artist’s responsibility to also be an activist? Both women stressed that activism should find its way into art when it comes from a genuine place. Tullis-Bukhari specifically discussed how her identity and the identity of her family are among the groups that are under attack in this country, so she often has no choice but to lean towards activism–it’s a part of her life. However, Rodriguez pointed out that if a person chooses to create work that does not serve as activism, or if a person cannot march among activist, it does not mean that they are not assisting in any way. There is more than one way to protest.
From the vendor floor, I got to meet so many amazing people, and wish I’d been able to make a stop at all of them. I discovered the National Writers Union (and joined them), an organization that offers tremendous resources to writers such as contract advice and seminars about important writing issues. To learn more, check them out here. Riverdale Avenue Books had a table, and I had a great time chatting with Publisher Lori Perkins. I picked up an intriguing book about the #MeToo movement that I intend to gobble up.
Another great vendor represented at the fair was Boogie Down Books. Specialized in readers from 0-18, Boogie Down is a bookstore without walls, with pop-up shops and special book-related events hosted in local stores around the borough. Another great place for children who love reading to try, Writeopia Lab offers writing classes for kids in grades K-12, both individually, and through their school, or camp. It truly sounds like a great way to turn reluctant writers into pros.
All in all, while chronic illness left me super tired and kinda hurting through this, the people I met and the discussions I viewed were both inspiring and invigorating. It’s been a few days and I’m still riding high off the feeling of community and the sense that I want to do more. The Inkwell Council was my first attempt to try to do more for the writing community, and it has been a success. But my brain is starting to work towards what I can do for the literacy community in The Bronx itself. Stay tuned, folks–I’m spinning around a few ideas…I’ll keep you posted.
Friendship is about giggling together about stupid stuff. It’s calling someone and saying, “This person treated me mean,” and having your friend answer with a whole-hearted “we hate him now.” It’s being able to joke through the hard times, even the hardest time, with the understanding that you’re in it together. It’s supporting each other when the rest of the world may not, and sometimes it’s supporting each other when even you don’t get it, but you want your friends to be happy.
Friendship is saying the punchline of an old joke and watching someone else laugh. It’s laughing and crying in tandem with someone. It’s stressing when nothing is technically wrong in your life, but your friend’s worries worry you. It’s being the only one allowed to get away with stealing food off a plate, and it’s occasionally getting cake smashed in your face because it’s birthday tradition.
Friendship is texting that hilarious meme to the person it defines 1000%, and it’s answering the phone to sounds of another person sobbing, feeling your heart twist in your chest, and plowing on with a pep talk. It’s knowing something is wrong based on the way a person says hello. It’s asking who you need to go beat up, and being nice to someone because your friend asks.
Friendship is trolling your fancy work party for free drinks together in cocktail dresses, and it’s going to the pizza place around the corner in your pajamas. It’s seeing each other at your worst and never holding it against them. It’s understanding each other’s moods, even when you’re not willing to put up with them. It’s giving a kick in the pants when it’s needed. It’s the fire that is lit under your ass when you’re being lazy or indecisive. It’s telling the truth, even when it hurts, but trying to mitigate that hurt so the person isn’t trampled to death by your truth.
Friendship is reminding a person how incredibly awesome they are, whether they can see it, or not. It’s allowing a person to be free to be exactly who they are, no matter what. It’s allowing someone to order off a menu for you because “they’ll know what I like”, and it’s knowing someone’s standard order at all of your favorite area restaurants. It’s ordering a bunch of meals knowing you’ll just split everything up amongst you anyway.
Friendship is being able to let loose to a person, it’s base jokes and fake flirts. It’s pretending to be your bestie’s girlfriend when people won’t leave her alone. It’s feeling free to snort over a funny joke, and it’s mocking your friend’s snort.
Friendship is playfully ribbing one another, and it’s not taking that ribbing personally. It’s answering the phone at inconvenient times and bringing each other chicken soup when you’re sick. It’s using your car as a moving van and taking charge during hospital visits. It’s openly stating your flaws like they’re facts, and being met with “it’s true” style nods. It’s being ready with that well-timed joke, that cup of coffee, that phone call, that eye roll, that tackle hug, whenever it’s needed.
Friendship, both giving and receiving, saved my life so many times. When I’ve struggled with rejections or with depressions, friendships have carried me through. So to my wonderful circle of friends, thank you for being you.
This post was inspired by a recent Friendship day post by another blogger. Her name is Jazz Lily, and you should totally check out her blog–she’s an artist and poet, and her work is beautiful. Jazz Lily wrote a post requesting her readers to post a short explanation of what friendship is. I responded with, “Friendship is always trying to understand and support.” While I think that’s a fitting explanation of what friendship is, it didn’t feel like enough to truly express what has become an uplifting force in my life. Thus, this post was born.
Last week, I told you guys that my first literary non-fiction piece had been accepted for publication. The piece was about suffering with migraine, and would be appearing in an anthology about living with chronic illnesses.
Today, we’re revealing the title of our anthology. Ready?
That’s right! The title of the first book is…
Letters to Me & Other Chronic Illness Warriors: Volume 1
Mark your calendars if you’re excited to check out our cover reveal on October 7, 2017! I know I can’t wait to see it!
Relatively recently, Bryan Hutchinson issued a challenge on his blog, Positive Writer – list 40 reasons why you write. You can see his answers here. When it came about, I was in the throws of Camp NaNoWriMo. As that is now complete, and I’m taking a small break from the novel so I can attack it again in July’s edition of Nano, I needed this challenge. It’s been difficult to stay motivated, because the hits just keep coming in both my personal and professional life. So, I’m going to take some time to remind myself why I write. I hope you find my answers either interesting or inspirational. Also, I am so incredibly late to this challenge.
Writing keeps my brain busy. With my ADHD, my brain is always spinning anyway, so this gives it something to work on in the background.
Stories haunt me, and I have to get them out.
I have had a lot of trauma and strange events in my life, and I need an outlet.
Sometimes, I like to live vicariously through my characters.
Sometimes, I like to bury myself in my characters so I can forget life.
My son looks up to me for creating whole stories all by myself, and there’s no beating that.
Writing is a strong bond I share with my husband, as he is also an author.
Writing is a strong bond I share with my sister-in-law. She is also an author.
Writing has helped me make amazing friendships, some that are sure to be lifelong.
I like how writing makes me feel, like I am weaving worlds from my imagination.
The sense of accomplishment I feel when I finally get something right is amazing.
Rewriting has taught me all about perseverance. Frustration, but perseverance.
I like to read things I love over and over again, so this was probably a fitting career choice.
I love to paint with words.
I love to listen to music, and music always inspires me to paint with my words.
Clever dialogue is all around me. What would I do if I didn’t jot some of it down and use it for my own benefit?
My best friend has yoga. I have writing.
The creative people on my journey with me are the best people.
My characters tend to be stronger than I am. Or at least, than I was. These days, I seem to be taking a page from my own book. Writing has encouraged me to be stronger.
I’ve had a lot of people tell me I won’t get anywhere in this business, or something is wrong with the core of a particular story, etc. I intend to prove them very wrong.
When my anxiety disorder, my depression, my PTSD rears up, writing helps me cope.
Because, as a woman, and as a woman with physical and mental health issues, my voice and my individual experiences deserve to be heard.
I love reading so much, and I know how it feels to really connect with a character. I would love to be able to provide that for someone else.
I’ve always loved playing with voice and word choice, seeing how different an outcome I can create just by finding a more exact bit of syntax.
Writing often helps me to put feelings I’m dealing with into words, to tell truths through my characters that I can’t articulate properly in reality.
I honestly don’t know what I would do with all the spare time I’d get if I didn’t write or plan to write.
When I’m writing I can temporarily put off other, more important chores. But not the most important ones, of course. 😉
I still believe in magic, and sometimes, writing feels like magic. Like when something inexplicably comes together, and it feels like destiny, that feels like magic. That is the rare moment where I become a believer.
How else can I justify talking to the people who live in my brain?
I’m stubborn and I’ve said I’m going to do it, so damn it, I’m going to do it.
Some of the most fascinating people I’ve ever met write, so I hope some of that rubs off on me.
Sometimes, I’m not all that adventurous, so I need an excuse to try new and interesting things. Research gives me that excuse.
I was already a fact hoarder. This gives me a reason to hoard facts.
I hate waste, and I feel like I have a lot of knowledge and random experiences that just kind of sit around in my brain and go to waste. I want to give them some use. Like my two years working at an ice cream shop. I’m using that in my latest book.
There are tons of stories that I want to read, that I don’t find out there. I’ve always been a bit of a control freak. They say, if you want something done, do it yourself, right?
I’m getting to a point where rejections mean almost nothing to me. I’m numb to rejection.
Unless, they come with constructive criticism, at which point I am disappointed, but I have learned to love constructive criticism and view it as encouragement and help, rather than an insult. I think writing has helped to improve my personality in that way.
I have also become able to tell the difference between constructive knowledgeable criticism and insults, being led astray, and jealous attacks designed to keep a person below them. That lesson has helped me in all areas of my life.
I have a side gig as an editor, and I’ve always believed that, if you are going to manage people, you should be willing to get your hands dirty. If I won’t get my hands dirty with words, why should I tell other people to do so?
I love to geek out. It’s my life’s mission to make other people geek out as much as I do.
So, there are my 40 reasons! Do you need to remind yourself why you love something? Share your reasons in the comments, and thank you for being one of the people I’ve encountered on this journey, the people I write for. Thank you for being one of my reasons. ❤
Welcome to Part 3 of my Surviving Social Media Series. You can read Part 1 here, and Part 2 here.
Today, for breakfast, I ate apples and peanut butter. For lunch, I had a salad. For dinner, I had chicken and mashed potatoes. Scintillating information, isn’t it? As a matter of fact, I would bet that you don’t care even one tiny little bit. And yet so many people share things like this on social media.
I tend to live by the rules of ‘my page, my posts’. This is also known as ‘I don’t care what you think’, but things have changed a bit. I’ve got a publishing deal now, and with that comes the need for a little discretion on my posts so as not to alienate half of my potential fan base (that’s a little explanation for those of you who may have noticed I never talk politics anymore). I hate every minute of it, if I’m honest. I like speaking my mind, but I am careful about what I say.
Now, it’s true that it doesn’t matter what you post on your page, because it’s your page. But that doesn’t mean that people have to hang around and read it. So, much like freedom of speech, you have it, but nobody has to listen to you talking.
Personally, I don’t care what you say as long as it’s something I want to know. Things I don’t want to know?
Every single thing you eat: There are exceptions to this rule. If you go to an amazing restaurant? Sure. If it’s the best meal you’ve ever eaten? If you’re a terrible cook, but finally managed to accomplish something? SURE (I put that one in just for me). But that sandwich you made? Really? A sandwich? I’m good.
Your bodily functions. I don’t want to know about them. I don’t want to read a celebration post about the fact that your child is no longer constipated. That’s great news that I’d rather not know. Congrats though…
Your sex life. Unlike other people, I have no problem seeing pictures of happy couples being lovey dovey with each other. It’s sweet! I’m a hopeless romantic and I love it. However, I don’t want to know anything at all about how you get down. NOTHING AT ALL. Please don’t share. I don’t have nearly enough brain bleach to correct that.
Things that you don’t want to tell people. I used to be occasionally guilty of this. If you’re going to talk about a thing, talk about it. If you have no intention of talking about it, don’t post about it. But definitely don’t vaguebook. It’s annoying. If you don’t intend to tell the story, don’t bother posting. It’s just annoying to try to guess.
So, that’s one problem–oversharing YOUR life. But there’s another kind of post that grinds my gears when it appears on social media. And that is a little thing I like to call Spiritual Blackmail Posts. It goes a little something like this:
The poster finds something they feel passionate about. That’s cool. You should be passionate about things and when you are passionate about things, you should post about them. But the problem lies in the moment the poster comes across a post like this (Disclaimer: I am not making fun of animal abuse. I am making a point. Please don’t think I support anything like that, because in truth, if I saw you kick your dog or something, I’d probably punch you in the face without thinking): “Like/Share if you hate animal abuse! Scroll if you don’t care!” with a picture of a sad dog face looking up at you.
You know what? F**k that! I don’t jump through hoops. I don’t participate in spiritual blackmail. You don’t post things to make me feel guilty if I don’t share them. Never mind the fact that posts like those are probably like-farms designed to gain information about you. This is just like the posts that say “like and copy this into your status if you love me”. While I’m sure some of the people on social media are, in fact, twelve, we aren’t all twelve. Why does me liking and copying your status prove that I love you? Wouldn’t you already know that without this? If not, your relationships are a little sad.
It all plays in with posting abuse pictures on your wall. It’s all the same thing. Every step from part 1, 2, and 3 are part of the same clusterf**k that we can’t avoid when it comes to social media.
LOOK AT ME. And in some cases, it’s wonderful. It’s self-esteem building and business building. And in some ways, it’s just a sad attempt at gaining attention. Talking to people, sharing things you find interesting, telling stories about your life, even the much maligned selfie, are all acceptable ways to say “look at me” in a public sphere. It’s like saying hello in a room full of friends and telling them a story. The other stuff? It’s like jumping up and down in a room full of strangers, screaming “HELLO! MY NAME IS JUSTINE MANZANO AND TODAY I ATE HAM.”
On planet Justine, where I write a story that involves world building, work in acquisitions where I read a ton of fantasy stories that either have or sorely need world building, edit fantasy books to make sure their world building is consistent, and read a ton of fantasy books just for fun, world building is very important to me.
What do I mean by world building? Well, when you’re creating a story, some story worlds come with a built-in structure. Those stories usually exist in our world, in current times. For stories like that in the fantasy genre, the world building usually involves what makes the story world unique from the regular world. So, the world created needs to exist in conjunction with the natural world. In my novel, The Order of the Key, my world building largely involves a questionable organization that exists off the grid, an epidemic of monsters that live in the shadows, and superhuman abilities that some human beings are able to harness. My main character joins the organization, and in doing so, becomes privy to a long history of things the rest of the world is ignorant of, as well as a hierarchy and set of expectations that do not exist outside of the select group of people she has found herself wrapped up in.
Other fantasy worlds involve the creation of something entirely from imagination, with no connection to our real world, or with connection to a past version of the real world. Some behave like Medieval England, for example. Those require a different sort of creation. The story must reveal and explain detailed landscapes of history in this completely new, unfamiliar space.
So, how do you make even the strangest, most bizarre worlds feel real?
The world needs a history. This world has existed before the main character walked into it, or before this story started being told, so what have we missed? Don’t dump it all on us at once, but you should know it, and you should show us some glimpses of it when it makes sense in the story.
If the world has magic or advanced science, that system and all of the ins and outs thereof must be established early enough that things don’t feel completely made up when they occur. It takes us out of the story.
The reality is in the details. It takes little things to make an unreal place feel real. Like the scent of the room when someone has baked. The places where kids stash their goodies. The alley with that one leaky pipe overhead that always drips just as you’re walking under it. The mud on the hill you walk over on the way to work that always swallows the heel of your boot. These are the things that make a world tangible. You need these little things to believe.
Give it an infrastructure – real worlds have economic levels. They have social levels. They have educational levels. These things feed into how your characters will interact with each other, and they often give us a point of reflection on which to understand a world.
It has to feel like it could happen to the reader. This is, perhaps, the one that gets most overlooked. Whatever you put down on paper, no matter how strange or unlikely, the way your characters operate in the world needs to ring true. This means, within your world, you must follow your own rules. You can say the sky is green all you would like, but if it turns blue in the next minute for no explainable reason, you have violated your own rules – you lose credibility in that moment, and the very thing we need in our created worlds, authenticity.
What makes the imaginary worlds you encounter feel real? Let me know in the comments below.