Archive for the ‘writing’ Category

If you’ve been following my blog for the past few weeks, you know that I posted a diagram of a wheel that represented the various aspects of my life and mind. I promised that each week, I would write about some portion of that wheel. First, I wrote about food, then sexuality, then family, and last week, about exposure and writing itself. The only things left to tackle were money and meditation.

Albany, 1986

But let’s face it. I hate talking about money and I procrastinate more than I meditate. So instead, this week I watched a bunch of old home movies and came across myself, happily typing away on my very first typewriter, given to me by my grandparents for Christmas, circa 1986. Yes, my Jewish grandparents loved nothing more than to celebrate Christmas with me and my parents, over whole wheat apple fritters and a glass of champagne.

NYC, 2011

And here I am today on my state-of-the-art, now-completely-obsolete-since-the-new-one-came-out-last-week, MacBook Pro. I’m no longer wearing footsie pajamas, but I look pretty organized with my handmade calendar and world map. And I’m still fascinated by the sight of my own words on the page.

This week, I plan to meditate at least a couple times and come into some unexpected cash. So I’m sure I’ll be able to think of something to write. In the meantime, please enjoy this video while I tidy up the trial size items under my bathroom sink.

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“You are visible, and you’re about to become a lot more visible.”

So read the opening paragraphs of my 2010 astrology report from Eric Francis, and I took it seriously. It was true. I had just begun working on a memoir which would broadcast my story to the world. Of course, I could decide what to include and what to leave out, but at some point, I knew I wouldn’t be able to hide. I also knew that there would never be a book (or at least a publisher) if all I did was skim the surface, listing the events of my life like an encyclopedia. Meadow Braun. Born 1976. Delivered newspapers. Member of Hackett Hawks cheerleading squad. No, that wouldn’t do. I was reminded by my writing mentors that I would have to go deeper. “Show, don’t tell,” they repeated like broken records. Readers want details, emotions. They need to know your motivation. They need to know exactly what everything smelled like. They need the situation and the story.

Part of my story is that I have always been terrorized by my own visibility. As a child, I longed to shield myself from the judgmental gaze of my friend’s mother who questioned whether I had gone to a “proper” Girl Scout camp; from classmates who asked if they could “boing” my hair; from Jewish Community Center swimmers who wondered aloud if I was Israeli as I sat in the lifeguard chair and twirled my whistle around bronze fingers; from my own parents and grandparents who watched intently as I opened gifts on Christmas morning, waiting for my reaction; from the eyes of the boy who motioned at me and said “she ain’t got no pussy” while I waited in line for the high dive wearing my new black swimsuit which exposed my thirteen-year-old belly and back. I felt painfully visible when people asked what I was, what kind of name I had, whether I was adopted. And then I felt invisible when NYU decided to trim down the two ethnic groups I had chosen on my application from Black and Caucasian to just Black because, as they said, they didn’t have space for both. Visibility comes along with misunderstanding and abuse, and it has always been an issue for me as I struggle to form an identity that defies expectation without apology.

But if visibility is so painful, why do I write? And why, of all things, do I write memoir?

The truth is, I don’t think I have a choice. I write because I need to. Sometimes, like Joyce Carol Oates said at her reading earlier this week, I write out of desperation. Sometimes, writing is the only rope I can grab and I hold onto it for dear life until there is ground under me again.

I read once that Michelangelo didn’t think of himself so much as sculpting a figure as releasing the one that already lived within the stone. It was as if he didn’t so much create the sculpture as reveal it. Maybe writers are like this. Maybe we are born with words wrapped around us like a cloak and as we write, we shed that cloak, little by little, until we are left stark naked and exposed.

Exposure is always the risk we take when we write. It is inevitable. Some people treat me poorly when I am exposed and try to shame me into covering up. Sometimes I do that myself, anxiously attempting to swallow the words that I have shared just moments before. The “publish” button might as well be called the “panic” button, because that’s what I do after clicking it.

But the anxiety passes, and I keep writing.

Once when I was drawing myself, I began crying. My first instinct was to stop as I could barely make out my own face in the mirror. But I continued, and drew myself through the tears. The resulting contorted lines of ink were closer to me than anything I had drawn before. I write because I am committed to that kind of authenticity. I write because I fight fire with fire. I write because the arrangement of words on paper makes order out of chaos and gives the pointless purpose. I write because even though I may not enjoy the experience of being seen, there is some pleasure, and perhaps some value, in being recognized for who I really am.

And now, a question for my readers: Why do YOU write? If you aren’t a writer, what do you do in your life that exposes you? Do you try to avoid doing it?

Thanks, as always, for reading and especially for subscribing (wink, wink).

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I’ve been published!

Just a quick post to invite you to check out my first published piece, Gangs of New York, in New York Press.

Also, visit bloggers.com, where my blog has been highlighted as one of the Editors’ Picks of the Day!

Take a look, vote, subscribe, share with friends… or whatever you kids are doing these days. Thanks, as always, for your support. It seems to be working!

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What gives? We do!

Happy New Year(‘s Eve), readers!

I wanted to share with you some of my thoughts as we transition into yet another year, one that will surely feel even shorter than the one just completed. As a way of saying thank you for supporting this toddling blogger’s first steps, I’d like to invite you to focus at the end of the year on what is truly important. Me.

No, no, ok … it’s not me we should focus on, it’s what I think. And I think that what’s most important is to remember how necessary and valuable each of our stories is. And in doing so, to recognize that each of us has her own story. And in doing that, to be reminded of our responsibility to each other. To that end, I invite you to join me in giving to one of the following nonprofits, chosen by MoveOn and its members. I think it’s a good selection, representing food, shelter, and women’s heath.

And if your generosity knows no bounds, I invite you to donate to my personal cause, which you can read about below, or on my website.

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My goal in 2010 was to begin to reinvent myself and to do it publicly. To crack open the gates of fear that I have spent decades building around my authentic self. To open my wounds to the sting of fresh air, and bare my scars to strangers. I didn’t know that meant starting a blog, but it turned out to be a powerful way of connecting with others and becoming more comfortable with sharing things that would typically be reserved for my therapist. Some days, I still wonder if blogging is a sign of mental illness, but I remind myself that I am sharing my story not out of conceit or self congratulation, but out of the sincere belief that it matters. I think I have lived a unique life, so far. My circumstances have led me to understand myself simultaneously as a member of every group and of none; to be so comfortable in my own skin that I have no desire to belong, and yet so fearful of being rejected that I need mining tools to know even my own desires. But rather than choosing defeat, I choose to write. To try my best to learn the lessons placed before me. To accept my life as a gift and weave it into something that might be offered to others.

Going into 2011, my goal is to write, every day. Ok, most days. To create a regular schedule for my blog. And to move forward on my memoir. It’s not easy, writing a book. I am comforted by the words of Annie Dillard, bestselling author of The Writing Life.

Writing a memoir isn’t just about sitting down with pen and paper or Macbook Pro. It’s about living. About seeing. About opening up to new channels of thought, ones you had likely roadblocked years before. It’s about commitment, love, and integrity. It requires an unwavering confidence in oneself coupled with a strong sense of humility. It takes time. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and I’ve only scratched the surface. Your support means the world to me.

Click here if you’d like to support me in a way other than subscribing to and reading my blog (as if that wasn’t enough). I’ll even show you where your hard earned dollars will go!

Thank you for being you… and Happy New Year!

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en el barrio, la virgen del carmen got my back

My identity, as experienced today, broken down by category (cause you know how I love categories).

Race: I’m feeling rather Latina today. Been listening to a lot of Buika and Shakira, and spent the evening walking through Spanish Harlem (yes, I know that’s where I live, but I was incredibly aware of it today). When my friend, Rebecca, tried to speak to me in Spanish so that her kids wouldn’t understand, she laughed at me when I spoke back. “It’s so cute when you try to speak Spanish.” And I’m the one who’s actually Puerto Rican! I get no respect.

Gender: This afternoon, I ventured out in sneakers, workout pants, and my usual army green bag. Two blocks from my building, I had to sidestep a group of four guys under a scaffold. I think one of them tried to talk to me, but I was in the middle of leaving someone a voice mail (I know, the nerve of me — on the phone and completely ignoring my responsibilities). A few steps down the street I could hear him yelling “Bitch,” so I think we can safely assume I am still a woman. Yay.

Sexuality: Still feeling the ladies, and trying desperately to write a piece on the differences between sex with men and sex with women. So far, I’ve made some pretty strong observations. Among them: In lesbian sex, role playing is organic and control is shared. Two women can have bam, bam, thank you ma’am sex just as well as two straight people, but with women, who’s doing the bamming and who’s doing the ma’aming is up for grabs. Every time. This freedom from expectations can be stressful for some people (not me, of course!)

Career: Writer and hostess, although my guests from DC left this morning so I’ve got an empty nest.

Spirituality: I thought about doing yoga today. Does that count? Also, I heard about this group called Romemu. They describe themselves as follows: (roh·meh·moo) seeks to integrate body, mind, and soul in Jewish practice. They totally had me up until Jewish practice. Eh, maybe I’ll check it out anyway. Shabbat, anyone?

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I was deeply moved by this TED talk given by novelist Chimamanda Adichie back in July 2009 and wanted to share it with you, my thoughtful readers. She touches on many of the issues I write about in my blog, eloquently demonstrating “how impressionable and vulnerable we are in the face of a story, especially as children.”

When I share personal and intimate accounts of my own experiences and then find that the people around me had different perspectives on the same events, it forces me to acknowledge that I may have learned a particular story about myself. While this story may feel very true to me, it may not be entirely so. Similarly, we are exposed to stereotypical stories of other people, especially people far away with whom we may have little to no contact. These stories seek to divide us and highlight our differences, to make us feel better or worse than someone else. We can see it happening all around us — in the Park51 debate, in the horrific attacks on gay men in the Bronx — in all these hate-fueled controversies based on fear of an unknown or misunderstood other. It’s our job to see beyond the story.

I am currently in the middle of reading Adichie’s novel, Half of a Yellow Sun, which was passed on to me by a recent Australian bnb guest, who picked it up at a hostel in Spain. That’s the kind of global connection that gives me hope.

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Power in Submission

Most days are forgettable, coming and going without any particularly sensational moments. The changes from the day before are generally imperceptible. You get up, look at the same face in the mirror, do some stuff, eat some stuff, talk to some people, and go back to bed. But some days, you have a moment that stops you in your tracks. When you put the same old ingredients together and come up with something entirely different than what you’ve always come up with before. Sometimes it’s truly out of the blue, but more often it’s the culmination of many thoughts on many days before this one and you stand there, wherever you are — in the shower, washing dishes, or on the train, as I was — and you know that this moment is going to change your life, and that you’ll always remember when and where and how it happened. Today was one of those of days.

I was finishing up my final piece for a writing class on shewrites.com called Word Yoga. It was an inspiring four-weeks full of meditative, mind-stretching exercises that really got my pen moving, my fingers burning up the laptop keyboard. The fire it lit under my ass was one of the things that helped birth this blog, my newborn pride and joy. One would not be out of line to say that Word Yoga was my baby daddy. (Don’t worry shewrites, I will not show up at your door demanding milk and pampers.)

The instructor had requested a final piece from each participant, from which one will be chosen and highlighted on the website. Seeing my work “published” by someone other than myself would be fun, and so I’ve been putting some tweaks on my final submission. I began thinking about that word — submission. By submitting a piece, I am offering up a part of myself. I am giving without any absolute guarantee that I will get something in return. It’s a risk and it takes a bit of courage, like anything worth doing. When we submit, we display our wares, we open ourselves up to critique and judgment. We may receive praise and recognition, and on the flip side, there is the potential for humiliation and regret. But it’s the only way to grow. Imagine a flower staying a bud for fear it would be tread upon, or an apple tree retaining its fruit to prevent it from being eaten.

These thoughts were still with me later in the day as I was on the train heading to meet a friend for lunch. I was seated and in front of me was a young couple, squished together by the crowd. The man stood sideways with one arm grasping the bar above, the other wrapped around the woman, holding her firmly, yet gently. He absentmindedly caressed the part of her back where his hand happened to fall and she stood facing him, embracing his torso, holding nothing but him, her head resting on his chest, eyes closed. Her embroidered leather bag hung low over one hip, covered partially by a long, gray sweater. Once in a while, he leaned toward her ear and spoke softly and she responded, never once opening her eyes as the train started and stopped, doors opened and closed. In that moment, she had submitted to him, yet she carried her own weight. The simple beauty of their presence captured me.

My feelings caught me off guard, as I am typically disgusted by the idea of submission. I regard it as a failure and associate it with weakness, especially for women. For years, I have carried around the self-righteous idea that in order to be respected, we must take full responsibility for ourselves and accept no assistance. My stance has been hardened by outdated, religious connotations of submission to God, to husbands, or to other forces outside ourselves. I’ve seen submission only as the inevitable result of brainwashing. But today, as I watched this embracing couple and thought of my own submission to my writing class (both showing up for it week after week, and the actual pieces of writing), I realized that it can be a sign of immense personal strength. That it is through submission that we share and define ourselves. That we, in fact, hold the power — if we so choose. Quite suddenly, I saw that submission is not only passive, but active. I saw the grace and the strength of character that is called from within us when we enter bravely into engagement with others. I saw that submission is what opens the door to a true experience of ourselves, to earth-shaking pleasure and mind-numbing pain. The man in the couple could have lost his balance or let her go at any time, but she had chosen to trust him, to give herself a break. She had chosen to rest.

As I send in my final submission, I am thinking of that couple. I recognize that in submitting a piece of my writing, I am submitting myself to whatever may come and in doing so I say,”Do with me what you will, I can handle anything.” Perhaps someday, I will not only submit to invisible cyber groups, but to another human being, to a partner. Despite all my relationships, I don’t believe I have ever truly done that. Today, I am one step closer.

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