“To Thine Own Self Be True.” Who hasn’t heard those words in a White-dominated Western culture? I heard these words, years later when I was getting my Masters in English and thinking about religious life. (Yeah, yeah, laugh it up.) I heard it from a candidate who was taking her vows, and she gave that as the best advice. You want to know what direction you want to take in life? To thine own self be true.
Obvs, myself wanted a husband and kids, or back then, a boyfriend I could bang 24/7. I was too horny and hormonal to be celibate, at the time. Now, I could probably swing it, but it's too late because I'm married. The point is that I needed to know who I was to make the correct choices in life.
That is not so easily done.
There is so much noise. Sad family noise from our past. Even sadder historical noise, tainted with colonization and violence. TV noise. Popular culture noise. The damned noise in our own heads that is a result of the other systematically-produced noise. It used to get so loud in my head, I would yell at myself to “SHUT UP.” Because I had to get shit done and move onto the next task. Never mind that I wasn't dealing with hurts or whatever I needed to deal with instead of working like an idiot!
Now that I’m older, my head is quieter. Partly, it’s because I’m more secure within myself. And yes the anti-depressants help, though they are not magic pills. No pill is.
I started with this quote because as writers, we change over time. As humans, we change over time. And if we are striving to be the best at our craft, shouldn’t we know who we are, especially in relation to others?
You see, one of my life goals is to rehumanize others, especially my students because Capitalism dehumanizes us, makes us individual silos, and breaks connections with others. I know this. I live it. I fight it.
The same goal of humanizing is true for my writing: to show what is human. But, I rarely meditate on who I am. I focus on the after-effects of overwork like migraines and depression and exhaustion. (Or the weepies, which, yes, I have this early morning and am wrestling or dancing with, not sure which because soft emotions are hard for me to process.)
This whole notion of reflecting on how you are struck me as I was listening to Matt Sedillo talk about knowing what was excellent about “your” craft. It hit me again, as Tongo Eisen-Martin was talking about meditating—when not writing. I wondered what to mediate about when not writing, and whether I could actually meditate.
Meditation is hard for me. Self-reflection is too because in the past it used to be a laundry list of all the fucked up things I had done in the past (none of which were major at all, just conflated in my head) and shit I didn’t do, so I kicked my internal ass all the way to the underworld. None of that was productive. None of it.
Now, I am at a point where I have outgrown that shitty guilt that accomplishes nothing. All that negative chatter is useless.
Forgiveness was crucial, and I apologized to everyone I had to. Guess what? They didn’t know what the fuck I was talking about, and here I was carrying all this guilt around for decades. I know I’m not alone in this unproductive habit of carrying trash in our heads and our hearts of stomping on our souls to a nothing pulp. Done nobody else needs to do it. We are champs at making ourselves a quivering mess.
This path also meant that I forgive myself for not meeting up to my Masters of the Universe standards, I had fabricated in my head. That too was bullshit. I do believe that is a sin.
These days, my head and my body actually feel lighter. My head isn’t a circus of noise. I can focus on my tasks. I can think the best of others. Still working on thinking the best of myself, but some habits are hard to break and take time.
What does all of this have to do with writing? I think that once you truly get to know yourself, you can dig into what makes your craft YOU. For me, I think part of it has to do with being generous and wanting to make the world better. It has to do with the very same roots that gave me years of basura I had to throw out. My culture is key to who I am with my Spanish and Spanglish weaved into my work. With images from my childhood home, serving as the pillars to my work. Stories from the barrio run through my being. They are my core. They are, and I collect more because the gossip never stops where I’m from. It's like a 3-D telenovela where material never runs out.
And, that’s as far as I’ve gotten in this road to meditation and self-discovery. These are my strengths, but I know there is more. It's must going to take a lot of unpeeling of a hard facade. Now, I won't do this alone. Fuck that. That's what my counselor and friends are for, and yes, God, but the work will get done because I'm mature enough to do it.
Where are you at in your journey of self-reflection and understanding your work? I genuinely want to know.