I used to have the ability to remember quotes verbatim…and I knew who’d said them and what book it came from and sometimes even what page…Unwillingly, I’ve become the perpetrator of liberal paraphrasing—all that I remember now is the impact someone’s words had on me.
Recently, my brother, Moises, and I were discussing a performance by Laurie Carlos at UT-Austin a few years back. Don’t remember the name of it or what year…all I remember now is how completely wowed by her we were…and that we’d left re-energized, inspired, empowered. I felt like I was floating a little bit in the air, and it felt as if everything had acquired an extra clarity.
Moises asked me if I remember what she’d said about ‘The Sweet.’ Usually when our memories differ, it’s because he remembers what is beautiful and transcendent and essential while I’ll remember the dark and the painful and the confused. What I remembered Laurie Carlos saying, in reference to mentoring the next generation of writers of color, was that it was so difficult for them to retain the notion of ‘the sweet’ in the face of multi-prolonged oppressions, societal and socioeconomic challenges, life strugges, and all the pain and rage that can build up in the artist.
It struck me deeply then. Reminded me of the years in my early twenties that I spent in S. Texas working as a waitress and trying to take care of my mother. I could barely write. I was angry with everyone around me, especially my father. I drank too much. I partied too much. I despaired over ever returning to ‘my life’ as a college student, a community organizer, and a poet.
At 23, when I moved to Austin, I was relieved to have left my ‘dark time’ behind and to be able to write again. The intervening years have taken me to darker places and greater despairs. But I understand—or I’m beginning to understand—things I couldn’t comprehend then.
Creating is born of love. And not necessarily glorious, sun-bursting, your-body-on-fire love. In fact, I’d say it’s more often a worn and steady love, like a heart beating, like steady sunshine, like our belief in trees and flowers emerging from the ground, the love that made some of our mothers rise every morning to make tortillas, the love that keeps us returning to forty hours a week at a job that deadens us and then the love that drives us to a second job, a third job, the love that keeps us writing stubborn letters, the love that keeps us returning to the page, the love with which we care for others and ourselves, the love that lets us keep hoping when it would make more sense to give up.
Movies and novels make us long for the grand life-sweeping loves, but I’d argue those aren’t the loves that teach us how to live, the loves that teach us to create instead of destroy, the loves that make us more than we are…the loves that live in our lives daily, the loves that make our lives sweet, that can teach us to retain our sweetness in the face of adversity and pain.
We learn love, we strengthen our capacity to love in large ways and little ways….by loving who we love, by loving the small things in life that we particularly love, by returning every time to the page with what sweetness we have…with our vulnerabilities and our exposed hearts…and by choosing to create.