The Relentless Files — Week 1
*An essay every Friday in 2016*
I learned on December 29th that I posted 23 blog essays in 2015. A few of them went viral. A few were even Fresh Pressed. Others were picked up by publications, including Side B Magazine, Huffington Post, xoJane, Thought Catalog and Kweli Journal, among others. I also gained several thousand followers. I made friends through my blog. Established cyber relationships that have carried me and supported me through a tough year and even tougher writing. It got me thinking: I wonder what I could do and what could happen if I wrote and posted double that amount in 2016. What if I posted an essay a week?
I was inspired by my T&W colleague Sarah Dohrman who published an essay every Tuesday in 2015 on her Tumblr blog Today’s Tuesday. I read them sporadically over the year. I was inspired by her consistency, her dedication, but it was a few lines in her 52nd Tuesday essay that got me, dug in and dared me: try it, do it, write an essay a week in 2016, why the fuck not, I dare you! “By publishing an essay every Tuesday of this year, I had to accept that ego serves no purpose but to debilitate. It wasn’t my low self-esteem that had crippled me through the years, it was my ego.”
Ego. Yeah…I got a lot of that. I pretend that I don’t, but I do. In fact, it was my ego that tried to prevent me from taking this on. Ego said: Don’t be a biter. That’s so unoriginal. You’re being a copycat. Can’t you come up with your own shit, V? I called bullshit but still felt like an imposter. When I reached out to Sarah about it, she said she’d been inspired by Leah Reich, who had taken on the challenge in 2014 in her blog A Year of Wednesdays.
I’m super-motivated by the idea that ego is crippling me and my writing and what I can do with it, where I can take it. The idea is also fuckin terrifying, and anyone who knows me, knows that especially over these past few years, anything that terrifies me intrigues me enough to stare it in the face.
If ego is what’s kept me from finishing this memoir, Relentless, then it’s ego I have to confront.
If it’s lack of consistency, then having to write a blog essay a week is a great way to tackle that issue.
Maybe I’m trying to convince myself, here. Maybe I’m trying to write myself into it. Maybe I’m just typing on this keyboard, trying to find out what the fuck I’m doing and why. Fuck it. Whatever it takes. The epiphanies don’t happen in your head. They happen in the writing, or at least that’s been my experience.
I don’t expect this endeavor to be easy. I expect to be challenged. I want to be.
I promise to be honest. Completely raw…which isn’t unusual for me, if you’ve read any of my work, but it’s still difficult, every single time. No matter what, it’s hard, and yet, I will do it, and will continue to. This time consistently—every Friday. This time with a weekly purpose—The Relentless Files.
Here it goes…
Because I love the word. There’s something so gritty about it, so in your face.
According to Dictionary.com relentless is:
: that does not relent; unyieldingly severe, strict, or harsh; unrelenting: a relentless enemy.
Merriam Webster says relentless is:
: continuing without becoming weaker, less severe, etc.
: remaining strict or determined
: showing or promising no abatement of severity, intensity, strength, or pace : unrelenting <relentless pressure> <a relentless campaign>
See, it’s a bad ass, descriptive word. It describes me, because if I’m anything, I’m relentless, persistent, determined as fuck. Who quits their full time, well-paying, health insurance and 401K providing editing job to live their dream? Who does this as a single mother? A relentless one like me does. I did it in 2010. This May marks the six year anniversary. Word.
In the fall of 2014, I posed a question as my FB status: What, in your honest opinion, makes a writer? Someone I do not know (one of those, “Who are you and how are we FB friends?” kind of people) responded that in order for me to become a writer (because, you know, I wasn’t a writer yet in this fool’s eyes) I had to get over myself and my life and everything that happened to me, and I had to stop writing about it. Real writers, he claimed, don’t write about their shit. They get over it and move on to write real literature.
I’m not the first woman to be told that my confessional writing isn’t real writing. Sarah Dohrman speaks on this in her last 2015 essay. When a not-so-close friend told her her essays read like someone’s diary, Sarah cringed at the accusation. She said she wanted to be known as a real writer, her work as literature. But who said confessional writing isn’t literature? And who the fuck made them the authority on all things writing?
In an essay in The Guardian, Leslie Jamison, author of The Empathy Exams, writes: “Confessional writing often gets a bad rap. People call it self-absorbed, solipsistic, self-indulgent. Who wants to hear another 30-year-old going on and on about her damage? But when I published a collection of “confessional” essays this spring, The Empathy Exams, full of personal material (an abortion, heart surgery, getting punched in the face by a stranger) – I started to feel like confession could be the opposite of solipsism. My confessions elicited responses. They coaxed chorus like a brushfire… There are many ways to confess and many ways confession can reach beyond itself. If the definition of solipsism is “a theory holding that the self can know nothing but its own modifications and that the self is the only existent thing”, then little pushes back against solipsism more forcefully than confession gone public. This kind of confession inevitably creates dialogue.”
I can’t count how many people have written to me about my work, saying that my telling my truths and revealing secrets has given them permission to do the same. I had one woman call me “the Latina Roxane Gay.” She’d recently lost her father and ex-husband (her father’s son) in the same year, and in her search for grief memoirs, found my blog. She wrote to tell me that I gave her permission to write about her grief. Soon after, she signed up for my Writing Our Lives class to help her in the journey.
Just the other day, another follower wrote: “Thank you for writing about how an event like the death of your brother can bring out all the other grief you needed to feel in order to confront what was blocking you and liberating you at the same time. I find your guidance through trial and fire one of the few true paths I can trust… I mean I don’t know you, but your honesty and ability to write without pasting positivity onto everything and yet hitting real light and love and healing is a tremendous help to me in my own learning. Your recommendations to books for personal growth and healing work are helpful too. It’s an honor to be one of your readers.”
I write to understand myself and make sense of my life. I write because if I didn’t, I’d go crazy. I write to take back my power, again and again and again. I write because the inclination to write these stories and sit with myself is so strong, it is a greater challenge not to. I write because I feel like it and some random person on-line isn’t going to stop me. Why? Because I am relentless. And that’s exactly what I told that pendejo: “I am relentless, didn’t you know?” Then I promptly deleted him.
It was shortly after that confrontation, while sitting with my stories, that I realized that in my writing about my grief over losing my brother and the fifteen years of drug addiction that ultimately led to his death, I had organically started writing a memoir called Relentless… Because I write about the relentlessness of grief and the griefs that that one grief uncovered—the griefs I’d been carrying for much of my life: the grief over being unmothered and feeling unworthy and, as a result, falling in love with mirrors of my mother over and over again. I write about the relentlessness of my brother’s pain and how that led to his reckless behavior. I write about the relentless damage secrets have caused on my family, the secret of my brothers conception in a rape, and how that relentless trauma made my mother into the woman she is today—a mother who can’t mother me, who is cruel and callous, and has punished me much of my life by denying me her love. I write about my own relentless struggle to heal and how in order to do that, I had to let grief kill me a little for it to give me life. I write about the relentlessness of this here woman who at the tender age of 13 decided she had to save her own life, so she left everything she knew and loved, and went to boarding school to make her way in the world. She never looked back.
So why relentless? Because it’s who I am. That’s why. Welcome to the journey of the Relentless Files. Week 1 of 52. Welcome!