Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Starting in the Middle

This writing every night thing is hard...but a deal is a deal. It's not so much writer's block that's got me right now, it's that I've been going full force all day without time to think. I worked all day, came home, ate and then straight to trivia night at Liffey's. It's always a blast and I get to utilize my vast knowledge of absolute nonsense. There's also the bonus of getting to spend time with my friends AND sometimes we win money! I can be fiercely competitive, but it's all in the name of good fun, so I think it's OK. Anyway, enough with the excuses. Time to write.

Note: this might be a bit of a ramble, but the book I'm currently reading says I should start with "shitty first drafts," so here goes nothing.

I'm reading Anne Lamott's book Bird by Bird and it's got me thinking about how to put my story together. Frankly, it's got me a little spooked. I'm used to writing poems and "essays," so I have no clue how to put a larger story together. E. suggested taking a look at all the pieces I've written about my family and growing up Cuban, making some notes and going from there. There's so much, I almost don't know where to begin. Lamott talks about looking at a scene through a one inch square and describing what can be seen through it. Right now, I'm doing a lot of thinking about the past and the people that populated my life back then. This might sound crazy, but Facebook helps. I find myself back in contact with so many people from that time. People I knew in high school and grammar school are back in my life. I've thought about a lot of these people from time to time, but having them right there, even virtually, stirs a pot of memories I forgot I even had. It is great to be back in touch, but at the same time, I think of the person I was back then (rather the person I thought I was) and I think, "Who was that girl?" Let's explore a little bit...

I was, in my opinion, a nerd. Seriously. I happened to attend a high school where the honor society people were also, for the most part, the popular kids. I was not in the honor society, but I did alright as far as my grades went, if you don't count math or science. Many a teacher took pity on me, but no matter how hard I tried, I just didn't get it. Numbers have never been my thing. I was friends with lots of people, just like now, but most of the time I didn't feel like I fit in any particular group. So many people say high school was the best time of their lives. I can look back now and say it wasn't awful. My classmates and teachers were always nice to me, it wasn't them. It was me. I hadn't found my way and I was hard on myself. I felt different (as in not cool) and I think it showed. I lost myself in books, I went to the local "art house" movie theater and lost myself in films like Howard's End (side note: The Galaxy Theater is sad), I wrote bad poetry and I wrote in my diary. Some things never change, I guess. Well, the poetry might be a bit better.

What happened to that girl? When and how did I start to feel like myself, like the woman I am still becoming? I left home. It wasn't easy leaving that incredibly close community of Cubans behind and venturing to the wilds of Connecticut by myself, but I knew I had to do it. I needed to get away from the girl I had been, the girl I thought I was, the girl everyone knew as the Abreus' youngest girl, as Pete and Maria's baby sister. I needed to figure out who I was outside of all of that.

By the end of the first year at school, I had found my tribe. Granted, for the first month, I was pretty lost, more lost than I ever felt at home. I would call my sister every weekend and cry because I was so lonely. Then I met Chris and things started falling into place.Chris introduced me to Kev who introduced me to Cat, Jenni, Cyn and the rest of the Girls and the Boys. For the next three years I ate nearly every meal with these people. We took trips together, walked to class together, studied together, watched our favorite shows together (Northern Exposure!) and, as college kids do, drank together. It was wonderful and it felt right. I felt right.

You should know that all of these friends of mine are artists. Painting, printmaking, photography, sound design, ceramics, on and on. Maybe that's what drew me to them. The great thing about my writing back then (and now) was that I could do it anywhere. I didn't need a studio, I could keep my friends company while they did their thing. For example, if Jenni was in the print shop, I could sit with her and write while she worked. I could hang out with Cat at the music school and scribble away while she recorded things. It reminded me of being in my Dad's shop after school doing homework while he worked. Considering the amount of hours I spent in the art school buildings, I should have an honorary Bachelor of Fine Arts...too bad I can't draw worth a lick.

The difference between my college friends and my high school friends is time. By the time I started high school, I had known a number of my classmates since kindergarten. You get to know people pretty well during those years and if, like me, you are awash in self-doubt, you aren't going to take a lot of chances. I was in a constant state of "Oh God, I hope they like me. I want them to think I'm normal (whatever I thought that was)." I'm going to guess that my high school mates weren't thinking about whether I was cool or not. They liked me for who I was and treated me accordingly. I realize now how much time I wasted worrying. I've always been a worrier. (Again, thanks to Facebook for facilitating a second chance with so many of my childhood friends. I really did wonder what happened to everyone. Glad to be back!)

When I got to college, I didn't know anyone. Did that free me up a bit? Maybe. The people at college had no idea I I wasn't "cool," so I had nothing to lose. I didn't expect to be the most popular person at college, I just wanted to have one friend who "got me," in spite of my preference for English films and 19
th century poetry, and maybe because of it. A lot to ask, I know, but I found them. Or, maybe they found me.

I am still in regular contact with most of my tribe. You might say I'm the hub of the wheel or the conduit that so much information flows through to the others. People move, I've got the new address and phone number. These friends are as much my family as my parents and my siblings. They've seen me through so much (breakups, bad jobs, bad hair) and I love them for it. No matter how many days or years have passed between phone calls or visits, I know I can pick up where I left off. They know me better than anyone. Sometimes better than I know myself.

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