Notes from the bottomless pit

  • I have not blogged in a while, but not for want of inspiration. There is no shortage of things to write about, of news to comment on. But much of it has been overwhelmingly discouraging. I find myself wanting more than ever to isolate myself in the escape of fiction.
  • Whatever I expected out of Donald Trump’s administration did not make it easier to stomach these past few weeks.
  • I no longer want to write about writing or read about writing—these topics seem inadequate now, feel like relics of an idyllic time when we could worry about things like craft and style and publishing.(And yet—)
  • I have been diving deep into Scribophile, and I worry that I might be using the site as an escape rather than as a serious attempt at improving my writing. I have been critiquing some interesting work, have put my own writing up for scrutiny, and have been taking seriously the feedback I have been giving and receiving. But sometimes I feel like I’m not engaging with the world at large, just putting off the inevitable.
  • Where do I start? I feel as though I have hit the ground running, but what exactly am I running toward? (Something better than this is the hope.)
  • To continue living as I had before is oppressively inadequate. And yet to face the future feels equally impossible.
  • “A word after a word / after a word is power.” I have been repeating this idea in my mind whenever I put my pen to paper or my fingers to my keyboard. And yet I find it harder than ever to believe it to be true.
  • I wake up. I go for a run. It is warm for the winter season in New York. I go to work. There is so much work to be done.
wp-1486340394325.jpg
From the Women’s March on Washington, D.C., 21 January 2017.
Advertisements

Dozens


Here’s something from memory lane: I’m currently listening to Kelly Clarkson’s “Breakaway” from the soundtrack of The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement on loop.

The movie and song came out in 2004. I was twelve years old. Now, it’s 2016 and I’m twenty-four.

What a wild ride.

It has been twelve years since I first listened to “Breakaway,” but I remember how quickly I integrated that song into my personal canon. Like every preteen at the time, the song painted a romantic picture of leaving home, of exploring the world, of growing up and doing Big Things. The repeated plays fueled my daydreams of living an exciting life in a place that wasn’t my hometown.

For all intents and purposes, I’ve achieved that dream, and have been living it for the past six years.

When I sit and think about 2016 in particular, I am surprised by just how much has happened. On a personal level, these twelve months were packed. I made a commitment to my health, and, holiday season aside, I exercised regularly. I came out to my parents as bisexual and polyamorous in June. I changed jobs in July (something I kept referring to it as my “Big Life Change”). I won this year’s NaNoWriMo events (both Camp NaNoWriMos and the November NaNoWriMo).

My younger self would have thought these were meager accomplishments, but to me right now, they feel colossal. Right now, I’m closer to living my “ideal” life than I ever have been before. And maybe it’s different than what I dreamed up as a twelve year old, but it’s still good.

But outside of the things I’ve accomplished for myself, the world turned. We lost iconic figures who made indelible marks on human history and culture. Politicians seemed to constantly give us cause for despair, from Duterte in the Philippines to Trump in the U.S. And throughout, there was a steady thread of injustice that plagued vulnerable people.

I can already see that 2017 will be a challenging year, and not just because I will do my usual thing and force myself out of my comfort zone. The Trump administration looks more and more like a disaster every day. What we thought were mere specters of racism, sexism, homophobia, and other types of bigotry have turned out to be warm bodies, alive and kicking. We have so much work to do.

What will we say in twelve years about 2016 and all that happened after?

So here’s my (cheesy, but true) 2017 motto: “Take a risk / take a chance / make a change / and breakaway.”

This post was inspired by this week’s Discover Challenge: Retrospective. Check out a few more responses below.

New New York

I am not a native New Yorker. But, like many people in this city, I have given myself the title of “Honorary New Yorker.” I am not from here, and six years is not nearly enough time to explore the decadent history and fervent artistry of this place, but I’m on my way to getting there. I’m on my way to knowing.

Yesterday, I spent the day writing in the Milstein Division at the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building of the New York Public Library. The heater next to me blew warm air onto my face as snow and freezing rain fell outside, and there was a faint rattling sound in the stacks—I found out as I left that it was the clacking of a keyboard as someone used a library computer to look up a book.

Best seat in the house.

A post shared by Caroliena Cabada (@cecaroliena) on

On days like yesterday, I can feel just how much I am a cliché—I am yet another young writer aspiring for greatness in the literary arts, and I believe that if I can make it in New York City, I can make it anywhere. I sat in that room, grinding out words as I waited for divine inspiration to strike me and make me write the next great American novel, one that will redefine what “American” is.

I came to this city not intending to be a writer. Before this city, I wrote in my journal, personal flash fictions of emotions that ran through me as I went through my teenage years. As a freshman at NYU, I wanted to capture all of the glorious hustle of living in a place so radically removed from what I had grown up knowing, and I did it in the two ways I best knew how: in photographs and in words. And New York has never stopped giving me reasons to take pictures and write, and write, and write. I didn’t come to this city intending to be a writer, but my god, it made me one.

Call number: Oversize PS.I9 G72 1973 c.1

A post shared by Caroliena Cabada (@cecaroliena) on

(A quick note about the image above; this was one of the first Instagram photos I took, about four years ago in NYU’s Bobst Library.)

This isn’t to say that if you intend to be a writer you better get yourself to New York because it will magically make you one. (Just look at me and my magical transformation in just six years from not-a-writer to definitely-a-writer!) But New York has a way of taking what was already within a person and magnifying it. The city reflects back to us who we are in our entirety, and we make the choice what to amplify.

And sometimes, New Yorkers, Honorary or not, like to return the favor, and show the city what its citizens are made of.

Union Square motivation.

A post shared by Caroliena Cabada (@cecaroliena) on

(A quick note about the sticky note above; I did not write that particular one, but it is one of my favorites from the Union Square subway station.)

This post is in response to this week’s Discover Challenge: Finding Your Place. Check out a few more responses below!

The view from December

I entered this November with a very particular set of expectations, and came out of it with those expectations shredded, taped back together, then ripped apart again as I tried to squeeze out 50,000 words for NaNoWriMo.

And I did it. I reached 50,000 words, bragged about it (with charts!), and now, on the first day of December, I’m sitting at my desk, thinking about writing, being a writer, and the election.

To start, a quotation that has been with me all year:

Art can’t save you from pain, but the discipline of hard work can drag you through it.

—Molly Crabapple, Drawing Blood

Before November 8, I focused on the part after the comma: “but the discipline of hard work can drag you through it.” This was the phrase that got me to pick up my pen every day and write. I was intent on gaining the discipline I had so sorely lacked as a student. I was intent on getting better at this craft. Whatever “it” was, I dragged myself through by digging my pen into the page and scratching deeply.

After November 8th, I focused on the part before the comma: “Art can’t save you from pain.”

I wrote some in the time immediately after, but I engaged more in all the feverish activity of calling representatives, supporting organizations fighting Trump, and having those conversations of “What now, what now, what now?”

NaNoWriMo slipped away. I had built an early lead of a few thousand words, and as the days after the election passed by that lead got narrower and narrower. When I decided to try and write for NaNoWriMo again, I felt hollowed out and drained from the tears, the anguish, and the uncertainty. It was so hard to bring myself to write the story I set out to write.

I made peace with the possibility that I wouldn’t reach 50,000 words.

And at first, it was fairly easy to give it up. Everything else seemed more important: supporting vulnerable communities, engaging with people, and gearing up for the fight ahead. It was easy to tell myself that winning this year’s NaNo would be minuscule compared to everything else. (If I’m being honest, I still feel this way to a certain degree.)

But then I picked my novel back up. After a few days away from it, I saw its worth again. I saw that though it isn’t the most topically relevant story, it’s still an important story. I reaffirmed my belief that I must finish a draft, even if it’s a terrible, sloppy, incoherent mess of a draft. (Because turning it into something great is what editing is for.)

I got so close to 50,000 that suddenly the idea I wouldn’t make it seemed unconscionable. I needed to make it, more than I had needed it in the past.

Now, I feel like I can see the quotation as a whole.

I reached 50,000 words, but I’m nowhere near done with the draft. I still haven’t decided if I’m going to keep adding words to it in December, or if I’m going to shift gears and edit some short stories from the summer before coming back. But I’ve decided that I can keep fighting the good fight while still caring about the little fictions I eke out in the in-between times.

Art may not save us from the incoming administration, but the intrepid act of making it can drag us through it.

It happened here

Today I cried for the first time since the election. It seems overdue, somehow. Delayed. Tardy. I just missed the mark. Everyone else has shed tears every day since the election, but I just started.

The day after the election, “White’s Only” was scrawled on a bathroom stall at my old high school. Someone wrote “Trump!” on the door to a Muslim prayer room at NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering, my alma mater. These are just two instances of countless similar, and much worse, stories that have already started to crop up around the country. Racist, sexist, xenophobic and homophobic bigots are already emboldened by the election of Donald Trump.

But for me, these two instances strike close to home in a way that I hadn’t imagined. It would never happen there, right? Though I never once believed that my high school and my college were perfect, unproblematic spaces, I thought that my high school and college were better than this, would somehow be untouched by this.

I was wrong. And it pains me that I was so wrong. These are nowhere near the worst news I’ve heard this past week, but they’re the two measly pieces of straw that broke this camel’s back.

Today I cried for the first time since the election. This entire weekend I’ve felt the need to rest, to somehow get my energy back after being sapped so thoroughly in the days after the election.

I have not yet regained my strength. I have not yet decided that I’m ready to face all of it again.

But on the other hand, there is no time to wait. With the steady news of Trump’s potential cabinet and his top advisors being a who’s who of the people you really don’t want leading, it feels like the clock is running out. There cannot be any time lost in waiting for the perfect moment, for when I’m energized and “ready” and feeling safe enough to put myself back out there. I may never feel truly safe and at peace again.

Because it happened here. It happened here.

I’m going to sleep soon. And I don’t know if tomorrow I’ll feel ready to get up, go to the gym, get ready for work, and head to the office.

But I will do it because I must.

America, I am ready when you are

It’s amazing what a few hours of sleep can do. All last night I was trying to find the words, but this morning, after four hours of sleep, my mind feels at least a little bit clearer.

Still, this post is only a small part of the overflowing well inside me. I imagine this election will be a subject I will meditate on for a long time, and I will write it all down. But for now, here are my first thoughts:

I understand that people need to mourn and process and wonder what the hell happened, and I implore everyone to take the time they need.

But personally, I have decided that my mourning will not include casting aspersions onto anyone but, firstly, the people who voted for Trump, and, secondly, the political establishment as a whole.

The people who voted third party, who wrote in a candidate, or who didn’t vote at all can be important allies in the coming revolution. (And there will be a revolution in this century.) Hell, even Trump voters who are regretting their vote in the cold light of morning, I will welcome to the cause. I will allow them to begin the eternal process of repentance, of fixing what their actions have brought.

Another thing that I will not do: I will not reject the entire population of the states who went red. While yes, red states (obviously) have more Trump supporters, remember that a sizeable number of people in those states did not vote for him. Rather than abandon these people to fend for themselves in an environment that will likely damage them psychologically and physically, instead of telling them to flee the place they call home (whether voluntarily or involuntarily), I will tell them that I am here for them and will lend every support within my ability.

It is easy to joke about sawing away Florida, or not visiting any part of the South, or unfriend/unfollow people who support Trump on social media (jokingly or unjokingly), and I recognize that humor may be a temporary refuge for people when facing a grotesque future. But remember that there is strength in unity. For now, I will focus on standing with people who have been hurt by this election, who fear for their lives, and who fear for the future. I am there with you, and no one should have to go through this alone.

As of writing this, I have not yet left my apartment.

I have opened my browser, scrolled through feeds on my phone, and saw the same despair I saw last night, but I have no idea how the world outside look, if maybe it will look a little less rosy.

Maybe in a few days I will come back to this space and have a harrowing tale to tell. Maybe I will come back to this space and say that nothing has changed.

But I will come back to this space.

For now, my message is this: There are simple lessons for everyone to learn, and we must learn them. And we cannot let this election divide us. By being divided, the worst predictions of our impending bleak future will come to pass.

So America, I am ready when you are.

“Cheerily re-titled”

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of attending an event featuring Margaret Atwood and Fiona Shaw at the New York Public Library. During their conversation, Margaret Atwood slipped in a wry remark that one of her nonfiction books, Negotiating With the Dead, had been, “Cheerily re-titled ‘A Writer on Writing.‘” And as I go about this blog revamp, this small phrase plays over and over in my head: “Cheerily re-titled. Cheerily re-titled. Cheerily re-titled.”

And so, here I am. Cheerily re-titling myself as I make the transition from an old blog to this new blog.

So who am I now? What am I re-titling myself to?

My name is Caroliena Cabada, and my first name is a deliberate misspelling of South “Carolina.” (I say this to help people with pronunciation, but it’s also a true story. Ask me about it sometime.) I am an adult human being, living and working in New York City, and there is one thing I know to be true:

I am a writer.

And as I refresh my blog a few days before NaNoWriMo, I am becoming more comfortable with calling myself a writer. I still feel like a fraud sometimes, like there is something wrong with my taking on the label of “writer” when I’ve never had a paid writing gig, I’ve only been published once in a lit mag, and other, myriad and minute insecurities that stop me sometimes from really owning up to being a “writer.”

But whatever my hangups are, I am a writer. Even if I try to deceive myself into believing otherwise, I am a writer. Whenever the uncertainty pressures me to quit, I am a writer. And this stubborn belief that “I am a writer” sometimes feels like one of the few things that really keeps me going in life.

Thanks very much for stopping by this (re)introduction post. I’m looking forward to writing even more in the coming days.