Everything at once in this heat
Visiting Puerto Rico, VONA, swimming
I’m writing from a library I've never been to, despite living somewhat near for almost two years. I was in the neighborhood, working at a coffeeshop when I became really cold—the AC was ungodly strong, and the elevator music reached a crescendo. I sat in the corner, strategically placing myself near the outlets. I forgot there was also a giant stereo right above me. Whoops!
Thanks for reading Timid Shorts! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
After a couple of hours of sitting, I was aching for outside heat. The hot matcha had cooled off, no longer warming my hands, and I started feeling drunk with elevator music (the worst-type of drunk). Leaving the coffeeshop, my body went from cold to hot; the heat wasn't too bad after being stuck inside a fridge. Also, I just wanted to walk. Doing the opposite of what you’ve been doing for what seems like an eternity, gives you a break, allows your body to experience something new, and the strange becomes thrilling.
Now I’m at the library, where I can see flags outside, waving in the wind with the bright blue sky as background.
Visiting Puerto Rico
Calle McLeary in Ocean Park was almost the same as I remembered it, but if you inspected closer, some houses were newly painted and refurbished. The pink house where I lived for several months, appeared the same with the vines hanging on the side. Another place where I stayed, use to be a hodgepodge of rooms, with a spiral staircase that went up to a loft apartment. I remember the shaky gates, but now, there was sleek tall wooden fence covering the front, as if blocking the world from the beauty inside. You couldn’t see the windows to the greenish interior of the house. Maybe it had become more expensive.
What was the story here? I kept think about how Puerto Rico had changed, since the massive protests that pressured Governor Ricardo Rosselló to resign. The wave of protests came after leaked messages revealed sexist, profane and homophobic comments sent by the governor and other officials. Now most of what was on the news was related to the continuing debt restructuring. So far, a 55% reduction has been accomplished through the PROMESA Act, adopted seven years ago.
PR still needs to restructure the debts of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) and the Puerto Rico Industrial Development Company (Pridco). On the news, people were upset over electricity hikes, especially since there are still communities with unstable power, often experiencing apagones/blackouts. An ongoing increase of femicide in the island, prompted Governor Pierluisi to extend the state of emergency recently, but this was done last year, so I’m not sure how much of an impact this will make.
A friend reminded us of the new political party that emerged from the youth movement during the protests, Movimiento Victoria Ciudadana — or Citizens' Victory Movement, which is more grassroots and not embroiled in corruption like the traditional parties (PNP, PPD). Also, not just focused on the question of statehood or independence, but rather improving economic development, safety, health, education and the environment. They're working towards a gradual decolonization that is built on a just and participatory process.
I thought about some of these topics, while walking through Calle Loiza where the landscape could easily transfer me back to five years ago. Everything appeared the same, maybe a few new stores, though hardly. My vegetarian spot had closed, though my favorite breakfast place (café marquesa) was still on that same quiet street, even the vendor who sold papaya was around. (This is not representative of the rest of PR, since San Juan, gets more economic attention than any of the other municipality.) While trying to cross to Supermax to get groceries, I waited for an eternity; the light still wasn’t working. It’s a hit or miss when it comes to traffic lights. Same as five years ago. You have to dive in with confidence, as if you already decided you’re making it cross.
My plan was to walk back to the hotel. I said screw the scooter life, I’m going to carry my bags. They weren’t heavy, but the heat was all too consuming. I could feel it through my feathery pale pink shirt and over my forehead. Would I ever make it to an AC? This was a bad idea, since PR had been going through some extreme heat in recent weeks. I saw a guy just sitting outside his house maybe with a vape, seemingly not fazed. He said hello, I waved, close to my melting point.
Voices of Our Nation Arts Foundation (VONA) Workshop
I’m still figuring out what this experience meant for me and how the layers of conversation will inform my work going forward. It’s already given me so many jumping off points that will inevitably branch off. Writers tend to spend a lot of time alone, but there’s something rewarding in having drawn out, in-depth conversations on a particular work. During the workshop, many elements were uncovered, in surprising ways depending on the speaker and their experience. It was amazing to be in a room full of BIPOC writers, which rarely happens. We were building a community even at a distance. This informed our conversations, because the pieces resonated with our culture and immigrant experience, and we weren’t questioned as to the validity of these moments. Coming from an editor's mindset, I often have a sink or swim approach, which is not always the most empathetic approach. It should be more like, what will I discover about the writer, their craft, and eventually about myself. You learn more by giving thoughtful feedback. Someone offered this quote during the program, and it encapsulates the philosophy behind the CNF workshop at VONA, one that takes into account the journey of the writer and what informs it.
Workshop shouldn’t necessarily tell you want to do with a piece, but it should improve your relationship to your writing.
I carefully walked down the ramp that kids use. A mom was trying to wrangle her two girls, one attempting to leave the pool, the other one swimming away. I dove to the side, just as soon, as the water crept near my stomach, toward the red float dividers, popping my head up and down, until I made it the empty lane. It was all mine. I swam ignoring the cacophony of children playing, warming up so my arms and legs could get moving.
I did two breast stroke laps, which should be called froggie style. Onto freestyle, and pacing my strokes and breathing, calmly gliding through the lane, functioning underwater somehow. Whenever I tried going faster, it sent everything into a disarray. But if I went too slow, I kept getting distracted with random thoughts. Sometimes my mind gets so bored, scared of repetition, making want to pop up. But I tell myself, keep going, it will feel natural, like walking. My favorite thing is still floating.
My writing is out there!
LatinMediaCo - “La Llorona,” Indigenous History, and Guatemala’s Political Amnesia
In the mood: film essay, reviews
McSweeney's: Call for short stories
Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association (SFWA): open to pitches for original nonfiction articles
TransLash News & Narrative: accepting applications from trans and gender-nonconforming journalists
Writing Contests & Programs
Hurston/Wright Foundation: offers workshops and awards for black writers
Thanks for reading Timid Shorts! Subscribe for free to receive new posts.