Make Your Life a Writing Residency…


Amores, I just got back from a two-week writing residency at Ragdale. If you’ve never been to an artist colony before, here’s a basic rundown of how it works: you apply to the residency, usually by submitting work samples and an artist statement. While you’re there, the residency provides space to sleep and space to work (mine was the same space – a cute room with loads of books and a desk between two windows) as well as food, all for a nominal fee.  Sometimes they’ll want you to present work in progress, sometimes they won’t. Usually, there are a handful of other artists around, which affords ample opportunity to share ideas, tips, and experiences – personally, I found this to be one of the most rewarding parts of my stay. Can you believe I actually made friends with a journalist/novelist who writes about war and violence against women and who grew up traveling all over the word because her parents were anthropologists? My soulmate!

Okay, the residency was great (if a little too quiet for my city-loving self) but realistically, I know that going away for 2-6 weeks isn’t an option for many of us here at Proyecto Latina. I mean – I have one of the MOST flexible jobs on the planet, and I still found it stressful to clear my calendar. So… I’ve spent the past few days thinking about residency “take-aways” – how to incorporate what was most useful about the residency into my everyday life. Here goes: (more…)

Todas Somos Putas?

The first time I heard about SlutWalk Chicago, I raised an eyebrow.

In general, I’m not a fan of reclaiming oppressive language. I’ll never, for example, call one of my friends a bitch, and I’ll never call anyone a ho. I don’t call myself a spic, and you won’t catch me greeting someone with a hearty “what’s up N*****!” I do use the word queer, mostly because I think it is more inclusive than lesbian or that alphabet soup LGBTQQA. So… SlutWalk? My initial response was to roll my eyes. No matter how many people I roll around with, I am not about to go around calling myself a slut or puta. As far as I’m concerned, sleeping with one person or 100 people is a private matter, not up for public judgement.

Except… the public judges all of the time,particularly when it comes to sexuality and violence. For years, I worked as an educator at a rape crisis center, where I obsessively stressed the message that no one asks to be raped or sexually assaulted: No Matter What. Clothing is not an invitation, being drunk is not an invitation, being alone is not an invitation. And yet, people constantly asked me what a woman expected was going to happen if she dressed a certain way, drank so much at a party, or went home with someone she hardly knew. I can think of no other crime where the general public so solidly blames the target instead of the perpetrator. The reality is that the only person responsible for a sexual assault is the person who makes the choice to assault someone. And people all around the world are sexually assaulted every day, regardless of what they are wearing, where they are, or who they’re with. I’ve worked with clients who were grandmas, clients who were men, clients who were children, clients who were wearing sweats and doing laundry when someone attacked them, and way way WAY too many clients who were attacked by family members and people they trusted to keep them safe. Conversely, I can think of dozens of guys I know who would never even consider forcing sex on another person, no matter how they were dressed or how drunk they were.

Which is what SlutWalk is all about. The project started in Toronto, as a response to a police  representative of the Toronto Police Service who was quoted saying, “Women should avoid dressing like sluts in order to not be victimized.” The marches are designed to bring people together to challenge victim-blaming and to “encourage a revised cultural attitude towards assault and rape.”

I may not personally identify as a slut, but that hasn’t stopped other people from calling me one. SlutWalk isn’t necessarily about reclaiming a term; it’s about challenging one – about working towards a culture that places the blame for sexual violence solidly where it belongs: on the people who commit the crime.

That’s something I can get behind.

Slutwalk Chicago is this Saturday, June 4th from 12-3 pm. For more information, including the march route, visit their website or check them out on Facebook.

 

Niñas Buenas y Mujeres Modernas

I grew up in a strange family. My parents were (are) leftist radical multinationals who believed, at least in theory, in overturning dominant structures. For example – my mother doesn’t support gay marriage. This isn’t a homophobic stance–she loves me and my partner– but an anti-institution-of-marriage stance. Never mind that she’s been married twice… that’s another story!

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On Critics and Creating Work

On Critics and Creating Work

On December 3rd, I opened a new show called TOUR GUIDES. The piece, a collaboration between 10 poets from different neighborhoods across the city, is an ode to everything we love and hate about living in Chicago. We talk about big things (segregation, gang violence, gentrification) and little things (beer, parades, germs on the CTA). Performed by (most of) the poets who wrote it, TOUR GUIDES is often a raw experience, an act of poetic truth-telling from people who are not seasoned or polished performers but who love their city in the way it seems only Chicagoans do: protectively, fiercely, and cynically, bracing against harsh weather and even harsher racism but warmed by summer and the beautiful sight of city lights reflected in the lake. As the director of the piece, I’m proud of the work the poets involved have done. But beyond that, I genuinely love the show. I find myself remembering lines from TOUR GUIDES as I move about the city, “whispering to myself that so much is still unknown.”

Critical reception of the show, however, has been decidedly mixed.

One critic accused us of trotting out “musty white-people-are-like-this, people-of-color-are-like-that setups,” while another argued that our take on Chicago neighborhoods is clichéd and “blatantly reductive.” Both complain that we take cheap shots at Lincoln Park, a criticism I find baffling, if only because we talk about Lincoln Park for less than a minute of a show that lasts 90 minutes, and in the context of a piece that trashes neighborhoods ranging from Rogers Park (smells like pee) to Back of the Yards (smells like smoked meat). Though I disagree with both of these critics’ assessments of the show, I don’t bring up these reviews to defend myself against them.  I bring them up because many of the people who read/come to Proyecto Latina are trying to figure out how make their way as Latina writers, artists, and performers. Proyecto Latina has long served as both a platform and a forum for emerging Latina artists, and a space to discuss the ins and outs of making work as mujeres y Latinas.

There was a point in my career when reviews like this would have made me cry. I remember reading a review of S-e-x-Oh! (a show I created with Teatro Luna) that called the piece “incomprehensible.” Despite sell-out houses and rave reviews elsewhere, this review made me sob for an hour, hunched over the steering wheel of my car.  Even today, I can’t remember a single nice thing a critic wrote about S-e-x-Oh! but that review (written, incidentally, by the same critic who called TOUR GUIDES “musty”) is burned into my brain. When I went to one of my mentors for advice on how to handle bad reviews, she told me to handle them the same way I would handle a good review: “not at all.” She warned me that if a review could change what you think of your own work, you aren’t creating from a place of confidence or certitude. To be an artist, you have to have a vision of what you want to make; you have to believe in what you set out to do.  This is not to say that you shouldn’t be open to criticism—indeed, as artists there is little more valuable than friends and collaborators who offer us the kind of feedback on our work that pushes it to a better place. But that kind of commentary is rarely found in a newspaper, a facebook status, or twitter feed. It is developed through community and relationship with people who are rooting for you, who want you to be the best artist you can be. (It is developed in spaces like Proyecto Latina!)

Now, when someone criticizes my work, I do pay attention. I look for patterns (are lots of people saying the same thing? Maybe there’s some truth to it.) I look for point of view (Who is saying this? What social position—race, class, gender, nationality—is driving their opinion?)  But most of all, I ask myself if any of it rings true? On a fundamental level, do I agree? If so, I challenge myself to do better next time. And if not, I let it go.

This time, I’m letting it go. I think TOUR GUIDES is a beautiful piece. But you don’t have to take my word for it. See it for yourself December 10, 11, 17, or 18th at 7:30 pm at the Chicago Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets and info at www.guildcomplex.org And then, tell me what you think. I promise, I’ll listen…

Some Thoughts On Yesterday's Election

Some Thoughts On Yesterday's Election

Here’s an essay from Proyecto Latina contributor Coya Paz. This essay, of course, reflects her own opinions, which we as a collective may or may not share.

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Yesterday, I voted.

It was the first time in a long time, maybe even my whole voting life, that I really –really-didn’t want to.

I just wasn’t in the mood.

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The MáS Memoir Writing Workshop

The MáS Memoir Writing Workshop

Well, the lazy days of summer are almost over and with September around the corner it’s time to flex those writing muscles. Next month Ana Castillo returns to the Windy City to offer her Más Writing Workshop. Irasema Gonzalez, Coya Paz, Yolanda Cardenas and I had an opportunity to take her last writing workshop. It was thought provoking and very useful for anyone wanting to write memoir.

“We’ll write from our hearts and our minds. And then, we’ll learn to get rid of all the sentimentality and leave on the page what is important for the reader to know about your memoir”. -Ana Castillo

This workshop welcomes back previous participants. It will include first time participants. Together, you’ll take a look at writing-in-progress, learn workshop method and discuss new writing tips and techniques.

Sunday, Sept. 20 – 10AM to 2PM – Location TBA.

In memoir, the reader must be persuaded that the narrator is writing honestly, whether or not he/she is, is secondary. It doesn’t matter as much ‘what happened’ as what you make of what you remember may have happened.The workshop will consist of exercises, which help us to know how to get started when desiring to work on a memoir essay.

Persons interested must submit 1 pg writing sample to apply.18 yrs. and up.

All Inquiries and to Apply:

Email: anacastilloworkshops@gmail.com Cost: $175 per person Limit only 15 per workshop * Exact locations and times will be given once applicant has been accepted.