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Archive for June, 2012|Monthly archive page

On Overcoming Writing Paralysis

In Life with Chronic Illness, The Revolution on June 23, 2012 at 1:10 AM

I have quietly mulled over the very idea of blogging for several months, both out of a yearning to express years’ worth of analyzing into words, and to see what could be (nay, definitely is) a public externalization of my thoughts and feelings. Today I find myself trying to overcome a deep-seated, recurrent fear—not of writing per se, since I write e-mails, reports, flyer blurbs and the like on a constant basis—but of public writing, writing that will be scrutinized by eyes I have not seen or could possibly imagine.

           I can probably blame this fear of public writing to internalized oppressions I have been both conscious and unconscious of. I look at my family and examine the families of the people around me, and it is not hard for me to see why I have been quiet and out of the spotlight for so long.

            I am the son Latin American immigrants—my father grew up in Puerto Rico, my mother in Honduras—and I was raised in a multiethnic, working-class neighborhood in Brooklyn. I identify (though this varies according to context) with the following terms: Latin@, working class, queer, cisgender, male, college graduate, and a person with a chronic condition (multiple sclerosis). These are all identity formations that intersect in interesting and complex ways, with some coming to the forefront under changing circumstances (like a changing color light display). While this may be obvious to some, what I consider worthwhile emphasizing is the extent to which I acknowledge the privileges and societal disadvantages that result from these identifications, and that such acknowledgement is always in process, not a given.

          I am also a 24-year old activist and leftist with a passion for critical pedagogy and political education. And while writing has long been a passion of mine, I have had a long-standing non-committal relationship with it since I was in elementary school. I used to love reading and writing poetry, and would spend hours writing to myself, for myself—in my heart, by necessity. It was a way of exercising political expression in a world that struck me as hostile, nefarious, and vindictive. In the pulsing heart of capitalism that is New York City, I didn’t know how else to healthily deal with the daily trauma of dealing with such an individualized, materialistic world other than to write. Yet it is because of the intricacies of oppressive systems that made me feel as if my voice was worth less than others that I feared making my writing public.

           I should note that I have supposedly “made it” in ways that an uncritical mind might view as admirable—that is, because I came from a disenfranchised background, graduating from an Ivy League university and having a full-time job at a reputable non-profit organization, I have done something exceptional or praiseworthy. I would like to deconstruct this notion of “making it” someday soon, but for now, I should say that these supposed accomplishments did not make me feel any more comfortable with publishing my writings or seeing my writing displayed in a large, public forum. Whereas I’ve gone through years of watching my privileged white classmates and co-workers freely articulate their classist, racist, (hetero)sexist thoughts in public, I stayed silent partly because I wanted to process the different arguments being made, partly because I wanted to carefully articulate what I genuinely thought and believed (as opposed to lashing out in emotional outrage, which I now realize is OK), but also partly because I felt people had little interest in what I had to say.

        After years of being told I was “strange,” “pensive,” and overly analytical, I came to accept that people had no interest in me or my opinions. I spoke in a scholarly or “white” way that ostracized me from my black and brown working class peers; but I was too “brash” or “angry” to be taken seriously by my white peers when I made any sort of criticism. I was also not charismatic enough, funny enough, or downright jolly enough to be listened to in classes or meetings. The many years of severe depression and internalized classism had done enough damage to make me shut the fuck up in the face of insidious, self-interest-driven power. It just seemed like a losing battle: there was always something to write me off.

         But things have changed over the past year in ways that I could never have anticipated—as the world was afire in much-needed and long-delayed revolutions, I was dealing with a deterioration of my health and the death of my older brother. I suddenly realized—in a visceral way, and not simply through mere intellectual exercise—that silence is complicity, and that not expressing my viewpoint (which I hardly find represented in the media, in books, or even leftist propaganda) was akin to being complicit in the destruction of my body, my family, and those around me that I care for and love. To be silent about issues like our heinous for-profit healthcare system, to be silent about Israeli apartheid and the bloody violence against Palestinians, to be silent about the militarization of the police state and the imperialist-racist killings of young men of color, was no longer a viable option. In fact, the very notion of silence started to appear as completely absurd. Like the freed prisoner in Plato’s cavern, where everyone took shadows and echoes as the true things in the world, my perspective on what I once passively accepted has radically changed.

          The words of Howard Zinn ring true to me even more so today than ever: our problem is not civil disobedience; it’s civil obedience. To be obedient to a system that was callous and evil enough to allow my brother die in unimaginable agony at the age of 26 seemed like a masochistic exercise at best. To be obedient to a global world order that allows countless human beings to suffer from lack of access to basic goods and services (enabled by enough of us in the global North who were concerned with getting slightly ahead in our own worldly positioning) seemed incredibly wrong.

           And so it is that I overcame my writing paralysis. Rather than say that I had no choice—that I absolutely needed to write to save my soul amid such horrid capitalist destruction—I’d rather think of writing as a proactive choice to fight against social injustices and truly humanize myself. I hope that this serves as only the beginning of a long journey in writing, thinking, scrutinizing, and learning.

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