The Best Huevos Rancheros in Matamoros
Catching up on the day-to-day, requests for thoughts on MAAA, and more.
cw: brief mention of drug cartel-/gun-related violence, brief reference to sexual harassment
As what is sort of on par with the course, I write this newsletter entry after a brief trip to visit my family in México. Visits have been easier these past couple of times, and I find myself being more comfortable with allowing myself to be the black sheep of the family in mannerisms, interests, self, etc. After a couple of truly harrowing work weeks, taking a day off and traveling out of town was much needed. We went for my godmother’s 60th birthday, which was Carin León-themed, and stayed through the weekend to catch up.
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I didn’t realize how stressed I was until I was having my favorite breakfast dish in a hole-in-a-wall restaurant where the owner calls everyone “cousin” (as is custom), sitting in complete silence with my father and feeling the cross-breeze through the tiny shack, that I realized what a relief it was to sit and say nothing for a change. Afterward, we went to a local bookstore in the city center that both of my parents had sworn up and down was permanently closed, and I bought one of Sor Juana’s plays, a groundbreaking piece of Mexican fiction, as well as a collection of “patriotic poems” which will most likely be racist but couldn’t help but to buy it out of morbid curiosity.
I haven’t written much lately. I almost feel a level of guilt around it: I’m still applying to development opportunities, and I’m writing bits and pieces of ideas here and there in Google Docs, in a leather journal one of my friends gave me as a graduation gift almost three years ago now, in a sketchbook that isn’t supposed to be for writing but it is now, I suppose. Yet, I don’t feel like I want to be a writer, or at least, not as badly as the other talented theatremakers and comic book artists and authors I know.
The fact is that I don’t really consider myself a writer. I write things, but I’m not a writer. (This may be in direct opposition of what I’ve written for this newsletter before, but bear with me as I try to get these thoughts out.) I really do mean it when I say that I treat everything – each script I write, every story I outline, every workshop reading I work on – as the potential last thing I do, personally. I suspect it’s a natural psychological evolution of being taught that you could die any day, an undeniably Mexican upbringing on this side of the river.
I re-read one of my Substack newsletters from around this time last year recently. I can say I’m happier/well-adjusted, and things certainly don’t feel as dramatic anymore. Life is strange: people die, opportunities fall through, romances sputter out, you see friends you haven’t seen since the month before, you see friends you haven’t seen in years, you send money to México, you’re gifted pens from your family members who don’t really understand what you do but love you anyway, you’re sent letters and postcards and hand-made cards that you will keep in the recesses of your desk drawers held together with hair ties from when your hair reached your waist, you send letters that you hope others will keep all the same. You write down words and hope they’re recited out loud one day, and then you write some more and keep wishing anyway.
It helps that my mentor in college, the great Lois Roach, did not subscribe to the suffering bohemian myth. She told me straight-up that I was too poor to delude myself into thinking that I had the same chances of “making it” compared to my wealthier peers in the same program. Professor Roach is a large reason of why I graduated college in the first place, and her advice continues to remind me that “the work,” meaning playwriting, isn’t the only work I have to do. There’s no way I’ll ever be able to help sustain both myself and my family, both immediate and extended, while just being a writer.
That sounds a bit cruel. Let me try again.
I think my intentions with writing are very different from others I know, and that’s okay. I write from impulse, from recognition that something must be written about. I do make outlines, and do write notes, but I don’t really plan out a lot of my writing. I also do my best to resist exploiting an idea because it’s something that’s “in” right now. I wrote Flood from the fear of my family; Count Yourself Among the Lucky from the realization that family can, and will, favor abusers over victims; Your Mileage May Vary from the deep sense of loneliness I felt as a member of a writers group. I abandon works as easily as I work through feelings. I write characters from memories of people I don’t talk to anymore. I write with the knowledge that if I died today or tomorrow or some day soon, I simply have to be okay with not finishing things, whether that thing is a script or seeing a play to production.
At the end of the day, there’s bigger fish to fry. Really. The night before my family drove back from the border, there are a gun battle between rival cartel groups in the area. People died, and one of my uncles watched the video of the violence on his phone before calmly advising us know that we should probably cross back into the U.S. using the other international bridge in the area. Back in my hometown, our working-class friends are struggling to afford rent and buy cars and care for their kids. The dreaded ten-year date has come around, and my father will have to reapply for U.S. residency once more this year. And then U.S. legislation is just wacky (read: terrifying) all around, as per usual.
It’s not an either-or equation: there’s nothing stopping me from writing besides my motivation and interest in the art. But I don’t really want to say, “Yeah, I’m a playwright,” or “Yeah, I’m a writer,” and feel like it’s the thing to define me, especially when I have nothing to show for it right now. Part of it is people assuming that because I write, I am also someone who hasn’t achieved anything, ever. I’m not generalizing – someone I was talking with recently immediately joked that because I write, I must also be dissatistfied with my current state of being, longing to be anywhere other than Houston.
Maybe my priorities are shifting. As I become more comfortable with who I am at this moment in time, the more I realize what’s important to me doesn’t always necessarily align with spending hours of my time to write a new script. Sometimes I’m going to have to choose the job that pays my bills over another round of script development that eat into the time I need to unwind mentally and physically from work, chores, the world, etc., and I have to be okay with that. I like that my job with an arts consulting firm still gives me the opportunity to support arts organizations. I like that I am friends with brilliant people and I am able to cheer them on from afar. I like reading and drawing poor renditions of what I imagine my characters look like and I like making playlists that I’ll never send to people. I like traveling. I like being able to give my grandparents money that their government cannot. I like sitting on a bench in the city my family loves and hope that I can love it, too.
I keep joking that I’ll move to Pittsburgh or to Boston or to Los Ángeles or even Tulsa, of all places, but really, I just want to fast-forward to the point in my life where I want to have everything figured out. No amount of money, no new relationships, no apartment filled with fake potted plants and framed autographed pictures will let me know I’ve “made it.” Making it doesn’t exist. There can never be an end goal of one of my plays being produced on Broadway or me walking across a stage to receive an award. Not because it’s a lost fantasy – fantasizing takes up 60% of my daydreams – but because it’s simply not what I need right now. I come from a long line of survivors, people who most others will not think twice about in their lives. All we can do is make it through the next day and survive, sometimes. All I can do is do my best, give my best to the people I love, and feel my way through the darkness like everyone else. Every day it becomes more obvious that the moment I’m expecting isn’t ever going to come, and I’ll just have to wait and figure it out bit by bit like the rest of humanity. And if nothing comes to mind that feels important enough to jot down on paper during that time, then so be it.
so, about the Mid-American Arts Alliance:
I haven’t gotten the chance on here to talk about my time as the Texas representative for the National Leaders of Color Fellowship cohort. The fellows are going to get the chance to speak directly with the leaders of the six U.S. regional arts organizations in April. We’re currently planning on how this summit will be structured, but we will be presenting to these RAO executives on issues important to our respective regions. If you’re one of my Houston/Texas peers, I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Also, shoutout to my fellow MAAA cohort peers. They’re super cool and I’m incredibly grateful to get to call them my peers. If you’re a Houston arts organization staff member/individual artist, I highly encourage you to check out the Mid-America Arts Alliance, our regional arts organization. They’re here to serve us, and if they’re not serving our communities the way they need to, it’s up to us to demand change.
what am I up to?
Playwriting-wise? Not much, if I’m being honest. I’m relishing in getting to serve as a reader for a playwriting development opportunity for a group in NYC – and getting paid in the process. I’m also hoping to get another chance to serve as a grants panelist once more sometime in this year, whether in-state or out-of-state. I’ll also be assistant directing for a reading here in Houston in May as part of this Sin Muros festival, and I’ll share more information about that when we get closer to those dates.
There’s also a nice little recognition that Flood, probably my least favorite play I’ve written, that I’m hoping to share more widely soon. I’m curious about what makes this play so regressive for some folks (which I actually agree with nowadays), and which folks give merit to it (which I also understand). Either way, it’s always fun to add another bullet to the ol’ résumé, even if it’s something that won’t amount to anything tangible any time soon.
Other than that, not much writing is in the works.Maybe that’ll change if I land some great development opps I’m thinking constantly on, and even though I get pangs of fear of being left behind while I take this hiatus, I’m sure it’ll all be okay in the end. It's nice to just be a human, sometimes.
What We Leave Behind (2022) dir. Iliana Sosa – What a supreme labor of love for a relative. I was bawling my eyes out during the whole runtime, and it didn’t help that the setting of the documentary, despite being all the way on the other side of México, looks like the rural ejido both sides of my family are from.
We Play Ourselves by Jen Silverman – Yeah I was a hater during the first read, but I’m glad I gave it a second chance. It also jump-started the whole writer identity dilemma I’m undergoing right now; I’m reminded that I don’t need to relate to something to see how it fits in my life.
Disorientation by Elaine Hsieh Chou – Another half-finished read, but I’m really enjoying it. This read it’s inextricable from the memory of sitting in the Brooklyn apartment of a friend I hadn’t seen in over two years for a far too brief three-hour catch-up session last fall.
“I Don’t Feel Safe Around Cis Women.” by Devon Price on Medium – This one was a hard read and one that resonates with my experiences growing up, especially my time in undergrad at a historically women’s college. Even now, I struggle to uncoil moments that I only realize 4-6 years later that were actually sexual harassment from people I thought were just “joking with me as friends.” Weird stuff to work through!
“Academic turns city into a social experiment” by Mara Cristina Caballero for The Harvard Gazette – In January’s NLoC Fellowship cohort meeting, the fantastic J. Gibran Villalobos talked briefly about Antanas Mockus’s work as the mayor of Bogotá. I haven’t gotten the chance to read more than halfway through this, but it’s really an incredible account of the power of theatre in civics.
“Born Again in a Second Language” by Costica Bradatan for The New York Times – My first language is Spanish. I learned English from watching cartoons on PBS as a child. I saw excerpts from this article floating around Tumblr a couple of weeks ago, read it, agreed with some of it and disagreed with a lot. I think my reaction ties back to my thoughts of my lack of a “writer” identity.
At least, anything I’ll be trying to peddle to people for workshops/development/productions in the future. Ideas for the lovestruck paranormal investigator/perpetually stressed-out apartment building superintendent rom-com I keep pitching to my friends are in full-force after 12 hours’ worth of road trip time this weekend. It will probably never see the light of day beyond the depths of my Google Drive.
Whooo, the wibbly-wobbly-ness of defining yourself by one of the many things that you do, acknowledging that there is more work, that the creative work may not be the most important, the most central, the most vital thing, at this moment - and that it has value even so. Our journeys are going through similar checkpoints. And the quiet moments in a place that feels like home, the clarity that you find in them... happy that you made it to that one.
love you friend!! also love Lois!! ty for writing…calling yourself something ends up so strange bc words have diff connotations for everyone. until recently i thot i had to leave GA to live, but i don’t think that’s true anymore. i just need to find places i belong here. also money lol.