On the last day of 2016, as usual, I followed Mami and Abuelita’s tradition: woke up early to clean the entire house: top to bottom, smudged and prayed, washed all the clothes and bed sheets and put on new ones. During breaks, my sisters and I messaged each other on our group chat to check in on preserving our family’s tradition for this day and on having everything Alfonso Leon (our Walter Mercado) has prescribed to set up in our house and for our zodiac signs to welcome the New Year. We went through the list of things: tangerines, champagne, grapes, white everything, gold, silver, candles, flowers, intentions, gratitude and forgiveness notes. We laughed and wished each other the best for the New Year with the hope to be together the next year as we did a few years back.
By 9:00 am the house was clean and I was en-route to meet my stylist Carolina to get dolled up to welcome 2017.
“Hola Caro!” I greeted her upon entering the salon.
“Wendy, cuanto tiempo? Estas lista? Que te vamos a hacer?” Carolina asked while she brushed the hair of the lady at the chair with one hand, blow dryer in the other hand.
“Córtame el pelo y hazme los bangs otra vez.” – I said firmly.
“Ay si, te quedan bonitos.” She replied with a big smile. All you have to tell a Dominican stylist is that you want to cut your hair for her to be extremely happy.
Carolina finished with the lady that arrived before me.
“Sientate Wendy.” She said as she gestures with her hand, indicating which is the chair. I sat promptly with excitement. I’m always open to a new look, I feel is part of change and represents a new path you are about to travel in your life.
As she began combing my hair and separating it in parts to start cutting, I closed my eyes, thinking of the year that is about to end and of all the things that happened within that year. As the trims of hair began to fall to the floor I felt lighter, they way you feel when you are getting rid of clutter in your house, when you throw out all those things that you don’t use, don’t need or simply do not belong in your new place.
2016 was a detox and transformational year for me. For the first time in my life I took care of me, becoming the number one priority on my list by discovering my sense of self: my place in this world, what I want, what do I need to do to get there, what to do when I don’t meet a deadline or when I hit a setback, what and who belongs and what/who doesn’t. The discovery was challenging, you have to hold that mirror before you and sometimes is not easy to see that reflection and be accountable for your own bullshit. It is always easy to hold the mirror for others and pinpoint their flaws and ran away from those things you fear the most and as I discovered it is even more difficult to celebrate your triumphs and owning it. That was the biggest challenge for me.
In my lifetime, I have accomplished many things from school to business but I don’t remember owning all of them on a personal level. I accomplished goals and then move on to the next, rarely taking the time to celebrate those triumphs nor patting myself on the back and saying: Bravo! You did this! . For as long as I can remember, I always loved a challenge, especially challenging myself: what’s next? How far can I go? And if you know me, I’m always up to something. I try different things, read all kinds of books and move around in different circles, searching for new ways to create things for me and others. All of those things help me determine what works and doesn’t, what I like, dislike, the things I can live with and without it but the one thing that always remains is: at least I tried.
At the beginning of 2016, I decided to be present for me and show up every day for me. Sounded easy, it was not. Trust me. For the most part I accomplished this. So how did I this?
In my case, I began with turning all social media off. Pero like, como? how? I know it sounds a bit extremist and crazy, especially when we are told that all this technology at the tip of our fingers make us more accessible and reachable which might equal to being present, we can talk and connect to so many people at the same time… mhmm yeah keep believing that. It does and it doesn’t.
I was that person at a party, restaurant, at home, work, el baño (yeah you know you do that too!) with the phone glued in her hand: liking, re-posting, commenting, chatting and not making time for the things I really liked: reading and writing or as simple as a good night sleep. Social Media is great for business and networking but is also a huge distraction that can get out of hand if you don’t set boundaries. So what I did? I set boundaries by turning off all notifications on my phone. My phone was bananas! Buzzing all day from Facebook to Instagram, Twitter, Text, emails and I felt compelled to reply to everything which turned into another job, leaving me again with little time for me, because we all know that once you set that tone, everyone expects you to just reply within seconds (rolling my eyes, as I typed this). Every night by 8:30 pm I turn on the “Do Not Disturb” option on on my phone (Thank you Apple for that!). Mhmmm you read it right : DO NOT DISTURB. Clap Clap!
Yes I will not lie, the first day was like going through withdrawals, fighting the urge to sign in but I didn’t. I’ve never been much of a tv person, I’m an avid reader, so I picked up books which led me to write again.
I’m always been a writer, I have been writing since I was seven years old when my mother gifted me with a locked journal, but for the past 2 years all the writing I did was for business: emails, contracts, presentations, promos while my stories kept building in my head without an outlet to be written let alone being heard.
Before the Spring, I received a call from a good friend who mentioned that she will be signing for the Writing Our Lives workshop facilitated by Vanessa Martir and suggested I should sign for it too since I began writing again.
I met Vanessa back in 2013 when I read my work for the first time in New York City after completing an intense writing workshop with the New York City Latina Writers Group led by Alicia Anabel Santos. Vanessa was one of the panelists at that event. Later, we will see each other at events or through social media. I knew about her work and how her workshop had influenced the writing of many other writers I knew. At first, I was not sure If I wanted to sign for her class because I had set a financial goal for the year and writing workshops were not part of the budget but since she always offers a FREE class, I signed for that one. That five hour class set the tone for me. It was exactly what I needed and it also meant showing up for me, doing something I loved and that will benefit me in its entirety. At the end of the class Vanessa told us about the partial scholarship and encouraged everyone to apply. On my train ride back home, I began doing the math to see if I could pull it off and If I should apply for the scholarship. I did the mental pep talk what’s the worst that can happen? You don’t get the scholarship, then means it was not for you but you still can write. But what about if you are awarded the scholarship? You get to write even more, you’re going to be so busy reading, writing, you’ll have more material for your memoir!. When I got home from the class, I emailed Vanessa asking for the requirements to apply for the scholarship and before midnight I emailed everything back. Meditated and wrote WOL (Writing Our Lives) on my vision board.
A few days passed and she emailed me to let me know I have been awarded with the scholarship. I was thrilled and couldn’t wait to start class. From day one, she reminded us of the importance of our story, the bittersweet journey of the writer’s life and that if we want it this life we had to do the work: Read and Write. “You have to show up to the page, even if if just a sentence. Write it down, then come back again, and again.” I did, every Saturday, didn’t miss one class of the Spring session. Every book she recommended I read. As she encouraged us to apply to VONA, I did and guess what? I was accepted. I spent the most challenging, fulfilling and transformational week of my life in Miami among an incredible group of writers who encouraged me to keep writing and showing up.
Back at the salon’s chair staring at the mirror, I smile with pride. No longer afraid of my reflection, no longer afraid of saying YES to those things that scared me. I completed not one but two workshops of Writing Our Lives, I attended VONA in the Summer, upon my return I gathered five former members of WOL and put together a reading/writing group The Musa to keep showing up to the page, for ourselves and to give live to our stories. I closed the year with a reading list of 22 books, a new apartment, a car and unbelievable sense of accomplishment, gratitude and celebration.
On this first week of a new year I’m here accepting this challenge of showing up to the page every week, making the effort, honoring this commitment, doing the work and even on days when I don’t meet the goal knowing that not matter what, I tried and that tomorrow I will show up again.
Doing only what is easy, convenient and free of challenge doesn’t get you very far. Be a participant, not an observant. Be present, show up!