To write an autobiography is to etch the words on your own gravestone.
On bilingualism, language, and writing with abandon
It is a fight to write. The time it takes to settle my thoughts in front of a blank page when the urge is there and ready but my mind is exhausted from the busy-ness of the homeschool. I live the unconventional modality of the stay-at-home mom, or the work-from-home mom—my children are not shuttled to schools for long hours in the day. Nevertheless, I force myself to start new projects or continue existing ones, measuring all waking hours, making allowances for domestic tasks to go to perdition for just a little while.
I know I am not alone. Many women writers share similar battles. My identity is like the tentacles of an octopus. I’m entangled in it linguistically, culturally, politically. I’m unable to escape it yet I’m so reliant on it to orient me in this world. My writing sets me free like a diver in the deep which subdues the octopus, cutting off its hold on me. I escape the stifling by writing. My pen moors me to safety. It’s debilitating work.
I have been writing more intentionally now and my world has expanded in newfound ways that before—prior to marrying and growing a family—I’d never experienced. I cannot retreat to that idyllic writer’s colony for a moment in time. My children need me and they need to see my work. I was told a long time ago as I ventured into homeschooling that my writing should not suffer due to my calling to home educate, that as grueling as it may be, it would have to be done so my children witness how significant it is to devote time to the talents God has bestowed in our lives.
I’m a steward of those skills and talents, just as I am a steward over my children, which is a great privilege. I recall the Proverbs 31 woman who “is like the merchants’ ships; she bringeth her food from afar. She riseth also while it is yet night…she girdeth her loins with strength…she looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness…her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her…give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates.”
On being bilingual
These thoughts are equally sobering as they are worth aspiring to. When I find myself limited in my ability to communicate, when I’m making a concerted effort to write in Spanish, for instance, I count it a privilege. To articulate meaning in writing with those we love, with those who paid a high price to abandon a land where familiarity is removed, it is a privilege.
As I forged my way through writing as a freelancer, I found it even more debilitating to put the personal, the conceptual, and the philosophical into words, to shape the fictional world of characters who are emotional, cerebral, and unreliable. Writing fiction gives me license to make composites of what is real.
To articulate meaning in writing with those we love, with those who paid a high price to abandon a land where familiarity is removed, it is a privilege.
I recall Carlos Fuentes, a writer who believed that through his literature he could make his voice heard. He went on to say, however, that one puts off the biography like one puts off death. “To write an autobiography is to etch the words on your own gravestone.”
Perhaps I am etching the words on my gravestone when I write. It’s not possible to live without reflecting and examining the self, and as a writer, I am given more than one chance, it seems, as I keep my chronicles, my memoirs, my experiences not just for posterity or for my children to grasp their proper history, but to overtake that history, to expand it and open new opportunities for them. Now as I teach writing structure and style to my seventh grader, it’s crucial to untangling from the culprit of language and become aware of the wrenching impulse my new writer may sense I’m resisting as he embarks on his own journey with learning to write—and doing it well.
For more on this topic, read my other essays: