Who said 38 was too late to start a new life? The last several years had been a struggle for me, as I suffered from anxiety, stress, and perhaps even slight depression. After getting my MFA in Creative Writing from Texas State University in 2004, I admit that I stopped writing fiction and had lost my motivation to submit my writing for publication. But at least I blogged on a fairly regular basis from 2007-2012 (read the original blog here), and in 2011 and 2012 I was actively writing for several publications. In 2013, I only published three blog posts. In 2014, I wrote nothing, except for some very personal writing in an anonymous blog, published in the late summer, which no longer exists.
Why anonymous? I was writing once again from a vulnerable place, laying bare my heart and soul, with all the thoughts and feelings I’d kept locked deep inside of me, afraid to even whisper them to myself. I used to write from this place when I was writing fiction in the late 90s through my graduate studies in 2001-2004 — my imagined stories were a way for me to deal with my depression back then, a way for me to play out the ways I’d reclaim my identity and the life I really wanted.
Last summer’s anonymous blog was a way to safely release those thoughts and feelings. I don’t know that I’ll ever re-publish them as I wrote them, but perhaps after some revision, I’ll release them once more on this blog.
So why am I telling you all of this? Because when I returned to writing from a personal and honest place, no longer putting on an act or hiding behind a facade, I was able to discover (and re-discover) things about myself. It wasn’t easy. It’s frightening to realize you’ve been unhappy for years, but it’s even more frightening to realize you have to do something about it. So I made lots of changes.
I ended a nine-year relationship and lost custody of my beloved dog who still comes back to me in my anxiety dreams. The relationship didn’t end how I wanted it to end (then again, do they ever?). But how it ended was far worse than I’d imagined it. There’s no going back and undoing it. I learned a few major lessons: always be honest with yourself, be honest with those you love, and keep your eyes open. From the beginning. Don’t wait until things start falling apart.
I got a full-time job. Although I’d done well at freelancing and working from home the last several years, and I tend to like being a recluse, I was becoming disconnected from the world. I needed to be around people again. It was also a financial struggle, spreading myself thin over too many projects. I have to admit, a single paycheck to cover all my bills is kind of nice, and so is having free health insurance. Waking up on time every morning is a challenge for me, but I’m gradually getting better at it. It’s worth it when I start to see how I can make a positive impact in improving people’s lives in my community. (I work at City Hall as a constituent liaison for one of our new council members.)
I started being physically active again. Remember how I said I didn’t like waking up early? Well, I’ve been waking up at 5:30-ish almost every morning, to fit in a workout or a run, followed by a brief writing session, before I go to work. I used to run 5Ks. I used to be an avid swing dancer. Now I can barely run a mile, and my clothes don’t fit so comfortably anymore. But I’m determined to regain the energy I used to have in my 20s.
For years, I’d also been out of touch with my culture (my parents grew up in Mexico, and I was raised bi-culturally). The whole reason I started the blog “Undercover Mexican Girl” was because people did not identify me as Mexican or Mexican American, and after a while, I didn’t either. I was forgetting Spanish, I was drifting away from my family, and I was forgetting what it felt like to be surrounded by the people of my culture, feeling that I related more to Anglos.
I started to believe it was wrong for me to feel a connection to my culture, and to feel that it made me different from Anglos, because it would mean I was creating an obstacle in the assimilation of our people. But the truth is, I can’t ignore where I came from, and I don’t want to. I have some very dear Anglo friends, but there are some things that I can only share with my friends with Latino roots. It’s not good or bad, just a fact.
I’m “not so” undercover these days, more comfortable expressing and participating in the various aspects of my culture, from the language, to the cooking, to the dancing. (I recently learned to love menudo and conjunto music.) As I become more relaxed with my cultural identity, I’ve re-gained my ability to be silly, to let loose, and to laugh. I Skype with my 94-year-old abuelito once a week (although he prefers to be called “Papito”.) This past Christmas, I took a road trip to visit my family in South El Monte, California, and I embraced all the madness, in English, Spanish, and Spanglish.
And there are many other positive changes I’ve made, which I’ll share in upcoming blog posts. So stay tuned to my new life — mi nueva vida — as (not so) Undercover Mexican Girl.