Editor's note: this is the 12th in a monthly (sometimes twice-monthly) series of guest blog posts in which emerging Latina writers talk about their work, their process and what inspires them.
Teresa Jusino is a New Yorker who lives and writes in Los Angeles. Her pop culture criticism has been featured on websites like Tor.com, GirlGamer.com, Al Dia, ChinaShopMag.com, PinkRaygun.com, Newsarama, and PopMatters.com. 2012 saw Teresa’s work appear in two Doctor Who anthologies: Chicks Unravel Time (Mad Norwegian Press) and Outside In (ATB Publishing), and she was also published in Mad Norwegian’s Whedonistas. Her fiction has appeared in Crossed Genres, and she is currently writing a webseries based on the short film, Incredible Girl, by Celia Aurora de Blas, which is coming in 2014.
Writing as escape
I got my first, and only, detention in the eighth grade. In English class. For writing too much.
I was working on some story the way I always did in every class — furtively, with a notebook hidden underneath whatever book we were supposed to be looking at, taking passes at writing words during a lull in class discussion, or when my teacher wasn’t looking, or when someone was asking a question…
I was good at listening to what the teacher was talking about and writing short fiction at the same time. I got straight “A’s” in English. Lay off.
In any case, I was working on some story or other and one of my best friends was sitting next to me and wanted to read it. So, I passed it to her at the exact moment my teacher decided to look in our direction. Thinking we were passing trivial schoolgirl notes as opposed to the literary genius that was actually taking place, Ms. Lind gave us both detentions.
Even honor students get in trouble sometimes. Still, it’s pretty funny that the one time I did get in trouble at school was for sharing writing in English class. That’s how big a nerd I was. I wrote so much that I got in trouble for it.
But that moment captures just how important writing has always been to me. It’s not something I can stop. It’s something I’ll willingly get in trouble for, because the alternative is worse. It’s either write or go crazy. It’s either write, or die.
However, there’s a huge difference in how I approached writing before and after I made the decision to do it professionally. I’ve been a writer since I could pick up a pen, but when I was about 10 or 11, I decided that I wanted to be an actress. I was a huge fan of Beverly Hills 90210 (the original, not the stupid new one), and I loved reading articles like “A Day in the Life on the Set!” I thought to myself, That’s a job?! Hell yeah! I like pretending to be other people! I like dressing up! I wanna do that! And I did, I joined drama club in junior high, and continued in it all through high school, eventually becoming the club’s president. I went to NYU and got a BFA in Drama from the Tisch School of the Arts. I spent a good six years after college trying to make a life as an actor.
But the writing was always there. During all my free time (and even time that wasn’t so free, as illustrated by my detention story) you would find me with a notebook and a pen, scribbling for dear life. In fifth grade, I wrote reams of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Alien Nation fan fiction, and friends would accost me during recess to read the latest “episodes.” In Junior High, I created a world of cartoon characters I called “bug people,” which eventually led to the comic strip, Cutsie-Wootsie and Friends, which told the story of Cutsie-Wootsie, her boyfriend, Hungry Boy (never w/out a hot dog in his hand to show you how hungry he was), her best friend, Maggie, and a cast of characters that lived surprisingly soap-operaesque lives for people who looked like little bugs. I drew that comic on looseleaf and passed it around to friends during French class. One of those friends STILL has them. Throughout high school, I was writing short stories and a “novel,” I submitted pieces to our literary magazine, and during my Junior and Senior years, I was the editor of the school newspaper. I was the girl who secretly cheered when teachers assigned essays, when all the other students were going “Awww, man!” In college, I was primarily there for an acting degree, but I double-majored in English Literature, because I just couldn’t let writing go.
This continued after college. I would write during auditions and play rehearsals. I would write in line for movies and museum exhibits. I would write on my commute to and from work. I would write at work the same way I did when I was at school - furtively, when I was supposed to be engaging in other things.
Writing was the best way I knew how to express myself. Despite my acting ability, I was never more clear, or more honest, than when I wrote, even when I wrote fiction, so I always sought it out and craved it.
Then I got older, and I decided to try to make writing my living.
Fiction doesn’t pay right away, so I decided to go the non-fiction route, and built a name for myself in geek pop culture journalism. For a while, I was passionate about that, as I got to write about things and people that excited me. It was thrilling, too, to chase interviews, and come up with new angles through which I could examine the sci-fi and fantasy that I loved.
But after several years of that, I was burnt out on trying to come up with new ways to talk about the same limited sphere of interests. I’d written myself into a box, and what’s worse, that writing sapped my energy from the writing I wanted to be doing.
I missed telling stories.
And yet, even now, as I work two part-time day jobs that allow me the flexible schedule I wanted so that I’d have more time to write, the writing doesn’t come as furiously as it used to. It used to be that I couldn’t contain my writing. It was how I spent all my free time. I had boxes and boxes of notebooks of things I’d written. I had several stories constantly going on at once.
Now, I wrestle with finishing one at a time.
Writing was my way of escaping other parts of my life. Now, though, there’s less that I want to escape. When I was younger, I did a lot less participating in the world around me, and when I did I was always on the periphery, never wanting to get too involved. I was afraid, insecure. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve grown into myself, and become the kind of person that wants to experience everything. To me, it’s more important to tend to my relationships or try new things than it is to have a successful writing career. Don’t get me wrong, a successful writing career is my biggest goal - but not if it comes at the expense of the rest of my life. And maybe that means that success will come more slowly for me, if at all. But I can live with that.
Yet writing continues to be my truest, most long-lasting love. It’s just that our relationship has evolved. It’s not only the way I best express myself, but the way I best process my thoughts and feelings. For example, I’d never really thought about my writing in these terms before I was asked to write this guest post and talk about my writing. Suddenly, as I started to put words on a page, my feelings started making sense. More than talking, or drowning my sorrows in food and drink, writing is how I best understand myself and the world, which is strange considering that it used to allow me to hide from those things.
I don’t feel the physical need to write that I used to. It isn’t compulsive anymore. But perhaps that’s a good thing if it means I’m happier with the rest of my life. I have a balanced, healthy, adult relationship with both my life and my writing at the moment, and I’m very grateful.