On Being Bedazzled

“Braced and Bedazzled,” holds a time in my life I waded in shame.

This essay, every essay, behaves much like a time capsule.

I’d returned to undergrad school after leaving a domestic violent marriage. Soon after, my cervical spine gave way—an old injury taking its toll. I had three young sons to care for, without family, without child support. School seemed my only hope towards a new career path – one out of the fitness industry where I’d honed my identity as an athlete and trainer – and into my dream of creative writing and psychology. A career I felt I could achieve even if my head were strapped in a wheel chair and the use of my hands never returned.

“Braced and Bedazzled” captures these challenges. My three sons and I – lived on welfare, on food-stamps, in section 8 housing. Lived on hope. And when hope failed me, we lived on the hope of others. Like Manuel Guerra, my Vocational Rehab counselor, who kept me going, who believed in me more than I did. And Steve, at Eagle Physical Therapy, week after week across two years, pouring continuous encouragement over my pity party. Steve re-built me, not just in body, he re-built me in spirit and kindness.

And my sons. Gawd. These three young men. They have been my constant source of all things good and kind and loving and sparkly. They have been my reason for every achievement in my life since 2001.

And Boise State University. The accommodations and support from my professors and instructors, who lifted me, semester after semester. I find it no coincidence that here, almost a decade later, I’m an adjunct with BSU, a position I took last month. An opportunity to give back and support new writers.

And then there’s my writerly tribe who read and re-read this essay: Lisa Peterson and Rachel Hollon James. Thank you Lovelies for your love and sacred space with my narrative. To have writers that trust you, that you trust, is so special. Thank you for this gift.

And the beautiful Gayle Brandeis, who mentored me and the essay collection that “Braced and Bedazzled” sits in conversation with. Gayle held me up my entire second semester during my first MFA at the University of Nevada, Reno at Lake Tahoe Fine Arts

And YES. The Rumpus! This journal is a journal I admire, I read and dwell and think deeper. I’m grateful for the page space where I can safely share a vulnerable time in my life.

In September, The Rumpus swirled in narratives themed with disability and education. My narrative is surrounded with pages of powerful words and heart that have changed my lens. I’m thankful for these brave writers. I’m honored to share space with them in The Rumpus.

I’m humbled. I’m Braced. I’m Bedazzled.

NOTE: The names of my sons and others are altered in this essay. Steve gave permission to use his name. And so it is.

The Birth of an Essay

When someone asks, “How long does it take you to write an essay?” I want to answer, “My entire life.” First, I’ve lived through the experience, or witnessed an event, or inspiration sparks through some random fairy wand sprinkling glitter while I sleep. Then I marinade. Sometimes stowing the idea into a brain box, promising, I’ll write about this.

My process is less than consistent. While the idea sits alongside other boxed experiences in my mind, I garden, cook, organize drawers, de-clutter freezers, all the while sorting these boxes. At times, the situation picks at me, like a tiny angry bird needing feeding. Other times, the experience bursts onto my journal pages, squealing and hollering, reminding me to keep my writing promise.

An example of my process might look like this:

  1. I lived through childhood sexual trauma. It messed me up. It damaged my future relationships. It damaged me.
  2. I spent years in therapy unpacking anger and self-inflicted harm (more anger).
  3. I’m still in therapy.
  4. I write around these events, write through them, turn them into poetry, eat them in meals.
  5. Years later, I interview a couple regarding their intimate life.
  6. Here’s the link to that interview: Our Voice – Intimacy Segment
  7. After interviewing the Cramers, I opted to undergo the same procedure, The Mona Lisa.
  8. After the procedure, something unexpected happened, bursting that tucked box.
  9. I dusted that box, opened it, grabbed a pen, and wrote.
  10. Soon after submitting my work, Entropy published the piece.
  11. You can read it here: Mona Lisa by Rebecca Evans

This is one path, one birthing passage of an essay. The road to an essay is not singular or linear or even sensible. Sometimes I avoid the road and that serves me the least, leaving those boxes stacking in my mind, gathering dust, gathering.

Me. No More.

Me. 2008. A time of duplicity.

Me.

Me. December 2008.

Me. One month prior to downloading my youngest.

Me. One year prior to fleeing my home, three sons in tow, one duffel stuffed with medical supplies and a handful of diapers.

Me. Looking un-terrified, flexing, posing.

Me. Living in duplicity.

This image is not about body-beauty or suface-pretty. This was an outside-way-of-life. This was me. Pretending. Me. Acting as if everything was fine. Me. Donning a game-face. Me. Keeping myself together at all costs.

Me. Then.

Me. No more.

Thank you to Hags on Fire for publishing this photo-essay.

Writing “Me”

(First Published in Fiction Southeast: https://fictionsoutheast.com/why-i-write-rebecca-evans/)

I wrote nonfiction in third person. It’s a strange method to approach narrative, essay and memoir. An unusual way to share a personal story. Most of my work had read like fiction and often, held a gap between the main character (me) and the audience. I told myself that this POV worked, writing my narrative from a “she” instead of a “me” perspective.

In writing groups and workshops, my short stories were processed as if fabricated. Feedback proved difficult, especially when a writer stated, “she would never do that” or “I don’t believe this happened.” Reminders that I’d not established enough of my protagonist (me) on the page. Even better advice consisted of, “you might think about her doing this instead…” followed with ideas on how my character, meaning me, should behave. It felt like a blend between lecturing and counseling. Yes. I wish I more of my interior (me) appeared on the page. Yes. I wish my character (me) had behaved differently. Don’t we all?

Yet my form with third-person memoir had succeeded.

I found, through the use of third-person, I could write the hard stuff, the stuff that damaged me, that changed me, that shamed me. I could write as if I were writing about somebody else. As if this narrative had little to do with my own experiences. In this approach, I found myself raw, real, and willing to commit to truth. I also discovered that I edited less when writing prose more loosely attached to me. Hence the need for “she.”

In 2018, during my first residency at Sierra Nevada’s MFA program, I braced myself to read at open mike. I’d drafted a few excerpts from a larger manuscript stowed in a file, awaiting revision. The section I selected, born from a writing prompt, “If These Old Walls Could Talk.” At the time, I trained in Poetic Therapy and this prompt was often used in group settings.

The essay developed and, as usual, carried a distant third person POV. I further distanced the narrator, offering perspective through my childhood walls. Before the reading, I talked to my mentor, Suzanne Roberts and she gently asked whey I chose third person, why I chose walls.

“This keeps you safe,” she said, “distant from, not only your own story, but from the reader. Your material might be too hard to do this, but maybe try to tell it in first person.”

She pointed out that if I stayed behind the walls, secure, but hidden, I created even more space between my own story and me. Between my reader and me.

The revision of this one-page excerpt brought me to my barren floor that night, alone in a dorm room in late summer Nevada. I had broken other barriers in my writing the first few days in the program, connecting with other writers, searching for my identity as a woman, as a writer. I watched a mamma bear and her two cubs, less than twenty feet from my study group, softly step across campus in the hazy gray sky, reminding me that protection of one’s children need not be brutal or violent, but could simply live as a presence. Reminding me that writing, even with a group of passionate, creative spirits and Mother Nature herself, was ultimately a solo flight. Reminding me that my interpretation of that bear carried a unique lens, that the way I capture story will be through, not just my eyes and my memories, but my heart.

I needed to connect my story to me. I needed to own my story.

My voice cracked, alone in my room, trying to read that single page in first person, aloud to my reflection. I couldn’t. Saying “me” and “I” aloud felt like a stone in my throat. How would I read this in front of a room of writers, many successful published authors. I told myself, if I could read, I could do anything.

I don’t mind the microphone. I’m a public speaker, a motivational coach, a television show host. I was Mrs. Idaho in 2004. I usually accept attention. When it was my turn to speak, I felt unstable standing at the podium. My hands shook and my voice sounded like someone else. I cried. I cried for my own story that I finally felt. One I hadn’t allowed into my heart or out and into the world. I cried for me and for my adopted sister and for any woman or child who has ever been abused.

For the first time, my story mattered. And now every time, I read my words aloud after I write, whether in my journal, on scraps, or a final revision. Giving my story my voice changed me. Breaking down my walls of silence offered purpose in my writing.

And this is why I write.

This is why we write.

On Duende

Published in The Blue Mountain Review, Nov. 2020

Duende. It can feel like a descent into shadow, a murkiness blanketing the earth, suffocating humanity. Some label duende as an emotional nightfall. The term, born from “duen de casa” (master of the house), often relates to elves and goblins and creatures in Spanish and Latin American folklore.

Others think of duende as the spirit of evocation, the emotional response to art.

I think duende is what brings you to tears, brings you chills, your body’s reaction replying to art, despite yourself. My friend and poet, Ken Rodgers, tells me, “it’s intangible and maybe, indefinable. Maybe Bob Dylan. Maybe Picasso.” And he’s right. Duende is all this.

Ken shares, “in Spain, according to Lorca, it’s more apparent in bullfighters and flamenco dancers. Something above conventional beauty, something that hammers the hearts; sinew and bone.”

Frederico Garcia Lorca is credited with grappling the definition of duende in his famous lecture in 1933, “Play and Theory of the Duende.”

For an artist, duende can be as vital as keeping a pulse, guiding the artist to find her limitations, much like a spirit, an option other than the muse. Yet duende is not something that the artist pushes away, but instead, it’s an entity she must wrestle. Think Jacob and his angel. Think hand-to-hand combat. Think hide and seek with a skillful toddler. Unlike the muse or inspiration, the duende conquers both the artist and her audience. In Lorca’s words, duende is “a sort of corkscrew that can get art into the sensibility of an audience…the very dearest thing that life can offer the intellectual.”

Brook Zern, Flamenco aficionado and major contributor to the appreciation of flamenco in the United States, says of duende, “it dilates the mind’s eye, so that the intensity becomes almost unendurable. There is a quality of first-timeness, of reality so heightened and exaggerated that it becomes unreal.”

2020 feels infused with the duende.

Deaths. Hurricanes. Riots. Earthquakes. Fires. Revelation. Plagues. Armageddon.

And Politics.

The world’s aflame and the artist incubates in isolation. We are chilled. We are crying. Our bodies react before our pens reach the page.

Lorca writes, “The duende is a struggle…not in the throat, it clumbs up inside you, from the soles of the feet.”

Perhaps this is the struggle artists are feeling. The world is feeling. Oxygen-less. Motion-less. Hope-less.

Duende lives within all the forms of art, but it gathers its greatest momentum in dance, music, and spoken poetry. These arts need a physical body for audience interpretation. These arts are born and presented and pushed into the world. Perhaps musicians and dancers and poets have a new role in our time, in 2020, a moral obligation to pull the blanket back and fight the good fight, dance with the bull, embrace the battle within, the battle outside of us.

Lorca says, the duende’s arrival “always means radical change in forms. It brings to old planes unknown feelings of freshness, with the quality of something newly created, like a miracle, and it produces an almost religious enthusiasm.”

In a bullfight, you are not really in a fight, you beckon the bull, call the beast near and seduce it. You must do this though you quiver, knowing you face death. In the center, the heat of the dance, you’ll find your duende, your fire. When you do, let it spark and jump and then follow it, linger with it, dance an enchanting and terrifying dance and grow goosebumps while you howl and laugh and cry.

And once you find your duende, I hope you’ll keep it close, allow the miracles and the magic and the necessary change.  

Perhaps, 2020, is the Year of the Duende.

28 Pages of Revision…

Twenty-eight pages. A solid revision day. One goal for this narrative is that each chapter feels complete, carrying the weight of story on its own.

Best writing today:  “I didn’t know I had so much blood inside me. Feeling dizzy, I lowered myself onto the glass, lying on my back as if I were used to a bed such as this. I stared at the ceiling while waiting for Mrs. Heights to come, to help. Our ceiling, the same gray cement color as the floor, thick with cobwebs strewn in corners. It seemed lower than I remembered. I watched a spider drop, trembling on a thread, I swear, inches above my face. I feared spiders. I tasted bile, squeezed my eyes as my body began to shake.”

I know every writer carries a system, a method to “warm up.”

I have a beautiful fountain pen with midnight-purple ink. I love the scratching sound against paper. I love the way it glides across my journal pages. I write long-hand. Three to five pages each morning. I complain, I cry, I sort my shit on those early pages. Julia Cameron refers to this as morning pages. Natalie Goldberg also recommends long-hand writing, developing penmanship, character, disposition, and your nature.

This process connects my mind to my heart, my heart to my hand, my hand to pen and finally, pen to page. It is a quiet process. It is slow. I have a permanent ink stain on my calloused index where the pen rests. It looks like a deep bruise.

Family Adventure = Bowling at Big Al’s. My gutter ball was so slow it stalled in the gutter and I had to flag down a staff member to walk onto the lane and retrieve it. My youngest son beat us all in the first game. My disabled son won the second. I lost every time. I consider myself entertainment in bowling.

Water = forget it.

Core Strength = I sucked in my gut most of the day.

Guitar = it hurts to play. I can strum, but not pick. It is very difficult for me.

New Dish = Chicken Tortellini – Kosher. Coated in salt, cracked pepper, olive oil, rosemary and a titch of lemon juice.

New Discovery = I enjoy my mid-life hot flashes. My feet stay cold and having this new internal heat doesn’t seem a bad deal.

Staying Bright.

Relationship Status

(First Published Idaho Family Magazine 2015, revised 2022)

Feb - bigstockphoto_Pink_Hearts_Wallpaper_2684327

Just like that.  You change your “status”.  In a blink, your label spins into “single” or “in a relationship” or the announcement of, “it’s complicated”.  This is social media. Our measurement of our social status. The platform definer of our existence. And as long as mankind has deemed partnership and marriage an important status symbol, relationships are a major way we’ve defined our value.

We shuffle in the jumble. We mesh into the hype of appearance, posting happy notes of upbeat advice, seeming like we have our sh*t together. Or worse, we might be normal.

A few years ago, though single and happy, I updated my status to “in a relationship.” My phone exploded with question marks and tell-me-more texts. My status doesn’t fit the status quo or the labels offered on social media, or any other box I’ve checked on applications and medical screenings. I was not married. Or single. I was happy in self-partnership. This should be a viable option.

Single-hood, today, should not be a death sentence. It’s a choice. A very satisfying way of life. When I tell someone I’m single, the most frequent response is, “Why?”

I’ve learned to respond with, “Why not?”

Though single means different things to different people, pending on the angle.  To some, single equals an inability to attach. To others, it’s defined as an uncommitted relationship. And still others, view singleness as brokenness.

Our cultural pulse persuades us. Who we are with (in relationship) is an extension of who we are. I don’t disagree. We are influenced by the company we keep. That’s a different essay for a different day. But this line of thinking is limiting. If you’re not with another, then you must carry a lack or a vacancy. A space to fill. Remember the old dating advice: leave empty space in your closet for your soulmate?

We should ask, instead, “Who am I when I am with another? Who do I become?  Am I enhanced in this relationship?” We often shape-shift to maintain relationships. We often lose ourselves. Or at least, I have. When I finally gather the courage and interrogate myself, I find I’m better single. In fact, I’m fabulous when single.

At one time, unrelationship meant I lived in transition. I existed in a void of wait. Wait until the next one comes along. And there’s always a next one if you’re waiting. My singleness, left me in a state of numb-limbo – someplace between relationships and marriages.  When I entered grad school in 2017,  I told myself I was too busy, too quirky, too analytical, and, well, too much. Too much me. I arrived at a state of acceptance. Not of myself, but of my circumstance.

I found business helped me avoid loneliness. Busy insured I had little room in my schedule for anyone else. Yet, in the in-between hours, I somehow still managed to date, still sought a partner. I ended up with less-than-ideal men. The last man advised me to parent differently, to quit my second masters degree, to stop wearing make-up, to quit writing the way I wrote, and, more. The effort of dating drained me. I felt cluttered, lost in someone else’s debris.

In my youth, I remember jotting a Dream Guy List.  You know this checklist. Most have a mental list of their “ideal” human. The traits we track, the characteristics we were taught mattered in potential partners.

At one point, I journaled, “Do I meet my own standards?” I spent a year, give or take, testing myself. Would I qualify as a partner to myself? My list grew shorter, condensing from short-circuit satisfaction to advice I recently heard from a friend:

  1. Believes the best about me
  2. Wants the best for me
  3. Refer to 1 & 2

I had work to do. Okay. I still do. I don’t always believe the best about myself. But every day I’m more date-able. To me.

I’m closer than I’ve ever been.

Valentine’s Day feels like a day when singles feel like outcasts, as if, instead of red hearts, we’re marked with scarlet letters. We forget, singleness is also a gift. There are benefits. Many of us sleep better when single. Many quit worrying about appearance and become more of who they were designed to be. Many live their passions fully. Many spend their time doing exactly what they want, cooking the meals they love, listening to the music they enjoy.

I’m not discarding relationships. They carry value. They teach us about ourselves, providing mirrors, reflections of areas we might need to compromise, adjust, shift. But teaching-relationships can happen with platonic friends or through family. Not every lesson requires intimacy.

Valentine’s Day is a day I celebrate. I cook heart-shaped pancakes for my sons and write myself a love letter. I listen to my favorite music and dance until my neck hurts. I wear something I love, something soft and kind to my body. I embrace myself.  My quirks. My edginess. My analytics and flaws.

I’ll sleep on a pillowcase where I’ve written notes to myself in fabric markers, resting in self-acceptance, realizing, I’ve never really been single or alone. I’ve rejected me, neglected me. I am with the one, singular human who can love me unconditionally. Me. I lost sight of partner-me along my journey of measuring up and fitting in.

My heart is full. My closet is full, stocked with clothes I love. There are no empty hangers dangling in wait. I’m the love of my own life. Status complete.

An Effort to be Unbroken

CWI place winner in President’s Writing Award

Every breath, an effort to be unbroken.
I’ve been a pilgrim, treading along a humbled path.
Without the page, my life would have gone unspoken.

Every bruise, offered a lesson, a valuable token.
Each wrong turn, an alignment from a Higher Wrath.
Every breath, an effort to be unbroken.

Along my journey, filled with honorable coping
There would be glimmers of light–though they faded fast.
Without the page, my life would have gone unspoken.

Despite it all, my heart continued hoping
When my pen touched the page, my soul would be free at last.
Every breath, an effort to be unbroken.

What spilled over–anger, hatred and loathing–
Onto thin paper, now shredded, now trashed.
Without the page, my life would go unspoken.

In the final steps, our imprint of life is spoken
Even unread words offer healing, a cocoon, a cast.
Every breath, an effort to be unbroken.
Without the page, my life would go unspoken.

 

Naming

(published in Hedra News)

“See more elk.”

This is a statement my two year old declared on our drive from the mountains.  He saw his first herd, but more importantly, he named them.  He has found his words.  He has found his voice.

“Me JuJu.”

“JuJu no sleep.”

“Mine.”

“Mommy.”

“I love you.”

“I cry for you.”

His words are his source of power.  He can now get what he needs and sometimes what he wants.

As a writer, the ability to name things is one of the most important methods learned.  An attempt to discover fresh descriptions of something familiar with the hope of evoking the same emotion in the reader that one feels when identifying with that object–that is writing!

I’ve avoided writing consistently for a year because of this.  While naming, painting the scene, describing the actions or inactions of a character, my internal struggles rise to the surface and trickle onto the page.  Frankly, I don’t want to look at my stuff.  Still.

We are taught this type of avoidance.  “Say it straight.”  “Don’t be so flowery in your descriptions.”

Technology and academics take our written words and minimize them to short, spurt acronyms that look the same on everyone’s screen.  We lose our voice shortly after we uncover it.

The truth is, we were designed to write, to use our unique expressions of the world around us.  Words give us our sense of self, our sense of power.  They give us identity.

And words cut deeply – within our own self-talk and directly towards one another.

Words are healing.

Words are weapons.

Losing our voice, our ability to not only see the world through our perfect lens, but to be able to explain how we see it in a way that allows us to share, robs us of our creative nature.  This loss steals and damages pieces of us on a soul level.

What Others Think

The following is inspired from a writing exercise from a David Whyte workshop. My Writing Muse, Ron in Indiana, added a twist to the exercise with the ending to the prompt. Enjoy.

It doesn’t matter what others think because they do not hold the desires of my heart in their minds. They only hold their old blueprints, judgments, opinions and value systems.

It doesn’t matter what others think because their ideas are based solely on their exposure. They have not endured my journey through my eyes, so they cannot truly understand the place I am emerging from.

It doesn’t matter what others think because they can only respond to life out of their own history, from their limited experiences. Though compassionate, not one of us can truly step into anothers’ footprint.

It doesn’t matter what others think because I must hold true to what I believe first. If I operate out of the need to please others or avoid conflict, I will lose sight of my path and surely let go of my purpose.

It doesn’t matter what others thhink because man’s thoughts are often not in alignment with God’s thoughts. We are frail humans, broken, undiscerning and off course. I must keep my focus on doing that which honors God. I must call into my movie only the situations and people who guide and help me do this.

Yet, in a sense, how others think can matter, but how they behave when they walk along side you matters even more.