living with ghosts

I’ve been participating in a writing group for the spring semester and it’s been going pretty well now. I was pretty loose with the group though I wanted to be clear with everyone early on in communicating my hopes we would not be a writing group but rather we would be more rigorous and approach the work as a writing workshop. The distinction is important to me. And we lost a few writers along the way because of the distinction I’m afraid.

But I think it is important for me to know when I need to be back in a workshop type atmosphere and of course I use workshop or the MFA model of work shopping with my students in creative writing–and I do wish I could implement more of the workshop model from composition but the logistic never seem to work out– but it is quite another thing to have “my” work in writing group. To have my work or my stories “work shopped”. I do try and stay objective about my own work and the whole experience has been about opening up my work to those around me a bit more other than anonymous editors. But the issue lately for me has been less about the form and more about the content. Funny because I always preach the most important part of writing is dealing with form. My pedagogy and theory concerning writing and the teaching of writing is all about structure and brush strokes. But this last workshop reminded me of the problems with opening up work to others. Just sitting in a room where everyone is discussing my family–talking about my Lolo–and the persona I’ve created in my work is difficult. The therapy aspect of writing comes out I guess. And dealing with those ghosts has been a problem in my personal life and the work I do as a writer makes it all spill over into the professional. Makes me have to deal with fictional relationships within stories and within scenes but also somewhat makes me deal with those ghosts from the past and the family. Funny that I tell my students in ethnic lit that past voices and texts are so important for the individual to create a sense of identity and most of the time I am fighting those past voices and text—yes texts because the family writes me letters from time to time—and part of my survival technique has been to suppress those voices and stay focused on the present—focus on not ‘how it was’ but rather ‘how it is’. This way I have learned to endure and stay strong but again it is difficult to when you are sitting in a room discussing characters and actions based on actual folks from the old neighborhood. And I imagine most writers consider this idea of what is real and what is created and the distinctions and the limitations. I need the real world Lolo to reach further into the fictive space or the fictive world of Huerfano County/Pueblo County of my youth. I know how important those real paper are in finding those ghosts/wraiths that are also created in the stories. I rely on them to talk to me and inform me of line and trajectory for these little stories. So as much as I hate them and fight at them I realize how important they are to my work. Even those I am completely lost too.

And maybe it is all due to me rereading Maxine Hong Kingston and re-viewing old interviews of her for my ethnic lit course. In “No Name Woman” she writes of her real and imagined aunt: My aunt haunts me—her ghost drawn to me because now, after fifty years of neglect, I alone devote pages of paper to her.

Carlos for example. A man I have no idea as to his life or his thought process. A man who only exists in picture and story from the Abuelita and from other relatives and their lost voices. I think I only met the guy once but I return to him almost every other night or so at my desk trying to get him down. The work trying to give life to him–turning the ghost into flesh and blood on the page. I look at his picture and try to recreate those old stories. It’ll be odd for me when the group reads some Carlos stories and speak of him.


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john paul jaramillo

John Paul Jaramillo’s debut story collection The House of Order was named a 2013 Int’l Latino Book Award Finalist, and his most recent work Little Mocos is now available from Twelve Winters Press. In 2013 Latino Boom: An Anthology of U.S. Latino Literature listed Jaramillo as one of its Top 10 New Latino Authors to Watch and Read. He is currently a professor of composition and literature at Lincoln Land College-Springfield, Illinois.

2 thoughts on “living with ghosts”

  1. The ghosts turns into flesh and the ghosts return us to our own flesh. We have to ask how they feel or how they didn’t allow themselves to feel. I think it’s interesting how so many writers talk about how much of the writing takes place in their heads but I believe when I write, more takes place in my body. What about you?

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