This week has been rough. There’s really no way around it. A rough week, punctuating a rough year, two years, three. Seven. Ten. So many painful years, all piling up, and I look in the mirror and there she is, the older woman I somehow managed to become along the way, still standing, still breathing, still here, in spite of it all. Still alone. More alone than ever. Still intense. Far too intense for everyone. I wrote a book; no one bought it. I wrote a film; no one wants it. I met a man; he did not want me enough to commit. I walked away. From all of it. Walked. Away. Alone.
For the past ten years, I have been trying to reclaim a sort of fame I was able to acquire, briefly, in 2004. Back when I was able to sell my first book for half a million dollars and land on the New York Times bestseller list. It was intoxicating, to suddenly be recognized for this thing I have loved doing since I was a little girl – writing. Creating. Imaging. Making people laugh, feel, empower themselves. It felt good while it lasted. But it didn’t last. For a long while this has been painful. It is not painful now. Buddhism has made it possible for me to just observe and describe, accept and…just…be.
As a young person, I was geared, as so many are, towards reaching my goals. No one prepares you – well, almost no one – for a reality where, yes, you reach those goals, more so than you imagined, and it is fun and you are powerful, and then, because you have a mental illness you are not yet aware of (it being the dark side of the light side that is writing and creativity) you fuck things up, over and over, and slowly, excruciatingly, the dreams you reached are plucked from your life, like fingers pulled from your hands. You alienate everyone. Fight with everyone. Insult. Ruin. Destroy.
No one tells you what to do then.
We are aimed at our dreams. Advice abounds, for those yet to reach them. But what is there, for those who have reached them, but then destroyed themselves and everyone who ever loved them, and are now..just…no one. Nothing. Incapable. Poor. Laughable. Stuck. Broke.
I email my previous editors. They never write back. Same with former friends. And lovers. Everyone is gone now, except my parents and my son, the ones who don’t have a choice. And the dog and cat who are my prisoners. This is what is left.
I have tried. I’ve tried hard. No one denies there is talent here, in these fingerless hands, in this much-too-much heart. But talent doesn’t seem to matter once you’ve pissed everyone off, alienated the entire power structure for your industries. I did these things. Part of it was arrogance. A larger part was an undiagnosed mental illness, Borderline Personality Disorder, that manifested in anger, rage, emotional outbursts, instability. I did not know I had this disorder, a severe mental illness caused by biological issues in the brain coupled with childhood abuse, neglect and trauma, until a few years ago, and by then it was too late. The damage had been done. And here I am. Completely and utterly alone, unwanted and unable to even support myself.
I’m going to blog with full transparency now. I have nothing left to lose, no one left to impress. I need not hide the truth of just how deeply flawed I have been and just how irrevocably I’ve painted myself into a cold, dark, lonely corner. Perhaps this is the path. Perhaps the entire journey was leading me here, to this corner. Perhaps this corner is the place where enlightenment lives. Perhaps here, stripped of every success and identity I ever had, I will be able to find, as Pema Chodron says, transcendence and peace and love, everything I’ve ever wanted, in the tenderness of pain itself. Perhaps we must lose it all, in order to see that we never had it to begin with; perhaps we must fail and fail and fail, in order to realize we always had everything we needed, here, below this breastbone, in the beating of this heart. In the relentless rising again, each day, of the sun. And the setting. And the rising. Perhaps nothing is ever real, for any of us. Perhaps the only consistent thing upon which any of us can rely is change.
People still call me a bestselling author, and I laugh. I once was. It was brief, and now it’s gone. Very gone. I have written six novels in the past five years, and cannot sell a single one of them to any publisher. I’ve written five scripts – three feature films and two TV pilots. Four thousand pages typed out, in the past five years, and cannot sell one word. A time comes when you realize this is insanity. When you realize there is no point.
There are many reasons why no one wants my work anymore. I’ve written a “post-apocalyptic” young adult novel at a time when no publisher wants that sort of material, at a time when they all seek gritty realism or something else. I have written a literary novel about revolution, at a time when no publisher is buying literary novels. The last couple of books I sold tanked. I offended people. I scared people, by being open about mental illness. I don’t know. I’m Amanda Bynes, I’m bald Britney, I’m Lindsey Lohan yelling at street children. I’m that writer. That person. The one who spoke her mind and terrified the world. The talented writer no one can stand. I’m her.
Two weeks ago, the entire editorial board of a major NY publishing house told my agent they wanted to acquire my new young adult novel. My agent said it was a done deal. And then the acquisitions team, marketing folks, decided it was a no. Nope. They did not see the potential. The editor, when I spoke to her before all this, when she called to say she loved the book, had begun the conversation by saying “I bow down to your literary genius.” My agent had said of the same book, “you are better than everyone else out there right now.” But I could not sell this book. To anyone. I bled all over the keyboard for a year to get that book out. A feminist book, full of magic and orishas and a girl queen who must rise from the jungles of victorian era Cuba to find her rightful place as the daughter of Yemaya. Could. Not. Sell. This. And so it goes.
I don’t know anymore. I can’t worry too much about it. I am poor, struggling. Unable, even, to find a day job. There is truly nothing left in me but story. In the past, before I sought treatment for my disorder, before I learned to manage my broken mind through mindfulness, before Buddhism, I might have been despondent, suicidal. John Kennedy Toole with that last rejection letter in his hand. There was that, too. My suicide, in 2015. I died. They brought me back. Everyone knows. I am a loose cannon. That one. The woman hanging on by one raw nerve, dangling from the ceiling, the red string of it all just ready to snap and drop her wet flopping to the hard cold tiles.
But now? Now I am at peace with letting it all go. I write this post to say I am completely and fully releasing any and all attachment I have had to my past identities. Journalist. Writer. Author. Bestseller. I am none of those things in this moment, and this moment is all I have. It is all any of us have. In this moment, I am a woman with a cat who sits on the mousepad and purrs at me, headbutts me as I type. That is all I am. A woman who hears the UPS truck rumbling up to the neighbor’s house, the barking of a distant dog. This is all there is. What a blessing, what freedom! What a beautiful moment this is, when everything has been removed, fallen apart, been rejected. What a raw, fertile, nascent thing, this moment, this life, the life we are all living, where everything, eventually, will be lost.
Who am I now? It doesn’t matter. It never did.
For ten long years, I have tried to open doors, movie doors, TV series doors, that remain solidly closed against me. Hollywood is high school, all over again. No. Worse. Middle school. Gossipy, cruel, cliques, popularity contest. And all the failed attempts, all the development deals that went nowhere, my name is associated with these things, with these failures, and somehow, the inability of certain executives to see my audience, and my inability to allow them to put my name on stereotypes, ends up as a visceral sense among those with power in that industry that Alisa Valdes is TROUBLE. Their inability to see my audience means that I, personally, am marred. I am trouble, for defending my black Latino characters when one producer tried to erase them all. Me. I’m the problem there. For being smart and insightful in rooms where I was expected only to be grateful. For questioning the status quo. For having the nerve, the dangling nerve, to tell other people when they were wrong. For asserting myself when I wasn’t. For being unattached to money. For throwing riches away in exchange for my integrity. It is easy to see that if I had been a white man this would have ended differently, I would have been said to have vision and leadership qualities. As a Latina, as a woman, it was something else. Trouble. I was, I am, trouble. Untouchable. A fucking head case.
I cannot be upset about these things anymore. I cannot beat my fists bloody on these doors anymore. I cannot change this. I cannot change any of it. And Buddhism has taught me one very important lesson. Pain is inevitable, yes, but suffering? Suffering is optional. We suffer when we resist what is. And what is, right now, is me, with nothing, going nowhere, unable to be who I was anymore, unable to go where I thought I wanted to go.
Now, I retire from professional writing. But not in the way you might think. Now, I find a day job, a simple job, of one sort or another, to pay my bills. And I give my writing away for free. I will never stop writing. It is impulse for me, essence of Alisa. Do I have an audience anymore? I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe not. The gatekeepers don’t want my words anymore, but still the words come, like adrenaline, like carbon dioxide. What use are they to me, locked away on my computer? I will give them away. They were never mine, anyway. Story exists on its own, out there. It just comes through us, writers. It was never mine to keep. It is its own life. And I will set it free. I don’t want this basket of leaves anymore. I will scatter them to the wind.
What a journey. What a corner. What beautiful inky darkness. What freedom in this, the disappearance of everything. What a moment to forget what was or might have been, and to breathe, just breathe, and be, in the beautiful empty bounty of the absolute nothing that is left.