I cried every time my mother took me to preschool. For three days a week and two-and-a-half hours each day, I wailed at the beginning and end of each class with tears and snot streaming down my face and wads of tissue balled in my hands. These were the moments I was on the precipice of being alone, fighting with the overwhelmingly intense fear that an unforeseen event would lead to my mother’s permanent absence from my life. The anticipation of this irrevocable loss shook me, and made me inconsolable to teachers and classmates alike. I’d sit by the window and watch our maroon minivan drive by, turn right on to the street and disappear into the morning oblivion. This might be the last time I see her. Two hours later, I’d sit on the bench near the playground, ignore my friends’ calls to join them, and stare at the parking lot entrance through wet eyelashes. Who would I be without my mother?
These bouts of panic and hyperventilating were a sad bookend to an otherwise lovely learning experience that occurred in between – a time and space to laugh, imagine, and create alongside friends. School is a special occasion that captivates me to this day. The challenge was letting myself get immersed in those moments rather than consumed by a paralyzing separation anxiety. One day, I discovered the classroom’s bookshelf and pulled out a picture book, a wordless medium that mirrored my inability to articulate profound feelings of fear, anxiety, and nervousness; and in some ways, love. It helped me imagine new worlds and occupied my mind with a new narrative of adventure that allowed my voice to fill the dialogue between characters. I’d listen and speak and use my own words in conversation with the illustrations.
From that moment on, I used reading and writing as a way to make sense of the things I neither understood nor had the language for. The more I read, the more language I acquired to help me articulate life’s complexities. And the more I communicated clearly, the more I felt connected to those around me. It has been my way of absolving my fear of isolation and lost meaning. The stakes are high in most of my work. I do not want my words to fall flat; I want them to simplify the complex. Make it awesomely simple – in logic and emotion – in order to achieve a true sense of understanding and connection with the reader. Who would I be without you?
The crisis always occurs whenever I realize that the things that matter to me might not matter to other people, and thus become lost. Of course, the most meaningful work I write always shows up when “it doesn’t matter” whether or not it will be understood.