Tag Archives: Sandra Cisneros

My Name

In English my name means hope. In Spanish it means too many letters. It means sadness, it means waiting. It is like the number nine. A muddy color. It is the Mexican records my father plays on Sunday mornings when he is shaving, songs like sobbing….

I would like to baptize myself under a new name, a name more like the real me, the one nobody sees. Esperanza as Lisandra or Maritza or Zeze the X. Yes. Something like Zeze the X will do.

– Sandra Cisneros, “My Name” (The House on Mango Street)

I have — and have had — about a million nicknames my whole life, thanks to my family, friends, loved ones, students, etc. And I once made the mistake of telling a former class that I personally bestow nicknames on people or things I really love… and then the kids who didn’t have nicknames from me felt slighted. Eeks. I can’t help it,  though, because to name someone myself is to claim them and make them special to only me. If other people should pick up on the nickname I created, so be it, but in my heart I always know that I gave them my own baptism of sorts. For example, our Basset Hound’s full name is Prince William Sound. In his short three and a half years of life, he goes by any of these names on any given day: Sounder, Sounder Puppy, Sounder the Wonder Pup, Pup-pup, Puppy Soup, Bobacita, Hound Dog, Sounder Hounder, so on and so forth. All terms of endearment and love.

Before getting married two years ago, I was very certain of the identity of the person who owned my maiden name. Very very certain. I had 28 years, in fact, to cultivate that woman’s identity. That woman had a name that family/friends/colleagues and I all knew and recognized in a particular way as a person and a student and an athlete and a teacher and music-lover.  So when I got married, I was terribly bothered by the annoyance of going to the Social Security office and the DMV and pushing papers around to legalize my married name. Yes, that is a valid excuse for delaying the process (men have it so easy!), but in looking back on it, I really didn’t want to be “re-baptized.” I liked me as me, and much as I love and adore my husband and feel utterly committed to him and our life together, I wasn’t quite ready to be me with a new last name.

When we moved to Alaska at the end of last June, I had made it through exactly five days before I had a meltdown. Amidst my tears, I said to my husband, “I have no sense of who I am here.” And I didn’t, because my heart and head were still in California while my body was in Alaska. I couldn’t compute that I had a new name with a new home; it was so overwhelming, and I felt like an adult newborn.

Six months later, I am still getting to know me by my new name in my new home. While I am the same at my core, my Alaska friends and acquaintances only know me by this new name. I have to remember that when I meet people. They don’t know that I’m from Cincinnati or that I love volleyball. That I played piano in my high school orchestra for four years and sang in an a cappella group in college. They don’t know that being a Stanford student changed my life forever and how much I love the physical place and its community. Or the story of how I met Husband. Or who are the greatest, most important people in my life. Having a new name is like adding another onion layer to my identity, but every day I know myself as this person a little bit better. Not sure if I’m growing into the name or if the name is shaping me — some of both, most likely. Hopefully one day my name will be Mom (and eventually some form of Grandma  one day, too), and that person will probably miss this woman I am today, even as she is baptized yet again.


Why I Write

Of course I stole the title from this talk, from George Orwell. One reason I stole it was that I like the sound of the words: Why I Write. There you have three short unambiguous words that share a sound, and the sound they share is this:

I

I

I

In many ways writing is the act of saying I, imposing oneself upon other people, of saying listen to me, see it my way, change your mind. It’s an aggressive, even a hostile act. You can disguise its aggressiveness all you want with veils of subordinate clauses and qualifiers and tentative subjunctives, with ellipses and evasions with the whole manner of intimating rather than claiming, of alluding rather than stating, but there’s no getting around the fact that setting words on paper is the tactic of a secret bully, an invasion, an imposition of the writer’s sensibility on the reader’s most private space.

-Joan Didion, from The New York Times Magazine, December 5, 1976

During my senior year in college, I took a writing course on Creative Nonfiction; our professor called it something like “Literature B.” I love that name because it reminds of the B-side of a single — it’s not the feature track, but it can be just as interesting and sometimes more original.

Our first assignment was to write an essay on “Why I Write.” After many years of avid journal writing — starting with a 4th grade hardback diary that had a lock — I struggled to come up with an answer. I have many happy memories of writing from a very early age, whether it was diligently practicing my print and cursive letters with my mom, or writing out highly detailed descriptions of the world on the ancient royal blue family typewriter. By the time I was in high school, I would write in my journal to process my so-called life while listening to all of the Lilith Fair ladies (Sarah, Jewel, Indigo Girls, etc, etc.) And when the college years arrived, I chronicled life in my Bible of a grid-lined journal. Now that I have entered a new decade of life, I have moved into a one-line-a-day journal that is supposed to live for 5 years if I do it right. At this point, one might imagine that I would have an eloquent response for why it is that I feel compelled to write.

I have boiled it down to three basic reasons:

1. It makes me happy.

2. I like to save writing. People hoard and save and collect many different things in this life, and for me I love to save the record of my life in my journals, my school work (dork, I know), my email exchanges with girlfriends, notes and letters from family and friends…

3. I am a reader. Readers are writers and vice versa because we love language and the way it sounds and the way it looks on a page, the way it can fundamentally change how we think and feel.

So. While I harbor no dreams of becoming a poor-girl’s Carrie Bradshaw (no way could I do the whole “I couldn’t help but wonder” convention), I do think there is space in my life to write and perhaps there always will be. Zen Buddhists believe that it is important to clear out old ideas in the closet of our minds so that we have room for fresh/new/alternative ways of thinking, and I will consider this my space to process the old and the new.