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Jesica Hanley Vega

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On Editing: On The Necessity of Turning Oneself into a Character

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A few weeks ago, I reread a series of online newspaper columns I’d written in 2011. The writing was clear, informative and grammatically sound, but it was also boring as shit.

Around the same time, I picked up a copy of “To Show and To Tell” by Phillip Lopate*. In this book, dedicated to the craft of “literary nonfiction,” Lopate writes that nonfiction authors must not shy away from revealing their authentic selves, regardless of how flawed, weird, or even dull, they believe themselves to be. Ultimately, he writes, even when the subject is not memoir, it’s the writer’s unique perspective, their “character,” that makes their work engaging.

Lopate had me see that, in too completely concealing my origins and point of view — a Puerto Rican Jew from the Bronx, a person-of-color passing as white, perpetually angry about abuses of power, and equally passionate about the possibility of a just world — I’d omitted aspects of myself that might have made my articles compelling, rather than just informative.

In contrast, in “Between The World and Me,**”  Ta-Nahesi Coates’ anger, defiant atheism, confusion and despair inform every page, as do his tender love for his son and his grief for an old friend. He is frank about childhood fears, his inability to master the streets, and the fact that he cannot identify the answer to racism in the United States, only the problem, and the tragedy, that it is.

But through a lens of what might be regarded as imperfection, an intellectually persuasive and emotionally forceful human being emerges. It is no accident that the book has become a phenomenon and that, despite insisting on his own limitations, Coates — or rather, the narrative “character” he created – has become a prophet to many.

This is why editing is about so much more than just debugging and polishing your grammar, syntax and structure. It’s also about enhancing your voice so that readers not only acquire a new understanding of your subject, but also gain a greater understanding of who you are, as a writer and a human being.

*Lopate, Phillip. “On The Necessity of Turning Oneself Into a Character.” To Show and To Tell, The Craft of Literary Nonfiction. New York: Free Press, 2013.

** Coates, Ta-Nehisi. Between the World and Me. First edition. New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2015. (edited by Christopher Jackson, yay!)

Almost Fourteen Years Ago…

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I had a baby. But instead of the bliss and possibility I’d been promised, I found a darkness I’d never imagined. Post-partum depression left me confused, angry and unable to imagine a positive future. I tried to keep it all together, but the word “overwhelmed” doesn’t begin to express the devastation and loss I felt. Then I hit rock-bottom…and a wise teacher recommended I reconnect with my intuition. I started reading cards, first for myself and then for others, and slowly began rebuilding my perspective and my life…

In the beginning, every reading pointed to grief and loss, the very things I’d been trying to overcme. But over time, and with the help of a caring therapist, I discovered that feeling grief and loss didn’t mean they would take over my life forever. Indeed, the opposite was true. Allowing for those dark emotions – surrendering to them but not wallowing in them – allowed them to pass. And joy entered my life again.

When we feel overwhelmed, we assume that fixing the problem, answering the question, and eliminating the obstacle will make us feel better. But the truth is that “feeling better” starts from just “feeling.” And while we may think we’re “feeling” while we stress out, complain and tell our stories, the truth is that really “feeling” requires an environment of safety and acceptance not easily accessible in everyday life.

Very often people cry when I read their cards. I cry! A reading provides that environment – whether it’s for 15 minutes or an hour – where you can feel, be present and let things be. It’s an opportunity for admitting what’s really going on and letting your own intuitions emerge. Sometimes, it turns out, there is  something to do. But just as often, it turns out that things aren’t as confusing as they seem and the overwhelm seems to fix itself.

Readings are not for everyone. Sitting with me requires an open mind, a commitment to growth and at least a consideration that there’s something bigger and more important than you – whether you call it your higher powergod, spirit, the universe or the tao.  Because, aside from developing my intuition, the cards have taught me that there are things outside our control and our knowledge, and that, rather than that being something to overcome, the unknowable can be a source of wonder, joy and even healing.

Do You Want To Evolve?

IMG_0964The field of coaching, guidance and personal development is a crowded one, full of promises and potential miracles. I get it. The best way to sell anything is to make it seem like an easy path to everything that people want.

But I’ve never been a fan of easy.

Rather than offering silver bullets, my work is about discovering and surpassing your own inner limits. It’s about distinguishing what holds you back and daring to go beyond it. It’s about recognizing some of your most deeply held beliefs and questioning whether they still serve you. It’s about discovering where you’re weak and choosing to become strong.

Doing readings with my clients enables me to address what lies beyond the surface of their stories and their circumstances. Recommending practices to my clients enables them to develop new habits that will help them see beyond as well. Loving my clients enables them to embrace those valuable parts of themselves they once relegated to the shadows.

I love tough, tenacious people. I love people who are so in love with something, so committed to it, that they are willing to let me be the grim reaper cutting down the limitations to which they are attached.

Clearly, my work is not for everybody.

But if you want to evolve, if you see a great reason to do so, a great purpose that will only be fulfilled once you are willing to look at yourself straight and give up your identity in favor of your soul, it may be for you.

Let me help you be the person you know you are inside.

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