Jesica Hanley Vega

Sing Your Song



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


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!)

Looking At The “Year Ahead”

Only a few more weeks until the days start getting longer again and provide a vivid sign that a new year is upon us.
Only a few more weeks until the days start getting longer again and provide vivid signs that a new year is upon us.

Just this week, I started preparing “Year Ahead” readings for myself and my clients. It’s really one of my favorite things to do because it provides such a comprehensive and vivid map of what a person can expect in the upcoming twelve months.

The format itself is based on the standard wheel of 12 “houses,” familiar to anyone who has received an astrological reading. Each “house” represents an area of your life and for each house, I draw a card. I lay the cards out in a circle and place one more in the center to represent the year’s overall theme. By relating all the “houses” to each other, and including the card in the center, I can discern  a “tone” or “flavor” for the year – including high points, low points, opportunities and pitfalls.

Of course, every spread is completely different and that’s the fun part. It’s an intimate and specific look at people as individuals and reminds me that one of the things I love most about my work is seeing how absolutely unique and special every single person is. Through spreads like this, I am also reminded that all people struggle with different challenges and are blessed with an infinite variety of different gifts.

Clearly, we are all profoundly gifted but, because our society tries to mold us into what it wants us to be, all too often we lose sight of our greatest talents by trying to be someone we are not. When I read a person’s cards, I see past the mold into which they are trying to fit and instead see the essence of who they really are.

Each and every time, it is a gift to reveal a person’s true and most beautiful nature back to them in a way that has them remember who they really are and why they’re really here. If this is something for which you are longing, do not hesitate to reach out and make an appointment. That’s what I’m here for and working together will be as great a joy for me as it is for you.

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