Two years ago I thought this was funny. And my 2017 Self agrees. This IS funny. Made me laugh again. Memory Pop Up: The Raven was my favorite poem in Junior High (or Middle School…depending on your generation…geography?… anyway). I had no idea what it meant or what Poe was saying at all. I did not really understand. But, I loved it. I’ve always loved rhythm in words. And this poem, when I read it out loud, had so much rhythm. And it was dark. And I felt how profound it was. It felt it came from a person that was often alone. And I was very often alone. So The Raven became MY poem. I loved it so much I found my way into a UIL Prose & Poetry Competition to compete with it. I didn’t know what UIL was then (part of my 1st generation Mexican American reality). My school, Teacher Academy, was also super brand new. No art programs whatsoever. Plus, it’s focus was academics. Miraculously, however, (because my heart has always guided me) I met the Special Ed teacher (there was barely a Special Education Dept) and she had a daughter in 7th grade. And she decided to sponsor a UIL Prose & Poetry Team, which ended up consisting of her daughter and me. So, there I was competing one Saturday morning (super in my element) and one of the judges asks me what the poem means to me. His tone was one of surprise -as in “why would you choose this poem?” And his tone also told me that I was doing it all wrong. I froze. It shook me up. Still, I continued to compete a couple more times. At some point I won 2nd place at one of the Saturday meets (but I think there must’ve been no more than 3 young ones competing that morning. HA! But, I mean, still. I took it. I was happy.) My parents had shown up. I still remember so vividly my mom’s surprise and smile. They didn’t understand really what they were showing up for so when they heard my name being called for a trophy…you can imagine a parents pride. And then, one Sunday, while at my grandma’s house in Reynosa, in glee, one of my aunts- after finding out from my mom I had won something- asks me, “what does it mean? what is it saying? can you translate it?” And I froze. I couldn’t. And it must’ve been at that moment that I put The Raven away. I continued competing in UIL but in Prose and with material that was straightforward and happy. Maybe then it wouldn’t create so much inquiry. Plus, I could always summarize it in Spanish if it was straightforward enough. I continued on. All I wanted was to use my voice. Tell a story to an audience. Express. But with no coaching, no advice, and watching kids from other schools coming in prepared in ways I had no idea existed… I started to focus on my cluelessness. With The Raven, at least, I had felt this passion. With this other stuff, it became about the competition. And then all I felt was that I was an Amateur! (At the age of 13! Of course you are darling-insert heart emoji) Anyway, this to say…over 20 years later, my heart has guided me and has never steered me wrong. And yet, over the course of that time, that judges tone and the nuances of my bicultural reality have popped up as the voices in my head that made me doubt and play it safe. Much much less now…Thank God…but up until three years ago they were often paralyzing. So, I love this reminder today from two years ago. The truth is I’m over the “Nevermind.” And I’m fully into the “Nevermore.” Never more will I sacrifice what I desire to express even when I don’t understand or others don’t understand. Because truthfully, as I’ve learned, in the acting on what makes you curious… or calls on you… or you feel so passionate about… or that you can’t stop thinking about… you start to understand your place and time on this human plane. You start to understand what your specific contribution is as a human. You start to understand what brings you Joy.