Jacqueline Valencia

Jacqueline Valencia

Other times I transcribe other writer’s work. I pick a favourite author, like James Joyce, Anne Sexton, Virginia Woolf, or whatever, and type out a paragraph. It’s almost like willing the action of writing to call forth the inspiration. The act of type or writing is often a technical muse, but more often than not I feel like whatever has been on the back of my mind comes to the forefront.

This week I talk with Toronto writer, DJ, and critic Jacqueline Valencia. Jacqueline is a senior literary editor at The Rusty Toque, critic at Broken Pencil, founding editor of These Girls On Film, and a film journalist and senior staff film critic at Next Projection. She is a CWILA Board Member, a member of the Meet The Presses collective, curator for Toronto conceptual arts night UNDEFINED and organizer of The Toronto Poetry Talks. Jacqueline has been featured in the Gods, Memes, And Monsters anthology by Stone Skin Press and has been published in various publications across Canada and the United States.

 And, wonderful news – her debut poetry collection There Is No Escape Out Of Time was just published by Insomniac Press!

SACHIKO MURAKAMI: So, Jacqueline. What’s the hardest thing about being a writer?

JACQUELINE VALENCIA: It’s really hard to sit down and start writing unless you’re hyped up and inspired by a thought or a storyline. Then when I get to my keyboard or pen the struggle is how to form and transfer my thoughts onto the page. Once it starts flowing then it gets a bit exciting, but I cycle through the sitting down to write and procrastination quite a bit. It takes a lot for me to focus and reading helps with that.

As a single mom now I find it really difficult to heal in hard times and to find the headspace to write. There’s a whole balancing in being fully present for my kids, ongoing work, and writing that that comes into play. It’s almost impossible to do if you are dealing with stress or mental health issues. My privilege is that I’m a stay at home mom, have been for a while. However I’m working on being independent from my ex-husband, I have to. It’s become extremely important for me to survive as a woman in my own space without dependence. It’s been difficult, but it’s a goal I am determined to meet.

That and it’s appalling to me how much writing isn’t seen as a job. It’s infuriating to see arts and literature painted as a hobby when you’ve dedicated yourself to it. Heck, I’ll go as far as saying it’s infuriating to me how much of what I do at home as a mom and when I was wife, was and is unpaid labour.

I don’t talk about my kids that much, especially my daughter who’s gone through the special needs system in the Toronto school board. The meetings and being on top of things there for her, has been another part of labour that I don’t really talk about. I guess, because I see it as another part of being a mom.

Thus it’s mind boggling to me to find that publications ask for content to give writer’s exposure still. I’m sorry, but exposure doesn’t put food on the table.

SM: I think you in particular have a very interesting relationship with reading. You’ve been writing out James Joyce’s Ulysses by hand for some time. You’ve described this as an act of uncreative writing. When you first told me about it, I immediately thought of it as also a kind of creative reading. Now, your first book is moments away from launching. I think about the divide between these two acts – hand-copying a canonical text written by a white, male writer, and a woman of colour (creatively) writing her first book and delivering it in contemporary white-dominated Canadian Poetry. As a critic and activist, you’ve been doing much to raise awareness and spark discussion about racism (and sexism) in poetry. In the past year, you’ve joined the CWILA board, and have been the force behind the Toronto Poetry Talks. I wonder – how has your relationship with the Ulysses project changed, if at all, over the past year? How has your reading and writing changed in the context of your activism?

JV: When I first started the Ulysses project, I had just finished transcribing A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man via keyboard online. I was doing what Simon Morris did with his project Getting Inside Jack Kerouac’s Head where he transcribed all of On The Road. With Ulysses, I dared myself to do something more involved by writing it by hand. In A Portrait, I found that my writing suffered at the beginning because Joyce starts off with an almost infantile language. It’s only until a few chapters before the end that the writing style becomes more flowery and informed. It’s influence resulted in my first published piece in a print journal.

Nowadays with the time I’ve been involved with The Toronto Poetry Talks, I’ve become conscious of the fact that I’m transcribing a white male author, albeit one who lived his late life in exile. Ulysses is a universal book, one that talks about an everyday man and his very sensually aware wife, but yes, a white male author who is part of the white male author canon in school literature. I’m colonizing a colonizer’s text with my pen.

Lately, it’s become hard to keep transcribing every day since I’ve had some big life changes. However, I keep at it when I can.

I’ve been making an effort to read less men and read more women of colour. I’m a big believer in little things that one can do can make a huge difference in the long run.

SM: Yes, colonizing the colonizer! I think of your project within the context of a few other projects, namely Sonnet L’Abbe’s Sonnet’s Shakespeare, where she takes the ol’ bard’s work and makes space for herself within the texts’ letters, and M. NourbeSe Phillip’s Zong!, where she takes the text of a legal document which awarded the owners of a slave ship insurance monies for their murder of the slaves on board, and erases the white voices of the text to give voice to the slaves who were remembered in that document not as people, but as cargo. In your project, the physical labour of scribing is so apparent, so much of your body is present on the page. And your handwriting is a personality to be reckoned with – anyone encountering Joyce through your labour encounters maybe even more of you than Joyce.

So, circling back to being a single mom, and your recent life changes. You’ve been very open on social media about your personal life. It’s one of the reasons I wanted to chat with you, because you share a lot on social media that other people don’t talk about. At the same time, you’re about to launch your first book into the world. What’s that process been like – getting your first book through editorial and into the world while the shit hit the fan?

JV:

1. I’m pretty open, but I don’t get to the icky part which is my own crazy. So while I write what is happening to me on social media and how I’m dealing with it, I’ve already done or thought things behind the scenes that I don’t put out there. Don’t mistake my frankness for complete divulgence. I probably shouldn’t curate it as such, but really, my brain is my property. I’ll put out there what I want. I’m always fumbling around like everybody else trying to make sense of the chaos sometimes. The crazy stays in while a bit still seeps onto my social media feed. I make a lot of mistakes along the way, but that stuff is fodder for my therapist or my close friends and family.

Social media, particularly Facebook, is this weird place we keep in touch and network. I have a lot of friends (and family) there; friends that I’ve carried over from my days of Livejournal and even from elementary school. Plus, as I have mentioned before, it’s great for networking, organizing events, especially for a mostly introverted person like me. I rarely go to book launches and readings because of my anxiety.

That being said, I find social media to be a distractor and detractor from my own work. It aid or set me back in recovery on my low moments of depression. Since I’m a bit of a loner, the instant validation and feedback I get from social media can become addictive. I know this is the case for many and it does take away from our writing a bit. I’ve lost a bit of my focus because of it. A couple of my friends and I have started letter writing and calling each other on the phone (scary!), for old times sake, and to wean ourselves off of Twitter and Facebook somewhat. It just started so I can’t really give you much of a review on how that is going. But I did pick up a phone and talk to a friend in New York City recently! It was nice to hear his voice from afar.

I’m reactionary as well and that can cause me some problems. Just yesterday while supporting a fellow writer’s rant about the white male gatekeepers of CanLit, I went on to tweet an all-caps rant about it. I have a history of doing this and maybe I should think before I type. It’s not that I don’t want to offend. It’s just that I would like to offend with a bit more eloquence and grace than that.

2. I’m extraordinarily excited about this book because it is a very personal collection of poems. My past chapbooks have been mostly conceptual in nature.  This is the first time I’m writing about something personal. I’m very protective of my kids and am wary of writing about them, but when I do I focus on motherhood, rather than their experiences, of which they fully own and are charge of. I’m happy about it.

I’m also sad because it used to exist in my head and now it’s out there living a life of its own. I don’t know if that makes sense. It’s like being pregnant for months (or years) and now you’re not. I’ve lived with the words in that book for a long time and I hope whoever reads them, enjoys what I did. I don’t want to waste anyone’s time. Life’s too short to read poetry that doesn’t challenge you, or at the very least, that you don’t connect with.

While in the process of publication, I’m also going through a divorce. That’s been interesting, for lack of a better word. I went through a few of the stages of mourning during the editorial process. I thank Roxanna Bennett for her patience and her sharp focus with the poems. Actually, while going through them I noticed a few things I had already been parsing in my head about my marriage. It wasn’t a shock, just a, “Oh I see what happened there.”

The ex and I maintain a connection. I still waver on sadness, my knees still buckle on the street for no reason, and acceptance. It’s true, grief goes in waves. I can’t say what we have now is a friendship yet, but our children are happy and that’s what’s important overall. The easiest part of divorce for me has been the relationship to our children. That will never change.

To circle back to being candid about it I’m at the angry stage of separation. I’m holding a lot back while running my legs ragged on the pavement or on my bicycle as of late. If I work out the bad energy, I’m fine.

56km morning bike ride and it’s gorgeous out. #Toronto #bikeTO #cycling

A photo posted by Jacqueline Valencia (@thesourgirl) on

SM: I totally get what you mean when you say that there’s a sense of loss when the book gets out there. I’m not a parent, but maybe it’s like sending a kid off to school. You did the best you could with your baby, and now she’s out there in the big scary world. WHAT IF SOMEONE IS MEAN TO HER? Then you realize that if you fucked that one up bad you can always just have another one. See, not a parent.

Divorce – that’s a hard one, harder than anything I’ve experienced. You know I went through a breakup around the same time you did – not nearly as long of a relationship but still a shock and a major life change. I wrote nothing through the worst of it. I can’t imagine trying to edit a book in that morass. Do you find dark times a fruitful place for creation?

JV:

1. Hahaha. Yeah. Luckily, I had started writing a story which has turned into a novel while There Is No Escape Out of Time came out. It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster with The Toronto Poetry Talks going on as well. However, I’ve been trying to be very chill and calm about everything by letting things just happen. I’m trying not to stress too much because in the end, if something doesn’t work out, you try again.

2. As a “recovering teenage goth,” disenfranchisement with the world has always informed my creative output. I also tend to live a lot in my own head and getting things out has proven to be more of a release than a therapy. However, this year has been very weird and unpredictable. I find myself paralyzed sometimes without that creative anchor. I’m procrastinating a lot more and meeting things barely on deadline which is a bit new to me. I’m used to having an idea and working on it right away. I used to get so excited about new ideas too. Now they sit on the back burner for a while until I’m ready for them. Sometimes I feel like I’ll never be ready for them.

It might look like I’m busy, but I’m surfing the wave of things I set in motion a few years or months back. I’ve learned to start being more patient with myself though. If I have any regrets, they will motivate me to do better, with a better understanding of myself and more compassion for others in the future. We’re all in the same boat.

SM: When I’m down and I get a glimmer of something, I make a note on my phone. But I’ve been too down to chase down those ideas. I just have this mass of notes that all have one line that I guess meant something to me at the time but are indecipherable to me, now. Those things on the back burner – how do you keep them alive?

JV: I take my bike out for a hard and long ride or I go for a run. It’s like being blocked up in your head and you need to release it all by getting the blood pumping up again. I often write a whole bunch in my head when I’m running or on a ride. When I stop and get back home, I write whatever gibberish I can before I get blocked again.

Other times I transcribe other writer’s work. I pick a favourite author, like James Joyce, Anne Sexton, Virginia Woolf, or whatever, and type out a paragraph. It’s almost like willing the action of writing to call forth the inspiration. The act of type or writing is often a technical muse, but more often than not I feel like whatever has been on the back of my mind comes to the forefront.

Many other times I end up sitting in front of blank page and writing whatever comes in my head in whatever way I can. I try to force myself not to edit, reread, or think about story lines or where I am going with something. It might end up being fragments of nothing on a page. Sometimes there’s an element of a story or a poem in those brainstorming sessions.

The hard part is overcoming the lack of confidence in myself to write something good that people want to read. I try to combat that with the fact that I’m writing. Writing makes me feel like I’m moving forward and not stagnating. I enjoy the stillness when I get in a groove. I enjoy letting go when I get in a groove. Blogging helps a lot too. I feel like hiding in a hole and giving in to the black dog when I am not able to write.

SM: I transcribe, too. It helps remind me that fingers can bring poetry to me, even if it isn’t my own.

I wish you many hearty congratulations on the launch of your first book! Any words of advice for someone who might be a few months behind you – contract in hand, and freaking out?

JV: Advice for someone a few months behind me? Life remains the same. You know, life is funny. You think something up, plan, and then make it materialize in front of you. All that work, the struggle, whether it be months or decades, are nothing. The truth is, life is all about moments. Cherish what you can and get ready to create more roller coasters and more mistakes. Falling is the only way to eventually get up again. Your life depends on it.


Next week I will be talking to – no one! I’m on retreat and taking a short break. I’ll be back in two weeks.

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4 thoughts on “Jacqueline Valencia

    1. I guess I didn’t word that well. More like my mental health issues which are a part of me and I don’t negate. However, sometimes they hinder my progress and I can’t see them for anything other than a hinderance, which is wrong, but I’m still trying to balance that. Does that make sense?

      1. Thanks, Jacqueline, for taking the time to respond. I appreciate it. I hear what you mean and relate to it strongly. Best of luck with the balance of which you speak… And thanks again!

    2. P.S. That being said “the crazy” is also a good thing because it is a part of me that forces me to look at things in a different perspective.

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