The author sits down to write her autobiography. She sighs and sips Diet Dr. Pepper Cherry. It tastes like chemicals. It tastes like cancer. She drinks it anyway. She’s overwhelmed with self-loathing. That’s why she’s a writer. It’s hard to be a halfway decent writer unless you hate yourself profoundly. She’s a good writer. Make of that what you will. There is a dog. It lounges on the cold tiles of the home office. That’s because the dog is 4 million years old, in fruit fly years. In dog years she is…Jesus. Dunno. People years, she’s like 17 now. But no one really knows, because she came from the shelter. People who work in animal shelters are forever telling lies to the public. You know that’s not a golden retriever, right? You know it’s a pitbull. You believe what you want to believe. We all do. We all create fictions. Some of us do it for a living.
And here we are.
The author stares at the screen. What the hell do people want to know about her? She talks about herself in the third person, like George Herbert Walker Bush. That is all she has in common with him, by the way. She does not have a wife, and if she did, her wife would not look like her mother. She has no husband. She has a habit of scaring men away. This is not something one ought to put in an official biography. Nor should one use the word “one,” for it is pedantic as all fuck. Nor should one use “for” in that way. Or write fuck in a family-friendly front page biography. Autobiography. One fucks things up frequently.
She doesn’t like rules – at least not the ones that make no sense.
She was born. It happened in Albuquerque. Her mom was knocked out with drugs. She’s pretty sure she herself was high at the moment of birth, because of this. She doesn’t remember it. That’s probably for the best. There was a dad, from Havana, Cuba. The mother was blue-eyed, of Irish, Spanish, French Jew, English lineage. Humans. The weirdest of the monkeys. The author is certain we all look hideous to the other mammals. We are mangy, with splotches of hair in odd places. We gangle along on two legs like a flock of terrified lemurs. We are only beautiful to ourselves, and only some of us. We are also ugly to ourselves, some more than others.
There was public school. There were years in Glasgow, New Orleans, as the Cuban father got his PhD in sociology and began pontificating in those places for pay. There was a return to Albuquerque. There was middle school and being attacked by cholas for not being “Spanish enough.” There was beating the shit out of those girls and realizing they didn’t speak Spanish and thought being Spanish meant having a teardrop tattoo. There were hideous nuances all around. Words that never meant the same thing twice. Words were the least perfect of symbols and she decided to try to wrangle them into shapes that made sense of a world of ugly fighting monkeys.
There was high school and being impeached as Freshman Class President for wanting to hold a nuclear sit-in at the mall to raise money for a school dance. There was band. There was saxophone. There was writing in journals to create worlds that were better than the world the Author Monkey found herself living in. The imperfect symbols began to promise perfect rescue from perfect hell. The writing continued. There was college in Boston, Berklee College of Music, and many boys kissed, and many songs learned, and many nights spent alone in the small rented room in the Back Bay, listening to Jan Garbarek in a trance and feeling hell of connected to something bigger, much fucking bigger. There was the universe, talking in math and harmony and spinning around itself in every direction. There was love. There was heartbreak. There was graduating summa cum laude, only to take a gig playing in a lounge band on a cruise ship in the Caribbean. There were hurricanes and seasickness and then quitting music to go to graduate school in journalism because the writing thing was perfect and the music thing was hard.
Graduated from Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. Immediate staff writer job at The Boston Globe, thanks to mentor Lincoln Millstein, visionary wonderful monkey. She loves him still. Mentor. There were prize nominations and prizes and all along burning bridges with her pugilism and a mental illness she did not yet know she had. A furious mind. A beautiful stream of symbols dripping from her fingers into the keyboard. There was writing. Fucking writing. There was a boy from California. A marriage. Moving to Los Angeles. There was a staff writing gig at the Los Angeles Times. More prizes. More writing. More insanity. More ideas. More creativity. The confines of the “truth” too small for emotional, historical truths.
There was fiction. Novels. The first one written in six days. Debuted on the NY Times bestseller list. There was a collective what the holy fuck? A dozen more books. A move back to Albuquerque. There was a baby. A divorce. The mental illness that shook everything. There was self sabotage. There was pain. And more words. Words in rings like lifesavers. Words like rope ladders out of burning buildings. Words like blankets in frozen rain. Words that never failed and never left, when almost everything and everyone else did, because crazy.
There was a diagnosis. And therapy. And a cure. And life stopped being so threatening and painful. Bit by bit. There was a TV deal, and a new job, producer of a TV series. The son was six feet tall now, and shaving, and sometimes things take longer than they should because the brain one was born with that is the giver of the gift of writing is also the brain that makes one want to kill oneself at odd intervals. There was a suicide, and death, and resurrection. Twenty minutes without a pulse or breathing, twelve hours in a coma. There was coming back from the other side realizing death was not the end, realizing that she didn’t want to speak of herself in the denigrating distant third person anymore.
I didn’t want to die. I didn’t want to hurt. I wanted to live. I wanted to get well.
There was recovery. Joy. Beauty. Peace. Love. Laughter. A new life. A new start. Because once you have a name for a thing, a word, or a series of words, to describe the illness, you can begin to seek a cure. There was music, songwriting, creativity, and, for the first time, an ability to sit with emotions, and to be alone, without crumbling away like a cookie too long in milk.
There were accolades and awards and important people. There was a second chance. This time, I won’t blow it. This time, I will lead with love.
There is an official bio, too.
Here it is:
Named one of Time magazine’s 25 Most Influential Hispanics in the United States, a Latina magazine Woman of the Year, and twice named among Hispanic Business magazine’s 100 Most Influential people, Alisa Valdes (published previously as Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez) is a Co Executive Producer of the forthcoming DIRTY GIRLS SOCIAL CLUB series on the Starz network, based upon her bestselling novel of the same name. Valdes is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of more than a dozen books, and is a prize-winning print and broadcast journalist with eight years on staff at the Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe. She has written cover stories for many magazines, include Glamour and Redbook, and was part of a team (on-air host and reporter) that won an Emmy for public service journalism for WHDH-TV. Valdes was named Artist in Residence at Washington & Lee University by author Tom Wolfe, who said that her biting and humorous social commentary in fiction and journalism reminded him of himself, and she is a recipient of the Literary Achievement Award from the United States Hispanic Congressional Caucus. Valdes is also an accomplished saxophonist and songwriter, with a bachelor’s degree in music from Berklee College of Music, where she was named Artist in Residence, and a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University. Valdes has a popular and candid personal blog, Surrendering to Sanity, that chronicles her recovery through Dialectical Behavior Therapy and Buddhism from Borderline Personality Disorder (Emotion Regulation Disorder), a severe biologically-based mental illness whose sufferers are at high risk of suicide and other self-sabotaging and self-harming behaviors, that she has had all her life but which was only diagnosed in 2015. “The diagnosis was a terrifying relief,” said Valdes. “Recovery is possible through a tough process of literally rewiring the brain through behavior modification and meditation, but life-saving. This disorder is more common than Bipolar and Schizophrenia combined – it’s everywhere and few people have heard of it. Though I no longer meet the diagnostic criteria for the disorder, it is because I consciously thwart its natural invasion of my every moment through power of will. I am sort of evangelical about raising awareness of this deadly disorder as well as its incredible treatments.” Valdes is Cuban American and lives between Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Los Angeles.