Dec 14 / Anna Adami

Reading "A House of My Own" Made Me Feel Less Alone

Sometimes, and I’d say rarely and therefore magically, we read books that speak to us like friends. Their authors and us are kept up at night by the same questions. Our hearts pitter-patter to the same hum-drum. Such authors offer a translation of thoughts we ourselves haven’t found words for. They clear a path down stories that aren’t our own, down thoughts we have yet to explore.

Timing matters.

I found A House of My Own in the midst of my MFA Writing Program.

I was in a dark hole of my own making then, dank walls sticky with imposter syndrome. I felt creatively anxious and socially fatigued. I had chosen to return to school in hopes to grow through and with an artistic community. Grow I did, but the environment didn’t always feel healthy or safe. 

Sweetness seeped into nearly everything I wrote, and the voices at school loathed anything twee. I craved it. I skirted cynicism and chased tenderness. My most persistent interest in life was love. It still is. 

Sandra Cisneros, too, felt othered in grad school, though in different ways than me. Of this, she wrote: 

"When I recognized the places where I departed from my neighbors, my classmates, my family, my town, my brothers, when I discovered what I knew that no one else in the room knew, and spoke it in a voice that was my own voice, the voice I used when I was sitting in the kitchen, dressed in my pajamas, talking over a table littered with cups and dishes, when I could give myself permission to speak from that intimate space, then I could talk and sound like myself."

Plainly and yet radically, Cisneros alchemized difference into power, vulnerability into material. Such is the stuff of voice. Voice is a thing of courage. 

Voice is a thing of courage.

Before grad school, I worked as a GED Instructor for students transitioning out of homelessness and trauma. Here, my impact felt both immediate and sustained. My job was an act of service. When I returned to academia, I was welcomed in a historic ballroom with a winding staircase and a chandelier.  I watched art students get drunk off free wine. I thought of my students in Austin, asleep under the interstate. I felt disconnected from the outside world, trapped in the bubble of an elite educational institution. I felt useless because of it. I worried writing was too introverted a vocation. Worse than introverted, it was selfish. Cisneros wrote,

“It was always the “how” and not the “what” we talked about in class. Even while I was teaching in the Chicano community, the two halves of my life were at odds with each other—the half that wanted to roll up my sleeves and do something for the community, and the half that wanted to retreat to my kitchen and write.” 

Once, I asked my friend Grace, “Why should I take up space with my words?” 

She said, “They are not your words to keep.” 

Writing, while initially a solitary act, is also communal.

What starts with a woman alone at a kitchen table ends with a book in the hands of readers who feel moved, seen, and changed by her words. Or rather, the words. When words leave their writer, they become a gift, a weapon, a landscape, a portal, a friend. Art is a service, too. Reading A House of My Own made me feel less alone. 

One professor of mine enjoyed spending time with material that was difficult.

He liked work that didn’t make sense at first read or even second, work that required additional research to decode. Academia seemed to celebrate opaque, challenging, and “intelligent” literature. While I can enjoy and respect a puzzle of a book, I also sometimes lack the energy and time to do so. Cisneros keeps such readers in mind. She considers access. In a third person essay, she says about herself:

“She doesn’t want to write a book that a reader won’t understand and would feel ashamed for not understanding.” 


“She thinks people who are busy working for a living deserve beautiful little stories.”

In this small revolution of words, Cisneros challenges the exclusivity of highbrow literature. She suggests simplicity also has a place on the shelf. Such clarity is not often exalted, but it should be. It pierces through hearts smoothly and cleanly. It takes skill. A question nagged at me during my MFA program. It nagged at Cisneros, too: 

"How can art make a difference in the world?"

This booming mantra made no noise at Cisneros’ school. No one asked it. No one wondered. How can art make a difference in the world? How can art serve our communities? Cisneros inspected these questions through her own art and life choices. She hosted art events at her house. She reviewed works by writers and artists that moved her. She founded non-profits to support emerging writers. She was generous. Her books homed people. She wrote, 

“I don’t know anything, but I know this: whatever is done with love, in the name of others, without self-gain, whatever is done with heart on behalf of someone or something, be it a child, animal, vegetable, rock, person, cloud, whatever we make with complete humility, will always come out beautifully.” 

Love isn’t a literary device. We ask of our own work and of others’  “where is the conflict?" and "where is the imagery?” But I wonder—what might happen if we also ask, “where is the love?"
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