I decided a crazy thing in 2008. I made the choice to become a working writer - probably the least stable profession anybody could possibly choose. It was especially mind boggling because it was at the height of the Great Recession. New York City at that time with a one year old was a risky, actually pretty insane decision. I was working as a catering manager in a restaurant and got laid off. My wife’s work was teetering and at any minute she could have joined the hundreds of thousands of others who were without work at that time in New York.
But instead of frantically looking for any work I could find I decided that I would take care of our little girl and write when she napped. We did this for a while. I landed a book contract for my first picture book and things were pretty good. But the publishing industry I would learn takes its time with nurturing art. Later, I would come to value this greatly. But New York is a tough place to have just one middle class income and a little advance money was hardly enough to get by. We made the difficult decision to leave our beloved city and move down south to Miami where my family lived. In Miami we needed work.
I was a busboy, a waiter, and ultimately the beneficiary of two small grants from two incredible institutions dedicated to creating literature and art events in my community. I continued working on my craft whenever I could while working jobs that afforded me the time with my daughter as well as my writing.
It was a struggle at times. The work load, the lack of funds, the humbling experience of watching friends you went to high school with eating at a restaurant you’re running food at, smiling politely as their lawyer lives seem worlds apart from your own creative one. Art is dirty sometimes. But I would rather be washing dishes so my children can see their father working toward accomplishing his creative goals. As artists we have to look at our art as the true measure of who we are. I made another crazy choice along the way as well. I decided to get my masters degree – in writing for children and young adults! Who in the world would make that decision with any semblance of sanity? But something told me that if I wanted to truly be an artist in my field, I needed more education, more knowledge, more experience. I was accepted to Vermont College of Fine Arts and spent two incredible years and five residencies learning, growing, and building my creative abilities. In graduate school I found a voice to build on my own cultural identity. I was pushed closer to my artistic voice. A voice, it turns out, has a lot of Cubanismos in it. Now as I gear up for the launch of my first big book of my writing career, I look back at everything and a smile crosses my face in appreciation of that initial, crazy decision.