The Year I Decided That My Voice Mattered

“Why am I compelled to write? To convince myself that I am worthy and that what I have to say is not a pile of shit.”

I left work early one afternoon this summer to bike to the library at 52nd Street. It was closing at five p.m. that day and I needed a book — This Bridge Called My Back, the 80s-era anthology of essays by radical women of color edited by Gloria Anzaldúa and Cherríe Moraga. (Once I decide what book I want to read next, I need it desperately, immediately, and will rearrange my day to go get it.)

That’s where I read it: “Why am I compelled to write?” Anzaldúa asks in “Speaking in Tongues: A Letter to 3rd World Women Writers.” “To convince myself that I am worthy and that what I have to say is not a pile of shit.”

And I wondered, did I think that? Did I feel like my words weren’t worth writing?

Yeah. At some level, I just didn’t have that confidence in my thoughts, my voice as a writer. Much of my published work has been very straight reporting. I realized I was scared to put too much of myself in it, whether it was my take on an issue or my personal experience.

In the spirit of getting personal, my bedroom. (Photo by Aidan Un)

That changed this year. 2015 was the year that I decided that I was worth listening to. That I could be so bold as to think that someone would want to read what I wrote, that someone would care about my take. If I thought someone was worth a 1,800 word profile, I would trust that instinct and go for it. I would stop questioning myself. I would take up all the space (and try to stop apologizing for doing s0).

Looking back at my favorite work from this year, I can see that shift clearly. I’ll get more into that below, but first, I wanna say that journalism was just one part of my year in writing. I wrote obsessively this year, often at bars alone, leading many people to ask if I was a restaurant critic (pro tip: they will send you free food for this reason), but also plenty in bed. I wrote letters, poems, essays about my grandparents, so many diary entries. Most of those aren’t to share, not yet at least, but some of the poems are on my fledgling Tumblr.

My other big writing accomplishment was debuting Dream d’Oiseau, a series of short films based on poems about my dreams. My best friend and I had been making them since last year but only made them public this summer. Here’s one of my favorites, which we filmed in March, on our porch.

Below, a look at the work I’ve been proudest of this year. With enormous thanks and gratitude to my editor Zack Seward.

Even though I’ve been writing about tech for more than three years, I’ve historically stayed away from writing about more technical topics because they intimidate me. That’s why I was really excited about this piece, where I went out of my comfort zone and wrote a longform narrative about open source technology. And YES I WROTE THE CLICKBAIT HEADLINE.

Ugh, this one was so much fun to report. Especially traveling to the office to scope out the scene. I felt very gumshoe reporter. PhillyMag mentioned it on their year-end list of the best Philly journalism.

I was incredibly nervous to write (and perform) this essay for my company’s first live podcast recording. I had never written anything personal for work, ever, and suddenly our editorial director Chris Wink was asking me to write about something as personal as diversity in the tech scene. (Also, he said: Can you write an essay that would incorporate dancers and social media? So that complicated things.) But I was really heartened by the response to this piece, and I think it’s a big reason I felt like it was OK to keep sharing more of myself in my work.

First time I ever went on a date and wrote about it for work. Really goin’ for it.

A bit of activism, sparked by something I found out while reporting for another story. The observation deck has since launched and the team over there has given me the vague update that they have plans to add more voices of color in the future. Meh.

This longform story was the result of beat reporting over the course of three years. It’s also the reason my editor gave me one of my most favorite compliments.

Another example of feeling confident enough to use my voice. With thanks to my colleagues Tony Abraham for encouraging me to write this piece and Alisha Miranda for the Whoppers that you see on my desk.

Maybe my proudest accomplishment of the year, my ongoing coverage of the city’s franchise negotiations with Comcast. That’s just one story but you can find the whole series here. Back in April, when the negotiations were just getting started, I did not want to cover them. I was intimidated by the whole thing because I didn’t understand what was going on (which led to this explainer), but it evolved into a story that I found so compelling and important. I was really proud of turning hours and hours of City Council hearings into a narrative.

Again, from “Speaking in Tongues: A Letter to 3rd World Women Writers”:

“Writing is the most daring thing I have ever done and the most dangerous. … Writing is dangerous because we are afraid of what the writing reveals: the fears, the angers, the strengths of a woman under a triple or quadruple oppression. Yet in that very act lies our survival because a woman who writes has power. And a woman with power is feared.”

In 2016, I resolve to be feared.

Juliana Feliciano Reyes

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reporter @phillyinquirer @phillydailynews. also: @AAJAPhilly, filipinx things.