Zibby is joined by New York Times bestselling author, poet, and professor Erika L. Sánchez to talk about her memoir, Crying in the Bathroom. Erika shares how she first fell in love with poetry and writing, the ways in which her rebellion against cultural and religious norms has shaped her work, and why she decided to start this memoir by sharing intimate details about her body. The two also discuss what Erika is reading right now and which form of writing she’s returning to with her next project.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Erika. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss Crying in the Bathroom: A Memoir.

Erika Sánchez: Thank you for having me.

Zibby: I actually thought about calling my book, Bookends, I thought about calling it Crying in the Bathroom because I do that so much in my book.

Erika: Oh, wow. Thank you for not doing that.

Zibby: As soon as this came across my desk or my email or whatever, I was like, oh, my gosh, yes to this book. Yes, a hundred percent. Thank you. Why don’t you tell listeners a little about the memoir and why you found yourself crying in the bathroom or even the most recent time you found yourself crying in the bathroom?

Erika: I don’t even remember the last time, which is a good thing.

Zibby: That is a good thing. Mine was yesterday, by the way.

Erika: Do you want to share?

Zibby: No. Go ahead.

Erika: I wrote this book because I like to challenge myself to write in the different genres. I love poetry. I love nonfiction. I love fiction. After finishing my novel and selling it and not knowing what to do next, someone asked me to write an essay about ambition, which ended up being the title essay, “Crying in the Bathroom.” Once I wrote that, I felt like I had found the next project. It was really exciting to write so many different areas of my life into this book and then also incorporate different books and pop culture and my favorite feminists, etc. I really enjoyed braiding it all together. I wrote the book that I wanted as I was growing up, as cliché as that is, but it’s true. I wanted to write about being a brown girl, a brown woman, and trying to make a life for herself, a life of self-reliance, independence, art. It was an ambitious project. It took a long time, but I love what came out of it.

Zibby: It’s great. It’s really great. Your voice just flies off page. It’s great. You’re funny and a bit irreverent. It’s just awesome. It’s really immersive. It’s almost like a memoir in essays style writing, which I also happen to love. You start out by sharing the intimate details of your nether regions, which is also a nice way to get to know somebody.

Erika: It was an interesting way to begin.

Zibby: Tell me about that decision.

Erika: I’m so tired of feeling ashamed of my body. I was raised Catholic and raised in this culture where the female body was a place of sin. You had to keep yourself pure. I always rejected that notion. I thought it was stupid because men weren’t held to these standards. I really wanted to start off on a rebellious note. That was it. It was like, I’m going to talk about my vagina. You want to come along for this ride, that’s great. If you don’t, you better get off right now.

Zibby: You find another book.

Erika: Yeah, because it’s not going to make you comfortable, probably. I just wanted to be the punk kid I was in high school and continue that thread of rejecting the status quo and fighting against these notions of what a woman’s supposed to be and how she’s supposed to act.

Zibby: How is a woman supposed to be? Do we have an answer for that?

Erika: I can tell you what people thought I was supposed to be like.

Zibby: Okay, let’s start there.

Erika: I was supposed to be very family-oriented, very pious, churchgoing, God-loving, traditional in all ways. Wait until I get married to move out of the house. Find a partner who was also Mexican, also Catholic. Have children. Sacrifice everything for these children. It goes on and on. There are so many expectations that we experience as women in Mexican culture, and still here in the United States. We’re supposed to be martyrs all the time. I just don’t believe in that. I don’t buy it. I don’t want it. I don’t want my daughter to believe that. I don’t want other women to think that. I want to, perhaps, create a framework for young women to see the possibilities for a different kind of life. It doesn’t have to be the way that your parents expect you to be. It doesn’t have to be the way that society is expecting you to be. It’s really up to you. I wanted to encourage that sort of agency throughout.

Zibby: It’s hard, though, to — rebel is the wrong word. It’s hard to break out against all of the expectations which feel so firm. It’s like getting out of a cookie cutter. What are you going to do? Are you going to pick it up and scurry out underneath? Are you going to smoosh it off to the side? How do you do that?

Erika: It’s lonely, too, because not everyone’s with you. Everyone’s thinking you’re crazy. The path that I took was very different from any path that my parents had ever seen, so they were very confused. The rest of my family was confused. I was confused, but I knew that I wanted something bigger. I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to travel. I wanted to be independent. I wanted to wait to have a family if I was going to have one. It’s painful because a lot of people disagree, reject you, whatever, but that’s the price I was willing to pay.

Zibby: I also think sometimes when you know deep down what’s in your own heart and what you should do and then you go for it, I think that makes many people feel uncomfortable because they may know and have decided not to go for it. Having this example of you, it actually threatens their own sense of stability, in a way. Oh, if she’s doing this, should I be doing — she can’t do that. That’s not allowed. No, no, no. We’ve all agreed to this social contract that we’re going to do it this way even though it’s painful. Why is she not doing it?

Erika: I do think that it causes a lot of discomfort sometimes because of that. I’m really not sorry about any of it, so that makes people feel some sort of way as well.

Zibby: You’re not trying to hurt anyone. You’re just trying to do it your way.

Erika: Right, exactly.

Zibby: I’m not suggesting you should feel apologetic in any way.

Erika: I don’t.

Zibby: Okay, good. I know you needed me to say that. I’m a complete stranger who you’ve never met. You can feel better now. Tell me about becoming a writer.

Erika: Oh, man. I feel like I was born to be a writer. I know that sounds really romantic. I have always loved to read. I became really enamored with poetry when I was about twelve. That changed everything for me. I realized that it was something that really made me feel alive. It created an opportunity for me to feel free and to be myself and express all the things I couldn’t express to anyone. Poetry became this really, really important part of my life very early on. It remains that way. For me, everything goes back to poetry. I write prose the way I do because of poetry. I was a very alienated kid. I loved to read books. I had all these questions. I had all these philosophical quandaries. I was really into art. It was a lonely existence because no one else was really there with me. Poetry was my rock, I suppose. It allowed me to feel free.

Zibby: I feel like reading — I don’t know which poet. I remember reading Walt Whitman in school and being like, oh, my gosh, this is amazing. I can’t believe it. I have some of these thoughts. Not to compare myself to Walt Whitman. That’s not what I mean.

Erika: No, I know what you mean. I felt the same way about Walt Whitman specifically. I was like, wow. This whole notion of pantheism that he had, I was like, that makes so much sense to me rather than to worship some dude in the sky. That didn’t really jive with me. I loved poetry because it gave me a spirituality that was very different from the one that I was given.

Zibby: This is why books are so important.

Erika: Exactly. They change your whole life. They really do.

Zibby: They do. What are you reading now, by the way?

Erika: I am reading — what’s it called? The Family Outing. It hasn’t come out yet. It’s really good. I’m almost done. I did a panel with Jessi. She was really interesting, and so I started reading it. I just couldn’t stop. I’m really into that. Also, How to Be an Antiracist, which I think everyone should read. I love how accessible the book is. He’s talking about really “academic” concepts, but it doesn’t feel that way. Anyone can read it. Anyone can learn from it and change and be better. I find it very exciting. I feel like I should have read it already, but that’s how I always feel.

Zibby: He has a new book out called How to Raise an Antiracist.

Erika: I need that.

Zibby: I just had him on the podcast, Dr. Kendi, to talk about that. Like his first book, he uses all this information about his own life and his daughter, what his wife’s pregnancy was like. It’s almost a memoir coupled with all these other statistics and studies. Ultimately, convincing people of anything is most persuasively done, I think, with a story. That’s what he’s done. He’s shared his whole life. He is so bright.

Erika: I would love to meet him. He seems just so wonderful. I love the book so far. I haven’t finished it. It’s really opening up something in my brain that is very exciting.

Zibby: That’s awesome. I’m not sure when this episode is coming out, but the day, today, that we’re doing this episode, there’s an article in The Wall Street Journal by Elizabeth Bernstein, who I love, by the way — she always writes these great columns. Today was on the power of crying and why it’s so important for us all to cry.

Erika: I need to read that.

Zibby: I should’ve sent it to you before this or something. You can google it afterwards. In fact, I read the whole article out loud to my husband as we dropped one of the kids off at camp this morning. I was like, “Listen to how important this is.” I cry a lot. I like to cry. It really was showing all the benefits to your body, how it literally calms down your nervous system and makes you feel better. The lack of crying when you’re upset can cause harm. By crying, you open yourself up to that connection. Hugging and commiseration, empathy, all that, that’s so important for connection. Then I have this crying in the bathroom. We’re in a cryfest morning situation.

Erika: It’s good for you.

Zibby: Ode to crying.

Erika: It’s great, apparently. I’m glad to hear it because I’ve been crying pretty hard for thirty-seven years. Thirty-eight.

Zibby: Happy birthday. What are you working on next?

Erika: I am working on poems, which I’ve neglected for a little bit because of all these revisions and all these obligations. Poetry is where my heart is, so I have to go back to it. I’m feeling really good about what’s coming together. Also, I have two competing ideas for a novel, not young adult. I want to see which one reveals itself to me first. I’m just trying to relax right now because of my tour. I have so many things to do. The book’s about to come out. The movie’s going to be in production soon. I’m trying to take it easy, no pressure on myself. Also, a children’s book. I’ve been working on that. That also is something that I am going to take my time with and just really enjoy the process.

Zibby: Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

Erika: I always tell young writers that they need to make friends with rejection and that rejection is simply a part of being a writer. They can’t just give up when they’re rejected because it’s going to happen a lot. I think that is really important, and not to take it personally. I’ve been rejected tons of times. My novel was rejected a lot. My poetry was rejected a lot. It just took a belief in the work and then also this determination to have it published at any cost. Just be really persistent. Also, focus on the craft of the work first. Make it the best possible thing that you can make it. Then worry about the selling of it. It’s important to really enjoy it. Otherwise, it’s not worth it. It really isn’t because it’s kind of a nightmare of a career.

Zibby: Awesome. Way to inspire everybody. Thank you for that.

Erika: I just want to be real. It was rough. Do it if you love it.

Zibby: Thank you so much, Erika. This was so fun. Congratulations on your book. Thank you for sharing and enabling so many others to share. If people are uncomfortable, that’s okay. Sometimes that’s what they’re supposed to be to make them rethink things, so it’s okay. Awesome. Best of luck. It was great to connect.

Erika: Thank you. Bye.

Zibby: Take care. Buh-bye.



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