The Art of Storytelling

The Art of Storytelling

My name is Dhayana Alejandrina and I am Dominican writer, poet, and storyteller based in Florida. I immigrated to the United States with my mother, Zoila, at the age of thirteen. I am the only daughter in a family of three amazing brothers: Oscar, Amaury, and Rafael. Since a very young age I have been drawn to the creative expression of writing. My father, Rafael, used to always write me poems for my birthday and my mom loved to read. My parents always supported my passion for writing and encouraged me to follow my dreams with love and intention. As I live, learn, and unlearn, the connection I have with writing—and myself—has deepened and evolved. My work explores different topics such as growth, love, loss, culture, healing, and spirituality. Throughout my writing career, my work has been published on the Soul Candy Anthology by Writer’s Pocket, The Dominican Writers Collective Newsletter, Robert Writes Production, Medium, OurMOTIF, Wellspringwords, the Kindness Book by UNESCO MGIEP and Penguin India Publishing and others.

In Fall 2021, I published my first poetry and prose collection Agridulce. This book is a combination of emotions, thoughts, and experiences. The title means “bittersweet” in Spanish. Agridulce is divided into two sections: Lo Agrio and Lo Dulce. The poems and proses in each of these sections are inspired by life stories, obstacles, lessons, and connections with people that made an impact on my personal growth. As I continue to tell my story through poetry, I want to create a space where people feel safe to communicate and embrace their emotions as part of their journey of self-discovery, acceptance, healing, and growth.

In what ways does art or being creative enrich your life? Is it connected to your mental health, if so, explain how.

I believe that all forms of creative expression have a profound connection with the creator and their life story.

As a writer, creative expression enriches my life by providing a safety net where I am free to tell my story without limitations—honoring my truth, authenticity, and voice. When I think or act creatively, I am in a free-flowing state of awareness. When in this state of mind, I am connecting with something bigger than myself as I surrender to the moment and allow the words to come to me. Creativity has transformative power and can impact the perspectives, opinions, and beliefs of others—opening our minds to new opportunities and possibilities. Whether it is through literacy, art, music, or theater, creativity enriches life by transporting us into other worlds, other lives, and other experiences. It provokes a range of emotions that remind us of what life is about—laughter, joy, nostalgia, excitement, peace, etc. Moreover, when someone is creating, they are developing their creative thinking skills. This process challenges conventional thinking, allowing fresh perspectives to arise and innovating thinking. When in a creative space, we are being courageous, opening ourselves to new learning experiences, and increasing our diverse cognitive processing skills. All forms of creative expression have the power to connect people, teach people, and tell a unique story.

Furthermore, creative expression has an undeniable connection to mental health. A couple of years ago, I was at one of my lowest points in my life. It felt like no one could see me for myself or genuinely wanted to understand all that was inside. The only way for me to express the troubles of the mind was through writing and poetry. Every time I opened the journal to write, the words came pouring as if they finally felt safe enough to reveal themselves. This is when I created my Instagram account in 2018. Poetry gave me hope when I felt like I no longer belonged on this earth. This is not so easy statement to make, but the raw truth. I like to think that the art we create tells the story of our past, present, and future. It is how we cope, how we celebrate, how we cry, how we grow, and how we heal. And within it all, mental wellness is a key factor. For example, being creative can reduce stress, depressive thoughts, and anxiety; it increases self-awareness and connects us with the present moment. Additionally, writing poetry helps my mental health as it allows me to release and let go of any negative emotions and trauma that could become extremely unhealthy for my mind, heart, and body.

How does poetry provide a space to express your lived experiences?

The connection I have with poetry feels ancestral. Poetry is how I come undone and then find a way back to myself. It is how I express the truth within and outside of me. It is how I give birth to words that have been waiting too long to live. In addition, poetry is a form of storytelling. And for me, storytelling is an intimate, deep-rooted connection with myself, family, home country, values, traditions, and future. These elements and the experiences created from them carry stories that directly—or indirectly—have contributed to who I am today.

The poem below is from my debut book Agridulce. It puts into perspective my relationship with writing—especially the line that reads “Paper lets me be vulnerable. It does not judge me. It embraces me for who I am.” This describes how at ease and welcomed I feel when I open my journal to write.

Paper is a blank listener

that accompanies me through life.

I can find paper in corners

I could never find you in my heart.

Paper lets me be vulnerable.

It does not judge me.

It embraces me for who I am.

As I turn the pages carefully,

paper welcomes me with open arms.

Some of you could never imagine

the relationship that we have.

Paper is a blank listener,

it helps me through my darkest times.

The following prose poem, Dear Driven Girl, was written in early 2021 when COVID-19 kept most of us indoors. It is a letter to myself as I was struggling to see my worth and who I am without accomplishments, or being constantly in the pursuit of the “next achievement.” As a first-generation American, there were a lot of expectations placed on me. Even if they were never direct, I always knew that I had to always give 1000% and never stop reaching for my dreams. However, all of that took a toll on me, and as I grew older, I started to realize that I didn’t know myself as much as I thought I did. A lot of the things I did, although they were good, weren’t completely for me. Although my parents never forced me to do anything I didn’t want to, I knew that they sacrificed more than they had to give me what they never had themselves. For that, I felt a sense of responsibility and the need to “grind” all the time. Somehow along the way, I started to dismiss the present moment and became blind to the fact that I was living in an answered prayer. Then everything changed in early 2021 when I had to sit with myself without anywhere to run. I had to ask the hard questions, sit with the uncomfortable, and reconnect with what is important in life. It was tough and an unfamiliar place to be; but that’s what it took for me to welcome the next version of myself.

Dear Driven Girl
You been so caught up on how your future should be that you no longer see the fruits you birth in the life you currently live. You dismiss little accomplishments as if they mean nothing towards what you wish to accomplish. Driven girl, your experiences have taught you that slowing down is not an option and waiting for others to help causes destruction. I want you to know that living in the moment is something beautiful and an accomplishment. You do not have to slow your roll, but please give yourself some credit for how much you have grown. Remember that what is meant for you will come no matter how fast or slow you go. Celebrate your big accomplishment, but also the small. Every step you take forward is a reflection of your growth, and a genuine helping hand does not always slow your roll.

Why is creativity important for your mental well being?

Tapping into the creative energy is important for my mental well-being because it is how I release what’s inside and reconnect with the present moment. Every time that I have disconnected from myself, I find safety in knowing that I can always rely on writing to better understand the gray areas. When you let the ink pour into the paper, giving life to the words, you begin to understand that sometimes, what you’re feeling at the moment may not entirely represent your truth. Also, writing has helped me reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. The more I surrender to my craft, the more I recognize how it helps me understand that my troubled thoughts or emotions do not define me. In addition, putting my words down on paper has always been easier than saying them aloud. Therefore, writing has not only helped me communicate better, but it has been a cathartic process where that allows me to be proactive.

Another example of how creativity helps mental health is the nonprofit organization that I work for. This organization offers a wide range of art programs for adults with severe intellectual and developmental disabilities. It focuses on creating an environment where they can express themselves freely through different creativity-focused activities and programs such as art classes, theater, computer classes, creative movement, and others.

What piece of advice would you offer your younger self in terms of your creative pursuits?

I would tell my younger self the following:

  • Your work is not meant for everyone, just like your presence isn’t.
  • Do not feel forced to fit into a box: You are plentiful and multitalented.
  • Rejection can be redirection: Allow it to teach you what you need to learn or show you whether you are on the right path.
  • Do not change the essence of your work to satisfy others: Everyone’s authenticity is expressed differently. This does not mean you should change the way you express yourself. Let your writing and poetry reflect your truth and your story.
  • Do not rush creativity: It is okay to take a couple of steps back before launching forward. Stay true to the reason you createin the first place.
  • Never doubt the way your work can positively impact others—do not dim your light.
  • Love yourself unapologetically: I know you are very selfless, giving, and open-hearted. I don’t wish for you to ever change that. What I will tell you is that you must take care of yourself with the same urgency you take care of others. Those who love you for you will not turn their backs on you for upholding your boundaries.
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