Wednesday, December 10, 2014

What Are You Going to Write Next?

This is a question that I'm not only being asked but a question I'm asking myself, and it's beginning to cause me a bit of anxiety.

"What are you going to write next?" is causing my leg to rock back and forth more than "What have you published?"

Mostly because the latter is asked by people who don't know a lot about writing. They don't know things take time. They don't understand being a writer. They only know books that are on the best sellers list. (Nothing against a best seller. Hell, I want a best seller!) They only read (whisper) genre fiction.

"What are you going to write next?" though, well that is a question. The other day I was having a conversation with D:

"What if now that I have time to write, I don't have anything to say?" I asked.

"You always have things to say," he replied shaking his head.

I paused, "Wait, are you just saying that 'cause I talk a lot?"

"No, you always have things to say. You just have to wait and see what happens. Don't be so hard on yourself. You'll find something. Something not about your grandma."

I exhaled as he spoke. Yeah. I'll have something to say. I'll write about...cricket, cricket. Wait, I have papers to grade don't I?

I've already mentioned my month long trip. Mostly, because I seriously can't wait for free time. For waking up at 11am walking to a tienda near the house and having lunch with a beer. Who am I kidding? Maybe just having the beer. The points is, I won't have schedule or a to do list other than the one we make up for the day.

This past weekend I bought a new journal at the El Paso Punk Rock Flea Market. Yes, I have 10 unused ones on my bookshelf, so what. This one called to me. It's unlined. I never get unlined journals. The rigid person in my usually obsesses about crooked writing, but this time I told myself, Who cares?! Just try to fill it the  month you're gone. So, I don't know if it will be good. I don't know if I'll like it, but my goal is to fill that journal with something the month I'll be gone. "What are you going to write next?"

I DON'T KNOW! But I'm going to write. I'm going to scribble in the Red covered journal with the inky black 45' record imprint on the front and something will come of it. I never planned stories. They took me where they wanted to go. The planner in me has grown too strong this semester, and it's time spontaneous me told her to sit this one out. Planner needs to get locked in a closet. Planner needs to take a nap. More importantly Planner needs to relax. Already, Red is calling to me.

Come write in me Red says. Buy cool pens before you go because I  like nice ink she says. I can't wait to feel the smooth ink across my pages she says. Whisper against my off white skin when you can't think of a word. Let your hand glide upon my pages until I open fully and my pages are spread. Let your fingers trace the words you've been searching for once you've tattooed them on me, and when you get to the end? The end will just be the beginning.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Things I Learned This Semester

1. I need time to write.
2. My students don't read and would rather ask me questions.
3. I am a high energy person, but with so much on my plate I became a slug with little patience.
4. Even when I think I'm dropping multiple balls or not getting it done, people can't tell and/or it's still more effort than most.
5. I need time to write.
6. I remember things about psychology that I thought I had forgotten.
7. I relearned American History as I taught a French golf student athlete about it.
8. I don't like grading papers.
9. I like helping people. Motivating. I hope inspiring.
10. I need time to write.
11. I have to learn to say, "NO!"
12. My husband is a patient man.
13. I miss my friends.
14. All work and no play makes Yasmin a dull girl.
15. I need time to write.
16. I need time to read.
17. I cannot control everything, but it doesn't stop me from trying.
18. Sometimes the only person I should worry about is me and say "Fuck it" to things, people, email, texts,,,
19. Your body fights back when you put too much strain on it in odd ways. Nausea. Knots in your back. Cramps.
20. I need time to write.

I learned some difficult things not only about myself but about others this semester. Right now, I'm not quite sure how I feel. It's a cross between numb, exhausted, and anxiety I'm forgetting something. But in a week and half, I will be disconnected and surrounded by silence, green, lush mountains, and and endless amount of time to finally do what I want.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

20 Random Yasminisms

1. I don't like ketchup or mayo. When I see people's food drowned in either, I shudder and remember an old episode from School House Rock with a song "don't drown your food!"

2. I'm impatient. Many people don't notice, but the people who know me feel the moment when I want to yell, "Get to the point!"

3. My favorite vegetable is Brussels sprouts. They are tiny cabbages of goodness.

4. I've been told I have high expectations of myself. This backfires on me because I expect the same from others. If I can do  it, why can't you?

5. My favorite color is cobalt blue. It's dark but bright at the same time.

6. I'm fiercely loyal to my friends and family and will do anything to help, support, etc.

7. Fighting has always been easier for me. I think it's the temper I inherited from my mother.

8. My closet is organized from light to dark within each color. Years of retails has left unable to just hang anything anywhere.

9. I can tell if a woman is wearing the wrong bra size just by looking at her. 8 in 10 woman wear the wrong size. They call me the bra whisperer. This is my super hero power.

10. I got my first tattoo at 29. Up until then I'd been too chicken with the permanence of something on my body. I had commitment issues.

11. This February I will have been married for 2 years. It doesn't feel like it's been that long.

12. The first time I shot a gun I was 8 years old. I learned they weren't toys.

13. I've had bouts of insomnia at different times of my life. I don't know what causes it, but know that my brain has problems "shutting down".

14. I have road rage and often yell at drivers from my car. My hands swing back and forth in the car and I must look like an angry Muppet.

15. I can't live without cheese, but I hate milk. As a child my grandma made me drink a glass of rotten milk on accident. She never made me drink milk again.

16. I get embarrassed speaking Spanish. My voice sounds 3 octaves higher, and I dread the shakiness in my voice.

17. My sister is another Mom. She is ten years older than me. When we are together somehow even now, I fall back and act like I'm 13 years old.

18. I'm worried I won't have anything to write about after I stop writing about my grandma.

19. Years of retail have left me able to smile even when I want to scream. The mask comes in handy.

20. One of my favorite things is enjoying a nice meal with friends on a patio with ribbons of sunlight wrapping in and out of shade.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Tangibility

Last night I found out my paternal grandmother died through a text from my mom. It was 9:59pm. I read the screen, paused, put the phone down, and turned to get comfortable in my bed.

I woke up this morning, reread the text and still had no answer. I knew I was supposed to say something. I put the phone down again and got into a hot shower.

I text my sister while riding the elevator to the 2nd floor.

"Did mom text you?"

"Yeah, I tried to get her to focus on how [Name] must be feeling. She was still his mom."

"I didn't respond. I felt like she wanted me to say something."

"Well... I mean, you would feel bad for a stranger losing their mom, its the same thing with [Name]. I feel bad for anyone who loses there parents, but she was 87. So it was good run."

"I mean I feel bad. My first thought was "that sucks" then I thought I should feel worse or something. 87 is a good run."

"Why should you feel anything else? You didn't really know her. Just tell mom it's sad. That's it."

I walked to class and thought,  Yeah, that's it.

I did not grow up with my dad. And, even as I typed this I thought it was interesting my sister refers to him by his name and doesn't say 'your dad'. I'm glad she does that. The words my dad feel foreign in my mouth as if the syllabus were ones I had never said before. They feel foreign to type.

I've been mulling over the conversation and realize that it bothers me more that her death, how he feels, doesn't make me feel much. I almost wish it bothered me more. Maybe made me want to pick of the phone to give me condolences, but it doesn't.  I'm not sure if that makes me a bad person. I hope that wanting to feel bad balances things out, but then that thought to makes me feel selfish. I guess the real question is:

How should one feel about a father, a family, that has never tangibly existed?

Friday, October 3, 2014

We Are Not Alone in Our Loss

Last week a friend's sister died suddenly. He was flying home the next day to say good-bye. His good-bye's were instead said to us sitting on a balcony with fall winds creeping all around. His words although beautiful did not warm us, but only made us feel his cold loss as if we too had lost a sister that night.

"Somos familia. Somos un circulo," he said gesturing with his Modelo.

We nodded as the somber night shifted, and we laughed as if nothing had happened. Only in moments did we remember. When there was a lull and someone quickly moved to break the silence.

His girlfriend, sat stoically, face smooth as she took drags off her cigarette, but her eyes gave her heart away.

The next day one of the circle posted this on Facebook:
"Ayer fue un día muy triste y muy dulce. Partió de este mundo la hermana de alguien a quien mucho amamos. Entonces hicimos lo que se debe hacer en esos momentos, los seis que somos nos sentamos a charlar, reír, llorar, brindar porque aún en los peores momentos no se está solo. Nunca se está solo."

In loss, it's important not to be alone. Unfortunately, the older we become we are never alone in our losses, but it is always nice to know that we are a part of a circle. That we are beautiful. That we are loved.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Age of Multitasking

I had to Google the word "multitasking" to double check whether it was hyphenated. At this moment I have six windows open. I will inevitably flip back to another tab to check something. I just got a text message from Sarah. Of course I will check it.




A few months ago my Tio came over to help D and I with moving some things. He came in sat and started to talk to me. D sat on the other couch trying to finish some work on his Ipad. My laptop say on the coffee table. We were both facing out screens.


       "So mija how is everything?" Tio asked.
 
       "Good, Tio. Hang on. I just need to post this." I said without looking up at him.


       "Man, all you guys do is stare at those screens. Why don't you put them down," he said reaching for my laptop.


       Tio was demanding my attention. My work was demanding my attention. The T.V. was on in the background.


       "Tio, just give me a minute," I snapped. "I just need to finish this."




I rushed. I posted. Three hours later I saw my typo because Tio was rushing me. He still doesn't understand that both D and I work from home much of the time. He has always had a job with shifts. Tio does not own a computer or a smart phone. He doesn't trust technology. I can't work 8-5, Tio. I tell him. I teach at different hours. I write at different hours. I... He shakes his head. Tio does not understand.




I am an adjunct professor at a community college.
I am a tutor for athletes at a large university.
I am a writer.
I am the Executive Director of local nonprofit BorderSenses.
I am an Upward Bound instructor
I am a writer.
I am a writer.


Although I think of that day with Tio often when D and I are each working across from each other on our respective couches and music and/or the T.V. buzzes in the background at 8pm at night. I know that there is not enough time in the day for us to do EVERYTHING that we need to do. I must answer emails. I must grade. I must write. I must answer emails. I must write a grant. I must write. In age where I can answer emails while waiting for the elevator I will take that moment even if research shows my productivity decreases the more tasks I add. I want to use that minute. I want to use all minutes as effectively as possible. I want...


I walked to my tutoring gig today and thought of a time before smartphoneconstantsommunitcationconnectioncomputer era and felt nostalgic and grateful at the same time. In our effort to be efficient we've lost and gained.


       "Man, all you guys do is stare at those screens."


Yes, we do. It is an effort to put them down. Many don't even make that effort. But I have my Tio's voice to remind me where many others don't. Some might laugh but D and I make a conscious effort to keep weekends, at least Sunday's sacred. We spend the day with each other and or alone/together. He reads in the hammock in our crab grass backyard and I sleep in. I wake up yawn and cook breakfast. The house smells like pancakes. I read in the living room. The house silent. The house silent.

Monday, September 22, 2014

I'm Only Happy When It Rains

The past few weeks El Paso has been blanketed in gray bellied clouds and sheets of rain. The typically dry desert land has gulped and drank, but it's had it's fill and now the water is overflowing into the streets and flooding parts of highways with brown tinted running rivers. This is what happens when houses are built in the armpits of mountains, and the city hasn't planned for proper water run off.


Even though all of this has happened and chunks of rocks have floated away from one lawn to the other, I smile. I smile as my feet get soggy, as the drops run off my peach anchor printed umbrella and down my arm, and as I listen to it with my window wide open inviting in the smell. In traffic, I drive cautiously and am thankful for all the years I lived in a rainy city and learned the do's and don't's, unlike many of my fellow commuters. I smile at the green vines dancing and twisting up and out in the front of my house the more they are showered in the rainy music.


I love rain. I love the sound it makes as it splats against concrete. I love the smell of dry earth and raindrops intermingling. The smell of their coupling,  fresh and immodest, as it surrounds everything.


I love rain.  


Thursday, August 28, 2014

Driving Billie

It was hot.

Even with my black Ray Bans on I squinted against the sunlight as I walked to my red Civic.

"If I gave you gas money, would you give me ride home?" a voice asked to my right.

I turned just noticing a young girl with brown skin and beads of sweat clinging to her top lip.

"Where do you live?" I asked. Quick.

"Over by the Albertson's on Abbot," she paused. Her mouth stayed open ready to inhale my no.

I looked at her, she was only holding a gray binder, and nodded.

I pulled my head to left and said, "Come on."

She didn't hesitate and her steps fell into rhythm with mine as we walked to the car.

"It's so hot, you know? I'm from Vegas, but in the last few weeks I've gone from white to brown."

I clicked the car doors open.

"Don't mind the mess," I said grabbing wrinkled papers off the passenger seat.

"Oh, no worries," she said as she sat down, "I'm from Vegas. Land of fast food wrappers."

The car was hot and steamy. The closeness of this strange girl was suddenly very obvious, and I shifted the car into reverse quickly.

"It's so hot here, you know? I walked here earlier, and I just don't think I can make it back. So hot," she nodded with her whole body.

I turned to look at her but only saw my reflection in her silver plated aviators.

"Maybe you should try the bus?"

"In Vegas the buses fun every 15 minutes, you know? The whole city is 35 miles from end to end, like a perfect circle, and the buses run every 15 minutes day and night. Here? I beat the bus walkin' with my legs."

Led Zeppelin's Kashmir was muffled in the background by the blast of the car's air conditioner.

"Yeah, here you have to get used to a slower pace. I mean, Vegas is Vegas," I paused, "Why'd you move here?"

I switched lanes as she answered.

"I aged out of foster care. In Nevada the homes use foster care as a kind of charity to get money from the millionares. They'd like hold me up and say 'Oh, look at this poor girl. Give us money', but there's nothing to do in Vegas besides becoming a stripper, so I came here with my boyfriend."

"Is your boyfriend from here?"

"No, but his family is from Mexico, and he has family here, so we came."

I slowed to a stop as the light turned red.

"Foster care is crazy in Vegas, you know? The way I grew up is a crazy story though.  My mom put me there because she decided she wasn't ready to be a mom, but before then we lived in El Salvador for five years," she laughed.

"El Salvador?"

"Yeah, the mosquito's are crazy there. I mean, I think they're bad here, but man they eat you alive there. Salvadoreans are all lime and salt, so the mosquito's go crazy. When I was there with my mom she realized that there were beetles that liked to eat me too."

The blinker clicked in the background as I looked to me left and pulled the car forward.

"So, your mom is from El Salvador?"

"Yeah, and she's famous there. She walked here twice. When I'm there, they're like 'Your mom is legend. She walked twice and didn't die.' I never know what to say. I'm like, 'Yeah, well I'm from Vegas and I haven't done anything," she laughed again.

"So, the Albertson's on Abbot, right?" I shifted gears.

"Yeah, you can just drop me off there. You know, you're the first person I've been able to have a conversation with since I've been here. People just usually 'uhhu' and nod when I talk to them. I don't understand it. I mean, I'm asking about them and they just say, 'I don't know', how can you not know about yourself?"

I smiled and turned to look at her.

"Maybe it's because you're not from here?"

"Yeah maybe, but it's just nice to have a conversation."

"So, just here at the parking lot?" I pointed, my hand on the steering wheel.

"Yeah, I live in those red apartments right behind it, you know, just so you don't think I'm weird."

I pulled to a stop.

"Well it was nice to meet you..."

"Billie. Call me Billie."

"Nice to meet you, Billie."

She held her hand out, and I shook it. Her fingers cool against mine.

She shut the door against the heat,  and I watched as she crossed the parking lot toward red brick apartments before pulling away.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Because I Cry

The last few weeks have been emotional for me for many reasons. At any moment I find that I feel the burning pressure at the bottom of my lower lids that is accompanied by incessant blinking as I try to wash away the tears hovering just around the curve of my eye.

I once believed to be strong one had to swallow their tears. I didn't like to cry, even though tears seem to accompany most of my emotions. I'm sad. I cry. I'm angry. I cry. I'm happy. I cry. Perhaps because I didn't like them they enjoyed springing to the surface so readily.

But, in the last two weeks I've cried because I had a realistic bad dream which I couldn't seem to wake myself from. I cried for a friend driving to the gym because I didn't have any words to respond with that could make her feel better. I cried watching a movie because a father died, and I've never known a good father. I cried because I'm scared of what is coming in the next months.

And mostly, I've cried because I finished my book about my grandma, Ita. I hesitated finishing it, and I didn't know why. Although writing it was hard, and I had to deal with many emotions when I finished, I realized that the closeness I've felt by writing about her would be over. I'd captured all the major stories I could dig up, and now with it finished it seems as if she is dying all over again. Even as I type the tears hover, and I can't explain why.

When I cried in the kitchen last week he told me, "But she has a book. She'll live forever in a book. Imagine if she knew she was book? How happy would she be?"

I nodded knowing he was right. My Ita would be so happy to know she lived on in pages. That people would read her and discuss her. Ita, Licha, Alicia lives on in all the words and pages I scraped together.

Earlier this week a friend asked, "Why did you write this?", and I didn't have a ready answer.  I hesitated on what to say. My mind thought, "I wrote it for love. I wrote it for all the great things my Ita did for me. I wrote it to forget all the bad things I did, all the bad things Ita did. I wrote it because I miss her and sometimes I still feel guilty she died without us around. I wrote it because I had to do something with the weight I was carrying around. But mostly, I wrote it because I miss her and I didn't know how much I loved her until I lost her."

Instead I answered with something more composed. More scripted. The things you can say to a person in a coffee shop that keep the hovering tears in check.

So, for now I learn something else in this journey and because I cry I know that I am strong.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Riding Shotgun with Angie in Downtown El Paso

The beginning of a transcription of a conversation I had with my sister driving around downtown El Paso.


Y: Ita never lived this far did she?
A: No, she didn’t.
Y: I remember parking at that place right here… to go to Juarez [point at parking lot off of South El Paso Street]
A: Uh huh… to go to Juarez
Y: I haven’t been down here since I don’t even know when, man. [pause] This does look nicer though.
[car blinker clicks in the background]
A: Yeah, they’re cleaned it up quite a bit.
Y: Then when I was a kid.  So, when you would go with grandma would you go—well yeah, it was this bridge, right?
A: We’d go through both bridges.  But, most of the time we’d go through this one.
Y: Okay.
A: Which is uh, PDN. Paso del Norte.
Y: Isn’t this the Santa Fe Bridge, though? Or am I…? Oh, I used to park here and cross!
A: Mmm hmm. That girl walks funny, like she’s a washing machine [points at pedestrian].
[both laugh loudly]
A: Yeah, this is Santa Fe Bridge. It’s on Santa Fe Street. So, we’d walk over both of them, but back in the day, one of them and I don’t know which one, was only a one way. It might be this one.
Y: I think it’s the other one, no? ‘Cause that street is a one way.
A: Look at the Christmas trees!
Y: Man, that’s a lot of stuff.
A: I didn’t go back far enough did I?
Y: No, but I think it’s because the bridge gets in the way, though.
A: I think this is as far down as we can go.
Y: Where’s Silva’s?
A: Silva’s is like behind [points to the other side of International Bridge] on that side isn’t it?
Y:  “Chavela’s Restaurant”? [points at building]
A: Ay, Chavela’s. It says Ay! [both laugh]
Y: You know what’s funny is Daniel and I went to one of these stores here [points to store just before Santa Fe bridge], and they had a cute ring, and I asked the lady how much it was, and she asked me if in dollars or pesos. And I was like—but it’s—okay [shrugged]. I mean it makes sense, but it’s funny that when you get right here they ask you that. ‘Cause she would take pesos. And of course since I said dollars the ring was more expensive, so I told her never mind.
A: How much was it?
Y: I don’t know. It was like $30 for this little silver ring. She said, “Pero es plata Mexicana,” and I was like pfffff well you can keep your “Plata Mexicana”. Sell it to another Mexicana.
A: Or buy it over there [Juarez] for cheaper. That building wasn’t there, and that building definitely wasn’t there.
Y: No, but it was a smaller building that was a casa de cambio, right?
A: I think so, or it might have been Manifiesto’s.
Y: What’s that? What’s Manifiesto’s?
 A: That’s where they turn in their shit that they buy and they get the tax off.  And actually right here where it says “Available” [points] there was a little restaurant and one time that I went to Juarez partying with Ruben and his brother and his brother got pissed off and left us down there we walked across and waited for Mom to come pick us up there.
[both laugh]
A: All of this has changed so much though. Look at that building right there [points] that been gentrified. “La Esquina”.  Ayi por la esquina. [speaks in a high voice]
Y: Okay, we’re on El Paso Street, right?
A: Yeah, El Paso, and somewhere around here, um. Let’s see if they haven’t knocked it down are all the theaters I would go to would Ita. There was the Carpri Theater that, um, all they showed was Spanish movies, and then of course there was The Palace Theater which was a XXX, um—
Y: And grandma worked there, right?
A: She worked there as a ticket operator, and I would sit there. There was a little raised platform in the ticket booth and I would sit there on the floor and wait for her.
Y: So grandma didn’t at least let you watch the porn? [starts laughing]
A: No! [laughs loudly]But I could hear [imitates loud moaning]. I was like four years old and Mom would pick me up or whatever, and back then they had the cops that were on the foot patrol, and that’s how Ita knew all the cops. Like Cortinas and—which always cracked me up ‘cause of his last name—you know cortinas, curtains.
Y: Yeah.
A: Um, and she knew Lujan, which is funny cause it happens to be Gabe’s cousin (Angie’s husband).
Y: Oh, really?
A: Yeah, he was at my wedding. I was like “Hey!”—So, and then what she would do [Ita] is she had this guy that she would send back—El Colon is the other one.
Y: Where’s that?
A: Right here coming up on Third and El Paso. See where it says “Colon” now it says “Casa Asia”? That used to be a theater, and it was just Spanish movies.
Y: Did grandma work there too?
A: No.
Y: But you would go there.
A: Yeah we used to go there all the time. Now it’s a store. Anyway, when she worked at The Palace Theater she was really good buddies with the cops that were on foot patrol and she used to send somebody back when the Sergeant would come by and check up on them to make sure that they were patrolling and she would send somebody back to tell them, “Hey your Sergeant’s looking for you,” and they would exit out the back doors of the theater, and that’s how they became good friends—
Y: Friends, because grandma would—
A: Would hook them up or whatever. [keeps driving down El Paso Street] I wonder what was here. I can’t remember.
Y: I don’t really remember being on this street very much.
A: Really?
Y: [shakes head] I remember more the streets where The Who’s is. Was.

A: Oh yeah, because most of the time you were with her it was probably at night when Mom was working or whatever. 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Flash Fiction Work In Progress: Paint Flecks

She was silent. The silence so loud it was as if the world had been put on mute. It was just them. He reached out and ran the thick pad of his thumb along her bottom lip as the other cradled her neck.
                                 
                                                               *****

"How was your trip?" he asked, fingering the arm rest of the chair.

The rectangular shaped desk between them was more than desk. It embodied the tangible gestures as they looked away from one another and fiddled with imaginary things around them. It was the space between two people who once loved.

"It was good," she said, looking down then back up at the darkened shadows of his eyes.

She smoothed the papers on her desk, flattening the curled corners with her right hand.

"Did you go into the city?"

"I did. It was amazing. Really great. Amazing," she repeated, "How are you? You look pale," she added rushed.

"I've been painting. A new collection," he held his hands out. His fingers and nail beds were covered in bits of rainbow colors.

"That's good. You do better when you're working," she trailed off, "Creating."

They were quiet. The noises of the building filled the air. She reached up to tuck a long brown strand behind her ear.

"He asked you, then?"

She looked at him eyes wide, then at her hand where a small row of diamonds hugged her ring finger. It was inevitable. Her hand, life wouldn't stay a secret. This world was too small.

"Yes," she nodded and looked away.

She couldn't meet his gaze, not yet, but she couldn't stare at the words on the sheets in front of her forever.

"I knew he would."

The words fell from his lips and landed on the desk in front of her. Thump. The tone snapped her head up. His face was shadowed, lines deeper than they had been minutes ago. He stared at her.She wanted to turn away, but she had no reason to. She swallowed and stared back until he moved his gaze to his stained fingernails.

"I didn't know if..." her voice caught, "I should tell you or wait 'till--"

"Someone else told me?" his voice loud now.

"I don't owe you anything," she said.

"I--" his voice fell away as her words returned, heavy on his shoulders. "You're right."

He stood and walked around the desk. She jumped up pushing herself away from the desk, from him.

"I'm really happy for you," he said reaching out for her. He pulled her towards him, squeezed her hard, tight against his lean chest, then pushed her away. Without a word he turned the corner and left. The cold warmth of his body was barely felt before it was gone.

She stood where he had left her, still.  Part of her wanted to go after him, to explain, to tell him that... She didn't know what. She looked down at her hand and smiled. She fingered the ring with her thumb, the metal warm. She looked back up at the hallway.  Her smile faded.

More people had begun to arrive.  Artists, musicians, all tended to work at night.  Deep voices and unintelligible conversations rumbled in the wide hallways. Strings strummed, drummers drummed,  all the noises seemed to assault the loudness of the silence of his exit, but it also helped to drown it out.

She packed her papers and computer away and slung the messenger bag over her shoulder before turning out the lights to her space. The bands music followed her as she walked to the car. She looked up and saw him through the window. His gestures were jerky and on a different beat than the music as he splattered red and white paint streaking it across the wall size canvas.  She stood  next to her car and stared up watching as his arms moved back and forth as if he were conducting an orchestra across the canvas.  He was illuminated in the bright studio light as he swayed back and forth, graceful in his own staccato way.  She smiled again. It didn't reach her eyes.

The car door slammed against the night and she drove away, without looking back, the road illuminated by streetlights.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Left Breast



I was 13 when she fell five steps away from the front door. I slept with my mom in the front bedroom of the red-bricked Craftsman style house. The window was open to let in the cool night breeze when we were awoken by a soft yell, “Leticia!”
My mom woke complaining, “’¿’Ora qué?” 
I sat up, rubbed the sleep from eyes, and looked at the clock. 2:15am. I jumped out of bed and ran outside when I heard my mom yelling at my Ita though. 
As I helped her lift my grandma I saw she was covered in something red. The acidy smell of tomato hit my nose and realized she had fallen carrying a glass bottle of Clamato. The glass had broken against her left breast. Once we got her inside I saw a deep slice close to the top of the soft skin and realized the red stains were Clamato mixed with blood.
My mom grunted and yelled as we sat her on the bathroom toilet seat. She stomped down the hallway to her bedroom to get dressed, “Qué estaba haciendo, Amá?” she yelled. My mom always lost her temper when we got hurt. The worry was often so mixed with angry we couldn’t tell the difference. All Mom saw was red.
I gently took off Ita’s drenched blouse and bra and wiped what I could away. She held a towel against her boob to slow the bleeding. “I’m stupid, hu?” my Ita slurred. She looked down at herself, pants and silver high heels covered in tomato-y blood, “Tenía que ser la chichi buena.”
My mom walked back and forth from the bedroom to bathroom to yell at my grandma and ask if she was okay. I finally had to urge her, in a steady voice, to get dressed so we could take Ita to Southwestern General, the closest hospital. Once there, the doctor asked what happened. I stood next her while my mom finished filling out paperwork. “I fell doctor, and I have to be honest. I’ve been drinking since three in the afternoon,” my Ita replied her voice too loud for the quite room. The doctor looked at me, and I smiled as I shrugged with my whole body, hands in the air. She left with eight stiches and stern talking to.


Thursday, June 26, 2014

As I Walk

As I walk in the hot summer El Paso sun to my classroom at UTEP my shoulders sizzle. I sometimes feel like a rotisserie chicken. My skin browns more with each rotation to and from the parking lot to the Classroom Building where I meet with my students. Beads of sweat begin to pill at the base of my skull and race down my neck even as my hands snap to wipe them away. I loathe how hot I get. This is my daily routine. By the end of the month my shoulders and arms will be a deep coffee brown while my legs will be latte. I will never be evenly brown.

As I walk I look at the people shuffling, biking, running, strolling past me. Today, a little girl around ten years old scurried toward campus as I walked away. She looked so odd because I wondered why she was by herself. As I stared, I forgot this. She ran pitched forward from the weight of an overstuffed backpack. The tips of her ballet flats were the only thing to touch the hot concrete. She skipped across as if she were skimming the surface of water. Her black pigtails flopped. Her long pink dress flowed in the wind. I wondered if I imagined her.

As I walk I think about the dream my mother told me she had last night and what she thinks it means. I think of how somber her voice sounds, and I can hear the dream clinging to the words as she explains she dreamt my dad. She thinks the dream is more than a dream and that something is wrong. He's sick. I stay quiet after she says this. I walk into the building and sigh with my whole body as the cool air hugs my front and the hot air grips my back. I stop listening for a moment. I don't want to hear the dream. She stays quiet after she's done. The silence makes me feel like she wants me to do something.  "Maybe you should text my Tia Elia," I finally say.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Chica-no/Chica-si

When one first begins to write, at least for me, I didn't have a sense of where the writing was going, who my audience was, and if there was a greater message of my culture, and I suppose more importantly where do I, Yasmin Ramirez fit into the literary landscape.

I first started writing fiction. Short stories. I just wanted to write and I wanted it to be good. My first pieces fell toward a film noir surreal genre. Had a read any of surrealist? No. Were they good? I'm afraid to look. Later when working on my MFA I found I didn't know what to write about. I was finally simply supposed to write and my mind drew a blank, so I began to write what I knew. Stories I told many times over and made people laugh over the dinner table and now seemed to be working on paper and in workshops. These stories about my grandma, Ita, and being raised in El Paso became my thesis and now the book I'm attempting to finish by the end of this summer.

Now, as I've published several (12 to be exact) of the pieces from my memoir focused on my Ita, I've stumbled across things I had not thought about. For example,

Who is my audience?
Is there too much Spanish for English readers?
Am I a Chicana writer? Will I always be a Chicana writer?
Am I automatically a Chicana because my last name is Ramirez?
Does it matter that I don't like the word Chicana and finds it leaves my mouth in a cacophony of angles and hard syllabus? How do I explain I was just trying to write my stories and I don't want to be spokesperson for all Latinos if I believe all Latino experiences are different? How do I explain that I read many different things and the brown section on my shelf is a bit skimpy? And how do I explain I don't identify with much of the brown books I've read? If I'm not brown enough will I be shunned by brown writers?  Will my last name and the fact that I love tacos and don't pronounce it tah-cos always make me too brown for general readers? How do I explain I am not denying a heritage if I don't have a tangible link to the "motherland"? How...Does...Am I...Where...Brown...White...Labels...Categories...How...

The list of questions goes on. I find that as I finish the pages of my childhood and of my Ita, thinking of these things begins to tarnish my memories/stories. I began them not only as a way to heal but because in someways they are universal. I wanted to share my love I suppose. Perhaps that is idealistic. Perhaps I'm full of shit. But, as half of my work is done--the writing of the book--and I approach the second half--marketing my book, myself--I'm beginning to reconsider which part is more difficult.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Work in Progress: The Scars of the Body

If scars tell the stories of our lives, my grandma’s body, fair skin loosened by age, held a map of lines disclosing the life my Ita lived. These are their stories. I’ve pieced them together and filled in the rest.

Forehead
In a fight before I was born, she ended up with a scar at the peak of her forehead, where a widow’s peak would have been. The fight, I imagine from the stories I’ve been told, takes place in the living room. She yells about where he’s been, how much he’s been drinking. He, Gil, tries to walk away from her and she swings. 

He ducks, “Mamita, todo esta bien,” he says, but he still wraps his arms around her and holds her to him like he will never let go, and in a way he never did.

She struggles trying to pry her arms away from her side. She grunts and yells, "Dejamé carbon,” but he keeps his arms where they are. He knows if he lets go her left hand will come out swinging and instead throws his head forward.

 Smack.

The sound of two stubborn heads echoes through the house and silences the argument for a moment. It stings his head, but Gil doesn’t let go. A small bead of blood runs down the center of her forehead. “Ya mamita, ya,” he says his voice low hoping it will stop the rush coming towards him.

Mastectomy
At age 42 Ita had a burning sensation on her breast.  She touched the skin quick, swatting as if a bug had bitten her, but instead her fingers found a small lump. After talking with my mom, visiting the doctor, and having a biopsy the diagnosis was confirmed: cancer. Her right breast was removed soon after, and she was left with a bright pink diagonal scar against pale white skin. For a long time she was depressed.  She wasn’t quick to make a joke or make up words to songs. Instead she grieved the loss of her womanhood and vanity at the same time.

As a child, I watched her adjust the silky skin of the soft prosthesis in the pocket sewn in her bra. I saw the now pale scar on her skin. It was normal that Ita didn’t have a breast. I didn’t question it, but I do remember the look on her face as she smoothed her tops eyes focused on her chest, her waist as she turned smoothed, turned, and smoothed again before we ever left the house.

Hysterectomy
At age 37 Ita had a hysterectomy.  The scar along her abdomen was faded, and I hardly remember it. She never spoke about it. My mom told me she’d had to have it done because she was have endless periods. I imagine her changing bloodies pads day after day wondering what was happening to her body. I wonder if after everything she saw the hysterectomy as a punishment also.

Ankle
She had small white scars left from large metal needles inserted after she hemorrhaged from an ectopic pregnancy. This was her last pregnancy. My mom remembers they lived on 811 N. El Paso when this happened. She, my uncle Robert, and Tony sat in the hospital waiting room after the doctor told them, “We’ve done all we can. The rest is in God’s hands. She’s a fighter, but the next 72hrs are critical.” He walked away as my mom sat next to my uncle and looked from the retreating doctor to Tony trying to understand just what that meant.

Gallbladder
The removal of her gallbladder at age 39 marked the beginning of the many stomach issues my Ita had. It was a mean jagged scar across the right side of stomach. It made me wonder how big a gallbladder was and why it had been so dysfunctional it demanded to be removed. My sister, Angie, who looks the most like my Ita, now has problems with her gallbladder. Hers gets angry on a frequent basis also.

Later, my Ita had her small intestine removed because of frequent issues with colitis. She was banned from eating anything spicy. This was a source of sadness not just her but for me. Ita had trained me in the ways of making spicy chilé and now we would no longer share our spicy bond. I watched as she’d tostar the chilé and tomates then peel the blistered skin from them. I helped at this point careful not touch my eyes. Sometimes my small fingers burned like when my hand fell asleep and the ants woke it up.


Last, she’d squish them all together with a glass she saved from Doña Maria mole. I watched eyes round and ready with a tostada to taste test the finished product as the chilé mushed together and suctioned in and out of the glass. When she was done she’d wash away the small red and black pieces clinging to her hands.  

Friday, May 30, 2014

Confessions of a Neon Desert 2014 Attendee

I wanted to write this post earlier in the week, but I got caught up in other things. I think perhaps it was better because the feeling I was left with after the two day music extravaganza was a mixed bag. Now that it's simmered and I've had some time to reflect I think I may have the right balance. The right words.

I love music. Every part of live music. The anticipation before seeing a band you love. The drive over. The chatter in the car on the way to the venue. Walking over. The buzz in the crowd. Everyone is amped  to see --insert band name here--. Standing in lines for beer. Getting a little pushed and shoved as you try to get a viewpoint of the stage. The heat as people squish together a bit and sing off tune to their favorite song. I love that. I love the live experience of music. There are people who get this and people who don't. If you don't get this at all don't read on.

I had all of this on Saturday at Neon Desert. I was amped. I was happy as I walked to the gate and got my blue bracelet. My friend Sarah and I strolled and took pics at 104.3 photo booth. We walked some more and found a row of local artists nestled near the corner of Mills and Mesa. We walked back to the shopping area near San Jacinto Plaza and found them to be little sparse, but we were still optimistic. Ultimately, we were bummed the Plazita along with much of downtown was still under construction, but I was going to see Wiz and Red Man/Method Man. This is all I cared about.

Until Red Man/Method Man went on stage. Without many things to do in between sets people seemed to guzzle faster. Lines for beer seemed infinitely long with people propelling themselves to the front regardless of who had been waiting. RM/MM hadn't been up on stage for 10 mins when the first of two fights we witnessed during their set happened. A poor staff woman in her neon green t-shirt ran over and flashed her flashlight back and forth on the crowd while people shoved others standing on the small surrounding San Jacinto wall out of the way. We backed further away. People started to crawl on the bus stop. More flashlight. Another fight. More flashlight. Finally two cops popped out from somewhere to help security.

When Wiz came on stage, we had a great perch by the Jack Daniel's trailer.People shoved some. A guy spilled his beer down my back, but hey, I'm at a packed show. It's a given. Then a fight broke out next to us. A guy had his girlfriend pinned against him. She was crying. A young neon clad security guy was trying to separate them and escort him out. They shoved and pushed. People yelled. Two shirtless soldiers tried to help. The girl continued to cry. Finally, they were separated. Ten minutes later pushing and shoving ensued as two guys got angry that they bumped into one another. I kept thinking, really? I just want to see Wiz, people!

By Sunday, everyone seemed less tolerant, drunker, and ready to take out even more frustration on each other. Partiers partied too hard and vomited in trash cans while police asked if they'd taken anything. A guy punched a girl in the face during the first part of MGMT. I was knocked down (landed on my feet) from the small wall surrounding San Jacinto plaza because people wanted to shove through at any cost. I just wanted to see MGMT.

Neon green t-shirts were seen sparingly. Tiny flashlights were seen flashing everywhere as people used their cell phones to mimic security, so people stopped paying attention. Half-naked girls complained that guys made vulgar noises at them. I wanted to believe that it was organized mayhem, but really it just felt like mayhem. The level that was just a bit too much, for everyone it seemed because they shoved and pushed, yelled out "Dick!" and "Bitch" at one another like a greeting.

I came for the music, but left shortly after MGMT because their show seemed stiff, or perhaps the mayhem had just become too much for us. As we walked back to our car a couple walked in front of us holding hands. A guy walking toward the festival yelled out, "Ugh, gay!" "REALLY?!?!" popped out of my mouth before I realized it. Sarah had bowed out the day before and it was just my husband and me. We both looked at the couple in front of us, and I wanted to apologize.

We passed the back part of the Budweiser stage on the way to the car, sad. We came for the music, but left with an ick feeling. In the car I asked, "What happened?" and we couldn't come up with an answer. We tried to think of things. The space was odd. It seemed too full. There wasn't enough non-drinking activities we'd seen at previous festivals. There wasn't enough security. Enough stages. We went on as we chatted at our local bar, but still couldn't figure out what happened. All we knew was at moments it seemed more Lord of the Flies than music festival.

The closing question as we walked out into the warm night air, "Do you think we'll go next year?"

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Javier and Ita


Javier Solis was born September 1, 1931 four months before my grandma. He dropped out of school after the fifth grade. My grandma dropped out of school after the eighth grade. They both held various jobs. Javier—I feel I can call him this because we are intimately acquainted, at least vocally—was a baker, a carpenter’s helper, and a car washer. He even trained to be a boxer but stopped after a few defeats and persuading. My Ita worked as an elevator operator, ticket taker, in a textile fabric factory, and a bartender among other things.

His first hit, “Lloraras” was a favorite of hers, but she also liked to change the words to the song and sang, “Choraras, Choraras mi partida…” when she wanted to be funny. I think she choraras as much as she lloraras in her life.

He sang and acted. She watched all of his movies and owned all of his records, then cassettes, and later CD’s.

He was considered the last of Los Tres Gallos Mexicanos along with Pedro Infante and Jorge Negrete, other voices I frequently heard. All three of them died at a young age. Javier was the last to die at the age of 34 from complications due to gallbladder surgery. A surgery my Ita had when she was 39.

My grandma saw the tragedy in his life. She sang it in each note of his songs and mingled it with her own until we couldn’t tell whose song it really was.




Monday, May 12, 2014

As the Semester Winds Down

I want to lie in bed for a few days and curl into the sheets until they become arms who embrace me as I sleep.  I want to sleep in until 9am, stretch in the sunlight streaming in through my bedroom window, and just stare with blurry vision at imagined dust motes.  I want to read voraciously,  the way I did when I was younger. I'd read through the night and force myself to shut the dog-eared pages when the sky night broke into indigo.  I want to curl into his arms, not because I'm tired, but because I can't help but breathe in the smell of his his hair even when it's ripe with the scent of last night's run.  I want to write until my book is finished, until the pages I've clung to for the last year finish their fight for freedom and I've nothing left but to begin again with something new.  I want to....

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Cult of Education

In my previous life, I worked for a giant retailer.  While working there I learned words like company culture, we stand for, we do this here, we wear smiles, goals, LY, TY, lead by example, etc. While working for this company many things happened:
  1. I became a "we" and not an "I" 
  2. I lost sight of what was truly important
  3. I didn't know what free times was
  4. I didn't see my family, ever
  5. I didn't, I didn't , I didn't
To this day, and I say over and over, the best decision I ever made was leaving the corporate world. I still remember the flash of when I suddenly snapped out of it and "put down the Kool-Aid" as we commonly used to say about those who suddenly left the company or realized there was more to life. I sat at our monthly rally, a small sea of carefully coiffed, shined, scented, powdered, pressed people surrounded me. There was a slump in the economy and customers weren't so willing to pull out their black American Express cards, so our regional stood on a stage in front of us giving us an epic pep talk. He was firing us up and like everyone else I nodded. All of our heads bobbed in unison as his words pulled the invisible strings at the tops of heads. I felt rejuvenated. I felt like I could take on anything. I could out sell, out perform, and drive my business like no one else, until they hit play on a sound clip. Suddenly the scratchy voice of JFK filled the second floor,     

    "And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the     Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas? We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too."

I looked up surprised. The famous words of JFK, the words he used to inspire the race to space, were being used to get me to make money. To sell. To push my employees to sell things they couldn't probably afford at the time. There seemed to be something so vulgar in it at that moment, and while everyone kept nodding and the energy levels in the room grew palpable, I stopped nodding. I broke away from the herd in that moment and looked around confused. What was I doing here? 


This past weekend I was in a training for a new class the school I work for will be offering. The environment in education is completely different than corporate America. The time I spent in the workforce helped me. I don't regret my time there, because I met people I grew to love and learned the lessons that come with working. I have an advantage over the lifetime academia types I'm now surrounded with for example, and while in this training I realized that. 

Two instructors were giving a lesson on how to implement exercises in the classroom, and they gave us a line to use with our students while reading, "A line I feel is strong is...". We all repeated it in an example exercise we did as a group. The line was repeated from all over the room. 

A line I feel is strong is...                                                             A line I feel is strong is...
                          A line I feel is strong is...                                                  A line I feel is strong is...
        A line I feel is strong is...                   A line I feel is strong is...
                                         A line I feel is strong is...                   A line I feel is strong is...

After the instructor said, "We want to get students used to using this phrase. We want to bring them into the culture...". After he said that I tuned out for a moment. I had a flash to my prior life. The word culture. Culture. The word rolled around in my mouth for a moment, along the edges of my tongue, and I chewed it slowly my molars pressing against each other. It no longer had the bitter aftertaste it once had. It tasted different, and I realized that no matter what we will assimilate to our environments. We will embrace the culture of where we work, but we get to choose that culture. And, if I have to choose which Kool-Aid I want to drink I pick education. I can teach, but also have time to write and read and write more. Yes, there is bureaucracy, but teaching students the culture of how to appreciate great works of art, to read, and write in a way that will benefit them not just now, but later in life, tastes a whole lot sweeter. I will fight, I will pull, and badger young minds to the finish line. Some will be left behind, but I can talk about stories and writing with passion, and passion makes all the difference. 

So I repeated, "A line I feel is strong is..."  



Friday, April 18, 2014

The Process: Writing Process Blog Tour

I had never heard of the Writing Process Blog Tour until Lacy Mayberry, writer, friend, and fellow BorderSenses member tagged me in it. (She asked first.) I read the post on her blog (check it out here) The Hurl and Gliding about a week ago, because I wasn't certain what I was supposed to write. I read about her process and wondered, what the hell is my process? I've never put much thought into my process, so it took me a moment to consider what my habits and quirks were. So, here it goes.

What am I working on?
Nothing and everything. I'm trying to finish my memoir, Por Un Amor, which consists of several short stories, poems, and flash fiction about my grandmother. My goal it to finish soon. I keep putting off the finishing date, partly because life keeps getting in the way and partly because the book has become a part of me. I have two to three pieces I want to add then I'm done. Many of the pieces have been published recently, so I think it's time. I like to imagine it's my Ita giving me a kick in the butt.

How does my work differ from others in its genre?
Hmm.... How does it differ? I believe it differs in the stories. So far, each one is a story from my life, the stories that make up who I am. Everyone's different therefore mine are different because they're mine. Yeah, that's it. (Thank you, crazy family for giving me stories to write).

Why do I write what I do?
I first began writing fiction, which following this book I hope to continue with. I write nonfiction and fiction though, because I believe stories bubble up to the surface. Fictional ideas, real stories they bubble up and either they're the stories I repeat and tell or they keep floating up to the forefront of my mind. Lately, I've had an idea about a girl who rips pages out of books and keeps them. I still haven't figured out why or what she does with them, but she keeps appearing. I'm hoping she'll tell me soon.

How does your writing process work?
This is the part I had to put some thought into. I'm a binge writer. I know many people say the secret of good writing is doing it everyday, diligently, until the writing is sculpted into perfection. I write small bits at a time. I need to right setting though. I need the perfect balance of background noise. I need a comfortable seat. I prefer booths. I wish I had a booth at home. When I have these things I will write for hours, hitting backspace, typing, typing, hitting back space, until I think it is perfect. The waitstaff at several Village Inn know me from my long stays. I tip well and cash out if their shift is over though, so they don't mind. (At least I hope not!) I keep a journal I hand write snippets in. I have also began pasting in things I think are interesting like photos, scraps of paper, stickers. If I write nothing I try to be faithful to this blog and post at least once a week. Last, and how I began to write, is listening to people speaking. I like to write down their conversations and sometimes use tidbits of them later. People say the strangest things when they think no one is listening.


Up next on the tour:

The amazing fictionist Sylvia Aguilar Zeleny at Un Alma Cercana

The musically inclined poet Jennifer Falcon at Falcon's Desk

The beautiful multilingual poet Laura Cesarco Elgin

And the ever fashionable journalist Erin Leigh Coulehan at sinandloveandfear

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Birthday Blog: 32 Things I've Learned So Far

1. Priorities change as you get older.
2. Family is important and although I tell myself not to take them for granted I sometimes still do, but what's important is I try.
3. Make plans, lots of plans all the time to give yourself something to laugh about later.
4. One good drink is better than ten bad ones.
5. Beer can be good. Bud Light is not one of those beers. Ever.
6.  BFF's are the ones that change/grow with you. Not every person who was a BFF will stay one. That's okay too; you were in each others lives when you needed to be.
7. Smart beats hot. Every time.
8. Being around negative people is like licking a sick person's hand. It's contagious. Stay away.
9. Patience. Patience. Patience. (I'm still learning that one).
10. Life can continue without that MarcKheil'sChanelSevenChantelleDior thing. It can. Really.
11. If you can't have a conversation. Take the hint.
12. It's okay to cry. A lot.
13. Music. Music that you love that you feel in your bones. Listen to that. The rest can go in the trash.
14. Go to the gym, but listen to your body.
15. Hair grows back.
16.Your throat is big enough to swallow your pride. You won't choke, and sometimes the end result is what you wanted.
17. Say I'm sorry, but don't be a doormat.
18. If people want you in their lives they make an effort too. Every relationship takes work. That means friendships too.
19. If you find someone you can just be silent with. Keep them.
20. The fun is not worth the next day.
21. Don't work somewhere you hate for too long. You'll turn into the people you made fun of  in the beginning.
22. Stand up for yourself. Even if it hurts.
23. Learn how to change a tire.
24. Don't over tweeze your eyebrows. You look older, and no one likes frowny faces for eyebrows.
25. Some dogs are okay. When I say some I mean, Sami.
26. Cook. A lot.
27. If shoes hurt don't wear them. It's that simple.
28. Friends will accept you. Flaws and all.
29. Friends can become family, but family will always be family.
30. Moisturize. Wear sunscreen.
31. Less make-up is better. Everyone can see your cake face. Oh, and the line against your jaw line also.
32. Getting older is scary, but laugh even when you're on the floor flat on your back unable to move.

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Process of Aging Ungracefully

The last few weeks I've been thinking a lot about getting older. This year for some reason I forgot I had a birthday. My mind just skipped over it; kind of like forgetting the milk when you go to the grocery store. But, the last couple weeks several things have happened which have reminded me that I am in fact getting older, and although there is nothing I can do about it, it's been naner- naner haw hawing in my face. (I think age is a bitchy girl who was once pretty and turned into an old hag and wants to make the rest of us miserable.)

What's been bogging you down you ask? Well, last week I found a friend from high school passed away. I had not spoken to Javier in a while, but there was a moment my senior year in high school where he and I were part of a happy foursome--with Vanessa and Collete--and we were inseparable. He passed away suddenly, and Facebook and texts were flying trying to figure out what happened. I think many people thought it was just gossip, "Oooo, what happened to Javier?", but the truth is, at least for me, I wanted to know what happened in case it could happen to me. Javier's death at the age of 32 reminded us all that even though we're still "young" anything can happen. His death is a reminder of our own mortality.

In addition, a slightly more comical event happened early this week to prove to me, in case I didn't already know, that I am not 22 anymore. While gardening in my front yard and trying to bring my desert dirt yard to life I hurt my back. Apparently, one needs to know how to dig with a shovel. Tuesday afternoon I found myself laying on the living room floor unable to move, needing to pee, but grateful for being able to reach for my cell phone. Three days later, and a trip to the emergency room, I found out I strained the muscles in my lower back and needed to let them rest. Oh, and that I will  also walk and move like a 65 year old woman until they receive plenty of rest. I hope at this point I've managed to lighten the mood and, that you, the reader is laughing. In between grimaces of pain I am laughing, well because there is nothing else I can do, and outside of these little reminders that I do in fact need to slow down everything is good. Wonderful in fact, and sometimes I need to be reminded that I need to appreciate what I have and the people around me while I have them.  

Friday, March 14, 2014

Downtown El Paso's The Tap Will Be A Little Less Familiar

Everyone has their place, their watering hole, their very own Cheers where they feel safe and it's filled with familiar faces. One of my favorite places is downtown favorite The Tap.

It's funny, because I basically inherited the place. I went there as a child with my grandma, Ita and spent a lot of time going back and forth between the jukebox and peanut machines perched on the bar. It was my favorite bar because of the Budweiser sign that had the Clydesdale horses behind the bar. (Now, it's above the new jukebox.) My grandma worked there for many years before I was born, so when we went to watch the fight, hang out, whatever, she always knew lots of people.

As an adult I only know a few people: Jasmine the waitress who greets me and the people I'm with every time with a familiar smile. Veronica, who I call Vaca who's like an Aunt to me. She became a part of the family long before I was born. A friend of my grandma's who became a friend to my mom and uncle. Who now my sister and I introduce as our Aunt. (I have black and white pictures of her from the early 70's in bell bottoms when she was young and we laugh whenever we see them, she was funkadelic.) And last, there's Justo. Justo was the door man, sometimes bartender, bar back, all around The Tap guy. He was a broad man with black rimmed glasses and a grey crew cut who often wore jean overalls. Justo also died three days ago.

Now,  I didn't know Justo well. When I moved back to El Paso, Vaca reminded him of who I was, "Es la neita de Licha," and he stared trying to remember the little girl version of me with a long black braid sitting next to my Ita vodka tonic in hand. I didn't remember Justo well either, but he remembered my Ita and because of that we both came to a mutual agreement. From then on when I went to The Tap we greeted each other warmly. If I needed to get Vaca's attention while she was busy he yelled out to her over the noise. If he saw I was waiting a long time he'd sneak me my order. When Vaca told him about my story "The Pink Shoes" being published in BorderSenses he wanted a copy of the magazine. He was interested in my writing and asked what I wrote about my Ita, about The Tap. I think he hoped he would make an appearance as Vaca had in other stories. Justo had a serious, no nonsense face, I assume from working in a bar atmosphere for a long time but with me he was kind. His eyes softened a bit. He'd greet me with a,"Hola mija."

Even though I didn't know him well it still saddens me. I know that Vaca is extremely sad, and that in itself makes me even sadder. Justo seemed like an extension of my grandma. His memory of her lived on and therefore gave her another life, and now that he's gone that life, along with his is over. After we die it's the memories we leave with others that allow us to live on, and I suppose that's why I'm writing this, to have Justo live on. With as many years as The Tap has been around I know that there are others outside of family and close friends who have memories of him. I hope that this jogs memories. When it's read people will think, "Oh, Justo. I remember him. How sad."  or "I remember him he..." and it will trail on into a story as mine as.


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Spring Break Lists Fall by the Wayside

This week I'm on spring break. I had many plans. I wanted to work on my book. I wanted to spring clean the house. I wanted to tackle the garage. I wanted to post and sell more things on Craig's List. I wanted, I wanted, I wanted.

So, far I've checked my email, emptied my DVR, and slept. This week has been good though, hermit-ish, but good. There's something odd that happens when you allow yourself to just be.

I let my brain stop dictating what I was going to do and let my body chose to sit on the couch, to take a nap, to go back to the couch. Usually, I have lists constantly running through my head. Imagine a computer updating, white texts filling up a black screen,  that is my brain adding more tasks to the queue. But, the last few days my brain has frozen and the cursor is just blinking waiting for me to hit enter, to restart.

The best part is that this is very rare for me. I think it is very rare for everyone, but I recommend it. Especially at this time of year, when the El Paso desert heat hasn't quite hit and the spring winds haven't taken over the day. In the mornings I lay staring out the window with blurry eyes. The air is crisp. I'm tangled in the bed sheets with one foot sticking out, so I won't get too hot. I listen to the birds chirping. The slight breeze before the day makes it bold and unbearable is soothing.  My brain starts to boot up, but instead of hitting enter I just let it blink and continue to stare out the sun lit window...

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Reflecting on the Program

The other day a friend and previous classmate asked, "Do you miss the program?" She was referring to the time we spent at UTEP completing our MFA in the Creative Writing department.

In May it will be a year that we graduated. Last year at this time I was knee deep in trying to finish my thesis under a pile of student papers I needed to grade, memories coming to life on the page, tears, half a sandwhich, and coffee. Did I miss that? Hell no! But there were things I did miss.

After being in the work force for five years prior to entering the program I enjoyed the free time, the odd scheduling, just sitting down with a cup of coffee and talking about books. I enjoyed the slow in pace after being rev'ed into red for so long. Now, I am not rev'ed, I still have free time, but now there is the worry of "What's next?" In the program I was surrounded by like minds, we talked about books and writing, we stayed up into the wee hours of the night giggling over half empty beer bottles, and for the next three years our lives were somewhat planned for us. We knew we had to work as teaching assistants and although we weren't making it rain, most of us were comfortable. We made dinner at each other's homes, made beer runs, and met at The Tap to share pitchers. As we neared our expiration date we all grew more busy, writing, looking for the next thing. Wondering, what exactly would happen with this expiration date?

Now, we are in the next thing. We are all trying to write in between working or trying to find a better job. We are schmoozing and participating in things to show we're team players and that yes, we really do want to be headed toward that tenure track position. And while we are all in different places now, doing our own version of the next thing: in a PhD program, teaching, writing for a newspaper, teaching children, we don't have the same connection and or camaraderie that happens in such a small group of strangers that meet under new situations and make fast and ready friendships with anyone else or with each other. We didn't meet a new set of people on the same voyage. There is no commiserating for the most part in our present situations because we are all now at different places, and although there is a connection between us all, of a shared experience, we are not the same either. Things like distance, spouses, babies, and life now get in the way.

So, when I was asked the question, "Do you miss the program?"

I replied with, "Just parts. I miss the ease of it. Does that make sense? And the first year. The first year was the best."

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Ramblings of People Watching and 915 Tattoos

One of my favorite hobbies is people watching. I love to see how people gesture with their hands, the stride of their walks, arms swinging out, flicks of hair. There are so many messages being conveyed at once it's hard to ignore (either that or I'm creepy). Many times I use these people in my work when I write. I take interesting nervous ticks and shuffles, word choice and diction, and make them my character's.

For example, today while walking around campus I saw a guy  with slunched shoulders, as if the backpack he was carrying itched. Without seeing his face I knew he was uncomfortable. It was as obvious as a girl who's had on cheap stilettos four hours past their comfort time.

There was something interesting in the guy with the itchy backpack, and it wasn't until he turned that I realized why he was uncomfortable. Almost ever inch of his body was covered in tattoos. There was no order or reason to them, they weren't delicate pieces of labored artwork, they were the kind a friend does in his garage when he's just trying to learn how hard to apply the needle to virgin skin. "915" was etched under his eye and other small little words etched near his forehead, temple, and jaw line. He held his face up because he had to, but the weight of the guy he had been, who'd gotten the tattoos, lay heavy on his shoulders. I turned away quickly because I didn't want to stare. I'm sure he was used to the stares, but the look in his eyes made me regretful for him; sorry.

I have two small tattoos in very visible spots, a small " on my ring finger and a small ouroboros behind my left ear. I speak with my hands and sometimes while I'm teaching I see my students eyes flutter and stare at my left hand as I talk. I've learned to overlook it but still I notice. I don't notice my snake, mostly because I can't see it, but I still run my finger along its imagined raised edges. Sometimes someone will ask, "What is that?" and I reply, "An ouroboros." They look at me confused and I have to explain a snake eating its own tail and then they nod "Oh", unclear of its meaning. I don't regret my tattoos. I love them. They're a part of me and each has its own  significance, but I imagine the guy with 915's and tear drops signify something different.

I couldn't help but think, "What if all our mistakes were as visible as his?" Each one etched into our skin, sloppily, with uneven lines, words and images that no longer reflect who we are, on the spaces of our skin  the whole world can see? For the world to judge? Would we be able to hold our heads high?


Friday, February 21, 2014

The Little Things

Today is Friday. It's felt like a Friday from the moment I pressed snooze on my alarm. I dozed for 10 more minutes with a large dog barking in the background. He, I assume a he because of the deep baritone, barked on and off all night. Internitingly in my sleep I kept wondering how his owner couldn't hear him and if it would be really bad if I could kick him. The owner, not the dog, because only a man could ignore such incessiant barking though out the night.

I went to school and taught my class. Today we played a game called English 1301 Feud. I created a Power Point with common mistakes and definitions and each group competed against each other. They had fun. I had fun, and more imporatantly they learned the difference between passive and active voice. (She was killed by zombies. The zombies killed her.)

The rest of my day has consisted of conversations. Conversations about writing and publishing, students and teaching, all over coffee. Conversations about Sami the dog and our days all while strolling around the block to a choir of hello's and goodbye's sung by neighboring dogs.(I kept an ear out for the bark from last night, but I think he was finally sleeping.)

Now, I have this conversation, with myself, and the people who read this, and I think, if only all Friday's were like this. Calm, the pace dictated by the conversations and not the clock tick tocking, tick tocking.

Friday, February 7, 2014

The Roles We Play

This is me you say, at least I say. "This is me, what you see is what you get," but there are so many sides to me, to each of us. Today I woke thinking about roles. The roles we play in our own lives as in others. I began thinking of one of those multi-faced dolls, the same face, but each is something different in a way depending on the angle. Somehow as we get older those roles begin to multiply further. More and more of our profiles appear like a flick of the finger against an endless line of dominoes with our features etched on the side in a continuous cascade.

 daughter
         sister
granddaughter
               niece
                cousin
              aunt
 sister-in-law
                wife
   daughter-in-law
          sister-in-law
                        friend
                  flaky friend
                       best friend
                confidant
            crazy friend
       like a sibling friend
                 ex-girlfriend
                       lover
                       enemy
                       writer
                   teacher
               employee
  mentor


Thursday, January 30, 2014

High School Doesn't End When You Graduate

Today I subbed for P.E. at a local high school and I noticed something as I watched the boys playing basketball. I noticed that our adult lives are simply a continuation of high school. Five boys played on the court. Two tried to dribble and finally ended up kicking the ball back and forth on the other end of the court. One sat in an aluminum chairs off to the side and played with his phone. Later, when another class joined mine, girls sat on the sidelines and text while giggling. A hipster kid sat on the sidelines with the world tuned out as giant black headphones hugged his head. Everyone had their place, and I realized that as we get older we still have our place, some of us just become more comfortable in them while others spend their life trying to outgrow the shadow of who they were.

Sometimes when it comes down to it, we are just the mean girl, nerdy guy, jock, douche, brown noser, stoner. Look around at all your friends, what group would you be? What about your coworkers? Once you look around you'll see the similarities. (You know that girl who pretends to be nice at work was a mean girl in high school)

As I watched the kids playing, not playing, it was easy to see who was "cool" who was "stoned" I even saw an obvious "slutty girl" as she pranced around the edges of the basketball court trying to capture one of the players attention, (We all know that girl too), and I wondered: Where is the reality show of adults back in a high school situation and why hasn't been created? It would be interesting to see everyone fall back into old behaviors.

And finally I can't not ask this. Not to get all Breakfast Club, but which one are you?

Friday, January 10, 2014

Afterword: Colombia

I was just on three different flights: Medellin to Miami, Miami to Dallas, and now Dallas to El Paso. There is an odd smear that happens as you travel to so many places. I think my mind and parts of my body are still in Medellin.

Although I spoke English while there, when I exited in Miami my brain froze in bits when talking to people in English. My ear although relieved to hear the round sounds and nasal pitches we make was growing accustomed to listening closely to all the deep bellied rrrrrrrr's. The further I got away the more the accents changed from Paisa's and Rolo's to Cuban's and Jamiacan's to Southern belle's and ending finally with the singsong voices that are the choir in El Paso.

I lived in Dallas for many years, but upon being back I find I don't think I'll ever live here again. I prefer the broad spectrum of browns and yellows and reds of other places. It's funny how things happen. In Medellin, I grew excited when someone spoke to me in Spanish. I blended. They thought maybe I was one of them. When they heard my accent they simply asked if I was Mexican or didn't ask at all and only looked at me more intently. I was even more proud when they didn't think I was a gringa! Here in Dallas a woman spoke to me hesitating, in that "Does she speak English kind of way," (is it the great tan I have from being at the beach for 4 days??) and I was offended. Same thing, different response. It's odd to have such a large city be so monotone.

I feel space and how spread out everything is here. Medellin is like a deep breath inhaled into the mouth of the valley, tight and with everything close together. The long highways and open space here seems like too much almost. The space is something not only seen in the city but in the people. I am glad to have my bubble back. The personal space around all of us that others don't invade. That space does not exist anywhere in Colombia. People stand close and bump you and talk to you while in line even when you have the, "I just want to get through this and go" face. They have people who will help you at the grocery store and stand near you while you try to pick a cheese. To me, they lurk and make me uncomfortable. For them they are helping and think our way of service is rude. A sales girl at the store practically tried to put a pair of shorts on for me and the whole time I wanted to yell, "Get out of my bubble!" but I just smiled through gritted teeth and said, "Gracias, estoy bien."

Today when I get home, I will be overjoyed to be in my bed, with my Sami, Drew-b, and Salome, but I think it may take a couple of days for all my parts to be joined back together. And the interesting thing is, when traveling to new and far places, that maybe they won't fit back together the way they did before.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Taganga, Santa Marta, and Beginning a Road Trip with Richard

Saturday we woke up early, 7:30am, the earliest we've woken up while on this trip to Colombia. The last two days we'd spent at Cabo San Juan and Playa Crystal. We were brown, tight skinned, but still wanted to enjoy our last day on the coasta.

Richard, our taxi driver and tour guide for the day, was early but patient as we just had to throw on our bathing suits, mine red and white polka dots a la '50's and Daniel's surfer style multicolored board shorts. We got in the cab and Richard (pronounced in Spanish Ree-charrrrd) started talking and reassured us not to worry we could take our time, spend whatever time we wanted at any of the places he was going to take us. He gave us a map, and a block down the steep rocky dirt road  we stopped outside a woman's house. A thin raisin colored woman with strong hands patted maza back and forth between her wide palms. The front door of her cement brick house was open, and her thick daughter sat in a chair just inside. On the the floor by her feet were ten brown egg shells lay empty on the dark stained side walk.

"Tres arepas de huevo," Daniel said.

I stood watching as round disks of maza surfed across the surface of the hot boiling oil. Once they puffed up she popped it open, dropped in the egg, and back into the oil it went. She handed us some that were already ready. I lifted my camera and took pictures of the disks and her pink palmed hands. I wanted to take a picture of her face, beautiful with all it's lines and ridges, road maps of all the places she'd been in her life, but I was afraid. I didn't want to offend her. I snuck one in as her daughter gave Daniel the change and we walked back toward Richard who was smoking a cigarette by his bright yellow taxi. The oil from the arepas de huevo was already seeping through the small brown paper bag as we climbed in the back seat.

As Richard drove he ate his arepa and talked. I munched the hot delicious sandwiched fried egg in silence. He offered to get us a cooler for the beer we wanted to stop and buy.

"Mi casa esta cerca," he assured.

Richard drove and talked, drove and talked to Daniel. I listened and tuned out, listened and tuned out staring out the window as Santa Marta smeared past me. It was a wet painting of browns, beiges, and greys set against a stark blue sky. The people all raisin, mahogany, and toast colored flecks inserted in empty looking buildings or in front of brightly colored fruit stands, and as we drove, I ran my fingers through it all smearing it all together into a painted memory.

As we pulled up to Richard's house he asked if it was okay if he brought someone with him. We nodded and waited outside as he rushed in the house. He came out a few minutes later with green canvas camping chairs and a bright white smile stark against his browned skin  and black Sam Elliot style mustache. He put them in the trunk walked back into his house and came back out with a once white Styrofoam cooler. He just happened to have two six packs of Aguila for us as well. His face was warm, open, and always filled with a bright half moon smile. From the open the door of his house ran a little girl, his daughter, in bright orange cargo pants and a sea blue shirt. She looked about ten with long brown hair and fair skin. She smiled and shared the same half moon as Richard. She got in the passenger seat and waved to us.

"Va ser mi copiloto," Richard said and smiled down at the matching smiling face looking up at him.

As we pulled away from his house I looked back and saw an older taxi parked in front with flat tires in sand brown dirt and a large black and brown dog who sat on the porch. We were now ready to begin our road trip with Richard and his copilot.