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."