Friday, December 18, 2015

On Writing Me

My great friend and unofficial editor gave me The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr a couple months ago. In reading it, I found a quote I immediately liked and felt as if she was speaking directly to me. “No matter how self-aware you are, memoir wrenches at your insides precisely because it makes you battle without very self—your neat analyses and tidy excuses.”  No truer words have ever been spoken. It’s been three years since I really began to focus on Por Un Amor and each time I think I’m done there are more questions than answers. I think a part of me wants to be done because I’m tired of having my insides wretched, or to be honest, maybe there are aspects that haven’t been wretched enough. In a novel where I want to focus on my Ita, there is a light that inevitably wants to shine on me because I am as much a character as she. I am just as important even though I want to stay backstage and let her bask in the limelight. I have to learn to be in the light and also be the stage hand pulling the levers and changing the lighting. I have to learn to be both. I have to get comfortable showing just as much of myself as I’ve shown of her. She is beckoning me on stage, “Andale, Prieta,” but suddenly I am seven years old again, and I want to hide behind the word filled pages of her life as easily as I hid behind her legs as child. I need to edit, revise, and write myself next to her in that limelight. It’s in this space where we can still be together.  

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

2015 Thanksgiving Thanks



I am thankful for...

1.  My new dog Faustino who has warmed my heart towards pets again after saying goodbye to my beautiful Drew-b this year. 

2. My husband who supports me through every crazy idea I have and won't mind that Faustino the dog came before him on this list. 

3. My sister/mom who is/are a pain in the ass and likes to fight with but can't stay mad at me too long. 

4. My uncle who texts me every morning to say good-morning even when he knows I'll be sleeping. 

5. My lovely small  but close knit group of friends who don't let lapses in time and/or distance change our friendships. 

6. My job. I worked very hard. It showed me that patience and my stubbornness paid off. I have felt a little lost this semester because I got so used to having a bone to chew on, but I will learn to have a new goal. 

7. I'm thankful for goals. 

8. My time off that I will use to brush the cobwebs off my writing brain. 

9. The stack of books that have been patiently waiting on my nightstand for me to read. 

10. My writing group, Last Friday Writer's. Although we have all been a little busy with all the good/bad things that get in the way, they keep me closer to writing even when I float out to sea a bit. 


Wednesday, November 11, 2015

A Red and Orange Kite

Last night after a long [insert slew of obscenities here] day, I went to yoga. I almost didn't go. The warm comfort of pets, my home, and the couch seductively called to me as I sat in a sea of red lights and traffic. They were both so tempting that I almost escaped the highway three exits sooner, but I stayed strong. I gave myself a pep talk on the benefits of losing myself in my Utkatasana's, Virabhadrasana II, and Savasana's. 

As I sat in the car, repeating the benefits of attending, the day kept butting in and replaying itself like a short film on a loop. I spent most it angry and/or frustrated. When I was younger, anger always served as a fuel for me, but not as I've grown older it just drains me to the points of exhaustion. I am a shell of myself even as I smile and make small talk with the people around me. Today, in fact, I am shell. I am a browned husk floating around campus berating myself for losing my temper. At moments like these, I am thankful for my retail experience as it allows me to be a better liar. I wear a smile in situations most couldn’t. Today, though, my smile is fueled by a red and orange kite.

During the class, my mind shifted back and forth as much as my body shifted from pose to pose. For me, yoga is the only form of mediation that quiets my mind. It pushes out all the restless thoughts and to do’s and lets me focus on finding a balance in my Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog) or my Trikonasana (Triangle). The instructor, Samantha, has this wonderfully melodic voice. (I sometimes wonder if yoga found her or if her voice led her to yoga.) It guides me, unconditionally and without judgment along my practice for the class. When I get lost, her words and voice bring me back to my intension for the evening. Last night, my mind fixated on gratitude. When I got lost, I thought of the word and wrapped myself in its meaning.
 
After one hour of asana’s, my skin slick and dripping, we reached my favorite part of the class. Savasana. At the end of each class, we lay on our soggy mats and listen as Samantha lulls us into relaxation. In a way, she is a conductor, and our bodies simply follow the peaks and valleys. At last night’s final dip, the most wonderful thing happened to me.

I lay quiet and lost myself. I don’t know if it was Samantha or my exhaustion, but I lost track of time and the space. In my mind, I saw myself, small, sitting in lotus pose. There was nothing around me, just gray. As I focused, a red and orange kite appeared in my hand. I don’t know where the kite came from, but I sat quietly looking at it. I’m not sure for how long, because when I finally began to hear Samantha’s voice again, it seemed like hours had passed. I spent hours with myself and a red and orange kite. I’ve never had a kite until now. All day today, as a tired shell of me walks around, my mind keeps going back to the red and orange kite and how I felt holding it. And right now, I want to feel that way again.    

I don’t know if this will happen again, (or if Samantha puts something funny in that scented humidifier that sits in the corner) but I already miss the sense of stillness. The sense of only me without any demands.  


Thursday, October 29, 2015

I Should Be Grading

I should be grading, but I don't want to. Outside, the sky is varying shades of grey. The clouds are a tightly, knit sewn quilt blanketing the city. This is odd for "The Sun City", but unlike most I enjoy chilly weather, rain, and what the clouds bring.

I should be grading, but I keep ignoring the digital stack of papers. The semester is at week 10 and the students who are going to "get" it have already proven themselves. The "not taking this seriously" have disappeared like the mice who inhabited my office for the first month of the semester. I'm still not sure of the "I'm gonna buckle downs". I stay hopeful, but not too much, so it won't hurt as much when they too disappear.

I should be grading, but the weekend is calling. Saturday is Halloween. I always love Halloween, but this year I have less zest in my pep. Yesterday, I suggested to my husband we dress up as Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love. We just need blond wigs. He said, "Okay". I wish I had thought of it sooner, and I could have found a shirt with the word love scrawled across it. There is a pun in there somewhere.

I should be grading, but instead I'm thinking about what I'm going to read this evening. Tonight, I'm going to be reading at the Camino Real for a college function. I am torn between reading new work and comfortable work.

I should be grading, but I am writing this post. My blog has been harder to maintain lately. I have ideas in my mind but instead I grade. I worry about my community work. I answer emails. I don't like my community work anymore. I don't want to answer student emails who haven't come to class in two weeks. I want to write about the Segundo Barrio picture I saw on Facebook. I've imagined the whole scene of a young Mexican cat hitting on a sweet young ruca while Malo's Suavecito plays in the background.  Her wide blue bell bottoms balance round hips as she walks to the smooth beat of the song.

"Lalalala"

Her swings so that the cat can't help but call out, "Oye, linda...."  And, she can't help but turn to look at the snug, green shirt stretched tight on the lean brown frame leaning against the shine so bright hurts your eyes burgundy Chevy Monte Carlo.

I should be grading...

Friday, October 2, 2015

The Bathroom Remodel

The last two weeks have been filled with weekend warrior type activity. We are remodeling our half bath. It all started with painting. I wanted to change the color to a bright yellow instead of the aged rose I had first painted it.

Things happen when I get started on a project. The "things" that happen are, I often get carried away. I start thinking bigger and better and, and, and...I know this about myself. I just get so damned excited that my brain starts working a mile a minute and it wants to go. I get lofty ideas that in the end usually end up being amazing (well, if they didn't, this wouldn't keep happening. now, would it?) but mid-point I question myself. It often takes until the mid-point for this to happen.

For the husband, he questions me almost immediately, mostly because he knows he will have to help me. He wants to catch my balloon head with its lofty ideas by the string before I float off too far and suddenly my idea is the size of the Good Year Blimp. Only, it won't say "Daniel, You're a Pimp". It will say "Daniel, You Have A Lot of Work to Do"

So, as I taped the baseboards and the tile edges of the shower, I began to stare at the old linoleum on the floor. The rest of the house has been tiled. The only two rooms that remind me of the past are the bathrooms with their dated linoleum pattern. I continued to tape. The linoleum continued to mock me. The wheels began:

We could pull up the linoleum. 
No. That's too much work. 
Wait, Yasmin. Remember you read about DIY fixers for linoleum floors?
Oh, yeah. I did!
We could paint the floor a nice solid color. 
You could do it like the example and make stripes!

This is a really small bathroom though. Do you really want to make stripes? Daniel will like the stripes, but will you?
No, no. Solid is much better. Go solid. Don't show him the stripes.
But with the humidity the paint will get weird right away. 
We should pull up the linoleum. 
You already said that was too much work. Don't be crazy. 
Yeah. Don't be crazy. 
The concrete floor! Remember the DIY concrete floor you saw? 
Oh, yeah! I liked that!


As he began to paint the walls, my fingers worked a mile on my tablet trying to find the article I'd seen. When I found it, I showed it to him. 

"You want to concrete the floor?" he asked. 
"Yeah! Let's just redo the whole bathroom. Except the tile. I don't think I can handle tile."
"Concrete? What about the paint? You said we could paint the floor. I like the paint idea."
"Yeah, but with the shower and humidity it's gonna get gross right away. Don't you think?"
"I don't think so--"
"It will. You start painting, and I'll run to Home Depot. It will look great!"
"Right now?" 
"Yeah! It will be great! You'll have a whole new bathroom!"

I ran out of the house, into the car, and straight to Home Depot before he could stop me. Driving there I thought:

Are you sure you can do the floor?
Yeah! I can totally do it. The article made it look super easy! 
Okay, but it better look cool. 
It will. It will. Stop worrying. 

Two weeks later, three layers of feather light concrete, sanding, blue stain, and floor sealant, we have a beautiful concrete floor. What have I learned? (well, that I have awesome ideas of course) That my ideas are lofty, but work out. Originally, I thought we could get it done in one weekend though. This is the third weekend, and I just got done putting primer on the vanity. I'm waiting for it to dry. He is very happy with his bathroom. I am very happy with the bathroom. But, I wonder if he is asking himself if he should have reached for that string sooner.  


Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Sopita

Sopita is a really simple food. It can be found in most ethnic food aisles. Small dry pasta shaped like letritas, semillas de melon, and conchitas, When I was younger, I could never cook it correctly. It always came out under cooked or overcooked, salty or flavorless. Now, I can cook it with minimal effort. I throw onions in a pan and saute it until most of the pieces turn a golden brown. While it's browning, I open a short can of tomato sauce, so it's ready to pour in. I learned to do this after burning the small alphabet and onion pieces so dark I had to thrown them away. It had been a long day, and my last bag of sopita.

Sopita is a simple food. My husband doesn't like it. The one time I did make it, as a side to a thin sirloin steak topped with chile, tomate, and cebolla, he looked at the plate oddly. I didn't understand. Now, I rarely make it. Usually, I only cook it when I know that we are having separate dinners. My favorite meal is picadillo con sopita. I mix the spicy ground beef with sopita, and it becomes a soupy caldio in my bowl. I sit on the couch, legs curled under me, and spoon it in my mouth. Each bite as good as the previous.

Sopita is simple, but I have soft spot for it. It is my comfort food. Today, for example, I'm feeling a little down. The pop in my rock has fizzed out, so I came home a little early and made myself some sopita. I set the timer on the microwave for twenty minutes. As it came to a simmer on the stove, I flipped through the channels trying to find something to watch while it cooked. I sat there, I thought about how much comfort the small little pasta gave me. My favorite have always been letritas or semillas de melon. They remind me of my childhood. The small letters swam on my spoon in a tomato soup as I ate them in the yellow kitchen.

"¿Quieres sopita, Prieta?"

"Si, Ita."  


Thursday, September 10, 2015

Because Life Happens

I like lists. I make them to have the satisfaction of crossing things off once I've completed the task. The lists range from simple tasks like "go to grocery store" to "finish story". I write things down, I have an app called Color Note, which has fallen by the wayside for good old paper and pen, and I have specialized lists for things like the grocery store. Lists make my life complete, at least I think.

For the past month, on my list there has been "post on blog" and each time I think, "I'll do it right now." In this case a list has not helped me. The sad part about it is, that I've missed my posts. I miss my inner Carrie Bradshaw voice talking and mussing about things. So the questions is, why haven't I made time?

1. I had family in from Colombia for three weeks.
2. I took a vacation to Phoenix.
3. I got new wonderful job I'm elated to have.
4. I've been trying to work on my chapbook a (tiny) moment in time and revisions for my manuscript Por Un Amor at the same time.
5. I have read books (Lunch in Paris- Elizabeth Bard, Queen of the Fall-Sonja Livingston, Twitching Heart-Matt Mèndez, Island of Bones-Joy Castro) even though I couldn't complete my summer reading challenge list.
6. I fell on my bike, Sandra Dee.
7. I got a new bike I named Sandra Dee.
8. I have missed my friend Sarah.
9. I have finished a class and started a new semester with 100+ students.
10. I have let life happen.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Get Up Stand Up: Book Suggestions

Last week, I visited a class to speak about some of my writing, the process, and The Danger of a Single Story. I was asked many wonderful questions about my work and also about books I've read that kept in line with the idea of standing up for oneself. The normal thing that always happens when I'm asked this question is my mind goes blank. All the titles of wonderful books I've read disappear as quickly as my dog, Sami, eats her meals.

So, below I've put together a list of books I think are important. I will probably stray from the topic, (I apologize in advance, Rich)  but I will give it my best.

I can't remember how old I was when I read this book, but I was definitely in my 20's, (I think) and I was blown away, by not just the writing, but the idea. For a length of time in my life, I was obsessed with Utopian society books. Huxley seemed to capture something not as dark as Orwell's  1984 or Rand's Anthem, but it still carries a heavy warning sign. I remember thinking, "What it would be like to be satisfied?" then I shook my head and snapped out it. I like that it made me question. 

I've read this book three different times and each time I read I learned something new. I know it is a political book. Some readers snub their noses at Ayn Rand. In literary circles, I don't dare mention her name because I will inevitably get a look, but this book was important for me. At the baser levels, the way I chose to read it, is the story of someone who wouldn't compromise their beliefs/morals for their happiness. Selfishness has a horrible connotation, but isn't a certain level of selfishness okay? 

So, there is a pattern. As I go through my list of books, I'm snagging the ones that I remember (yes, there are some I don't. at all) and there is an apparent theme. This is a quick read though. I think something that scares me is the people's inactivity.  

Okay, I'm not sure this fits the category, but I found this book incredibly interesting. It definitely changes the idea of a single story that many have of Native Americans. It's a wonderful balance of a range of emotions a family/community goes through. Erdrich is a masterful story teller. 

I recently read this, but I want to include, because it brings up a lot of interesting questions about identity and the duality of culture. There are some beautiful essays in it. Although there were a couple that lagged in comparison, I enjoyed it very much. 

As I write this, I keep arguing with myself about what books to include. There are others, many others that pop into my head that I loved, but not sure why or if I'm just starting a conversation with myself about books. So here are some authors who have short stories I like to teach: 

Short Stories 
August 2026 - Ray Bradbury
Popular Mechanics -Raymond Carver
Girl - Jamaica Kincaid
Greasy Lake - T.C. Boyle  
Hills Like White Elephants - Ernest Hemingway 
Sonny's Blues - James Baldwin 
The Lottery - Shirley Jackson 
The White Girl - Luis Alberto Urrea
The Falling Girl - Dino Buzzati 

Okay, I think that's it. Now I have dandelion titles and pieces of stories floating around in my brain, and they are getting all mixed up. I hope that anyone who reads this finds at least one thing on this list they didn't know about and like. If there are two? Then I made a good list. 

Comments on readings are welcome below! 






Thursday, July 2, 2015

Digging Through the Dust

For the past month, my sister and I have been cleaning out a dusty storage unit my mother had filled with nothing and everything. Painstakingly, we have gotten up early, gone to the unit, and dug through boxes of my mother's life. We've found old photos, jewelry, socks, clothes, out-dated workout equipment, broken glass, and layers upon layers of El Paso desert dust that settled upon things we'd forgotten about.

We'd get there clad in workout gear with white rubber gloves and sunscreen ready. I've suffered two sunburns on my back and shoulders, 20 sneezes, one stubbed toe, many sore muscles, and countless memories as we reminisced with the things we found. I took pictures of my favorite navy blue vans with Nirvana lyrics scribbled on the side from high school. I took home a cast iron pan, shish kabob skewers, and a marble cutting board. We donated countless things and threw away many others. Last Saturday, we finally finished.

Several family members showed up and worked at loading a rented U-Haul. In the back, hidden by another bed frame was my old bed. A wooden twin bed headboard and footboard sat covered in a think layer of dust.

"Do you want your bed?" my mom asked.

I looked at her not knowing what to say. I turned back toward the bed and remembered sleeping in it every night up until I went away to college.

My sister, Angie, looked at me, "Do you wanna sell it?"

"I don't know. Do I?" I asked.

My husband and uncle moved around us asking what to load and what to leave for me to sell. I looked at the wooden spirals and choked a bit. The dust seemed to settle in my throat. I felt my eyes begin to strain around the edges.

"If you do sell it, make sure you get a good amount. It's solid wood," Angie said shaking her head for emphasis.

I stayed quiet. The moment the three of us had amongst all the movement broke. They walked in opposite directions and gave instructions on different items. The bed frame stayed resting against the metal wall.

A moment later, I stood outside with my mom. We both welcomed the breeze after being inside the stuffy, still air of the storage unit.

"I think you should take your bed. Even if you decide to sell it later. You know, your dad wasn't always bad," she said turning away from me to face the breeze.

I stayed quiet for a moment.

"I'd forgotten he made the bed for me," I swallowed the words 'until I saw it'.

"Take it," was all she said.

With the unit almost empty I walked inside and grabbed the headboard from the middle. The wood was solid and my gloved hand immediately rubbed off years of dust. I held it in my hand and slowly raised it to rest on my shoulder. I thought it would be heavier. I walked to the gray Toyota pick-up truck filled with items I was taking to sell.

"Here!" I called up to my husband who stood in the back of the truck.

"We're taking this?" he asked. Beads of sweat bubbled to the surface on the skin of his forehead.

"Yeah. It's my bed."

He looked at me, then reached for it. I went back for the footboard. He placed both in the back of the back.

Later, as I unloaded the truck into the garage with Angie, I rubbed the dust off the brown spirals while she walked a dusty bike inside. I imagined the hands that made the bed, broad-palmed, brown with short fingers, the skin still taunt as they stained the spirals a rich dark brown decades ago. Light nicks scarred the wood in places from use and age. I fingered  them with my dingy gloved hand and tried to remember how some of them got there and couldn't. That's the thing about scars though, even if I couldn't remember how they got there, the white gashes still stood out against the dark wood.

"Is that the last piece?" Angie asked.

I nodded and handed the footboard down to her.

Friday, June 19, 2015

On a Jet Plane

When I was a senior in high school, my boyfriend worked at a 7-11.  He worked graveyard shifts,  but he wouldn't sell me beer. Instead, I went to the store after I was done with friends, buzzed, and wandered around the aisles.  I should have known then the person who constantly checks is the person with a guilty conscience. 

The first time I did it, he didn't get it. I walked down aisles filled with Doritos and Lay's, my arms spread wide singing,  "I'm leavin' on a jet plane..."

"What are you doing?" he asked.

I kept singing, "don't know when I'll be back again. "

"Are you leaving?" he asked.

"It's a song."

I looked at him all disheveled in his red 7-11 apron and wondered what I was doing here. It was 4am. The night was turning indigo. Maybe it was time to go.  

"I don't like it."

"It's just a song," I answered. "But it's late." I reached for my small clutch on the counter.

I left quickly with just a peck on the lips. 

After that, each time I wanted to leave I opened my arms wide and sang the song. "I'm leavin' on a jet plane. I don't know when I'll be back again." I let my fingers graze along the edges of the chip and gum displays. They hesitated 

My arms became wide wings that navigated the aisles of the 7-11 out into the parking lot, until they finally took off and never landed there again.   

Monday, June 8, 2015

2015 Summer Reading Challenge

I debated doing this, but now I'm jumping in. Let's see if I can do it!
Summer Reading Challenge Rules:
1) Pick 15 books that you would like to finish this summer--any genre, any size. This list doesn't have to be at 15 right from the start. It will grow as the summer continues.
2) Of the 15 books, designate 3 that you recommend to co-participants. (After you've read them, of course).
3) Of the 15 books, 3 of the books must be from recommendations by other participants.
4) Post your 15 book list somewhere with a link so that co-participants can link you on their webpages, tumblr pages, or blogs.
5) Hold yourself accountable by posting commentary about a book you've just read. Commentary can also take the form of something creative or artistic.
6) The Challenge Ends August 31st. Have fun.

*****
My list (so far):
1. Lunch in Paris- Elizabeth Bard
2. How to Read Literature Like a Professor-Thomas C. Foster
3. Before the End, After the Beginning- Dagoberto Gilb
4. Sudden Fiction Latino- Edited by Shapard, Thomas, & Gonzalez (I started this previously so it's a little cheat)
5. Violette's Embrace-Michele Zackheim
6. Peace Locomotion-Jaqueline Woodson
7. Wise Latinas-Jennifer De Leon
8. Island of Bones-Joy Castro
9. Queen of the Fall-Sonja Livingston
10. My Feelings-Nick Flynn
11. Surrendering Oz-Bonnie Freedman
12. Confessions of a Berlitz Tape Chicana-Demetria Martinez
13. Twitching Heart-Matt Mèndez
14. It's Kinda a Funny Story-Ned Vizzini
15. Los Tiburines a veces tienen pesadillas- Daniel Ríos Lopera 

Friday, May 15, 2015

Keep Track

Dear Seniors,

Goodbye's have never been my strong suit. Usually, I only have students for a semester, so it's a weird, odd feeling to say goodbye and good luck to a group of students I spent most of my Saturday's with and met a year ago this summer.

I wasn't sure what to do to celebrate the end. Cupcakes and snacks seemed cliche (and we only have 30 mins for our last class), so I thought about what I would want to know if I could go back and give advice to baby-face-me. Then, I remembered this song that came out when I graduated, and I remember thinking it was so profound! I looked it up as I'm writing this, and it is still pretty profound except now that I'm older I think, "Oh, yeah, that is totally true!"

Each of you have twenty different people telling you what to do right now. I don't want to be twenty-one. This moment is probably going to be one of the biggest, scariest moments of your life, up until now. Note, I said up until now.  For those of you already over it, (you know who you are) it does get better and worse at the same time, because you'll ask, "Why the hell did I rush so much?"

This will be (should be) the last moments in your life where fingers can be pointed and decisions can be made for you, so make sure you make good ones (or ask lots of questions). And, if they're not so good, make sure they're worth it.

I keep resisting the urge to give you advice because I want to, but some lessons you'll have to learn on your own. (Some, I tried to teach you in the last year.) So instead, I ask that when you read this you write down what you learned/will remember and keep it. Put it in a book, notebook, or places you'll find a year from now. Then move it and place it somewhere you will find three years from now, and add to it. Reread it. Keep it until the edges are dogeared and the creases so deeply etched you might need a new paper, and know the only things we take with us everywhere are the people we love and things we have learned. Keep track.

When I graduated from high school, I was nowhere near as accomplished as many of you. I'm in awe of each of you and am very proud to have spent time with you (even when I was shushing!) I look forward to all the wonderful things many of you will do.

Now, go read a book! 

Friday, May 8, 2015

April 8, 1994

This week I sat down to watch Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck. In fact, we kept HBO especially to watch the documentary. (As I write this I can hear my sister mocking me.) I sat down and knew it would be sad, that I wouldn't like some parts, but I was still excited to watch and didn't realize that I'd forgotten just what 1994 had been like.

I was 13 years old when Kurt Cobain's body was found. He disappeared on April 5, 1994 and was found on April 8th, my birthday.That day, I sat in my living room on a multi-colored bean bag (it was the 90's after all) and watched MTV nonstop. Even though no new information would be released, I stared endlessly at the screen replaying parts of the Unplugged show. Kurt Loder interrupted with "Breaking News" that was really just a loop of things I already knew. I heard Courtney Love's grief filled boogery voice crying as she read Kurt's suicide letter and felt as if I was a part of the crowd shown on the TV, even if I was a million miles away in a house on the East Side of El Paso.

My sister thought I was stupid. She thought I was being ridiculous for mourning someone I only knew through music, music she didn't understand. She made jokes later calling him Kurt Gobang and made sure to mention it was "stupid" more than a few times. Now, my sister can be a jerk, (obviously) but I'd like to believe it's always attributed to the fact that she is ten years older than me. I also like to think that even though she was in her high school band and played the sax and clarinet, she's never felt as passionate about music as I have. Or, maybe just as she's never understood my passion in music choices, I've never understood hers.

As I watched the movie, I remembered all of this. I remembered feeling alone, alienated, and really just lost. I was 13, confused, trying to find myself, angry at everything and anything, (even though I was really just angry at my dad), I found a band that seemed to convey all of this, and now the artist who wrote all those lyrics that spoke to me was dead. I never went as far as to carve things into my body, shoot heroin, or slip into a deep dark cave of depression, but I did find myself in search of something. What? I didn't know.

I listened to the albums over and over. I watched specials about the band over and over. I picked up (and still have) the Rolling Stone that featured him on the cover and read the article over and over, but nothing new was ever shared with me.

Life went on, but the time, the mood, and the memories are peppered with his lyrics and the band's music.

After the movie, my thoughts went to a dark and sad place. Thirteen-year-old me was knocking and I didn't want to talk or hear what she had to say. I didn't want to remember how lost she felt at that age. (now that I'm older I realize most people feel lost at the age and some just deal with it better) I also didn't want to remember how angry she was. I don't even really remember how that anger came, I just remember that suddenly it was there. She carried it with her everywhere like the chain wallet in her back pocket sagging her pants. And, in the middle of all of this, the unwilling voice of a generation of latch key kids and single parents was dead. The isolation, feeling alone in a band of misfits, and my older sister mocking me all flashed before me, and I had waves of discomfort and sadness as I saw what she had seen for a moment. As Kurt dozed off while holding Francis Bean on the screen, I realized her mockery was because all she saw was a drug addict and not a musical messiah, and she hadn't wanted me to head to those dark places.

Before we went to bed, my husband made us watch something light and funny. I think he saw my face and how I was quickly retreating into my own thoughts.

"Was it like that for you? When he died?" I ask while we change into pajamas.

"No," he replies.

"That makes sense. Your parents are still together and things were different in Colombia," I say almost enviously.

Kurt Cobain spoke to an American culture of angry adolescents who had openly dysfunction families. He wanted to be a fuckin' rock star, not the voice of millions. In his suicide letter, he quoted Neil Young, "It's better to burn out than fade away."  And still, I wonder if he had somehow made it past the drugs, fame, and Courtney, would he say that today?




Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Isn't It Pretty?

"Isn't it pretty to think so?"

She threaded her fingers into his hair. It was dark and smelled musky like it needed to be washed soon. She rested her nose on the top of his head.

"Pretty to think what?" he asked.

"To think that this," she gestured with a shrug "will not last."

He pulled away from her,"But I wanted it to last."

He looked at her, eyes wide and clear.

"This is the worst day of my life. Why do you think it's pretty?"

He pulled back even further the lines of his face etched deeply between his brows.

"I just thought--I mean it's pretty to think there will never be another moment like this again. Even if it's horrible, it's pretty to think you can never lose him again. The way you feel will never happen again."

She looked at him and reached out again, but this time he pulled away and pressed his back firmly against the worn brown couch.

"I can't believe--I mean I understand but don't say those things to me when--" Jacob's voice broke.

He got up and moved toward the kitchen. His dad had left dishes in the sink from the night before. The trash was full and smelled of ripe oranges. Jacob grabbed the red plastic handles and cinched the bag tight locking out the smell. Dana stood in the doorway, her mouth about to open until she saw the closed tight white line of his mouth.

He walked past her to the back door, wordless.

She looked around and finally walked toward the sink, pushed the sleeves of her beige sweater up, and turned on the faucet. The sound of the running water echoed in the silence and sounded even louder once the door closed. She ran her fingers under the water to test the temperature, gasped, and pulled away. Her skin scalded.

"Leave them. I'll clean-up."

"No, I want to help--I want..." her voice trailed off.

The water still ran in the background. She grabbed a sponge and squirted soup on it.

"I said leave it!"

Dana turned and looked at him. His face was red and pinched. Saliva gathered in the corners of his mouth. Without saying a word she turned back toward the sink and grabbed a food crusted dish. She felt his hand on her shoulder tighten as he spun her around

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Dear Ita,

Dear Ita,

I finished your book this week. I don't want to add to it anymore. I think you don't want me to add to it anymore either because as I wrote "Sabor a Mi" came on twice and so did "Por Un Amor". "Por Un Amor" came on just as I was finishing, so I'll take the hint. I think we're both tired. Also, I think you don't want me to share anymore of your life.

I want you to know that I needed to share those things though, to show how much you still loved even after everything you'd lost.

Sometimes when I think of us, it's in stages. When I was little you and Mom were my whole world. Later as teen, I owned the asshole genes from our family like a proud scrape on my new Vans. I was annoying, and standoffish, and well an asshole. I'm sorry for all the times I was a jerk and/or rude. As an adult, I was always working. I remember you would always make me refried cheesy beans at the drop of hat. How did you always have beans made?

When I talk about you in class I imagine that you are sometimes there watching, excited that people are learning about you (or maybe not depending on the story). For the record, I never thought it was weird you took me to bars. Maybe not typical, but you made me smarter, more street wise, which is good because then I would only be one kind of smart.

Anyway, I wanted to tell you that I hope you like the finished book, and you know why I wrote it. I hope that you're not angry with me for writing it. More important, I hope you're not angry at me for staying away so long. You taught me an important lesson even in death. I hope that you help me make the book successful (because I think everyone should know you), and that people understand (I realize not everyone) but that it was truly written por un amor.

                                                                                              Love,
                                                                                                   Prieta

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Books I Love: A Post for Readers like Daisy

Recently, I was asked for the title of the post that featured my favorite books, and I realized I didn't have one. So, this week's post is going to list some of my favorite books in no particular order, but I will separate them by genre and why and...nevermind. Without further ado books that have made an impact on me. 

Favorite Book as a Pre-Teen
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
Why? Because it's amazing. It has a sprinkling of everything the mind needs at that age (or at any age). I loved Meg and her family. I loved that she was a smart/brave girl in a world before Katniss.

Favorite Recent YA Read 
The Smell of Old Lady Perfume by  Claudia Guadalupe Martinez
It's a version of a slice of home. Although I couldn't relate to all of it, I know someone who knows someone who's experienced some of those situations. I also like supporting local authors. If you sprinkle El Paso in your book you're good in mine. 

Favorite YA Anthology
The Curiosities: A Collection of Stories by Maggie Stiefvater, Tessa Gratton, and Brenna Yovanoff  
I bought this book for a class I was teaching, and I loved the notes the authors wrote to each other that illustrate the writing process, the stories that resulted from prompts, and finally the stories themselves. It has a bit of something for everyone. 

Favorite Mind Blowing, "I Saw the World Differently After I Read it" Book 
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley 
I can't remember how old I was when I read this book, but I was definitely in my 20's, (I think) and I was blown away, by not just the writing, but the idea. For a length of time in my life, I was obsessed with utopian society books. Huxley seemed to capture something not as dark as Orwell's  1984 or Rand's Anthem, but it still carries a heavy warning sign. I remember thinking, "What it would be like to be satisfied?" then I shook my head and snapped out it. I like that it made me question. 

Favorite non-Cheesy Love Story
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
"It was the best of times it was the worst of times" when I went on a classic novel binge and would only read things from a "50 Best Classic Books" list. I went in skeptical and left sad, happy, and surprised by Dickens. I'd plowed through Great Expectations long winded moments, but found myself lingering in Two Cities. Stick with it. It's worth it.   

Favorite Memoir
Another Bullshit Night in Suck City by Nick Flynn
Raw, real, and made my heart hurt a little in commiseration. I loved this book, not just because I was knee-deep in writing my own memoir, but because it's beautifully, painstakingly put together. It plays with form and presents the reader with different versions, scenarios, etc.    

Favorite Food Book
Chez Moi by  
If someone asked me what this book was about I'd say, "food and other stuff". The other stuff although more prominent, I can't remember as well. I read the book for a food and culture class I took early on in grad school and it stuck with me. Yes, the book but also food, so I think that's why I remember that aspect of it so much. The book is surprisingly gritty but in the good way. 

Novel Shorts 
Drown by Junot Diaz
Because lately I've been reading books of short stories. I read Diaz's The Brief and Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao after reading this one, and I would be lying if I didn't say I liked Drown better. I'm not sure if it's because it has short stories I had already read, taught, or what, but I loved it.  


*putting this list together I kept scrolling through my Goodreads and finding other books I loved/liked, so there may need to be a part two in the future. 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

"At Any Rate, That Is Happiness..."

"At any rate, that is happiness; to be dissolved into something complete and great."

The old woman looked down at the small brown constellations sprinkled on her hands.

"But weren't you lonely?" the kid asked.

She smiled, small, but it stayed in her eyes and lit them brighter than the flicker of fluorescent lights overhead.

"How can you be lonely if you are a part of something bigger than yourself? Everything I've given has been for something better, greater. My acts will live longer than I ever will."

This time she stayed quiet and the kid down at his hands, the skin taut and smooth. In the background he heard the garbled voice over the intercom, "Next stop Meridian Plaza".

"I'm not sure what you mean, or even if I understand, but--"

He looked back at her hands and reached, cradled them in his. The skin was warm. She looked up surprised. He searched the small creases lining her face, some deep and shadowed, others light and new like paint strokes on an already filled canvas. Still, in her eyes was the brightness that peeked out through the layers of life. She paused, lined lips parted exhaling a question.

"Meridian Plaza."

She started to pull her hands away, but he stopped her and instead reached to cradle the sides of her face and kissed her, soft, on the lips. She felt the smoothness and tasted the light salty flavor of youth. This time she didn't pull away.

"Thank-you," he breathed as they parted.

Quick, he jumped up and made it out just before the doors closed and was promptly braided into the crowd. The old woman turned away from the window, smoothed her hair, and looked at the new person next to her.

"Do you know what happiness is?" she asked.










Thursday, January 29, 2015

We Don't Need No Education...Um, Yeah You Do

This morning I saw a video titled "If We Treated Teachers Like Football Stars," of course I watched it and laughed. "If only" were my thoughts. Later at school I was talking with a friend and he asked, "You really want to teach, don't you?" and I nodded. Yes, I really do want to teach. Never ever ever ever did I think I'd want to be a teacher. I left my last life because it didn't have any meaning. I felt as if I wasn't doing anything important. Now, although some days are rough, I do feel as if I'm making a difference.

Now, I can go on and talk about why I'm being selfless and improving students lives, but that would be a lie. Not a complete lie, but a little white one. I don't help all students. That's not because I don't want it, it's because they don't want it. They sit there the whole semester with a bored and or smelling shit face, and I can't do anything about it. Instead of griping with other faculty about it, I try to focus on the ones that do want to be there and are asking for an education. Those students make me want to be selfless. They make me want to jump through hoops to show them books and stories and ideas they've never heard of. They fill the void I had in my past life.

There are other reasons, selfish reasons, I have for wanting to teach. Teaching gives me time to write. It gives me time to read. It gives me time off so I can visit far away places. It also allows me to meet like minded people that I can nerd out with and talk about books and writing for hours. Is it bad to be selfish? I don't think so. Does it taint my want for teaching? No, because I think of teachers that influenced my life, and I'm grateful. (Thank you Mrs. Duran, Mr. Scroggins, Dr. Terrell)

Earlier this week a professor at the college passed away. I didn't know her well, but most of her adult life was spent in those buildings and hallways. I've heard a few other professors and staff speak of her, and at first I thought how weird it must be to just disappear from somewhere after being there for so long, and how sad that classes and things are going on as if she never existed. But instead of thinking of it that way, I'd like to think that perhaps this semester none of the students will know her, but there are countless semesters that students did. Perhaps, she didn't touch everyone's life, but after 40 years on campus, 80 Spring and Fall semesters, I'd like to average she made an impact on at least 1 student a semester. Now, if after I die 80 non friend and family members still remember who I am and have a story based on a book that changed their life or an essay or... then that's not a bad thing.

Pink Floyd's video shows children being churned into a machine. A metaphor for the man and how we all become a piece of that machine. That happens. It's true. I've been a part of whole different kind of man and hated myself a little. But maybe it's what we do while we're in the man that can make a difference.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Dear Colombia,

I want to tell you that before ever visiting you, I misjudged you. I misjudged all the things about you, and this year when I visited you again, I was still surprised. Even though I get annoyed when I see El Paso  misportrayed in movies, I still thought that perhaps Hollywood had the right idea about you. Now, I know that you are greener and richer than I could ever imagine. That while I'm there, I keep thinking, "How will I remember all of this vividly, in technicolor?"

Colombia, I love the endless green and the trees, your mountains, and roads that wrap around them like loose yards of ribbon. I love the vendors selling brightly colored fruits I'd never seen before, hotdogs sprinkled with potato chip slivers, hamburgers filled with so many things the buns are two distant cousins, golden brown empanadas stuffed with meat and potato goodness, aguacates the size of dinosaur eggs... all sprinkled on corners and sidewalks all around Medellín.  I also love the way these same vendors hug the roads on the way to other cities like Manizales, Pereira, and Aermenia. Tiny villages that I dream sprang to life because someone got tired of being in a taco (traffic jam) and just parked on the side of the road. I love the towns like Santa Barbara, Salento, and Guatapé. Each one of them "known" for something. Guatapé the town of colors and emblems that decorate every house with big bold shields, Salento the town of traditional Colombian homes with wrap around porches and hanging flowers, and Santa Barbara a mini Manizales with steep roads ending in stairs.

Colombia, you are really beautiful. It's a shame what Pablo did to you. A shame what media and Hollywood has done to you. Mostly, it's a shame what your own leaders have done to you. I'll admit there are some things I don't like. I hate your mosquitoes and their aggressive feasting of my skin. The red marks a tell to all natives that maybe I am not Colombian even though my skin is brown and hair dark. I don't like your houses without air conditioning when it's 31ºC (88ºF) and 100% humidity. I don't like that all your people eat so much meat and that it made my stomach crampy and uncomfortable even after a delicious meal. But these are little things. These are things that I forget when I take the first sip of a tinto (sweet black coffee) in the morning. I forget when I'm at my in-laws finca, (country home) and I'm napping in a hammock. I forget when my husband and I walk the streets of downtown. I'm surrounded by stands selling anything from stacks of porn to remote controls and a pyramid of leather shoes in one area. The vendors all call out "A la orden" even though the table is covered with dvd's with titles like 8 Hours of Anal. I forget when we walk to the book and music district, (yes, this exists in Medellín, and it smells like a papery open air library) and I see stores and street vendors all peddling books of every genre, old and new, wrapped in clear cellophane and dogeared edges. I forget when I dig through cartons of vinyl records and smell the dust of a possible treasure.  I forget...

So, I'm sorry I misjudged you. Aside from the havok you wreaked on my stomach, I think you've pretty much forgiven me. Mostly, I want to say thank you though, Colombia, for showing me something new each time. For always embracing me with open arms and a pico on the cheek.

Love,
Yasmin