Friday, June 22, 2007

Friday Frivolity

This has been a tough week, with Madam not feeling that well. We stayed in a lot and I can feel my thoughts becoming wary and inbred as a result. Also, I've been watching the news, and feeling the weight of the world's ills to such an extent that I want to scoop Madam up and clutch her to my chest, forever.

I need some fun. And when I think fun, I think India.

I always have difficulty in writing about India--my love for it perhaps entwined throughout the words of languages I don't speak. So I won't try (again). Instead, I'll share a snippet of a song that has always brought me joy--capturing a hint of that vibrant energy. Consider it a vacation--surround yourself with swirling silk, put on your best jewelry, and DANCE.

Click below. You won't be sorry.

Happy Friday!


Continue reading...

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Sunday Scribbling: Eccentric (a character sketch)

It's OK to stare. I'm used to it. You recognize me, don't you? From a book you once read. Or a half-forgotten dream.

I guess I'm not what you expected. That's fine. I get that a lot. A lot has happened, since “and they lived happily ever after.” I mean, there's a reason the story ends there. Only it doesn't really.

After the Royal Wedding, I settled into life at the palace, doing the Princessy things everyone seemed to expect of me. Basically, the equivalent of whatever Miss Universe does these days. Visit people. Cut ribbons, that sort of thing. But right away, I realized my problem. I couldn't quite let go of the way things used to be for me. I would look at these people in the kingdom, these poor people, and I remembered. Remembered every meal of ashy bread thrown on top of the dung heap, Remembered every night that even THAT would have been welcome. I couldn't just smile and nod at them, like that's all they needed to make their lives better.

But every time I brought it up to my in laws, the King and Queen, they smiled vaguely and indulgently at me, and then changed the subject. I expect they were waiting for me to outgrow it, to forget the past. Except I couldn't. Because, you see, except for better meals and clothes (and not that I am discounting that, believe ME), my life hadn't changed a whole lot. I was still waiting for the other glass slipper to fall. Still waiting for midnight to strike. I couldn't get comfortable here—not even with Prince Jim.

All I could think about was Am I doing it right? Do they really like me? Should I drink out of the goblet before or after each bite? It was like my Stepmother and Stepsisters had taken up permanent residence in my head. I was still just little Cinderella on the inside.

I thought no one had really noticed my misery. But one day, as I was staring at myself in the moat, I saw my fairy godmother's face in front of me. “Oh, dear...this is highly irregular. We're not supposed to meddle more than once, you see.” She said, sighing. “But I couldn't stand seeing you this way anymore. I feel..well, I feel sort of responsible.” I assured her that, despite appearances, I was happy with the Prince I loved—well, happy enough. “Enough! Posh!” She snorted in a most un-fairylike fashion. “I didn't go through all of this trouble for enough!” She took a deep breath. “The secret, dear Ella, is that I've been holding out on you. I gave you all of the trappings, but I failed to pass on the most important bit of information.”

“More important than 'Be home by midnight'?”

“Yes, even more than THAT. The secret, Ella dear, is in plain sight. Just a dear, commonplace little word...but more powerful than any magic spell. The word is...” She paused dramatically. “SO!”

“So?” At that moment, I was feeling exceptionally bereft. I'd been longing for my Fairy Godmother to come back and rescue me again, you see, and now here she was and she was...well, obviously daft.

She rolled her eyes. “Did you forget I can read minds, dear?”


“Of course, I am not daft! Go ahead...try it out.” She prompted me. “Oh, aren't dressing the part, you know. You need to pay less attention to all of those peasants and more to your Peerage! After all, people are talking about you. About where you came from. Wondering if you'll measure up.”

I said the word, slowly, “So?” It didn't come naturally. But it felt exactly like the whisper of a cool silk ball gown against your skin.

With a wink, my Fairy Godmother dissolved back into the water.

I was hooked.

It took some getting used to, but before long, I was saying the word inside my mind all the time. And finally, I felt like I had gotten rid of my steps, mother and sisters, once and for all.

One night in bed, Jim asked me about my newfound, ahem, ardor. I told him my secret. To his credit, he took to it in no time at all.

In fact, it was his idea to leave.

We packed up everything we could carry on our backs, and snuck out the side window of our chamber while the palace snored on.

And of, from that day on, what a life we led! I suppose you could call us a little eccentric. We just called it FINALLY being ourselves. Psychoanalysis in the Swiss Alps, sailing with pirates searching for buried treasure, a year living in an igloo, whirling with the dervishes and reading Rumi for a year, dancing all night in a little club at the foot of a volcano where they named a drink after me...we did it all. We decided we were good will ambassadors from the Kingdom, and so it was our mission to show people how to help all we could. And whenever we caught ourselves caring what people think, or being scared of rolling eyes and sarcasm, we applied our word like a vaccine. “So?” It worked like, well, a magic charm.

My Jim passed last year—snake bite while we camped in New Mexico. You might have seen the funeral on television...I never know how much coverage our lands get in your media.

Anyway, I was sort of numb there for a while...waiting for someone to rescue me again. Waiting for life to start making sense. It's hard to say, “So what?” to death. But finally, slowly, slowly...I realized that's exactly what Jim would like for me to do.

I'm moving a little more quietly now, but I'm still moving. Setting up a school, to teach people to save themselves. And my fairy godmother loves it—says she'll even teach a class!

And one last secret, because I can see you want to know.

Yes, these are the shoes. I wear them everywhere. These glass slippers are stronger than they look.

For more eccentric tales, go here.


Continue reading...

Friday, June 15, 2007


(If I only had da Nerve...)

I seem to be attracted to books with the word “Courage” in them lately. The Courage to Create, The Courage to Achieve, The Courage to Write. I stare at the word on the spine until it becomes a hieroglyphic—the C leaning urgently, protectively towards the O like an open mouth; the U like arms outreached, and then the rage rushing heedlessly towards the next challenge.

I want to unlock the secret of this word so that I can find it in myself. Instead, all I see are spaces where courage SHOULD live, but does not.

It's embarrassing, almost an eighteenth century problem, this problem of feeling silenced as a woman. Why should I feel silenced in a world that appears to be saying yes, yes, yes? Since childhood, I was groomed—gifted classes, honors track in high school, Seven Sisters' college. Again and again in my world, girls and women were encouraged to reach out and take whatever honors we could reach. This praise started to feel like loans I'd someday have to pay back, with interest. I felt that I could only survive inside the soft, welcoming nest of academia. I longed to go straight into graduate school, but I was afraid of making the wrong choice. Already I was worried about the impracticality of my education—I didn't quite feel like I knew how to do anything, but whatever I did, I should somehow do it exceptionally well. And my ambitions were equally hazy. I wanted to do something GREAT, to cover myself with glory and justify all of my awards. But...what? In the midst of all of this expansive yes, a stronger voice was already uncoiling in my mind, repeating its mantra of no, no, no.

Betty Friedan wrote of the “problem with no name”--the stifling of female ambition by a society that wished them only to stay home and clean house. But these women were trapped by external barriers. Once Friedan identified and dared to name the problem of the “feminine mystique,” the women's movement was effectively born. I know that I have benefited from this movement, and have always considered myself an ardent feminist. And yet, my life feels like a betrayal of those beliefs.

Oh, I don't mean being a stay at home mother—that just fills me with impatience, most days. It's difficult, as aforementioned, to butt heads with my willful Madam, but that's not the whole story. In spite of everything, I am thrilled to be able to watch her unfurling, growing, changing. This is a time I'd truly hate to miss.

No, I am talking about these persistent fears—this fear that I cannot take care of myself, that in some essential way, I cannot survive on my own. My mind is full of locked doors, where I hide my true, outsized ambitions. THIS is the betrayal, that I have such trouble admitting that I want to DO something, BE something that matters in the world. That I want to stop saying things like, “I'd just be happy with...” and “It's OK that...” It's NOT OK.

I want to be a writer. Not just that, I want to be a GREAT WRITER. And even more than that, I do believe that I have the potential to do so. But first I have to be brave enough, and honest enough, not just to admit it but to admit that I am afraid of the distance between me and this dream. I am so afraid of wasting more time, of going down yet another wrong road. I admit this too—I want a guarantee that I'm going in the right direction, that eventually, if I write a great deal and work hard, I'll find my way. I want to skip to the end of the book and read my ending. Because I am afraid (there is that word again) to spend the rest of my life working towards something that might never reach any sort of fruition.

I just don't want to fail—if I don't try, then I'll always be the one full of potential. But if I try, without coolness, being as open and geeky and occasionally pretentious as I KNOW I am, and STILL fail...then what am I? Someone who had every advantage, who was nurtured and aided, and couldn't make her name. Someone who let everyone else down.

So I read my books on courage, and writers' diaries where they confess the same fears I have everyday. But of course, somewhere, these writers found the courage to move forward in spite of the pervasive voices of their fears. In spite of familial disapproval, societal disdain, poverty, obscurity. I suppose this courage finally came from a wordless deep soul-breath, something inside of them that finally opened the door.

I hope that this confession of my ambitions, something I always, ALWAYS avoid, spurs me to move my hand towards the lock.

I am standing in front of it now.


Continue reading...

Where I'm at

Every evening, as I sit in the bedroom waiting for Madam to go to sleep, I blog in my mind. Yes, if I wrote down even half of those posts, I would be one of the more prolific bloggers instead of, Usually, I manage to have an idea, develop it to a certain point, and lose interest in it all before Madam's eyes start to droop. I am aware that this perfectionism serves no one, but it's almost like I am watching it approaching like a storm over the trees. Powerless to stop it.

So I am writing now, if only to be able to remind myself that the words CAN come, some of them, even when they don't seem to be going anywhere in particular.

In my moments of block, it's easy for me to think that the problem is a complete lack of words, but usually, it's too many words. As you all know, I read obsessively, one book lighting the other. Words whirl and crash and crowd thickly, but not my words. I can't manage to hear myself at all. During these times, I think about Julia Cameron's advice about going on a media fast, but...I don't have the willpower. My books bring me SO much pleasure—propped against the toaster as I make my morning coffee, waiting for Madam's occasional nap How could I give that up?

Besides (she says virtuously), every now and then the books deliver on their promise. Thanks to a recommendation from Catherine in my last post, I picked up the Outlandish Companion by Diana Gabaldon. I remember having read, and enjoyed, her Outlander. But it was her words on the writing process that I have found positively inspiring. And her confidence! She claimed her creativity and storytelling ability without apology or disclaimers. Listening to her made me face something. I don't believe a lot of what I say about myself. I put myself down as a form of self-protection, so that people don't do it first. So that people don't ask “who does she think she is? She's not that good.” It's easier to live down to lowered expectations, I suppose. Listening to someone who refused to do that was startling, a slap into sanity that reminds me that it's a CHOICE to put myself down all of the time.

Maybe, just maybe, I am that good.

Is it possible for me to admit that?
Thank you all for your birthday wishes! It was a lovely day—a wonderful new present, flowers, and a three hour nap from Madam! I have so much hope for 34. THAT'S difficult for me to admit as well. I have an ingrained belief that is sort of the opposite of the Secret/Law of Attraction mentality. I believe that if I allow myself to dream big and HOPE, the Universe's vast disapproving eye will pivot towards me, and misery will rain down on my head.

So I'm hoping...openly, and carrying a big umbrella.


Continue reading...

Wednesday, June 06, 2007


Thanks to everyone who responded to my last couple of posts about Madam’s tantrums and my difficulties with her. To answer a few of your questions: Yes, she has been evaluated on account of her speech delay, and will be again when she turns two next month. And we have been working on signing, but the only ones she is interested in remembering (and repeating) are the signs for swing, slide, library, school, and playground.

I know you are all shocked.

I have come close to losing it this week with her (another TOUGH week) and re-reading your kind advice has really helped.

So thank you!
Tomorow I will be 34. It’s strange. I never thought I would make it past 21. And I have. I guess.
In grade school and high school birthdays were very very important.

I still remember my parents waking me up every birthday morning with "Las Ma
anitas" playing on the stereo. And tottering through the school hallways, carefully balancing my two boxes of bakery cupcakes (because no way was Mami going to bake them herself, and besides the bakery ones were better). I always wore something girly and dressy on my birthday, a sharp contrast to the careless way I dressed the rest of the year. Birthdays were no time to blend in and be ordinary. On my birthday, I indulged my desire to be a STAR.

"Do you feel different?" My teachers would ask. "No," I would lie. But I did. More solemn. Heightened.

I've always loved rituals.

In high school, your friends would make a poster sized card for you and hang it by the lockers, so that all of your other friends and acquaintances and teachers could sign it as they passed by. They would buy you flowers and Mylar balloons, which you needed to negotiate through the crowded hallways until an assistant principal inevitably confiscated them until the end of the day, and then you complained even though you were secretly relieved because now you could walk to class without bashing people in the face with your balloons.

Several of the more enterprising florists near the high school took to opening at 7am to capitalize on the tradition of floral and blown up devotion.

Quickly, I learned that although I loved getting presents and flowers and cards, what I really loved about my birthday was making it a DAY—special clothes, my favorite foods, wandering around in the Village with my friends buying used books and going to a movie at the Angelika.

I usually spent the days before my birthday summing up the previous year in my journal, and creating wildly ambitious plans for the next one. No, really, one of my main goals from age 11 to about 23 was “To become enlightened.” I am not sure what happened about 23. Maybe I believed it had already happened? Or never would?

Or maybe it was just that birthdays with TEG were less about enlightenment and more about pure sensation--traveling to the beach at night with our makeshift picnics, the thick salty air pouring into the car as we talked over each other, that endless conversation between us. TEG always gave me a huge bag full of little presents that I could scatter through my days, reminding me of his love from every angle. Bead necklaces, photos of daisies and kittens, Sandman comic books, books of poetry. Again, it was about feeling cherished, about feeling surrounded by abundance. Revelling in the experiences.

Last year I was so deeply engrossed in moving to Minneapolis that my birthday passed over me like a breeze. I was too tired to gaze at my navel, for once.

Not so this year.

So, in that spirit, I want to share what I know and what I want to know:

What I know:
Having a toddler is hard work.

What I want to know:
How to keep my sense of humor (and sanity) during her travails. How to be a better, wiser mother.

What I know:
It’s difficult to write a novel if you insist on writing it from beginning to end in order.

What I want to know:
Then, how else do you do it? No, really? Help?

What I know:
Sleep is very important.

What I want to know:
How to get more of it. Without screaming that agonizes the neighbors.

What I know:

It’s unfair to expect TEG to “take care of me” and thus protect me from my own fears.

What I want to know:
How to learn to lean on myself and act despite my fears. How to stop being Cinderella.

What I know:
I didn’t really become enlightened at 24.

What I want to know:
If I did, would I feel the difference?

Tomorrow I will be 34. And the big goal for this next year? To really embrace 34, abundant, messy, grown up 34, with humor, with wisdom, and with less fear.


Continue reading...

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Sunday Scribblings: City and Country

My ancestral city: From in Pictures

We are city people. We have always been city people. So my parents have never understood the allure of living off the land, of trading civilization for a log cabin in the middle of the forest. They would listen to Americans gush enthusiastically “going camping” and living “a mile from the nearest neighbor.” My mother would say, “maybe our campo is different from their country.”

Campesinos were not rugged individualists, sucking the marrow out of life ala Thoreau. No, they were merely subsistance farmers who lived in small, rural villages, and had always done so. People who were routinely the butt of jokes, seen as illiterate, ignorant of citified sophistication.

For a time, I became fascinated with the idea of being a country person—a sort of more resourceful, shadow self. Even the word resonates like music, describing people who were intertwined with the campo, the woods. I imagined these people possessed a sort of mystical knowledge of how to survive.

I knew that I would not last ten minutes in the campo by myself.

Reading Laura Ingalls Wilder books fed my interest. These people could do seemingly ANYTHING—could tell apart plants, discover which ones were poisonous or edible; could build houses with their bare hands; knew the seasons for sowing and harvesting, and how to sew a dress. Laura Ingalls Wilder and her family faced incredible hardship, but even the daily chores seemed difficult and exotic. Living in a dug out by a creek? Sleeping in the hay? Playing with the pig’s bladder after a slaughter? Amazing.

While I devoured these books about prairie living, I didn’t really notice my parents adjusting to their own version of the frontier—U.S. life. People probably assumed my parents were like “campesinos,"not commanding and glamorous the way they seemed to me. None of the knowledge that had served them so well in their homeland seemed to have any currency here. Although they had lived in a beautiful city in Colombia, no one here had ever heard of it. They spoke haltingly, using small words that must have felt like going back to childhood.

Despite everything, they managed to survive and thrive here. Perhaps that’s why “roughing it” never appealed to them. They spent years roughing it—between jobs and paychecks, sometimes without health insurance, apart from their families.

I’ve lived a pretty privileged life, so I’m wary of the country for a different reason. I’ve always lived in the noisy friendliness of the city, surrounded on all sides by teeming, overabundant life. I love the sound of music trailing loud and flat behind a car, the sound of teen girl giggles down the street. I know how to survive here—when to smile back and when to avert my eyes. How to walk down the street in that easy alertness that marks the citydweller.

The country would throw me back on myself—force me to face my deficiencies. I can’t really see myself in nature; I don’t know enough about it. I am afraid of what I might discover if I take the time to step away from the endless distraction of city living. Here, like it or not, I can always get a reaction. I always know that I exist. In the country, in the middle of the woods, the trees would grow impassively around me. The animals would whisper in their own languages. Plants would be food or foe; I certainly wouldn’t know. I’d be forced to make decisions, over and over again, without any direction.

Is it possible to die of uncertainty?

So, I stay in my life, and try to ignore the reckless allure of the dark woods that lurk just ahead. And I try to ignore the persistent question of my life. My parents were able to forge ahead and clear a trail in a new, incomprehensible land. So why is it that I cannot?

Why am I so sure I wouldn't survive in the dark unknown?
For more explorations of the city and the country, go here.


Continue reading...