Monday, December 31, 2007

The Ugly Wish Jar

image in honor of the Latino tradition of eating 12 grapes at the stroke of the New Year. From here.

“Do you think the Muse will get offended?”
I asked, more than a trifle anxiously, as I clutched my newly decorated wish jar.

“Um...” He seemed to be searching for a way to be diplomatic. “It might...amuse her?”

I took another look at my little jar, and I had to admit the truth. It is, shall we say, unpretty. No, I am not going to post pictures of it--it's frankly embarrassing. It looks a bit like a slightly advanced two year old was let loose with crayons and scissors (safety, of course). I am 34 years old.

Already I was looking for ways to distance myself from it...this childish scr
awl, earnestly declaring my one great wish for 2008. Covered in crayon markings, some of them by Madam, most of them by me. I thought, “Maybe I should learn how to draw first, really take the time to find some nice magazine pictures...or I could ask Jessie to make me one! Yes...that would work!”


Because I realized that this amateurish effort, this ugly little jar, was showing me exactly what I need to know about writing as well. I need to get it out of my head, and onto the page, and at first, it will look exactly like the banner on this jar. Because there is so much I don't know. Because a lot of the time, it's just all a mess. But if it's outside of me, then maybe, maybe I can do something with it.

So the jar will stay as is, at least for now. If I suddenly develop more visual skill, I may improve it.

Then again, maybe the Muse will be amused enough to stay around.

Is it any surprise that I love New Year's Eve? Already a pleasant haze of nostalgia surrounds the last year, like a book I read and remember dimly. It all already feels, well, past, and the new year beckons invitingly, a new year in which anything might happen. Not that 2007 wasn't a good year—Madam grew taller and rounder and more tempestuous and funny. TEG and I re-discovered each other and our relationship, and started working together more with Madam. I wrote some stories that I genuinely love—that don't even feel like they c
ame from me. I made new friends. I reached new insights about my family, and started to make peace with never quite getting their approval.

And this year, I followed so many of your stories, your adventures, found myself inspired, calmed, thrilled, excited by your words and your artful amazing selves. Thank you, thank you, for being YOU. I admire you all more than I can say. I hope this year is a continuation of all of the great things you all are already doing, and some new ones, for fun. And I hope that we all let go, finally, of those old ghosts of fear, of ego, of hesitation and self-doubt and silencing. I know I'm ready, and I know even more than you are.

If I had to pick a phrase to sum up my year, I would choose one that Madam enjoys. Whenever I make a mistake, drop something, miss a bus, my little Madam looks at me and says, “'S OK Mama.” in the most reassuring voice.

And it feels right to give Madam the last word this year.

Because at this time last year, she couldn't say anything at all.


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Wednesday, December 26, 2007


image from here.

For the last couple of weeks, I have been carrying myself tentatively, like an overfull jar of milk. See, I have spent every Christmas of my life with my parents. Every Christmas...but this one.

In November, TEG and I took a long, somber look at our finances and a long, considered look at our Madam, and thought about our own long, slow slide into exhaustion and shook our heads. In a decision that would have been inconceivable a few months ago, TEG and I decided to forgo our yearly trek into the Christmas Bermuda Triangle of travel.

For a while, all I felt was relief. We would be saving so much money! It would be relaxed, lowkey! I clung fiercely to these considerations, resolutely ignoring the occasional twinge caused by certain Christmas carols, or the hollowness I felt whenever I thought about my ability (or lack thereof) to give Madam a nice holiday.

So, I threw myself into preparations, assuming a virtue I didn't feel at first. Madam and I sung Christmas carols, drew snowpeople, read stories. I put up a Christmas tree, a small satellite of my parents' larger tree in Miami (I even bought some of the same ornaments). I bought (and wore) Santa hats.

I watched Madam as she started to absorb ideas about Santa and reindeer and bells that jingle-her eyes grew wise as she triumphantly made the connections. And something started to soften—I allowed myself to remember all of the Christmas traditions I had loved as a child: the tables groaning with pernil and arroz con pasas, the family myths that took me where I had never been, strolling the streets of Cartagena at midnight on Christmas Eve, the moonlight shivering silver and strange on the familiar cobblestones. The tree drooping with tinsel and ornaments, lush and abundant even in the years when our lives were lean. And I felt gratitude for that foundation, and for the opportunity to forge a new one for Madam.

It turned out to be a wonderful Christmas. I disappointed my parents, and I missed them, but no one died from it. We watched the snow fall thickly past our windows, white like benediction. Madam played with her toys and shook the tree bells like a kitten. TEG and I laughed, and snuggled when she was finally down for the night, lit only by the glow of twinkling lights.

Who knows what she will remember? But I hope I gave her something to look back on.

I hope I can carry some of this into the new year—this trust in my intuition, this ability to move forward even when the feelings and inspiration is not quite there.

Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all of my wonderful, inspiring bloggy friends. Here is hoping that we all continue to learn from each other, and grow ceaselessly into our hearts' desires.


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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

When Mardougrrl met TEG...

Our first meeting was not auspicious. He was angry about something, sitting in the corner by the steps while the rest of us bowled (hey, it was Jersey). He was nursing a long necked beer (ah, underaged drinking) and generally looking morose.

So, of course, I was curious.

“Who is THAT?” I asked my then-best friend. After all, these were all of her new friends from college—I was the one who had gone away. I had a sad little twinge when I saw how full her new life was...without me. I was struggling at college, back home for my first Spring break. But...on the plus side, at least ONE of her new friends was cute.

You can guess which one.

“Oh, that's just TEG.” she replied. “I told you about him.” And then she proceeded to spill the sad events that had led to his blue mood (inaccurately, I found out later).

I saw him again a few days later—we all went to shoot pool. And again, he was taciturn. But we did say a few words to each other; words so prosaic they must be lost to posterity. No, really. I think they were something like, me: “I suck at pool.” him: “yeah, you kind of do.”

Fast forward to the end of the summer before the beginning of sophomore year, a few days before I had to return to college. My best friend (at the time, alas, we are dunzo) and I were going to have dinner after a long, tense time. We were vowing to rebuild our decade old friendship. So, I was surprised to see TEG sitting on her stoop, yanking off his tie and shoving it into his pocket.

Surprised, but not entirely displeased.

Not a lot of friendship-rebuilding took place that night. Instead, I spent ALL night talking to TEG—arguing about Zen Buddhism and art and philosophy and psychology and technology and, well, everything. My brain was buzzing. I had never been able to speak with ANYONE in quite this way. I was used to shoving parts of myself into the background with my friends, family, boyfriends. TEG saw all of me, immediately. “You are a writer.” he said to me. I tried not to smile, pleased. “Why would you say that?” He rolled his eyes. “It's so OBVIOUS.”

I asked my friend whether she had mentioned my dreams to TEG. “Nope, writing never came up.”

After I got home that night, I told my mother, “I met the most wonderful guy, but I don't think I'll ever see him again.”

She gave me a sleepy smile. “If it's meant to be, mija, it will be.”

A few days later, we went to the beach together. By this time I was hardcore flirting, but TEG was being OBLIVIOUS and yet also delightful and smart and adorable. Did I mention that by now I had a serious crush?

I mean, he threw my Keds into the ocean. How could I NOT?

Fast forward to a few days before Thanksgiving break. I am not someone who usually taps into premonitions; in fact, I am usually the last to know what the Universe has in mind. But...I had a vivid dream that TEG and I would get together. I woke with the absolute CERTAINTY that it would happen.

We got together at our favorite diner during Thanksgiving break, and TEG admitted, frankly, that “I was going to ask you out, but then I thought...nahhh.”

Surprisingly, that didn't discourage me. Validation! He felt the same way. Now I knew it was going to happen. I just didn't know when.

On December 18, 1992, it did. He called me at school, while I was procrastinating with writing up my final exam papers. My roommate had already gone home for wintersession.

“Uh, I'm not asking you for a date; I'm asking you to be my girlfriend.” We were always on the same wave length, after all.

A few days later, I went back home and to TEG.

Sample conversation from our first date. me: “I never want to get married OR have children.”

Y'all can stop laughing now.

I can't say I never imagined that TEG and I would last this long. It might sound cheesy, but from the beginning, I always knew we belonged together. And it hasn't always been easy—we've both changed a lot in these fifteen years. We've gotten married (twice) and have a toddler who rules our hearts.

And yet, nothing has changed. The conversation has never stopped. He's still my favorite person to talk to in the world. He's still the one I run to with every blessing, every hurt.

Happy fifteenth anniversary, TEG. Many, many more.


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Saturday, December 15, 2007

The silence

My silence has been filled with words.

The words that I have been painstakingly repeating, working with Madam everyday, watching her face light up as she achieves some sort of mastery.

TEG's exasperated “Just WRITE already!” after too many days of watching me sit on the couch jangling and jonesing for a better metaphor than that one about the junkies. I've lived a sheltered life; never met a junkie.

The long list of DO NOTs—as in “DO NOT complain, or write something embarrassing, or write about loneliness, or write something depressing or ugly, or write yet ANOTHER post that is just a “middle” without much of a beginning or an end.” I like posts that sum up something true, but lately, as I tunnel through a middle I just get to...more middle.

I am embarrassed to admit how childishly happy I was when I decided to take a break. I felt the satisfaction of the toddler tantrum. If words were going to be so hard, then to hell with words! I didn't need them! I would just...stop! Hurray!

It didn't take long before I started missing this place, but by then the gulf between writing and me had grown so much that I couldn't remember what good writing even looked like, sounded like, felt like. I could vaguely remember that every sentence had a subject and a...something that begins with V. And every word seemed linked, inexorably, to a chain of events that led to another writing mess I couldn't fix. It was enough to lead me back to the television.

So I did the next best thing to writing. I started reading, with a desperate desire to stuff the silence with other people's words. You know. Good words. Unfortunately, with the exception of one amazing book, all of the others tended to run together. I couldn't concentrate. My eyes skimmed over the same sentences again, and again, willing an inspiration that never came. I stitched together comfort from pieces of other blogs, other books. It was like standing alongside my own thoughts.

It was better than nothing.

My silence is littered with the detritus of stories that emerged half-born, during odd twilight hours of nursing and putting Madam to sleep. Characters that seemed like they were really going somewhere, with something to say, only to sputter into a sullen quiet as soon as I got near the page. There was a window, and I had missed it.

In all of this notwriting, I discovered that I spend all of my writing time clenched, waiting to be interrupted. Deciding NOT to write until I could guarantee that it wouldn't happen AGAIN.

I have a two year old. Like THAT'S gonna happen.

My silence told me that waiting for the perfect uninterrupted time and being furious that it never came, for me, was a bit like being angry that the in breath was inevitably followed by the out breath. (I've been reading some Buddhism during this break. It's been sinking in.).

This is not the post I wanted to write on my return. I wanted to have something to bring back to the tribe—a summing up full of lush, beautiful language. But that post was light years away. I have to let go of the shimmering promise that if I just wait...a little...longer, I will be able to write beautifully and render the ideal stories in my head PERFECTLY. Think my way out of the block.

But I have learned (again...) that notwriting begets notwriting.

Let's hope the opposite is true.


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