Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Reading my heart, walking my brain

¡Aaaaay, caramba! Something’s wrong with me! I am not feeling “right” physically and creatively. I’m experiencing what could be a serious health issue and I’m struggling with a dead brain. High blood pressure and writer’s block. Fabulous. The more I think about it, the more stressed out I get, and the more pronounced my perceived physical symptoms feel. If only I could go back to about 10 years ago, I would make some different choices and take better care of myself.

I suppose my health is taking over my brain, and stopping the free flow of ideas I usually have going on. Maybe I’m just making excuses. I have a list of things I want to say, write about, and create; getting started is where I am stuck. Fortunately, my office is unpacked and set up once again. As soon as this haze leaves me, I hope to get back to my creative self.

One thing I have not stopped, is reading. I must read for at least an hour before I go to sleep or I’ll feel like I’ve wasted the day. I’m reading Borderline Personalities: A New Generation of Latinas Dish on Sex, Sass, and Cultural Shifting, by Michelle Herrera Mulligan and Robyn Moreno. It’s a great collection of short stories and essays written by Latinas; I can identify with just about every bit of it. What a relief it is to read and move away to another place for a while, putting worries aside for just a moment. Once I’m done with the book, I’ll post a review.

One thing I have started – ¡por fín! – is walking. I’m going to a park nearby and walking the track until my shins scream. Early morning is awesome, and I enjoy listening to my iPod. I also bought new Asics sneakers tonight, white and purple, with perfect cushioning. I’m hoping they’ll keep me comfortable.

Reading and walking… perhaps I’m not as bad off as I thought!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Encontrando espacio - Finding space

Estoy peleando con las cajas. Estoy rodeada de cajas llenas de libros y no tengo suficiente espacio para ponerlos todos. Esto me frustra demasiado. Pero, insisto en sacarlos porque no puedo vivir pensando que algunos se queden empaquetados. Me gusta poder verlos.

Poco a poco los voy acomodando. Yá organizé mis materiales de educación y mis recursos de enseñanza. En una parte de esta pequeña oficina pondré todos mis autores hispanos, temas latinos, y libros en español. En otro lado estará mi colección de literatura asiática – hace años que me fascinan las novelas indias y chinas. Luego, guardaré mis libros de escritura y poesía.

No puedo trabajar rápido, pues me distraigo mucho hojeándolos. Los estoy descubriendo como amigos viejos. Hay varios que todavía no he leído, y me encuentro construyendo una torre de libros “por leer” – está que se va caer. Seguro que, al terminar de acomodar todo, lo voy a hacer de nuevo, cambiando estos para esos, y este montón con ése.

Mi escritorio está un desastre. Tengo aquí una barbaridad de papeles, fotos, revistas, y todo tipo de COSAS con las cuales no se qué hacer. Apenas pude acomodar mi ordenador portátil para poder escribir un rato. Ni modo. Todo se arreglará poco a poco. Además, siempre he gozado de organizar mi espacio. Me encanta colocar las cosas de tal manera para estar a gusto. Es mi oficina, mi lugar, mi rincón.

I’m fighting the boxes. I’m surrounded by boxes full of books and I don’t have enough space for all of them. This frustrates me incredibly. But I insist in taking everything out as I can’t bear to think of them being all packed up. I like to be able to see them all.

I arrange them little by little. I’ve already organized my education materials and teaching resources. In one area of this small office I’ll place my Hispanic authors, Latino topics, and Spanish books. In another section of shelf I’ll place my collection of Asian literature – it’s been years that I’ve been fascinated by Indian and Chinese novels. Later, I’ll shelve my writing and poetry books.

I can’t work quickly because I get distracted as I leaf through them. I rediscover them like old friends. There are more than several I haven’t read yet, and I find myself creating a “to be read” tower – it’s about to topple over. I’m sure that, when I finish shelving everything, I’ll end up redoing it, changing these for those, and this pile to that one over there.

My desk is a disaster. I have a mess of papers, photos, magazines, and all kinds of STUFF I don’t know what to do with. I was barely able to find a spot for my lap-top so I could write for a while. Oh well. It will all get done little by little. Besides, I’ve always enjoyed organizing my space. I love placing things just so, the way I like them. It’s my office, my place, my corner.

Friday, July 18, 2008

And that's the way it is...

Although it's annoying to hear again and again when you're feeling poorly about things, "there's a reason for everything" seems to be the only way to feel better. How interesting to discover personally that the current housing crisis has created a domino effect. If you have a home to sell, and you want to buy, you're at the mercy of frustrated realtors and insecure buyers. Even though you may have everything lined up, you may be stuck at an impasse if others' don't have their affairs in order.

So the deal is off. I feel for the couple who looked at my place with dreamy eyes. I feel bad for us, because we're back to square one.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

See Me Go Up and Down

I own a house. I wanted a new house. I put my house up for sale.
I cleaned, dusted, fixed, painted, patched, and repaired.
I swept and vacuumed.
I waited.
People came, looked, and left.
I waited.
I cleaned, dusted, fixed, painted, patched, and repaired some more.
I swept and vacuumed.
People came, looked, and left.
I waited.
One couple came, looked, and liked.
One couple made an offer.
I countered, they offered again. I countered, they offered again.
We agreed.
We went looking. And looking. And looking.
We saw one, we loved it, we made an offer.
He countered, we offered, he countered, we offered again.
We agreed.
They signed, we signed, he signed, we signed again.
We signed, and signed, and signed.
The banker said yes.
We felt happy. We were excited. We smiled. We packed.

The phone rang. The lawyer had bad news.
"They cannot buy your home because they are not qua-li-fied."
They are first-time buyers. They have no money."
Oh, no! Its true!
I can buy, but I can't sell!

The way it was going to be

We were going to plant a vegetable garden
and i even said i would mow that huge lawn
the exercise would have been perfect
and in the mornings i would have looked out across the land
while i drank my first cup of coffee
watching the colors change
the deck would have been your second office
you like to write outside
our old fridge would have been in the garage
where we would stash beer, soda and
extra juice boxes where son and godchild could help themselves
because we wanted him and the cousins to be around a lot
jumping in the pool
running around and riding bikes
and wouldn't it have been awesome to be able to have the entire family
over and have big parties?
and i was dreaming about my brother dropping in for coffee
and my sister-in-law and i going for walks
and my boy...
tears me up when i think he just wanted to have someone to play with.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Aspirar = Inhale

The Spanish word aspira is a cognate, and means "aspire" in English, as in reaching toward something, setting your sights on a goal, or having high expectations. Aspirar also means "to inhale" - which I had to remind myself to do today.

No importan los detalles - the details are unimportant. What matters is I'm reminded to apreciar lo que tengo, be grateful for what I have. Breathe, and realize that everything is actually good just as it is right now.

Family, health, a good cup of coffee, a good piece of bread, a book, some music, y aspirando el aire fresco de la mañana - its all good. That other thing I want - if its meant to be, cool. If not, that's cool too.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Cleaning out my desk - to pack or not

Papers from hundreds of days ago, 1000 loose paper clips,
filled-up notebooks, ripped and ragged edges
empty notebooks, fresh and waiting to be taken
pens, dry and used up
pens, unscrewed and leaking
pens, best-loved and worn, waiting
erasers and highlighters
photos to be avoided, they evoke tears
photos to gaze at, smiles erupt
coffee mugs - chipped, pencil holders
letters and cards from HIM and him
extra-long receipts and unused coupons
antiquated paper documents
old credit cards
and scissors to cut them up with
bookmarks, scissors, calculator
boxed up and ready to go
to a new place
where they will be taken out
as lovingly as they were put in

Packing - Escape

Girlfriend has an idea, she just hasn’t told anyone yet
She’s gonna take her money, put it away in the
Banco Independiente
out of his reach
She’s gonna sign her real name, the one her dad gave her,
to the papers and
she’s gonna pack some bags and get the hell outta there
Stuff the back seat of her new little car she
bought with her pay
Pack her suitcases and boxes of books
crates of CDs and DVDs of her music, her movies
She’s gonna yank her sheets, her blankets, her towels
from the closet, and the bed, yeah
and from that tiny little kitchen where she
poured her heart into his meals
she’s gonna grab the dishes her mother gave her
the pressure cooker she saved up for
the expensive set of pots and pans she thought she'd need for this life
and the fancy wine glasses he never bothered to court her with
wrap them all fast and stuff them in a box
she can do all this, while he’s out at work
(at least that’s where he says he is
but the hours he keeps are not work hours, ya know?)
So when he leaves, she’ll get it all done
she'll move quickly
and once she’s set
she’ll take baby’s things and stuff them all in two huge baskets
and pack a diaper bag with the most essential items
she’ll need for the drive
last thing she’ll take
will be his son, while he’s softly sleeping in his crib
she’ll wrap him in his daddy’s jacket -
the last thing she’s gonna take

Monday, July 14, 2008

Dreaming of a lawn tractor

Finally! After waiting five months, someone wants to buy my house! ¡Por fin! A couple wants to move in to my house RIGHT AWAY!

So we went house-shopping during this very warm weekend. The houses we wanted to see were all in a development that I just had to live in because one of my siblings lives there and I really want to live near family. The realtor showed us several homes, and after he gave us a little background on some of them, I felt bad. You could tell some folks left in a hurry. But after all that, none of these houses suited us. They were either too big, too little, and most only had yards the size of a postage stamp. You need a little land to feel at one with nature now and then, you know? You could say we were just a bit frustrated. (And hot and thirsty! Did I mention how warm it was?)

During my Internet house-dreaming, I had seen one other property, not in the development, but just across the highway, still just a minute from my bro. It called to me; I thought it was exactly the kind of place I could see my pequeña familia in. But when I showed it to el jefe, he was not too keen on it, as it sits on two and a half acres, and all he could think of was how long it would take to cortar el pasto! He didn't even want to look at it. But after looking at several casas and not seeing anything, I asked the realtor to take us just across the highway anyway, just in case - no se pierde nada. There was nothing to lose.

Now el jefe is a quiet kind of guy, kind of serious, a pessimist, and reserved. As we drove up to this house, we saw the viejito, a little old man doing some yard work. He let us in, and ¡Qué cosa mas linda! We walked around the house, and the surrounding property. ¡Es todo un parque! I looked over at el jefe and he was wearing one of his very subtle, private smiles. I knew this place would grab him.

El niño liked everything about the house, especially the idea of being so close to his cousins. I loved the meticulous care the viejito had taken in the upkeep of the house, and I loved the kitchen. And what did el jefe like the best? Folks, he loved the land. All two and a half acres of it.

So, we cautiously made an offer. My very guarded jefe says "Don't get your hopes up, just in case." This latina optimista is already thinking "Where will we put the Christmas tree?"

Cross your fingers, enciendan las velitas. I wouldn't mind seeing el jefe smile like that again.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

If the flip-flop fits

A few weeks ago, before school was over, I was assessing the state of my summer footwear. I figured I would probably need a pair or two of new sandals, for work and for going out. I also thought I’d need a new pair of flip-flops for hanging out around the house and for quick excursions and running errands. I like to make sure I have a couple of comfortable options that will go with everything, especially for those hot and humid days when the thought of wearing anything on my feet makes me cringe.

Since we live in a small house, we keep our clothes stored in the attic in huge plastic bins and switch them from season to season. The same goes for our shoes. When I went to the attic to pull a blue Rubbermaid bin marked “Summer Shoes”, it felt heavy as I lugged it in to the bedroom to get a better look. I removed the lid and was assaulted by the stale smell of plastic and rubber. I immediately recognized two pairs of flip-flops belonging to my husband, one with leather straps, and the other with a canvas/mesh strap and college logo. Next to these were my son’s flip-flops – one pair was the cheap, dollar-store rubber kind, the other pair was a nicer natural jute-strapped pair.

Underneath the guy’s stuff were my summer shoes. I felt pleased as I took out three different pairs of black sandals in varying heights, one light-brown pair, a pair of red flats, and two pairs of white, mule-style, slip-on sneakers. They all looked pretty good for another season and I decided there was no hurry to buy new stuff. I could certainly make these all work with my summer outfits.

There was more in the bin. I retrieved:

1 pair of green and black top-sole, black cord strap flip-flops
1 pair of all-black, micro-suede top-sole, sporty flip-flops
1 pair of black, straw top-sole, with Svarovski-like beaded strap flip-flops
1 pair of black and white flowered canvas strap flip-flops
1 pair of red strap, sporty flip-flops
1 pair of suede top-sole, silver and gold braided strap flip-flops
1 pair of straw top-sole, denim-style strap flip-flops
1 pair of blue and white strap, mesh top-sole, sporty flip-flops
1 pair of blue and white flowers with see-through strap rubber flip-flops
1 pair of standard, dollar-store, purple rubber flip-flops
1 black and pink rubber flip-flop, missing its mate

I think I have a flip-flop addiction. My husband says I’m just cheap.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

A mother grows up

Lately it seems I'm not doing anything right.
My mouth tries loud words to make you hear,
my face betrays feelings that tear me up,
my eyes are too easy to overflow.
One moment we're laughing
and you're playfully nudging me, wanting a hug.
You've even reached for my hand in the parking lot.
And then, the cloud comes,
you scowl and roll your eyes.
You don't say it but you can't stand me.

So I hold on to a time when I was just right.
You were small and my lap was the place you looked for.
Your curly head fit under my chin
and I imagined what it would be like when you got taller.

Now, we can look straight into each other's faces
but not see eye-to-eye.
This is to be expected, they say.
I'll get through this phase -
just as long as you come back to me.

(Artwork by Bolivian painter Roberto Mamani Mamani)

Monday, July 7, 2008

This seat is taken...

Sitting alone is difficult in a crowded room.
There are so many people, milling around,
chatting, laughing,
filling in rows and rows of chairs.
The chair next to her remains empty.
She’d like to be with some of these people
but prefers to be alone, and watch.
Envying the girls who stick together, the ones who save each other seats,
and gossip during boring meetings,
she sees that there is really no one like her
so she accepts being alone.
Listening, paying attention, observing
thinking some people seem pretty stupid
she can’t deal with the mediocrity
but swears it’s not a case of feeling superior.
In fact, she often feels less than them.
She listens intently to the speaker,
aware she is the only one who does.
Some people around her seem not to understand.
She knows they’re not trying.
They are slackers,
they don’t know what is happening out there,
and don’t care.
Their worries are new shoes and designer bags,
the latest sales and shopping,
more trinkets, gadgets, and appliances to fill their empty hands and homes.

She thinks about children,
considers an impossible task she wants to tackle,
analyzes a problem needing to be resolved.
She wonders how her people will make it through,
how her country will persevere.
She ponders the meanings of words.
She watches the others around her, their behaviors,
the acts they put on, the attitudes they wear.
Brain-dead conversations, selfish outlooks,
empty souls…
she places her bag on the empty chair next to her,
and appreciates the space.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Fireworks and Families

Driving in to Milltown to see the fireworks was almost a mistake tonight. We both had our Starbucks coffees and the boy had his Frappuccino. We were ready for the show. However, every parking lot, every side street, every curb was filled with people who had already staked out their area and set up their chairs. We circled a few times, hoping to find a spot. No luck. Then it started to rain. Lightly at first, and then enough to have us doubt the fireworks would go on at all.

An idea! Let’s go to the Home Depot parking lot and watch from there. We drove almost a mile away, arriving to the parking lot where several others had the same idea. The rain continued, the windshield became blurry, and the boy became restless as we waited another 15 minutes. The sparkling explosions finally began, and we got out of the car, the boy and I.

As we stood there, I heard people around me admiring the lights, the colors, and the brightness. A small child’s sweet voice could be heard, laughing in amazement. Parents and children sat in their cars, or stood in the rain, cheerful and wet. My son and I shared an umbrella, and looked up together, past the stores and the trees, at the fireworks of this 4th of July. My child, who is now as tall as me, leaned against me as I put my arm around him. For just a moment, it felt like it was just the two of us.

And then, the show was over, and the cars began their battle to get out of the parking lot as fast as possible. All kinds of families, different ethnic groups, rap, rock, and reggaetón blasting from car radios, everyone was cutting each other off. Nothing says America to me like the wonderful differences between all of us, and the incredible and amusing urge to be the first one in line to go home!

On the way home, my boy said "Thanks guys", and I remembered that it is indeed easy to make my child happy.

Conversations Make Better Americans

While school was still in session, a few colleagues and I would talk about our favorite candidates and how they were doing in the primaries. I’m glad I had them to talk with about these current events; most other folks at work, I was disappointed to find, don’t follow the news, or have the attitude of “they’re all crooks anyway” and use this as an excuse to not pay attention.

I recognize that many people do not wish to discuss politics as these conversations have the potential to evolve in to disagreements. I understand that some folks do not fully understand the process by which we elect our leaders and therefore choose not to participate in these discussions. I struggle to process why some folks are not interested in global events, but I’m also aware there are individuals that are so entrenched in their own beliefs that a conversation with them is just not possible.

For me, it was a relief to find that some people were open to these kinds of conversations, especially about the upcoming elections. Through my conversations with a few people at school, I shared in both the disappointments and excitement of Obama’s quest for the nomination, and looked at McCain with more of an open mind. Some expressed what Obama’s candidacy means to them, as older Americans, as African-Americans, as Hispanic Americans. Another colleague brought up points such as experience and patriotism, and while we tended to disagree, I appreciated him for the respectful way in which he expressed his opinions.

Why don’t we have more of these conversations? As a teacher, it’s my obligation to know what is happening around me. Especially now, during this important election, my students will ask questions, and I ought to be able to give them an answer, or admit that I don’t know, and show them how an educated person seeks more information. As a lifelong learner, I want to understand how things work, and why people think and feel as they do. I want to know how it used to be, and I want to explore how it might be some day.

As an American, it is my duty and to my advantage that I participate. I’ve been energized, disappointed, enlightened, and encouraged by what other folks have to say. More than anything, I’ve become more informed, and will hopefully make the right decision when asked to vote in November.

Until then, I’m reading, watching, and paying attention. And if I see you, I may want to talk about “things” – you know, Obama, McCain, the war in Iraq, gas prices, No Child Left Behind, immigration. If you don’t want to talk, I understand. If you’re willing, however, to “go there”, I assure you – this is what being American is.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

I want to be like her

I want to be like Eli – she knows how to entertain guests,
cooks, serves, makes them laugh
all at once.
I want to be like Ana – she’s had a mansion built
and she’ll spend these days decorating it
her way.
I want to be like Cintia – the perfect homemaker, the best mother
her home is always clean and neat
everything in its place.
I want to be like Celia – slender, wearing the latest fashions
new shoes, expensive handbag
calm and collected.

Someday, I’ll do things better
I’ll have what I want,
and someone will want to be like me.
In the meantime,
I'll pull on my ratty jeans and t-shirt,
make a peanut butter sandwich for the boy,
throw the comforter on the bed,
kick my laundry into the closet,
grab my keys and wallet,
and rush us to the movies.

Quiero ser como Eli – ella sabe cómo entretener a las visitas,
cocinar, servir, y hacer reir,
todo a la vez.
Quiero ser como Ana – le construyeron una mansión
y pasará estos días decorándola
a su gusto.
Quiero ser como Cintia – la perfecta ama de casa, la mejor madre
su casa está limpia y ordenada
todo en su lugar.
Quiero ser como Celia – delgada, estrenando las últimas modas
los zapatos nuevos, la cartera nueva y lujosa,
tranquila y calmada.

Algún día haré las cosas mejor,
tendré las cosas que quiera,
y álguien querrá ser como yó.
Mientras tanto
me pondré los vaqueros viejos y una camiseta
le haré un sandwich de mantequilla de maní al niño
tiraré el edredón sobre la cama
esconderé la ropa sucia en el armario
agarraré las llaves y la billetera
y nos irémos volando al cine.