Serial observations of a Domexican Gringa Author (Code-switching allowed)
I am a Memoirist. I write about the intangible spaces between my Latino heritage and my American life, but I am also provoked by memoir as craft and its relationship to memory, especially in the digital age. I'm the less than graceful portrait of work life imbalance, because like most parents I've evolved into a swiss-army knife of activities and interests which frankly makes me the mistress of none.
Tuesday. I finished an editing project that was delightful and important. The Cambridge Women’s Commission hired me to copyedit, and I couldn’t have been prouder to be associated with what they do. I’ll tell you about it once it’s ready for primetime. This means I’ll claim most of my summer days for writing and for finding a way to my brain. It’s going to be a great ride. The essays I’ve been compiling for the Stuff Manager are finally happening. The research for them and other projects have bugged me for years. The pressure for accountability is real. Now that I have told you, my million readers, about this next step: it will happen. You will keep me honest, won’t you?
Here is an example of stuff I manage: Finding things.
P.S. Happy News. She was found, and her head made it back to her body. My husband recuperated the photos she was keeping, some of those our youngest took in Barcelona. Backstory: We bought this camera/android Barbie because we thought it was all sorts of crazy over-the-top surveillance gadget for children. Plus, it appealed to my penchant for ‘things that aren’t what they are’ or ‘things that are what they aren’t. We all had fun taking silly 3-megapixel photos and forgot about it. So, during a search for something else, the doll resurfaced. We could tell there were photos in her but couldn’t extract the images. Our youngest thought it’d be cool to take her head off, hand it back to the Barbie (sans platter). Once a suitable cable came to us via Amazon, I got the text you see above there.
I taught Zero to Memoir at GrubStreet. I know that if you’ve ever struck up a conversation with me about writing you’ve heard me rant and rave about how GrubSteet is magical. It’s a blast for me to teach there. I get to use my Creative Writing background and ninja skills to in front of a group of students who all choose to be there. It’s a different audience by far from my college students. Do I ever love teaching the Zero to Memoir class! The students who show up are at different places in their writing. Most of them though are looking to a path forward. I try to point them in some direction, give them a bit of craft, and a lot of encouragement. I learn something new every time, and I incorporate that into my teaching practice and course content. I try to give offer some paths forward after we all leave the Grub space. My greatest let down is to leave a class or conference and have all that adrenaline to go to a place where it withers and dies. That is real. I give them some goal posts they can follow through later about both working on a project, and building writing practice. That is the stuff I preach (won’t follow the advice). 15 folks registered for the course. Keep coming people, I honestly do enjoy teaching you what I can.
I wanted to teach some long-term classes at GrubStreet, but this was not the semester to do it. I am teaching a 10-week class over the summer, which is another favorite to teach: Go There: Writing about Difficult Subject Matter. Want to register for it? Do it here:
We’ve covered so much in this class: #metoo, political divides, racism, trauma, mourning, divorce, illness, family conflicts, mental illness, sexuality, and gender.
As I work on a full manuscript, and on a collection of essays (the Stuff Manager). I am going to pretend for a moment here that I have so many readers who are wondering what I’ve been up to lately, I must explain to each of them where I’ve been and what the heck I’ve been doing.
Consider these following posts a tour of where my brain has been these past few months. Unlike a formal journey, where the itinerary is plotted with concern for geographical direction or chronology, I will instead guide you erratically, because that is how I can find documentation that ultimately informs this post.
As you (my thousands of imaginary follower and bots ) know, I teach at the New England Conservatory of Music. It’s invariably funny when folks ask me, rightfully so, which instrument I teach, I’ll say “no, I teach composition,” which in itself is confusing because you know: music composing. Students at a conservatory have the option of working towards bachelor, masters, and doctoral degrees. Like in any other institutions, this means that a core Liberal Arts curriculum, along with languages, math and sciences are required to graduate. So I teach undergraduate courses in the Liberal Arts Department. Plus, I tutor graduate, undergraduate, and doctoral students at the Writing Center. This semester, which usually to be the lighter kind, I taught three classes, which meant that at any given time I was grading 48 pieces of writing, which included process writing, long essays, and research projects. Teaching at a place that cranks out virtuosos, and which just has inaugurated its first female president, is pretty satisfying.
Walking through our hallways, the lovely sounds of music practice fill the air. At times a jazz ensemble riffs together, and on the opposite side of the hall, students belt out their arias. If you walk outdoors on a warm day, students in dorms, with windows open are all in some state of practice. There’s a cacophony of instruments, none of them forming any melody, but you can hear them all individually through the cracked – open windows.
all classrooms have at least one piano and at times 2 or 3 for students practices during non-instruction hours.
When I am fortunate enough to go to Jordan Hall campus for anything, the melodies, I hear become more unified as students practice in their ensembles. We get to be at the sumptuous Jordan Hall for convocations and other formal events, and it’s always surprising to see all the new architectural details that I hadn’t noticed before. Recently, I attended the presidential inauguration in full regalia, and the ceremony was quite moving.
Though I can attend free concerts, I haven’t made it to one, because, you know; busy. So now I’ve strayed and need to get back to what I was telling you about back there. The teaching, which is my full-time job, took the most bandwidth. That, along with heading a literary project for the Liberal Arts Department, which I’ll tell you about as well.
The thing though is that it has been a tough semester with lots of interference from the universe, a whole lot of my messing with what should be a simple schedule by adding more things I am interested in, teaching in other places, leading writing groups, or editorial projects that come my way. Then, there’s just life which is continually finding ways to surprise me. Thanks, life! I am not facetious, other than the crapstorm brewing in Washington DC. I am genuinely grateful for what I have.
The 9th edition of NEC’s Liberal Arts Literary Journal
Wow, this project kicked my butt, but then I kicked the project right back into submission, which incidentally collected a ton of submissions so that my student editors, who I managed, had great material from which to choose. Sometimes we met as a group, students worked independently, and faculty helped proofread. Frankly, one, in particular, was so eagle-eyed that she was instrumental in genuinely getting the edition ready for primetime. For a while there I figured the 9th edition had to be cursed. Every conceivable thing that could go wrong with Hear Here! just did. The project took over my weekends, my evenings, and I transformed me into a crazed person every time I needed the group to comply with a deadline. The project start to finish took seven months in human time, but in worry time it took a million times that. I was spent when it was all done. I am still recuperating to enjoy how successful it was entirely. I am, however, documenting the experience because I want to present on the value of this project at a conference or two.
So there it is. Part 1 folks. Next stop? Who knows but it’s coming soon.
My husband is a fixer-upper, and I am a throw-away-er. He’s an engineer who figures out how things work, so fixing something that doesn’t work is his default setting. If I see a chip on non-essential stuff I can’t wait to get rid of it. So while S tests batteries with a volt meter to ensure he’s gotten the last bit of juice left in them, I put my moribund batteries straight to a bin and let them accumulate for years.
For all of our differing opinions on what to keep and what to chuck, we agree that understanding family history and preserving it is precious to us. S has dedicated himself to cataloging his father’s exhaustive work in economics, computers, information productivity technology, management, family history, the Holocaust, and cybersecurity. In 2003, when my mother died, I instinctively asked to keep her letters, papers, and address books. I am still trying to go through all of the boxes.
A couple of years ago, we visited my in-laws and were tasked with getting rid of S’s high school and early college stuff out of their basement. S and I spent hours sifting through boxes and in the process of seeing all of his paraphernalia, some of his old toys, piano books, and correspondence with a high school sweetheart; I fell in love with him all over again. Through the pictures and the objects, I understood more about who he was before I met him. I told him that if he had asked me out, I’d say yes in a heartbeat.
On the way out of the basement, my father in law pointed to a light fixture that was gathering dust in a dark corner and asked us “You want to take that too?” S remembered it being in the same place for years. We admired it and replied that we’d think about it. Every time we’d go visit they’d offer us something to bring back, and we’d say yes, but this gorgeous chandelier was more than trunk space: It was a project.
Back home after having seen we had a lighting void in our living room, we decided to bring the fixture back with us from New Canaan to Boston. Looking at the chandelier up close we noticed corroded and bumpy metal and discovered some white matte plastic inserts. For good measure, my inlaws threw in matching sconces they must have bought with the chandelier. So it began: the light fixture moved from their basement into ours where it sat forever until we’d remember from time to time that we had to it repair once we found someone who knew something about re-chroming.
The chandelier became another task that we stuffed in the back of an already crowded basement along with all the art that needs framing, the dollhouse that is a daddy-daughter project, and other unique treasures that I picked up on neighborhood trash days. We still knew little about the light fixture, but we hoped to muster the energy to fix it. Then we met Seth from Rare Restoration, a place that feels like real magic could happen at any time, and it does. Rare is a curated assortment of antiques, a haven for restoration and a repair haven filled with possibilities of resurrecting the most defunct and cherished objects you own.
Peek into Rare’s fantastic world.
Seth took the fixture from us and quickly learned that it wasn’t chrome. The darn thing is silver-plated! By the time we got the fixture back from Seth, he had shined it, cleaned it from the inside out removing all the corrosion. As he wiped some of the pieces, Seth discovered some broken pieces of plastic, and we remembered then that we had the sconces. Problem solved. We mined the sconces for a couple of the white panels, and we got the fixture back good as new. The next step was to hang it, so we hired a skillful electrician to do the job.
The living room situation is still not where we’d like for it to be. We have 25-year-old furniture with lovely bones and saggy covers that once were super-hip. Art sits on the floor keeping our plants company. After years of basement dwelling, another inherited piece of furniture has gotten love and care from Seth’s staff at Rare and is finally hanging on the wall.
So no we’re not done, but when we sit on the couch in front of a fire and read by the glow of our chandelier, we appreciate how lucky we are. A little piece of family history keeps us connected to the past as we create new memories of our own. All the while our chandelier continues to shed light some of our paths.
Sure we have aspirations for something a bit more like this room, but so far we are contented just the way things are.
I first noticed Cure thrift shop the first time I dropped my eldest at NYU. Trying to keep track of a lot of moving parts and moving stuff, we drove past the shop and spied a bunch of funky mannequins, great furniture, doodads, and some rugs. I was smitten, but couldn’t go in. Our visits to the city rushed and packed with stuff to do, conspired to keep me away and so instead, I followed on Instagram. Once during one of our rushed visits, my patient husband found a questionable legal spot to park and stayed with the car so I could go inside the store and browse.
I fell obsessively in like with two things: One, a typewriter which I swiftly talked myself out buying because I had a similar one already. I kicked myself about that for a while and eventually forgot about it. The other one was in my future.
One day, while checking up on the Cure’s Instagram account I spied this little girl’s image (on the right) and she spoke to me (not in the magical-realism way) but I instantly liked her. I dm’ed the store and after asking about shipping, I got no response. I thought about her often. I was a bit obsessed with the creative force which designed the Lokal Hotel and wanted to borrow some of their aesthetic for another soon-to-be unfinished decorating project.
I came to NYC again, this time for moving our kid out of her dorm and it was raining like crazy. I stopped in at the thrift shop for 2 hot seconds. It had been at least 6 months since I saw the print and I looked around for it but she was gone. I tried to find a similar one, even buying a look-alike in an antique shop in Montpelier, Vermont. What I got was a photograph of a woman looking away from the camera, her gaze steely and somewhat vacant. A the time my kids wondered why I was getting prints of people who I didn’t know to hang in our home and it was too hard to explain. I was happy with my purchase but it was only a replacement for the print I really wanted. I had seen the print flash on the Cure’s feed once more, but I wistfully closed my phone instead of attempting to contact them again.
I’ve always had a connection to old photographs. There is an appeal to what memories they keep and I like wondering about what stories these people in these images created. It’s a bit like going into their pasts an eavesdropping into a small part of their lives. Photographs play a big part in my upbringing and my theory is, that we had so much tragedy in our lives a photograph could capture joy and predictability and preserve those impressions for later just like pickled veggies for the winter time. On the more superficial level, however, remember: I had a decorating project (number a million or so) which to date remains unfinished.
Well, it’s June 2018 and I am in NYC again. This time, I am alone and staying at my daughter’s apartment in the East Village. It’s been fun, trying to follow her advice for places to go. I like imagining what she sees daily as she goes out and pokes in to buy groceries around the corner or coffee at the cool place down her street. I’m mainly just exploring. She’s above a restaurant bar and the place transforms at night. Once the afternoon falls, the outfits get nicer and St. Marks place gets a bit of a mild Bourbon St. vibe and people definitely party late into the night.
I returned to the Cure thriftshop finally seizing the opportunity of being completely alone and without any pressing commitments. I saw another typewriter and decided to pass on it. It had a small crack and the fact that it was a bright canary yellow almost made up for the defect.
I poked around some more and while sliding hangers to get a closer look at the bodice of a shirt I liked, hiding behind a whole row of dresses was the print! I squashed the dresses off to one side of the rack and bent down to make sure I wasn’t seeing something else.
I went to the front and asked the salesperson about the incognito print in case it was hidden so well for a reason. I imagined that someone could have been holding it and wanted it out of sight. “Show me, ” he said as I made my way down the back of the store missing a hidden step once again but quickly getting my balance back. “Here!” I pointed and didn’t want to go indecorously go back digging behind the dresses. I saw him part the dresses like a theater curtain. “Oh, her?” I was nervous he’d tell me that “her” was not destined to be mine. After all, twice she had been shown to the world on Instagram, and maybe she was part of some special collection that was attached to the shop, like the art on some of the walls. “Sorry, these are not for sale” some groovy objects were part of that sign.
My Cure man took the print out and held “her” in front of him wistfully looking at it as if a couple of memories came back. “I posted the picture. I post all of our pictures for the feed.” he kept looking at her. “Do you want to buy it?” “Yes!” I would. I’ve never had a good poker face and asked for a discount. I could have tried a detached look of some sort to get a better deal, but instead, I grinned and walked over to the register. The Cure uses proceeds from sales to help diabetes research, so even if I was good at haggling, it wouldn’t feel right. I paid for my print and he tried unsuccessfully to find a bag that would fit. I hadn’t thought much of what kind of hell awaited me walking with a framed print through the busy streets of NY one of the hottest days of the summer so far. ” So, do you think she’s Italian or Spanish?” I bristled a bit. I didn’t like it when people refer to Spanish-speaking people as Spanish. This guy was a New Yorker, and I bet that’s the thing here. “Not sure…” I let my voice trail off and we both took notice of the little necklace with a medal on it. ” Catholic?” He took a closer look. “Maybe a saint or somethin’, like St. Anthony or St. Christopher.” He found some craft paper and wrestled some packing tape to try and origami a cover for the whole thing. He seemed so genuinely curious by the girl, that I could tell a part of him had formed an attachment.
“Take it to FedEx across the way. They can package it for you.” I thought that was a great idea. Unfortunately, across the way might have been some code for anything except a literal across the way, and instead, I wound up happily walking my print over to my daughter’s pad.
I hesitated to bring her on the bus ride back with me. I had no idea what to expect from the bus storage above the seat and putting the print down with the rest of the luggage seemed risky. Instead, I left it tucked in a closet, waiting for me to come back to get her. For a moment I considered displaying the print and having my daughter see it when she got back from her trip. Instead of startling her, I kept the print covered and tucked in a safe spot in one of the closets.
I have fallen deeply and irrevocably in love with Vermont. We came home today and although I was eager to go get back to Brookline, because, it’s well…home, I was also crestfallen to leave.
We’ve enjoyed the kind of slow pace I knew I wanted but had no idea how much I truly needed. I’ve sat quietly without expecting things to work a certain way, watched the girls also connect to a sense of calm. The log cabin we called home is tucked in a serene spot off a verdant windy road that barely gets any traffic. We were surrounded by trees and the sound of happy birds. It rained non-stop since we arrived, but somehow every morning we got a slight reprieve and we managed to get out with enough time to hit the roads and do some low-key exploration. Always in the background coming into the cabin, from every window, we enjoyed the sound of a spectacular waterfall.
I had simple goals on day 1. Write, read, meditate, and plan my calendar. I had secondary aims of creating syllabi for my fall classes and going through a mountain of paperwork that weighs my bag every single day.
Writing the entries on the blog have sparked the writing. I struggle with identifying as a writer and generating continuous material, so writing a blog entry is a big boost. Often in my entries, the prose is clunky and choppy but I enjoy interweaving images which are so much fun for me to take and at times procure. It’s a state of being and takes me a while to live in that writer’s space.
Here’s the punchline: I didn’t check everything off my list but I didn’t care. Everything I didn’t do on my list means that I managed to sneak something else that brought me closer to my own disheveled brain and to my family.
A client recommended Headspace as a primer to meditation. One of their taglines is:”It only takes a few minutes to change the rest of your day.”
I downloaded the app a couple of months ago but only had time to try it during the Vermont week. Easy! Nice and super revelatory process for me. I’ll talk a bit more about my experience with Headspace on another post.
I had been chomping at the bits to get my mechanical keyboard from Lofree and it was a blast to be perched up in that sunny cabin sitting in a cozy studio clicking away on the keyboard. I I brought it to the coworking space, people might throw paperclips at me, but I was on such a roll in my retro typing that it made me want a cigarette.
We packed for rugged- living. Think bikes, rain boots, big beach towels, food and anti-bug stuff. These Ikea BRODERLIG bags were amazing for trunk organization and toting stuff about.
Tons of capacity
Soft but defined edges for easy trunk packing
The FRAKTA long duffle bags in the indistinguishable Ikea blue was the ultimate clothing carryall. The DIMPA became our dirty clothes hamper and wet towel totes.
We used for dirty clothes and towels
FRAKTA bags were great for clothing (also available through Amazon)
That’s it for now. I have a ton more to share about surprising places we discovered in Vermont. All I can say is that I am already planning our next visit.
One of the other many reasons why I dislike the month of June, is because on June 25th my mother was born. A month and some days later in July of 2003, mom died due to complications of colon cancer. Instead of celebrating such a day, I am back reliving all the stages of grief in one sitting.
Even years after she died, I’d pick up the phone to give her a call. It was an absentminded gesture, muscle memory really, from talking to her almost every day of my adult life. But on the 25th, I miss her differently. I call up anger and regret and find it hard to see any silver lining or hidden blessing. I remember times that I upset her, hurt her deeply, while seeing the surprise in her eyes that I “the diplomat” was the one inflicting the injury. Mom never said a word back to me. Up to this day, even typing these memories. I feel a sense of shame that doesn’t wash all of the times when I showed her how much I loved and admired her.
Daily I miss her in the most primal of ways, as if from my “lizard brain,” as a friend likes to say. I want mom here just as my girls want me: To find things, to vent, to confide in, to grab that mug they are too lazy to get, to chat and laugh, to share some chisme and for dancing.
Regret is a complicated word. “I regret to inform you,” never comes with good news. “Regrets only” means someone doesn’t really want you there; they expect some sort of turnover. “Send my regrets” means you’re too chickenshit to engage in direct communication. “Live your life without regrets” could mean all that carpe diem stuff, but also that you’re a selfish idiot who won’t say sorry or please and thank you.
So even when I had no control over my mother’s death, I am filled with regret for my daughter’s life without their vivacious grandmother. I regret that they won’t benefit from the impressive boyfriend bullshit detector she was. “Why do you always have to date all those weirdos?” She was however respectful and quick to say “Get over it, live your life, that’s the best revenge.” I am sure she lived her life with regrets, but she was starting to make up for most. She traveled, supported her daughters always and went back to school to get an education that ultimately landed her a dream job. She was the most deserving woman of anything good who I have ever met. Stupid cancer.
I don’t miss mom at night, like when kids want to cuddle. She wasn’t a cuddling mother. I want her like a lost kid in a busy international airport without knowing what to do next. I don’t want a cuddle, or bedtime story, or there, there. I want to be found. I just want my mommy.