I’ve written about Dia de los Muertos many times before in my blog, but today I’m just going to share a photo gallery of our Day of the Dead altar. Last night, when we gathered around the altar and lit the candles, my husband Rene said something that resonated with me and made me realize why setting up the altar each year is such a meaningful tradition. He talked about how all of us really die twice–once when our body physically dies, and then a second time when we are forgotten by others. That is why we arrange the altar and put out the photographs of those we’ve loved and lost–so we don’t let them die twice.
In the past two weeks alone, I’ve read three complete novels. You’re probably wondering how I can find the time to read that much with close to fifty piano students, three kids still at home, a household to run, and a novel to write, but you see—a drug addict will always find her fix. And that’s what reading is to me—a fix, an escape, a downright cheap and easy way to flee my often complex reality.
I remember when I unearthed my deep love of books—or more aptly, my love of escapism. I was in the in the fifth grade, and although I had always loved reading a variety of books and authors, I hadn’t yet become obsessed with reading until I discovered The Nancy Drew Mysteries by Carolyn Keene on the shelf at the public library. I was instantly hooked. I fell in love with Nancy because she was everything I thought I wasn’t—pretty, self assured, smart and independent. She drove around in her little “roadster” solving mysteries with the help of her two close girlfriends and a father who loved and encouraged her. It was easy to lose myself in that idyllic utopia that had eluded me in my own life.
My fifth grade teacher soon became concerned that I was limiting my literary horizons by reading only Nancy Drew Mysteries. Mr. Robinson, whom our fifth grade class had fittingly nicknamed “Robin Red Beard,” because of his scraggly red beard, was a balding, pale-skinned hippie who wore earth shoes and faded Levis and although he had a booming voice, he was a gentle giant. He took me aside one day and gently suggested it was time to branch out and read other genres. He then handed me a copy of “The Witch of Blackbird Pond” by Elizabeth George Speare. At first I resisted. Give up my beloved Nancy Drew for a book about a witch in the 1600’s? I think not!
But because I wanted to please my beloved Mr. Robinson, I began to read it, and you can probably figure out the rest of the story. That was the end of Nancy for the time being and the opening up of a whole new literary world for me which included books like “Summer of the Swans,” by Betsy Byers, “The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler” by E.L. Konigsberg, and “Sounder” by William H. Armstrong. I’m not sure if he even realized it, but Mr. Robinson had given me the key to the candy store.
A few years later when I was in junior high, I secretly rekindled my love affair with Nancy Drew until one embarrassing day at the public library when the man helping me check out my tall stack of mysteries narrowed his eyes at me.
“Aren’t you a little old for these?” he teased.
I was mortified. “They’re for my little sister,” I said, stammering. I don’t even have a sister.
“Sure they are,” he said with a knowing smile.
I was so humiliated that when I got outside the library I dumped the whole lot into the big metal book return box and didn’t pick up a Nancy Drew mystery until many years later when my two oldest girls were in elementary school. One Christmas I bought a box set of her mysteries as a present for them and I was so excited to watch them fall in love with Nancy that I couldn’t wait to see their excited faces on Christmas morning.
“Nancy Drew?” Leah said with a scowl after tearing open the box. “Ewwww, Mom! I hate Nancy Drew—she’s so old fashioned!”
My heart sank. It turned out that neither girl was interested in reading my beloved Nancy. The entire box set ended up on the shelf, untouched and unread until years later when I finally donated them to the same library where I began my love affair with her over forty years ago.
You win some and you lose some, I guess. My daughters’ Nancy Drew turned out to be Harry Potter and that’s just fine. It doesn’t matter what they read, as long as they read.
Thank goodness there are some addictions in life that are good for you.
Three years ago today, I published my first blog post. To be honest, it was a momentous experience for me as it was my first real step in believing that I could actually refer to myself a writer. Since that decision to expose myself literally to the world (yes, pun intended) I’ve grown and changed quite a bit as a writer.
When I first began blogging, I would spend three to four days working on a post, revising, amending, altering, and rearranging the words until there was no possible editing left to do (or so I thought.) My posts were usually WAY too long and often focused on the many deep thoughts I felt I needed to share with the world about my angst-ridden childhood or my skewed sense of self-worth. Whew—it was heavy stuff, and in retrospect I believe I owe you all a very big thank you for slogging through it and then being kind enough to leave me a comment.
These days, I don’t post nearly as often as I did three years ago. My latest posts are much shorter in length (you’re welcome) or maybe they’re just photographs. As I spend the bulk of my free time working on my novel, I usually don’t have the energy or time to write weekly posts and it’s almost a miracle if I publish once a month.
I get advice from other writers that it’s important to keep at the blogging. You’ve got to get your name out there! Build up that fan base! Get that mailing list organized! That way, if my novel is ever published—wait—I take that back—WHEN my novel is published, I’ll be able to market it more efficiently.
GAH! That’s the hard part—I hate that idea of posting just to get “out there.” I’m told that with all the changes taking place in publishing these days, authors have to really work hard to get their novels recognized, but the idea of self-marketing somehow rubs me the wrong way. And I don’t want to post just for the sake of posting—I want to share only when I have something really interesting to write about.
Today, what I think is interesting and what I choose to write about is that it’s my three year blogging anniversary and I’ve come a long way since I started. I’ve met some very interesting people along this journey and I hope to meet many more. Thank you all for reading, for commenting, for supporting and for following me.
And just so you know, each and every one of your names will be listed on the acknowledgement page WHEN my novel is published.
Why is it that now that I’m an adult, summer moves by at warp speed? I remember when I was a child, those long days of June, July and August stretched out like a road with no end. I could go off and do whatever I wanted as long as I was home by dinnertime. School never started until after Labor Day.
I remember how all the neighborhood kids and I would ride our bikes to the beach and on the way home the sand in our bathing suits would scratch at our bodies like sandpaper. When we finally got home, sleepy from playing all day in the waves and cranky because we only packed a baloney sandwich on white bread and an apple for lunch, we would fight over who got to rinse off with the hose first because the water was warm for only a few seconds.
I remember how we cleaned the tar from our feet with a rag soaked in gasoline poured from an old metal can which turned our fingers orange from the rusty cap. I remember how our shoulders would be tender and pink from sunburn; how we would come home with more freckles across our noses than we had when we left that morning.
I remember how good my mother’s homemade meatloaf and mashed potatoes tasted and that I would even eat all my peas because I was so ravenous. I remember the sweet creaminess of a real vanilla ice cream cone after dinner. I remember hearing the crickets chirp while playing hide and seek in the street until the porch light went on and I was called in for the night.
Summer may be different for me now, but it’s still summer. I may play in the garden instead of in the waves. I may stay out of the sun now. But it’s still summer, and it’s still magical. And everywhere I look there are signs that it’s here for a little while longer.
Here’s my proof.
I hope you enjoy the rest of your lazy days of summer.
A few years back, someone asked me if I thought I’d ever write a novel some day. My first reaction was to laugh. At that time, I had just recently delved back into writing after a twenty-five year hiatus of not writing a single word (actually, hiatus sounds like I was once a prolific writer—I wasn’t—the best word to describe my attempts at writing in college would be that I “dabbled.”) Sure, writing short essays and a blog post now and then was feasible—but a novel? I couldn’t even fathom writing something that extensive.
I’m not ashamed to admit that my childhood dream was always to become a writer—I thought about it incessantly for years. I loved books so much—the smell of them; the texture of the paper between my fingertips; the way the words jumped out at me from the page; how I could easily lose myself in a story and experience someone’s life other than my own even if it was just for a short time. The library was my home away from home.
Being somewhat of an introvert, the solitary life of a writer has always appealed to me. As a young girl I created this elaborate fantasy in which I envisioned myself writing my literary masterpiece while tucked away in a cozy study with soft lighting and wall to wall bookshelves. While sitting quiet and alone at an antique desk, I would sip hot tea with honey while a blazing fire crackled in the fireplace. When I needed inspiration, I would glance up and look out through the French Doors onto my picturesque English garden where my flowers somehow managed to bloom year round. Oh—I almost forgot—in my fantasy there was always a gentle rain falling outside.
That perfect fantasy never really got off the ground—with a husband, four kids, four dogs and my mother, I’m never alone. I don’t have French Doors, I live in Southern California where it rarely rains and it’s usually too hot outside to light a fire in the fireplace. I prefer Starbucks coffee to hot tea and rarely go to the library anymore because I always forget to return the books and before I know it I’ve racked up over fifty dollars worth of late fees. I read most of my books on my Kindle and I don’t have an antique desk. I do my best writing while sitting on the couch.
But get this: I’m thirty-three chapters and almost 70,000 words into my first novel. BAM! That’s right—I am fifty two years old and for the first time in my life I’m doing what I always dreamed of doing—I am writing a novel.
Now, who knows? My novel may very well turn out to be trite, sentimental and cliché, but then again, it might turn out to be a really great read with a real plot and interesting and lovable characters. We’ll just have to wait and see. In the meantime, I’m carving out a little time every day in my busy schedule to sit down on my couch and get a paragraph or two written down, which more often than not gets deleted the following day (I mean, who in their right mind would write such crap?) No matter—one good sentence at a time and somehow the job gets done. And I’m having the time of my life.
Who needs fire, tea and rain to write a book? Not me.
This girl is done dabbling.
If you’re interested, here’s the synopsis of my novel (still untitled)
After a devastating accident permanently injured the fingers of her right hand and ended her promising career as a concert pianist, thirty-six year old Camille Childs has lived a sheltered and lonely existence teaching piano lessons out of the guest house behind her mother’s lavish Santa Barbara estate. After ten years of teaching piano to Graciela, the very talented daughter of the Mexican housekeeper, Camille finally has the opportunity to validate her teaching expertise after Graciela wins a prestigious piano competition and is about to be presented in her own solo debut recital. Not only will this recital help launch Graciela’s own career as a concert pianist, but it will also help Camille build her reputation as a master teacher and bring her the recognition and acclaim she feels she deserves.
Three weeks before the grand debut recital, Graciela suddenly disappears and Camille learns that she has left the country for her mother’s isolated village in the mountains of Oaxaca, Mexico. Against the wishes of her own controlling and alcoholic mother, Camille travels alone to Oaxaca to search for Graciela and bring her back home in time for the concert. There, during a monsoonal thunderstorm, Camille almost loses her life in a terrible bus accident, but at the last minute is saved by Alejandro, a handsome indigenous Zapotec originally from the same village as Graciela.
Despite a contentious first meeting with the spoiled and self-centered Camille, Alejandro befriends her and helps her navigate the mountainous terrain and unfamiliar culture of the Zapotec town of Yalálag, Oaxaca. With Alejandro’s help, Camille embarks on a journey of self-discovery that will change how she views the world as well as herself.
Every day when I walk out the front door I’m greeted by a glorious blanket of color that wraps me up in joy even when my heart is heavy. There’s been so much sadness in our community since the shootings that took place in Isla Vista on May 23. There is still so much healing that needs to take place.
Despite this tragedy, I still believe that beauty always finds its way into our lives and somehow continues to blossom even when the conditions are unfavorable.
I choose to believe in the goodness of all people. I pray for change. I watch for growth. And I hope for love.
And it’s all right there in the garden to remind me every single day.
I’m the first to admit that I’m complacent person. It’s not that I don’t feel things deeply—I do. It’s just that I’m a busy working mom with my own set of problems and it’s often difficult to muster up enough indignation to spur myself into action or even believe that any small act on my part will bring about any necessary change.
Over the past few years, I’ve cried my share while glued to the television screen, watching news reports of the mass killings that have taken place across our country. I’ve felt real pain and anger, and spurred on by the solidarity of social media, I vowed to do something to make a difference. But like the majority of us, I would soon move on with my life after a few days, conveniently forgetting my initial anger and frustration. After all, those instances of gun violence never really affected me personally.
Well, now it’s happened in my own backyard. Last Friday night around 9:30, as I sat talking with my husband and kids in the living room, I heard multiple sirens. Now, it’s not unusual for us to hear occasional sirens as our house is located near the 101 freeway between the ocean and the mountains. When they didn’t quit after a minute or two, I turned to my husband.
“Honey,” I said, opening the back sliding door to better hear what was going on. “I think this is something really bad—the sirens aren’t stopping.”
“Maybe a high speed chase?” he asked.
“I don’t think so,” I said, “It sounds like a lot of police cars are headed somewhere.”
Less than ten minutes later, my nineteen year-old son, Nino’s phone rang. He is a UCSB student and often spends weekend nights hanging out with his friends in Isla Vista, the beach town adjacent to the university.
“What’s up?” he said into the phone. I watched his face fall. He stood up and began to pace around the living room. “Dude!” he shouted. “Are you f**king serious?” After a short conversation he hung up the phone.
“Mom,” he said, “There’s been a shooting in Isla Vista.” On the phone was one of a group of Nino’s fraternity brothers who had been headed home from an out of town event, but were unable to get to their apartment because the entrance to Isla Vista had been cordoned off. They needed a place to spend the night so they came to our house.
The following morning and throughout the day we learned what happened in Isla Vista: Six college students dead; the mentally ill shooter dead. We watched rambling Youtube videos, accounts from students who witnessed the horror, and what was most heart wrenching of all: a plea from the father of one of the victims begging for the violence to stop. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HN6NBDYPuhY. I sobbed while watching that, knowing it could have been my son, Nino who was killed.
How many more people have to die for us to do something? Fighting against the NRA is virtually impossible—time and again it’s been proven that this gun-loving organization is just too powerful. They will protect their second amendment rights no matter how many of our children die from gun violence. They say, “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people,” Yes, people do kill people, and since the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, almost ten thousand Americans have been killed by people using guns.
But why was it so easy for these killers to get their hands on guns?
The following is what Michael Moore had to say about the Isla Vista Shootings:
With due respect to those who are asking me to comment on last night’s tragic mass shooting at UCSB in Isla Vista, CA — I no longer have anything to say about what is now part of normal American life. Everything I have to say about this, I said it 12 years ago: We are a people easily manipulated by fear which causes us to arm ourselves with a quarter BILLION guns in our homes that are often easily accessible to young people, burglars, the mentally ill and anyone who momentarily snaps. We are a nation founded in violence, grew our borders through violence, and allow men in power to use violence around the world to further our so-called American (corporate) “interests.” The gun, not the eagle, is our true national symbol. While other countries have more violent pasts (Germany, Japan), more guns per capita in their homes (Canada [mostly hunting guns]), and the kids in most other countries watch the same violent movies and play the same violent video games that our kids play, no one even comes close to killing as many of its own citizens on a daily basis as we do — and yet we don’t seem to want to ask ourselves this simple question: “Why us? What is it about US?” Nearly all of our mass shootings are by angry or disturbed white males. None of them are committed by the majority gender, women. Hmmm, why is that? Even when 90% of the American public calls for stronger gun laws, Congress refuses — and then we the people refuse to remove them from office. So the onus is on us, all of us. We won’t pass the necessary laws, but more importantly we won’t consider why this happens here all the time. When the NRA says, “Guns don’t kill people — people kill people,” they’ve got it half-right. Except I would amend it to this: “Guns don’t kill people — Americans kill people.” Enjoy the rest of your day, and rest assured this will all happen again very soon.
It’s time for all of us to stop being complacent.
It could have been my child.
It could have been yours.