Archive | October, 2012

Time to Remember

23 Oct

I almost didn’t do it.

Halloween will be here soon, and we had already decorated the front porch with strands of cottony spider webs and dangling skeletons. We’ve been planning our costumes for weeks now and a tiny witch’s costume and black hat dangle spookily in the closet when it’s not being tried on over and over again. Bright orange pumpkins, swollen with seeds, sit on the hearth waiting to be hollowed out and turned into grimacing goblins.

It’s that season again, when the days shorten and the change of light paints shadow pictures on the sidewalks as the sun settles lower in the sky. I knew that there was still one thing left to be done, but I thought that I just didn’t want to do it again this year. My husband, Rene still hadn’t brought it up, so I figured that we just weren’t going to get around to it.

Selfishly, I was relieved that he hadn’t said anything, because I just didn’t feel like digging through the shed to look for all the boxes. The thought of having to sift through all of the stuff was more than just a bit overwhelming. Besideswhy do I always have to be the one who does everything around here?

Then last Saturday evening, my oldest daughter, Nora said, “Mom, I’m going to set up the altar—want to help?” and I suddenly realized that I did want to help.

We moved tables and covered them with white cloths; we emptied boxes of candles and vases and arranged them around the centerpiece of a grinning papier-mâché skull. My daughter Isa and her best friend, Tali helped tape tissue paper onto an arch that stretched across the window in a rainbow of pink, orange and yellow flowers. Lastly and most importantly, we lovingly dusted off the photographs and placed them on the altar. The following day, we took a trip to the farmer’s market and bought bunches of fresh marigolds and gladioli and came home and filled up the vases.

Isa and Tali helping to set up the altar.

The altar was ready for Dia de los Muertos. It’s time to remember.

I’d been trying to ignore the importance of this celebration because I’d been thinking all along that it’s only for Rene that we do it each year. After all, it’s his Mexican culture, not mine.  Yet in the process setting up the altar; through the act of looking at all the photographs of the people who have died and really thinking about them, I always realize how important this celebration is to me.

Time has a way of robbing us of that deep connection we once had with our loved ones, no matter how devastating their deaths were to us. People die—even children die—and yet somehow life manages to continue on no matter what. Our memories fade and those of us who are still here on this earth tend to let those memories slip into the recesses of our consciousness. As we move on with our lives, we forget to remember. And in forgetting, we lose that sense of emotional connection that we once held so deeply in our hearts.

I want to remember these people because in doing so, they continue to stay alive.

Lexi died last February, so this is the first time she's been placed on our altar.

Lexi Krasnoff died last February, so this is the first time she’s been placed on our altar.

Rosie Chavez was a star who still shines brightly on our altar. We left her some red lollipops.

Michael “T.T” McGrew and Jessi Modeen both died from their cancer. I never met Jessi, but found out after Isa was diagnosed that her mother, Denise used to live three houses down from us and I babysat her when she was a child. She always loved my name, and gave it to Jessi when she was born.

It’s impossible to forget little Jeffrey Zamora! Rene’s parents, Herlinda and Elias Mireles watch over him in the background.

Our altar at night with all of the candles lit. My dad is right above the skull.

Our precious Gillian Winters.

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Burning Up

18 Oct

Yesterday there was a huge plume of smoke coming from the mountains in front of my house. It’s that dry time of year when the parched hills have again erupted in flames, but that’s about the only thing around here that’s been on fire. I may be sweaty, tired and hot–but I’m certainly not on fire.  I’m completely unmotivated, and I need a change. It’s October, for goodness sake, and summer should be long gone. The days are supposed to be crisp and refreshing by now, and this eighty-plus degree weather around here has done nothing except remind me that California is indeed a desert.

Not only has the sweltering heat increased the fire danger, I also think it’s affected my ability to write. Lately, all of my interesting ideas have simply evaporated.  My brain feels as mushy as a ripe peach that’s been left in a hot car with the windows rolled up—there’s a good chance that it may explode into a sticky, fermented mess at any moment.

Each morning I sit at the computer and brood over what to write, yet I’m as dry as a sandy creek bed.  Even though I wake up energized with unqualified intention to get something written down, the few sentences I do manage to write are unimaginative. Nothing is flowing. I finally get to the point where complete despair sets in and I want to give up. Why bother? I tell myself. Then I start to avoid writing entirely.

I’m at expert when it comes to avoiding writing: I read. I clean. I do laundry. I work. I’m very good at pretending to be busy with the little details of my life. This week, I avoided writing by spending time pouring over cookbooks and turned out several fabulous meals for my family using the slow cooker. My husband was in was in total heaven as I recreated the dishes of his childhood in Oaxaca: Caldo de arrez, Pollo en mole verde, and Abondigas soup. He was happy, the kids were happy, and so was I–at least for a few days, but now I find I’m already bored with this whole cooking thing.

It’s such a conundrum. When I’m not writing, I’m often unhappy because I miss it.  When I am writing, I’m often unhappy because I feel that it’s not up to par.

Savory Albondigas (Meatball soup)

It’s difficult for me to let go of the idea that I always have to be so productive with my writing. The fundamental urge to prove myself is as stifling as the hot winds that fanned the flames on the mountain yesterday. I should just give myself a break for once and not force the process; I need to learn to let it just happen when it’s supposed to happen. As I tell the kids: The soup will be ready when it’s ready.

Like that dry chaparral on the hillsides, I must wait for the perfect conditions to be present; only then it will be my turn to explode into a burst of energy and motivation.  When the time is right, the words will again flow out of me like wildfire and there will be no stopping me.

And if that doesn’t happen, I can always take up knitting.

(By the way, the fire is finally out, and the forecast this weekend is for cooler temperatures, so you may very well be hearing from me again soon…)