Stories of Summer 2014

I am currently experiencing a strong pull from hell, emotions running high but making me feel pretty fucking lousy and low.  I can sense what’s coming on, but I want to uplift my spirit a little tonight and get back to writing more by reminiscing on some of the things I got to do this Summer.

Early July, we got a visit from long time family friends from Chile.  It was Tia Coni (the mom), Paula (the daughter), and Camilo (the grandson).  They were initially friends with my aunt May when she used to teach Tia Coni’s son (who stayed in Chile).  My aunt May and Tia Coni became close friends quickly (this was like 30 something years ago), and soon they became a part of the large Varas Family –my mom’s side.  While they were here, I loved listening to their anecdotes with my Tata (my grandfather), how much he made them all laugh in his ways of lightening everybody’s mood with his white jokes that were incorporated in his regular speak.  People just loved him everywhere he went, and the Varas household was meeting place for every neighbor who needed to feel at home or a good laugh.  My Tata was giving even as he didn’t have much to give (he was a taxi driver and sustained 10 children and my Nona), and he showed much compassion for those around him.  I still have memories of him, blurry and far between that I cherish.  He passed when I was 5, but I do remember him vividly, mi viejito bello.

Paula and Tia Coni would tell me short stories of how much love they felt when he was around, when they’d come over, or he would show up randomly with a basket full of goodies for their birthdays.

 

Tia Coni's last night here.
Tia Coni’s last night here.

I got to spend a lot of time with Paula and Camilo.  They are both so easy going and funny.  Paula is a calm woman who doesn’t stress at all, very private, she could be serious but her presence was always sublime.  I have a picture of her and I when I was one year old and she was 10.  It’s funny because I had wondered sporadically about that blonde girl in the picture with me, and now we were hanging out all the way in freaking California.  We figured out quickly that we had a lot more in common then we could have imagined, we enjoyed each other’s company telling each other about our downfalls, our failed relationships, and single motherhood.  I brought her along with me to the spoken word events I never miss, and we went clubbing one night, drank a liter tall glass of some Maui drink  (I believe) at Saddle Ranch on Sunset Blvd., and miraculously made it home safe to continue our ratchetness because we were far from sober.

 

1 year old me, 10 year old Paula
1 year old me, 10 year old Paula

I drove her and Camilo around a lot.  They also learned how to ride the bus here and whenever I was working an entire day, they’d get on the bus and go to Santa Monica.  The three of us became very close.  They were here for about 3 weeks, but by the end of the first week I knew I was going to have a hard time saying good-bye.  I have found family in friends several times in the last years, people who I innately connect with and get attached to.  Could be my lack of connection with my own family growing up.  I seek that kind of love, you know?  When I find it in real, genuine people I feel truly blessed to love and be loved that way.  After they left I spent a week crying over them, they tenderly broke my heart into sweet little pieces.  I still miss them.  Their visit was the most endearing thing that happened to me this Summer.

at Saddle Ranch with Paula (tipsy lol)
at Saddle Ranch with Paula (tipsy lol)
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Camilo & Paula

Another sweet thing that happened was that I got to facilitate a poetry workshop in Spanish for mothers at a non-profit organization in Panorama City called Casa Esperanza.  Casa Esperanza is a prevention org that seeks to help families on Blythe St keep their children out of gangs.  They offer art programs for youth, neighborhood watch meetings, childcare, sewing classes for the mothers, and a variety of informative events mostly targeted for the immigrant community.  They were the first organization who opened their doors to the San Fernando Valley Dream Team (the advocacy group I initiated back in 2011).  We were able to hold our weekly meetings there for a while and disseminate the info we intended to share.

The idea of a writing circle for womyn, specifically mothers, had been brewing in my mind for a while before I finally took up the courage to approach Maritza (the director) and ask if there was a chance for me to hold these sessions with the moms.  She was happy to welcome me and we launched Palabra de Mujeres (branched off of ITWOW) as a Summer Program.  I gathered with 6 to 7 mujeres twice a week for six weeks, and guided them a little on poetry techniques, like similes, metaphors, personification, figurative speech, etc.  We had sample reading at the beginning of class, then dived into writing and shared.  Many of the times the womyn ended up sharing a lot more then what their poems said, but that was the exact purpose of this whole project: to create and nurture a safe place for womyn to vent, to release, and to commune and heal with other mujeres.  We all became friends, appreciative of each other’s character and input.  We had a reading to culminate, and it was sweet, and private.  They revealed their creative work to their loved ones and stood there as goddesses .  I loved seeing them happy, feeling empowered, wearing their make up right, wearing their hairdos, owning themselves.  I am so lucky to have witnessed all that.

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Palabra de Mujeres alumni at culmination reading.
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Maria Elena

This Summer I also got a full scholarship to a pretty incredible writing course called Digging Deep, Facing Self.  I unfortunately did not get to dig deep in sync with the rest of the class as I discovered I can only handle so much in a day where I have to tend to two jobs, a son, teaching, and playing tour guide for my family visiting.  I found little time to dedicate to the writing exercises but still managed to ground myself in the meditations.  I felt lucky to have been virtually surrounded by strong womyn who wrote such beautiful poetry, and shared it with us.  It could have been more for me, but I have two arms and 20 things to hold! Had to take care of myself, too 🙂  By the way, speaking of writing, I got published over at the National Latina Institute of Reproductive Health with a story about depression and motherhood.  My article got a lot of attention (more than 1,000 shares on Facebook), and well, all the wonderful comments and messages of support and encouragement I got from readers.

The cherry on top was celebrating Paolo’s 6th Birthday on August 10 (day before his bday).  I had a small gathering of my closest friends and family.  I tried to stay away from what I did last year when I invited 50 people and 60 showed up (way too stressful as I ran out of food lol).  Instead, I kept it intimate and reminded myself to enjoy every minute of it.  Our beloved Daysi made a beautiful cake Lego themed (just the way Pao wanted it), and all the kids enjoyed the pool.  Everyone brought something to eat, so we actually had tons of leftovers for my peoples to take home.  It was a great Sunday, and a great way to end our Summer.

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my son turning…6?!
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Daysi’s Masterpiece

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I am feeling much better now that I got to go over the really awesome things that happened to me this season.  I’m looking forward to enjoying Fall, my favorite one of them all.  And also ask this Universe to keep me afloat because emotional and mental crisis are real, and I don’t want to fall into one of those again. Ending this post on a happy note 🙂

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Glimpses

“I am sorry if you never felt me when I lie awake through the night

watching you sleep

trying to think of a way to thread you back into something whole”  

-Christopher Pointdexter

***

I am sorry if I lied next to you that night, and could not get myself to heal your tummy.  I could hear the rumbling of your stomach ever so loudly as I half-slept for 4 hours trying to sober up.

We had gone for drinks that night, a bar by your place.  You looked impeccable as always.  We tried a couple of new drinks from the specials menu, something about smoked tequila.  I should have known not to drink hard liquor, I hadn’t had dinner, my stomach was empty not ready to handle.

After we did it, i found myself dizzy.  We showered.  You took me to the closest fast food restaurant, and got me a chicken sandwich to make me feel better.  You ate a burger that you shouldn’t have had.  We got in bed, dressed.  I was still dizzy from the alcohol.

You turned over, I’d get glimpses of your back every time I opened my eyes to check if I was OK to drive.  I remember wishing you were not in pain, I wanted to snuggle and cuddle you, but sharing a bed with a grown man again was no longer a familiar setting to me, and I didn’t know how to reach out to you, hold you, make you feel better.  I knew you were in some type of agony, but you were trying to hide it from me and I couldn’t act like the savior.

I finally woke up around 5 o’clock, rummaged the spaces around your bed for my shoes and my bag.  I put on my jacket and went to your bathroom to wash my face with cold water.  In the dark, my hands walked from your knees on top of the cover hastily until they found your face.  I leaned over to peck you with my lips.  I walked out to my car, the sky’s deep blue turning lighter on the horizon, the sun was going to rise.

***

i want a man who brings me closer to god

i want a man who brings me closer to god
reminds me to pray in the dark
after fucking me hard i want him to hold my hands and kiss my knuckles

i want a man who brings me closer to god
and slays the midnight dragons
pulls out his slate to sharpen my knives
prepares me to battle

i want a man who brings me closer to god
roams the roads and streets of my body
willing to get lost trying to find the point of encounter
discover the roads less traveled
never too tired

i want a man who brings me closer to god
someone wanting to strip off his mask
and reach out to mine
decipher the codes of pretenses
find the waters of the soul to swim in
fearlessly

i want a man who brings me closer to god
who buckles my knees when i wanna give up
pull me higher to catch the horizon
watch the sun rise

i want a man who brings me closer to god
builds a wall inside my heart to protect his place
like a ferocious beast might do his cave
in the white, white forest

i want a man who brings me closer to god
pierces my loose limbs
pins them down to hold me in place
for he knows this is his place of belonging

i want a man who brings me closer to god
whose fierce and determined to find himself drinking from my fountain
a man who marks my womb
makes sure everything he touches is his claimed territory

i want a man who brings me closer to god
holds me close,
pulls the strings of my self-built house
when defeat is all my eyes can fathom
when i wanna collapse
a man who can love me hard

i want a man who brings me closer to god
rises with me at the sight of stars
lifts me higher and knows when to hand me over the burden
hand in hand
together
a force to reckon with

i want a man who brings me closer to god
a man who rumbles my soul
trips and falls
but never doubts getting back up
because he knows that miracles keep us alive

i want a man who brings me closer to god
a man i can make immortal
through my poems
the king of my wrecked heart
cry with me
when everything crumbles

On Getting By

Some mornings I stand alone, my feet finding ground where I am standing.  I take in the air, I listen to the sounds of the morning in Bel-Air.  Tall trees, one-lane, two-way highway in the background, birds stringing their songs in nests.  Rocamadour is in school, and I have gotten to work.  So, our day has begun.

I check in with Sara, see if she needs anything before I wash the dishes & put laundry in the washer.  I’ve started to run the water & my mind also starts running.  Doing simple math in my head; total income this week, minus car insurance, minus gas, minus phone bill, minus a random and unplanned take-out meal because my house is too far to drive to get food before I get to class –oh yeah, minus school fees.  Minus, minus, rarely ever plus.

I began to figure out the hours I need to work, the perfect schedule to make ends meet.  I think about the $500 needed to file my paperwork for a work permit and I…just…can’t.  I gotta cover the basics first and then worry about the rest.  But a work permit would make things so much easier, but I can’t afford it and honestly, days pass and the job I need doesn’t come up.  I’ve told people my afternoons are free.  I got shit to pay, I gotta carry some cash on me, you never know.  The car started making a noise and I’m afraid to see what it is this time.

Sometimes, I wish I lived in a different place, a different society.  I want to be in the middle of a green, green valley with clear skies and a lake to look at.  A school that is walking distance for Roca, a job that doesn’t require me driving for an hour and a half every morning in traffic.  A teacher for my son that understands his sense of perception, someone willing to teach him about life in a classroom while I’m out trying to find purpose in a job that pays the bills.  I check my bank account balance every other day, every expense eats up a good chunk always leaving less.

Breathe.

Most days I stay calm, I know somehow things always work out.  But throughout the day I’m found trying to plan out the month, see where I can take from, where I need to bring in more.

Rocamadour’s sleeping breathing frequency soothes me at the end of the day.  His hair is growing, it points everywhere.  Every morning it’s a battle he doesn’t want to wear gel but I can’t send him off to school with those sea urchin hairs.  I’ve been rubbing a special moisturizing cream, it’s helping with his dry skin.  He’s growing taller, lengthy legs spread out in his Superman bed.  He’s worth everything I do, everything I need to do.  Building takes guts, living is a brave thing to do.

 

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Writing with Mujeres de Maiz

Last weekend was the last session of the Mujeres de Maiz Writing Workshop Series, and the whole month and a half that it lasted shook all of me.

First, I met Tara, an artist/poet from New Mexico who came to show us how to make beads out of the print outs of her poetry.  It was so awesome to learn this because it made me think of special ways I could gift someone with my own poem beads.  She let me take a couple of the templates for bead-making, and I was really happy to have met her and learned that from her.  Also, I was very excited to meet all the other womyn that were gonna be part of these series.  I came ready to open up & it was food to my soul and fuel to my writing.

Right from the beginning, we introduced ourselves and shared a little why we were there.  Everyone has a story to tell.  I shared that I was there because I had set a goal for this year to be one where I dive into writing in whatever form came to me — poetry, memoirs, good old journaling, etc. and that I wanted to surround myself with artists and writers to inspire me and push me to eventually get on a mic.  There were about 4 of us who were always there for every workshop, but I also bonded with other womyn who only made it for one or two.  Most of the workshops took place at Eastside Cafe in El Sereno every Saturday from March to mid-April.  The series were led & coordinated by Iris De Anda, a wonderful mujer who just published her first book of poetry, you should check it out!

The second meeting was at CSUN (closer to me!), and our facilitator that day was Xanath Caraza, a Spanish Literature professor in Kansas and incredible poet.  She led an intense workshop that made every womyn in the room dig places in our hearts through her poetry.  It was an experience that allowed me to write a piece about the time I was homeless with a child on my shoulders.  We all got to share and at the end we gave each other affirmations, and held hands, even hugged a couple of the womyn I connected the most with.  All these connections and powerful words gave me so much reassurance in the journey I am taking as a womyn, writer, mom, and sister/friend.

A couple of the other workshops allowed me to write a long poem about my name and its origin, and another one about my skin and body(will share those soon).  It was so exquisite to have that space and time and inspiration with other womyn, because there are experiences that only womyn understand.  We bring a special, mystic, significant energy to places, and to harness that in writing collectively was an immersion I want to experience again for sure.  The other womyn I shared my piece with really felt my words and wow, that feeling — when you are done reading out loud and people getting emotional reactions to something I wrote — it’s tantalizing and I’m getting hooked.

Some things I am doing to keep this ball rolling is I am getting back to attending ITWOW (In The Words of Womyn) more regularly in Sylmar at Tia Chucha’s (I’ve been invited for open mic nights, gah!).  I have been going to Write Club LA every month (I DO NOT miss that for anything in this world), and I am planning to go to the LA Writer Underground Open MicLa Palabra Reading Series & others that come up.  I follow poets & writers on social media that keep me inspired.  I have made sure to surround myself with all these little angels, who may not be aware that they are helping me, a womyn in the midst of my creative evolution, rebellion & liberation become stronger and more of a believer in myself and the stories I have to tell.

***

P.S. I recently went to Grand Park’s Book Fest, and ran into Wendy C. Ortiz, who is a captivating writer I met at one of the first spoken word events I went to at the beginning of the year.  She was writing free poetry for people (poesia para la gente) & I got so excited when I saw her because I had read her piece on the New York Times Modern Love column and absolutely fell in love with her writing.  Here is the poem she wrote for me on single motherhood.  Happy Heart 🙂

Single mother, what do you know?

Everything.

You know the secrets

of the refrigerator

what happens when the lights go out &

you have the power to keep the lights on.

You are keeper of crayons, scissors & glue stick.

You control the parades

& the rain on them.

You are yes.  You are no.

You spill schedules &

create coffee.

The siphon that is you

never runs dry; it can’t.

Yours is a special power.

And you are always more than mother ❤

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