Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Staying cool in a mad, mad world

One week. 

That's how long it took for me to be inundated with life here, in the small corner of Ohio I call home. A retreat is just that - a retreat. It plucks you out of the norm and deposits you somewhere you can turn your brain around in your hands. A place to look at your thoughts, from odd angles, and reflect on what they mean. I found the words in Oaxaca and they poured out of me. I'm searching for a way to keep that unfiltered flow alive in this house.

The world contained in this rectangular piece of electronics that I hold on my lap, that is what stops me. 

I get swept away in the glut of information and attitudes that hold my frozen stare, and throttle any spark that may have ignited upon waking. Being away from this sphere, even for three weeks, allowed me to look in from the outside and see the inanity of who we - and I - can be. We sputter and spew on topics ranging from abortion to guns, and gay marriage to politics. I see every day on my feed what is sin and what isn't, as well as who we should welcome and who needs kicked out. Our opinions spiral into the ether and sound petty and small in the scope that is this world - my voice among them. 

Whether we realize it or not, we are responsible for what we put out there. When you see words or pictures coming across a screen, they can be taken much differently than how you're thinking them in your head. Our posts are voices, and they can sound full of anger and childish speech - even if we don't mean them that way. I shudder at the posts I've seen full of vitriol and name-calling, horrible things that I could never imagine them saying in person. 

What fuels the power we feel to say these hateful words?

I have opinions, and on occasion, have posted them. But I stay away from name-calling and bullying, as well as the "Unbelievable" and "Wake Up" posts. I don't look down my nose at someone because they like certain things, nor would ask them to join me in mine. I've never changed my opinion from someone who makes me feel stupid for my beliefs. I believe in witty repartee and intelligent conversation that doesn't veer into bashing. We MUST learn to communicate with each other. There are ways to do this without belittling the other person, group, or idea. 

I know I can shut off this computer. No one has to tell me that. What I've realized is the effect that it can have on a productive life. I love what social media can bring and the connections it creates. It brings out the best in some, and sinks others into an abyss they can't crawl out of. 

Won't you join me in creating spaces that aren't filled with hate-mongering feeds that depress? Engaging in bright conversation that doesn't demean? It's a long shot, but for the sake of us as an online community, it's imperative. 

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Oaxaca // Following through

The wild night sky out my window facing the city.

Saturday, September 26th // 2015

The sliding of days into the past, like taking a sip of water until you find the glass empty, have overtaken my thoughts this morning. Today and tomorrow. That's all I have left here in this space, this small slice of found moments that I have put myself in the past fortnight plus seven.

Urgency, though, hasn't found me here. The tranquility of this breeze hitting my face every morning, allowing me to write freely, has afforded no trace of urgency. Authors will tell you that any time the words find you that they must be written. This is truth. They have found me every day as the sun rises to its zenith and the afternoon sear settles over the land calling for a quiet rest. I move from my window at that time and sit on the bed and finish for the day until it's time for the afternoon comida. I've not found the words in the evening, or even at night. It seems I need to rest my brain and recoup for the next day. A cyclical rhythm, if you will.

Cacao beans and nancha.

As of today, 11:01 A.M. on 9/26/15, forty-three thousand eight-hundred ninety-five words fell from my fingertips, as blood from a wound flows. I will write today and tomorrow, before I roll up my belongings and pack them tightly into a suitcase. I will board a plane Monday morning, the words safely in the cloud (and various other places) and I will fly home to the waiting arms of my beloved. How I've missed him.

My writing space at Arquetopia.

Making this trek alone has been the best choice I've ever been compelled into. It's allowed me to find in myself the 'knowing' that comes from starting and doing and nearly completing. I consider the book three quarters of the way done, though if more words find me I won't stop writing them. I've learned much about myself and what I'm capable of. Stepping away from life, a wonderful and fulfilling life, is imperative to success. It was never my choice to come - it was a propelling, a pushing out, a step-out-to-the-edge-moment for me. It was written before I knew it, and it was God-driven from the start. I only allowed myself to listen.

Zaachila mercado

So today I will write. I will allow this breeze in the verdant terrain just north of Oaxaca City to pull more out of me, and tomorrow as well. I will squeeze it for all it's worth, then I will complete what cannot be stopped at home. But where is home? I believe I will leave a part of myself here, the place where I met part of my other half - the little boy he left behind. 


Sunday, September 20, 2015

Oaxaca // Finding the emotions

This place, so heavy and dense. 
It has enfolded me in its palm and I lay here, gently, on the hot surface. 
Sometimes gasping for air. 

Graffiti, beautiful and evocative.

This week my word count has piled up and they are stacked neatly in my computer, waiting for the day they see the light. I have found them and I spew them out as water comes out of a geyser - forceful and necessary. I've found while writing that some characters don't have as much of a voice as I thought, and others are stronger. It's a strange process, writing, and the tiny threads you think won't mean much reveal so much more when pulled. I enjoy pulling stray threads and seeing where they take me. I write each day, every morning into early afternoon, and see where the trail takes me. I jot down notes and talk with George frequently so I can be sure to have details correct. Technology lets us see each other's face as we connect every morning and evening, love never losing itself over the thousands of miles. 

Santo Domingo cathedral

The church George took his coins in and asked God to help him. 

I've said before that missing him is the key to me writing the bulk of this story. Many times, as I meandered in the zocalo or on side streets to find a piece of the story, I've felt alone. When we hustled into town for the Dia de la Independencia (Independence Day) the rain pelted us, and as my hood was up and I became drenched, I felt a feeling akin to where will I turn for comfort? None was to be found, just walking and walking until I reached my destination. As independent as I am, I believe these feelings have been afforded me so I can sense some of the desperation yet happiness he found all while being lost. 

Drenched on El Dia de la Independencia

The frutas in Ocotlan market

We traveled to Ocotlan market, a town some forty minutes south of Oaxaca, and spent the day there browsing the wares. It was the cleanest and most delightful market I've ever been to, with the lushest produce and flowers I've seen.  The art and handcrafted wares were incredible, and I succumbed over and over to impulse buying. We also said goodbye to Allie, one of my fellow residents, who inspired me with her quest to find a part of her father here in Mexico - a place he was made to leave behind. 

Beautiful graffiti at the train station 

The little boy I captured. Such irony.
I climbed the train. So cool.

Most importantly, though, I found my way to the old train station - the one where George disembarked and found himself in a lush city, teeming with people. The place where as a six year old child, he looked around and felt emotions of loneliness and uncertainty. When I walked in to this place my eyes pricked with tears and a feeling I couldn't explain welled up in my throat. It was the most connected I've felt in my entire two weeks here, and I walked the length and width of the unused tracks and old train cars until I had my fill. I ran my hands along the chippy paint and iron that once robustly ran the tracks until it reached its destination. I was able to climb up on the train itself, rickety and rusty, and peered in and breathed the air around it. The air was different around this place, somehow sacred, and although George will laugh and tell me - Babe, I'm here. I'm not lost anymore - I know he downplays the emotions he feels. A small boy was playing near the caboose, and he appeared to be around six years old. I approached him, with his mother sitting on a bench near the station, and asked him if I could take his picture. Embarrassed, he ducked his head, but soon looked at me and nodded yes. I captured him looking at me in-between the wheel, and the irony of it stung me. This place was a highlight, and I left filled with something I hadn't felt before. 

The old train station. So many emotions.

I have one week to go, and I'm working hard to write as many words as can find me. I reach out in each space and tuck it inside my brain, to pull out when it seems difficult to write. This story is hard, and I'm telling it harshly - we aren't holding anything back. You will find it shocking, heart-rending, and maybe see some hope in-between the dark places. There's always a hope, isn't there? 

Magical city streets

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Oaxaca // One week completed

Today marks one week in Oaxaca.

The house I live in high up in the San Pablo, Etla terrain looks out over the city, like a blanket spread out and sprinkled with glitter. The lights twinkle as I connect them like so many dots on a familiar landscape - at least as familiar as one week can acquaint you. I have eaten calabasa, nopales in soup, agua de melon, and a plate of chicken enchiladas with salsa verde so fine I may never make them again in protest of not having these exact ones. Making them just like I ate them will be a challenge.

The most amazing enchiladas I've ever eaten. 

I am adjusted, I feel at home, and I am writing.

Today marked a milestone for me as I completed nearly 22,000 words in the seven days I've been writing here. Each morning I awaken, always very early, and contemplate my day. I feel no stress and no urgency to get going...to move. When I finally arise I sit at my computer that looks out an open window to the city below, and I type. For all the years I've tried, and all the times I've procrastinated, it seems the story has been waiting to emerge here - in the place where George's blood and tears flowed. Arquetopia and coming here was the right choice. It was intended for me to know it's name and claim my spot here. 

Flags fly in prep for their independence day.

I write him, and I feel each emotion as I connect it from my mind to the screen. Somehow, when I look up it's hours later and many, many words have been written. The book is taking shape and finding purchase. If I can complete this many words per week before I head home, I will be very close to done. Although, as with any book, I don't know how many words it will need and I'll write until it's done. I've learned that with writing, it's best to get into a routine of every day. Even if it's just several inches of lines that add to the story.

I've met myself here...and I like who I am. 

This city is so unique and so special. On two different occasions I've had the opportunity to meander through the zocalo, explore the markets, and eat food from the bounty of vendors that line the streets. I've stood in front of the church where George found refuge and gave back, as well as the market where he slept under the tables for so many nights. I've felt goosebumps many times, as though an invisible finger reached out to touch me and let me step through a curtain of time, to see what I must envision.

Political activities are always to be found in the zocalo.

I have several more places I want to visit in connection to the story, as well as some artist markets and shoppes that some of the friends I've made here at the residency have told me about. The old train station is a main place I need to go as that's where he first arrived, stepped off, and didn't quite know where he was. I want to go and stand in his steps and see, at least partially, what he may have seen. I know he is waiting for me back in Ohio, yet I can feel him here. I can sense his little frame running through the streets, lost and not knowing which way to turn. I stand in his small footprints and reach out to hold a little hand that's not there, yet is trapped in time and awaiting the full story to come into the light. 

The simple tamale, Taste buds are alive.

This I will do, for him and for me. When it's all done, he needs to come back to this place to feel it and find peace. Even though he is happy man, always the life of any party and especially my heart, he needs to come full circle and stand in the zocalo where he ran hungry and tired, and finally let go of that little boy that he was. 

Allie, Ellen, and I - fellow residents!

Mexico is a country full of ancient wonder and beautiful people. They are welcoming and warm, full of life and vigor. I entreat you to see beyond what you hear in the news and find the real Mexico. It is a lushly wonderful place full of inspiration - if you look for it. 

And I write on.  

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Oaxaca // The Words

Wanting something and actually carrying out the plan are two separate things. I'm usually on the former end of this scenario and do a lot of wishing and dreaming. Doing? It doesn't usually happen except if it's baking. Chocolate always comes first, hence the name of this blog.

I am a gatherer of words. I love to parse each part of them and know their meaning, while rolling their pronunciation around on my tongue until I know it dearly. I've read thousands of books which makes words come easy, though I'm not sure if the love of reading or of words came first. I guess they all go together in one tidy package. 

I've written many essays, columns, blogs, and poetry. I collect letters to form tiny vignettes around my home because I must be surrounded by things I love. Words signify home to me, as well as safety and comfort. There is never a moment I'm not "currently-reading" something. I've mostly stayed in the physical book realm when it comes to novels, though I have a Kindle and I'm known to use it when I travel. I read most of my articles online and find it hard to read a magazine that I hold in my hands. Otherwise, there's nothing like paper in your fingers, the heft of the book a calming world that you know will satisfy. The feel, the texture, and the choice to stick your nose in its crease to smell the words coming off the paper. It's bliss and it's love rolled into one. 

I have novels in me, but they can't be written until my first one is completed. Until I feel it in my greedy ink-stained (Okay, keyboard-weary) fingers and know the words I had pent up have been freed upon the backs of so many pieces of paper for all to read. The words, having spent so much time in my brain, seem to have taken up permanent residence. I admit I have no more space to store them so they must be gone and tucked away neatly into a Word doc so I can be free of them.

So I've come to Oaxaca, Mexico to free them. I'm a resident artist at a writer's residency tucked up in the mountains of our southern neighbor. I am ensconced in a house the locals call "La Casa de las Brujas" because of how it's built. The mountains, as I look out open windows on both sides of my room, are a midnight blue, and the verdant hills blink sleepily at me as I feel the atmosphere pervade my very thoughts. 

This is epic and once in a lifetime..

Looking out my bedroom in Oaxaca.

I am here to write the novel of my husband's life, that boiling mess of pain and shattered lives that ends with a rugged and ragged love, held together by stubbornness. 

He is Mexico. 

And I can feel him here, in the town of his birth and where he slept on the streets for three years, as surely as I can feel the Oaxacan wind brush my face. Today I write for me, I write for him, and I write to cast all nets out and write for the burning touch of the words I hold inside me. 

I arrived yesterday after three flights where I was dropped into the most exquisite airport I've ever been. A crisp and clean jewel of white light was Xoxocotla, and then I was whisked away to the small villa that sits in the hills of San Pablo, Etla - where the lights of Oaxaca twinkle to me out the window and whisper in Spanish the harsh realities of the tale I came to write. 

Today I awoke at 5:30 A.M. after a restless night filled with deep sleep and coming up for air in a strange room. The sounds of Mexico flowed to me through open windows, beloved and familiar sounds of roosters crowing and cannons booming. I opened my computer and after many weeks of writer's block, the words flowed. Three thousand words today and my fingers still move quickly over the keyboard to write this blog.

Today I also visited the place where my beloved was lost, where he cried on street corners, and where I stood and could feel his little heart breaking, yet persevering with a strength I am in awe of to this day. I haggled with a street vendor for a pretty blouse, and I looked up at beautiful cathedrals that reach for the blue Oaxacan sky. I bought a four-layered chocolate confection, and I rode on the Periferico and experienced the traffic that only Mexico can serve up. I did all this on my own, because to find little George I need to do it without big George. 

I am humbled by this opportunity to do what I love.
I feel bold in my quest.
I love these words.
They are hard.
They are bloody.
They are.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Hello Monday

Hello Monday.

You of normally hurried minutes that diminish rapidly through a hazy time continuum. Today I met you with problems consisting of regular things, yet clouded mind. Money and things and issues and future happenings stirred in my brain this sunny day. Though the sun met me with warmth and color and flowers that were blooming on my porch.

Ordinary days filled with troubles that aren't really troubles.
Ways to meet obligations and fulfill them drift through me,
pressing, gently pushing.

This morning, yet again, I've given it over to the one who knows me, and embraces me still though I've wandered far. Always wandering and wanting something more and different than the light of a regular Monday morning.

Today I work, gather groceries, and scribble poetry in a simple notebook in the dappled light of my porch. My haven and the place where my thoughts come together. A place where the book coming through my heart to my fingers finds purchase, and spills out onto an electronically-organized machine I hold in my lap. I will write these words one inch at a time until they are spent.

I greet you, new week, with messy thoughts and high hopes that will accomplish half of what I normally wish for a refreshed seven days. I will move through each minute and try to make it count. Each word and thought, held captive.

And I begin the day.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

I see you America

I know you, America.

I see you in the tiny back roads where wildflowers
bloom and droop with the dust that covers them. Where
I wander and watch verdant woods filled with green
inch past my window.

I feel you in the breezes that fall across my face,
as I am free to travel your craggy terrain and find
new places you have hidden from me. This, in your 
excitement for me to explore you.

You are on my front porch where I am free to seek refuge
and form prose that falls from my fingertips like 
blood, cut from jagged edges. Where I find the hard 
words more defiantly than anywhere else.

I know you, America. 
You are not 'Merica.

You are more than patriotic vitriol spoken with
careless abandon, without connecting brain or tongue.
Words wrapped in a flag and handed to you at birth
to blindly worship and tread softly around.

You are more than a flag, fibers and pigments colored
to make red-hued stripes and white stars, signifying a 
birthright of undying allegiance. The foggy wars we've
fought as we're spoon-fed the pablum of liberty.

Freedom isn't free, because it's a state of mind.

Liberty comes in the freedom to make decisions of
who I am and choose to be. It comes to me in the words
I say and the people I love freely, without fear
of someone saying I can't.

I see you, America.

In the faces of my children as they ford the waters
of this life that aren't easy to cross. As they 
scrape and scrounge and do and be. I see America
in their faces, fiercely shining in their will to 
accomplish much as resistance presses them.

I see you in my husband, who made your harsh
and beautifully unfolding land his own, leaving behind a home
where familiar creases would have lined his face. Where
smoke from comfortable fires burn and 
the smells and senses could wake
him up to what he left, though a home made now, 
where he chose to make it.

In myself, though older in body, yet young in spirit.
My chance to also do and be and see new things
and walk different paths. I don't need a flag in my
face to tell me I can accomplish much. 
Neither the cold grip of metal
in my hand to say I'm American. 


Not 'Merica. Where to be an American means 
gripping tight to words long ago spoken, 
and wrapping ourselves in a cloak
of rigid freedoms we hold tightly 'til death. 

Your wind whispers to me in the night, and I
wrap that caress around me as I find you in a 
darkened sky lit with dying stars.

I want to meld you with 'Merica and find an 
uncomfortable place, where we can relish in 
your goodness together. Instead of divided,
from the precipice I now stand on.