Monday, May 22, 2017

Grace in the madness of mothering

The Bargain Hunter, where my column appears, is undergoing website changes. For now, my columns will be posted here: 

There’s grace somewhere in the octaves between high-pitched and emergency, where I could hear the timbre of my voice and know that I was one step away from madness. This chaos lies in the line of crooked bangs cut with a dull hair scissors, no longer able to brush them away from the brown eyes of a child you love with such fierceness and agony. She would look at me, taunting, hugging me before she ran from me to do the things that would make my throat quiver. She would get up from her bed twenty-nine times in an evening, her Aladdin nightgown swinging as she descended from the stairs, and nothing I did would make her stay.

There’s grace allowed somewhere in that madness.

I remember rocking my baby in a rocker that several of our family had bought us for our wedding. The curves of it embraced us, and the nursery was warm with forced air from the furnace. I sat with my eyes closed and she was crying, just crying, newborn and wrinkled and unsure of why she was thrust into a world where people existed that couldn’t comfort her immediately. Yet I was there and she was cradled in my arms and all I wanted to do was sleep, yet knew that my sleeping days were over. The lilting tune that flowed from my lips to soothe her was called, “Ghost in this House” and when I hear it in my now it never fails to make me cry. It hearkens another time when feet were tiny and I couldn’t see past the wriggling baby in my arms and know what I could do to comfort her.

I remember this and that my mom came to my house right at this moment, to check in and see if she could help. She walked into the nursery as I struggled for composure, and she took the baby from my arms and I just cried, overwhelmed with hormones and cesarean section scars and no sleep. Moms are the absorbers of tears and snot, the re-assurers that the circle continues whether we believe we can continue it or not.

Two more times I would pour forth life, dark-haired babies that looked to me for their sustenance – tiny lips pursed with need. And when they grew and the house descended into a chaotic mix of Barbies and Legos and empty sippy cups that held chocolate milk, I would sit on the porch and find a silent moment to read and remember who I was. Enjoy this time, the older ladies would tell me, because it’s gone too soon. I would smile and nod my head and know that I would never not be wading through anarchy, and that I would be overthrown soon and sent to the gallows because the minions will have won.

And those moments when all is calm, and a sea of soft blankets is thrown on the floor with a movie playing and they are held in silent wonder. I would sit with them and they would lay their heads on me, and I would brush their jet-black hair from their eyes and feel like the queen that I should all along have known that I was to them. The cycle of motherhood and its wonder laid out on a blanket and reminding you who you are.

I find myself older now, my kingdom reduced to only the king and I, and I embrace this phase as a fresh breeze on my face in summertime. I see my own mom walking through the twilight phase of her cycle, resisting and fighting a big battle. I see this and am humbled as sometimes I arrive at her house, hasty and breathless in whatever my day has held, in a moment like my own, when I couldn’t handle the baby crying one more minute, and am able to help her do something she no longer can. 

The perpetual cycle of mothering tumbles over and over into infinity whether we believe we can handle it or not. I raged in defiance for the so-wanted responsibility I shouldered, a choice made and tucked under my belt to fulfill. In wonderment I brushed the hair of my children and watched as it fell in soft waves, the sweet scent of it filling my nostrils.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Shaun Cassidy, Kenny Rogers, and my worn-out speakers

This question was posed by my daughter on Twitter yesterday and I decided to take the challenge:

What song must you listen to every day without fail?

I have long and varied playlists that run the gamut of many different genres: techno, house, old country, pop from the 70’s and 80’s, and metal. There’s a tab on Spotify, my platform of choice, that lets you see how often and who you play the most. I was sure what the top ones would be, but was semi-surprised as it went along. Call me eclectic, or just weird, because I won’t be offended:

      1)   Shaun Cassidy: I make no apologies because he has been my favorite ever since he belted out “Da Doo Ron Ron” and “Hey Deanie.” He was also Joe Hardy on The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries in the late 70’s and that sealed the deal. I was an obsessed reader of the Hardy Boys books, and he came to life for me on that show. I had every one of his albums and now realize I listen to him every day.

      2) Barry Manilow: Oh, Barry. “Sweet Melissa, angel of my lifetime” did me in when I heard it for the first time. There was something about his smooth vocals and that small dip into disco he did in the seventies that still holds me in its thrall. I have a long list of his songs that I put on when I need to chill. George says he gets depressed when he hears them, and I reply that I wasn’t really asking him to like Barry anyway. BARRY FOR LIFE.

3)    Olivia Newton-John: Long before she donned her aerobic-wear and got physical, she was the Olivia who sang, “Have you never been mellow?” We had the 8-Track and I played that until it was nearly worn out. My sisters and I will still do an acapella version of “Let me be there” at random times, belting out those half-country half-pop notes like no other. In the 80’s I was a big Xanadu fan, and the songs “Make a move on me” and “Magic” are some of my all-time favorites.

      4)     Metallica: I’m a product of the time I grew up in, and the first time I heard this band growl out their lyrics with those angry guitars, I felt like I was hearing something clandestine. I could find them on an alternative radio station that I could only tune in at night, and I’d lay awake in wonder. The wild beats and drums drew me in and I’ve been a fan since the early 80’s. You couldn’t be a high school kid during that time without loving some form of metal. Metallica forever as well.

      5)    Steve Wariner or Kenny Rogers or early George Strait: I’m a sucker for this style of country, not the country of today. No haters please. I have long lists of this style of music that I evidently play every single day. My brother got me a Kenny Rogers album in 1979 for Christmas and I never looked back. Marina Del Rey? Kansas City Lights? You Decorated my Life? Nothing more to say here.

So, this is the music I surround myself with nearly every single day. Music is a feeling, an emotion. It can wildly swing you from memory to memory in the span of seconds. I don’t believe I need to stick to a certain genre to be the person I am or profess to be. I challenge all of you to look at the music you listen to, and instead of beating yourself up for it – or being embarrassed - embrace what you love. Life is too short to listen to music that bores you. The next time you hear the words “Hey Deanie, won’t you come out tonight! The stars are dancing like diamonds in the moonlight” whisper across your neck, you won’t be dreaming. That’ll be me blasting Shaun Cassidy at top volume with the windows down, as I cruise through Berlin.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

GET OUT: The review where Missy says white way too many times **SPOILERS**

Get Out

Released: February 2017
Written & Directed by Jordan Peele
Reviewed by: Melissa Herrera


The last real movie review I wrote was for Interstellar, back in 2014. It may have been more commentary, which might happen to this review as well. Fair warning. I've watched hundreds of movies since then and nothing has stirred me quite as much. Space, and the thought of time traveling through it, moves me. 

Horror movies stroke my inner demons as well, the intimate bond of the movie-goer and a mounting terror you can't put your finger on. If done right, it drips gathering dread through your body until you're squirming in those newly-installed luxury loungers. 

I can't say that I paid much attention to the previews for Get Out, or that it was made by Jordan Peele, of Key & Peele fame. They never fail to make me laugh, so why would I begin to believe that one half of them could terrify me? I should always know to check myself and my assumptions.

I want to give my true thoughts and not let anyone else's take on the movie affect what I took away from it. I haven't read anyone's review since I saw it. Let's unpack the movie:

There is a brief beginning that will come into play later in the movie. But we begin with an interracial couple, a black man and a white woman, Chris and Rose. Nothing to see here as he packs his suitcase and readies to go with her to meet her parents. She is typically white, reassuring him that her folks are "woke" and will not be upset at all that he is black. He isn't that reassured, and I recognize the blind tone in her voice that says "all will be okay" and the unsure look in his eye as he doubts her. I have used that tone.

There is a funny friend for comic relief (who is a very good friend and semi-hero in the end), a dog, and a car trip that is interrupted with a deer running across the road, and the car hitting it. It's designed to unsettle you, and when he goes into the woods to see if it's still alive, you really want to scream at him not to. Nothing good happens from following semi-dead animals into the woods. 

They call the police *FOR HITTING A DEER* and profiling takes place, which may shock many of you, but not me. It's that every day preparation of always knowing where documents are, and the "let's get this over with" on his end. It's a conditioning of circumstances that happen regularly.

They finally arrive, meet the parents, and all seems to be well as they are overly cool about him and their daughter dating him. Let's be honest, we are all squirmy about who our kids date until we get to know them. The parents, and especially the brother who shows up, are to me an acknowledgment of the bougie rich enclaves that dot our landscape. They are sweatered up and layered with cotton fabrics that flow and fall just right, begging us to like them even though we know they could dine out and pay for a dinner that is a mortgage payment to us. There is nothing wrong with being rich. Dinner is weird with strange testosterone challenges from the brother. The brother is a bit off, and written as such. 

We see the black woman who is their live-in housekeeper, as well as their black groundskeeper. Both are eerie and off kilter, and the dad apologizes for the appearance of having "only black help." It's with them that we see the movie begin to take shape. Their eyes seem vacuous and he cannot place what seems wrong with them. 

Chris struggles with smoking, and he's trying to quit. In the middle of the night he slips outside to have a cigarette, but is interrupted and disturbed by two run-ins with the groundskeeper and housekeeper. When he heads inside the mom is still awake, and she invites him to sit with her and let her help him with his smoking habit. She is a psychiatrist/psychotherapist (?), and she claims she has created a technique to help people quit smoking, a sort of hypnosis, and he resists until suddenly it is too late - she has already done what she set out to do.

There's tea cups and spoons, and then we're suddenly in the sunken place and my entire head explodes.

I will not give this part away because fear shot right through me during this scene. It was unnerving, unsettling, and the set up for the entire rest of the story. 

There is an annual party, one the parents hold yearly with their very upper crust set of friends, that begins the next day and the couple have no way out of attending it. I'll go through this quickly. The friends are overly nice to Chris, touching his arms, examining his features - enough to make me squirmy. I thought I knew what was going to happen at this point, but I was wrong.

So many racial innuendos I shudder. It's intentional. Yet I have found that we're much more comfortable laughing at racist gags than we are at seeing reality, albeit slightly exaggerated, play out on screen. It's a moment to reflect, if you're white.

Chris meets another black man at the party, there with a much older lady. We know him from the movie's opening, and as he begins to speak in a years-past sort of vernacular, I still think I know where it's going and I'm still wrong. Chris becomes uncomfortable with the tone and people of the party, and Rose and him take a walk. 

What happens when they're gone is nothing but bone-chilling. I won't reveal it, but suffice to say no one utters a word as it's happening which makes it more scary. White people doing white people things that they've done throughout history, just thinking they can.

I don't really write this openly about racial discrimination, but this movie is built around it, so I press on. 

We start building to a climax here as the party winds down. There have been incidents with phones, the housekeeper, and Chris' innate sense of impending doom that he should have listened to long before it gets to this point. It becomes urgent and he tells Rose they need to leave. I want to believe that this normal-looking white girl will be with him until the end. I hang onto that until the last possible second. I had hope for you, girl. You did me dirty.

When all is lost and Chris realizes he is all alone in a trap he hasn't yet figured out, all hell breaks loose. He's knocked out by tea cups and punching and wakes up in the basement. 

This is when we descend into what I can only describe as a 1970's satanic cult movie. I realize this thread has been there all along, not the satanic part, but the "retro" part. I don't want to give away what transpires in the basement, but hypnosis, subliminal messages, secret operating rooms, and the outrageous thought that someone can do whatever they want with someone else's body is played out. 

I'm rooting for Chris, just like I always rooted for the Native Americans when I read a story set out west. I say out west a bit lightly, because if we critically think more about it, the Native Americans have been erased from East Coast mentality. They persisted longer out west, and that's where we think of them being. They're taken advantage of, simultaneously, for what is perceived to be a lesser humanity and by a white culture that consistently feels in charge of...well...everything. 

But Chris is not about to let that happen, and finds a way out in a very bloody sort of way. I'm not going to lie, I wish it hadn't happened the way it did. It portrays how POC are conditioned by us to believe they act more violently than we do, a sort of gas lighting of actions. I read a quote the other day that rings true, "Americans perpetually regard themselves as victims of horrific, savage, tragic violence but never the perpetrators of it." 

But on the other hand, I was lifted up in my chair, shouting in my mind HELL YES, GO CHRIS. I wanted to do everything he was doing. I was right behind him. I know that we've become politically sensitive to every single thing we do, write, and say. But hot damn, I believe this move needed to end this way, whether I think it's right or not.

Get Out is a study in and of our culture. It's also a wink at those of us whose skin is a bit lighter than others. It's a "We see you as well as the cultured bullshit you portray" type of scenario, where the monsters exist under a well-meaning and faux-woke mentality.

We want to believe that we are racially sensitive, that we plug into what other cultures and skin colors face daily. I was really rooting for Rose until I wasn't. She disappointed me like so many others who use their whiteness at the last minute when desperately needed, or use it without realizing they are. She knew it and offended me and my white skin in doing so. 

I have been Rose. I lament that.

I loved this movie, and was able to sink into it. I am not overly shocked at what played out, because things that happen to POC or other cultures have become another part of the day for many, for us. You can take the monstrous middle and end of the movie, and insert happenings from the past or recent daily news. Ethnic cleansing, termination of blood lines, the seeking of a perfect race, or the current step-by-step demeaning of different religions and skin tones, and the denial by many that it's happening. We don't blink and have become accustomed to the atrocities. And that, my movie-going friends, is the biggest horror move ever made. Go see this movie. 

I give this movie 4.5 stars out of 5 stars: ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5

Thursday, February 16, 2017

There is no right way

Not every immigrant story starts out the same way.

Case in point: "My parents came over on a sponsored visa program, backed fully, and entered the port of NYC with the sun on their backs and a good road ahead. They did it the right way."

There is no right way. There's only the way it happened.

Some of us arrive in the dead of night on a rocking sea, vomit-covered shirt soaked and stained - the boat of tied-together rafts and tires falling apart as it hits the shore. Others stowaway on big steamers that chug their way towards the assumed golden shores of America, weeks and weeks hiding beneath cargo. Then there are others who strip down to their underwear, their belongings in a single plastic bag, plunging their bodies into the cold waters of that snaking river to rise, shaking yet determined, on the other side. 

Before these the many who sought their dreams boarded boats and simply arrived, suitcase in hand. Our ancestors out there dreaming and doing. There were no papers, no illegal entry, just people who were seeking the pinnacle of dreams that had been lost, destroyed for whatever reason in the world of their birth.

You see, we beam our brightest light out into the world, welling hope into people who have lost theirs. The "huddled masses" as we see them from our lofty high point. Then, as they reach our shores, having been beckoned by the false reveries and blinding promise, we shut the light off and leave them stranded. 

"I'm sorry, you can't really come here. Yeah, we're pretty proud of our country, but wait in line for twenty years and do it the right way."

We're big on bragging on who we are as a nation, the all-giving U.S.A. 
Look at how grand we are! 
Look at how benevolent are our people! 

And in the next breath we are shunning the ones who seek entry, judging them by their countries who spit them out, or a country that can no longer help them rise. 

In one big breath I've seen praise for God tumble out of lips, the whispered words imbuing a sanctity to living for Him - the one above all. In the next sentence are muttered words of fear and restraint saying, "We mustn't allow any more people in. We must take care of ourselves first!" 

I no longer care to hear your words on God. I, too, know him well. He has been my solace and keeper. He loves me as he loves you. The wide spectrum we now find ourselves on puzzles me, that to think we are to turn inward instead of outward as He demands. 

The condescending slide of words that inject a vicious stream into my blood saying, "You know what's right. Stop thinking differently than the rest of us." 

But you see, I know who I am.

I reject that because maybe for the first time in my life, I know that I am thinking for myself; I know that what I believe is true. I see the shaking heads and those of you walling yourselves in for the long haul. The sealing away of what we think are helping hands, now only meant for those who are deemed worthy to be helped.

If it weren't for that snaking river, the one that cuts through some of the harshest terrain in the U.S.A, I would never have met the one for me. My children wouldn't exist. Today I thank God that there are those that do defy our system for entry, that swim or run or drive across the border - any border - and inject LIFE into a place that would stay singularly desolate. No longer open to the diversity that brings culture and openness. 

We make it harder than it needs to be. 
Hard to enter a country with so much room to breathe.

In the rejection of that otherness, is the rejection of usurped land and the peoples that dwelt on it for thousands of years. We want to paint it with white, forgetting and leaving behind the history of its devastation. The slow creep of "civilization" that overtook, killed, burned, and cast out the brown faces that lived and dreamed there. Faces painted as "natives" and "heathens" and "uncivilized." The sweep that also took over Mexican lands and made them American, forgetting that the border is not now where it once was. With one fell swoop it erased the lines and in doing so erased a people that while still living there, are now invisible. 

Let them all in. Let them live. Open up the borders. Stop fearing.

There is no right way to enter. There is only how it happened. 

And whether we welcomed, or didn't.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Today I found out that I'm classless and vulgar.

Today I found out that I'm classless.

That I "don't know what a real woman is like."
That I "have no self respect" or "common-sense."

Today I learned that I am a pig. 

On Saturday I marched in a Women's March that was held in Wooster, Ohio. I knew that after this very divided election that I must march; that there was never any other choice for me. My husband gave me a kiss and told me to knock 'em dead up there.

"Hold your sign up high!" he said.

I met up with several other ladies and we arrived at the square. For two hours we felt solidarity, love, and people speaking words of unity. I'm mostly a semi-introvert who writes words from home. We all had our reasons for marching, and I didn't need this march to find somewhere to belong. I needed to do it to stand against hateful words, and for those who have no voice.

There's a quote by Albert Einstein that says, "If I were to remain silent, I would be guilty of complicity." I had never marched for any issue before, so it was daunting for me to get out there and do it. But I work hard: hard at my job, at being a wife and mother, and to be someone who doesn't silently stand by and let others voices call me classless and vulgar, while mine is silent. For the voices who say to "get off your ass and quit whining."

I marched for my Mexican husband who loves me unconditionally. I marched for the undocumented and the documented, who are all worthy of receiving dignified treatment because they're human. I marched for all Mexicans who have been demonized in the public eye for the past 18 months, who have struggled and lost work because of the color of their skin.

I marched for my kids so that they could see a mother who loves them completely and wholly, and stands up for them. I marched for my kids who are filled with a hunger for justice, and are already stronger than me in their quest to proudly bear their Mexican-American viewpoints given by their father and I. This, after years of offhand remarks telling them to "swim back where they belong" when they were born right here in Ohio. 

I marched for the girls, the ones who've been reviled and blamed and for rape culture making it worse. I marched for the girls who've had entire communities turn and blame them for being victimized and supported the offender. I marched for the people who can defend people who say they can "grab 'em in the pussy" and explain it away as "men will be men." Isn't that kind of talk vulgar? I reject it.

I marched for myself so I will never, ever forget the words that have been said. That "all Mexicans are rapists and drug dealers" and how everyone fell into line and believed it, affecting an entire swath of our country. 

When WAS America greater than it is now? When everyone that didn't look like us fell into line and kept their mouths shut, drinking from their own fountains? 

This is why I march. I march to never forget. I march for love and for the respect I have from my husband and children, from family and friends. I march for the office of president, one I respect, and sorrow for the words that now come from it unfiltered. I march for all the people typing posts and comments, the ones who glorify Jesus in one breath and call women like me who marched

not a real woman
a pig
with no common sense or respect

Words matter, and there are always imperfect ones that come out of any event. Ones that don't quite resonate and sound harsh. But just like is said of our president, "He doesn't always say the right thing. He's not perfect, but I'll support him. Let's make America great again."

I'm hoping you support other women too, instead of tearing us down with words that seek to cut and slice. Words that deem me crude and not a "real woman." Why harbor hatred of something you don't seek to fully know? 

We all lean one way or the other, and Jesus isn't choosing sides. 

Asking us why we marched might be a start, instead of condemning the whole march entirely. If you're seeking to do this, to understand the why's, then thank you. We have some answers that might stun you with their complexity. I would love to hear your side. 

And I won't call you names if you do. 
That only divides us.