Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Keeping Time

BEING BUSY DOES NOT MEAN BEING PRODUCTIVE
Everyone says they're busy. With modern communication methods, that's easy to believe because we're constantly connected. We can take work with us anywhere we go. Our cell phones sleep cradled next to our beds, or within a few feet of us. They carry unlimited opportunities to send stories, photos, messages, and a never-ending chronicle of our day, always at our fingertips, as vital as water to most of us. 

Yet, do we really have to be that busy all the time? I am struggling with that question right now. Lately I've been running on fumes, burning the candle at both ends and not seeing relief in sight. Even an upcoming vacation doesn't offer a lightening up of these feelings. Why do I do this to myself and how can I slow down?

First and foremost, I want to please everyone and never let anyone down. I realize this is impossible, but it doesn't stop me from trying. I have always been this way. It is part of my Type A personality that has brought tons of benefits to my life. But it is also the cause of a lot of undue stress. One way I am combating this is to say no more often. If you ask my daughter, she'll probably say I say no to everything, but in truth, I say yes way too often when I shouldn't. When asked to volunteer, to help someone, to be on a committee, to offer advice, or to share of my talents I am too quick to say yes. Instead of thinking about what it will cost me personally to say yes, I think about what it will say about me if I say no. That is the wrong way to see it. It isn't working for me. 

Saying yes so often means 15 minutes to get home from work, get a meal on the table, eat dinner with my daughter and leave for my next commitment. It means foregoing working out to get things done, even though working out has been the main healer in my grief journey and has offered countless benefits from strong mental health to a good night's sleep. It means that I miss out on experiences with my daughter and family that I would otherwise like to participate in. It means always begging for a sitter, or dragging my child along to meetings and events she finds boring. 

Resolutions are left for once a year, but I am declaring this a good time to resolve to say no more often. I have been forced to do so more since becoming a single-mom, but I know there is room for improvement. It is time to respectfully decline and recommend someone else who can fulfill the request. More reflection of how my time is spent is critical to my happiness, the memories I make with my daughter, and is essential to carving out the life that I want to live. It is critical to achieving my dream of publication, storytelling, and sharing of that passion. Without assessing how my time is carved, I will continue to spend it on things that don't work towards any of those goals and at the end of the day, at the end of my life, I want to look back on those elements. The rest won't be what helps me feel that I lived a life that fed my soul. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Life Goes On

It's hard not to think about all that Warren has missed since he's been gone. Aside from the milestones, there are so many little things that I think he would get a kick out of.

Living on a hill is back-breaking in the winter, not to mention dangerous. When there were two incomes we had a snow removal service, but that was a luxury I did away with soon after the funeral. In its place I bought a super large and powerful snow blower. It's the kind of heavy machinery Warren would have enjoyed. One of the ways I get through the winter is knowing that if he were around, he'd enjoy seeing me handle it and clear our hellish driveway all by myself. Of course, I can also imagine him trying to Bogart the machine and wanting to do it himself. I wouldn't have fought him too hard on that one.

Since Warren was into gadgets and technology, I often wonder how he would interact with some of today's apps. In particular, I think about the photography-based ones like Instagram and Snap Chat. I can totally see him having a great time with the kids on Snap Chat. I don't think he would have been big on reading stories, but I think he would have used stories to share his travels with our daughter since he often traveled for work. He loved taking photos with his phone so he would have been all over Instagram, and I would have been at his side asking him how to use it.

The family changes are harder to imagine. So many changes have happened that I am glad he's not been around to witness - difficult times that all families go through, but are still unpleasant and painful. On the other hand, there have been some really great ones, like the birth of my youngest nephew, and the births of his nephews in Mexico. Unlike me, Warren was a baby person. While he was nervous to hold and feed his first nephew, once he got the hang of it (and my family kept having baby after baby for a few years), he enjoyed having sleeping little ones on his chest, making them smile, and teaching them things as they got older. Sometimes when the kids are over at my house I hear them say and do things that I know would have gotten a deep belly laugh out of him. I am mostly at the point now in my grief that I can smile at those moments and feel a brief connection to Warren, like he's smiling, too.

Cuco Santiago
AKA my little brother
Watching my brother fulfill his dream of doing entertainment wrestling is something else that Warren would have been all over. He would have been a Cuco Santiago groupie, going on road trips with him to his out-of-state shows, and attinding as many local shows as his schedule would allow. He wasn't a big lucha libre fan, but he was a big fan of people going after their dreams, especially the people he loved.

Then there are the quiet moments when I catch something on the news, or read an interesting article about a topic which I know he would have had a lot to say. Events like the ones that have spurred the Black Lives Matter movement would have definitely stirred the activist in him. He would have been all about finding ways to be in solidarity with those in the movement, as well as police officers. No doubt that he would have words of hope and unity, while wanting there to be systemic changes that allow all to live without fear of race-based harassment leading to death.

And don't get me started on how Warren would feel about Trump...I guess that's one thing I am glad he isn't around to see. I keep hoping that he'll send me sign that it's all really a big joke and that America really isn't buying his rhetoric. If that ever happens, you can bet I'll blog about it.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Reading the World

As I've mentioned before on this blog, my graduate school had a lot of award-winning writers on faculty. They are the reason the program was so renown,and also what attracted me to the school. One such faculty member is Matt de la PeƱa, who recently won the Newbery award for his picture book, LAST STOP ON MARKET STREET. Unfortunately, I never got to work with Matt directly, but I did get to his lectures and I recall a reading he did when this picture book was in the idea stages and felt honored and amazed that he shared a bit of it with us. I had no idea it would go on to win such an esteemed award.

In his Newbery acceptance speech Matt refers to himself as a nonreader, which might be surprising considering how many writers are avid readers, but when he defined how much of the world he 'read' as a child, I found his speech even more profound. It reminded me of so many kids today, in particular my ten year-old nephew who gets super excited about a book if I read it to him, or if we listen to an audiobook together, but left on his own with a book and he doesn't touch it.

The part Matt's speech that really solidified my nephew's face in my mind was this:
Maybe I didn’t have my nose in a novel, but I read my old man’s long silences when the two of us sat in freeway traffic in his beat-up old VW Bug. I read the way he pulled himself out of bed at 3:30 every morning to get ready for work. How he never took a sick day. I read my mom’s endless worry about the bills. About the empty fridge. But I also read the way she looked at me and my two sisters. Like we were special. Like we could make something of our lives. I read the pickup politics at Muni Gym in Balboa Park. How the best players assumed a CEO-like power the second they laced up their kicks and called out to the crowd, “Check ball.” And I read how these same men were stripped of this power as soon as the games died down and they set foot outside the gym, out of their domain and back into yours...Self-defined nonreaders who spend all day reading the world. My mission as an author is to help a few of them translate those skills to the written word."
Reading comes in so many forms, and kids are excellent intuitive readers of their environments. I don't know for sure why that is other than it must be a survival mechanism that helps them navigate the adult world they live in. I have no science to back up my theory, but I think this is especially true for inner-city youths of color who have low economic resources. They have no choice but to read into everything they see, everyone they meet, every situation they encounter to ensure their safety and that they get their basic needs met. It's sad, but as Matt proves, it can also be the trait that leads them past what they have always known and into lives they have only seen on a screen or the pages of a book or magazine. Matt captures that idea best when he says, "And sometimes when you grow up outside the reach of the American Dream, you’re in a better position to record the truth. That we don’t all operate under the same set of rules. That our stories aren’t all assigned the same value in the eyes of decision makers." 

That last line is so powerful as Americans cheer about bans on Muslims, walls that further divide, and white authors lauded as "fearless" in the New York Times for writing about slavery from a Black POV ignoring the fact that black authors like Octavia Butler and Toni Morrison have done that for decades from an authentic perspective.

This is the world that these "nonreaders" live in. It is what we are gifting them while reducing their education systems to test-prep centers, and cutting arts programs and library budgets across the country. Kids are reading a world that tells them that material things are more valuable than their brains, and that reading isn't worth as much as having a social media presence complete with duck-face selfies. Their intuitive nature is being warped by cops quick to use violence as a means of communication and having fewer and fewer outlets for their frustrations, questions and freedom of expression. 

I am not proud of the state of the world, or that it is part of the legacy that I am leaving to little nonreaders like my nephew who deserve to have their voices valued and respected, their stories told as they live it, and their minds challenged as the incredible magic tool that it is. If books can be a way to alter this course in any way, then I commit to writing past my doubts and insecurities, sacrificing my free time to developing my craft so the written word can serve as a guide for these young nonreaders can turn to when they're overloaded with negative reads from the world around them.

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