Friday, December 31, 2010

The Sure-Fire Way to Keep Your New Year's Resolutions

As I write this post, countless people the world over are conjuring up lofty resolutions for the coming year. You've heard it before - most of these resolutions fail within days, weeks, or (for those tenacious types) a few months of January First. Now I'm no expert on the human psyche, but after a few minutes of considering the issue, the word DUH! came to mind. It's absurdly apparent why most resolutions fail. They fail because we want them to fail, because they're unpleasant, because we'd rather drink our own piss than see them through.

Think about it; the most common resolutions look something like this:

Lose weight
Hit the gym frequently
Adhere to a more frugal budget
Quit smoking, drinking, toking, or otherwise indulging in addictive but soothing vices
Get a new job (or a second job, in this recession era)

Ugh. With such tiresome and obnoxious goals as these, it's little wonder we forget about them almost as hastily as we've made them. They sound like self-punishment, like drudgery.

But this year, I propose a revolution in resolutions. Let us each resolve to accomplish the delightful and amusing, not the dry and dreary. Leave the sober promises cited above for another relatively insignificant year, like 2013. For 2011, Dr. Nadya* recommends that everyone add some flavor to his or her otherwise bland New Year's resolutions. I will wager that an exciting, charming, and even silly resolution is far more likely to remain in your memory and on your To-Do list than something as unsexy as "stick to my budget." This year, resolve to do what you actually want to do, not the insipid chores you think you should do. This way, you might actually get something done - or at least take pleasure in the effort.

A few examples to help you get started (my own 2011 resolutions):

Gain five pounds
Notice something beautiful every day
Visit at least one new country and two new states
Make two new friends - the real kind, not the Facebook kind
Take a belly-dancing class
Commit an anonymous act of kindness once a week
Learn to make chocolate croissants

Now these are resolutions I can look forward to keeping :)

*I'm not actually a doctor. And I don't play one on TV. I'm not even a fan of primetime medical dramas. But I do think that McDreamy guy on Grey's Anatomy is appallingly gorgeous and I'd play doctor with him any day.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Do You Haiku?

I wrote these last night during a bout of insomnia.

Tonight a child sleeps soundly
decisively dreams
of the spaces between stars.

Love is a carnival prize
a triumphant smile
after winning a stuffed doll.

Does anyone else out there ever write haiku? It's not my favorite poetic form, mostly because I'm so verbose and haiku requires brevity. But I'd love to read yours! Feel free to share in the comments.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

100 Words: Miami is My Native Land

Miami is my native land, a city that feels like an autonomous territory, complete with its own tongue, rhythm, and collective consciousness. Miami is an amalgam of flavors. It is roast pork bathed in Cuban mojo and peppered with sundry spices from islands and highlands around the globe. Miami looks like sunshine and wish-you-were-here postcards and telenovelas. At once it feels sopping and sticky and sunburned and sexy. It is sand in shoes and luxurious pearls of perspiration around golden-brown necks. Miami sounds like mambo beats and traffic jams and the clutter of noisy conversations. In Miami, nothing is whispered.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Hairbrush Microphone

When I was a kid, I spent hours each day in front of the full-length mirror that was attached to my closet door.  I turned my little boom box up full blast and became Janet Jackson or Mariah Carey or Selena. At school and on the block I was a skinny, frizzy-haired ‘goody-goody’ who fit every nerdy stereotype imaginable. I even willingly wore plaid skirts, knee-high stockings, penny loafers, and a beret – an actual beret – to school most days. But as soon as class had ended, I hurriedly skipped back home, absconded to my claustrophobic room with the peeling floral wallpaper and circa 1970s shag carpet, shed my schoolgirl getup and became a diva. In the womblike safety of my bedroom I could be sex. I could be style. I could be success. I could be everything I wasn’t. I had scores of stuffed animals who sat enthralled through hours of impassioned singing (or lip-synching, when my parents were home) and showered me with shouts of adulation.
 Nowadays, it seems there are scarcely enough idle minutes, let alone hours, for me to spend daydreaming. But when I’m late to that thing I have to attend, to that place where my domineering adulthood requires me to be, it’s usually because I’ve stolen away to that little room again, that delightful world of my infancy. I unremorsefully miss your important phone call or fail to respond punctually to your urgent email because one hand is holding a hairbrush microphone and the other is sending kisses floating off into an imaginary crowd.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Regulars

I used to work at a diner as a teen. The characters I encountered there, both customers and coworkers, fascinated me then and continue to haunt me eleven years later. What follows is a glimpse at a few of the frequent customers, or regulars, who formed an integral part of the colorful landscape that was "Daisy's Diner."

On Sunday mornings, a motley bunch of regulars descends on Daisy’s Diner. Sometimes we get to know their names.

Shorty is a skeletal old man with exceptionally bowed legs who limps in at exactly six-thirty every day of the week, clad in a tattered denim jacket, equally worn blue jeans, and russet-colored cowboy boots. You can’t live in Mayville for long without noticing Shorty. He walks miles across and around the town each day, first to Daisy’s for breakfast, then here and there on errands, followed by a stop at the Shanghai Café for lunch, then on to St. Mary’s for evening mass, and finally to Bob and Millie’s house on Tree Street for dinner. From time to time, I pass Shorty on my way home from Daisy’s after my double shift. He’s just left Bob and Millie’s and is making his way home, a few streets west of my place. I honk my horn and wave, but never offer him a ride. Shorty hasn’t set foot in an automobile in over a decade, not since he killed a little boy on his way home from the Westridge Pub one evening.

Slick Sam shows up around eight with his brood of bastard children. He’s thirty years old and already has six kids with four different women in Mayville. Sam is the owner of Slick Sam’s Auto Body Shop on Union Street. He also sells weed to a few of my neighbors, so I see him frequently, creeping up the drive in a glossy red and white Corvette. Every Sunday, Sam picks up each of his kids from his baby mommas’ houses and takes them out to breakfast. He always makes a grand entrance, showing off each child to the waitresses and grinning smugly as if he’s expecting someone to crown him Father of the Year at any moment.

Maud is a middle-aged librarian whose astonishing obesity requires some foresight on the part of the restaurant staff. Each time she comes in, the hostess keeps her entertained for a few seconds while one of the busboys adjusts the corner booth so poor Maud can squeeze in. We began doing this after an incident three months ago. Maud was maneuvering her gut in the most fantastic fashion so as to fit into her usual booth when her colossal ass hit a nearby toddler’s high chair and sent the poor kid flying across the dining room and smack into the arms of a waiter who was carrying several bowls of oatmeal. We have tables and chairs, but Maud insists upon sitting in the corner booth. Whoever said that the customer is always right must have been a first-class dumbass.

There are nameless regulars whom we know only by what they order. There’s the hot chocolate guy, who reeks of sweat, beer, and cigarettes and comes in every Sunday morning to drink exactly four cups of hot chocolate. He has a long, gray beard and resembles a down-and-out Santa Claus. Peggy always serves the hot chocolate guy because she’s the only one who can stomach him. He sits at the counter for two to three hours, sipping his cocoa, talking to a filthy  little stuffed panda, and plucking hairs from his beard. After he’s finished his fourth cup of hot chocolate, the old man tips Peggy six quarters and a carefully arranged pile of coarse facial hair.

The seven peppers man is a professional panhandler. He’s not actually homeless.  He lives in a shabby little duplex two blocks away, which he pays for by begging outside the shopping mall downtown. Every Sunday around noon, the old man barks his order at Dolly, the timid waitress who works the counter. “YOU LISTEN HERE! WRITE THIS DOWN SO YOU GET IT RIGHT FOR ONCE. I WANT A TUNA SANDWICH ON SOURDOUGH WITH EXTRA TOMATOES AND SEVEN PACKETS OF PEPPER! SEVEN PEPPERS, YOU HEAR? NOT FIVE, NOT EIGHT, BUT SEVEN PEPPERS!” When Dolly nervously asks the old curmudgeon whether he wants his food “for here or to go,” he scoffs at the question and replies that if he stays, he will have to tip her “sorry ass.” The seven peppers man is not the tipping kind.

What Color Are You? A Reflection on Racialization in US Schools and Communities

I wrote this short reflection piece over a year ago in a course I had to take for my Masters degree and teaching certificate. It describes a moment that was critical to the formation of my teaching philosophy and views on race labels. I have been thinking about this experience lately, and how far I have come as a social justice educator since then.

What Color Are You? A Reflection on Racialization in US Schools and Communities

Margaret and Fatima[1], two high school sophomores from Liberia and Somalia, respectively, recently bumped into me in the hallway after school. I know the two girls fairly well because I tutored them in reading twice a week when they were in junior high, and now see them from time to time at the high school. We took a moment to catch up on the usual topics of interest to teenage girls: clothes, popular music, and boys. Or at least that is how the conversation began. For some reason (the memory escapes me) the girls began to ask me about my husband. What does he do for a living? How did you meet? In this vein our chat somehow evolved and suddenly Margaret asked me a question that left me fumbling for words to respond: “What color are you and your husband?”
I paused, frantically thinking of ways to dodge the question. I decided I would make a joke and quickly move on. “We’re purple,” I replied with a smile, and attempted to change the subject. Not so fast, Margaret’s expression seemed to say. “Everyone in America has a color,” she said. “Yeah, we’re Black here, and Americans hate Black people,” added Fatima. “Purple is not a color. You can only be black, white, brown, red, or yellow. What color are you?”  My intention was not to patronize or pretend that issues of race in the United States do not exist. I simply did not know how to answer the question, or at least half of it. My husband has pale skin, blonde hair, and blue eyes and his family can claim American citizenship for several generations back. Consequently, I know most people would regard him as White. But what color am I? I have dark hair and eyes, with light olive skin. My parents are Cuban refugees.  In the limited menu of race/color labels in the United States (sadly to which these two African students had already been introduced), “Olive” is not an option. I have been called White in some circles, such as among people of Cuban descent. I have heard others refer to me as Brown. Still others prefer to add me to the catch-all category of Persons of Color, a controversial term which includes all people but Whites. And then of course there was my own self-perception to consider: I do not and have never seen myself in terms of color. With all this confusion of complexion hues muddying up my mind, I found myself at a loss for the ‘correct’ way to respond to such a question. The conversation ended, we went our separate ways, and I felt I had failed Margaret and Fatima by not supplying an adequate response to such a weighty question.
This vignette illustrates the first time that students have asked me about my skin color, but I know that it will not be the last. I am planning to teach immigrant students such as Margaret and Fatima next year, and I hope that my future students, who will likely grapple with issues of race and color for themselves, will trust me enough to ask me such questions. However in order to build and deserve that trust, I clearly have some work to do.
First, I must address the color question for myself. Am I Black? I do not believe so. Am I White? Brown? To some folks, perhaps. What about a Person of Color? It is a phrase commonly used by educators and theorists to refer to non-Whites. But is it appropriate? Multicultural theorists Sonia Nieto and Patty Bode (2008) think not:
[One problem with the term] is the implication of a common historical experience among all groups and individuals included under this designation. Aside from a mutual history of oppression at the hands of those in power, a shared historical experience among these disparate groups is an illusion…People of color is also inaccurate when referring, for example, to Latinos of European background, as is the case with many Argentinians and Cubans, and light-skinned Latinos in general. When these Latinos refer to themselves in this way, they risk implying that they have experienced the same level of virulent racism as their darker-skinned compatriots (p. 38).
I agree with Nieto and Bode here, but would add that “People of Color” is not the only problematic label used to color-code people in the United States. The other labels are just as complicated. “Black,” for instance, is a tricky label for students such as Margaret and Fatima, who do not share the same historical or cultural experiences as African-Americans. Nevertheless, Margaret and Fatima know that that this color has been assigned to them by American society, whether the girls will it or not. They have been racialized, as Bigelow (2008) puts it.
            Bigelow (2008) argues that “[t]he process of racialization has a powerful impact on immigrants of color, like Somalis, who may or may not have come from such racialized societies or were considered the dominant race in their own country” (p. 28). In “becoming black,” Somali immigrants must grapple with their new minority status as well as with a label that negates the very existence of a Somali culture and attempts to lump them together with African-Americans, which Somali students might not identify with (p. 28). This labeling, warns Bigelow, can have various adverse effects on Somali and other African students, such as racial profiling by police and a loss of cultural and linguistic resources (such as when Somali students opt to speak African-American Vernacular English instead of their native languages, in order to fit in) (p. 29).
            What then, is the answer to Margaret’s question? What color am I? After significant research and introspection, I have come to the conclusion that “I don’t know,” followed by a discussion of the implications of color labels, is a far more useful answer for students than succumbing to racialization and replying with “white” or “brown” or some other color label. Students, particularly those who are members of oppressed groups, want to talk about race, and open, honest discussion about race can help improve the educational climate for children like Margaret and Fatima. As a teacher, I must be comfortable talking about color whenever students bring up the issue. However I need not wait for students to bring it up. Bigelow recommends that teachers initiate these discussions with their classes: “All students should learn how racialization occurs at schools and in communities. Students can [be encouraged to] engage in their own inquiry about racialization practices” (p. 32). Teachers should also make sure not to assign labels to students. Dark-skinned students are not all the same and thus should not be treated as though they are. For that matter, light-skinned, “White” students also come from diverse backgrounds, and educators should be careful not to assume that all “White” students have shared historical or cultural experiences or perspectives.
            I do not wish to give the impression that I am advocating ‘color-blindness’ in school communities. Skin color has long been and continues to be a basis for discrimination and oppression in the United States. Darker-skinned students like Margaret and Fatima will learn harsh lessons about racism whether or not teachers discuss it with them. However, educators can be agents for social change when they assist students in deconstructing the white/black, or white/colored, dichotomy through honest dialogue with students about race. In The Dreamkeepers, a book about culturally relevant pedagogy for African-American students, Gloria Ladsen-Billings (1994) writes:
African American children cannot afford the luxury of shielding themselves with a sugar-coated vision of the world. When their parents or neighbors suffer personal humiliations and discrimination because of their race, parents, teachers, and neighbors need to explain why. But, beyond those explanations, parents, teachers, and neighbors need to help arm African American children with the knowledge, skills, and attitude needed to struggle successfully against oppression (p. 139).
Although she is writing about African-American students, Ladsen-Billings’s argument can certainly be extended to students from other marginalized groups, such as immigrants from African countries. I did Margaret and Fatima no favors by avoiding an honest and constructive discussion about race and racism.
            How to begin engaging in useful dialogue with students about race? Stovall’s (2005) explanation of Critical Race Theory (CRT) can provide a springboard for such discussion. Teachers can explicitly teach such theories and their application in the classroom. I am planning to teach language arts at the secondary level. I see no reason why I should not introduce students to the same critical theories that I was exposed to in the university. I can teach students how to use CRT as a lens for analyzing literature. For example, I am currently planning an inquiry-based unit in which students will explore how African-American authors have used and continue to use language as a tool for subverting systems of oppression and effecting social change. This unit would be part of a year-long investigation of the “racialized, gendered, and classed experiences” of women and other historically marginalized authors, and would apply the “interdisciplinary knowledge base of [CRT] to better understand” their experiences (Stovall 2005, p. 97).
            Through my experiences working with immigrant youth, I have begun to learn what it means to be an “ally” to members of historically oppressed groups of people (Kivel 2005, p. 139). Kivel argues that being an ally “includes listening” to people when they have encountered racism in their lives (p. 139). However, for educators being an ally also means exhibiting a willingness to engage in thoughtful, honest discussion with students about race. As an educator, I do not need to have all the answers. I do not need to have a one-word response prepared for the moment when a student asks, “What color are you, Ms. Perez?” Instead, I need to be ready to engage in critical inquiry with my students, and support them as they learn to navigate and challenge the complex and color-coded world they in which they live.


Bigelow, M. (2008). Somali adolescents’ negotiation of religious and racial bias in and out of school. Theory into Practice, (47), 27-34.
Kivel, P. (2005). How White people can serve as allies to people of color in the struggle to end racism. In P.S. Rothenburg (Ed.), White Privilege: Essential Readings on the Other Side of Racism (2nd Edition), 139-147. New York, NY: Worth Publishers.
Ladsen-Billings, G. (1994). The Dream-Keepers: Successful Teachers of African American Children. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Nieto, S. & Bode, P. (2008). Affirming Diversity: The Sociopolitical Context of Multicultural Education. (5th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.
Stovall, D. (2005). A Challenge to traditional theory: Critical race theory, African-American community organizers, and education. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 26(1), 95-108.

[1] Students’ names have been changed out of respect for their privacy.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

100 Words: Tomorrow

Tomorrow I will break out of here. I will wriggle out from beneath the weight of your overfed opinion, which lounges oppressively on my lap and numbs my limbs. My cadaverous legs, feeble but free, will need no command, no pointing in the direction toward which they must stumble.
Tomorrow my will and my shall become my am. No more am I a courtesan in the house of your hubris. I flee the bordello of your self-indulgence for the beautiful specter of a new morning in a nameless town...
unless tomorrow should again ensnare me in the trap of hope.

Friday, December 17, 2010

This is Nadya

Lately I’ve received some colorful spam email from considerate visitors to my blog who wish to offer me such necessities as penis enhancement potions and anabolic steroids. I thought that since they were pushing such personal products on me, they should at least get to know me better first. A bit of an introduction might help them learn useful tidbits about their target audience, such as the fact that I do not actually possess a penis and thus have no need of enhancing one. So here’s a bit of help from yours truly, a few scraps of my messy identity.
My recurring dreams:
Dream One: My teeth are falling out. I have this dream at least once a week. The plot varies but the conflict remains the same. I’m losing a tooth or teeth. When I wake up, I run my tongue across both sets of chompers to make sure all are accounted for.
Now and then I wonder what the tooth dream means, and why I dream it so frequently. My best friend read somewhere that this sort of dream is quite common. She believes that it has something to do with anxiety over having said too much to someone, or a terror of having one’s words misinterpreted by others. She may be right – I regularly lie awake at night fretting about the nonsense I have said over dinner with in-laws, during a run-in with the neighbors, or to a colleague in the hallway. This unease happens most often after an encounter with someone outside my exceptionally exclusive inner circle. My collection of confidantes is small because of this pernicious angst over being misunderstood, this fear that I am a misread and misquoted text. Of course, I see most individuals as arcane epics, replete with vague allusions to characters and experiences and worlds that lie far beyond the borders of my ability to comprehend. I venture to guess that I am not alone in my “nobody gets me” anguish.
Dream Two: George Clooney and I make wicked love. No ambiguity surrounds this dream, no hidden meaning. Ladies and gentlemen, when you dream that you are having sex with George Clooney, it means nothing more than the obvious and understandable fact that you want to have sex with George Clooney.
Dream Three: I am forced to repeat high school, specifically the math and science classes. I just threw up a little bit in my mouth while typing the words. Ugh. I hated math and science! I think the meaning behind this dream is that I have done something awful and God’s preferred method of castigation is to force-feed me a little taste of hell. Maybe the dream is meant to punish me for having impure thoughts about a certain Oscar-winning actor? Perhaps I’m on to something here….
My injurious vices (this is not a comprehensive list):
The Twilight books and movies: Yes, I know they are bad writing and worse cinema. But they would not be vices if they were not embarrassing and inimical to one’s brain cells.
Doughnuts: Big squashy ones with chocolate frosting. I’m devouring one right now. I have to get rid of the nauseating flavor of high school memories. Have I ever mentioned I teach at a high school? Hmmm, some irony there.
YouTube: I could search YouTube for hours. And, um, sometimes I do. EVERYTHING’s on YouTube! I live for funny videos.
19th Century British novels: The really long ones that only a masochist would read and reread. I love to lose myself in Bleak House and Our Mutual Friend and Vanity Fair and Middlemarch. These books possess the status of holy books for me. They have changed my life and shaped my soul – and not necessarily in positive ways. ;)
Take-out: My poor husband works incredibly hard to support my weakness for restaurant goodies. I have a rather neurotic relationship with food, and I suffered from anorexia during most of my teenage years. I’ve maintained a healthy weight for some time now by keeping a guarded distance from the preparation of my meals and by allowing myself any food that I crave.  This is all a bit indulgent, but I figure at least it’s food and not crack.

My pet peeves (again, not a complete list):

I hate the words literally, loin, vulva, scrotum and darling (esp. when darling is used to describe objects, such as “What a darling house!”)
And I loathe the non-words yourguyses, irregardless, and chillax.
I do not allow anyone, including Hubby, to touch my face. No idea why. Kisses are fine but hands on the face are not cool.
It upsets me that even though I don’t watch TV, I know who Kim Kardashian and Snooki are.
My eye twitches when people ask me if I speak Mexican. I've got nothing against Mexicans but they, like myself, speak Spanish, not Mexican.

A Few of My Goals:
I’d like to publish a trashy trade paper romance novel with a scandalous title like Throbbing Love. It just sounds like fun.
I’d like to be one of the outtakes on American Idol. :)

I want to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro.
I want to learn to belly dance.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sacred Profanity

I wrote this poem as a companion to a previous poem called Before the Flood, which I published on this blog in October. Both pieces are about that obsessive, imprudent, delicious love that we so readily embrace with boundless faith so many times in our youth. Lately I've been thinking about how easily and entirely one falls in love at sixteen or seventeen - and how often. At times I wish it were as easy now as it was back then to recklessly love, without armor or logic or cunning or calculation.

Sacred Profanity

I loved him
With the sort of sacrilegious fervor
That enrages the most indifferent of deities.
I knew that divinity resides even in the wretched
And we would erect a heavenly realm
To rival celestial kingdoms real and mythical
Or perish readily of our heretical delusion.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Hear Me

Bestial beings
Trouble my dreams
Sieze my words
And rend my seams
But I don’t need
Darning or defense
Common sense
Or recompense
Merely an ear
To heed my screams

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


We were soldiers
Fighting our fathers’ war
For an antiquated honor
And the medal of public opinion.
Captured by the adversary,
We tried to abscond
The yoke of tradition,
But he fell to the enemy
And I left him down.
I did not look back
But still I turn to salt.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Little Lucy

Little Lucy is pregnant at sixteen.
Her mother laments the loss
Of the coat-hanger epoch
And curses the deity who cursed her first.
Meanwhile Lucy is gravid with the promise
Of promises unkept
Tears wept and unwept
Nights slept and unslept.
And yet
Little Lucy of only sixteen
Will deliver a marvel in the morning.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

A Childhood Bargain with My Guardian Angel

Illa died when I was six years old. I don’t have many memories of her, save the smell of her perfume, her passion for telenovelas, and the foam curlers that were permanent fixtures on her head, loosely covered with a patterned silk scarf. When it happened, Mami told me two things about my grandmother’s death. First, that she had died from smoking and don’t-you-ever-smoke-ever-ever-ever-in-your-whole-life-or-you-will-die-too. Second, that Illa was now in heaven con Jesus y los santos and would watch over all of us from heaven. Will she be watching us all the time? I asked. Until we see her again, Mami whispered, tears cascading down her mourning face and carving tiny canyons through her makeup.
I took my mother at her word and believed that Illa would watch over me for the rest of my life. Sometimes this was a comfort, as when the monsters under my bed threatened to come out of hiding. It was reassuring to trust that my guardian angel would keep the goblins at bay. But now and then my grandmother’s saintly vigilance felt like oppressive surveillance, akin to the secret police in Cuba that Papi told me had once landed him in jail for selling meat to dissidents. Was she watching when I surreptitiously picked my nose during Mass? When I forgot to say the Lord’s Prayer for the third night in a row? Or when I stole two dollars from Mami’s coin jar so the twins and I could egg Fat Joey’s house? What about when I was in the bathroom? I was mortified to think that she might catch me bathing or relieving myself. Eventually I concluded that Illa and I would need to have a little chat about when and where she offered her protection. I didn’t want her to see me doing anything except that which would make her proud of me, but I somehow knew I wasn’t going to stop being wicked anytime soon.
 One night, after Mami had tucked me in, traced the sign of the cross lightly on my forehead, and tiptoed out to read the latest Agatha Christie novel, I called a meeting between Illa and me. I sat up and retrieved an old leather coin purse with Illa’s name stitched on it in thick black thread, one of several little trinkets my mother had given me de recuerdo after my grandmother’s funeral. I cherished this little purse and had hidden it in my pillowcase for safekeeping. Tonight it would serve as a physical representation of its original owner, since she could not be present in the flesh.
Illa? I called out softly. If you are watching me right now, could you give me a sign, like in the Bible? I counted to one hundred, and then one hundred more, this time Mississippi-style. Nothing. Illa? Can you hear me? I need to talk to you. The only sound was my father’s familiar snore coming from the adjacent bedroom. After several minutes I decided I would just get on with it and hope that she was tuned in.
Illa, sabes que te quiero mucho, and I like that you’re my guardian angel, but I’m a big girl. I can ride my bike without my training wheels now and Mrs. Jensen said I’m the best reader in her class. You really don’t have to watch me ALL the time. Maybe we can have a codeword or sign so you know when to take a break and catch up on your telenovela. They have telenovelas up there, right? I mean, it’s heaven, and Mami said heaven is full of stuff that makes you happy. I could twitch my nose like the Bewitched lady and then you’ll know I’m okay. Watch, like this. See? But wait, that was just practice. Keep watching, okay? I get scared at night. But that’s what I’ll do when it’s safe for you to leave me alone for a while. And then when I need you again, um, I’ll sing a song. You like when I sing. I’ll sing a song and you can come back and be my angel again. So don’t ever go away too far, so you can hear me singing.
Over the years, there were times when my nose twitched violently, like it was struggling to remove itself from its sinful proprietor. But those moments were few, even though I erred often. The truth is that it never takes long before a child discerns that life is full of reasons to require the protection of angels. If Illa is in fact my guardian, then in the last two decades she has received far more beckoning songs than gestures of dismissal.
Until we see her again.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Salt Lake City Smog

On a typical winter day the valley of the saints is swathed in a thick gray blanket woven from the contents of our collective To Do lists.  Most residents call it smog. The grandiloquent weatherman calls it particulate matter. I call it us. We are asphyxiating in the fog of our own pedestrian routines which we refuse to carry out as, well, pedestrians.
The soccer moms live out their lives in their massive SUVs, rocking Colbie Caillat tunes and sipping on frappuccinos while they drive Molly to pianoviolintapballetgymnastics and Johnny to soccerfootballbasketballbaseballBoyScouts. The kids never walk to school anymore, because the pervert registry indicates we’re all surrounded. No one shops at the corner store because Costco is only five miles away and has everything – except, of course, for the things it doesn’t. Those we buy at one of a slew of big-box stores at the shopping plaza on the other side of town. The men commute back and forth between their suburban subdivisions and their downtown offices in the latest model of the latest trend in sports cars or oversize trucks because they’ve earned it, damnit.
We drive to the park when we want to take a walk. We stare nonplussed at our double-chins in the rearview mirror as our engines idle at the drive-thru window.  We trek in our Jeeps to organic supermarkets because it’s cool to be natural. And all the while, we choke on the ashen excrement of our excess.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Acid Verse

My words are a corrosive agent
Acid on the skin of an innocent
My words disfigure his unblemished visage
My cadence diction tenor
Are crimes against humanity
For which my ineluctable pardon
Is harshest of all penalties.

Monday, November 29, 2010

100 words on American womanhood, weight - and doughnuts

I'm crazy. Gone. Crazy. Daydreams of doughnuts. My ass. Made of doughnuts. Thirty. Forty. Fat grams. Stuck to my tongue. Can’t speak. It's okay. What would I say? My ass is made of doughnuts.

Let me be earth or let me be nothing. Thin, strong pine.

Gone. Doughnuts. Gone. Were they ever there? Who cares? They're gone. And I'm still dreaming...of cows. Chewing on my thighs. Taking what's theirs. Take it. I'll have none of it. Chocolate. Riccotta. Haagen-Daas. Take it back. My thighs are made of cows.

Let me be earth or let me be nothing.

Nothing is beautiful.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

100 Words: A Stubborn Grilled Cheese Sandwich in Dubai

The Arab tradition of hospitality is unparalleled. After a long flight, Hubby and I are spent. We are typically of the foodie persuasion, but tonight only American comfort food will do. Room service offers several Western staples – burgers and such. It is not on the menu, but I request a simple grilled cheese sandwich. The kitchen rep cheerfully takes the order.
After fifteen minutes, no sandwich, but a call from a distraught cook: “Madam, we have endeavored six times to make your grilled cheese sandwich. We apologize, but we cannot manage to keep the cheese from melting.” I love Dubai.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

You Can't Swing a Dead Cat

This short narrative is based on a true story that happened at the diner where I once worked as a teen. Names have been changed to protect the not-so-innocent. :)

You Can’t Swing a Dead Cat
For Mom, who listens, remembers, and laughs at all the wrong moments ;)
It’s just before seven on a Sunday morning and by some act of Jesus Buddha Mohammed George Clooney and that Indian elephant dude I walk through the kitchen door of Daisy’s 24-Hour Diner, semi-lucid and on time for my usual double shift. Thank you, holy beings. I need these sixteen hours.
As I enter the kitchen, I offer a collective “Hey” to the cooks and quickly notice a missing voice in their chorus of replies. “Where’s Jack?” I ask. The cooks respond with shaking heads and the sizzle of bacon on the skillet.
Jack is one of my two favorite coworkers. The other is his wife, Marcie, but mostly because I figure if she’s married to Jack, she must be good people. She waits tables at Daisy’s on the weekends.
I have always been fond of Jack, not just because he’s the only cook who has never tried to get in my pants, but also on account of his being a pretty decent guy. Worships Jesus and that sort of thing. He’s nuts about Marcie and their two kids, Molly and Minnie. One of the last family men around in this town of deadbeats. At work you can’t be around Jack very long without piss-your-pants laughing at his theatrical renditions of old jazz songs which are always accompanied by his flamboyant air piano. I like Jack – everyone does.
 Restaurant folklore maintains that Jack is in fact a phenomenal pianist who was forced to abandon his studies at a prestigious music school when Marcie became pregnant with their first child, Molly, who has Down syndrome. Jack never talks about it, though, and if he ever minds the shitty hand he was dealt then the dude’s got a helluva poker face. In the early morning, when the rest of us are mired in a losing battle against our heavy eyelids, Jack’s infectious good humor provides our much-needed ammunition. So where is he, anyway? Jack never misses work. Musta caught that pig flu that everyone is freaking out about.
Now I’m not a morning person, nor do I smoke meth to get me going, like many of my coworkers at the diner. Daisy would rape and kill for us all to be tweakers. She calls us her worker ants, and I have often heard her carry on about how one junkie can do the job of three fuckin’ goodie-goodies. Still, Daisy endeavors to keep us sober folk awake via two slightly more palatable methods. First, there is the inexhaustible supply of coffee. We are welcome to as many helpings of Daisy’s cheap brew as we can stomach. But if a few cups of Joe fail to do the trick, there is always The Vivarin Drawer. This unassuming compartment is conveniently located in the semi-concealed waiter station, so that overworked employees can quickly pop a few pills while pouring soft drinks, counting their meager tips, or spitting into an ornery customer’s split pea soup.  
This morning I stick with a latte and a slice of chocolate cake. I love to eat cake in the morning because as the day progresses, I forget I’ve eaten it and thus feel no guilt when I wolf down another slice after lunch. I’m halfway through my sugary breakfast when Marcie comes storming into the waiter station, fork in hand and eyeing my dessert. Her usually soft, kind face now resembles a weapon of mass destruction, so I keep my mouth shut and my head down.
After Marcie has done with pillaging my pastry, I cautiously ask her about Jack. Marcie looks daggers at me for a few seconds, then gradually relaxes her facial features and whispers, “I’ll show you at break time.” Show me? Jesus, did she kill the guy? I begin to ask for an explanation, but Marcie shakes her head, hands me her fork, straightens her apron, and scurries off to greet Stack, one of her regulars.

Jack, Marcie, and their two little girls live a block away in a tiny red-brick bungalow, the only bright spot on an otherwise drab, treeless street. I hardly have time to admire their shining white window boxes bursting with hundreds of tiny purple and yellow flowers because Marcie is hastily leading me by the hand to a door at the side of the house which leads to the kitchen.
I almost stumble over them. Marcie catches me by the waist and we stand there silently for a moment, studying the two figures slumped on the linoleum floor. One is certainly dead, the other snoring loudly. Jack, who should be at Daisy’s right now, regaling us with dramatic renditions of Frank Sinatra hits, is passed out at our feet, cradling the fetid  remains of what I believe was once a tabby cat.  
“What the f–” Marcie interrupts me by unleashing a tsunami of her own profanities aimed squarely at the scene before us.
“It’s a fucking cat. A fucking dead cat on my kitchen floor! And he’s cleaning it up, that little shit! I’m done cleaning up his messes, goddamnit! He can do the fucking dishes, too, while he’s at it. And would it kill the bastard to take out the fucking trash now and then? I’m done. I’m so fucking done.”
Jack stirs a bit at the commotion, hugs the mangled carcass tighter, and continues sleeping. The kitchen reeks of dead kitty and I now regret having scarfed down that second slice of cake on the way here. “What happened?” I murmur as Marcie’s torrential cursing begins to let up. What follows now is my translation of her reply – minus the copious expletives of the justifiably fed-up housewife, plus a few details from Jack, who eventually regained consciousness and obligingly filled me in.
A few members of the kitchen crew decided to get together Saturday evening for a guys’ night – you know, Texas Hold ‘Em, dirty jokes, and a few twelve-packs of Pabst Blue Ribbon. Jack was tempted to join them, but Molly and Minnie had the pig flu – I knew the pig flu was involved somehow! – and Marcie could use some help at home. So Jack declined the invitation.
Just as the couple was setting out the ingredients for Marcie’s famous chicken tacos, the phone rang. Danny, the cook who was hosting the soon-to-be-infamous poker night, was calling to see if Jack had changed his mind about attending.
“Sorry, man, but I can’t make it tonight. Next time for sure,” Jack replied to Danny’s jovial coaxing.  The hint of regret in her husband’s voice produced a pang of guilt in Marcie’s kind and generous gut. She knew Jack was staying home for her, and she’d been looking forward to having a family dinner, even if the kids were likely to puke or shit everything up later. But Marcie forced a wide smile and insisted that her hubby spend an evening out with the boys. She could handle things at home, and would be sure to save him some leftovers.
“You sure you’re okay with this?” Jack asked just before he left, as we all do when we already know we’re getting our way but want to sound polite just the same. “I’m sure,” Marcie replied sweetly, reciting her lines with an impeccable air of sincerity while secretly wishing Jack would change his mind and stay home with her. “Just don’t stay out too late. We have an early day tomorrow. And don’t drink too much. You know how you get when you drink too much.”
Jack called just after eleven that night, as Marcie was mopping up vomit from the bathroom floor. Molly had missed the toilet. Meanwhile Minnie was calling to her mother from the next room, begging for some water and an extra blanket. And now Jack was on the phone, telling Marcie he needed a ride home because the poker game had morphed into a drinking contest and consequently he and his buddies were in no shape for driving.
“Can’t you just call a cab?”an exasperated Marcie suggested. Of course she would not be so lucky, as Jack had already lost the contents of his wallet in the card game. Marcie called her mother to come watch the girls and reluctantly set off to pick up her inebriated spouse.
“I’m so sorry, Marcie. So, so, so sorry, baby. So, so –”
“Just shut up and get in the car.”
“Really, honey. I’m so sorry. Please forgive–”
“Okay. But I really am sorry.”
It would be a fifteen-minute drive back to their house, and after the first three, Marcie had heard enough slurred so-so-so-sorrys for one night. “I swear, Jack, if you open your mouth to say one more word, I’m stopping the car and making you walk home.”
“But I’m sorry, sweetheart. I really am so, so sorry.” The little sedan screeched to a halt.
“That’s it! Get out, Jack. You’re walking home.”
“What? Come on, baby–”
“No, I warned you. Get out.”
Jack half walked out, half fell out of the passenger seat and slammed the car door so hard it shook the entire vehicle. “FINE!” He yelled after Marcie as she sped away. “FINE! Just leave me here! The fuck I care!”
A few hours later, Marcie was finally drifting off to sleep, knowing that shortly the alarm clock would be shouting at her to commence another long day. But the alarm was not what startled poor Marcie out of bed. It was a pitiable performance of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way,” reverberating from the kitchen. Jack was home.
Marcie raced rapidly to the kitchen to silence her husband before he woke up the children. It was a futile move, since what happened next made her scream louder than her intoxicated spouse had been singing. Jack, crooning at the top of his lungs, was waltzing about the kitchen. His obliging dance partner was a fresh specimen of roadkill he had encountered on his trek home.

Upon hearing Marcie shriek with horror, Jack stopped dancing and turned to face his stunned wife. His eyes had a crazed, feral look to them. He stared intently at Marcie for several seconds, and then began to raise the bloody feline over his head.
“Jack?” Marcie tried to snap her husband out of his apparent hysteria. Too late. Jack hurled the carcass to the floor with a force that caused kitty parts to scatter helter-skelter across the linoleum.
That,” exclaimed Jack, gesturing at the gory display before him, “THAT is my heart. And YOU broke it!”
The frenzied fighting that consequently ensued between drunken husband and disgusted housewife woke the children. The collective screaming of all four family members woke the neighbors. The neighbors, upon discovering the chaotic scene unfolding at the little red-brick bungalow next door, and finding themselves at an utter loss for an explanation, called the police. The cops were unable to discern whether an actual crime had taken place. Had Jack killed and dismembered the family pet? The tiny kitchen where Marcie had, only hours ago, thanklessly prepared her tasty chicken tacos was now crammed with an assortment of bewildered bystanders, feuding family members, and an inexplicably dead cat.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Winter of our Disconnect

I was late to board the Facebook train because I felt that the practice of “social networking” was the height of narcissism. Think about it – I create a profile about me. On that profile I post pictures of myself. I share my interests, my accomplishments, my life with the world. I do not merely provide incessant and unsolicited updates to my “friends” about the mundane details of my life; I actually expect them to “like” the banal contents of those updates and comment copiously about my good or bad day, my political candidate of choice, my new addition to my virtual farm, my latest vacation or desire for a vacation.  
Yes, Facebook is the pinnacle of egotism. And yet last winter I joined the half-billion Facebook users around the globe and created my own profile. Here are my thoughts on why, and to what end.
I was lonely. My marriage was dangling precariously over a precipice and my few real friends were absorbed in their own legitimate concerns. Facebook allows us to adopt a nebulous standard for what constitutes a friend. Where previously I’d had two or three, I suddenly had over fifty “friends,” who actually responded to my self-important ramblings and invited me to engage with theirs.
I have always been the odd girl out. There was something peculiarly validating about receiving a “friend request,” on more than one occasion, from one of the popular girls from high school who once teased me relentlessly about my mustache and monobrow. Even more gratifying was accepting her request and learning that she was now fat and wasted and had unsightly facial hair of her own, while my own physical appearance had somewhat improved since those days – particularly because I had learned to wax! But the greatest victory, of course, was that as casually as I had “friended” her, I could now “de-friend” her with the click of my glorious mouse. It was exhilarating to be the rejecter, and not the rejected, for once.
But Facebook is a pitiless mêlée, and no one survives unscathed. I have been de-friended, too. I am never surprised when it happens – the de-friender is usually someone I would never really want to talk to in person. What does astonish me is that it nevertheless produces a pang of…something…in me every time it happens.
I want to know what happened to him. Who among us F-bookers has never scoured the social network in search of an old flame? Liars.
I want to be remembered. I want them to know what happened to me. My fear is not that I will be forgotten, but that I offer nothing to forget. Thus my Facebook profile, and now more so this blog, is a bottle wherein I childishly stuff my scribbles and hurl them into the blue, naively hopeful that someone will find it – and in doing so, find me.

I want to connect. And so do you. My narcissistic musings about nothing in particular are always, at least implicitly, about something in particular. So are yours. Though ostensibly our posts are an extension of our egos, they in fact function as our audacious attempts at extending our hearts beyond our ribcages and into a world resplendent with strange rhythms, in anxious anticipation of finding one that sounds like our own.

Thursday, November 18, 2010


The blushing western horizon reveals a Tuesday afternoon
ashamed at being caught peeping
through a hole in the door to Luna’s dressing room.
The crimson culprit is hauled away weeping
Vainly pleading for a glimpse of the illustrious moon.

Sunday, October 24, 2010


Burn scars from scorching plates
Sweat-drenched face
Pony-tailed locks that never stay in place
Her grease-stained nametag reads
A smoker’s accent – real
A serrated voice you can feel
The kind of woman’d never kneel
For anyone who wasn’t paying.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Muse

I posted a poem this week called "Before the Flood." The poem has its origins in an image of a single drop of rainwater creating a ring of small waves in a puddle. This image came to me in the form of a photograph published by a friend, Kimm Gaillard, of Gaillard Photography. He displayed the photo online a few weeks ago. I loved it but soon lost memory of it among the clutter of the day-to-day. I remembered it again at a time when I was feeling a bit like David confronting Goliath. I felt that my identity, my humanity, my desires, were insignificant when juxtaposed with all that threatens to swallow me up in this world. Suddenly I recalled the photograph and thought: "But even drops of water make waves." Thank you, Kimm, for the revelation that there is power and possibility even in small things.

Here is the photo:

Photo courtesy of Gaillard Photography

And here again is my poem:

Before the Flood
He loved me
With an antediluvian artlessness
Long out of favor in these smoky haunts.
He knew that mere drops of water make waves
And we would break against the crags
Of apathy and avarice, ever eroding the ugly
As disciples of the moon.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Holy Exclamatory Sentence, Batman!

This essay is a work in progress. In my English Pedagogy class I was recently required to write a creative piece about a particular punctuation symbol. The work is to be revised several times throughout the course. Here is the current draft - let me know what you think.

Holy Exclamatory Sentence, Batman!
The queen’s command that traitorous heads be lopped off. Emily Dickinson’s wild nights. The scream from the bimbo in the horror flick who always runs the wrong way. Your own scream as you issue her a futile warning from the safety of your living room sofa. The onomatopoeic fighting noises of Superman and Batman and Wolverine and the ever-incredible Hulk: Zap! Whoosh! Boom! Pow! Bif! Bang! It is the exclamation mark which gives our whispers and whimpers some cojones, which makes life loud! The exclamation mark is the self-assured, in-your-face twin of the ever-uncertain wimp the question mark. It is the blonde of punctuation symbols – it just has more fun! Or maybe it’s the redhead, adding fire and fever to an otherwise tepid and prosaic I love you. I love you! No wait – it’s the brunette, the dark chocolate-haired Latina whose Pandora’s box of passion cannot even be contained by two exclamation marks at each end of her expressions: ¡Ay, Dios mio! ¡Como te amo!
            But beware, fellow writers: the exclamation mark is the tequila of the punctuation liquor cabinet. It adds life to the party, but too much of it is the mother of all hangovers. Young men and women (and bloggers) tend to overindulge, not having yet found the appropriate limit. This exclamation abuse is evidenced in the notes passed between two teenage lovers in third period algebra: “I love you so much!!!!!!!!!!” and “I can’t wait to hang out tonight!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”  More experienced writers have cautioned against the overuse of exclamation marks. F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote: “Cut out all those exclamation marks. An exclamation mark is like laughing at your own jokes.” So in honor of our staid friend Mr. Fitzgerald, let us now calm down, take a deep breath, and end our sentences with periods for a moment while we explore more appropriate uses of his apparent enemy the exclamation mark.
            When mulling over whether or not to use an exclamation mark, consider the type of composition you are writing and the tone you wish to create. If you are writing a formal piece, such as a professional letter or academic paper, you should avoid using the exclamation mark altogether. Exclamations in your writing cause your work to sound more conversational and casual than scholarly and professional. Remember that the exclamation mark is (this may or may not surprise you) intended to mark an exclamatory sentence. Its position at the end of a sentence indicates high emotion or volume. This is not a desired tone for a serious piece such as the cover letter of your resume (Please hire me! Please! Please! Pleeeease!), but in creative writing it is sometimes permissible. If your aim is to communicate a character or narrator’s strong feeling – as of surprise, fear, or exasperation –then an exclamation mark may be in order.  For example:
Holy shit!
Enough talk about exclamation marks already!
Again, try to limit the use of exclamations to your casual writing (letters to friends, your Facebook posts) and your creative work (as in the case of dialogue in a short story). If you feel you must use an exclamation mark in a more formal piece, be careful not to overdo it (No one likes a hangover, remember?). Otherwise you might inadvertently give the impression that you are yelling at your audience. Certainly your aim might be to evoke an emotional response from your readers themselves, but try to restrain your own excitement a bit. For example, your essay on the plight of the endangered beluga could be intended to inspire fellow cetacean-lovers to action in the form of generous donations to your Save the Cute Whale with a Name That’s Fun to Say fund, but too many exclamations can make you come across pushy (or insane).
A final note from yours truly: if your writing is strong, then powerful meaning will resonate from the words and phrases you’ve lovingly selected and arranged with care on the page. Your effective use of language will need little or no additional emphasis, and your message will be delivered to your readers loud and clear. However, if all your efforts at effective writing prove fruitless, and your audience responds with a resounding WHAT THE FUCK? then by all means take a moment to unleash as many profanity-laced exclamations as necessary .  If nothing else, it will make you feel better. J

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Before the Flood

I wrote another poem while I should have been working on other things... :)

Before the Flood
He loved me
With an antediluvian artlessness
Long out of favor in these smoky haunts.
He knew that mere drops of water make waves
And we would break against the crags
Of apathy and avarice, ever eroding the ugly
As disciples of the moon.

To Murder and Create

To Murder and Create

I’ll have no more
of your staccato indulgence
your contrived tributes
to my hairdo or dress
your prosaic musings
about television unrealities
and pills that will neither
make you thinner nor less vapid
your affected enthusiasm
as you issue a hollow invitation to dine
that we both presuppose I will decline.

I’ll have no more
at least until next time.  

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Fortuitous Instant

Fortuitous instant
All other happenings
Chance that I
would be the sole spectator
Of a subtle flash of fact
Illuminating for a millisecond
The nakedness of emperors
The masks of thieves
The perfidy in pretty things
The banality of the bizarre.