But First, an Opportunity

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photo by Michelle Otero

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And now, Cuartito

This has been a running around week. Not just me driving from workshop to home to the grocery store to graduation ceremonies for Otro Lado participants (Felicidades, Marlene, Vanely, and Maira!) to meetings to acupuncture to date night with Henry. The running around is in my head.

Rescued Journal, photo by Michelle Otero

When I lived alone, I had a mental cuartito that I cleared out every few days by lying on the couch in my living room, closing my eyes and breathing deeply. I emptied this room by writing in my journal or walking through the Country Club neighborhood to Kit Carson Park. I simplified—an apple with peanut butter for dinner, leaving the dishes in the sink until morning.

I sometimes felt lonely.

When my apartment burned down, and I moved in with Henry, I became part of a household already in progress, complete with a pre-schooler and second-grader who need more for dinner than apples with peanut butter.

Coat Closet, photo by Michelle Otero

Because of the fire, it was easy and necessary to focus on the day-to-day tasks of recreating my life—sifting through bags of donated clothes, driving to Target to replace contact lens solution and dental floss, consolidating all the lists I had started each time I reached for something that had been destroyed.

As the closet and medicine cabinet in my new home began to fill with more things that were mine, I noticed that the room in my head was now permanently occupied by thoughts of my new family. Not the fantasies I used to have about our growing in love and trust, but the everyday, moment-by-moment decisions and exchanges that build love and trust over time.

Atrisco Snowman, photo by Henry Rael

Cooking dinner and eating together; doing homework; playing spies in the backyard; walking along the ditch to visit the llamas on Five Points; creating and updating chore charts; teaching E. the past tense of put and let through constant vigilance; brushing teeth; making beds; drawing pictures with a Sharpie on lunch bags; shoe shopping; combing hair; wiping mocos; coloring; watching Barbie, Island Princess (I know, I know…); assembling and reassembling Legos; whispering with Henry on the couch after the kids have gone to bed.

Time is different now.

Nine in the morning to one in the afternoon was my writing time—phone off, no email, no human interaction, no housework until the writing was done. This was easiest when I lived in Oaxaca. I wrote Malinche’s Daughter in Oaxaca. I finished an MFA in Creative Writing through Vermont College of Fine Arts from Oaxaca.

Survivors, photo by Michelle Otero

What is best for my writing? This was the central question of my life, against which I would measure potential work and time commitments. The question made it easy to say yes to a long-term house-sitting gig at a sun-filled, adobe hacienda in Algodones in 2007, to leave my “real job” (read: 9 to 5, competitive salary and benefits) at a non-profit environmental organization in 2009.

There are more questions now. What is best for my writing? For me? For my relationship? My family?

Self-portrait, photo by Michelle Otero

It is only through practice—the spiritual practice of writing, of living, of loving as a human being, a partner and a parent—that answers come to me. This is my life. It looks nothing like it did a year ago. I sometimes felt lonely. I ate apples for dinner. I spoke to no one before one o’clock. I reserved a room in my head. Now I sneak to the office to write in my journal before anyone else wakes up. (As I finish this post, it’s 6:52 AM, thirty-eight minutes until the rest of the house gets out of bed.) I work on the book in forty-five to ninety minute spurts, sometimes longer on the days the kids are with their mom. I am learning something about stillness, about being present, about trusting my instincts. I am learning something of patience, which I thought I lacked, and something of faith, which I thought I had in abundance until I published a book and fell in love and lost my home and said goodbye to my last grandparent. When I lived alone, that little room in my head was clean, but not empty. Now it is inhabited, but not cluttered.

And still, I am a writer.

Published in: on May 20, 2010 at 9:46 am  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. This is beautiful mija. Your writing brings tears to my eyes, happy, sad and reflective ones. I love you so very much.

  2. Mother Theresa: The problem with the world is that we draw the circle of our family too small.
    I love how big your circle it, how you have embraced it whole-heartedly, and how it has filled the space in your mind!

  3. Sweet, sweet piece amiga mia

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