A Room of My Own, Part II of III

continued from August 25, 2010 post

Florentino Moran, photo by Henry Rael

I couldn’t write.

My grandpa was a kind man who spent the last five years of his life mourning the death of my grandma, his wife of sixty years. He missed her every day, and though he eventually found a way to laugh again, it was never from that deep place in his belly. I miss him every day; and I feel joy that his sorrow has been lifted.

My grandpa survived World War II. He fought in France, landing at Omaha Beach on D-Day plus two. The depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that shaped much of his life when I was a little girl is one of the central themes of my memoir-in-progress, Vessels. I couldn’t write our story without him in the world.

Grandpa's Garage, Michelle Otero

So I wrote a short story, a funny short story about a fat kid who gets a job pouring steamed milk at El Gran Café La Parroquia in Veracruz. I wrote another short story about a piñata maker in Atrisco whose wife dies of a brain aneurysm. I was ready to work on the book again. Only I couldn’t.

We have set up our lives and our home in such a way that friends and neighbors feel comfortable stopping by unannounced. I want my life to be this way. One of the most difficult adjustments to life in the U.S. after two years in Oaxaca was having to make appointments with friends. I spent far too much time alone in those first few months because I kept hoping I would bump into someone on the street, or waiting to hear my name called through my living room window.

Downtown Growers' Market, Henry Rael

There is a farm in our backyard. A friend has set up three beehives that he attends to at least once a week. Our neighbor Isabel often comes by with a Cool Whip container of beans or posole. Her granddaughter Ashley comes to the door looking for P. and K. This is community. This is what I longed for when I returned from Mexico in 2006.

And then, there’s my book.

Oaxaca Window, Henry Rael

I cry every day I work on this book. Even when it’s just Henry and me in the office, I want to take my tears to him because it’s easier than keeping my butt in the chair and writing through that sorrow or loss or whatever it is that needs to move through my body. It’s easier to do laundry or talk to the beekeeper or the guys doing the harvest or to clean out the kids’ playroom. I stare out the window every day I work on this book. Sometimes I yell and throw stuff. Only I don’t in our shared office because someone might hear me, because someone might see me staring out the window as they come through my side of the office to use the bathroom, and shouldn’t I be working? What am I doing staring out the window?

Since 2006, I have been a member of Macondo, a writers’ workshop, founded by Sandra Cisneros and named for the village in Gabriel García Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. For one magical week each summer in San Antonio, I feel completely at home among writers who are committed to excellence in writing and in service. I spent the most recent Macondo in a small group workshop led by Leslie Marmon Silko. She called my first chapter “tantalizing.” But that was not the highlight of my week, not the semilla that I most wanted to wrap in a pañuelo to bring home. She told me that I need a quiet place to write. It was our last day of workshop, and like every other day or workshop, we had all stayed past the three-hour session to talk about craft and process and what we need as writers. I had talked about the fire the day before, about the current configuration of my life, about writing in twenty and thirty minute spurts when I found a quiet moment.

Leslie Marmon Silko said to me, “Do not give up the things that you want and need as a writer. Those things are non-negotiable. You need a room of your own.”

Part III to be posted on Monday, August 30.

Published in: on August 26, 2010 at 3:37 pm  Comments (1)  

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  1. When my cousin, a rookie firefighter, was killed in the World Trade Centers, I spent about a year and a half crying every day. Sometimes for my own sadness, sometimes in frustration, sometimes at beauty, but most often because I was thinking of all the other people affected in ways so much greater than I was. My imagination was my worst enemy. I just assumed that this was my world now. A world where I cry everyday, and it will be so until my dying day. It is many years later and I didn’t cry today, nor have I consistently for years, but I will never be the same, both in good ways and challenging ones. I imagine that the fire coupled with your grandfather’s death is similar. It does get easier, like everyone tells you, but what atough journey. Write it out, amiga!

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