2015 in Review: Six Word Memoir

We rang in 2015 in Deming.


Grandma China’s been gone eleven years.

We thought it was only ten.

Went ahead with the commemoration anyway.


K. cut three years of hair.

Just like that, he looks older.

Little boys get bigger. He resists.

Sometimes his fear outweighs his trust.

We celebrate risks faced and overcome.

We process the others. He grows.

I see him. I’ve been him.


P. turned 13. She wears eyeliner.

They grow so fast. Cliché. True.

I love who she is becoming.

She is stronger than she knows.


Feast Day at San Ildefonso Pueblo.

The dances root us in place.


I am constantly trying to simplify.


One board at a time—plenty.


After thirteen years, the Saturn died.

We left it where it stalled.


EKCO poets with Shelle and Valerie.

Write ten pages. Cut them up.

Collage them together. Rehearse. Perform.


We finally have a house plan.

There is a window between our bedrooms.

Can’t wait for that to go.


My friend started a book club.

Favorite: Between the World and Me


It’s time to be more honest.


Being a stepmom is no joke.

P. and K. – my greatest teachers.


Hembras. “Mother Lode.” My stepmom play.

My pink rebozo played a baby.


It’s time to write about Harvard.

Then I’ll have a suitcase trilogy.

Packing it to go to college.

Clinging to it after the fire.

Unpacking it to live my life.


I love reading at Sunday Chatter.


The cutest dog ever chose us.

Sat at our gate all day.

K. fed him, named him Leo.

Now he’s ours. I love him.


We lost Henry’s dad, April 20.


My dear friends lost their brother.


Aparna Levine healed my back pain.


I’m not allowed to run anymore.

Insurance pays gym fees. Hello, elliptical.

I’m trying to take up swimming.

Easier on the knees. Great cardiovascular.

Took first lessons since first grade.

I’m still learning how to breathe.


America Healing in Asheville, North Carolina.


Adrián Pedroza for Bernalillo County Commissioner.


It’s hard to share this part.

Depression has me back on Lexapro.

I tried everything I could try.

Running, writing, sleep, therapy, acupuncture, limpias.

Weight lifting. No coffee. No sugar.

Yoga. Meditation. Long walks. Good friends.

Poetry. Theatre. Being harder. Giving less.

Some combinations. Sometimes all at once.

But then there were mornings lost.

I’m kind of a mess today.

Yoga unlocking emotion in my hip.

I’m in tears on my mat.

Hours crying in the living room.

Nobody home. Thank God. I can’t.

And the worst is the judgment.

It came from nobody but me.

Suck it up. Pull yourself together.

Stop crying. Get off the floor.

What is wrong with you now?

You have everything you ever wanted.

You are healthy. You are loved.

Henry. P. K. This place. Words.

People are mean in my head.

Stop messing with my friend Michelle.

If I were my good friend

I’d say, you’re sensitive, that’s beautiful.

I’d say, it’s just for now.

I’d say, understanding why isn’t necessary.

Right now just do what works.

There’s nothing wrong with needing help.

Some people need to be medicated.

I guess I am one of them.

What else is there to do?


I remember I like to dance.


Summer garden wasn’t about the harvest.

I needed my hands in dirt.

I grew stevia, lemongrass, and sunflowers.

I grew six yellow pear tomatoes.

Oaxacan green corn, basil, marigolds, hyssop.

Lemon verbena, bell peppers, volunteer melons.

Grasshoppers and hornworms ate like kings.

K. said to chop their heads.

“Post them on toothpicks as warnings.”


I finally took the curanderismo course.


I want chickens in our yard.

They would help with the grasshoppers.


K. made the school’s archery team.

He and Henry shoot into hay bales.


The Kellogg Fellows are buena gente.

I get to work with six.

Carmen, Carnell, Carlos, Kayla, Sarah, Ventura.


Happy Arte Hour. So much fun.


We are launching an artist cooperative.


coffee, coffee, Zendo, Zia Latte, coffee


We lost Leo. He came back.


We rafted. Let’s do it again!


We lost my cousin, Robert Otero.

My BFF married a good man.

We lost Henry’s cousin, Epi Chavez.

We lost my tío, Joe Calderon.

A wonder he lived so long.

We lost Henry’s cousin, Alfonso Lopez.


P. was the best Halloween chola.

Thanks, Andrea, for doing her makeup.


My godmother was diagnosed with cancer.


P. dyed her hair in LA.

Four hours later, it’s bright pink.


Things I am embarrassed to admit:

I love that Justin Bieber song.

It’s too late to say sorry.

My mama likes everyone, except you.


Why don’t mid-school kids wear jackets?

That hoodie can’t keep you warm.


We lost Berna, a family friend.


Some things I could’ve done without:

Two words. Donald Trump. Enough said.

Middle school girls with duck lips.

Road rage. Police violence. Susana Martinez.

(Pee-tzah. Cokes. Call off your guys.)


I am blessed with good friends.

Stephanie reminded me who I am.

Emmy, thank you for making time.

Avi visited with her youngest daughter.

Anel and I wrote in Santa Fe.

María Limón surprised me one morning.

Finally got to meet Jesse’s kids.

I told them stories about college.

I wish his family lived closer.

Vicki and I ate and laughed.

Got to hold Desiree’s baby Luisa.


It’s time to be more honest.

I am constantly trying to simplify.

I’m still learning how to breathe.

Everything is better when I write.







Published in: on February 2, 2016 at 8:30 am  Comments (7)  
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How to Be, Part IVa: Reflection

Continued from June 26, 2014 post, How to Be, Part III: The Ingredients

photo 2I was eighteen years old, a few weeks out of high school, when I wrote my first journal entries from a spare bedroom in my high school sweetheart’s house. He was a charming, boyishly handsome young man from a village near the Four Corners, who’d come into my life at the national student council convention in Prairie View, Illinois the summer before my senior year. Ours had been a long-distance relationship, maintained by late-night phone calls, letters, and the faith and naiveté of those whose hearts have never been broken. I was a good daughter, and so, as a graduation/going off to college/you’ve suffered enough being separated from each other gift, my parents allowed me to visit him. My mom and I drove to Albuquerque, where I dropped her off at my aunt’s house in the South Valley. I continued solo through Bernalillo, past the red bluffs of Jemez, and the pumping jacks outside Farmington. We spent a day with his friends at Navajo Lake, played board games with his middle schools nieces and nephews, talked and talked about our future—our imminent cross country separation and our dreamy post-college life, complete with international travel and children we’d already named. We road-tripped to Durango, where we took pictures next to a big stuffed bear outside Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory and wandered a bookstore hand in hand. It was there that he pulled a burgundy and gold journal off the shelf and offered it to me, as he might have offered a bouquet of roses or his hand.

“You need to buy this,” he said.

So I did. In my journal I asked God to keep us together once I left for Harvard, to make me more patient. Love made me vulnerable. It made me honest. I confessed what a jerk I was being to my parents and little brother, and maybe if I’d spent more time writing instead of worrying that summer, I would have unearthed my conflicting excitement and dread over leaving my family in that small New Mexico town and going to Harvard, my deep knowing that I wasn’t prepared, my fear that I would fail and that the tiny door through which I’d been allowed to slip would be forever closed to other young, brown, working class girls.

September 6, 1990, Somewhere bet/ EP & DFW

Here it is—the day. After the long summer, it hardly seems real. I’m going to Boston….

I wanted to write something…poignant, so that 20 years from now, I could pick this book up and say to myself, “Boy, that was touching.” Now the best I can hope for is, “I was a total basket-case that day.”

Friday, September 28, 1990, 2:19 AM

This inferiority thing is starting to be a real problem for me. I don’t feel special here.

There were other entries. I miss him. I don’t fit in. I wish I could call home. How will I ever finish this essay in time? But as the academic year progressed, the gap between journal entries widened, and I found myself approaching each stint at the journal as though I were making up for lost time. I haven’t been here in weeks so I better make it good. And this is what I ended up with:

January 17, 1991

My country is at war!

Saddam Hussein is a madman!

photo 1

I didn’t write about how much I wanted to go home, how snobby I found my roommate’s friend and frequent visitor. He had three names and a boarding school upbringing. He mocked my accent—an accent I didn’t know I had—and the white brick house and dirt yard I lovingly displayed in a framed photo on my desk. I didn’t write about how I just wanted him to like me, not in a girlfriend kind of way, but in a see the goodness in me kind of way. I didn’t write about my other roommate’s mood swings. I didn’t write about my need for touch, how much I missed waking to the sound of my parents’ voices at the kitchen table, a kiss on my cheek, a hug as I left the house for school. At home somebody always knew where I was. I expected the same feeling of family, so one Saturday as I headed out the door, my backpack in tow, I told the moody roommate, “I’m going over to the language lab. I should be back in an hour.” Without looking up from her book, she replied, “I’ll alert the media.” I didn’t write about the friend from Deming who had transferred to U Mass Boston because he wanted more than anything to be on the East Coast. He’d grown up on a farm south of town. His first language was Spanish. I remember his mother in a pink housedress and apron. She and I couldn’t talk to each other, but she was always so kind to me, always so happy to see me. The day I got my ACT scores, H. explained to her that my 27 was good, and she held me to her and squeezed my nose as though I were one of her five children. In Boston, H. would change his name to Alexi and dye his hair blonde.

At Harvard, I introduced myself as Karen, my first name (passed over when my Grandma China couldn’t pronounce it and said to my mom, “Pues, dile Michelle”). I didn’t write about how I wanted to be somebody else, somebody smarter, somebody wealthier, somebody who belonged.

To Be Continued Tuesday, August 5, How to Be, Part IVb: Más Reflection

Published in: on July 29, 2014 at 11:59 am  Comments (4)  

How to Be, Part III: The Ingredients

Continued from April 22, 2014 post, How to Be, Part II: Holy Saturday

How do I get unstuck?

How do I get out of my own way?

I don’t think I knew what was missing for me those months I drove back and forth to Santa Fe to teach. I thought that if I just had more time, if I were writing more, if I could just figure out how to balance parenting and paid work and writing (and turn more of my writing into paid work!) and relationship, then I could bring my best self to those fifth graders. I could channel M’s sarcasm into an autobiographical comic strip or transform J’s indifference into curiosity or finally develop a hands-on project that was so engaging L would want to stay in his seat. And if I couldn’t do any of those things, then I could at least draw on reserves of compassion and patience to combat the tendency of my shadow side to personalize normal fifth grade boy behavior, buying into the belief that M makes snide remarks and J doesn’t care and L wanders the room because they hate me, and they must hate me because I’m boring and I suck.

Part of me was right, not about being boring or sucking, but about the other stuff. I did need to be writing more. (I always need to be writing more.) I did need more balance in my life. But my frame for correcting the problem was askew. It wasn’t about figuring things out, cracking the code to that age-old work/life balance question. I didn’t need to think my way through this. I needed to do something.

The simple answer to those questions I asked Ana Castillo is this: you just do. You get unstuck by moving. You get out of the way by getting.

So I filled a jar.

Chrissie Orr is the creative genius behind El Otro Lado. As a little girl in Scotland, she would help her mother make jam. There was no recipe. Her mother knew just when to pick the berries, how much sugar to add, how long to stir the pot, when to pour the goo into the jars. She shared these stories at the closing of El Otro Lado for the 2013-2014 school year. She talked about who we are as artists and teachers and teaching artists, how each of us has a need for reflection, how each of us intuitively knows what supports us in our reflective process, the ingredients, so to speak. She gave each of us a jar and asked us to fill it with words or natural materials (or a mix) that symbolize what supports us in our reflective practice. Then she set us loose at The Academy for the Love of Learning. My role with El Otro Lado has changed. Last year I stepped aside as a teaching artist and came on as part of the facilitation team for teacher/teaching artist gatherings. It takes a lot for me to step out of my facilitator role and enter into an art experience. Even if the art experience is really cool—working with vellum, writing an ode—I tend to stand back and watch the room, hold the space. Part of it lies in being present to the participants, holding space so they can move freely within it. But part of it is fear. What if I enter this experience and nothing comes? But this time I picked up a jar and asked Chrissie, “Can we do this too?”

I walked the arroyo at the northern edge of the Academy’s property. I scooped a handful of rocky sand into the jar. I found a flat rock shaped like a heart. Not a Valentine heart, but the actual muscle that pumps blood through my body. I broke a dry sprig of chamisa from its branch. I followed a vine of gourds, some perfectly intact, hardened, a hint of green or yellow at the ombligo connecting the gourd to the vine. Some had a jagged window cracked into them, and I imagined the sparrow that might have tapped in search of food. I picked a dried flower, the petals like parchment. And then I found my gourd. It was broken open as though from within. It was an egg, a nest, a cocoon, a hatch. It was shelter.

Published in: on June 26, 2014 at 8:11 am  Comments (1)  

How to Be, Part II: Holy Saturday

Continued from How to Be, Part I: Two Words


Saying “I’m a perfectionist” is another way of saying “I’m never gonna get it right.”     -Ana Castillo


Holy Saturday I spent the morning in Chimayó in a Spiritual Memoir Writing workshop led by Ana Castillo. Prior to the workshop, she had asked each of us to prepare a question about memoir writing and to bring an object that symbolizes our current spiritual questions.

There was a time when writing was my spiritual practice. I lived alone. Every morning I’d write in my journal. I’d eat a simple breakfast—yogurt with granola and papaya from the mercado, a cafecito or te de yerba buena. I’d light a white devotional candle and sit in the company of my own words and stories. I wrote Malinche’s Daughter. I sketched Vessel. I was on a Fulbright in Oaxaca, Mexico, teaching Writing to Heal workshops for women. I was a student in the low-residency MFA program at Vermont College of Fine Arts. I knew even then how good I had it, how supported I felt; I wished my life on every writer. It was as close to perfect as could be.

Malinche’s Daughter came out, and I returned to a place that no longer felt like home. I had graduate school loans to pay. I needed a job and a place to live. I missed Oaxaca. I missed that life.

If you’ve read my blog, you know that I got a job and signed a one-year lease on a sunny downtown apartment with wood floors and high ceilings. You know that I met Henry and—in an unrelated move—left that job. You know that Henry and I would eventually get married and that his two children would someday become my family. You also know that somewhere in the job-leaving and apartment-living and memoir-writing and Henry-loving, while I was visiting friends in Mexico, my apartment burned to an ugly, uninhabitable heap.

I spent the first several weeks of this year revising “The New Normal,” a short play about the fire, about loss and new life, and coming to live with Henry and the kids. I performed the first ten minutes of the play as part of Hembras de Pluma, nine original plays by nine original mujeres. Early in our rehearsal process, my director Valli Rivera asked me to walk my piece. We had divided the stage into three realms: the apartment, Henry’s house, and limbo. The stage was sparsely set with a desk, a clothing rack, and the pink suitcase that came with me from Mexico to Henry’s house. It wasn’t until I broke down at the desk that I understood how deeply embedded in me the fire still was. It wasn’t until I performed with Hembras that I understood how much I missed solitude, my journal, quiet, stillness, how much I missed my spiritual practice.

I told Ana about the fire. I told her I’m a perfectionist. I asked her how to go deep when I have only 15 minutes. I want to know how to get unstuck, which I’ve just mistyped as “unsuck.” How do I unsuck? How do I get out of my own way?

Published in: on April 22, 2014 at 6:35 am  Leave a Comment  
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