I care to know

I was inspired by a Chicago friend to come back here.

November has been a month of travel. I will have been in L.A. for less than half the month, and that is fine with me. My last trip, to Chicago and New Mexico, was one of the best I can remember. After a long, hot, and difficult summer, it was refreshing to breathe different air, feel the cold of the season, and re-connect with some dear friends and family. My time alone in the mountains of Northern New Mexico was particularly healing for me. I have been learning to be alone–something that I am finding more difficult than I’d imagined–and being in and around the small town of Taos was just what I needed.

Yesterday, Monday, I prepared for my next journey: a 5 day conference in Atlanta followed by a solo vacation for a week on the Pacific Coast of Oaxaca, MX. Some of you may remember that the novel I have been working on (this Fall marks two years since I first came up with the idea) features Oaxaca. This will be my second visit, but my first to the coast. The opening scene of my novel takes place there, in the ocean, so it will be great to actually see it in person.

I planned to get a haircut at my old spot on the Westside, and while waiting out traffic I worked from a new coffee shop near downtown. I’ve come to believe that L.A.’s selection of coffee shops leaves a lot to be desired, especially compared to many of the smaller cities and towns I’ve traveled to. These days I always find my way back to Holy Grounds, my favorite spot and the most conducive to working remotely. Afternoons are cooler now, and the cafe’s courtyard fountain makes for relaxing accompaniment to work and all the things I might be doing instead of work. The owner, Steve, is a former hippie who lives on the property and spends his days attending to the business of the shop and chatting with customers, always trailed by his large grey dog, Scamp. Steve and I have become friends over the last few months, relating over our past experiences working for nonprofits, discussing spirituality, complaining about L.A., and sharing our favorite places to travel to get away from it all.

Around 3pm, when the afternoon light began to turn golden, I made my way back to my place to finish packing.

I decided this year to take the week of Thanksgiving as another opportunity to travel solo. As the date has approached, I’ve felt a little bit of apprehension about that. Seeing my family last week and hearing about friends’ plans for the holiday, I felt a pang of longing to be somewhere familiar and warm, surrounded by people I know and love. I’ll have Christmas for that, though. I think there are also some deeper issues, like shame, that keep me from letting myself be welcomed into community.

Traveling alone has been fun and helped me develop more self-awareness and reflect on who I’ve been and who I want to be. Social media provides opportunities to “share” my experiences with an extended but distant community. I truly do enjoy setting my own schedule and following my own whims. And yet…

 

 

Advertisements

journey

I’m not sure who reads this, but I am still here. My life as I knew it is completely different than it was before. My future will not look the way I imagined it would, and this is cause for both great mourning and great hope.

There has to be hope.

Every day has been a series of ups and downs, but after almost three months I have found some stability. Stability with my job and living situation and finances has allowed to me to think and feel more deeply about what has happened and where I go from here.

Next month, after my quarterly work trip to Portland, I decided I am going to embark on a solo road trip. I will go from Portland to Olympic National Park, camp for a few days, and then spend almost a whole week in Vancouver, Canada in an AirBnB. I know it’s cliche to go on a “find yourself” journey after a major life change like this one, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be good. I know it will– spiritually, emotionally, mentally. I need to prove to myself that I will be OK being alone, that I can be OK with my own company, getting affirmation only from myself and from God.

reflections

The days pass with dreamlike clouds gliding over dreamlike mountains. A blazing heat bathes the plazas and zocalos, which are always full. In the evenings, the sun turns pink and deep yellow and the air cools, and there is nothing like sitting in the Plaza de Santo Domingo seeing the light reflect off the church’s facade while dozens of people of all ages walk and sit and play and wait and buy and sell and smile and sing. The colors of the traditional clothing and artesania piled on tables and stalls and in almost every shop are richer and brighter and deeper than you can imagine.

The hour feels like a spell, a spell that no one wants to be broken. This has been one of the most fascinating and unique experiences I’ve had.

Two encounters stand out—>

We walk daily to the mercado to sample the best of Oaxacan street food and look for crafts and other things to take home-sandals, bed sheets, chocolate, mole, mezcal.  Yesterday I bought some copal–incense made of tree sap that has been used for ceremonial purposes in Mesoamerica since ancient times.

One section of the market is made up solely of food stalls, or fondas, selling everything recognizable in Oaxacan cuisine.  In a part of this market there is a passageway made of of small, raised stands, each with its own rack of meat (the ubiquitous trio of tocino, cecina, and chorizo) and a small grill. You buy a plate filled with cebollitas and chiles at the entrance, and the sellers hand you a basket. You take your basket to a stall of your choice and they grill the vegetales and the meat you pick out.

Were eating at one of these stalls and being served by a young boy, who eagerly brought us small plates of limon and guacamole. When he heard us talking, he lit up and asked if we spoke English. “I speak English!” he said. We asked him how he learned English and he said that he used to live in Mississippi. He was 11 years old and born in the United States. He said when he was 8 his family had to move back to Oaxaca.

When we asked what he thought about moving to Mexico, he said he liked Mexico better because “they make meat better here.” He said that he stopped attending school when he came to Mexico, and seemed conflicted when we asked if he’d want to go to school. For him, this was what life had become, and what was the point of imagining anything else. He also said that he would only consider visiting the United States “once Donald Trump is out.”

We were reminded of this recent piece in the LA Times about the 9 million mixed status families who are experiencing new uncertainty since the election. This boy is a U.S. citizen, but because his family had to leave the rural south (probably meatpacking work) and return to Oaxaca, he will not likely experience any benefit from that status. As most people who follow this in the news already understand, immigration status and fear of deportation puts tremendous strain on families, who often have to make heart-wrenching decisions, or be torn apart against their will.

This is one of many injustices that have transnational, global, or historical roots and are on full display almost everywhere in Mexico. During our stay in an AirBnB in Oaxaca, we spent an entire morning with our wonderful host, Laura, talking about Ayotzinapa, the teachers’ strike in Oaxaca, and the costs of political corruption that are borne by the most vulnerable and marginalized. The overall atmosphere in the city of Oaxaca is very politicized. Graffiti on the streets scathingly lashes out against presidente EPN and other politicos. Graphic arts collectives sell prints and stencils out of storefront shops, and almost all of them bear some critique against capitalism, the ruling class, patriarchy, racism, or oppression in all its forms.

Being here and engaging in conversations about indigenous rights, national identity, free trade, race, mestizaje, and politics has sparked in me a passion that I had when I was in college, and also fueled my motivation to move forward with my creative work. It has also motivated me to move forward in my plans to find ways to apply my advocacy skills to other causes I care about outside of early education.


The second encounter: On Tuesday, we paid a colectivo bus to take us to Monte Alban, the archeological site of the ancient Zapotec capitol (whose ancient name is still unknown). I had been looking forward to this trip a great deal, but I was unprepared for the impact it would have on me. It is hard to put into words. I have been to other spectacular archeological sites, but there was something deeply spiritual about Monte Alban. The only thing I can compare it to is the feeling I get when I am immersed in the land of my own birth, New Mexico, which itself has a unique spiritual and historical energy. Monte Alban had that same feeling, but in its own unique way.

Maybe part of it was that Monte Alban features prominently in the novel I am writing. To stand on that ground and climb those monuments and behold the breathtaking expanse of the Valley of Oaxaca and its surrounding sierras was just…transformative. Late in the afternoon, dark clouds moved in all around the valley and rays of brilliant sunlight shot through in angelic columns miles down to the green and brown hills and peaks. It began to rain. I stood on top of the tallest building on the site, a restored temple overlooking the vast plaza surrounded by majestic temples and palaces, each over 1500 years old. The feeling was indescribable.

I have always thought of the world in terms of history. The experience of Monte Alban brought together so many of the things that have long been important to me. I am still processing it, but for now I am sifting through my notes on the many details I’ve picked up on this trip that will add greater depth to my story and to my own understanding of the world—- The taste of tejate; the smell of the rain in the Valle de Oaxaca, the color of natural dye made from cochinilla and huizache; the odor of sal de chapulines; the sizes and shapes of the dozens of species of agave plants; the voices and faces of the people; the tension between the past and the present, and the way the past is very much still alive.


The main character in my story’s name is Dzahui. Her name means “rain” in the Mixtec language. At a point of crisis in her life, she and the man she loves journey over the mountains and make a pilgrimage to Monte Alban. At the time Dzahui is living (around the year 1100), Monte Alban has been abandoned for almost 300 years. She goes to the ruins to seek clarity, a vision, some kind of hope for what she has foreseen will be a dark future for her people. In a few hundred years, the world as she has known it will be changed forever. In a thousand years, some of her people will still be alive, and when civilization is sick and dying from its own greed, hatred, and disregard for the earth, those who came only to take from this continent will once again come to her and her people to learn how to survive and live again in a new, better world.

But all that is far in the future. She also comes to Monte Alban for personal reasons, to seek clarity for her own life– should she let herself be loved my this man, the one she has known since she was a girl? Should she embrace him even though she knows that death will take him and she will live on, never able to find his equal through many lifetimes?

In Dzahui’s life, as is always the case, the writer’s own life is reflected. I came here to find meaning and clarity and hope–for myself, but also for what this world has become, what it is becoming, and what role I can play in that.

By this measure, I have found what I was looking for, and even more.

 

 

 

 

no one

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

no one wants to feel vulnerabe

no one wants to feel weak

no one wants to feel like they’re not in control of their feelings

no one wants to feel like they’ve said too much or fallen too fast

no one wants to lose what they already have

no one wants things to turn out differently from what they intended

no one wants to give another the power to hurt them