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Literally back on the mic

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Though I began writing fiction at 9, I started writing personal reflections in my monthly column in La Voz de Berkeley when I was at Cal. I then created a blog, Mujer Hollering, inspired by that column, and more recently, my blog, Mujer Evolving. While writing fiction is a long-term goal, my #40blogsfor40days challenge is a great opportunity to share my work and honor my voice.

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I have suffered from writer’s block for many years partly due to time management. So am I going to complete this writing during Lent?  I decided to solve the problem this year by beginning my blogs as voice recordings. During my morning commute, I have been recording five minute voice memos to capture my thoughts. There’s plenty of writing material whether it’s personal experiences, music, TV, or themes I have pondered.  The commute has allowed me time to do some uncensored reflecting. When I’m at the computer, I get stifled by the desire to wordsmith or produce a clear and concise piece in a short amount of time.  Drafting differently gives me a chance to voice my ideas.

Then it is time to transcribe. I don’t type it word for word. I do some revision as I go. Sometimes I stop the playback as I tend to speak quickly.  I don’t want to lose any key ideas. Once it’s transcribed, I read it. I start the editing process. I take out repetitious phrases. I rearrange paragraphs. I add topic sentences, details, commentary, and transitions. I was an English teacher for thirteen years so I have those skills to help me produce a polished piece of writing. The verbal rough draft and more intense editing process has allowed me to produce work that is much more coherent. I’m excited that this may be an opportunity to fully commit to writing on a more regular basis.

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4 Challenges in 40 Days

“Long have I waited

For your coming home to me

And living deeply our new lives…” “Hosea” by John Michael Talbot.

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This Lent, I am taking on a 40 blogs for 40 days as part of the 4 Lenten challenges I will be completing.

One challenge is joining the now-viral  #40bagsin40days challenge to clear up clutter. This has been an ongoing challenge.  I have read Marie Kondo’s book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, which had an impact on my wardrobe. I have also read numerous blogs and articles on thrift shopping and capsule closets which changed how I purchase and keep clothing and shoes. However it is a work in progress as clutter continues to consistently affect our home and my office at work. Purging daily, whether it is paper clutter or material items I don’t need, will clear space.  I don’t need much. What I need is love, family, discipline, and positive outlets. I have those blessings in place. It’s a matter of clearing space, energy, and time to truly enjoy them.

Rather than completely fasting from Facebook, I will be reducing my presence on social media. If I’m doing a 40 day writing challenge, social media is the best way to share my work. I will use social media purposefully.  I will post images and links related to my Lenten challenges and reflections. Another reason to revisit this traditional practice of reducing my time online is my actual enjoyment of this fast. Fasting from social media has gotten easier.  I don’t want my Lenten challenges to feel as if they are not sacrifices such as “Oh I’m giving up chocolate.” I moved away from that type of material sacrifice years ago because it doesn’t change me from within. Giving up Facebook and not posting status updates or sharing memes does not make me any less petty. Usually I get back online Easter Sunday and I’m posting a blog about how fulano de tal ruined my Lent. It’s not pure pettiness; there is some reflection involved.  Being off line is no easy fix.  I will move past venting through my writing over the course of these 40 days.

A challenge I began in therapy and within my immediate family is my commitment to stop being a mean mommy.(Can-do attitude)M  has always been articulate in expressing her opinions and feelings. While she is outwardly not thin-skinned, she’s much more sensitive than when she was 7. When I  hear her say, “you’re mad at me”, “you’re mean to me”  or use negative self-talk like “it’s my fault that…”, I cringe.  I am responsible for prompting my child to second-guess herself. In these 40 days, I will make a conscious effort to hold my tongue, monitor my body language and facial expressions, and modulate my tone of voice. I will be firm and tough but do it in a way that is nurturing, not demoralizing. Given our family’s histories, M is prone to anxiety. I will not be an additional stressor in her life. I want M to look at our relationship as one that strengthens her.

Finally, I will pray more in these 40 days. M and I will be praying the rosary during our commutes again. Instead of listening to New Edition during my morning drive to work(I’m not swearing off NE for 40 days! That blog is forthcoming), I will listen to gospel music.I will do some spiritual reading. I will participate in Best Lent Ever through Dynamic Catholic. This program has changed the way I experience Lent. Lent has become a beloved season  which I anticipate yearly.  I love what Lent offers my family, my prayer life, what it does for my relationship with myself and ultimately my relationship with God. God bless.

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To learn more about the #40bagsin40days, visit 40 bags in 40 days

To join Dynamic Catholic for the next 40 days, sign up at Best Lent Ever

 

Can-do attitude

When I was a little girl, my father worked in a food canning factory.  Canning plants could be found all over the Bay Area back in the day: the Shasta soda plant we saw on the drive across the San Mateo Bridge 812f141d-5bac-40e1-b164-8e391df5afb8_d

or the smells associated with various foods being processed in Hayward or San Leandro.  In my own home, an elderly neighbor taught my mother how to can jams and jellies.  This personal history with canning has been lost on me.  canning-button-026I have lost my ability to can.

When did this happen?  When this 45th Republican regime came into power?  When the third white boy from Peyton Place Bay Area cussed me out at work?  There was some kind of perfect storm this fall. sean-beanWinter isn’t coming, y’all.  It came. Ya llegó.

I have fought back in the usual way. I have been focusing on getting fit.  I have continued to dance. I have taken refuge in TV shows and books.  But my signature patience has worn thin.

Given the current state of the state, lacking patience may be a good thing.  It’s time to stop suffering like a santita and get into warrior mode.

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My favorite saints carry swords. Saint Barbara

My fear is that I’m taking it out on the wrong people.  I have become much less patient with my partner and my child.  Y eso no está bien.

Rambo was and is a soldier. He can take my stank attitude for the most part. He also has no problem checking me when I get to be too much.  M, on the other hand, is sensitive.  Don’t let the sass and side-eye fool you. My daughter is sensitive and I am the person who has the capacity to hurt her feelings the most.  She has told me so.  I am committed to being the great mother she deserves.

So while I’m freezing, it’s time to power through this change of seasons. winter-is-coming-1050x600While I may not be able to can with the trifling behavior of spoiled teens or the shenanigans occurring on a national scale, I know damn well there’s nothing to stop me from being my best self.  I can and I will.

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Wayward shepherd

 

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“’And I’m the tyranny of evil men. But I’m tryin’. I’m tryin’ real hard to be a shepherd.’”  Pulp Fiction, Quentin Tarantino

As I did exactly a year ago(An Advent first), I began my Advent fast after evening Mass. The morning has been one of silence: the silence of a smartphone used merely as phone and not social media device, the silence involved with a nutritional cleanse, and as hoped annually, the silence of prayer. I prayed the Liturgy of the Hours for the first time in months.   It felt wonderful to be grateful and to be still.  However, soy realista and I own who I am.  This will be a struggle as it was last year(Ruining Advent.)  It’s possible that by tomorrow, my emotions will get the best of me and my thoughts will run ragged.  Como decia Cantinflas, ahi esta el detalle.

My biggest challenge isn’t my compulsion to be online.  It is my propensity for negative emotions and thoughts.
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Gossip, sarcasm, and shade throwing may be humorous and entertaining but they also allow me to give voice and free reign to anger, resentment, and meanness. As evidenced by this year’s Kermit meme of the moment(and I do love me some Kermit, My love of Kermit memes), everyone struggles with their dark side.
73291699 I’m not the only one who feels that the f@#*ery is too much at times.  But I’m the only person who can control how I act and think given the situations and people around me.

Recently, within hours of declaring myself unwilling to deal with negative online conversations about the election(Holding the door open,) I became engaged in an online debate about immigration with someone I’ve known since the eighth grade. In the past, we’ve been able to respectfully disagree.  This time, I couldn’t believe the angry tone that was taken. While I pointed out facts, my acquaintance responded with vitriolic statements. When I realized I couldn’t argue with logic and reason, I took the step of silencing the discussion by blocking my account.

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I flirted with the idea of sharing screen shots of the conversation or of composing a blog about the situation.  I’m glad I didn’t follow through on those actions. I would have gained nothing other than temporary satisfaction.  While I’m hilarious when I’m petty,  I do more good when I keep those cruel thoughts quiet.

The daily struggle will be one mostly within me.  I will have to be mindful and purposeful.  Every day, I will have the opportunity to be my best self.   Every day will be another day to sustain the peace offered by silence and compassion. May I fast from the noise of anger.

A reader’s reflections

By Emily Dickinson
“We are all connected. You can no more separate one life from another than you can separate a breeze from the wind.” Mitch Albom
“To survive you must tell stories.” Umberto Eco
Tengo mucho que hacer and yet I always make time, somehow, when my alma mater comes calling. Every year, I read scholarship essays.  I may have to carve out time between mommy duties after busy workdays. It is time well spent.
My task is to read 25 scholarship applications in a week’s time. The applicants are asked to detail their extracurricular activities and respond to three short essay prompts. They are asked to discuss their lives, their leadership, and their goals. As a former English teacher and Upward Bound teacher, I have spent hours helping high school students tell their story to colleges in a way that is authentic and compelling.  It is no easy task. The scholarships for which I serve as a reader are earmarked for first-generation college students.  More often than not, these young people balance family caretaking and part-time jobs with their busy schedules of honors and AP classes, club meetings, practices, and volunteer work.  Their stories are worth hearing.
During my recent reading gig, I read stories that have made an impact on me.  While some applications were less than engaging, there were some who stood out. My heart ached for the student with a lifelong health challenge.  I felt teary-eyed for the young farmer whose reflections on love of land and animals were wise and poignant.  I pondered the limitless courage of the child who raised both parents while they battled addiction.  While I may never know whether or not these young people won the awards or admission, I did my small part to help.

I cannot lose sight of the opportunities I was given. I was one of those students.  Someone saw my potential and helped me.  I will not stop offering those opportunities to others.  In return, I am blessed with the gifts of inspiration and motivation.  I am reminded of my purpose. 
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Surreality check

Lynchian: refers to a particular kind of irony where the very macabre and the very mundane combine in such a way as to reveal the former’s perpetual containment within the latter. David Foster Wallace

It has been a while since I needed to escape reality through television shows.  Usually I watch TV shows that parallel my family life like Blackish or Fresh off the Boat (TV show parallels), serve as bonding time with M as with Top Chef or Chopped Junior, or feed my craving for intelligent horror, The Returned
 Definitely in my Top 5 of Best TV shows EVER
Last week offered the return of my beloved The X-Files

Rambo met me at my parents’ house so we could watch the premiere with my dad.  Due to recent events
(and nope,  not at home), I decided to Netflix and chill with one of my all-time favorites, Twin Peaks. 
You may wonder how a spooky, surreal telenovela (folks who are insulted by the comparison need to check out Cuna de Lobos and El Maleficio; telenovelas aren’t always big hair, big fights, and big weddings) from the 90s could serve as an antidote to reality. 
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Ernesto Alonso serving in El Maleficio; must find on Netflix stat 
Twin Peaks hasn’t lost its edge over the decades; it is as creepy, funny, and mind-boggling as ever. From its lovely yet nightmarish soundtrack to its iconic images, I felt transported to that small town where not one thing is as it seems.  On a Saturday afternoon following what has been a mentally challenging week at work, it was the right counterpoint. 

I have learned, after years of hard work (and, as I like to joke, thousands of dollars), that my thoughts and emotions are best checked.  In other words, I can’t let my mind wander.  #icant.  So after this week of bizarre and confusing events, I could not sit around and think about them for too long. I seriously compromised my health and my career at one point in my life.  I realized I had to learn how to heal. I committed to change.  I know I thrive through routine, discipline, and spiritual practice.  I train for half-marathons. I train for Carnaval. I pray the rosary daily. When I’m really good, I pray the Liturgy of the Hours. My schedule and calendar, sometimes the cause of controversy with certain family members and friends, is full, mostly with cherished events and activities.  This is on purpose. This is deliberate.  I made a commitment to health that will not waver.  So, when faced with others who haven’t yet learned that important lesson and perhaps never will, I need a break.  Why not be entertained while being comforted? 

Reality can be daunting.  Indulging in some fiction that is somewhat stranger than the truth helps me.  As for confronting those strange truths, I am grateful that I now have the mental strength to face them all.  I also  have the experience to know I can’t do much to help those who do not.  (Marsupium crotalus epidemic)

Twelve days of Christmas(in June and July)

“Our lives change when our habits change.” Matthew Kelly
During the summer of 2004, I was fortunate to be awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. As a high school teacher, I would study the Renaissance in an intensive institute at Columbia University and create curriculum to be used with my students as my final project. I also moved into Carman Hall, one of the dorms.  After checking out the campus gym, I explored my new neighborhood and found the local Catholic church, Notre Dame. At that point in time, they had Liturgy of the Hours in the morning and I thought it would be a nice start to the day after my morning workout. Before I knew it, I was a daily Mass attendee.

Prior to my summer in Morningside Heights, I had only ever attended Mass on Sundays. Daily Mass is different. It has a different pace and overall vibe. It is a much more intimate experience than Sundays or holidays because it is often more quiet and the people who attend may be “regulars” who attend consistently. I like to attend daily Mass during Lent and other times I’m not bound by my work schedule. I am not surprised that many spiritual advisers recommend daily Mass as a means to reconnect and revive your faith life. It certainly has that effect for me.

About six days after surgery in June(and once I was cleared to drive) I spent 12 consecutive days in church. I attended daily Mass at the three local parishes I visit. Initially I had intended to do a novena, nine consecutive days of prayer and devotion, in gratitude for my health.  But once daily Mass became part of my daily routine, I made an effort to get my day started in this way.  It allowed me to focus on hearing the Gospel and being in community with others, rather than analyzing the aches and pains of my body’s recovery.
Now that I’ve had a week of not attending daily Mass, I can tell the difference. I am more connected to technology (phone, computer, TV) and less focused in the mornings and therefore back to my last-minute, oh-man-I-forgot-my-charger-my-medication-the-entrance-passes ways.  I am reading for leisure less. I’m skipping my prescribed daily walks. I have not followed through on my plan to write more often.  Yet I’m encouraged by one positive change daily Mass helped bring about in a mere 12 days.  I have committed to serving as a lector in my parish. After 7 years, I will be returning to a ministry I loved.

Health isn’t simply about the body but the soul. No hay mal que por bien no venga. My physical health challenges have pushed me to seek healing in many ways. The key will be to commit to healing habits.