Friday, March 29, 2013

One Courageous Child

Years ago I belonged to a parish church that was among the first in our community to enact a “passion play.” It covered Jesus’ life from his arrest on Thursday night, his death on Friday, and his Resurrection on Sunday morning. The props and special effects were engineering feats, the makeup and costumes amazing, but it was the SRO attendance at the one enactment on Good Friday that proved our church had attempted something special.

The first year I played in the “the angry mob.”  I really wanted a speaking role, but the deacons and their wives had already taken all of those. I just had to do the best I could with what I had been assigned.

The deacon playing Jesus led the way up and down the church aisles carrying a cross. Roman soldiers accompanied him.  Behind them walked John and the two Marys.  The Angry Mob (about a dozen of us) brought up the rear, jeering and calling for Jesus’ death.  

I knew I had nailed my performance when a furious preschooler lunged at me from one of the pews. (He was so angry that his mama had to physically hold him back from kicking me in the shins.) Our debut was a success.

The next two years I tried out for Mary, Jesus’ Mother, but was assigned the role of Mary Magdalene (No, it was not typecasting!). I steered a bawling Holy Mother up and down the church aisles while she stumbled and wailed overcome with her grief. 

I remember exactly when I blew my chance at ever playing Mary. At the audition I told the head deacon/director and the church pastor/producer (both men) that the Mother of God would hold her head high, not out of pride but because like her son, she too embodied courage. If she were to cry, it would be for the immensity of the sins of mankind. She knew restitution for them required her precious son’s life. She would save her tears for the end, when she held his dead body in her arms.

Courage is not pompous or selfish.  It does not come with special effects, costumes, and overacting.  It comes from deep inside, a rare trait.

I’m sure that church play touched many, both actor and audience, but very few reacted with courage. Most just watched and cried, horrified by it all. 

This is dedicated to the one Child who dared to take on the angry mob.


Monday, March 25, 2013

You Can Count on Me

She knocked on the back door of Doña Nela’s home, waited a second, then knocked again. Her mother came to the screen door, a dust rag in one hand.
“Hija, what brings you here?  Is everyone all right?”
“Dad never showed up and we are out of food.”
“Como siempre.  Esperame aqui. I will be right back.”
While she waited, the young woman looked down at her shoes.  She had tucked a thin piece of cardboard inside her right shoe to cover the hole in the sole; the other had a thick elastic band holding it together at the toe. She hated being poor, but at the moment, she hated her father more. He hadn’t been home since last Friday morning and today was Thursday.  By now his paycheck was gone, spent on alcohol and cheap women, while his wife struggled to keep their five children from going hungry.
“Toma.”  Her mother returned with a bundle wrapped inside an old pillowcase. “Doña Nela is not home.  She will never miss that onion or those potatoes.  Con cuidado, there’s a couple of eggs, and an orange for all of you to share. And here,” she reached into the pocket of her worn apron, “this is the last of the money I have been saving in case of an emergency.  I get paid tomorrow, but I won’t be home until Sunday evening for a few hours as usual, so if you need more, come see me.”
“We’ll make do.  Gracias, Mami.”
“Take care of your brothers.  Nos vemos el domingo.”
The young girl turned to leave.
“Si, Mami?”
“If your father comes home, hide the money.”
“You can count on me.”

The year was 1942, and my mother was fourteen. She quit school that summer after finishing the eighth grade and went to work to help my grandmother provide for an older sister and three younger brothers.  Thanks to her they all finished high school and they had food to eat and a roof over their heads until they were able to fend for themselves. 
All of them are gone now except for my mother and one brother, and this is my personal contribution to Women's History Month. My mother can count on me to tell about her sacrifice. 


Okay, sisters, this is how it goes.
I think I may have invented a new genre and you are on the cutting edge of it. It is going to require your cooperation.  Can I trust you not to weenie out on me?  You will be moving.  You will be talking.  You will be interacting with the print.
For lack of a better word, I have called this my karaoke column.  I played with the thought of calling it kamikaze columnizing, but decided to just show you and you can help me name this new invention later.
Okay, here we go.  Remember this will only work if you cooperate and participate.  Ready?
All the affirmations are in BOLD LETTERS.  Those are your parts. Participation is key.
Step one:  turn to the person closest to you and look that person straight in the eye.  Once you catch his or her attention (it might just be you in the mirror but that is okay), smile with confidence and say the following words, loudly and proudly: I’M A BOOMER.
Step two (do not be afraid):  Stand up, look about the room, daring anyone to look at you.  Shoulders back, deep breath, arms straight up and out, and say the following, loudly and proudly: I’M A BOOMER AND PROUD OF IT!
Good, good.  You have garnered attention now, sisters! Hang in there.  Remember, we lady boomers are the majority in this nation.  We rule.  We’re hot.  We got game (still).
Step three (the clincher): Still standing, throw your head back, find the goddess in you.  Run your fingers through your hair, feel your beauty, shiver slightly, and let whoever is in the room with you know who is the real boss.  Let out a moan, a groan, a primitive yell, and say the following, loudly and proudly, one more time:  I’M BEAUTIFUL.  I’M A BOOMER AND I AM PROUD OF IT!  (If you want to add a few spontaneous adjectives, hoots, primal yells, that is your business and it adds to the effectiveness of this affirmation.)
Now that you have filled the room with awe and wonder, smile wickedly at each and every person in the room, slowly sit down, smooth you clothes primly, and go back to what you were doing prior to this affirmation.
Very cutting edge, don’t you think?
I will feel you positive energy via the airwaves.  Our sisterly boomer moment will transcend time and space.  We will be one with the universe, the force, the space-time continuum.
Now, before we end, wet your lips, do one of those breathless thing we do that drive others crazy, and in a sultry voice, just to make sure we have made our point, say it with me: 

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Teacher

 Linda was quiet and shy and never spoke during class, so when she raised her hand and asked to use the restroom, I readily handed her the classroom bathroom pass. 
When she didn’t return, I warned the class to behave while I went to check on her.  All the stall doors were ajar except for one. I knocked and called her name.
There was no answer. 
I squatted down and saw her feet. I called her name again and asked if something was wrong.  That was when I saw the pool of blood.  At first I thought she had started her period.  She was a sixth grader and maybe she didn’t know what to do. 
“Linda?  Sweetie?” 
When she didn’t answer I thought maybe she’d fainted. I got down on my hands and knees and saw her arms hanging by her side and blood dripping from her wrists. I couldn’t leave her, so I stood and yanked on the door with all my strength.  When it didn’t give, I threw myself on the ground and crawled under the door. (Don’t ask how I did it.  It was forty years ago and I was a lot thinner and more limber.)
After that I remember everything in snatches.  I unlocked the door.  I grabbed both her wrists with my hands; my fingers clenched over the cuts she had made.  She was not conscious.  And I yelled for help.  I screamed and yelled for help.
I remember footsteps, a small yelp, and the footsteps ran away.  Soon I was surrounded by many others, none of whom I remember to this day.  Someone pried me away from Linda and walked me over to the one of the sinks.  A woman, I think, washed my hands. 
I remember sitting in the principal’s office, sipping on a cold Coca-Cola, answering questions, until everyone decided I was calm enough to drive myself home.
Linda never came back to our middle school.  Her family placed her in a facility. A counselor told me Linda’s father had committed suicide the summer before, a bullet to the head, and she had been the first to find him. 
I never understood why the administration waited until then to tell me this.  Why not before, so we could keep an eye on her, protect her, help her through her grief?
I think of her often. She was twelve; she must be in her fifties now.  At least, I hope so.  I remember her face, her shy smile, her blood seeping through my fingers as I willed her to stay alive.
I was supposed to be the teacher, yet she taught me something that day that I have never forgotten.

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Inspiration Behind My Current Work in Progress (WIP)

Once again in honor of Women’s History Month, this blog addresses the inspiration behind my current WIP, and yes, it was inspired by real women and real events.

Before any of you starts to panic, the book is fictional, totally made up, none of you will see yourselves in this novel.  Of course I hope you will identify with the characters, but they are all creations of my imagination and a couple of books on characterization I bought from Amazon.

After having spent two-thirds of my life in a profession dominated by women and all of my life in a family of strong women, I feel I have an understanding concerning the female psyche.

My current WIP is about a group of women who spend one very long day together in extremely close quarters.  After a few how are you’s and a few more polite questions inquiring on the husband and kids, they start to pass the time by sharing stories, something that has happened since they last saw each other. The first woman sets the bar with her story and from then on, each woman moves the bar up a notch. By the end of the day, they have all contributed something - some of the stories are surprising, some are poignant, and some are comical, but they all speak about life and friendship.

Where did I get this idea?  Each woman’s story could have been its own novel, but I didn’t want to dole them out like that.  I needed a venue where the women would be forced to spend time together and where the surroundings lent itself to privacy and sharing.  The women had to be close, family or family friends, and they each had a need to “get something off their chest.”

I took snippets of gossip and scandalous rumors I’d gathered over the years.  Some of the ideas came from magazines, newspapers, or the six o’clock news, and the characters came from all the years of working with hundreds, if not thousands, of women of all ages and situations.  The best part is the resiliency of the women when faced with tough situations. 

Monday, March 4, 2013

Twelve Female Hero Authors Who Influenced Me to be an Author

In honor of Women’s History Month, I decided to share twelve female authors who changed my life forever and who influenced me to try my hand at writing. Some are not widely popular so you might want to try them out.

1.   Charlotte Bronté – English – Her plotting and characters - Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester – are immortal. 

2.   Louisa May Alcott – American – I loved how she created a family of Little Women that reminded me of my sisters. 

3.   Jane Austen – English – Another author who knew how to build immortal characters. Two words:  Mr. Darcy. Two more words:  hubba hubba.

4.   Emily Dickinson – American - What a poet! Her innovation was pooh-poohed at first, but now we owe her for breaking all those punctuation barriers.

5.   Beverly Cleary – American – She created a little girl in Ramona that reminded me of me when I was a little girl.  I wish I had met Ms. Cleary’s books sooner instead of when I was in my 30’s.

6.   Judy Blume – American - Her female characters said all the outrageous things I thought. (Another author I didn’t discover until I was in my 30’s.)

7.   Laura Esquivel – Mexican - When Like Water for Chocolate came out in 1989, I turned green with envy.  Her book and the movie that followed broke all kinds of records. 

8.   Julia Alvarez – Dominican-American – Her book How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents was innovative and fun to read. 

9.   Isabel Allende – Chilean-American – Her books are a strong voice for feminism and social justice, not just fluff.

10.Cynthia Rylant – American – She tells stories in her simple poetry for children and teens.

11.Pat Mora – Mexican American – Writes many lovely stories and poems for children and adults. 
12.Judith Ortiz Cofer – Puerto Rican – Writes strong poetry and short stories.