HAPPY NEW YEAR! FROM SIN VERGUENZA “WITHOUT SHAME”

huarachesHappy New Year! Where did 2014 go?

As is customary, or traditional, I should make a New Year’s resolution. I don’t even remember what I resoluted (made up word which I can do in a blog, right?) to last year, but honestly, I had a great year. One synchronistic event was the day I met Dr. Menbere Aklilu whose story I AM MENBE I am writing and is coming soon. As for the rest of 2014, I’m working real hard on letting go of my past.

Christmas 2014 was full of blessings and good times. I tried my hardest to just keep quiet so as not to be shooshed again. That’s why I write; to have a voice and yet I don’t even write about those things for which people are afraid I might mention. You Shoosh!

So what I’m thinking about for this next year (just twelve hours away) are two things. One is–at the risk of further alienating certain family members or sounding like a hippie– to speak my truth. Not that I have a burning desire to unburden my troubles nor do I wish to bring up the past (because I’m letting it go, right?), but in working on my next novel, I AM MENBE (coming soon), I find that there are too many common threads. And blogging more will also serve my second resolution–to write more. I’m reading that if you want to get published, you must blog and build your fan base.

But what to write about has been my struggle. I like to write fiction and make stuff up, like happy endings. Write what you know, the experts say. Well, that’s a lot of damn material. I’m old for God’s sake; I’ve had a ton of experiences. Besides, who wants to hear more about dysfunctional families, abuse, child molestation or menopause (Oops, there I said the “M” word. Molestation.)

As I mentioned, in working on the story I AM MENBE (coming soon), I feel a kindred spirit. Menbe is an immigrant, having come to this country from Ethiopia. She worked hard, persevered and now, in addition to her own homes and cars, she owns a 5-star restaurant. She was also resolute in her vision of making a difference in this world.

I try to make a difference in my own quiet way. My humble family, also immigrants from Mexico, came to America, worked hard picking fruits and vegetables up and down the fertile California valley, bought cars and homes and are all now living the American dream.

But something about childhood molestation can destroy a family no matter how many homes, cars or bank accounts you have. From a young age, Menbe was abused and molested by family members. I, too, suffered the same indignities. And like her, I remained silent. We just knew that to say anything would betray some sort of sick trust and sure enough when we did bring it up, we were told to stay silent. Callete!

“That’s just what kids do” or “he was drunk.” Like this was all normal stuff? If it was so normal, then why can’t we bring it up at the dinner table, for God’s sake? Why are you shooshing me?

“I got a Christmas card from your favorite person this year,” my mother told me on Christmas Eve.

Well, I have so many favorite people. Not. I couldn’t imagine who that might be.

“Don’t worry, I ripped it up and threw it in the trash.”

Finally, I figured out who mom meant without having to say his name. “I wonder if he even remembers what he did to me?” I said, and then I started to feel that same guilt that I’d made such a big deal out of the fact that my mother’s cousin had molested me while he was left to babysit my sisters and me.

Years later after watching the discussion of a similar topic on Oprah (my mother loved her Oprah), I felt safe telling my mom about the molestation.

“I can’t believe you never told me,” my mother said.

Well, I knew better. Too many other times, when I had spoken up, I received a slap to the face, or a switch to the behind; twice, a black eye. But those things were normal in our culture and for the times.

“Was it just once? Did he penetrate you?“ Those are the kind of questions I still get from family members who are just a little curious. What the fuck (using the “f” word shows I’m really angry about this part) does it matter, how, where or how many times? A breach of trust was committed, damn it!

And, here is the best question of all. “What were you doing to make him do that?” Seriously!! Recently, my mother kidded that I must have been some sexy four-year old. I can almost laugh at that.

My mother simply resolved never to speak to her cousin again.

“He’s been reaching out to me,” my she said looking away from me from her seat next to me on the couch. So close and yet so far off.

Now I wonder if I need or should confront my molester after all these years. Would I be doing him and everyone else a favor? Or, as was the case when Menbe confronted her molester, things only got worse amongst the family members.

No, for me it’s better to move forward. Really, I’m okay with that.

Christmas morning as we sat out on my sister’s Malibu deck overlooking the sparkling Pacific (means peaceful) Ocean, my other sister took a seat next to me and said, “Mom told me…” and then she stopped.

“What?” I asked. “Mom told you what?”

“Oh, nothing. I know how upsetting it is to you.”

“No, I’ll tell you what’s upsetting is the way you start to say something and then just stop,” I said. “You’re talking about the Christmas card she got from Gustavo.” (There I said his name.) “Yeah, I’m over it.”

The next evening my whole family was at Dave & Buster’s trying to have a good time. All of the kids were off playing games. I was seated at a table surrounded by my mom and my three younger sisters doing what they love to do best, gossip. For some reason (I had tuned out or maybe it was just the noise of the pinball machines), my youngest sister blurted something out about child molesters.

“Are you talking about Gustavo,” I asked. For God’s sake, I was sitting right there. It was surreal. They were talking about it like this shit only happens to strangers–other people’s children. SHOOSH! I wanted to say, I’m sitting right here. By the way, who’s watching the kids? I find it ironic that some parents feel their kids are safer in a public place.

So, yeah, my New Year’s resolution is to speak my own damn truth. Like a cancer, molestation destroys families and will continue to do so until someone speaks up and teaches their children that it’s okay to talk about it. We need to let our children feel comfortable talking to us without fear of being slapped or shooshed, and by allowing an open line of communication, a young child will know that molestation is not normal. It is not okay. I will no longer feel dirty, like a cochina. I am sin verguenza, without shame. I will no longer be silent. Shoosh your own damn selves!

Now, let me get back to I AM MENBE (coming soon).

Welcome, Cuba! It’s been too long!

I’m wondering if now would be a good time to republish my first novel, Isabela’s Island: Where the sun, the sand, and ultimately, Enrique “Ricky” De La Joya — a beautiful green-eyed Cuban tennis player who defected from Cuba by walking away from a Davis Cup match in Mexico — serve to make this romantic weekend one that will change their lives forever. Now connected to a murder, the camaraderie that was formed out of loneliness, needless to say, the women’s circle of friendship changes dramatically. “This ain’t no YaYa Sisterhood,” Isabela surmises. With the help of the De La Joya family and their connections in Las Vegas, Declan O’Connor and Isabela Mason set out to tidy up the mess, but can their lives ever be neat again?

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/isabelas-island-ruth-marlen-e/1030144537?ean=9781413741261

Apathetic in LaLa Land

I’m procrastinating again,

(writing nonfiction is a tough gig)

and leave my writing to peruse my Facebook

where last month, there were nothing but posts

about abuse, domestic violence and Ray Rice.

I had nothing to post — not that I didn’t have

something to say about growing up with

blackened eyes —

except to say Happy Thanksgiving!

This month, it’s all about race and Cosby, discrimination,

police brutality, and Ferguson. I have nothing to post.

Again, not that I don’t have anything to say about

growing up half white with blackened eyes —

except to say Happy Holidays!

Besides, no one ever listens to what I have to say.

Perhaps my apparent apathy is the reason why.

Oh, can’t I just sit on my couch in between

the black and white to watch The Goldbergs,

Black-ish and Fresh off Boat.

Can’t I just skip the news

and sip my Chardonnay.

To watch Jeopardy at 7:00 every night

And write my stories —

Fictional ones with Happy Endings.

Alex Trebek, What is:

I have a dream

Or is it a nightmare?

That I can’t breathe

The same air as you

Oh, can we all get along?

Si se puede. Yes, you can.

And we all lived happily ever after.

Christmas in Duarte

I submitted this last year for a young man (his homeys called him “Christmas”) I had the pleasure of knowing him for only a brief moment of his short 16-year old life. He was too young to die and it’s too soon to forget Chris’s smile.

His homeys called him Christmas

for the gifts he scored and poured

out of his bag of tricks –

for the rock candy and snowballs

he stuffed into stockings with a

twinkle in his eyes and a smile

to light up the skies of Duarte.

No more dope. He toyed with the idea

of hope, rubbing its sweetness

across his gums, over his tongue.

Whether they were naughty or nice;

black or brown, his homeys might

like the taste of something that wouldn’t

cost a lung, a tattooed arm or a leg.

He dared to believe in change

even though he didn’t trust

he’d see 18. Not much older

than Jesus who entered the Temple

to chase away the money changers –

those defilers of his hood, 16-year old

Christmas was already marked.

 I like to think he turned his back –

headed home before five shots rang out

ripping metal through flesh – shattered bone –

pierced heart. Christmas is over.

Gifts of flowers, candles and Teddy bears

line the sidewalk; the milk curdles,

and the cookies crumble to dust.

Officials Investigate Murder Of Teen Boy, 3rd Shooting In Duarte In 3 Days

What Came First, The Book or The Book Proposal?

In my case, I needed to lay down the tracks; get the story or at least a first draft written. Fortunately, I noticed a weekend course being offered at UCLA on How to Write & Sell a Nonfiction Book Proposal, by Agent Betsy Amster and Leigh Ann Hirschman.

I suppose there is no right or wrong way. I usually just dive in and start swimming and boy am I glad I latched on to the How to life ring. There are things I need to know going forward if I want to sell this project and writing a book proposal is an eminent and daunting part of the process. One which I learned can be even more challenging than writing the story itself.

Last Saturday, I sat in the classroom in Rolfe Hall intimidated with the at least 50 other non-fiction writers who are going to make a difference somehow: doctors, lawyers, movie studio execs, marketing people all with 5 easy steps to cure something or change the world (comparison of Features & Benefits section of the seminar). There were also a handful that had amazing cookbook ideas (an already crowded market), including a Russian student with an idea for one (something about Leo Tolstoy’s recipes! Seriously?!) There was even a woman writing her grandfather’s (Carl Laemmle, for God’s sake!) bio. I wanted to pack up my notebook and pencil while there might still be time for a refund. Some only had ideas; some had been blogging or writing short pieces for awhile like what to expect the first year of baby’s life (I can tell you I didn’t do much reading during my babies’ first years). Nonetheless, she had accumulated enough anecdotes to sew into a giant patchwork quilt for her next baby. Me, what I lack in experience and professional degrees, I make up for in tenacity and perseverance. Within two weeks, I had 73,579 words; that’s 279 double-space Times New Roman 12-point font pages of narrative and only part of a story about an Ethiopian women’s journey out of a mud hut, into Mother Teresa’s shelter in Italy and then to America where she ends up owning her own 5-star restaurant in northern California (I also now have 12 pages of a book proposal. All that’s missing are the sample chapters. That’s just par for me to put off the hard stuff.)

But do I have a story readers won’t want to put down? Is my concept unique? Who is my target audience? Do I have a marketing plan (I’m blogging aren’t I?) Dr. Menbere “Menbe” Aklilu loves to take the stage to tell her story. Problem solved. So now, what’s my competition? (Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, of course, or Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson and Veronica Chambers, or even Dave Eggers’ fictional What is the What?)

During the How To seminar, we were given handouts, including sample proposals. There was a section entitled About the Author: The sample authors were doctors, Harvard, Yale and Cambridge Grads with PhDs (I shrunk in my classroom seat made for 20-something-year-old derrieres). So, about me? Well, I’m smart enough to know that my subject Dr. Menbere Aklilu is someone to be recognized. She is the right person to narrate her story. She’s already out there delivering a powerful and amazing story as I sit here and write. And, there’s the word: WRITE. I do believe I am the right person to write Menbe’s story. The longer I sit with her and laugh and cry with her as we dig deeper into her history and that of her homeland, I do believe I am the right person to do the job. The more vertically we dig, we are finding the story full of gold; a story that is juxtaposed with the sometimes violent and tragic, yet always persevering culture of Ethiopia. Ethiopia, a country I’m excited to learn more about and the more I work on getting the story, the more I transform my thoughts and start to believe I am Menbe.

There are many ways to skin a cat (metaphor for selling or writing a book) and of course, there are those of you who simply want to write a book or memoir to leave for your children and grandchildren, but if you’re serious about selling your masterpiece, I recommend researching how to write and sell a non-fiction book proposal. It’s a great place to map out the direction for the journey on which you wish to embark.

Now back to writing!

On Ghostwriting

How does one write a ghost story about a ghost? Something without a skeleton or sinew or skin. In other words, if you’re writing about a person who doesn’t have a past, has forgotten it or doesn’t want to remember (anything other than the wonderful smell of berbere sauce and buhe bread), then you are in story hell. No need to answer the first question.

This ghost has plenty of heart and spirit, however. I’ve been asked to ghostwrite for a businesswoman, philanthropist and now my friend. Dr. Menbere Aklilu is a bubbly, unreserved Ethiopian (she wasn’t the kind of child who fit in anywhere much less Ethiopia. Had her mother known about Ritalin, this might be a different story. As it is right now it’s just a story about getting a story.) She’s a beautiful wide-smiling, nutmeg-colored woman, just shy of flamboyant, yet she is dramatic and she tears up at the drop of a garbanzo bean. She screams before she laughs and her hands flutter and flap like a hummingbird when she’s happy or agitated (something she says she learned while living in Italy; that and making a killer pizza). Menbe is quite a character.

Tune in to see how I finally get this tenacious hummingbird to open up and release the nectar she’s been holding in for too many years. This is the story people want to hear; the story the media wants to write about and put on the news; the story universities want to listen to during their commencements speeches.  I Am Menbe is not just a Cinderella story or a rags to riches story. While it may be another tale about Coming To America, it’s also a success story full of grit and passion, tears and laughter. I just need to wake up the ghost. (Hmmm. Ghosts and Hummingbirds. I know I have a couple of mixed metaphors here, but that’s the advantage of writing in this forum.)

Virgins in Porsches

Another wannabe with blind ambition,

Italian Singing Nun Sister Cristina

would like to see Madonna’s face when

she hears the nun singing Like a Virgin.

Like, I think she would turn in her grave.

Oh, wait she means the other Madonna —

with Blond Ambition who POPularized being

a virgin grossing lots of moolah from sales

of rosaries, crucifix earrings and lace gloves.

The Pope had warned his flock to look away.

See The Racing Nun laughing all the way to the Vatican

Bank in her new Porsche from their corporate charity

event held in the Sistine Chapel at $5900 a head.

The Pope looks the other way, Madonna gasps

from the grave and Jesus topples tables in the temple.

Do You Pop Out at Parties? Boots or Huaraches?

Speaking of Presidents, Poop, Paltrow and Parties (yesterday’s blog), do you pop out at parties? Do you feel unpoopular? Well, do you?

This is something I’d like to explore about myself and welcome your comments and feedback. We all feel different at times and sometimes unpopular. I know I have and it’s all about perspective, isn’t it? I don’t think anyone else in my family feels the same as I do.

My father was a gringo and my mother a Mexican, so what did that make me?  I’m only half, only a part of two different cultures. Pulled apart like carnitas. Where was I to fit in? Does the boot fit or the huarache?

Boots or guaraches?
Boots or huaraches?

huaraches

No solo soy gringa con sangre azul, I was born in the barrio during a time when Mexican parents insisted their children abandon their language and yet my gringo father insisted I speak Spanish. My Mexican mother made tortillas but insisted I use the right fork and proper English.

I love that our country is filled with such a mosaic of people and cultures. What has been your experience trying to fit in?