Sunday, June 7, 2015

On relationships and friendships

"Can you call them at 2 am?"

Some time ago, my friend and I were talking about friendships and relationships and how things have unfolded for us over this past year.  Her question was rhetorical but also poignant.  She said we should ask ourselves that question when we wonder if someone is a friend, a true family member, a dear one.  You know, someone who is to be considered something more than an acquaintance.

It was one of those talks that required a drink or two in order to facilitate the flow of ideas and laughs.  The kind of conversation where you wish you had taken notes because we could have gathered enough observations to make our own TED talk...inappropriate comments with witty humor included.

You see, she and I have had our share of people who have disillusioned us over the course of these past months.  The names and events are of no consequence. I find we already dedicated more than enough time to them.  No, this story is not about the people or events that got us here. This story is about how we got here and what we've learned.  Here are some of the lessons:

Your parents and those inspirational quotes floating around the Internet were right.  

Like an unspoken rule of the universe, tough times will reveal things about people you may not have been aware of before for a variety of reasons.  I hypothesized to my friend that perhaps it's because we make allowances for people, thinking they'll grow, become more mature, learn that communication is a two-way street. Either way, the ones you thought would be there may surprise you and not in a positive way.

You may find yourself being the one who always initiates conversation or calls or texts or emails (and I would say pages, but those days are gone). You may find you're the only one making sacrifices, taking the initiative, giving not only things, but giving yourself and of yourself. You may learn that you have given the relationship your all and more and this person is willing to receive but is not too keen on the concept of reciprocity. At some point, you will see a pattern, hopefully.

While it is understood that each of us can become, at times, the proverbial wind beneath someone's wings (Thank you, Bette Midler)...if you're going to be the wind at all times then you may want to rethink things because self-respect is paramount and life is short. You may find yourself in someone else's journey and not in a joint venture.

It's okay to feel like the rug has been pulled from under you...because it has.

My friend and I would text each other and say things like, "It's okay for me to have this WTF moment, right?' Or, my favorite: "Who the fuck is this person? Was this ever real?"

When relationships die it's as if as someone has died.  You will go through all the stages of grief and depending on the length and breadth of the relationship, the mourning process may last a considerable amount of time.  There will be people who will, with good intentions, tell you that you ought to be done with it. It's over. You are better now and life moves on...and they're right. However, you and I know other things as well.  Mourning can be the calm before the storm, the storm itself, and the rainbow after it.  It helps to have someone to talk with, music to listen to, hobbies of your own, and things to do...amongst other things you will find along in your journey.  Your sense of the world has been jilted for fuck's sake.  Allow yourself time to regain your balance.

If Social Media is too much go ahead and unplug, click on ignore, mute, and yes... you can also delete that app. If necessary, unfriend. Trust us, the world will not end.

What did people do before social media? I think they lived peaceful days.  People nowadays get annoyed that you did not see their announcement or comment on their life milestone as if social media is the only means of communication. No, social media is the convenient way to communicate but not the only way to communicate or the most intimate for that matter. I personally *like* social media because it affords me the opportunity to travel without leaving home, the ability to catch up with former classmates, the chance to learn something new each day and be involved in the political process...but this all means nothing when you're grieving.

My friend and I took social media sabbaticals at different times.  When I got away from the constant posts of blissful happiness, I learned that when you're dealing with loss of any kind, self preservation is key. Let's keep in mind that people most often than not post their highlights and when you are dealing with loss there is no point in seeing someone else's highlight reel. They may not know it and should not, actually, but their posts feel like a slap to the face. Take some time to lick your wounds and come back when you're ready.  Choosing any one of the above options when dealing with social media may be not only healthy, but necessary.

In my own journey, when I took some time off from social media I noticed I would call people more often and I noticed who also called me or texted.  I sent and received letters, notes, and cards as well. It's incredible what happens when you disconnect from the virtual world and join the actual world. Communication became more organic and less restrained to just tidbits and pieces of information. Then, after months of no communication with the people I no longer had in my frame of reference, I personally decided to unfriend in the social media platform.  It was done not out of anger but out of acceptance. By that time, the anger was gone and I was only left with questions that I think will remain unanswered.

Unfriending on social media was a purely symbolical act but it was necessary. The real unfriending had already taken place months earlier, it's just that one hangs on to the idealistic hope that perhaps down the road things will change. Things had changed though and I was ready to face an already closing door.  Now at the helm of the situation, I went ahead and did what was necessary for my well-being. I chose to keep the good memories and as I closed the door on their profiles, I quietly thanked them.

It's important to say though that there is no need to broadcast on social media what you're doing on social media. Although it goes without saying, I find it needs to be said.  Do it quietly. Things need not be broadcasted to be significant.  Actually, silence often speaks louder than words.

And as that awesome English guy once said: To thine own self be true.

Months later, my friend and I still have our moments of quiet desperation. A moment, a picture, a song can trigger it. That's allowed, I find.  When things and people you thought were true are no longer that, you're allowed to have occasional knee jerk reactions.

In this whole process, I've learned that when things go sour, you also learn about yourself.  I've learned I am more sentimental than I'd like to admit.  I tend to overanalyze things...I probably should have majored in psychology instead of literature.  Then, to top it all off, I use my sarcasm as a shield. 

The trick is in not letting the experience define you, I know, but to learn from it.  I have gone over in my mind things that happened. I've replayed conversations, reviewed specific moments, and dusted off sequence of events. I've had the chance to be self critical more times than I care to admit and I have seen my areas of growth (as I've learned to call them).

Ask anyone who knows me well though and they'll tell you that I am, naturally, my own worst critic so I also have to be careful when I do these things. Remember that in relationships as in dancing the tango, it takes two. So, while being self critical is important, you are not permitted to diminish your own light in order to achieve closure. It's true I was raised Catholic, but that doesn't imply I enjoy the mental flagellation that revisiting the past constantly affords one. That's like picking a scab and expecting the wound to heal.

P.S. Trust that you will trust again. For your own sake, you will.

The other day, my friend commented on the trusting again piece.  It's hard to trust again, she said and I agreed. I would add and she would agree that it's hard to be open to new experiences again, and to let your guard down again, and to be friendly again to new people in your life. You can be cordial but friendly requires more of an effort.

As you and I have learned, the words love and friend have been overused in our lifetime to last several lifetimes and have therefore, lost meaning so for those of us who actually mean what we say, this process may take longer than anticipated.

Obviously, my friend and I are no longer at the age where we can have play dates so starting to socialize again may be a bit of a daunting task more so for me than for her, I think.  I have always been quite content with my ability to be an introvert. There is a familiar place I have at home with my own solace and I don't pretend to like social gatherings. I never have. I am more of a small group type of person and I am detail-oriented so I like to get to know people as opposed to just adding hundreds of them on my list of contacts...and that was the rug pulled from under me moment. I had thought I already had that small group, but I was proven wrong. My whole Quality vs. Quantity theorem was turned on its head. So, although I am more than comfortable in the company of E, books, and music and as much as I look forward to our trips, I know the world is a big place and I must learn to play well with others so-to-speak. Naturally, it will all take time.  Time seems to be a running theme in this whole endeavor.

Going back to the wisdom of the guy in question though, if I am to be true to myself and if this is truly my story, I need to be open to new experiences...this time with more wisdom and experience.

This piece is dedicated to M. Thank you, M. You said you would read what I had to say on this subject.  I thank you for our conversations and here is to the journey ahead.

I typed it all up on my Mac.  I generally write by hand so here it is.  Flaws and all. :-)

Monday, August 18, 2014

It's always darkest before the dawn

Music has become quite the presence in my daily life, I have playlists I use according to the day or my mood...or both.  I even have a sleep playlist which made my niece giggle since her baby has a sleep playlist as well.  I told her we can all be babies from time to time.  I find there is no end date on that matter just as there is no end date for the need of music one's life.

Today, for example, is Monday and the ability to fight the day's battles could not happen without the proper swords songs.  Hence and as a direct consequence of it being Monday, I have a playlist that deals with empowerment.  Pink is on blast with Blow Me (One Last Kiss) as I type this.  I am alone and that is why I can sing at the top of my lungs.  There is no one here to judge.  The playlist skips to a song that grabs my attention.  Even though I can in no way sing like her,  Florence from Florence + The Machine invites me to stop dragging that horse around.  I have heard this song before, but I have not actually *listened* to it.  I admire the song's  ability to interpret such universal truths in less than five minutes.

I have learned that Mondays can repeat themselves when you are finding your way. I have learned that the calendar marches in all kinds of directions and that time is like a Salvador Dali painting. In the transition from what used to be to what may be, I have learned what the song states: It's always darkest before the dawn.

Music though can be that honest conversation you have with yourself when no one is around. So as I face the dragons that occupy my mind at the present moment, I am well armed.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Thank you, Mr. Williams

In this past week, I have thought about life in general and Robin Williams specifically.  The enormity of the hollow feeling he left behind is palpable if you read the news or browse through social media.  I find solace in that like me, many others have felt the loss of Robin Williams to the point where we were able to publicly share it.  One is not, I think, expected to show emotion at the passing of actors but in the case of Robin Williams, he became part of our lives with his body of work. Many grew up with him. It was not surprising then to find myself crying and incredulous when I first heard the news that he had taken his own life.  It felt like I had lost an uncle.

I like all his movies, to be sure, but as fate would have it, the one movie that resonates with me and I would dare say with many of my contemporaries (who were coming of age in that time) is Dead Poets Society.  At that time, I was starting high school and like many, the movie marked me for life and challenged me to think not of what the expectations were of me, but of the expectations I had of myself.  At that age, it is quite easy to confuse both or forget one while embracing the other.  My classmates and I would later get to have our own Mr. Keating.  Our English teacher would hold class outside and would read Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass while we contemplated its meaning as it related to our own personal story.  I will never forget that class, my classmates, and the feeling of wonder our teacher was able to instill in most if not all of us.

Mr. Williams did not know this but his portrayal in this movie made an impact in how I viewed literature.  He will never know that I later went on to graduate with two BAs in Literature, one in English because that is the language I grew up with and one in Spanish because that is the language I was born in. Later on, and much to my surprise (but not of others, I think), I became a teacher.  My primary students, I found, needed not only someone who taught them, but someone who was genuinely interested in them and would make them think for themselves. In the last few years, I would let my students take the microphone so-to-speak and stand on their chairs (the desks were too old and wobbly) while they shared with the class their own thoughts and feelings.  My students loved doing this! I wonder if they will ever know the connection to the film, but I find that's not the point. I know my students will definitely remember the connections they made and the feeling of joyous possibility while standing above what is common and expected.

So, I have not written in what feels like for ever here and I find I have to take this opportunity to, in some way, pay tribute to Williams.  May he rest in peace.  I am not here to judge him or the way in which he died. I am here to celebrate his talent and thank him for his contribution...for his verse.

Saturday, October 24, 2009


The first 15th of September that we were out of Guatemala, we held an acto civico in the house...complete with a flag and the national anthem. I was 9. Our flag had somewhat deteriorated and the sky blue sections of the flag had acquired a purple hue. Nevertheless, my family and I paid homage to a country that was no longer our home.

It is interesting to note that I remember certain things and that perhaps my mind plays favorites as to what memories get front page space. This is not to say that I do not remember the sad, tragic moments in my family, but it is true, since I was kid I probably have come to build an idealized version of Guatemala.

Either way, I do no think the items I remember are that less special.

For example, I remember the incense at Sunday Mass, especially during Holy Week. I remember the smell of wet soil after it has rained. The sweetness of dulces tipicos and the bouncing one experiences in the camionetas. I remember being in charge of putting baby Jesus in the Nativity Scene once the clock struck midnight on December 24th. The songs that were sung with a joyous feeling at La Misa de Gallo and the food that was served at functions seemed never ending. Although I tried to stay up as much as I could for these, I probably had one tamal, gave the traditional hugs at midnight, but was out before sunrise.

Out of all the memories I have in my treasure chest, I especially remember how even when people had little to give, they still gave whatever they had with all of their heart.

Whenever I go back to Guatemala, I look for those details from my childhood. I suspect I get weird looks as I cherish the first bite of a tamal or how in the mornings, I gaze at the volcanoes as if it were the first time I come across them. It is hard to explain to relatives and friends why I like to walk under the rain or why the sound of the rain on the laminas sends me into a deep slumber at night.

It has been years since I have been to a 15th of September function, but the last time I was in one, I was in Antigua and my eyes got misty when a girl carrying a flag passed by. You see, my sisters got the chance to carry the flag, an honor bestowed upon the best students. I never got the chance. As I walked away from the desfile though I realized I had carried the flag once and although I carried it from the Principal's Office to the school's patio, it still counted. Smiling to myself and with the volcanoes as background, I kept walking in the cobblestone streets of Antigua.

Libre al viento tu hermosa bandera
a vencer o a morir llamará;
que tu pueblo con ánima fiera
antes muerto que esclavo será.

On Identity

In the film El Silencio de Neto, Neto's uncle says that he has come home to die...that only where you were born are you able to die in peace. The film was filmed, for the most part, in the city of Antigua, Guatemala...a city I know and visit quite often.

I saw the film a bunch of years ago, when I was still in college and I struggled with my national identity. It seemed as it is now manifested, that I was not sufficiently American here, but I was also not sufficiently Guatemalan there. Thinking back, that is why I subconsciously chose to be a double major. In more ways than one, I was trying to reconcile these two opposites. For part of my day, I was an English major and then for another part, I was a Spanish major. Leave it to me to try to find my way through the wilderness of cultures and languages.

I remember when a professor flat out told me I was a hyphenated self. I was a Guatemalan-American and that hyphen served as a bridge between two worlds. There. Done. He had fixed all my problems for me.

Last month I went to visit my parents to celebrate my dad's birthday and my parents' anniversary. I had a friend ask me what I was, what I considered myself to be.

"As far as nationality?" I asked already knowing that's what he meant.
"I was born in Guatemala, but I grew up in California...I guess you could say I'm a hybrid".
"Why do you say that?"
"Well, I seem to not fulfill all the requirements on either side so I have decided to respectfully send each group to hell and be my own person".

There was laughter followed by an awkward silence.

Ten years after college, I am done searching for my identity. I am made of different ingredients all necessary to my being. I do not struggle between worlds nor do I adhere to either. I am able to use the best from both and form my own opinions.

That is, I see myself in Neto's uncle. He can live in Guatemala and even adapt to his surroundings, but he is not completely blind in order to ignore that having lived outside of Guatemala has marked him for life. He is able to see things from more than one perspective.

In the end though, I wonder if I will be able to die in the land where I drew my first breath. I do not mean to sound morbid, but it is something that has crossed my mind. I would like to think that I will be at peace no matter where I am. Poetically though, going back to the land where one was born does sound like a beautiful way to close one's story.

Note: I wrote this in August of this year and had it in a blog that I no longer use, but I find it is necessary to start with this post on this my new blog.