Saturday, August 24, 2013

No Burritos for You, Juan Miguel

(This chunk of memoir takes place around 1994 in Marshfield, MO. Some names have been changed.)
Once while chiseling the taco meat from a skillet, my brother announced, “I’m going to write a children’s book called, No Burritos for You, Juan Miguel.” Dave grinned that grin he did after proclaiming every idea, a grin that said I may as well have just invented cold fusion, beeotches.
“No what for who?” Stacy asked.
He used a Spanish accent. “No Burritos for You, Juan Miguel.”
“That could be cool,” I said. I was under the impression that everything Dave did was cool. Almost everyone in the ward believed it too. It’s like he had some sort of power over us. He dubbed Volkswagens “cool” and teens in the ward were suddenly scouring junk yards and parking lots for VW symbols to steal and hang on their walls. Once Dave played a BeeGees CD in his car, and the next day, the Marshfield ward youth were flipping through the racks at the town thrift store for butterfly collar shirts and bell bottoms. For months, the boys dressed in disco garb for dances and practiced a John Travolta-inspired dance routine, which they videotaped. At least a handful of kids procured miniature disco balls to hang in rear view windows, and many of the boys even acquired disco nicknames, but the only one I can remember is “Cordy Diesel”. (I hear they sometimes still call that guy by his disco name.) I was just as hypnotized by Dave's hubris as the rest of them. While I don’t remember Brutus’s speech (required memorization in the tenth grade) beyond, “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears," I can still recite the entire first verse of “Stayin’ Alive” on demand.
Marshfield Ward Youth. It seems fitting that Dave is in the center (with the cap) as it seemed he was the heart of efferent trends. Other examples: to his right is the guy who shaved his head once because Dave shaved his. On the left end, in the Seminoles jacket is the kid who bought that jacket because Dave bought one like it. I don't think Dave even likes the Seminoles. Dave got it because, "It looks cool. I like the colors." And down front: Cordy Diesel.

“So, what’s the book going to be about?” I asked Dave.
He raked the bottom of the pan with a plastic spatula, tipping the edge with a mustache of black grime. “I don’t know,” he said.
Stacy and I exchanged a look. She lifted up the griddle, and I swiped underneath with a damp paper towel. We were on counter top duty. “But what’s the plot?” she asked.
“A boy named Juan Miguel doesn’t get any burritos.”
“Okaaaay.” I shrugged at Stacy.
“All I know,” Dave said, “ it’s going to be called—”
“—No Burritos for You, Juan Miguel,” I finished. It kind of rolled off the tongue.
“Exactly. Isn’t that the best title?”
I nodded slowly, absorbed by his infinitesimal genius. “It kind of is,” I said. I could picture the cover; a drawing of a little Chicano boy, staring longingly at his shoes. Off to the side an adult hand extends from off-stage and waves a finger at Juan Miguel. No Burritos for You, Juan Miguel, stated the title in a boxy, slightly-skewed font like that of Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. I knew nothing else of the plot, but I knew instantly that I’d read it. Immediately following that thought was: why can’t I come up with something like that? This was the first time I pondered writing something other than a school assignment or journal entry. I racked my brain trying invent something as awesome as Dave’s title, but never did. Meanwhile, Dave’s dreamed-up children’s book title became family legend. It was a response to platitudes, an epitaph for unexpectedly lame movies, and a gong to fill an awkward silence. To this day, I have a barrel in the back of my mind where “No burritos for you, Juan Miguel” is loaded, ready for automatic discharge. 
Dave centered.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Writers Retreat!

I was accepted to a Central Utah Writing Project sponsored writer's retreat in Heber, UT. Last week, I worked on my weight loss memoir for 4 days straight. That is just what I needed.

Distracted by the deer outside the back porch.



Our cabin was meandering.

As was the porch.

The view from my desk.

And there's another whole room and bedroom behind me.

Another great way to pre-write. Also, I tried to putt, but I made the mistake of doing it shoeless. I burned the pads of my feet on that fake grass.

Monday, August 5, 2013

One of the essays that got me into grad school...

I sent off a portfolio and a couple of essays to two different grad schools, and I got into both.

Here's one of the essays that landed me in the Spalding Creative Writing program:

A Decade Asleep
The Ten-Year Nap, a Manifesto Celebrating the Augmentation of Life after Motherhood

Rena Lesué-Smithey

Motherhood is the most important job of a society. More than soldiers who protect society. More than politicians and lawmakers who rule society. Mothers raise society. They provide a moral and educational foundation that ought to be firm enough to withstand life’s alterations, tempests, and time. But it is a sacrifice. Perhaps allegorical to the sacrifice. After all, mothers lay down their lives for their children. Motherhood is the truncating of one’s life for the nourishment of another, much like the Biblical sacrifice on which Christianity is centered. Motherhood is a Christ-like martyrdom with a fraction of the celebration and publicity. Considering this analogy, would the world condemn a Christ for needing a hiatus from the everlasting and soul-sucking needs of its flock? Undoubtedly no. All that suffering earns him a right to get his nails done or shoot hoops with the archangel, right? Yet, society tends to adjudicate the mother who feels a detachment from her child or the mother who prefers to vacation solo.
In The Ten-Year Nap, Meg Wolitzer addresses a mother’s need for self-improvement and growth outside of the sticky, fingerprinted walls of the home. The book chronicles four New York women who, after raising their children through infancy, toddler-hood, and nearly into self-sufficiency are resurrected from their domestic lives to discover they are no longer needed at home and struggle to find a position in the workplace. The four women wander at first, dazed from their ten-year slumber, and eventually find life outside the home, either in careers or volunteer work.
These women, like many, don’t intend on laying down their lives and careers to raise children. Amy Lamb is a lawyer and after marrying a colleague, succumbs to her biological clock. “One by one over the years, young lawyers were picked off […] having been sucked through the widening portal of motherhood” (30). For Amy, the role begins at her son’s conception, filling and fulfilling the innate function of her breast with milk of women’s sacrifice. Motherhood demands Amy’s time, consuming everything that she was before and replacing her professional duties with motherly obligations, like safety duty at her son’s school. “[Amy] had signed on for it the moment when [conception] created a tumbleweed of cells that had rolled along, gathering volume and requiring, so many years later, that she shed her vanity and put on a bright orange woven plastic vest, drape a whistle around her neck, and grab hold of a walkie-talkie” (53). During her child’s early years, the napping years, as Wolitzer would put it, Amy is blissfully loyal to her son’s needs despite the banal moments stacked like Lego bricks in every day life. Amy complains of the workload, “There were lists and plans and schedules that were essential to a well-run household and that were still laughably, almost hysterically, tedious. You, the brainy, restless female, were the one who had to keep your family life rolling forward like a tank. You, of all people, were in charge of the snacks” (15). Wolitzer’s characters traipse dreamily through the years greeting pockets of awareness sardonically with lines like, “Is there some logical connection between handling silverware and possessing ovaries?” (46). This role, of wife and stay-at-home mother, however bland, Amy embraces, unaware that her circular peregrination from home to school to the park and home again would eventually lead in a new direction, that the child, like a loaf of bread, would suddenly be done and ready for the world’s consumption. Around the time of Amy’s awakening, she recognizes that the “fading chalice of [her] little boy, whose own essence was even now in his sleep rubbing off and changing, and was no longer what it had been” (361).  Soon the magnetic pull from the child would be suddenly severed.
Amy and her friends startle awake through a series “wake-up calls”, leading them to discard the notion that as mothers, they are “the totality of what [they] would ever become” (7). Jointly they sweep the cobwebs off of their former lives and shift directions, gingerly merging back into their careers and life beyond the spit-up and mashed banana panorama of motherhood. “But now the world…had taken them. […] This could suddenly happen. One day you just woke up, and there was somewhere that you needed to be” (383). Wolitzer’s characters move so smoothly from caretakers to professionals that one appreciates the mothers’ decision to move on to another phase in life. The women occasionally feel an acute pressure from society. “People were relieved when you were able to say that you did something. Without the cloak of a profession, there was no way to judge you and come to some hasty decision. If you said you did nothing, though, the person’s eyes might dash past you, over to someone who did something” (351). However, the women take the next anxious step because of a stirring within, a craving for learning, for progression instilled in most human beings. “Lately, Amy had been restless and had been thinking of getting a steady volunteer job. […] Everyone wanted forward motion; everyone wanted to part of something that moved” (35).
Wolitzer’s female protagonists are still predominately mothers first, of course, for a mother’s role is branded into her gut with the literal scars of childbirth and metaphorically onto her heart; yet, motherhood requires that her loyalties spread like efferent tentacles across the earth, and she deserves to draw one back. She has earned the chance to exercise her brain muscles beyond the platitudes of playdate chit-chat. A decade of voluntary and intrinsic indentured servitude should be followed by opportunities to slap her cheeks with “good literature”, splash the water of “continuing education” on her face, and jostle her with “meaningful conversation” just to get out of the motherhood doze.

Wolitzer, Meg. The Ten-Year Nap. New York: Riverhead Books, 2008. Print.


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