Wednesday, December 29, 2004
My other sister brought me the cutest little glass yesterday. It has that old pop art on it with two women and it reads, “Smart Women THIRST for knowledge.” It just cracked me up. This one in particular is supposed to be an antique but I love it when I see art that imitates this era.
One artist in particular creates some hilarious art with these old sayings. You can check her out at http://annetaintor.com/. She has funny quotes like, “Spill it sister!” and a picture of a woman with a cigarette. You have to see them to see what I mean.
I watched “The Stepford Wives” tonight, the new version and it was pretty funny. Not great cinema, but it was cute. It reminded me of that crazy era when women wore frilly aprons and were domestic goddesses.
Okay it’s really late and I need to get to bed! I told my dad and sisters to come over for breakfast and I bought eggs, bacon and biscuits to cook for them. Who’s the domestic goddess now?? Huh? Huh?
Tuesday, December 28, 2004
This came from someone that is a writer herself and an editor. I was very touched by her belief in me. It’s comments like this that keep us all going and makes me feel like this is all worthwhile. We all need to compliment one another, tell each other that we believe in each other and that in turn makes us all stronger.
I first heard of Iris Chang the day she killed herself in November. I was driving home from work and I heard about it on NPR.
I must confess I had never heard of Iris Chang and was sorry that I hadn’t, once I heard about the brilliant work she did. It made me wish I knew about her when she was alive, as if that would make a difference in whether she lived or didn’t. I knew so little about her that I forgot her name and I had to ask my sister to remind me. She was driving to my house that day and heard the same report. She too was moved by the story.
Her story haunted me and I kept thinking about her. She was only two years older than me and she left behind a two year old son. I kept asking myself how her sadness could be so great that she would want to leave her child behind. It baffled me.
The more I thought of her I wanted to know more so my sister and I Googled. That’s when I came across the article about her on Salon.com. It is such a sad and moving piece. It’s a eulogy written by a friend and colleague so it’s very bittersweet.
Reading it made me see what the writer meant about Iris Chang becoming a verb to her. To “Iris Chang” it meant to reach high. To go for it because that’s what Chang always did. So now whenever I want to say that I’m going to give something all I’ve got and I’m going to go for the best, whatever the consequences I’m going to say that I’m going to “Iris Chang” it.
Some may argue that she didn’t strive for the best because she killed herself but I believe that none of us can judge a person who is mentally ill or suffers from real depression. We don’t know what occurred in her ill mind. We should see how she lived.
On that same note, on my list of people who inspire me I’ve already written a list of the agents I’m going to send my manuscript. I have three listed that are my top three choices. I’ll send it to each of them and I’ll see which one is interested in my book.
I definitely “Iris Chang’d” it before ever knowing what the term meant. The top three choices are agents that represent three of my favorite authors. I figured why not start at the top? That’s the sales person in me.
When you sell you always ask for a large amount first, for the big contract. The mentality is that you can always start by asking a lot and you can come down on your price, but you can’t start low and then ask for more. So in the same sense, I’m going to start at the really top agents first and then work my way down to the less known agents.
When I was in middle school I was a pretty average student in a Vanguard program. I wasn’t one of the top students but I didn’t let that hold me back. I applied at three top high schools, well only two were really coveted schools, but the third was a really good school too. I say that because it’s the school I chose and even though it wasn’t as prestigious as the other two they ended up having an excellent English program, which is where I really found my love for literature.
The point is this. I applied at all three high schools and I was accepted at all three. So I “Iris Chang’d it” way back then too. I applied to Bellaire to the Foreign Language program, to HSPVA, and to Waltrip’s IB Program.
In reality my first “butterfly effect” happened then. I was accepted into the Creative Writing program at HSPVA. If I had accepted and attended HSPVA I would have been in the last class to go through that program. I would have graduated with Helen Childress, the young woman who wrote the screenplay to “Reality Bites” at 23. Isn’t that weird? That’s what I really wonder. What would have happened if I’d gone to HSPVA? Would I still be interested in becoming a writer?
SO the moral of this story is that we should all “Iris Chang” it. It drives me crazy when I hear parents say that they don’t want to send their kids to special programs, like Vanguard or IB, because the school is too far or they don’t want to send their kid off on a bus too early or have them coming home too late. It just drives me crazy! Especially when they send their kid off to some bad ghetto school and their child is a gifted child. That drives me crazy.
Okay if they already live in an okay area and the school is decent or if their child is just average and doesn’t excel to do more. But if they are above average or the school is an opportunity to get them out of a bad environment and the parent doesn’t want to because it’s going to be an inconvenience THAT drives me mad.
I also can’t stand when people are destined for greatness and they don’t believe they are, so they just settle for whatever life gives them. I hate to hear people say they aren’t going to apply for the top job because deep down they don’t think they will get it so they just don’t try.
So many people choose to live their life on medium. I don’t want that for myself and I hope that all of you don’t want that either. Let’s live our life on “great!” Let’s “Iris Chang it.”
Sunday, December 26, 2004
It’s a novel about three cousins and their mothers. The three cousins are related because they are the daughters of two sisters and a brother. So the third mother isn’t blood related like the other characters. All of them have mother-daughter issues of some kind and that is the challenge each of them is trying to overcome. Each of them is trying to understand her mother and therefore will only then really understand herself.
It deals with the real life drama that happens in a lot of families and this one just happens to be Hispanic. The girls are second generation Americans and the mothers are first generation Americans but two of them grew up in Mexico so they are still very much in tune with their culture. The third mother is a second generation American so she speaks more English and is more liberal than the other two mothers. She is a very different character all together and is the one that’s not really related to the other two women.
Each chapter is written in the first person so you meet each character and then meet her again when it’s her turn to speak again.
That’s pretty much the plan. I’m not afraid of talking about it because the detailed story is so unique no one could ever duplicate it. It’s really a story that’s different and really out there. It deals with some major skeletons in the closet. I can’t wait to finish writing it so you can all read it!
Saturday, December 25, 2004
I am trying to get inspired to start Chapter 3. I’ve already finished Chapters 1 & 2 and the plan is for 9 chapters total. So when I finish Chapter 3 I will be 1/3 of the way through with the first draft of my book! Of course the plan is for 9 chapters but now that I’ve really started writing I’m finding that plans do change as you go along. Sometimes it’s as if my characters change their mind about what they are going to do and the take off independently from me. I’ve already had one character change my outline.
I’m writing in my room right now. My in-laws called a little while ago and said they were coming over. My mother-in-law is coming over to make tamales. I love my in-laws but when they come over I never get any writing done, needless to say. I feel like I have to entertain even though they come over all the time.
I’ve tried to set up my room to inspire me. I’m surrounded by all my books. Julia Alvarez, Isabel Allende, Angelou, Baldwin, Bronte, Camus, Sandra Cisneros, Poe, Dante, Melville, James, Shakespeare, Amy Tan, Hemmingway, Hawthorne, Hardy and Neruda. I try to keep all of them in alphabetical order.
Honestly, I haven’t read all the books on my shelf but I’ve collected those I know I want to read someday. I’ve read all these writers and I know I like their work, but maybe not specifically the book on my shelf. I have a goal to one day read everything on my shelf and I tell myself I won’t buy any more books until I do, but inevitably I always buy more.
My desk faces a wall and I have a calendar of Frida Kahlo to my right. She too is an inspiration because of her spirit. Despite all her physical problems she was a great artist.
On top of my desk sit photos that inspire me. A photo of Rey holding Miranda, a small photo of me and my mother when I was a teenager, and a photo of Rey and me kissing when we were dating.
Three framed pictures my friend Liz gave me when I graduated with my Master’s sit on my bookshelf to my right. Each one has a beautiful quote from Maya Angelou about success. And then there’s the Three Graces. They remind me of the Prado and Spain. One of my favorite places in the world!
My desk has books that inspire me on the shelves and some writing magazines. I also have every paper I’ve ever written, 6th grade- my undergraduate years. I was an English minor so I have a lot of papers on various authors. I have them here in case I ever want to read one of them as an inspiration.
I wrote papers on works like, “A Farewell to Arms,” “The Death of Ivan Ilych” and “The Metamorphosis,” among many others. I have papers from two of my favorite classes I took at UH, Women in Literature, and American Fiction. Women in Lit introduced me to wonderful authors like Amy Tan and Zora Neale Hurston.
I’ve even written a list of people who inspire me to write and to finish my novel. People on this list include Elizabeth Berg. I read an article written by her in New Woman magazine over ten years ago where she discussed having cancer and how the cancer inspired her to finally write. I was inspired by her and then I came across the article recently and I decided to Google her. She’s still alive and she’s written many books since then.
There’s also Blak, a writer I heard interviewed on NPR who was a drug dealer and he overcame all kinds of adversity to write. He would be writing in his house, would stop to sell drugs and then would continue to write. There’s JK Rowling who was so poor she had to write in a coffee house to save on heat.
An LA actor and agent, Manny Jimenez, left life on the streets to open his own talent agency for thugs and “typical” looking Hispanics. Some people may say he’s exploiting his people but I say he has the last laugh all the way to the bank.
All these people inspire me to finish my novel and to believe that all that I dream is possible. When I get down on myself I think about these people and how they are ordinary people like me who believed in themselves and just did it.
I’ve created a nook for myself I guess you can say. Now only if I will allow all this inspiration to filter through to me and get me to write. Write write write! Start on Chapter 3!
Friday, December 24, 2004
I went over to his house one night to take him some medicine because he thought he didn’t have any in the house. Upon inspection of his cabinets I found Theraflu. He’s so old and gets so confused he probably didn’t realize it was cold medicine. Either that or he wanted us to worry and come over to check on him.
My dad is a celebrity of sorts. When my cousin Oscar Casares published his book of short stories, “Brownsville,” (amazon.com) last year he would mention my father in interviews. He always reminisced about my dad’s visits to his house when he was a child and how my dad and Tio Hector could tell the best stories ever. The tios even got mention in a Texas Monthly story and there was a photo of my dad, Tio Hector, Oscar’s dad and another one of my tios in the magazine.
In another article in a Spanish paper the writer interviewed my dad and he was quoted telling the beginning of one of his barber stories. The writer called my father “un hombre encantador.”
It got to where people started asking about my dad at readings. People started asking about my dad and Oscar’s dog, Flaco (also featured in Texas Monthly). Oscar was able to tell a story about both of them because my father had a small run in with Flaco at Oscar’s dad’s house when my father lost his bridge to his dentures and accused Flaco of taking it. People just love to hear these stories about him.
But the best story had to be the time my cousin was signing books somewhere, the Valley I think, and he got a book that was already signed by my dad. Someone had asked my dad to sign their book and soon there was a line formed in front of him and there was my dad signing away. My dad on one side of the bookstore and Oscar on the other!
Poor Oscar, my dad came in and stole his thunder. I would have been mad, but at the same time it’s so hilarious how can you be mad?
While I was thinking about all this I decided to Google my dad just to see what would come up. Sure enough, there he was in relation to my cousin Oscar. The first website that popped up was the Texas Monthly article. I called my sister to tell her.
“You can Google Daddy,” and I went on to explain how and what I had done.
“Stop it! That’s too funny!” She cracked up.
It isn’t that surprising that Oscar was so influenced by my dad. My dad is the best story teller hands down. I have very fond memories of my father telling me all kinds of stories growing up.
I used to love one of the ways he had of telling stories. He would draw a picture and tell the story as he added in each new character or prop. He laughs when he remembers me as a little girl of around three, coming into his busy barbershop full of customers with a pencil and paper in hand asking him to tell me a story.
He also made bible stories really fun and exciting by making all the voices and faces that went with the story. One of my favorites was the one about Daniel in the lion’s den. I would get so excited when my dad would tell me that God closed the mouths of the lions.
The story of the three Hebrew boys who wouldn’t bow down to the idol was another favorite. He just made the story real to me and I could imagine the three Hebrews in the fiery pit with an angel next to them, protecting them from the fire.
As I got older he told me more family stories. He told me about the time he and his brothers ran off with some men to pick oranges, so they could make some money, and he forgot his shoes next to a tree, of all places, next to a canal. Someone saw the shoes and thought they had fallen into the canal. The town was in an uproar looking for them and they almost turned off the main water line to drain the canal to see if they could find their bodies.
But no story topped the story of Dona Imelda Sandoval and the time he stole her grapefruits. I actually believed my dad when he described the old woman and said her hair was standing straight up with anger. I pictured this old woman with hair sticking straight up like she stuck her finger in an electric socket.
Today my father’s stories tend to repeat themselves sometimes. “Did I ever tell you about the time…” he’ll start. When I’m in a good mood and I feel like indulging him I’ll let him tell me the story again but sometimes I’m impatient and I’ll let him know nicely that he’s already told me that story. What I don’t do is remind him that he’s told me many times.
Since my mother died five years ago we were all surprised to hear some new stories he never told before. Some are stories he never even told my mother because he didn’t want to hurt her. He also tells us some stories my mother didn’t want him telling so he never told them when she was alive. It’s weird to hear them now and to think that she died without knowing some things. It’s weird hearing some things and knowing she never wanted for us to know.
My father has outlived my mother and my older sister and who knows, he could outlive another one of us. He will be eight-one in March and he has a brother who just turned ninety in September. The other story teller, Tio Hector, turns eighty-six in February.
We all inherited his gift for story telling. One of my sisters says that they always say at work, “Ask Casares, she’ll know. She has a story for everything.” Funny, I think we all do.
Quoting from that same article about my cousin and father in the Spanish paper, “Como dice el refran, ‘de tal palo tal astilla.” Translated for you non-Spanish speakers the closest saying is, “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”
Monday, December 20, 2004
It's late and I need to get to bed. I only need to work one more day because my baby sitter is going on vacation so I am too. YEAH!! I'm on vacation starting Wednesday. I have to work on Monday but I'll probably work from home.
It’s a BEAUTIFUL day and I’m sick. I have a sore throat and I sound terrible. I called in sick today and the baby is sick too. But then I decided to take the kids to the sitter and to go meet my team for our end of the year team luncheon. We went to some place called the Grand Lux, very similar to the Cheesecake Factory because it’s owned by the same people. I worked from home all morning and the team was taking the rest of the afternoon off so I took advantage and came to work on my book. MY BOOK! It sound weird to say it but I love it too. It’s also hilarious because I have no idea how I’m getting this book of mine written with my schedule.
Work is so much better now! Ever since my manager left it’s like a weight lifted off of me. That’s so sad because I liked her a lot as a person but as a manager she was stressing me out. More than anything I think she took things to the extreme and exaggerated feedback she received from our director. After she left my director said he wants me reporting to him directly, even after he hires a new manager, so that will actually be better for me. I need that. I need the direct contact with him so he can let me know what kind of job I’m doing. I hate hearing things second hand.
I also calmed down a lot when I finally stopped letting him get to me. He still says some things that stress me and it’s the job in general that can be stressful, but for the most part I’ve tried to let go of some of that stress.
One way I did that was to sit and really think about my job. Of course we survive on my income but I asked myself, “What if I lost my job? Would I die?” And the answer surprised me. It’s, “No.” In fact I found that I secretly wish he would fire me so that I can be forced to work on my book full time. I would probably do something crazy like use all my savings to live off of for a couple of months and to give me time to find a new job. In those couple of months I would write like crazy as if I were going to work. I would finish my novel and I would be ready to shop for an agent.
When I say it out loud it sounds totally insane but it’s amazing how much just the idea of getting fired and loving it has taken a huge load of stress of me. I actually enjoy my job more now. I work for the enjoyment of it, which is something I had forgotten to do.
Now on to other things. This month’s O Magazine asked an important question. What do I still want to do before I die? A lot of things! Especially with the children. I want to show them so many things.
List of Things I Want to Do Before I Die:
Write a few books and have them published successfully
Lose weight for a healthier lifestyle
Take adult ballet classes
Learn to play the piano
Take the kids to a different state capital on every family vacation- Visit the entire U.S.
Visit the Mayan pyramids in the Yucatan peninsula with the kids
Take the kids to the pyramids near Mexico City
Snorkel in Belize or any Caribbean island
Take a cruise
Take the kids to Italy, France, and Spain, especially when they are old enough to appreciate Europe
Go to Greece
Go to the UK, especially England and Ireland
A lot of traveling involved!! I love to travel, but before I go off to Europe again, I feel like there are so many places to see here in the U.S. That’s why I would love to do the state capitals with the kids starting when they are both in school, like 5 and 8. That way by the time they make it to U.S. History in high school they will already know a lot of our nation’s history. And if we travel to Europe in between there they will also know World Geography.
Enough of that! I’m spending all my time on this blog and none on my novel. I wonder why I’m never going to get this novel written!!! Hmm….
Wednesday, December 15, 2004
After my third and most serious reaction I knew for sure that I was allergic. The first two reactions were small ones, after eating a shrimp dinner and a crab dinner. When I had the third and worse reaction I had eaten only one shrimp. I haven’t eaten any shellfish for sixteen years. The reason is simple. Eat it and I’ll die. That was enough to convince me to never eat it again.
I’ve never even visited an allergist about it. I’ve never really seen a reason to. If I just keep away from shellfish I’ll be fine. In fact, I don’t even crave it. How can I crave something that is that bad for me?
Now I have a new allergy- sugar. I need to view sugar and carbs that turn into sugar exactly the same way as I view shellfish. If I eat one shrimp I can die a quick death. If I eat sweets, drink regular soda or eat too many carbs I can die a slow painful death. Why?
I am in serious danger of becoming a diabetic. There I said it. It’s out there and this will make me more accountable.
I was gestational diabetic with both my pregnancies but my last and most recent pregnancy was a lot worse. Since I had this baby seven months ago I swore that my life style was going to change completely and it has a little, but not completely.
The reason this worried me so much is that my mother became gestational diabetic when she was pregnant with me at 39. She never took care of it and it came back as full blown diabetes when she was 52. By 61 she had her first heart attack and she died three days shy of her 69th birthday. My grandmother and my aunt also died from complications caused by diabetes. What does that mean to me?
It means that I was eight years younger than my mother was when I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes for the first time, so you do the math. If I don’t take care of this now I could be diagnosed a diabetic in 10 years or less.
There’s a good reason why so many people are on this Atkins and South Beach craze. People make fun of them but there is something to it. People are trying to cut their carbs because diabetes is very prevalent in our society today. Some who don’t even have diabetes in their family are being diagnosed because of their weight or sedentary lifestyle. That’s the other important factor for diabetes- lack of exercise.
I could be sad because diabetes runs in my family. I could pretend it isn’t going to happen to me and eat whatever I want and gain more weight, but I can’t. I know what I need to do.
I’ll use my impending diabetes as a blessing in disguise. Diabetes is going to force me to eat right and to exercise. I’ll be skinny for the first time in my life since high school! Watch out! Or as Sandra Cisneros would say, "Whatchale!"
Tuesday, December 07, 2004
She and I were on this show almost a year ago when I was going to read at the Nuestra Palabra showcase. Tony liked her so much that they invited her to volunteer for the show. She’s been a regular ever since! (I’m sorry I forgot your exact title Angie!) Anyway, she sounds so great on the radio. She has a great voice. Did you hear that Angie? YOU HAVE A GREAT VOICE! So if you’ve never heard the show listen up on Tuesday nights at 9 p.m. at 90.1 KPFT.
What’s new here? I’m well into Chapter two of my novel. Did I tell y’all about my writing room? Virgina Woolf said, "A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is going to write." I don’t have enough money to quit working to write full time but I do have hope that I will one day. So I took our extra room upstairs and fixed up a nice little desk for myself. I set up my lap top there. It’s a really cute room that we fixed up for my step-daughter when she lived with us. It has a bed, built in bookshelves Rey built, and now a little desk.
What was really cool was that the wireless network worked up there too. Rey was surprised and I asked him why and he said he didn’t know it would work up because he thought it only worked sideways. That means I can even log on to the internet in my little room.
I set up my desk and computer and I wrote up there a couple of times but I ended up bringing my computer downstairs and I have actually been writing down here. Isn’t that hilarious?
I write with the kids around me, my husband playing Xbox, and in between doing other things. This exact moment I’m listening to KPFT and I didn’t feel like carrying my computer and radio upstairs. I can hear the baby crying in the other room but somehow I’m still able to concentrate. Rey says I have to write down here because I’m in my element. He didn’t think I’d last long upstairs. In a funny way I think he’s right. I think I’m getting more writing done this way. I just log on my computer each evening when I get home and I write when I can. I keep the computer on, do other things and come back and write some more.
My sister is coming to visit this weekend. My nephew may come with her too. He’s a man now- 23 years old. It’s hard to believe he’s that old and that I used to change his diapers. He lives in San Diego and he’s gorgeous. He always has been a beautiful boy and he has a really big heart. He’s coming to visit because one of our cousins’ sons is getting married and is having a big wedding.
My time is running out. Someone is getting antsy. He’s like a little clock! I nursed him exactly three hours ago and he’s getting hungry and he’s letting us know.
Friday, December 03, 2004
This is a very interesting week. First of all, The Houston Chronicle bought La Voz de Houston. That’s historical! A major daily English newspaper bought a small Spanish weekly. Read the story in today’s Chronicle by my fabulous writer friend Jenalia Moreno. If you don’t have a Chronicle handy look click here, http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/ssistory.mpl/business/2929301.
This is also an interesting week. It was ten years ago this week that I had my first week of freedom when I left the Chronicle the first time. And six years ago this week I was back at the Chronicle when I returned. I’ve been here six years! That’s the longest time I’ve spent in any job now. The second longest were the four and a half years at the Daily Cougar when I was in school. In between there I bounced back and forth between substitute teaching (I really thought I wanted to become a teacher) and at UH again as a staff position. So this week is an anniversary of sorts.
For those of you who have never read this before in my old blog, working at the Daily Cougar as a student was my “butterfly effect.” That was the point in my life when I had two roads in front of me and which one did I take? The one less traveled or the one most traveled? It’s hard to say. Not everyone likes to sell advertising and not everyone wants to be a journalist either. What would have happened if I’d remained a journalism major and written for The Daily Cougar instead of going into advertising? Would I still be a journalist? Would I have left the Chronicle the first time? We’ll never know! I did this and this is where I am. Life is funny.