May 2008


Too much going on to write about today, but here’s a prose piece I wrote last year that tells the whole story . . .

Liftoff

There is dog shit in the gravel yard. I am surprised that I even have a dog to leave me these small gifts, a spunky, throw-away pawned off on my husband by an old friend.

Tomorrow, Miguel will tear off pieces of plastic bag and collect the digestive offerings with hospital care. They go into a small, lidded trash bin, also plastic-lined, which will later be neatly tied and, to prevent punctures, placed gingerly into the 32 gallon garbage can we brought from The North.

When the boy walks down the street ringing a bell, Miguel will roll the can out and pay 10 pesos to the brown man walking behind the unmarked, open box waste truck who will hand it up and in to the king of that unthinkable hill, then return it to my husband, empty as a plundered vault.

But for now I watch the flies settling, probing, taking a short walking tour, practicing liftoff and landing on this canine wasteland.

Across the street our neighbor precisely fills a folding metal table with chicken, flayed, filleted, and whole, proud of the convenience and variety he provides the neighborhood cooks. He moves in ritual, white alb, bloody vestment, swipes the knife, wipes his fingers, pulls the next yellow corpse from the boxes stacked precisely on the sidewalk.

The amateur butcher’s wife calls him inside. He untucks the greasy towel from his apron front, smoothes it across the processed parts, centers the knife just so on the chopping block, turns to answer matrimony’s call. The pilots in my yard liftoff.

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Today I celebrate my 50th Solar Return – the day when the sun returns to the same astrological degree and minute as the moment of my birth. This is distinct from the calendar date of my birth.

Last month I synchronistically reconnected with a most beloved friend and colleague who is an astrologer that practices Astro*Carto*Graphy. In the late 1980s I was his editor for a monthly column called “Earth Harvest” in the print journal Welcome to Planet Earth. The process of creating that body of work was some of the most vivid and enlivening time of my life.

Out of the blue in April we were reconnected after a lapse of almost 8 years and, surprise, he just happened to have another writing project in the works, this time a book collaboration with another astrologer on the interaction between Astro*Carto*Graphy and the esoteric YOD pattern. I am thrilled to be in this world again, but working with Wayne always presents a challenge beyond the words we do together.

I whine to Wayne about my “Life” and “Work” and all he does is remind me, like my father often did, that I have choices. Choices not just about what I do, but how I do it, and the perspective I take. And then he takes it a step further and reminds me that within my life I have a mathematically powered framework in motion and that this framework has certain activation points – moments in time when I can choose to push, or push back.

My Solar Return is one of those times.

Wayne suggested that I use the moment of my Solar Return to set the framework for my next cycle. And so he set me to an impossible task. What do I want for this next cycle? What have I ever wanted in life that I stood up and said “I want this!”? How do I define and frame that which I cannot, have never been able to, acknowledge?

Ah, the astrologer says, and points at the problem:
You have your natal Sun, signature of the lifeforce in you, constrained by square with Pluto – that archetypal signature of ‘complete transformation’. Translation – what you create with your lifeforce has a great potential to effect transformation in all those it reaches – for good or ill. My observation over the years is that you have a tough demeanor protecting tremendous compassion and vulnerability. You were always very careful when it comes to your own self expression. That’s not to say you weren’t brave. You were. You were easily exposed.

Well, what the hell am I supposed to do about that? It’s not like I can move a planet. No, but planets move on their own and re-relate themselves, and with Astro*Carto*Graphy, different places present different faces. Wayne points me to:
[T]he New England states of eastern Pennsylvania, eastern New York, New Hampshire, Vermont, and western Maine. In all of these states you get Taurus Ascendants with your Sun (creative expression) in the 1st House of action, assertion, courage, identity, image, your face to the world. You can submit work to places based in these states. You can use resources from these states. You can form alliances with people born in these states. You can visit and find out for yourself. Even Montreal, Canada looks good.

But what about old Pluto, I ask, and he continues:
Pluto still squares to the Sun in this position but a look at Saturn (now in the first degree of Virgo) and Pluto, now in the first degree of Capricorn) points to an approaching season of mitigation to your Sun that will last a decade.

A decade! Now we’re back to the framing problem. What is it that I want?

Sunday was not a good day for me. It started on Saturday with a fateful viewing of Under the Tuscan Sun with my sister-in-law. She’s getting ready for a trip to Italy with her Catholic Young Workers group and someone suggested the movie. I was transported by the beauty and the green and the clean. Intelligent people talking about interesting things beyond the price of tortillas and where to buy good chicharron (fried pig skins). I took Eurail from Paris to Rome in March 1988 and have wanted to return to the Italian Alps ever since a brief stop at a border town for immigration to pass through showed me quaint streets, charming architecture, and handsome men. That flame was fanned anew by the addition of the Tuscan countryside to my imagination.

Then Sunday came and we took the mothers and daughters of the family to our favorite quaint little Mexican town – Tepozotlan. It’s famous for its church, but we go for the artisans on the plaza and the lime ice. When Miguel and I go alone, I make him take the highway. It’s a quick 20-30 minutes transport to enjoyable surroundings. Almost as good as snapping your fingers or wiggling your nose. Unfortunately, Miguel’s mother doesn’t like the highway, so we take the back roads. After two hours in Tuscany, what is usually just scenery becomes an interminable hour of traffic, road bumps, garbage, wrought iron fences enclosing more garbage, and hillsides so dry you expect spontaneous combustion.

On the plaza I arrive at an unusual vendor’s table. No chotch. No carved cactus. No huichol beadwork. No miniature pottery fountains. No Oaxacan cotton dresses. Small watercolors, signed by a very not-Mexican name, something Scandanavian with two dots over the O. I look up and see a white woman with short blonde hair. In English I ask her if this is her work and she responds to me in English. But we are both so disaccustomed to it we immediately slip into Spanish. She has a very good accent. Not a tourist. So I ask and it turns out she’s been here 30 years. Her Mexican husband died, but she stayed.

“After all this time, Germany is not mine anymore either,” Ursula says. I remember her name because of my favorite author, Ursula Le Guin. “We are not comfortable here or there,” she includes me in this “we.” She smiles slightly and nods. Knowingly.

She is right, of course, and my head spins and fills. How far do you go for love? And what kind of love? Partner love? Family love? Whose family? Love for a child? Whose child? Love of a country? Whose country? Where do you draw the line of love? If you come here because you don’t want your partner’s child to suffer his absence, like you did as a child, who are you doing it for? Her? Him? You? Your long-dead father?

If you love beauty, would you live in ugliness for your beloved? If you could create your own corner of beauty, would that be enough? If everything about the place offended your sensibilities, how long would you, could you, last? Would it be love if your partner didn’t notice your distress? Would it be love if your partner noticed, but did nothing? And if your partner acknowledged your distress but was as powerless as you, would that be enough?

And what is more important
That he be with his family?
That he be with his daughter?
Even in a place that is dirty and cruel?
Or that you live surrounded by beauty?
By peace?
In balance with the earth?

And if you rescue a starving cat,
or a ridiculous dog that adores you,
or both,
Does it make a difference?

I went to bed early and passed Monday in a funk, the pressure of framing something good from this conundrum too big for me to think about anything else.

But then this morning I arise at an unearthly early hour to prepare for that appointed moment of framing. The smell of gardenias weaves through my darkened kitchen. At my desk I notice two more blooms unfurling on my Lily of the Nile. Slipping over the edge of the pot, a long solitary stem ends in a four-leaf clover. This is the third time such a wonder has sprouted from this pot – June, December, and now May – it is becoming a regular six month cycle. It is the Divine finger pointing directly at me. Repeatedly.

“You,” it says, “what do you want?”

And I confess to myself that all I really want is to be creative and to be supported by the Universe in that endeavor. Like this abundance of flowers that now inhabits my home, I want to allow my nature to open forth from within me and express itself in beauty. So I open my mouth, state my desire to the listening sky, see that it is true, and plant that Seed.

I turn back to the clock and the appointed moment is past.

When I was three, my dad was in Strategic Air Command and we lived in a trailer park not far from Beale Air Force Base in Northern California. My mother was a 41 year old homemaker. But, apart from the presence of my two adult half-sisters, she had a life before me that I knew nothing about.

My bedroom in the trailer was a snug little nest. In retrospect, I think it was a walk-in closet. We lived in a single-wide of standard length for those years (meaning short) and my “room” was across the hall from the bathroom. Entering my door, there was a closet with sliding doors on the left and on the right was a wide built-in chest of drawers with a ladder to one side that gave me access to my bed on top which was just the right size for three-year-old me.

My mother sewed a bedspread, pillow sham, and curtains for my little nook. On it she drew freehand perfect replicas of Rocky and Bullwinkle and embroidered them. This set was my pride and joy. I loved Rocky and Bullwinkle and even at three years old I loved it that my mother was so creative – and all for me!

When I was five, my father got transferred to Travis AFB. We sold the trailer and moved into a real house with my own bedroom. When I found out that my mother had left my bedroom set in the trailer I was crushed. I felt deeply betrayed and eventually told her so just before she died 27 years later. It was a tearful moment for both of us.

Through the years I came to learn that my mother had been a seamstress before she met my father. She sewed not only my bedroom set, but virtually all of my clothes, and hers as well, until she went to work as a nurse when I was five. She could look at any article of clothing and recreate the pattern perfectly. But that wasn’t her secret.

One day I was telling my father about my bedside conversation with my mother about the lost bedroom set and his comment sent me reeling.

“When your mother was young, she was a very good artist, but when she married your sister’s father she stopped drawing and went to work at the drycleaners. I think she missed it terribly.”

Once again, the sense of betrayal rose in me like a hot tide.

I had inherited my mother’s artistic talent. In elementary school, the teachers always posted my work on the bulletin boards (this was before they started posting everybody’s work). Throughout my youth I won school and community competitions. I drew every matchbook cover I could find – and they were plenty since my folks were heavy smokers. I drew entire wardrobes for Veronica and Betty. I designed and landscaped houses.

My mother never acknowledged my talent. Her motto was, “Learn how to type. Secretaries don’t have to do any heavy lifting.” When approached directly with my work her standard commentary was, “Artists never make a living.” Being a child of the Depression, born in 1920, my mother never recovered from her survival mentality. Art was a luxury she could not afford – and neither could her children.

I moved out on my own when I was 17 and when I was 22, having never taken a drawing class other than two weeks in my 9th grade Beginning Art class, I applied at California College of Arts and Crafts and was accepted without having completed even any basic community college courses on the basis of a portfolio of nudes, anatomic studies, and portraits I had drawn and an interview with a member of the Fine Arts faculty. But I never attended. CCAC had only day classes. I would have to quit my job. I was young, couldn’t qualify for financing, my mother was poor, and my father’s wife refused to provide me their tax returns for financial aid to review. I felt totally alone and overwhelmed. I gave up and went back to being a secretary.

Tonight, approaching my 50th birthday, I saw a movie called August Rush, about a child music prodigy, born of talented musical parents and given up for adoption at birth, and it reminded me of the talent that my mother abandoned and that I abandoned. Granted, neither of us were prodigies like this boy, but what is it that allows (forces?) women in particular to cut out their hearts in order to carry their children?

I don’t even have that excuse. I am childless by choice because I never wanted to be the sole support of a child like my mother was after my parents divorced when I was nine. So what is the difference between me and this boy?

I believe that this boy could hold onto his passion specifically because his parents weren’t around to discourage him. He may not have had anyone to encourage him during his very dark early years, but he also did not have someone he loved and looked up to telling him to forget about it. He held on to his passion because that was all he had.

In contrast, I had a mother I loved and a father I adored. My mother actively discouraged me and my father let his wife be the passive-aggressive controller of my education. Their refusal to acknowledge my passion was a refusal to acknowledge me. My invisibility became a reflection of my self-worth until I was entrenched in the 9-5 office world and it was too late to do anything about it. I did not have enough faith in myself or in the world fight it out for my own cause.

I know my mother did what she thought was best and, frankly, I have done well for myself in the corporate world. I don’t have to do any physical heavy lifting and I haven’t been a secretary for many years. But it does not satisfy my heart. My soul is left wanting. I buy art supplies and they sit unused. I lay ceramic tile and vinyl flooring in strange and beautiful patterns. I design my own home and decorate it eccentrically. I draw one perfect piece every 5-10 years just to be sure I still can. But it hurts so deeply that I let it go and submerse myself in Work again.

My mother retired in her early 60’s but never did return to her art before lung cancer consumed her at 71. I work 60-hour weeks at a start-up company and think daily about Grandma Moses. In the meantime, every child I come in contact with I encourage them to do what they love. If they’re artists, I keep a stack of bargain basement supply boxes filled with markers, acrylics, crayons, pencils and brushes for gifting.

And I don’t tell anybody to give up their passion to become a secretary. Ever.

They won’t list my blog on BlogHer – yet – seems I don’t post often enough for them, but that’s changing.  In the meantime, I wish they’d do a check every once in awhile on the blogs they do have listed – I tried several and they all came back “Page Not Found.”  What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, y’know.

Last week we took four days and went to Michoacan for a wedding.  Miguel’s friend from childhood – the youngest in his family and the last to marry at 33.  They actually got married in December, in a civil service just for the family, and then they lived apart in different cities until the church wedding this weekend.

In a couple of weeks they’ll move back to the husband’s family home where the widowed father and several of the older brothers live (married and single).  According to Miguel’s mother and sister, Alejandro, Miguel’s friend, has been the bane of the daughters-in-law since adolescence.  The report is, he sits down at the kitchen table points at the woman and says, “You, serve my father and serve me.  Hurry up, we’re hungry.” 

Of the three married couples living in the family home, one died (shot by her suspicious husband who then shot himself and only ended up crippled), one left (divorced by her suspicious husband who kept the kids), and one that stayed and stood up to her husband, “Put your brother in his place or I’m outta here.”  Okay, she said it in Spanish, but with the same chutzpah.  She and I get along great.

So, now we’re all wondering what’s going to happen to Alejandro’s new wife.  She’s young, about 28, a psychologist who wants to set up her own clinic here in the big city.  She’s lived with her mother in a small rural town all her life and I don’t even think she knows how to cook.  Will she have to pay for her husband’s past arrogance?

The middle brother married a powerhouse.  She moved him out of the family home and it’s made for wonderful relations.  She and her sisters and all their husbands and kids travel everywhere together and the rest of Alejandro’s family just tags along.  There are about 30 of us when we travel together.

The wedding was in La Barca, Jalisco.  About five to six hours drive on the toll highways from the northwest edge of Mexico City, depending on who’s driving.  It’s a prosperous agricultural town spread out along the river that divides Jalisco from Michoacan.  They have beautiful flat roads and lots of bicyclists and even closed down the main road to host a bicycle race on Sunday.  It was the first time I’ve seen cyclists in helmets and riding gear since I got to Mexico.

Thirty minutes down the road from La Barca is Ixtlan de los Hervores, Michoacan.  Miguel’s father is from there.  Since we got to town two days before the wedding, we went straight to the geyser at Ixtlan the first afternoon to relax in the tepid pools and de-stress from the drive.  I won’t talk about hygiene – despite being old and run down, the geyser pools are relatively clean and you really don’t want the details.  Miguel’s family goes to Ixtlan every October as one of their pilgrimage trips.  The saint in Ixtlan is St. Francis of Assisi.  That’s for another story.

Next door to Ixtlan is Salitre, Michoacan.  The powerhouse bride and all of her sisters are from Salitre.  After the geyser, we went to visit in Salitre.  More beautifully flat roads.  (Are you getting the impression that where we live on the edge of Mexico City bike riding is akin to an extreme sport with rutted, broken pavement, hills so steep some cars can’t make it, and traffic that moves at the speed of loud?)  The pavement in Salitre is new.  Miguel thinks it is, anyway, but he hasn’t been there for 20 years.  The central plaza was also declared new, but a glance will tell you that the trees – currently painted the color of the Mexican flag, red and white trunks with leafy tops precisely trimmed to look like giant green cubes – have at least 15 years growth.  This time distortion probably has something to do with him not seeing me as 50 so I didn’t bother to point out the disparity between the growth and his definition of “new.”

We sat on the main plaza with some locals for a bit, watching a basketball game.  I commented to Miguel that it was all women playing – and such a broad age range of ages (late teens to early 40’s).

He said, “Don’t you notice anything strange about the people watching?”

There were no young men.  Except for our group, everyone on the plaza was either female, boys under 12, or men bent over walkers and canes.  And one loud, fat guy about 40.

“Their husbands are all in the North.”

Where we live is City.  There are jobs to be found.  It’s worthwhile to set up a taco stand in front of your house.  The local street markets are full of entrepreneurs selling everything from housewares to temporary tattoos.  Even the old lady that sells gelatin desserts in plastic cups door to door makes enough to get by.  But here in “the Provinces” the small towns can’t generate enough income to provide their families the basic necessities.  The men go in search of work and the women stay home and shoot hoops.

The saddest part is the small number that return home.  Miguel and Alejandro are the exceptions.  Of Miguel’s circle of friends and family that have gone north, only he, Alé and Adrian have come home voluntarily to make their life in Mexico.  Even the ones that are legal Resident Aliens or have become U.S. citizens, like Miguel, rarely come home to visit their families.  They’re all waiting to put together a big pile of money and come back and start a business – but that never happens.  Life in the U.S. is about working and paying bills and taxes – no matter where you start from.  So, 5, 10, 15 years pass and you end up with a car, maybe, and money sent home on a regular basis, but never enough to go home yourself, and people are always waiting in line at Western Union to pick up what little you can send back every pay day. Yes, Western Union . . . it’s one of the hottest businesse in Mexico.

I wonder why the men in Salitre have to go all the way to the U.S. to find work when thirty minutes down the road the local Ford dealer is selling a lot of 2008 king-cab 4-door Lobos at $35k USD each.

The reality of it is that life will be a struggle wherever you choose to live it, if the struggle is what you’re focused on.  Take me, for example.  I have a good life here in Mexico – a loving husband, a comfortable home, welcoming in-laws, a good job that pays U.S. dollars – but what keeps me up at night is the struggle I have at work.  Change I’m accustomed to.  I’ve lived in almost as many different places as the number of years I’ve been alive.  I just have an inherent mistrust of new people who come in and start criticizing and changing things before they even bother to inform themselves enough to know what works and what doesn’t and why.  Arrogant change.  Change for the sake of aggrandizing oneself before proving oneself.  I whine to my CTO and he says, “Make them your customers.  Figure out how best to give them what they want without compromising your goals.”

My husband just says, “They must have problems at home, don’t take it personal.”  He says that in response to any weird people we encounter.  And I’ve found it to be the truest interpretation of every people problem I’ve ever had.  Happy people aren’t rude or arrogant or aggressive.  They don’t need to be, no matter how stressful life may get.  And people who have problems at home usually live under such a black cloud that they can’t escape it.  No matter where they go.