“Wear Sunscreen (or Graduation Day)”

“Wear Sunscreen (or Graduation Day)”

Whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much
Or berate yourself either
Your choices are half chance, so are everybody else’s

— From columnist Mary Schmich‘s essay for the Chicago Tribune, June 1997

Finally, a reason to write an essay about being proud and happy. I’m hitting the “Pause” button on my ravings to concentrate on an experience shared by many of us: the day we graduate from high school.

It goes without saying that we are never really ever out of school. Classrooms are either ground zero for inspiration and imagination or a repelling force that hurtles bodies into other stratospheres of life. I will never judge those who deem the classroom as their Waterloo, either. Valuable lessons can only be learned if we’re open to them, whether out of a book or experience. But the act of graduating, of moving forward, is such an empowering reality.

I’ve never been good about letting go of things or moving forward. Hell, I didn’t even graduate from college. But that’s another story. It’s just too easy to choose the safe confines of avoiding confrontation or making decisions that can alleviate all that ails or stagnates us. But, sooner or later, you get your PhD in courage and strength. You walk, head held high, smiling at all that you’ve accomplished. You’ve shed that extra weight, that 10-ton magilla of emotion and/or fear, and you move forward.

It was a glorious day to see the photos and videos of my godson graduating from high school in June. He was the first grandchild of my aunt and uncle to graduate from high school. I know my cherished aunt, his forever Nana, was smiling that glorious smile the moment he made his way down the aisle to receive his diploma. Lord knows the family has endured some trying times, but my godson has grown into one of the most sincere, intelligent, genuine and decent human beings on this planet. We need more like him and that’s a testament to his parents’ upbringing, my divine cousin and her husband. I admire their tenacity, more, I admire their ability to remain a unified front against that could tear them asunder. They were not destined to life an acrimonious life of arrogance, keeping up appearances and regret like Las Hermanas y Hermano Coraje, That in itself is a lesson for all of us to uphold and appreciate.

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It is going to be exciting to see what happens to my godson next. And rest assured, we will all be there to cheer him on to his next achievements. That goes for all of the grandkids, because that’s what family does. Whether by blood or choice, you stay together through the challenges, emerging stronger and more united. Even if it seems like the pain and emotion will never subside, you will survive intact, and most of all, loved.

I recalled the famed Mary Schmich piece for the Chicago Tribune as I was writing this essay. Immortalized by producer Baz Luhrmann as a surprise pop hit, “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen),” it is the perfect commencement speech. It is a delicious slice of life advice that any columnist worth their Pulitzer Prize would like to represent their abilities. So, in a rare bid of optimism, I am concluding this essay with a special address to the Class of 2017…and anyone else who is taking a step forward into becoming the person they were meant to be.

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Wear Sunscreen

By Mary Schmich of the Chicago Tribune

Ladies and gentlemen of the class of ’97: Wear sunscreen.

If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience. I will dispense this advice now.

Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Oh, never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they’ve faded. But trust me, in 20 years, you’ll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can’t grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked. You are not as fat as you imagine.

Don’t worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blind side you at 4 PM on some idle Tuesday.

Do one thing every day that scares you.

Sing.

Don’t be reckless with other people’s hearts. Don’t put up with people who are reckless with yours.

Floss.

Don’t waste your time on jealousy. Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind. The race is long and, in the end, it’s only with yourself.

Remember compliments you receive. Forget the insults. If you succeed in doing this, tell me how.

Keep your old love letters. Throw away your old bank statements.

Stretch.

Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t.

Get plenty of calcium.

Be kind to your knees. You’ll miss them when they’re gone.

Maybe you’ll marry, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll have children, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll divorce at 40, maybe you’ll dance the funky chicken on your 75th wedding anniversary. Whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either. Your choices are half chance. So are everybody else’s.

Enjoy your body. Use it every way you can. Don’t be afraid of it or of what other people think of it. It’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own.

Dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but your living room.

Read the directions, even if you don’t follow them.

Do not read beauty magazines. They will only make you feel ugly.

Get to know your parents. You never know when they’ll be gone for good.

Be nice to your siblings. They’re your best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future.

Understand that friends come and go, but with a precious few you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle, because the older you get, the more you need the people who knew you when you were young.

Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard.

Live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft.

Travel.

Accept certain inalienable truths: Prices will rise. Politicians will philander. You, too, will get old. And when you do, you’ll fantasize that when you were young, prices were reasonable, politicians were noble, and children respected their elders.

Respect your elders.

Don’t expect anyone else to support you. Maybe you have a trust fund. Maybe you’ll have a wealthy spouse. But you never know when either one might run out.

Don’t mess too much with your hair or by the time you’re 40 it will look 85.

Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.

But trust me on the sunscreen.

 

 

“Shame”

“Shame”

“A very simple statement
A very simple crime
A lot of grief reflecting in how we spend our time
I want to change things
I want to make a change
I’m tired of spending time agonizing yesterdays”

— From “Shame” — Written by Martha Davis, Performed by The Motels

What’s your secret shame? You know, the thing you do when no one is looking?

What is that one vice or action you judge yourself for the most when you look in the mirror?

That loss of control we feel when we indulge in our secret shame is on par with an electric burst of adrenaline. It’s when you let a sly smile cross your face, that sweet release of euphoria when you reach that peak moment. It is a high, one that seduces you to keep going back again and again for another hit.  And it is always followed by your telling yourself, “This is the last time” or “Starting June 1st, I’ll get back on track!”

But you don’t. Because all you want to do is indulge in that behavior you’ve let overwhelm your sanity and self-control. Because it feels that bloody good.

Initially, this essay was going to be titled “Failure,” but I thought better of it. Shame can be overcome. Failure is a trap that can keep you locked up in a zone comprised of a darker shame. It is when you just give up and when it comes to addiction, you can’t just give up. It is a dangerous path, one that can have longterm effects and consequences.

I know I can’t reverse the decisions I’ve made during these last weeks. I can’t blame Fatlanta anymore. I’ve been home for nearly two weeks, embarking on a new project that is taking me to Vancouver. I cannot un-eat the food I’ve been attacking with unsteady hands of late. It’s been consumed and absorbed. I can only feel and see the effects daily and that sense of shame is now one that has me staring at the mirror with anger and disgust.

In six weeks, I am turning 50. While the excitement builds to this milestone, I have a few outstanding narrative threads that have yet to be resolved. The biggest one? Being a total bully to myself when it comes to this issue of food and wellness. Yet, instead of allowing the excitement of this milestone to lead me to a stronger place, I am a woeful mess right now. I can feel the anxiety throwing me off balance. Anger is present where hope should be right now. It is roiling the sanity I have worked so hard to reconstruct, letting frustration and outbursts of emotion spill out and over without warning at times.

I’ve been battling over what is keeping me in this dark space, but the source is both personal and social. The first layer? I didn’t think I’d be living the life of a gay spinster, locked away from potential suitors like Catherine Sloper in The Heiress or Laura Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie. I am probably skirting closer to becoming Miss Havisham in Great Expectations now. I held a torch for Tucker so long, I developed muscles in my arm I didn’t know existed. Yet, after seven years, my self-made prison isn’t so much the pain of leaving him behind when I did. Not anymore.

The damage I inflicted on myself over Tucker pales in comparison to what I’ve let take its place. The new layer is playing caretaker, scratch that, enabler to someone who has yet to understand that being an eternal dreamer doesn’t create a dream life. It is the most selfish way to live, keeping people in a state of stasis until YOU figure YOUR shit out. It is cruel and unforgivable. Anger is holding up my house of late. Anger and self-defeat to be exact. And it is punishing everyone around me, keeping most us from reaching new destinies in the name of “family.”

I hate feeling lonely and rejected, but the pitiful attempts of my meeting men are merely my picking at an old scab. It fills me with a different shade of shame because I am still in my prime, dammit. I should not have to fear my sexual self, much less repress it. Yet, because I can’t control the anger I feel, I have opted to rebuild the prison in which I’ve locked myself away. I’m getting heavier, covering myself up again. I am returning to the protective embrace of comfort foods because I want to feel the warmth of something loving and familiar, even though I am well aware of the only outcome of this reunion. I am angry that I don’t have a relationship to assure me that “It’s going to be okay.” Dammit, I don’t want to be fixed! I just want to be reassured by someone’s care and open heart. And that tender kiss, elusive and beautiful, has never felt so out of reach to me.

Layer three? It is bad enough we are living in a world without grace or accountability, where shamelessness has replaced decency and compassion. All we do is rip each other apart with lies, innuendo and avarice. We speak in tones of violence because we have to be heard above the din, leaving a body count as proof of being heard. We have leaders who spout the most reprehensible things for attention and justify their destruction of all civility.

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We denounce political correctness as being the enemy of a tottering state. The demand of restoring decency and peace is not being “PC.” We are surrounded by varying degrees of terrorists, all of whom think they are just and fighting a holy war built on a religious dogma that can only end in death. That’s the biggest, ugliest shame of all, forcing your will on billions of people who just want to live without fear!

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As I near the end of this post, I feel a different kind of shame. How can I wallow in my own self-pity when so much is off balance in this world? I can only say, I am no less flawed or confused as any other human at the moment. Yet, I can scream into this void, a blank page onto which I can spout all that ails me on the inside right now. Clarity does take form as I let this my thoughts unravel and let my insanity release its stranglehold.

Perhaps we all need to understand what shame means again.

Perhaps we all need to remind ourselves that accountability takes more strength than merely Tweeting obscenities and lies or shoving world leaders out of our way for a photo opportunity.

Perhaps we need to stop letting our fear keep us from turning away from the woes of our world because it is too hard and what does it matter anyway?

Perhaps I need to put down the fork and take a long look at the person struggling to become better and stronger again.

Perhaps it is time to stop being a coward and start loving the one person who has designs on making a difference, not use depression as an excuse to keep my addictions alive. What good am I to the rest of the world if I can’t withstand that which is within my power to fix and heal?

I know I can’t get better alone. None of us can. Neither can this planet. Shame is not always a bad thing. Shame can also keep us from making the same mistakes over and over. Not because failure or flaws are “bad,” because we must let what is “good” about ourselves cast a light to help other lost souls find their way back to the group, too.

Naive? Perhaps.

People have become quite adept in finding new ways to peddle their brands of hate, which will only succeed in making the world a lot sicker and dangerous. But to combat this sinister world order, we have to believe in the good within ourselves again. Therein lies the need for empowerment and education! To stay in this state of isolation would be more than a shame, I recognize that. No more agonizing yesterdays. It’s exhausting and self-defeating. Perhaps it is high time I learn to love locally, then act in the name of goodness…globally.

 

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

— Dylan Thomas

 

Diary of an Angry, Hungry, Fat, Gay Mexican — Week 8, Day 45 — “Control”

Diary of an Angry, Hungry, Fat, Gay Mexican — Week 8, Day 45 — “Control”

So let me take you by the hand, and lead you in this dance
Control
It’s what I got, because I took a chance
I don’t wanna rule the world, just wanna run my life

From “Control” by Janet Jackson

Weight: 246.2

Glucose Reading: 102

I recently gave myself a little test on control around the start of week 7. I wanted to see if I could enjoy a snack of raw walnuts without turning this tasty, crunchy treat into a marathon of eating my feelings at a single sitting.

Guess what? I failed.

It’s a subtle test, trying to limit yourself to “enough.” I’ve never been good with “enough.” I’m all about “more.” I wolfed down half of that damn bag of walnuts on the drive away from Trader Joe’s. I didn’t even try to wait and make it home! The mania surged in that familiar way is staggering because it is uncontrollable. It’s this powerful sense of hunger, of feeding this ravenous, desperate beast that can’t seem to be sated. It scares the shit out of me, this feeling of “more.”

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I had this flashback to when I was a kid, this one afternoon when my dad took me to Baskin-Robbins for a treat. I was down for an ice cream cone, but when we got to the store, I changed my mind and eagerly asked for a pineapple shake. Dad bought it, but when we were in the car, he turned to me and said something that struck me as odd at the time. I don’t remember the exact words, but it was something along these lines:

“Whenever you go with someone to a place like Baskin-Robbins and they offer to buy you something, don’t just pick something expensive. You never know if they have enough to pay.”

My dad was always trying to instill in me this lesson on frugality, which I never heeded. Not until it was too late and even then I still could do better. The consequences of my errant ways with money are on par with my eating disorder. I can’t consume — or spend — enough. It always had to be more…for me. Looking back, I realize that my dad went without so I could enjoy that frosty treat. He didn’t have enough for us both. Two cones yes. A cone and shake? No. I don’t even think I shared it with him. Irony? We’re both diabetic and can’t have such sugary drinks anymore.

Every time I go anywhere with my dad today, I think about these selfish moves I pulled on him, of my lack of control to put such machinations aside. That is why I work extra hard to make sure he feels so cared for and appreciated whenever we go out together. It doesn’t wipe away how awful I was to him all those years ago. I don’t want to be redeemed in that respect. It’s my own issue to reconcile. However, I do want him to know that I was able to control my own wicked tendencies in the end, that I listened and took his lesson to heart.

I’ve been trying to compose this diary entry for several days now. Talk about a lack of control. More like a lapse in focus as my career reaches one of its many rises we all experience throughout the year in productivity. A few things have happened of late, some of which have nothing to do with my current weight loss journey, yet the theme of control is not far behind.

While I continue this struggle to stop letting my emotions tyrannize my health, I’ve been scanning my motivations in other areas for similar problems, too. Like my relationships. I learned after my break-up with the Ex that you can’t control or maneuver someone into becoming the person YOU think they should become. It strangled the life out of our relationship. While it was a bitter lesson in the end, true to form, it remained a lesson I didn’t seem to want to heed. The results of trying to control ALL relationships can come undone.

I’m not sure how to explore this situation as a diary post at the moment. I can only say that my intentions were honorable, but realities exist when you all of your worlds collide together. Is it worth compromising one’s rust. Worse, what do you do when the view from the other side is disturbing to you, cold and unwarranted.

Part of me recognizes how much control I’ve given people over my interests, values and decisions these many years. I’ve let it rule me to not so great effect, allowing for real regrets to be honest. I could chalk it up to wanting to be liked, of wanting to be the peacekeeper, but really it was an evasion from reality. I think up better narratives than the ones I live or at least I’ve convinced myself of that. Complaining is so second nature to me, I often wonder if it, too, is just a manifestation of my inability to live an honest, contented life.

My desire to wrest control back of late has not been without its roiling points and it’s made me question more than just how I live my life. I was never going to be an industry player. I was never a shark in that regard. It has been a struggle, changing how I perceive my career and its importance in defining myself. I am privileged to be with people who see beyond the false trappings of the entertainment industry. They seek to nourish themselves in ways that is comprised of real sustenance, of seeking knowledge on things that make us question our world as we live it. That is what crave so much more these days.

If you recognize the foods that can cause you harm, you avoid them, right? But how far do you go with people, no matter if they are well intended or not? How do you reconcile the changes you are going through with those who are in a state of arrested development? As I continue on this journey toward wellness, I will continue to ask myself these questions. Whatever the answers, I do know they will be achieved on my terms.

I don’t want to rule the world.

I really do just want to run my life.

 

 

“How to Be a Hermana Coraje” (or “11 Ways to Destroy a Marriage!”)

“How to Be a Hermana Coraje” (or “11 Ways to Destroy a Marriage!”)

Struck with the fever to clean my online house, I finally got around to deleting some files from my Drafts folder on MediaJor.com. These were unfinished essays that seemed like great ideas at the time but never really flourished for whatever reason. Imagine my utmost thrill to find one particularly glorious remembrance of days past. Oof. I guess I forgot about it or maybe I calmed down enough NOT to get involved in the escalating drama that inspired me to write something. It still makes me say, “Wow.” Reading it again made my skin crawl, particularly since it’s a fetid example of this Age of Rage we are living in. 

This post harkens back to the Fall of 2014, which was when I had the brilliant idea of writing a coda to the now infamous “Hermanas Coraje” series.  Coraje means “angry” in Spanish, itself a joke and a play on a famed Mexican telenovela known as “Los Hermano Coraje,” which I loved watching with Mom when I was a kid. 

The essays were intended to be a means to an end, of dealing with the painful consequences stemming from my aunt’s battle and demise from cancer in 2014. It seemed to help to turn certain relatives into characters in a Mexican telenovela. Adding fuel to the fire was the endless back and forth of these covertly shared texts and Emails from the so-called Coraje sisters, exchanges my warring cousins that personified Latino Drama and then some. I wasn’t at a loss for inspiration to keep this serial going for a while. However, this entire exercise proved to be anything but a laughing matter in the end. 

The essays I penned got angrier and angrier as my family’s situation deteriorated further and further. Each new text or Email was like a bomb going off and no one was spared from the shrapnel. Today, we’re still living with the injuries inflicted on both sides, which ultimately destroyed all of the tropes of the unified Latino family in the process. 

The first coda I attempted to write was an attempt to get away from Ground Zero, one that was a direct result of what became the last secret Email I would receive. I say “last” because the contents of this particular letter filled me with such contempt, I asked to be taken off the CC list altogether. I also decided to end my imagined telenovela on MediaJor.

The real hermanas Coraje were at their conjoined peak of “But we’re real the victims here!,” which was quite a feat since we had already buried my aunt. Make no mistake. These women were the actual instigators, the lead stirrers of one big cosmic pot of rancid menudo. The elder Coraje sister saw it fit to fire off a truly evil Email to her soon to-be ex-sister in-law, a punch thrown so low it hit the family at its lowest point. Our collective grief was turned into absolute rage again.

Given the way most families work, it was a matter of time before the contents of this destructive Email made their way around to the rest of us. We had an inkling as to the involvement of the sisters Coraje in wrecking their brother’s marriage. Their grotesque agenda of revenge and acrimony turned their brother’s wife into a member of our family. Yes, the family split and sides were taken. We sought to at least be a sounding board, but we turned into a means of emotional support as her marriage broke apart. Yet, we really had NO idea just how far the Sisters C were willing to go in ensuring her destruction.

Revisiting this letter, it was obvious that only making grammatical corrections would not be enough. Whether or not the entire family views this essay, it is just smart to only keep the emotional intent of the original note to protect the innocent and guilty and not retain any of the original text. So yes, I did rewrite the entire thing to best fit this essay. Also, note the “countersteps” have been fictionalized, too. While Hermano C’s ex-wife did offer her own rather pointed rebuttals, again, it would not prudent for me to air them out with the rest of the dirty laundry. 

To read the original post was to almost hear the elder Coraje sister slamming the keys on her insidious PC. Each hit nailed a coffin shut, forever keeping out any light, love and all things human from a couple’s union. Vengeance would be mine if I left it as is to give readers a better sense of the epic pendejismo of it all. Trust me, this collection of twisted maneuvers was devised by someone who has been burned by life one too many times.

In the two years since we ceased all communication with the Corajes, I’ve realized theirs is a house built on a foundation of resentment. They’ve done nothing but shift the blame for their imagined woes onto other people. I have zero respect for those who prefer to exist within the Cult of Victimhood. All of this makes me want to subtitle this post as “Own Your Shit!”  But, perhaps ours is a life lesson that can do us all some good, which is what led me to revisit this essay one more time…

They’re baaack. And not without leaving a few commandments behind for good measure. In fact, I should thank Las Hermanas Coraje for the wealth of material they’ve inspired me to compose. They’re web spinners and string pullers, the most cowardly roles to undertake when it comes to fucking shit up. These aren’t people who carry baseball bats to deal with shit. They prefer to do the side step as deftly as Charles Durning in “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas!”

Regardless, no matter how you choose to meddle in people’s lives, wreckage will be left behind. A broken family will find the means with which to pull itself back together, but it is never really mended. The cracks are there to see forever, just like the words used to inflict the most damage possible in this digital age. However, if you still want to know how YOU, too, can be a Hermana Coraje, follow their simple rules. However, the soon to be ex-sister in-law had rebuttals at the ready. Thus, she is reminding us all that for every action you will experience a reaction:

Step 1:”Tell her to get back to work!”

Counterstep: I have NEVER stopped working. I am not sure what your brother, my husband, tells you. He’s probably — and conveniently — NOT telling you that I pay my share of thousands of dollars in household expenses, too. If either of you need a reminder, keep advising him in the manner you seem to think fit. I’ll show you the receipts.

Step 2: “Move your ass and starting talking to the lawyer and find out how you can protect yourself!”

Counterstep: That’s right, let someone else do the dirty work. As if no one will ever notice the stains on your hands.

Step 3: “DO NOT give her permission to exchange ANY information with the lawyer.”

Counterstep: What? Permission? Since you see fit to meddle in our marriage do you think I’m NOT going to know what crap advice you continue to give my husband? For the record, I’m reading this Email, too!

Step 4: “DO NOT reply to Isela’s email She’s either trying to flirt or dig up info!”

Counterstep: Isela is a friend, a real friend. She’s not part of the Vibora club like you and your sister. She’s just concerned about both of us as this entire situation goes from bad to worse. Honestly, why do you even care?  Or is all of this really about YOU?

Step 5: “DO NOT go to the meeting with the realtor. And for the record, why are you even thinking about going?

Counterstep: We have to deal with the house as that’s OUR home to deal with and not yours. It’s the house where you were welcomed but are now both having to LEAVE because of you.

Step 6: “Stand up for yourself! Move on!”

Counterstep: How can he move on when you’re the one writing the map?

Step 7: “Be a man! Don’t be some little boy doing what mama tells him to do!”

Counterstep: And what is it that YOU’RE doing now with this awful Email?

Step 8: “Tell her you will respond that text from ex-girlfriend. The one we liked.”

Counterstep: Oh, that’s being mature. As if his texting his Ex is going to cause real damage. YOU made this happen, dear. Not me. YOU. Remember that.

Step 9: “Remember that everyone we know and knows you thinks you’re awesome. Just not your wife!”

Counterstep: I never stopped believing he was awesome, until you and sister poisoned the well and ruined us.

Step 10: “The marriage counselor said most of the money from your remaining sessions can be refunded. You won’t face a loss!”

Counterstep: We’ll never know. You took away any real chance for us to find out if we could fix things. All you’ve done is make sure they stayed broken.

Step 11: “She only wants access to your financials to mess you up. Are you stupid enough to just hand this info over to her?”

Counterstep: Spoken like a woman whose never been in a marriage. I have a secret: Spouses are SUPPOSED to know each other’s “financials.”

I really hope you’re pleased with yourself. You’ve prided yourself on being an actress, another lie the family believes. You’ve been nothing but a bit player all these years, always in the background. I never would have guessed the best role of your tiny “career” was to be the lead player in ruining my marriage. Was it worth it taking center stage this way? You always referred to yourself as the big Catholic. Let this weigh heavy on your soul because I believe you will be paid back in full when it’s your marriage. That’s my curse for you.

Since you took it upon yourself to write this list of “steps” for my husband, I will make sure to keep them on hand for the future in case you or anyone in the family needs a “reminder.” Better yet, I’ll keep them in a safe place for our kids so they can read them one day. After all, isn’t what family does best, sharing everything?
You’re welcome.

Your sister in-law under God’s law forever…

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Two years have passed. That note was the last we heard of Las Hermanas Coraje. In the end, this once star-crossed couple lost their house. No one earned a real dime from its sale, so said “financials” were never improved. The ex Mrs. Coraje moved on with their kids to a new home and life.  Meanwhile, the entire bitter lot of siblings are now existing under one deluded roof, just like when their dad lost their business and was forced to move them all  under one roof with the very family they would turn their back on in the most callous manner.

I am loathe to report that they’re still playing their pueblito games, too. So much for growth and maturity. But, I will never forget the elder Coraje‘s parting shot. I still can’t believe the nasty tone and manipulation found in that note. But the worst part? It’s just pathetic to know the Coraje brother’s balls are still being kept by his sisters.

Somehow, I don’t think this is the final chapter. The Resurrection of Las Hermana Coraje? After all, writers are encouraged to “write what they know.” Well, the author of this family’s narrative is God himelf. I suspect even he would need major encouragement to pen a revision.

“Signed, The Desayuno Club” or “Vida y Muerte”

“Signed, The Desayuno Club” or “Vida y Muerte”

My optimism seems to be at a premium these days. Singing along with my Burt Bacharach playlist on my iPod in the kitchen? Dancing as if no one’s looking? These are things that I have to muster up the energy to even contemplate, forget about execution. Sure, we can meme our way through the tough times with slogans like “Life Happens.” We all know life happens on its own timetable, without reason or warning. However, what do you do when the “Big Moments” pile up like a Friday afternoon on the interstate? How do you not feel like that F-5 twister purposefully chose to hit your home, skipping over other parts of the neighborhood?

I can’t remember a point in my life where the issue of mortality has been so present. These little earthquakes of truth and emotion are growing in intensity. We are aware that our lives are curated like one big Jenga® puzzle, moment by moment. At some point, a silvery thread of fear begins to weave its insidious way through our consciousness. Some of us will deftly snip it away, while others wither under weight of knowing some force can and will pull that one piece out, sending the whole thing crashing down. It’s not a productive way to live. Based on this sentiment, the events that have occurred to my family and friends of late have left me grappling between wielding the scissors and succumbing to the weight of all this mounting grief. I have reached a point of reckoning, of great questioning. And given my propensity to FEEL things, it is starting to hurt, triggering an agenda of self-destruction that is starting to scare me.

We are about to enter the fourth month of 2016. It’s not quite April and so many of life’s grand themes have found their way into all of our worlds. It’s been a season of births and deaths, peaks of elation and valleys of grief. Parallels keep manifesting themselves. I wasn’t alone in feeling shock over the loss of my childhood friend Anthony Dominguez last Christmas and the concussive effect of his passing has yet to abate.

As if on cue, it was long after Anthony’s death that I received the wonderful news of two friends, who are in fact sisters, had given birth to their first children just weeks apart. The great Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez couldn’t pen this chapter any better. (Well, yeah, he could.)

Life. Death. Birth. Then the lightning round began.

In March, an important and much needed family reunion in Mexico was preceded by the news that the father of my childhood best friend passed away. While in Mexico, we were shocked to discover two close family members were grappling with their own mental China Syndromes. A few weeks later, on Easter Sunday, a day representative of rebirth and renewal concluded with a terse DM from another key member of my Pico Rivera family of friends.

Steve wrote: “Hi, I have some bad news. Please call me…”

My mind catalogued the litany that’s become all too common, particularly in Latino families. If the phone rings late at night, you need to steel yourself. Someone is gone.

“Was it his father?” I thought.

Blessedly, it wasn’t Mr. Chavez, but my heart still broke after I hung up the phone. The son of another member of our childhood group had lost his life in a car accident on his way back to college.

Reunions have been playing out with frequency these last months. In fact, this “Big Chill” group dynamic has alternated between being a welcome distraction to pulling the scabs off old wounds. Not that I’m complaining. It’s giving me license to feel other things, not just a sense of despair.

Many of these people were the formative friendships of formative years, personalities that have been reconstituted into the myriad of relationships I’ve encountered and nurtured in the 30+ years since graduating from high school. As many of us gathered to celebrate or mourn of late, it’s striking how we easily fall into the roles we played as children and teenagers. We reveal just enough to feel like we’ve closed the gap of time. We laugh, smile and upload pictures to our respective social media sites. Then we make the slow walk back to our cars taking us back to our own lives.

I am coming to terms with the biggest lesson learned in returning to the center square of my life. It hasn’t been said amongst us yet, but it is very much present:

We are mortal after all.

My own emotional state of mind swirls with so much color right at this moment, high dynamic angry color. I see shades of vermillion, red and orange, all in heated tones that make me sweat without even moving. Is it alright to say that I’m sick of having cancer and Alzheimer’s invade my cherished family fold? Since the passing of my aunt Susanna in 2014 to the family implosion the followed and beyond, I’ve been searching for some sort of answer as to why these life events can happen without pause. And when friends say to me, “That’s life,” I just want to scream and have a violent release of some sort: “They don’t understand!” But they do, because it’s happened or it is happening to them, too.

I can’t help but note the irony. I was born into a culture that embraces death, celebrating it with riotous shades of color and the sweetest tasting of candies. While I proudly display my calaveras, Catrinas and other artwork by José Guadalupe Posada at home and in my office, I wonder if its the American propensity to stir up fear that is wreaking havoc with my strength. (I toyed with using the phrase “steel bougainvillea” here, but I thought better of it.)

I knew as I went home the night of Anthony’s rosary service that I was going to write something about the significance of his death. However, it’s been several months since that moment and what started out as a tribute piece to him has taken many strange turns, unleashing a torrent of so many themes. It became about being 40-something, of going from boys to men and the rediscovery how much real life wages a war with us all. Despite my intent, this post read so fake and uninspiring. The altruistic reason to write about Anthony was being smothered by my own narcissism, as if I wanted to show off some incredible power of syntax and phrasing. I was overthinking it. Words would come out in fits and starts, sometimes with way too much flourish, corrupting the emotion in the process. It didn’t help that I would project my state of mind onto whatever I wrote. Worse, it was became apparent that the spirit of Anthony was now lost in all this fancy word play. Ultimately, it became about nothing at all. Just noise. I only wanted to make sure my friend knew I hadn’t forgotten him. What I didn’t anticipate was that I would be adding names to create a list:

Tacho’s father, Roberto.

Anne’s son, Matthew.

It’s hard to keep a linear thread with this post. Since Anthony’s rosary service, I’ve been grappling with a total lack of focus. His loss magnified certain truths about what many of us stand to face from this point forward. News of other friends’ life challenges only cemented this creative block. I just folded all of this helplessness I felt into the depression that was entrenching itself in a way I’ve never experienced before. I wasn’t caring about anything, especially my own health. I only cared about my Dad, whose bout with Alzheimer’s is reaching a new stage amidst all this change.

This post couldn’t be a “Jeremiah” from the ‘mount, extolling the virtues of a cherishing a bountiful life while we can. How could it when a feeling of woe has saturated so much of what we see of this world on the daily? It rendered the spilling of digital ink on a white screen almost impossible. This was supposed to be a tribute, but I am empowered by what it has become in the last days.

I have been ruminating about the moment when we become aware of that thin line between life and death. Is it the loss of a grandparent? Or is it those hurried and emotional conversations you overhear from under your dining room table, where your parents process the news that Nana or Tío are “no longer with us?” Is it better to learn about death when your first goldfish receives that funeral at sea in the family commode? It doesn’t matter the context. In the end, you never forget that shocking wave of hot tears, whether theirs or your own, that leaves a stamp of realization.

As we get older, at least for some of us, dealing with death is supposed to get a little easier, recognizing it as being part of the ebb and flow of life. Sorry, but that doesn’t make the loss any easier to accept. However, honoring a sense of respect for mortality will do wonders for one’s resilience if you let it. You begin to understand that being born is not your only induction into the human race. It’s actually part of a longer process that culminates when you understand your place on this mortal Earth is not permanent.

I won’t forget the catalyst that prompted all this soul searching any time soon. Earlier this year, at Anthony’s service, I joined the growing crowd at St. Hilary on a chilly, damp Monday night. I was heartened by the amount of people waiting to head inside the church. As I walked, shoulders hunched, cold hands seeking warmth in my sweater pockets, I found myself already sorting out a rush of emotions, thinking to myself, “How did this happen?”

In between it all, fragments of the past starting to make their way to the front. All those pieces solidified the minute I heard my name, “George.” No one else but my people from home call me that anymore. And suddenly I was 10 years old again, as the past and present collided with incredible force. The crew was all there, the one that started at South Ranchito Elementary, gained new members at Meller Jr. High before reaching its zenith at El Rancho High School. I stood with these men, weaving in and out of solemnity and laughter from reminiscing. We fell back into the roles we had as teenagers, easily retaking our places as we filed into the church to pay our respects to our friend.

Regardless of the time spent apart since graduating high school, the foundation set all those years ago is still very much present. More, I think of the legacies that were created as a result of our time together:

Anthony was a huge part of my adolescence in Pico Rivera. I was never going to be a jock, but I am forever grateful that he never judged me, or anyone else for that matter. Even if I was sometimes the least skilled member of the teams we were part of as kids, Anthony remained a loyal friend from elementary all the way through high school.

Tacho and I were from the same neighborhood, cultivating a friendship shaped by the countless walks to the three schools we attended together. His family opened the doors to their home and restaurant to us all without question or reserve. I shall never forget Mr. Baeza, who remains a true caballero in my mind, just like my Dad. It says something that our families continue to have their roots in the same houses after 40 years.

Anne remains this quintessential pixie, albeit with a wicked dash of punk rock. She is still her own person, full of spirit, possessing a singular wit and a brilliant smile. In the photos I’ve seen of her son Matthew, I am heartened to see how much of her is present in his own vibrant smile and the personality captured in those frames. It makes his loss so much more difficult to fathom. My only regret is missing out on so much of Anne’s adult life so I could have shared a little bit of her journey as a mother.

Their narratives are forever interwoven with mine, and vice versa, I hope. We talk so much about how we’re disconnected today, but back then we were the definition of connectivity. It was incredible how widespread this reach was when you think about it. Schools, parks, after school activities, church, Scouts, cheerleading, Little League, Pop Warner, everything and anything social. It was like we were living this John Hughes-penned life but with a lot of added flavor. I mean, we’re talking Tapatío, Tajín, salsa cruda, salsa verde and roasted jalapeños. Because how vanilla was a John Hughes movie in the first place?

This is going off topic, but it occurs to me how much of our lives surrounded food. It was tacos from Mario’s and nachos from Casa Garcia. It was being treated to Sir George’s Smorgasbord, Naugles or Omega Burgers. It was post-game celebrations at someone’s home or at Shakey’s Pizza. Even now, it’s hard to stop this list for fear of leaving things out.

Looking back, I do remember how we expressed our incredulous shock at those who left us before we turned 18. Kathy Esparza didn’t make it to senior year at El Rancho. We paid our respects and we moved forward. The pep rallies continued. From Homecoming to Powder Puff, Prom and Graduation, we kept going through all of the rites of passage on schedule and without delay. The concept of loss wasn’t something we would contemplate much. Loss was just something that happened on the field, on the track or on the court in the gym.

My concept of loss won’t be the same same anymore. Despite the poetry we can ascribe to it as being the closing of a circle, it is still an end. And to be honest, I’ve never been good with endings. These scenes are destined to be replayed again, alas, but they must be met with grace and humility, too. As I begin to compose these last paragraphs, I’m think I can find my way to some peace. I am grateful in many ways for the opportunity to have reconnected with so many people. It speaks volumes to know that these archetypes of what I now want to call The Desayuno Club would gather once more — and without hesitation, too. And I am privileged that so many opted to share a part of their lives with me. They answered the question as to what happened to the Class of 1985? And it proved an inspiring answer.

We worked. We dated. We got married. We had children. We lost lovers. We lost parents. We ended marriages. We lost jobs. We remarried. We started new jobs. We had second families. We got sick. We got better. We will get better. In short, life happened and it continues to happen as these words float across the screen.

As I continue to reconnect with the men and women that played a part in shaping my life, I am secretly thrilled to l see glimpses of what we were: The jocks, the brains, the cheerleaders, the cholos, the cha cha’s, the Oish, the strange, the wild, the calm and the cool, always beautiful and forever young.

But I also see an incredible beauty shaped by resilience, tradition, strength and love. I don’t think who we are and what we represent is ever erased or replaced in life. Yes, we have a shared outcome in this world. But I’d like to think we are just one more layer in a temporal pan of cosmic lasagna. We will all add our particular blend of flavor and spice before a new layer is placed on top of us, all representing every milestone we achieve, layer after layer, pan after pan, for infinity. Despite the context of what brought us together, it’s given me something to feel that’s as close to optimism as I can declare right now. We are not alone. Ever. Therein lies the solace we can offer each other without condition.

You won’t be faulted for saying to me, “Stop your whining and man up!” We all process grief differently, so STFU. However, it is important to say that I don’t want this to be considered a “Woe is Me” post. I’ve taken to writing about these feelings to find a place for them so they don’t diminish the hope, care and optimism that my family members and friends need right now. It’s hard not to go from the micro to the macro in a given moment. For instance, most of us will accept the painful truth that the sooner we accept the truth about mortality, the sooner we can start living. That is, living for the moment and for the one’s we gather around us. No matter our stations in life, our wealth is the sum of our memories, darn it. That is truest and most vital achievement we are fated to accomplish. My challenge now is to continue to believe that, if only to stave off the rage that threatens to dominate my physical and mental self.

I am not sure how to complete this post. It has to mean something for those who read it, especially for the families of Anthony, Mr. Baeza and Matthew. An impact was made by their lives and it will not be forgotten. Maybe I should leave it open, for others to fill with their thoughts and sentiments? All I know is that we are connected again at a time when we need it most. Even if it is just for a moment, one thing remains certain. We will endure.

Because, we are life.

Signed, the Desayuno Club

 

From Fatboy to Slim…Week 1

From Fatboy to Slim…Week 1

“I’m not sure I want to let you leave here…”

That’s what the nurse practitioner said to me this AM, not the hot lover I’d rather envision on this day of reckoning. Today, I went to the Lindora Weight Loss Clinic to review the results of my blood work. Short version: I am in not so very good shape.

My triglyceride count is 1,539. Normal is 150

My cholesterol is 271. Normal is 135-200

My CRP is 16.40. Normal is 1.0

My glucose is 293. Normal is 65-99

My blood pressure is 210/122.

I could have a stroke.

My type 2 diabetes is back.

I am developing a fatty liver.

I weigh 257 lbs.

I am 48 and I am slowly killing myself.

The nurse practitioner was calm in delivering this news to me. I was rather chatty going into her office this AM. I said precious few words once she ticked off the list of damage I was causing myself. My blood pressure worried her so much, she wrote me a prescription for meds on the spot and demanded I headed to a pharmacy after I left. (Yes, I did follow her instructions.)

Emotions dictate why I eat. And if you run a quick scan of this blog’s archive, emotion dictates a lot of my writing. I’ve been this way since I was a kid. And the hyperbole driven career I’ve chosen has only added to the 72 pt. headlines I often use to express myself.

In the year since my bohemian sabbatical, I’ve gone from a clear-eyed realist in good shape to a bleary-eyed depressed bowl of pudding. But it is more than depression. It is anger. It is disappointment. It is defeat.

A lot has happened to me and my family in the last year. Still, at some point you have to say, “Enough of this shit!” That moment arrived today. I don’t want to be Sick Guy. I don’t want to be Fat Guy.

I don’t want to die.

It’s not just about going from fat to fit to appease my vanity or turn the head of a former love. It really is about making a definitive life choice to ensure I continue to participate in life as a healthy man of a certain age.

I know I’m not alone in this. If you do find yourself reading along, I hope you share your own wellness stories with me. Support is essential in conquering addictions and I am a food addict. As I continue this journey, I will explore that theme a bit more as I explore the reasons for why I eat what I eat. Food addiction is as real as any other form. It is not just a cultural ism of being Latino, where food is used as a reward or a consoling gesture. My addiction to certain foods is probably my longest running relationship.

Time to break up with a really bad boyfriend.

I started the Lindora Program today and it will run for 10 weeks. Stick around. It’s gonna be a bumpy ride, but the outcome is so worth it.

#forwardmotion

#chooselife

J.

PS — Some might be surprised by the photo that is the key image of this entry. It was a selfie I took in June 2014, just before I left for Spain. That was me at my leanest in my adult life. It’s a reminder of what was possible then…and now. When you have nothing to fear, you have nothing to lose.

“Of spare parts and DREAM acts…” — #lavidarobot

“Of spare parts and DREAM acts…” — #lavidarobot

— With the real Oscar Vazquez and his wife Karla on the New Mexico set of “Spare Parts” in November 2013. Carlos and Alexa PenaVega portray the couple in the film, now playing.

In 2005, writer Joshua Davis penned an extraordinary article for Wired Magazine chronicling the lives of four undocumented teen boys from Arizona. What made them unique? They bested universities such as MIT and Harvard to win a robotics prize at UC Santa Barbara. Titled “La Vida Robot,” Davis’ meticulously written story of Cristian Arcega, Lorenzo Santillan, Luis Aranda and Oscar Vazquez’s journey to victory was truly the stuff of Hollywood films. A decade later, that film has arrived.

“Spare Parts” benefits from the momentum of this DREAM Act era, where the Latino voice has never been more urgent in terms of the national narrative. While the film relies on the “feel good” tropes of the underdog story, it doesn’t shy away from the fact that these “illegals” are not the enemy in this paranoid era of fear mongering and reactionary politics.

I had the privilege of meeting Davis and the real boys of Carl Hayden High, interviewing them and their cinematic counterparts for Pantelion Films. Along with producer and star George Lopez, they expressed the importance of the Latino imprint in terms of mainstream films. Not only does the film entertain, it illuminates an area still unfamiliar to many Americans.

“Spare Parts” opens in theaters this weekend, so I hope you give it a chance. In the meantime, take a moment to watch the featurette produced by Monkey Deux, Inc., edited by Steve Schmidt and Drew Friedman, for Pantelion Films.

#ICanIDid #spareparts #lavidarobot