Monday, September 9, 2019

And I've Never Been to Vegas...

For me, writing began as an archeological dig. I wrote my first memoir, The Thirty-Ninth Victim, to make sense of the death of my youngest sister. My second memoir, Mom’s Last Move, led to a better understanding of my roles as the daughter of an elderly mother with dementia and the mother of a teenager daughter. Because I write to better know who I was and who I am, reconnections with past friends and university classmates became an integral to my latest memoir, The Ex-Mexican Wives Club, to be released this autumn. Now I have a crazy opportunity to explore the high school years!
I’m headed to a slumber party! Yup, a slumber party – with a dozen 65-year-old women! Women I’ve had little or no contact with since 1972. Some I’m not sure I had much contact with when we were in high school together! And slumber parties? Never!

I once attended a reading featuring the author, Ann Patchett. When asked about her writing process, she explained that she liked to put all her characters in a room together and watch what happened. That’s how I’m heading into this slumber party!

To add to the zaniness of my upcoming weekend, I'm doing a reading. I’m grateful to Wendy Marcisofsky at Copper Cat Books for organizing this event. If you’re in the Las Vegas/Henderson area, please join us! I’m excited to share Mom’s Last Move and am planning a sneak preview of The Ex-Mexican Wives Club as well. Hope to see you there!

Copper Cat Books
1570 W Horizon Ridge Parkway #170
Henderson NV 89012

1:00 – 3:00 p.m.
Sunday, September 15, 2019

Friday, August 30, 2019

The Ex-Mexican Wives Club: A Club of Eleven

The leaves on the redbud outside my window show the first signs of autumn as they make the gradual transition from pale green to translucent yellow. A summer of remodeling ends with new floors and bathroom tile, a main floor bedroom with French doors to the backyard, as well as all the unseen work of electrical, plumbing and heating upgrades.

It has been a summer of few outdoor activities such as cycling and hiking, backpacking and car camping. Even writing has been limited – only three blog posts since remodeling began in May. Still, I’m happy to share that The Ex-Mexican Wives Club is now in the very capable hands of Adam Bodendieck, layout designer, and Loretta Matson, cover designer. If all proceeds as planned, you’ll be able to add it to your holiday gift list!

This third memoir tells the story of my years as an undocumented worker in Mexico at a time when crossing the border for citizens of either nation was as easy as crossing state lines. It is a tale of people and place, culture and politics that no longer exist. Early readers have said it’s my best work yet. I’m excited to share it with you.

Here is the Author’s Note that opens The Ex-Mexican Wives Club:

Odd how only a brief period of time, just five or six years, can have a prolonged effect. How it can feel that it must have been longer, a decade or two at least.

In my mid-twenties to early thirties I was an undocumented immigrant working illegally in a cash-based economy. I was an expatriate in Mexico City from January 1979 until July 1984. For decades, vivid memories of sights, smells, and sounds of Mexico have filled my dreams and surfaced when least expected or desired during waking hours. For decades, I pushed those memories away, refused to speak the language I’d once mastered, intent on being – becoming – a normal, middle-class, American wife and mother, while having little idea what that meant. For decades, no matter how deeply I buried the arts and crafts, the paintings and books, the photographs and letters in the depths of the attic, the memories and questions remained. Who was that young woman who went off on her own determined to build a life for herself in Mexico? Why did she go and what brought her back? What is her relationship to the me I have become over the intervening decades?

The death of a dear friend, a friend with whom I’d shared my Mexico years, a friend who could no longer tell her story, led me to open that box of memory, a Pandora’s box of memory, and write the memoir you now hold in your hands. I tell the story through narrative as well as emails and Facebook messages, letters and journal entries dating back to the late 1970s. I include these original documents with no editing. All misspellings and grammatical mistakes in both English and Spanish are found in the original documents. The variations in how I recorded the date of each entry reflect my adaptation to the practice of placing day before month and the use of Roman Numerals. Where the original documents are in Spanish, I have either explained the meaning in the body of the narrative or added a translation in the End Notes. Given that my Spanish was that of a language learner, at times I translate my intentions rather than actual word usage. Dialogue is reconstructed from memory. I’ve altered or omitted names for stylistic purposes or to protect the privacy of those who might prefer such things.

The title of this memoir comes from a casual comment on a spring day in Hereford, England, during one of my rare visits. Judi was telling her friend Tracey of the conversation we’d had in London only days before with our friend Leandra, who much like Judi and me, had once lived in Mexico and been married to a Mexican man.

“We shall write a story of all our adventures,” Judi said. “The three of us together, each telling her part.”

“Yes! And you shall call it The Ex-Mexican Wives Club.” Tracey said.

The original club members Tracey referred to on that brilliant afternoon in 2010 were Judi, Leandra, and me. But as I began writing this memoir, I became increasingly aware of the importance of a number of other women who were an integral part of my life in Mexico City, and I realized they were honorary members of the “club” whether or not they’d ever married or divorced Mexican men. These women include Cathy, Katrin, Karen, and Julie – the California contingent. Evelia and Rosa Esther – the Mexican women. Bev from Pennsylvania and Sylvie from France. A club of eleven including myself.

Memory is a fickle beast, especially forty-year-old memories. I tell this story of my lost years to the best of my ability, a story placed at a time in Mexican history referred to as La D├ęcada Perdida, The Lost Decade. In the process of exploring these memories, I have had the joy of reconnecting with most of these women I once knew in Mexico City. I am grateful to each of them for their willingness to swap memories, for their encouragement, and for much-needed reality checks as I pieced together a story that took place in a world that no longer exists. A world changed by time and technology, by political and socioeconomic trends. I write a personal history of a normal life, a life of tedium and tragedy, of joy and loss, a story that is both universal and utterly unique in the manner of all personal stories.

Monday, July 8, 2019

A Sunday Walk

 I walk through quiet Sunday gray, my neighborhood awakening around me. A newspaper flutters on a front porch, a vestige of times gone by. I wonder how many papers are still delivered in West Seattle.

Tom sat at the kitchen table each morning, the newspaper spread before him. I complained about the stacks of advertisements collecting on the floor, about the newsprint dirtying the tabletop. He switched to The New Yorker, The Smithsonian. Now he reads his phone.

The black and white cat sits preening herself on the block she owns. Fearless and proud, she expects traffic to stop for her, pedestrians to pay her mind. When I walk my daughter’s dog, I avoid this block.

We never had cats, not even a barn cat to control the mice. Always dogs, but what good was a dog for catching mice? My mother – or was it my father? – didn’t like cats. Now I am not fond of them either.

A motorcycle roars down Charlestown hill, a slight slow at the stop sign, no stop at all. The bright red streak flashes before me, shaking me from my morning musings.

The hill where Dad once flipped his Harley. Going up, not down, on ice. The hill high school graduates paint every June now reads Class of 2019 in colorful joy. What did it read the year my father graduated?

Madison Middle School towers on the hillside above me. The 2005 renovation to the stately 1929 building began the year after our daughter moved on to high school. I trace the track and circle the building as I climb, catching my breath under the giant tree at the top of the hill.

Images of Erin and her friends float by, teenyboppers full of youthful sass and energy. Getting into trouble, finding their way out of trouble, discovering who they were, who they would become.

I continue walking and soon West Seattle High School looms large along California Avenue. Built in 1917, the Neo-renaissance building retains much of its architectural charm after an extensive remodel, completed in 2002. A year later, Erin followed her grandfather’s footsteps by attending his alma mater.

I see my father in faded photographs, football tucked under his elbow. He wears a leather helmet and a cocky grin, a dark curl hangs forward. Black and white photography does no justice to his brilliant blue eyes. I wonder if the trophies bearing his name are still on display.

On the opposite side of the street a new building takes up the better part of a city block. The tile work – what looks like large subway tiles – on the exterior of the new four-story structure was completed more quickly than my small bathroom.

Was it fair of me to leave the house so early, to make an escape from the dust and noise of our remodeling project? I left as my husband tested the table saw and measured his first cut of the day. I left before the confrontation with the contractor over the unacceptable tile job. I left before more tears of frustration and anger.

I wind through the gentle silence of Hiawatha Playfield, under enormous oaks, past the tennis courts and the community center. The wading pool forlorn and empty. Does the Parks Department still fill it each warm summer day? Check the water quality every few hours?

Did I take Erin often enough as a toddler? Was it a welcome summer escape during earlier remodels to our small West Seattle home? She began swimming at the YMCA so young, she seemed to outgrow the wading pool overnight. She grew up overnight.

I follow the graceful curve of Walnut Avenue. Mid block, I pause before a house my father once remodeled. A house where I lived as a child too young to remember. A house whose interior I know only through family lore and longing. It is the only house my father remodeled, preferring to build from foundation to rooftop.

I hear the echo of Tom’s angry words from the day before. “It would’ve been easier to tear the damn place down and start over.” Maybe. “We’ll get through this,” he said as I left the house. Although it is hard to believe his words of comfort, my morning walk settles my soul.