Saturday, February 9, 2013
WRITING: MY LIFE, MY PASSION
Hello. I do not know if you remember me, but we’ve met. I was about ten, living in the northeastern industrious Mexican city of Monterrey. My father, lawyer by profession, historian by calling, director of a prestigious private university library by occupation and an incurable avid reader by passion, brought you home on a muggy Tuesday afternoon and introduced us.
I must confess you were a little intimidating at first, coming from England and all. Then you tiptoed into my life, Alice. Quietly. Unperceivably. I still remember holding my breath as I followed you. And then my life changed.
It was a weird thing that I followed you, Alice. You see, it was just something that I would never actually do – wander away. I was a model first-born: quiet, standoffish, straight-A student, always doing as told and expected.
My childhood, perhaps a little like yours from what I could assume, was happy, serene and privileged. I had devoted parents, attended a private bilingual school and enjoyed lazy Sunday afternoons at my grandmother’s. Now you see why following you was undoubtedly my most daring feat. It turns out that the event that I have always considered to be the least like me actually devailed my true self. And this is the main reason why I decided to write this long overdue letter: to thank you for waking in me an urgency, an anxiety, a painful passion even, not only to follow you, but to wander off myself, to live my own adventures, to go beyond my familiar and comfortable surroundings and discover new worlds. In other words, to write.
I did not understand this overwhelming and burning sensation anymore than the Jabberwocky poem at the time. From my naïve and limited sense of reality at age ten, I honestly thought all I had to do was precisely that: write. It seemed pretty simple.
I tried, Alice, I really did. This scorching passion kept growing and my leisure hours were spent meeting new people and new places: from Little Women to Tom Sawyer, Black Beauty, White Fang, The Little Prince, Treasure Island, Sherlock Holmes, A Christmas Story, Moby Dick, The Old Man and the Sea, Anne Frank, Helen Keller, the Swiss Family Robinson, Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, Rip Van Winkle… words fascinated me… and I wrote. I wrote as much as my pre-teen life experience and my incipient command of the English language allowed me to.
And then I turned fourteen.
You are younger, Alice, so I do not know if this will make any sense to you, buy I’ll try to explain. For me, turning fourteen was like returning from the world of the Queen of Hearts and the Mad Hatter, or from the looking-glass universe, and realizing that those cosmos actually made more sense than the one I really lived in. I did not understand anything or anybody – and the feeling was reciprocal. Dances, music, parties and the usual pranks, jokes and trouble everybody else seemed to enjoy so much were totally unappealing to me. I wanted to write – but I had developed this acerb and poignant critic personality that realized how plain and feebleminded all my stories were. They were horrible!
What do you do when you really want and need to do something – and then find out that you’re truly bad at it?
Reading – my other passion – was safer. High school introduced me to Don Quixote, Shakespeare, Dante, the great Greek and Roman authors and cultures, literary theory and history… I tried to suffocate my desire to write by devouring the reading assignments, learning all the lyrics to the Osmond’s songs and excelling academically.
After a few years of denying and ignoring, a heavy numbness took over me. In college I studied English literature, linguistics, translation and pedagogy. From Kafka to Hawthorne, Chekhov to Miller, Hardy to Homer, Fitzgerald to Joyce, Poe to Nabokov in English; and from Julio Cortázar to Pablo Neruda, García Lorca to Octavio Paz, García Márquez to Borges in Spanish – I was mystified and bedazzled. And more and more scared of adventuring into a world inhabited by giants like Austen and Ibsen and Ellison and Vargas Llosa and Unamuno and Rulfo…
Do you believe in miracles, Alice? I do. As a matter of fact, I think you are one in my life. God knows I would have been the perfect hermit (and maybe in some ways I am), but He had other plans for me, so destiny thrusted me and Plutarco Adame into each other’s lives. We fell in love and married twenty-eight years ago. He is smart, funny, resourceful, noble, loving and wise. He has always encouraged me to write, and I pretty much managed to duck his prod, push and spur. Our four kids came to bless our lives and I tricked, to a somewhat successful extent, my need for writing by being very busy.
Then I let life distract me.
Life has been… well, life. I’m grateful for everything I’ve lived through, and I’m aware it has all made me who I am and brought me to where I am today. I’ve been dealt my share of good and bad hands. I’ve had my quota of successes, failures, ghosts, angels and demons. We’ve lived in different places, cities and countries. And I always carry a book and a notebook. I tried to lose myself in the vortex of the hectic daily routine. Any excuse was a welcome truce in fighting my need to write, from cooking and looking after the family to preparing my teaching lesson plans to watching TV. The sight of the blank paper was excruciating
In 2000, my husband’s faith made my book The Child with ADHD: A Guide for Parents (Trillas Editing House, 2000, in Spanish) a reality. It is a homage to our second daughter and a guide for other baffled parents. After that, I again retracted to my safe, no-risk busy world.
You see, Alice, when people grow up, sometimes they are in such a hurry that they forget their dreams…. But, fortunately, sometimes the dreams forget to leave and they just linger on, in any corner, just waiting….
And then, unexpectedly and out of a clear blue sky, I caught a glimpse of you. And I followed you into your worlds again…. and revisited the Mad tea Party and the smiling vanishing cat and the gardens and the walrus and the carpenter…. and a dormant fervor was rekindled…and Zyanya Always and Forever, my first novel, was born and saw the light in the first days of this 2013.
Thank you, Alice. Thank you for not giving up on me, for helping me realize that the terror of writing is much less than the agonizing pain of not writing… once again, thank you… and I’ll be seeing you again… just perhaps next time in my wonderland, in my looking-glass universes, in my worlds….
Sunday, February 3, 2013
Have you ever felt suddenly dizzy, with a strong headache, maybe even feverish and nauseous for no apparent reason? What would you think if I told you that someone probably looked at you with envy, or gave you a compliment without acknowledging God, and cast on you the evil eye? Would you disregard the comment, thinking it’s just an old superstition and it has nothing to do with you and our super modern laser, nanotechnology and space exploration world of 2013?
Do you enjoy rock concerts? Do you like heavy metal? Then you are probably familiar with the signature hand-sign, the sign of the horns, that late vocalist Ronnie James Dio used during his days with Black Sabbath. Dio made the gesture popular among heavy metal fans, even though he was definitely not the first one to use it. What you might not know is that he learned it from his grandmother, a southern Italian, who used this gesture to defend and protect herself and her loved ones from the “malocchio” or evil eye.
Today, celebrities like Madonna, Oprah Winfrey, Jennifer Aniston, Britney Spears, Brad Pitt and Richard Gere have been seen wearing jewelry and amulets known to guard against the evil eye.
The evil eye is a negative force that is exerted when someone stares at you or your possessions with envy, in an unfriendly and unkind manner, or praises and compliments without mentioning God’s intervention. In the human victim, it may cause dizziness, pain, headaches, vomit and fever; if it’s an animal, it may die or fall ill; if it’s an inanimate object, like a shop, a farm or a ranch, it may cause it harm, its destruction or loss. Newborns, babies and young children are the most susceptible to fall under the power of the evil eye, and it can be deadly for them.
The evil eye is known as matiasma or vaskania in Greek, avin ha’ra in Hebrew, ainal hasound in Arabic, malocchio in Italian, olho gordo in Portuguese, bla bland in farsi, mal de ojo in Spanish, mauvais oeil in French, bosen blick in German, overlooking in Great Britain. The belief in evil eye goes back to ancient Sumerian, Babylonian, Assyrian and near-Eastern texts, which would make it over five thousand years old. It is older than Greek and Roman civilizations, has been mentioned by Plato, Plutarch, Theotcritus, Hesiod, in the Bible’s both Old and New Testaments, by Shakespeare, Bacon, Jane Austen, Herman Melville, and Edgar Allan Poe. Anthropologists, psychologists, sociologists, classicists, folklorists, missionaries, church authorities, ophthalmologists, theologians have studied the evil eye throughout human history. Today, the evil eye “continues to be a powerful factor affecting the behavior of millions of people throughout the Indo-European and Semitic world.” (Dundes, 1992)
The evil eye must have something inherent that allowed it to emerge and flourish in almost every culture in the Middle East, West Africa, North, Central and South America, Central and South Asia and Europe for more than fifty centuries. It has survived natural disasters, world wars, discoveries, inventions, revolutions, watershed events and human milestones. Though sometimes linked to sorcery and witchcraft, the evil eye is regarded as part of our human nature. It does not necessarily imply a wish to harm or hurt, and no training or studying is required to cast it. The perpetrator is not always aware of his wrong doing, and it may be involuntary. In some cultures, it may be people with green or blue eyes, people who drink, women who are childless or covetous, jealous and envious.
The cure from evil eye is as varied as the amulets used for protection and the cultures it is part of. In different places and religions, people use prayers, holy water, eggs, olive oil, lemons, rituals, spitting, wax or coal dipped into water and smoke.
Today, Hindu people protect their houses, businesses, and vehicles from evil eye with a lemon hung with chilies in a bead, their newlyweds by applying kumkum powder, a powder made from saffron and turmeric, on their cheeks, and kohl, a dark cosmetic powder, on children’s cheeks, or by tying a black cord around the children’s hips. In Bangladesh you can see a black dot on one side of children’s foreheads, or behind girls’ earlobes. In Mexico, mothers will ask you to touch their children if you praise or compliment them, and they will crack an egg in a glass of water, praying, and place it under the bed of anyone suspected of having the evil eye. Aprotropaic, or protective, amulets range from a hand-shaped amulet with a blue eye, known as the hamsa hand: the Hand of Myriam by Jews and the Hand of Fatima by Muslims, to nazars, or evil eye stones, disks or concentric dark blue, light blue, white, and dark blue circles in Turkey, deer’s eye seeds in Mexico, red cords or strings in India, a horseshoe charm in Egypt, a charm in the form of a horn in Italy, a charm made from cat's eye shells in America and England, to blue stone beads. In Greece people will spit three times when praising or complimenting. Dutch people will paint a wide black stripe on farmhouses, the Irish have charm phrases and Chinese will spit over their left shoulder in order to deter or protect themselves from evil eye. People will use rainwater gathered on April 27, place salt or coal in children’s pockets, bless wine, blow smoke into children’s mouths, request a priest to pray a certain prayer. You will see jewelry, necklaces, charms, symbols, strings and beads on doorways, wrists, necks, ankles, hips, vehicles and on newborns and children.
Whether you believe in the power of the evil eye today or not, it is definitely a belief shared by millions that has remained an important part of the everyday life of people all over the world for thousands of years.