Writer’s Block

Have been bombarded lately with Tweets and Feeds about the torment of writer’s block. Writer’s block can silence even the most talented and disciplined.

I no longer consider fallow periods, non-productive, quite the contrary, while I’m away from my writing, and instead sorting, discarding, and rearranging of every item in our closets to a Zona perfection, I’m toiling over flat chapters or submersed in profoundly painful introspection.

My writer’s blocks have been due to things like loss and unrelenting grief, apprehension over our sons, and medical emergencies, but nothing brings me to my knees, pounding uncle, like a feathery light-scribbled comment in the margin from my editor during seemingly endless revisions of STRETCH MARKS.

I had to dig deeper, go back, and feel the gritty sweat of fear and desperation in Ciudad Juárez. I refused at first, but my editor has a way of bringing me down from the ledge.

Chapter XVI – September 1998

“…I turned off the light well after midnight and stared out the small thin-paned window. The fan was on low now. Sirens circled the block. Toilets flushed, furniture moved, conversations started and ended as I inventoried my day. The shattering of glass dispatched one hand underneath the pillow for the mace and with the other grabbed my glasses. Like a military exercise, I jumped to my feet flat then peeked around my doorway, expecting gunfire or evil incarnate. Please, I prayed, don’t let me pass out. Was it the living room or kitchen window? My eyes acclimated to the dark. Nothing moved inside the apartment. I darted to the boys’ doorway. Sound asleep. Thank God. I picked up a wooden toy truck with my free hand and almost dropped it when another crash of glass weakened my courage. The faint light against the kitchen curtains faded. The street light had been decimated. Again. My heart thundered against my collarbone. My mouth so parched it hurt to swallow. I peeked out from the kitchen curtain. A van was parked out in the street with multiple cars in front and behind it. I let the curtain go and stood against the wall shivering with fear. A door slammed. Motors started. One by one each vehicle drove away until an eerie quiet entombed the neighborhood. Was anyone else crouched behind thin curtains witnessing this along with me? Even though my tongue felt like sandpaper, I didn’t dare open the refrigerator. I felt around for the water jug at the end of the counter and remembered the cup by the sink. I drank and held the cup to my chest. The screeching of sirens and howling dogs now calmed me. I’d call Marty as soon as the boys woke up. I fell asleep sitting up in bed, mace in hand.”

 

Pass the Baton… Yeah Right!

Sounds easy doesn’t it? Not so for a hands on Latina, but at the time, I imagined lobbing my shimmery baton like a sassy drum majorette as I marched, hips and tassels swaying, daring my Man to do it better when we first became parents.

Chapter III – Autumn 1993

Early November graced us with T-shirt weather and the go-ahead from our doctor to give Sofia her first bath. Our friends recommended all sorts of bathtubs with brand names made up of a string of vowels and umlauts. My mother declared that tucking Sofia in the crook of my arm was the best way to dip Sofia into her bath.

“Just bathe her in the kitchen sink, like I did with all of you,” she said. “An inflatable bathtub, indeed.” My mother snorted. We decided on a small but awkward inflatable soft tub. We agreed to take turns bathing Sofia. One of us would bathe her while the other videotaped. Marty handed me the video camera and plunked Sofia into the water facedown on the tub.

“She’s going to suffocate!” I grabbed him by the shoulder.

“I’m fine.” Marty pulled his arm back.

“You’re going to drown her.” I reached out to grab Sofia.

Marty blocked me. I could almost hear my mother laughing at us.

A festive occasion dissolved into a full-blown argument because Marty wanted to bathe his little girl. I stormed out of the bathroom like a petulant teenager not getting her way.

Later, he appealed to my sense of fairness. “You have to let me do more. I’m not a bumbling oaf, you know.”

The truth stung. I knew he was right, but somehow, somewhere I had picked up on the notion that a mother’s Ten Commandments included my all-encompassing veto power. My commandments left him with those duties I avoided: rinsing diapers, mixing formula, and swabbing the tip of her umbilical cord stub. Marty challenged me and became a very involved father in spite of my insistence that as the mother, I was first in line.

A week later I had Sofia all to myself for her next bath and was ready to show off my skills and maybe even teach Marty a thing or two, when I almost dropped her head first into the bathtub. Marty said nothing, didn’t even gasp, but when I turned to look at him he was grinning from ear to ear. He’d caught it all on tape.

 

Now, I’ve passed the baton, countless times, to our teenage sons, only to hear a reverberating thud to the floor, followed by feral scavenging sounds for food. I no longer have visions of white GoGo boots or tassels.

¡ALAMADRE!

For those of you who may not know Alamadre means both a toast to mothers and what the fuck!

Or how did I get here? A question I’m sure every mother asks herself at least once.

You’ve caught up with me as I’m navigating limbo–not the crazy back breaking dance or the misty place where unbaptized babies go–I’m raising teenage sons while in the grips of menopause, am peddling my memoir, Stretch Marks and visualizing, while I weed the garden, my NPR interview with María Hinojosa where we’ll talk about my husband and I adopting two toddler brothers while living in Ciudad Juárez, one of the most dangerous cities in North America.

It’s ironic that as I prepare to launch my book, I’m also nudging, with a crowbar, my oldest out into the world. It’s taking superhuman effort to do both and remain sane! I would sell my soul to fast forward four years from now when I can read on my hammock butt naked, if I want, and make love on the kitchen counter before going out to dinner.

My plan–Countdown 2 College–is to make home life for my sons uncomfortable enough to get them salivating at the thought of living on a college campus. Nothing else has worked to date. As my older son said two years ago, ‘free food and TV, why leave?’ Trust me and forego the notion of reason, the studies are in, they are brain damaged until 23-25 when the grey matter finally solidifies and all of the wiring is in place and sparking.

Here are a few ideas to get you going:

1. Stop frying anything in the morning, instead go out with your partner or friends to breakfast without them. It’s cheaper.

2. Cook dinner as little as possible. I have started Cereal Sunday, What’s for dinner, Guys? Monday, Leftover Wednesday, Forage Friday, and Take-out Saturday.

3. Hide the remotes to all electronic devices.

4. Stop allowance.

5. Find them jobs during the summer.

Stay tuned for more ideas on how to nudge your smart, witty, polite, and unmotivated children off the dole. I’d also appreciate hearing from you and welcome all ideas from other mothers in limbo.

Alamadre,

Liz Raptis Picco

To My Man!

As hard as I’ve toiled and thrashed these last long years to accept myself as a memoirist and present Stretch Marks to the world, I thank first and foremost my man, the mad scientist, motorcycle driving Marty.

I will be forever indebted that he crawled into the insanity of grief with me when I endured botched life threatening surgeries and lost our baby girl to a promise we’d made each other. But we were Team Santa Cruz and there was nothing we couldn’t do together.

He is the only one outside of my family who always asks me to tell him a story. So, here’s one for you, Marty. ¡Con mucho amor!

¡Alamadre!