Día de los muertos

DAY OF THE DEAD SKULL PUPPET

Living in Oaxaca City, Mexico while the entire community shifted  tempo and unified to honor their loved ones, now gone, left an indelible imprint on my soul. Since 1994, the month of October sets in motion a parade of vivid memories of the preparation and lead up to el Día de los muertos, unlike anything I’d ever experienced.

During my childhood, my mother, La Jefita filled both bathtubs and the kitchen sink with white gladioli soaking its long-legged stems in water. On November 1st, she commandeered us to cemeteries on both sides of the Nogales border. Once there, we weeded and swept around the tombs where I tiptoed and made certain where my feet landed. Despite nearing thirteen, I still expected a Boris Karloff hand to yank me into the grave. As soon as the bouquets of gladioli graced the vases, we prayed, keeping one eye on the man selling candied red apples. I still remember the scraping of the brooms  and hushed tones from one end of the cemetery to the other. The chill in the air and the fragrance of slightly burned sugar.

I’d grown up among grandmothers, who each had elaborate altars year round. My maternal grandmother, Nachu retreated to a tiny white stucco, red-tiled chapel in her backyard. A sacred, candlelit nicho inured in sorrow and incense. Nana Herminia’s took up an entire wall in her bedroom. A crucifix crowned its center, la Virgen de Guadalupe, fresh flowers and candles meticulously set on crisp white linens, which camouflaged the safe underneath containing her valuables.

But nothing prepared me for Oaxaca. My Man and I roamed the city streets from dawn to midnight…

ALTAR

Visiting altars, mesmerized by the significance of each altar, from the arches and dazzling blood flowers to the handmade skulls and shimmering papel picado…
ESQUELETO

  A small corner of a plaza was transformed into an altar commemorating those who had died from smoking…
RESTAURANT

The aroma of mole lured us into finding this one at the entrance to this restaurant…
CHURCH SKULLThis paper mache skull was tall enough for me to walk inside…

ALTAR ARCHES

As the sun set, we joined a raucous procession back into the city…
EVENING ALTAR

And walked with hundreds of people to one of the many cemeteries where loved ones kept vigil with music, food, prayer, and stories…
CEMETERY

We watched from a distance while remembering and honoring our own.

My Lifeline…

in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico to life back home was a public telephone in the shady courtyard of Suites Victoria, our apartment complex. I stood in line impatient, fingering a prepaid phone card, while I struggled to keep my sons playing within my eye sight.

LADATEL6This was fifteen years ago when cell phones were cost prohibitive and Skype had yet to be invented. I bought the Ladatel cards at our corner store. The most common ones came in thirty and fifty peso denominations. Most times I used two cards for one phone call, much to the chagrin of the poor soul waiting in line behind me.

LADATEL3The day Doña P brought out fresh one hundred peso prepaid cards, I ran around the counter and hugged her. She blushed. The customers assumed I’d won the Lotería. Crazy gringa, they murmured when they witnessed me pressing the phone cards to my chest. My sons marveled at the tiny chip embedded in vibrant images. I handled them like family heirlooms. Now, I could carry on a longer,   uninterrupted conversation with my husband or mother-in-law, who listened to my fears and desperation without once telling me to relax. She made me feel like a modern-day warrior.

ladatel4I arranged stacks of used up phone cards on my night stand, studying the images late into the night. Grateful for this thin slice of plastic, which afforded me the luxury to release emotions I kept tamped down until I slipped it  into the phone slot. For those precious minutes, I could hold on to a tiny piece of normality.

LADATEL1The look on my sons face when they held the receiver in both hands and heard their father’s voice constricted my throat. Was Papi in the box hanging on the wall? Not all my phone calls were pleasant. I hung up on my husband before spitting out words I’d never be able to take back. I silently mimicked and flipped off our social worker more times than I care to remember when she delivered bad news. I wrapped the cord around my arm stifling tears while I begged government officials not to be put on hold, again. I bargained, pleaded, and lied in the hopes of getting out of this hell hole unscathed.

The day Doña P handed me this particular one with the bold lettering–VOY A VER SI PUEDO–I’LL SEE IF I CAN struck me like a dare. No shit, I can! Just you wait and see, I muttered under my breath. Once I drained the card of every minute, I kept it on the top of my stack of cards. It made it back to my home office and eventually lorded over all of the other cards by landing on my book cover. LADATEL7

Pulling Back the Curtain…

Several readers have commented they would’ve liked more back story about my infertility, specifically my miscarriages. A few have asked if I also kept a journal when I was first pregnant, and why I didn’t include some of those entries in Stretch Marks.

journalsA mighty dangerous question for a writer. I hold you responsible, dear inquisitive readers, for hours of procrastination in the guise of research. Within easy reach, I found the raggedy journal on the bottom shelf leaning against one of its many predecessors, a composition book. It’s the third one from the left. A wallflower among sassy colored fabric and shiny binder rings. In 1990 the cover was vibrant Florentine paper, now its faded much like the memories it holds. Until curiosity seduced me away from my  deadlines.

I came across this April 25, 1990 entry, written in English and Spanish, and marveled at the idealistic woman I used to be, expecting pregnancy and motherhood to just happen as I marched on with my life. Even after my Ob/Gyn confirmed that at three months, our first baby, who we nicknamed “Beak” no longer had a heartbeat, I remained optimistic.

Journal

Claim Your Story!

 Experience the Magic of Hedgebrook… 

HEDGEBROOK LOGO

Decades ago when I was first writing fiction, a good friend of mine pressed a newspaper article about a marvelous  writer’s retreat near Seattle. I applied for a spot in the dead of winter when I figured I’d have a better chance. Fortune smiled on me, and I spent thirty days entirely devoted to writing where I wrote as Dear Sugar says, “Like a motherfucker.”

5 Weeks Left to Apply…

Hedgebrook retreat for women writers is on Whidbey Island, about thirty-five miles northwest of Seattle. Situated on 48-acres of forest and meadow facing Puget Sound, with a view of Mount Rainier, the retreat hosts women writers from all over the world for residencies of two to six weeks, at no cost to the writer. Residents are housed in six handcrafted cottages, where they spend their days in solitude – writing, reading, taking walks in the woods on the property or on nearby Double Bluff beach. In the evenings, they gather in the farmhouse kitchen to share a home-cooked gourmet meal, their work, their process and their stories. The Writers in Residence Program is Hedgebrook’s core program, supporting the fully-funded residencies of approximately 40 women writers at the retreat each year.

Writers in Residence Application 

Good luck!

Writing Memoir: Ready Or Not?

It truly is all in the timing. Stretch Marks took almost a decade to write and I’m certain, now, that every one of those 87,600 hours were necessary to craft my story.

Marion Roach Smith renowned author of the Memoir Project has graciously invited me to share my ‘Writing Lesson’ on her blog. You’ll also find an excerpt from my memoir and a chance to win a copy of Stretch Marks. Find out how…

Writing Lessons: When Are You Ready To Write Memoir? 

Five Star Review!

 San Francisco Book Review
By Liz Raptis Picco
L/M Press, $14.00, 257 pages, Format: Trade

Star Rating: 5 out of 5

After two years of marriage, propped by Marty’s enthusiasm for a family while her friends’ husbands wanted to wait or remain childless, Liz puts aside any personal reservation she may have felt to begin a family as they strive to have a baby. A year after three miscarriages and one an ectopic pregnancy that almost took her life, Liz resolves herself to not having children until one day Marty suggests, “Let’s adopt. Adoption is just a different set of issues.” Navigating the issues, however, bear a true test of their desire for children. First, there was the joy and sorrow of newborn Sofia. Again, Liz resolves herself to being childless, but then came the seemingly insurmountable challenges after meeting Agustin and Ricardo in Ciudad Juarez at DIF, the equivalent in Mexico of child protective services in the U.S. after another American couple returned the rejected brothers. “The next thing I remember crystal clear is Agustin, at three and a half years, introducing himself with a firm handshake before collecting his little brother. I scooped up a congested, feverish Ricardo, who had a serious respiratory infection.” Liz knew that she wanted to become their mother, as Marty additionally fell in love with these boys.

Picco provides a compelling, brutally honest account of their fight to become parents. Written without any phony platitudes, she shares with readers her innermost fears, frustrations, and ambiguous feelings about the path they chose to pursue. Yet the love Augustin and Ricardo elicit, despite the difficulties, keeps both Liz and Marty fighting for them. The writing style and true-to-life dialogue keeps readers absorbed in this story as they laugh, cry, get angry, and persevere with Liz and Marty throughout this loving memoir that covers the seven years of their hopeful, while many times terrifying, journey to parenthood.

Sponsored Review

SAN FRANCISCO / SACRAMENTO BOOK REVIEWS
A subsidiary of 1776 Productions, LLC

¡Feliz Verano!

Red Sweet Pea

Photograph taken with my iPhone–a faux macro shot–leaning in, but stopping shy of blurry while holding my breath. Happy Summer!

Debut Interview

It is most fitting that my first online interview is with Miriam Sagan, poet, writer, blogger and founder of the Creative Writing Program in Santa Fe.

I had the good fortune to work with Miriam when I first began to scaffold Stretch Marks and was clueless how to write memoir. Her advice remains crystal clear–just write, keep the story simple, make a schedule and meet deadlines.

Please read our interview here…Miriam’s Well: Poetry, Land Art, and Beyond. Thanks!