Easing a Restless (Writing) Heart

I have prided myself in staying with a job or career for a length of time. I’m not one to jump from job to job or change careers on a whim. I worked in retail for eight years, as an office administrator in the dental field for fourteen, and in higher education for eleven. So, when I took the leap into teaching, which proved an erroneous choice, only to return to education and fundraising, I thought I’d made the right choice by returning to a familiar path. Possibly, this is the path I was meant all along, or is it? Suddenly, I am faced with a restlessness unknown to me. Where has all of this come from? Why this insatiable need to discover the right path?

Is this restlessness a symptom of mid-life and all those nagging questions that arise when we are faced with the brevity of our lives? Do we truly need to secure the answer to the question—what is my purpose? Yes. At least for me, that answer is yes. I do believe we all have a purpose and are placed upon our paths for a reason, but it is up to each of us to know our path and be content in its geography. Whether our paths lead us to worldly fame, community celebrity, or a profound contentment within our family or circle of friends, to have a purposeful life is deemed the goal. I do not fear death, but what I do fear is drawing my final breath with the thought of not fulfilling my purpose or questioning if my life was enough. Life is a gift and to treat it as such is the catalyst of my purpose.

When I was in my late teens and early twenties, I didn’t quite understand this sense of purpose. I chalked it up to “what do I want to be when I grow up” and tossed in on a back-burner.  No one has time for purpose when ones only goal is to have fun, be daring, and memorize when and where the two-for-one drink specials are in town. I’m sure I thought my only purpose was to attend as many concerts, have as much fun, and drink as much beer as humanly possible before I turned thirty. If that was my purpose, well I can honestly say I was quite successful.

It wasn’t until I turned 30 that I began to question my path on this earth. Why am I here? What am I supposed to accomplish with this life? Throughout my twenties, I’d rarely written a word let alone a poem or short story. Once a large part of my being, putting pen to paper had all but disappeared except for the stories I created in my mind, counting characters instead of sheep, etching them upon the right hemisphere of my brain until they exploded in word stars above my bed at night. It wasn’t until I began my pursuit of the long-eluded college degree that my writing returned. After my first English class, the graduate teaching assistant asked me if he could use one of my papers as an example of good storytelling, then proceeded to question why I was majoring in health administration. But, it wasn’t until my second and third English professors asked me the same question, followed by “you should be writing.”

One would think that would be enough. To have your passion encouraged and somewhat validated should set you on the path with a vigor and with fire, and it did as I switched my major in the middle of my sophomore year to English. My new career goal became to teach in higher education, but by the time I earned my bachelor’s degree and began the pursuit of my master’s in creative writing, life threw some large and life-changing obstacles in my way. Those hurdles lead to my newfound career in fundraising and eleven experience-gaining and incredible years with Wichita State University. I wasn’t teaching at my alma mater as I had once dreamed, but I was learning, growing, and making my way.

If you’ve been following my mermaid path, you know where it went from there—to secondary education. I’d continued to feel strongly I was meant for the path of teaching, only to discover this was not my purpose. I returned to fundraising and management, but the restlessness did not go away. It intensified, kept me up at night, bore holes in my confidence and left me anxious and feeling as if I’d misplaced something. It was like losing your favorite pen and spending weeks upon weeks sticking your fingers between sofa cushions, turning over laundry bins, and noticing you need to do a better job of vacuuming under the beds while all the time knowing it had to be someplace you were forgetting to look, somewhere right in front of you.

Then, I attended a session as part of college readiness workshop for juniors in high school. I’d been wanting to hear the facilitator speak. The session was “Leading with Purpose” and as part of the session the highly engaging young man brought up a PowerPoint slide with one word on it: Purpose. He asked everyone in the room to close their eyes and think about what their purpose might be and what first comes to mind. I decided to join the students. I closed my eyes and without hesitation, as if spoken aloud—tell and share stories. Tell and share stories. Not teach, not nonprofit fundraising or community engagement, but tell and share stories. Just as I was coming to the realization I’d possibly remembered where I’d last placed my favorite pen, the facilitator had us open our eyes and encouraged a few of the students to share what first came to mind. He forwarded to the next slide: Passion. He had us close our eyes one more time. What is your passion? You can guess what first came to my mind: writing. I had found my favorite pen. It had been where I’d placed it all along, in the drawer of my writing desk for safekeeping.

Now begins another journey, albeit familiar. I’ve accepted a position where I will spend much of my time creating and revising content. I’ll be writing and pushing the right hemisphere of my brain into overdrive, something I’ve not done since my days in graduate school when the writing spilled forth on the page and the stories in my head pulsated and pushed to be born. Plus, I’ve volunteered for a community project gathering the stories and history of an entire neighborhood, which I am hopeful will result in my being able to tell and share a few. We shall see. What I do know is I feel confident, hopeful, and somewhat at peace with myself. I will be telling and sharing stories. I will be writing for a living. The restlessness has subsided.


Knowing and Acting

I’ve come to the realization that being an adult means knowing when something isn’t right for you and acting upon that knowledge by making a decision to change or stop whatever the something might be; even if it means feeling as if you failed, even for a moment, or having to explain multiple times the reason behind your decision. When I was younger, still learning about who I was, where I wanted to be, I often “powered through” situations simply because I was afraid to feel like or appear as a failure. Often, I continued to stumble the path because I thought having to explain my decision might take more effort or be worse than the situation itself. I became good at convincing myself that if I just went with it, things might possibly get better and if it didn’t, well, it surely couldn’t be that bad. Looking back, there were more than a handful of times I wish I’d been strong enough to act because some of the outcomes were bad, a few I carried with me, my own albatross, for many years.

Now, I know it’s okay to realize when something isn’t right and to not power through, especially knowing to continue will not be good for me. When something isn’t working or doubt begins to seep in, there is no way to strong-arm it into being what you hoped or imagined.

I left my writer’s retreat earlier than planned and yet, I’m not disappointed in myself. In just a few days, I learned a lot about who I am as a person and where I am as a writer. I’m thankful to the Writers’ Colony at Dairy Hollow to allow me this experience and what has turned out to be a most valuable lesson. When I know in my heart and head a situation isn’t working, I do have the strength to stop and act without hesitation and feel good about my choice.

When I first prepared for my retreat, I worried if I still had it within me to write. I worried I would not be able to put words on a page, to bring life to the characters running around or still hiding in my head, to again become excited and passionate about a project. In my first 24-48 hours locked away in my suite, I found I can still write and am still excited about the process, I’d just forgotten. Somehow, I’d let life and everyday excuses get in the way, so much so that I tricked myself into believing I no longer carried the passion. It is still here and evident in the 3000 new words I created, plus the rewriting of the synopsis for my novel. Those first few days caused a spark among the embers, and more. As I read what I have written, I see a difference in my writing, a confidence, a maturity. Maybe I’m in a better place to understand what it is that I want to write. And it seems all I needed was a few days alone with my research, laptop, and playlist of Lila Downs to remind me.

Some may see this as a failure, some may say I’ve wasted an opportunity, but I disagree. I needed this venture to remind myself of where I am and what I need to create. Yes, I need time to myself, uninterrupted, and to be better disciplined in the craft, but I also need to open myself up to what it is that makes my heart beat faster and allow myself to weep upon the page. These few days reworking my synopsis, reviewing my research, and adding new fresh pages has done wonders for my writer’s soul. And I know it will not end now that I have returned home, secured a spot at our rarely used dining table and continued to add 1,000-1,500 words a day since I returned. This may have been the shortest writer’s residency in the history of Dairy Hollow, but I’m okay with that. I’m home. And, I’m writing.


Day #1: Better Late Than Never

I have arrived. Of course, I was an hour and a half later than I expected, as I missed a turn and drove almost an hour out of my way, but for those who know of my inability to comprehend directions, this should come as no surprise. None.

I barely had time to put away my belongings and arrange my writing desk before I walked over to the main house for the kick-off to Fleur Delicious event. Dairy Hollow hosted a fundraiser complete with French wine, local wine, local cheeses, and French pastries. While enjoyable, I felt a little overwhelmed as everyone knew one another and were engaged in conversations and boisterous laughter. But, everyone was incredibly friendly and I was introduced to guests as one of the “writer’s in residence” which gave me pause. It’s been a very long time since I’ve been introduced as a writer. A very long time.

I left the event early in order to snap photos of the colony and head over to #505, which houses four of the other writer’s suites. Only one other writer was present at dinner, which consisted of a lovely vegetable quiche, fresh salad, and baked potato. A writer of non-fiction, her company was perfect for a quiet dinner. She is also a veteran of the colony so was able to give me a few tips.

Now, I am settled in my suite, which is much more than I expected (photos, tomorrow) and I am waiting for the newness of it all to fade and the reality of undisturbed writing to take hold. I’m nervous about it. What if my characters didn’t make the trip? What if I can’t write. I decided to ease into the evening with this post and to look over one of my older journals. Interestingly, the first thing I read was a post dated April 17, 2009. It was when I took my mother to Kansas City to see Sandra Cisneros, the author of The House on Mango Street. Cisneros is one of my favorite authors and an inspiration. That evening, especially when mom and I met her and had our photo taken with her, was very special.

So special, I’d written in my journal something she’d said at the reading, “We (the Latino community) need to write our stories, tell the stories of our communities. These stories need to be told by the people who love their communities. Because if we don’t, someone from the outside will try, someone from the outside who thinks they’re looking in.”

I believe the muse has arrived, too. Just in time.

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At Long Last, a Writing Adventure Awaits

A few years ago, a colleague suggested I look into a writing residency. While my intentions are good, it is difficult to follow through on writing each day, especially with long work hours, family, and that pesky social calendar. A residency or retreat offers a writer space and lots of time to get lost in their work. A friend actually finished the rough draft of her first novel, which she published a year later.

So, during the winter break I decided to do a little research.  In 2013, my husband and I spent an extended weekend in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. We stayed in The Treehouses and fell in love with this open and creative community. While sightseeing, we discovered The Writers’ Colony at Dairy Hollow tucked among the trees. I made a mental note and it was the first one on my list of residencies to research. I applied and on January 25, I received notification I was accepted on a subsidized residency.

Originally awarded for a week in August, I was contacted by the director when a slot opened in July, which works best for my day job schedule. I leave for Eureka Springs on July 5th. One week until my writing adventure begins. I’m acting like a kid counting down to camp, making lists of what I will pack, what I will need to stock the kitchen in my suite, creating a Writing Residency Playlist, making more lists, and counting down “how many sleeps” until I head to Arkansas.

I hope to blog about my residency, as well as my time in Eureka Springs. My goal is to complete a rough draft of my novel. I’ll be armed with a synopsis, the first three chapters and a whole lot of research and journal notes, plus a very special packet given to me by my Aunt Graciela. This packet contains a history of my paternal grandparents, including notes from my grandfather’s diary, the inspiration for my future novel.

Just me, my laptop, that packet of treasure, and  a private suite tucked into the splendid hills of Eureka Springs. I love a journey. Looks like this next one begins at The Writers Colony of Dairy Hollow.







When you wish upon a…

Mid-January and I’m still answering the usual question. Did you make any resolutions? I wonder at times why we hang such hope on a new year. Why we burden ourselves with resolutions and determinations that will only bring guilt or a sense of failure to our freshly swept doorstep. I confess I used to make resolutions, only to break them before the cold snows of February. It seems an unneeded stress to weigh ourselves with such expectation, especially when the majority of these resolutions do not come to fruition. Life brings enough unexpected and sometimes unwanted gifts to our door without our adding to the pressures of our daily lives.

This year, I’ve decided to try something different. I made a wish list. Now, many would argue resolutions have become just that, simple wishes. The definition of a resolution is to make a firm decision, and yet each year we fall off the resolution wagon so easily since it seems no clear path or guideline is created to maintain and reach the resolution. Possibly this failure is due to making the wrong resolutions. To me, resolutions seem to be more determined by our society or the expectations of others. This year, I will exercise more (because I’m supposed to be fit). I will eat greens and cut out sugar (because I’m supposed to eat healthy foods). I will add to my savings (because I need to be financially secure). Yes, all of these are beneficial to us, but is it what we truly want?

What if resolutions were more like wishes? True wishes. I know, I know. What is the good in wishing for something? Again, no specifics, no timeframe, or clear set goals in making a wish. Plus, wishing will not make it come true, right? Or does it?

The definition of a wish is to “feel or express a strong desire or hope for something not easily attainable.” Some define wishes as lazy because the person making the wish believes it will come true by some magical force, not by hard work. I believe there is magic in wishing, but the magic is the power the wish gives to you, the wisher. Sure, some wish for the obscure or the unattainable, but the majority of wishes come from the inner yearnings of the soul and the magic is the lifting of any self-imposed limitations. I’ve always believed dreams are achievable when you refuse to limit your possibilities.

Once upon a time, I wished to work on campus at Wichita State University. It was never an annual resolution, nor did it have a calculated plan attached. Much like the Merlin Electronic Game I wished for as a child, I opened the Sears and Roebuck Christmas Catalog of Life and circled “work for WSU,” maybe even drew a disproportionate pointy star next to it. Regularly, I opened the dog-eared catalog and re-circled the item. While as a child I made sure I completed chores to perfection and worked even harder at school to make my Merlin wish come true, as an adult I opened myself to opportunity and pushed aside limitations and self-doubt.

When my mentor suggested taking a part-time position on campus, I applied. I didn’t want to work part-time, but I knew this position might be my only chance to get in the door. I worked diligently at my 25-hour per week position while finishing my degree and learned as much as possible about the inner workings of the university and its history. As the university breathed its life into me and my passion expanded, becoming more evident, other opportunities revealed themselves and I went through those doors, even when I was a just a bit unsure. The magic was the freeing myself from limitations and pushing aside that self-doubt and creating openness and willingness for the wish. I will celebrate ten years this August.

Sometimes, it isn’t the plan, the calculations, or the check list that brings a dream or a goal to reality, but the desire itself and the understanding of how life works. We need to take those opportunities when they arise and with little or no hesitation remove any over-rationalization and self-doubt. When we engage, we better ourselves and better our path. And, it helps if we look out for one another. We need to be better at helping others recognize their potential, as well as ensure we bring to light opportunities to those whom might benefit. As we become more hopeful, more selfless, and make ourselves and others available to opportunity, it is then wishes come true.

So, no more resolutions of weight loss or joining a gym because you feel you should or simply because it’s the resolution you make each year. Instead, wish for the opportunity to spend more time with your best friend and since she loves Zumba and Pilates, open yourself to joining her for a few classes. Even if you don’t completely fall in love with Pilates, the company is worth the sweat. Instead of buying a bunch of high-priced, organic groceries from your chain grocer and stressing over learning new meals, participate in a Community Garden or Community Supported Agriculture and introduce local produce into your diet. You may discover having your hands deep in the earth was what you were truly missing and meet some like-minded people who will offer their favorite butternut squash soup recipe or how to perfect steamed asparagus. Plus, you’re supporting your local community and local farmers. Bonus.

This year, skip the redundant resolutions and make a wish. Just remember, there are no stars to wish upon, no birthday candles, and no wishing wells. The talisman is you.














November 17

Today, she would’ve been 36 years old. I remember standing outside the hospital nursery, searching for my niece. Through the glass I could see her tiny red cheeks and black hair. So small, so precious, and yet, so daunting.

I was twelve years old when she was born and I could only imagine her life filled with  birthday cakes and birthday parties. I couldn’t wait to hold her, to touch her toes, feel her finger wrapped around mine. My life was changed. I never imagined my life without her.

She has been gone since Christmas Eve 2007. It sounds cliché to those who have never lost someone they love, especially a child, but there is not a day I don’t think about her. Some days, I can smell her, feel her. And, on her birthday I close my eyes and imagine her tiny hand in mine, growing from that of a scratchy-nailed toddler to the long, slender touch of a young woman.

On this day, my heart is heavy with grief, but it is not the weight of my own grief, it is the weight of a family’s grief. At times, the heaviness is so much I have to sit down for fear of toppling over. But, it is at those times I feel her taking the weight, holding it in her hands. I imagine her moving through a crowd of people, possibly downtown Chicago. She is just out of reach, but I watch the jostling of her worn backpack, her fuchsia-streaked hair. She turns, smiles and lifts her hands to the sky and our grief explodes like fireworks over Navy Pier, warming our faces.

We move forward without her, because she is there to help us, encourage us, remind us, shield us from our pain. Happy Birthday, sweet Andrea.

Remember me

Remember Me:
To the living, I am gone.
To the sorrowful, I will never return.
To the angry, I was cheated,
But to the happy, I am at peace,
And to the faithful, I have never left.
I cannot be seen, but I can be heard.
So as you stand upon a shore, gazing at a beautiful sea – remember me.
As you look in awe at a mighty forest and its grand majesty – remember me.
As you look upon a flower and admire its simplicity – remember me.
Remember me in your heart, your thoughts, your memories of the times we loved,
the times we cried, the times we fought, the times we laughed.
For if you always think of me, I will never be gone.

Margaret Mead, American writer and poet (1901 – 1978)


Day ?? of Wild and Exciting Little Things: Housekeeping

There was a time I enjoyed cleaning the house. Running a dust cloth over the dining room table, mantel, and bedside tables was therapeutic. My mind would wander, an outline for a new short story created, day old anger vented with a sponge and Scrubbing Bubbles.  And at the end of a few hours, with everything back in its place, woodwork and glass shining,  no dog hair lingering in the corners of the kitchen  and the carpet fluffed and looking semi-new, I felt accomplished and renewed. I still believe some of the worlds greatest problems could be solved while cleaning the toilet.

These days, I’ve not enough time to wipe the accumulated dust from the ceiling fan or Windex doggie nose prints from the sliding glass door. Looking back, I’m not sure how I ever found the time to clean. Even when I was working and going to school full-time, the house was spotless. For the life of me, I cannot recall how I was able to cram it all in a weeks time.

Or maybe, my priorities have changed. Why dust when there is a bicycle to be ridden through the Delano District. Tickets to a concert? Sure. I’ll vacuum tomorrow…or the next day. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t live in squalor, I’m just not as stressed over seeing a dust bunny under the couch or cobweb in the high corner of the dining room. As I type, I can see a layer of dust on a shelf in the kitchen and spot a few cat hairs on the kitchen curtains where Day Tripper likes to peek his head through to spy on birds.  And  yet, no urges to run to the closet to grab a dust rag or drag the vacuum up the stairs to suck away those few stray cat hairs. Nothing.

It’s funny, the last few decades my mother has finally refrained from her endless cleaning, too. As a child, I watched my mother constantly clean and when she wasn’t kneeling next to the bathtub or sweeping under the kitchen table, she was ironing full baskets of shirts and pants, a can of starch at the ready. Not any more. While my dad has always helped with the household chores, it seems he has taken on the majority, even before my mother’s accident, last year. And as my mother says, “if he enjoys it, he can have it. I’m not doing it. Who really cares if your house is dusty? You dust it today, the dust just comes back, tomorrow.” As for the ironing, she will still press a few shirts, but she now looks for wrinkle-free clothing when she shops or tosses pants in the dryer for a few spins.

Maybe my mother’s different view on household chores has inspired me to do the same. I know she feels that with time at its most precious, why waste it cleaning the house. The structure of my life has definitely changed, as I find myself doing or not doing things based on what ifs or second chances. Which is why I find myself making small justifications for waiting a few more days to dust, after all it is windy outside and will be for a few days, so why dust when it will just be dusty tomorrow. When the wind dies down, I’ll give the whole house a good swipe of the dust cloth and Swiffer. Did I mention I live in Kansas? Next to a wheat field? Looks like I’ll be dusting sometime in February.


Breaking News (no, this is not Day #31, 32 or 33)

While I love technology, I hate it when my computer or laptop becomes ill. Apparently, my personal laptop has a virus, which has prevented me from posting daily. My hours and time at work are so strenuous, I’m not able to utilize my work computer (I’m quickly posting this while eating lunch and putting together a cash flow sheet for October).

So, for those who are following my daily posts, I hope to catch up, soon.



Day #5 of Wild and Exciting Little Things: Crock Pots

I love crock pots. One of the best feelings in the world comes at 4:00 pm when you think, “Oh, what am I going to cook for dinner…wait, the crock pot has been cooking for me all day!”

Or, like today. Exhausted from the festivities of our chili cook off, I was straining my brain for recipes of what to make for dinner this evening, when my eyes fell upon my trusty crock pot. Boom. Beef stew it is.

Whether beef stew, cashew chicken, pot roast, chili or one of many soups, the crock pot rules.

crock pot

A Walk in the Garden of My Grandparents

There is a quote from Alice Walker’s essay, In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens, that has stayed with me since the first time I read it a few years after graduate school. As a matter of fact, two to three pages of the essay remain imprinted in my memory and excerpts can be found scrawled throughout two of three of my writing journals. Walker’s collection contains thirty-six separate pieces ranging from personal to political, but I confess to having only read the essay from which the overall collection was titled. The essay speaks of the creativity of black women, and women in general, and how their creativity, their artistry was kept alive through decades of physical, societal, and spiritual slavery. The last few pages of the essay, Walker tells us about her own mother and how she must’ve absorbed not only the stories her mother told her, but the rhythm of those stories, their urgency, and significance, “Yet, so many of the stories that I write, that we all write, are my mother’s stories.” (Walker, 407).

But, stories were not alone in inspiring Walker; as she goes on to describe the beautiful gardens her mother created, despite poor living conditions, and how those “ambitious gardens” sparked her own creativity and desire to create art.

I notice that it is only when my mother is working in her flowers that she is radiant, almost to the point of being invisible- except as Creator: hand and eye. She is involved in work her soul must have. Ordering the universe in the image of her personal conception of Beauty.

Her face, as she prepares the Art that is her gift, is a legacy of respect she leaves to me, for all that illuminates and cherishes life. She has handed down respect for the possibilities- and the will to grasp them.”

This essay is so important to me, because it helped me to recognize and understand my own discoveries. In my “About the Mermaid,” I speak of a young life between two worlds, a young woman unsure and confused about who she is and where she is going. In 2006, when I began writing the stories for my collection, Voices from the North, I began to understand more about myself, as well as a sense of completion. The majority of the stories are based on actual front porch conversations, embellished “remember-that-time” over warm beer, and the soft-spoken recounting of events by my father. The landmarks of my childhood — the old NoMar Theatre, the brain-jarring railroad tracks along 21st and 29th Street, Cudahy meat-packing plant, the brick schoolhouse across from Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church – appear throughout the collection. As I wrote, as I took those anecdotes and incomplete stories and intertwined them with the characters of my collection, I truly began to understand the lives of my parents, thus my own.

“Guided by my heritage of a love of beauty and respect for strength-in search of my mother’s garden, I found my own.”(Walker, 409)

My parent’s love of family, the artistry in which they found ways to engage and teach me and my siblings about life outside of our community, the creative ways in which they encouraged us to reach beyond subscribed borders, their work ethic, the filled-to-capacity photo albums, the made from memory and from scratch recipes, are how they “handed down respect for the possibilities.” These were their gardens.

An educator in California who responded to my post about my mother’s family, told me she encourages the Hispanic youth she teaches to learn about their descendants, to understand where they truly come from and the people who brought them to this point. I thanked her for doing this, for ensuring young people realize and appreciate those in their lives who have planted fruitful gardens in places they may never see, but should know, envision, and understand. And should the opportunity arise, to stroll through those gardens. Our heritage is more than just geography and last names. Much more.

And for me the research, the knowing, continues. I am writing a novel based on the diary and journal entries of my paternal grandfather, Francisco Castro. This gift was given to me by my Aunt Graciela, the keeper of the history of my father’s family. Enclosed in a plain brown mailer were the copies from the diary and typed historical summaries of life events, trips from Mexico to Kansas, the birth of children, and the loss of mothers. This packet of immeasurable worth has enticed me to walk in yet another garden, the garden of the grandparents I never knew. And this journey through the various plant life, the indigenous flowers, the March blossoms and November blooms, will undoubtedly continue the completion of the story that is me. We should all take the time to walk in the ambitious gardens of those we love and those who inspire us, as well as those we have never known, but whose tender planting and backbreaking care urged the planting of our own seeds and the watering of our belonging.