Sunday, June 26, 2016

The case of the missing memento

The mystery began with a disappearance.  The grizzled old woman in the black headscarf went missing one morning. Those familiar with her knew her to be harmless; still negative perceptions persisted.  She was suspected of being a witch.  Even in 2016, there are those (okay so it’s one person) who would believe a hunchbacked old woman is partaking in the black arts.  I had a suspect. I had a motive. It was time to get Nancy Drew. 
My girl.  I used to want to be Nancy Drew. How about Nancy De La Cruz?
I began by questioning witnesses.  Had the one person, the one fearful of witchery, been seen with the missing person?  It didn’t take long before an eyewitness confirmed that the old woman was forcibly removed to an area inhabited by several international residents.  The eyewitness had defended the old woman from the witchcraft allegations; the old woman now had a new home.  I resolved to protect the old woman from continued harassment. At one point, I had to physically escort her home because the old woman was once again forcibly evicted.  For now, she is safe.

Antes que llamen a la policia, know that the tale I have told is fiction loosely based on a true event.  When sharing your home with folks, be they family or friends or tenants, things will sometimes get misplaced.  While I may give the side-eye, I don’t make a fuss. I play detective and right the wrong as best I can.  The high road is best in these situations. 

For the record, la befana is a witch but she’s not a sign of my participation or endorsement of black magic.  In Italy, the befana delivers the Christmas gifts on Epiphany eve, rather than Santa.  So while Italians do have Christmas trees, the tradition continues.  
Does this look like a sorceress to you? 
I got a Befana doll in Piazza Navona as a keepsake from my trip with my parents to Italy where we spent an amazing Christmas complete with Midnight Mass with St. Pope John Paul II.  To me, the befana reminds me of those happy memories and, ironically, as a reminder of the faith my family shares.  She used to be in my kitchen but now hangs over the fireplace in the company of Russian nest dolls and Thai elephants on the mantel. 

Family dynamics can be complicated. (Previously on our family sitcom)  One minor change or disagreement can trigger uneasiness, tension, and confrontation.  With patience and a sense of humor about these situations, those negative feelings pass.  


Sunday, June 12, 2016

Beyond bling: the politics of Carnavalesco costuming

For those of you who think feathers, beads, and bright colors when Carnaval costumes are mentioned, you are only getting about 15% of the experience. In my contingent, Oakland’s SambaFunk, our yearly theme has current political undertones and overtones. The theme is visually presented through graphic art, discussed in class to explain the choreographies to guide our movements, and pondered for those of us who want to take a more method acting approach to our characters.  Heady stuff if you were expecting that we simply focus on shaking our tail feathers.  And shake we do but always with a message.  This year, however, the villains in the epic battle between good and evil would be portrayed by the dancers.  Given all the time I have spent analyzing and strategizing about the real villains I have known in my personal life(When you have to go bad )as well as the real-life bad guys aiming for increased power, I was immediately drawn to playing a Janker. 

A Janker is a cross between Batman’s Joker and a banker.
Jack Nicholson's Joker was the inspiration for our characters 
Jankers are the international(and domestic) bankers who have exploited communities for their own personal gain. They are currently above the law but the whole point of our presentation this year was that Jankers could be brought to justice.  In my mind, I began to think about Jankers in popular culture.  
Damn Jankers
I also thought about an individual I know who I feel has demonstrated the manipulative and self-aggrandizing tendencies of a Janker. My character was created. 

With character in process, it was time to focus on costuming.  Costuming is hands-on work. While seamstresses may sew some pieces of the costume, dancers must individualize and “bling” their costume.  As a “freshman” in my samba school, I was clueless about this process. I didn’t help with costume construction and only attended one “blinging” party. When I arrived on Carnaval morning, I realized how generic my costume looked beside others.  As with Carnaval makeup, the Carnaval costume can express character and theme. Four seasons later, I knew to be purposeful in finishing my Carnaval look. 

The Janker colors were green, royal purple, and iridescent or clear. I was responsible for decorating my cane, top hat, vest, and pants.  After a tedious process in which M and I sorted several bags of acrylic gems by color, shape, and size, I chose specific gem styles to use in varying patterns.  I chose green circles to represent global domination. 


Clear and irisdescent gems would represent wealth as in diamonds. Purple and green gems would literally represent jewels like emeralds and amethysts. The teardrop became my symbol of choice. 

Top of my top hat 
Back of my top hat reveals the purpose of a Janker 
Purple rain of tears
What does that mirror reveal? 
Striping on pants 
As a result of Janker thievery and trickery, many have shed tears of anger, grief, and hopelessness.  So teardrops are the shape you see all over my costume.  I even placed teardrops near my eyes as part of this year’s makeup. 

So while Jankers  as characters and symbols are bad, we sure did look good.  
2016 Jankers: Making bad look good 
Janker dance at Oakland Carnival 2016 

As I have stated before, Carnaval is a creative process that has allowed me opportunities to grapple with experiences and thoughts that are challenging in a way that is ultimately empowering.  Viva Carnaval!  


Sunday, May 22, 2016

The accidental artist date

When I was in college and working as an English tutor and writing workshop leader, my wonderful supervisors introduced me to the practice of artist dates. An artist date is an opportunity for a writer, artist, or any person to go on a solo date and enjoy an activity alone as a way to foster creativity and self-love. It could be a solo visit to an art museum or a long hike or something as simple as blowing bubbles. We were encouraged to make a regular practice of artist dates and to journal about our experiences. I loved the idea; it appealed to the introvert in me.  It was a practice I continued over the years. 

Now as a busy mom, artist dates may happen once a year.  Since my daughter’s school calendar has a different spring break than the district in which I work, I usually indulge in a spring day where I visit my favorite cafĂ©, volunteer, or maybe catch a movie neither Rambo nor M will enjoy.  I savor those quiet moments as I do my writing time or my morning runs.  I like me time.  It gives me a chance to recharge. 

Recently, as part of ongoing staff development, I took a self-care survey.  My results in the relationships category weren’t surprising but nevertheless disappointing.  It seems I haven’t been giving my friends enough of my time.  In the spirit of reaching out, I asked an old friend to join me for a film festival and dinner. It would give us a chance to reconnect while allowing me to see a rare film by my favorite director.  I bought the tickets, checked the train schedule, and anticipated a happy reunion.

OG Chicas del monton: early Almodovar divas
Due to unexpected circumstances, I ended up on an artist date.  While I felt worried for my friend, I decided to enjoy the film and the time alone.  It felt like a trip back through time: a 1980 film from the incomparable Almodovar in a classic Mission District movie house followed by a cheap slice of pizza in an old school pizza joint.  Since I was alone, I was able to get back to M while the sun was still up. It was a genuine treat.


Being my own best friend took years of practice. My accidental artist date was a great reminder of the lessons that relationship has taught me.  Unforeseen changes don’t have to be inconvenient or uncomfortable.  Alone doesn’t have to feel lonely.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

M's boho mama

“…what she gave instead was her own DNA, her own boho mama-in-the-black-stockings self, and she trusted that this would be enough.” Lisa Jones, Bulletproof Diva

Five months ago, one of my dance sisters approached me via social media inbox. An outspoken woman, she prefaced her comments by saying she likes to say things directly to folks. What followed was a discussion about my relationship to M.  The conversation truly touched me. It not only made my day, a typical busy weekday at work (which has provided endless writing material, nuff said!), but it helped me reflect on my motherhood for weeks and even months.  How unlikely and yet so necessary that I had the opportunity to do so. 

Motherhood happens.  My choice to have M and the million choices I have made in raising her have sometimes been unconventional and non-traditional, but never irreverent or irresponsible. Because while parenting is intuitive and flying-by-the-seat-of-your-pants spontaneous, it is also a huge undertaking. It is THE big deal. No amount of writing and talking about tiger moms or helicopter moms or free range moms or any combination of these can change the fact that motherhood and fatherhood matter.  Yes, I don’t often plan how situations will play out; I can’t.  My seven-year-old has been her own person for as long as she could speak and stand up on her own; basically I’ve been dealing with this independent-minded individual since she was 10 months old. Every day I am learning something new about her, about myself, and about the world through our relationship.  When I get a rare opportunity to really think, reflect, and plan for our relationship, I take it and revel in it. 


About a month and a half ago, one of my closest friends asked to interview me as part of her women’s studies project. She had decided to focus on the parenting choices of the children of immigrants. We enjoyed a deep discussion on motherhood.  I wasn’t discussing writing or dance or education and yet all these folded into the conversation.  That is how my experience as a mother has evolved.  M experiences the vast majority of my experiences with friends, culture, food, and the arts. What we miss from traditional play dates, I hope is more than made up for in making memories.  

Post samba class selfie