Monday, January 29, 2018

Merida #3: On Swimming in a Cenote

All I knew before we slipped on bathing suits
and stood under cold showers,
is that we were on an adventure,
you and me, traveling so far,
some forty years, to this place,
just outside Chichen Itza, Mexico,
to swim in a cenote.

From above, we peered at people below, anonymous dots,
several hundred feet down, encircled by limestone,
waterfalls, and long, tree roots searching for water.
We hiked down the stone staircase,
down and around, and down again
to float and splash in this black water alive with
history, for here, Mayans once came
in a time of drought. 
In some such sacred pools, cenotes sagrada,
the salt water and fresh mingle in the clearest blue,
blurring vision. The cenote connects a network
of underground caves, a doorway opens
quite properly to another world.
Researchers have found artifacts of obsidian,
turquoise, and jade, woven textiles,
and the bones of young boys.
What was lost in joy or sorrow, we still cannot decipher.
Not even the tears of the elders
could stop the Spanish from burning the codices, 
precious books. 

I cannot account for history. 
Today, it is enough to float on my back 
atop this precious water, thankful
for the waterfall tumbling down, the sky above all,
and you beside me 
for this day.

Cenote X-cajum (January 2018)
Our day trip to Chichen-Itza, where one of the sacred cenotes is located, included a side-trip to X-cajum, a nearby cenote. We were the only ones in our group to actually walk down that stone staircase to swim in the cenote. I didn't stay long, for the water was cold but curiously buoyant. 

Later I read of divers who explore the underground caves of water and who, every year, lose their way. Perhaps they can no longer see, when halocine (that mix of salt and fresh water) blurs their vision. In a similar way, time blurs our understanding of what really happened, what people believed then, and what caused them to consider these cenotes sacred, life-giving and life-taking waters.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Merida #2: At La Casa de Frida

I've long read and appreciated the paintings and writings of Frida Kahlo. Here in Merida, images of Frida appear everywhere. A young woman, who showed us through a restaurant/bar called Pancho's festooned with paintings of revolutionaries and Frida, called her 'the first lady of Mexico'.

So when we found a little cafe called La Casa de Frida on a side street, we stopped for refreshments. Later that night, this poem came:

At La Casa de Frida, Merida

I could sit in this small cafe for many hours,
surrounded by bright pink walls, my cafe con leche cooling.
Your face is painted on the table, on the backs of chairs.
Replicas of your paintings hang on every wall, and in the corner,
small, almost overlooked, a photograph of you and Diego,
both of you smiling.

Who knows of you today? You embraced the exotic,
put on vestidos of flowers, and adopted monkeys as your children.
Nearly unable to walk, you surrounded yourself with radicals,
argued with them, slept with them, and what?
Where did you find faithfulness, except in your art?

You painted yourself through pain,
over and over, a thousand bites, a few small nips,
rejection, repudiation, no mentors, no friends.
No one wanted anything from you, except
to lie beside you, to drink up your passion,
and then to abandon you, finally, to that small blue house.
Only Diego walks along that quiet street each day,
so many blocks to your garden, your respite,
your landscapes dwindle to arranged fruits.

When you die, sadness spreads everywhere,
for you were the first woman to paint
those lifelong connections so fragile,
between then and now, between politics and art,
between love and betrayal.
And so I sit, musing about the past and my future,
brushes forgotten, words not ever enough to say
your struggle to make art 
meant something to me.

At La Casa de Frida, Merida, January 2018

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Merida #1: Settling In . . .

We've been in Merida now since late Monday night. It was a very long flight. We started our day at 4am and arrived happily in Merida about 1am. Tuesday was pretty much a lost day of catching up, warmly welcomed by Pepe and Leann of Merida Rentals and an amazing array of information. We already feel at home.

Our new house for the next two months is a curious combination of comfort and a sense of Mayan culture with sculptures, paintings, and those richly embroidered, bright pillows that delight the eye. Everywhere, this historic and restored house has surprising features. For example, the shower is set up as if I were standing beneath a waterfall. 

Our house is located on a busy side street in the central historic district. We close large, wooden shutters for privacy.  In the evening, when cool breezes move in from the sea, we sit on a rooftop patio, swinging in hammocks. In the morning, I'll take my coffee outside in a little patio, overlooking a tiny 'dipping' pool with its own fountain. 

Patio next to dipping pool and stairs to rooftop patio
La Casa Barenda, Merida
The traffic becomes a background noise, like the sound of the sea, broken by moments of traditional Mexican music from a passing taxi. Inside, fans keep us cool. It's very tranquil. No schedule. No expectations. No deadlines.

This quiet Wednesday morning, I feel free to make my own routine, to take the time to listen, to reflect, and to simply be still. In this very new place, I move more slowly through the morning, trying to decide where to write. 

Yes, it's comforting to check in with FaceBook and with family and friends now far away. Normally, all else is background until my writing is done. But this morning hints at new stories. Maybe this is a part of being retired, outside that daily commute and far from meetings (thank goodness!). But I just may find a new writing project here in this land of sun. Sometimes it's good to step away from the known.

A final thought: How the internet has changed our sense of connectedness, of community. The last time we were in Merida, some 20 years ago, we would have waited in line and then crammed into a telephone booth to talk to our daughter, her voice echoing. Now, she is a text away. As is all else. So I'm relishing this morning quiet even as I look forward to exploring this vibrant city a little later today.

If you have traveled in the Yucatan, any suggestions? Travel tips? So far, I'm in love with Google Maps as all I have to do is enter in the name of the restaurant or museum and follow the dotted lines to easily find the location. 

May all be well where you are!  

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

IWSG January 2018: Writing Goals with Coffee?

To start 2018, the Insecure Writers Study Group offers this question: What steps have you taken to put a schedule in place for your writing and publishing?

Every single time I started to plan out my writing goals for 2018, I hit a wall. It wasn't that romantic wall that I could leap over with my Superwoman cape. I was dithering, and I knew it. I didn't feel like setting out any goals at all, since I just finished a three-year project in early December. Am I really ready to start a new novel? Simply put: No!

Since I didn't want to work on any one of six possible story ideas, I did that quick 'save me' Google search to find "50 Creative Writing Prompts to Enrich Your Craft." by Bridget at NowNovel

Oh, this was fun. Guess what happened?

After writing three of these writing prompts over the last three days, I discovered I really had returned to one of my story ideas (working title, IN THE SHADOW OF A TAPESTRY). Each prompt takes me in a totally different direction. Characters, contexts, and conflicts are leaping out of the woodwork, and the story seems fresh and new. I know where I'm going now, and I'm excited about writing this story. Yes, I'll start blocking scenes, writing character studies, and building that story outline, but for now, the joy is in the writing.

What next solidified my writing goals for 2018, though, was a morning meeting last week with my small writing group at Chaps, a funky, junky, upscale cafe here in Spokane with the most delicious almond croissants and real coffee. We gathered at a round table, devoured our breakfast omelets, and talked about our writing goals. 

This is the second year we've met like this. We three -- Sue, Sandy, and me --simply sit down and talk it through. We write our goals down for writing and publishing, share them by e-mail, and then check in with each other about every 3-4 months (we meet 2x a month, but our focus then is on reading and critting). Maybe we were inspired by those almond croissants. 

Never underestimate the power of coffee and bakery goods!

Now, start 2018 off right by visiting the Insecure Writer's Support Group to see what other IWSG writers are talking about. And a special thank you to Alex Cavanaugh, our fearless leader, and his January assistants: Tyrean Martinson, Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor, Megan Morgan, Jennifer Lane, and Rachna Chhabria!