catelin: (flora)
( Feb. 7th, 2008 09:16 pm)
After a discussion of family histories last week with [ profile] icarus_after, I was inspired to dive back into the genealogy pool that I've dabbled in for the last few years (my mother was recently kind enough to gift me with a subscription to I ended up finding census records for my great-grandmother when she was a child. The records confirmed what my mother and I have suspected for a while since I found some other stuff a couple of years ago. My great-grandma and her entire family was listed on the 1900 census as black. She moved from Georgia to Texas with my great-granddad and...voila! the 1920 census she was suddenly white! There are so many questions that will never be answered about this and it's sad and fascinating all at once to me. Was she passing when she met my great-grandfather or did he know? This was back in the day of the miscegenation laws, mind you. Would she have ever told my grandfather anything about her past if she'd lived longer? She died in 1925. My grandfather was only 13. His father lived a long time and never said anything about it.

My grandfather is so completely without guile and is completely clueless about any of this. He's 95 years old. Would it be fair, at this point, to take his history away from him? Doubtful. He's lived such a long time perceiving himself to be a certain person. He is, without being a racist, still very much a product of his time. I think it's a safe assumption that he would not be nearly as thrilled as my mother and I. Still, there is something in me that chafes at being party to keeping a secret that was born of such a disgraceful chapter from our southern past. I feel complicit somehow by not telling him. I feel especially tempted to lay it out full force when he tells my mom that he could never vote for Obama because...well..."he's black."

The right thing to do in principle is not always the kinder and best thing to do in the specific. Three generations later, and the compromises that come with the color of one's skin still hold sway. So I hold my tongue and keep my bargain--my silence for the certainty that the last shreds of this shame his mother felt for who she was will live only as long as he does.
catelin: (glasses)
( Dec. 24th, 2007 09:01 am)
Christmas Eve has always been the big part of the celebration for my family. My grandmother would make potato soup and we'd open our gifts. Santa would come in the morning to leave a few things, but we never counted on him for the big stuff...that was always family and the night before Christmas. After my grandmother died, even before I had kids, everything stopped. It became half-hearted. My mother doesn't even put up a tree anymore. My parents' lives center around their dogs and routine. I used to get so upset by this, but now I just accept it as the way they are and I don't worry about it. So here I am, in the shitty little oil field town I fled as soon as I graduated high school, in my parent's house-o-dogs, with my two boys. My brother is a guest of the state this year. No tree, no fanfare, only the bare bones of what remains of my family. And, oddly enough, that's just fine with me. I am peaceful and full of love for this strange tribe to which I belong. I am looking forward to soup and presents with the few of us as much as I ever did when we were a boisterous houseful. Because it's the intention that matters. Not theirs, but mine. So I come to the table tonight, blessed with all of the good things that I have in my life, and with the wonderful people I love and who love me in my heart. I am whole and content to be who I am, to be with the people who raised me, and with the two little guys I am sending out into the world one day. The heartstring of family, for all its fragile and delicate nature, has a strength to it that defies logic. That's where the magic lies, and I wish all of you a magical logic-defying holiday with the ones you love.
I saw Ricki Lee Jones recently, one of the few singers I'll still actually shell out money and tolerate a crowd to see. It had been almost fifteen years since I'd seen her last, a whole world ago when I was still running with all the beautiful people in L.A. She played an invite-only show at The Whiskey and she was everything I wanted to be--beautiful and fierce, unapologetic in her delivery, unafraid of being vulnerable in front of strangers. I loved her before that night, but afterward I loved her with a profound fan girl heart that made me giddy about seeing her even a decade and a half later.

She came out and I was taken aback for a few minutes at how changed she was physically. My first thought was, "Holy shit! She's old!"

She was heavier, and her face had the lines of any other woman her age who hasn't gone under the knife in some way. Still, she was the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. She was still everything I want to be--beautiful and fierce, weathered a bit but laughing and peaceful to be where and who she was. She's ten years older than me and I couldn't help but see the changes in her as a vision of what I will face in the not-to-distant future.

Getting older is only surpassed in weirdness by watching other people do it before you. What I saw the other night, though, set me at ease about it. In fact, it made me hope that I can be so lucky--to have a face that becomes more transparent with age, to have a face that lets the world know my spirit is steadily finding its way to the surface.
When I was fifteen, I had a crush on a boy. His name was Antonio. We used to walk together in the Alameda on Sundays, making endless circles around the fountains and through the trees. He would take me to the library that stood at the center of all this on Thursdays and let me check out books with his library card. I would read the poems of Neruda, Octavio Paz, and Salvador Novo. I would read the stories of Carlos Fuentes and imagine Aztecs on motorcycles around every corner as I walked to school. This boy told me that he loved me and I told him that I loved him too, mostly because I was fifteen and he looked like he needed to hear it; and it didn't sound half be in love. Twenty-two years later, yesterday to be exact, we spoke on the phone. He'd been looking for me, he said. I asked if he was getting divorced, because I told him that I'd imagined when people started snuffling around for faces from the past it's because they're afraid of their futures. He said no. He's married, very happy, and has three of them grown...two almost. He was not shocked that I had never married. He told me that I was always a "free spirit" and that was what drew him to me from the start. I told him that I was even more eccentric now, well on my way to becoming like the crazy American ladies that pack up everything and move to San Miguel de Allende. We exchanged pictures. He looked very much the same. Same eyes. Same hair (minus the super 70s style!). A nineteen-year-old boy behind a 42-year-old man's mask. My grandmother always said it was like that. She said you never forget your young face or the young faces of your friends. He wrote me back and said that I had not changed much. Still with the braids, I see. He reminded me of a day in the mountains and that he'd made a wreath for my hair of tiny yellow flowers. You still remember that? I was amazed at the details he still held in his head. My images of us together are blurred with only a few pieces still clear...drinking cokes from bottles with straws inside them, the smell of elote, looking out over the city one night, the shopkeepers sweeping the streets with brooms and water every morning. We shall have lunch soon, and we will sit together and remember our young smiles.

The Bridge

Between now and now,
between I am and you are,
the word bridge.

Entering it
you enter yourself:
the world connects
and closes like a ring.

From one bank to another,
there is always
a body stretched:
a rainbow.

I'll sleep beneath its arches.

Octavio Paz
catelin: (Default)
( Jun. 20th, 2001 12:38 pm)
From a recent post in Feministas:

I have pondered for a while what to write here in the way of an introduction. Here's my story:

I was the greatest hope (like all the other women born in this age) of my mother's generation. Born in the sixties, I was raised to believe that I could do anything without regard to gender. Like all of us born then, I discovered that others didn't see it that and women alike. I was heartbroken when I was forced off an all boys soccer team (the only kind back then...girls leagues came much later) because "someone might hit my breasts." I learned quickly that smart girls were not popular in school. I did what any self-respecting teenager of the time would do...I sold out. I chased boys; I giggled; I flirted; I wore too much makeup; I dreamed of being the Barbie in Barbie's Dream Wedding. I even met Gloria Steinham briefly when I was fifteen. She impressed me, but couldn't compete with my crush on the guy who sat behind me in algebra. I became everything that my mother had hoped I wouldn't.

In college, I became an art house feminist. I read all the books. I quit wearing make-up. I dressed in black. I kissed and groped girls instead of boys. I sat with my self-anointed nouveau Bohemian friends, railing against male-dominated culture between sips of espresso and drags from our overpriced imported cigarettes. I knew all the right words. I could argue theory with the best and brightest. But it was all show. I didn't start to get it until I had my own kids years later. Until my father quit speaking to me because I wasn't married. Until I had to explain twelve-thousand times that I wasn't divorced--I'd just never been married. Until I started to think about what kind of men I wanted to I wanted them to see the women they knew...and women in general. I look now at the girls who start painting their faces and their hair when they're in elementary school, who start fucking when they're barely old enough to have periods. I live in an age when women are objectified (and, quite frankly, objectify themselves) more than my mother's generation could have ever endured or imagined. I still read the books. I still listen to my mother. I still think Gloria Steinham is cool beyond cool. And I still hold out hope that one day we can all get our shit together and start this revolution from the inside out.
"You taught me language, and my profit on ‘t
Is I know how to curse"
The Tempest, Act 1, Scene 2, Lines 437-438

1 Tornado (Texas)

1 Tropical Storm (Louisiana)

1 Dog Bite (Texas)

2 Floods (Louisiana, Texas)

1 Fire (L.A.)

1 Fight With a Homeless Person (L.A.)

1 Riot (L.A.)

1 Big Ass Earthquake---Scarrrrryyyyyyy!!! (L.A.)

4 Car Accidents--hit by drunk drivers in two of them, got ass-ended by a speeding motorist in the 3rd, and the number 1....I totaled my parents' car taking my driver's test when I was a teenager. (Louisiana, Texas, L.A.)

1 Allergic Reaction to Morphine (during C-Section, which could qualify in its own right! Blech!)

1 Near Crash in AeroMexico plane in Mexico City

Hmmmm...I guess I should be on the lookout for a plague of locusts.
I had the chance to pose for a men's magazine when I was about 20. No shit. It was back when my tits were still firm and I had an ass that would stop traffic. Some guy who looked like Rod Stewart on crack lit my Camel, gave me a business card and started spewing what sounded like the sweaty, desperate ranting of a novice bullshit artist aching for some coos. Turned out to be legit, though. I was interested not so much because I would have ever done it, but because I was bored and it did give me some sick sense of validation to know that "I" had been chosen. I enjoyed all the tittering gossip that the encounter generated amongst even the most blase of my friends. I was beautiful back then. I was also shallow, lazy, and frightened of being alone. I did change, of course, over the years. I accumulated lovers and friends, traveled, created, destroyed, rebuilt. I went to grad school, to law school, and the school of hard knocks. I spent most of my twenties in Hollywood--first, with a rich, uptight, closet homosexual who paid my rent and fucked me once a week; last, with a perpetual boy--a long-haired beautiful genius whom I still miss sometimes even now. I don't live in the city anymore. I moved back "home" to where I'd spent summers with my grandparents growing up. I have two sons and still no husband. It's strange, really. No one even contemplates the possibility that I've never married. Everyone just assumes I'm divorced. I have, for lack of any better description, what I'd call a pseudo-husband. He's the father of my children and we have a relationship, but we live separately and my life is very much my own. So what does this have to do with the dirty pictures that I never took? It's about looking back and trying to make some sort of linear connection with then and now. I have come to the conclusion that I probably will never find my "soul mate" if such a person exists, and that perhaps my lesson in this life is to learn to be alone, to find a completeness within myself, to be my own "better half." I look back and wonder if I somehow missed something, if I am paying now for my vanity then? Or is it just that this is the great universal plan? I dreamed last night that I was being followed in some sort of festival by a dark-haired man who kept offering me an apple. He wasn't particularly attractive, but I sensed immediately that he and I were the same. I knew that he'd recognized me too. I kept motioning for him to wait, because I was busy with my children and talking to friends. He moved behind an oak tree, and I thought that maybe he'd gone until I could see his feet. He just sat there very patiently, knowing that I would be there when I was done. The first thought I had when I woke up was how if you cut an apple just right, you'll see a five-pointed star. I had a feeling that it was a message from the Goddess, letting me know that there was someone for me after all. I thought it was an odd dream because I haven't been lonely, and I haven't felt that awful pang of yearning for something without a name for many years. My life is full to overflowing, and I'm finding that even as I head toward middle-age, I am so much more lovely for the marks of living I've gathered along the way--my crow's feet, my breasts that sag a bit after nursing two children, my belly that's grown softer, my hands that have roughened with age and gardening. So, while Mr. Hefner might not be interested anymore, there's a five-year-old and a three-year-old that think I'm the most beautiful woman in the world. And, hey...who knows? There may be a dark-haired guy bearing apples in my future as well.


catelin: (Default)


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