A Quest

The simple task of finding my college transcripts became an overwhelming quest. One of the gifts of my life is that I have an entire writing room for myself. It is also my curse. Seven very full bookcases line the walls; a portable file stand sits beside my desk; it, too, is full; two folding tables sit in front of the portable file stand, and creep across the edge of one bookcase; both are stacked with books and papers, mostly the research I’ll need to do if I ever get around to writing the Kansas Chronicles and the notebooks and files for the Mexico book if I can ever get around to writing it; a glass-topped table sits beside my matching metal and glass-topped desk, where I have the laptop and a lamp and a microphone for the times when I teach online classes, and is covered in Post-it notes, a dish with paper clips, a flashlight (and you ask why I need a flashlight if I have a lamp on my desk? good question); other piles of papers relating to who knows what, miscellaneous mostly, sit under and in front of the desk lamp.

I have too many saved words.

I found one of my college transcripts, but not the other. Why couldn’t I have stored them together? One wonders.

One of the books on the folding tables of Kansas research is named It Happened Here. Does it ever. Nominally, the very thick book is a history of Marshall County, with photos, by a woman who was, no doubt, as obsessed as I am. Marshall County is where the farm lives.

Speaking of which, the farm that is, I still need to find someone with a bobcat and a tree cutter in the front to go over the tallgrass and cut out volunteer trees so we can burn the prairie in the spring or I’ll lose the contract for conservation the farm has been in for the past forty years. Oh, yes, and do farm taxes before my sister, who lives on Maui, writes and says she is ready to take their taxes to an accountant and needs her copy of the farm taxes. Now.

I have at least six professions, if you count farm manager, which I count because it requires attention and all our widespread family is somewhere else. Along with the portable files here in the writing room, there are four file drawers in two cabinets in the “office” our name for what would be in a normal family, the baby’s room. We do not have a baby, we have file cabinets, which hold up a plywood desk top which I first sanded and varnished and set upon said file cabinets when first I moved to Santa Fe in 1992. And bookcases. There’s two in there, too.

Is it any wonder I write memoir?

I still don’t know where my graduate school transcripts are; I’ve thrown out some papers, thankfully, and tomorrow I will call St. John’s and ask them to send me a copy. You see, I miss teaching, and for some degenerate reason, I’ve decided to apply to UMKC as an adjunct in the Arts and Science department, a job whose requirement is that the applicants have some background in international peoples and countries, which I do. One of the things I do is teach pronunciation, and have, since I lived in Mexico, but if I get off on that story, well….that would require the story of Pepe Lobo (American name Joe Wolf), manager of the travel office where I worked, and who went to Mexico after the revolution when pesos were pure silver as big as…and he’d demonstrate with middle finger and thumb a circle about 2 inches in diameter, and stayed, and who said, one day, “I didn’t hire you for your typing skills; I hired you for your looks.”

But as I said, that’s an entirely other story, the Mexico book, which God willing and the creeks don’t rise, as my farm grandpa used to say, and I don’t die, I will, eventually, write.

And then maybe I can throw away some papers.

The end.

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Baffled by Miracles

imagesCAVP7MLPTwo days ago as I swept the floor in my workroom, I saw a small dark packet on the floor. I picked it up, having no idea where it came from. The packet was, in actuality, a Ziploc storage bag with another smaller packet inside. The dark material inside the smaller packet looked like old wood slivers and crumbled dust. I shook it down, turned it over, and I found the picture of an old friend.

This was the last packet of three packets I bought in Mexico in 1985. I was in Mexico making a movie and had a day off so went down to the market and bought three of these packets of picture and incense. Not reading Spanish very well, other than making out words for prayers or luck or money, I took them to my hairdresser. Que es? I asked.

Many of you have, perhaps, heard the story of the hairdresser who was, in reality, a curendera or healer, and who took me out beyond a pile of boulders as big as a house to kneel in the desert night. She blessed me and the packets, chanting, praying. The packets stayed warm for hours. Gloria’s style of healing is what’s called an orasionista (think oration) who heals with words and energy. Because of that experience, I ended going back to Mexico and living there three years.

I thought I’d lost it. I knew I’d given two away to friends who had problems, but I’d kept this one of San Martin de Caballero. I’d figured I could use someone with a helping hand.

Oddly enough, as if that weren’t enough, a couple of weeks ago, working on my writing, a memoir that contains parts of my Mexico life, including the blessing by Gloria, I thought of this packet of powder and wondered where it had gone to. Perhaps to someone more in need than I.

Two days ago, he galloped back into my life to lay at my feet the proverbial cloak of protection. I have no idea where he came from, but he came.

I’m always baffled when miracles come into my life, and I’ve had many. My husband is one. The Little House on the farm another. Many times I’ve been blessed by miracles and each time I’m as baffled as I was the night I knelt on the cold, stony ground and felt the energy from Gloria’s hands heat the three packets of powder I held in my outstretched hands.

I am now the orationista, the one who heals with words and the energy. And I’ve often wondered, after I was ordained twelve years later, if Gloria received a message too, one that said hacerlo! Do this.

Here is some of the story of Don Martin and why he became a saint thanks to information in Wikipedia. If you’re curious, there’s much more on the site. Just search San Martin Caballero. Don Martin, the horse rider. And a legend based on generosity and kindness.

Martin of Tours (316 – 8 November 397) was Bishop of Tours, whose shrine in France became a famous stopping-point for pilgrims on the road to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Around his name much legendary material accrued, and he has become one of the most familiar and recognizable Christian saints.

The Legend: While Martin was a soldier in the Roman army and deployed in Gaul (modern-day France), he experienced a vision, which became the most-repeated story about his life. One day as he was approaching the gates of the city of Amiens, he met a scantily clad beggar. He impulsively cut his military cloak in half to share with the man. That night, Martin dreamed of Jesus wearing the half-cloak he had given away.

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Daily Post: SOS – – A Bottle, The Captain, and a Featureless Sea

This is an old story from my days of wanderlust, but too good, and too true, not to tell again. The place is the Yucatan where I’d gone for a winter break and hooked up with a friend. We decided to explore the Mexico not found in guide books, in this case, Progressoscan0001 on the Gulf Shore. We rode a bus from Merida and jumped out at a pier jutting into the sea. The only thing ahead was the Gulf.

We walked along the beach, thinking we’d come to some sign of town; we splashed along the surf, tendrils of seaweed sticking to our legs. We threw rocks and turned over seashells, examining the whorls like curious children. Bill walked on but I dawdled, poking at things with my bare toes. A bottle…a long, green champagne bottle complete with cork lay half-buried in the sand.

Odd, I thought, and stopped to pick it up.  Even odder was the piece of paper curled inside in a tight cylinder.

“Hey,” I yelled, “there’s a note in this bottle!”

That caused a flurry of activity on a quiet afternoon. We pried out the cork. It was, indeed, a note, written in a hastily scrawled, block-lettered Spanish on notebook paper.

We deciphered it as follows:  The boat Santana has broken her propeller and is about to sink. Please inform the captain of the port or equal authority.  Longitude and latitude were printed at the bottom.

A boat sinking! A note desperately thrown to the sea! To the captain of the port! We had a mission.

However, since we still hadn’t found town we had even less of an idea how to find a captain. We’d walked a long way and figured we’d need to go back to the pier. A road bordered the beach some fifty feet beyond the dunes. We briskly began our march.

An open cantina appeared. Rescuing boats is thirsty work and we were thirsty. Over cold beers we showed the note to the lone boy who served us.

“¿Donde esta el capitan del puerto?” we asked.  He didn’t know.

Allá,” he said, waving his hand in the direction we were walking. Everywhere is allà in Mexico: in other words, somewhere else.

We walked on toward allá. We showed our note to everyone we met along the road and practiced our “¿Donde esta el capitan?” No one knew, nor were they particularly interested. Perhaps notes in bottles are a common occurrence living close to the sea.

Reaching the pier, we found an official looking office. We thought a telephone call would be a simple affair. Telephones in Mexico are never a simple affair.

We showed the note. Could we call the captain? No, there was no telephone in this office. The note went from hand to hand. Was there a telephone anywhere? Pues, there was a telephone upstairs. Could we use the telephone upstairs? Wait. We waited.

Two people arrived from the office upstairs. They read the note; they told us to wait; they went away. By this time nearly an hour had passed. If the boat were in perilous waters, we hoped it had oars.

A Navy Police van arrived and an officer in starched whites marched into the office and invited us to come with him to the captain of the port. We glanced at each other as we climbed into the van. Was this smart? Did we know what we were doing?

The van stopped outside a large, white-washed building. Guards along the sidewalk snapped to attention. The officer ushered us through heavy wooden doors to an imposing room, rich with polished brass and leather. Framed sea maps lined the paneled walls.

I’m not sure what we had expected, but certainly something less elegant. A small, dapper man dressed in sparkling whites sat behind a large desk. An aide stood beside him, collecting papers as the captain signed them. We checked our legs for clinging seaweed.

Between us, I had the best command of Spanish, so as Bill edged off to examine maps, I stood in front of the desk, feeling like a child called to the principal’s office.

The captain finished signing the papers and dismissed his aide. He greeted me and introduced himself in long Spanish phrases thick with vowels and rolling r’s. I couldn’t make out anything, but I nodded.

He asked to see the note – I understood that – and I handed it over. He copied the note onto the pad in front of him, precisely and carefully, checking the facts over and over as if this were the most important item of his day.

Finally he looked up and asked a question. My Spanish failed me. I had no idea what he’d said and smiling and nodding wouldn’t work. I asked him to please repeat the question and to please speak slowly.

He slowly repeated his question in precise, British-accented English.

“What time did you find the bottle?”

“Oh, well, about two hours ago,” I stammered.

“And where, exactly, were you when you found it?”

I explained where we’d been walking.

“About a kilometer and a half from the pier, then?”

I had no idea; but I agreed.

“And did you see anyone else around?  Were there any boats nearby?” He looked up at me suspiciously.

“No,” I replied, “we didn’t see anyone else.”

Bill ambled over from the wall-long map of the Gulf.

“That’s a good map,” he said. “Where would the boat be?”

The captain brightened visibly at the mention of his map as well as the possibility of dealing with a man. My suspicious presence was forgotten. He got up from his desk, went to stand in front of the expanse of paper Gulf, and pointed out the latitude and longitude written on the note.

Bill’s finger followed the coastline around to Campeche and darted inland. He was more interested in the ridges and lines that made up the landmass than the wide blue expanse of featureless sea.

“Isn’t there a town here, someplace, that makes hats?”

The captain’s finger followed his and pointed out the town. Our desperate mission had turned into a shopping lesson.

When we left, we were polite, saying the gracious compliments our limited Spanish allowed. No van waited to transport us. The guards didn’t salute. We were on our own.

Two months later, back at home, I received a letter from the Captain. Carefully phrased in elaborate Spanish, he said a search had been made but no boat named Santana with a broken propeller had been found. Perhaps another ship had found the boat and brought it into shore, he wrote. Perhaps drunks had written the note as a joke, he added.

Or perhaps the Santana sunk.

Well. Perhaps it had. But I still had the green champagne bottle, complete with cork, and the faded message for some captain in some port.

If you have an SOS!! story, go to http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2014/01/31/daily-prompt-water/.

 

Daily Post: But No Cigar!

The prompt, to write about a time when “things came this close to working out…but didn’t” immediately made me remember a night in New York City when I’d just returned from making a movie in Mexico. The time, December 1985, and the place a Christmas party at my agent’s offices.

I’ve never been particularly great at parties and in New York I’d perfected the art of wallflower, hugging the sides of the party, rarely speaking, watching. But at this Christmas party, it was impossible to go unnoticed. My agent at the time introduced me as Janet-who’s-just-come-back-from-making-a-movie-in-Mexico as if I were a trophy rather than a person.

I must say, the introduction created a stir and everyone wanted to talk to me, the “everyone” being mostly other actors. I don’t remember any directors or producers although there might have been. I was too overwhelmed with questions and comments and hosannas to catch any names.

Everyone wanted to know who were the stars, who wrote the script, who directed, who were the stars, who produced, who were the stars. No one asked about Mexico.

Old Man Laughing
Old Man Laughing

I’d fallen in love in those six short weeks – with the people, the land, the sky, mountains, kindness and generosity. One night, I was blessed by a Mexican healer who was also my hairdresser, a curendera (who would later, after I moved to Mexico, become my mentor), and another day after I’d finished shooting, I’d driven into the countryside by myself and met extraordinary and ordinary Mexicans who all opened their arms and homes.

But at the party, no one asked about Mexico. And I felt pinned to the wall by their questions. I was on the brink of whatever measure success meant, and I hated every minute of it.

Over the next year, I kept returning to my friends in Mexico City whenever I could and finally, after one two-month stay escaping the bitterness of New York winters, I simply stayed. I didn’t go back. And I lived in Mexico for three years.

I stayed because I convinced myself there was film work I could do in Mexico through friends and contacts. And I did do more work. Many U.S. productions came to Mexico to shoot because it was cheaper and sometimes I worked as an actress and sometimes as a crew member. But I never went back to New York to live.

When I finally left Mexico, I moved to Washington D.C., essentially ending a serious film career although I have done film work since then in bits and pieces.

The second part of the Daily Prompt question was “Would you like the chance to try again, or are you happy with how things eventually worked out?”

Would I go back and redo the choice? No. Although each year when the Oscar season comes up, I feel a ping. I do like to visit New York and would even enjoy a summer-long stay; would I go back and redo the choice to return to the States from Mexico? No. But I’d go back to visit or live a few months in Mexico. Am I happy with how things worked out? Absolutely.

Fate and free will are interesting concepts, both in the thinking and in the living. I’ve thought about this often in my life of journeying and changing and layering careers. Which part is fate and which free will?

If I’d stayed in New York or even Mexico, I wouldn’t have married Cliff and I’m happier now, in our 1924-built Waldo home and with Cliff than I’d ever be just making movies, even in Mexico. Now, if I don’t feel like talking at a party, I smile while Cliff stands beside me, holds my hand, and carries on the conversation.

If you’d like to try the prompt yourself, go to http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2014/01/16/daily-prompt-close-2/

Reaching for Hawaii, Gathering Mexico

Sisters at Sunset

I’ve had some trouble re-anchoring after my visit to Hawaii. It’s the same trouble I have when I visit Mexico, both Mexico and Hawaii being lands where I’ve lived and where my spirit found peace and comfort. Even more, where the balance of feminine and masculine energies come together in a wholeness I don’t experience in many places.

When I lived in Hawaii in 1992, I’d already lived in Mexico for three years, and I felt confounded and amazed from time to time about how much I remembered Mexico in a sameness that nurtured me. The ocean and beaches of course, but also the craggy land and the cattle and goats roaming free across scrubby land. The wide-open and often barren stretches of land. And when I speak of Hawaii, I’m talking about Hawaii Island rather than the entirety of the island chain.

It’s taken some time of wondering and thinking to come to a theory of why it’s difficult for me to be back. The only one that makes any sense is to say that the strength of both feminine and masculine energies feeds me in a way I’m not fed in the center of the country.

People who visit Mexico and Hawaii, even New Mexico for that matter, have a tendency to say “how beautiful” without really considering what they are saying. Yes. Each of those three places is beautiful. But they are also each fierce and tough. And while I have lived in each place, and don’t want to live there full-time again, I do yearn for that balance of beauty and fierce that softens my shoulders and puts a glide in my step.

They are easy places for me, who is tough and gentle, to feel at home.

Palenque

In Mexico, and in Hawaii, the sacred is an everyday part of life rather than an after thought or a Sunday church service. Perhaps because in both places, a ruling class came in and took over and the indigenous peoples held on to the sacred quality of their life as a refuge. But for whatever reason, the sacred is a part of the air and wind, a part of the scent of sea or desert or jungle. And the ancient sacred lives comfortably alongside modern religions. There’s no separateness. There is only a recognition of the whole.

In Palenque, in the depths of jungle green and misty clouds, the sacred rumbles just below conscious hearing.

And the divine feminine is a visible part of the whole.

At the famous Painted Church on Hawaii, the church building is justly famous for its colors and murals, and in the cemetery below, among neatly lined up white crosses, a lady stands on a natural rocky formation with a kneeling figure below her.

This is probably a statue of Mary although no name is given it on a plaque beside the rock. She could as easily be called the Lady of the Waves as she stands between the petitioner and the waves of the wide sea behind her. People have prayed to the divine feminine and asked for protection for countless centuries, long before Christianity.

Is the Protestant energy that founded this country responsible for the current “War on Women?” An anti-cleric, anti-Catholic history in this country may also account for the lack of wholly and holy feminine energy in all our lives, even today.

I wonder if that’s why a President’s wife is so important. She represents a feminine power source close to the top.

And that brings me to laughter. In Mexico and in Hawaii, laughter is close to the surface and bubbling over into conversations all the time. Laughter is a part of life. Laughter is a part of everyday living and conversations, sometimes just a conversation with self.

Old Man Laughing

This man from Mexico laughed all the time as he talked to me and as I struggled to make coherent sentences in Spanish. He laughed in delight at my clumsy attempts and he laughed to encourage me. In Hawaii, people laughed all the time: while dancing hula, shopping for gas, dropping a bag – oh, oops. And we talked story. By buying a container of pickled ginger, a simple purchase, I also bought laughter and stories of family and grandchildren.

And maybe, at base, it’s the mystery I miss. A mystery of why and how, the mystery of being a human on this life journey with other humans, a mystery of jungles and sea, of craggy mountains, and hidden walks.
And maybe what I’ve learned in all this musing and looking at photos and wondering and writing, is that I ask why all too often. Too often I try to figure things out, a very American characteristic, it seems. Maybe I just need to live in the mystery and let all of the rest of it be as it will.

Just look over my shoulder…and laugh.
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