Bienvenidos! Welcome!

Thanks for visiting Daughter of Corn. I hope you enjoy the essays and thoughts about the journeys of a writer in San Miguel....who ends up in Iowa City!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

El fin de ano

As the end of 2010 approaches, I contemplate my year of recreating my life.  Last year I spent five months in San Miguel, and seven months in Iowa City.  My desires to redefine myself as a writer took some unexpected routes.  Yet this is what risk-taking entails:  you never know if that decision to leap will pay off in the way you perceived it might.  For instance, I didn't stay in San Miguel,  Did I imagine I would return to Iowa City so early?  I knew it was a possibility, but there were so many unimaginable occurrences in San Miguel that I had to re-evaluate my vision.  Am I sorry I returned home to the heartland?  No.

I could never articulate the whole of my fragility when I did come back, for I truly was alone and starting over.  Yet the investment of my time in Mexico is where the risk-taking proved its worth.  As in every time spent away from your home, I gained a plethora of information as well as an increase in writing as a discipline.  My dream of beginning a blog was realized in Iowa, but seeded in San Miguel.
The translations I did of my poet friend from Guanajuato, Juan Manuel, are to be published in a literary journal out of Austin.   In truth, I have gained a momentum, and increased my literary contacts.  After all, I now live in the City of Literature.  And, as a friend counseled when I was debating my return, I don't have to share my quarters with fleas!!

It is a great thing to live in uncertainty--and greater when you have chosen a path that facilitates this lifestyle.  But what if the soul really does expand when you choose to honor and respect its primary importance in  your life?  What truly happens to those who, like the Fool in the tarot deck, step over the cliff, and look up, not down?  Sometimes I observe closely my fellow human beings who have not chosen my lifestyle for the answers to that question.  I often see a kind of happiness which holds its roots in the certainty that they will never even approach that cliff.  Control and management constitute the thread of their existence.  Their happiness, however, does not encompass an expansive comprehension of "the other",  those whose circumstances do not equal their own.  We are in an age where the gap between such distinct lives, the secure and the insecure, is stretching to a point of consequence.

2010 was a significant year of changes for millions of people in the world.  The hope for 2011 is that we can live with those changes in hope and dignity.  That I can live with the changes in my life, with hope and dignity.

Art collage copyright 2010 Corinne J.Stanley

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

¿Cuando vas a regresar?

When my December trip ended, I gathered up some of my clothes and put them in a large plastic bag.  The area where I stayed was near an arroyo in a very humble neighborhood, and I had noticed one lady almost everyday.  She was the city sweeper for the neighborhood.  Dressed in a pumpkin orange jumpsuit, she shuffled along the path near the arroyo with a primitive, twiggy broom in her hands.  The woman looked about my size, so I approached her with my bag of pajamas and sweaters.,"Senora, tengo ropa que me gustaria darle a usted, como parece mas o menos la misma talla come yo.  Ya me voy a los Estados Unidos."  --Ma'm, I have some clothes I'd like to give to you, since you seem about the same size as me.  I'm returning soon to the States."

 The woman looked up at me with some confusion.  I suppose she wasn't used to strangers handing her a bag, much less speaking to her during her shift.  However, she took the bag and smiled just a little.

The following day I met the dignified empleada who cleaned the American landlady's sprawling house, including my tiny apartment.  Perhaps she had heard about the bag of clothes--news travels fast in these barrios--but the senora gave me a present of her own.

"¿Cuando vas a regresar?"  she called down to me from the upper balcony.  I looked up as if I had been summoned.  "Senora, digame, ¿cuando vas a regresar?" she repeated

"When are you returning?"

Those words haunted me for a year.  I felt like the woman was a spiritual messenger, peering down at me with her serious eyes and thick grey hair, urging me to respond to her call.

And, of course, I did return.  But the path of volver is often a tricky one.  I returned in order to honor the writer within, and to be in a place that I had loved dearly.  What I discovered, senora, was that this return  was the time for garnering information. Not necessarily was it the final journey. The groundwork for my future, perhaps, for now I have a blog and a poetry book about to be published.  I am waiting for some answers, here in my northern prairie.

Nunca se sabe.  We never know why we are here, really.  There are secrets palpitating within our hidden selves;  there are mysteries which refuse to be known until the right time....there are unexpected gifts to be had along the path, a look in an eye, an outstretched arm.

Friday, December 10, 2010

La navidad y San Miguel

The festivities in San Miguel during la Navidad are truly spectacular, though some traditions are fading fast.  Once I rented a room in a very humble neighborhood near the San Juan de Dios market. I loved going to the open stalls set up just for the season. Greenery and colored paper balls, as well as sparkling cardboard angels and stars--but most of all, the brightly painted nacimientos made from clay prove to be popular buys for the season.  I have purchased many a miniature shepherd and diablo, as well as the proverbial hermitano, or hermit, who stands firmly in the nativity scene representing the search for wisdom.   Frequently accompanied by a round cave situated behind him, the hermit can retreat from the sly, red devil found perching on the cave's rooftop.

To make my solitary Christmas more comforting, I created a nacimiento by placing the folkloric ceramic figures on a small table in my tiny room.  I hung a large, oval green and red paper ornament from the top of the entryway and draped strings of green and fushia foil garlands around the room. No baby Jesus yet, as el Nino Dios only appears in the Mexican nativity scene on la Noche Buena, or the night he is born, at midnite.

One evening as I arrived home a small group of peregrinos or pilgrims walked by my door, singing the posada songs, and carrying flat cardboard pieces with the holy family glued on top.  Younger children waved sparklers in the air, and one of them quickly handed me a sparkler with a grin.  Entranced by the sincerity of the procesion, as well as the devotion it represented, I smiled back, wishing I knew the words to the traditional songs.  Somewhere along the path the group would knock on a door and enter into a celebracion of  warm tamarind and guayaba ponche and pinatas filled with candies, oranges and peanuts. Contrast this image with my own culture's frenetic campaign to buy at el mall and it isn't surprising to discover that many Mexicans are uninspired by an American Christmas.

What I primarily noticed that December was the presence of human beings on the streets--for there were groups in el jardin selling tickets for Christmas events, other more lavish procesiones walking uphill, and pastorelas sprinkled at schools and traditional churches.  Once, in the distant past, I came upon a pastorela or retelling of the Christmas story at the Oratorio church near the main market. Shepherds arguing, little diabolitos attempting to sabotage the Christmas tale and St. Michael swooping down to save the day comprised a compelling performance.  So much life, so much vibrancy for a season brimming with glittering events for family as well as strangers weave a true spiritual celebration in the colonial city of San Miguel de Allende.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

El corazon within the Darkness

Winter has placed her hands over the land and is keeping me in stillness, giving me time to contemplate the heart which marked my journey to San Miguel.  When I was writing my stories in the Apartamento Rojo, staring out the glass doors at the clear view of the Enchanted City, I never gave one thought to the Iowa winters.  Strangely, though the last few weeks have been largely focused on bracing myself for the cold with the purchase of scarves, boots, and pairs of gloves, I am not dismayed about enduring the long months of Iowa snow and ice.  Instead, I feel fortunate.  Indeed, I have never felt more fortunate in my life.

When I crossed the border into Laredo a year ago, I noted the startling change in ambience immediately. Though San Miguel is spreading out into the stretches of its outskirts, new complexes being built by mostly foreign bidding, the truth is Mexico continues to be a country where people are living on the edges of survival.  As I drove south, half-built or abandoned adobe houses the size of an American garage sprinkled the paisaje.  It wasn't until I reached the lush bajio of Guanajuato that I felt hope for the stricken landscape.

The turning point of my decision as to whether my stay would be six months or longer came through the search for reasonably priced and comfortable living space.  After leaving the Valle del Maiz I searched in vain for a place I could afford, and ended up sharing space with a colony of fleas.  And  although I did eventually find a very lovely apartment,  I became intimate with the chameleon character of fortune.

One of my favorite sayings is "There but for fortune go I" but in San Miguel I traveled roads I never thought to walk upon.  It took me a long time to comprehend that paying six dollars an hour to teach English at the Universidad de Guanajuato extension in San Miguel was average pay in Mexico. My heart collage, however, represents a particular "fortune" one finds in Mexico: vibrancy, colors which startle you into an aliveness that an office cubicle infamously disregards.  Why do people come to Mexico, if not for this?  Why did I return?  We want to be rocked into an awareness, to return to the sense of tactile and visual excitement.  And aren't we fortunate to participate in this culture? And are we aware of the level of poverty which so many Mexicans contend with on a daily basis?

Yesterday I ventured to the mall to find my last purchase: plush slippers to warm my increasingly cold feet at night.  I recalled what my students had discovered in interviews with Latinos, their sense that Americans were too materialistic.  I found myself feeling quite appalled at not just the intent to "shop till you drop", but the amount of meaningless merchandise for sale.  I thought about my students, working, one and sometimes two jobs, single mothers and young men in trouble with the law.  I thought about my friend who teaches first graders, and how one of them got a toy from Goodwill for his birthday.  And I went home, without my slippers.  Warm socks will do just fine.