I choose to write because I can’t always keep all these thoughts running roughshod in my head in one place.
Words on a page, or in this case, words on a screen, make these feelings seem natural and harmless, even though I know they can hurt me if I let them roam too freely. But they make greater sense when they appear in front of me, written by hand or typed into existence. I can order and re-order these feelings with a swift keystroke, adding or subtracting their intensity with decisiveness. Sometimes, my editing can make these words lie for me, pushing away my motivations or lessening them, so I don’t worry the reader about my state of mind. Yet, truth is constantly pulsing underneath, waiting for its turn to be seen and heard.
I write because the world I live in isn’t always the one I want to see. You can build a better place with the right words and frame of mind. I can create a more beautiful self or a happier persona, obfuscating the grey truth as to why I’m not who I should be or want to be as a 55-year-old man. I can build a world that seems limitless, one with bolts of vivid color and endless horizons that feel like hope and longer stretches of time to fill with avoidance, procrastination, and festering guilt as to level this foundation of excuses as to why I can’t seem to change or make myself better.
I write because this defiant means of self-expression cures my often paralyzing loneliness, knowing that these words mean I exist with two people in the room where these thoughts materialize and become corporeal. I see the person taking shape before me, knowing it reflects who I am at that moment. I can be a Dr. Frankenstein, choosing the bits of me that make a whole person, all brought to life with an impulsive jolt of creativity and insight. I am not a monster, though, although sometimes I feel monstrous in my hunger to be noticed and validated.
I write to stave off the noise of a world that feels hellbent on keeping boxed and labeled as unworthy.
I write because it is what makes sense in the nonsense that threatens to overwhelm me to the point of pushing me into a space that looks like oblivion, but I know it is so much worse.
I write because words matter, and I know I matter just as much.
I write because it feels so fucking good to let these feelings out.
I write because I fear I will cease to exist if I don’t.
I write because I know I’m not the only one who does this for all the same reasons.
When I broke up with my last ex-BF about 12 years ago, it took me a long ass time to get over him. I don’t think I really am; it’s just a feeling I’ve learned to put into a different compartment. But, the concussive effects of that first wave of emotion were very new to me. I never understood why people would lose their shit after a breakup, but I learned quickly. My friend John sent me a mix CD labeled “Music for a Bottle of Merlot and a Razor Blade,” featuring such sad singleton hits as “Alone,” “All By Myself,” “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted,” etc. We laughed, but I found myself spiraling out of control shortly after.
I kept this little Moleskin notebook during those first months, which I hid a few years later. It reappeared during my Pandemic-induced decluttering of my home when we shut our office doors until further notice. That was about two years ago. (We’ve reopened them since, by the way.) Finding it was like the surprise you feel when you run into an old school friend’s mother during a Target run where you’re not looking your best, gussied up in chanclas and a chorizo-stained hoodie. Reading and revisiting the version of yourself that penned each entry was like being hit by a car driven by a deranged doctor’s wife from Texas seeking revenge. How do we all turn into Janis Ian or Phoebe Snow when boys break out hearts? I was surprised I even was capable of such maudlin displays in the first place, but how could I not? After years of favoring telenovelas and Douglas Sirk films, turning into Natalie Wood in “Splendor in the Grass” shouldn’t be a stretch, right?
So, I am willing to share one choice bit of writing, appropriately titled “Alone.” Put on your favorite heartbreak ballad, wrap yourself up in that warm comforter known as nostalgia, and see if this hits a few emotional notes you recognize!
There’s a strange void in my heart as I look out the window from an empty house. I feel the start of a dream, always the day you first came into my life. I came to you first, though, searching for a gentle man.
You were that dream come true, and I was your saving grace. How did we get to this place?
The first years were unlike any happiness I’d known, yet in the last months, we’ve become strangers, barely able to see face to face. How did we get to this place?
This isn’t about fault. You loved me, then loved another. I can’t believe I’d be so easily replaced. How did we get to this place?
We can count the memories, but that’s just wasted sentiment. We can count our blessings, but that’s just wasted destiny. What I would give to make this day turn a different way. They say time heals everything, but I still can’t stand the thought of losing you.
I didn’t want to tell you how I felt or what I thought I should do. But that won’t stop me from crying an emotion or two.
You walked out the door for the last time. I hope he treats you fine. It isn’t the loss that hurts so much. It’s the silence of this space. How did I get to this place they call “being alone.”
Reading it back now, I think it is safe to say Taylor Swift has nothing to worry about here. (Cue laughter.) But I’m not ashamed about displaying my red scarf in this context. (Swifties will know what I mean by that reference.). If anything, I’m proud of what that experience taught me. I stopped romanticizing the past, choosing to live in the present while respecting the lessons learned from being in a relationship. Whenever that miracle happens again, I’ll be ready.
It was a humbling moment, but in the cold light of the pandemic, I realized my reasons for wanting big social media visibility were unfocused and half-hearted at best.
Writing and interviewing remain my best strengths, the outcome of attending journalism school. Structure matters in all storytelling; everything must possess a beginning, middle, and end. Context matters, but we prefer to focus on capturing isolated moments, each carefully curated and filtered but often devoid of profundity or purpose. It exists merely to engage the eye, maybe titillate a few people and little else until the next image makes its way onto a profile.
In the mad dash to amass followers, we became lemmings, often regurgitating or repurposing the same videos other people did, usually worse in the process. Yet, we view them, tag them, share them, and keep the cycle going until the next trend takes over. Or, we keep repeating the same clips or mime the same dialogue from popular films, TV shows, dances from music videos, and other art made by other people to show what? How spectacularly good are we at being copycats, devoid of any real discernable talent? (If I see one more person wearing a white wig to become Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada one more time…!?)
Oh, and the punditry of it all. Those people who need to constantly weigh in by commenting on the news, pop culture, whathaveyou. Pundits ruined mainstream journalism. Now the water cooler or barstool is a global comment box with effects, music, and often scabrous banter that offers little in terms of analysis or depth. Scott Z. Burns’s script for Contagion (2011) featured a statement I’ve never forgotten.
Elliott Gould’s character, Dr. Sussmann, admonishes Jude Law’s character, conspiracy theorist Alan Krumwiede, with this blunt fact: “You are not a writer; a blog isn’t writing.It’s just graffiti with punctuation.” We’ve endured countless real Alan Krumwiede’s since then, like such wicked performers as Alex Jones and Candace Owens, people who will say and do everything for attention, deliberately misinforming others to stir the pot, even if it poisons people. All to live, earn money, and have the power to do it again!
No, I won’t be returning to the socials any time soon, nor will I promote this page in any fashion. The noise I found on social media created such anxiety I became angry at myself for letting it affect me so profoundly. It exists for me to unload what is taking up space in my mind. And it is helping me cope with the unease I feel with our world by having a creative space to deconstruct my feelings, strengthening my ability to communicate as a writer again in an honest manner.
I still value the importance of conversation and sharing, but I want to control the message better by not using external approval or validation as a catalyst to write. So much insight and inspiration can be found in education, understanding the rules and mechanics of writing and communication. Investigating and digesting the works of fabled writers from the past can impact the present and future!
In this era of “The Follower,” we affirm the truth that “We are What We Consume.” Eat empty calories; you will fatten up and atrophy. Consistently wallow in the bile and snark, our souls will darken as the algorithms spew out more and more of the same on your feeds. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but what about creating something new and unexpected? What about crafting narratives that enlighten and inspire, not perpetuate hateful Reddit myths and conspiracies to justify an evil agenda?
I accepted seeing myself more as possessing a big personality than a performer when I first walked onto a stage to act in a school play. That wasn’t the attention I craved; I wanted to be heard and visible. To a certain degree, that remains true today, but how big or small an audience is doesn’t matter to me. If only I read this blather, that’s fine with me, too. Not all of us were meant to be performers worth viewing. Not everything needs to be said or visualized just because you can’t handle the silence or void. But if you’re going to do it, make it something more than just a pale imitation of what’s been done before.
God, imagine what we all will look and sound like in 10 years? My mind reels, but I remain hopeful.
Today, I am officially 55 years old. That’s (still) the legal speed limit in some areas, but I’ve never been interested in sticking to it in terms of living my life. I had to get THERE, wherever THERE was at that moment. Now is an excellent time to think about HERE or where I am today.
I did attempt to stop and look around from time to time, but that just meant having to allow specific thoughts and realities to make themselves known in my head. Demons remain my chosen go-to passengers on this ride and for as long as I can remember. Food. Spending. Status. Validation. Funny, I rarely viewed love and companionship as priorities at the beginning for being too dangerous. Neither stayed very long on the passenger side when it did happen. The demons made sure of that, like damn sure.
Friendship and family remain my favored angels, and thank heavens for them. Otherwise, I would have intentionally hit the cosmic center divider a long time ago. It always seemed like a surefire way to shut those demons down for good. But they’re resilient little fuckers.
Demons sound cute to me in a post-Buffy world, all latex, make-up, and effects. Fear is something, well, scarier. Fear exists as my twin because I LET that happen. I’ve known Fear as long as I’ve known myself. Every fall on the sidewalk, every perceived failure, the bullies I let get in my head and under my skin. These exterior forces which tormented me as a kid were NOTHING compared to what I’ve done to myself over the years as an adult.
But I’m still here and for good reasons.
Not to let the demons share my airtime but to shift focus away from them. Maybe even speed up the breaking up process already. Every minute I refuse to succumb to fear is a significant victory. Choosing not to sleep away the day is a cause for celebration. Cooking a healthy meal on my own and not consuming one designed to keep me sick is a source of jubilation. Trying to find ways to spend ALL of my hard-earned coin to make myself sound or look attractive is a thrill on par with a musical’s overture when the curtain rises.
These are not gifts but the tools to find a sense of balance, contentment, and especially hope. I possess them and more because I’ve learned to understand the importance of such devices. Yet, Fear still distracts me or, more often than not, kills the desire.
As I look around and take in the view of 55, I see all that the demons, Fear, and that annoying cousin Depression seek to absorb and destroy. That cannot be without my help, at least. Do you know those first sparks cast to start a campfire? Writing this feels like that, trying not to let moisture or wind snuff out what can lead to something bright and warm. You fan the embers too much; you smother the flame.
Words, music, films, art, design, and photography are all selfless acts of courage. It still takes courage to be queer, to not be part of the mainstream, to be one’s true self today. To exist as a gay Latino remains an act of defiance, no longer allowing oneself to hide or blend in with the herd of scared masses. We know what Fear can do to an individual in their quest for betterment. We see the power of Fear in a group. Start one lie, and create a mob of terrified people to disavow truth, science, and logic.
Someone sent me a meme with the legend, “I picked a stupid time to be alive.” I laughed at loud. Then again, this is also a time NOT to be stupid. I’m not alone in recognizing how emotional paralysis stems from what we consume in terms of information, social media especially.
It would be easy to live out one’s life like a 21st-century Miss Havisham, hiding amongst souvenirs of a perceived better past. That’s not an option in a world determined to live on the defensive about everything. Why beat yourself up about where you’re supposed to be in this life?
At this moment, I am encouraged by being 55, albeit cautiously. I’m not sure what tomorrow will be like or the day after that. Will I have personal stumbles and moments of shrill assholeness? Probably. Whatever happens next is always up to us. Forward motion isn’t always about avoiding the past. We have to avoid being defined by it. When I find the courage and clarity to stop and admire the view again, I have the hope and excitement that what I see will be different, empowering, and still delightfully the same.
Now, about that one-man show I keep threatening to stage…
Welcome back to the Carreón Cinema Club, mi gente!
I’m sure a lot of life has happened to you all since the Club’s last gathering. Perhaps a little too much of 2020 bled into the start of 2021, but it is vital to keep looking at the optimistic side of a pessimistic reality. Sooner or later, we will catch up to our changed lives and turn this cosmic Titanic around. Until then, I thought I’d kick off this year’s edition of the Carreón Cinema Club with “The 3 Films and Series That Give Us Life.”
AUNTIE MAME (1958)
Directed by Morton DaCosta
Written by Betty Comden & Adolph Green
(Adapted from the novel Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis; and the play by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee)
Starring: Rosalind Russell, Forrest Tucker, Coral Browne, Peggy Cass, and Jan Handzlik
Streaming: TCM (Check listings), Amazon Prime (Rent), Apple TV+ (Rent)
Rosalind Russell was already a comedic force of nature before she scored her most iconic role as everyone’s dream relative in Auntie Mame. During the early 1950s, Russell turned to the Broadway stage when starring film roles became less plentiful. After scoring a whopping success with the musical Wonderful Town in 1953, she hit it big again with the play Auntie Mame. Based on famed eccentric Patrick Dennis’s madcap best seller, it was adapted for the stage by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, becoming a box office smash for two years running. After the play closed, Russell returned to the big screen as Mame Dennis in the film version released in 1958. Directed by Morton DaCosta, Russell’s towering performance again entranced audiences, with the film still a beloved classic.
Watching Auntie Mame is almost a rite of passage for some. Turner Classic Movies often broadcasts the film today, particularly around the holidays. However, it was on the now-rebranded American Movie Classics channel that my family and I first saw the film several decades ago. Russell’s incandescent performance as a wealthy, stylish bohemian is one for the ages. Her transition from a woman of leisure to becoming the mother figure to her orphaned nephew Patrick is a beautiful and hysterical arc to follow. It’s hard not to want to be part of Mame’s riotous crew if it means meeting people like Vera Charles. Who wouldn’t want to hang with the first lady of the American stage, a salty broad who loves a drink as much as her stage entrances, maybe more?
The wonderful thing about Mame Dennis as a character is that she does evolve as much as she influences the people closest to her. Whether it’s her pregnant, possibly unmarried, secretary, the mousy Agnes Gooch, or her exuberant oil baron husband Beauregard Pickett Burnside, especially her little love, Patrick, combined, they redefine the concept of family. The same applies to the ensemble that surrounds Russell is as charged up as she, with Coral Browne, Forrest Tucker, Peggy Cass, and young Jan Handzlik, all giving as good as Russell.
In the end, Mame proves victorious over those who dare mess with her family, culminating in an outrageous “reunion” finale that makes the whole journey worth the ticket. Author Patrick Dennis’s real-life story is worth a film of its own, one that shares many of the same colors as Mame Dennis. The original novel’s success led to a sequel book and a smash hit Broadway musical with Angela Lansbury. Alas, Mame’s fortunes dimmed quite a bit when a misguided Lucille Ball brought the musical version of Mame to the screen, resulting in a box office bomb that damaged her reputation. Yet, word is Mame may rise again in the 21st century thanks to writer Annie Mumolo of “Bridesmaids” fame and the fearless Oscar winner Tilda Swinton as the fabulous Ms. Dennis. We shall see. Otherwise, to quote Mame, “Life’s a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death!” In this era of too little happiness and endless complaint, you would do well to take in the meal offered by joining Rosalind Russell as Mame and company.
MARRIED TO THE MOB (1988)
Directed by Jonathan Demme
Starring: Michelle Pfeiffer, Matthew Modine, Dean Stockwell, Mercedes Ruehl, and Alec Baldwin
Written by Barry Strugatz & Mark R. Burns
Streaming: Hulu, Amazon Prime, Apple TV+ (Rent)
It’s hard not to picture Michelle Pfeiffer as forever being an A-list star, yet, believe it or not, her ascension did take a while. After making her leading lady debut in 1982 with the infamous musical sequel Grease 2, she made sure no one would use that cult classic against her thanks to early memorable roles in Scarface and The Witches of Eastwick. 1988 would prove a watershed year for her with the release of the awards season hit Dangerous Liaisons and the mafia comedy Married to the Mob.
What made Married to the Mob significant for Pfeiffer was that the film allowed her to show off a sublime sense of humor as an actor. Director Jonathan Demme made an inspired and bold choice to cast her as beleaguered mafia wife, Angela DeMarco. She nails not just the “fuggedaboutit” accent and wears Colleen Atwood’s divinely OTT costumes with confident style; Pfeiffer brings luminous humanity to a woman who aspires to a better life.
Once hubby “Cucumber” Frank DeMarco is iced, played to the coolest hilt by Alec Baldwin, the widow DeMarco finds the power to leave the mob rule and find a new home for her and her young son. Unfortunately, Alpha Male don, Tony “the Tiger” Russo, portrayed by Oscar nominee Dean Stockwell, can’t think about anyone else but her. Neither can the FBI, led by Matthew Modine, whose investigation into Frank’s murder turns complicated when he pieces together Angela’s true agenda. Yet, hell hath no fury like Tony’s wife, Connie Russo, played by a scene-stealing Mercedes Ruehl. As the one person Tony fears, Connie is not about to let someone take her man.
Pfeiffer staked her claim as a leading actor of her generation the following year in The Fabulous Baker Boys, a star turn that brought her a first Best Actress Oscar nomination. Married to the Mob put her on the path, though, and in honor of the late Jonathan Demme’s recent birthday, it merits a visit as a film that will give you life.
COMO AGUA PARA CHOCOLATE (1992)
Like Water for Chocolate
Directed by Alfonso Arau
Screenplay by Laura Esquivel, adapted from her novel
Starring: Lumi Cavazos, Marco Leonardi, Ada Carrasco, and Regina Torné
Streaming: Hulu, HBOMax, Amazon Prime
Food on film has a long history of making audiences hungry for more. With such classic films as Tom Jones to Tampopo and Babette’s Feast, cuisine’s cinematic power will forever tantalize all of our senses. The arrival of author Laura Esquivel’s romantic fable Como Agua Para Chocolate (or Like Water for Chocolate) added a layer of magical realism and romance to the recipe. Here the food not only dictates the fate of its protagonist, Tita, it also manifests itself in the emotions of those who consume her meticulously prepared dishes.
Released in 1992, director Alfonso Arau realized Esquivel’s book and screenplay as an amber-hued period piece, particularly in the recipes captured on screen. However, the innocent beauty of Lumi Cavazos as Tita is the main reason the movie works so well. Her devotion to the culinary arts pales in comparison to her love for Pedro, her older sister’s husband. Being the youngest daughter, though, she’s trapped by tradition to forever care for her iron-hearted mother, Mamá Elena. Regardless, Tita finds her power by cooking for those she loves, an extension of her heart that affects them all in surprising ways. In the end, love does triumph, but she must endure several tragedies to reach that destination.
A novela aspect does exist in the film thanks to the steely presence of Regina Torné as Mamá Elena. Also, Arau’s visual ambition does overreach a bit in terms of its magical realism. Still, Cavazos pulls the film through in every scene, a relatable heroine for any generation, as illustrated in this scene from the film (presented in its original Spanish).
I think what I love most about Como Agua Para Chocolate is its blend of nostalgia and culture. It remains a seminal film of the 1990s, reigning as one of the most popular international movies of its time. More, it brought Mexico back into the fold of world cinema for a new generation. After years of exporting broad comedies about female truck drivers and narco life, film enthusiasts of Mexican cinema no longer made do with just a steady trickle of what was considered the “art film.” This genial, romantic period piece broke that cycle with great success, giving way to a powerful group of Latino cineastes that continue to influence cinema today.
Created by Jac Schaeffer
Directed by Matt Shakman
Based on Scarlet Witch by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby and Vision by Roy Thomas and John Buscema
Starring: Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Teyonah Parris, Randall Park, Kat Dennings, and Kathryn Hahn
I’ll be honest in saying I watch very little in terms of today’s television series. I’ve spent one too many months re-watching The Golden Girls, Designing Women, and that 80s relic It’s a Living, an admission that will probably prompt an intervention. I don’t read recaps, and I feel the leading streaming platforms only care about a young audience. Then, I saw the teaser for Disney+’s WandaVision, which led me to the first episode, exploding this old geezer’s brain.
Led by the dynamic duo of Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany as Wanda Maximoff and Vision, this glorious extension of Marvel’s Avengers universe is not just for the supers crowd. Oh no, far from it. It does help to have a little knowledge of these characters going in, but it is so well crafted, I honestly don’t think it will matter. The premise is that solid and affecting. Imagine loving someone so much; you find the power to remix the physical world to bring him back from the dead.
Now entering the home stretch on Disney+, what makes these final episodes compelling is discovering the true depth of Wanda’s pain and the power it has unleashed. The loss of her great love, Vision, continues to overwhelm her, something she refers to as a wave that keeps taking her down whenever she finds the strength to stand again. Emotional poetry exists beyond the clever homage to the classic situation comedy tropes that frame most of WandaVision. Each lushly produced episode looks and feels like a motion picture, action-packed and large in scale. The devil is in the details, with a nostalgic aesthetic expertly woven in and out of our present time with breathless pacing that does not overshadow its emotional impact.
Thanks to a winning ensemble, especially the comic brilliance of Kathryn Hahn, the show within a show format feels ordinarily human and extraordinary at the same time. With one episode left ahead, how WandaVision decides to conclude this mesmerizing season is anyone’s guess. For those new to the party, the chance to see it all unfold in a marathon sitting is on par with being in a move theater again. Rest assured, this isn’t hyperbole from a fanboy. You’re in for one of the year’s most engaging series on television today.
It is hard to believe we’re heading into the first anniversary of our collective pandemic lives. To be honest, it feels great to share a little something with the Club again. I look forward to sharing more Club entries as the year continues. By the way, I’ve moved on from The Golden Girls to enjoy watching all seven seasons of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. I’m on season 4, and I have to say, it is way better than taking Lexapro. Let’s turn the world with a smile! Hasta pronto, mi gente.
In case you haven’t noticed, being in a reflective mood is a big part of who I am as a person.
I’ll pause for the rolling of your eyes, dear reader.
Yeah, I think too much. I think too much about stuff that is hardly ground shaking anymore. I, too, suffer from that illness of wanting to make myself seem so fucking interesting. So much effort has gone into curating a self that could be deemed “fabulous” or “fascinating” by others that I now question whether it was worth it. Losing Dad last month has allowed for a sense of clarity to take over. Revisiting all of our struggles together, the endless array of pendejadas I’d craft just to piss him off. And for what? He forgot them all due to his Alzheimer’s. However, what took over was something totally real and true. Each time he smiled, I knew we were in a good place. We laughed and lived out some of the best years of our lives together with respect. It will be a gift that will keep on giving.
These many years of trying on and shedding personas were exhausting, for me and everyone around me. The irony? Going back to my OG self now makes the most sense. Take out the chaos and “big feelings” and I have a nice rack of lamb to offer the world. That’s what brought me back to Dad. With him, I discovered that life doesn’t need an excess of adornment. It needs to be tended to with care and purpose. You nurture the best part of yourself and the people you love with sun and air, not artificial light, filters, and the prism of a stranger’s validation. Why it’s taken me so long to figure that out has more to do with what I thought I wanted to “see” in myself and the world.
Born a preemie, I guess I was determined not to fade into the background since day one. I had to see what lurked outside the safety of Mom’s womb! Haha. Once I started going to school, it became apparent that I had a voice and the power to be heard. Shyness be damned, the first person I made laugh in kindergarten was a revelation! I was aware of what made me different from the other kids. In the end, my early interests would dictate much of who I would be as an adult. It happened organically thanks to the people who remain my role models, at home, school, the library that was my second home. Then, I started to doubt my own singularity.
When I think about our mania to be noticed today by being considered an “influencer” or a “public figure” on social media, I can’t help but marvel over how it is also doing us such harm. It’s just a setting, for crying out loud. Creating a false persona took real skill in “my day” and we could not depend on a filter to cover the flaws. To bear witness to the elements of sameness projected by people all over the world today scares the shit out of me. We seem less inclined to break free from the pack to fervently embrace this culture of uniformity. Copycat beauty is not a celebration of individuality, which contradicts a generation’s determination to eschew the context of the past. Many parrot the importance of fluidity in their lives, but they swirl around the contained space of a very specific and packed fish tank.
This concept of curating an authentic life is also just another variation of “keeping up appearances.” And whoever coined the term, “adulting” should be ashamed. We live in an era that invents so many terms and slogans to validate confusion and insecurity. Most people can’t even commit to a simple meet and greet because of their lives being so “hectic.” Yet, they still want to be praised for doing the things you’re supposed to do as an adult! Argh. But yeah, planning and taking photos of yourself at brunch and Coachella will take it out of you. This doesn’t apply only to the millennials, either.
Sigh. I’m rambling here, I know. That I’ve grappled with the same insecurity of being ignored and feeling irrelevant for so long is one of my biggest failures. The trigger point from childhood, when I stopped letting my own true self exist for fear of being labeled “different,” cannot be allowed to be pulled. Opting to create an exaggerated self with the threads of what made me different wasn’t any better, either. Dad wasn’t always enamored of my colorful self, but he admired my voracious need to read, watch films, go to the theater, and articulate what I loved about what I was watching or reading. (Except “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” He tore a companion picture book in half and threw it in the trash.)
Dad believed in the power of words and I have found comfort and solace in recognizing that part of him. I know I won’t fade into the background anytime soon. My will to speak and write is too strong. However, the point is to allow our words to count. Empowerment and courage will forever exist in words, even in a fish tank.
Having the courage and will to express myself is what will get me through this next chapter without him. Nostalgia has also proven a great source of empowerment, lessons that were buried only to resurface as I contemplate my own future. For example, when I was a kid, visiting the family in Tampico, the tíos thought it would be great to get me on a horse. I was about 4 or 5. Tío Paul was so proud to see me ride. Instead, he saw me fall off, which wasn’t unusual for me. Graceful athleticism was left out of my DNA stew.
I didn’t get back on that horse. I often wonder what life would have been like if I just got back in the saddle again. No filter, either. It speaks volumes to me today. I don’t need a horse anymore, but I do know I won’t be staying down if I fall. I’ll just dust myself off and keep on moving forward as my singular self. Witnesses welcomed, but not required.
“It’s a disease. Nobody thinks or feels or cares any more; nobody gets excited or believes in anything except their own comfortable little God damn mediocrity.”
― From “Revolutionary Road” by Richard Yates
In this era of trolling, we opt to wage our agenda of malcontent from the comfort of home. We choose to disconnect ourselves from what could be bold or brave or courageous. We are Generation Meh, the era where it’s never good enough. We’ve engaged the codes to launch the comment box apocalypse, a spiritual ground zero that destroys all in its path.
How did we get here?
When did we accept mediocrity and started using anger to cover our fear of progress and change?
When did we just put our heads in the sand?
When did we accept the status quo because it was “easy?”
I see the rebellion in the form of people like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Beto O’Rourke, and Kamala Harris. What do we do? Tear them down.
What is “enough?”
What will turn this societal Titanic around?
What will make us all smile again?
It only takes one kind word.
It only takes us being able to say “I see you with respect.”
It only takes a moment, and you will see the difference.
“I’m glad I cleaned the house today,” she thought in her best Lady Macbeth fashion. “Too many damn cobwebs. Out damn memories.”
She’d contemplated burning some sage but settled on removing old totems from the past as being enough. Finding the photos of “that other family” triggered this latest “limpiada,” a lesson taught by her mother.
“The best way to get rid of the past,” her Mamá Coraje once said, “is to believe it never happened at all.”
Rewriting history was a family skill so well-honed, even Orwell would blanch out of shame. For the Coraje women, lies were irradiated truths. Truths were best regarded as lies told by those who only wanted to destroy their gossamer veneer of perfection. The singular male Coraje — the son or brother — seemed to lack the focus required. He was a man-boy with feet of clay, desperate to be liked and loved, lacking integrity and grit.
Adept at creating her own reality since youth, this particular Coraje sister didn’t even break a sweat at the effort anymore. Ignoring events, people, the color of her skin, her family’s lower-middle-class reality, it didn’t faze her in the least. She chose to dance on the jagged edge, to remain a beautiful liar en pointe. Yet, the years were now revealing their own subtle truths, manifested in her stick-thin figure and the frozen look of bitter disappointment on her face. Whatever beauty or character was erased now.
It was seeing a photo of her mother with her American-born cousins that triggered this bolt of divine inspiration as she finished cleaning. She’d send the found photos to their original owners. It would be easier to simply place them in the trash.
“La basura se junta,” Mamá Coraje would say about people who had lost their use to her.
Another pair of trembling hands would soon hold the plain manila envelope she’d carefully filled with photos covering several years from what was now a different lifetime. The note? Benign in its phrasing, but packing a wallop that would reverberate beyond several area codes: “I thought you could use these.” Its simplicity was almost too perfect! Minimum effort for maximum damage, this bread & butter note written with the same intent as a “Thank you” card or a grocery list.
Would she know that sending this package would elicit feelings of anger and rage? Would she know that emptying her house of what was once treasure would be deemed callous and heartless? That the question of “Who does this?” would be muttered via texts and phone calls and several lunchtime conversations? The frozen smiles captured in these wrinkled black & whites and torn color images belied something she would never allow herself to acknowledge: her own feelings of malignant envy.
As la Hermana Coraje transported the sealed envelope to the post office, she reflected on the scorched earth demeanor of the Corajes. It was a cold feeling, cold and lonely and terrifying in its power. Was this too much? Had she gone too far? But she caught herself before any rationality or humanity could take root. Gripping the steering wheel of her sensible Japanese car, a trace of a smile revealed itself as she accelerating on the gas.
“The most important thing I want to express to people is that I’m not cured. I could probably relapse in a minute. Who knows? It’s just a weird disease that sneaks up on you and all of a sudden you’re boozing at the bar, or whatever. And it doesn’t have to be because of you or pressure or this-or-that. It just can be.
The most important thing is that I didn’t want to set myself up for failure and be like, “Look at me!” I wanted to write the book that I needed when I was suffering. ” — Kristen Johnston, actor
I won’t even try to gloss it over with a layer of shiny wit, dear readers.
I am truly sick.
My diabetes is worse than ever. My cholesterol has hit a number that even scared the staff of my doctor’s medical team.
I’ve written about this before. All of my friends have heard the tale before. I had to admit to myself that I’ve been playing Russian Roulette with my health for the better part of a year. I know I went too far. I’ve known. My insatiable thirst for sugary drinks? My getting up more than three times to urinate during a given night, having to witness a small mountain of foam in the toilet each time? The numbness on the tip of my right-hand thumb, which mirrors the nerve damage I have on my right pinkie toe? All signs of diabetes left unchecked.
Given my unpredictable mood of late, I was literally given a “time out” by my boss. I was given a day off. Another red flag, but one that motivated me to sit down for blood work at One Medical. It was time to do something. Anything. It was months overdue. I was told by the phlebotomist that I’d get my results in about a week or so.
I received this email 24 hours later.
I’d just visited my shrink when I received Dina’s note. After the first two reads, all I could see was the words “Blindness,” “Kidney Failure,” “Heart Attacks” and “Strokes.” I felt nothing as I sat in my car in that parking lot off Wilshire Blvd. I turned the ignition, put the car in reverse, drove off the lot… and went straight to 7-11 to buy a Super Big Gulp filled with Fuze Raspberry Iced Tea for the trip home.
A new shade of anger has set in. Anger that I am in this square. Again. I am angry at myself. Again. I am sick. Sick, tired, and scared. It sounds like an ambulance chasing law firm. The office of Sick, Tired and, Scared. I can only imagine their rates.
Alan asked me earlier last week if I was looking at death as a means of avoiding dealing with a few situations in my personal life. Of course, I said, “No.” But as I write this diary entry now, I realize, some truth exists to the question he posed. Yes, I would rather be dead than have to deal with what is happening in my life at the moment. I don’t know this person I’ve become. I know the behaviors very well, but not the individual. When did fear and anxiety become my defining characteristics? How did I let myself become so afraid that I’ve immobilized myself?
When I began my career in the film industry, if doors were closed in front of me, I’d either knock them down or find another way in. I don’t do that anymore. This is beyond complacency. What I feel is a form of terror. I’d prefer leading myself to a stroke, heart attack or worse than to deal with a crisis point. That is suicide.
Friends of mine have lost loved ones this year to health issues that we are able to control. It isn’t just a question of age. We know eating better, taking a bit of exercise, and thinking healthy are the sure-fire ways to live a healthier life. Genetics only account for a portion of the reason for illnesses like diabetes and heart disease. We can get BETTER. But it takes focus and control, two things that people like me, who live with an addiction to poor food choices and insolence, struggle to engage.
This anxiety, which has only been amplified thanks to the Trumpist Age, cannot swallow me whole. I haven’t felt so alone as I do right now, even if I do live in a crowd. Taking solace in knowing just how MANY people are desperate at this moment isn’t enough anymore. But, I do know who I can trust with these feelings, even if I’ve worn out my welcome with this story. I dig my heels into the ground the minute most people offer me advice to “get better” or “smile” or “stop reading the news.” If you knew how much I love shoes, such behavior has no place in my adult life anymore. I’m not a child and being stroppy about anything in this life is beyond idiotic.
This self-destruction must end in a way that doesn’t require my mortality. I need to get my shit together. I need to start thinking healthy again. I need to at least LIKE myself again. Otherwise, this diary will live on as an obituary or a cautionary tale. Take your pick.
I will be seeing my physician this week to review the lab results and put together a medical strategy that will play a role in getting my numbers to safer levels. I am tracking my food intake on the Weight Watchers app. I am being proactive. This doesn’t resolve the bigger issue that is a key reason why I’ve lost control, though. I’ll begin with this first truth, this first salvo in positive thinking:
It isn’t betrayal, my wanting to tell the people close to me, that I want to change my life before this situation kills me.
If you know my family, you’ve probably heard the tale of “The Adventures of Dad, Jorgito, and the Golden King Tut Ticket of 1978.” It remains one of our favorite stories because it has everything, laughter, drama, realizations about a child’s true nature, and mummies. It makes sense that it includes mummies since most Latino families embalm all sorts of moments they can drag out from their tombs now and again. It usually happens at a family gathering, especially during the holidays.
But I digress. First, a little context to our Tut connection.
From 1976 to 1979, the treasures found in King Tutankhamun’s tomb toured seven U. S. cities, including Los Angeles. The exhibition was a wild success, to put it mildly. “King Tut Mania” was the only pyramid scheme destined not to bankrupt the regular folk. It was as if a Cecil B. DeMille film had come to vivid life, seeing images of these treasures. The mystery, the glamour, the history! All of it was on display, centuries of history and wonder behind glass. Angelenos lost their minds when the tour arrived at the L.A. County Museum of Art. About eight million Americans made the trek nationally to the “Treasures of Tutankhamun” when it hit their chosen cities. More than one million visitors were tallied in Los Angeles alone. And I represented two of those entries at LACMA, which is a family legend today.
A total history buff, my Dad was absolutely caught up in the Tut-related fervor. A factory beside his was manufacturing swag to cash in on the rabid demand for merch. He’d bring home such replicated artifacts as Tut’s funeral mask, a small statue of the goddess Isis encased in a lucite pyramid. Yes, these were factory rejects, but so what? It was so rare to see Dad get excited by such things, but his pragmaticism meant he was obsessed with science and history. He loved truth and facts versus the fantasy and abstract represented by fiction.
Talk about your golden tickets. Even Willy Wonka would have raised an eyebrow in surprise. Reaction to the tour’s stop in L.A. was so intense and swift that NO ONE could get access after the lots were released and sold to the public. You’d think the Beatles reunited to play Dodger Stadium. One good thing that occurred was how some of the participating museums put together special programs for local schools, making free tickets available to groups of students. Dad was muy proud when I was chosen as one of the fifth graders from South Ranchito Elementary to visit with the Egyptian boy king at LACMA. It meant something to him that at least one of his family members would bear witness to this glorious exhibition of rarely-seen history, and it did not disappoint when my classmates and I made our way out to the museum on the day. It was better than any movie I’d seen about Tut or Egypt. All that imagery, long archived in history, was finally real and part of our time in the world.
A few weeks later, as the exhibition prepared for its departure, Dad had this wild notion of heading down to LACMA to see if we swing two tickets. As he always said, “The worse they can tell you is ‘No.'” So, we jumped into our aqua blue V.W. Beetle and made our way to the west side of L.A.
Dad had no problem sending me to the box office – alone – to see if any cancellations were available. (I don’t think any parent would do that today. I was 11 years old, and Wilshire Blvd. was still a mega-busy thoroughfare, even then. But it stands as a lesson in encouraging independence and resourcefulness in my mind.) Unfortunately, my inquiry at the box office did result in a not-surprising “No, kid.” Dejected, I returned to the assigned curb where I was to wait for Dad, who’d been driving around the block the entire time.
As I kept a vigilant eye out for our family Beetle, I felt someone tap my shoulder. I looked up to gaze at a handsomely dressed woman. She smiled this congenial smile and asked, “Are you trying to get tickets for Tut.” I didn’t think this was a “Stranger Danger” moment as she looked like she’d been to Bullocks Wilshire, the storied department store, which mattered to me back then. Haha. I think I said something like, “Yes, ma’am. But there aren’t any tickets.” She reached into her pocketbook and pulled out one of those Golden King Tut tickets.
“My friend isn’t able to make it, so why don’t you take it,” she said.
You could almost hear an angelic choir at that moment. I went from a “No” to a shocking “Yes!” Fortune favors the child left alone on a busy street, dammit!
I wish I remembered more of that exchange because I can only hear my saying, “Thank you, ma’am!” I couldn’t stop staring at that ticket, which is how Dad found me as he pulled up to the curb. I stepped into the car and yelled, “Dad! I got a ticket. Look!” He smiled this huge smile.
Then I said, “I’ll be right back. I’m going back in!” And boom, I was off!
Oh, how my family and I have discussed that moment of total selfishness. The lack of awareness. The utter glory of my young self-absorption! For years! Reflecting on that moment, I know my Dad would have never left me in the car while he walked through the exhibition. Although, he did leave me to my devices at the ticket office. Whatever. The important thing was for me to say, “Dad. Here’s the ticket.” For him to decline would be a lesson in how we sacrifice our needs and feelings. (See, Catholic guilt does start early!)
I don’t remember what I wore or even ate that day. I can’t pull up any descriptive details of our lives in 1978. I remember Dad’s dejected look as I turned and sprinted away. I didn’t spend as much time looking at the exhibits as I did the first time. I was painfully aware of Dad waiting outside by himself, which did make me feel a little self-conscious. Maybe I did realize what I did was pretty lousy. Despite the packed crowd gaping and crowing about the artifacts filling the galleries, it was a hollow victory because I was seeing them without my father. Maybe I didn’t know how to articulate these feelings then, but my early elation felt less strong as I walked briskly through the museum and out the door to meet up with Dad. He asked if I enjoyed it all the second time, and all I could say was, “Yes.”
As we walked to the car and started the journey home, I remember the long silence as he drove. I knew I hurt him a little. Once home, I also remember hearing Mom and Dad talk about my impulsive nature, my incredible luck, and my impulsive nature again. It was followed by laughter, but I knew I had disappointed them. (Hell, I’d live to disappoint them again and again, but this episode remains my favorite since it carries a better layer of charm and innocence.)
In the end, Dad and I would share a Tut experience in 2005 when “Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs” appeared at LACMA. This time, the entire family made the trek to Wilshire Blvd. Of course, that adventure is marked by Mom loudly saying in the museum foyer, “Hmmm. This all looks smaller than the exhibition your father and I saw in Cairo. You know, in Egypt.” (Hahaha. Yes, we’re THAT family.)
That’s the upshot to the original Tut tale. My globe-trotting parents ventured to the land of the Pharaohs, experiencing an unforgettable view of the Tut treasures and more in Africa. As much as I envy them, I am also proud of my parents, who took their vacations in places far and away. They were our first adventurers, showing us how to explore the world without fear or hesitation. We were tasked to leave our backyards and see what lies beyond a museum brochure or a movie screen. As a result, we’ve also created our brand of history as a family.
Tut would dazzle us a third time in L.A. It’s been 100 years since the discovery of Tut’s tomb. This extensive collection of artifacts, the largest assembly of its kind, will be touring the world to honor the occasion, perhaps the last time they will ever be seen outside of Cairo. Naturally, the city of Los Angeles was selected by the Cairo Museum to host the world premiere of “King Tut: Treasures of the Golden Pharoah” at the California Science Center. Of course, members of my family and I made the journey yet again, and yes, the day is sold out. However, Dad won’t be able to make the trek to the California Science Center with us due to his current health issues. Mom and Neto were also down for the count due to having colds.
My family and I know we don’t need a reason to celebrate the 40th anniversary of “The Adventures of Dad, Jorgito, and the Golden King Tut Ticket of 1978.” It is a bummer to note that the glorious golden mask can no longer leave its home in Egypt. It means our spirit of adventure will have to take us to the heart of the Nile to see the pyramids and Sphinx and give them our best from our parents who stood there in awe and joy many years ago.
What a powerful full circle moment nonetheless, one I will share with Poppadoodles when we return from our visit with El Rey Tut. I am reluctant to write more now as I feel tears building up. I have so much more to say to Dad, from “Remember when?” to “Thank you” to “You were so right!” I’m afraid that conversation has to happen sooner than later and time is no longer on our side.
As my family and I take in these treasures anew, I can’t help but be reminded of the beauty of history. Wherever these essays may rest long after I’m gone, I hope people will appreciate the love and respect that remain hallmarks of my Dad as a parent and a human being. What I hope is unearthed years from now is that our history as father and son, and as the Carreon Family as a whole, was a precious one indeed.