If you’re like me, this Election Day is all about comfort food and comfort movies. If you need to break away from the pundits & prognosticators, here are the Carreón Cinema Club’s Top Five Election Day Movies to help steady, or jangle, your nerves as we await the results of a lifetime.
TED (2012) – Feeling the need to bust a gut, look no further than Seth MacFarlane’s Oscar-nominated hit, TED. One of my favorite R comedies ever, the image of a trash-mouthed, alcoholic teddy bear is perfect for tonight. Starring Mark Wahlberg and Mila Kunis, prepare for a case of the moist fuzzies thanks to MacFarlane’s pitch-perfect voice performance as Ted. It’s for anyone who needs a thunder buddy tonight.
THE PHILADELPHIA STORY (1940) – One of my favorite films ever, George Cukor’s 1940 classic THE PHILADELPHIA, is as perfect a comedy as you’ll ever see. Starring Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, and James Stewart in his only Oscar-winning performance, this is a film to treasure thanks to a screenplay that is practically music to your ears. Classy, legendary, and funny in its depiction of class, media, and marriage, you will swoon away the anxiety in no time.
WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN (1988) –Tap into the pop kitsch of Spanish iconoclast Pedro Almódovar’s first mainstream hit, WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN. This Spanish-language comedy from 1988 reveals how far an anxious woman will go to get a call back from a straying lover. A hilarious look at relationships and gender, you’ll be ignoring your telephone as election updates start coming in.
NETWORK (1976) – If you need something a little more substantive, why not Paddy Chayefsky’s brutally funny but accurate look at media with NETWORK. Directed by Sidney Lumet, this prophetic movie details how a last-place network taps into the era’s popular rage with outrageous and tragic results. Featuring William Holden and Robert Duvall, it is the Oscar-winning trio of Faye Dunaway and Peter Finch, along with Chayefsky’s script that makes this film a classic for any media age.
Z (1969) – For the nihilists just looking for a cathartic release, may I suggest Costa-Gavras’ Z, a dark and chilling account of Greek politics following the assassination of a Greek political leader. Inspired by real events, Z’s representation of the event’s aftermath, including a mass cover-up and a coup d’etat, is sobering and all-too timely. One of the first films to be nominated for Best Picture and Best Foreign Film Oscars, winning for the latter. Unforgettable.
Hang in there, mi gente. We have each other for whatever happens next. See you on the other side of history.
I am starting to wonder if I’m ever going to move away from this plateau in terms of my weight.
A plateau is defined as “a state of little or no change following a period of activity or progress.” For the record, this is my second week at 236. It is becoming increasingly clear to me that this plateau is manifesting itself in the broader scheme of how I’ve chosen to live my life. More, it is yet another wake-up call because, if high blood pressure and type-2 diabetes aren’t scary enough, so is stagnation.
I keep thinking about the concepts of gaining and losing. Not just in the physical sense, but the spiritual and emotional areas, too. I think about the financial gains and losses of the last few years. It’s been a lifetime of “too much.” I’ve consumed immense quantities of self-pitying, self-loathing, bank account draining stupidity.
I’ve surpassed the weight limit allowed for emotional baggage.
Reasons exist for the plateau on which I find myself. And the void that I have tried for years to fill is now a testament to the self-sabotage that is my routine.
The gravitational pull of a black hole is so powerful, not even light can escape. That is the void that has haunted my universe for as long as I can remember.
I don’t know what it’s going to take to get content again. I can’t say happy because that’s too lofty a goal. But I am in a state of suspended animation. Nothing is being lost or gained. Just…stasis. And it’s frustrating the hell out of me because I can’t seem to move from this point.
In some ways, the saving grace in all of this is not going by 236 to 237, although I was awfully close to that number at weigh-in this morning. I don’t want to cross that threshold tomorrow.
This is my last week of a 10-week program to rein in the lack of control in what and how I eat. This is my last week in the Lindora orbit before moving out into the real world without a daily check-in and vitamin B shots. I’ve lost 22 lbs., but gaining some insight into what it is that ails me in the first world sense.
This wasn’t for vanity. This wasn’t for loneliness, although I continue to eat my feelings. I am reaching for healthier food, however. This program was to better my life. But first, I need to recognize that I truly want to live, because some days, I don’t truly believe that I do. It is a selfish waste of time, space and gifts to even have such a dark thought enter my consciousness. But there it is and it feels like the gravitational pull that drags all matter into the center of a black hole. I am skirting its orbit now, but still a distance away from being totally consumed by this void once and for all.
This feels like madness sometimes. I remember a period where my Dad was having a similar mental break when he was this age. He was so angry, disconnected and dissatisfied with everything and everyone around him. He was “The Other,” not the man who raised us to be strong and responsible and healthy. “The Other” was weak, irrational and unstable. It was a terrible period for my family, but he rebounded and we got Dad back from whatever black hole threatened to consume him.
I’m “The Other” right now. I don’t want to be saved and I understand the cure. If I can bring down my sugar levels and stabilize my blood pressure, if I can eat better and get fit, then I can shed this malaise in my heart and brain. At some point, I will be able to say “this void is condemned.”
Writing helps. I’m not sure if I can say “I need help” just yet, because what I carry in my heart right now is something only I can repair.
I don’t know how to end this post. But I do know it won’t be the last.
God, how long have I been basking in the glow of hyperbole?
It’s like I don’t know any other way to express myself or view the world. Everything to me is:
It’s all just a cover-up, really. This endless search of non-information that clutters my brain, distracting me from the narrative that I really want to express, not just to the world, but to myself. If there is anything to offer as a resolution for 2015, it is to abandon the hyperbole and focus on what matters in defined terms. Fuck these endless social media streams, I want truth again.
I haven’t been too eager to promote many entries on this blog of late. It’s been a combination burn book and teen girl journal for weeks. “This family member talked so much shit about my me!” or “Those family members had the nerve to make it all about them!” or “This date was just another Harry Houdini! Now you see him! Now you don’t!” I bet even Taylor Swift would go, “Fuck bitch. Get a new theme!”
What happened to self-reflection and understanding, to humor and positivity?
What happened to the last third of 2014?
Well, a lot.
John Kander and Fred Ebb composed a song for Martin Scorsese’s “New York, New York” called “The World Goes ‘Round.” I’ve had it on a loop these last few weeks. It helped shape what I decided to write today, summing up exactly what sort of year many of us experienced in 2014.
Sometimes you’re happy, sometimes you’re sad
But the world goes ’round…
And sometimes your heart breaks with a deafening sound…
Somebody loses and somebody wins
And one day it’s kicks, then it’s kicks in the shins
But the planet spins,
and the world goes ’round….
I thought a lot about what this closing blog entry of the year should contain. But, as I sit here in my bedroom (More teen girl imagery. That has to go in 2015), I find that I don’t want to replay any of it. I want to focus on the reality that the world will continue to spin — and that hope matters.
My boss Alan and I got into a rather revealing discussion about hope, an ideal my friend doesn’t seem to think exists.
But I do. I really do.
Hope, like love, has lost its power. It’s a brand. It is a campaign logo. It has been appropriated by the self-help contingent, those annoying life coaches and magazinespeak spinners. It is that blanket statement too many of us use to cover up our woes, disappointments and our other beautifully weak and frail moments. “Don’t worry. There is always hope.”
Hope, like love and happiness, takes effort. It takes work to NOT let yourself fall prey to the myriad of distractions and stupidities that dominate our daily lives. You can’t use hope blindly. Hope needs to be seen clearly. It isn’t like prayer. “I hope” is not like talking to God. You are talking to yourself. You are being your own source of faith and courage to face the challenges that we face. And the challenges, particularly at this age, will arrive with the efficiency of a high speed train.
Hope, like love, is not for pussies. And hope needs to be taken back from the legion of those wanting to cash in on our gorgeous neuroses for their own gain. Before any of us can begin to understand just how important love is in our lives, we have to reeducate ourselves in the power of hope. Where there is hope, you will find love. You will find them exactly where you left them before you let all the static of modern life cloud your own beliefs and true self.
In a few hours, 2014 will join the album of detritus that is memory. It will be relegated to the tales we tell whenever we reunite. Those who are lost, will be remembered. Those who hurt us will be reviled again, but ultimately forgiven because they just don’t know any better. Those who made us laugh, will make us laugh that much harder. And we will all be glad that we survived to tell the tales again and again.
I also found great comfort in another song, one composed by Hans Zimmer and Trevor Horn for the film “Toys,” performed by Wendy & Lisa and Seal. It features this lyric:
This is a Time to be Together
And the Truth is somewhere here
Within our love of People
At the Closing of the Year.
I spent these last months in a state of free fall. I haven’t hit ground yet, but I see it below. I have not lost sight that it is with my family and my family of friends, new and old, here and abroad, where I did find my truth in 2014.
I can’t wait to find out what I will learn in 2015.
Wednesday, December 31. Written and posted from Wayne Avenue Manor in South Pasadena, CA.
This is one blog entry I have not been able to leave well enough alone. While its theme has remained intact, I keep refining what was originally written at a peak setting of emotion. Some phrases just sounded trite. Others seemed full of contempt against the gent that inspired this post. It didn’t seem fair because I wasn’t hurt by him. He didn’t do anything. But I think I can walk away from it now.
It wasn’t anger that motivated me to offer this post-mortem on the events of the last few weeks. It was a desire to understand why someone, who exhibited such fire, would just snuff it out without warning or reason. Honestly, this is a real first in my dating life, which made it an ideal topic to explore in these pages. I know I am not alone in experiencing this phenomenon.
So, here goes…
Since ending it with my Ex over four years ago, I’ve tried to evolve myself into being a latter day Jack Tripper. You know, enjoying the company of a different guy every week. Regular drinks at the Regal Beagle, i.e. the Eagle. Never wanting to settle down, never allowing myself to be someone’s “catch.” I wanted to be single and ready to mingle! I wanted to be living life as a paragon of unbridled, but safe, sexuality. It would be oh-so perfect except for one minor thing.
I’m the version of Jack Tripper that does want to get caught.
Dating in your 40s in L.A. is sure as hell not for pussies. I still have yet to master the art of being detached and cool when it comes to reading the signals from the other guy. But man, it’s like I’m dyslexic. I always seem to get it wrong. Although, I’d be curious to see if anyone would have read this situation any different.
When we first met, the connection between us was surprisingly tangible. It was immediate, visceral and pretty fucking hot. He possessed humor, vitality, introspection and optimism. It was a high, to be honest. I couldn’t wait to kiss him again because it was THAT GOOD. Hell, I’ve stumbled through enough situations with blind faith. His brand of shock was something that woke me up. We had great banter. We spoke with honesty and humor. At the very least, it was the start of a new friendship
Then, after a night at the movies, I told him, “Dammit. I am starting to like you.”
Cue the crowd going, “Awww, dude! You blew it!”
Yeah, you could practically hear the tables turn ever so slightly. Things dropped a few degrees, nothing worth causing a commotion. Yet, in the back of my head, I knew I stepped into it. My chronic case of verbal diarrhea flared right up. I thought I kept in check with some mental Imodium, but maybe not.
We went out one more time. Another movie. (Ironically, it was “The Theory of Everything.” I think Stephen Hawking’s theories are easier to figure out than dating in L.A.!) Another hand holding session during the movie. Another late night meal, where we got to know each other a bit more. Another great kissing session at the end, albeit not as crazy as the first few times. Still, I walked away mollified. My explanation of “my liking him” meant “I’m glad we’re not treating each other like pieces of meat.” It was designed to clear up any trace of “hold on, pal. I ain’t into you that way.”
But there was some truth to it. I genuinely liked being with this gent…as a person. When he dropped the question, “Real talk. What’s your expectation?” I honestly didn’t have any. I was thinking only of how exciting the day turned out. If anything, it would have been great if we only decided to keep up the line of dialogue because it was interesting. He was interesting. I’ll be darned if he didn’t epitomize cool. He was smart, witty and held a great passion for filmed arts. I have enough friends, that’s true. But, I also know that you want to be around people like this when they make their presence known. If anything, he was an exciting new ingredient to introduce to a recipe that could stand a remix.
Most people hold fast to the truth that you don’t always reveal every thought to someone you just meant. But how else are you supposed to get to know a person unless you reach out and touch someone? There was no barrage of texts or urgent demands as to when we’d see each again. I gave him space, because everyone has a life, right? It was hard not to get excited, though. Excited can be desirable. Desperate is not.
I got a few good morning texts, a few other exchanges. Then…total silence. Mr. Excitement had evaporated in less than a week. Now I’m left wondering, “What the hell happened?”
Was there was a family emergency? Did he lose his phone and can’t restore his contact info? Perhaps he met someone better suited for him? Maybe he wasn’t single after all? Maybe he got scared or scared off? Maybe he really did just want a hook up? Maybe my id was too fuckin’ apparent? Maybe he got some really bad advice from friends, telling him to slow the F down? Did I reach out too much? Am I just too old or not daddy enough? Or maybe, as the saying goes, “He’s just NOT that into you!” Hahaha. (Fuck you, SATC. This is real life!)
Meh. What’s the point of speculating at all? Even if guys do the gentlemanly thing to offer an explanation, it never arrives as a satisfying answer. Silence is never golden, but it sure speaks volumes.
This all makes me feel so freakin’ stupid. Writing this as a blog entry is probably a little too Taylor Swift for its own good. But, I hold fast to the rule of “writing what I know” and he did inspire two entries already. The upside is he encouraged me to stop this Eeyore Syndrome for a moment. He woke me up, which was such a nice feeling.
Again, I learned a long time ago that expectations mean disappointments. Is it wrong to feel a bolt of good had creeped after so much chaos within myself and my family these last few months? It was that thrill of being reckless, of being unshackled from the norm that made me feel a sense of hope. It wasn’t my heart that was stirred. I am still a long ways of giving that up to anyone just yet. It was proof that my libido was alive and kicking again.
By now, I am sure some of your are wondering why the “Lolita” reference. No, he wasn’t 15. (Sigh of relief, huh?) But, he was 30, not my first time at this particular demo rodeo, either. Know that it doesn’t really matter the age group. A variation of this fade out happened earlier this year with someone who was approaching 50. Sometimes I think I’lm naive enough to be 15 when it comes to this bullshit.
Perhaps you’re thinking, “Well, he’s 30, what else did you expect? Why aren’t you meeting people your own age?” For the record, it isn’t their age that compels me. It is more a person’s attitude, their enthusiasm for life and living that I seek. That, along with a great smile and the means to communicate, whether through humor or intellect, are essential. Bonus points if he creates art or harbors a desire to express himself in an artistic medium. Surprise. They ain’t easy to find, folks. But, on paper, he was that kind of gent.
To be frank, I don’t understand this era of gay men at all. Although, I don’t think I’ve ever really had much of a grasp in the first place. Today, it’s like we’ve all failed to understand the meaning of consequences. Is it possible that most of us think emotions have a kill switch like some video game? No one seems to care if or when it’s triggered. Is it possible too many men have seen nothing but broken when it comes to relationships so we’ve evolved into thinking pairing off is simply not normal or worth it?
Yet, why will some men still try to exhibit behavior like wanting to hold your hand? Why do they bother to look deep into your eyes in the heat of being intimate? Is it an awkward bid to experience that human connection that keeps us all from going mad? Once that carnal lust is sated, a lot of us act as if nothing happened. Time goes by and then our desire builds to that fever pitch again.
We reach back out to Scruff, Growl’r or whatev’r and we scroll search to engage again with someone new. It’s like that old saying, “The only way to get over one man is to get under another one!” Hahaha. Yeah, I’m guilty of it, too. Maybe this time I forgot how it feels when they are the ones seeking a one-time connection with no option for renewal?
Ergo, the glass box of emotion.
Okay, so this is more a rant and less a confession. I guess I let him hit the two buttons that are my hottest ones. Yet, if it wasn’t him, it would have been someone else doing me the honors. You can only take so much of the same bullshit pattern of failure before you decide to raise your voice with the aid of your laptop keys.
Despite my overthought sense of frustration and disappointment, I really don’t fault him for anything. (And if he reads this, I hope he knows I harbor no ill feelings.) In fact, I’m actually glad it happened, this moment, one of many in the unfinished masterpiece that is life. (Thank you, Mr. Nabokov.) What I experienced with him helped me better define the type of gent that could be the catalyst for me connect with in a way that lasts. (I guess I do have a type, after all. He was definitely in that zone. Maybe this means I am getting closer?)
Who knows how many more times I’m going to be walking after midnight on this search? But, sooner or later, that clock is gonna strike with someone in my favor. Right?
Tuesday, December 2. Written and posted from Wayne Avenue Manor in South Pasadena, CA
I read the text today, oh boy. These missives have a strange effect. Just when I feel we can all move on — someone feels the need to reach out to grab the spoon and stir the pot.
Face it, the soup is burned. The kettle is charred. Nothing is left to bubble or nurture when poured anymore. All we are doing is clanging an empty vessel.
So, these words, the last I hope to write on this issue for a long while until our unit is restored, are the ones that took flight today:
“There are always two sides to the “truth.” We choose the one that fits our needs. In the end, you are always left with one question: Why?
The losses incurred in this year are a heavy price to pay for unfounded pride & discontent.
Harsh judgments begat harsher punishments. Silence has turned to retribution. You can’t reprimand those as being judgmental and negative by offering nothing but judgment and negativity in return. Why didn’t you try to talk to us? Why cut us off at the knees? Why create a culture of divisiveness? It didn’t happen on its own. It took TWO sides to make that happen, not one.
Instead, you have chosen to place yourselves in the role of being the victim of an uncaring group. The reality, and it applies to us all, is that everyone had a role in this situation. The difference is you have yet to declare any accountability for your sins. I know what I’ve done and I take responsibility for it. All we’ve seen from you is a litany of bad self-help manualspeak: blame shifting, rancor and an incredible amount of self-absorption.
We can surround ourselves with all that we perceive as promoting happiness or positivity. But cutting off those perceived to harm you will create a phantom limb. Something will always be missing & your happiness will be rendered incomplete. You may not give a shit, but give it time.
“Yes People” are not honest people. They only exist to maintain to promote a false sense of peace and completion. What happens when they fail you? Do you keep finding and running through other people, cutting anyone off who dares to compromise your fortress?
We had so much to learn and gain from each other. Now we may never know what peak we could have reached as a group.
I refuse to think this is the end. Because the only true finish is in death. This story can be rewritten in all of our favors.
Who will be the one to prove the pen is mightier than the sword? Can anyone make sense of us now?
I know the power of words. But the heart is stronger. Hope is strongest.
I choose to believe in hope, even if this story is paused indefinitely. Let time heal that which feels toxic or broken. Family will prevail.”
I can’t let any of this go. I am torn between anger and the desire to make things right. Why fight for people who consider you the enemy? Why not just walk away and find somewhere else to live without the bitter aftertaste of people acting like fucking idiots, people that are supposed to share your blood.
At times, I think about just cutting ties with everyone except the one person in this entire shit show who understands the importance of rolling with life’s punches. I think of Spain. I think of Nashville. I think of anywhere but here. But that’s running away and I’ve seen the effects of not realizing a dream or goal or anything that requires a plan. No matter where you go, what you’re running from will continue to haunt you until you face it square on and without fear of failure.
I don’t share the cynicism of the others, nor do I choose to agree with the arrogant superiority of being “right” about “them.” I wish they all could see how foolish we all look from the outside.
We’re the Mexican-American Horror Story…and I won’t be its clown.
Después de días de vida y muerte, de perdida and desenlace, nuestro tiempo con Las Hermanas Coraje ha llegado a su último capítulo…por fin.
I guess it is human nature to prefer extreme situations to rational ones. We joke it ain’t drama unless it’s Mexican drama, but in this case I can’t see it as anything else anymore. It is time to put the novela that is my life on hiatus for a moment to focus on more inspiring — and less revealing — topics. But, don’t begrudge me this chance to not go so quiet into the night just yet. You won’t believe the freak show that has become “Los Hermanas Coraje.” This is just a preview of what’s under the big tent they’ve staged — a circus from which they will never escape:
Behold The Sisters of the Coldest Heart, defying the warmth of family and preferring the frost of rancor, manipulation and bitterness.
Witness The Puppet Man’s strings pulled by the Sisters, who script his every word and plot his every move as they peel away the last shreds of his masculinity.
Thrill to the amazing control of The Invisible Matriarch, whose presence is always felt, even though she doesn’t bother to appear at all.
United they stand, but divided we’ve become for the moment. Some of us want their heads on a stick as payback for the show of disrespect they’ve forced us to view. But I don’t want to be in their center ring anymore.
I contributed to the Great Divide, which I don’t regret. Sure, I am angry that they took to not only insulting members of my family as being the reason for this split, but not enough to stir more blood in the water. What I cannot abide with is the disrespect shown to the memory of someone who did nothing but open her home and heart — only to see it belittled as an act of convenience and greed.
Now we are grappling over who gets to have the last word, that last grand gesture that becomes family legend; the one that begins, “We showed them…” But showed them what? The truth?We already know they prefer fantasy to reality, so what’s the point of stripping the bark off their grossly idealized family tree? A better expressed kiss off statement? Who gives a shit if we have a stronger, nuanced vocabulary, we still only mean to say “fuck you!”
I wish it would stop. All their “mean girls” maneuvering is bad enough and we are all just grinding the gears further down. As for parents wanting to protect their kids’ honor? There is nothing honorable about making phone calls or showing up at someone’s door to start a fight. (Although, the idea of warring matriarchs, “Falcon Crest” style would make for one AWESOME YouTube video. Now that’s reality TV!)
My younger sister practically has “I don’t care” on a dialogue loop right now. But she’s right. Why do we care so damn much? Why do we even need to discuss sides — much less los Coraje — anymore? It’s O-V-E-R!
We had one last last Hail Mary pass at reconciliation, but it didn’t matter. I did find their polite, almost normal, demeanor during our last encounter as being somewhat curious. Especially considering the amount of vitriol they’ve spent on discrediting me and, particularly, my older sister. A glimmer of hope was shown for a moment, but it was a mirage. Any statement of renewal would have fallen on deaf ears. The reality is the final episode of “Las Hermanas Coraje” was a callous, juvenile and destructive one. If this is what they regard as “being there” in support of a grieving uncle, I hate to see what contempt looks like.
Oh wait, we already have.
It is all pointedly clear: they’ve moved on without us. In the end, the last thing to be said between us should be: total silence. And, I know that’s incredibly hard for a family that personifies “the beautiful noise” of life. But I truly believe silence in this case would be the most powerful sound in the world. We are going to walk away our own versions of the truth anyway, forever played to our respective audiences for as long as we live.
So, I’m dropping the curtain on this show, at least for now. Truth be told, characters like these can never be kept down for long. They are destined to live forever, for the good will always need a unifying cause like vanquishing the bad. I just hope cooler heads will prevail because such poison has a tendency to spread. I almost think the insidious agenda of “Las Hermanas Coraje” includes infighting as a way of further undermining that which they tried to destroy.
I think…no…I am certain we are stronger than that.
No crying out loud when this circus leaves our town. No sawdust or glitter will be left here. All that will be left will be a family living a healthier and happier life.
Jamas nos dañaran las hermanas Coraje con sus mentiras y arrogancia. ¡Que se vayan, gente infiel y grosera! ¡Regresasen a su cuna de víboras!
Al final, sobrevivimos estos capítulos de la novela de nuestras vidas. No temo los avances porque estamos juntos, unidos por siempre, querida familia.
Nunca los dejaré.
Wednesday, October 14. Written and posted from Wayne Avenue Manor, South Pasadena, CA
When I feel that I don’t belong
Draw my strength
From the words when you said
Hey it’s about you baby
Look deeper inside you baby
“Together Again” — Janet Jackson
The following is the eulogy I composed and read today, October 11, to honor the life of my Aunt Susanna Contreras-Valadez.
Good morning…and good morning to you, Aunt Susanna…
To know Susanna Contreras was to know a friendly person, a kind person. She was also a practical person…extremely practical. She was a woman who understood how life is a constant balancing act; that everything has a cause and effect, as any parent can attest:
The house won’t clean itself.
The milk carton won’t replace itself.
Sitting in front of the TV won’t get your homework done.
It’s your decision, but I will always stand by you, because I love you.
I’m sure more than one of you has uttered such phrases before. But as parents, you are the first to teach us there are no guarantees in this life. Susanna was a realist in knowing that challenges will arrive, but they do get solved because family always sticks together.
When it became apparent that my aunt’s cancer was not backing down, it was no surprise that Susanna wanted to take a very practical approach to her future. She would fast track two major life moments. So, on a sunny June afternoon, Aunt Susanna turned to me and asked:
Would I marry her and Uncle Raul? (Yes, I got myself ordained.)
Would I write her eulogy? (Yes, absolutely.)
The subject was closed and we moved on to make plans for her grandson, and my godson, Gabriel’s trip to Knott’s Berry Farm for his 15th birthday, set dates for dim sum and the next cocido brunch and it was decided who would go on the next State Line turnaround.
That was nearly four months ago. We got most of it done, but I didn’t get a chance to marry Uncle Raul and Aunt Susanna. I wouldn’t trade this honor of expressing to you all how she lived and loved in a selfless way for anything in the world. So, how do we remember Susanna Contreras-Valadez?
It is ironic that we live in an age where people prefer pictures to words. But sometimes, images need a context as to what special moments can mean. For instance, see the pictures of my aunt that decorate this room today? Know that they are of a woman who was born in Carlsbad, New Mexico, that destiny had booked her to join Raul Valadez southern California before long.
They met on a Monday before Thanksgiving in 1976.
A meal at Carl’s Jr. was involved, followed by a visit to a pool hall. But this wasn’t their first official date. That happened the following Wednesday when he took her on a tour of his neighborhood. She must of liked what she saw, because she stayed, creating a family and changing the lives of so many people in the process.
The day my family met the beautiful young woman who changed uncle Raul. (Yes, uncle. She changed you in a very good way) was a true touchstone moment. I love knowing that Aunt Susanna lived in Pico Rivera for a bit, which is where my family still lives after 47 years. We may have even crossed paths without even knowing it. I can only think that this was all so meant to be. It was obvious the family was truly complete. We had found the special sauce, the secret ingredient that just made everything better. She made all of us better.
Since my aunt took ill, these many months have been as unpredictable and uncertain as life itself. We had to face some tough realities, like discovering how even the strongest family ties can come undone; that sometimes we lose our way. This is a hard world and the concept of family has to live in it. It’s so easy to remove whatever or whoever makes you feel small. But it is so much more damaging when we attempt to sever the blood ties that helped shape us. Everyone plays a part in the truths that we live. All we ever really want is a witness to the fact that we existed, that we were loved and loved back. Why we complicate it so much, I will never understand. I do believe that forgiveness is not a myth or a sign of weakness. I believe we can all find our way back to the center. There is no good or bad here because that’s what it means to be a family and in that context, Susanna Contreras is very much a center we will miss.
Think of the family members who found refuge at the house of Francisquito and Hacienda when life threw a curve. No matter how long their stay, or how crowded the conditions: no one would go without shelter or care. Not in this family.
Think about when Uncle Raul’s mother, Maria Maya passed away. Recall the concern in Susanna’s voice when she said Ama couldn’t leave this earthly world without her favorite earrings.
Think about those massive holiday dinners Aunt Susanna would prepare for days, jamming the tables into the living room so we could all sit together and unleash the beautiful noise that is us. The fruit salad; those deviled eggs!
At this moment, I would expect to see some side eye from my aunt. She knows when to pull us back down to Earth when we get too grand. She was the calm in the center of the chaos that is us. She never made a big show or expected a reward for all that she’d do for us. She did it because she loved us.
There is nothing too grand in saying how important family was to my aunt. Being a family is about representing its worth, its strength, and most of all, its love. Today, we honor all the roles she will forever represent:
Susanna Contreras is Sam and Celia’s daughter
She is Philip and Sandra’s sister.
She is wife to Raul Valadez.
She is mother to Denise, Daniel, Alyssa and Jamie.
She is grandmother to Gabriel, Sarah, Andrea, Sydney and Abigail.
She is mother in-law to Luis.
She is stepmother to Raul Jr., Diana and Vanessa, and step-grandmother to Julianna and Carlos.
She is sister in-law to Lilia and Jorge Carreon, aunt to Lilia, Jorge, Nancy and Ernesto.
She is sister in-law Maria Consuelo Garcia, aunt to Isidro Jr., Brenda and Connie.
She is a perfect confidante and friend.
She is an avid fan of a good “Law and Order” marathon.
She is one hell of a cook.
She is the sparkle that would appear in her eyes when she was so happy.
She is the big smile that appears when she tells you, “I love you too much.”
My aunt and I shared a lot, especially a love for words. It is said that we write our own stories with the lives that we lead. While we are painfully aware that those we love will die, and sometimes too soon, you must remember that it takes real courage to live. Susanna Contreras-Valadez did exactly that – she lived life with courage and on her terms.
There are so many other words and stories to help define Susanna. Please share your stories with the people gathered here today. Keep this dialogue going long after we leave each other’s company. Tell everyone what made Susanna so important to you. That is how you keep those we love with us on Earth.
It’s hard to say goodbye to Aunt Susanna. It was hard to read a version of this eulogy to her just a few days before she left us. (Yes, she had notes.)
I didn’t want this process to end because I knew it would make her loss that much more real when I reached the last words on this page.
Susanna was supposed to have the final say, but we didn’t get a chance to record that for you. I asked her what was the most important thing she learned in this life. Her answer? Life, in the end, is funny. We need to take time to laugh about it, even if life makes us cry.
So, keep this very practical thing in mind. When that moment hits you, and you’re missing Susanna something awful, turn on the TV and search for this sound (“Law and Order” sound effect). That’s her telling you she’s right there with you, she’s listening, she’s laughing…
And that she loves you too much.
Saturday, October 11 — Written in Salamanca, Spain, South Pasadena, CA and La Puente, CA. Posted from Lilybelle’s Paisley Park compound in Whittier, CA
That’s all he got. Not a phone call. Not a personal visit. A text. And that text, perhaps delivered in a show of support, instead felt like a crushing blow to a family already down.
Las Hermanas Coraje did not disappoint this bittersweet week of loss and family bonding. Only one of the Corajes made their way to the house that first, emotionally complex day.
We had been waiting for the other Corajes to make some show of support, offer a comforting gesture, anything. Instead, the Coraje matriarch stayed away, even though she lives just a few blocks away. To date, she’s only limited herself to a single, minute-long conversation the day before my aunt died.
As for Las hermanas C?
After their one-off performances of “The Pendeja Monologues” via phone prior to my aunt’s death, they have resurfaced to exist in a series of brief texts. The best part? These texts felt like they were written between stop lights as they ventured to the next destination in their carefully maintained lives. To be honest, anything more would probably require us using a defibrillator on them.
Just when things couldn’t get any more strained, the younger Coraje was moved to write what is now known as the “Hey There Text” to my grieving uncle. Maybe that “hey there” was just one of those little nudges we give people when we want to be tender in getting their attention? Maybe that “hey there” was how my uncle and the younger Coraje always addressed each other? Maybe it’s a musical cue, a Rosemary Clooney “Hey There?”
I hate texts for this reason. There is no context to feeling! And it is so easy to jump to an irrational conclusion. However, the rules of grief and consolation are very specific. You need to hear a VOICE, see a FACE, not read “HEY THERE…”
But that’s just me…and probably most people with a normal heart.
Whatever their intent, the “Hey There Text” was received as a cold gesture of fulfilling an obligation, not the warmth of a niece offering care and support to her uncle, to all of the family members who are inconsolable. In the end, it’s the one moment that finally unleashed a response text of no longer pent up fury from his daughter.
There it was. In black and misspelled white, but it didn’t matter. The emotion behind each letter registered loud and clear. You could practically hear the keys on a phone being slammed, punctuated by a “send” stroke that screeched “Fuck You!” instead of “whoosh.”
I don’t know what the aftermath will be thanks to this latest salvo of hurt feelings and incredulity. More than likely it will be spun faster than the already tangled web these spiders have created to shield themselves from us.
What happened to los C? Whatever the supposed beef against certain members of the family, fine. That score will be settled in its own time. But why are they offering so little consolation to the man who has been NOTHING but their champion these many years? At the very least, they should honor his grief. God, the level of disrespect and selfishness they’ve shown is staggering. It’s next to impossible not to think, “Yup. They’ve shown their true faces.”
As we reviewed the photo albums that day, searching for photos to illustrate my aunt’s legacy, we noticed a specific narrative in those first books. It wasn’t my own family present in the many pictures reviewed through tears. It was la familia Coraje who dominated the frames.
These fading pictures might as well be bats trapped in amber at this point. Worse, as the paper and chemicals are decomposing in these fragile albums, so are the ties that kept the Coraje bound to my uncle and his family.
We know time is not in big supply in this life, but los C can still turn this around. A mea culpa is not necessary. However, accountability should be on their minds. A show of respect would go a long way, as would an acknowledgment that my uncle was indeed “married” in the spiritual way to my aunt.
As hurt turns to anger turns to retribution, perhaps it is best we all retreat to our corners. Still, something tells me a bell will be rung one more time. Only then will we witness the KO punch that will end this chapter of “Los Hermanas Coraje.”
Hmm. There’s a good use for “Hey there!” followed by “You won’t believe what happens next!”
But truth be told, I realize this entire narrative is causing so much unnecessary pain. My uncle has already lost his soulmate! He doesn’t need to lose more family members through petty displays of poisonous manipulation. It’s so bad, he’s worried the Coraje shenanigans will add my family to the list of the departed.
Rest assured, dear uncle. We’re not going anywhere. Period.
Dammit. It is time for a truce, not pull focus from the devastating loss of my amazing aunt. And no, I don’t want to hear about Emails and other careless whispers delineating “secret meetings” with my already burdened uncle or references to my family as being “instigators,” either. That trick of playing the victim card is as tired as a bunch of aging nags on a barren field. If you aren’t happy with this record? Go to the source, you cowards!
By the way, when you do, it better be face to face. Don’t just send some bullshit text that starts off with “hey there.”
So, here’s a message to all for us: Live the lives you want. Just don’t confuse drama for happiness. (Thanks, Parks & Recreation for that profound truth.)
Wednesday, October 1. Written and posted from Wayne Ave. Manor.
Mi nombre es Jorge. En el barrio de mi nacimiento, todavía soy “George,” pero ya no me identifico come ese muchacho del ayer. Soy Jorge, pero no soy el original. Yo soy el segundo Jorge porque llevo ell nombre de mi padre. Mi madre quería llamarme Alejandro pero nací para llevar la marca de ser el primer hombre en una familia sencilla. El orgullo me nombró, no la poesía o el romance.
Llevar el nombre de mi padre tiene una gran responsabilidad. Como todas las cosas buenas, los griegos inventaron “Jorge.” Per mis padres Jorge y Lilia Carreón Ramirez crearon esta versión. El origen de mi nombre representa lo que es un granjero o una persona que cultiva la tierra. Ni siquiera puedo cuidar una planta. Sin embargo, esto me dirige a usar una metáfora. Las palabras son lo que yo cultivo porque soy periodista. Yo cuento las historias de personas que tú conoces para ver en la tele o leer en la Internet. Creo que eso me hace un granjero de los medios.
Siendo el segundo Jorge de mi familia es una historia diferente, una historia que no llevo a contar al mundo. Nunca pensé que mi padre y yo teníamos muchas características en común. Siempre estuvimos en una guerra de ideología. Ahora soy mayor y empiezo a darme cuenta de lo que tenemos en común. Como la mayoría de los hombres latinos, vivimos en nuestros recuerdos. Es como si fuéramos granjeros cultivando la tierra que da vida a nuestro´árbol genealógico.
Ahora mi padre está enfermo. Su mente está borrándose lentamente en una manera insidiosa. Un día no voy a ser el segundo Jorge, pero el primero. Es por eso que tengo que recordar todo relacionado con él y con nosotros. Porque ser Jorge es mas que compartir el mismo nombre de mi padre. Ser Jorge es vivir como el conservador de la historia de mi familia.
Porque anoche, al final de la fiesta de cumpleaños de mi hermana mayor, mi padre se olvidó de mi por la primera vez. Me dio su mano, como si yo fuera un desconocido, no su hijo mayor, no el que lleva su nombre. En ese momento, si cambio todo porque reconocí que sí, mi nombre contiene poesía y romance.
Porque llegó el día de ser Jorge el primero.
Domingo 28 de septiembre 2014. En mi casa en South Pasadena, CA
My name is Jorge. People still call me “George,” especially in the neighborhood where I grew up, located in the shadow of downtown Los Angeles. I’m Jorge, but I’m not the First. I am the Second Jorge because I carry my father’s name, a junior version. My mom wanted to name me “Alejandro,” but I was born to carry the name of our patriarch, the first boy born of immigrants in their new country. Pride named me, not a sense of poetry or romance.
To carry your father’s name is a huge responsibility. Like all good things on this earth, it was the Greeks who invented Jorge. But my parents, Jorge and Lilia Carreon Ramirez, created this version. The origin of my name is supposed to mean “farmer” or a person who cultivates the ground. I can’t even take care of a plant. Regardless, this does lead me to use a metaphor. I cultivate words and images because I am a journalist. I tell the stories about people you know to watch on TV or read on the Internet. Maybe that makes me a farmer with the media as my expanse of land to nurture?
Being Jorge the Second is a different story, one I never intended to tell to the world. Not really. Yet reasons exist why I can admit that I never thought my father and I had much in common. We were always locked in a battle of ideology. Now that I am older, I see what we do share and it is more than the name. Like all Latino men, we live in our memories. It is as if we are a special brand of cultivators, tasked with the preservation of our family trees.
My father has Alzheimer’s. His mind is slowly being erased in the most insidious manner. Since the day he was diagnosed, I knew that at some point I would no longer be Jorge the Second, but the First. That is why I have to record all that is Us before his files are completely emptied of data.
Because being Jorge is not just sharing the same name.
Being Jorge is living as the chief chronicler of my family.
Because last night, at the end of my older sister’s birthday party, my father forgot who I was to him.
He offered me his hand to shake, smiling and saying “It was nice meeting you.” Sure, it was a polite and friendly gesture. He meant it. That was the version of Jorge for when he met people he liked. But it was more than that, because I recognized that my name does carry poetry and romance.
Last night, I became Jorge the First.
Sunday, September 28. Posted in Spanish and English from Wayne Avenue Manor in South Pasadena, CA