The year of la sonrisa

Do you have a word for the year ahead? I never have, but I’ve made some new acquaintances who do this and, of course, it got me thinking. They’ve pegged 2018 as their year for spontaneity and courage, respectively. Great concepts, both of them, but my hopes for 2018 felt too complicated to be encapsulated in a mere word.

But they weren’t.

You know how words sometimes just pop into your head? Well, January 1, there it was. Sonrisa, a Spanish word I loved when I first learned it. It’s sound and spelling made me think of a sunrise, and then a tequila sunrise, and that made me smile. Which was perfect, because it is the Spanish word for smile, and I had no idea I remembered it.

I’ve been trying to learn Spanish since 1997, so I’ve learned a lot of words. I don’t, however, speak Spanish, which is a different matter. Yet, I can often get the gist of something I read and once a Spanish speaker figures out that I am trying to speak their language (something that is not obvious with my poor accent and constant confusion with vowels), I can often communicate rudimentary concepts. It’s better than nothing.

This year, I will be spending some time in South America. I’m quite excited, and brushing up on Spanish is at the top of my to do list. Sonrisa reminds me of this.

This year, I hope to continue my commitment to fighting for fairness and compassion in my country. Thanks to the research I did for my novel z2, I am a strong supporter of finding a quick and caring solution for the many “dreamers” in our nation, the young people brought here as children who want to make a normal life in the only home they’ve ever know. (One of the main characters in z2 is a dreamer.) Sonrisa makes me think of this.

This year, I hope to come to terms with the few ghosts that still haunt me. One of them is my incessant smile, an artifact of being raised by a woman who hated any other facial expression. She had her reasons, and I understood them. After all, my grandmother lived with us, and my grandmother was the most unhappy person I have ever known.

Yet, no adult wants to be the person with a grin on their face at the worst of moments. I’ve smiled at the news of tragic accidents, during corporate layoffs, and throughout a bout of postpartum depression during which I needed help more desperately than I ever had.

This year, I want to discover how to smile only when I mean it. For me, sonrisa does not carry the baggage of the word smile. I can embrace my sonrisa.

This year, I want to remember how wonderful my life is, how blessed I am. I want to appreciate the love, and stimulation and the comforts that I am fortunate enough to have every day. I want my sonrisa to let that gratitude shine out of my soul, unencumbered by the struggles of those who came before me. To that end, I’ve started a gratitude jar, in which I hope to leave a note every day about some silly or profound thing for which I am grateful.

Here’s the real irony. When I looked for something to use as a container, I stumbled on my grandmother’s old cookie jar. It’s a big ceramic apple, a beautiful creation from long ago. She gave me and my sister store-bought cookies out of it when we came to the house she lived in by day. (She lived with us by night, because she was too afraid to be alone.)

One of my father’s chief complaints was that after a decade of eating dinner every night and sleeping at his house, my grandmother never once said thank you. Even as a child, I recognized that the woman was as incapable of gratitude as she was of love. So I vacillated between thinking her cookie jar was the worst of places to record my own gratitude and the best of them. In the end, the incongruity won me over.

Life is complicated, isn’t it? If you want your sonrisa to be genuine, I figure you need to own the complicated parts. You need to put your arms around them and let them snuggle up against you in such a way that their barbs soften and can no longer hurt you, or at least not as much.

Today, I’ll write my third note to myself. So far I’ve been grateful for being alive in the year 2018, and for oatmeal with raisins. I have no idea what I’ll be thankful for today. Whatever it is, I’ll tuck it into my grandmother’s cookie jar as I send my best thoughts of kindness and understanding to her and my mother, remembering the struggles they had with all the affection I can.

Then, I’ll do my best to let their travails drift into the air and dissipate, as they should have long ago. I’ll let my own beautiful sonrisa emerge like the rising sun.

It’s going to be a very good year.

farewell 2014

 

 

Happy yet? Yes, I believe that I am.

Today is Christmas, a day in which much of the western world wishes each other joy. We do this while congregating together for hours on end while eating too much, often drinking too much and sometimes setting unrealistic expectations about gifts, camaraderie and good cheer.

mind unleashed 1It was in the midst of such a Christmas day today, with my second Kentucky Mule in hand, my signature dish boiling over on the stove and a pile of dirty dishes that would daunt a restaurant staff in front of me, that I realized I was happy.

Don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t a blinding revelation. I’m generally content, and I understand that I’ve been blessed with too many blessings to count. It was just one of those moments when one realizes that these are the good times. My family is here and healthy. A new boyfriend, included today as a first time guest, is not only pleasant, but he’s a great cook. Our problems are tiny, our love is big, and all the little hassles of the day are just that. They don’t matter.

sungazing6It’s true that drama makes for a more memorable holiday.  We all remember the Christmas when Aunt Dorothy …. Whether we laugh or still wince about that memory is up to us. Today left us with little to remark upon in later years, because great food and kind remarks don’t make huge inroads into your recollections. They just describe a day that goes well.

The happy realization came when it occurred to me that someday, maybe in the far future, when I am searching my memories for the times that were really good, this will be one of them.

Three years ago I wrote a blog post called Happy Now? I started with this:

When I was in grade school, they told me to write down what I wanted to be when I grew up.
I wrote down happy.
They told me I didn’t understand the assignment,
I told them they didn’t understand life.
—  author unknown

(Voted #6 in the list of best happiness quotes ever over at The Board of Wisdom. Check them out here)

I still think it is a great quote, and I’m inclined to agree with the author. And you know what? I’m all grown up now and it looks like today, I got to be want I wanted.

 

Read my original post Happy Now? written after the 2012 holidays.

Comfort and Joy

Thanks Hippie Peace Freaks

Thanks Hippie Peace Freaks

A big part of the holidays is about being joyful. Food, drink, decorations and presents are all designed to make children and grownups squeal with delight. We want those that we care about to be happy, and many of us will spend more money and time than we should trying to make that so.

Somewhere along the way, life offers up the lesson that there is no way to make someone else happy. You can make them more comfortable, or maybe make them smile for a minute. But no amount of gifts or favorite foods can make a sick child well, a grieving parent joyful, or a worried spouse content. You cannot cure the ennui in another soul, no matter how much you want to do so.

Thanks Sungazing

Thanks Sungazing

You also cannot make people behave thoughtfully. You simply can’t force them to get along, much less to like each other, if they don’t want to, no matter what day of the year it is. At best you can try to model patience and tolerance, and probably manage to keep from making an inflamed situation even worse. At worst, you get to learn the hard way that chastising family or guests for acting like children is a notoriously unsuccessful way to bring on the holiday cheer.

What can you do? I like the twin holiday concepts of comfort and joy. Offer comfort widely, liberally, and with lots of love. It won’t make everybody happy, of course. But it will make everybody more comfortable, and that may well lead to more joy. Just do what you can.

fireworks croppedAs to joy, let yourself feel it. You don’t do a single other soul any sort of favor by suffering along with them. Misery really does not like company. Rather, we are all a little contagious. If you are filled with happiness, you encourage others to allow themselves to find cheer within their own hearts. Embracing the joy inside yourself is the best gift you can give, both to yourself and to others.

Too much joy?

cakeOne of my clearest memories is eating too much frosting as child. It tasted so wonderfully sweet all by itself that I couldn’t stop shoving globs of it into my eager eight-year-old mouth. As you might guess, I was incredibly happy for a short while, and now decades later I still don’t care much for the stuff.

click to like Your Beautiful Life

click to like Your Beautiful Life

I’ve had a bit too much emotional frosting the past couple of weeks and am suffering from a similar need to go lie down. A major family thanksgiving gathering was followed immediately by a birthday celebration that was followed by the graduation of a family member that was rolled into about ten straight days filled with food and drink and visitors and it all was very wonderful but I’ve got a tummy ache that makes me wonder if sustained joy is particularly healthy.

I think about the nature of happiness a lot, given that the ability to experience joy is one of the central themes of my novel y1.

One can wax eloquent about how we need valleys in order to have hills and while that is true, I don’t think this translates into a truth that one must endure intermittent horrible sorrow in order to feel deep joy. Perhaps it is only necessary that great times are broken up with quiet times and my problem is simply one of overload. Obviously we all need a break from rich food and alcohol, but I think that we also need a break from noise and conversation, and time to process input. No matter how much we live in the moment, at some point we need to step out of the joys of that moment and regroup. It’s a human thing.

click to like Your True Voice

click to like Your True Voice

We also need unstructured time, to do the silly and unplanned. Gatherings with loved ones can provide that, but let’s face it, they usually don’t. Groups need a certain amount of order, at least when attending functions together, and all that structure wears one out after awhile.

Joy. It comes at you lots of ways. Some weeks it’s your sister from across the country and your kids all home for a holiday and the best restaurant in Austin Texas. Other times it’s nothing but salad and fresh fruit for a day and time spent staring into the fireplace at night. Maybe even lighting a fire there first.

 

 

Celebrate!

cakeToday is a special day for me because it is the birthday of one of my children.  I really like this being a mother thing, and among other things I love all the extra celebrations it has brought into my life.

Beyond all the usual hugs and laughs and triumphs, my kids and husband have given me an extra helping of joy by agreeing to let me use each of them to inspire a book in my collection 46 Ascending. There are probably dozens of reasons why this was a bad idea, fraught with potential problems from the very beginning. The characters are fictitious after all. Bad things happen to them and they even all behave a little poorly on occasion. They curse, they think about and even have sex and they aren’t always happy with each other. The make-believe characters have some faults that are exaggerations of my own family’s less desirable traits, and then they have faults that are purely my own or absolutely made up.

Against all odds, these four people I share a nuclear family with have been mature and reasonable about this. In fact they complained a little about their character’s relatively minor roles in x0, the first book in the collection that centers on the mom in the family. My son acknowledged a bit of trepidation when he learned that the second book, y1, would feature the character inspired by him. As my writing went on, however, he confessed that it was a bit of high knowing that somewhere somehow parts of his personality were being spun into that of a superhero.

My husband refers to the third book in the collection, z2, as “his” book. Indeed, he almost wrote it with me, building replicas of my Maya boxes, reading civil war history as I wrote and even heading off to a re-enactment of the Battle of Cedar Creek in order to better research “his book”. The collaboration turned out well I think, producing something richer than I could ever have done alone.

I recently handed c3, the fourth book in the collection, off to my youngest daughter who is learning to be a social worker. Her studies and interests shaped much of this particular story. By tradition each family member gets to read “their” book first, and they know from the beginning that they have veto power over anything in the novel. This is my agreement with them; I do love each of them more than I love my stories. I was particularly concerned about c3, because my main character has some  horrific things happen to her early on in the book that later inspire her to become such a hero. My youngest child responded with the same grace that the rest of my family has shown. No one has vetoed anything yet, or even complained  once about anything I have written. Are these people cool or what?

celebrateToday, as c3 sits in the hands of my beta readers, I am starting the fifth book in the collection. This novel will tell the tale of a fiery hero inspired by my feisty middle child. The story has been growing in my head for years, and it’s time to get the basic building blocks down into the hundred or so bullet points that constituent a working outline for me. In real life, this daughter is probably the least patient person in my family (except for me), and it is unfortunate that her tale was destined to be the last to be told. That is just how the collection unfolded. I tell her that I saved the best story for last.

Next year on her birthday, I plan to publish the story she has inspired. The timing is entirely reasonable given my own pace, and if it happens as hoped for it will be a heartfelt way to celebrate her next birthday.  I do love celebrations. They make me want to dance for joy!