A Story About the Horrible Glorious Truth

I want to write a beautiful story.

I want my reader to cry when the story has ended, not from sadness, but because she wished the story could continue. I want her to wish for a sequel, but at the same time to feel the story was complete.

I want my characters to be noble, and then ignoble, and then truly noble after all: the kind of characters that learn from their mistakes and then go on to be heroes. I want a full-blown, victorious, everything-becomes-right-again-at-the-end story where characters fall in love with the right people, without being contrived.

I want the book to have a happy ending.

And I don’t want to write this book simply so that I can be the one who wrote it. I want to write it because I’m looking for this story in real life. [Read more…]

Rodeo and the Church Calendar

Despite my Christian upbringing, I didn’t grow up with the church calendar. Easter was a single day affair involving plastic eggs hidden in hill country pastures and Sunday school handouts with coppery brads to swing a construction paper stone away from an empty tomb. The graphic was always neat and tidy—flowers and grass and “He is Risen!” written alongside.

I knew the story of the suffering, but the celebration made more of an impact.

So between Valentines Day and Easter when my elementary school started serving fish sticks at the end of each week, I asked my reluctant classmates, “Why do you eat fish on Fridays?”

“It’s bad to eat meat on Fridays,” my friend Adrian told me.

“Why?” I asked. [Read more…]

Living in a Border State

I spent elementary school in a Mexican neighborhood in Austin, Texas. I attended birthday parties with piñatas and ate in a school cafeteria that served home-style enchiladas, tamales, and beans made with lard. And because of my dark hair I truly didn’t realize a difference between the other students and me until fourth grade, when my Latino classmates nicknamed me the Holy Ghost on account of my fair complexion.

I came home in tears, alarming my parents. But when they asked the reason they couldn’t help but laugh at my classmates’ creativity. These were my friends, they said, and the Holy Ghost was always with me. I considered these truths and cheered up.

My classmates and I were still the same. [Read more…]

Learning to See Beauty

When I taught Spanish in public school I projected Hispanic and Latino artwork on my pull-down screen and had students journal or make comments for a daily grade. Initially, the still worlds of painted color intimidated my media loving students, and they complained.

“How am I going to use this painting in the real world?”

“This isn’t art class.”

“Can’t you just give us a worksheet?”

“We’re going to study it silently for five minutes, then make three comments in Spanish,” was my answer.

“It’s ugly. It’s hard. It’s weird,” someone called out every year.

My students were not stupid, but they lacked the practice required to see. [Read more…]

Weakness is Truth

A couple of weeks ago in the gym locker room I averted my eyes as a young woman aided her grandmother, a stroke victim. She removed the older woman’s clothes and underwear, and helped her put on a swimsuit. The grandmother could not speak; her face remained still. She had to be lifted, naked, from a wheelchair, to a chair, and then back during the entire change of clothes. After settling the elderly woman, the granddaughter disappeared momentarily, and I dared to look at the grandmother’s frozen face.

For a moment I imagined myself sitting in that chair, in that locker room, naked and unable to hide. I shuddered and hurried to change out of my own suit and leave.

Growing up an uncoordinated asthmatic, I was self-conscious about my body. I feared looking foolish in front of my peers, so I avoided trying new activities and instead, mastered the things I was already good at rather than risk exposing my weakness.

I’d shrug my shoulders if I received a compliment. “It’s just easy for me,” I’d say. [Read more…]