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The full transcript of the interview is below, edited lightly for clarity.

Teresa Douglas 0:11
Welcome, listeners the next behind the scenes from Latinx lit audio mag. I’m your host Teresa Douglas. And today we’re going to be interviewing Adrian Ernesto who is the author of Flashes and Versus…Becoming Attractions from Unsolicited Press, Between the Spine from Picture Show Press and La Belle Ajar, and We Are the Ones Possessed from Clash books and Speaking con su Sombra at Alegria Publishing. Adrian is a Colombian-American poet who lives with his wife in Los Angeles, and their adorably spoiled cat, Woody Gold. Welcome, Adrian.

Adrian Ernesto 0:51
Hi, how you doing?

Teresa Douglas 0:53
I’m really happy to have you here.

Adrian Ernesto 0:54
Hey, thank you for having me here. Because it’s an honor. And this is like my first podcast interview. So I’m kind of excited.

Teresa Douglas 1:04
And I love that I got to snag you before all the other podcasts people come calling. I have to start by telling listeners one of the things that I loved about your poem. And so let’s start with that. And then I’ll get into the questions that I normally ask our guests. But listeners first if you haven’t listened to the poem, well, I hope you have, but listen right after this, if you haven’t. One of the lovely things about this poem that really stood out to me is the way that this sort of seamlessly drifts dreamily between Spanish and English, which I really thought was a great representation in words of what’s happening in Van Gogh’s peace, Starry Starry Night. Because you look at that painting. And just the way the brushstrokes sort of swirl around, I felt like this poem did the same thing, where the words were just very dreamy, just swirling around the reader, as you’re reading them, and listening to them. And it was just gorgeous. But we’ll get into that more later on an interview. But as you know, Adrian, I start these things by telling people that we’re sitting at my kitchen table, metaphorically speaking. And it’s as if I’ve invited you over. And of course, I’m going to want to serve something to you, just to be polite. And if I were going to serve you your favorite comfort food, what would that be?

Adrian Ernesto 2:38
I love cheeseburgers. I love them. My wife and I actually go to this little cafe it’s in Seal Beach because we’d like to go by the ocean and especially being a poet and being by the water. It’s such an inspiration. We actually go away every year for Thanksgiving, we have a tradition of going to La Jolla and so whenever I’m near the water, I get waves of inspiration and it inspires so many poems. And over there at Seal Beach, they make the best burgers and my wife and I go and walk along the pier. And it’s the best lunch I ever I get. Burgers with my baby at the beach. So I love myself a good cheeseburger.

Teresa Douglas 3:36
I have to ask, are you like one of those quarter pounder, big slab of meat burger people or are you like tiny burgers with gourmet things on it or something between?

Adrian Ernesto 3:49
Well, I used to be like the quarter pounder but I’m older now. I love it when it’s charbroiled with either cheddar American cheese and oh my god some french fries. That’s like, that’s ideal. I don’t have the burgers as often as I used to. I eat more healthy stuff. But last time we had I had a cheeseburger was we’re flying back from San Antonio because we went to go visit my parents and we landed in, in Las Vegas, and there’s this place we went to and they had Oh my gosh. It was like seven the morning and I was like I’m having a burger because I need to have my burger fix!

Teresa Douglas 4:37
Yeah, sometimes you just need it. That is the classic comfort food. I think. I mean fries. It’s like those dirty little secrets. You don’t really need fries. Nobody really needs fries. But we sometimes we just need fries to you know, just the whole package. See now I’m hungry. Thank you for sharing that I would definitely want to serve you cheeseburgers if you were sitting at my kitchen table with fries that we would probably have to arm for. Well, let’s switch from talking about food, which is always important, but to something more important. And talk a little bit about you because again, you sent this lovely poem in. And can you just tell our listeners how long you’ve been writing? Is this been a long-term thing? Let’s just jump into it. What’s, what’s your story?

Adrian Ernesto 5:27
Well, when I was seven years old, mi pappi gave me his antique typewriter. That’s when I started writing like Star Trek fan fiction and sports newsletters. But it wasn’t until I was in elementary school that I discovered poetry. My teacher, Mr. Babcock had us memorize poems, and then we would have to memorize them and recite them to the class. And the first poem that I loved was Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken. But it wasn’t until like later on all that seeped into my DNA. It wasn’t until my bachelor undergrad years at the University of Texas at San Antonio when I first rediscovered my love of the verse, and, the Beats were an introduction and then I just started. I had an old woman in my class that told me if you want to seduce a woman, you should use the poems or be inspired by the poems of Pablo Neruda. So, I took her advice, and I seduced her.

Teresa Douglas 6:52
I think that must be advice that gets out to a lot of places. I remember going into one of my MFA classes, and strangely not in that class, but in the Spanish class I was in after that, and someone said, Yes if you are trying to seduce somebody, you need to read Neruda because this is how you do it. And they were not wrong. They’re not wrong. Those are wonderful poems. And it’s interesting because I talk to different people. And we need to give props to our teachers, because you were not the first person who said that they were turned on to poetry, because of something a teacher did in school quite early, that maybe built that foundation. So thank you, to all you teachers out there.

Adrian Ernesto 7:47
You don’t know how, how important it is. Because at the time, I was like, Why do I have to memorize these poems? And now I’m like, if I hadn’t memorized those poems. I wouldn’t be a poet right now.

Teresa Douglas 7:58
Yeah. And so to all the teachers out there, thank you, you matter, and we appreciate you. So that’s how you started and it sounds like then the poetry has been. Maybe not the first thing you wrote, but definitely your most enduring love. Because you’ve been doing poetry for some time now. Is that true?

Adrian Ernesto 8:21
Absolutely. La poesea es mi amor, it’s my love, and even my wife knows how much I love poetry because she inspires and I give her the most intimate pieces that she hangs on the wall over our bed. She gets the best ones. Like there was a poem that I submitted, that I wrote to her as a gift. And I actually had to, like, edit out a lot of the more risque parts, which she loves. But you know, I had to send it in. A couple years ago, I was all about yeah, let’s get all the carnal images. But now I’m kind of like, let’s try to imply more. When you imply more, it gives a river reader a chance to bring in their own experiences to the poem. So that’s one of the things that I’ve learned throughout the years. Poetry is my calling. I sometimes write some cina pieces that usually center around my love of the verse. I would love to move up to writing prose. But right now poetry is still my passion, and the poems that I write, they’re me amor, and they actually give me meaning and enjoy to my life on and off the page. Whenever I’m having any kind of struggle or sadness. I write a poem, and it brings everything into focus. Like the poem that I wrote Starry Starry Light is actually a combination of two kinds of images because my mother loved Van Gogh, but she also loved the song by McLean. So when I first wrote it, it seemed like it was, I was trying to weave these two things in together. It’s kind of like a dance between the song, the painting and my memory of my mother because she inspired the book, which we’ll be talking about.

Teresa Douglas 10:40
Let’s go ahead and talk about that. That was a lovely introduction. So it sounds then that if we’re going to walk through how you wrote this piece, you started with just honoring the memory of your mother. Is that how it began?

Adrian Ernesto 10:54
Yes.

Teresa Douglas 10:56
Yeah, and because I’m not familiar with Don McLean, and for those that may not have heard, what type of music does he do?

Adrian Ernesto 11:06
Oh, he’s like a folk guy. And he wrote the song that goes, Starry Starry Night. Actually, the song is so beautiful that Roberta Flack wrote the song, Killing Me Softly with his song. It’s actually inspired by that song.

Teresa Douglas 11:24
What! I love that song.

Adrian Ernesto 11:28
My mother loved that song too, and I realized later on it’s because she loved Van Gogh, and she would replay it. And I remember, just the feeling on her face. And so it was basically the memory of her, standing in front of the painting, hearing her favorite song. It’s amazing, because I published the book, and the book is basically poems that were inspired by her, and I’ve written for her, because five, seven years ago, when I first started this career, we were broke. So the only thing I could do is give my mother poems. So I would send her these poems. And right after she passed away, my father gave me an envelope of all the poems that I had written her. And it took, like, a while for me to open those, even though I wrote those poems. So basically, I I finally opened them up. And then that’s when I started collecting, putting the poems together. And you mentioned that you like the bilingual aspect. Right before my mother’s memorial service, a lot of family and friends came out of town and one of our friends, Marianna, who knew my mother for a long time, she told me that she loved the way that I blended Spanish and English. She was the first person ever to tell me and I, at the time, I didn’t think that was much of anything. And she actually left something embedded in my mind. And so then when I first started putting these poems together, that’s an aspect that a lot of readers connect with. I was talking to a poet friend of mine, who’s a fantastic poet from Costa Rica. He’s also published with Alegria and his name is Juan Pierre Rueda. His wife is reading my book, and Juan Pierre mostly writes in Spanish these beautiful poems. To me, he’s like the modern-day Lorca, he’s such a great poet. He’s younger, and he’s such an inspiration. So he was talking to his wife and his wife told him, why don’t you write more like Adrian. And I was like, Dude, I’m sorry. Because I love the way you write. And so that was kind of interesting how something that I thought was nothing really is actually a style that I’m embracing. And now I’m working on a sequel to Sombra, which is basically all my bilingual poems and it goes further. Just because I finished the book doesn’t mean that poems for mother stopped. I keep writing more and more because she’s in my life more. I think I’m connecting with her more and there are poems for my dad. So I’m slowly working on that but right now I’m promoting the Sombra book. I also have another book coming out in April. It’s a horror death book called We’re the Ones Possessed, that I actually had to write before I could do the book of my mom’s poems. And my book before these two was La Belle Ajar, which which are poems inspired by Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar.

Adrian Ernesto 15:19
After my mom passed away, after the memorial service I came home, really depressed and very sick. And I was in my office, I turned to the bookshelf, and The Bell Jar was there and I opened it up. And I just started taking words from each of the chapters and creating these poems. So what I try to do is each chapter was one poem. So after 20 days, I had this group of poems. And I kind of felt like at the time, you know, I was missing my mother and Plath somehow became a mother figure to me and I had this poem. And so I got published, and then this horror subscription service, Night Worms selected it as one of their titles for the month, even though it wasn’t really a horror book, they just liked it. So then, after that happened, I was like, I’m dealing with, issues with death, I want to write a horror book of death poems that Night Worms will be proud of. So I challenged myself. And so I wrote, you know, these poems, and then they got picked up. And by writing that book, it actually gave me the courage to write the book for my mother. Being a Beatles fan, I actually equated to the Beatles recording, Let it Be during the dark times, and then them doing Abbey Road. So We are the Ones Possessed is my ‘Let it Be’ and Sombra is my ‘Abbey Road.’ If you’re a Beatles fan, that’s like an analogy that I like to use. But I’m really proud of both. It’s the darkness and light that is with me being Gemini. I’m proud that this book ‘We Are the Ones Possesed’ had to be published before I could write Sombra because you can actually deal with a lot of your issues if you just face them up on the page. And that’s something that I did, I’m really proud of it. And I’ve just started receiving blurbs from the horror book, and people are really loving it. So now I’m a bit busy promoting two books now. But this is what I’ve always dreamed of. So I’m really enjoying it. I’m planning a book launch at the Sims Poetry library in April. And I’m meeting a lot of poets and it’s just been a dream, you know, They say you should do what you love. And I when I wake up every morning I’m excited, okay, what am I doing today? So I’m really blessed to be able to be a poet and to write poems and send them in and be able to talk to you about my poem. Yeah, that’s amazing.

Teresa Douglas 18:19
You almost buried the lede there. I’m going to stop you . Where is this poetry reading happening? So if people are in the area, and want to attend, where do they go?

Adrian Ernesto 18:31
The poetry reading for my next book? It’s the same as poetry library in Los Angeles–

Teresa Douglas 18:43
–in Los Angeles. So folks, if you’re in Los Angeles, and after reading, or listening to Starry Starry Light, you would like more, [check that out].

Adrian Ernesto 18:55
I’m also doing some readings for Speaking Coastal Sound before that, and I’ll be doing like dual readings. But if they follow me, at the PoetNotARockstar on Instagram, you’ll see what I’m doing. Next week I’m doing a reading with two other grant poets where I’m reading poems from Sombra, it’s a Saturday afternoon poetry thing that’s usually in Pasadena, but since of the pandemic, they’re doing it online, so I’ll be reading poems from that. There are a couple things coming up. But, the book launch for the horror death is in April. And then before that, I’ll be doing an Instagram live on the day of the release, which is March 22 with some poets I absolutely adore and inspire me that live out of state. I live in LA.I wanted to invite them and they can read some of their work. And then I’ll read some of the poems from the horror. And then we’ll see where it goes from there. So I’m doing a lot of promotion, and interviews. And it’s a very busy but wonderful time in my career.

Teresa Douglas 20:24
Nobody wants this pandemic, we’d all like to see it go away as soon as possible. But it is nice, on the one hand, that if you’re doing something online, then people who are not necessarily in the area can also enjoy it. Like, I could go and I’m in Canada, right? It’s not like I’m gonna get on a plane and fly down. But it is nice to have that extra exposure and to be there with other poets who are not in your same area.

Adrian Ernesto 20:51
Absolutely.

Teresa Douglas 20:52
So I want to get back to something you were talking about earlier, how moving between Spanish and English is something you’re pushing. Because especially for people who can understand both of these languages, there are nuances that you get when you’re switching between the two, you talk about how you were trying to weave in the songs from Don McLean. And this poem is a dance, because you’re dancing between the two languages, and getting the benefit of both. For example, sus ojos focus amazed at the glowing estrellas, amarillas beaming circulos. So many waves of Azulas swimming in el cielo sky. And I just love the way that sort of comes out. This, this increases for me anyway, just the dreaminess of this piece, because it’s so very organic. And I don’t know why I love in this cielo sky so much. But even just that repeat, brings this idea of this person, this woman who was looking at this painting and having her almost out of body moment. And just the idea that this is like her church, that she comes here, all the rest of you are wandering off and doing whatever is a beautiful moment in this piece that I don’t think would have been as beautiful if it had only been in one language. It’s just so definitely done. And it sounds like you decided to push that because of the specific things about your mother. And I really think that listeners will look forward to reading more of your work just because of that extra little boost of emotionality that I think you were probably going for, because you’re writing about someone who you love who’s no longer there.

Adrian Ernesto 22:41
Yeah, and when she was alive, she would speak to me in Spanish and I would speak to her in English so when I write bilingually, it’s like I’m merging the way we talked–

Teresa Douglas 22:52
That’s gorgeous

Adrian Ernesto 22:54
-together. So I’m kind of honoring the way that I was raised, you know, speaking bilingually. When I do it, I’m honoring my voice and my culture. It’s something that I’m really, really proud of. I was in La Jolla and a friend of mine who runs the Subterranean Blue magazine contacted me saying they wanted me to be the featured poet for their Beat poetry issue. They want me to write a poem. And I was like, What am I gonna write, so we went to eat and walk on the beach. And I told you that it’s inspirational, walking on the beach, and the lines are coming to me. And then the poem, I’m writing about how the Beats actually inspired me to embrace my own language to be who I am. And so I was kind of, like thanking them for doing that. And that’s kind of like where I’m at right now. I want people to read my poems if they speak like me and they’re bilingual. I want them to write their own poems and their own experiences on the page, because we need more people from our community, from our culture to write, and in our language, so it’s very important. That’s something that Allegria Publishing is doing, in Los Angeles. They’re publishing a lot of Latinx poets and writers. They just published the first two biographies and the writers are incredible. Not only are they incredible writers, but they’re incredible people. There’s a movement starting there, and sometimes we get together during some of the readings and I’m just amazed at the writers and the people that they have. It’s a privilege and honor to be involved with the Alegria family and then with Clash books for right next, it’s a different beast because they’re outcasts and their poems are beautiful and weird and strange and memorable. And it’s so nice being involved. It’s kind of like my being Gemini because Clash books is from the East Coast. Being involved with both publishers feeds my inner Gemini, the darkness and light.

Teresa Douglas 25:29
Doing it at the same time is probably pretty satisfying.

Adrian Ernesto 25:34
Yes. Because I mean, I was going through a hard time during the pandemic, and I was avoiding facing a lot of the issues of my mom’s passing, even though she passed away in 2017. And when I finally sought help, my therapist encouraged me to write letters to my mother. And that’s basically how, after I wrote the horror-death poetry collection, I realized that’s writing to her that we could write, speak Su Sombra together, and that’s the idea to help me get over the all the anxiety and stuff. And so I kind of felt like we rise together. So it makes it even more special now that it’s actually out into the world. And even from then, all the poems in there to now me writing in the bilingual voice has improved. You can see the growth from the beginning to the end of the book. And now I’ve gone further. And I feel like I’m really, really embracing it more. You can see with this poem, how it’s worse earlier in the book, it isn’t as smooth. It’s more about that dichotomy, that the words aren’t really connecting. But the further on and later in the book, you see I was basically training myself to get better and better. And I feel like this poem is one of the peaks. I’m really proud of it because it honors her and honors a memory that’s really strong in my heart.

Teresa Douglas 27:23
And I feel like, we need some of that now, because reading this, it can also be, I will go ahead and just say healing, for others who may be separated from family, where they’re not hearing Spanish in their own homes, especially if they’re separated because of the pandemic, or perhaps they’ve had a loss in their family. It’s a healing thing to hear those bilingual words, again, because so many of us and I’m one of them, have been away from family this whole time. And having that opportunity to hear this gives you that feeling, in some ways, a little bit of being home, even when you’re not home. And it’s such an important part of what literature does for people who are perhaps, in that same moment of grieving, or coming to peace with wherever they are in time. And it’s a real gift, this thing that helps you that can also help so many other people. So thank you.

Adrian Ernesto 28:22
Yeah, and I actually realized after, as Speaking Con Su Sombra was about to get published, I realized that the book was a lot bigger than me. People in the universality of grief and who want mourning can actually read the book and maybe sometimes heal themselves. The book is, it’s a very slow read because if you’ve lost somebody you’re gonna feel it. So it takes people maybe a little longer to get through it. But you feel a connection on the page, if you lost somebody because you know how it feels. And poems like Sorry, Starry Light, and then my book, hopefully will help people find some peace and [know] that they’re not alone. And their grief and the loss and the hurt that we can find some kind of healing soon put through the gift of the poem.

Teresa Douglas 29:37
Grief can be terrible, but even though it’s sad, there’s still beauty in the world. And I believe that profoundly. Well, this has been so good to have you here, Adrian and to talk through your work and the things that you’re doing and the things that are upcoming. I have no doubt that there are many who are going to want to hear you speak at the different readings you’re doing and to read your work. and see when things are coming out. And I’ll type in the show notes all of your social handles. But if you want to just say what they are one more time, so that folks can have them that would be wonderful.

Adrian Ernesto 30:11
Sure, I can go to my website, Adrian Ernesto Cepeda dot com. My Twitter handle is poet not Rockstar. My Instagram is the poet, not a rock star and my Facebook is poet, not a rock star. And also, you can purchase a signed copy of my latest book, from my website, there’s gonna be a link and there’s a coupon for your listeners. If they go to my website, they can type in Sombra Amiga and they’ll get a discount at checkout.

Teresa Douglas 30:49
Oh, I feel very special. Did you hear that listeners? You have a discount. That’s very awesome. Well, thank you again so much for coming, Adrienne and for being on the show.

Adrian Ernesto 30:59
Thank you so much for having me and for selecting my poem so I can honor my mother and my language in my poems. I really appreciate it.

 
A full transcript of the episode is below.

Starry, Starry Light

“Every star may be a sun to someone.”

― Carl Sagan

 

Every time you would take

us to el mueso when mis

hermanos and I would run

off, muchas horas despues

we would find you with

headphone Walkman in

your ears escuchando

your favorite Don McLean

cancion, on repeat, standing

in front of the one piece

you would gaze, mirandolo

contemplating the palates

parado frente a la obra de

arte, in love con la noche

en el lienzo, the peaks

curling above el pueblo,

imaginando todos en la

cuidad dormiendo while

sus ojos focus amazed

at the glowing estrellas

amarillas beaming circulos

so many waves of azules

swimming en el cielo sky.

I wish haberte preguntado

what made this Van Gogh

piece su pintura favorita.

I imagine the colors like

Vincent’s brushstrokes

would instantly reflect

like olas in the sky and

ripple your secreto sadness

in waves. Instead of kneeling

in church, the museum became

one of your most devoted

sacred espacios, sus ojos

no longer watching Dios,

the only hymn you live

to oir, concentrating on

this starry night, with your

eyes gleaming, los colores

would sing to you— no

longer trieste listening

always picturing paradise,

focusing on your favorite masterpiece

seeing you, Don McLean

in your ears siempre serenading…

Mami’s eyes always resounding

with the brightest of blues

glimmering vida colors of delight.

Behind the Scenes: with Victoria Buitron, writer of 1 Star Review for the Cordless Electric Chainsaw

The following transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Teresa Douglas 0:10
Welcome listeners to another behind-the-scenes episode of Latinx Lit Audio Mag. I’m your host Teresa Douglas. Today we’re going to do a behind-the-scenes interview with Victoria Buitron and her piece One Star Review for the Cordless Electric Chainsaw. Victoria Buitron is a writer and translator who hails from Ecuador, and resides in Connecticut. She received an MFA in creative writing from Fairfield University. She writes about the intersection of identity and place, family history, and the moments her hippocampus refuses to forget. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Lost Balloon, Xray Lit mag, Revolute lit, Bending Genres and other literary magazines. Her debut memoir in essays, A Body Across Two Hemispheres, is the 2021 Fairfield Book Prize winner and will be available in spring 2022. By Woodhall press. Welcome, Victoria.

Victoria Buitron 1:10
Thank you so much for having me, Teresa.

Teresa Douglas 1:13
It’s so much fun having you here. And I will just say to listeners that if you haven’t listened to this piece, and you’re listening to this behind the scenes, I’m not sure what you’re doing here. But please, go listen to the piece, it’s so funny. There are some places in it, of course, that are endearing, with a marital–Well, I’m getting ahead of myself. But the point is, this is a wonderful piece. Especially, I have to tell you, Victoria, that the ending got me every time. I was just listening again to the recording, and I was laughing because it’s such a wonderful way to end this piece. But before we get into that, we have to start with the question that I ask everybody, because this podcast is you and I talking like we’re at my kitchen table. And if you were at my kitchen table, I would of course offer you something to eat. Which makes me wonder, what is your favorite comfort food?

Victoria Buitron 2:14
My favorite comfort food, the first thing that comes to mind, is ramen. I associate ramen with so much comfort and warmth. And it’s something that you can have any time of the year. And I love it so much. So that is definitely my comfort food. It’s also the food that I always have to celebrate things when I don’t want to splurge. I’m like oh, that’s what I’m gonna go eat, especially some spicy miso ramen. I love it.

Teresa Douglas 2:57
Oh, I love ramen. It is also my daughter’s favorite food. It’s her comfort food. There’s something about those noodles, that that just fix everything, in some ways. Yes. If we were sitting at my kitchen table, we would probably get up from my kitchen table and go have ramen. So that’s great. That’s amazing.

Victoria Buitron 3:23
And also, thank you so much for your comment about my piece and the ending.

Teresa Douglas 3:28
Well, it’s it just the cherry on top of the sundae, even though the ending was at the bottom of the piece. So I’m not sure how that works literally speaking, but I think you understand. So I gotta ask, just before we talk about that piece, how long have you been writing?

Victoria Buitron 3:47
Well, I’ve been writing since I was a kid, right? Because that’s when they force you to write. And I wrote for fun a lot for basically, my adolescence and my young adult years. And when I say for fun, I kind of felt during that time that I wasn’t ready to submit my work out there, to submit it to lit mags so I just said you know, I’m going to write for myself. I’m going to kind of hone my craft. And I wrote a lot but I kept it inside my journals inside of my computer. And it really wasn’t until around 2016 2017. I got my bachelor’s in 2015. And about a year two years later, I started thinking about whether I wanted to get an MFA, which felt like a very selfish decision, or whether I wanted to do something practical. So I think that a lot of people go through that like Oh, should I do what I really really want or should I do something, thinking about how much money I’m going to be able to make from this in a year to three years after I graduate.

Teresa Douglas 5:03
As someone who also got an MFA, I feel that. It’s not like you get an MFA, and you’re going to sign with a company and make $100,000 a year. That’s not what happened.

Victoria Buitron 5:14
Exactly. And I kind of knew that, in the year or two before I applied to the MFA. And then it was just like, I feel like I have this memoir in me that I really want to focus on. And, I want to do that in a program because I really don’t know how to do it by myself. I have essays here and there. I’ve worked on things over the years. But I really don’t know where to go from here. So that’s why I applied to the MFA. And it was one of the best things that I’ve ever done in my life. And yeah, that’s when it all started. I started working with professors and workshop leaders during that time, and it was a Colombian writer, her name is Adriana Paramo, who was the first person that said, this piece that you wrote is ready, you should send it out. And when she said that, I was like, Wait, isn’t it too soon? Like, are you sure I’m ready? Like I wasn’t really. So I actually had to have other people kind of believe in me and push me. And then I was like, Okay, I’ll submit. Right? Because you submit not just your work, but it’s kind of like you submit who you are into these words, whether they’re fiction or nonfiction. So that’s when I really started to send out my work, back in 2018. I was initially just an essay, memoir writer, and it hasn’t been until 2021, which just past that I began working on fiction. So this is a fiction piece, of course, this review of the chainsaw. So I would say I’ve been working about a year and a half really focused on fiction and flash fiction, and kind of like getting into a little bit of satire and all that. But I would consider myself primarily and essayist, and nonfiction writer.

Teresa Douglas 7:27
So that that brings an interesting question, because there’s that whole idea in some circles, you should stick to one thing and specialize. Do you do you feel that there are tie ins between writing more a memoir essay and writing fiction or satire in your work?

Victoria Buitron 7:49
I love to write a little bit of everything. And that is not something I would have said two years ago, to be honest. Up until 2020, I really thought that I would never venture into fiction or into poetry. But in 2020, and 2021, I had a lot of time on my hands, like many other people around the world. And I said, Why don’t I try something different? Something that I wouldn’t say that I was afraid to do. But I’ve kind of was never like, Oh, let me try. Because I was like, Oh, how can people make things up? So you just think about a world or you think about a scene and you just lie on the page? Like I just couldn’t, my brain couldn’t comprehend it. Because I was like, No, I read about things that happen to me, and in my life. So you know, it’s already there. It already existed. I’m just putting it on the page. So it was very difficult, in a sense to go from that nonfiction mindset, to this fiction mindset of making a different, you know, making people living that are not living and breathing, but they are living and breathing on the page. So I started off really with flash fiction, because it was a way to get my feet wet, I would say. So yes, I’m going from there. It’s a lot of fun. I always tell people that. If you write and you like to write, the best thing that you can do is have fun. And that’s what I’m doing right now. I’m just having fun.

Teresa Douglas 9:26
And we need some fun. There should be some fun at this time. And yes, and I really feel like it’s nice to sort of in some ways escape into fiction, even though fiction can be very serious. But of course, it can deal with heavy things. But to make things up is in some ways an escape even if you’re going to still be talking about different subject matters that are heavy. One star review is not heavy at all. But it’s superbly crafted. It’s one of the things–in fact, let’s talk about One Star Review. Can we just talk a little bit about how you wrote this, just walk us through your process on how you came up with it?

Victoria Buitron 10:11
Sure. So this is a very interesting process for this specific piece. I wouldn’t say that this is what I do all the time. Definitely not. But I took–some time in April or May 2021– something called a hermit crab workshop. So hermit crab is another way if people have heard this, for the first time ever, I’ll just give a little summary. Hermit crab is a different way to say that you get this weird, different kind of compartment to tell a story. So it can be a list, it can be a prescription, it can be a manual, and you use that to tell a specific story. So I took this hermit crab workshop with Sheryl Papas. And in it, the prompt was a generative prompt. It said, write a review about something, about anything, and tell a story about someone through that. And so that was the prompt and I didn’t know at that moment, what to pick, and you have only like, I don’t know, like 15 or 20 minutes, because obviously, these are generative prompts, and they’re timed. And then if you feel fine you can share them with other people in the workshop. And I just came up with like, what’s the weirdest thing someone can use for review? Like, who was going to review like a mower or whatever. And then I was like, Oh, a chainsaw? That sounds so interesting. So I wrote something really quickly in that moment, like I said, many months ago, and we shared it, we talked about it, I got some feedback at that moment. And that I let it sleep for months, I would say about six, seven months. And then I looked at it again, having forgotten about it. And I was like, Oh, this is interesting. There’s something here and then I kept editing, editing it. So I let it sleep for a long time, which is what I usually recommend you do with all your work in general. And yes, then I kept on editing it. And I was like, oh, what I want? What are the visuals that I want to show the reader? How can I say something interesting in a different way? How can people relate to this person that’s doing the review? And how can I end with a bang?

Teresa Douglas 12:48
Yeah, it’s amazing what having a constraint can do for a story because this idea, because I’d heard of Hermit crab, but I hadn’t actually used it. So this was a lovely, a lovely introduction to that. But having that small space, can in some ways get us out of ruts, really, so that you’re thinking about something different. And if we want to plug the the hermit crab workshop–this is something you said Cheryl Papa’s does. So it sounds like you would not give the workshop a one star review at all?

Victoria Buitron 13:22
No, she’s great. If you look, go to her website, her name is Cheryl Papas. She holds these workshops often. They get full pretty quickly, let me tell you, but yes, I’ve gotten a few drafts from there. And I still have drafts in my computer. And I love going back to them after some months and say, Oh, this is what I think about this. Now how can I change it? And like I said earlier, for me writing, a lot of it is about having fun. And I had fun when I wrote it and had fun when I edited as well.

Teresa Douglas 14:00
So do you think you had more fun editing it because you let it sleep for a while? I know there are some people who let things sleep for a little bit. And there are others that edit and edit right away. Why do you personally think that letting things sleep is good for your writing?

Victoria Buitron 14:16
That’s a great question. Um, I would say that sometimes you write something because it was a generative prompt. I’d never thought about giving a review to chainsaw in my life. And all of a sudden, this story about a woman and her marriage, and her husband comes out to through this weird form. And so in this particular case, I think that I let it sleep because there were just so many other things going on in my life. But I think it’s always a good idea just to go back to something that you wrote a month ago. Three months ago, or a year ago, maybe. And then, once time has passed, sometimes in that timeframe, when you go back to it, it’s like, okay, I know where this is going. I didn’t know it then but I’ve now decided where I want it to go to. And I think that that’s why I like letting my work sleep. Not all the time. But I would say most of the time, because when I go back to it, it’s like looking at it with a different pair of eyes. They’re still yours. But time has passed. And it’s kind of like you’ve changed as well. And then you decide, this is what I want to do with this particular piece.

Teresa Douglas 15:42
Yeah, and it’s a wonderful technique. And I should say, for anybody who doesn’t know what a generative workshop is, that’s where you show up to a place, whether online or in person, or whatever. And the idea is just to write stuff down. So you’re not trying to make things perfect, you’re trying to make things. And so you’ll have that draft. And the idea is that you do several of these in a short period of time, so that you can leave and then later on you can work on something without looking at that blank page. You have a thing. And speaking of having a thing, I’m going to be rustling here because I have One Star Review on a paper here in front of me. Let’s talk a little bit about that. Because you have some lovely, lovely images, from the Paisley pink and luminous yellow of the flowers on the little free library. There’s the cherry red bridge, and some wonderful sounds like the gulp of the river swallowing the first chainsaw whole. And just in fact, that whole idea of the chainsaw on the river, hot yoga class, parked on the cherry-colored bridge, there just so many senses there. I feel like when you read that, you can just see this woman. It’s funny because it’s almost committing a crime, right? Instead of throwing a body in the river. You’re throwing a chainsaw in the river, well, not you, but the person is, just to save their sanity. And, I just love this idea of this woman, long-suffering hearing this chainsaw and like I’m just so tired of the sound of this chainsaw! Can we just not hear this anymore. It’s so so well done. Because you start with that, that idea of oh, this is interesting, chainsaw review. And then she’s killing the chainsaw, but the chainsaw multiplies and we have Chase the chainsaw that comes and then suddenly, we have all of these names for the chainsaws. And who knows where it’s going to end. I even love this idea of a Winnie the Pooh mask. Like it’s such a unique idea to think of this large man wearing a–and this is all in my mind, of course–this big burly guy wearing this wooden Winnie the Pooh mask that he made out of wood. It’s just it’s so lovely. And then ending on that suburban Chainsaw Massacre. Oh my gosh, I just, I still laugh. It’s just so nice. There’s just so much going on in that story. And, I love it because the problem isn’t that her marriage is ending. It’s that her sanity can’t take this chainsaw anymore. It’s developing a personality and a name. And it’s just like, you get so much in such a short story. Such a little flash, it’s really a wonderful example of flash fiction at its finest. Really.

Victoria Buitron 18:55
Thank you so much. I really appreciate it. And I really appreciate the analysis as well.

Teresa Douglas 19:01
It’s just lovely. And I guess the question I ask folks, and you’ve talked about this a little bit, but is there an impression you would hope that the reader takes when they’re listening to the story? Because we often or I should say nearly always, we send our things out. And people read them or they interact with them without us. But here’s your moment. If you could tell someone what you were hoping for, if you could give them a hint of what you would hope they take from it, what would that be?

Victoria Buitron 19:39
What I would hope that someone takes away from this piece is that they would remember someone that they love, but also something annoying that they did. And what I mean by that is that you know the thing about flash like that you have to tell this bigger story within such a short time. And I would like them to read it and think I exactly know how this woman feels. Even though I don’t know her. I’ve been through that, or I’ve been through something similar. And being in a relationship, sometimes in people having these quirks, or something that they focus on, or something that they obsess over. And you as the spouse, or as their lover have to kind of either accept it, or say no, and whether you have to act or not. And in this particular case, this woman, instead of being honest, and going to her husband and saying, Hey, I have a problem with this, can we solve that? Or can we come to this type of agreement, she doesn’t go that route, right? She’s like, I’m just gonna try and end this my own way, without having any problems or telling him anything. And I do feel like sometimes we’ll do that, or like, you know, what, I’m not going to make a big deal about this. I’m going to solve this in my own way. But in this particular case, it’s just so funny, because it’s a chainsaw. And you know, so yes, that’s what I do want people to identify with this woman in a certain way.

Teresa Douglas 21:24
Yeah. And it’s a funny thing, because you can say, point of view character, throwing your problems in the river, is not really going to solve them. He can buy more chainsaws. And yet, even in our own lives, we might do that. Like you say, I’m just gonna ignore that. And I’m sure it’ll go away. Or we’ll just tell them we lost it. Like, I like that whole idea of Oh, yeah, I was going for firewood and it broke. It magically fell into the river hat’s however many miles away. But we all do that. Right. We do something like it. The thing I would love to end on, you have a book coming out, which is amazing.

Victoria Buitron 22:13
Yes, I do. Thank you.

Teresa Douglas 22:16
Where can people hear the second that comes out? If they want to grab it? Do you have social media do you have? Where can they find you and find your work?

Victoria Buitron 22:27
Sure. So if you go to my website, which is my name, Victoria Buitron dot com, you’ll be able to find information about the book there. It’s my debut memoir, it’s called The Body Across Two Hemispheres. And you can also go to Wood Hall press; the book is already available for pre order. So if you prefer to buy it directly from the press, you can do that you can buy from a bookshop, which is a great way to support indie presses and books in bookstores as well. And obviously, through Barnes and Noble and Amazon and all the other stores, you can preorder it, and it will come out in March. I’m very excited. Thank you so much. This was, like I said, a few moments ago, I wanted to write about my life a few years ago. The goal was always to write a book. The other goal is not just to write it, but to publish it.

Teresa Douglas 23:29
And both are happening, like you wrote it, and now it’s coming out.

Victoria Buitron 23:33
Exactly. So it just feels like a dream. It still feels like I’m dreaming a little bit. So I’m very excited. And thank you so much for the support.

Teresa Douglas 23:43
And what you didn’t say and I’m going to just plug a little bit for readers is that if you buy it on pre order, that helps out because then that means they should probably print more. So I will even push that. If this memoir sounds even the tiniest bit interesting, you should just preorder it and then you will have the book. And that will help get even more works by people of color out in the popular masses. So please, please go out and look at that and do that. Well, Victoria, this has been lovely. It has been so nice to have you here on podcast. It’s been wonderful to read your work, and I’m looking forward to seeing what you do next.

Victoria Buitron 24:28
Thank you so much for having me. This was a wonderful interview. I’m so glad that you enjoyed my review about the chainsaw. And I’m astounded by the support. Thank you so much.

Flash Fiction: 1 Star Review for the Cordless electric Chainsaw by Victoria Buitron

Transcript:

1-Star Review for the Cordless Electric Chainsaw

by Victoria Buitron

My husband would give it five stars, but I can only give it a one because it has swallowed my life like a Florida sinkhole.  It was fine at first, when he built the Little Free Library for me in the front of our house. We painted it patterns of Paisley pink and luminescent yellow, so even during the winter—when there’s a foot of snow—I can think of spring. But he’s been using it for everything now. Cutting wood, building a climbing wall, making Winnie the Pooh wooden masks that my daughter begs him to wear while he reads her a book before bed, jolting the crows away from the sunflowers with the vroom. The other day I heard him humming and then calling the thing in his hand Chase the Chainsaw. Whatever project our son asks him to do, he’ll use the chainsaw to cut and slash and destroy and rebirth. Because it’s faster, he says. I’m tired. I actually threw the last chainsaw into the river, after hot yoga class, parked on the cherry-colored bridge. A splash like the river had gulped it. I lied and told him that it fell and broke when I went to grab some firewood. I thought maybe he’d use the old saw, sweat until his arm became sore and his muscles flexed, but the next day he went to get another one. This one is called Casey the Chainsaw. I have another death for him lined up. If there’s a Chad the Chainsaw, I’m charging his credit card with noise-canceling ear muffs and purchasing acoustic foam panels to enact as a sound barrier around our bedroom—so I am only privy to his  final creations—because I love what he makes, but not how he makes them, and please, damnit, if someone knows how to annihilate these cordless Lucifer-sent technological contraptions without it looking too obvious, please email me at suburbanchainsawmassacre@gmail.com.

Behind the Scenes: Rosie Prohias Driscoll talks about Havana 1974

SPEAKERS

Rosie Prohias Driscoll, Teresa Douglas

Teresa Douglas  00:10

Welcome listeners to Latinx lit audio mag. I’m your host Teresa Douglas. On today’s  behind the scenes episode we’re going to hear from Rosie Prohias Driscoll, author of Havana 1974. Rosie is a Cuban American educator and poet. She teaches high school English in Alexandria, Virginia, where she lives with her husband, and a host of ancestral spirits who keep her rooted and grateful. Her poems have appeared in numerous publications, including Acentos Review, Saw Palm: Florida Literature and Art, SWWIM Every Day, Pensive: A Global Journal of Spirituality and the Arts, Sin Fronteras/ Writers Without Borders, and No Tender Fences: An Anthology of Immigrant and First-Generation American Poetry. “Havana 1974” is included in her forthcoming debut poetry collection, Poised for Flight, which will be published by Finishing Line Press in August 2022. Welcome, Rosie.

Rosie Prohias Driscoll  01:11

Thank you so much, Teresa. I’m excited to be here and chat with you today.

Teresa Douglas  01:15

I am very happy to have you here too. And, I said something to you a little earlier ago about how I like these interviews to feel as if we’re sitting at the same table. We have a nice warm cup of something right there. 

Rosie Prohias Driscoll  01:29

A cafecito.

Teresa Douglas  01:30

Oh, yes! I am a tea drinker. But everybody needs a little cafecito though in their life sometimes. And if I were to offer you something comfort wise, what would be your favorite comfort food if you could have anything in the world that you wanted?

Rosie Prohias Driscoll  01:45

Hands down. My favorite comfort food is my abuela’s recipe for black beans. Arroz con frijoles were served growing up at every family celebration and reminds me not only of her, but of feeling that sense of comfort and joy when family would come around the table together and celebrate and laugh and tell stories.

Teresa Douglas  02:10

That sounds heavenly. And of course, I could never give you those beans because they’re her beans and their magic. But that sounds delightful. I was talking on an episode earlier about the magic of grandmothers, and and how they make food that nobody else can make. So it’s wonderful that you have that to can carry with you in your mind.

Rosie Prohias Driscoll  02:34

Yes. And my goal has always been every Sunday to try and make a pot of frijoles. It ends up being maybe once every six weeks on a Sunday, that I make it for my daughter.

Teresa Douglas  02:49

Well, the beans are a labor of love sometimes, especially if you’re cooking them on the stove, and they can take hours and when are you putting in the spices and all of that. Well, that’s lovely. I wish I could taste those beans. But this is this is an episode about you. So why don’t we talk a little less about food, and a little more about you and your writing? To start with, when did you begin writing?

Rosie Prohias Driscoll  03:15

So I started writing in middle school. But I would say at that point, you know, expectedly pretty cheesy, rhymey verse. At some point, early in high school, I think I stopped. And I didn’t start again until my early 40s. So really, I’ve been writing for about 12 years.

Teresa Douglas  03:34

It is just life sometimes. But fortunately like a bicycle, you can get back to your writing and pick it up again. And with more life experience. 

Rosie Prohias Driscoll  03:44

Honestly, I think it was that life experience that led me to start writing because I think that for so long. I just you know like many women doubted my ability and didn’t think that I had anything to say. But I started again as a way to work through grief and memory and then that developed into a desire to preserve these family stories for my daughters in this fragmented vernacular that is poetry.

Teresa Douglas  04:08

Mm hmm. So is poetry what you focus exclusively on? Do you write other things?

Rosie Prohias Driscoll  04:14

Yes, pretty much all poetry. I’ve written an occasional spiritual blog post. But really primarily my medium is poetry, which I just love.

Teresa Douglas  04:22

It’s certainly beautiful in your poem here, Havana 1974. One of the things that I really loved about this is that not only is there that feel of a memoir, but it’s very dreamlike. This idea of of something that happened and the idea of it being almost like a dream because it happened. There are photos. There are things that are there, but it’s playing with memory in such a beautiful way. These little images pop up like–if you hear me rustling listeners it’s because I have the sheets of paper here and I’m gonna look for it–Ah! “Abuela Rosina held my hand, her long index finger directing my wide eyes.” And for me that image right there of just this finger, I’m picturing that and this child who’s looking at wonder at the world. It has such a lovely, dreamlike feel for something that is rooted in a time that had, it seems wonder, and yet also the fear of how are we getting home from this place that we were called to go? So it’s lovely and I would love to have you walk us through your writing process for this. Did you start with a central memory? Did you know that there was a full story that you wanted to tell? How did you begin this piece?

Rosie Prohias Driscoll  05:58

That’s a great question. So it was a full story. Because really, it’s my mother’s story. And I think that dreamlike quality, and thank you for your kind words, come from that sense of that, that repeated, it’s almost like a recurring dream. I’ve been hearing that story from my mother, since you know, late childhood, and I was always so struck by, how interesting it was that this story that I’ve carried with me that is so vivid, as if it were my own, and it was my own, I was there, but I do not remember the parts that she told. And the notion that we could be partaking of the same experience. But a child and adult have a completely different sense of what was going on in that moment. And what was important in that moment, has just always fascinated me. And so the story itself was, was intact. My impetus for trying to get it down into a poem was because I was working on this forthcoming collection, which is itself inspired by my desire to capture family stories for my daughters. That was the initial goal of the collection. And so I really wanted to tell this story of our journey to Havana in 1974, as an attempt to refract my my mother’s voice through my own. But I have to say the process was very challenging, because it was way out of my comfort zone. Most of my poems are short, they tend to be more distilled fragments of a moment, or conversation. This story, getting the story out required me to string together fragments that in my in my normal mode of functioning would have each been a single poem. And the line length is also very typically long for me. So I struggled a long time to find my rhythm, it probably took, you know, putting it away and coming back to and putting away and coming back to it about six or eight months until it took its final form.

Teresa Douglas  07:58

And it’s interesting, because as listeners who have gone to the website, and will have seen your, your poem, the transcript of it and imprint, it looks like small fragments that are strung together almost like beads on a necklace. And it feels sort of like that, too, because we have each of these sections has sort of a central, central feel to it. Like I love the idea of the peel away plastic for these photographs. And then in the next section of looking at fireworks flowering in the night sky. And then we leave the idea of this image because there’s no photograph for the point at which mommy tells Abuelo or Cesar that she’s going back to the place that they fled. So it’s a lovely feeling of these, like you said, these fragments that are sort of strung together in a very cohesive, sort of way. With that, that unspoken, I don’t remember this, but this is what happened.

Rosie Prohias Driscoll  09:07

Right? And that somehow needs to be preserved and understood and yet can’t quite be understood.

Teresa Douglas  09:13

Mm hmm. And it’s an interesting thing, thinking about that, because if a parent is doing what parents do, and instinctively trying to protect their children, it would obviously make sense that if you had any experiences that you remember, at all, they would be different because I’m sure that she would not have explained to you that they you might not get home.

Rosie Prohias Driscoll  09:40

Right. And what I marvel at, again, is exactly that the power of a parent to mask the deep anxiety that was actually happening because my recollection of the very few memories that I have of that trip are that they were just delightful. I got to meet my grandparents. We played with the cat, and the apartment, and we went to the pool. That’s what I remember. I don’t remember sensing at all everything that she was going through. And to me that was that in and of itself was very poignant.

Teresa Douglas  10:09

Yeah. And that moment toward the end of the poem where she decides we need to fly somewhere. And we’re going to do it without our passports, because we just we need to go somewhere. And, the way that beautifully, sort of strings, the dreamlike, and gets us back to back to the mainland. I hate to say mainland, because Barbados is not the states at all. But that waypoint, I guess, is what I would call it and  how the travel agent is asking your mother to pass on some information to her relatives. And the fact that your mother found her? The sister? That to me is amazing. I don’t know how–well, does she even do that?

Rosie Prohias Driscoll  10:58

So this was part of the again, the challenge of writing the poem is the selecting which details to leave, and to include because there’s so many great parts to the story that I had to leave out because it was just not working. And so it’s actually kind of fascinating that my mom even had the presence of mind at that moment, because it was a, you know, that was a difficult moment in Cuban and American relations. And it was very unusual that she was there. And it was difficult for her to get there. But what she tells me that she did is that when the woman told her this, because the woman was also risking herself, running after my mother that way, and my mom had a book in her hand. And so my mother wrote the address down in the book, on separate pages in different places. So, you know, say the address would have been, you know, 2300 Shirota, she wrote two on one page and a three on another page. And so there were random notations throughout the book. So that nobody, when she left in the airport, where you were typically searched, nobody might open the book to find the address and get the woman in trouble.

Teresa Douglas  12:09

Mm hmm. She’s the lady James Bond. It sounds like.

Rosie Prohias Driscoll  12:14

That’s what it felt like. And I wish I could have included that somehow. But it just didn’t work.

Teresa Douglas  12:19

Well see, that’s why it’s nice to have interviews, because now the story is out. She could have been a spy and you would never have known because she was naturally good. 

Rosie Prohias Driscoll  12:32

She was quick on her feet.

Teresa Douglas  12:35

What a strong female figure to have in your life.

Rosie Prohias Driscoll  12:41

Yes. And that’s what I want my daughters know, because they know their Abbey. But that’s what I wanted to preserve for posterity.

Teresa Douglas  12:51

So that kind of leads us to the next question. And I know you said that one of your central foci? Focuses? Is to preserve the stories for your children. Are there any other impressions that you would like other readers to take from this poem? And if you want to talk about it, too, from the collection, that that will be coming out?

Rosie Prohias Driscoll  13:15

Yeah. And I have to say, I love that question. Because when, when I’m in the process of writing, I’m really not thinking about the reader. I’m just trying to work out my own stuff. And so it’s intriguing for me to go back and consider what someone else might take away once, you know, once you’ve written the poem, it’s beyond you. And it’s beautiful, because then it’s to be received by other, you know, minds and hearts. So, I think that I  hope a reader would take a sense of the grace that is always there amidst grief, that there was something beyond in that moment for my mother going through so much difficulty in that journey, that there was an immense amount of grace, which, to me is very much represented by, you know, that magical sense of Our Lady of Charity and my father’s spirit hovering over the car that, that Maria, the ticket agent’s sister said she saw, which is in and of itself marvelous. And I think, another takeaway that I guess more of an invitation to readers would be to sit with mystery. That because this, this poem, for me doesn’t have any resolution. You know, in the last stanza, I say that, when I still talk to my mother, now, there’s still not a clear sense of why that journey had to happen. And yet, there’s this feeling of certainty that it did. That’s sitting with the mystery of knowing that there are journeys in life that we must take and know to be necessary, even if in the end, we cannot articulate why that was the case. That we can somehow come to some sense of knowing without knowing. I hope that readers could take that away.

Teresa Douglas  15:04

And that’s that’s a profound point to have, I would say in any time. But here we are in this time. Pandemics and people separated and people coming together or isolated and the idea that sometimes stuff just happens. And there is that mystery that some things, some things are just not going to be solved. And it’s an experience that colors everything else. And in that, because of that, it’s worthwhile, even if there was a lot of difficulty, even if it it came at a price. So I think that’s a lovely thing to leave a reader with. 

Rosie Prohias Driscoll  15:49

Thank you. 

Teresa Douglas  15:50

Well, you did mention in your bio that again, that you have ‘Poised for Flight,’ your debut poetry collection coming out in 2022. 

Rosie Prohias Driscoll  15:59

Yes it is. I’m very excited. 

Teresa Douglas  16:07

You should be! It’s like having another child. 

Teresa Douglas  16:08

Well, when when it comes out, I’m sure there’ll be many who would like to find out where to find that and see other things that you’re writing. If somebody wants to do that, how can they find you and your work? 

Rosie Prohias Driscoll  16:20

Sure. So I have a page on Facebook. It is Rosie Prohias Driscoll comma poet. And there I just share actually less so my own work sometimes my own work it’ll certainly be sharing when the book comes out. But just favorite poems and quotes and thoughts and you know, just moments that I find in my daily life in which poetry is healing. And then on Instagram, same purpose. It’s at Rosie P Driscoll, dot poet.

Teresa Douglas  16:53

Wonderful and listeners if you don’t have pen, a pencil, I will put the links to these in the show notes so that you can find Rosie. Rosie, this has been wonderful. It’s been lovely to have you on the show and just get a little more about this. And I can’t wait to see your upcoming book.

Rosie Prohias Driscoll  17:16

Thank you so much Teresa, and thank you for the lovely work you’re doing with this podcast. I’m really enjoying it

Behind the Scenes: Abram Valdez Talks about The Facilities Are for Mourners Only

SPEAKERS

Teresa Douglas, Abram Valdez

Teresa Douglas  00:10

Welcome listeners to this week’s behind the scenes episode of Latinx Lit audio mag. I’m your host Teresa Douglas. Today we’re talking to Abram Valdez. Abram is a Chicano author from Denton County, Texas, where he and his partner Marissa are raising four children. As a first generation college graduate, his father was both proud and horrified at Abrams plans to attend graduate school at the University of Arkansas MFA program for creative writing, with an emphasis and poetry, he would have preferred Abram go to a computer sciences and not write for greeting cards. Abrams work has been featured in Had, Eunoia Review, 14 Hills, Complete Sentence, Bridge Eight and the Daily Drunk. Welcome Abram.

Abram Valdez  00:58

Hey, Teresa, thanks for having me.

Teresa Douglas  01:01

It’s nice to have you here. And I don’t know if this is gonna be a great introduction to this particular piece, but we are going to talk about food before we talk about the piece which I loved, even though I was eating at the time that I first read it. But when you’re eating, and you need some comfort food, what is your favorite comfort?

Abram Valdez  01:24

Yeah, I’ve been struggling with this. I knew the question was coming in. And it’s a really difficult question. Because one, I’m like a big guy. So I can eat a lot. And I like food a lot. And I found as I kept going over it, I was like, well, the foods that bring me the most comfort are the ones that are like the worst for me. So I have to like pick and choose my comfort. How much comfort I can have during the year.

Teresa Douglas  01:58

Let’s be honest here, nobody’s last meal is kale.

Abram Valdez  02:03

Right? I could probably stand to use more kale though than, like, menudo. Right. 

Teresa Douglas  02:10

We all could. But menudo cures the common cold, so, you know…

Abram Valdez  02:15

Right. And that’s probably at the top of my list. Because like I can have that real good bowl of menudo, and I have that ratatouille experience where the food critic tastes and he immediately goes back. But then I’m also feeling really guilty about it like 10 minutes later, oh, man, there goes the blood pressure like, Oh, it’s so much sodium. So yeah, I find that that the older I get the the foods that bring me the most comfort are also the ones that make me the most uncomfortable as well. 

Teresa Douglas  02:55

We save them, we try to save them for when we need them. Right. That’s the purpose. And I have to say I was once asked to turn in what my last meal would be if I had to have a last meal. I did not know that these things were gonna go up on a projector in front of all of the departments at work. And everybody else had like, oh, I’ll have these tacos or have these enchiladas. My list was an eight course meal. And none of them matched itself. It was just things I’ve had in my life in different parts of the world. 

Abram Valdez  03:17

Oh, yeah. 

Teresa Douglas  03:32

From that point on. I was like that person. They’re like, Oh, you’re the one that’s gonna die of a heart attack. I’m like, Look, it’s my last meal. I’m already going.

Abram Valdez  03:41

That’s funny. Cuz See, I would have been the person asking you and where was this? Exactly? Yeah, I would have also wanted to know. I gotta get on that as well. Yeah, eight courses? Absolutely. Yeah. 

Teresa Douglas  03:52

Look, you haven’t lived if your list of ‘Must Eat Foods’ is not long. I’m just gonna, I’m just gonna go with that. You know, food is important. And even even though we’re gonna be talking about a piece and listeners, this piece made me laugh very hard. But warning, don’t eat anything while you’re eating it. Because apparently, I also have the humor of a 13 year old because it is really funny. And, I would love to just talk a little bit about that. But before we do, I keep I keep saying before we do before we do. You mentioned in your bio that that you went to school for poetry. You gave us a comedy piece. Do you have a first love? Do you love all of the things you write equally? What’s your situation?

Abram Valdez  04:45

I yeah, I I started out writing poetry like real serious poetry in college, and, I was lucky enough to have a couple of professors who were really supportive and were like, Hey, you should definitely see how far this can take you. You could definitely do grad school. And I was like, Oh, that’s great. So that’s how I got into the poetry lane so to speak. But I’ve been writing since the second grade. I used to talk a whole lot in class and my second grade teacher got tired of hearing me, so she sat me out in the hallway and gave me a stack of papers the size of a tree stump. And on each piece of paper was a, an outline of like an animal. And inside, there was a bunch of different words. So there would be like a beaver. And then there would be words like, broken and, furry Brown. And then she said, I want you to write a story about that animal with all those words. And so I got about halfway through Noah’s Ark, going through all the different animals that she gave me. And then school was done. And at that point, I think that’s when my love for writing started. I didn’t really get serious about it until, college though.

Teresa Douglas  06:16

Can I just say your teacher gave you your first MFA experience? Because those were writing prompts.

Abram Valdez  06:25

Right, right. She got tired of hearing me tell stories verbally and was like, just put it on paper. And it’s pretty much a refrain I’ve heard all my life, just write it down. I don’t need to hear it. Just write it down. So yeah, yeah, I would say, I’ve been writing for a while. And I try to I write a little bit of everything. But it’s only probably within the last year that I got into flash fiction, where I was like, Oh, this kind of takes the best of both worlds. I like storytelling. But at times, my poetry can seem too prosaic. But I can use the economy language and put the peanut butter in the chocolate with flash fiction. And so that’s what I’ve been plying my at trading for the last year.

Teresa Douglas  07:17

It’s magic. I came to flash fiction probably around the same time, about a year or so ago. It sounds like you were trying to tell oral stories, you probably heard them, just like I did, just floating around your family. And having that moment where you’re telling this oral story if it takes too long people leave. Its like, Man, that’s it. And flash fiction it can it can feel like home.

Abram Valdez  07:53

Yeah, absolutely. I completely agree. Like, it’s, it’s one of those things where, I feel like if I’m lucky enough to get somebody’s attention, that they’re going to read something that I’ve written, I want to make sure that it’s worth their while. And right now everybody’s attention can be pulled in so many different ways, especially online. If I can write something that cuts through really quickly and deeply, then I feel, you know, mission accomplished. So yeah, so I’ve been kind of gravitating towards that lately.

Teresa Douglas  08:28

Well, I would definitely call this piece that you wrote, it’s comedic, it’s flash, you said in your email before–and honestly, if this going to get you in trouble with your family, you can go ahead and say, I don’t want to talk about it–but you said that there’s a real world story sort of behind it. Would you talk us through either that or, or focus more safely on your process? Just tell us a bit.

Abram Valdez  08:54

No, it’s cool. My family is very used to me at this point, kind of exposing family stuff, so it’s fine. The piece is kind of based on a true story. So back in 2017, my father passed away kind of unexpectedly, after a very aggressive illness that kind of came and took him. And in that time period, where you know, someone passes you’re making plans and arrangements and all these people were coming in. I wasn’t really thinking about any of those the people that were coming in, but yet it was family. It was friends, it was, friends of the family and people that we hadn’t talked to in years, all these people would come in. And to a person they all said the same thing. Sorry for your loss. He’s in a better place. You need anything. It just kind of became a cliche. After a while you become numb to it. But you know, this one friend of the family that my mom’s known for years came by. And I think what drew me to want to write this was how cavalier he was, and just like not a care in the world. [As if] he didn’t know that my dad passed. He was really excited to tell some somebody about the story of his stomachache, and how it affected them. I think he knew I’ve got a captured audience here with the widow and her son and my sister, you know, his daughter, and they can’t go anywhere. They’re just gonna have to sit here, listen to me. So that’s where that’s where the genesis came from. 

Abram Valdez  10:42

The other part to the story, the kind of escape part, came about, as I was thinking about this interview that Toby Hooper did. Toby Hooper’s the director of Texas Chainsaw Massacre. He had mentioned in this interview that he was stuck in a department store like Sears during the Christmas season, and there was like, hundreds of people. He was in the hardware section, and he started getting really nervous. Like if I had to leave right now. What’s the fastest way I can get through all these people. And that’s when he saw the chainsaws on display. And that always made me crack up. And so I kind of thought about it that way, because my mom is way too nice of a person to ever just say, hey, stop talking man, you’re being gross and get out of here. She would never do that. She’s just such a kind patient person. And clearly, I didn’t get any of that from her. 

Abram Valdez  11:42

But in the piece, I tried to write it as if I had been in my mom’s position. What would I’ve done? I thought, the answer is to feign this nosebleed so that the guy would at least, you know, stop talking long enough and she could get away. So that’s kind of where the genesis of it came from. Part of it’s true the other part’s fiction. I really exaggerated the story, because I think the gentleman in question, who’s a dear family friend, realized pretty quickly like, oh maybe talking about it is to, two pitstops is enough, I don’t need to make this like an extended Lord of the Rings, extended ending of my bathroom experiences between New Mexico and Arizona and back again. So, yeah.

Teresa Douglas  12:47

So did you start with this idea–hings come to us in many different ways. Like, it sounds like you had this actual, this actual event that happened. Did you work from there to add the fiction to it? Or, or did it sort of come in your brain at once? And you  wrote it down? And then edited after?

Abram Valdez  13:09

No, I think, obviously, the real world experience started first, like that was always what anchored everything. Um, but then once you start writing about that, where do you go beyond just the humor in these stories, and that’s what I wanted to try and ground it in, in the middle of what’s happening in the story. There is still these characters that are going through this grieving process. And they may not even see it, because they’re too close to it at the time. And I definitely know I was. But, I came to realize much later that, in the real experience, as I sat there listening to this guy kind of going through this, I had the same reaction as the character in the story, which was man, how can you be saying this man? Don’t don’t you see what you’re saying? Can you hear yourself? But as I get some distance from it, I’m like, that was the best thing anybody could have said, in all honesty, because for whatever time it was, I wasn’t thinking about, Well, how am I feeling now? Yeah, what do I need to do now? Is my mom, okay, is my sister okay? Like, I was just thinking about what that guy was saying. I mean, to his credit, it was a great story, too. So I took that and then just kind of changed it up, really exaggerated it. And that’s what ultimately kind of helped me. Like, as soon as I got some distance from it, I was like, that’s where the story is. It’s not necessarily what he’s recounting. It’s everybody’s reaction. And that’s what I was hoping for, I think after the fact is, you know, in the middle of grief, you can allow for a little bit of room of humor, a little bit of room for hope or, you know, despair. There’s room for all of it because you’re gonna be dealing with it for a while. You’re gonna carry it for a while. And so I think there’s room for all of those things to happen at once.

Teresa Douglas  15:08

And there, there are such poignant moments in there where the mother goes and sees a movie. She she pops out away from from looking at caskets to buy some ramen. And then she has Jordans. And then the character is thinking, maybe I should do that at the end. Right? It was a lovely sort of counterpoint to this story, which was was funny, it’s very [full of] bodily humor. It’s very much grounded in reality. And it’s almost like, the characters are finding, as you said, finding some room for other things. Even as they have their grief, and they’re not really shying away from it. They’re just sort of breathing in the middle of it.

Abram Valdez  16:00

Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I think. I also think it for the character. In the story, this is where I think the real fiction kind of comes into play is for the character in the story. She kind of sees her mom finally in a different way, like, wow, okay, she can be clever. And then she’s her own person. And maybe I don’t need to be kind of like helicoptering around, making sure she’s okay. She’s actually her own person, and she’s dealing with it in her way. I need to make room for that. Because I obviously am not dealing with it just yet. But I’ve always been in awe of my mom, so that, you know, unlike the character, I was just like, I know, my mom’s gonna be great. You know, she’s gonna be okay.

Teresa Douglas  16:48

Is that the impression then that you would like to leave with folks? Is it more about survival? What is it?

Abram Valdez  16:58

Yeah, I think that’s another thing I’ve been trying to really think about. And I don’t really know what I want to leave with anybody except that I’m hoping, one, that they were entertained. But yeah, I think if if they leave with anything, hopefully, it’s that there is room for everything that you’re feeling in the middle of what it is you’re going through in that grief. Grief is is big. And it’s scary. And it feels like it doesn’t go away, but there are things that are happening. You’re just too close to it now to kind of see it. And it’s, I know, I understand it’s a cliche, everybody’s gonna grieve their own way. But that process, you know, they talk about those steps for a reason. I think I just wanted to kind of clear the stage to say, you know, outside of [those steps], there is room for these other things to be to be taking place at the same time that you’re grieving, and that’s okay, too.

Teresa Douglas  17:57

And it was nice that the character at the end really sort of came to that. So she moved through it and, and is still grieving obviously and has to work through that, but, but she’s thinking about what she can do too and it’s a lovely place to to leave the story.

Abram Valdez  18:15

Thanks. I appreciate that.

Teresa Douglas  18:18

Well, you write a lot of different things. And I’m sure our listeners are going to enjoy this piece as much as I did. If they want to follow you and read other things that you write or see when things are coming out for you, how would they do that?

Abram Valdez  18:34

So probably the best place is you have a website Abram Valdez dot com, and I just kind of put everything up there that gets published when it gets published. It just links to it. So that’s probably the best place. I have a Twitter account. But it’s all about very specific things. So it’s like really weird stuff. My Twitter account is like a middle school boys like book cover, right? It’s got monsters and basketball and pro wrestling and pan dulce, it’s all things

Teresa Douglas  19:16

Hey, pan dulce. I’m in. There we go.

Abram Valdez  19:21

So yeah, I do have a Twitter and I do use it mostly for shameless self promotion, but also to kind of engage with people about monsters and that sort of thing that that I like, but yeah, my Twitter handle is Abram Valdez C S.

Teresa Douglas  19:40

Oh, great. Well, listeners if you don’t have a pen or paper handy, I will put these links in the show notes so you can click on it. You can read some of Abrams other work, talk about monsters, or find out his favorite pan dulce. This is very important, I have to say. Thank you so much, Abram for coming on the show and for giving us more about your work.

Abram Valdez  20:03

Absolutely Teresa, thank you for having me and for giving a home to my piece

Havana 1974 by Rosie Prohias Driscoll

Havana 1974

 

Although I have seen the faded photographs stuck

in album pages overlaid by peel-away plastic,

I do not remember standing on the crumbling

sea wall with Yoyo, Ricky, and Rafi at Guanabo,

a yellow salvavidas sitting on my six-year-old hip

 

or staring at fireworks flowering in the night sky

at el Carnaval de la Habana while Abuela Rosina held 

my hand, her long index finger directing my wide eyes

to the massive papier-mâché heads bobbing along El Malecón.

 

There are no photographs of the coriaceous creases

on Abuelo Cesar’s face turn to stone, smooth and cold,

when Mami told him she had decided to take us back

to the island they had fled, on a mission to meet Papi’s

parents, who had chosen to stay and stand with Fidel

 

or of the raised rifle of the Mexico Embassy guard

shooting the tire of the taxi as it pulled away when

Mami set her first foot on the sidewalk, our bright Buster

Browns still dangling from the sticky leather back seat

 

or of Mami’s left leg shaking across from el agente

de Seguridad del Estado, a thick binder of unknown

contents before her and a portrait of el Che behind her,

answering the same questions for eight hours while we

played en el apartamento del Vedado con la gata Cecilia

           

or of Mami’s alabaster skin turn ash when Abuela Rosina

reported that there were no re-entry papers to enable

our return through México, pero no te preocupes, hija,

Ricardo lo resuelve con el consul Mexicano, who was out

of the country, but would surely respond to his call

 

or of the length of Mami’s onyx hair laid on Papi’s linen pillow,

her eyes scanning the room that remained as he left it lined

wall-to-wall with model World War II airplanes and the books

he amassed on his weekly visits to La Moderna Poesía, as she

wondered why he led her there, and how she might get us out

 

or of the thick eyebrows of the Aeroflot ticket agent, raised

over inscrutable eyes when Mami asked to buy three one-way

tickets to Barbados, even if it meant she must spend all of her cash

and leave her passport for approval hasta después del almuerzo

 

or of Mami’s sandaled feet frozen on Calle la Rampa when

she heard the rapid footfall of the ticket agent running after her

begging in words hushed and hurried to deliver a message

to her sister Maria in Miami, that their father was dying and could

she please tell her how she had found the way to come home?

 

or of months later Maria running down her gravel driveway,

arms waving as Mami circled the block looking for the house

on Southwest 6th Street, heralding that la Virgen de las Mercedes

was hovering over our car accompanied by un alma poderoso

with eyes green like mine and a dark mole on his left cheek.

 

I remember nothing. I only hear the sound of my mother drawing

words from wells deeper than grief, recounting our journey there

and back, on a mission she cannot comprehend, but believes was willed

by my father and Our Lady of Mercy, who hover over us still.

The Facilities Are for Mourners Only 

by Abram Valdez

Gloria marveled at her mother Teresa’s courage at the precession of mourners but girded herself as Jesse Reina recalled a story of a recent bout with diarrhea. Two days after Gloria’s father Roberto passed, every tangled branch of the family tree and even the rotten pieces of family bark visited Teresa and Gloria. Many brought cards or flowers, and almost everyone paying their respects brought food with their condolences because grieving is easier when you don’t have to cook. But in the visits and plates—the tamales, the papas, the molé, the fried chicken—none of bereaved brought a dish with a side-story about the runs. 

“It was that diner in Hobbs,” Jesse said to his wife Victoria. “‘Fins & Hens.’ I think that was the name. I had this chicken fried steak meal, and I was doing good for a while, but then, oh baby, I had to get to a commode in Albuquerque. I sat on the toilet so long, my legs fell asleep.”

For Jesse, to go from “I was surprised to learn about Roberto’s stroke” to “I got familiar with the all the toilets and some bushes between New Mexico and Arizona” was paint by numbers, and he was in mid-masterpiece—a real Boboso Ross. 

“I don’t mean to get gross, but I just couldn’t keep anything down inside.”

Gloria tried to find a break in Jesse’s bathroom chronicles to aid Teresa. Her sainted mother who 48 hours removed from losing her husband of thirty years was trying to entertain someone she hadn’t talked to in 10 years. Jesse wasn’t familia familia, but he grew up in the same church that Teresa and Roberto attended for twenty years. They had known Jesse since he was messing his pampers, so he was family, even if he was still having trouble with his bathroom business. 

“I thought I was going to get dehydrated. I didn’t know where all that soupy stuff was coming from. So I would eat some crackers and drink Gatorade, and nombre! Back to the potty.”    

“You okay, a’ma?” Gloria asked.

“Yes, mija,” Teresa replied and slightly rolled her eyes at Gloria before Jesse jumped right back into his story, certain everyone was on the edge of every toilet seat with him.

“It got so bad, I had to see a doctor in Colorado. He wanted to put me on an IV, but I didn’t want to ruin the trip, so I toughed it out. Just kinda squeezed, you know?”

Jesse came to this story by way of asking, “Did Roberto ever get a second opinion?”

Gloria relayed to him about a doctor in New Mexico that Roberto had been in contact with, and Jesse was off to the cuartito. 

Outside of that, that brief mention about her dad and New Mexico, Gloria hadn’t had time to think about her father in any other way. She was at the hospital. Then, she was making arrangements. Then, the calls and the visitors. Insurance. Bereavement paperwork. What else was there after all of it? But every time she felt the walls squeezing in, her mother seemed to do something that she didn’t expect of a widow. The day after Roberto passed, Teresa took in a movie by herself—The Incredibles Part 2—and didn’t invite Gloria. Teresa skipped out on choosing a casket to try ramen for the first time with her prima Sandy. If Teresa was in mourning, Gloria couldn’t tell from the pair of Jordans she bought for herself. It wasn’t that there was an avoidance of grief as much as there was also grief. Still, Gloria could only marvel at Teresa’s ability to nod and smile at this ridiculous man. 

“Twelve pounds! I lost twelve pounds! Had to buy new clothes for the trip back. Partly because of all the weight I lost, but also… I didn’t quite make it to the little boy’s room in Winslow, Arizona, if you get me. New shoes, too.”

The little boys room was the phrase that did it. Gloria was ready to lay into Jesse. She went over it in her head: What the hell is wrong with you? No one wants to hear about your leaky butthole. We’re in mourning, pendejo! Say ‘sorry for your loss’ and be on your way, guey.    

That’s when she saw Teresa digging her pinky fingernail into her thumb. At first, it looked like she was trying to stay awake, but Teresa drew blood. A small red spot started to reveal itself as if it was unraveling more than gushing. Jesse was elbows deep into a description about emptying the contents of his guts into four different states until the only thing he had left inside was a whistle, when Teresa put her bloody thumb to her nose.

“Oh, my,” she said, feigning an ache. “My nose! Mija, can you help me?”  She rubbed her thumb against her nose. 

“Excuse me, Jesse, I…,” Teresa said. “Con permiso.”

Jesse and Victoria both stood. Teresa tilted her head back, waved Gloria over, and headed for her bedroom. She put her hands out like she was lost and relying on the walls to guide her way.

At the door to her room, she was quick to the cut. “Get that cochino out of the house.” She took a tissue to wipe her thumb clean. “And don’t let him use the bathroom.”

When Gloria returned to the living room, Victoria was still standing. 

“Is your mom okay?” Victoria asked. 

“Just a long day. I’m gonna let her rest.”

“Jesse had to excuse himself. Sorry about him. He talks too much. I think he’s nervous. He’s never had anyone he knows pass.”

Gloria and Victoria stood, looking for something to say to each other. What else was there to talk about? His foot fungus or hair plugs? As a part of Teresa’s church family, Gloria was certain they would see each other again at the service, but what to say in the now? That led her down the path of what she could share with them in a few days. And that led to what would she share with everyone at the service?  

Then, Jesse appeared from the guest bathroom, and she was almost relieved to see him.

“We’ll be on our way. We want to let Teresa rest,” he said. “You, too. We just wanted to say we’re really sorry about your dad. He was such a sweet guy to us. Please, call us if you or your mom need anything.”  

Jesse nodded and Victoria joined him by the door. As they exited, Jesse cupped Gloria’s hands between his. “Dios la bendiga.” 

As Jesse and Victoria walked to their car, Gloria stood in the screen door and adjusted the door’s mourning wreath. For the past three days, the house felt like it was shaking, rumbling, like it was echoing the feeling of Gloria’s stomach jumping to her chest. But now it all seemed to be leaving with Jesse and Victoria. All Gloria could feel was a settling as she waved them away. She thought about going for a walk. Maybe buying a pair of Jordans, too. Gloria could feel her breath finally leaving her body like a promise freed from beneath a paperweight. So many things to do next, but the most important? She would rush to the bathroom to wash her hands. Of Jesse. Of her dad. Of all of it.  

Behind the Scenes: Alisha Miranda Talks About ‘Scheming Abuelas: The Long Con that Made My Marriage’

Check out the transcript below

SPEAKERS

Alisha Miranda, Teresa Douglas

Teresa Douglas  00:10

Welcome listeners to this week’s behind the scenes episode of Latinx Lit Audio Mag. I’m your host Teresa Douglas. Today we’re going to hear from Alicia Miranda, author of ‘Scheming Abuelas: The Long Con that Made My Marriage. Alicia is a Miami born, Scotland based Cuban American writer, entrepreneur and mother of twins. Her writing has been featured in ‘Moms Don’t Have Time to Write, Grazia, Metro and Herstry, among others. And she’s working on the book, the 40 year old intern. Welcome, Alicia.

Alisha Miranda  00:45

Thank you so much for having me. I’m very excited to be part of the podcast.

Teresa Douglas  00:50

It’s nice to have you here. And now in true Latinx lit audio fashion, I have to ask you the most important food-based question that all of my guests answer. And it’s this: if you need comfort food, what what do you reach for? What is your favourite comfort food?

Alisha Miranda  01:09

Oh, God, you know, given the theme of my story, I should probably say something like Arroz con Polio. But actually, it’s just chocolate chip cookies. That is what I always want. And comfort, not comfort, a regular Tuesday, it’s my number one go-to,

Teresa Douglas  01:25

You know we are all about truth in our food and chocolate is never wrong. I’m just going to go ahead and say that because that is not only is it a comfort food, it should be a food group. 

Alisha Miranda  01:36

I agree. 

Teresa Douglas  01:37

All by itself. Well, thank you for sharing that. And I will tell the listeners who weren’t, obviously on the email exchanges that we’ve had, that one of the things that I love about this story, this piece, this memoir that you’re sharing, is how connected everything is. If you think about some basic story, you follow one character through a piece of their life, they do something and then we end the story. But in this one, there are so many things entwined in it. It’s your story, but it’s also your Abuela’s story. It’s your husband’s Abuela’s story. It’s the story of your family, and people moving from Cuba, going by way of Mexico or the different ways they came. So I love that the story is so bound up together in different pieces, different parts of various people’s lives. And these pieces can’t be pulled apart without unravelling the whole thing. Because, to me, that is a true statement of what family life is like. You can’t extricate yourself, from your history, from your family without taking a piece of context that we really need from our lives.

Alisha Miranda  03:02

Absolutely. And I think, you know, it is my life. It’s my love story. It’s my family history. And they are particularly connected in my particular story. But I think in everybody’s story, there are all of these pieces that you bring with you from the past and that you bring into the future. And so, in my particular tale, it certainly is very clear how that comes to light, how my past and my history connect with my present and the future that my children will have being part of these two connected families. But I think there’s a piece of that in everybody’s story, really.

Teresa Douglas  03:40

And it’s so beautifully played out here. I’m getting a little ahead of myself, we will talk about the story a little bit more. But before we do that, let’s go into some of your family story and ask you, because you do a lot of things. You’re an entrepreneur, you write, you’re a CEO, all of those things could be encompassing jobs by themselves. You do several of them together. How and when did you start writing?

Alisha Miranda  04:04

So I have always loved writing. I wrote as a kid, I wrote really embarrassing, terrible stories, which were mostly just like lists of my friends and then the places we would want to go shopping and things we would want to do. There’s one I still have where we all went to Hawaii on vacation without our parents. But it was extremely innocent. And I was really, really into journalism. I was the editor of my high school newspaper. I was one of Teen People magazine’s first teen reporters, which was awesome and just gave me so many amazing opportunities. And then I did an internship at a magazine in Miami, my final year of high school and I sort of had this big dream I wanted to work in magazines and move to New York and have a ‘Sex in the City Life,’ before there was a Sex in the City.  And the actual reality of working in journalism was just not what I thought I wanted. I had a lot of people that were working at the magazine getting paid at the magazine saying to me, Oh, this is not the profession to go into, you’ll never make any money. It’s really not fulfilling. And they were clearly people who were not happy with their jobs. And so, you know, my life went in a totally different direction. I went to college, I studied Women’s Studies.

And then I got bit by the travel bug my junior year. I came to study abroad in London, and just really kind of fell in love with being overseas being in what was Europe, what I’ll still always think of fondly as Europe. And then my career sort of followed a series of open doors in the direction they were in. So I started to work in the philanthropy space, mostly with companies and then eventually with families, and individuals and nonprofits, helping them fundraise better give away their money.  I did that at a few companies for several years, big companies, and then my husband, who you’ll know all about after you read this story, set up a consulting firm 10 years ago, and I joined. Eventually, he finally convinced me to come to the family business and run it. So I spent the overwhelming majority of my career writing business stuff, writing clear, concise bullet points, and ignoring this other creative side of me.  

And then, in 2019, I had this idea, I call it my like, pre-midlife crisis. And I decided I wanted to go intern at the dream jobs of my childhood because I was obsessed with trying to figure out whether I should be taking a different path. Or if I was just going to be doing the same thing forever and ever. So I kind of built out this year for myself, it was all planned for 2020. And then we know what happened in 2020. But at some point, a friend said to me, you know, you should do this, and you should write a book about it. And I had never really considered that an option before. But it was a lot more palatable, to tell people I’m leaving my job to go be an intern on an off-Broadway musical or at an art dealer because I’m writing a book. And that just made a lot of sense instead of like, You’re crazy. So people are like, Oh, of course, you’re writing a book. That’s a perfectly legitimate excuse to go and do these things. So long story short, I did that I ended up doing four internships in 2020. I did a bunch of different jobs. And I wrote about it the whole time. And throughout that, the biggest surprise was that I just loved reconnecting with writing more than I ever could have possibly dreamed. And so I do many things now. But I think writing is really where my heart is, and where at least my next 10 years are going. And I’ve just felt so grateful that I get to do that.

Teresa Douglas  07:49

Okay, that that is definitely very cool. And had I met you in high school and heard that you were doing this you would definitely sit at my table at lunch. 

Alisha Miranda  07:57

Oh, good!

Teresa Douglas  07:57

Because yeah, that’s an amazing story. And it’s funny in some ways to think that writing has a mystique to some people so that if you need to drop what you’re doing and follow a dream or figure out questions. Doing that by itself self in some ways is not as acceptable. Oh, you’re doing it for book writing which is mystical and magical. And not something everybody does. I find that both really cool and really funny that it gave some justification to other people.

Alisha Miranda  08:34

Yeah, it felt like a good excuse for people and it was just the biggest bonus because while I loved all of the internships and in fact, I still am working for a couple of them just because that seems to be my life right now doing everything, it’s just become such a joy and it feels like I just kind of woke up this part of myself that had been sleeping for a really long time.

Teresa Douglas  09:00

So you’ve written about your life, your experiences, both in this piece ‘Scheming Abuelas’ and also in your internship experiences. Is nonfiction then your first love or do you think about or in fact write other things?

Alisha Miranda  09:16

It is definitely not my first love. So I love fiction. I rarely read nonfiction until the last five years. And I love love novels. I love the occasional romance. I love stuff with a happy ending. I just I love pretty much everything. I love big sweeping family epics where there’s like a timeline and family tree in front. I have always been a voracious reader and a lover of fiction and I never would read nonfiction for fun. I had to read it for college, and then I had to read it for work and it didn’t seem like anything I would do for pleasure. But I started reading memoirs a few years ago and then I was like, well, this is amazing because you just get this really intimate story of someone’s life and what a gift to be given by someone to share this piece of themselves with you. So now I’ve totally come around, I alternate, so I’ll read one nonfiction book, one fiction book, most of the time, I tend to go back and forth. And if it’s like a very serious memoir, then there’ll be a palate cleanser in the middle, to ease things. I’ve written mostly nonfiction, but I am working on some fiction, I have a short story, ironically, also about a grandmother and a granddaughter that I just finished. So clearly, my grandmother is, has been an inspiration for many things in my life. And then I think I want to write a novel next. But it feels very scary to say that because of the idea of completely making something up from scratch, and I don’t know, just kind of following in the path of these fiction authors that I idolize so much. It seems impossible, but I also thought it was going to be impossible to write nonfiction. So there you go.

Teresa Douglas  11:07

And here you are. I don’t know. I wonder if anybody deliberately, I mean, people must say, Okay, today, I’m gonna start on a novel. I think there are some pre-steps that happen before that, where you sit down, and you just start writing, and maybe you outline a little bit, and then gradually think, Hmm, I guess this is a book. So I don’t know. It just reminds me of–because I have I have published a book–of having a child. It takes so many months before the end product shows up. And there’s that, am I ready for this? Nobody is but then you do it anyway. And it’s amazing to have done it. Also, I will tell you that I will read it if you write it.

Alisha Miranda  11:54

Well, I’m excited. I’m excited and scared, and mostly excited. So I think I’m going to give it a try. And I totally, totally hear you on that. Even the things that I’ve written for it so far have been tiny scenes that have come sort of unbidden, and then I write them and then I’m like, Oh, well, this might fit here. So I’m still in those very early stages. But I am excited about the challenge that presents and being able to produce something that is fictional, but I’m sure there’ll be some elements in it that I pulled from my life. 

Teresa Douglas  12:28

I mean, everybody has to put something even if it’s not the exact people. Your experiences are there somehow, even if they’re tweaked a bit. That’s my opinion, even in science fiction where everybody’s an alien.

Alisha Miranda  12:39

I think you’re right.

Teresa Douglas  12:42

People still fall in love, and they sleep and they eat and everything else. Well, before we get too far off, let’s go back to Scheming Abuelas because I loved this piece. I love–and I’ve told you this–the scene where Grandma says “Martona,” and I should tell listeners who have not listened to the piece that this is a scene at a funeral, the grandfather who has died, he had stopped the two grandmas from seeing each other because he was jealous of the friendship. And at the parking lot in the funeral Grandma screams to a friend, “Now we can see each other every day!” And I’m chopping that up.  But it to me it was this beautifully funny moment in a sad moment. Because here’s this woman with this spirit, who even when it’s tough and sad, still has so much life that she can be joyous about this friendship that she’s had for the length of some people’s lifetime. They knew each other for decades. It’s just amazing. 

Alisha Miranda  13:49

Yeah, decades. 

Teresa Douglas  13:50

And I just love this piece so much. And one of the other things that I really enjoyed about it. And I would love to hear you talk about this idea that the grandmas would tell you as a newly you know, coupled unit (because I can’t remember if you’re married or not at that point), stories of things that were good. It wasn’t the hard stuff. They were trying to give you the happy stories, the stories that helped you would help you carry on. Why do you think they would have made that decision?

Alisha Miranda  14:26

Yeah, that story, in the parking lot of the funeral is one of family legend. And my grandmother who passed away over the summer was just a joy bringer in her life. You know, she was the life of the party, she sang, she danced. She gave me the spirit that I have which is really to try to find joy wherever you can to grasp at it even in the darkest moments. And I know that I got that from her. You know? I think that like so many children of immigrants, you kind of get told your family stories over and over and over again. And as you get older, you start to realize that everyone’s telling them from a particular perspective and from their own point of view and what they saw.  The story of how my grandparents actually emigrated from Cuba to the US is, you know, incredibly difficult. They left very, very quickly. My grandfather was doing some work with the US CIA, sort of, you know, undercover basically, it sounds very spy-like, but actually, it was like Agricultural Statistics, but still extremely risky. And they were caught. They had friends high up in the government, they were told, you have to get out of here. They went to Mexico, and then they waited. And they waited in Mexico, for days and weeks, my grandmother and grandfather, their five children, the youngest was only two at the time, and her parents and they ran out of money. And they went to the church. And she asked the priest, she said, ‘Can you help us?’ So they put out the collection plate for my family. And that is how they had food, and some clothes until they were able to come to the US.  

When my dad tells these stories to me, he does remember a lot of that pain, he remembers being eight years old, 9 or 10 and what that meant coming to a brand new country and being really afraid. But my grandmother just never wanted to tell those stories. She always wanted to talk about the musicians that they heard and the parties that they went to, and the fun things they did. How they would get so drunk at Christmas, that they would all have to end up sleeping in the same house. And she just that. That was what she saw. And that was her perspective. And it was her approach to life. Are there lots of things she forgot? Absolutely. But I think that both her and Carlos’ grandmother, that was what they wanted us to remember. And I don’t know if it’s because they thought we were going to hear all of the other stuff from everybody else. I think part of it was the piece they wanted to tell was the piece that made them feel joyful. And those are the memories they wanted to make sure didn’t get lost. So I did always feel like I had this real 360 of what that experience was because everybody has blind spots. And I’m just grateful that they thought to share so many of these amazing stories with us, that I have them and I keep them and I tell them to my children. And you know, we will continue to tell them through the generations, I hope.

Teresa Douglas  17:40

And it’s amazing to think about that, really, because you’re hearing it secondhand. I guess I’m third hand at this point, and it probably doesn’t carry quite the same power but to know that those stories are not going to be forgotten, that there are children who are going to remember that they were in Mexico and they waited and that they came back and that your grandmother was so full of life. It’s a precious thing. And we can’t really fault somebody. In fact, I kind of admire somebody who says “I’m going to share the joyful things that happened. Because those are the things that are important to me.” And obviously, it’s good to have all of those things. But it’s a very deliberate choice and to choose joy, I feel like that can’t be wrong. So this obviously is a very important story to you. How did you approach writing it? Did you just know that at some point you were going to document this? Was there a particular moment where you thought okay, what caused you to go from “This is a family story, this is my story,” to “I should let this out into the world?”

Alisha Miranda  18:52

Yeah, I think my love story is so–well, everybody’s love stories unique really–but because mine has been so connected with my family history, it’s always felt like a really special story. And it’s a story people love hearing, right? So friends of ours, if we’re out with people who know the story of how we met, and other people who don’t know how we met, they’ll say “oh, you’ve got to tell them the story of how you met because it’s so amazing, the story of your grandmother’s introducing you.” So, I knew it was a good story, right? Like, there isn’t, there’s some good stuff in there. I think oftentimes when I start writing something, I will think of just a particular scene or a particular moment or something will kind of spark my imagination.  And in this case, I remember it was like a Sunday. My kids were watching TV, I was just kind of hanging out in my bedroom. And I started to think about the moment that opens up the story when we were on our honeymoon, and we were in India, and being followed around by this young couple who really wanted to know if we were an arranged match or a love match and that question is always really funny because we would never consider that anybody else was responsible for us getting together. But absolutely, there were some people pulling the strings behind the scenes, in the form of our two grandmothers. And so it sort of spun out from there.

And the more I told that original story of how we met, the more I realized that I couldn’t tell that story without telling the story of our grandmothers, because they were, as you said, at the very beginning, they were so interconnected.  And that bigger context of the story is just what makes it so amazing and, the fact that my grandmother and Carlos, his grandmother, who were best friends for so long, share great-grandchildren now for the rest of time their family trees are connected, is just, to me, the most beautiful thing. And so it really came from a place of wanting to bring all of that together, almost for myself, and then, I thought it would be nice to share this. It’s a piece that I care a lot about. And my grandmother passed away, and it seemed more important to get that out there and just share as much as I can about her really with the world because she was such an incredible woman. And this story is such an integral part of my life, and, was a part of hers. It just felt really important to share that. And also, I’m all about joyful stories right now, because there’s just not enough joy. Anywhere. So I’m trying to do my part to get that out there. I’m glad that story made you laugh, and I hope it makes others laugh too.

Teresa Douglas  21:42

I think it will, it is hard not to with the amount of joy that’s there. And I think you kind of answered this, but I’m going to ask it anyway. So in the end, when someone has listened to the story, what impression do you want them to have at the end?  

Alisha Miranda  22:04

I’d love them to have a smile on their face, I’d love them to think they spent the last eight, nine minutes thinking of something that made them feel hopeful and happy. You know, I like to write funny stuff. It’s not always all funny, plenty of things fall flat. But that’s the stuff that I want to read right now. And I think that if I can take someone out of what’s happening in the real world, and let them feel, ust that kind of glow that you get when you read a beautiful love story or a family story. I would love them to feel that after they read this piece or heard this piece. 

Teresa Douglas  22:44

Well, I certainly did. So I think that you succeeded. It’s a lovely story. It does give that joy because we do need that right now. And you do write a lot of different things. So if listeners want to reach out to you–not reach out to you, if they want to hear what you’re doing and know when the next story is coming. How would they find out? Do you have a website? You have social media? How would they find you?

Alisha Miranda  23:12

Yeah, they can reach out to me, by the way, I love being reached out to. 

Teresa Douglas  23:16

So you’ve heard it, you can reach out,

Alisha Miranda 23:19

Reach out! You can find me on my website, which is Alicia F miranda.com. And my name is a li SHA confusingly for many people. And you could also follow me on Instagram, and then it’s at the numbers for zero. So 40 y o intern, and that is my handle on Instagram. And I would love to hear from you. Because I think hearing other people’s stories is one of the best thing about writing basically other people who write want to reach out and share their work. And I just absolutely love that. So yeah, please, reach out.

Teresa Douglas  23:55

There you go. Just not in a creepy way.

Alisha Miranda  23:59

In a really nice way.

Teresa Douglas  24:00

Yes in a nice joyful way. And listeners, if you do not have a pen and paper nearby, the links to these will be in the show notes. So you can just click on over and get all the Alisha all the time. Well, thank you so much for coming to the show. I really appreciated having you here.

Alisha Miranda  24:19

Thank you, Teresa, and thank you for making a space for these stories. I just think all of the different things that you’re putting out are amazing. I’m really enjoying listening to them. And I feel extremely, extremely honored to be part of it. So thank you.

Teresa Douglas  24:32

Aw, well thank you