Sunday, July 31, 2005


it was early evening when we arrived. my aunt and uncle had set up round tables with white table cloths throughout the backyard. each table with a heartshaped glass center piece with beige rocks and floating candles. embarrassingly, we arrived just as they had started serving the food (my uncle has a reputation for being an amazing grill chef). it was the usual fare - rice, beans, steak, chicken, and salad. salsas and tortillas on request.

there were nearly a hundred people sitting and circling, socializing around the house as daylight began to dim. usually once the sun sets, the heat begins to wane, but last night was an unusually hot and humid night. our clothes hopelessly sweaty and wrinkled. no hair products could save our messy hairdos.

our cousins, now mostly in their twenties, have children ranging in age from 15 to one year old. many of the next generation - in the toddler/terrible two age range - possess the ability to cry on command to be drawn into someone's arms or to receive a sip of pepsi. i say "command" because once the request is granted, the crying stops. kids are pretty crafty that way.

once the sun had completely disappeared, some of my cousins and aunts made the rounds to light some of the raised candles and tiki torches that had been set up around the yard. my sister and i thought that with all the kids running around, raised candles seemed like a house fire waiting to happen.

the closest call was when nathaniel, all of two years old and making the most of it, grabbed a tiki torch, lifted it out of the grass and started to wave it around. i saw it happening as if it were in slow motion. i wanted to say something but the words were stuck in my mouth and then i heard one of my cousins yell for someone to take the tiki torch away from him. gabriel, nathaniel's uncle, my cousin, came to the rescue, but promptly dug the tiki torch - lit - right back where it had been!

after a while someone started playing CDs - mostly cumbias and rancheras. my uncle frank and aunt juanita got up to dance. one of my favorite things about the two of them as a couple is that they love to dance together.

the sons made toasts to their parents. an 28 year old photograph of the two of them emerging from the church on their wedding day was unveiled. a couple of friends from the church took out an accordion and guitar and started playing some of the old music. the husband of one of my cousins soon joined in beating out percussion on an empty beer bottle with silverware.

a lot of the women got up to dance, especially the cumbias. for some sons, three generations of women graced the concrete patio that served as our dance floor. a house light over the patio gives more detail to the dancers than to tables.

watching the dancing, but also watching my aunts and cousins age, the children grow, makes me feel like i'm watching an epic movie of everyone else's life. their joys and the chaos just right.


Tuesday, July 26, 2005

military on my mind

i was intrigued yesterday by a newspaper article distributed by the new york times news service (the title of this blog entry is a link to the article). the title of the article in my newspaper is "troops tired of bearing the burden: americans not being asked to sacrifice for war effort, military personnel say."

honestly i hadn't really thought about what americans could do to support the war effort, mostly because i'm against the war. i understand that people who support the war either a) enlist (i realize that there are more complex reasons why people enlist than simply their "support of the war") or b) fly american flags and yellow ribbons. rather disparate modes of support.

the article makes the connection that the draft during the vietnam war was a kind of support or sacrifice that the american people made for the war. i knew about the draft in vietnam, but i did not realize that in our other wars, there were savings-bond drives and gasoline rationing. the author of the article cites these as "sacrifices" that helped to unite the country during war.

i think that the idea of sacrfice is an interesting one. a military sociologist cited in the article called what we are currently experiencing in this country is "patriotism lite." i wonder if there would be such support for the war, if everyone - not just those people who have loved ones in the military - had to sacrifice something.

what if we had to ration our gas? what if there was another draft - one that wouldn't grant exemptions for men enrolled in college? what if people really felt the effects of war at home?

i can't help but think that if americans were really asked to sacrifice for the war, we might be seriously invested in resolving the issue as soon as possible. working with the UN. pulling out. ending it.


Monday, July 25, 2005

over there

a couple of weeks ago one of my friends told me that there was going to be a new TV series dramatizing the war in iraq. that information made me raise an eyebrow, but i didn't think much of it until the other night when i began to see previews for the show "over there" on FX.

i told my dad, anything to make money.

he reminded me that there have been other shows dramatizing war, or, in the case of the TV show M*A*S*H, humorizing it.

true, i conceded, but not while the war is still happening!

it feels like the producers are capitalizing on an unfortunate situation to make money. not that this would be the first time.

i don't doubt that the show's writers and producers want to present the soldiers in a compassionate way. maybe they won't always do the "right" things while they're "over there," but i imagine that the soldiers will be represented as complex people in a difficult situation.

i understand that one aspect of the show will be the relationships between the soldiers and their families back home; because of email and other technology, soldiers now have more ready communication with people they have left behind. an interesting emotional hook, especially for viewers who have soldiers abroad.

one of my main concerns is that the show will reinforce the rhetoric of george w. bush. that this is a war of good (us) versus evil (them). that it will reinforce to the american people what a "noble" cause we are fighting.

the article that i just read about this show insists that it does not present a political stance. as with all art, its intent, rather, is to ask provocative questions.

i'm suspicious, but i have to admit that i'm nervous to watch.


Friday, July 22, 2005

bakin' in bako

for those of you to whom i've already whined about how hot it is in bakersfield, feel free to disregard this post.

it has been over one hundred degrees every day since i've been home. it is, admittedly, a "dry heat," but it is the kind of heat that leaves everything gasping for water. there are more patches of dusty and brittle than lush green. the few trees here leave short shadows on sidewalks and streets. skin is dry; lips are chapped.

my parents, because of energy and money conservation, do not use the air conditioner between the hours of noon and 6PM.

i can jump into the pool any moment i choose, but it is lukewarm, like bathwater. and the light reflects so bright from the pools bottom that it blinds blue.

i had to laugh this morning when the weather woman instructed viewers to take a look at the palm tree behind her. we would notice its fronds moving ever so slightly from a breath of hot air. she told us - not ironically - that we would have a "marine influence" today and that temperatures would dip down to 102 degrees.

i'm not kidding.

then she said that our marine reprieve would not last for long. temperatures would be back up to 105 and 106 this weekend.

God help me at least get a tan out of all of this. but no wrinkles. thank you.


postscript 7/23/2005:
the marine influence helped break the 100 degree trend. heat peaked at 98 degrees yesterday. today should be back up to 107, according to the bakersfield californian.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005


this past weekend, my family attended the wedding of our neighbor, one of my sister's closest friends.

it was a lovely ceremony on the waterfront of a small harbor in newport beach. there were about one hundred white chairs facing a kiosk decorated with small white lights and tule, round tables and heat lamps set up to one side. all gleaming against the grey sky and silver water.

after the ceremony, i am approached by the mother of a good friend. have i heard about my friend's new boyfriend? yes, of course. i'm anxious to meet him. we exchange tidbits of information. we are both happy for my friend/her daugther and hope that things work out.

we meet again at the buffet line.

"you know, jennifer, my husband's nephew is here tonight. he's single. 33."

"i'm still in recovery," i respond instinctively, defensively.

she nods as if she knows something that i haven't told her.

i see the nephew later seated at table 3; we are at table 2. he has shortly cropped dark hair with the tiniest hint of silver in the back. he is handsome in the way that men are when they wear slacks and button down shirts. he is thin and shows his teeth when he smiles. (reminds me of P's smile).

my sister mentions the nephew later. "did you see that guy in the striped shirt? he's not married."

"i know. k's mom has already told me about him."

"he's cute," she tells me, emphasizing the "Q" in cute.

i agree. but i feign disinterest in him.

i feel that there is a definite bridget jones element to my life these days. being a singleton among smug marrieds.

you remember the scene in the movie when she is the only single person at a dinner party of married people and couples. one of them asks her, "so bridget. why are there are so many unmarried women in their thirties loose in london these days?"

she answers, "well i suppose that it doesn't help that under our clothes we're all covered with scales."

scales are harder to conceal among bakersfieldians for some reason.


Thursday, July 14, 2005


think of a baseball game when a runner rounds the bases and slides into home plate. that feeling of joy and relief. being safe.

that is what it feels like to come home.

our house in bakersfield reminds me of the layers and layers of my life. from high school to college to graduate school. bakersfield, the bay, austin, south texas, santa barbara. recuerdos from all of those places, eras. pictures and books; christmas cards and wedding invitations; journals, close to fifty of them, beginning in 1991.

they are the most significant archival material of my relatively insignificant life.

this evening i read half of summer 2000.

there are some great passages about traveling in mexico with my best friend, olivia. she's married now and has a 6 month old baby boy.

that summer we were unfettered. we visited museums and churches, learned danzon, met relatives, flirted with cute boys, traipsed through a national park in the rain, had food poisoning, slept in dirty hotels, and pulled all-nighters dancing. took planes and cars and buses to and from mexico city, aguascalientes, el puerto de veracruz, jalapa, and guadalajara. it was at once exhausting and exhilirating.

the funny thing about some of the non-travel journal entries is that there are issues that still linger, even five years later. career and relationship stuff mostly. i wonder what the texture of the next layer of my life will be.


Tuesday, July 12, 2005

dando luz

i had hoped with all of my heart to be done with the writing part of my dissertation by the time i went home.
i'm going home tomorrow.
i'm not done.

HOWEVER, i estimate that i am about five pages away from done. !!!

i printed a copy of my diss to take home with me to edit.

it is 180 pages long.
it filled me with inexplicable joy to print it all out as one, very long document.
so much so that i photographed it.

tell me it is not the most beautiful document you have ever seen.

i feel like i've just given birth.


Sunday, July 10, 2005

thunderstorm, first thursday

chances of rain were ten percent on thursday. the thunderstorm beat the odds, sky grumbling and lightning striking all around us as we navigated our way to south congress avenue for the "first thursday" festivities.

i admit that i was terror-stricken as my roommate navigated us through the streets. it felt as if we were moving beneath rough waters.

even after years of living in texas, i'm not used to storms like this.

bakersfield is a desert, well-irrigated for crops to grow. rain is rare. the sky often dusty, the air always dry.

moving to the bay, i was shocked by the way it would rain there. for hours. just a steady patter outside. a steady grey blue to the afternoon.

but here in texas, rains storm. the whole world shaking under the thunder. the whole world blinded as lightning strikes electric veins in the sky. and rain falls not in drops, but in heavy, suffocating sheets.

we ducked into a store on south congress. i was shivering in my refuge when my friend called me to watch the sunset outside. the storm had cleared as suddenly as it had begun, allowing the last red hours of sunlight. this last part of the day now innocent in its beautiful hue.


Thursday, July 07, 2005

all the world needs is...

i had the television on a talkshow this morning while i was preparing to start my day. it was interrupted to broadcast a press conference about the attacks to london's public transportation system.

the UK officials giving the press conference didn't have much information to give. no confirmations of how many people had been killed or injured. at that point, nobody had claimed responsibility for the bombings. they seemed to be speaking to let everyone know that they were investigating what had happened; they were taking care of their injured; they were working to get everything back to normal.

i check the internet for more news and read that some al-qaeda related group has taken responsibility on their website. i read testimonies from people who were in the middle of the blasts. their perspectives. their stories piecing together a vivid image of what has happened.

returning to my television, the coverage cuts between the press conference and images of the attacks. people bandaged. people on stretchers. people being ushered away. there is a pit in my stomach as i watch the confusion and the shock on their faces. then cut to world leaders who offer their condolences. it is a tragedy that all of these people have died and been injured in the bombings. they are largely innocent.

president bush appears on the screen to condemn the attacks. to talk about the "evil" in the hearts of those who kill.

the pit in my stomach deepens. killing is wrong. of course. but we can't absolve ourselves, can we? we're killing people in iraq and afghanistan. we're killing their people and they are killing ours (i'm including england here, as they are our allies). killing begets more killing. and it's never good.

i am scared, not for my own safety, but because i realize there is no end in sight. we can't just pull out of afghanistan and iraq now. their infrastructure is in shambles and, yes, there are still terrorist cells. but our military presence and aggressiveness serves to further infuriate the enemies we've made.

i'm no policy expert, but i feel like there has to be another way. a way that doesn't have so much to do with tanks and bombs.

in the meantime, my prayers are with the people in london.


Wednesday, July 06, 2005


tonight I went out with three girlfriends to the brown bar, a swanky dowtown spot with very sweet, very expensive cocktails. i wanted to get dressed up and go out with my girlfriends to celebrate my one month anniversary of being single.

maybe it was silly to go out on a wednesday night. to be beautiful together, perched on couches in the dimly-lit brown bar. to be drinking mojitos and champagne and cosmopolitans. to gossip and laugh. to make summer plans. to make post-dissertation, post-master's report plans. to toast ourselves for being single and fabulous.

"to independence!"

"to us!"

but it was nice to be out with the girls. to varying degrees, each of us are muddling through grad school and life in general. but we're in it together. i look at them and feel a collective sense of spirit and strength and optimism. i look at them and feel blessed to have the company of such beautiful, intelligent, and independent women.


Monday, July 04, 2005

fourth of july 2000

my best friend has invited me to spend the fourth of july with her in santa barbara. i welcome the escape from the dry and dusty heat of bakersfield to spend the holiday in her cool, red-roofed ocean town.

there are no firework stands dotting the landscape in santa barbara. a city ordinance prohibits residents from setting off fireworks in front of their homes. instead they offer a free firework show over the pier.

just after the sun sets, we park in front of a friend's house and walk to the beach, brightly colored towels in tow. it is already dark as we start ploughing through the sand, walking around the hundreds of people who have already staked out their places. big mexican families, new age millionaires, yogis, preppy college students, and us. all in attendance.

we settle into a spot just to the right side of the pier, laying our beach towels down and digging holes in the sand to cradle our backs and bums just right. positioning ourselves to see the sky.

there is nothing else to see. the orange glow of city lights is behind us. though we can hear the loud crash of waves, the ocean is hidden in front of us by the lack of moon and city light.

the show soon begins. we are children mesmerized by explosions of light. they are red and yellow flowers bursting into bloom. they are giant purple planets glittering. sparkling white weeping willows. blue stars falling from the sky. from where we lie in the black of the night the lights are so close and stretch so long, it feels as if they will rain upon us.

over the following year, my best friend will struggle in an emotionally abusive relationship. i will be on the verge of dropping out of graduate school. we will speak and understand each other less. we will angrily stop speaking at all. our lives explosive and divergent paths of light.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

letting go

saturday night at the parish. not the local church. a local music venue on 6th street.

there are long couches along either wall. i am a wallflower at a high school dance, facing everyone sitting in a long row on the other side of the dance floor. a few people move in their seats to the thump of the music spinning. the space between us empty.

the instruments, illuminated by red spotlights, look abandoned. oversized round paper lanterns project dim aqua light to the rest of the club. a slow stream of people begins to fill the floor, congregating mostly around the empty stage. i find myself looking to see who arrives next.

more friends arrive.

the lights become dimmer. the crowd on the dance floor lets out a cheer and we see the members of grupo fantasma bound on to the stage. we jump up from our seats to join the mass. the lead singer greets us, shamelessly complimenting, "the best fans are always in austin," and counts off the first song. it is a rock and roll-ified cumbia underscored by conga beats in three. S and i, ever the dancing queens, hit the first note hard with our high heeled shoes and dance.

the lead singer, dark-haired and handsome in his red guayabera, charms us between songs, talking to us as if we were his closest friends. he instructs us to dance the next song, a favorite cumbia. he tells us to "let go."

"let go!" S repeats. to me, "let go of your dissertation, girl!"

"let go of ex-boyfriends," i say to her, and can think of a million other things i need to let go of.

and for the rest of the night we do. moving without thinking. stepping swaying turning spinning in a whirlwind of sound and red and aqua light. cumbias. salsas. rumbas. merengues. all rock-infused. the music powerful and like joy under our skin.

it doesn't matter here that we have dissertations or ex-boyfriends. that we are lonely or stressed. that we become sweaty and tired. that our feet ache. we dance here and are like waves in a sea of people, each with our own glint and light.


Saturday, July 02, 2005

holiday (kind of)

austin is deserted.

i have my pick of seats at coffeeshops. no traffic to be found on local roads. i just read in the newspaper that more people are expected to be traveling this weekend than any other, except for maybe thanksgiving.

my friends have dispersed to monterrey, mexico, the rio grande valley, and kansas. and i am left holding the fort down. (ok, it's more of a duplex than a fort!).

i had to stay because i need to work on my conclusion. last chapter. i caught myself saying several times, "oh i just have the conclusion left to write," as if it would be a breeze. a breeze would be welcome on a hundred degree texas day like today.

conclusions are difficult because they have to balance both summary and significance of all that you've just been through.

here's to a clean ending.