On Wonder Woman, Xena, gay cowboys, and Marisa Tomei

ImageSo if you were ever a fan of Wonder Woman, Charlie’s Angels, Xena, Buffy or any other strong, fictional female, I highly recommend trying to catch Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines.

Watched it recently. Seeing the footage from the old series, hearing amazing women like Gloria Steinem reflect on what the characters meant to them, seeing little girls even now being captured by these ideas… It kind of put it all in perspective, how these stories that may have seemed silly or frivolous at the time (and that I sometimes get embarrassed to admit having been a fan of) actually played a part in women’s evolving role in our society.

The documentary didn’t lip-gloss over the troubling aspects of some of these portrayals, either. It touched on the complicated nature of these icons: typically created by men for men, hyper-sexualized, etc.

SIDENOTE, interesting or not: Unlike the people interviewed, I don’t remember ever wanting to be Wonder Woman. No—I was just in love. The show ran from 1975-1979, which would’ve made me a 4- to 8-year-old fan (assuming I watched the original broadcasts, which I think I did), and even at that age, I like-liked girls. Pretty amazing.

Not that it was a lustful thing; it was just this intense need to watch the show, this dreamy feeling I got. (TO THIS DAY, I melt when I see Lynda Carter.) I didn’t realize or understand what I was feeling back then, didn’t understand why Charlie’s Angels adventures filled my dreams (Jacqueline Smith… sigh…), didn’t understand why I thought Christine Cagney was so riveting. It was only as I matured that it all started making sense. And that’s not to say those beautiful women and amazing characters didn’t mean more to me—or that every fan was gay. It was important to see women exhibiting that kind of strength and intelligence and grit, in spite of all the exploitative stuff. I think it gave me and other girls confidence on some deep, subconscious level. Because maybe that’s how we change, how we evolve—we believe the stories. We take that next step, because it doesn’t occur to us that we can’t, that the story was just make-believe.

At any rate, the lingering bother is that the documentary brought up the way Xena was killed off. I am trying not to be ashamed to say that I AM STILL VERY UPSET ABOUT THIS, PEOPLE. Even after all these years. Because even though it was couched in silliness and low-quality production, and even though the characters never actually kissed, that show managed to depict the most profound lesbian relationship I’ve ever seen in a TV show or movie, to this day. TO THIS DAY. And then they destroyed it, horrifically.

And then I coincidentally finally watched Brokeback Mountain. I know, I know: everyone watched it and talked about it years ago. And I should be used to it by now—the gay ones always die, or lose their relationships, or lose their relationships AND die. Or they’re already dead (i.e., vampires). Sigh… But it just gets to you sometimes.

And NO, the hilarious gay friend/neighbor on [insert name of sitcom here] doesn’t really help.

So, I’ve been feeling a little discouraged. But THEN, a friend forwarded me the link to this hilarious short, She Said, She Said, with Marisa Tomei. Hey, now. Maybe things are looking up.


I wrote all this before the Supreme Court overturned DOMA and Proposition 8. Things are DEFINITELY looking up. :)


M is for…








My Mother Is…

My mother is this feeling:

I am six or seven. Young. It is winter and very cold, even for South Texas; the mesquites are covered in early morning frost. We are in the living room watching the narrow two-lane road through the large windows, listening for the chugging engine, grinding gears and screeching brakes that will signal the slow approach of the yellow school bus helmed by the kindly, but forever nervous, skinny and ancient driver, Wale (“WAH-leh”). I will dash out from the house. He will crank open the groaning door for me and add me to his haul of sleepy ranch kids for the rattling, 14-mile ride into town and school.

I don’t want to go.

My mother is waiting with me. She is in her long, fuzzy, blue house coat, her slippers, hair mussed, coffee in hand. Her real skin—no makeup. Smiling brown eyes. Breakfast smells still linger around her. She snuggles me against her, takes my tiny hand in hers, soft and warm. So warm… A warmth that is much more than temperature. A warmth that it is inconceivable to be without.

I don’t want to go.

The bus arrives. I get on it. I grow up and leave home, leave the state.

But I still feel that warmth, even across these two-thousand miles. In fact, I believe it to be at the core of my soul.

Happy Mother’s Day, mom. Thank you for always being by my side when it mattered—and even when it didn’t. I love you.


Sunchokes and elephants in the room

So what I probably should be writing about is how in two days, I’ll be done with my job of 17.5 years.

17.5 years… over 40% of my life.

It sounds like a really long time, and I can assure you that it has FELT like a really long time in many ways, though of course, the paradox of life is that it’s also been a blink of the eye.

But it’s too much, too big, too complicated to get into. So instead, I will write about how I did my first gardening of the year today, hastily hacking away lawn, loosening and turning the black, black earth, racing against the fading light of this early spring evening to plant four Jerusalem artichoke (aka, sunchoke) tubers that I bought from my amazing neighbors. (And you can, too. See: http://www.permaculturenursery.com/contact2.htm) If all goes well, I’ll be enjoying these delicious tubers in the fall. Can’t wait. And in the meantime, I’ll have happy flowers to look at. They’ll be bright and sunny — hopefully, how I’ll feel at my new job.



You’ve got egg(shell) on your face: Another oddly semi-violent Mexican holiday tradition

Snow-covered ground to the contrary, spring IS springing. Just ask my budding lilac bush and the deceptively delicate crocuses somehow managing to push out of the still-hard ground here in Western Mass. (Punxsutawney Phil is no longer to be trusted.)

Budding lilac bush image

Budding lilac bush

Snow melt Mt. Tom State Reservation image

But if that isn’t evidence enough, try finding a square inch of retail space not covered in images of yellow chicks and decorated eggs. Another Easter.

Growing up Catholic in South Texas, Easter meant mass and resurrection, sure, but more importantly, big family barbeques where you and your cousins chased each other around smashing cascarones (decorated, confetti-filled eggshells) onto each others’ heads. Yes, that’s right: decorated, confetti-filled eggshells that you smash—SMASH—onto the heads of your loved ones so that confetti and jagged pieces of eggshell intermix with their hair and coat the floor all around them. Certain cousins (you know who you are!) might even occasionally fill a couple of cascarones with flour or salt for a particularly hilarious and Easter outfit-spoiling effect.

This might all sound a little wacky at first. But consider that it comes from the same folks who brought you the orchestrated stick-beatings of candy-stuffed effigies at birthday parties.

The first winter after my best friend, her girlfriend and I moved up here, the approach of Easter brought along an intense homesickness. Not only had we been uncustomarily cooped up for months, deprived of sun and big Texas sky, but there wasn’t a barbequed rib or fajita in sight in that chilly early spring. We naturally reached back to childhood comforts and set about making cascarones to pass the time and to share with the new friends we were trying to make. My friend Betsy taught me the importance of writing crystal-clear, assumption-free instructions when dealing in cross-cultural affairs; while my card had explained what to do with the gift, I had failed to note that you should smash the egg sideways. Betsy’s husband had not been amused when she repeatedly bashed his head with the egg’s pointy, crack-resistant tip.


Cascarón from my first spring in MA

I still have one of those very cascarones all these 17+ years and 5+ moves later, can you believe it?

There’s another memory that springs (har-har) to mind just like it was yesterday: My cousins and I, just little things, cascarón-filled Easter baskets in hand, walking up to the bank of men sitting around the BBQ pit drinking their Bud Lights and Pearls. And one-by-one, my grandpa, my Uncle Lucio, my Uncle Neto, my Uncle Tommy, my dad all lifting their cowboy hats or baseball caps and proffering their heads with a patient smile, then laughing, replacing their hats over the confetti and shards, and continuing with their tall tales as the ribs, sausages and mollejas roasted deliciously on the grill.

Too much Latin in Latin American cuisine: Chipotle puts a chip on my shoulder

ImageSo my girlfriend came home the other day with this Chipotle to-go bag. She loves Chipotle. Loves it.

(Hey, at least it’s not Taco Bell. THAT, I would take personally.)

And while there was nothing in there for me, I was psyched because it was the perfect-sized bag to pack my lunch in. (I’m a simple girl.)

So, I’m at work, it’s lunchtime, I set the bag down on top of the water cooler at eye level for a second… And that’s when I see it: a whole lotta lorem ipsum.


Lorem ipsum text on Chipotle bag. Oops.

Lorem ipsum text is common placeholder or dummy text. It’s Latin, taken from an ancient book by Cicero. (Or so the Internet tells me. More background here and here.) The writer, the designer—SOMEone at SOME point—is supposed to replace it with the real text. If they don’t, editors or proofreaders are supposed to catch it before it goes to print. If THEY don’t, you, the reader, are going to see it. And you, the reader, are NEVER supposed to see it.

For those in print and design, spotting lorem ipsum text on your own supposedly finished product will make you break out in a cold sweat because someone you know—possibly even YOU—are in trouble. Spotting it on someone else’s product… well, let’s just admit it: there’s a little malicious glee there. Which is why I promptly went to the ‘net to see what snarky things other people were saying. Turns out, Chipotle claims to have lorem ipsum-ed the bag on purpose. They thought it was whimsical, cool, funny, etc. (See here and here.)

I’m not really either bothered or impressed by the choice to leave in the dummy text. I’m also not really sure I believe it wasn’t an accident. What I am a little surprised/disappointed by is that, if it really was intentional, it seems like not a single person with any sort of input at either Chipotle Mexican Grill or their ad company speaks a lick of Spanish beyond jalapeño. That giant “DOLOR” in the dummy text (which is also repeated twice more)? That’s not just the Latin word for pain—it’s also the SPANISH word for pain. Doesn’t Mexican food already get a bad enough digestive rap as it is without them putting that on the bag, too?

Tracks to Nowhere: On the trail of a mysterious trespasser

Tracks in snow

I love happening across a set of footsteps leading away into the snow.

There’s all kinds of mystery: Who was this person? Where were they going? What were they doing? What size shoe is that?

The mystery deepens when you notice that the trail seems to lead away to a dead end, and you can’t spot any returning tracks.

Tracks in snow 2It becomes less fun, however, when you first notice the tracks late at night as you’re checking the locks on your back door.

And the tracks are headed into your backyard—illuminated now because the security light has just happened to turn itself on.

And you know neither you nor your partner made those tracks. And you’re too chicken to do anything but take a photo through a window.

But it’s daylight now, and I did go check, and no one is hiding (or dead) in my backyard. There’s just a set of tracks to nowhere.

This reminds me of how, since I was a kid, I’ve always secretly wished to become one of those people who can look into the past by staring at a set of tracks.

My dad can.

Badger, Dad says.

Badger, Dad says.

To a point—I mean, I’m not claiming my dad could lead a posse (or kick your dad’s butt, though he probably could, I’m just saying), but he can look at a dirt road and tell you if those truck tracks were made today. And he can tell you what was likely to have made those animal tracks you’re looking at—at least down in South Texas where I grew up.

Here he is studying a whole mess of tracks in a dry creek bed. Herd of hogs and some deer, he said. That was a fun day.

Dad_Creek_Bed_TrackingAnd great… now I’ve gone and made myself homesick.

My favorite kind of snow


While the coughy, snotty remnants of a cold kept me cooped up most of this weekend, I did pop outside early Saturday to take a long, longing look around.


It was a gorgeous snow. It had fallen lightly and silently before dawn, and it clung gently to every branch, every wire, every tiny, viny tendril.


Gently and intimately, the way the fingertips of lovers link magically and magnetically to each other with the barest touch.

And then just like that… it was gone.

So THAT’S why they call them Life Savers…: How having a “hole lot of fun™” turned DEADLY! (but only temporarily)

True story: I’m seven… ten? Old enough to know that I shouldn’t be doing what I’m currently doing, which is joyfully springing back and forth between two beds in a hotel room. Just boing, boing, boing up and down for a while, then a whirl in midair, and then a great BOING! across the vast chasm between beds, repeat, repeat, repeat, my arms up trying to brush the ceiling, breathless with exhilaration and spectacular athletic display.

I am also alone, which seems highly implausible, but nevertheless, unless a sibling or cousin can step up to protest, my memory says: I am also alone. I am also chain-sucking my way through an entire pack of Life Savers® candies, classic flavors. Cue the discordant tones of foreboding.

I am whirling, I am landing, I am preparing for a leap across the Grand Canyon-like gulf between beds, I am taking a deep, deep breath… and down it goes, the candy sliding into my windpipe, lodging itself there in a hard, unpleasant lump.

Crude yet charming illustration of me choking on Life Savers

Me choking on Life Savers

I remember thinking, Uh-oh (this was before I’d learned the proper term of “Oh, sh–!”). I am not panicking yet, but I sit down immediately, a hand at my throat. I look around the room, devoid of help, the comforters mangled. They will know I died because I was misbehaving. And then slowly the realization: air is still sneaking into my lungs… it must be passing through the hole in the candy! And as minutes pass, the candy melts away until only a vague ache remains. Wow. Totally lucked out.

And that’s how I learned an important lesson in life, kids: no candy while jumping on the bed—unless it’s Life Savers.

P.S.: No, Life Savers didn’t have safety in mind—I looked it up. According to the Web site, candy-maker Clarence Crane punched out the hole just to set his candies apart, then called them Life Savers ’cause that’s what they looked like to him.

P.P.S.: Don’t tell Mom!