Gabriel Garcia Márquez and Solitude: A Viajera’s Musings on her Love of Writing

garcia-marquez

Today is the one-year anniversary of the passing of Gabriel Garcia Márquez, my favorite writer and journalist. It was as a frizzy haired teenage girl, nose buried in Love in The Time of Cholera, that I was first introduced to exactly how fantastic and profound love can be. Many years later and upon picking up One Hundred Years of Solitude, I became irreparably enamored with his ability to express quotidian and magical moments, the poetry of Mauricio Babilonio and his yellow butterflies, the clairvoyance of the Aurelianos, the never ending solitude of a small town and of the Buendía lineage.

I came across Márquez’s work much like I have come across many of my favorite books, by luck. All of my life I have been surrounded by books. Over the years, my father, an autodidactic musician, singer, and avid reader, has amassed an impressive library that takes up most of our living room. His love for books and knowledge has spilled over to the rest of the house and family, as both my older sister and myself each have compiled an eclectic personal library now too extensive for the bookshelves built by our carpenter father. He built mine when, at eleven years old, I decided I needed more space for my books on paleontology, Harry Potter, and history. Since our youth, and as college graduates, our libraries have become a beautiful collection of history and economic textbooks, Latin American political theory, philosophy, and Spanish and Latin American literature.

It was on one particular afternoon during my formative angsty middle-school years, while browsing my college-aged sister’s bookshelf, that I came across the cursive titles and vibrant floral patterns that grace the covers of Marquez’s books. Those discoveries, made possible by my father’s love for knowledge and our insatiable appetite for journey and adventure, inspired my love for books, for words. And this is a love that now inspires each poem, article, personal essay that I write.

As I begin a new journey and chapter in my life as a writer and journalist, I find myself reflecting on my relationship with words. And it is precisely during this time that I deeply explore my family and communities’ history of illiteracy, fear, and inaccessibility to both the Spanish and English language. I go back to these stories in order to contextualize this solitude with my own proximity and access to words.

I am a child and granddaughter of incredibly intelligent people who have built their lives from strenuous physical labor. My grandfather Pablo knew to read the skies and clouds to decipher when it was best to prepare his maize crops for the pending rain. During the fifty years he tended to his apple orchards, bean, and chile crops, he was so in tune with the cycle of the seasons that he harvested successfully fifty times. And when visiting him in Durango as a young girl, I remember sitting with him and relishing in his storytelling. I would listen to the deep sound of this voice that, with a Spanish wholly his own, would describe the adventures of his youth, his experience as a migrant farmworker in the US, his love for freshly churned ice cream.

My grandfather is barely literate and although his knowledge of the campo and his beautiful stories are what I cherish most in this world, he has been ridiculed for this lack of mastery of the Spanish language. In one instance, while testifying in a court hearing contesting in defense of his land rights, a lawyer chuckled and openly mocked his use of words that only make sense to people of el campo, people who were unable to formally study because they needed to work, because they had no choice, no opportunity to entertain the experience of learning words, of learning a language “correctly.”

Meanwhile my grandfather struggled to express himself in a perfect and acceptable Spanish, after thirty-seven years in the US, my mother still is embarrassed because she lacks English fluency. During her first years in the US she would juggle adult English classes with her full time job at a box factory. However, after the years went by, and because of her responsibility to raise and economically provide for two daughters, she was no longer able to attend classes. There are still some days when she looks at me and pleads me not to be ashamed of her because she doesn’t fully “know” English.

Language represents the opportunity to express, defend, and protest. When I reflect on my love for writing and its capacity to articulate all of my sentiments, critiques, silences, and poetry, I feel grateful to possess this ability but contemplate the solitude of those who have been denied this tool and medium of expression. A solitude determined by social and class inequality, a solitude of exclusion, a solitude of misunderstanding and ridicule. When contemplating this solitude, I can’t help but be struck by the irony of aspiring to become a person engaged in writing books, articles, stories, a composer of words, a writer.

Yet this is a solitude that has precisley driven me to desperately articulate all of these experiences. Today, as I remember and cherish the impact Márquez has had on me as a reader, writer, and human being, I also acknowledge and reaffirm why I must write. Writing represents my creative agency to literally write back, to express the silence of my grandparents and my mother’s struggle to learn English. To acknowledge and speak to the solitude that was imposed on them. Solitude, in the form of the millennial silence of my family and my history, is both my muse and enemy.

In his acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize, Márquez alludes to the historical weight of this duality in his usual poetic and solemn manner. In his speech he details his literary and journalistic attempt to capture the absurdity, magic, and tragedy that informs the solitude of Latin America and of its people. In a world of increasingly accelerated death and destruction, Márquez says, we, the inventors of tales, who will believe anything, feel entitled to believe that it is not yet too late to engage in the creation of the opposite utopia, the utopia of life, the utopia of new beginnings. I take from that speech, and from his entire body of work, the lesson that we as writers must articulate the solitude of the Buendías, the solitude of my family, all of which remains our own enveloping, deep, suffocating solitude. It is an uncompromising and irreversible composition of a necessary story.

We write and we create because loneliness and silence cannot last forever, not even a hundred years: “Faced with oppression, pillage, and abandonment, our response is life… It is a new and splendid utopia of life, where no one can decide for others how they will die, where love will be certain and happiness possible, and where those condemned to a hundred years of solitude find, finally and forever, a second chance on this earth.”

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Ella Está Embarcando: The Retreat Forward

The soft lavender hue of my notepad makes writing this a pleasant visual experience. A compliment to these feelings of tranquility and peace affirmed by the music and conversation of the last few hours, of the last few days. Everything that surrounds me at this precise, building, fleeting moment encourages me to retreat ahead in the construction and expression of my creative desires. A shift, a recalibration, a decision. A choice in the direction to do what I have always wanted to do in the places I have always wanted to be.

It has been a long and agonizing accumulation of pain and heartbreak, this life and becoming. As I’ve probably expressed in my writing and in conversation and in silence, I am who I continue to become because of Mexico City and the traversing of physical, spiritual, emotional, creative terrain that it has entailed.

Navigating the intersections of these has challenged and strengthened every inch of my spiritual and physical body. It has broken me down and built me up a hundred times over. Destroyed and inspired an identity faithful to the emancipation from a spiritually, culturally, physically, creatively bordered existence. And the embracement of it. I am a child and inhabitant of the borderlands. They have birthed and destroyed me. Crossing them and inhabiting each edge, each crevice, has strengthened me.

Four years ago, at twenty years old and during my first return to Mexico City, I crossed the physical terrain in search for the affirmation of an authenticity of the self. I returned to Mexico, a symbolic and deeply spiritual journey masked as a study abroad opportunity, to demystify what it meant to live and be and perform as a Mexican from within its political and ephemeral borders. I sought the authenticity and approval that I never received. Because of my language, skin, lived experiences and condition as child of both the diaspora and the transbarrio, I experienced the violence inspired by nationalism and cultural and social distance. I wasn’t Mexican but Pocha, not Spanish but Spanglish, not authentic but foreign. I suffered but eventually relished in it all. I began to look for the unique and non-conforming in Mexico City and I found it at every corner, found that I belonged there because of my love and passion, because of my difference. I learned there that that is precisely what this world depends on.

I fell in love with that city and during my second and third returns, I began to more comfortably occupy this new and different position and perspective, felt the opportunities to reflect and discard, better understand and build anew. The liberty and opportunity of traveling to a new place unfamiliar with your past and who you have been before. A place that attracts people in search of this opportunity. Here I studied, I researched, I worked, and I became.

My fourth return was pure and exhilarating escape. I proved that DF has always been mine, it has always been within my grasp, just a plane ticket, a phone call, an email, a decision away.

This realization was a long time coming. For four years, I felt deep pain when for different circumstances, I have had to leave DF behind for the US. It is when I have felt furthest away from these feelings and visions I mention inspired by the city, from the superior passional quality of absolutely every detail of rising to live another day, from the prospect of recreating this just one more time, that I have retreated into depression and pain. A physical pain inflicted by denial, negation, and distance. My own negation and the impossibility of finding the encouragement and affirmation from my surroundings.

Yet meanwhile this suffering may very well have been self inflicted, it was my reaction to this sudden shift and recalibration into a different terrain, one that I felt and knew was hostile to everything that I had loved so deeply in Mexico City. Being in the US, I felt frustrated and oppressed with the apathy and alienation that inspires people to prefer material well being versus poetry. How this preference informed social interactions, a hug, a kiss, a glance was drained of the desire to truly connect and acknowledge – two exercises I learned to do while living in the city of my dreams. Social and public distance charted out my navigation of space and I hated it so deeply. I made the resolve that my only escape was back to Mexico. And I saw it as an escape in the direction of the fulfillment of my happiness.

This dream that still holds true and that is perhaps more mature with experience and steadfast with conviction, is one that has made many people uncomfortable and has solicited critique, and even spiritual violence, from people I deeply love and have surrounded me all my life. This violence was me denying this for myself. Retreating backward to nostalgia.

Yet everything that surrounds me at this precise, building, fleeting moment affirms that if I continue to obey an environment so unfamiliar with what i love and propels me forward, I will probably never transcend any challenge and pain. Never create of it, use my vision and love to express this experience. This life.

All of this movement and migration has liberated my spirit in such an irreparable way: it can never be undone. I can never retreat backward.

The only option, my only opportunity to continue to live and love, is to move forward. Yet, what I have recently learned is that the pain and suffering that has characterized my life for four years must now be what propels me forward.

In my past, I had refused to accept that I had to expand and deepen and express myself and my vision, to be and use what I had lived to create, to understand that this was another way of living, that it wasn’t anyone else’s say but my own, and that I had to faithfully inwardly listen to this truth. Pain because I couldn’t and was not ready to decide for myself. Pain because we are constantly told to follow the path of obedience. Because to choose sometimes means to challenge those who so desperately seek to preserve the integrity of their decisions, choosing differently means breaking away, building anew.

I will use this pain and life and ultimately love and inspiration to propel myself forward and not to oppress my decision and vision. There is only one way left to escape alienation of present day society, to retreat ahead of it. Wherever the retreat forward takes me.

oaxaca nocturna e incandescente

As I unwind from the inebriety of a dance
and music-filled weekend in Los Angeles,
a force of habit and nostalgia transports me to
these scenes of our nights out on the cobblestone
streets of Oaxaca de Juárez, political epicenter
of a beautiful state in southern México. My
spiritual destination every día de los muertos
since two thousand and twelve.

The smoky taste of mezcal suddenly becomes
palpable. The kindness warmth and love of
families friends and strangers there befriended.
The celebration ensued during the most spiritually
important and revered days for thousands, actually
millions, of people all over Latinomérica.

A place that taught me to respect and rejoice with
equal measure. Dancing in streets illuminated by the
orange glow of life, rain-cooled winds blowing
through my hair.