Monday, July 10, 2006

about me

Growing up in a Pentecostal household, one is regularly faced with the question of sacred vs. sacrilege: what promotes good Christian behavior and what is the Devil’s work? One has a mental checklist—horoscopes are bad, as are school dances, New Age music, trick-or-treating, low-cut blouses, lottery tickets—and the gravity of the crime is determined by the size of its punishment. The first time my oldest sister led my middle sister and me in a séance, we were all grounded for a month, but not before my imminent death was proclaimed over a bowl of skinless grape eye-balls. I was sure we were going straight to hell.

Yet here I still am, 26 years old, the youngest of three daughters of a Puerto Rican preacher and a runaway English nanny. My mental list of dos and don’ts looks somewhat different now, as is normal when one grows a mind of one’s own. But despite my constant questioning and revaluing, one thing hasn’t changed. It’s the one thing that holds me together, and at the same time inspires me to break away. The one thing I can point to and say, this is me, this is why I’m here: it is my family.

Perhaps it is the strong tether I have to my family that provides me with the courage, indeed the faith, to stray so far beyond my safety zone. For, if I ever stray too far, if I am lost and begin to question myself, I know to look to my oldest sister with her heart of a thousand mothers, and to my middle sister, with the fearless strength of one hundred presidents, to find myself, the youngest sister with the mind of just one woman. Together we form a triad of Courage, Heart, and Mind—just like the Lion, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Soldier—one does not exist without the others.

Ours is a bond, which some have expressed as unusually lucky, and which others have tried to mimic and attain—and some to break—without success. I don’t chock it up to luck. Nor do I believe that being a preacher’s kid makes it any easier to love and forgive. Indeed, others with the same lot in life have ended up quite the opposite. To be sure, the adoration and respect I have for my sisters, and they for me, was not always thus. My sisters and I are as different as they come, forging our identities from our dissimilarities: the eldest, beautiful in her thoughtful dissidence, the middle sister in her brave and bullish nature, and me, in my academic aspirations. Yet, we’ve learned to complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses, rather than compete with them.

Throughout our childhood, we didn’t have the latest toys or name-brand cereals and we were always moving about to the next church and town. But even in the worst moments, as we wondered where the next meal would come from or where our next house would be, I remember my mother and father always saying that through faith we would be blessed. In time, I learned this to be true.

My faith, however, looks somewhat different from theirs; less the Bible kind, my faith is a confidence formed from courage, heart, and mind. If my sisters and I represent each of these parts, my mother and father represent their entire sum—so strong is their undying devotion and perseverance. Surely, the risks that they’ve taken, the questions they have studied and pondered, the passions and relationships they have formed along the way—all have inspired me to explore this larger world of ours, develop my own passions, and ask those necessary questions.

After graduating from college in 2002, I ventured far from my home to Arles, France to be an Au Pair for a culinary family and their two sons. During my five-month sojourn, I came to behold everyday life raised to an art form—tactile and different, it began with the food and led to beautiful daily rituals and cultural emblems. The mint tea that was served at the Hammam in La Roquet steamed my face sweetly just like the hazy rooms of the public bath there. The gold-leaf and glass mug in which the tisane was served recalled the hand-painted tiles covering the walls and floor. The eddying desert music resounded just like the echoing voices of the Moroccan families who came there to bathe. There was no end to the sensory and intellectual stimulation, and as I searched to ground myself in that foreign land—by embracing the ancient architectural structures, by tasting the food, and by connecting with the individuals there—I kept a journal of my experiences and found my real grounding in the words I created from them.

Arles has remained my muse and I continually resource my writings and recollections from my time there for inspiration and insight in my creative writing for clothing and linens designer, April Cornell. April’s printed fabrics refer with detail to her travels: a benefit concert in India, a candlelit dinner in Portugal, a nature walk in the Boreal Woods of Northern Quebec. Through her writing, April has taught me the power of the eye to see, the mind to travel, and the word to convey.

Recently, I returned to Arles. Perhaps it was the heady Provencal air and the cicada’s summer anthem that sent my mind into a tizzy one night, causing me to sit down before the mysterious Madame Ferrari, Medium and Fortune-Teller, and against all my learned faith, allow her to read my cards. With a quick flip of the tarot and a single calculation on paper, she breathed a clue into my future: I will be a writer. I will write my stories. I will forever be drawn to Arles and its people, and I will always be drawn back home again.

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