A few years back I made a joke to D about teaching and writing. I told her I was deciding to be a bad teacher and to focus on my writing. I told her I would be selfish. I would put my class work on cruise control. This was difficult to do because I feel such a responsibility to my students and I spend so much time note taking and creating lessons and lectures. It didn’t help that Sergio Troncoso inspired me with the care and attention to his students I witnessed in his workshop. Resolution: This year I will try to devote more time to the work. I always say my teaching is investigating story and writing, but I recognize I need to work harder on revising manuscripts rather than generating new material. Update: currently the Semi-Orphaned novel in stories manuscript is away at the editor and I am anticipating a mass of notes for revision. Actually I’m waiting for Jennifer C. Cornell to kick my ass. She was incredibly helpful with what became The House of Order manuscript. I’m slowly and surely starting to understand the importance of an experienced and assertive editor. And her notes are the most rigorous and detailed I’ve seen from an editor. Invaluable for the work. I’d also like to complete the Monte Stories manuscript later on this year. That is another manuscript–possibly another novel in stories–I know needs much work and development. This should be an interesting year of struggling for balance.
After a quick trip to Colorado Felipa has returned to me. In the form of some sad bits of free writing. Haven’t seen her in a while. She was the last one I thought would turn up again:
After Felipa and Carlos finally loaded their clothes into the truckito and the neighbors helped the old man Carlos ot of his wheeled chair and into the cab, Felipa burned every last family picture in her bedroom. The threats had been soft and never real until that moment out near the nearly-used-up wood pile.
I’m gonna burn these damn pictures up. Ain’t got no family I want to see them survive with, she would wail.
She had taken to drinking a few stray cans of beer stolen from Carlos’ nightly paper sack. No one took her quite as serious as she wanted.
And in the weeks and months following Carlos’ amputation she had gotten into the habit of taking the old man’s place at the back porch and hollering away at the neighbors. Especially in the months her sister moved home and away from their house on Franklin Street.
And this was her mindset during the sessions of organizing and planning before the big move away from San Luis. After the mortgage was lost and after the money had all dried up—after the pinche doctors from Alamosa sent out their bills.
Disgraced and tired Felipa felt she had nothing left and felt she wanted nothing left of her life and memories. It was almost a reckoning from what the old folks told me later on. She just pulled out the clothes and bedding that she was told there was no room for in the truckito and in the move and piled them onto the center of her bedroom. She watched as the men from the neighborhood broke down her brass bed and broke down her mirrors and dressing tables for the back of the truckito. She mentioned she would return to the piles of clothes and framed pictures but Felipa new better. She made believe that she would return after finding cardboard to pack them out.
Que Pasa, Felipa, the woman from across the way mentioned as she swept out the carpets and spotted the mess of clothes and photographs.
I’m finding places for all of them, she lied.
She found the kerosene in the back shed and remembered how the man cleaned his oil stains to his jeans. The matches were in Carlos’ coveralls and alongside his cigarillos and rolling papers. She had also taken to the habit of smoking and even chewing as she worked in the back garden. Drinking and smoking in the company of the neighbor’s was once a disgrace to the young Felipa but now became her defeat.
She pulled the matches from her purse and calmly struck them along the pack. She walked solemnly to the bedroom and dropped the fire on to her clothes and family photos. Carlos was in the truckito speaking to Ruben Archuleta from blocks over and discussing the best routes down the valley highway towards the interstate and the drive north to Huerfano County.
The woman will have to drive us out of here.
She have a license?
The men smoked their cigarillos and laughed. Carlos asked about his smokes and his matches.
Just yards away in the center of the house where the woman poured her kerosene and drenched her bedding and photographs the flame and sticks of wood slipped from her fingers. The spark and flame surprised her and in seconds the heat and smoke had nearly over taken her and as she fought the urge to throw her purse and then nearly her entire body into the flames.
It was the floor boards and abandoned rugs that went up first. Then the flames tickled the wood panels on the north wall. Felipa stood and watched mesmerized by it all. She giggled and stepped back as the heat rose.
When the men came running from the dusty yard out back Carlos was screaming, My wife! My sweet darling!
Been a while since I had a breakthrough in what I’m working on. But this one has been flat for a while and finally stole some inspiration from old Bradbury stories I’ve been rereading while I should be doing work.
Carlos’ Unexplained Sighting
That night the old man drains beer and rum and RC Cola down at SLV Bowl, just outside of Hooper, Colorado. He drinks that night over his young wife and he drinks over his lack of dollar bills.
From the highway, the passing headlights burn at his face and eyes, fill the cab of his truckito with shadows and wrong thoughts. The night skies remind Carlos of dark grey, snowy roads though the heat rises off the two lane flat top. Headlights pinch between passing cars, when his own engine, like his own breathing, coughs and hiccups and then recovers before finally dying. The road is still and flat but he manages to coast in the engine’s compression and as he works the choke he has to pull onto the shoulder of sand and broken gravel. It all cracks under his bald tires.
In its middle age the truckito has failed him but he refuses to believe it initially. Just some dirt in the fuel line or maybe he has miscalculated the level of gasoline, maybe a short circuit with the battery or distributor points, maybe the plug connections. Something he could cure before not too long, he thinks. But turning off the lights and trying at the starter again and again brings no result and he waits for the smell of gasoline from the flooded carburetor. Eventually he opens the truckito up to the night and lets himself out onto the sand and chipped gravel. He finds his semi-automatic pistola.
The warm air surprises him and dizzies him. The headache hits the whiskers on his beard so he curses the night and the truckito and the reasons for his own drinking. He watches headlights passing and his eyes sting with water and ache in the harsh luminescence of the starry night sky. His eyes squint more and more and his eyes begin to ache deep down into his brain. Beside the dead truckito he stands with his head bent listening to the engine and there was no sound.
Indecisively seeking assistance, he waves the gun at passing cars and truckitos with no luck and then he begins to pace and walk up the road and then back down the road refusing to leave his car for dead. Soon there is no sign of light around him and the shadows of the highway and of the night press inward and he walks around his truck again and again seemingly lost before lifting at his hood and searching for wires and connection that may have gone wrong. He awkwardly holds the metal weapon in his armpit as he works and his hands begin to ache as well as his eyes and his ankles even in high boots begin to throb as he steps.
Who’n the hell are you? he thinks into the black emptiness around him. Not a busted coil or a distributor, he thinks. Who’n the hell are you to do this to me?
He pulls his pistola and leans on the fender. He kicks at his boots and then unlaces them and then frees his aching feet. Drains the last of his bottle hidden away in his coveralls. He switches on the headlights to see what they reveal on the empty shoulder and he eyes a small rail fence. Even in his drunkenness he knows the highway as the lifeblood of the valley. No one passes up a broken down truckito. No one would leave a working man down and out. Soon a Compadre or a farm worker would be passing by and stop to give a push or a tow with a strap chain. He never thinks how a man with a gun and drinking from a wine bottle wearing no shoes would look to passers-by. A man carrying a pistola to fight the spirits that may come. But no one comes along and fifteen minutes turn to thirty and one farm truck slows but never stops and Carlos is too drunk to wave it down—too drunk to stand at one point and crumbles down past the tire well and then finally against the old bald tire. In many years, he will remember being alone under such a dark San Luis sky.
That was when the flames flew in. He wants to believe they are imagined or sad hallucinations from his drinking. He feels the heat on his face and along the seams of his pants. The stars plunge down where the moonlight meets the horizon and from the blue glimmer of starlight. The flame and spark gives rise to gooseflesh in him thought long dead since he was a small boy in New Mexico. He feels spooked and begins to sweat and struggle in his drunkenness. Struggles to his feet and then struggles for air to breathe. His legs ache and his bare socked feet begin to burn beneath him.
There had been so many times in his youth where he was out walking and lost in nights like this. Nights where your eyes deceive or your head loses its sense. Told stories as a boy of La Virgen de Guadalupe appearing to lost travelers and filling lost souls with her beauty and her love. Bullshit stories. Indigenous legends of portals and doorways out of this world the Abuelitos talked as they sat around with sweetened coffee and Compadres. Deaths in los campos and cattle left mutilated he thought only to scare little mocosos. That is all bullshit like the rest of the pinche churches rules and regulations concerning life, he thinks. Carlos had learned at an early age to stay away from such superstitions—to think and measure and work. But the Blanca Massif, the great mountain to the east, looms above him as the flames come in that night abruptly and he picks himself up to escape. To run and leave that lonely truckito and his tools. To walk ahead to the nearest home he can find.
He admits to himself he is terrified and must escape to the sand and gravel of the shoulder littered with beer bottles flung up from limitless amounts of traffic waves and then across the blacktop towards the great Sand Dunes. But those flames decide to follow and seem to be gliding above him, hovering over his truckito and then above him as if La Virgen had become attracted to his wretched self. With his eyes burning and his feet aching from walking barefooted he runs and stutter steps in the red and white light above him. At that moment he wants La Virgen so bad it overwhelms him. I will have her, Carlos thinks. He fires several rounds into the fire. She is mine. I will take her.
The bright burst of his weapon flashes in the night sky. He looks up and the metal flashes again and again and a minute later the bright light lands around the viejito and engulfs arms and then his legs settling around him. Carlos hasn’t run in years and, though his joints ache and his limbs burn, he sets them free to run. He empties his pistola of all cartridges and staggers and then stutter steps. Falls to one knee and then recovers. His eyes shut and then open to the flames and their heat. Lungs filling with the smoke and ash as he coughs and gags. The old man vanishes into the fire. There is no direction or highway for the old man only the flames and burning to his skin. He grits his teeth and hollers as loud as he can. In the center of the flame is where the man drowns in his past. Sinks into memories growing up like moss inside of his worst thoughts and angers.
High strange flashes and visitation occur in the darkening sky around him. The sounds of the sweet mother advising the twelve year old Carlos, Don’t be a lost soul like your old man, Mihijo. Before the first day of his Catholic schooling, as he stands in white collared shirt and corduroy pants that is the uniform for boys, the father, Ignacio Montoya, telling the boy, You should be in coveralls and working in the damn fields. Then the father slapping at the boy’s chin and mouth, more pushing the boy back onto his heels of his church shoes and clothes. The sounds and views from the boys’ study room of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception; the corner window overlooking a lawn, and a sunken lane between pine and spruce trees out to a low stone wall that surrounds the place. And beyond the school’s wall, the trees giving way to narrow gates onto the llano opening up to the horizon where mountains between road and sky meet with a band of brown road.
Flashes of the Compadre Benito who only thinks of play and wine. We can get to the wine Carlos, he whispers before being caught and cracked by Sister Manuela. Father John catching the boys lighting a cigarillo before sending them home. The chaw he keeps in his mouth before the second service and then after the third service chomping naively at a larger piece. As he walks home he feels light-headed and dizzy, unstable reaching for the side of buildings to balance himself when he finds the old woman Rodriguez’ flower bed just blocks from home to fertilize. His stomach churning and his legs striding towards the back outhouse.
Synaptic lighting flashing on his father’s pipe as he scratches at his whiskers lecturing the boy on how a man must make a living working God’s land in 1908—the year Carlos, along with his brother Lalo took the train to San Luis from their home in Mora, New Mexico. The father’s voice denying him to continue in school. His mother’s sullen face turning him away to his Grandmother at age fifteen. The father tearing down the unpaved driveway after a half hug and present of an old pocket knife. The rain on his face as his Tio fishes in a rainstorm before leaving the boy to his Grandfather. The Compadre Julian who leaves for war duty only to write letters and die without record or notice to the family. The Abuelito’s hacking furniture and cabinets for the wood furnace in the middle of a late winter New Mexico storm.
Crackling transport of thoughts on the disapproving looks from his own face as his brothers and some of his Compadres from work camp days move on to steady work—out to Southern Colorado to the coal mines and steel mills of Huerfano County. We never were brothers if you drive off, Lalito, Carlos screams in memory. The look to his first wife’s face as he slaps and punches her down behind the bed in their first home in Belen, New Mexico just months later. The afternoon his hand slaps his youngest boy so hard he has to be ridden out to the hospital in Alamosa and how the man drains his bottle in between parked cars as he waits for the boy to be stitched up.
The afternoon his oldest boy runs into the mountains as Carlos chases after. Carlos’ second wife Theresa and her frantic tears during love-making after leaving her family in New Mexico to be with Carlos in 1915. The voice of the Compadre Luis who leaves in 1917 to find work at the Steel Mill in Huerfano County because the two can’t agree on how best to fertilize their crop—Luis insists they spend more money on machinery but Carlos insists they work as he is taught in New Mexico. The men are lost to one another after the incident.
The highway disappearing into Horseshoe Lake after the flood of 29. The smell of the no-named woman of who gave Carlos his daughter only to die of la viruela in the winter of 32. The day he sends his only daughter to live with his mother who swears the man will burn if he doesn’t do right by his oldest girl Tranquilena.
The smell of rain on the afternoon his wife Theresa dies in her bed to la gripe, leaving him three young boys and an infant daughter. The infant, Tranquilena, he sends out to live with his mother in Mora leaving the boys to stay on the farm. The snow and wind off of the Penitente Peaks that follow in 1936 after the second wife passes during childbirth. The first buyout offer comes from the Brow Farming Company.
The joy in the mirror after meeting Josefina Marquez who wears a red dress when they meet at the Stampede Street Festival. Drinking and sitting alongside the woman with a table filled with Compadres at one of the tri-county potato growers’ tents. The pride Carlos feels fathering three more boys with the Marquez daughter before she passes on. The harsh light of the doctor coming to the home and telling Carlos in his own kitchen his wife has ‘the cancer’ at the same time he tells Carlos the woman is pregnant with his latest child. Months later Josefina dies giving birth.
The fire burning as the last wife Felipa the afternoon she knows she has a newly built house with a brand new Frigidaire and woodstove. All she knows is that her new husband comes home each night and comes home at the end of each week with a paycheck. That is when the nagging begins, her voice droning through the walls to Carlos’ inner ear to which he can only respond: Dammit, Mujer! No more children!
These voices of time and wind and change form the heat covering his body. He squirms out of his coveralls and then his long underwear he wears no matter the month or the season. He throws off his flannel and then his undershirt until only bare skin protects him from the heat and the humidity of the night air. He leaps over heavy fence wire that stabs at his forearms and then his thighs. His skin aches as burned leather as the garbage from the incinerator in the many work sites of his memory. The old man feels his body vanishing from the storm of heat.
He crosses a stream and then comes to a clearing, the flames still the color of mercurochrome and blinding silver. The old man gasps tired but keeping pace. And, finally, after lurching and stumbling, he collapses in a ditch south of Alamosa surrendering his consciousness to the valley floor that surrounds him.
And it isn’t until the grey light of morning, when whetto Deputies and their flashlights find the burned up 36 Chevy half ton with New Mexico plates and the blackened primer colored panels. Tires only burnt rubber and stains to the single lane flat blacktop. Then the old man passed out and sleeping with no shoes or pants. The clothes nowhere to be found, perhaps thrown. No signs of burns or melted flesh. There is no sign of his wallet, the empty bottle or his pistola. The men are quick to laugh at such a sight. Hello? they tell him as they slowly wake him. Anybody home?
La Virgen, are the first words they hear him mutter.
Quick converstion on the phone:
Jose Carlos Montoya born april 30 in Costilla, New Mexico in 1896 and died dec 20 1979
Long and difficult week of teaching has me dead tired and wondering if I can return to manuscripts. Revisions of Monte Stories will have to wait until I can read through a mountain of student essays. And this week as I have been teaching I am more and more aware of this disconnect between teaching and writing. Maybe the amount of reading I must do which is such a chore that comes from teaching has me worrying and thinking about time taken from my own work to devote to others’ work. And it’s not because they are student essays and not the best reading material. I do try to shape the prompts to focus on my own interest–specifically literacy and literacy development. But these essays from my students are all communication I have decided. Not much expression. I’ve read the first paragraph of nearly all of them and I will get motivated and focus on them sometime before midnight on Sunday night. And even though I have given them all I got on form–anecdotes and exposition of information–I still believe they are mostly communication. And that’s what they should be. Right?
I get these ideas from Hugo and most writers I enjoy who write essays about writing. Specifically Hugo who speaks about poetry and poets. And I feel like I’ve been talking about Richard Hugo and his essay “The Triggering Town” all week–and Auden too. I don’t have my creative writing students read Hugo because we write essays and short stories instead of poems. I should though. I speak of him so often. I like to profess his thoughts on how a write should love the language of their work much more than the reader. I thought of this line from Hugo’s essay: “In Auden, no word is more his than yours.” I love that line. And I want that in my work though I don’t write poems but I feel the way with form–I love the stories I create more than anyone else. And Hugo gives the opposite example of the article in a newspaper or magazine–zero expression and mostly communication. And, again, even though I want my students to be passionate and I want my students to express moments from their lives I know they will prove thesis or claim of fact I call this first one rather than recreate. So maybe that is why teaching comp is difficult for a guy with an MFA. I don’t know. I might be wrong. Maybe they will learn to create feeling rather than just information. I do have them give scene to their claims of fact.
On another thought, I have some thoughts to return to Monte Stories. I got these from watching interviews with Ray Bradbury. He relates in one interview how he met the Illustrated Man and how he wrote Fahrenheit 451 in a library. Then he mentioned how he sat in the library and generated more to his manuscripts when the characters spoke to him–came to him and found him and he got wht they said down– and then I started thinking of Carlos and what Bruna might say to him–what they both might say to me. Of course they spoke to one another very little in real life. But in the manuscript I might have ideas for more answers to these characters. I came up with these:
Why do you drink?
Why did you let me go?
Why don’t you have nothing?
Why do you treat Lena so badly?
I hope I can get back to Carlos and back into Monte Stories soon so I can find these answers…
Still quite a bit of work left to do–need to get everything going in present tense. Later chapters make too many time shifts. Also I need to give more resolution to Pifanio and Carlos–perhaps we learn of Pifanio’s death–and the idea that Pifanio is Bruna’s father–how to deal with this mystery…also I have listed at least 4 chapters where I know I need more development. Specifically the section where Felipa haunts Lena and infant Bruna and Carlos in hospital after amputee surgery.
South Fork 1946–Intro of Carlos and his work. Intro of Tony and Jake as his younger coworkers; also Pifanio and his brother Eddie. Felipa is introduced as demanding younger wife.
Felipa–Felipa is introduced as youngest Vigil daughter and how she meets Carlos. She tells him a story on first date about her father’s strictness.
Pifanio–Intro of Pifanio and his father and family from 1870’s. Pifnaio breaks from family and meets his wife Delores.
Carlos and Felipa–Recount of first year or so of Carlos and Felipa’s marriage. Felipa resists Carlos and threatens to leave. Carlos takes care of her as she protests him and marriage.
Delores–Recount of Delores’ love before meeting Pifanio…
Pifanio and Felipa–Pifanio sleeps with Felipa and then regrets and agonizes over it because of respect for Carlos.
Pifanio’s Women–We learn of Pifanio’s many adulterous relationships. His wife Delores leaves and Pfianio chases after her to her Grandfather’s.
Carlos’ Breakdown at La Garita–Pifanio sends Carlos out of town for deliveries–the idea is so he can be with Felipa–and Carlos breaks down near church and has truckito and body and mental breakdown of sorts.
Felipa Pregnant–Felipa is pegnant and taking advice from visiting sister.
Carlos’ Unexplained Sighting–Carlos drinks more and more after pregnancy news and is picked up by police.
Carlos and the Sugar–Carlos’ drinking leads to diabetes and infected feet.
Felipa’s Pregnancy–Pregnant Felipa keeps Carlos awake yet he cares for her.
Carlos’ Foreclosure–Carlos goes to bank to deal with mortgage problems.
Carlos and Felipa’s Trip to the Market–Felipa and Carlos argue at market and Carlos meets old friend in parking lot.
Carlos and Juan Lee Drink in a Bar–Carlos has a drink with old friend and learns of Pifanio’s ways–hears story of Juan Lee in California.
Carlos Shoots at Pifanio–Carlos confronts Pifanio
Phone Call to Lena–After confronting PIfanio and losing work over it he calls Lena and promises child to oldest daughter, Lena.
The Daughter’s Trip Home–Lena rides to Monte after Bruna’s birth and Lena aggessively takes Bruna
Carlos Back in His Day–flashback to Carlos and his father pulling him from school in order to work.
Felipa Haunts Lena–Felipa takes trip to Huerfano County and checks up on Bruna; haunts and realizes Lena is older and better mother
Carlos Without Felipa–While Felipa is in city haunting Lena, Carlos is drinking and fading without Felipa–also his diabetes and infected feet and legs worsens.
Carlos’ Amputation–Felipa returns to find Carlos in hospital after double amputation surgery.
Carlos’ Wheeled Chair–Carlos comes to terms with loss of legs and is introduced to first wheel chair.
Lena’s Mother–flashback to the death of Lena’s mother and how Carlos gave her up to live with her Grandmother.
Carlos’ Spells–more flashback of young Lena and how drinking consumes Carlos
Lena Alone—Bruna is months old and Bruna must organize new home after boyfriend Jeri is not reliably present.
Lena Visits Felipa and Carlos—Bruna is 3 years old and Jeri returns with car and drives Lena to visit Carlos and Felipa who have moved to housing projects in Huerfano County after they lose house in San Luis Valley.
Bruna’s Home–Bruna fixes up home and Bruna is around ten or so.
Jeri’s Dream–Jeri argues with Lena and dreams of leaving to Denver in place of being Bruna’s father
Jeri’s Paintjob–purchases another car and foolishly paints it himself.
Jeri Brings Dogs–Jeri argues with Lena over many dogs he adopts for young Bruna
Jeri’s Girls–Jeri cheats on Lena and is attacked by Lena
Bruna’s Hell—Bruna is 12 years old and Jeri is gone; Lena parites with friends and Bruna is exposed to Lena’s work friends
Bruna’s Dilemma–Lena forces Bruna to find Jeri out at local bars and finally is forced to drive Jeri home at age of 16
Old Man Carlos and the Neighbors–Carlos around 70 or so in projects befriended by neighbors.
Felipa’s Letters–needs to be finished–Felipa writes to Bruna and Bruna types only one return letter
Carlos in Jail–Lena bails out Carlos after Felipa calls up and guilts her into it
Dental Visit–Lena takes Carlos to have teeth removed and have false teeth made
Carlos and Bruna Walk–Lena forces Bruna to spend timewith father and Bruna becomes more sympathetic to her father–Carlos implies he is not her father and ocnfused Bruna. Carlos Gone—-Carlos loses neihbor’s friendship and Felipa finds work and so Carlos has to wheel himself to local bars. Lena explains to Bruna about who her father is.
Carlos to Bed–Carlos again wanders through the park as Felipa moves to night shift. He finds way to Lena’s house and rests in his oldest daughter’s bed–he dies but i want to be subtle about it.
Bruna’s Boy–Jump ahead in time to Bruna coming to Lena’s with her son, Manito. Bruna is leaving Manito for Lena to raise…
I’ve just come back from an amazing couple of days in Chicago. Listening to some great music and seeing some sights before the fall term. And music has always been a part of the process. Last summer when D and I caught a Los Lobos concert near Chicago, I happened to mention to her how I couldn’t have drafted the LIttle Lolo Stories manuscript if it wasn’t for Good Morning Aztlan or the Town and the City–two albums I admire very much. I think the voices and the guitars and something in the feel of those albums helped me to draft. And I wanted to tell them as we stood in line for autographs but all I could manage was, ‘You were awesome.”
And now as I am thinking of revision and have some idea of what the final chapters of Monte Stories might look like I can’t help but think how Jakob Dylan’s Seeing Things and Women and Country have also inspired the drafting and the free writing. Can’t resist plugging lyrics into them now and then. And this summer as I drove through the San Luis Valley I had the music on the stereo as I wandered around and couldn’t help but call up the image and idea of the stories. Both of these albums have such a folk and country feel that also inspired some of the writing.
If you care here is an NPR concert of his newest album:
And I wish I could understand this and explain or analyze this assistance I seem to get with the music in my ears as I free write. Maybe it is the mood or fuel you need to get into those fictive spaces. Maybe it is just beyond explaining. (And I do hope to do a music exercise along with an art exercise along with the normal old family photo exercise this fall term with my creative writing students.)
I’m going to begin this post by saying that I’m writing this in my apartment about ten feet from railroad tracks, which is just south of downtown Springfield Illinois. It’s afternoon, saturday. Every so often I can hear a train wth coal cars slam past in a great cry. The roar of the train rises and it bursts over the trees. If it was after midnight it would’ve woke me. It’s almost thrilling to hear despite the annoyance and consistant unpredicatability. I’m sitting here facing the window trying to revise what I’ve called Monte Stories. I’ve been trying for several days now, ever since thinking I have somewhat of a first draft. I expect as a writer of some sort to return to everything I’ve worked on though the energy isn’t always there. And I should be working on my syllabi.
Anyway Monte Stories is about Carlos Montoya who is and isn’t my grandfather. I mean the man in San Luis, Colorado whose face I’ve seen a million times in the Abuelita’s house just above her wall cabinets–well this man isn’t the Carlos I’m thinking about today. Carlos only exists in the drafts I’ve been working on and is my total creation. So as for revision it is less memory and more creation of moments I want to put him into. I gave birth to this guy and somehow I know he needs to die. I know he needs to go away and leave me alone so I can work on other things. But for now I know I have to go back line by line and section by section and start over again and again trying to create more moments to predicate his life and failures.
So my revising is under way and at a stop sign right now. More like the truckito has flipped and the tires are spinning. I just feel as if I need some time to think and get back to the drafted sections. Specifically sections between Carlos and his daughter Bruna. Specifically the sections of Felipa’s letters to her daughter Bruna. Specially more on the ending and the death of Carlos. And when I’ve been stuck in the past I’ve picked up the phone or driven over the Abuelita’s. I’d sit down at her kitchen table and try and steal the stories from her. I have so many notes from afternoons like that. But now she’s gone the way I know Carlos needs to go. She’s gone and I have to figure it on my own. The revision or the re-envisioning has to be done and today as I sit I am more consumed with the loss of the old woman than with the writing of a fictional Carlos.
Here’s Carlos as a young man. If you’re interested.
The old woman always used to say I looked like him though he wasn’t young when I met him. I feel as if I am sort of trying to look at life through him in these revisions. And with the old woman dead and gone I’m not sure who to ask the questions and I feel such a loss of the stories and also the connection I had to family. And I don’t think I have a lot of connection to family except through the writing. So before I go on to what I want to talk about I have to mention that yestrday while I was doing pretty much the same thing I’m doing today I recieved a phone call and a voice mail from a woman who obviously reached the wrong number. It was a woman who sounded like a black woman with a heavy southern accent and a very unique voice. Anyway she was asking for a party named Willie. It was a wrong number and I didn’t recognize the number so I didn’t pick up. I hate to talk on the phone. Anyway I went back to my desk and my work and then I couldn’t resist the temptation to listen to the voicemail over and over. The voice was so desperate and saddened that Willie hadn’t answered. SHe mentioned hse was at his house and had some lonsome desperation in finding his house without him. It was the afternoon and in the middle of a heat index warning and I wanted to call her and explain to her the situation though I didn’t. So I started to draft some notes–stealing the moment for fiction.
I wrote the sentence:
Bruna! This is Felipa and I’m here at your house waiting for you! Where are you! I’m here but I don’t see yous home!
Then I wrote this:
–and then I found that my character Felipa couldn’t have left a message for her daughter Bruna who is being raised by her stepdaughter and I couldn’t use this in my writing and I became very frustrated…but I also started thinkin I have to stop adding and start revising some time soon and became more and more stifled with my slow process of writing and revising. Anyway the process is confusing sometimes…Maybe Felipa should write letters, I thought.
Then I wrote this:
It begins with letters. About a dozen or so handwritten and very cryptic looking since Felipa hadn’t written anything in years. She wasn’t much for store bought greeting cards because of her age and began writing to her only daughter, Bruna Montoya, in the summer of 1960.
Then I started to think about one of my favorite Raymond Carver books called Fires and how many times I’ve read his essays on adding charcter’s into stories or characters being influenced by wrong numbers he’s received. ANd I pulled the book out again and started rereading sections and again further away from revising. And as I was reading about his influences–a writer I admire very much–I started thikning about how my influences. And I have to say the biggest influence on my writing has to be my family and my misunderstanding of their relationships and how they missed connections with one another and then I thought of my family and how I missed connections with them. And how these missed connections seem to match my missed connections in the fictive space or the trajectory of the story and how I need to make those connections or tie those threads as my writing teachers have told me… Anyway today I am sitting here and stil ltrying to tie those threads…