Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Book Review: "Of Women and Salt" reviewed again but differently - Because One Thing is also Several Things

Today is publication day for Of Women and Salt by Gabriela Garcia! 

I invite you to read my review of this book on Disabled-World. I decided to write a separate review for SexualDiversity.org - a site highlighting news and stories related to LGBTQ love and sexuality as well as other underrepresented or commonly misunderstood relationships - because I want to highlight the theme of the book that struck me as most relevant for those of us creating romantic relationships while contending with the romantic relationships that came before us.


Of Women and Salt is an expertly weaved tale starring five generations of Cuban women. All of these women are connected either through family or happenstance, affecting each other's lives regardless of distance in time and place. And all of these women are both extraordinary and ordinary; like so many women we know.

The mothers in Of Women and Salt are all living in places and times where building a foundation of stability is darn near impossible. Revolutions rage around and inside them, husbands rage around and inside them, and the threat of ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) rages around and inside them. These mothers find ways within the chaos to bring safety and stability to the lives of their daughters and, in so doing, build their own unstable stories and frameworks. It is beautiful and human and real and raw.

The daughters in Of Women and Salt (of which some are also mothers) struggle to understand themselves and their pasts. Because their mothers are strong and unwilling to yield in areas they believe best for their daughters, they make strong barricades between them. Again, it is beautiful and human and real and raw.

As the daughter of a strong woman myself, one who never built barricades but was perhaps unnecessarily open and honest in order not to do so, I felt my own connection to these women grow deep. As they (mothers and daughters) made choices and took actions in love, choosing to hold onto or, in dark and dangerous ways, get rid of husbands, they were teaching each other what love is, what we do and don't allow in our relationships, who we become in order to make it all work. And each woman chooses to see what they are being shown in ways that are both unique to them and built by their relationships to each other.

I watched my mother struggle with relationships. When my step-dad molested me and she left him, becoming a single mom with six kids – four of whom were small adopted boys with various disabilities and challenges – my mom worked with passion and vulnerability to learn what the “cycle of abuse” is and to take any action to break it. Mom rarely dated (six kids doesn't leave a lot of room for romantic love) but when she did she was careful. Whether dating men or women she watched them closely for any signs of prejudice or cruelty. And because we all have some prejudice and cruelty, she always had to let them go. Not trusting herself to choose well.

My sister and I learned different things from watching this play out before us, but we both learned from it. Lucky for us we are all close and supportive and believe in consistent growth so the times we found ourselves needing to make changes we were not alone. We had help. We had each other.

My mom, though, did not. Like many of the women in the book my mom had to do it all alone. She made choices that were near impossible to build the support and strong foundation we – my siblings and I – were able to take for granted.

While reading Of Women and Salt I was moved by how well the author shows these relationships between women, the way we are influencing each other and how we are both unable to insist on the way our influence is received and how we are responsible for being careful with it.

There are moments in this book that break your heart; there are moments that reach out and acknowledge you; there are moments that give you power while simultaneously reminding you how little you have.

Ultimately, though, for me the novel was a moment of feeling connected to women around the world and finding comfort in that.

We are building society together, fathers, mothers, daughters, sons. We are connected, regardless of time and place. And though we can't be certain of how our influence will play out we can be careful. Be inclusive, open, and willing to make changes.

Like my mom, we can work with passion and vulnerability to learn the places we are perpetuating cycles of abuse (in our homes and communities) and take actions to break them.

Like the women in Of Women and Salt, we are all bound to environments that we can only partly create. And like the women in the book, who are expertly crafted and imagined, we are influenced by our environments.

These women will influence you.

Of Women and Salt by Gabriela Garcia
Publish Date: March 30, 2021 (today!)

Pre-Order via Amazon: Of Women and Salt


Image: me reading "Of Women and Salt" with the novel cover fully in view.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Book Review: Of Women and Salt by Gabriela Garcia


Of Women and Salt by Gabriela Garcia
Publish date - March 30th  
Number of Pages - 204
Genre - Literary Fiction
Pre-order via Amazon here: Of Women and Salt 
"We are Force. We are more than we think we are." These words, written in the margins of a book by characters in the novel, are powerfully used and underscore the feeling I was left with after closing the final page of this debut novel.

Of Women and Salt by Gabriela Garcia invites readers into the lives of several extraordinary/ordinary women who are separated by time, place, politics, and so many barricades built within themselves. The writing style is both simple and sophisticated; clear and poetic. I love when a novel shows me to myself while also revealing motives and experiences and thoughts entirely unlike my own, stirring empathy and understanding in all cases. This novel did that for me. 

While exploring the personal and political lives of these Cuban mothers and daughters, traveling with them as they made choices or choices were made for them, and considering the cultures we create and how we are both powerful and powerless in the making of our world, I easily recognized myself and other strong women in my family.  

There are some pretty dark and uncomfortable experiences that are referred to in this story - molestation, domestic abuse, addiction, to name a few - but the author does a powerful job of revealing just enough. Inviting us into the trauma without asking us to relive it. In the case of the molestation, for example, it is quite similar to the molestation I myself experienced at a similar age. I also chose to believe and feel similar things, and act out in similar ways, and put myself down with almost the exact same language as Jeanette - one of the central women in the book. Yet I did not find it triggering and, instead, felt understood and a little bit absolved. I cannot say it will be the same for others, but I do hope so.

The use of time is brilliantly done. Because the theme, as I understood it, was how the actions we take - particularly as mothers - and ways in which we choose to hide, share, embrace, deny, explain, or forget those actions, weave themselves into the lives and environments of others - particularly our children and their children. Near and far away. In our present and long into the future. As we skip time and place in the chapters of this book, from Mexico to Miami, Cuba to Texas; from addiction in 2018 to cigar rolling in 1866; from fearing the nearby revolution will murder your family at home to swimming dangerous waters - family-less and alone - to try to make another place your home, we bring with us the memories and acts of previous chapters and are as affected by them as the characters we're reading about are. Though we are given the gift of knowing it.

This knowing, and again I love this, does not exactly give us answers. It is complex and unknowable how our actions will affect our people. But they do affect them. In my mind, this is an argument for being your most authentic, fearless, thoughtful self. For being open to evolving and growing consistently more authentic, fearless, and thoughtful. For being someone who is confident that when their actions influence people - and they will - those actions were ones you can explain with honesty. 

"We are force. We are more than we think we are."  

Particularly, in the case of this book, if we are mothers and daughters.
This is a lovely book. I recommend it to any reader. Particularly, mothers and daughters. 

Hugs, smiles, and love!

Friday, March 12, 2021

Autism Answer: I Haven't Met You Yet (A letter to my granddaughter)


                                                                                                              March 11, 2021
Dear Aislinn, 
Tomorrow you will be one week old and I still haven't met you. 
Oh, you spent some time here with me and Ian before you were born. I had the pleasure of singing to you, of feeling you shift around in mommy's womb. You were here with your dad, mom, and big sister, Clarke. My heart - my heart! - when I remember your sweet sister here calling out, "Gweema!" and letting me wrap grateful grandma arms around her itty bitty body. 
I love you, Aislinn. I just haven't met you yet. 
You've been born into a world swirling thickly with ideas, desires, needs, and beliefs that splash and clash and dance, diminish and expand, hurt and heal. (I don't only mean us grown-ups tend to argue and debate, I'm also referring to the balance of nature itself which is brilliant, bold, and assertive.)
Your cousins and sister were born into this same world, too. We all were. But you, Aislinn, arrived at a time when this swirling world is keeping me away. There are travel restrictions and a virus whose spread we're trying to limit. Unlike any time in my life, Aislinn, the world is working on the same problem at the same time. There are a surprising number of sides to this story little one, and I am just one grandma with a few thoughts, no big answers or fighting words, but my relationship with you begins in this moment no matter how few or big my thoughts and words are.
I love your cousins, I love your sister, and I love you. You are all singular and extraordinary. I crave your spirits and care more than feels manageable about your hearts and souls. All of you.
You are all special to me. But you, Aislinn, are newly special. A love of my life that I cannot hold in my hungry arms. They ache, Aislinn, with the lack of you. I held your sister, not long ago, for hours and hours and hours. My arms ached with her weight, with my desire to meet her needs as she slept ever-so-lightly. Do you sleep ever-so-lightly, sweet snuggle bug? My arms do not know. My arms ache to know.
So you and I are starting off learning each other in this new way. 
I do get to see you. Pictures, videos, and video chatting are not substitutes for the real thing but they are real. I can sing to you and watch you with your sister. Watch you with your mom and dad. Hear your little voice as you cry out. (Although, I have not yet heard your little voice. Do you have a loud cry? Do you demand attention from the world or simply call out to those close to you? I don't know these things. I want to know these things.) 
I love you too much not to learn this with you. This way of getting to know each other. And, do you know little pumpkin pie, that we are not alone? There are millions of others unable to gather or snuggle or show up. So many others who cannot lean on their usual ways to connect with each other and celebrate life. So, like us, they are figuring it out. 
I hope that we are all stretched to be better because of this. With you being born I have so many reasons to care about using this moment well. Not only because you and your sister and cousins are in this world and I want it to be a place where we use moments well, but also because I am trying to use this moment well and I'm noticing a few things.
Surprisingly, I feel myself resisting. I want to hold you and sing to you, I wanted to be there with you and your sister from the beginning, be the helper-self I know me to be for your mom and dad, so I catch myself resisting the joy of this new way. This being apart way. Partly because this new way is temporary (I will hold you and be with you, Aislinn, I just don't know when) but mostly because I know how much I love the other way and I don't want to lose that. Silly grandma! I can love both ways. And this is the way we have right now. 
Also, the world is sort of smaller but also sort of bigger. Because we are unable to travel and visit much, we are practicing new ways of being together. And if we practice being honest and authentic and vulnerable in these new ways, we can grow in unexpected directions. I'm sorry to tell you little love bug, but even before the travel and visits were limited people struggled to connect in meaningful ways. This is something I can't wait to discuss with you as you grow, but for now just know that we - as a world, but also you and me - have been almost forced to contend with this. To explore where we've been lacking and make changes. 
So, sweet snuggle bug, we are building something new together. Well, new to me I guess. You are learning this from the beginning. 
More reason for me to do it well. 
Aislinn, you matter so much to me. You and your sweet cheeks and full head of hair have my heart. Yet I am no one to you; I know that. But I will build something with you. 
You are singular and extraordinary to me. 
We will navigate this new relationship together and build something unexpected and unrivaled.
I love you, Aislinn.
I just haven't met you yet. 
P.S. "Haven't Met You Yet" is a song by Michael Buble, a singer your Uncle Declyn likes. I have been singing that hook in my head since you were born and, this is something I can tell you about me, I like that it has an upbeat tempo. It's a fun song. I like using it to remind myself to be happy and remember that I will meet you, it just hasn't happened yet. I love using song lyrics to feel things. Oh, and I can be annoyingly positive sometimes (ask your dad, he's comfortable saying I'm annoying sometimes. tee hee!) but mostly I'm just normal positive, not annoying. Positive.
Hugs, smiles, and love!!!
Photo Credit: Obviously, not me. I haven't met her yet! This pic was taken by baby's mom, Aly. Beautiful!


Monday, March 1, 2021

Autism Answer: Everybody Eats


My boys, eating apples.

I am not a foodie. I'm not much interested in food, particularity not how food tastes, or how it's presented. I've never had much interest in the history of a dish. Because of this I have spent a lot of years foolishly thinking of myself as someone who doesn't care about, and has no feelings surrounding, food.

But, no no no no no. that is not true at all.

Recently my mom and I were invited to write for Eat, Darling, Eat, a website dedicated to stories about food, accompanied with recipes. More specifically, a website that acts as an international buffet of stories wherein mothers, grandmothers, daughters, sisters, and aunts experience deep connections around shared meals and moments.

Actually, my mom was invited to write a story and she kinda fed them the idea of including a story from me - a mother and daughter story site with stories from a mother and daughter. Admittedly, it is a delicious idea.

But I was hesitant. I mean, I don't care about food, right? Mom tried to teach me to like soup, a brilliant brew that can be simultaneously used for leftovers, nutrition, and soul food. Unlike my mom and sister, I just never much liked it. Mom tried to teach me to close my eyes and imagine tastes on my tongue, swirl them around to delight in the flavors belonging only to me before excitedly gathering the real things and mixing up a meal that can be shared. She tried to teach me, she exampled it beautifully, but I preferred to get a plate of cheese and crackers while crunching on celery.

Yet, I do care. About food, and about stories. Particularly stories that center around the women in my family. So, I agreed.

Funnily enough, at first I was a little annoyed my mom had already written her story (a spectacularly written memory of my mom and her sister attempting to please my grandma by clearing a plate of her famously disliked Tomato Aspic) and my job would now be to write something that tied into her story, that complemented it in flavor and tone. Mom lead me into a situation where I would have to swirl flavors around for myself in order to serve up a story to share with everyone. Well done, mom!

So I sat down to write a story about food and my family. And, well, there are so many stories I could write! I mean, holy moly! I may not be a foodie but, surprise surprise, food has played a huge role in my life. In my family's life.

I have major memories of mom baking strawberry-rhubarb pie while smoking cigarettes and sipping coffee. My little sister and I would watch her move gracefully in the kitchen, baking from scratch and singing to us. She'd roll imagined flavors around in her mouth and know precisely what to add to the pie. And though the pie wasn't exactly the same each time, each time it was the best pie.

A few years later, after mom had adopted all four of my brothers and terms like "autism" and "fetal alcohol syndrome" and "learning disabled" became commonplace in our home, if not easily understood, I learned to love the care and commitment behind the nutrition in every single bite and ingredient of our meals. More than that, I learned to ask where our food came from and how it was grown. Those years mom almost never left the kitchen, feeding six kids on a macrobiotic diet - a diet that insists every ingredient be close to its natural state and locally grown - meant a lot of chopping, pounding, mixing, steaming; everything from scratch and nothing too easy. Also, my brothers all struggled with various eating disorders or food reactions so even if mom wasn't cooking she was sitting with them, encouraging and insisting they get nutrition in their bodies. She was paying attention to them in order to deduce who was reacting in what way to which food, and working to find ways to get the necessary nutrients in them without pushing their little bodies too hard. It was during those years that I started to notice what my friends were eating. Their school lunches had me asking questions about their cultures and religions. Their food reactions or allergies. After school some of my peers would walk to a nearby convenience for junk snacks. Interesting, I'd think, other families are allowed to eat junk. Also, they have spending money.

And a few years later, after my mom had gotten legal custody of two girls, my newest sisters, now a home with one single mom, four teen girls and four elementary school aged boys, the kitchen became a place for chores and food bank foods infused with healthy ingredients. Mom still did most of the cooking - one pot wonders and soups were her specialty; healthy things mixed together with spices and onions in a big ol' pot on the stove - but now we kids were expected to also cook, clean, and make school lunches. Our buddy system worked well, one teen girl would be buddied up with one little brother. We were expected to expect them to be able to learn skills which, when your brothers have various disabilities, is a valuable skill itself. Learning to believe in others regardless of appearances, while learning also to adapt for their challenges. Seriously, time in the kitchen with a buddy could be frustrating but it was always an important opportunity. (One I wish I had taken better advantage of as a big sister. Often I did my best to get out of it. However, my mom is not a fool. Often she also said, "Oh, you have plans? Take your brother!") Those days I noticed the importance of how we work together in the kitchen, and what it did for us as a family. I payed attention, also, to how other families did or didn't work together, and how that appeared to play out for the family.

Much later, as I became a mom myself, I noticed how little I seemed to learn from all of this. My mom was an everyone sits together at the table kind of mom. Not me. I liked me and my boys to eat together, but often we did so in front of a movie. Or in a mess on the floor while playing with toys. Also, my mom made sure we ate everything on our plates before we could ask to be excused from the table. My sons, on the other hand, knew they could eat till they didn't want anymore as long as they didn't expect me to make them something else later. And nobody asked to be excused from the table because we were rarely sitting at it. And meals? I pretty much made spaghetti or cheese and crackers or sandwiches for every meal. I cared about nutrition so I read ingredients on labels and made sure all food groups were represented (my cheese and crackers always included a vegetable, so ha! Healthy!) but I rarely made food from scratch. I read directions more than recipes.

My poor mom. She taught me better than that.
Meals with a movie? Foods from a box? Leftovers on the plates? That's not how I grew up.

But I did grow up caring about food and the kitchen. And I brought that with me as a mom. I cared about how the foods were grown and what the ingredients were, and later I cared which food companies I gave my grocery money to, how they treated the environment and their employees. I cared how my sons reacted to being fed what I fed them, and I encouraged them to feed themselves when they were hungry.

As all this came flooding to mind I decided I was grateful to mom for having already written her story, helping me whittle down my ideas to something that incorporated and included hers. I mean, my goodness! For a non-foodie I have a lot of thoughts and memories about food!

When I take a moment to visit the site we wrote for, Eat, Darling, Eat, it is clear that I am not alone. Everybody eats. Everybody has memories of food and figuring it out. What we like, how we feel about it, how we move away from our mother's kitchens into our own.

I hope you'll visit the site as well for stories of recipes, memories, and moments shared by others. If you prefer to listen, there are recordings of authors reading their stories. And, perhaps, you'll submit a story of your own. If you do, please consider sharing it here with me. 
My mom's story: Tomato Aspic

I'd love to enjoy a moment in your kitchen!
Even though, you know, I'm not a foodie.