My mother says that my grandmother stole me from her. I went directly from the womb into my grandmother’s arms, she says. She was struck with a fit of uncontrollable laughter the first time she saw me.
My grandmother had a phantom pregnancy. She lactated while my mother was pregnant with me.
My grandmother says my mother left me.
The real story is probably somewhere in between.
My grandmother does like stealing children. My mother is prone to forgetting people.
As a God-fearing child, I believed that my mother was possessed by a demon. You can pray demons away, and if the demon doesn’t leave then it is your fault that you didn’t believe enough. As I grew up and became more American, it seemed likelier that she was mentally ill.
So I became the child of a woman with an undiagnosed mental illness, who was prone to abandoning me for long stretches without fair warning. I grew up in what 21st century Americans would call a “dysfunctional” family. I learned how to control my emotions, to measure my hopes as a way to manage my world.
I decided to write a story about myself, my grandmother and our world. I decided to write a story about all the things I must do to protect myself from the grief of my grandmother’s future death. That’s not totally true. I decided to write a story about my grandmother that would help make her life and her dreams and her obsessions make sense to me in a way that they actually don’t. Either way, I became absorbed into the historical Mexican obsession with death and the ceremony of mourning.
I realized then – as I do now – that writing an entire book about dealing with the grief of a living person’s death sounds kinda sinister. It’s not that I don’t get that. It’s not like this idea seemed like something a perfectly normal person would do. But in my mind it became this way of metabolizing something that seemed so likely to throw me into an uncontrolled emotional state. So I had to premeditate the whole thing.
I am still writing the book. It is in a state of becoming. It is, I think, becoming a book about the complex relationship that my grandmother and I share and the symbolism of our stunted intimacy. And it is becoming a book about what it means to straddle worlds – Mexican and American, magical and empirical, thin and fat, white and brown, fiction and non-fiction. But maybe it’s becoming something else. Maybe.
If you’re the empirical sort, you will hate me (and this book) because I make claims that were derived from part-truths or semi-lucid conversations with people of questionable character who also care little for the western obsession with facts. This is partially a work of fiction, and even if it weren’t I have decided that I can make any claim I want. If it makes you angry that this claim is based in nothing then it is your responsibility to fix it in your own head.
I am a product of the West, but I find many of the characteristics upon which Westerness is based to be inane and non-sensical. It makes sense to do things that make me feel good and excited and happy. Sleep. Fuck. Piss. Shit. Take long baths. Eat delicious things. Fall in love and out of it. Write. Get my toe nails painted. Pop zits. When you live in pursuit of the avoidance of death – as Westerners do - you are already dead. Death already owns you. You are here but you are not. Or maybe it is part of pleasure too.
Maybe the contemplation of one’s own death is a form of vanity that I could come to feel affection for.
It took me so, so, sooooooo long to finally publish this as the introduction. It became really clear very early on that this was going to be a non-linear book of fiction-memoir in which I was not an aspirational character - or even a character whose intentions and trajectories were particularly clear or lucid. I felt compelled to publish it as a serial in blog format because I had this desire to chop up the narrative, to reject the notion of the forward-moving ("progress-driven") novel, to make it harder to keep track of but "easier to digest."
Parts of the story are set in present-day San Francisco in the midst of the Tech Rush, and my life/livelihood feels so undeniably tied to interfacing with the internet - a medium we understand as both transient but also somehow permanent.I liked the idea of publishing it as a blog, the idea of having to go backwards to find the beginning.
Almost all of my (other) work is non-fiction and commercial. I take a very clear stance as an expert. I think I write myself as a kind of hero who has triumphed over some evil thing (diet culture and body shame). This need to be the hero, to write neat stories with endings that comfort me/others, is a learned desire that is very American. That feels very comfortable to me. It is not messy. It is clean. This work is not that. That feels super scary. Stay tuned.
ABOUT THE BOOK
I release a new chapter a week on Thursdays - unless I'm exceedingly overwhelmed or whatever I write is so epically terrible I'm too embarrassed to put it on the internet.