On Local Farms, Beekeeping, and Honoring The Dead

May 1, 2020

brown hen on green grass
Photo by Juanjo Menta on Pexels.com

Happy May Day. I hope you are well.

A close friend gave me two wonderful gifts yesterday: the websites of a local butcher with a drive-thru window and a local cooperative farm that sells produce and eggs with a pickup location close to my home. I gave my friend the website of the local farm, where I buy my cheese. We’re both happy. I’m not giving up on my own vegetable and herb gardens, though the days of rain and few sunny days are not helpful. I have lettuce, kale, and spinach popping up and in the next day or so, I must space them out as they’re crowding each other. That’s a good sign. I remain hopeful for a good harvest.

For fresh fruit, I’m trying out an online fruit market that has pretty good prices and free shipping. I miss fruit smoothies and making green juice with greens, apples, and ginger. Last month, I bought a bag of fresh ginger and placed chunks of ginger in a container of water and put it in the fridge. I hope that method keeps the ginger fresh as I love steeped ginger tea with a teaspoon of acai or acerola powder for a healthy energy boost. I am determined not to go to the supermarket and so far, I’ve found ways around that.

Why not go all the way and become an urban beekeeper? I say that tongue in cheek because while I love honey, I’m afraid of bees. There are those who can sit still when bees land on their shoulders or arms. Not me, I run like hell. Maybe it’s best to search for fresh, local honey instead. In case my fears of bees are unwarranted, I ordered the debut memoir, “A Honeybee Heart Has Five Openings”  by Helen Jukes, who said beekeeping changed her life. So, there is a glimmer of hope and if beekeeping isn’t for me, at least I’ll have read a memoir described as wonderful by Publisher’s Weekly. A win-win.

Last month (before my friend recommended the local farm for fresh eggs), I considered turning my garden shed into a hen house. I know! What is this pandemic doing to my brain, where I think I can turn this city house with a garden into a homestead? Somehow, it has freed me to think more outside the box than I usually do…and my long-held belief that life is precious is as crystal clear to me than ever. It’s an interesting phenomenon. And I miss fresh eggs! Why not start with two hens and turn this city home into a homestead? Well for starters, there may be ordinances against raising chickens within the city limits. There’s that and I’d have to deal with several neighborhood cats, who’ve left two dead baby birds on my kitchen porch. Not a good situation for chickens. I’ll start by calling City Hall. I’m curious, smile.

***

May 2, 2020

monochrome photo of man sitting on grass
Photo by Darwis Alwan on Pexels.com

I’ve thought about death over the last two months. Most probably, we’ve all thought about it at some level. I’m worried about my 87-year-old father who suffers from Alzheimer’s and lives in a Florida nursing home. I keep in good contact with his caregiver, who reports he seems to be doing well physically. How I wish he could remember us. I’d love to speak with him about what we’re going through with this pandemic and living in quarantine. My dad was always a no-nonsense guy with a keen sense of humor. I’m sure he’d have a lot to say. For now, I rest easy knowing he is well-cared for and seems relatively happy.

I wish my sweet mom, who passed on in January 1992, was still with us in the physical sense. I miss my mom every single day. If she were still with us, it’s very possible my parents would be in quarantine with me or me with them. Like always, we would have enjoyed cooking and laughing together, and remembering the good old days. We would have taken care of each other. Those in quarantine with their aging parents are very fortunate indeed. Bless my parents.

It’s difficult to read the gruesome reports from across the country (mainly out of New York), of filled-to-capacity funeral homes and trailers-turned-morgues parked outside of hospitals. Those reports always bring up bad memories of the thousands of unnecessary deaths in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands, and that the true number of deaths may never be known.

From the beginning of this pandemic, I’ve felt such sadness for the patients who’ve died and are still dying. I cannot imagine the depth of immense grief and suffering of dying alone without a loved one to hold them, or experiencing the death of a loved one who has died alone. That would haunt me forever. My heart and prayers go out to those who’ve experienced that unimaginable reality.

I remember the dead in my own way by holding space for them. I do that because it feels right and necessary. But Holy God, I was not prepared for the report out of Brooklyn this morning shared by The Daily Beast. The title was bad enough, but the first accompanying photograph before the actual text was jaw-dropping and heartbreaking. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams told The Daily Beast, “We have an emergency going on right now.” Right now? He added, “There is so much more we could do to better move this situation forward.” No kidding. As of yesterday, 23,616 people have died in New York and you have an emergency going on right now? He added, “There is so much more we could do to better move this situation forward.”

So…Adams is establishing a Bereavement Task Force that will begin meeting next week. Good God, why wasn’t this done before? “We’re going to bring people in the room in every aspect of this industry and sit down and hear directly from them what we should be doing to coordinate this operation.” No one anticipated this would be a problem before today, Mr. Adams? And to the responsible funeral director who carelessly, callously piled unclothed human bodies in the back room with no respect and human decency, I say shame on you. Shame on you.

May I never grow numb to the daily death count in this country and never forget those who died from the novel coronavirus, who were beloved by their families, friends, and communities. We may never know what they achieved in life or how they individually contributed to their families and communities, but we can honor and remember them by speaking of them, showing respect for every and every person who died or is dying at this moment.

This morning, I learned it is not considered ‘essential’ for priests or pastors to administer the last rites to dying COVID-19 patients. Despite Pope Francis urging priests to minister to the flock in any way they can, including people with coronavirus diagnoses, priests are afraid. Funeral directors say they’re afraid because cemeteries aren’t taking bodies fast enough and preparing them for funerals. It’s unthinkable to die alone but not to have access to last rites, a proper funeral, and a cemetery plot because the government or states didn’t plan for it is negligent and cruel. How would we feel if our loved one died? I know I would be raising holy hell.

A man who later died from coronavirus was given last rites by his pastor over the telephone. A compassionate nurse at the hospital, where the man had been cared for, organized the ceremony for the family who listened in from quarantine. How sad and beautiful.

My eternal thanks to the doctors, nurses, and health workers who’ve shown true compassion and deep empathy by holding dying patient’s hands; for praying with and for their patients; for giving warm hugs and offering soothing words; and for making a patient smile during their last hours.

This morning, I find comfort and hope in their love, compassion, and humanity.

Until next week, be safe and stay healthy.

Eleanor x

ABOUT ELEANOR:

me in ma july 2019

Puerto Rican-born Eleanor Parker Sapia is the author of the multi-award-winning, debut novel, A DECENT WOMAN, set in 1900 Puerto Rico, published by Winter Goose Publishing. Eleanor is featured in the anthology, “Latina Authors and Their Muses. Eleanor currently lives in Berkeley County, West Virginia, where she is in quarantine and working on her second novel, THE LAMENTS, set in 1927 Puerto Rico. Her children are out in the world doing amazing things, which fills her with enormous pride and comfort.

Author Interview: Vanessa Garcia

I’m excited to welcome the multi-talented Vanessa Garcia to The Writing Life.

Vanessa was born in the Cuban satellite city of Miami, to Cuban parents.
 
Vanessa Garcia
Her plays have been produced in Edinburgh, Miami, New York, and Los Angeles, among other cities. These include The Cuban Spring (a full-length, Carbonell Award nominee for Best New Play, 2015). The Crocodile’s Bite (a short, included in numerous anthologies such as Smith & Kraus’ Best Ten Minute Plays of 2016; City Theatre’s National Short Playwriting Award Anthology, as a finalist; and the Writer’s Digest annual award anthology). And, her most recent play, Grace, Sponsored by Monteverde.
 
Vanessa’s visual art has been exhibited around the United States and the Caribbean.
 
As a journalist, feature writer, and essayist, her pieces have appeared in the LA Times, The Miami Herald, The Washington Post, The Southern Humanities Review, The Art Basel Magazine, The Rumpus, and numerous other publications. She’s also a Huffington Post Blogger.
White Light is her first novel. She is currently at work on a memoir entitled My Cuban Routes.

Welcome, Vanessa!

Please describe what ‘White Light is’ about.
My book is, at its core, about a young woman navigating the world and coming into her own. The circumstances are particular, of course. She’s a Cuban-American visual artist, about to make it in the art world, when her complicated father dies suddenly. And, just as suddenly, she has to come to terms with loss and creation, that double drive. She’ll either break, or break through. I won’t tell you what happens, so you can find out when you read the book 😉
 
How did you come up with the title?
For a long time, the working title for the book was called Dyeing – playing both upon death and dye (color). But that didn’t seem representative, was too depressing. This book is intense, but it’s optimistic, I think. At some point, in the writing, my character figured out that the “white” at the center of the book, the white that she had thought was as black as mourning was quite the opposite – it wasn’t a void of color, but too much color, the entire spectrum. The central character’s journey is basically taking apart the strands of color that make up “white light,” trying to understand these strands, one by one. That’s why it was so important to me that there be actual bits of color in the book. In the third section, each chapter begins with a color.
 
Vanessa Garcia book cover
What is the reason you wrote this book?
The impetus for this book was my father’s death. This book, although it is absolutely fiction, was also a way for me to work through my situation at the time. When people die, you begin to understand love. You begin to understand what people are made of, what connects us, destroys us, tears us from each other. It’s only when people die that you see life in all it’s fullness, and when someone close to you dies, you see that very abruptly, very much in a haze, a kind of cartoonish blurt of life. It lasts about nine months, this explosion. I remember reading that in Joan Didion’s book The Year Of Magical Thinking –  how it takes nine months to lose someone (or suffer that loss). How it takes the same amount of time to mourn and lose than it takes to make. That makes so much sense for this book – I was creating the book as I was losing my father. But my character was also making art as she was losing her own father. They are different fathers – one is fiction and one is real, but the drives and the overall impulses are the same.
What is your favorite part of writing?
I feel really alive when I’m writing. That feeling of working on something that you think is important, of waking up every morning, eager to get to the computer. It’s the best. Those mornings when you want to skip the teeth-brushing and hit the keys, when your mind is fully engaged in what you are writing, that’s when you know you’re onto something; that obsession, that need to bring it out into the world.
 
What is the most challenging aspect of writing?
Sticking with something (a manuscript) when you’ve lived with it for so long that you begin to lose faith in its significance. Riding through those layers of revision is key. You have to keep reminding yourself why it matters, why you’re doing it.
 
Who are some of your favorite authors?
I loved reading Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad, that book really got me moving (my mind, my writing), as did Dana Spiotta. I love Nicholson Baker too. Borges and Cabrera Infante.
 
What authors or person(s) have influenced you?
I was very young when I read Reinaldo Arenas and he changed my life. I read his book The Assault when I was about fifteen and it was just that: an assault. It was like: BOOM. I read James Salter’s The Light Years very closely after Arenas, I remember, and I thought: wow, you can do that…You can write a paragraph like that at the beginning of a novel, about the water, about sailing, about the cold cutting you, and what it’s really about is a relationship. You make blueprints; that’s what you do at the beginning of a book – the blueprints a reader follows. I remember learning so much from those books.
 
Favorite place to write?
I like to change places. I like to move around from café to café throughout the day. I have my favorite spots in LA and my favorite spots in Miami, and I move around among them. I also like to write when I travel. I love writing in airports. I think that the idea of changing space and environment changes your writing. It makes you feel agile. It forces you outside your default settings.  
 
Something personal about you people may be surprised to know?
When I was 22, I backpacked across Europe. That’s not the surprising part. The surprising part is that I did it with my 80-year-old grandfather. It was life-sculpting, that trip.
 
Any surprises or learning experiences with the publishing process?
I learned that my editor is amazing. Rosalie Morales Kearns, who runs Shade Mountain Press is spectacular. She took my book on when others wouldn’t. She took on a novel with color in it, a novel that required licensing of images (I have Matisses and Picasso’s in the book) and she did it with faith. I learned that it matters to connect with your publisher and your editor, that the book has to matter to both of you. Her passion and integrity as a publisher is astounding. I really count myself blessed in that regard.
Looking back, what did you do right that helped you with this book?
I wrote every single day from 6am (sometimes 5am) to 9am. Before the phone started ringing and the emails started coming in, before the rest of the world got to work, I was at work. Those quiet hours were of utmost importance to this book.
Any advice for writers looking to get published?
Stick with it. It’s a long, winding, bumpy, gravel-filled, sometimes tunnel-like road — but there’s light at the end of the tunnel if you keep trotting. If you really, really want it, keep trotting.
Website?
Where can we find your book?
Best place to buy it is from the publisher: http://www.shademountainpress.com/vanessagarcia.php
It’s also available at bookstores. Some of those include Books & Books in Miami; Skylight Books in LA; and La Casa Azul in New York City.
What’s next for you?
I’m working on (wrapping up) a memoir about my relationship to Cuba called My Cuban Routes. Selling that is next. I’m also developing a play called Grace, Sponsored by Monteverde. And have a couple of other projects in the pipeline – other plays, articles, and a new novel is also brewing in the brain.
Thanks for a super interview, Vanessa. I’ve enjoyed getting to know you. Best wishes with White Light and all your creative endeavors. I’m looking forward to meeting you at La Casa Azul Bookstore on October 2 for our book readings!

About Eleanor Parker Sapia

Puerto Rican-born novelist, Eleanor Parker Sapia, was raised in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Europe. Eleanor’s careers as an artist, counselor, alternative health practitioner, Spanish language social worker and a refugee case worker inspire her stories. She is a member of Las Comadres Para Las Americas, PEN America, and the Historical Novel Society. When Eleanor is not writing, she facilitates creativity groups, reads, and tells herself she is making plans to walk El Camino de Santiago de Compostela a second time.

A Decent Woman is Eleanor’s debut novel, set in turn of the nineteenth century Puerto Rico. The book was selected as 2015 July Book of the Month for Las Comadres & Friends Latino Book Club. Eleanor is the mother of two adult children and currently lives in West Virginia, where she is happily writing her second novel, The Island of Goats.

Website [s]: http://www.eleanorparkersapia.com

Blog: http://www.thewritinglifeeparker.wordpress.com

Facebook Author Page: http://www.facebook.com/eleanorparkersapia

Twitter: @eleanorparkerwv

A Decent Woman is available for Kindle and in paperback on Amazon.

amazon.com/-/e/B00U05ZO9M

Barnes & Noble for Nook and in paperback.

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/a-decent-woman-eleanor-parker-sapia/1121258236?ean=9781620154007

La Casa Azul Bookstore    143 E. 103rd Street, New York, NY 10029         info.lacasaazul@gmail.com