Chapter 6: Captain Inquisition

-- continued --- 
Note: All of the following is transcribed from the archival documents relating to this case (1805-1809). The following exchange is between Spanish alcalde/Captain Domingo de Cantalba – DdC - and a person described as Negro wench Fanny (Fanny).
 
[DdC] Question:  Do you suspect any particular person of having given you the poison, and do you think it was given by design. 
 
[Fanny] Answer: I believe firmly it was Jane who gave it, and by design.
 
[DdC] Question: What do you suspect could have been her motive for doing it?
 
[Fanny] Answer: Because if I was out of the way they thought they had a better chance of their secret being kept.
 
[DcD] Question: In what manner do you think it was given?
 
[Fanny]  Answer: In some stewed victuals which I was cooking and had left the pot at the fire to go to the house and Jane was at the fire when I returned and told me she had been eating some of my victuals, and because I was taken sick immediately after eating such said victuals.
 
[DdC] Question: Was your husband Amos of the same opinion and does he old it now?
 
[Fanny] Answer: Yes, he was and still is.
 
[DdC] Question: Do you imagine Nancy could do it of her own accord, or was it advised by others?
 
[Fanny] Answer: She must have been advised by others.
 
[By DdC ]. Deponent further states that Jane has lately been spinning a great deal in the kitchen and had great opportunities of doing such things.  She says it was last Monday Evening that she ate the stewed victuals. 
 
[DdC]  Question: What persons do you suppose could have set on Jane to poison you?
 
[Fanny] Answer: Her husband I believe.
 
The page ends with the name so the witnesses to this testimony, and is signed by Domingo – who at this point I’m just calling “the Inquisitor”  and “Captain Inquisition” – who is a military captain and judge on the Spanish/American frontier after the Louisiana Purchase.
 
The next witness that is recorded in the papers submitted by “Captain Inquisition” to the Governor of the region is Fanny’s husband. 
 

Here is the opening piece and the first paragraphs with all of my comments withheld. 
 
(Written in English by Captain Inquisition, copied verbatim into Spanish colonial government archives) 
 
Mulatto Amos, aged about thirty, being duly sworn, deposes:
 
“That on the morning of Saturday 25 October he was picking cotton with the other slaves in the field. He heard Will rebuking Eve for having had a white child. Eve said “it makes no odds, but remember you are trying to poison master” on which Will hung down his head and making no answer proceeded down his row as fast as he could. Deponent further said that about  Bed-time Will went to Eve that same night and accused her of the Overseer’s keeping her which produced a violent quarrel, but Deponent heard nothing further that night on the subject of the poison.  That on the next morning (Sunday) o his arrival at the kitchen from the swamp, Fanny told Deponent what corroborates the testimony of said Fanny on that point.”
 
“Deponent observed that Will was remarkably dejected and thoughtful as he worked with him two days, and believes that Will had great apprehensions of the nature of the quarrel being report to his master when he returned home.”
 
(continued)

Chapter 5: The Inquisition


We are going through digital database archives that include the Spanish officer – Captain of the Dragoon and Alcade (magistrate/leading administrative officer) – leading and documenting an inquisition relating to a conspiracy to poison him. 

 

The Captain Domingo de Catalan is the primary interrogator, target of the crime/assassination, and the (unreliable?) narrator of the first part of documents we are reading. 

 

I have chosen to tell the story as it unfolds in the documents and there are definitely 3 parts -this first part that we are going through now, then the middle (you’ll know) and then a series of interrogations lead by person other than Domingo de Catalan, in his absence. 


Maybe he was absent because he was poisoned. 


Maybe it was something else. 

 

Anyway this is the part of the story where the storyteller sincerely promises the story is still building tension, and begs you to please not look away. 


The words I am transcribing for you have waited over two hundred years for us, it’s time for them to be read. 

 

Fanny testifies that she remembers that on  Monday October 27, 1806 she was --

 

 "... seized with a great and burning heat in her stomach: a swimming in her head, which affect her eyes with blindness, and she was forced to throw herself on the bed: to which followed a looseness, and sickness of her stomach, the water came out of her mouth, which symptoms continued thro the night. Next morning she felt a little easier till after breakfast when she got worse: She began to feel feebleness in her joints -a griping pain in her lower belly.  As night came on she still got worse but after she had lain a while in bed she felt a little easier for a short  time (having taken a vomit which operated severely and for a very long time) shortly afterwards she felt the blineness returning – the misery in her stomach with strong disposition to puke – feeling as if she had something in her stomach which stopped it up.  She still got worse and was unable to speak and at at length forgets what past and believes she was for a time in sort of fainting fit.  Pains and burnings continuing in her breast. Her master came to her and wheh she had come to herself gave her oil and water to drink very frequently which did not make her puke till he gave her something else which made her puke very violently – Swaillowing ever quarter of an hour more oil and water till  morning which kept her puking till that time.  She then took salts and was blystered every quarter of an hour for a great length of time, up until the preset moment. She now feels very weakened: Pain continuing in her belly; which is still swelled and hard.  She had in all, three fainting fits.

 

Question by Mr. Mather (witness of assistance): What is your present opinion of the nature of the attack you have undergone?

 

Answer: I believe I was poisoned.


(continued)

 


Chapter 4: Three More Witnesses Testify


 DRAFT 1

We are almost at the end of the beginning of the story, although you cannot see it from where you now stand. Trust me.  

When this first draft becomes another draft and the choppy parts are smoothed out you will see that we are in the opening week a three-year-long case where Domingo de Catalan, Captain of the Dragoons and Alcade of a fort on the crumbling Spanish-US border right after the Louisiana purchase has accused several people of attempting to poison him.   

Captain de Catalan requested four "witnesses of assistance" to hear him examine several people who worked on his plantation. 

So far we have read the testimony of Susan, his housekeeper.  At first I assumed because of her fluid interactions with enslaved persons that she was also enslaved, but a careful reading of the documents showed that she was referred to as “a free mulatta” when she is called to testify again to a different audience later in this case. 
 
This has witch hunt vibes. Strong ones.  Captain de Catalan was a powerful person living during times of rapid political and economic change and looking for scapegoats for things he doesn't understand.  All of this is going down during the week before/of Halloween and All Saints Day, which might have escalated tensions/fears.
 
The next person to testify in front of Captain de Catalan and his “witnesses of assistance” in the opening documents is referred to by the Captain as “Negroe Boy George, my own valet.”  George confirms what he said to Susan in her testimony then adds more.
 
On Monday, October 27, 1806 “as he was picking cotton, Eve, who was picking cotton in the next row, told him that Will was trying to sink her Master to the lowest part of hell.” 
 
According to him, Ann was picking cotton in a nearby row and called out, “How so?” to which Eve responded that Will was selling Ann’s

 “Ann's cloaths and his own red underjacket and a great coat to Rufus that they had brought him over to kill their master. That Eve said to George every morning before horn-blow Rufus and Will used to put truck before the gate to lay him to the lowest part of hell.”

 
Next up comes the testimony of Rachael, “aged about eighteen” and not described by complexion or status but her lack of a last name makes me think she is not a free person. 

 Her contribution to the story is only 5 lines of text.

 “When Eve and Will were in the height of the their quarrel, Eve told [Rachael] that Will had been taking news to Susan about her being kept by the Overseer.  That Eve told her Will was trying to poison her master and Susan, and if they did not mind her would put them to the lower pit of hell.”

 
The next person to testify is "Negro Wench Fanny" – the enslaved woman who appears from Susan's testimony to have been poisoned by someone meaning Domingo de Catalan harm --  and her story begins with recounting that on Sunday, October 26, 1806 Eve was quarreling with Bill and:

 “that Eve came to the kitchen and told her that Will had been getting Truck from Sharpe’s Rufus for the purpose of killing her master.  That he had sold his corduroy Breeches and a red Jacket and a counterpane to pay for it.  On which Deponent told Eve she ought not to hold such talk about master and Eve was in a passion and spoke as loud as she could Hollow.”

 
Fanny then related that Susan came out to inquire what was going on. 

“Eve said ‘Susan, Will has been getting truck to kill master and I will tell him of it as soon as he comes home.’ Susan replied when Master comes home if you don’t declare these words I’ll have your tongue cut out.”

 
(continued)
 
 
 

Chapter 3: "every thing looked red, of a giddiness in the head"

  

Note in margin of original 1806 document that I just found, apparently by Domingo de Catalan: “This Eve had been the wife of Will, but he had discarded her and taken up Jane who had been the sweetheart of Rufus.”  

 

These are not normal documents.  


I could not make this stuff up, but I am enjoying serving it to you.

 

Susan’s story  -- as told by her Master, Domingo de Catalan because he is in charge of this hearing -- continues with her Master’s valet George telling her two key things.


First, he told her that he heard that Eve and Jane  quarreling in the cotton filed, and that Eve told George that Will and Jane had sold “Coaths” (coats) to Rufus in payment for "truck to kill their master."

 

Second, George heard Jane say, an apparent admission that she believed their conspiracy had been  “The thing might have been kept secret yet if Eve had not let her dam’d gut out; and that what was in secret they would not let remain in secret.”

 

After that, Susan heard no quarreling for the rest of the week.  

 

Domingo de Catalan returned home on the evening of Saturday, November 1, and Susan did not immediately approach him to tell him of all the things he missed.

 

 For this she was criticized, examined and responded,


 “The overseer was drunk when her master came home and he appeard out of temper at that; and afterwards was so angry with me because the cotton had not been spun and sent to the weavers before the cold weather had set in…. that the next morning her master lay in bed till he just had time to dress himself to go to the Club, and that whilst shaving, Mr. McCoy (overseer) came into his room, groggy, which again put him in a passion as he pester’d him about sending to the River for Flour – that her master went out half shaved across the yard scolded her because she could not give account about the flour and sormed a good deal at her in the yard. That this so confused her that she again delayed telling him the news she had heard.”

 

I get the sense he is such an ass that they need to tiptoe around him, and no matter what they do they are going to see him explode.  

 

Her testament continues – 

“That up until the time of her master’s going off in a hurry, she observed Jane (the wife of Will) standing in the kitchen looking very watchful and without any employment. After her master was gone she was occupied in washing the house and Will came into the hall… then ask’d her for some Taffia (rum) which she gave him.” 

 

 

Will sipped the taffia and followed Susan to her room where she went to nurse her child. He asked her, “You look serious, what’s the matter with you?” and she answered she was just anxious that the master “was in such an angry temper that it frets me very much.”

 

As an answer,  or maybe to keep a peaceful conversation going, Will offered to make Susan a basket, to which she says yes please, I will pay you for it.  (Yes, these are both enslaved people, and this kind of transaction wasn’t unusual in the Spanish colonies).   Later that night Will brought the unfinished basket for her approval, and said he couldn’t finish it that night. 

 

Hours after Will brought the basket to Susan,  her master came home, and she “informed him of some of the matters she had heard in his absence; that her master cut her short and went into his own bed.  That when her master asked the reason of her not telling him before, she stated ‘you did not give me time and you was angry all the while you staid.”

 

The next morning, Fanny came into Susan’s room and said she felt sick and was afraid somebody had hurt her. 

 

This is when it starts getting graphic. 

 

Here are the details directly from the artifact,

 “that Fanny complained of a dimness of sight and every thing looked red, of a giddiness in the head, a bad pain in her bowels and a violent lax: and that she was swelled in her lower belly; also of a heavy sickness at her stomach, she appeared very much alarmed, and that Fanny said she had told Amos her suspicions, who was also much frightened. She recollects that Amos also was a little complaining on the same day, of a headache and a sickness at the stomach. That on the same day her master gave Amos a dose of paragoric (NOTE: opium!! We know now there is opium on the plantation!!) That on Tuesday morning, Fanny seemed to be a great deal worse, she complained of the dimness of light being worse and sickness of stomach continued: That she was considerably swelled, and had a bad purging and still was much frightened and thought she was poisoned.”

 

Fanny told Susan that she thought Jane or Will had done it, and she believed it had to do with keeping her from telling Domingo de Catalan about the plot to poison him.  

 

As regards to Fanny’s condition, Susan remembers a lot of detail. 


Like, a lot.  

 

She testified that 

“her master gave her a puke in the Evening which operated very violently and for a long time. That about midnight she heard Fanny making a loud noise and Amos, her husband, calling for assistance. That her master ran out to the kitchen and through the whole night was continually running backwards and forwards with medicines….. her master told her that Fanny was in a very dangerous way, and towards morning he told (Susan) in a very low voice, that he believed Fanny was poisoned and desired her not to mention it…… Master continued nursing Fanny the whole night and towards the morning her master told her Fanny was better and might be served by constant pukes and purging.”  

 

Did you actually read that last line?  Just checking.  

 

The last four lines on the page read exactly following.  

 

“That it was a dark night. That she was afraid to stay in the house alone and remained at the end of the gallery, from whence she observed a man in shirt sleeves gliding along the yard, who passed behind the smoke house and so on till he got behind the kitchen.”

 

(to be continued)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 2: Susan says Nelly says Eve says that Will said…

 According to Susan, while Nelly was confined in the basement of Domingo de Catalan she “declared to the Deponent that on the said Saturday Evening when Eve was in the passion aforesaid she told her (Nelly) that ‘you know Will as well as I do Nelly, he is a d- d Rascal and has been trying in conjunction with Mr. Sharp’s negroe Rufus to poison Master these two Summers.”   

 

Susan continued to testify that on the next morning she rose earlier than usual and while she was walking to the kitchen (presumably from cabins behind the main plantation house) she heard Eve washing behind the kitchen and stood where Eve could not tell that she was listening. That’s when she heard Eve say that Will was “very fond of running to Susan to tell of his catching her with McCoy, but he was not so ready to run and inform of his having received truck from Rufus to poison his master.”

 

*NOTE: I have never seen the word truck used like that, and after reading this case over and over I can promise you it is a strange word for poison or venom. 

 

Susan relates hearing Eve sobbing and shouting at Will, “You have been sowing truck at the gateways and paths where Master goes through to poison him.”  As if on cue, she relates that hearing the above news about a threat to her beloved Domingo de Catalan made her angry, then does a reverse squirrel and gets back on track.   

 

Still unseen by Eve, Susan saw Eve going to the plantation well to get water for the kitchen and heard her say, “By God you are after your freedom and you think if you can kill Master you will get back to the States and travel where you please.”

 

When Eve arrived at the plantation kitchen, Susan told her “You may quarrel on now, I’ve heard enough and I’ll never die with the like of that in my heart: if I live to see Master he shall be informed of it.”

 

There were witnesses.  


The next few sentences are the last lines on the first page of Susan’s testimony, copied exactly as they appear in the archive. 

 

“Fanny and Rachel were at the same time in the Kitchen and the Deponent told them ‘you have both heard what Eve said, and if you deny it to Master I hope he will crop off your ears.’  She had heard Fanny tell Eve not to make such free use of Master’s name, as he would cut out their tongues if it came to his ears. Says Fanny, “If you don’t tell him yourself Eve I shall surely do it, as I have heard such talk before.”

 

The violence implied in those words haunt me as I write them for you. 


 I refuse to look away.

 

(To be continued)

Chapter 1: “Attempted Poisoning of Domingo de Catalan by seven negroes”

 Note: I’m using fake names until the end and I won’t tell you where I am (where we are) yet because I am afraid you will try to find and binge-read these documents and race me to the end.   Forgive me for wanting to play chef, but I do.   I want to serve this story in thin slices and give you time to digest the information before serving the next course. 

 

Title of Case: “Attempted Poisoning of Domingo de Catalan by seven negroes”

Summary: Written in Spanish, 1806. Criminal proceedings against “seven negroes” who are being accused of attempting to poison Captain of the Dragoons, Domingo de Catalan. 

Where? A city in the edges of the crumbling Spanish empire before the War of 1812

 

*****

In late 1806, Don Carlos X, Colonel of the Royal Armies, Military and Civil Governor of the Post, convened his Captain of Dragoons and General Alcalde – Domingo de Catalan -  together with five “witnesses of assistance” (white men of property and good reputation) for the purpose of finding the truth behind a conspiracy to poison  Domingo de Catalan along with some of his most faithful servants. 

 

As a time traveler through archives, I feel like I have stumbled on something tantamount to the Salem witch trials.  These documents are particularly unusual because enslaved persons (and many free persons of color) were not citizens and therefore not afforded protections of citizenship like trials. 

 

 I am not surprised to find out that all the persons accused have been arrested/imprisoned before these depositions were taken, what’s surprising is that the head of the Spanish colonial government is spending his precious time hearing out what they have say.

 

The persons accused of poisoning a Spanish officer and attempting to assassinate him are described in the opening document as: 

 

”A negro” named Will, belonging to Domingo de Catalan

 

“The negroes” Augustus and Rufus,  belonging  to Joseph S. 

 

”A negro” named Isaac belonging to retired Captain Beauregard.

 

“A free negro (old and blind)” named Gordon.

 

Jane, currently a prisoner of Domingo de Catalan,  “negress belonging to him” 

 

 

Don Carlos assigned two of his officers and a local resident to interpret, translate and document the proceedings in the English, French and Spanish languages – the languages spoken by the abovementioned accused conspirators.

 

***November 6, 1806

NOTE: Original written in English, shows Domingo de Catalan was fluent in English.

 

Taken before Domingo de Catalan, Alcade of the Highlands in front of 5 witnesses

 

“Certain circumstances having lately occurred on this Plantation tending to prove the existence of a conspiracy among certain negroes to attempt my Life, I have thought it necessary in the presence of the following witnesses to enter upon the Examination as follows.” – Domingo de Catalan

 

Susan, Housekeeper being duly sworn, informs the witnesses that on Friday the 24th of October she recollects Mr. Gemmill of Fort Adams being at the house before Domingo de Catalan’s

 arrival from a ride to the River.

 

While Mr. Gemmill, Mr. McCoy (the plantation overseer) and Domingo de Catalan were eating supper together, Susan reported hearing a riot “at the negro cabins,” and Mr. McCoy went off to see what going on.

 

The next morning, she asked him what had happened and Mr. McCoy said he couldn’t make “head or tail of the matter, as they contradicted another so much.”

 

Susan went on to testify that on the same evening Mr. McCoy ate supper with Domingo de Catalan and went to his house, “negro Will told her, the Deponent, that he had caught Mr. McCoy with (enslaved woman) Eve, but desired the Deponent to mention it to nobody but her master.”

 

She further testifies that about an hour later she saw Eve “drawing water at the well, when she upbraided her with having been caught with Mr. McCoy.”   


Eve allegedly responded by departing “in a passion and sent off crying to the cabins.”

 

Susan, Domingo de Catalan's housekeeper, continued her deposition stating that she could she could now safely share what previously unnamed co-conspirator Nelly  told her on the night of the alleged poisoning now that Nelly “confined in the Cellar.” 

 

(To be continued)

Time Traveler

(Draft 1)

 I knew when it would be time to write again.


It’s time.

 

I’m right where I’ve been, doing what I’ve been doing for decades, but also I’ve become something of a time traveler, an exhausting calling that seems to be the antithesis of writing.   

 

Before COVID I told stories to my classes while they quietly listened and took notes (prayers up if they texted during lecture lol).  My evenings were spent grading and writing and also taking care of kids who have recently moved to college, leaving me here alone with my plants and my thoughts and all the parking spots.   

 

When I came back to five face-to-face classes in August of 2021, I decided to change what class was and why I expected students to be there – we started playing “Reacting to the Past” games which insert the class in particular points in time and require students to play roles and build coalitions in order to accomplish wins for their character.   

 

12 times in the past 18 months,  I’ve been in 1861 Kentucky with my students, trying to figure out whether Kentucky will stay in the Union like three other slave slaves or secede; perhaps Kentucky will fall apart like Virginia? What is loyalty? Who is sovereign? Hard to tell until the students bring their best game and also duel and try to assassinate each other. Repeatedly. Gleefully.   

 

I’ve also spent considerable time with my 1776 New York City with my students. Repeatedly. The British surround Manhattan while students try to figure out whether to open or close courts and which among them should serve in the militia.  I’ve performed multiple weddings during this game, empowering widow and orphan women to change their fate and access power and wealth (but not the vote).

 

I’ve witnessed (orchestrated?) the Trial of John Brown more times than you want to hear about, and I’ve been through the Cuban Missile Crisis more times than all the Kennedys combined. 

 

 Three of my classes spent two weeks in San Francisco before WW1 (playing assigned characters) trying to figure out whether Plessy vs Ferguson applied to excluding Japanese students from public schools, while Teddy Roosevelt kept direct ties open with officials of Imperia Japa and plead with them to not be offended by what was coming out of California.

 

I’m completely leaving out two other games I’ve been playing in class so that I can move this story forward. What I’m trying to say is that while I haven’t written very much over the last year, I have been living through experiences worth writing about, and practicing being fully present for what often becomes hours of student-generated questions every day. 

 

This leads to the incident which brings us here today.

 

Last week I was braced for sadness, as I habitually time travel across my own life and revisit the best and worst things and December 1 was the anniversary of witnessing my Abuela jumping into the sky.  

 

 I considered republishing things that I wrote when the grief was raw, and maybe re-sharing a few things I wrote when the grief transformed into a feeling of connectiveness that transcends understanding. 

 

But I didn’t.  Because my morning class decided out of the blue to throw me an early birthday party (during the  Kentucky 1861 game, in May 1861 to be exact).   

 

There was no way that they could have known the depth of grief I was prepared to face that day, but nope they just did what was in their hearts and brought cake and birthday party hats and changed a day of grief into my new birthday as well wishers across my friend platforms sent birthday love.  I made room in my heart to accept it all. 

 

That night I opened a word document and started writing, “I knew when I would know to start writing again” but instead of writing any more than that, I reopened my browser tab and fell back into my nightly time travelling treasure hunt through digital archives. 

 

The digital archives that I lurk in for ungodly hours a day are banks of information that contain data at the rawest -  digital “boxes” stuffed with folders full of death certificates, arrest records, population relocation files, veteran’s pension applications, divorce proceedings and coroners reports for fun. 

 

I’m currently reading court papers and depositions from the Spanish-American frontier between 1785-1815 that are (were) in English, Spanish and French, and I literally cannot look away as these people are living their lives writing up things as the political-economic world of the peoples living in the Caribbean and on the Gulf of Mexico are about to be turned upside by revolutions, revolt and war. 

 

As I keep trying to want to write about my new birthday being on the day that Abuela died, I also can’t stop reading the papers of a Spanish Colonel that is also a Governor trying to keep order on the porous Spanish/US border after the American Revolution.  His papers include items in Spanish, French, German and English and document every financial transaction including land, mortgages and enslaved people, along with petitions and requests and dealing with estates after people die or run off ten miles away to another country. 

 

On this particular night I can’t stop looking at mundane documents, waiting to come across something strange and important.

 

And then, page after page, I find it. 

 

Or it finds me.

 

Hours later I finish the files which span three years and include multiple depositions from people whose voices have not usually been included in the pursuit of justice. 

 

Tired from a long unbirthday, I turned my laptop off and tried to sleep but the story I had just read kept me awake, marching through my brain and becoming the next season of American Horror Story. 

 

I can’t keep the story to myself, it’s too heavy, too important.  I need you to see it too.

 

It’s the lengthy and detailed trial of several people of color – enslaved and free – charged with trying to kill a Captain of the Dragoons.  

 

Ready to time travel back there with me?

 

(to be continued)

 

 

 

 

 

Lifetime Win

 When I showed up for pool class this past Sunday I thought I got the time wrong because nobody was in the the classroom pool.  

I stood still and looked for clues and saw familiar pool classmates moving their equipment to the lap pool, our temporary classroom for today.

This would've been a good time to pivot away and skip class. 

The last time I was in a lap pool was in 1985 at the Swimming Hall of Fame in Fort Lauderdale.  At the start of my race I slipped off a wet starting block (true rookie move) and started my race treading water. 

It felt like minutes passed in the seconds it took to gain forward momentum without touching the nearby wall and disqualifying myself. 

I plodded through the race, never  even coming close to catching up, and upon finishing found myself the recipient of much clapping from other (faster,  better) athletes.

If you've never been the recipient of the slow clap for good sportsmanship, I would describe it as  a reverse cheer, the opposite of what you would get if you set a new world record.  

My swimming career ended then and there. I retired my goggles, hung up my speedos and have steadfastly avoided lap pools since then.

But I guess today it was meant to be.  

Why fight it?

The part of me that usually fought unexpected change is especially subdued now, having just last week had to practice peaceful silence when my happy quiet routine was interrupted, loudly, by roofers.   

I really didn't mind the roofers banging and the clanging and the stomping.  

What really bothered me was having to clear off my deck sanctuary, the place I retreated to every evening to witness the moment the very first solar light turned on.

Usually before it could change from blue to purple to red to yellow to green and back to blue again, three or four more lights would come on until all 24 bulbs across the deck lit up.  

At that point, it would be rude to walk away from the lights since they'd just arrived to work, wouldn't you agree?   So then I would linger awhile watching the sherbet colored light beams slice through the humid summer nights.

This was my normal happy until the whole "new roof" thing happened, causing me to divert my attention to other pursuits of happiness.  

 I fell back into digital archives, peering at documents created on the best and worst days of stranger's lives.  

I emptied a closet and prepare it to become something else, something better.  

I started writing again.

The  roofers have now finished and a familiar peace returns to my deck.

I haven't put the solar lights back up.  

Maybe I will later - maybe tomorrow? - definitely not until telling you what happened in the lap pool.

As I walked toward the lap pool, classmates greeted me from their positions on the entry stairs. It's cold, they warned.  I nodded and proclaimed my determination to face it.  I stepped quickly down the  stairs and dunked right under water to just get it over with.  

It felt fantastic.  As other students were arranging themselves along the lap pool toward the shallow ends where they could stand, I picked the deep spot right in the middle of the pool and had the time of my life doing pilates while treading water.  

Towards the middle of class, the instructor had us swim modified laps (hands only, feet only, backwards) and then we settled into a final intervals of kicking.  Holding on to the wall, face up, we kick our legs from the bottom of the pool to the surface and back down.  

For the final  set we do intervals of fast and slow kicking right by the surface, facing upwards as if we were swimming backstroke.   I dig deep in my soul and churn up white water for the entire fast interval, impressing myself if no one else. 

On this unusual class in an unusual location, our instructor does an unusual thing and asks the class if they would like to have Gladiator Races.  

Before many can respond she tells them to pick a teammate.  The people around me slide toward the far end of the pool, away from the instructor's encouragement. 

We chat until Joyce, our instructor, comes to our side of the pool and teams me up with Nancy. We twist two pool noodles together and sit back-to-back so that she looks like she is sitting in a chariot and I would say I am the horse but the horse would be in front and going forwards and I'm in back and going backwards. 

Because we are on the opposite of the pool from the rest of the chariot teams, Joyce instructs us to cross the pool and demonstrate so that the other teams can see how this chariot thing works.

Nancy squares herself towards the other side of the pool and keeps us going straight as I turn my legs back into a turbo-kicking whitewater-splashing mermaid horse engine, crossing the pool quickly.  

 We stop before crashing into anyone,  then turn ourselves around, ready to race. 

Joyce then asked the class, "Who wants to race them?"

No one. 

No one wanted to race us.  

Each and every person left the pool instead of racing us.

In my little world, this a lifetime win  -- big enough to cancel out the slow clap of shame and loud enough to lure me into future dates with the lap pool.

Cocoon

I am in a hallway in my life -- things are not as they were, and are not yet what they will become.  Its hard to know what to let go of and what to hold on to; at times it seems easiest to just do nothing and sink into unrealistic hope that changes will come  effortlessly.  

Thankfully I have friends who will not let me become stuck.  For example, my colleague Nancy encouraged me (dared me?) to join the gym with her this summer. Another colleague, Maureen, invited me to join her in the pool for water classes that  she calls "splash therapy." 

No part of me could've gone into the pool without their encouragement.  I loved swimming for most of my life then I surgically cut it off when my Abuela -- my favorite pool companion and playmate -- passed away in 2007.

I'm back in the pool again, often for hours a day.  

Yesterday, as the summer sun creeped across the sky,  Maureen and I kept scooting back in the gym pool to stay in the last minutes of  shade while rhythmically treading water and keeping up with the class. 

 In front of us, three jagged rows of women of all ages wearing assorted hats -- straw, bejeweled, visors -- wave blue dumbbells almost in union and leap in out of the water as our teacher incites us to sing the lyrics to an Elvis tune as loudly as we can.  

For the tenth time in as many minutes I peek over my shoulder to the side of the pool where Nancy is keeping up with the class but doing it all on land because she was on the waiting list because didn't register in time to land one of the coveted 24 spots. 

 Pool classes are a serious thing to those of us who partake in them; class registration on the gym website opens at 12:01am (yes, like midnight) three days before the class meets, and usually by 12:30am more than half of the spots are usually taken.  If you somehow forget to register for a spot in that three-days-away class before drinking your first cup of coffee, chances are you will find yourself on the waitlist. 

Nancy is handling her waitlist situation with her usually sunny attitude.  Instead of complaining or trying to sneak into the pool she is making the most of the class, her face is red from exertion and lit up by a huge smile because these classes -- even from the periphery -- are damn fun.  

 It isn't just the liberating feeling of bouncing in the water that makes this damn fun. It isn't just the sparkly sun, or the upbeat music, or the creative teachers  either.  It's all that together plus the exquisite opportunity to meet amazingly interesting people that choose to spend their mornings working out together.   

I haven't felt like part of a class, part of a group, part of community of happiness seeking strangers like this in forever, and I love every minute of it. 




Origin Stories

 The beginning of the Spring semester was just in January but feels like a million years ago.

 I feel like each day is a decade long in this new next chapter that is unfolding in my life, and I sometimes get lost in my  search for peace, happiness and meaning.

 This is my second semester 100% "back in the classroom" for all of my courses after the disruptions of zooming etc, and I'm still trying to figure out how to make a bridge from the things that used to work "before" to the things that will work for the students I have now. 

 I have to assume all of my students have been through at least a few bumps in the past 2 years, and if they are taking face-to-face classes they must be hoping to take part in some new normal  that they are willing to get out of bed, get dressed and  risk their lives for. 

With that in mind I dig deep to make every class meeting special.  They play Reacting to the Past games (which have brought backflips, splits, assassinations,  bribes and much karaoke singing in the past weeks), snack on a buffet of treats and take pretests based on the "wrong answers only" principle.  

I'm doing my best. 

The one thing I haven't done is share what they wrote the first day of class when I handed out a sheet of paper asking for their name, pronoun (omg that is an entirely different column stay tuned), contact info and "What is your superpower If you have multiple superpowers please list as many as you can" (followed by a promise that I will keep them secret).

Here are their answers, in no particular order:

*I'm a Leo!

* I can communicate with inanimate objects, especially electronic devices

*I can wake up at any hour and be wide awake!

*I can forget anyone's name

*I can do anything I put my mind to. I can also fly.

*I can laugh like Seth Rogen

*top secret

*Sense of direction. I never get lost.

*Reading minds. 

*I'm pretty good at multi-tasking and I am (sometimes) a human lie detector

*1) Drinking. 2) Being on time for class.

*Drawing this mouse perfectly every time (NOTE: student drew perfect mouse)

*I've never seen a ferret in person

*I'm a mother of 4, ages 13, 11, 7 and 3

*I love children, especially newborns

*Willpower and chasing my dreams

*Photo editing. Cat whisperer (they all love me)

*I can play 4 instruments

*supersonic flight, super strength, and the ability to manipulate anything at the atomic level

*shape shifting (I'm trans) and being able to write

*The power to control matter

*I can see around corners. I just can...

*Telekenesis

*I'm actually an alien wearing human skin

*I am a curious person and I like to ask questions. I'm good at taking minor details and finding a pattern. I like to debate/discuss. History is one of my favorite subjects.

*Caring, imagination

* I have ADHD and can get hyperfixated on topics I'm interested in and I hope it helps me here!

*I'm always on time, I hate being late. I'm also a super fast runner.

*I can do hair and dye hair.

*Teleportation

*I try my best at everything. Big creativity and sense of humor

*electrokinesis, telepathy, time travel, omni-telepathy, teleportation, that's it!!!!

*Can hold a grudge forever

*Invisibility, teleportation, flight, super-strength, psychological manipulation.  All of these powers are very real. 

*I'm left handed

*I control black holes and gravity

*Invisibility. Persuasion. Shapeshifting. Really smart, really stupid.

*My superpower is my strength and my will to never give up and push myself to keep going no matter what

*I'm able to have multiple hobbies and be very detailed but then I can lose interest within minutes and be super spaced out

*I know how to find out information without being caught

*My awkwardness is mostly amusing! My bosses think so at least!

*Seeing the future

*Invisibility and animal communication (dogs/cats)

*Affect others' emotions

*Photography pro

*My superpowers are staying on task, being prepared for any situation, and having a good attitude

*Super jump

*I've done multiple internships at animal hospitals and I've never had a dog not like me

*Cooking

*spending too much money

*competitive knowledge

*I prefer to keep my powers private lol

*I could fly

*I am not really sure

* I can draw a photorealistic portrait of your face or pet

*Talking with others ;-)

*I am colorblind and good with sports fact

*I am an empath

* I can speak three languages

*I'd say my superpower is to read people

*Having the ability to stay on tiktok all day

*Extreme self-awareness

*Not really sure

*Lol I don't trust you

*I'm good with people

*I am a cyborg. I have two metal rods in my spine.

*I have ADD

*I find ways to solve problems concerning my financial needs since I was in elementary. I'm a hustler. Yes, legally.

*Stubborness and hyperfocus

*I'm tall AF, I play basketball. Main superpower is gambling

*weightlifting

*Chronic anxiety and procrastination, ignorance, camoflauge .... psychosis?

*Super strength (not really I have tiny arms) and super speed (I have to run across campus to get to class)

*Animal whisperer

* Never having to sleep

*I have no known superpowers

*Superstrength, genius, drinking a lot

*I can read people's personalities based on body language and speech (extreme psychoanalysis)

*If I have a superpower I haven't figured it out yet

*I can make clothes

*Perpetual calmness

*overthinking. Sometimes I feel like professor X

*Cleaning my room in under 5 minutes

*I'm really good at tiktok

*I have to come back to this question lol

*My superpower is procrastinating until the last possible second

*My superpowers include overthinking and eating way too much

*Invisibility

*super procrastination

*Cooking and eating way too much

*I can read people's emotions SUPER well ;-)

*Wearing crocs everywhere

* I could read people's minds

*I'm kind! I'm an overachiever, I want the best for myself,  I'm competitive

*Mind reader

*I want to have the ability to manipulate atoms but I won't lie and say I have it already

*I like to laugh a lot and smile

*sleeping for a long period of time

* The power to overthink things

*I can stay calm under stressful situations




First Tuesday of the Year

 

Today is a day to meet new challenges.

Channel creativity, build community, expect the best from everyone. 

Plant rows of dares, harvest bouquets of provocation, plow through trials and tribulations.

Today's food: California skillet at Village Inn, with the hollandaise sauce on the side 

Today's quote: What matters in life is not what happens to you but what you remember and how you remember it.” ― Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Today's exercise: celebrating finally writing my syllabi (they aren't even due until ten minutes before class actually starts and you can't change my mind on that)

First Tuesday of January

Today is a great day to practice leadership. 

Inspire, include, help, serve.

Plant rows of better futures, harvest bouquets of excellence, plow through procrastination.

Today's food: spaghetti and meatballs, but the healthy kind with all the veggies in the pasta and the sauce

Today's quote:  What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us. -Ralph Waldo Emerson

Today's tv binge: The Stand. I am completely addicted to post-pandemic stories included Last Man on Earth, Station 11 and the Handmaidens Tale. 




How Books get their Titles: What if Women Wrote History?


Republished from January 2, 2021

This isn't the place where I tell you about how 2020 sharpened many of my ideas of what a professor does and how they do it.  

 In case you were worried,  please know my classes went very smoothly and I  challenged students while extending grace and kindness in ways that I had not before considered. 

The single biggest blessing that 2020 brought me was quality time with my daughter who moved home in Spring during the early hours of the pandemic and has since spent day after day with me.  

Yes, we lived together for most of her life, and no there was nothing wrong between us but over a year or two we had less and less shared experiences and I let her drift off to learn what people need to learn at her age.

But then she moved back and the walls came down. 

We watched Handmaidens Tale and Grey Gardens and please don't make me list all the shows here but understand we found more and more common ground.  

We talk about hard things and silly things and make up a game where out of the blue one of us pretends the dog doesn't exist and asks the other one "why are you talking to the floor? are you OK?" 

 She makes me improve my decorating game.

I teach her the joys of lululemons.   

She reads my writings. 

I revel in her art and documentaries.  

We aren't the same but we see each other and try to learn from each other.  

One day we were almost leaving the house to pick something up and I stopped our dash out the door to say I need to jot something down that was really weighing on me.

 She gave me a second and before I wrote it I told her what I needed to write:

 I've always thought if I was a nice girl and was kind enough, I wouldn't have to deal with really hard things or big feelings.

I believed that if I just behaved right,  then difficult things would have to go away easily. 

We took a moment to talk about that unwritten rule that seems to be a "female" thing and where it might come from and how dangerous it is.  

She helped me find a pen.

I cannot account for all of our other hours together but one of the single most important moments of my recent history happened soon after that.  

Zoe and I were doing one of the things we do to pass the hours when someone  (older than either of us) jumped in our bubble to announce they had an idea that was question but actually mostly a statement and that was "What if women wrote history?"

A thousand years pass in the seconds that followed.  

First, I looked right at Zoe and in one blink ask her wordlessly,  "did you just hear what I heard heard?"

She blinked back "oh hell yeah" and exhaled and I'm pretty sure she was noticing how I was taking a second to respond.  

We've discussed the difference between reacting and responding and hoo boy I am taking a hard minute to let the universe give me words and not the howling the WTF!!!!! 

I feel boiling at the bottom of my stomach, far from my disciplined and unmoving mouth.  

I feel unseen and invalidated in a way I could never have expected. 

 I feel like all the years of behaving and being quiet and trying to shrink to exactly the right size to fit whatever keyhole I needed to fit in suddenly are coming apart.  

I question why I have been following my mentor's advice of not writing too many books out of concern no one would take me seriously.

I question why I let myself be lead to write a dissertation on male Cuban-American bankers when my interest was in enterprises formed by immigrant women to help other immigrant women.

I question why I happily accepted being how smart I was "for a girl" by Jesuit professors who were ill equipped to respect me as an academic or ever see me as becoming their equal. 

The question was a gift, and my response was a choice.  

I said, "What if that was an actual college major?

And the person asked, "Was that YOUR major?"

And I said, "Something like that....." and the conversation just ended.

When Zoe and I were alone again I said, "See that? That's how my books get their titles."

She told me to write it and here we are. 


First Monday of January

 Today is a day of uncertainty.  

Look into the fog, accept the unresolved, embrace the ambivalent haze.

Plant rows complexity, harvest bouquets of entanglement, plow through obstacles

Todays coffee: Nespresso espresso with dashes of sugar-free caramel, almond and hazelnut syrups, topped with foamed half and half.

Today’s exercise: Jumping rope, jumping through hoops, jumping into a new semester.

First Sunday of January

 Today is a day for adventure. Turn off screens, move things around, shine new lights.


Plant rows of motion, harvest bouquets of strength, plow through negativity.

Last night’s nightmare: continuing the streak of vivid dreaming with again losing my shoes — I lose my shoes in every fucking dream. Stranded outside target with no car and no mask (masks were in car I gave away) and all the numbers on my phone called the wrong people.

Todays food: fajitas tapatias 

Today’s exercise: raising eyebrows multiple times

First day of the Year

 Today is a gift, like the first steps after crossing the finish line of a marathon. Enjoy the view, embrace the present, be kind. 


Plant rows of plans, harvest bouquets of vision, plow through rocky terrain

Today’s food: seriously some adult in this house (me?) needs to go to the grocery soon. Ask me after that 

Last nights nightmare: a new one…. I dreamed was that I never finished my PhD. and was trying to figure how to re-enroll but also I was like so if I never finished my PhD why do people call me doctor…. have I been lying? It was really confusing. Also, I kept losing my shoes.