Healing, Latino culture, Mexican traditions, Writing

Heartbreak, Love Potions and Curanderas

If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it-Toni Morrison

Writing, especially novels is a long hard road. Sometimes people ask, “Are you finished yet?” “What’s happening with that story you told me about?”

Oh, that story. Well, three years later I’m finished with the Young Adult manuscript and I believe I’m ready for the next step: finding a literary agent or publisher to bring the novel to fruition.

The book is about an eighteen-year-old young woman named Maya who suffers from a heartbreak that is so bad that she, an honors student, ditches school and finds a job selling herbs and potions in a botanica (Botánica Sirena) opened by two curanderas.

Maya’s newfound knowledge of curanderismo (the art of healing) intrigues her but proves disastrous when her novice love potion backfires leaving her ex-boyfriend in love with her mother and her nana’s 75-year-old boyfriend in love with her. 

Her divorced parents are furious with Maya’s behavior as it disrupts the plan they had for her life: valedictorian, university, and a career in politics.

So Maya needs to make things right again but her novice potion is not something the local curanderas can help her with so off to Oaxaca she goes to meet with the Gran Curandera who might be able to help her with an antidote. The trip leads Maya to a journey of self-discovery.

But what is a curandera?

Curanderismo is a healing art and curanderas/os are healers in the Latin American world. For centuries, the Mexican culture has had curanderasSome cultures call these people shamans, or medicine men or women. Some people call them, incorrectly, witches.

Curandera practicing her healing

 

A curandera/o uses herbs, ointments, and cleansings to cure illness. They also conduct spiritual healings. Sage, sweetgrass, and copal are used to cleanse a house, a room, or a person of evil spirits and negative energy. 

A spiritual cleansing, limpia, and is often used by bunching together selected herbs into a small hand broom. This is whacked across the entire body and removes negative energy. After this, an egg is held above the head, moved around the body, and cracked open into a container which the curandera inspects.

Why an egg? It is believed that an egg has the natural ability to absorb energies around it. Finally, water is spit on the person. I know, sounds strange but this is what happens and there are some variances to the ritual dependent on what the client needs.

The Latin American community believes the curandera has a spiritual calling to heal and they are often descendants of other curanderas.

mayan, healer, maya
Margarita, Mayan Healer

The photo above shows a Mayan healer in Mexico. In the U.S and my experience, the curanderas were usually grandmothers wearing aprons or elderly men in work clothes who conducted their ritual healings in their home or garage. Now they are more likely to work in a botanica which sells candles, oils, herbs, and other items such as amulets.

Using the services of a healer involves a small fee or a barter. This is probably why most Mexicans and Mexican Americans used a curandera. Either a doctor visit was too expensive, wasn’t available, or the doctor dismissed an ailment. 

When I was a kid, most mothers knew of a local curandera. When a mother thought her baby was ill a visit to the curandera would be in order; the likely culprit was mal ojo (the evil eye).

In some countries like El Salvador the infant would be given a red bracelet to ward off mal ojo; in Mexico, the curandera passes an egg over the baby’s head and body.

Herbal remedies from curanderas were brought to the U.S (many were in the Southwest before it was part of the US) and these cures were passed on for generations.

When we were kids my mother didn’t take us to a curandera but she used Vicks Vaporub for fevers and colds. If we vomited or had a stomach ache we drank 7-Up or any other lemon-lime soda. There was a special tea for stomachaches and periods, a rice water mixture for diarrhea, and a few dozen more for colds, coughs, and other illnesses.

The use of candles and ointments are also part of curanderismo. In our house, there was always some candle burning for some ailment, loss, or protection.

The subject of curanderismo is one that has fascinated me so much I had to write a novel featuring curanderas. The story also has alibrejes (spirit animals) and other magic realism elements. Take a look at my storyboard for this novel.

The blue Jaguar is a spirit animal in the novel

And curanderas are just the tip of the iceberg of Mexican healers. There are also specialists for massage and herbs. But that is for another post.

There are websites such as Erika Buenaflor who can give you more information on curanderismo as well as other healing practices. She is a modern day curandera. I wish I had known about her site three years ago when I started my writing project but better late than never.

 

 

Disclaimer: This post is not suggesting you use a curandera in lieu of a medical practitioner; that is your own decision.

 

 

 

resort at Cozumel, Mexico
Books, Travel, Writing

Writing My Way to the Island of Cozumel

resort at Cozumel, Mexico
Dolphinaris Cozumel Island Mexico, photo by Susanne Davidson, flickr.com

 

I’m feeling optimistic for a better month on this first day of August. Maybe by day 31 it will be a different story, but for today I’ll take optimism.

July was a rough month for a lot of people and for the nation. Some people unplugged, some dug in, some lamented and others did all three. I’m somewhere in between, with a sprinkling of ‘counting my blessings’.  

During the last two weeks, I’ve read numerous blogs and I’m surprised how some writers can put out daily posts. Most of my writing has been confined to revising a work in progress, completing a short story for submission to an anthology, and reworking my query for Brenda Drake’s next #PitchWars2016.* And in between that, organizing our writer’s group retreat for October. I’m exhausted.

My work in progress is about a young woman who works at a botanica, or herb remedy shop, and concocts a ‘love potion’ that goes awry. Parts of the novel take place in Oaxaca, Mexico. I haven’t been there but I’m seriously considering taking a trip, especially after researching the pyramids and the city itself. I’ve added several pins to my Pinterest storyboard.

I’m working feverishly to get through another round of revisions so I can relax on a trip to Cozumel, an island off the Yucatan peninsula in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo. I love that name, Quintana Roo. I understand that Joan Didion gave her daughter that name.

The sea beckons, although I can’t swim. Maybe they have adult floaties so I can pretend to snorkel at the reefs and see the giant turtles. Or I can sit on the beach with a fish taco and a drink.

I plan to climb the pyramids of Tulum and explore the San Gervasio Mayan Archaeological site, although this particular pyramid looks eerie.

Tulum Pyramid, photo by K. Bauscardt on flickr.com
Tulum Pyramid, photo by K. Bauscardt on flickr.com

For sure, I’ll take the two books I’m reading, “Pierced By The Sun,” by Laura Esquivel. It’s very different than “Like Water For Chocolate.” The other novel is by Helena Maria Viramontes, “Moths and Other Stories.” I’ve read two of the author’s other books and find her writing visceral and engaging. Not anything I’d expect from a Cornell University professor. 

And in the evening, I’ll put on my dressy sandals and dance to the light of the moon (or the overhead lights, whichever comes first).

So after this short post, I’m back to re-writing so that in a couple of weeks I can enjoy this view:

Cozumel sunset, photo by Cristopher Gonzalez
Cozumel sunset, photo by Cristopher Gonzalez

 

*If you’re a writer of Middle Grade to Adult fiction, this pitch opportunity may be for you.

See you at the end of the month. Be well. 

 

 

Healing, Latino culture, Loss, Mexican traditions, Writing

Do You Know How to Use a Curandera?

Mexican Seri Woman Crossing the Desert
Mexican Seri Woman Crossing the Desert photo by Gabriela Iturbides

Do you know how to naturally heal fright or trauma? No? More about susto later.

During the last two years, I’ve worked on a story about an ambitious twenty-one-year-old with a ten-year plan to become a State Senator who drops out of college because of a broken engagement. She meets a grandmother and granddaughter who are curanderas. Although she doesn’t believe in this Mexican tradition of healers she takes matters into her own hands and makes a love potion. When the wrong people, her mother, ex-fiancé and others, drink the potion and fall in love she has to discover an antidote. Her search takes her to Oaxaca, Mexico to meet a curandera who may be able to help her heal her susto and give her the correct potion to make things right.

city of Puebla, Mexico
Puebla, Oaxaca, Mexico photo by Russ Bowling, unsplash.com

When I was a kid, every mother knew of a local curandera. Using their services was normal. For centuries, the Mexican culture has had curanderasSome cultures may call these people shamans, or medicine men or women. Some people call them, incorrectly, witches. 

Curanderismo is a healing art and a curandera/o is a healer who uses herbs, ointments, massage, and cleansings to cure an illness and do spiritual and psychic healings. They and the community believe the curandera has a spiritual calling to heal. They are often descendants of other curanderas.

mayan, healer, maya
Margarita, Mayan Healer

The photo above shows a Mayan healer in Mexico. In the U.S, and my experience, the curanderas were usually grandmothers wearing aprons or elderly men in work clothes who conducted their ritual healings in their home or garage. Now they are more likely to work in a botanica which sells candles, oils, herbs, and other items such as amulets.

Using the services of a healer involved a small fee or a barter. This is probably why most Mexicans and Mexican Americans used a curandera. Either a doctor visit was too expensive, wasn’t available, or the doctor dismissed an ailment. Here’s a link to a doctor who discusses traditional remedies.  

But back to healing fright or susto. It seems there are degrees of susto. A person can be suffering a shock, an emotional trauma, or be in such a state of anxiety that they can’t function; which is the case with my main character in my novel in progress. When this happens, they are said to be suffering from susto.

A spiritual cleansing, limpia,  is often used by taking a bunch of selected herbs made into a small hand broom which is whacked across the entire body. This removes negative energy. After this, an egg is held above the head, moved around the body, and cracked open into a container which the curandera inspects. Why an egg? It is believed that an egg has the natural ability to absorb engergies around it. Finally, water is spit on the person. I know, sounds strange but this is what happens.

Curanderismo is not only a Mexican tradition but one that is found in most of Latin America and the Carribean. The subject is one that has fascinated me so much I had to write a novel (work-in-progress) featuring curanderas. Take a look at my storyboard for this novel. You may come across some interesting information.

Disclaimer: This post is not suggesting you use a curandera in lieu of a medical practitioner; that is your own decision.

 

 

 

Latina, Latino culture, Mexican traditions, NaNoWriMo, NaNoWriMo Music, Strong Women, Writing

Butt in Chair, Hands on Keys for 30 Days of #NaNoWriMo

I Wrote 50,000+ words in 30 days and lived.
I Wrote 50,000+ words in 30 days and lived.

 

Like thousands of other writers across the globe, I did a BICHOK (Butt In Chair, Hands On Keys) for 30 days.

Instead of being a complete pantser (writing by the seat of my pantalones), as I have in the past, I did a half and half of pantser and plotter. Like having one leg into my jeans.

The plotter part consisted of character exploration by journaling, creation of a Pinterest storyboard, and created a logline and premise for the story.

After 30 days, I have a story in a first draft mess which finishes around the 3/4 point. Which means I’ll need 15,000-20,000 more words to complete this New Adult story. 

What helped me to write faster was what I learned in a free online workshop from the University of Iowa’s How Writer’s Write Fiction Course. This is a combination of video, reading, and quizzes, which you can take for credit or no credit.

If you take the course for credit there are writing assignments and peer reviews. A certificate of completion is available for $50 if you meet all the requirements. The course is well worth your time.

An exercise I found helpful to start my NaNo writing was to ask my characters questions and write the answers out in longhand in my journal:

1-Who am I?

2- Who do I love? Who or what do I hate?

3-What do I want the most?

4-Who or what do I fear?

My story has three generations of Mexican American women so I needed to explore all of them through these questions.

There are hundreds of character sketch templates available, but I found that these questions opened my mind up to think about emotional issues, not just physical characteristics.

I used most of the answers in the character exploration to type onto my first pages. (Yes, I counted the words for NaNo). This was helpful so I could re-read what I wrote and stay in character.

The other motivator I used, for the first time, was music. Since the main character has just gone through a broken engagement at 22 years old (many moons past for me) I listened to music from Lana Del Rey and Adele.

One of the locations in the novel is Oaxaca, Mexico where the main character visits a curandera (traditional Mexican healer). I selected some indigenous music to help me when I wrote scenes about walking the pyramids of Monte Albán and listened to music by Lila Downs for cafe scenes.

Singer/Musician/Songwriter Lila Downs, born in Oaxaca, Mexico
Singer/Musician/Songwriter Lila Downs, born in Oaxaca, Mexico

I wish I had printed out my Pinterest storyboard since I found myself going back to the photos every time I sat down to write (distracting and time-consuming). The colors, people, foods, and objects helped to center me as I wrote.

For NaNoWriMo 2015, as for any of my next novels, preparation is the key: premise, concept, logline for the story. Explore the characters through journaling. Listen to music for help to create the setting. Create a storyboard of interesting colorful photos to stimulate the eye. And find a consistent time to BICHOK.

Share your writing tips. So how did you NaNo this year?