Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

“The Long Up” by Kay Ryan

Sunday, December 30th, 2018

I’d never heard of poet Kay Ryan when I picked up a copy of “The New Yorker” and read her poem “The Long Up” while sitting in a waiting room for one of our seemingly never-ending therapy appointments. This was 2011, when Ryan already had been named the sixteenth United States Poet Laureate and awarded the Pulitzer Prize. In those years, I didn’t know of Ryan’s accomplishments, and how could I, when my days and months were consumed with searching for whatever it was that would help peace descend on my house, my family, my kids. I couldn’t dedicate energy or time to anything except placing one foot in front of another to get through another day.

Everyone says teenage years are the hardest, but for us, it was the beginning: those early years when I didn’t understand my children or their internal journeys, so unlike anything I’d ever seen or experienced or heard of.

On that afternoon in the waiting room when I picked up the magazine, Kay Ryan’s simple, vivid lines soared off the page and landed straight in my soul. I dug out my journal from my purse—the journal in which my most constant refrain was a scratched and repeated “I can’t do this!! Help me!!!,” underline, underline—and copied the poem in its entirety. Her words gave me hope.

On the eve of 2019, Ryan’s poem may resonate in your soul, too. I’m with you in spirit. Xoxoxo

“The Long Up”

By Kay Ryan

You can see the
land flattening out
near the top. The
long up you’ve faced
is going to stop.
Your eyes feast
on space instead
of pitch as though
you’d been released.
The measured pace
you’ve kept corrupts
with fifty yards
to do—fifty
times as hard
against the blue.


Two children die in border custody

Saturday, December 29th, 2018

There is so much information embedded in this NY Times article by Elizabeth Malkin about the Guatemalan government’s muted response to the now two deaths of children in US Border Custody it’s almost hard to absorb it all. Excerpts:

“The reason for the government’s reticence… is … Guatemala’s centuries-old discrimination against its indigenous Mayan communities.”

President Trump has threatened to cut aid to Guatemala if President Jimmy Morales doesn’t stem the flow of migrants to the US. President Morales is reported to be less concerned with decreased aid from the US than with US support for his ousting CICIG (the international anti-corruption tribunal). To that end, says the NYT:

“For more than a year, Mr. Morales and his government have been carefully developing allies in Washington, nurturing ties with evangelical groups and conservative legislators.”

The Times reports that the deaths of two children following their dangerous migration to the US have underscored the

deep failures of successive Guatemalan governments to improve conditions for the country’s poorest people, particularly the indigenous Maya who make up at least 40 percent of the population.”

Says Anita Isaacs, a Guatemala scholar at Haverford College:

“We have a de facto apartheid society. This country continues to be almost as racist as it has been historically… These lives are worth less, and these people are fundamentally invisible.”

Why is this true? For many reasons, but one is that the land on which the indigenous have lived and farmed for generations is valuable and coveted. Recently, palm oil plantations have begun encroaching on properties in order to develop them. Says Anita Isaacs:

“Historically, these communities have been evicted to make way for cash crops like sugar or coffee. What better form of eviction than them leaving the country completely? That’s a major reason why the Guatemalan government doesn’t care.”

Read the entire article here





Opinion piece in SF Chronicle

Friday, December 21st, 2018

Today I’m thrilled that the San Francisco Chronicle published my essay, “Jakelin was also a brave immigrant.

Thank you for reading. You encourage me to raise my voice.


Jakelin Caal Maquin

Wednesday, December 19th, 2018

Many of us know the world of Jakelin Caal Maquin because our children are from villages like hers in Alta Verapaz. Their families are Q’eqchi, K’iche, Kaqchikel, Ixil, Mam, Tz’utujil, Chuj, Garifuna. They struggle in ways hard for us to witness, much less understand: The daily walks to the public pila for clean drinking water, the scarcity of protein, the homes that get washed away during rainy season, the inability to attend school due to the need to work, the lack of jobs beyond subsistence farming, the absence of any viable and lasting opportunity.

I read this paragraph in the New York Times and almost weep:

On paper, Guatemala is not poor; the World Bank classifies it as an upper-middle income country. But those statistics mask profound inequalities, the legacy of centuries of racism and economic control by powerful groups that even now resist attempts to soften the sharp edges of the country’s systemic discrimination.

We see it when we visit: the endless, crushing, inescapable poverty that defines the lives of indigenous Guatemalans. We hear it from our families, who tell us their only chance for a better life is to leave the country they love.

When I read stories like Jakelin’s, I remember my grandparents, who sailed across the Atlantic Ocean from Scotland and Ireland to America so their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren would not go hungry and suffer the way they did. My father was the first of his strain of the O’Dwyer clan born on US soil. Today, I benefit from their brave sacrifices.

My heart breaks for the soul of Jakelin, for her mother and father, her siblings and cousins. Their family is my family. We are one.



Writing prompt

Monday, December 10th, 2018

Today during a seminar at my Antioch MFA program–Novels and Memoirs in Verse for Young Readers, with Gayle Brandeis–we were given the writing prompt: “When Was the Last Time You Felt Free.” I wrote this:


A Time I Felt Free


We shut ourselves in the TV room

with the big screen and two

buckets of popcorn.

My little brother and me and

five other kids from the adoption group.


We don’t have to talk about


or our


Or dreams that come to us at night.


Let’s watch Fantastic Beasts, Black Panther, or Oceans 10.

Anything but LION,

where the boy goes back to India twenty-five years later

to find his mother.

The first one.

The one he lost.



Sunday, December 9th, 2018

This week, I learned the terrible news that Zulma Subillaga Dubon was shot to death in Guatemala, along with her husband. Zulma was the in-country attorney for Mateo’s adoption in 2005. We originally met in 2003, when Zulma advised me during Olivia’s adoption—free of charge, just because she saw I needed help. Zulma stopped facilitating adoptions some months before the shut down in December 2007. She was a woman of great integrity.

Over the years, I’d lost touch with Zulma, to my now-eternal regret. I wish she’d seen the wonderful young man Mateo is becoming. I wish I’d told her again how much her kindness meant to me.

I’ll remember Zulma with tremendous fondness–her laugh and bright eyes, her fierce intelligence, her determination to get a job done. She was a beautiful, generous soul.

Zulma, may you rest in peace.


“Instant Family” love.

Friday, November 30th, 2018

To celebrate my finishing my MFA thesis project, I treated myself to the film, Instant Family.

I started crying about ten minutes in and basically never stopped.

Yep. Loved it.


Mamalita is 8

Wednesday, November 28th, 2018

My memoir, Mamalita, was published in November 2010, eight years ago this month. A lot has happened since then: My daughter, Olivia—whose adoption is the subject of Mamalita–is now a young woman of 16. Her brother, my son Mateo, is 14. Both my parents have died. Olivia’s older half-sister in Guatemala is the mother of two children. Olivia has attended four different schools. Mateo has transferred schools once.

I’ve met countless people touched by adoption, both in person and virtually, including (maybe) you if you’re reading this. “Adoption people” are my tribe, in a deep, lasting way I never expected. We speak the same language, a shorthand that feels sometimes to belong only to us. No explanations are necessary. There’s a comfort to that.

A few years after Mamalita was published, I began jotting down other ideas for stories. Adoption remained my obsession, but after penning a memoir and many essays, I realized some truths can only be expressed through fiction. One day, I opened a new Word document on my laptop and wrote: “Three trucks carried the soldiers up the dark mountain road to San Rolando. They rolled past corn and bean fields, past grazing pastures for cows and sheep, past rows of adobe houses with thatched roofs.”

The scene had come to me in a recurring dream, with details so vivid I felt I’d lived them.

In 18 days, I’ll graduate with an MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch LA. My thesis project opens with the San Rolando scene and contains the first 140 pages of my novel. The full novel draft contains 320 pages or 90,500 words.

I can’t predict if the novel will ever be published. All I know is I wrote the best book I could. I’m happy to have finished.

Thank you for walking this journey with me. xoxo


Lake Atitlan tragedy

Friday, November 16th, 2018


A re-post written by my friend, Caroline Callison Tiffin, who knows Guatemala very well. On Wednesday, a boat sank on Lake Atitlan, with 17 people on board. Ten were rescued; three drowned, and four remain missing and are presumed dead. I’ll echo Caroline’s last sentence: “Enjoy the beautiful lake, but be safe!” From Caroline:

Adoptive families often ask about safety in traveling to Guatemala. I tell them it’s generally quite safe for tourists who use common sense and listen to the advice of their guide if they have one. I think most questions relate the the possibility of being a victim of crime but sometimes danger lurks in more unexpected situations: on Wednesday a tragedy occurred on Lake Atitlan, a popular tourist destination, when a boat traveling from Santiago Atitlan to Panajachel sank with 17 on board. Ten were rescued, 3 perished and 4 more were missing and presumed dead including a doctor from the Hospitalito in Santiago. He called colleagues to report the boat was going down but it is thought he may have drowned trying to save another before rescue teams could arrive.

The lake is not to be missed but many boats lack sufficient/adequate life preservers. The water is very cold and very deep. For my groups I have a local resident and friend charter all our lake excursions with a friend of his who runs safe boats. Although the law requires a life preserver for each passenger this is very often ignored. I understand there were way fewer than 17 on the boat that sank.

I suggest you book any lake excursions with a legitimate travel agency. Even then some pilots will operate their boats while intoxicated and on non-charters will grossly overload their boats to maximize profit. As early as noon on some days the afternoon Xocomil winds begin and on days like Wednesday when the wind is extra fierce an overloaded boat can capsize. If you suspect the pilot is impaired and or if you think the boat is overloaded, get off! Have everyone on your group put on a life preserver before leaving the dock – if there aren’t enough, get off! Enjoy the beautiful lake but be safe!


National Adoption Awareness Month

Friday, November 9th, 2018

November is National Adoption Awareness Month and today I’m thinking of ways adoption has affected me personally.

I was completely under-prepared to be an adoptive mother. Even if someone had tried to tell me what to expect—and no one did—I would not have understood adoption’s complexity until I was inside it, and inside it for many years.

Adoption is the most complicated relationship I’ve ever been involved in. And every year, as my children grow and move into the world more independently, it becomes more complicated.

I never imagined that the country of Guatemala—its history, politics, people—would inhabit my brain the way that it has. Maybe I should have anticipated this, but I didn’t.

At its root, adoption is loss. Loss is within, behind, beneath everything in adoption. It never goes away. Understanding that at a bone-deep level has helped me evolve in my role as mother to my children.

Adoption is also trust, hope, effort, and steadfastness.

Adoption is family, close and distant. Adoption is love.