more about red glass
Sophie's adventures on her road trip were inspired by things that happened to me when I lived in Oaxaca and traveled around southern Mexico and Central America: watching the sunset with a cop, seeing a parade trampling through street art in Huajuapan, taking buses alone to Guatemala and crossing that creepy border, getting into sticky situations and being saved by kind strangers I met on buses, having spiritual cleanings with indigenous healers, discovering an ancient seemingly-dead-but-full-of-life Mixtec woman on the roadside, encountering teenage boy soldiers wielding machine guns and whistling at me, walking down a path in a forest hiding landmines, spending some surreal time in a small-town hospital with large breast sculptures on the walls, being called guera (white girl) or gringa fifty times a day, singing along to Stairway to Heaven with non-English speakers who had the lyrics memorized (in the oddest of circumstances)... and I could go on and on...
mr. lorenzo's story
In my mid-twenties, I befriended a Guatemalan man and a Bosnian woman, both refugees, both wonderful, warm people. As our friendship deepened, they shared with me glimpses of the violence they'd been through. The trauma had affected them physically and emotionally, yet they managed to overcome it by connecting with people and finding joy in small things-like the reflection of sunshine on pool water or the pattern of grain in a mesquite coffee table.
One day, my Guatemalan friend told me, "After the violencia, Laurita, I decided to let my heart fill with love, so there would be no room for anger. The people from my country who let their hearts fill with anger became sicop´tico." I'd never heard the word sicop´tico before, and I wondered about the definition. Later that day, alone in my house, I realized with a sudden chill what it meant. Psychopathic. My friend had chosen to be a kind human being, not a psychopath.
We all encounter traumas, some more devastating than others. I wondered if there comes a time when we have to make a choice: will we let our hearts fill with bitterness, anger, sadness, or will we fill our hearts with light and love?
In my mid-twenties, I tutored a wonderful Bosnian woman who had an amazing zest for life, who defied any stereotype I'd encountered of a trauma-stricken refugee. We cried together as she told me her house in Bosnia was now "kaput"; we giggled together as she told me the groserias (bad words) she'd learned from her Mexican co-workers at the factory; we smiled together as we sipped delicious, thick coffee on her porch; we grumbled together as we waded through red tape for her daughter's visa; we laughed together as she recounted her escapades with her Mexican friend teaching her to drive. (Somewhere in there I taught her a little English, too ) Once, I came early to our session, and saw her lying on a lounge chair by the dazzling turquoise pool, her tan skin soaking up the sunshine, eyes closed, face to the bright blue sky, a faint Buddha smile lighting up her face. I stood there, deeply touched, and tried to feel how the world felt to her.
Although Sophie is not a refugee with a traumatic past, she has plenty of struggles-deep insecurities and anxieties and panic attacks that she realizes could prevent her from really living her life. I dealt with similar issues in my teens and early twenties (well, okay, I still do, but not as bad ), and like Sophie, I found that opening myself up to new people and places and ideas gave me perspective on my own problems. And this gave me the power to change-to decide to live an adventurous, joyful life instead of a closed-up life of fear.
sophie and angel's story
Red Glass is about making connections with people who, on the surface, seem vastly different from you. I remember that in middle and high school, it wasn't easy to form friendships or romances with people outside of your social circle. I've noticed, though, that some of the most fascinating and meaningful relationships happen when you break the boundaries and forge a bond with someone very different from you. You may find that you have a connection on a much deeper level - and those are the best kind. In Red Glass, Sophie and Ángel discover that despite very different backgrounds, they are essential to each other on their journeys of healing.
Like my first book, Red Glass also deals with emotional issues faced by Mexican immigrants trying to create better lives for themselves and their children. When I lived in Tucson, about an hour from the border, I regularly read newspaper articles about immigrants dying from heat exhaustion or dehydration or exposure in the Sonoran desert on their journeys. Like Sophie, I often went hiking in the oven of a desert, and imagined how immigrants felt as they made their journeys.
Here in Fort Collins, I work with immigrants and have many friends who made the dangerous trip across the desert. When they go back to Mexico to visit their families, and then, a few months later, make the trip across the desert, I worry terribly about them. When they tell me about their brothers and sisters and children crossing over, I worry terribly with them. One thing about being a person prone to anxiety and panic attacks is that I'm very good at imagining dying. This tendency has felt like a burden most of my life, but in the realm of writing books and empathizing with others, I think it is a blessing. I drew on these feelings to create the character of Pablo, and to get inside Sophie's character as she bonds with Pablo.
Writing down stories is a mysterious endeavor. With Red Glass, I felt like I glimpsed things glinting underwater, and I had to dive down into that dark place and bring them to the surface, into the dazzling light. Then I had to arrange the images and bits of scene and facets of people and elusive feelings into a story like a mosaic, but a mosaic that led you somewhere, that spiraled into a center of truth. And then I had to polish, polish, polish, to let the treasures keep their shine so that other people-readers-could see the beauty that I saw.
I wrote pieces of the story from the point of view of different characters-Dika and Pablo and Sophie and Pablo's grandmother-in stream-of-consciousness prose poetry. And then I asked myself (or the universe) what the story wanted to be-how these characters' stories fit together into one whole story. It became clear that glass wanted to be the main unifying image, and that others-like the jungle, the river, the desert, white flowers, stars-were emerging as other images.
I began writing this book before dawn one morning in 2001 when I couldn't sleep because of a terrible cold. I sat in the blue glow of my computer screen, sniffling and sneezing and sipping peppermint tea, listening to the fish tank gurgle. I wrote about how a little boy in Tucson felt listening to the fish tank gurgle, remembering how his parents died crossing the desert. I spent a few weeks or months writing more bits and pieces, then tucking it away for months at a time, then taking it out to write a few more disjointed scenes in different voices, then tucking it away again.
I finally dared to show my writing group a few chapters, and they were enthusiastic. They loved the characters, but encouraged me to deepen them more, and further explore the relationships among all the characters. When I submitted the final revision of my first book, What the Moon Saw, to my editor in 2005, I was free to delve into other projects. I was working on some essays and short stories, but my writing group suggested I finish Red Glass. I felt that my draft was somewhat of a jumbled mess, but once I re-focused on the story, I discovered a structure-probably because it had been taking shape in my unconscious all these years. It was a mythological hero's journey structure, with each of the main characters engaging in his or her own quest. That framework helped me further shape the story into what it is now.
human rights issues
As a teenager, I was part of my high school's Amnesty International group. I heard survivors of torture and unjust imprisonment and other human rights abuses speak about their experiences. Their stories touched a deep place inside me. While I was wheezing at track practice, or sipping flat Bud Light at parties, or feeling confused about molarity in Chemistry class, my mind sometimes drifted to a dark prison cell somewhere. I thought of the people who, at that very moment, were being tortured because of their political beliefs or religion or ethnicity. Some of them were teenagers, like me. I tried to wrap my mind around how such cruelty could co-exist with such beauty (swimming in a green-shaded stream with my boyfriend, picnicking at the park with my friends, whizzing down the road in my tiny, chlorine-blue Toyota with the windows down and music blasting.)
Later, in my twenties, I had the opportunity to sit in on a court hearing of a political refugee from Colombia who had traveled to Mexico, then crossed the border illegally into Arizona. She was caught by Border Patrol and put into jail for several months until her trial for political asylum. Paramilitary forces had tortured and killed her husband, and later issued written death threats to her and her grown children, who had participated in anti-paramilitary protests after their father was brutally murdered. It was one of the most excrutiating experiences of my life to hear her crying and recounting the details of the tragedy, trying to prove that she and her sons would be killed if they stayed in Colombia. In the end, after a few harrowing hours, the judge granted her and her children asylum. I wondered what her life would be like in the U.S. and how she would recover emotionally and create a life for herself here.
I was in graduate school in Cultural Anthropology at the time, and when possible, I chose paper topics related to the ways that victims of political violence experience their traumas and find ways to recover. The articles and books I read for these projects gave me a deeper understanding of what Mr. Lorenzo, Ángel, and Dika went through.
In doing research for Red Glass, I read books and watched films about the violence in Guatemala and the former Yugoslavia. It was hard research. I spent a lot of the time crying. One common message I got from reading and hearing survivors' stories is that healing involves sharing experiences, finding out the truth, doing rituals to honor loved ones who didn't survive, connecting with compassionate people, and ultimately, letting bits of light and happiness - no matter how small-- into your life.
This book would not exist if I hadn't taken a journey similar to Sophie's. I thank that part of myself (or the universe) that spoke up and insisted I get over my fears and open up to adventure. I also thank the amazing people I've met on my journey who've showed me, over and over again, that this world really is saturated with kindness and beauty.