Saturday, September 22, 2007

Interview with paisley

The great paisley had an excellent post this week where she answered five interview questions sent to her by a fellow blogger. In turn, she offered to interview other bloggers who would be interested. I was game. Below are the five questions she sent me and my answers.

1. growing up in puerto rico,, i am wondering what you thought about the possibility of leaving all of that behind,, your family,, your culture,, life as you had come to know it,, and coming to the states?? was it a childhood dream?? or was it more or less a "career move"???

When I was growing up the thought of leaving the island for good never crossed my mind. I lived with my head buried in books about far away places: Agatha Christie novels, picture books about Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel frescoes, books about Pompeii or the discovery of the ruins of Troy, places I would love to visit one day. My dad had done graduate work at Stanford in Palo Alto. My mom had spent a year in Berlin on a a Fulbright scholarship. I envisioned a future where I would travel and maybe live in another country for a short time, but there was never a question in my mind as to the fact that I was going to live my life on the island. Where else would I be?

It's not like people did not leave the island. They did, in droves. But the largest migration waves in Puerto Rican history had been made up mostly of the poor and rurally displaced, coming to the US to get jobs in factories and in farms, being treated like dirt, like second-class citizens. My mom's brother lived in New York (he still does), and his life was full of struggles. A couple of aunts on my dad's side had worked abroad, but had managed to come back home. It just wasn't what I wanted for myself. The massive Diaspora of professionals of which I am a part had not yet taken place.

As a grownup I saw things differently. After a year living in Madison, Wisconsin while my ex went to grad school, I had a taste for something different and I liked it. Years later, I had just gone through a divorce and the island felt small and confining, my life there stagnant. I saw rising crime rates, overpopulation, nightmarish traffic, a public school system that left a lot to be desired. I saw salaries in Puerto Rico were too low compared to those in the US for comparable positions, that a degree in Liberal Arts did not really open many doors on the island, and those that it opened were not very wide. I was weary of the insular mentality that afflicted island Puerto Ricans, myself included.

I was working as an administrative assistant (in title, in reality I was doing much more than that), when I was presented with a wonderful opportunity: a relocation offer to come to Houston in a new position within the company. All moving expenses were paid and I would receive a $20K salary increase yearly. How could I refuse? I needed a change, a place that felt safer to raise my daughter, a place where I would earn a salary that would allow me to live decently. I did not think twice and took the offer. Some people have said I was very brave in doing this, leaving everything behind and coming here with no safety net, no network of family and friends. I never felt it was that great of a challenge. It was hard adjusting at first, but also very exciting. I don't regret it one bit. I have made a new life here and have had a second chance at building a family.

And yet, I still harbor the dream of one day going back home. As much as I like Texas, nothing compares to the dream of my homeland. No matter what, I will always feel like a stranger here. I conveniently forget that even at home I felt like a foreigner, and find myself longing for Puerto Rico in the same idealized way that all immigrants do. But the Puerto Rico I miss is not the present-day island. My Puerto Rico is forever frozen in time, back in the year 2000, when I left it to move to Texas. The island of my dreams may date from even earlier times, from my childhood in the 1970's and 1980's.

2. being involved in the corporate world as you are,, and thus realizing the importance of a having firm grasp on the english language,, i am wondering if your daughters are being taught english or spanish as their first language?? and regardless of your answer,, i am wondering why you made that decision...

When we moved here it was just Paula and me, and she was two years old and learning to speak Spanish. She picked up English quite quickly, and insisted in speaking to me in English because she knew I spoke the language. Paula is definitely bilingual, but her Spanish is more rudimentary than I would like. I need to get her some Spanish lessons so that she learns to read and write well. She wants to learn more. We have spoken about her maybe going to college in my old alma mater, the University of Puerto Rico. It is an excellent school and it is extremely affordable compared to schools in the US, but classes are in Spanish so she would need to be quite fluent. I want to help her learn Spanish well, so that when the time comes to choose a school, she has that option available. With rising college costs in the US, it's something to consider.

I will have a harder time teaching Spanish to Isabel, since she was born here and her daddy and grandparents do not speak Spanish. But I am hopeful. She understands certain expressions, lots of her baby terms are in Puerto Rican slang (she refers to her pacifier as a "bobo", for example) and whenever I can I make her watch TV in Spanish. Also, living in Texas there is more people speaking the language around her, in daycare for example. Now, if only I could get Gabe to learn Spanish I will be set.

Spanish is my native language. I am fluent in English. I studied French and Italian in college. I know some rudiments of Brazilian Portuguese. Being exposed to all these languages has enriched my life not just professionally, but on a deep personal level as well. I hope I can give my daughters the same opportunities I have had.

3. i want to know more about your affinity with dead poets.. i too have always been especially taken with the works borne of despair, tragedy, rage,, but i think that is also reflected in my demeanor and my work... you however seem to have a much more socially acceptable,, if i may use the phrase,, approach to life,, where does all the pain and anguish register with you??? how do you feel it effects your own writing??

I have struggled so much with this question in particular, paisley. It has made me reflect a lot about my life. I will attempt to answer it to the best of my ability.

As someone who grew up in an alcoholic household and has also struggled with Major Depression for years, I know how deep the abyss can get. Sadness is second nature to me, never far away, even when I am content, as I am now. Hence my affinity for people who are honest about their pain, who make something beautiful out of something so painful. Reading works by those poets, and by the memoirists I am partial to, not only affords me a glimpse into their souls, it helps me connect with my own.

When I was at my lowest, I simply lost my writing voice. No matter what, I could not write. This lasted for more than a decade. I lived inside my head for most of that period, trapped in concentric circles of anguished, obsessive thoughts. Sometimes I wonder what would have come out if I had been able to write through that. It would have been definitely darker and more tortuous than what you read from me now. I am glad I am over that.

I credit my family life with keeping me grounded. I had a large extended family when I was a child, something that unfortunately my girls do not get to experience. I went to elementary school at a very small school where everybody knew each other and where I was the straight-A teacher's pet. When I was a teenager, my brother took me under his wing. He was four years older than me and quite popular. I was the little sister who tagged along with him and his friends. So even my youthful experiments with drinking, smoking et al where done under controlled conditions. At home I was the golden child, the baby of the family. I grew up with the sense that I was someone special. This was good and bad, especially when you have an older sister with learning disabilities.

I loved my immediate family, my dad, mom and siblings. Granted we had our faults and dysfunctions (which were never talked about or even acknowledged for years), but my family meant everything to me. I grew up with an "us against the world" mentality. My dad may have been an alcoholic, but he tried to be the best dad he could be, and always provided well for us. Whenever we needed help, he would be there. Sometimes he would get drunk on whiskey at night and the undercurrent of violence that could flow at any moment scared me. Thankfully, he did not physically abuse us; he had enough restraint and no doubt remembered the abuse he suffered at the hands of his dad. No matter how drunk he got, or how bad things got at home, the next day, he would get up, shower and go to work. From him I learned to be responsible with my commitments regardless of my emotions, and that nobody would care about me and come to my aid like my family could. I also learned that even good people are extremely flawed.

My parents, especially my mother, had extremely high expectations of me. I did not want to disappoint them. I am very close to my mother. For years I was her rock, her emotional and psychological support. Her talk about committing suicide always scared me. But, like my dad, she was also a responsible, dependable person, always going to work, never doing anything crazy, regardless of the pain inside. We had times when things got a little rocky between us, especially after my dad died. She became even more dependent on me and I finally rebelled and tried to get a life of my own. But we have always been quite close. She has helped me a lot when I have needed help as an adult. She loves my kids. We talk every week. I am so glad she never followed through with her suicide fantasies.

All of this formed my character. Early in life I had to learn to rein in my own emotional turmoil, because there was no way I was going to act up and cause trouble. My parents had enough on their plate. I have a very strong sense of duty and a keen awareness that whatever I choose to do in life will have consequences on my loved ones. The upside is that I am the kind of person who keeps going no matter what, which makes me what my therapist called a highly-functioning depressed person. The downside is that I am too dependent on people's feedback, too eager to please. I always want to give people the benefit of the doubt and strive to understand the motivations for their actions, to put myself in their shoes. The problem with that is that sometimes I am not fully aware of the nature of my feelings and I bury them deep down, where they fester until they explode into episodes of misplaced rage or extreme sorrow, which mostly Gabe and girls have to put up with. I am open and friendly with people, and I like to be honest and true. But I also can be very guarded, and I really don't have many close friends.

4. as the mother of two young daughters,, what are the building blocks you hope to instill in them,, while they are young,, the things that you will know,, no matter what course they choose for themselves,, you have given them as a foundation on which to build their lives???

I want them to know that I will always love them and will be there for them, no matter what they do with their lives. Paula and I talk about this frequently. She feels compelled to test this by asking me questions to gage how far my allegiance would go. The other day she asked me if I would still love her if she kills someone. And I told her that I would be there to visit her in jail every week. Then she said not to worry, that she had no plans to kill anyone.

I want them to grow up with the same sense I had of being someone important and special. I want them to love themselves. They both have my genes, which carry the potential for suffering from depression. Isabel has it on her dad's side as well. I want them to feel good about who they are and have a healthy concept of self-worth, so that if the darkness ever shows up, they take it for what it is, just a chemical thing and not a character flaw.

I want my daughters to be tolerant, kind and compassionate people. I want them to be accepting of others. I want them to be open-minded and to know that no religion in this world has the answer to all the questions. Nobody has a monopoly on truth.

I want them to feel they can do anything they want if they work hard for it. There should be no glass ceiling above their heads. There should be no concerns about their ethnic roots. Other people will still be hung up on that, but I don't want them to even worry about it. While I don't want them to be naive, they should not handicap themselves with those kinds of thoughts. I also want them to know I don't expect them to be perfect or win a Nobel Prize. I just want them to make a good life for themselves. Last, I want them to always be close to their family, no matter what, because we are the ones who will see them at their best and at their worst and love them just the way they are.

5. what legacy do you hope to leave behind????

Healthy, well-adjusted children will be my main legacy. I really hope I get to accomplish that. Other than that, I think I will ephemeral. Somewhere in a library bookshelf there is a book that includes two short stories written by me. Maybe someone will read them for a class years after I die. Maybe not. I am OK with that. If I manage to ever write and publish something else, I will be happy. But for now, the blog is good enough for me.

If you are interested in doing an interview, here's how it works:


1. Leave me a comment saying "Interview me."
2. I will respond by emailing you five questions. I get to pick the questions.
3. You will update your blog with a post containing your answers to the questions and a link to my profile or blog as your interviewer.
4. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview someone else in the same post.
5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.


  1. oh ingrid... you did such a wonderful job... i was so enthralled in your answers i almost wish i had been able to ask more than five questions... thank you so much for the privilege of interviewing you.. this was a great experience for me.....

  2. I loved answering your questions, paisley. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to share a bit more about myself.

  3. Super-interesting read, Ingrid, very introspective, and well-fueled by Paisley's "deep-thoughts quesetions"! I learned a lot about you from this post. I just continue to admire you more and more!

    Now, INTERVIEW ME, it will be my post for tomorrow, but don't expect it to be nearly as profoud as yours! :-)

  4. Hermoso. Eres una mujer admirable. Muchos buenos deseos para ti y tu familia.


  5. Wow! There is so much here to comment on I don't even know where to begin. Just that I loved getting to know you better and am amazed at how much we have in common and the connection I feel.

    I love these interviews. I've done two of them already (and one day I have to pass on the favor and interview someone else). If you think there's anything left to ask me, go for it.

  6. Thanks for being so open and honest. I feel like I know you even better than I did before!