Thursday, November 28, 2013

My First Thanksgiving


Today is Thanksgiving, a major American holiday.

I was thinking earlier that I don't seem to make as big a deal out of holidays as everyone around me.  Don't get me wrong, I don't think holidays are bad. 

But, in processing my thoughts and feelings about holidays, I realize that I really had no family structure growing up to show me the "American Way" or "how holidays are supposed to be done".  That's just a fact.  I am a first-generation Hispanic-American.

 A.K.A. --- my family is from Mexico, and my parents had no idea how to do things "the American Way."

I realize that this has made my experience a bit different from that of my friends and other loved ones in my life.

The first Thanksgiving we celebrated as a family was when I was in 5th grade.  It consisted of my sister, my father, and myself.

Basically, what happened was that my sister and I had spent enough years in elementary school, surrounded by children whose family structure was more traditional than ours.  We saw them and heard them every year talking about all the holidays, so of course, after a while we started asking questions---and telling our dad how it was "supposed to be".

So, in 5th grade, I told my dad, "We need to buy a turkey.  We need to cook a Thanksgiving dinner.  We are supposed to make something called stuffing.  And mashed potatoes."

My dad wanted to do anything that would make his girls happy, so went to the store and bought a turkey, a box of stuffing (don't know how I figured out what it looked like), and a box of instant mashed potatoes.

My dad helped me soak the turkey overnight in Sunny Delight orange juice.  Yes, really.
I cooked the rest of the meal.  Yup, as a 5th grader.  Not because my dad couldn't cook, and he did help a little, but because I watched lots of Food Network cooking shows at this point and also could read the English directions on the boxes.  :)

We have Polaroid pictures of the meal. 

I knew we were supposed to dress up, so I put on my favorite dress.  I knew we were supposed to pray, and I knew how to say the Our Father because I was taking Catholic CCD classes (a story all on its own--another instance of me saying, "Daddy, we are supposed to be doing this by now..."), so I made us all hold hands and I said the prayer.

I don't remember any other specific Thanksgivings in our household growing up.  I'm sure there were one or two more until I graduated from high school.  Maybe it's because Mexican families are bigger on Christmas, and this was when my grandmother would visit and we would do all of our big cooking (read: TAMALES!).

Seven of the eight Thanksgivings in my early adulthood have been celebrated with a meal and with a group of people.  I have spent time with different friends, seeing how different people celebrate the same holiday.  It's been a learning experience.  The family unit always amazes me.  It's astounding to show up as a guest to a dinner and have my friend tell me, "I'm related to every single person in this room."  I have never known anything like that.

I didn't grow up with a big family--just my mom, dad, sister, and I.  My maternal grandmother, aunt, uncle, and younger cousin lived in Mexicali, Baja California, Mexico--an hour away from my hometown in Arizona.  We visited them often, but that's as big as my family got.  I have never met any of my dad's side of the family.  They are deep down in Mexico, and I've never been.  (Yes, this is a project on my Near Future List)

I guess in telling my story, I hope to encourage people to remember that there are individuals out there who truly don't know what a family or a family gathering is "supposed to look like", and for different reasons.  I want people to remember that we're all different.  I want people to remember that not everyone has experienced everything we think they have experienced, or everything we think they "should have experienced by now".  I want us to stop putting each other in boxes.  I want us to start embracing other people's stories and backgrounds, not just pretend to understand.  I want us to not feel sorry for people like me: "Oh, poor her! She never had pumpkin pie as a child!"  It's not the end of the world.  Not everyone grows up the same way. 

We all end up on the same journey.

Monday, November 25, 2013

A Letter to My Body


Dear Body,

           I wanted to take a little bit of time and express some of my thoughts to you.  I feel like I’ve been suppressing them for a long time, and I think it’s really time to get them out.

            I can’t lie; I’ve never really communicated with you before.  I always just kept everything inside and thought that my thoughts meant nothing.  I thought it was all better left unsaid.

            You’ve confused me, Body. 

            I have lots of memories of moments when I wasn’t very happy with you.  Like in 4th grade, when you decided you wanted to be 5’4” tall and weight 133 pounds.  That was awkward, but I didn’t say anything; I just went with it.  Then in sixth grade, you wanted to weigh 186 pounds! But then, you decided you wanted to run all those laps at P.E. and prove to all the other Bodies that you could do it.

            In 7th grade, when I wanted to play basketball, you didn’t like it.  You wouldn’t get it together and figure it out, and I didn’t make the team, and I was upset.  But then, I was able to throw the shotput pretty well.  And play soccer.  So, there you went, changing your mind again.

            In 8th grade, in modeling school, they tried to tell me that “if maybe I lost some weight” I could better fit into their hourglass figure they were describing.

            Then, freshman year of high school, I tried to control you.  I thought you were too big, and that we couldn’t achieve what I wanted if I didn’t control you.  So I starved you of carbohydrates for a little while, and I took those diet pills to make you burn fat.  I’m sorry about that.  I knew by the way you responded that this particular pattern was not going to be something permanent because it was not okay with you at all.

            I also wanted to apologize for all the times I put you down in high school.  It was really hard to not compare myself to all the other Bodies around me, and I think I was so used to everyone being smaller than us, that I automatically thought you were the biggest Body around.  I may have eaten right and treated you well with exercise and training hard in the weight room, but I did not send my Brain good messages about you.  I admit that I always had really negative conversations about you without you knowing.

            I have to say that I didn’t feel comfortable with you until college.  And thank you, by the way, for getting me into college, and for getting the majority of my tuition paid for.  Because you obeyed all the demands I put on you in my athletic training, I got that track and field scholarship, and even a partial cross-country one.  You continued to exceed my expectations, and those of everyone around us.  I don’t think I’ve thanked you enough for that.

            When you decided it was time to be an adult though, in my junior year of college, I have to say you surprised me and angered me quite a bit.  You changed, Body.  You made everything more difficult.  I couldn’t run as fast as I used to, and I had to buy new clothes.  I swore I could feel everyone judging me.  I didn’t want to let go of everything you and I had shared, but you forced me into accepting the way things were going to be now.  I think I’m still kind of angry with you about that.

            After college was over, I was so relieved.  I didn’t have to push you as hard, so I stopped pushing.  I let us get lazy.  This is where I really messed up.  I fooled myself into thinking that we could get by with just getting by, and your responses showed me just how wrong I was. 

            You started attacking me more than ever; the anxiety attacks that happened, the extra weight that came around, the thyroid problems.  All the signs were you screaming at me, as loudly as you could, “Hey! Pay attention! You’re messing me up! I don’t feel good!”

            And I just ignored you. 

            It took me a year and a half, but I woke up.  I started making efforts, and talking to you more kindly, and accepting what you were going to look like.  I set different goals, and I started to come to peace with the fact that you are the only Body I will ever have, and that you can be my best friend, or my worst enemy.

            Even as I write this letter, I can see images of myself in 2nd grade with you, feeling insecure about how tall you were, or in 3rd grade, feeling so much bigger than anyone else.  I realize now that my slumber, my period of ignorance regarding the way I was treating you lasted much longer than a year and a half.  It lasted 18 years.  And I’m finally tired of comparing you to all the other Bodies out there.  I want us to have a good relationship, a loving, positive one.

            All these years, Body, I’ve always had some reason or another for wanting you to change.  But now I want you to know that I’m the one willing to change.  I’m willing to control my thoughts so they are positive ones, and I’m willing to nourish you and protect you with the right foods in order to keep you functioning right.  I’m willing to stop comparing you to other Bodies unfairly, and to stop having demanding expectations of you. 

            Thank you for all the healthy years you’ve given me that I’ve always been too ignorant to see.  Thank you for every mile you’ve run for me, every pound you’ve lifted in the weight room, every pushup, sit-up, and jumping jack you’ve done; thank you for your functioning arms and legs, and for the concentration you put into 10 years of coordination necessary for throwing the shotput.  Thanks for being strong and healthy, even when I didn’t treat you the best.  Thank you for always trying your best. 

            I hope you can accept my apology, and that we can move forward from here.  I hope that the next 18 years and beyond will be filled with less hateful thoughts and words.  I hope you can forgive me and trust me to treat you better from now on. 

            Thanks for listening to me and letting me get all of that out.  I’ll make sure that I communicate with you a lot more from now on.


            Talk soon,


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Road to Orlando: Dress Rehearsal


So, the Orlando Adventure continues.

We have had our monthly workshops, photo shoot, and this last weekend—our final dress rehearsal.

We went through our material for each different competition (which for me are TV Commercial, Monologue, Cold Read, Creative Runway, Photography, and Singing), and also got our final tidbits of information from our coaches. 

We got to practice mock interviews and callback decorum.  I really paid attention to detail and figured out that I will be going to mock interviews and callbacks for three different groups of people: casting directors for TV/movies; agents for modeling; and theatre and music people for singing.  So, I am working on picking out the pertinent info about myself for each category, so that I can individualize each interview and maximize my marketability for each one.

I got to do runway walking with the Fashion girls! This was a big deal because I am not a Fashion Girl.  I am a Commercial Girl.  I technically can fit into the Female Fashion Plus category (praise God for good hip measurements), but then everything I do at the showcase would be scored or looked at in comparison to the rest of the Fashion Plus Girls, many of which are about a size 9.  So my official category is Female Commercial, but I picked each competition very strategically.  I wanted a chance to walk the runway, so I chose Creative Runway.  All my acting will give me exposure in that area, plus I get to sing.  I did the Photography Competition because I know I photograph well, and have been taking pictures since I was 14.

So when I got to walk with the Fashion Girls, our Fashion Director man said, “Gilda, you need to learn how to do this, in case you get picked up by some of those Plus Agents.”  I felt pretty special getting to mix in with them!  And I feel very ready to meet any and all of those Plus Agents who may be wanting me to do some print or commercial work for them. 

Many people have asked me, “So what do you hope to gain out of all this?”

Well, honestly, I get kind of overwhelmed when I think of the possibilities. 

One of my goals is to land a TV or movie role.  I would also like to be some sort of spokeswoman, so I can use my English and Spanish.

Now, I know Orlando may not turn into some Overnight Success thing for me.  It might.  But if it doesn’t, it is the beginning of a series of stepping stones for me.

And I am ready and willing to climb the ladder. 

My Orlando To-Do List is slowly shrinking.  I am now working on minute details, like planning for and budgeting for car parking at airports, food and incidentals, and securing a fantastic makeover on my iPod Nano for the trip.  J  I also still have to complete my Creative Runway outfit, and find some jewelry for my singing outfit.  And, of course, I must continue to run through my monologue, song, and TV commercial, as well as have backups ready in case agents ask me to pull another out of sleeve.

And, I am trying desperately to find the discipline to exercise daily, instead of sporadically, and keep up with my writing and reading.

I am so ready to get on that plane and start what will hopefully be an exciting new phase of my life!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Earth Wanderer


I grew up on the road, kind of.  My parents worked for a big-name agriculture company out West, and we followed the harvest.  During the summers and fall, we were in Salinas, California; winters and springs were in Yuma, Arizona.  The drive time between the two cities is somewhere between 8 and 11 hours.

I learned to be a very calm road-trippin’ child.  Packing up the car every season became a familiar ritual.

I remember staring out the window a lot.  I used to play a game with the rain drops on the windows, watching them to see which one would “win the race” to the bottom of the window.  I read every road sign: those about mileage, tourist traps, construction zones, speed limits – all of them. 

I memorized the places we stopped along the way, our familiar “rest areas”; the Mcdonald’s just outside L.A., that giant tree somewhere near Paso Robles, nestled amidst the rolling hills of what must be equivalent to prairies out West.

I drank in scenery from all of our family drives: the rows of lettuce fields on the way out to my dad’s “office”, the city parks, the trees along the freeway.  My favorites were the drives up to Monterey, Watsonville, Castroville, and Santa Cruz.  I now know these drives were essentially out to and up the California coast. 

In California, I learned to love the ocean.  I learned to recognize the feeling of the almost-too-cool breeze up on the rocks.  I memorized what the sun felt like beating down on my bare skin on warm days down in the sand. 

In Arizona, I learned to watch sunsets.  I became familiar with people of all different skin tones and cultures.  I was accustomed to hearing at least two languages everywhere I went, sometimes sprinkled with some Korean or some Middle-Eastern dialect. 

The music and food I grew up with were reflective of the cultural whirlpool I grew up in. 

I always used to hear my mother say she was “ready to go somewhere exciting” or “wanting to see something different”. 

I was used to being on the move, and to being around different kinds of people and culture.

I think this was how my peculiar sense of wanderlust started.  It started very small, very innocently, and then it grew.

It turned into wanting to be in Times Square, waving up at the TRL studios, instead of watching MTV from the living room television.

It turned into wishing with all my being to be out on the dude ranch with Mary-Kate and Ashley, and then go with them to see Paris.  And then London, and then Rome, and then Australia.

I even opted for books that were set in different places.  I loved the “Drina the Ballerina” series, and being a part of tea time or the metro rides in London.  I traveled to Stoneybrook, Connecticut (a fictional city) and sometimes New York with my friends in The Babysitter’s Club.

In the spring of 7th grade, when we went back to California as a family for the first time in 4 and a half years, I held on with every heartstring to the reliving of my childhood travels.

In high school, I got to travel all over Arizona and Southern California for my athletic competitions.  The hours on the bus?  Bliss.

And then, I moved halfway across the country for college, and have traveled around the Midwest for my track and field career out here. 

I have traveled to Bolivia and Grenada for volunteer trips, neither one of them long enough, each time falling in love with the native people and connecting with my soul in a way I did not know to be possible.

I don’t think this really boils down to never being happy with where I’m at.  I think some sort of a gypsy soul or spirit was instilled in me a long time ago. 

Today, my love of travel and culture largely encompasses my being.  I have travel plans, wishes, hopes, and dreams.  They are not really tourist destinations, so much as places I want to go to connect with people who carry within them a part of humanity’s history.  I long to breathe the air my ancestors have breathed, and experience the emotions of trial and triumphs from before my time.  I am a lifelong learner, and a lover of all that is human.  I want to understand the connection that Earth has had with its inhabitants over the centuries. 

Some people are content never stepping beyond their front porch.  Not me.

“And miles to go before I sleep; and miles to go before I sleep.” –Robert Frost

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Road to Orlando: Part Three – Dressing The Part

Road to Orlando: Part Three – Dressing The Part

 The end of October/beginning of November have been spent getting ready for my big dress rehearsal: the final selection of my competitions was last week; the final workshop for Orlando, this coming weekend.  It is a two-day event, and all of our outfits for all of our competitions have to be finalized.  So since last week, I’ve been doing a little more scrambling for clothes.

The clothing requirements for the showcase are very specific, because everything is geared for the agents to be focusing on the talent/model, and not on the wardrobe.  All of my acting categories require khaki pants and polo shirts, neither of which I previously owned.

These clothing requirements have been in the back of my head since August Orientation, but I hadn’t devoted the energy to shopping for them yet, or rather, I was preoccupied with the monthly assignments for the different workshops.

But last Wednesday, the day before Halloween, I went to Goodwill. 

And there I found 4 cotton polo shirts (men’s size J ) , a pair of khaki pants, and a denim skirt (for the photography competition runway).  The denim skirt I wasn’t crazy about; I knew that I would probably need to get it altered before December, but it would do for Final Workshop.

Three days later, I returned to TACOL, the thrift store in Lindsborg.

There I found a second – BETTER – pair of khakis.  These are in a “long” length for tall girls like me! The Goodwill pair is now my backup. 

I also at some point during the week realized that I would need “interview” clothes, and overall some nicer stuff to be wearing all week in Orlando, as I will be staying on the resort with the agents and casting directors, in the same building with them at all times.  I also need to look presentable every time I’m down in the ballroom as an observer for any of the competitions I am not in.

So, luckily (actually, by the grace of God), I found several tops at TACOL that I deem Orlando-worthy.  J

Today, just today! – I got a second denim skirt – one that fits much better, and will not need alterations.  It is perfect, and I bought it from a lady here in Salina, whom I found on a local Buy-Sell-Trade page on Facebook.  It was 5 dollars.  Perfect.

I can’t help but be utterly grateful for the fact that I am a hippie.  I love thrift-shopping not just because of the lower costs, which for a Human Services worker like me, are AWESOME! – but I love thrift-shopping because it encourages us to use the plethora of things already in existence, instead of contributing to the energy costs and usage that are needed in order to make NEW stuff.  In the last several years, my eyes have been opened to the gross unfairness in the way people across the world live in comparison to us here in America, and I’ve been redefining my parameters for “acceptable” and “necessary”.  Shopping second-hand makes me proud, because it reminds me of my resourcefulness and my refusal to give in to societal pressures that demand that I purchase more, more more.
I will look amazing in Orlando, in mostly second- or third-hand clothing.  I will walk that runway in a dress my sister mailed me from Arizona, a hand-me down from one of her sorority sisters.  I took pictures in clearance-priced and thrift store finds, things no one else wanted.  Well, I thank those people who passed these pieces by.  I will be wearing them as I audition for and receive my first TV or movie roles.

It’s been such a journey and a test of my creativity and resourcefulness to find the clothing I need for Orlando.

I tried to stress, but all the necessary clothing was provided for me, if only I was creative enough to think outside the box and think about where to get it.

I will definitely post some pictures later on.  J

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Road to Orlando: Part Two – Pushing Through and Smiling Pretty

November 6, 2013

Well, I wanted to write more about Orlando.  If you don’t know, I auditioned and have been selected to perform in a national talent showcase in December.  I will perform a monologue, sing a song, film a TV commercial, walk a fashion runway, and present my photographs to agents, casting directors, and producers from all over the country. 

I’ve written about the initial audition, and I’ve written about our first two workshops, which were in August and September.

October was photo-shoot month.  I spent from September 22nd thru October 20th putting together my outfits for my pictures.  I did procrastinate a little bit.  I don’t have a lot of really nice clothes, so this was challenging.  I was to have 3 “looks” ready; this quickly turned into emptying my entire closet, trying things on weeks ahead of time, and panicking. 

I didn’t need to panic, because, as everything else for this event so far, the clothes came to me.

Back this summer, I was browsing through clearance racks at a department store and found a couple of beautiful tops for like 2 dollars each.  They were out of season (fall wear), but I bought them anyway.  I didn’t know when I would wear them, or if they would be completely comfortable.  I ended up wearing both of these for my photo shoot. 

I was very fortunate that my friend Jodi emptied her closet for me back at the beginning of August.  The forest-green peacoat that she gave me was in the pile to go the photo-shoot.  (We were assigned to bring with us 6 possible outfits from which to choose our final three).

Also sometime in August, I made a stop at my favorite thrift store, TACOL, in Lindsborg, Kansas.  I found a really pretty top, also out of season, that I knew would look good on me.  It ended up that my photographer said, “This one; definitely this one; I love this color.”

I already had the skirt, tights, and jeans that I wore as bottoms for the shoot.

Still, it came down to the night before my photo shoot, and I still didn’t really have things paired and selected yet; I just had this giant pile of clothes that I knew were “appropriate”.  So, who do I call over, but my friend Maggie?? She lives down the street and sat in my room for 2 hours watching me try on clothes and telling me what looked good and what didn’t (I donated that Christmas-tree-green, sequined, crocheted sweater). 

The trip to KS City for the shoot was smooth.  The only thing that bothered me was that I think I over-conditioned my hair that week, in an attempt to make it smooth for the pictures, and it ended up being too heavy I think and really stubborn against holding curl.  But, I hope I made it work.

I won’t get my pictures until after December 1st, or as soon as I finish paying off my tuition for the showcase.  The staff will select my two best pictures to display at the showcase in Orlando, while I walk the runway and introduce myself to everyone in the audience. 

After the photo shoot, I’ll admit I didn’t think too much about Orlando for about 5 days or so, and then it was time to dive right back in.  I was pretty exhausted after the photo shoot; it seemed like a lot of time, effort, and stress went into making the photo shoot happen. ( I also spoke at a women’s retreat the day before the photo shoot, so I had been preparing my speech for that at the same time as prepping for the photo shoot.)

The rest of October was spent getting money together for my Orlando payment, keeping the rest of my life in order, including keeping up with work and my other finances, and trying to get back into some form of a workout schedule.

Plus, it’s been the beginning of cold and flu season, so I think my body’s been fighting illness since the beginning of October.  I’ve been trying to use affirmations like, “I am strong, I am healthy, and I am fine” in order to convince my brain that my body is not sick.  It works for the most part.

Last week and the week before was when I was teetering on feeling feverish and achey.  But I nipped it in the bud by chugging gallons of orange juice and going to bed at 9:30 pm for a few nights.

Orlando or bust!! 

Monday, November 4, 2013


3 Nov 2013


Gilda means “God’s servant”.

I learned this in high school, in my freshmen Morality class (I went to Catholic high school), although now I can’t remember what language that meaning has its origin in (I think it’s Gaelic).

Looking back now, I know it was divinely appointed for me to learn the meaning of my name at this specific time of my life.  Think about it: the beginning of high school is when our independent identities start to set in; yes, it’s when we start rebelling against our parents, and talking back a little more than usual, but really, it’s because our adult personalities are starting to form.  At 14 or 15, we are old enough to start forming our own opinions, and pay attention to the world around us; we are no longer “kids”, both in our own minds and in the minds of those who start giving us more responsibility and holding us accountable for our choices.

So for me to learn, even if on the most superficial of levels, that I was made to serve God, changed everything.

 I say this now, without even having thought about it before! I think this knowledge, of what my name means, in one of probably hundreds of interpretations, subconsciously set me up for life.

I carried that label with me proudly for a couple of weeks after learning about it.  And then, I think it just settled into my soul.

My high school had a community service requirement worked into the curriculum; each student had to complete a certain amount of community service hours during each school year, or by graduation.  I threw myself into that.  I spent my Spring Breaks working the Knights of Columbus food booth at the county fair; over the summers I found festivals to work at, and over winter break, I decorated churches for Christmas.  I know I exceeded the requirement my school set forth.

But I know I struggled with wanting to “serve the most” and “be recognized for all the hours I put in”.  I know now that I was a very insecure teenager, and wanted desperately to be admired for something, anything.

I know now that back then, even though I was serving because it was what I was supposed to do (for God and people), I wasn’t serving because I wanted to hear God say, “Well done.”

I wanted to hear people say it.

And even though I am so grateful that I spent my teenage years looking for ways to help other people, instead of dozens of negative activities I could have taken part in; even though I now see how I spent my teens practicing for my adult life, for the time I spend now in the service of others; even though I love that at the age of 14, I had already decided that I loved to help, and that I loved people;  I know I still struggle with this recognition thing today.

 Lately, I’ve been bothered by the fact that I “haven’t found a place to serve in the church.”  I think it’s a mixture of pressure from the Christian society (to find my “ministry”), and pressure from myself to “be a leader”. 

 I’m learning that this is split-thinking. 

I can’t be a servant if I want to be a leader.

I’m reading through “The Purpose-Driven Life” right now with a friend, and the last few days’ chapters have been about serving, and how it is part of our design.  It’s been really eye-opening, and at times, nauseating, because it’s been shedding light on the parts of myself that are really ugly and that I don’t want to see.

I have learned that I am petty and competitive and that I compare my service to that of others.  I have learned that I am panicky and envious and that I “want to be seen” and “want to be associated with” and “want to be known for” serving in a certain setting.

 I want to hold on to the memory of learning what my name means as a high school freshman, and use that knowledge correctly now, for the first time ever.  I know I have always had the right intentions, so I will try not to beat myself up too much. 
But from now on, I want to enter into true servanthood.