The Meaning of Life (Right Now)

March 27, 2015 - Dance Anywhere experiment I never submitted.
My grandmother was still alive. This is where she sharpened her knives.
Photo by Joseph Santoyo
This one is going to be long. Bring a snack and water.

Earlier this year, I returned to Los Angeles. It was for family, for grown up stuff, and for creative endeavors. In fact, I had just one idea in my mind: to get back to writing. I needed to start taking myself more seriously as an artist, and nothing was going to get in my way. But, like that saying goes, "Life happens when you're busy making other plans."

Early in January, my grandmother threw me a birthday party. Here she was, in a wheelchair, barely able to eat and walk and she threw me a surprise birthday party. I couldn't believe it. She planned it so well. She took me to the  beach all day to distract me.

Mami, happy with her Lomo Saltado plate.

My cousins! 

We had a huge lunch, and she watched from the sand as we floated on boats and waved from afar. When we returned to la casa I was told to close my eyes. I stood in the living room, with my little cousin Yey Ming's small hands over my eyes and then "SORPRESA!" Green balloons were spread all over her living room, and I was floored.

Sometimes, life is too precious and you have to cry. Such was this case, as I shed some tears in secret while my grandmother finalized some fiesta details. I was crying for various reasons, the most important being that I felt an unsurmountable amount of love. It was overwhelming. I felt completely unworthy of it, but smiled through it all because I knew it would make her happy. The second reason I was crying was because the last time I had a birthday party in my grandmother's home was when I was five years old. It was both a birthday party and a farewell party before leaving to the United States with my mother and little sister. After composing myself, I walked out to the living room ready to party.

Deep down, my grandmother and I knew, we were celebrating more than just my birthday. It was all the years of separation between she and my mother, it was our immigrant stories, it was her struggle to make it just one more day without pain, it was love, it was cancer, it was gentleness, it was pain, it was forgiveness, it was ridiculous stories, it was laughter, it was tears, it was soap operas and late night fried rice from the lady who refused to acknowledge that I could say Thank You in Mandarin. We danced! We danced on the tiles my dad laid on the floor back when he was still in his twenties. We clapped, we cried, and danced to music from the Andes and had a Mexican mariachi in honor of all the Mexican love songs my grandmother listened to growing up, and in honor of my stepfather in Los Angeles. When the fake Mexican mariachi singer shot his gun in the living room, that was the epitome of foolishness. A roar of laughter took over all of us. My aunties, my uncle, my grandfather, my cousins, my grammy and me. She tired out soon, so my grandfather took over and I swear he flew in the air dancing to Huayno songs. For a moment he forgot he was 83 years old and let his spirit dance. We were sad, and we were dancing. It was going to be farewell again, the next day I boarded a plane and returned to L.A.

I was greeted by Amos, who always seems to be there when I need him most. I was tired and happy. Freelance work was minimal and fulfilling. To keep my brain distracted I took on a temporary desk job in Hollywood and for a hot second, I thought -- I'M BACK BABY! Later, I realized the work was not going to help keep me on this creative track. Plus, I was still thinking about my grandmother and everything in tinsel town seemed trivial.

I returned to Perú for the second time in 2015 with my little brother. We visited grandma, toured the Andes, and reconnected with the Moreno family. Although she fell sick during our time there, she bounced back up and Joe was able to kiss her, hug her, and make her laugh. When we returned home, I became restless. A part of me, still not feeling inspired to write or create anything. Thankfully, I have creative friends.

For most of March and half of April, I spent Tuesdays with a dear friend writing in a small cafe in Pasadena (shout out to Zona Rosa, they don't have internet so it's great for focus). We would later drive to a church and sing with Selah Gospel Choir. My friend and I were both in transition; she, recently laid off, and me -- trying to get back to writing and trying to understand Los Angeles in my life again. We'd write, gossip, and sing. Those are some of the most productive and wonderful Tuesday nights in, quite possibly, all my life. What more do you need? Writing, laughter, and song.

Yet sadness pawed at me, and I did not want to accept. I travelled to three countries thereafter: Turkey for Fiorella, France for Robyn and Camila, and England for Mara. This trip was inspirational, as I managed to reconnect with my cousin, go to Asia for the first time, do some guerrilla video work in a cemetery, and take a boat ride along the quietest river I've ever floated on.

Fio / Turkey

During all this time my partner and I were gradually getting news that we'd have access to our new home. A home! We'd message each other from a distance; discussing our plans to live together again. Our excitement was handled in the strangest way ever...

...a road trip.

Amos started in California and worked his way up north, later I met him in Chicago. Together we went from Mid-West, to East Coast to West Coast -- making Joe Goode's Finding the Bones Workshop in San Francisco our last stop before home. We attended weddings, toured friend's homes in Maryland, Kentucky, New York and Iowa. We saw old co-workers, almost killed a deer, learned about the Dutch in Iowa, attended a wedding in Chicago, drove through a thunder storm (never a Tornado), and did I mention we filmed a performance in New York? We were on quite the life-trip. It was our last hurrah, if you will, at least for a while because we both knew ...something (life) was going to change.

NY murals
Back home, I went back to re-connecting with my film and television network friends, asked for advice, met new industry folk, and tried to keep my mind occupied from all the things that go bump in the night. I began writing again. Yet, losing my friend Kevin in February to health complications because of his battle with cancer, and having another friend of mine receive the news that she too had cancer -- these were all reminders. I could not run away anymore. This illness was looming over the people I love. Until finally, it was time to, once again, return to Perú.

In review, I made three trips to Perú within six months this year. Once on my own, the second time with my little brother, and this final trip in July was with my younger sister. It was for our grandmother's wake and funeral. Luisa Moreno Soto passed away on July 26, 2015, while everyone was fast asleep. Her coffin was white. Her make-up was perfect, thanks to tia Magda. People from all over the barrio came by to pay their respects. Some were familiar to me, neighbors and friends that I remember my grandmother waving at when she used to walk to the mercado. Some were complete strangers to me, but all of them had stories to share. They looked upon me and my sister, some of them had not seen us together since my birthday party in 1989. And here we were, arm in arm trying to represent my mother and also be there for our aunts and uncles. There were moments when silence was overwhelming, I just breathed, drank coffee, and waited for noise. My sister held onto Logan, our youngest cousin in her arms. He slept comfortably, as if he had known her all his life.

I cannot even begin to explain how heavy, wonderful, and confusing most of 2015 has been for me and my spirit. My spirit, sometimes she wants to be committed and sometimes she wants to fly. And we did fly, to Perú and to other parts of the world. We collected stories, experiences, and family history. All the while trying to make sense of loss, which I knew was going to be inevitable. And this has been a fuel for writing, and it's been inspiring community and art.

I know that I am a fortunate one. I carry a lot of love, and a lot of patient people who have love for me. From our family who prayed, co-workers from San Francisco who sent condolences through tender thoughtful emails, friends who expressed themselves via social media, my mother who surprised all of us and reminded me how powerful a mujer can really be, to my partner who throughout it all reminded me that smiling is okay.

I will never understand why on earth I am so blessed. Blessed with amazing patient people. I will never forget the lessons I learned through this journey, and the things I am still learning. The most important being, don't let fear run your life. Mami is a reminder of that.

So what is the point of this blog entry, I suppose to share the meaning of life (right now) -- at least for me. In hopes that maybe, the person reading this, can find some solace if they are going through something similar.

Here are my two cents...

Love hard. Whenever there is doubt: love. Whenever there is confusion: love. Whenever there is a hole in the story: love. When there is miscommunication: love. And when people who love you demonstrate patience, remember to return the favor one day when they need a little time to process. Oh, and don't forget -- even in times of sorrow, it's okay to laugh.

Uncle Santos, Mami, and Paty. <3 td="">