As My Mother Lay Dying

My blogging and writing plans for 2017 came to a standstill when my mother became gravely ill. This is what happened.

My mother died on January 16, 2018, two days before her 80th birthday. May she be dancing with the angels.

For the last five years, she had been ill with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder, known as COPD. Yes, she was a smoker of many years, even after she developed asthma.

After years of more and more frequent hospitalizations, In 2017 she became critically ill. It was clear that she was dying to me and everyone around her. She refused to accept it even though she could barely walk 100 feet without collapsing, breathless. Her refusal to do physical or respiratory therapy, her refusal to accept the care of a nursing home turned a manageable (if worsening) illness into a series of traumatic emergency events.

In the last six months, there were at least ten emergency hospitalizations. There was one day in July when she came home from the hospital in the afternoon and went back via ambulance in the evening.

In late fall, she moved to a nursing home, a move she fought as long as possible. By then the disease was progressing at lightning speed. She had become frail and thin. COPD patients often become emaciated, due in part to the body’s struggle to breathe (all their calories go to the struggle for breath).

She refused to accept her death until the day before she passed when she told me, as I watched her entire body struggle to take a breath: “I can’t live like this.”  It was the worst I’d ever seen her and it shook me. She was asking for help I couldn’t give. No matter how homicidal I had felt toward her in the past — and believe me, she took me there — I could never help her end her own life.

I’m not sure if she was asking me a question or stating a fact. I think she had moved to the last stage of death, acceptance. If you’ve never read Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ book On Death and Dying, she describes five stages of grief of the terminally ill. Denial, Anger, Depression, Bargaining, and Acceptance. My mother stayed at the denial and anger stages as long as she could. She experienced acceptance one day before she died.

“I’m sorry Mami, I’m sorry this is happening to you.” I was. I stayed with her until she fell asleep in the fetal position. She was breathing a little easier. I kissed her temple and left.

Even though I knew she was dying, it never occurred to me that she would actually die. I know that doesn’t make sense, that’s how it felt. No matter how far ahead you see it coming, you’re never prepared for it when it happens.

When I was called to the emergency room the next afternoon, she was already unconscious and the doctors told me that her pupils were unresponsive. Her heart was slowing gradually. She had gone into respiratory arrest at the nursing home and lost consciousness in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. On the phone, the doctor had told me that it was a matter of time until her heart gave out.

I never thought I’d have the balls to watch anyone die. But it’s like any other life event of someone important to you. You want to witness and support. Of course, I would stay with her, hold her and support her she passed from this world to the next.

I rushed out to the waiting room to get my 17-year-old son, who despite having witnessed his grandmother’s decline, wasn’t expecting this to be the end. We had been in the emergency room so many times over the years. There had been so many late-night ambulance calls, hospital visits, blood transfusions, and yet always, she came back from it. She prevailed. She became, smaller, frailer and weaker, but she held back death with her iron will. Until today.

He didn’t believe that she was unconscious, that she had been overtaken by the illness she fought so hard against. My son touched her face and tried to open her eyes.

“Grandma? C’mon grandma wake up.”

Her only response was shallow breathing from beneath the oxygen mask. I felt his heartbreak, rather than saw it. That crack that happens when the unimaginable crashes through our youthful invincibility. I couldn’t protect him from this pain, this terrible loss.

I touched her, I held her, I cuddled my warm face against her cool face and spoke to her. I stroked her grey hair. Her face was still, she looked asleep. This was the easiest that I had seen her breathe in months. I saw on the monitors that when we touched her, her heart rate went up. But it was much, much too low.

“Let go, Mami,” I said. “It’s okay, don’t worry about us, we will be fine. Rest. You need to rest.”

“You did everything you needed to do, and more,” I said. “You haven’t left anything undone. You need to rest. You’ve suffered enough.”

Our relationship was fraught, she was a difficult woman, and our history included as much conflict and pain as it did love. Maybe more. In her last year, she became angrier as her illness progressed, lashing out in frustration. This made her no ray of sunshine to be around. Instead of the anger or vindication (die, you horrible bitch!) that I had imagined that I would feel, I felt nothing but love and compassion for her as she passed. Part of this was due to how much she had suffered in her final months. COPD is basically slow suffocation. DON’T EVER SMOKE. And even if you don’t, always have an air purifier.  This disease can and does hit non-smokers as well.

Whatever sins she had committed in her life, my mother more than paid for as she gasped for breath that in the end no oxygen machine or ventilator could provide. Her body wasted away with the exertion of trying to breathe. No one deserves such suffering. My mother often said that there was no hell, that you pay for your bad deeds in this life. She suffered enough for three lifetimes.

As I looked at her ravaged body I held her hand  Pain swelled in my chest. I didn’t recognize the thin bony fingers, that felt as light and fragile as a dead bird in my hand. Her soft and strong manicured hand, sporting her Colombian emerald, was the hand I remembered. The hand that was my anchor.

I watched her shallow breathing as a storm of emotions swirled in my chest. Mostly the desire for a final conversation. I didn’t get to speak to her. But we knew each other so well, I know what she would have said.

“Take care of Marcus.” Her grandson was everything to her. Then, “Go back to the Church; take care of your body, find a man who deserves you [because none of them, including the current one, were ever good enough]; write every day. Don’t waste a second, and never be afraid.” And something about my hair.

 A powerful clarity flooded through me as a watched her slow shallow breaths. This clarity that gave me understanding. I realized that she must have endured terrible emotional damage; damage that took deep root and caused the emotional abuse that she rained on me throughout my life. I saw that she carried scars that she needed to protect, which made her incapable enduring vulnerability. I saw that her need to control everyone and everything was rooted in pain and betrayal. I saw that her need to control me and what I did was a misguided attempt to protect me from suffering the same damage. I saw that her inflexibility was a need for safety. She gave me everything material in life, except acceptance. And I saw that she thought she was protecting me by trying to make me into what she wanted. I saw that her emotional abuse of me was her own pain and regret, not hate. I saw to the core of her, and I understood.

This insight (a gift from God or from her departing spirit) allowed me to forgive her. Among the many things I whispered to her that afternoon, were the words, “I forgive you Mami. It’s okay. I understand.” And then she died.

I cried out when I realized that the monitor showed no blood pressure, no heartbeat. For a second I thought that it had come unplugged. But I looked at her and realized the shallow breaths had stopped. She was gone. Just like that.

Doctors and nurses came running, to comfort me because my mother had a Do Not Resuscitate order. They confirmed that she was gone, and I was bent over weeping with the terrible loss. My 17-year-old son held me, a block of granite against my overwhelming grief.

I turned looked up at him (my baby is 6’2) and said, “You’re being strong for me when I should be strong for you.” I embraced him. We held each other and wept as the loss swept over us.

I looked at her body on the bed, and it seemed weaker, shrunken somehow, without her soul. She always told me the body was nothing and that she could care less what was done with her remains. It was her soul she cared about. As I looked at her lifeless form, I saw it was true. It was an empty shell without my Mother’s soul inside it.

I realized that I should say a prayer for her. I stood and bent my head to focus. And in my head, I heard my mother chiding me “Now you’re praying? So now you’re Catholic again?” And I laughed out loud. My son looked at me as if I had lost my mind. “I can hear her making fun of me,” I said.

“Oh yeah,” he said with a smile.

There were many good times. We had love, friendship, and laughter. She was blazingly intelligent, had a great sense of humor, and was a razor-sharp judge of character. She taught me about Jazz, classic movies, and New York City (she landed in Manhattan from Colombia in 1958 and never left). She impressed on me the importance of being well-informed, the importance of participating in a democracy. She inspired my pursuit of journalism as a career, although I have the soul of a novelist.

My mother was an extrovert and had a strong sense of community. She always knew everyone in the neighborhood, from neighbors to congressmen, to business owners to the homeless outside our parish church. She taught me to treat everyone with respect regardless of money color or creed.

My favorite memory of her is when she took off her chancleta and smacked President Richard Nixon’s face on the TV and screamed “LIAR!” It was during Watergate, and I was about 7 years old. Until that moment I had no idea that people in power could lie. Forty years later she was again screaming at the President on TV for much worse reasons.

A hundred times since she passed I’ve thought of calling her to ask her a question or share some news.

In the days that followed, I felt like someone hit me over the head with a frying pan. Stunned. Out of it. Even though I had witnessed it, her death is still hard to believe. This person is a fact of your life, for many years the foundation of your life, from the moment you’re born. It’s hard to believe that the earth still revolves around the sun after your mother dies.

The next day as my son and I headed to the nursing home to pick up her belongings, I looked up at the clear blue sky as the cold air hit my face. Day one in a universe without my mother. How is this even possible?

My mother’s illness and death taught me many lessons, including some about writing, that I will include in another post. I’ve shared this story here as a way to process my grief, and I hope that it helps someone going through the same things, or helps you understand someone who has had this experience.

Please, please don’t smoke, and if you do, STOP. If you can, donate to The American Lung Associaton.

For more information on COPD, read this.
If you’ve heard of a supposed stem-cell treatment for COPD read this.

This Visionary Priestess is History’s First Known Poet

The first writer in history known by name is a woman, En-hedu-anna, Sumerian for Ornament of Heaven. En' (Chief Priest or Priestess);hedu’ (ornament); `Ana’ (of heaven)” Enheduanna is a religious title. The Princess’s birth name is lost to history, as is any information about her early life, but her writing has survived over 4,000 years.

Origins

Enheduanna of Mesopotamia (what is now Iraq, parts of Syria and Turkey), was the daughter of King Sargon I, also known as Sargon the Great, and Sargon the Akkadian. He built the first empire in history, uniting the disparate city-states in the Mesopotamian peninsula.

Up to the time of  King Sargon’s reign, the Akkadian and Sumerian peoples co-existed in the Mesopotamian valley, had similar cultures (women had equal rights and could conduct business), but different languages and gods. In the south, Sumerian language and culture were dominant and the southern city-states had been self-ruling.  In order to unite the Sumerian city/states under Akkadian rule, he turned to his daughter.

Priestess and Poet

As a sign of respect and good faith, the King appointed his daughter “En,” or  high priestess of the Moon Goddess Inanna, the most important deity in the south. The appointment, the first of it’s kind, meant that the Princess would be the highest religious leader in the empire, the earthly embodiment of the Goddess Innanna and the leader of faithful and of the temple devoted to her. She led all ceremonies and liturgies relating to the Goddess. Enheduanna’s hymns and prayers to Inanna in which she named herself as supplicant and author, influenced the public’s relationship to their faith and to their ruler.

                            The kingship of heaven has been seized by the woman (Inanna),

At whose feet lies the flood-land.
That woman (Inanna) so exalted,
who has made me tremble together the city (Ur),
Stay Her, let Her heart be soothed by me.
I, Enheduanna will offer supplications to Her,
My tears, like sweet drinks.
Will I proffer to the Holy Inanna, I will greet Her in peace,
Let not Ashimbabbar (Sin) be troubled.

Her appointment to this position served three purposes. It sealed Sargon’s claim to rule by divine right, (he did not inherit the throne; he took it.) ; it would unify the faiths and gods of the north and south (Akkadians and Sumerians); and she could keep an eye out on rebellions and trouble-making locals.

Daily Life

Enheduanna’s duties included presiding over religious rituals in the temple and throughout the city; administering the vast farmlands that supported the temple and administering the temple treasury, which made loans. Also, she recorded the phases of the moon from her perch at the very top of the temple complex. Making her the first known female astronomer.

Astronomy was part of her duties because it was her responsibility to date the monthly festival of the new moon (of which she was the chief celebrant).  She possibly had other calendar marking duties. According to the blog Women in Astronomy, the dates of  Easter, Passover, and Ramadan are determined today using the work of ancient Sumerians.

In addition to all this, Enheduanna wrote lyric poems (three have survived) praising the goddess Inanna and 42 hymns to various temples throughout the city. Some of the clay tablets discovered bearing her work, date from about 500 years after her death, and indicate that they were read and studied as literature as well as used in religious devotion.

Excavations in the city of Ur have found seals of her servants (including a hairdresser!). Scholars say that Enheduanna established many of the poetic forms and styles that influenced everything from biblical writing to epic and lyric poetry to hymns and prayers. Her literary influence lasted at least 500 years. Good thing she signed her work. Yet neither her work nor her name made it into history books or literary studies.

women writers Enheduanna
A tablet showing Enheduanna hymn – Yale Peabody Museum

Whether or not she was truthfully devout, Enheduanna used her pen to exalt her Sumerian goddess and legitimized her father’s rule  of the south through the faith.

She survived being deposed by a rebellion but it was defeated and she reclaimed her position (one of her hymns tells the story). She served through the end of her father’s reign and that of two brothers, remaining the high priestess through part of her nephew’s reign. Hundreds of years later, her poems were being used to teach writing and poetry, in the region as evidenced by stone tablets found. It wasn’t until the 20th century that Enheduanna’s name would again be known.

women writers enheduanna
Detail of the disc portrays Enheduanna in her robes in the middle of a ceremony. Her hand is in a gesture of greeting.

Queen greater than An

who dares withhold adulation

mistress of the scheme of order
great Queen of queens
babe of a holy womb
greater than mother who bore you 
You all knowing
You wise vision
Lady of all lands 
life-giver for the many
faithful Goddess 
worthy of powers
to sing your praise is exalted

You of the bountiful heart 
You of the radiant heart 

I will sing of your cosmic powers

Find out more

Wikipedia

Ancient Origins

Ancient History Encyclopedia
More of Enheduanna’s poetry and history you can check out the books below (affiliate links). Purchasing through these links helps support this blog and my writing.

Princess, Priestess, Poet: The Sumerian Temple Hymns of Enheduanna (Classics and the Ancient World)

Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth: Her Stories and Hymns from Sumer

Free Short Stories !

Welcome to the #Shortreads Department!

This page will be devoted to listing all the free short stories I can find and that are submitted by authors and readers. I will add links as I find them. Feel free to add links to free stories in the comments.

Short Stories are the perfect way to get to know an author or a genre.

They’re also great to read when you don’t have huge chunks of time to devote to a novel, or to get a sample of lots of different authors (in an anthology), or if you’re just in the mood for brief blasts of story. I’m a huge fan of shortreads and I’m always reading a collection or anthology. At the moment it’s Venice Noir. FYI the entire Noir collection of anthologies is a #mustread if you’re into crime fiction.

If you’re a writer with free stories to share, send me your link and I’ll add it. All genres are welcome.

No e-reader or Kindle? No problem!

Use the free Kindle app on your PC or phone.  If you need to convert formats from epub, pdf or mobi use my favorite free ebook converter. If you download the free Calibre app to your computer (PC or Mac) or phone you can read ebooks in any format as well as prepare ebooks for publication.

Read books online directly on the websites. Page by Page Books is one site with a large selection of classics and historical books.

Enjoy all the Free Short Stories!

If you haven’t heard of Project Gutenberg, get acquainted with them. This international project is digitizing (with volunteers) as many copyright-free books as they can get their hands on from all over the world in as many languages as they can. Their short stories page is divided by country or alphabetically. Bibliophiles will get lost in this site for hours, There’s always something to discover.

A similarly extensive source of free stories is Wikisource, which is a digital book repository. It’s slightly more dynamic than Gutenberg in that you can create your own ebook of stories to download. Their Short Story index is pages and pages long so enjoy.

Obooko is a site that offers free ebooks and kindle singles. I’ve linked to the short story page they have novels too, all for FREE!

The always excellent journal Electric Literature.com is offering 31 days of story this month.

Over at Longreads, Pravesh Bhardwaj has compiled a list of must-read short stories for 2017.

The New Yorker has been at the forefront of the development and preservation of short fiction in the U.S., In my opinion, it’s the most important publisher of short fiction in the world. Take that, Paris Review and Saturday Evening Post! Feel free to dispute this in the comments.  To confirm it peruse their fiction in text or audio. The latest story is  A Small Flame by Yiyun Li. Or try this one by Stephen King.

The Short Mystery Fiction Society will be featuring a free story by a member, every day in May. Check their page daily for the link. You can find yesterday’s free story here, and today’s here.

Akashic Books has an on-going Mondays are Murder short story series online that’s completely free. The stories are 750 words and are crime stories in the noir tradition, like their Noir Crime anthologies. Check out the rest of their site for interesting reads.

Check out all the short stories (and other good reading) at Wattpad, an online community for readers and writers.

This 2016 list from Bookbub is pretty extensive and has a little of everything.

World-English has a list of classic short stories.

BookRix is an ebook publisher that has free stories available for download or to read online.

If you’re into multi-tasking, plug in your earbuds and listen to these short story podcasts.

Mysterynet.com has tons of short mysteries by some of the best writers in the genre. Their Twist series is my favorite.

The U.K Book Trust promotes literacy and reading and their free stories page boasts authors like Ian Rankin and Lionel Shriver.

Open Culture.com does excellent work preserving work of cultural interest. Check out their compilation of free stories by Neil Gaiman in text or audio, or free stories by Alice Munro, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. There are a ton more free e-books and stories (and movies!) on this site, so click around and do make a donation if you can.

American Literature.com has a directory of short stories by genre, all for free of course.

More classic short stories at the English Library.org

The publishers who award The Cambridge Short Story Prize have a page full of links to free short stories, alphabetized by author.

Free Ebooks.net does what it says, free ebooks in multiple formats. Check out their contemporary short story page.

Short-story.net is a Wattpad for all short stories, all the time. They have all genres of stories for free and you can comment and have discussions.

The Classic Short Stories website has a large selection of free stories searchable by title and author.

Alan Baxter, author of supernatural thrillers and urban fantasy has a free stories page for readers.

Chuck Wendig also has links to free short stories on his blog.

Icy Sedgwick writes gothic stories and dark fantasy novels, and she shares free stories on her site.

Lightspeed Magazine publishes science fiction and fantasy stories.

Rachel Ritchey writes YA fantasy and adventure and has free short stories on her blog.

This list of free horror stories from Blastr.com includes several by Stephen King.

Nightmare Magazine publishes horror and has one story in each edition up for free.

UK thriller writer Stephen Leather’s book Short Fuses is a collection of four short stories and excerpts from six of his books. Yes, it’s totally free.

Horror writer Lake Lopez has a page of free scary stories for readers

The prolific Simon J. Wood specializes in short-short stories of 100-300 words in length.

Looking for a laugh? Try these humorous short stories.

This list of free short horror reads from the Chicago review of books is intriguing.

This is a list of free short-shorts that includes one of my all-time favorites, The Story of an Hour by Kate Chopin.

A.A. Abbott writes crime thriller and has a round up of free mystery and thriller stories on her blog.

You can find some excellent scary stories on Matthew’s blog.

Lauren Scharhag has free stories of various genres on her blog.

Ric Rae also has a page with free stories in various genres.

P.A. Priddey shares some free stories on his blog

I’m not sure if the Read a Romance site is still being updated, but there are a good number of free romance short stories for all tastes.

Erotic Romance author Olivia Cunning has free short stories on her blog.

Alanea Alder, who also writes erotic romance offers free stories too.

Graphic Audiobooks has a  small selection of free short stories for your listening pleasure, and a large selection of “extended samples” – hour-long free samples of audiobook series on their lists.

Into erotica? You can get all your cheap thrills at Lush Stories and Literotica.

Listen to Genius also has a large selection of free audio short stories – mostly classics.

I know there are a ton of writers out there with free stories to share, so inbox me or @ me on Twitter with your links. All genres are welcome! This list will continue to expand through May and will be updated every year.

Oh, and it would be cool if you link back to this post on your site. ☺

Writers

Story a Day started the “extreme writing challenge” of writing a story every day in May a few years ago. If you’d like to participate head on over and grab free prompts and a creativity bundle — and there’s a podcast for writers too!

Happy Reading!

 

Transition

I love how writing fiction can be such a surprise at times.

This morning I saw a writing prompt on Twitter from an e-book seller iAuthor. I see tons of prompts every day, but I’m rarely moved to write off the cuff. But this image (above) spoke to me viscerally. I knew the story immediately. Below is the short-short (or is it a flash piece?).  I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.


Transition

Death is not death at all.

She realized this as her she floated up and out of her body through an ocean of stars. In this existence, she had no fear.  Serenity and warmth surrounded her.  Joy flooded through her.  Love swirled around her and then within her, lifting and transforming her. She soared through the ocean of stars, joyous and free.

She loved every star, every drop of water, every molecule of air. Their movement was like music. She swooped and spiraled with happiness. Love burst out of her like shafts of sunlight.

Her soul danced through this new realm, becoming part of the glittering, infinite beauty that surrounded her. She became part of the air, the water, and the stars. She entered the beating heart of infinity and its endless beauty and wonder.

Her joyous laugh erupted in starburst, an explosion of diamonds. She swooped and swirled in happiness, trailing glittering clouds of color.

This is what it means to exist, she realized. To be love, to be knowledge, to be joy, to be infinity.

And when she knew that it had always been thus, that she had always been part of this beauty, her joy illuminated galaxies.

Vivian Lake
April 27, 2017
Updated April 29, 2017

 

The Brilliant Rogue Nun who was America’s First Feminist

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz chose the veil for the freedom it gave her to pursue her intellectual interests. She defied the Church & became a Poet, playwright, scientist, and philosopher. Completely self-educated, she was the most learned woman of her time. For her brilliance and her advocacy of education for women, she was stripped of her most prized possession — her books — and denied the right to do what she was born to do – write and think. She died without ink or paper, but the thousands of words she wrote have lived through the centuries to tell her story.

Sor Juana Inéz de La Cruz

Juana Inés de Asbaje y Ramirez de Santillana was raised on her maternal grandfather’s hacienda, which meant she had a traditional religious upbringing as well as access to her abuelo‘s huge library. This is where she would spend the most time, teaching herself to read and write in Latin by age three. She also became fluent in Nauhatl, the indigenous language of the region.

She was America’s first feminist and literary rock star.  She embodied intellect, talent, and fearlessness. Often mistakenly referred to as a Latin American poet, Sor Juana is, in fact, American. As in born in Mexico or Nueva España as they were still calling it then. And before you tell me Mexico is not America, look at a map. North America is comprised of three countries.

She was born in San Miguel on November 12, 1648, to  Pedro Manuel de Asbaje, a Spaniard who emigrated to Nueva España as a boy, and Isabel Ramirez, who was descended from Spaniards in the Andalusian region. Because her parents were not married, Juana Inés baptismal record (recently discovered) lists her as hija de la iglesia “daughter of the church” and names only her mother and her Godparents. 

Early Life

SORJUANA17
Painting commemorating Sor Juana’s debut at court at age 14. The inscription says she remained in the Vice Regent’s court until she was 16 when she took religious orders. Her disgusted expression will be familiar to mothers of teenagers everywhere.

Juana quickly devoured all the books in her grandfather’s library. By age twelve she could read and write in Latin and had taught herself Nauhuatl, the local indigenous language well enough to write short poems in it.

She wanted desperately to attend university, where the real learning took place, but women weren’t allowed to attend. In fact, the young scholar was already an anomaly for what she had taught herself, getting punished and beaten every step of the way. “I assuaged my disappointment by reading the many and varied books belonging to my grandfather, and there were not enough punishments, nor reprimands, to prevent me from reading, ” she wrote later. As a young teen, she was sent to live with an aunt in Mexico City, where she was introduced to the nobility.

Juana Inés impressed the Marquise de Mancera, who took her into her household as her lady-in-waiting. The breadth of the young girl’s knowledge and intellect so impressed the Marquis, that a kind of salon was arranged with various professors and philosophers of the day, in order to test her and prove that her intellect was real and her knowledge was her own. Undaunted, she passed the verbal sparring match with flying colors. She was seventeen years old.

The Veil

Painting of Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz at her desk

Not much is known about her life in the following three or four years, other than she rejected several marriage proposals, and at the age of 20 or 21, decided to take the veil and become a nun. But this was no act of religious devotion. Although she was raised Catholic, Juana’s decision to enter the convent was designed “to have no fixed occupation which might curtail my freedom to study.”

Juana Inés gave up men, marriage, and family for the freedom to pursue a life of the mind. This she did with spectacular success. Her studies spanned multiple disciplines, from philosophy to astronomy. Within her 2-story apartment inside the cloister, she received the intellectual elite of Mexico and Spain.

She wrote successfully across genres: poetry, dramatic and comedic plays, essays and treatises. Her best-loved work is her poetry, which is considered an example of the Golden Age of Spanish Literature. She wrote poems in every style, often using humor to skewer sexist attitudes of the time. The Catholic Church hierarchy of the time was not thrilled with her writings or her growing notoriety, but they could do nothing to censure her because, she had the Viceroy of Spain (the King’s man in Mexico) as a patron, close friend, and champion. The Viceroy’s wife, Maria Luisa Manrique de Lara y Gonzaga, was an admirer and became especially close to Sor Juana. Maria Lusa was responsible for publishing Sor Juana’s first book of poetry in Spain in 1689. Several of Sor Juana’s poems are about Maria Luisa, which gave rise to speculation that the two women had a sexual relationship.

The Church Retaliates

After six years, the Viceroy was recalled to Spain. With the departure of her patrons and protectors, the Catholic Church came down full force on Sor Juana.

“In Christian history, Sor Juana is one of the many Latina women who have been denied their rightful place. In her times she was a prophet, a woman before her time, who like all prophets was met with resistance,” writes Teresa A. Yugar in her literary biography of Sor Juana.

The Church used her own writing to destroy her career. A local Bishop, Manuel Fernández de Santa Cruz, requested that Sor Juana put in writing her acerbic critique of a famous 40 year-old-sermon by a well-known Jesuit priest. The Bishop then published her critique without permission, under the pseudonym Sor Filotea de la Cruz. He also and included a letter admonishing her for daring to speak on religious matters and contradicting a man of God.

Writing and studying privately were one thing, but her published letter put Sor Juana in the position of publicly repudiating Church teachings, something which she would never do, regardless of her private opinions. It would be seen as heresy by the church.

The letter caused a scandal and increased Sor Juana’s notoriety. She wasn’t the type to take such a dirty trick lying down, and she didn’t. But by the time the fracas was over, she would lose almost everything.

The Answer

Sor Juana’s Respuesta a Sor Philotea (below) was widely known as La Respuesta (The Answer) is considered the first feminist manifesto advocating for the education of women and the inclusion of women in intellectual and religious discourse.

LA RESPUESTA


The Church was not amused. It was one thing for her to pursue her studies and write plays, poems and treatises in a cloister where no one saw her (even so, she was already a respected intellectual throughout Mexico and Spain), It was another thing entirely for Sor Juana to publicly flout Church doctrine (by educating herself, writing, and creating and being brilliant).  The Church taught that women were inferior and incapable of analytical thought.

Sor Juana was declared a public scandal by the Church, and was formally censured by the Inquisition (the arm of the church that dealt with “heretics”).

Penance

The Church insisted that Sor Juana give up her studies,  stop writing, and sell all her books –she had 4000 volumes, the largest library in Mexico at the time.  Her musical and scientific instruments and were also to be destroyed or sold with the proceeds given to the church.

If she refused, she risked being tried as a heretic, then tortured or burned at the stake. This is what the Inquisition did to heretics for hundreds of years. She must have been hollowed out from grief by the time she signed a “repentance and declaration of Faith in 1694.” She signed it “I, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, the worst of all,” in her own blood.

The End

The Church further tried to silence her and erase her existence by destroying and burning many of her papers at that time and after her death from the plague four years later. But Sor Juana had the last laugh.

Gaceta_de_México

She had entrusted copies of her writings (poems, plays, and La Respuesta) to a close friend, Juan Ignacio María de Castorena Ursúa y Goyeneche, who was not only a priest but the founder and editor of one of the first newspapers in the New World, the Gazeta de Mexico y Noticias de Nueva Espana (the Mexican Gazette, pictured left), an 8-page monthly.

Like Sor Juana, his father was a Spanish sea captain, and his mother a Mexican. Unlike Sor Juana, Juan Ignacio had been allowed to attend schools at home and in Spain. He held degrees in both canon law and theology.

According to Spanish accounts, he had edited some of Sor Juana’s work previously. Once Sor Juana was censured by the Inquisition, he is said to have smuggled her work out of Mexico into Spain where he edited it for publication.

Fama_y_obras_póstumas_del_Fénix_de_México

He wrote a forward christening her the Phoenix of Mexico, The Tenth Muse, and the American Poet. This was no doubt because with this publication her work and her name rose from the obscurity the Church had imposed on her into world renown. The year was 1700. Sor Juana had died five years previously. With this book, Sor Juana Inéz de La Cruz lives forever in literary, cultural, and Catholic history.

Her powerful voice and blazing intellect have survived for 400 years despite all efforts to silence and eradicate it.

For more information on Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, click here.

Hear spoken Aztec language of Nauhatl click here

Check out some of her books and biographies here.