The Look of Love

Buenos Diaz! I’m putting this post together on Valentine’s Day, a perfectly lovely day that I spent most of at a secret solo sanctuary away from home. I read and wrote in a Harry Potter t-shirt with a bottle of wine and snacks of all sorts. Because I forgot to bring a glass to drink out of or any kind of cutlery, I drank the wine straight from the bottle and took bites of cheese straight from the block. I am nothing if not the picture of classiness.

Today is supposed to be about love though, so earlier I joined some of the people I love most for breakfast – my parents and brother. We noshed at a favorite Mexican spot where the tortillas are made right there in the restaurant and are as thick as the hips they go straight to when I eat them. My favorite element of the meal was that for once, we weren’t approached like we usually are by a camera-toting female offering to take a free photo of us. That “free” photo is tiny and plastered with the restaurant logo, clearly meant to be a gateway to prettier, higher-quality prints costing $15.00 each. It’s uncomfortable enough to have to refuse the accompanying sales pitch; it’s super f*cking awkward to have to let the chick know that my brother and I are indeed siblings and not the “cute couple” she keeps referring to us as. This is what happens when you look nothing like your brother and he’s a good looking dude.

Keeping with the trend of surrounding ourselves in love, we made our way as a family over to a place near and dear to our hearts: Costco. After picking out a gorgeous arrangement of roses and lilies for my brother's fiancé (plus one for my mom - dad wasn't going to be upstaged), we walked towards the back of the store and approached the aisle containing the camping gear. My dad has had his eye on a dome tent, a model that boasts a 60-second setup and can accommodate five or six people, for at least a year. He has longed for that bad boy, excitedly explaining how useful it would be for trips to the park or beach or for toting around the grandkids, should my brother and I ever get it together and actually decide to produce any. He’s caressed the damn tent lovingly while walking away from it each time though, whispering “Someday!” to it the way I do to pricey rings, private libraries or travel ads to the UK. The tent was only around $80 but this amount has never been justifiable to my retiree father, who’s always been frugal and not one to indulge his fancies.

This time though, he decided it was time to treat himself – well, almost. My brother and I overheard him telling my mom that with his next pension check, he’d finally pull the trigger. My brother quickly chimed in to remind us all that he was the only one of the group with a Costco card, so he was going to pay for everything anyway and had no problem spotting my dad the cost of the tent. He and I will likely end up splitting the cost anyway as a present; it’s not that my parents can’t afford it, it’s that they feel guilty spending money on themselves.

I can’t help but look back on my childhood here. My parents put both my brother and I through private school as kids, a feat my parents struggled to afford but figured out as best they could in the name of giving us a solid education.  At one point, the financial burden forced them to evaluate whether they could continue to keep us in Catholic school. This caused my parents a great deal of consternation; the part of town we lived in didn’t boast a particularly stellar public school system but did have the advantage of being $Free.99.  When they sat me down to tell me that I might have to switch schools, I cried my freckly little face off. I begged and pleaded with them to let me stay with my friends, as though they were exacting an unjust punishment and not trying to keep their heads above water. I was breaking their hearts without a clue that I was going so.

So they continued to make it work, taking advantage of every possible tuition break available: endless volunteer shifts at every carnival, gala and bake sale, helping out at the school itself, signing us up to sell a ridiculous amount of those World’s Famous Chocolates or any other item the school asked us to hock. When it came time to pick a high school, I can only imagine my parent’s horror and simultaneous relief when I asked to be sent to a public school. My dad loathed the idea of me going to the local high school for a variety of reasons, insisting he'd find a way to afford one of the two Catholic high schools that were the natural next step for the majority of my classmates. Still, the idea of a free education held significant appeal; my parents sure as hell didn’t have a five-digit sum of money to fork over every year, not by a stretch.

One night I walked by my parents’ bedroom on my way to bed, and through a sliver in the mostly closed door, I saw my dad wringing his hands through his hair. Even if we hadn’t just discussed my educational future at length over dinner, I wouldn’t have had to think too hard to guess the source of his agony. I was starting to get it at the tender age of 13, to grasp the enormous weight that accompanies the making of choices that affect your children’s futures. He was stressing over me, over what to do with me.

The following morning, I formulated a plan: I’d file a request with the school board to be allowed to attend a high school outside of my district. The process took several weeks and involved multiple interviews with counselors, principals and board members. plus carefully written letters and presentations with graphs and fancy pie charts. The school I’d selected after careful analysis of the entire district's AP curriculum, graduation rates and college acceptance ratios was already significantly over-populated; I heard a lot of "no" during the process, an already daunting one for a kid of my age.  Imagine my family’s surprise and collective sigh of exuberant relief though when we got the call informing us that my request had been granted. Something about a pre-teen in her best clothes and a giant portfolio with big dreams must have won someone over. Thus was born the story my dad would tell about a thousand time in the years that followed. He was so proud of me, and elated that he could send me off to high school in peace.

My parents’ sacrifice was far from over though. Attending a school out of my district meant a longer commute; this meant that my mother had to pick up and drop off her two children in different parts of town every day, a challenge even before factoring in the many sports practices, dance rehearsals, study groups, volunteer shifts, etc. Then after high school, both my brother and I decided to pursue education at private universities. The scholarships and grants helped but weren’t enough; my parents took out loans to help afford the cost of our education. They held on to cars that badly needed replacing but managed to help my brother and I get cars of our own. They never took a single vacation or bought themselves one nice thing for themselves. They put their children above all things always – and what’s more, they were happy to do it.

The thing about all of this is that 98% of the time, my parents hid their struggle. They rarely let on to the fact that making ends meet was a challenge, never made my brother or I feel like we owed them anything or like it was all a lot to manage. Instead they celebrated every good grade, every victory, every performance. They made us feel special and treasured and important and unstoppable. They loved us every day, unequivocally, unwaveringly.   

So as I stood in line at Costco with my successful, educated and soon-to-be-married brother and my goofy, affectionate parents, I felt pride. I’m proud to be the daughter of a man who has brought his wife flowers every Valentine’s Day and anniversary as far as I can remember, the first man to bring me flowers and to put a ring on my finger. I’m proud to be the daughter of a woman who is loved by everyone everywhere and who leads always with her heart. I’m proud that, though a little bit lost and a lot of a dreamer, I am still deemed worthy of their decades of enormous sacrifice; they remind me of this fact every chance they get. To them, it was all so worth it.

To get these people a Costco camper then seems a little anti-climactic, especially with no cute offspring to load it with and sweeten the pot. “Thanks for all the self-denial, folks! Here’s an $80 camper thing to even the score!” Still, look at the man’s face, the sheer, unbridled joy of a wish made reality. This is the man that taught me how to love, folks. May you all feel this kind of love in your lives today and every other day.  


Buenos Diaz! It’s Valentine’s Day, that day on the calendar that makes singles sick, lovebirds swoon, and people with kids wonder whether they bought enough Valentines for everyone in Timmy or Jenny’s class and whether they’re bad parents for choosing the store-bought cupcakes over the homemade and Pinterest-inspired. Today is also confession day here at Buenos Diaz. Gather round now, come in close. Can everyone hear me? OK, here goes.
I, Vanessa Diaz, am a girl, and sometimes I act like one.

Honest to God, 97.6 percent of the time I don’t mind and even enjoy being single. Knowing how to be alone and relish it is something I’m quite proud of, really. I like that I can go see a movie, take a trip to the Farmers Market, sit at a restaurant or coffee shop or lay out in the park all by my lonesome and not feel a desperate need to be accompanied if company isn’t in the cards that day. I’ve been very independent for as long as I can remember, so tell me why this year there is something about this saccharine-soaked, commercial concoction of a holiday that for whatever nonsensical reason really has me thinking deeply about my life choices. It feels pathetic. I will elaborate.

I hate having to admit this because it makes me sound like one of those girls, the ones who bitterly denounce “Singles Awareness Day” by sulking on their couch listening to Adele and eating Godiva. Maybe it’s the flower deliveries to people not named Vanessa at work or the emotion bubbling beneath the surface of my composure every time I realize I am quitting my job in 3 weeks. Maybe it’s because my favorite of favorites is no longer a well I can draw from and that person is going away and shacking up with someone for the love-filled weekend while I’m sitting here noshing on Gourmet Inka Corn (corn nuts for the grown and sexy) with a glass of Nebbiolo (I wrote this Friday night, I’m not being a booze-hound before 9am).

I just suddenly miss… affection. I miss nervous first kisses, or warm, familiar ones that melt you; I miss butterflies, anticipation, cutesy gestures, intense bouts of eye contact; hands in my hair, hands on my face, eyes wide open, eyes wide shut. I miss hand-holding, flirting, passion, surrender. I miss hearing someone call me pretty. I miss feeling pretty.
The worst part though is the feeling of guilt, that sense of “I’m not supposed to feel the feelings!” that eats at me as someone who normally thinks of themselves as strong, independent and not at all why-aren’t-I-in-a-relationship centric. I feel like I should be impervious to these juvenile affectations, like its sacrilege to miss the warmth, the smell, the feel of a man and still call myself a feminist. This is especially true now that I’ve reached an age where I think I’m supposed to be enlightened and above all of this mess, so now I’m not only feeling out of sorts but feel dumb for feeling that way to begin with. I feel like I’m betraying my own ideals.

I’m not betraying anything though. I’m just a woman. I’m allowed to feel and need and want. So I will confess that I do in fact feel and need and want and that doesn’t make me any less self-possessed. Yeah, I allowed myself those thirty seconds (ok, minutes) of feeling sorry for myself, then I decided to get up, turn on the lights and think of V Day as just that: V Day. V Day as in Me day. I may not be in love, but I am loved and I do love. The rest of this blog post will focus on that love. Here are some people who aren’t obligated to love me out of a blood relation.


I have a friend who shares my not-so-guilty pleasures plus love of steak, bright lipstick, beautiful white boys and getting on planes. We Snapchat our workouts and pics of food afterwards. In the young and ratchet days when on a crowded Vegas dance floor getting the bump-and-grind treatment from a brotha with plans, she motioned to me, pointed down at the guy and said, “V, do you want a hit?” because she didn’t want me to be left out. That poor guy looked at her hurt like, “Are you pimping me to your girl right now?” and I just about died from laughter.
I have a friend who calls me at 6am to tell me that she’s proud of me, who two years ago looked me in the eye over brunch and said, “So you’re not an author yet, but you ARE a writer, Call yourself one.” She’s black and from LA’s Valley and I’m a San Diego Latina but somehow, someway, she is my twin. We bond over books and beautiful words, delight in sarcastic wit and get into good song be it Jay or Jill or that trap music. She’s been telling me I was pretty since the day I met her and one of these days I’ll believe her.

I have a friend who for years now I’ve been calling the poster child for pursuing your passion. She pushes me in ways both overt and covert and though we may not speak often it’s meaningful when we do. She brought me to wine, let me lean on her at low points, and never made me feel stupid for loving someone I couldn’t have. She once put a slice of salami on my sangria glass because we were all out of strawberries and has dared me to dream recently in a very big and international way.
I have a friend who knows it all, the good, the bad, the ugly plus the emo, the insecure, the crazy and the expectant, all of it wrapped up in big hair and too much jewelry. He’s talked me off a ledge, showed me lightening in summer, sends me YouTube videos of hilarious throwback rap jams and tags me in stuff about books and pretty places. He’s brilliant and witty and maddeningly stubborn, pushing buttons and boundaries and schooling me in emoji warfare. He knows what I need to hear/feel and knows when things are hard for me, he tells me I’m important because I need to be reminded and even when we’re not agreeing are close in an atypical way. He encourages my honesty even when it isn’t easy, like he wants me to be sassier, louder, braver, a bigger pain in the ass if it means coming into my own.

I have a friend who reminds me that I’m talented and worthy of more than I’m sometimes brave enough to ask for, who challenges me as a writer and gets me to do things in the name of “research.” As undergrads we spent the night before final exams dancing to Afro-Cuban beats at Zanzibar, banking on my freakish memory to get us through the tests because sometimes you just have to dance. She’s shared a $300 bar tab, a stash of emergency chocolate and many life conversations with me and reminded me last night in a moment of “help, I’m a little lost” that I’m not busted. She gets my struggles and I get hers, and she’s the only person I’ll let speak cutesified Spanish to me so please don’t try it because one is enough.
You know what’s awesome- I could go on for DAYS. I have a ginger who frolicks on bays with me, who encourages me and laughs with me about words that rhyme and unattractive dance moves; I have a boss who’s a BFF who let me go supportively because she knew I’d found my passion and because she shares that passion too. I have a gypsy life-shift Sherpa who takes me on Baja adventures and tells me to keep on dreaming. I have so, so, so much love in my life that it almost seems silly to want more.

If today you find yourself madly in love with someone who loves you too, I’m truly very happy for you. I encourage you to revel in love because love is an amazing thing and even if it’s corny and cheesy to make a big deal out of it on Valentine’s Day- so what! Go for it! The world needs a little more love. Go be sappy and happy about it and let the haters hate. If you’re single like me, I salute you just the same! Love is probably all around you like it is for me, you may just have to make a list and write it out to remember that. Do it, you’ll surprise yourself.
I am now about to go enjoy my V-Day with a group of beloved friends that I am lucky to have in my life. I’m also going to lather on the SPF because I live in San Diego which has a blatant disrespect for winter. I will leave you with some wise words from Hugh Grant, a classic quote from a classic movie.

“It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often, it's not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it's always there - fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge - they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I've got a sneaky feeling you'll find that love actually is all around.”
Happy Valentine's Day!
Bookishly Yours,