THE SHIFT, CURSES! An Interview with Gloria Bueno

This week Gloria Bueno’s The Shift, book two in a series of Curses will be released at the Baltimore DIY Fest. The Shift continues Curses’s intertextual, cavalcade of references to popular culture and mysticism, except where book one featured Bueno’s unique cauldron of Salvadorian and Tex-Mex anxieties in relation to Catholic morals, gender inequalities, and a search for answers from a sometimes unsympathetic masculine higher power, The Shift finds empowerment in popular culture and fantasy. Along with La Virgen de Guadalupe, there is a feminist hero and savior in Sailor Moon. Bueno’s writing continues to evoke the work of someone struggling to communicate their deepest fears, regrets, and hope. It’s almost as though we’ve stumbled upon a journal—or glorified zine—completely sincere and raw.

Earlier this summer, Sybil Press caught up with Bueno in San Antonio, Texas. Below is an edited interview covering the subjects of Lady Gaga, witchcraft, and mimes.

(Norberto Gomez, Jr. 8/29/16)

 

Sybil Press: Tell us about The Shift.

 Gloria Bueno: The Shift is escaping the morals and reality of religion and it goes more into the fantasy realm. You know how we have religions and rules and we have things that we have to follow, I just kind of wanted to take away from me stressing about, “Am I doing the right thing?”  or, ya know, “Is God real?” I just kind of wanted to escape that and go into something more fantasy that keeps me a little bit more sane and I am not stressing about, “Am I doing the right thing? Is my soul being saved? Am I going to hell? Am I going to heaven?”

SP: And you’re talking about Catholicism? You were raised devoutly?

B: My mom never really stressed it. She was a Jehovah’s Witness for maybe like three years, but she did stress about teaching god. And I went on my own when I was younger and I would go to different churches: Catholic Church, Pentecostal Church, Lutheran Church, Mormon Church on my own to figure out what was the difference or what was the right path and I just found out on my own that there’s no—they all conflict with each other…

So like for a while I would stress about it so much, to where I would let people take advantage of me or—

SP: What do you mean?

B: You know how they say be the better person or do the right thing?

SP: Turn the other cheek?

B: Yeah, and you just let people constantly walk over you.  So it’s like you know you kind of go into this thing well if god is real, you wouldn’t have these people backstabbing you. Or you wouldn’t have tragedies. Which is what Curses is about because last year I had umm last year was just a really bad year. So it felt like a curse—and you know people are always trying to find ways to heal and me stressing out the right way to heal was kind of—starting to become unhealthy because I just kept stressing about it. Ya know, am I doing something wrong that I’m not healing right? Or is this just karma? How do I get rid of karma? …Am I not worthy of god? What am I doing wrong that he’s not blessing me? …Religion is kind of like a fantasy but it’s also like a reality and so I kind of just wanted to escape from that and just go to fantasy where I don’t have to stress about that that I m just free. So I go into the world of painting, or mime, or clown art or mythology or you know things like stories from artists like Edgar Allan Poe, Anne Rice and so—it’s an escape. You’re not stressed about where you belong in the world or if you’re even going to heaven or hell if they exist. Or if you’re on the right path in your life in general or if you’re not gonna succeed in life. You’re just kind stuck in this world where you’re just free.

SP: Where is your mom from? Or her family?

B: My mom is from El Salvador.

SP: And your dad?

B: My dad, he was born in Oklahoma, but he has a lot of Indian and mixed-Mexican blood in him. But he doesn’t believe in god—oh, I mean he does believe in god, but he believes that the god I believe in is weak. And he’s not—like if he was real he would help his people. So my dad has this, his religion is the Viking, the Nordic religion, the Norse religion.

SP: How did he get involved in all that? He was in Texas when he got involved in it?

B: Yeah.

SP: And there are still people who practice that, those religions but how did he connect with it in South Texas, which seems so far away from all that?

B: I think—I really don’t know how he got involved with it but I kind of believe maybe he went through a lot to where he turned against ya know the normal Christian god and he was looking for something else.

SP: For some of the concerns that you mention too, so in a way y’all were both searching and struggling, even if you don’t see eye-to-eye on certain things.

B: [laughs] A lot of things we don’t see eye-to-eye. So he would do the ceremonies and his rituals usually once a year. I can’t recall when the time frame is or when he does the ritual. But he usually prepares a bunch of food, and he grills it, and he goes under a tree because in the Nordic religion the tree is their main symbol. And so he goes under it and he has this cloth and it has the symbols of Odin. And he also has a golden hammer that has like symbols that represent Odin engraved into them. So he’ll usually do the ritual for about two hours and he just prays for two hours straight while the food is cooking. It’s like an offering to Odin…

So growing up it was different. My mom wasn’t super Catholic but she just stressed on god.  She wasn’t a certain religion. She kind of herself tried to find out which was the right way. And she gave up. She’s like, “You know what if that’s something you want to believe in, believe in it. I’m not gonna like force you to be a certain religion because I can’t even identity with a certain religion other than that I love god.”  So she was a normal Christian and my dad is the complete opposite—he’s into the Viking religion, he’s into Odin, Thor—

SP: “Paganism.”

B: Yeah, and so we—even as a little girl, when I would pray to god, he, I don’t know why his mentality was the way it was, but he would tell me,“You know your god’s weak. If your god really cared about you or cared about the world he wouldn’t have these people suffering,” and I remember being maybe 13 years old and finally telling him, “Well if your god existed too, then this wouldn’t happen.”

Even though I liked comics at the time, because my dad brought me up with comics, it was just a jab to get back at him by saying, “Well at least my god isn’t in a stupid comic book.” You know, I was just basically telling him yours is more fantasy than mine is.

SP: So that takes us to the fantasy of The Shift again. When you were growing up did you watch a lot of, was it animations? You mention comics books, was that part of what helped you feel comfortable?

B: It’s what saved me. Which is weird too because my dad was the one who introduced me to anime and to comics. And it’s just weird how we connect in that but with religion it just completely separated us. Anime, comics, art, writing is what—and theater, it’s what saved me. If it wasn’t for that then I probably would not be here, to be honest.

SP: What are some animations that were really impactful to you and around how old were you when you started getting into some of these things that saved you?

B: I started young. When I started watching Sailor Moon. [laughs]

SP: I know people who are into Sailor Moon. What’s the premise of it, because I’ve actually never seen any of it? What’s the story? What are they about?

B: It’s basically this group of girls and they used to each live on their own planet. They were princesses of their own planet. And the main character, Sailor Moon, she was the princess of the Moon and she’s in charge of all the planets. The bad queen comes in and destroys everything and they’re reborn on earth. So they’re human. They don’t recollect any of their past memories as princesses or warriors.  Sailor Moon is this clumsy girl, who’s so ditzy, and not doing well in school, but she has a good heart and she’s very funny. So I could relate to her character. It deals with a lot of these girls going through their own struggle but they turn out to have this power inside them and they overcome these obstacles.

SP: What else?

B: Superheroes, Godzilla. It just has to deal a lot with finding that power inside yourself to overcome these obstacles. That’s why I was into superheroes because a lot of superheroes have dark stories. Tragedies always happen to them. So I could relate to superheroes because I’ve gone through several tragedies and I think to myself sometimes how am I still here?...

SP: The female aspect of Sailor Moon is important. Like you said it’s sort of empowering to be a woman and is there something feminist about it, I wonder? And I am thinking about in your first book here, Ritual Milagros, this one passage, where you write:

In her beliefs she was taught “Father, Son and The Holy Spirit.” Would it be a sin to think for just one second that maybe the spirit “Our Father” may not understand these situations for he is considered to be male, not female like us? To think about it, She was abandoned and rejected by her earthly father. Is it the same? Is it wise to connect gender to a supreme? Could this explain un-an­swered prayers? “Was I to look elsewhere?” She has heard of many myths and legends of a woman who was connected to this God. Maybe there is truth to this woman. Curiosity struck her.

I think that’s a really powerful passage. The godhead figure in various religions is typically, in more Western contemporary culture, it’s very male-centric. And that wasn’t the case for a lot ancient religions. A lot of the goddesses, whether of the Moon or something like that, those tended to be the most powerful. For some reason things seemed to have become more male. The three main Abrahamic religions—the younger religions seem to be more phallocentric—all about the penis. I think it’s interesting to understand you as saying, “I’m praying to this person that’s supposed to understand me, to help me, but it’s this dude. Does this dude really understand what I need?” That’s why I think the Virgin de Guadalupe plays a large role in this. Do you want to talk about that also? What does it mean for you as a woman?

B: When I was battling with whether I should continuing to believe in god or not, I thought to myself why, other than am I not worthy, is it because he’s not gentle enough? Is he more harsh, like more, kind of more—not as sympathetic? When I would read up on the Virgin Mary or I would see people post things, they would always say that she leads you towards god, or she convinces god to have more mercy on you, or to bless you because she has that nurturing, mother presence and power. When I started recognizing and acknowledging her more I just felt that maybe she would understand my position as a woman, as a daughter trying to help my mom, trying to surpass this tragedy. My mom was going through a lot so I kind of thought ya know maybe the Virgin Mary does understand my mother’s side too… So I just thought that maybe the Virgin Mary would understand us as a female, as a daughter, and as a mother. That’s why I started leaning towards her more.

SP: The story of La Virgen de Guadalupe or, “La Reina de Mexico” is a strange one isn’t it? The Virgin Mary appeared in the New World, in Mexico. She had roses that she gave to an indigenous peasant in the form of a cloak. It was a blend of the native religion with Christianity that’s been brought to the New World. Your book, your poems and ideas of religion and fantasy are that kind of multiculturalism—mixing in the mythologies, the religion with native ideas. In Curses you’re talking about these practices like la limpia—that’s not traditionally Christian at all. That would have been heretical centuries ago to European Christians. This is not part of the religion.

B: It means you’re a witch. [laughs]

SP: Right, but being that we have kind of the same, somewhat similar ethnic background, cultural background, we know that we have witch doctors and stuff.

B: Yeah, healers.

SP: Healers that are mediums communicating and doing god’s work on earth. That’s really interesting because of that weird blend. You start off with Ritual Milagros being more religion based but with that mix of South Texas mythology. The next one, The Shift, you’re talking more about pop culture and some other things.

B: A lot of love poem… I did one about Greek mythology, also another Nordic poem kind of relating to my dad...

SP: What about your Lord of the Rings one? It’s written in Elvish.

B: Lord of the Rings too, big fan of Lord of the Rings. It’s just a short poem. It’s about an elf just describing their surroundings: the throne, him aging, well not really aging—he’s ageing by years but not by appearance—and how they love nature…

SP: What about this illustration:

 

B: I’m also into horoscopes, astrology. Around that time I wrote that poem there was Mercury retrograde. That usually means like the planet Mercury goes back and so it’s like all these miscommunications happen. It’s like a I guess it’s a superstition—not everybody believes it—but usually technology kind of gets weird or shuts down. Or, there’s a lot of miscommunication with people. It’s kind of like bad luck, bad energy for a short period of time. And so I actually was going through a hard time when I wrote that poem and it happen to be Mercury retrograde time. Also Saturn kind of went into my planet backwards and so Saturn is the planet of karma and it’s like if you don’t learn your lessons within that time that Saturn’s in there, you’re gonna repeat these misfortunes. You have to really focus on fixing your mistakes. So I’m into stuff like that too. I’m very superstitious, like I said. I’m trying to find—to cleanse myself, to be a better person, to follow the right path. I look to astrology a lot. It’s like a 50/50 thing with me. I believe it sometimes and other times I kind of like dismiss it. I drew that character as it being Mercury retrograde and Saturn and it—and the reason why it’s holding the cross down is because that’s the time I was also like not—I was questioning my faith and I was just like, well if god’s not real then maybe Mercury retrograde is real that caused me all this bad luck. [laughs] So that person is me being choked by this, that religion.

I just kind of felt that Curses was a book dealing with religion and a little bit of mysticism, because religion is kind of like—it’s a little bit of fantasy. It deals with rituals so that’s very witch-like too and a lot of Christians don’t think so, but it is. At the same time Christians just see their religion as—or the more hardcore, strict Christians—as, “Oh you know if you do this that’s very worldly; if you do this that’s very witchcraft-like.” You guys do rituals, that’s a very witchlike type thing. You’re praying to an entity or you’re summoning an entity that you really physically haven’t seen but you have hopes that it’s gonna bless you with something or it’s gonna—it’s presence is gonna come over you. I just kind of wanted people to understand that, you know, that no religion is better. We all have something that we’re trying to summon. Something that—it all relates to each other. There’s no reason why they should tell each other, “Oh this is wrong,” or “That’s is wrong,” or “You’re like witchcraft,” or “You’re too worldly,” when they all have rituals. When they are all trying to summon this presence.

SP: I was thinking as you were talking that in a way the very traditional, Christian religion doesn’t really like that. It’s really only the priest or people in the hierarchy who can perform these things. But with curanderos and curanderas doing it—who are just regular people—isn’t that more democratic in a sense? They’re saying that they believe they can still conjure the god. They don’t have to be a part of the hierarchy. That’s kind of special thing, right?

B: Yeah, I actually had an experience with that. My mom cleaned houses, or she took care of this older man and when she told him all the incidences that were occurring with me, he was kind of like “I should probably see your daughter. Come bring her in. Have her come down from San Antonio so I can cleanse her.” No charge. No charge whatsoever"…

SP: Please, read this poem for us from your forthcoming book, The Shift.

 

SP: What about pop culture? I don’t think in any of the books you mention your celebrity interests.

B: Lady Gaga [laughs]

SP: Yes, I would like to talk about Lady Gaga. What about her for you is important?

B: When she came out, she was just very different. Her wardrobe reminded me of something very ‘80s: Madonna, Prince, Michael Jackson. So when I started watching her as an artist I felt like, you know, when you’re born in the ‘90s or the ‘80s you kind of have this—certain things just give you this nostalgic feeling and it’s kind of like weird. I like this nostalgic feel and I want to keep feeling this. And that’s what she did for me. She kind of reminded me of the ‘90s and a little bit of the ‘80s artists because when I was young I would always watch MTV music videos and I was in awe with Prince, and Michael Jackson. All of them. So she just had that for me, and even Kiss. She has this very glam rock look to her. I like artists who are very theatrical and I like artists who are theatrical because they are very fantasy like. If I’m in this fantasy world, I feel like singing. I feel—I feel like I can be anything or I can believe anything and then I feel free.

I think she’s very fantasy-like. Maybe I just struggle a lot with reality that I just always want to be in a fantasy world. That’s why I was into ‘80s glam rock like Twister Sister, Kiss, the New York Dolls and things like that. We’re men and we like women but we can dress up as whatever the fuck we want. That doesn’t make us any less of a person, less intelligent or less talented. So they were free.

SP: And you act?

B: And I act, yeah, I’m an actress. I get to escape my life for a little bit and I’m focusing on being this completely other character. Sometimes it triggers emotions or memories but for the most part I focus so much on trying to be somebody else that I’m kind of like, “Ok, I don’t have to worry about my problems. I don’t have to worry about what’s going to happen that’s bad.” I’m someone else for whatever period of time and I’m ok with that.

SP: That takes me to mimes, because you do some miming. It’s such an old art form—to be a mime—and I know you’re interested in that and clowns. In the US, there are clown colleges, you know this, you can go to clown school and a lot of famous actors—

B: Robin Williams.

SP: —they’ve gone to those and they’ve become really famous comedians or actors. I heard that in the last year or so that enrollment in a lot of the clown colleges had gone down significantly. There are not a lot of people practicing this ancient art form.

B: I saw Marcel MarceauI just remember seeing him perform a skit and I understood the story, even though he wasn’t speaking. He was just using body language and I thought, dude 1) he’s a really good actor. Because that’s acting you know? You’re trying to convince the audience of what you’re going through and 2) I just thought it was unique. I’m like if I want to progress as an artist I think that you should kind of step outside the boundaries, you know, and I was convinced with his work. I don’t know what made me like clowns and mimes. I saw him and was kind of fascinated but I don’t know why the obsessions grew to what it is now. I used to work for a clown too and I did a little bit of balloons and magic tricks… Mimes and clowns just have this very ancient, mystical feel to them for me at least and I always like to tap into them. I just like the unknown, things that are magical and fantasy. Maybe I was a witch back then in my past life. [laughs]

For David Bowie, I performed… The Mask. It was a lot harder than I thought it would be because he has his own little way of doing these things... At the end David Bowie falls down, or you know it’s like he’s dying, I was performing at the gym because they have this studio space. I was performing at the gym late at night and then I did the last part where he falls and these guys that were playing basketball saw me fall… they come running and this guy was like, “Are you ok?! Do you need help?! Do we need to call anybody?!” And I got up and was like, “No I’m performing! I’m sorry. I’m just practicing.”

SP: Let’s have you read “Never Seep.”