• Sylvia Madrigal

    Seeker, sinner, scholar (with an emphasis on the sinner)

    Seeker: In search of her soul, Sylvia has followed spiritual gurus to Teotihuacán, Palenque, Chichén Itzá, Bonampak, Yaxchilán, Misol Ha, Uxmal, Tulum, Cobá, Templo Mayor, Machu Picchu, Ollantaytambo, Assisi, Nueva York and anywhere else they told her to go. Until she ran out of money.
    Sinner: Baptized Catholic, Sylvia realized the enormity of her original sin when she continually found herself in same-sex relationships, no matter how many times she tried to engage in heterosexual ones. Now that the world has so radically changed since Sylvia sobbed at Ellen DeGeneres' fictional coming out to Laura Dern through an airport microphone, she has found many other ways to sin.
    Scholar: Sylvia's not really a scholar, but she liked the alliteration, and she did get her B.A. at Yale in 1979 (does that count?). She's written several textbooks to teach Spanish to American high school and college students. Over the years she has tried to award herself a faux MFA by reading every copy of the New Yorker cover-to-cover since 1985 as well as all manner of fiction, bestselling or not, and by writing stories, a novella (Of Two Minds), and a novel (The Fifth Codex).
    Writers' Anonymous

    Confessions of an unpublished writer

    98,787 Words and Seven Years Out of a Lifetime

    98, 787 Words and Seven Years Out of a Lifetime

    You can count the words, and even the years, but can you count the beads of sweat? The doubts crawling like ants up your leg?
    I tried to quit many times. I couldn't understand why I would make myself suffer so much over writing that absolutely no one, except my dear beloved Gail, gave a damn about.
    Was there a writers' rehab I could join? 12 steps I could take? Was there any way to beat the compulsion that propelled me to the computer every day? Could I overcome this self-destructive habit that swallowed up all my free time and soured every moment of freedom I managed to create?
    No, there wasn't. No matter how many times I stopped, even the month that my therapist forced me to cease and desist, I always came back. The relapse was always around the corner.
    One day I realized that there was no way to end the suffering except by soldiering on, and FINISHING, goddammit. 
    Which I finally did, on January 12, 2014. My facebook post of that day: "I wrote THE END today. I am numb." It received 44 likes and 35 comments, the most I have ever received. 
    The suffering ended only momentarily. The magnetic pull to the computer has returned in full force, more virulent than before. One query letter a day for 90 days, I have solemnly vowed.
    After that? I've already begun research on the next novel. I can't wait to get back to my drug of choice, the torture chamber that is writing.
  • Searching and Seeking
    in Ancient Lands

    Or, How Much Does It Cost to Get Enlightened?

    Where Men Become Gods

    Nobody knows who built this mysterious compound of pyramids and temples and underground tunnels outside of Mexico City. Teotihuacán was what the Aztecs named it, loosely translated as "the place where men become gods."
    Fast forward to the modern day spiritual age: Teo, as it is affectionately called by the frequent spiritual fliers who visit it yearly, is a mystery school where seekers follow spiritual leaders of all stripes. The goal is to strip you down to a divine essence of you.
    I had visited Teo in my Spanish video travels for American publishing companies, but it wasn't until 2002 that I travelled there with the express purpose of participating in a "power journey." I had enrolled in a Dreaming class run by a Toltec shaman and the trip to Teo was a yearly requirement of the course. I traveled there four years in a row, from 2002 to 2006, when I officially graduated myself at a fire ceremony. 
    Teo taught me a great deal about myself. Be careful: the experience can either liberate you or destroy you. Don't expect it to heal you or divest you of your wounds. That work must be done by you and it can be done anywhere. The site is overrun by tourists and overzealous security guards. There are ways of connecting with the ancient spirit of truth at Teo, and perhaps it seems easier to do that there than in your own backyard. But believe me, the work can be done in your one-room apartment if your budget doesn't allow for a luxurious trip to an ancient site.
    Enlightenment is free. The costly part has nothing to do with money.

    Machu Picchu:
    Not of This World

    Machu Picchu is the only place in the world where I felt that I was not on this planet. The land and mountainscapes are so unlike anything else my retinas were accustomed to that I felt I had taken leave of my senses.
    Traveling to Machu Picchu is not for the faint of heart, or the weak of knees. I am glad I made this journey in my forties. It is a demanding journey, requiring hiking ability, fortitude and stamina. If you have trouble with altitudes, this could become an issue for you. (I was amazed to find out that most hotel lobbies have an oxygen tank, and lines often form around it. Also, coca leaves are available everywhere for chewing, since that is the native treatment for prevention of altitude sickness.)
    If there is any way you can travel to Machu Picchu, I say do it. Breathtaking, awe-inspiring, the mere sight of Machu Picchu can border on an ecstatic religious experience. Nature and Incan ingenuity combine to blow your mind right out of your skull!

    Where that King Built that Bodacious Coffin

    I have a soft spot in my heart for Palenque and I have no idea why. It just stole my heart the first time I traveled there. Nothing saddens me more than the fact that I will never be able to go down into Pakal's tomb. In order to preserve it for posterity, the Mexican authorities closed it off to visitors long before I even knew about it.
    Palenque has pyramids, temples, waterfalls, enormous ceiba trees. More than that, Palenque embodies the original natural essence that is you, me, every sentient being. You breathe it there: the original stardust. It enters through the pores of your skin.
    Somehow you end up in another century when you experience the night sky in Palenque. It's eerie. And so damn real.

    San Benito, Texas:

    San Benito is a stone's throw from the Mexican border in the southernmost tip of Texas. Why my soul decided to incarnate there to Mexican parents is a huge mystery to me.
    The photo above is of the house I was brought to when I was born in 1958: 126 E. Purvis Street, San Benito, Texas. It no longer exists.
    Even more of a mystery is how I got from that one traffic light town (it has a couple more now) to Yale then to Boston then to Newport. Pure fantasy. But it happened, one choice at a time.
    I can tell you more if you're interested. Just ask.
  • Desperately Seeking Self

    On a pyramid. In an airport. On the street.

    A failed book trailer attempt

    Over the years I have filmed footage of all my spiritual travels to Teotihuacán, Machu Picchu, Ollantaytambo, Moray, Ek Balam, Palenque, Yaxchilán, Bonampak, Tulum, Cobá, Uxmal, Chichén Itza, and Assisi. Unfortunately, all that footage now needs to be converted to some new version of iMovie. I promise to do this. But it will take me some time, given my tech inadequacies. For now, all I have is this silly YouTube commercial I did in 2011 using an Apple template. It was insane of me to think that this is a novel "coming out soon". It IS a novel. The "soon" part is debatable.
  • Spectator Grand Slam

    U.S. Open, Roland Garros, Wimbledon, Australian Open

    Melbourne, Australia: Here I come!

    When I was young, I entertained the delusion that I would one day play on Centre Court, Wimbledon. 
    I have revised that childhood ambition by vowing to complete the Spectator Grand Slam. I have been to the U.S. Open several times, once to Roland Garros (2000), and once to Wimbledon (2009). We waited to go to Wimbledon until they had the roof, because we could not imagine spending that much money and getting rained out. In the photo above, I am waiting for my beloved Roger Federer.
    All I've got left is the Australian Open, which I have promised myself for my 60th birthday in 2018. Only time will tell.
  • Embroidery

    My spiritual practice

    Pakal's Sarcophagus Lid, Embroidered

    One summer when I was twelve, I told my mother I was bored. Huge mistake. In order to cure me of my boredom, and to insure that I would never repeat that statement, she made me embroider a tablecloth for 12 with 12 matching napkins.
    I did not embroider again for over 40 years.
    But then one day, I wanted to give my freelance editor a gift. I had heard her speak on a panel at the Yale in Hollywood conference. In my notebook, I had written a spontaneous utterance of hers that I found remarkable: THE PERFECT BOOK IS THE ONE ONLY YOU CAN WRITE. My first instinct was to turn this into a graphic print. Gail, my ever-so-wise partner, innocently asked, "Why don't you embroider it instead?"
    That one gift has turned into a daily spiritual practice which brings me the peace and solace that writing most definitively does not. 
    The photo above is of Pakal's sarcophagus lid. It is the most complex design I have ever attempted. I found it while I was doing research for The Fifth Codex. It took me over a year to complete.
    Quetzálcoatal, or Quezzie

    I can't stop embroidering!

    I have embroidered several gifts, and even designed some of my own embroideries. But mostly I embroider Mayan and Aztec designs that I find in books or on Internet. I usually have to simplify the designs, and then have them transferred to cross-stich fabric. I make copies of the design on paper and try many different colors before I decide on the final palette. I embroider almost every day for an hour or two. And I emerge peaceful, as if I had been meditating for hours.
    The piece above is a design that I first did as a woodcut. It is of a cheerful Quetzalcóatl. I call him Quezzie.


    My most recent piece is called Fractals, inspired by Star. It was the last piece Gail saw me design and embroider. Unfortunately, she did not see it completed. She helped me pick the colors. She also convinced me that I did not need to start over when I realized that I used the wrong cross-stitch fabric. (I had designed it for an 18-count and had started embroidering it on a 16-count). We spent many weekends sitting side-by-side as I embroidered and we watched tennis, or police procedurals. Ocean, sun, earth and bird: all things that she loved and that remind me of her. Needless to say, this piece is extremely meaningful to me.
  • Where to find Sylvia

    Because she is eminently findable

  • Write to me!

    I'm a lonely writer and would love to hear from you.