sugar skull

One of the things I love about the creative act of writing, is the way memories or images float into my mind and reveal themselves in ways that connect an old memory/image to a new idea. This synchronicity amazes me and is a theme that often appears in my writing. Bridget O’Leary, my protagonist, often says, “I don’t believe in coincidence,” and neither do I.

I grew up in Arizona and have  vivid memories of the day Manuela, my new friend in 6th grade, pulled 2 Sugar Skulls out of her lunchbox and handed one to me. She told me her grandma made dozens of the colorful candy skulls to decorate the altar for  Dia de los Muertos (day of the dead).  She pointed to a small crack in each of our skulls and grinned, “I got to take these two because they weren’t pretty enough for the angelito’s.”

That was my introduction to Dia de los Muertos, sugar skulls, and the tradition of celebrating a day when all deceased children (angelitos or little angels)  are reunited with their families in heaven. In some families, the name of a deceased child is written on a sugar skull.

canstockphoto8232258  While writing my book, Dead Day, I flashed on the memory of Manuela, sugar skulls, and Day of the Dead, Dia de los Muertos.  The result was a scene in the book with a serial killer who is taunting Dr. Bridget O’Leary by sending several sugar skulls to her office.  The pretty skulls arrive with anonymous notes threatening that others will die before Dead Day, the day at the end of a college semester when students are studying for their final exams. This ignites Bridget’s passion for protecting her college campus and she embarks on a terrifying journey to find the killer before more students are murdered.

I am fascinated by seemingly random experiences that connect past experiences with the present. I am curious, have you experienced synchronicity in your life?  Do you think it is prevalent for people who engage in creative activities? Let me know your thoughts.



8 thoughts on “Day of the Dead and Sugar Skulls

  1. I absolutely believe in synchronicity! It is a fundamental literacy skill that I teach in early literacy courses. We all have the ability to make text-to-self, text-to-text, and text-to-world connections. For example, when I just read your recent blog posting, I found myself connecting to the final scene in the movie, “Coco” (a movie recently released by Disney based on Day of the Dead). Having just lost my father-in-law, I love the idea of family members who have passed “crossing over.” Although from my faith perspective, I believe that angels are always among us. I believe that by connecting past memories to new experiences we create a richness that didn’t exist before. I am often inspired by my own children to create stories “on the fly.” My little girl loves to hear me tell stories no matter how silly- and often- these stories are based on childhood experiences or those that have held the most meaning in my life. I cannot wait to read your latest book to see if Bridget tracks down the killer in time! I love your connection between Day of the Dead and Dead Day on campus- so interesting!


    1. Wow! Thank you for sharing this! I wasn’t aware of the Disney movie! You are so right about parents who create stories for their children! I love it!


  2. For me, as an abstract painter, I feel synchronicity is fundamental to the process of emerging through a painting. I often do not feel that I am anything more than a conduit for something more Universal. Say what you will about the muse or some kind of “outside of ourselves” concept, I do think it is part of it. Synchronicity (German: Synchronizität) is a concept, first introduced by analytical psychologist Carl Jung, which holds that events are “meaningful coincidences” if they occur with no causal relationship yet seem to be meaningfully related. He later wrote that the idea of synchronicity perhaps extends beyond coincidences. The “outside ourselves” phenomenon. For the creative person it is also the ability to recognize these events in the everyday and utilize the information through some media of expression.


    1. Bert, I learn so much about creativity and life from you! Thanks for sharing this! The idea of being a conduit really expresses the feeling of “being in the zone.”


  3. A significant event that comes to mind took place in 1990. As I was returning home from Atlanta one Sunday evening, I made a stop at a service station. When attempting to restart my car, the engine wouldn’t turn over at all. There I was, stranded, 7 months pregnant with our first child, gaining much sympathy from all customers passing by. The owner of the station, along with several others, could not resolve the car issue. I made a call to my husband from the station phone to explain the circumstance. A female customer and her two young daughters overheard my call and offered to let me come to their house just down the road and rest while my husband drove to the Macon station to rescue me. I accepted the kind offer to wait at the woman’s home. The family allowed me to sit in an easy chair and prop my swollen feet. The two young girls curled up in the chair, one on each side, as I read stories to them. They served me some instant grits, a gestational craving of mine. It was one of the most peaceful experiences I’d had up to that point in my life. Two hours later, we met my husband back at the gas station. Strangely, my car cranked up on the first try and off we headed to Valdosta, grateful to the kind family and relieved that we didn’t have to get my car towed at weekend wrecker prices. The car was examined thoroughly by a mechanic the following day. There was no explanation as to why the car would not start and no future trouble from that vehicle.
    Moving ahead, my husband and I have been blessed with precious daughters that have brought me the serenity that was felt that evening in a stranger’s home reading to two young girls. One more meaningful coincidence, both my girls love instant grits.


  4. When I was in elementary school, I heard the Police song and has resonated with me. A connecting principle, almost imperceptible, causally connectible.
    (Not to be confused with Synchronicity II which is about the Loch Ness Monster)

    As I started reading and writing, I learned that we think in narrative. Everything is connected. Everything relates. Synchronicity allows us to believe the world is happening for a reason. It’s a tool to tell stories without connecting all of the dots, because presenting dots makes us believe they are connected.

    I don’t know if it really does, but I like believing that we are all connected and affecting one another. I’m not religious, but I want to believe we all have purpose no matter how small or tangential to those around us.


    1. Jason, I share your hope that we are all connected and have a purpose. I am fascinated by stories of people who are tangentially connected and either experience tremendous benefits from those connections or are faced with the tragic consequences of those brief encounters with others.


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