Sunday, November 15, 2015

Finding My Happy Place In Old San Juan

A few weeks ago, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. were in Puerto Rico. Coulson stood in a corner I’ve stood in a hundred times, looking into a sight my heart aches to see again.

When I get nostalgic for Puerto Rico, I rarely think of my hometown of over a decade. It’s Old San Juan that comes to mind first. Bayamón does hold a place in my memories, it isn’t all sad, but I found it easy to leave because it didn’t have my heart.

This is the first version I learned, sung by Javier Solis and Trio Los Panchos.

A friend recorded En Mi Viejo San Juan, a classic standard from Noel Estrada, that has over the years become a sort of second anthem—especially for the expats. It has been covered by dozens of Latin American artists. The song starts with the narrator declaring love for the city since childhood, leaving physically during his youth but also leaving his heart behind, facing the sea; then there’s the constant pull to return and experience its majestic beauty; until, finally, the narrator’s hair grays and old age comes, death is near, and his biggest regret is dying separated from his greatest love.

And if you’ve stepped foot in that place, and been enchanted by it since childhood, then yes, the guitars playing its melody bring tears to your eyes as well as dozens of sights, and the smell of the sea, and café con leche, and the sound of men playing dominoes…

Part of the allure, besides the cobblestone streets, the tiny corridors, the sloping balconies, and the Colonial architecture--all in lovely pastels--is that everything pretty much remains where you remember it since the first time you visit it.

Its history is exciting and the thing of romance, (with pirates and everything!) but its history changes as you become a part of it (or rather as it starts to steal your heart bit by bit).

I dreamed I was sitting in one of the tiny plazas. Someone off to the side, whom I could not see, was trying to get my attention, to get me to go with them and do something. I didn’t want to and waved them off. I was happy to sit under the giant oak and watch its red leaves dance in the gentle breeze coming from the sea a few feet away.

I was happy to sit back and listen to the sing-song of the voices, the different accents from every corner of the tiny island and parts of the Bronx (as my grandmother used to say).

Check out the extraordinary work of Luis German Cajiga here:

The piraguero and I started a conversation and he offered me a piragua (shaved ice with sugary nectar for flavoring). He rattled the list of flavors he had and finished with the one he knew would sell it: maví!

Look for Luis Guzman's awesome cameo!

No, I am not dying. It’s just that I needed a break from the chaos, hatred, and violence; and in the absence of enough funds for a proper visit, I will escape to my happy place in dreams.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Breakin' Up is Hard to Do

I've been working on a few projects, proofreading books previously published about to hit the market as ebooks. Some behaviors and technology are dated--which doesn't affect storytelling at its core because the ideas of the books tend to be universal. But it has made me wonder about the way Millenials perceive works created prior to the latest technological paradigm shift... And I finally understand the point of media literacy now. Without a cultural frame of reference, some things make no sense at all. 

As a teenager, I reunited with a family member I had not seen since infancy. It was summer, and she was working half-day Fridays. I slept over and my instructions were to call for pizza for lunch, and we’d go to the movies when she came home.

I found picture albums in the living room, and managed to find pictures of myself as a brand new baby that I’d never seen before. I also saw her wedding pictures. These, too, were new to me. By the time I came along, the marriage was already history.

By the time I came upon the album, over a decade later, the groom was history too.

Not privy to what happened between them, all I can tell you is that as I flipped page after page, he was nowhere to be seen.

She had cut the groom out of each and every photo. Physically cut him off. I mean, at some point, she sat down with her wedding pictures and consciously chose to take a scissor to the face of the man she’d once pledged a commitment until death.

I suppose if you want to do that now, you can delete the photo – or if it is a particularly beautiful shot, you may edit or crop the image.

But moving a file to a virtual trash bin cannot be as satisfying as the feel of metal in your hands and the wanton destruction of physical evidence (at least, not when you are mad as hell!).

This generation will never know the joy of ripping a picture in a gazillion tiny pieces and setting it on fire in an ashtray (some of these kids have never seen an ashtray except in movies, for the love of vice!). They’ll never experience watching the amber colored embers, and hear the tiny pops as the chemicals in the paper interact with flame and create mini-fireworks. 

[DO NOT try this at home, it is a fire hazard!]
The One with the Candy Hearts (and firemen!)

For Millennials, some relationships can be archived and put virtually out of sight and, therefore, out of mind—in the same way Gen Xers and Boomers used to box the memories of a failed romance and stick it all in the back of a closet, under the bed, or up in the attic, down in the basement, or a dark corner in the garage…

Bridging the Generational Gap in Breakup Behavior: 

A generation that lives largely wired and online, they erase what displeases them with relative ease. Hell, they’ve been raised to avoid all kinds of unpleasantness and even give each other trigger warnings about words that might offend them, spoiler alerts, and ideas that may shock their system or make their heads spin.

Sometimes there is some awkwardness when people share networks and specific communities. But there is also the added benefit of ease in changing names, avatars, personae, e-mails, friends, social media… You can go elsewhere or become someone else with a few clicks.

I think we should mourn the falling by the wayside of silly expressions of inner rage. These things are important to our development as a people.

It’s like losing the ability to properly slam a phone! This generation does not understand the sheer thrill of slamming a phone so hard it lets out a small ring of protest.

Is this healthier? Is it easier on the heart and the mind? Does it sooth the soul? Is this a more genteel and civilized way to do things? Is this progress?

Is pathos and gravitas to be found in the click of a button? May that simple an action replace rituals that have brought closure to so many?

Neil Sedaka's Breakin’ Up is Hard to Do no longer applies. That probably means these kids are wired differently because their brains are experiencing the pain of separation in different ways and a whole new timetable. And one day, somebody is going to study this and make a doctoral thesis out of it. Mark my words.

Now go on and get off my virtual lawn as I consider whether to go as Grumpy Lady for Halloween (or one of my standard go-to's like Cleopatra, Goth Babe, Demon Girl, or Homicidal Maniac).

Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Hispanic History Month Trumps Holiday

It is Hispanic Heritage Month again and I’d like to take this opportunity to mix that with the larger ideal behind the celebration of Columbus Day.

Go to for some fun activities 
I neither want to add to the debate as to whether this date celebrates the inability to tell one’s left hand from one’s right hand nor whether this led to a systematic genocide that has lasted centuries. Greater minds can handle this. 

I chose to close out Columbus Day differently.

To me, October 12 is the birthday of a boy I knew long ago, with intensely dark eyes, the looks of a young Al Pacino and a magnificent mane of hair that set my twelve-year-old heart racing. I have not seen him in at least 15 years and thinking of his name alone still tickles me…
That’s beside the point other than I celebrate him on Columbus Day and nothing else.

If you must celebrate anything, celebrate exploration and human curiosity!

To the surprise of no nerd in existence, The Martian managed to top the weekend box office two weeks in a row. Not only is it a space movie, but also a movie all about science. Based on a book where space science is the dominant plot-point, it was well received and made a few bestseller lists.

As Alec Hardison would often declare, “It’s the age of the geek, baby. We run the world.”

Latinos are the fasteest growing demographic in the US, and when we are not doing the raping, some of us (y’know, the good ones) take to STEM and help run NASA.

And by “run” NASA, I mean we are involved at all levels and in roles ranging from the administrative to the scientific. We also have a few astronauts in the program. If you need modern exploration heroes these are the folks you want your kids to emulate!
To learn more, visit the NASA Hispanic Astronauts and the Latina Women of NASA pages.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Can You Taste Your Dreams?

We were watching "Listen", the Doctor Who episode whose subject is universal dreams came up (and by “universal” I mean common to a great many).

Research has identified over a dozen dream themes that appear across cultures and tend to share symbols and narratives that put universal aspects of the human experience in dream form: driving cars, being naked in public, falling, being chased…

The majority of these dreams are on the negative, based on fears and stress.

There are positive dream themes too, such as finding money, flying, or eating your guilty pleasures.

Of course, everybody also has recurring dreams – not always nightmares – and they fall within a relative arm’s reach of these themes, depending on how fertile your dream life may be.

I don’t quite remember my dreams anymore. Sleep apnea robbed me of dreaming; but after the surgery, I rarely remember any of my dreams. And I share some of these, except my naked dreams are of skinny dipping at El Escambrón at dusk; in my car dream, I am driving a tiny clown car from the back seat; and because I am a New Yorker, in my chase dream I get angry and turn around to chase my chaser. That bastard!

My recurring dreams include Star Trek dreams, where I get to fly in a spaceship and be a nerd. I have themes, friends and locations that exist nowhere but my dreams – including a beach area within walking distance of my (landlocked) childhood home that I experience only when I am sick and experiencing fever. The house takes on aspects of our home and a couple of other places that I associate with safety, comfort and love.

I also have a recurring dream where I cook, and last night I was dreaming I was making soup. In this dream, I am making stock with root vegetables and fish bones. As the stock simmers, I make these crispy fish balls with cod.

The end of the dream—after I have strained the stock to a pristine clear broth, added the fish balls, and delicately added a dollop of whipped sour cream and pinch of fresh dill—is the moment I serve the soup.

The best part is that as I prepare the dish to serve it, I hover over the plate and I take in the savory aroma that faintly reminds me of the smell of wet earth after the rain and the intoxicating aroma of the sea. 

Before I put the plate back down, I awake and am left with this overwhelming sense of contentedness and serenity and pure joy.

Apparently, the sense of smell inside a dream is not common, and it is reported at a higher percentage among women.
Smell is the sense most closely associated with emotional memory — just think about how evocative certain scents can be — and the one most closely tied to mental health and happiness. Positive and negative associations with certain smells are locked into our brains from an early age and stick with us the rest of our lives, and to lose that sense of smell is to, in effect, lose a part of our memory. It's the subtlest of the senses, but perhaps the most crucial in terms of our emotional connection to the world. (Mental Floss)

I have also had dreams where I make a pot roast, prepare stews, fry chicken, grill lamb chops, and make a paella. Soon, I expect I will be having ice cream making dreams!

Quite simply, the temperature in the apartment dropped below 70-degrees. It is officially fall! It is time for elaborate kitchen dreams because it is what my soul craves most: elaborate food production.

I can smell my dreams. One day I will make this soup in my own kitchen. It is my fantasy to someday have life imitate my dreams… and then I will also taste my dreams. Literally.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Oy With The Poodles Already!

We have spent the last couple of weeks streaming episodes of Gilmore Girls. We loved the show on its original run (at least five seasons, we were torn about season six, and pretty much hated the last season).

It was pure fantasy but with enough callbacks to life as we know it (my Mom and I were pretty close in age to Lorelai and Rory). We shared an uneasy relationship with the ‘rents – though we came to an understanding with Mami and her motives and actions.

I was not obsessed with Harvard, though. I was more interested in Princeton. Of course, the secret love of my college-bound days was NYU, though I knew we could not afford it so I stifled that fantasy.

Just like its first run, watching the show – between the pop culture references and the character archetypes – we find ourselves remembering people we’ve known in our collective travels, travels we’ve done in New England, good times and drama alike.

We still quote the show in ways that others may not understand. But we’ve been doing that since before the show hit the airwaves...

It’s whimsical and quirky, and funny with moments of melodrama: you know, like life at the Temple.

We don’t identify with the characters, that’d be silly. (Except for the coffee and chocolate thing, but that’s not weird!) We do see some points of comparison and that leads to great conversations, memories, laughter, and storytelling of our own. It was a bonding experience then as it is now.  

Besides, my Mom was always smarter, and more mature than Lorelai. Also, we are great friends, but she was always mother first. All that established she was always a cool Mom. Still is!

I did find it interesting that one of the millennials reviewing the series for its Netflix release could not understand why Lorelai was sometimes mean to Emily for “no reason at all.” She did not get the generational gap probably because there is a growing segment of the population that can’t have a generational gap when little over a decade separates each generation.

When you turn 50 and also become a great grandmother, you know you have redefined the role and the experience for all those involved.

I am curious about the guys who do a podcast, though I imagine it will be a different experience than binge-watching Battlestar Galactica and then immediately after watching the show, following it with the video commentary by Ron Moore.

As for “Oy with the poodles already,” we have been known to speak combinations of words, in a variety of languages, that confound those who insist on eavesdropping. Few are let in and given a clue, but not all are worthy to remain in the fold (sadly) -- for these we are ready wallow in tres leches, triple chocolate, triple coffee rum raisin ice cream and the Babes go on livin'.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

First Day of School

Today is the first day of school in New York City. Just a couple of hours ago, I was sitting in the front room watching the news and listening to the jackhammers fixing/breaking the road, sinkhole, and elevated highway. The noise is now so pervasive I tend to ignore it like ads in between Hulu programming. This morning, booming above the cacophony were giggles and squeals. The girls next door were going to school and they were happy and excited.

I always loved school. I’m not sure my peers ever understood that as we were growing up – but it gave me the opportunity to get out of the house, be near kids (even if we couldn’t always relate), learn new things, and have a whole library of books!

One of my biggest disappointments in my entire academic experience (up to and including grad school) was the outcome of my original Kindergarten interview. The teacher rejected me and put me on a waiting list. She claimed I was too young, and recommended a start date the following August.

I cried. I couldn’t understand it. I was brilliant!

My grandmother saw this as an opportunity to keep me close for another year and did not fight it, though I have always questioned the decision.

There were also political issues that did not belong in the classroom and are not important now; the teacher and I reconciled many years ago—trespasses have been forgiven.

But try to explain to a four year old that she can’t go to school, when she has been fantasizing about it for weeks, because she’s just “not ready”. I was heartbroken.

I could read and write; I knew my ABCs and my numbers, in English and in Spanish. (I admit I had some difficulty with the teen numbers in Spanish because they made no sense but she only asked me to count to ten.) She asked me to identify animals and shapes and colors.

Color is where things fell apart.

I wasn’t shy and the more questions she asked the bolder and more confident I was in my delivery. I knew my stuff!

She brought up a tacky little drawing and we did the colors of the rainbow. My grandparents – with their third and sixth grade education – pointed out colors and named them for me. I’d seen a rainbow but never studied it, as such. So I answered her questions as I perceived the colors in the drawing itself, not in the ROY G. BIV manner she expected. I was good with red, orange, yellow, green, blue… Then we hit indigo and violet.

In Spanish, purple as I understood it was violeta. Although phonetically púrpura made more sense, though I was more familiar with morado as purple. 

But none of these variations appeared on the image. Indigo meant nothing to me. It was either blue or purple. I made a judgement call and declared it purple, because in the drawing it looked like a royal purple. 

She told me I was wrong, in English and in Spanish so I got it.

The last color I simply did not know, and a push-pull battle of wits ensued.

Finally, she shook her head, and I remember thinking her caramel blonde beehive wig might come loose and candy might fall out of it, like some sort of funky piñata. 

Then she pointed to her dress, a lilac mini-dress, and said, “It’s this color. What color is this?”

I did not know, and I told her, “It’s like a pink but it isn’t pink.” Officially, that was the reason I couldn’t go to school for a whole year. Freakin’ lilac!

The following year, when I returned, to her simultaneous amusement and horror, I’d not only learned my colors, but I was bitter and picked up nuance. I learned shades. Because what Kindergarten teacher doesn’t enjoy a five year old going all color wheel on her?

I was determined not to be hit with another technicality for as long as I lived!

She knew she had a guerilla in her hands, but I do not know if she ever understood she was partly responsible for the transformation.

She may have lit the torch that predestined me to end my academic career as a violet.

Anyway, that's how I remember it. Happy school year!

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Riding the Wave, Grieving as Metaphor

I know several people who are living in transition for a variety of reasons. Some have gone public with their pain; others share privately with loved ones or kindred spirits. The fact that we can communicate immediately across oceans doesn’t mean we all prefer to do it with every soul in existence. I try to respect people’s choices, even when I don’t always understand it.
This infographic was making the rounds on Facebook. It references a Reddit discussion thread from someone who had just lost his or her father and felt hopelessly lost. Below is part of one response from someone who has loved and lost, literally, and sees the scars of loss as a “testament of life.”

Original, longer version available at
Of course, everybody grieves differently, but I was touched by the imagery. This is the most poetic and accurate description of what I have felt when I’ve lost some very important people.
What this describes is an almost crippling grief that unravels your soul. It’s unlikely you’ll feel this for a third cousin twice removed.
No one can dictate or even predict how you will grieve for a loved one. Sometimes we don’t immediately recognize the value of someone in our lives, or even our own emotional attachment; and it takes losing them to understand what we’ve lost.
Nor is loss always to be strictly defined as death. Breakups, divorces, and other terminal separations elicit an emotional response. (And I suppose that if you are a Browncoat, another senseless cancellation from Fox also applies, but that’s really a different discussion.)

The Kübler-Ross model gives you a roadmap to five stages of grief. For those of you not familiar with the concept, the stages – after the initial shock – are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

To some, it’s a full circle. Others depict it as hurdles to jump over to get to some proverbial end of a race… Some see rings of fire to jump through. Some chart it as an inverted bell. The stages do not always fall in order, and sometimes repeat. Sooner or later, though, you will experience some of it before you regain normalcy. Just know you can regain it.


The problem is that it was meant to be broad. Knowledge of it does not prepare you to experience the emotional rollercoaster. Its purpose was to allow psychiatrists to treat people dealing with terminal illness, and then expanded to include other forms of loss. Its value, for therapists, is to move the patient along toward acceptance and being functional or at least stable.

But everybody experiences and perceives pain differently, and when it comes to grieving, that pain manifests in different ways: from overwhelming melancholy to actual physical pain.

To me, the metaphor of a giant wave works perfectly; and if you’ve been tossed around like a toy by a wave, pushed to the sand, and dragged out to sea, left petrified and breathless, you’ll grok it too.

There is a moment, when you catch your breath and you reorient yourself, and see the shore, that feels like triumph over death and all the sadness in the world. You forget that fleeting moment (that just seconds ago felt like an eternity) when you feared you would die of it, and you push towards life and living.

Soon, the memory of it remains but the fear, pain, and sadness ... these are replaced by the story of the journey and tied to a memory of love--of life, of self, of others.

Yes, love hurts, life hurts!, but it also helps you grow. Understand the pain, embrace it and let it pass, you’ll come out on the other side. It's just a journey and some passages are treacherous. But think Big Kahuna: if you ride the wave eventually you’ll hit the shore. 

What doesn't kill you makes you stronger! 
But you gotta keep moving or things that kill you will catch up.