Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Die, Winter, Die!

This time of year used to mean Spring Break. That meant an escape from the cold, the snow, the ice and heavy layers of clothing.

During my college years, I spent spring break in Aruba, Barbados, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, and Venezuela. The allure was always sun and beaches, and little umbrellas on my drinks.

I never did Cancún or Ft. Lauderdale. The idea never was to be packed like sardines with lusty college students. The idea was a pretty, perhaps secluded beach, for relaxed days being lulled by the surf.

I studied for midterms at the beach. We shopped, visited historical sites, ate exotic foods, met international hordes of fun folks.

One of my favorite memories is of feeling the cool breeze wash over me, the sun, children frolicking in the background. I was on the sand, going over notes for my art history midterm, listening to music… The tide came up. It was shocking but still more fun than trekking through four feet of snow!

In my post-collegiate years, especially the lean ones, spring break instead means college basketball.

Neither of my alma maters have good enough teams to make the dance, but I love the game sufficiently not to care who has been invited. I just want to enjoy the beauty and excitement of the game. The athleticism, the sportsmanship, the utter joy!

In lieu of eating exotic foods at exotic locales, I prepare fun tailgate menus.

The bracket? It’s a challenge rather than a gamble, it reminds me of people who have passed through my life over the years and tournaments past -- from spectacular last second shots that won games, from post-game discussions with friends, to my former boss' anniversary and the story about his wedding. 

(I remember the first time he told me, I looked at him and said, "Who the hell plans a wedding during March Madness?!" Of course, being the groom, his only job was to show up. The image that will always stay with me is of one of the groomsmen listening to a radio transmission and gesturing to the men when Duke scored.)

In the awakening that is spring, it also awakens a creativity that has been dormant for part of winter because I am not a winter person. The promise of more sunlight and a warmer climate fills me with energy and sheer happiness.

Meanwhile, opportunities present themselves and spring becomes about hope as well.

Any period that culminates in a sugar coma by way of chocolate has to be celebrated. This is especially true in a year where winter has been so brutal and punishing--it has taken far more than it had the right to! 

Though I am not sure I can explain what it does to your already fragile state of mind when the weatherman says things like, "On Friday, spring officially begins. We also expect some snow that evening..."

Seriously, enough already!

I'll be in a corner, waving my rainstick and rhythmically chanting for summer, rooting for teams with feline mascots, and eating copious amounts of chocolate. In protest, I'm not coming out until the temperature reaches at least my mother's age!

Friday, February 27, 2015

He Lived Long and Prospered

“Long before being nerdy was cool, there was Leonard Nimoy.” 
–President Barack Obama

Trekkies came to the franchise for a variety of reasons. Many assume it was Nichelle as Uhura that made me love it. She was, after all, a woman of color and something I could identify with.

But it was Mr. Spock that held my heart.

He was, in my opinion, the true leader on the bridge and the moral compass of the mission. He was cool and logical, smart and dignified, and there was something awfully sexy about his wisdom and serenity (even for the child watching).

But it was his genetic provenance that was truly earth shattering to me. He was half Vulcan and half human. His mother, who was human, was named Amanda (my middle name).

Being the product of a mixed marriage, the fact that Spock was as well made him just like me. That may sound irrelevant, but I was of a diversity that was still different enough at the time.

There was an inner struggle in being Spock, just as there was a constant necessity to assert his individuality among people who (even as they loved and valued him) brought up the things that made him distinct (sometimes accurately, more often wrongly).

Like me, Spock spent some portion of his life explaining away silly things others assumed because they did not bother to learn what made him different and, therefore, special. At the same time, it did not stop him. It did not hamper his success. There was solace in learning this from Spock.

He was a great source of information, but when he did not know something, he said so. He looked it up! He was flexible. He was a pacifist, but he could fight his way out of a bar brawl.

I loved Mr. Spock in a way I had not loved a fictional character because there was none other like him.

My freshman year at Stony Brook, I remember being in a room with two engineering students and a poli-sci grad student when the Star Trek: TOS rerun came on in one of the local stations. The boys started performing the lines, a la Rocky Horror Picture Show, and then at every commercial break they’d switch characters. They each wanted a chance to do Spock.

Of course, I loved the Star Trek universe in its totality – even for its flaws. I still do. Some of my best friends are Trekkies and Trekkers.

As for Nimoy, the man, he was a highly creative individual with a loyal fan base who respected the values he represented. He was a poet, a photographer, singer, actor and director, he even created a comic book series! He was generally a mensch. He supported the arts and the idea of young people being creative.

It took him time to reconcile the extraordinary force that is Spock because to him it was just a role – whereas to most of us the character represented such elemental and core values, he guided our identity, and reminded us that we had infinite potential, and that we could exist in a universe better than the one before us. Spock made us want to strive for a better world. 

That is serious power just from portraying a character!

From Leonard Nimoy's "The Full Body Project"
To me, what remains clear is an expert and emotional portrayal of a character that reached me deeply. His absence will be felt keenly. 

Good night, Ambassador.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Bloody Trail of Disenchantment

I have been thinking about fidelity a lot, as a result of writing The Mistress. It’s about truth. Whatever truth defines a partnership determines what faithfulness is to those in it.

Not everybody will agree with me. We can’t, as a nation, even agree what “marriage” is! Agreeing on the elements that make a marriage is useless because I doubt there will ever be universal agreement about it either.

As a writer, a perfectly happy marriage doesn’t really hold a lot of fascination because there is no tension, no drama, and therefore no story to tell.

I have a few friends that have been married for decades and are, for the most part, happy. They will be the first to admit it is a balancing act, with ups and downs.

I have seen – witnessing first-hand and living with it for short periods – a happy committed relationship.

Mostly, what I remember are stories of bad marriages, or bad moments within relationships—because they were grand or funny or depicted great horrors or injustices. That was the eternal writer in me noticing scenes for future projects, surely.

But it is unfair to call something a bad marriage because our judgment is always made from the outside looking in.  

At any rate, after writing The Mistress*, I am left with questions, and I wonder how many stories of infidelity I can write. In the first one, the man was the adulterer and his wife took on a specific mindset about it.  But there are other ways to portray it, and I believe there may be an anthology in it, because broken vows lead to broken loves and delicious drama. Others can write of the romance to get people together, I want to explore the gore of the bloody trail of disenchantment. I think it makes for better copy.

In fact, the next anthology is going to be titled Bloody Trail of Disenchantment.

The next story may be based on this poem and, possibly, turn it on its head…

I Know I Am But Summer To Your Heart
by Edna St. Vincent Millay

I know I am but summer to your heart, 
And not the full four seasons of the year; 
And you must welcome from another part 
Such noble moods as are not mine, my dear. 
No gracious weight of golden fruits to sell 
Have I, nor any wise and wintry thing; 
And I have loved you all too long and well 
To carry still the high sweet breast of Spring. 
Wherefore I say: O love, as summer goes, 
I must be gone, steal forth with silent drums, 
That you may hail anew the bird and rose 
When I come back to you, as summer comes. 
Else will you seek, at some not distant time, 
Even your summer in another clime. 

*Check out the book page here: 

Sunday, February 08, 2015

That Time I Went All Fangirl

Going through my books, I stopped to read a small volume of poems from Puerto Rican activist, essayist, director, playright and poet, Jacobo Morales

I was fortunate enough to meet him once in El Barrio (Spanish Harlem for all you West Side Story fans), at a tertulia where we ate, we drank, and we talked about important things. 

I used to do that, before life was reduced to LOLcats and “liking” images of food we are not sharing and innocuous status updates with people I barely know sometimes.

Jacobo had travelled to New York in late summer/early fall after I’d moved to Brooklyn. During the meet and greet, my Mom, godfather, and I went up to say hello. 

He joked with the adults, thinking them my parents, “Did you promise her McDonald’s and then do this to her? I think that’s child abuse.”

But I wanted to be there, I explained. I was a huge fan.

“I love your poetry!”

He was gracious but he did not believe me.

“Oh,” he said thoughtfully, “and which of my poems is your favorite?”

The answer shocked him, because I went into a rant that picking a single poem would be a betrayal to all other poems. But I did have favorites. I told him the one I read so much I had memorized it, and I pulled out my book. 

“Would you sign it for me?” 

He agreed, delighted that such a young person would be interested in his work. 

He actually giggled when I started to tell him which poem was my favorite in each of the three volumes of poetry I owned, and which I then took out of my bag, and presented to him along with some essays and a play.

“I wasn’t sure which one to bring,” I told him sheepishly…

He laughed and signed them all. I was a high school kid. He wasn't expecting me at all!

The line that really charmed him, I think, was when I told him he was a constant presence and I’d heard and read his words my whole life, “so you are partly responsible for my upbringing.” The adults grew silent for a moment and I added levity with an unintentionally funny last line, “And here we are!”

In 1979, he wrote the screenplay and directed a movie titled Dios Los Cría (known as …And God Created Them in the American/International market). 

The title refers to the Spanish proverb, “Dios los cría y ellos se juntan.” It literally means that even if God Himself had a hand in the direct upbringing of humanity like minds will come together--especially those in the pursuit of ungodly things. It is better known in the English secular as “Birds of a feather flock together.”

The film consists of five seemingly unconnected vignettes, and Jacobo also acted in it. 

I did not see it until I was an adult, and it was the last vignette that stayed with me and imprinted in my soul. In “La Otra” (The Other Woman), you follow a man (Jacobo) as he navigates the delicate balance of living of a double life, weaving from wife to mistress, to getting found out, a divorce, and a new life. 

It was a brilliant piece of storytelling!

“La Otra” has been on my mind on and off. And so, The Mistress began to flow, because unless you go behind closed doors, you never know the truths of a marriage. Nothing is ever what is seems… 

Click on the cover to see details of the book at the Amapola Press blog.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Kitchen is the Heart of the Home

There is an adage that says the kitchen is the heart of a home.

This is especially true in our home. The kitchen is our nerve center, playground, and temple.

As some of you know, we started 2015 in the midst of home repairs and renovation. This included installation of new pipes and a new furnace, new tiled floor in the kitchen, and plans to replace the old refrigerator and the stove (which decided to up and die in the middle of all the drama).

This is the first time in my life when I have been without a fully functioning kitchen and it felt as if part of me was missing.

It wasn’t like we were thrown into some third world black hole of an existence: we had a microwave and a small electric oven. Although the grill had to be replaced too, I still have the tiny George Foreman one that is still in working condition. The landlady allowed us to use the refrigerator downstairs until we got the replacement.

We didn’t starve, we were simply, slightly inconvenienced for a couple of weeks, nothing more.

Everything is clean and spiffy and we have new appliances. This also means I can prepare foods, plan menus, and think. I also dance in my kitchen – it’s liberating. No matter what else is going on in my life, if I can take a moment to dance in my kitchen, I know I'm still relatively sane!

Click here to dance in your own kitchen with awesome mixes!
Having a kitchen has restored the soul to the home. Whatever other dramas may develop – and surely life will not slow down for us to catch up ever – we now have the tools to deal with it properly. We can fix everything as we sit in our kitchen and strategize over a cup of coffee, as I plan a meal around a fantasy, or Mom fills the house in the aroma of astonishingly fragrant delights, or I slow cook a comforting stew…

The kitchen is the heart of the home and home is where the heart is: all is back in balance here.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Networks are Lifelines

Inevitably, when you stop working full time (at an office), there will come a time when you lose contact with your colleagues. If you start freelancing and doing your work online, you also tend to isolate yourself quite a bit.

It’s inevitable that this should happen, though it need not be or stay that way!

Humans are social animals. Even if you can’t go out for a drink, lunch or dinner, or attend activities that require more cash than you have to play with, you should keep in touch with former colleagues.

These are the folks that will serve as your references in your job search. It is to your benefit to continue to have a relationship with them.

There are other reasons, that are just as valuable, to keep in touch. Through the professional network, and that is what it is (a network is a system that relies on connections and in your network you are that connection), you will keep informed on what is happening in your immediate circuits.

Not only will you be up-to-date on where people are going, but also on trends and jobs possibly before it becomes publicly known.

People are variables as well as factors, if you allow the mathematical reference. Therefore, it is important that you keep in touch because people may be let go, they may quit or retire, people may move, lose their phones and get new ones…

Keeping in touch makes you more likely to stay abreast of all the changes that go on even if you are not a part of your network’s daily life.
It is likely, especially if you are in the midst of a job search, that you have seen all these points illustrated in dozens of different articles and for many of the same reasons I have posted here.

There is another, vital, reason you ought to stay in touch with former colleagues: they know your work and your professional ethic, and they admire and respect you. 

This is important because, inevitably, you’ll hit a wall and start feeling that perhaps you’ve fallen in a Twilight Zone and will never, ever find work in this universe.

Don't despair, periods of unemployment always feel a lot longer than they actually are. If you feel your resolve begin to unravel, speak to one of the people in your network and allow yourself to see what they see in you.

It’s not just that you will get a confidence booster. Pay close attention because what these people tell you will often include examples of why they feel the way they do about you, knowing you, having worked with you.
These details are the selling points you must convey to prospective employers because it is what gives you an edge!

E-mail, call, visit whenever you can – if for no other reason than to remind your contacts what you look like and that you value their presence in your life. Their acquaintance is far more valuable than just a good word on your behalf. 
Professional networks are lifelines, literally and figuratively, and you must treat them with respect for their extraordinary worth.
Maintaining these relationships will help you keep your foot in the door, as it were, it also will help you cultivate your professional persona (so you can talk the talk and walk the walk) -- and this alone will make interviewing easier because you will not feel as if you've lost your professional mojo.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Happy New Year

We experienced a dramatic plot twist at the Temple of Doom. The heater in my home office burst and started gushing water, causing a leak downstairs…

So ended our Boxing Day, and started a drama that continues to this day. There was a leak in the kitchen. The heater in the bathroom burst too. There was more, but there's no need to go into details. 

At times, our New Year seemed fueled by some existential circus (did I mention the stove just up and died in the middle of all this?)!

The furnace replaced, and pipes in two separate rooms reinstalled; and along with these capital improvements, we have embraced a beautifying project that goes perfectly at hand with the chaos that befell us…

As a result, two very important things have happened for us, we are:
1.    Simplifying by ridding ourselves of useless things, and 
2.    Being brought closer to the family we've been living with for almost 30 years.
There is a blessing in both these things: only those things of value remain, because only what truly matters must remain.

While it felt rather oppressive as we experienced it, the truth is the worst it seemed to hit some members of the household, the more serene I became. It is an extreme way to be reminded that you have an awesome inner strength inherited from several generations of fabulous women that pushed their families forward in very demanding times.

For once, I am actually a little glad that I am not working full time, so I can be home to help. If I were working, I’d spend all day worrying what was happening at home and annoyed that I wasn’t doing my part to alleviate the pressure.

I haven’t been writing but I am keeping mental notes – which I should start writing down before the emotional component of this experience dulls into memories. At the very least, I could use some of the angst for future fictions.

I did find my drawing books and colored pencils. The moment things calm down I will sit down with a sketchbook and throw myself into art! That is my only resolution this year.

We expect other hits this year, and wish we could stop to brace for each, but that may not always be possible. Adaptability is what will get us through the hard times, and the confidence that we have the strength to survive and overcome.

We wish you all a happy new year, one full of joy and health, a little prosperity to make things interesting, and mostly we hope that if a little drama finds you that you find renewed passion for the things that really matter and you hold on to them with gusto!