Thank you, Latina Book Club

https://www.amazon.com/Answered-Silence-collection-Theresa-Varela/dp/1539371638/ref=sr_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1514667808&sr=1-4

A friend’s share on Social Media alerted me that my first volume of poetry Answered by Silence was included in the Latina Book Club’s 2017 listing of Books of the Year. It made my heart happy to be included with other Latina/Latino/Latinx writers, some of whom I know and many I respect. So cool!

Answered by Silence was such a personal project. It started without months or years of planning. My muse told me that I’d healed enough regarding the death of my sister to share some of that experience for not only myself, but for others too. There’s a saying that no matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. I believe that. Losing my sister at the age of eleven shaped my life that and included some very raw and dark days. Those days are behind me, and my profound love for her remains unscathed.

I haven’t marketed the thin volume as I have my other books. But I’ve loved that book and it has loved me in return. My daughter, who is named after my sister, created the simplest of illustrations for it exactly as I envisioned. I am grateful for today and the people in my life.

I’m glad to be on the list with the others who all have their stories behind their stories.

Check out the other selections at www.latinabookclub.com

XO

Theresa

Holiday Traditions

The holiday season is often referred to as the Trifecta. How possible is it to really succeed a win when contending with Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the New Year? Add a sprinkle of Kwanza and Chanukah and we have the perfect storm for expectations. Last week I had composed a wonderful tale of my woes that have to do with holiday traditions and expectations. In a couple of days, we’ll be ringing in the New Year, so I thought I really should post it. It was a personal post, and those aren’t my favorite kind. I couldn’t find the post on my pc when I finally decided to post it.

I’d written about my mother’s yearly traditions, my father’s barely cooperating with them, and my own struggles with coming up with my own traditions. The whole thing started at the job holiday party when one of the psychiatrists asked the rest of us what were our holiday traditions. He said he had to create his own when he arrived here from another country and decided to dive into the holidays. I had a few they were all bound up with family. The constellation, therefore my traditions, has changed.

One of my mother’s New Year traditions was to make certain our nuclear family was together at the strike of midnight. That meant we’d have good luck and we’d all be together throughout the coming year. My father didn’t feel strongly about it. He’d pick up sometime between Christmas and the New Year and take a trip to Puerto Rico to visit family. Spontaneous. Seriously- no preplanning. Unless of course he’d been planning it along. Invariably, he’d stroll in two minutes before midnight and we’d all live happily ever after. Us girls would be tucked into bed wearing new yellow pajamas after we toasted with a thimbleful of anisette. Life changed of course, but the expectation remained that I’d toast in the New Year with my mother yearly. This tradition was non-wavering until the year I called her to plan our arrival. No, she said, this year she was going to sleep. She didn’t want to stay up late. What! I was dumbfounded. What about all those years I made sure my plans didn’t ruin our family plans. What about our family luck?

That psychiatrist was clever, wasn’t he? He had turned our traditional holiday gathering into a group process. At least it did for me. No one else seemed the least bit disturbed. I brought the topic up the next day at a second holiday party. The one similarity I noticed was that mothers really had a say in how the family traditions were planned. One person spoke about their father and how his birthday was on Christmas. The family celebrated his birthday first at midnight on Christmas, and then Christmas was celebrated after they cut his cake.

I’ve had traditions, but they’ve changed so much over the years that my spouse and I have decided to create new traditions. Ones that we can still celebrate whether we have other folks visiting or not. I missed my mother so much this Christmas that I decided to make a tasty bread pudding that was one of her traditions. My spouse made a wonderful flan that was one of her mother’s traditions. Our mothers may no longer be here, but they left us with traditions that we can keep and make our own. For the New Year we are thinking of going out to dinner. Just the two of us. It’ll be a time to reflect as a couple on the old and the new that will be coming into our lives.

I wish you some of the old and some of the new as we enter the New Year. There are blessings in each.

Happy New Year

XO

Theresa

Read that baby

My editor has made many “suggestions” like get rid of all the quotation marks I use (like that one), stop all the ellipses, learn the difference between using “the” and “my” (there I go again with the quotation marks) and many others (like not using the word many twice in one sentence). It’s a lot for me to ponder when all I want to do is get my story going and done! Impatience is one of my faults.

She revised my manuscript for Coney Island Siren and I not only received advice but mini-lessons regarding more incisive writing. One suggestion was to read my sentences aloud. Okay, I thought. I can do this. This isn’t the first time that I’ve heard it but this time I figured I would actually do it. Wow.

I’d finished all of her suggested revisions and then started reading it aloud for my daughter who listens to me when she visits from Texas. My spouse, goddess bless her, was in the room too. Half way through the page I realized I had no feel for the protagonist. Who the hell is talking here? My structure was off and sounded way too formal. No easy-listening rhythm here. Back to the drawing writing board.

This time around, I’ve read it aloud sentence by sentence. Would Maggie say this? Does Frank really sound like this? Am I letting my characters speak or am I speaking for them? It’s slow-going but fun. I’m pleased with the results. I’m accepting the fact that my revisions still may need more revising.

Recently, I read a few pages at Bluestockings with La Pluma y La Tinta. As Raquel Penzo puts it, I’m an OG. Vet of the reading force. We’d started that workshop group in my living room about eight years or so. I have lots of writing and reading experience but am always open to learning more about the craft. While my other two novels are good friends of mine, my new work requires nurturing of our relationship. No matter how long it takes.

This short video is me reading some of Coney Island Siren. See you on the boardwalk.

IMG_3718.MOV

Nightmare in Haiku

Sweltering in sheets

Night is thirst, betrayal, fear

I pray for the dawn

It’s Autumn but the sweat pours off me. I have the odd mix of the air conditioner on low and the pair window wide open. I’m hoping for the perfect mix. The bed just doesn’t feel right.

I’m dreading the morning but it’s equal to my desire to remain under the sheet, thermal blanket, and spread. I need some weight on my legs. Otherwise, I might fly away in the night. Maybe enter a dream and never leave. That would be the antithesis of entering a nightmare and not having the choice to leave.

My people in Puerto Rico have done the latter. They can leave if they want, you might say. There’s only thirst, rot, and maybe death waiting for them. Some have boarded planes and ships to Florida- that place across the water that is an extension of the island except for everything.

I’m up here. Sending packages. Collecting money. Calling my family and neighbors.

Do you need anything? Anything at all? I’ll send it.

What we need, you can’t send.

Electricity

Running water

We laugh across the again running land line. Hollow and crackly co-exist like old friends.

My house is okay. No damage. I won’t be there for a very long time. I’m not the sort of person who manages without electricity. I was there last Fall. The cables across the way blew fiery sparks and the copper wires didn’t apologize to the bananas they scorched. The phone calls to the electric company seemed to be ignored. I later found out that they too didn’t have power.

I worried about my Dad who the previous night worried about the shiny lights that were on at his neighbor’s house. They should be off, he said. Go inside, I encouraged. I worried that he wouldn’t pay attention to me. He did. There was that moment he hesitated. My gut told me that he wouldn’t always listen. It told me to fly him back up to NY with me. I did.

I’ve had many nights drenched in my pouring anxiety. My silver hair matches the fox that steals into my room and wakens me to every odd sound and the jingle of the bells that I placed on his doorknob. I’ve listened. Coaxed him into returning to bed. Midnight isn’t safe when you’re eighty-six. Go back to bed, Pop. I’ve prayed that the nightmare would end and I’d be released.

My Dad’s in an Assisted Living Facility now. They call him Papa, speak to him in Spanish, and I take him out to eat and we sit together on the Coney Island Boardwalk or at Emmons Bay watching the swans propel their large bodies with tiny black feet. My Dad forgets what he was going to do a second after he sets out to do whatever it was, but he’s okay.

I still wrestle with my sheets at night. Worried. I think of my Dad and how Alzheimer’s quietly slipped into our lives. I think about my house with the balcon and the hammock in the back under the tin roof. I think about my family and all of the neighbors and the sazon and the mofongo and Ketty blasting Tito Rodriguez LPs on Sunday afternoons. I think about the lizards and the dogs and the kids playing basketball under the cancha.

At night, I plan when I will get to BJs to buy more pampers, baby food, and batteries. BJs- where a young teen laughed at all the Kotex we stored in our cart. I plan on when I can do it all again on my way back from visiting my Dad who has no inkling he got out of his island at the nick of time.

I worry, plan, take action, and pray. I repeat as I pull the covers up and then throw them off again. My bed is just not right.

Listen to me! I count too!

A friend of mine often reminds her four year old to use her soft voice. The child indiscriminately yells her wants and needs to the unsuspecting world who hasn’t noticed that there’s a little person in the vicinity with something to say. Give me attention! I don’t care who you are, but I want your attention! She’s practicing to get her message across early. I was never that child. I was the kid who was always quiet and if you looked at me for a prolonged period of time I’d burst into tears. That was long ago but my introversion is not easily surrendered to the person I think of myself as today. I want your attention. I have something to say! That’s a conundrum for a writer.

In my last post I wrote about my disappointment about not having my plan for play direction go exactly as I had envisioned it. I had never translated my vision into words. I thought I did. If I had it was in my soft voice. There was a flurry of discussions after that post and I practiced using my assertive voice with my play mentors. I had no expectations of what the outcome would be. It was important that I develop these wonderful relationships, enrich my learning experience, and to use the gift I’ve been given. My gift is using my words effectively.  We came to mutual understandings of our expectations, future possibilities, and supported each other’s enterprises as we sat together at the table.

The following weekend my spouse and I went to the Women’s March in Washington. I didn’t carry a placard. I carried myself with pride. The person I am this lifetime has  again been disregarded. As a woman with beliefs and convictions I had to stand out there and yell out, I need your attention! Give me your attention! I count too! The state of my country is alarming. Using my voice can be a frightening enterprise. What if I get in trouble for using my voice? These thoughts are not easily discarded.

 

During my morning run today, I was suddenly surrounded by a group of Park Slope fathers who were in peak athletic form. They laughed about their daughters who were pledging sororities in spite of their patriarchal roots. They also explained that their 11 minute mile timing was because they were running 17 miles this morning. I knew all this about them because they built a wall around me with their bodies and I became angry during the activity I engage in that keeps me sane. I didn’t want to lose my quiet time. I managed to break their wall. It meant I pushed my run and my breath was shorter than usual. But I was free of them. That was a statement. I wasn’t invisible. At least to myself. This time I didn’t use words just action.

There is a synchronicity to these events as I hone the skill of using my voice appropriately. Listening to a munchkin practice her tone and volume, my speaking with my professional mentors, and marching on Washington grounds are all connected. There is no ending here. I’m still in the process of learning to use my voice in the best ways. Actions. Writing. Discussions. There are many ways to communicate. I may not have to stand on a chair and scream out my wants but I can still get my messages out.

Happy writing!

 

 

 

Writing: On Thin Ice

Park Slope sidewalks are covered in thin, crunchy ice this morning. I know this because I navigated my two doggies on their walk. I kept my balance because I’ve added the occasional plank to my basic workout. My core is strong. I was grateful that when Ginger refused to budge and Chutney cut circles around me with her leash that I didn’t slip.

These streets are a great metaphor for the slippery paths in our creative worlds. In writing and publishing, the landscapes are always changing. What is solid ground today can turn into a slick surface at rise. I’m learning to find and create railings to hold on to like I did this morning on my walk.

Last week I wrote about my excitement returning to the playwriting course. I’m still excited about the writing but was  disappointed to hear that my mentors are not interested in staging my play after all. I was stunned when I received that talk. I was still in the same emotional and mental place as I was during our last conversation. But a change had taken place. People change their minds all the time. It’s part of human nature. They move on to what is beneficial for them. I get that. There are no contracts signed.

Life is a process. I’m learning to surrender. What I may want or think is right for me may not be. I’ve had a lot of practice dealing with the changing landscapes over a lifetime, but especially so during this last year. I’m listening to the voice that whispers in my ear, Hold on to the railings, Theresa. I’ll help you find them. More will be revealed.

Happy Writing!

My guilty pleasure: playwriting

After watching La La Land at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Rose Cinema, my spouse and I chatted about what might have made that film an award contender. The idea of someone fulfilling their dream in a style that might not have been in their original vision can be rewarding.  Maintaining the discipline that brings joy to the private self is also something I find satisfying. We spoke about going along willingly with the transformations that come along with being artists while also being loving to our original ideas about ourselves.

In my early twenties, a friend asked me what personal goals I had. I told them that I wanted to write children’s books. One day. I was deep in caring for my own little ones, maintaining a traditional relationship, and working as a bedside nurse. That last one left me exhausted. Having the responsibility of forty two patients on a surgical unit while supervising two nurses aides didn’t leave me much time for writing, much less thinking about writing.

Many years later, I’m a writer. My life has changed in ways that I could never have predicted. While there are still often engulfing responsibilities, such as my Dad’s care, I’m cognizant of developing my creative self. I write novel and poems. I also love writing plays. My first novel, Covering the Sun with My Hand, inspired me to re-write it in play form with several twists. The play version takes more risks, is funnier, and as plays demand, brings forth the strength and richness of certain characters that want to take the stage. Next steps in staging the play are on my agenda and I’m excited about moving forward.

This week, I’ll be returning to my playwriting course. I have already started my second play. It’s in baby form. I look forward to sitting with my mentors, Mario Golden and Andreas Robertz, and the other group members at the Allen Davis Playwriting Lab. They are encouraging, hold me honest, and demand that I am rigorous in bringing a piece to fruition. In my earlier life, I never thought about playwriting. Plays were something other people did. I grew up going to Broadways shows and plays because my mother loved them and treated us to many matinees. Not many kids in my neighborhood attended plays and I have her to thank for exposing me to this aspect of life.

Plays and playwriting have become my guilty pleasures. They weren’t part of my game plan when I thought about writing but have emerged as essential to my writing self. Having the ability to merge the joys of my private self with my public writing transformations is a gift.

Happy Writing!

Behind the Scenes

I’m always concerned with what’s going on behind the scenes with my characters, their lives, and their narratives. Only a fraction of the fullness of a character’s being is presented on the pages that end up in a novel. Much of the information that is kept out is trivial. For instance, time in the shower or bathroom aren’t usually included in a scene unless the protagonist is taking a luxurious bubble bath.

As a writer, I tend to keep some details to a minimum. In real life, I do the same. In August of last year, I wrote about the upheaval of my life when my father was found disoriented in town. Our lives changed. We moved him in with us. Alzheimer’s. This meant learning how to navigate the elder care health, legal, and economics fields and find out how they pertained to us personally. It meant having a home attendant, actually a parade of home attendants, coming into my home. The downsizing of my personal space came right along with all of that. My office is now the dining room table. My Dad is safely ensconced in what used to be my private space. The honored space I meditated, prayed, and wrote in daily. I’m learning to do those things in other ways. It’s not easy but it is. Is. I am. I am learning and doing in different ways.

During these past several months, I cut ties with my publisher and re-edited my novels. They are again available in softcover and kindle on Amazon.com. I also quietly birthed my first poetry book, Answered by Silence. The poems tell the story of my life after the death of my sister when I was eleven years old. Life was not easy then and it’s not easy now. Challenge is a major code word that I learn and relearn to decipher. It’s akin to the mysteries I write. My second Daisy cozy mystery is slowly developing. I’m still writing and in the middle of collaboratiion with a wonderful new editor for my third novel, Coney Island Siren. These things are all happening. Very slowly. I’d almost forgotten how to get into this website. That’s the way life is sometimes. As my Mom used to say, This too Shall Pass.

This is my life behind the scenes. I’ve been weakened in some ways and strengthened in others. One day at a time.

Happy writing!

Writing anyway

A couple of Saturdays ago, I received a call that my father was found disoriented and dizzy in town in Puerto Rico. Thanks to the officers and fine neighbors he was returned home safely and I flew in as soon as I could get a flight.

My spouse was supportive as always, and took on the role as apartment bathroom renovation overseer. This wasn’t easy because under the tiles and behind the walls the contractors found HGTV disasters.  I’m  on the island now and our puppies wait for me by the door but know I’ll be back. My job supervisors and coworkers have offered every support as we construct a solution for my absence.

My Dad and I are waiting to see his doc who was on vacation. He is still confused and absolutely refused emergency services. How do you spell “stubborn” not a new trait but one I’ve come to accept throughout my life. He joked a little yesterday and we made bacalao and ñame. It was pretty delicious and brought me back close to my roots. He’s eating well and listens to me, mostly. I walk around in flip flops and shorts and post beautiful pics on social media. Photos that I took on furtive trips to the beach where I meditate when I feel it’s safe to go out. I chat up my friends on the phone and take deep breaths when I think of how temporary life is.

The path of solution is created with one small pebble or rock at a time and I’m patiently doing my part. With all of my anxiety and dis-ease added to my Dad’s, I’m flabbergasted that I’ve been able to write. My vision of writing in Puerto Rico, in an unhurried state has manifested. Of course I didn’t want it this way. This is a bittersweet time and I’m going along with the spiritual guidance that is whispered to me from the majestic waves of my Mother Ocean.

In the meantime, I write anyway. The overwhelming message that I’ve received is one of caring for myself during this time of change from my family, friends, and my very lovely neighbors here on this island of mine. Writing is saving my life, while I walk along with my Dad, just as reading and playing dolls saved my life as a little girl. My characters live and share their stories with me as they witness the creation of my narrative. So, as I ‘one day at a time it,’ I will continue to be in gratitude for all I’ve received and for the opportunity to give my Dad what he has given me- love.

To be continued…

Happy writing!

Writing: being in the middle

Social media forums such as Facebook and Twitter have me thinking about all the books I haven’t written and all the planned creative work that sits on the shelves in my mind and office. I curl up my toes at the photos of people who are seemingly doing it all. They are guest appearing and guest blogging all over America, while getting their writing published. On my good days, I cheer the completed projects and am contented to be connected with such illustrious  people. On gloomy days, I ponder all I haven’t done yet.

I remember being taken aback when I went to Julia Alvarez’s website that showed the covers of her published books and a note that said something to the effect of ‘I’m not blogging because I’m writing.’ Boo-yah! This was on the heels of being advised of the necessity of blogging to connect with readers and writers alike. I’m told my writing career depends on it.

If you take a good look at my blog post dates you’ll see I don’t blog all that often. People haven’t swarmed to read every word and make insightful and inciteful comments. On a day of light, I congratulate myself on the creative work I’ve offered to the Universe and on a somber day, think it’s never enough and possibly, I’m not enough. Being in the middle is a perfect reminder that ‘shoulds ‘and ‘coulds’ are to be avoided in my vocabulary of words.

As a ‘literati’ (dubbed years ago by my doctoral dissertation chair) which can be defined as one of the educated class or one interested in literature (I like the second definition better, yup) I must be true to the rhythm of the words that flow through me and to the ever changing patterns of life. I’m well aware that to compare is to despair.

I’m proud of the creative work I’ve completed and birthed into the world and excited about the new creations waiting to be born. Gestation periods vary, some creations are birthed rather quickly, others are high risk and need extra help, while others are endured and enjoyed simultaneously. It’s essential for me as a writer to ‘be in the middle’ and do my part just for today.

Blogging has helped me to develop the muscle of not ruminating over a brief written piece, to happily realize I can change my mind about my opinions, and to continue developing my voice on paper. I also get the pleasure of sharing myself with others and that is something that is often missing in the isolation of writing as a practice. So for today, I will blog, as well as continue digging into my other projects. A few are standing in the wings, readying to take their places on stage.

Happy writing!