Letting the story ‘write’ me.

 

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I’m learning to listen to the voices that I hear when I’m writing. It makes the experience so much easier. Some people call it listening to their muse.  Others say that they’ve done that since they started writing-many published novels ago.

During the process of writing Covering the Sun with My Hand I did that. I didn’t get the stories sequentially, though. I heard bits and pieces and thought that was that. It wasn’t. I had to use that gift I learned in graduate school called ‘logical sequencing.’ In the thick of revising I found myself putting various sections together known as ‘right ordering’ them.

Between finishing up my recently published novel and my current work I actually completed another. A different genre- mystery. I love mysteries but mine is not dark enough. Yet. I need to be able to cut my teeth through it. I’ve often said that I like to write in the minor keys.

I wrote that story, the story didn’t write me. There’s a wide chasm between the two. Writers recognize it. It’s when you manufacture something for the sake of it. There’s nothing wrong with it. The process has its good points. I practiced my grammar. I practiced putting a story together. I practiced dialogue. I practiced character development. Maybe I’ll eventually let it out of the desk drawer and send it to a publisher. Or not.

My current story is writing me. I sit on the train and hear the words flow through me. I pull out my smart phone and instead of playing Bejeweled or Candy Crush, I set the words down in the notebook feature. I was gifted with four poems yesterday as I traveled my 20 minute ride from Manhattan to Brooklyn. When I reread these words last night it helped me to understand my new protagonist, Maggie Fuentes, a lot better. She’s so unlike me that I’ve had a hard time getting her motivation. Because I listened, now I do.

The process goes on. I listen. I write. I understand.

Write on, friends!

Book Release: The Morning After…

I’m finding it really hard to sit down to blog after the release of my book “Covering the Sun with My Hand.”  The last couple of months have been whirlwind.   I’ve had all sorts of plans to post pics and describe the enormous joy I felt around my book launch at La Casa Azul Bookstore in East Harlem in late June. Instead, a story I began and set aside while completing revisions on my debut novel has just about consumed me. If I’m not writing, I’m thinking about it. I’m talking about it. In fact, I attended a training at my day job and was handed a packet of information that would have taken me hours to research. The training evoked a memory of something I’d quite forgotten that has to be placed in the novel. Yes, I’m immersed in it.

But… I do want to share some of the pictures taken of the evening I began preparing for when I first put pen to paper for a story called “The Eviction.” The story that went no where and was hidden in my drawer until one of the characters woke me up and said, “The story is about me and my family.” A friend who read my book said she was sad to separate from Julia Acevedo, the protagonist, after a few days of hanging out with her. She tried not to finish the book too quickly. She empathized with me and commiserated about my separating from Julia after about three years. Julia is my BFF and now I have my new protagonist, Maggie Fuentes, of Coney Island Siren. Did I actually just do that? Write my new main character’s name and title of the novel? Yes, I did. It will be awhile but I can’t help but introduce my new friend.

Here is a pic of the book release. I’ll do a run down on details and post more pics soon…as soon as Maggie stops talking in my ear.

Here are some of my favorite writers- Maria Aponte, Karina Guardiola-Lopez, Manny Melendez, and Raquel Penzo. My friend Rachel Griffin is peeking out there too. Thanks to Karina for this picture!

Jon Marcantoni: The power and potential of literature

Jon Marcantoni

 

What is literature to me? I think every art has its distinct advantage in the way it chooses to express itself. Art is based on the senses, can we feel it, touch it, taste it? Art has to excite has to excite us, it has to move us, not only to enjoy the experience, but to be challenge by it, to act in accordance with the message of that particular work. Painting is pure visuals, same with still photography, it tells the story of mankind through a still life that speaks not only to that moment but to that particular state of being. Moving photography, film or video, is the great visual representation of God that exists. There is something holy in film, it not only captures a still life, but an entire movement. It creates worlds, characters, in real and imagined time. Filmmaking is truly an act of God, that is, creating man and nature and space and time, all to suit a story. Music, by using sounds, can manipulate my mind in such a way that I time travel, to my past, to my daydreams, to moods and moments that defy linguistic expression. Music is the primal scream, communication without words, that much like a painting or a photograph, captures a moment and analyzes the emotional weight of it. Dance is the manifestation of music, it is the joining of the audible and the physical, giving form to the sounds that captivate us, that we wish to understand but also kind of fear, and through the dances that emotional turmoil resolves itself by taking the chaos of sound and controlling it in movement.

What then, is literature?

Literature is the ultimate art. It uses language to manipulate time and capture humanity and nature, and to create, literature creates in the same way that film does, it lingers on moments like a painting, it creates rhythm and then contains it through grammar, it uses language to define the undefinable. It also, and here is where literature has the real advantage, not only creates worlds but it creates personalized worlds. Whereas the world created on film is definitive, literature creates an experience that changes according to whomever is reading it. It is a representation of the scientific theory that states that for every choice there are multiple realities where a person has selected each choice. The book you and I read may have the same blueprint, but the characters, the locations, the meaning, means different things to us. No art is as fluid as literature, as undefinable, because it is an experience that relies on your personal experience and preferences to influence the world it creates.

And this is why I feel it is important that we as writers not limit ourselves. It is very easy to get in the mindset of being safe or generic in order to attract publishers. I’ve certainly done it, and it is a tendency I fight against. There is a difference between adhering to a style and the rules of that style and altering your very voice to fit a supposed expectation imposed upon on us through literary journals and interviews with publishing professionals about what they look for in a book. Art cannot breathe in this environment. Literature has the potential to inspire, to engage, to change the world, why settle for mediocrity just because it might help you sell a book?

But the desire is clear and logical, we want to be successful, financially and artistically. We want this crazy habit of writing to support us and our families so we can dedicate every day to it. But maybe, just maybe, if you let yourself be yourself, and write what you love the way you want to write it, someone will like it enough to publish it. And if you promote it hard enough, it could be successful, you never know.

While the commercial needs and artistic needs of creating art are unavoidable, we should never lose sight of the great weapon we have at our disposal. To create worlds, to create relationships that inspire, that cause movements, the writers of history have often been associated with revolutionaries and with good reason, because if a book can imagine a better world, then why shouldn’t we? Literature is a weapon, and we should wield it with discern

Finding the Silver Linings

My spouse has been suggesting that we see Silver Linings Playbook together. She saw it a couple of months ago. It’s rare that I feel like going to the movies. It’s just a thing. About confinement. But right about now, I’m confined on an airplane and I’ve just finished watching Silver Linings Playbook.

It’s sort of like being in a theater. It’s dark and no is paying much attention to me as I wipe away the tears streaming down my face. I’m like most people in that I want a happy ending.

The fact is that we don’t really know about endings. We only know about the here and now. As Pat, the main character, says, “we get stuck in negativity.” He also tells us we can use it to fuel us into finding the silver linings in our lives.

This is the story about a young man who has lost his wife, his job and the trust of most everyone around him because of his symptoms of bipolar disorder. Slowly he restores himself with the help of the people who love him. Everyone in the movie is just a tad bit crazy but I happen to think we all are, in some shape or form.

Before boarding the plane, I sent my preface, bio and a few other details to my editor. He is laying out my book. The book that has been my obsession about my obsession with families, with love, commitment, and finding the silver linings in life.

The song that triggers Pat in the movie is Stevie Wonder’s- My Cherie Amour, as it is mine. It brings me back to the loneliness I felt as a kid when my sister died. I’ve had to learn “a strategy,” as Pat’s therapist suggests, to work through that. I even learned to play the song on the guitar-barely. No easy feat.

So my message today is that we all suffer from sort of mental dis-ease at some time or other. Big or small. Complicated or simple. We have to strategize and find the silver lining.

I am one amongst many on the plane today. I will hold onto my seat and watch the clouds as we pass them by, looking for the silver linings.

The Ultimate Holiday Gift

Holidays have come to mean gifting and receiving for many of us. The season becomes a whirlwind of activity. There’s tree trimming, candle lighting, cooking and shopping sprees. Some of us knock ourselves out with expectations. This bustle can lead to emotional exhaustion, a perfect medium for growing resentments. There is a solution. The ultimate in holiday gifts this year is forgiveness! I’ve decided to gift myself with it first.

I recently sat to listen to a talk given by Marianne Williamson based on her new book The Law of Divine Compensation. Suffice it to say I’m still sifting through the words I heard and the images I received through the prayer and meditation that we shared in during the talk.

Pushing tissue paper, ribbon and credit cards aside, I’ve taken some time for introspection. I believe that I can see within myself a bit more clearly. As I envisioned Higher Power holding me as I looked within, I came across some realizations. I have held resentments against people for actions I believed they took that ultimately harmed me. These are my perceptions alone and who is the one who is still smarting? I think it’s me. There’s an old saying that holding onto resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die. My old angers can be defined as righteous that can be further defined as self-righteous. Yeah? So what? Blaming others for my misery gets tiring. I become depressed and glum. My higher self tells me to “Let it go, Theresa. Don’t be so hard on yourself.” Holding onto resentment doesn’t allow us to grow and be the persons our coded DNA intended. This certainly does not mean that we should keep ourselves in unhealthy situations but the spaces between our ears can be such dark and lonely places.

During Marianne’s meditation I went deep. I saw the faces of people I believed had harmed me. My connection was that I loved those faces at one time or other and still do in in some cases. I sent their images breaths of love. Did they receive it? I don’t know. I do know that the old anger, hurt and resentments within me are dissipating. I can move forward in new relationship to them but mostly to myself. It feels good to be weightless- even after eating those holiday butter cookies. I love being my higher self. It feels good. I don’t have to make the choice between being right or happy. Forgiveness gives me both. Forgiveness is the gift that keeps on giving. It’s priceless.

Fifth Avenue Girl

My friend, Farley, recently reminded me to “get over it” when a twenty- something at work called me by my first name and then expected me to call her “Ms.” His playful rebuke was that while I prefer to be addressed as “Dr.” that I would always be a Fifth Avenue Girl. In Brooklyn that is…not the famous Manhattan Fifth Avenue. Our family lived on Fifth from the late fifties to the early seventies. As Puerto Ricans we were strategically moved to the outskirts of America to faraway places like Flatbush and Pennsylvania. Park Slope was in its early years of making way for the gentry.

 

Exactly forty years and some marriages, children, degrees and homes later, my cousin, Mike, invited me to have lunch on Fifth with our Uncle Louie who I hadn’t seen in years.  After shedding a few tears, hugs and observations that we all look pretty much the same as we did forty years ago (ha!) we decided to pick out a restaurant on “our block.”

It suddenly occurred to me that the restaurant we were sitting in was the actual apartment my cousin grew up in. It looked different with the old plaster walls taken down to reveal exposed brick. The bedroom had long ago been turned into the chef’s area. The other customers enjoyed their seafood as we did. But they didn’t share the memory of my Uncle Louie in the room, standing in the spotlight of the Hanna-Barbera toy projector, pretending to be a cowboy with his gun stuck in his holster- ala Barney Fife.

We shared stories as we sat at the table in the backyard. My cousin reminisced about this area being the first “outside” he knew and about the rabbits that he couldn’t get too close to-you can imagine why. I took pictures of the fire escape we’d sat on eating pancakes as children during twilight summer evenings. Our parents had gone out dancing. Fireflies had danced around us. Our pancakes were sized in order. My uncle, Junior, made sure that he got the largest as he was the eldest- cooking for us as he babysat. As we sat in the glow of our memories, my phone rang and I ignored it. I didn’t want anything to break the spell.

They shared stories that I hadn’t heard of before. They spoke of my sister’s spiritual presence that they’d experienced over the years. She’d died at fourteen after a long illness. As an eleven year old I couldn’t know for sure, as they did, that she’d stuck around spiritually. I wasn’t able to feel that until years later. Mike told of getting jumped by a group of kids, of briefly inhabiting an abandoned brownstone and of almost getting his brains blown out by a drunk who made him “own” being a man. All at the age of fifteen- I shivered at those stories.  I felt warm when he told the one of falling through the ice at the Prospect Park Lake. He said that he’d felt my sister had somehow saved him. Mike updated me on our young thug friends- many of whom are sadly no longer living. We laughed when Mike told me that he’d brought his children around to Park Slope. They’d challenged him when he told them it used to be a dangerous neighborhood, “Yeah, right, Dad.”

At the end of afternoon they walked me to my car. When we hugged goodbye, I sat for a moment relishing the stories, my family and my life. I remembered that I’d missed a phone call. I listened to the message. It was an editor expressing interest in my novel. It was all so magical but true. Yes, I have changed a great deal but I will always be a Fifth Avenue Girl.