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!

Mental Illness is not a ‘Novel’ Idea

René Acevedo, Julia’s twin, is diagnosed with Schizophrenia during his first year of college. This severe and persistent mental illness becomes the backdrop for the changes that rock the lives of each member of  the Acevedo family in my first novel Covering the Sun with My Hand.  As I was immersed in creating the play inspired by this novel, workshop members wondered how the psychiatrist would so easily make this diagnosis without tests or procedures. The story takes place in the mid seventies before the advent of many of today’s diagnostic tools and treatments but many of the same problems exist today.

I’ve had many private emails from  readers who were strangers and also talks with friends alike who shared similar stories they too experienced with family members who were struck with signs and symptoms of various mental illnesses. The overwhelming message I received was that these loving family members shared in the plight of coping with the often devastating effects.

My work as a psychiatric nurse practitioner has shown me that the more things change, the more they stay the same. There is still bountiful ignorance and stigma regarding mental health and this is an unfortunate fact.  The ill person may be expected to  pull it together because those who lack education may believe that they can get better if they really want to improve. Try getting rid of high blood pressure through intention. Sure, medication, good nutrition, excercise, and meditation help but doesn’t eradicate certain types of hypertension. This is similar to mental illness.

Family members who provide care for their loved ones must make hard decisions. One of them is how much of their own lives do they place aside in the hopes they could affect powerful change by being present and giving of themselves. I’ve heard vastly different reactions. One early beta reader found my book revolting and informed me there was no real problem. The protagonist could have easily gone on with her life and not entertain the notion that she should stay home in hopes of helping her family. Other readers were grateful to see what could very well have been their own narratives filled with conflict in print.

If you or someone you know is flailing while swimming in the thick soup of mental illness here are some links for support that might be helpful. Check them out:

National Alliance on Mental Illness

https://www.nami.org

For friends and family members

https://www.mentalhealth.gov

Supporting a family member with mental illness

http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/improving-care.aspx

Covering the Sun with My Hand is the second place winner of the International Latino Book Awards 2015 Best First Novel Category. The novel is currently available only on this website. It will soon be available via Amazon as I’m in the process of transitioning publishers. Click the Paypal button on this site if you would like to purchase a signed copy.

I am visible within the invisible

Scrolling on social media I read that having expectations is like having premeditated resentments. I can relate to that, not so much that I’m resentful but that I’m in a place of questioning my creative and professional lives again. The last time I posted was over a month ago. When I wrote that last one I promised myself that I would post more regularly but then life, of course, yet again, interjected itself into my grand plan.

We also had illness and death make a visit to our family. These are the times that the Universe in all of its wisdom tells us that we must take pause. In other words, I am encouraged to “take a chill pill, Theresa.” That is welcome but it is also challenging. Social media happily reminds me that I’m not doing enough and that if I don’t promote, promote, promote, that I will wallow in the land of the lost, the uncelebrated, the alone. When I entertain these thoughts I am glad that the Universe has reminded me to sit instead in the land of the loved, in the stillness of life, and that I’m never alone.

Balancing my creative work and professional life is a tricky business.  It might not be this way if I didn’t also take time to pray, meditate, exercise, and make healthy tasty dishes. My family, friendships, and fellowships are also as important as my spiritual relationships. Did I leave anyone or anything out? A mentally ill client of mine who spoke in tongues during a session told me that my office is “lonely” and a “place to meditate.” These concepts may have been oddly shared but I believe it is a place of stillness where I can gather myself to me when I need to in a very chaotic atmosphere. So, there are gifts in my challenges.

My play, my next novel,  my poetry verses, and all of my creative enterprises are not floundering but actually flowering and I must remind myself of that when I am in the pause mode. The Explicit Order has always been integral with the Implicit Order. We all take time to be in the still of creation with the eventual sharing with others. For today, I will be still and then the Universes will shift and give me the message when it is time for me to shift too. For today, I will remind myself that the quiet is as important as the loud. For today, I will remind myself that there are seasons for all.

 

 

When the story changes…

In real life we all change whether we want to or not. We try new foods, get involved in new jobs and relationships and basically do things that may seem different to our persona. Usually though, unless it’s to an extreme, we aren’t kicking and screaming.

But what happens when it’s one or more of our beloved characters that changes? I’m in the midst of experiencing this as I ‘adapt’ my novel Covering the Sun with My Hand to a play. I guess you can say that I’m in the acceptance phase now. Based on all the changes in the story, I’m now calling the project ‘inspired by’ rather than ‘adapted’ and have also thought about changing the title.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s still Julia and René Acevedo as our leads. Mami and Ana are major characters. Papi has unfortunately crossed over. There are characters at the forefront who weren’t mentioned in the novel but who are germane to the story.

It’s still going to be a while before they take their places on stage. I need time to get used to this changes. I’ll be writing more about these as I move forward in the play. The one thing that hasn’t changed in the writing of this version of the Acevedo family tale is that I love each character so much and I’m getting to know more about each as you will. Looking forward to sitting with you in the theatre.

Writing: Timing, distance, and target

I was briefly a martial arts student at the age of twelve and returned to training when I was in my thirties. My first instructor, Mr. Aaron, was a great storyteller. He told tales of how he could kick as high as his head but when I attended his Saturday classes he couldn’t quite reach that height anymore. I stopped attending because he thought I should be able to “handle” dressing in the room with the boys. The other girls in the class had already stopped taking the classes. I eventually figured out why they left one by one. I tend to hold onto things tenaciously-most times that quality is a strength of mine.

The second time I began training was because my children were taking classes and my friend, another mom, and I decided that we could do more than sit and wait for hours on end for them on Saturdays. The style was Okinawan Go Ju Ryu. I learned about the nuances of walking the warrior path between hard and soft ways-which is what Go Ju means. I ended the training just shy of testing for my black belt. It was a tough decision to stop a discipline that I’d become committed to over the years. I guess, ultimately, I learned that I’m a warrior that leans toward a peaceful way of life from a different path. There were several things that I learned through the years of learning Karate that have changed my life forever. One of them was the concept of ‘timing, distance, and target.’ This concept shows up every now and again and I experienced one in my writing life.

Being a quasi social media junkie, I was in full glee mode when I shared on Facebook that I was changing the title of my new mystery, Nights of Indigo Blue, that was published in September of 2015. Facebook did what it does best and I quickly received several ‘likes.’ I also received a private message from an acquaintance who advised me ‘writer to writer’ that I should employ the help of a proof reader for my book. She made it clear that this would help me to avoid my previous issue of having multiple editing errors as in my first book, ‘Covering the Sun with My Hand.’ I must admit that the message quickly put me in a funk. I  know how important it is to have the ability to self reflect and self critique and I try my best with that. What smarts is that I think it was meant to ‘take me down a peg.’ The message is that while I’m being published that my work is not quite good enough. The person’s spouse had already confided to me that there were glaring errors in my book that should have been avoided when we met for lunch about a week after that particular book launch- a time that I was pleased as punch after a fantabulous event for my beloved book. Sigh.

I’m not perfect and don’t do any of this alone. I have a great team and we work together well. This message had already been shared. I think her advice was a definite case of poor timing, distance, and target. It reminded me of standing in the dojo, training place, with a fellow student who should have been trading taps to the ab region. Instead, after the fifth or so repetition he somehow punched me right in the face. It was wrong in every way but he shrugged and said he hadn’t meant to hurt me. The timing, for me, was awful. The ‘writer to writer’ message could have been shared during a more neutral time. The distance was too close to home in terms of my default state of negative thinking of “not being good enough.” The target was perfect for the messenger but, alas, not for me.

Writing helps me to make sense of my world. Talking things out do too. When I shared this with my editor she reminded me we worked together on the book and the publisher was on the team too. It reminded me that I hadn’t done this alone and there was nothing to feel shame about or to hide. Being part of a writing team is awesome. There will be messages given in a poor manner. I don’t have to wait for a sucker punch, there will always be someone there who will be happy to do the honors. If and when a punch does come sailing toward me and I don’t duck in time, I know that it may smart for a while and then I’ll be okay.

Happy writing (and editing)! Go in confidence of who you are and the knowledge that life can be challenging just as we are simultaneously rewarded.