It’s all in the smile

I’m on social media- a lot. I noticed the other day that everyone’s children are lovely. Pictures show that they are angelic, well dressed, and down right cute! Adorable. Posed. Boring. I’m at the age when I can talk about how it was back in the olden days. Back in the days when my mother took pictures with her Argus camera we didn’t see resulting photographs until a week or a month later. Sometimes the developed film wasn’t picked up from the pharmacy until a year or more later. That’s when the laughs began.  The concept of awkward family photos is usually relegated to those photos taken before the invention of the phone/camera combo. I love ‘Throwback Thursdays’ when I get to see the candid vibrant pictures of my friends who are usually in a puddle of other kids.

Pictures of kids whose eyes have taken on demonic tones, whose hair looks like a manual egg beater went through it, or like they just sat down and squashed a raw egg no longer exist. Glaring sun in their eyes? No. My mom won a company photo contest when her image landed smack in the middle of the sphere at the 1965 World’s Fair thanks to nifty “double exposure.” My favorite picture taken during my childhood is of my sister on her first Holy Communion. Two weeks after the event, when my mom tore open the envelope, we laughed until tears rolled down our cheeks. Her goofy turned up smile was perfect against her pristine white lace dress and filmy veil.  My sister explained she’d merely gotten tired of picture taking.

Today, I usually see candid shots of how perfect little ones are in the eyes of their loving parents who might not see the perfection of imperfection. Photos that show cute, cute, and more cute. I’m not suggesting shaming pictures or the ones I’ve seen taken in the middle of a tantrum. Those are private moments that every child should have. But it seems many of today’s pics are quickly deleted. What will that mean in the future when children who are all grown up leaf through their parents Facebook pages and they see that they were always awesome and the angle of their childhoods was always just right?  I still love leafing through my mother’s albums crammed with black and whites and color shots. They remind me that I was a funny kid and I was sometimes sad. I was always a pretty full rounded person and my bad days weren’t deleted. They sit right next to my good days. While those paper pictures may be a bit faded in color they will never be in my memory. Thank you old Argus!


Fulfilling a Vision

Something  occurred to me again, because I already knew it, but you know how it is when you ‘really’ get something. My thought is about how important it is to take action steps when developing a creative life. That may seem like a no-brainer but it’s  not always so evident or easy. There was a time in my life that I thought, while lying on the sofa watching television, that ‘someday’ and ‘somehow’ I was going to create something successful. What I can say about that is that at least I had a vision.

I still sometimes struggle with taking action. I often sit in front of the television and watch other people’s creativity at work. I usually get up after a couple of minutes and say to myself, “let me go and do my creative work; thanks for the inspiration.” My excuse that I worked all day is just an excuse. Afterward, I go to bed feeling a lot better about myself than if I had used ‘having a long day’ as a reason for not writing or doing something else I love, like picking up my beloved accordion.

Another thing I find important in fulfilling my vision is sharing it with someone else. When I went to school as a child I got in the habit of covering my work. There was always another kid who resembled a crane as they tried to sneak peeks at the answers on my pages. Even as an adult there have been people that were unscrupulous with how they treated the work I shared with them. But still, there’s a certain power to sharing one’s vision. I believe that by putting my vision out into the Universe that it clarifies my plans, strengthens my commitment, and leaves my vision open to a blessing that can only be received if I’ve shared it aloud. So often, others’ feedback have helped me to view my work in an expanded manner. Will someone steal my idea? Maybe. But I think that each person’s vision is different and will be effected in a unique way. There’s enough to go around. By giving voice to my vision I am exhaling a prayer into the Universe that is abundant in its gifts.


I’ve heard that it’s important to learn to say ‘no’ in a world of constant interaction, negotiation, and of being asked to participate in just one too many activities. I understand this and have learned to say ‘no’ to people and situations that are draining, harmful to my well-being, or just plain disagreeable. Saying ‘no’ has given me the time and heartspace to say ‘yes’ to new people and events as never before.

This weekend has been a whirlwind of connecting with friends and meeting new ones. Saturday, I had the privilege of listening to a group of talented and creative women at Maria Aponte’s Latina 50+ event held at the Bronx Museum. As a member of the Advisory Board, I’m enjoying my opportunity to experience others in a different sort of way. The conference participants’ boundless energy and endless desire to share knowledge, wisdom, and hope is almost unimaginable. A wonderful thing is that I am a part of this amazing group because I said ‘yes.’

Today, my spouse and I went to a midtown restaurant called, Don’t Tell Mama, to hear a dear friend, Ann McCormack, sing accompanied by musicians. I loved watching her as a performer and seeing her differently than ‘just’ a friend. The other performers wove a wonderfully enjoyable venue for us. During one particular composition I felt inspired. I was inspired to write a piece for my adolescent self, the one who had a terrible time still grieving the death of my sister, moving to a different neighborhood, and saying ‘yes’ to things that I should have said ‘no’ to at the time. At that point in my life I had no idea about the amazing things that were to come my way. I don’t think I would have believed how joyous my life would be. I wouldn’t have listened to me. Today, that adolescent part of me is listening and is encouraged to do things I would never think were possible. I am inspired to write for the adolescent me who is still inside of me and who now has the courage to hear my message- better late than never.

Writing: “a Puerto Rican author”

Preparing a novel for the actual “publish” entails details that I don’t think about in my daily life but some issues hover like a helicopter about to descend. There may be danger if I getting caught in the blades or I may clear them easily with the right positioning. So, I questioned myself, about my position when I prepared my author’s bio.

In the author bio for Covering the Sun with My Hand I described myself as Nuyorican. That’s a description- isn’t it? Except that to my knowledge I was born Puerto Rican from Puerto Rican parents. I happened to be birthed on Brooklyn soil. This may make me BrookloRican. Not.

I was actually Puerto Rican until I was about fifteen and my cousins declared I was Nuyorican. They were born in Brooklyn too and moved to the beautiful island of Puerto Rico for a period of time that was long enough for them to determine that there was a difference between us. I wasn’t ‘real’ enough. That type of accusation against one’s authenticity can stick to some of us lesser thick skinned people especially during adolescence when we are trying to ‘identify’ or at least develop a genuine sense of self.

I recently attended an author’s’ event where one of the self proclaimed ‘first identified’ as a ‘Nuyorican’ began waxing about the concept and then began on a variance of ‘Neo-Ricans.’ His verbalized expertise on the topic sounded complicated. I felt like I was fifteen again when I was told by ‘other’ what I was and what I wasn’t. ‘Other’ in this particular case means anyone or everyone who isn’t me. I’ve had decades to self explore and decide who I am and what I am whatever the outside opinion may be. What happens when one is a matured self -identified person is that when they hear this type of self-selection is that they say ‘Talk to the hand’ in a perfectly fifteen year old manner.

I’m not sure if I’m at peace with the self aggrandizement or grandiosity that often comes along with branding oneself as a type of writer or product. I’m also not of the mind where I want to try being  a particular entity that is loved or accepted by all. Fat chance with that anyway. Interestingly enough, most of the author descriptions I read are simple. Some authors live on a farm with their husbands, two kids, and a dog named Sam. Others live in Connecticut and that’s all I know about them. Will selling myself as a particular entity attract or repel readers? Or will they just like the stories? The jury is out.

What a freedom this all is. I was at my desk at my fairly new job the other day and a Security person passing my office called out, “You Puerto Rican?” I called back, “Yes.” Is it important? In some ways it is and in others it’s not. He didn’t ask me if I called myself Latina or whatever in the author bio of my novel. In fact, he didn’t know that I have a published book out and that my next novel is due to be released this year. He’s trying to get to know me while we keep up with the fast pace of our lives. That’s probably the most important, who I am as a person- not as a particular identified thing. There are some things about me that will never change and some things that will as I grow and develop on planet Earth.

I hope you read my bio in Nights of Indigo Blue: A Daisy Muñiz Mystery  when it is released later this year. I wonder how I’ll feel about it then.


Spirituality: ‘That gift!’

The other day I heard an acquaintance talk about how terrible God is at gift wrapping. Just as on a birthday or at Christmas we may receive a gift, begin to unwrap it, and exclaim, “What the heck is this?” Our faces turn red, our words are stammered as we feel compelled to give thanks, all the while thinking, “What did I do to deserve this and how quickly can I get rid of it?”

Some of the situations I am ‘gifted’ with may be the same as that white elephant that turns up at my door. I’ve known plenty of people who have the knack of hiding presents that are received and they remain out of sight and, presumably, out of mind. Giving presents to my now deceased mother was often a trial. She didn’t use so many of the things I gave her. These were things that were sometimes frivolous- like the book pocket that she could hang from her mattress. She read herself to sleep at night and I thought she’d love it rather than have to step over the book in the morning. The book pocket remained in its box and I don’t how she got rid of it. I never saw it again, even when I rummaged through her belongings after she crossed over.

Underlying all of this, I am thinking about gifts and how God may give us what we certainly don’t want and don’t know what to do with. These gifts usually come in the form of misfortune and sometimes loss. An old friend of mine use to say “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle and sometimes we get what we get.” It’s up to us to decide how we will handle the cross we’ve come to bear. It’s up to us to be decisive in how we will respond to an uncomfortable interaction, event, or long term relationship.

During this past year there have been many changes for me. I’m happy to report that these changes came from a place of no longer allowing myself to tolerate hurtful situations. Did God give me these demeaning episodes that I had a hard time letting go of? I don’t think so. I think that, as my friend said, “I got what I got,” and it was up to me to decide what was enough and what no longer served me in the best light. I believe, not that God gave me a terribly wrapped gift, but that my Higher Power was close by, supported me, and gave me a big old hug when HP saw what I decided to do with it. The wind up, my acquaintance explained, is that depending on how we view and handle the awfully wrapped gift, we may find it is actually something of beauty in the long run that adds to our life experience in a beneficial way.

For today, I will try to be mindful of what no longer serves me and how to manage that in the beautiful light of my existence that my God has blessed me with, for I am thankful of the gifts of life and choice.

Writing: more of the character, less of me

I just finished reading the novel, Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn. I have to admit I only closed the book when I absolutely had to get off the train or my eyes shut against my will at night. The book was that good. At the end, I decided I may not like the writer. Wait, I had to check myself. Not like the writer? That’s crazy talk for what’s been going on in my head as an author.

Recent discussions with my friend, fellow author, Manny Melendez, had him reminding me there’s a big difference between an author, an author’s persona, and the characters who beg us to put them down on page. Manny’s not a murderer. A woman poet I know who portrays herself as a thug, isn’t- I think! I wasn’t Julia Acevedo, the protagonist of my beloved, Covering the Sun with My Hand. There’s a magic to telling the story as the characters want it told. The story is their experience not mine. It is weird to have people nod knowingly at me asking if “Covering…” is my memoir. No, it’s not in a million different ways. I know that writers are not their characters unless they brand their work- memoir!

This leads me to my novel, “Coney Island Siren,” that’s nestled in this computer somewhere. This novel is beyond me. It’s not beyond the characters who live in a surreal, sometimes drug hazed, very gritty reality based, non-comedic, somewhat erotic, definitely not a memoir of mine type of book. I’ve been gifted by the story by a couple of pretty intense muses. Where they came from I don’t know, but they are there. I had a tarot reading last summer, the reader told me, “Don’t let that character get into your head.” Well, I have to admit I was struggling there a bit.

I worry about a lot of things. One of those things is that my readers may think I’m an abusive jerk who takes advantage of his almost unformed, while quite informed partner. It’s not his fault she goes back for more. It’s not mine either. It’s the character’s. So, for today, thank you, Gillian Flynn, for writing the book. If it’s your memoir, please stay away from me. If not, I applaud you!

There, enough said, to be continued…

Writing: Reading one’s work

I spent a good part of my Friday writing poetry. I was really happy about what I wrote and decided to share one of my ‘poignant’ pieces with my spouse. Since we’ve talked about poetry being memoir, she looked at me quizzically and asked if what I wrote really happened to me. It had. She continued to ask me questions about events and feelings that I thought were quite apparent in the piece. I guess I should have reread it a few times, aloud, before reading it to someone else.

Reading and rereading one’s work aloud is highly recommended. It sounds different. Errors are caught that are easily missed when reading in one’s ‘head.’ The piece I read to my spouse sounded flat even to my own ears. In my mind’s eye, the images were real and colorful. The rhythm of the words was there until they came out of my mouth.

It’s interesting how I can spend long minutes on social media- reading stuff that is not at all meaningful and that whittles away at my quality time. I should use some of that valuable time doing valuable things. Sometimes when I do read something I wrote out loud I rush through it. I get bored. I don’t like it very much. These are exactly the reasons that I should take the time with my work that it deserves. It actually may not be at all good and should go out with the trash. Sometimes I’ve listened to readers who just say words out loud and don’t really seem to be sharing a message. The pieces are a bit like ‘word salad’ or ‘echolalia.’ Just because it rhymes doesn’t mean anything. If a writer is writing to impress with extraordinary vocabulary, make sure that piece is read with extraordinary people. Most of us, maybe just me, wants to enjoy what we are listening to and not trying to figure it out.

For myself, I will go back to that poem and redo it. The tale behind it is worth it. I’ll read it loudly in my living room. I may even eventually like it and then when it’s ready I’ll share it with someone else.

Writing: according to nature’s laws

There are seasons for a reason, I suppose. I look around at the barren trees and know for sure that they will be abundant with leaves during the coming Spring. When I garden, I do so in accordance with the higher laws of nature. I won’t sow seeds in December, that is a time for quiet; the time to be still and empty, readying for the time of growth.

It’s the same with writing. I designate a couple of days a week for ‘serious’ writing- whatever that means. Sometimes life taps me on the shoulder and reminds that I have other things to do; visit friends or family, go on errands or take care of a cold by wrapping myself up in blankets while sipping on a hot cup of tea. If I listen to the laws of nature it’s important for me not to get too rigid about my writing schedule.

A woman I knew once told me about her father who was a fairly appreciated author. She said he would close himself in his office after dinner each evening so he could write. For me, this image is a poignant one. The closing of that door seems quite interesting. For him, I’m sure, it was an image of fulfilling one’s dream and promise as a published author when he entered his office filled with his beloved writing tools. For her, the door closing signified a time to be separate from her father who was away at work all day. The melancholic tone in her voice told me it was an image she regrets from her childhood.

As I write this, I think I am giving myself permission to interact with my loved ones. I can use my train time for writing my poetry, jotting notes about the characters in my current project, and meditate on the course of action that a particular protagonist is taking. There have been times that I’ve not been pleased to put the pen down and then have been blessed with a particular insight or observation that enhances my writing. So for today, I will write according to nature’s laws.

Writing: Responsibility

‘Say what you mean and mean what you say’ is something that I learned a while back. I’m not one of those people that talk just to talk and to hear themselves speak as their chests swell with pride at the sound of their voice. That bores me, annoys me, and, sometimes, almost antagonizes me. That is when I stop listening or reading in the case of the written word.

We are blessed, in this country, with the right to say what we feel and what we believe. It’s important to me to use this right, this responsibility, in a learned way. My voice may be silent or my pen not flow across the pad until I am pretty certain of facts and what my motives are in speaking or writing things out.

I recently had a talk with a prospective agent and told them about my new project that is a story about intimate partner violence. Afterward I had a wave of share shame and thought, well, maybe, I can lessen the rawness of the scenes, maybe just a little rough, maybe not rape between a couple who stands side by side in the world together as they face the world. Maybe people would think this is too intense. Maybe, maybe, maybe…

My writing is my gift. With that comes responsibility to do the right thing. If I accept the gift of writing stories I must be loyal to the stories. I may sometimes be uncomfortable or embarrassed or feel shame. Wow. It’s just a story! No, it’s not. The back of my business card says, ‘A life is a story told…’ I must honor that.

The world I live in is riddled with violence, fear, anger, and hate. Without a solution, where do we go? I hold out for peace, I pray, I meditate, I am respectful of the person standing next to me. I hope that I am a healing, light force on this planet. Writing or speaking out about the hard things will be how I move forward in the solution of the pain that is etched on the faces I see and the words I hear. Awareness leads me to action and to responsibility in using the gifts I have received.

For today, I will write and pray for those who are in pain.

May you walk in beauty…

TVarela-business card

Writing: waiting for the story

There are some authors who believe that writing is therapy or bloodletting; basically turning it into some form of catharsis or other. We’ve all seen the memes that warn not to piss a writer off because you will be in their next novel or that the writer has opened their veins while writing a particular piece. I’ve gone to therapy for that stuff and only let the lab technician draw blood for my annual check-ups. That doesn’t mean that my stories and many others I read don’t capture the essence of life itself, it just means that we are storytellers of maybe a different kind.

This morning, as I washed the breakfast dishes, I had the image of a young girl and her mother talking in that strained way adolescents and moms often have. I saw the rambling house they live in that was the shell that encapsulated said girl’s profound loneliness. A few moments into this reverie, I remembered a story I began writing a couple of years ago that went into my ‘silent file.’ The characters, it seems, are no longer silent but beginning to tell me the rest of their story. I know I have the original piece in one of my handy flash drives on my desk somewhere.

This is how Covering the Sun with My Hand was written. It started out as “The Eviction” and didn’t go anywhere until I put it away awhile and the protagonist, Julia Acevedo, woke me up here in this same house. It was on another morning that I was feeling serene and all right with my world and what I do in it. I’m not angry with my mother, or my children. I’m not proving anything today. I just am, just for today. I may be those other things tomorrow but today I’m not. I think this is why the story and the main characters are reaching out to me again. I think that I’ll temporarily name this one, “Just before the Miracle,” because that is how I’ve experienced the process of storytelling- waiting for something that might all ready be happening. I’ll keep you guys posted. I’m going to dry the dishes now.