Choosing what to write


An opening line turned into a paragraph. It was glorious.  The sun, the sea, a boardwalk and a young woman who was looking out into the vast ocean and sky. The seagulls call and land at her feet. Her hair is blowing in the warm breeze. But wait…oh no. I find out she’s standing with some dude that isn’t the kind of man that shares my existence. He’s the kind of guy I avoid. He’s careless. Okay, maybe not careless. He’s violent. With his words and with his hands. Ugh.

This isn’t the type of book I want to write. But I continue to tap onto my laptop keys. The story emerges. Domestic violence. Not my favorite subject. In fact, it’s one that has kept me frustrated in my work life. I’ve sat across too many pretty young things that wouldn’t think of leaving these situations- not even for the children. So, I hesitated but the words kept flowing and I kept putting them down on paper. Because edits were due for my recently released novel Covering the Sun with My Hand I was able to put that manuscript away for a while. That’s over. That book is done and available on store bookshelves and on  I took the manuscript back out and added more dialogue, more scenes, more details. The story is being to tell itself with all my reluctance.

Then I get another break. I reluctantly agree to work on Fridays, my sacred writing day, for several weeks. I’m not so thrilled about it. Doing psychiatric evaluations in a room the size of a thimble in a women’s shelter in NYC is something I can do even if I’d rather be writing. I do it. Then I find that there’s something poignant about sharing this space with mentally ill women. I begin to realize is that many of these women have fled other states in order to escape their violent husbands and boyfriends. When I begin to write their stories down I realize many of them have been physically assaulted by men in their lives since early childhood.

As I gazed into the swollen and bruised eye of one woman trying to get her to go for medical care it occurred to me that this was probably the 901th time she’s been punched. She’s tired. A scratched cornea doesn’t sound all that terrible. She probably can’t see what she looks like anyway because she’s lost vision in that eye. My heart opens and breaks a little. I can tell she feels that in the way she turns her head and gives me a half-smile. She agrees to go to the eye doctor like they told her to in the emergency room. I think the smallness of the room allowed for the intimacy and helped our energy vibes touch each other. I hope she goes.

As I write another line in the book I’d come to dread about domestic violence, I know now why I’ve been told to write it. It’s a gift from my Higher Power.  I’d wanted to write a story about ‘pretty.’ You know what they say. God laughs when you’re making plans. She must have been rolling on the floor watching me this time.

I carry on…



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.


Marathon Training: Not changing my mind

There! It’s out there. The idea of not doing this year’s NYC Marathon is quite attractive right about now. I can hear the refrain, why do something if you don’t want to do it? It’s just not that simple. My tendency is to take on long projects. Writing, needlepoint and running are my favorite pastimes. There is a joy in a poem, a cross-stitched book mark and a 5K. The mistake, for me, is to believe that those things don’t need as much attention and craft involvement as the novel, the wall hanging and the marathon. They do. It’s the timing that’s different.

Years ago, I stood on the sidelines on Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn. The challenge of training for the marathon eluded me. Why did I think that Sunday was such a special day? It was, of course. But there were a lot of special days that led up to that brisk morning I hadn’t been privy to. I hadn’t been around for the Saturday that a young wife tied up her laces for a long training run as her husband took the kids to the zoo. The evenings the fifty year old guy spent snoring in front of the television, instead of having lively conversation with his partner, went unnoticed by me as I sipped hot chocolate.  I didn’t realize that in addition to the running, there was the stretching, the muscle strengthening sessions and the speed and hill training. Eating right, sleeping right and maintaining decent communication with family, friends and co-workers are other fine attunements needed during marathon training. It’s a challenge.

The biggest challenge is the tiredness I feel during the long runs. I eat the right carbo-protein-fat mix. I sleep the nights before my long runs but at mile 18 my body says “No Mas.” Roberto Duran, the boxer, made that phrase famous in 1980 when he walked away from Sugar Ray Leonard. Lots of explanation, lots of theory around this statement but when enough is enough, it’s enough. I gather as much information on “The Wall” and how to get around it as I possibly can.

I’m set for a twenty two miler in the morning. As I eat my energy gels and put one foot in front of the other tomorrow, I will try to not to say ”No mas.” I made the decision to take on this personal challenge. The NYC Marathon experience beckons me. I’m planning on going forward and not changing my mind.

They say it’s your birthday…

So what is it to me? It’s not the annual birthday event most of us have in mind when we celebrate with balloons, cake and candles. There will be no ‘Hokey Pokey’ or ‘Pin the Tail on the Donkey.’ This weekend marks my initiation into the Orisha tradition six years ago. Just writing the number six down reminds me that I’m very young and still newly finding my way on this spiritual path. I breathe easier.
Six years ago, I was crowned a priestess of Yemaya. The knowledge I had of ‘Yemaya’ prior to the event was that she is the Great Goddess Mother celebrated in different forms in many different spiritual and religious traditions. She presides over all in this great big Universe! I first identified her during “The Journey of the Waters” many years ago. With the guidance of my Native teacher, Oh Shinnah Fastwolf I experienced water ceremonies in the Southwest that included pipe, sweat lodge and initiations in the various natural water springs, lakes and rivers. I took on the aspect of Changing Woman and have never looked back! It was there I heard the word “Yemaya” whispered into my ear at Pagosa Springs, Colorado.Years later, as I did my theoretical thing, I was steeped in literature regarding Yemaya, Orishas, Spiritism and Santeria while I researched the literature for my doctoral dissertation.
The visions that swirled in my head about Yemaya were that she is a nurturing, loving, and forgiving mother that treats her children with the utmost devotion and love. I wanted some of that and raised my hand asking for ‘more’. So when I consulted the oriate and he threw some cowry shells on the mat and declared, “Yemaya wants you!” and “She said don’t touch that dial!” I was smitten by this vision of loveliness wearing swirling blues and whites ready to cast her net over me and draw me under the ocean waves where she could feed me all the lobster and shrimp that I could eat.

That never happened. Instead, I found out after my initiation that yes, I am a child of Yemaya, but not the one I envisioned. I am the child of Yemaya Okute- one bad-assed mother who hauls butt making things happen. Yes, I tend to my flock but it’s not babies. I usually tend to a bunch of also bad-assed men who happen to need a little care and compassion in their daily existences. Listen to ‘em, talk to ‘em, give them a “you ok?’ and send them back onto the beach or actually, the streets of the lower east side of Manhattan- Loisaida to you natives of this rocky island.  Any traces of tears can be attributed to them being waterlogged while under my watchful Yemaya vision. The truth is that I do see beauty in everything based on my relationship with Her. We all need somebody, don’t we?

What I’m getting at is that I believe I’m only just beginning to figure out who I am in this spiritual life, what my gifts are and certainly my blessings. I gather that this is a basic feature of opening to a spiritual tradition during adulthood. I haven’t turned my back on the religious tradition that my Earth mother loving created for me beginning during babydom. The two traditions actually complement each other quite well, as shown by my ancestors who hid their African traditions while they went to Mass in order to avoid severe and corporal punishment from their plantation masters.

So, I’m still learning. I’m grateful. I’m in awe that Yemaya didn’t want me to channel surf Orishas. I’m open to whatever She brings me on this coming day of celebration and the years to come. My choice to be initiated into a most complicated, unlikely tradition is something I’m proud of! I find that as more is revealed that I am thrilled that I decided to give over to my Higher Power. I could never have thought some of my life up. I’m hanging onto my seat during this delicious ride. All I need to order is the cake. Aché


Writing Junk Miles

I’m sitting in front of my laptop and not outside running a few extra miles. My body needs rest. I’ve just excised two chapters from my manuscript. These were passages that I thought  were so important at least a year or two ago. These were the chapters that described how my protagonist was feeling while dissecting her life and how she was continuing to work through life’s stuff by developing a deeper relationship with a character that had actually been symbolic. Screech. Halt.

There comes a point when we need to reflect on what we’re actually doing. I’m also at the point of similar reflection when it comes to my physical self. Will running another five miles help or hurt my body? I could stretch it a bit. Feed it something nutritious and discuss my exercise plan with someone who knows what training for a marathon is about. Yes, those things are all important. Mostly, I need to listen to my body. It doesn’t usually steer me wrong. When I haven’t listened to the minor twinges, pings and pulls is when I have gotten into trouble. I’m running a marathon in the fall and, like writing, it can be a long arduous draining process or I can enjoy most of the nuances it will bring. My commitment and discipline are paramount along the way in both my writing and running.

I recently shared a passage I’d written with my daughter. She stopped me as I raced through one part to get to another. As she so astutely pointed out, “if you don’t like it, it shouldn’t be there.” I swelled up my chest and told her that in most books that I’ve read, I’ve had to skim through to get to the good parts. ‘Not good’, I realized, as soon as the words came out of my mouth. Needless to say, that was a turning point in my editing process. To thine own self be true.

When I check in to my inner self, I realize that I don’t need an outside party to tell me to get honest in my writing. I also can’t run every day because a twenty five year old elite runner does. I need to listen quietly and follow the guides who live within me. When I need outside help they tell me. Sometimes I don’t follow the instructions that I’m given. I hit my head against the same wall as I try to make a door where none exists. This hurts until I’ve had enough. I make a right or a left and an opening magically appears. I may do some light weights, walk a mile instead of run five or dream on the changes that are warranted for a current manuscript. It’s then I’ve been true to the process and have dispensed with the junk miles of my life.

The Glass Half Full

I once had the pleasure of hearing someone talk about how he grew up in the “Family of the Glass Half Empty” and how he was now happy to be in the “Family of the Glass Half Full.” That statement really made me think about how I treat life. As I reflected on my year, as most of us do at the New Year, I realized my glass was looking pretty empty. So I decided to turn that tricky place of “less than” around.

There are goals that I haven’t achieved this year but there were a bunch of objectives I did accomplish. My tendency to look at things as events, not processes, can bring me down quicker than a ladder on a flight of stairs. I also look at the externals and forget about the internal doings- those things that have more substance. It doesn’t really matter how much “Gucci talk” I hear. I’m a lot healthier when I “keep it green.”

I’d held onto beliefs that writers sit in dark rooms, with quill in hand, at a wooden writing table, solitary in their writing endeavors. Sniff. Boo hoo. Hand me that shawl, please. Lonely isn’t it? Sometimes it is that. Other times, it’s about chatting with other writers, sharing words, and receiving unfiltered feedback. It’s about healing the wounds of ‘never being good enough’ or thinking ‘I’m too darn good’ and becoming right sized again. This last year, actually my first year, of blogging has been a challenge that has kept me thinking of what writing prospects interest me the most, what I’d like to share and who I’d like to share that with. These have changed and grown.

Interviewing writers and authors who I believe have a spark of the flame of creativity that should be shared turned out to be an awesome enterprise.  I found that there’s positivity and genuine caring about readers, about community and what an author’s literary gift to the world can be. Gifting a book is much deeper than wrapping it in colorful paper and ribbon. The gift of writing can share a world, a history, a hope and a breath. The word ‘ruah’ means ‘breath’ that is furthered defined as ‘spirit’. As spirits, we bring our gifts to the world in our physical bodies. For some of us it’s plastering walls, creating kaleidoscopes and, for others, it’s writing stories. Allowing myself to be authentic as I’ve shared my voice, via blogging, has brought me closer to my goals of actualizing my dreams as a writer. Writing is one of the ways that I provide service in this life.

Interviewees Jason Baumann Montilla, poet and librarian extraordinaire, and authors Sarah Cortez Steven Torres realism in a comprehensible language to their published works. Do they think of their written words as ‘service’?” I bet that may happen some of the time. When they are riveted to their computers, pens and clean white sheets of paper or an old tossed napkin quickly retrieved to jot a fragile thought, they may not be thinking service. What I received from each of them had the print of service-dedication, perseverance, and patience- for the good. I look forward to widening the beacon of light on other writers’ and authors’ positions on the writing process- the doorway to full consciousness, the breath of life.

My glass is half full. It may spill now and again. I will fill it up a bit more. Through the clear water I will see life magnified to its marvelous proportions. It will show me how I fit, oh so well, with the other sea fishies, swimming among the green plants, floating past the coral and settling onto the rocks that hold me secure in this thing called life.

Boogie Board Blogging

Blogging is very much like floating on your boogie board. Dangling your hand over the side leads to the probabilities that you may end up touching something that you hadn’t figured would be there when you first climbed on.  As I continue blogging, new things surface all the time. The trick has been not to drown in the waves of information that overtake me when I’m in the process of floating, er, blogging.

There are countless numbers of blogs out there, just like waves. I want to read all of it, all right, some of it. One cannot blog for interminable lengths of time and never visit another’s blog site.  I have to admit I am curious. I wonder why a particular person has 2359 teeny weeny portraits of people that have signed on to their site. Sometimes the reason is apparent and at other times it’s not. I’m one of those people who will sign up to follow someone’s blog if my heart strings get pulled. I’m not talking about pretty puppy pictures. I’m referring to committing my time to the blogger who has shared some evocative or significant piece on how they view their corner of the planet. The blogger doesn’t have to be sympathetic or even transparent but someone who decided to tell us what is meaningful in their lives and wasn’t afraid to write it. 

Blogs can be about more than one thing. We’re all about many different things. At the recent NYC Blogher/Penguin conference, I was reminded that my voice may sound different dependent on what I’m feeling, experiencing and thinking at various times. That sounded right to me. Sometimes I smile so broadly that I can’t stop even though my face hurts. Other times my apprehensions leave me in a state of preoccupation. I might end up riding an extra stop on the F train because I’m lost in thought. I was going to write G train, but everyone who knows me is aware I don’t ride the G train. If you’ve been reading my blog, you’ve gotten to know me and I hope I’ve gotten to know more about you by reading your blog and “listening” to your many voices. 

I still haven’t figured out how to visit all the blogs I’ve signed up to read. I plan to read blogs on a certain day or time of the week. I may forget or am scheduled for a meeting that I’d better not miss. I try to keep my visiting schedule for others because I know how much I enjoy being visited and receiving comments. Open dialogue is one of the most enjoyable things about blogging.

I’d like continue blog surfing as I do boogie boarding- lying on my stomach, relaxed, with my hands dangling into the lovely sea green waters. When I come to shore and pad along the beach I enjoy picking up little glittering shells, crustaceans and the like. Sometimes I put them back where they belong and other times they beg me to pick them up and take them home. I pick the blogs I read in pretty much the same way. There are those special ones that whisper softly to me and those are the ones that I’ll press the little tab and “Follow” wherever that blogger takes me.

What keeps you coming back to a blog?

Feeling Safe

It was about 6 am, still dark and there I was skulking on a street corner, hunched over by an auto.  A squad car snaked its way down the avenue with its siren off but its red lights flaring. It slowed down when the officer who drove it spotted me at the curb. I could feel his eyes on me for a long moment. I was wearing a dark jacket and pants. He kept going when he spotted my two fluffy dogs- they were engaged in their morning duty. I wondered whether he’d initially thought he’d finally caught the Park Slope groper. He hadn’t. It was me. For a moment, maybe it was the early hour, I thought, well, maybe I am the guilty party. As I said it was just for a moment, but I didn’t like being looked at in that manner at all.

The next morning, I was off from dog duty, and was making my way toward the park for an early run. It was again dark as night. As I walked toward the corner, I saw about eight policemen standing near a man who could easily be taken for the Park Slope groper. I made eye contact with one of the officers and quickly went on my way. It took me a moment to shake off the feeling I had. Was that the groper they surrounded or someone who fit the profile? There are a lot of men in my neighborhood that fit the profile of the groper. That got me to thinking, why was this gentleman actually stopped? Was he on his way to work? My imagination soared. Was he a cook, or was he one of those bicycle delivery guys who risk their lives getting breakfast for the rest of us who barely manage getting ourselves a cup of coffee- the rest of us who don’t look like the artist rendition of the groper.

When I first heard of the assaults in this very quiet neighborhood I was just as frightened as everyone else. I began to feel safer when I saw the added patrol cars driving up and down the blocks- making U turns at the intersections. Then suddenly, I realized that I hadn’t been aware of police presence before because, well, how do I put this diplomatically? There was none. I can argue that since it was a “safe” neighborhood, we didn’t need it. Now it is a given there will be men patrolling on their bicycles or a couple of Guardian Angels will be standing at the corner of the dog park on any given day.

I guess the groper is not going to be wearing a tee shirt that says, “Hello, it’s me!” He will look like the countless other assailants who go around under the guise of normal. He will probably look like me, wearing a dark jacket and pants and he’ll look kind of busy and no one would ever have thought that they were in danger around him. That’s the problem- most criminals don’t look the part. Maybe, like me, they get up in the morning, walk their dogs, drink a cup of coffee and go to work. The difference is that they do a little illegal activity and go about their day, no one the wiser. I do hope if the gentleman that was picked up the other morning is truly innocent that he got to go home and isn’t being held because he “looked the part.” I really can’t wait for this to be over.