Writing: Character Building

Fifth Avenue

One of my favorite characters, Carrie Ramos, is sort of real. I met the original version of her in the early seventies when I was a hot mess of an adolescent. That’s, at least, how I felt on the inside. I had just lost my older sister after a long illness and complicated surgery. I, like every other “Fifth Avenue Girl,” stood on the steps or hung out the window, wishing for something, anything other than the realities of my life.

A family moved around the block on Lincoln Place. The youngest, Carrie, about five or six, somehow took a liking to me. She had several older brothers and sisters- all too busy for her scrawny little ways. Carrie and I had something in common. We were both lonely. She’d meet me on the street and ask, “Esta, where you goin?” I’d grab her by the wrist, her hand was way too dirty to hold, and I’d buy us both Italian ices. As we slurped them, the orange or cherry flavors ran down her hand, making it stickier than it already was. I’d help her wipe it with the puny napkins we got at the pizza shop. Carrie told me she was named after a saint. Caridad. I had no idea that she was talking about Caridad Del Cobre- Oshun who is the Orisha of women, mothering, kindness and compassion in the Yoruba-Lucumi tradition.

My family moved out of the neighborhood not long after that summer of my prancing the streets with Carrie. The pain of grief made it impossible for my mother to remain in the same apartment.

Fast forward, when I was initiated as a priestess of Yemaya as an adult I was told that Oshun was my little sister, a lucky charm of sorts. I thought of the tiny, sweet dark blond Carrie who’d ingratiated her way into my heart many years before. I remembered how we linked hands together. She was my first sign of Oshun-of love, kindness and compassion that I’d received at a very dark time.

As the protagonist of Covering The Sun with My Hand, Julia Acevedo, channeled her story to me, Carrie resurfaced as her best friend. We meet the character during her red hot adolescence. She ripens into maturity and wisdom and is, indeed, Julia’s lucky charm in terms of providing only what a best friend can- a shoulder to cry on, frank and honest appraisal of challenging situations and unconditional love. I have no idea what happened to the “real” Carrie. I sometimes wondered who wiped her little hands, whether she married, or whether she missed me as I did her after I moved away. It was a tender time.

What I treasure about writing is that it’s a place for me to make up a story with all of the tragedy and sweetness that life can bring. The stories we share make us cry, build our self-esteem, take us down a notch and leave us differently than when we first open a new leaf- either as a reader or a writer.

I can’t wait for you to meet Carrie on my pages when my book is published this spring.

Are there characters that were seeded in your young life that somehow found a place on your pages?



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