Friday, June 27, 2014

History Miami

I am a sucker for museums, art, and a little history. Imagine my surprise finding all three this past weekend at History Miami. This is a gem of a place, and one that people don’t seem to appreciate. I had planned to get free museum passes at the library before our visit and gave that as a reason for not being able to stay longer with the other Moms at my daughter’s camp. “Don’t worry” they all said, “No one ever takes those passes.”

I wonder why. Every time we’ve gone, the place is almost empty, which translates to me as the ultimate luxury. 

History Miami is located in the Miami-Dade Cultural Center. I am perplexed as to why every major city’s downtown center is so bad. San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York. They all have the seediest downtowns, and civic centers. Luckily, you can skip a cosmic tour of the ghetto neighborhood if you park in the Cultural Center Garage for a validated rate of only $5. Woohoo.

Make sure to take the elevator to the 2nd floor for the ultimate entrance. The walking tunnel showcases a beautifully designed pathway, from the antique chandeliers to the wrought iron gate designs. Walking through there will lead you to a lovely market style layout where History Museum lives alongside the Miami Dade Main Library. While the children’s area of this main library is pretty decent, we opted not to stroll through the adult section, especially avoiding the bathrooms. Art Museum used to be housed here too, before they evolved into a bigger and better fame monster a.k.a. the Perez Art Museum.

 Once inside History Miami you are transported to another dimension. The day of our visit coincided with the ‘Some Like it Hot’ exhibit, which is a fabulous display of local street art. Art is one thing, but street art, well now, that takes my appreciation to a whole other level. It was an eclectic mix of graffiti, visual design, and cultural expression. We also learned about the political struggle besieging the Miami Marine Stadium, and all the very talented artists who have claimed its murals.
Upstairs is where you can wander through the permanent exhibits of the museum. Authentic Cuban and Haitian rafts, a vintage railroad train, and displays of Seminole village tools and clothing are all housed here, so the visitor learns all about the rich and unexpected history of Miami. It’s not all Cuban cigars and coke parties ya’ll. Kids will take particular delight in the play areas scattered throughout the second floor. From the pioneer and pirate dress-up areas, to the Paleolithic art corner, my girls had fun and actually learned a thing or two. They were further motivated by the scavenger hunt the museum curator set them on. It was more difficult than they anticipated so we ended up hunting as a family, which was mostly fun with just some random moments of exasperation.

All in all, I will take History Miami over Miami Children’s Museum any day. Every time I’ve gone to the latter, I have felt so over stimulated, my eyes would twitch for days.

Now why aren’t there more museums like this in Miami? I’ve often remarked on the need for a dynamic one like the American Museum of Natural History where dinosaur loving kids could really explore. I have a lizard loving girl that would consider that a place of paradise. Though I have high hopes for the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science, driving around Miami I see plenty of real estate opportunities to build all types of museums here. This place has so much culture, it’s time we showcase it right.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Sensitive Child

I will never forget the look on my second daughter’s face the moment she was born – it was one of awe, wonder and a bit of shock. Initially quiet, she seemed to be taking us all in, sort of gauging how much of her could we really handle. Surprisingly, it did not take her long to start bawling. Huge gulping cries no one could figure out. Is she hungry? No. Is she wet? No. Is she cold, is she hot, is she uncomfortable, are her clothes tight – WHAT ON EARTH IS THE PROBLEM?

Through all our questions, our desperate attempts, she kept crying. She cried in the rooms we paced her in, the car rides we took her on, in the baby carrier, the stroller, the bed, and the crib. She just cried and cried. Hence, none of us were very surprised when she grew up to be a highly sensitive toddler who could scream her displeasure at the top of her lungs, shrieking bloody murder because the yellow balloon she had placed on the table was no longer there.

Normally I’m all for raising powerful and opinionated girls in this world. I admire strong women that can use their voices openly and directly. But parenting these types of personalities can be taxing. It’s draining to have your angelic looking daughter wake up annoyed at everyone around her, to suddenly get upset because she didn’t like the spoon you handed her, or because she doesn’t feel like wearing shoes to the park today.

After one particular tedious day, I confided to my husband that I couldn’t wait for these toddler years to be over. I wanted her to be 5, an age where I could hopefully, possibly, reach her rationally and we would settle disagreements amiably, with a little sensible persuasion. He felt sad at my admission and tried to make me take it back. I didn’t.

In retrospect, I know that was the exhaustion talking. I recognize that her enthusiasm equal her tantrums in strength; she is able to love as fiercely and devotedly as she is able to kick down and complain. I see it in her loyalty to her big sister, who she follows around all day, her curiosity with creepy crawly things, shells, leaves, and dogs, and her excited cheers for the coming rain, the ocean, and any lizards she happens to catch.

I also must admit that she wasn’t born to the calmest, meekest parents ever. Her father and I love, argue, and live as passionately and loudly as she does. When we are upset you can be sure one of us will scream, cry and throw a fit in two seconds flat. We are quite proud of that actually. There is no such thing as bottled feelings in our household.

How could I ever expect that she wouldn’t, or doesn’t have the right to do the same? In all likelihood she will grow up to be a force to be reckoned with. More power to her.

And I've made a promise for the next time she throws a fit: though it might burn my ears, though it might be hard to control, I will let her know that I understand; she has the right to be heard, and her mother, her father, her sister, our duty is to listen. 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Illicit Toys

He taught me how to read people’s eyes. We used to smoke cigarettes together and indulge in a variety of indoor activities. Time would stop and move at light speed with him. Even if he didn’t have everything under the sun and moon, he was the definition of lust, the definition of hard, and the definition of an all consuming addiction. Of course I knew he was bad for me, but like any addiction I had lost control somewhere between the first hit and the last high. Trying to reach the first climax became my broken record. You would think I’d get frustrated trying, but part of the high was in the reaching, and never quite attaining.

There was no mystery in his lack of commitment, but his betrayal was unexpected in many ways. When you’re in a state of dream making, it’s hard to wake up; and anyway who wants to wake up from Dante’s Paradise? Somewhere between the fifth and sixth sphere of heaven was his presence, wanting to be with mine. I was deluding myself, but if I avoided his eyes, everything would be just fine. When I finally did have the courage to look, the truth came out and punched me right in the womb. I looked up and a world of pain oozed out.

The music was loud, pulsating. It was not my type of music, I hated the screeching, arrhythmic beats, but he was there, so I climbed the million, sloping steps to get inside, opening and closing doors, passing water fountains, and people on various stages of their Ecstasy high, just to see which room he would be in. I was trapped in an M.C. Escher lithograph, with a skewed perspective on life, reduced to playing a ridiculous game of hide and go seek with someone who violated all the rules. The fact that he wasn’t as pleased to see me as I was to see him, didn’t bother me as much as you would think. The beautiful brunette by his side also didn’t hurt as much I had expected. It was the look in his eyes, the one that had been there all along, had I bothered to take a fucking look. All this time and I had no idea what I was dealing with.

What a brilliant waste of time.

I learned. I learned to look a person in the eye when looking for the truth. Looking for lies, well that's a whole other waterfall.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

It’s Really Not an Enchanting Place

The girls had been making their case to go to Disney World fooooreveeeeer as they like to put it. We finally gave in and got a Florida Resident 4-day pass, deciding to split it into 2 separate weekends of fun, fun, fun. Or as my husband refers to it: torture, torture, torture.

The first weekend was pleasant enough but it was the second and most recent visit that confirmed our inkling: we are never going back to that dreadful place.

While it's somewhat wonderful and exciting to see Disney characters and do the rides; what's most impressive about Disney World is not necessarily what is marketed but what is apparent upon arrival. It is a living, breathing example of an organizational chart carried out to the extreme. From the highly orchestrated parking lots, maximized to be as efficient as humanly possible, to the well maintained bathrooms, it is a highly functioning business model with extremely happy employees. But why we paid over $500 to see that is beyond me.

It was the first weekend of June and the sun was blistering hot when we arrived to Animal Kingdom around 10 am. Feeling relaxed and at ease, our mood suddenly changed to anxious and rushed as people from everywhere sped past trying to get in. Consciously taking 2 steps to slow it down, we strolled inside and pondered about. After awhile my husband and the girls remarked "Where are all the animals in this Animal Kingdom?"  

"I'm sure they are on the trail" I responded, "but first let's check out the Bug Show, then we have a fast pass to the Nemo Musical and then let's stop at Dinoland to see if the girls are tall enough to ride."

I was met with apathetic enthusiasm.  

"The girls don't look happy" said my husband.  

"Look around" I replied "No kid looks happy to be here." 

Our heads rotated around the crowds and oddly enough, every. single. kid. had a most miserable, sour look. Even the ones showered with the $30 water spray bottles, $25 plush toys, and $30 rental strollers looked pretty miserable. What’s more remarkable were the adults, who were giddy as can be. Their cup runneth over with excitement as they hopped, skipped and jumped to all the rides, trying to get their kids excited about being in this “magical” world. 

10 hours later, feeling quite stinky, sticky and completely deluded we cried in agreement "This is no place for kids". 

Aching and exhausted we woke up the next day and tiredly headed to Magic Kingdom. Over eager crowds of people pushed past us again as we kept attempting to scan our cards that wouldn't work. Turns out it was a Blackout Day. Because when you purchase the Florida Resident pass you are blocked from visiting for half the year. So the flimsy discount you get is not really worth it. 

"I'm ever so sorry." The Disney rep said to me as rainbows and butterflies weaved around her head.   

I couldn't bear to turn around, to tell the family, but I did so courageously and ready to take the blame. 

"We can't get in today" I stammered, "Maybe we can hang out in the hotel pool and Downtown Disney instead." 

To say I had never seen them rejoice so happily and jump so merrily was an understatement. Who would have thought a family could be so happy to not get into Disney World?

“Why did we bother with the tickets when we could’ve just booked a hotel room instead?” I asked my husband.

“I don’t know, but not getting in Magic Kingdom is the best thing that has happened today” he laughed in response.  

We spent the rest of the day in our swimsuits, eating Skittles, and the evening found us perusing the overpriced Downtown Disney merchandise, watching Maleficent in 3D and discussing the evolution of female heroines in Disney movies. 

It was unplanned, unexpected and one of our most memorable family vacations.

So when you ask my girls if they liked Disney, and they shrug their shoulders, you're getting a truthful response. But if you ask them if they like vacationing in a hotel room they will probably cheer with excitement.  Disney is not as much fun as we thought, but the hotel room rocked. I just saved you over $500. You’re welcome. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

My Gold Hoops

I think we had watched too many movies with happy endings because we kept expecting someone to come in and discover us, to save us from the existence of our realities. It wasn’t going to happen. Whoever it was we were expecting was never coming. We had to stop watching crappy TV or else.

The girls became clich├ęs. They became their mothers, in tight dresses, gaudy jewelry and heavily made-up faces. They sashayed and swayed their hips, learned how to flirt and follow through. It was a game they got good at quickly.

The boys inevitably turned into their fathers, but that analysis needs to stand on its own. Or perhaps in a revised edition of The New Jim Crow.

Alas, there was no real thought process behind it all, no tangible plan for the future. We just went along and kept hoping things would change. We kept hoping that by imitating the crumbling people around us, it would be just fine. We gave it everything we had, but it wasn’t enough.

In retrospect, I see now how it could never be enough. Our destinies were tied up, or rather aligned to the shitty neighborhood, the vacant spaces between the buildings, the ratty mattresses, and ash filled cigarettes. Dancing all night because the day offered nothing to live for, butterflies all havin' fun, you know what I mean. But feeling good offered no escape. The kids were all hungry, the apartment was a mess, and the bills were still due.

“I don’t have Daddy issues” she said. “I don’t even know who my Daddy is.”

She annoyed me because she reminded me of me.


Monday, June 9, 2014

The Artist

She pursed her lips and tried to control her breathing, rein in her emotions. Red paint was splattered everywhere.

"Did she now? Did she say that she loved you and whispered in your ear? Did she laugh at all your jokes too?"


Sunday, June 8, 2014

Wispy Words of Pollen

"If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?"

This is a philosophical thought that raises questions regarding observation, human knowledge, and the perception of reality. What constitutes reality? Does something exist if it is not noticed? Even Albert Einstein participated in these questions, once purportedly asking another scientist whether 'the moon does not exist if nobody is looking at it.' How can you argue its reality if no one can prove it? Are our imaginations enough to justify believing such an existence? I suppose it's all done on faith, very much like religion.

Lest you think I delve into spiritual notions, my queries actually pertain to art.

If a piece of art is created and no one acknowledges it, does it still exist? Subsequently, do you create art for the sake of getting noticed or for your own soulful pleasures? If you do it to get noticed, do you put your heart into it and create whatever comes out, or do you try and appease to your followers, do you create to be liked?

I wrote a long essay about menstruation and my first immediate thought was that everyone would be repulsed by my ideas. But then I did a bit of research and found all these wonderful artists who painted with their menstrual blood. Wow, that’s brave, I thought. And beautiful. I also wrote an essay about infidelity and monogamy in general thinking it would go unnoticed or worst, silently misjudged. It got some positive attention; I was thrilled.

But does too much acclaim stifle you as an artist, or does too little do it? Do I write for everyone to like and agree, or to generate conversations and have people think? I don’t like people that agree with everything I say; in fact those kinds of people infuriate me. I know I’m not always right, and sometimes I talk way too much nonsense, so I respect you more for calling me on it. I hope it can be reciprocated, all with respect of course. I once told a friend that people don’t like it when you’re too honest with them. I might have been wrong.

I’ve been writing for a while but it’s only been recently that I’ve made my ideas really public. Years ago I started a fantasy, young adult novel which I abandoned when life got too busy. It was always my little hobby, for my own, exclusive, personal viewing pleasure, or as scary bedtime stories for the little girls in my household who always get too rowdy when its time to sleep.

But now that I’ve released some of my words to the World Wide Web I feel like those scary moments when you lose sight of your kids at the park. You know they’re in the gated confines somewhere, you reason they’re very likely safe, but you need to spot their little heads before you start shrieking like a madwoman. I don’t know if you got that analogy. (It’s okay to tell me if you didn’t) but the point is my scattered words gave you a glimpse of my soul and it makes me wonder what you’ll do with it now. And if you don’t notice anything I write from now on, does my soul continue to exist? Are my scattered words just windy wisps of pollen so transparent, so moving, so lost among the trees and the city landscape that if unnoticed they cease to exist?

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

There is no warning rattle at the door

There is no warning rattle at the door. Instead it was the quiet sounds of my upstairs neighbor that woke me. He had just gotten up, was making his coffee and walking around his apartment, probably getting ready for work. I listened, peacefully contemplating the early morning sounds when it hit me: I have no upstairs neighbor.

“The birds must have gotten in again” I tell my husband.

“Or the chipmunks.” was his reply before turning over.
There is no warning rattle at the door. When an artist makes her mark, she opens all the cage doors locked before and after her. For the longest time we felt ashamed of our language and had to code switch when we’d go to the doctors office, at school with certain teachers, in front of the social worker if she ever made the dreaded visit to our roach filled, dirty apartment, especially dreadful if our mothers weren’t home.

She used to tell me it was aspirin and that her mother couldn’t manage to swallow pills so she needed to smash them up. But it looked so much like a cocaine vial; even I at 7 could see that. She insisted so adamantly that I began to have doubts.

My brother had another allergy attack, this time worse than before, his whole face blew up but my mother couldn’t explain what had happened. She spoke Spanish and the doctor spoke English. He seemed annoyed at having to deal with the endless, non English speaking Medicaid patients the hospital was so full of.

“They always have so many damned kids” he said looking down at us. My sister and I didn’t bother translating that.

I lost myself in books because the world around me was falling apart. The loud salsa music would not cease and the cops stopped coming even though every woman in the building was being beaten to a slow death.

I read all the European poets, all the old men that wrote long narratives on proper conduct and attire, long ago kings and queens that had nothing to do with the reality of our life here.

Kids were free to roam even around those dangerous city walls. Drug deals and street harassment were as common as the urban pigeon. We were sort of oblivious to that I guess. We knew when to turn our faces away and when not to make eye contact.

Then I opened Maya and she spoke to me, she spoke our language and had no shame. She spoke our truth and exposed all our words. Here was a writer I could follow; here was a poet I could understand. Never mind I had heard of some kids doing Shakespeare in the Park. We would have to take the train to the city, the equivalent of an international flight for kids like us. Plus Shakespeare was dead and Maya was alive. The year was 1982 and here was a writer that felt no need to code switch, to tailor her voice to her audience. That spoke the truth.

“We can write like this?”  I asked my best friend.

“Sssh, the teacher is coming over.” was her reply.

There is no warning rattle at the door. The rattle leapt from the page. Maya told us to get up and show our insides, we don’t have to be part of the status quo; we don’t need to be old white men. She passed us the torch and it was alight.

“Can bird be used as a verb?” I asked my best friend.

“Not in English.” was her reply.

We laughed so hard we cried.

There is no warning rattle at the door. Rather, it was more of a vibration, a powerful vibration that opened the door.

 The Speakeasy Challenge: FIRST line in submission: “There is no warning rattle at the door.” Submissions must be 750 words or fewer. Submissions must be fiction or poetry.

Monday, June 2, 2014

A Caged Song

The words flew out between the bars, unlocking doors ahead, releasing all the hidden truth, denouncing history’s rage. It carried the hope inside us that our language could be told, it knew confines created falsity and ripped illusions that could not hold.


Sunday, June 1, 2014

Forgetting Life


Apparently everyone born in the tropics has a story to tell about the tamarind tree. Here is mine: I once got lost in the mountains of Guayama and found myself surrounded by tamarind trees. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. I hungrily devoured the bittersweet fruit, not opening the shells quite fast enough. My happiness quickly turned to disgust as I found worms in the fruit, my hand, and my mouth. I still love the tamarind. This picture is of an aged tamarind fruit that has surprisingly remained on the vine. It was taken by ©Francesco Ricci.

We first noticed something was wrong when my grandmother started getting lost during her morning walks. Shortly thereafter she forgot most of her grand children's names and faces. The disease degenerated to the point where she confused hand towels for toilet paper and couldn’t recall how to use any of the household appliances. My aunts whispered nervously of her love for baking, opened the oven and found an iron. They gossiped while she sat under her lemon tree talking to the statue of the Virgin Mary. Sometimes, while I chatted on the phone or sat by her, she would turn around and ask me who I was. I would tell her, she would smile, watch TV for awhile, and then we’d do it all over again. It would continue indefinitely until I couldn’t take it anymore, and go sit somewhere else.

They said she hadn't been the best or most loving Mom. She wasn't exactly the warmest grandmother either, but I'd always assumed she had been so to a select few of the grandchildren, if not all of them. At any rate, my aunts accepted the responsibility of caring for her because it was their cultural obligation to do so, as the daughters of the family, their job was to provide the child and elder care. They did so begrudgingly, resentfully, and quite bitterly. Of course they all had their busy lives, with jobs, families, and problems of their own. Who am I to judge?

But their impatience was displayed often. One scene I witnessed I could never forget. My aunt was scorching mad because my grandmother had wandered from the front porch. One minute she was swaying in the rocking chair, the next, gone. The police found her crossing a bridge a mile away. I now wonder whether my aunt’s rage had more to do with the embarrassment she felt at having to involve the police, or the fear of losing her mother.  In a small town, she never liked to give her neighbors something to talk about. My grandmother returned confused, sad, and so exhausted she had to lie down for the rest of the afternoon.

I’m not sure if everyone just kept expecting her to get better or there were attempts to curb the disease. Home help was hired for sure. She was allowed to spend her days in her house but couldn’t be trusted to sleep there. One day, I went to her house after school but she wasn't there. I’d assumed an appointment and that she’d be back the following day, but I never saw her again. Later, I understood she didn’t in fact die right away because discussion of a will and inheritance did not happen just yet. My guess is she was sent to a home where hopefully patient professionals allowed her to face the inevitable with more dignity.

These memories haunt me still. When I enter a room and forget what I came in for, I wonder if it's an early sign of the disease. I load up on nuts, omega 3s, and berries to offer me a sense of security albeit flimsy that it could never strike me. Alzheimer’s is a dirty word. There is no known way of preventing or curing it, and though I don’t mind aging I hope it could be done gracefully, especially when it comes to matters of the mind.

We all have our stories to tell and now as adults we see certain vulnerabilities in our own parents. They once seemed so strong and invincible but now are afflicted with aches and pains, sometimes even forgetting the oddest things. Perhaps we are starting to feel them ourselves. Sometimes we joke that our 30 or 40 year old bodies aren’t what they used to be, and while that is true we are relatively quite young still.

In a twisted game of would you rather, would you rather lose your mind or your body when you’re elderly? Is it more important for you to retain your sharp wit but ache all over, or constantly feel as if everyone around you is a stranger but be strong as an ox? Is it better for the Alzheimer’s patient to never remember, as the pain of forgetting is so much more?

Who knows? These are all rhetorical questions of course. None of us would choose any of these options willingly. We just sort of face things on as we’ve faced life.