Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Ray Bradbury Noun List

This is a writing challenge from Daily Post
Write a new piece with 10 nouns from one of their listed sources (Bradbury's sample list, My own, Daily Post, a friend's, or a randomly generated one) The idea is to combat writer's block and also helps with a bit of thinking outside the box, creating a muse, etc. I opted for creating my own noun list and out came this micro-fiction piece. Thanks for reading.

The Noise. The Heart. The Street. The Drugs. The Dealer. The Island. The Space. The Buildings. The River. The Music.

She couldn’t escape the loud music, coming from the radios, blaring from the TVs, the too loud island people. For some reason they didn’t seem so loud back home but something about the cemented street, the nonexistent rivers, and project designed living spaces made them so much louder here. At night, she would lie in her bed trying to push the music out of her head, trying to sleep so she could get up for school in the morning. Her mother would wake her up with more loud noise, the talking heads of Spanish radio with their sexist remarks and sexual innuendos. Silence existed in one place, the empty spaces between the buildings, the spaces adults ignored, where kids let lose. The noise invaded her head to the point where she was not even able to have a single quiet contemplation of the heart. The only people that bothered looking at her were the local drug dealers. They would call out to her on the way from school: “Hey gorda, ven aqui. Want to make some quick money?” She was definitely tempted. As sick as she was of being sent to the local bodega with WIC coupons, asking Jorge if he would allow her mom to buy cigarettes with them even though they also needed milk. No one ever died just drinking water, her mother would say, but shit would definitely go down if she didn’t get her smokes. Life sucked at its finest here. 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Are All Mangos Purple?

A dull, tired feeling has been clouding my thoughts lately. What used to bring me pleasure is not so any longer. Running, cookies, life in general has been feeling more tedious than it should. I am not sure if it's the heat (very likely as I live in South Florida which is truly unbearable during the summer) or something else. I am not sure if it’s normal, hormonal or what.

Even if I don't feel like it, I push myself to run most every morning. The alarm goes off and while my family cuddles under the cool vibrations of the AC, I fumble sleepily with my sneaks.

It was looping back home at the end of a 5 miler when I saw it, the biggest, most purple mango tree I had ever seen in my life. It was heavy with bright fruit, hanging low. It was pure delight.

“Wow”, I thought, “If I had a purple mango tree like that in my backyard, all my problems would be insignificant.”

My inner conscious retorts: “What problems? You don't have any real problems, and if you did, I doubt a purple mango tree would make you feel better about them.” One's conscious should always keep it real.

When I got back home, I shared the purple mango discovery with my husband. He was standing in the kitchen, coffee mug in hand; ready to head out to work. “Aren’t all mangos purple just before ripening?” he asks while sipping his coffee.

Well, I’ll be. Are they?

It turns out that yes, and no. A truly purple mango comes from the Palmer Tree, grown chiefly in South Florida. The Palmer tree is all around us here in South Miami, so it’s easy to assume all mangos are of the same variety. The fruit is big and indeed quite purple. Many mangos, though, have other remarkable hues, typically red, yellow, orange, and copper. Some even remain green, which many Asian cultures use in cooking. The mango is not only a beautiful fruit, it is scrumptiously delicious. My humble opinion is that it’s best eaten raw and messy. The best mangos I’ve ever had came from the mountains of Guayama, Puerto Rico. The word organic had not yet been coined, but they were as delicious and pure as a heavenly organic fruit should be. I used to eat half the pickings (skin and all) and sell the other half to the American tourists that would drive through our town. There was only one road for tourists to drive through, so business was always good, and as the only English speaking kid in town, I was allowed to eat my profits.

Like the mango tree, people come in all shades and varieties, and I imagine we all experience these same moments of inadequacy, doubt, and self-reflection. Do we all assume everyone else is immune to problems, stress, and sadness? Some people are better at hiding their frustrations than others; I am not one of those people. If I’m sad, I look sad, if I’m confused, I look confused, if annoyed, well you get the point. It’s okay, and perhaps even good for the soul to feel this way. We can take those moments to ask ourselves the deep questions, decide whether to delve deeper, or move to make a conscious decision to focus on the positive, emitting gratefulness for the blessings we do have.

There are a lot of things I don’t have, but also a lot I do, and though it occasionally takes effort, it’s imperative I make daily, mindful attempts to recognize what is truly important.

I don’t have a purple mango tree, but I have a fantastic almond tree in my front yard. The squirrels get to the nuts before we do and the flowers and leaves make a big ol’ mess on my car, but it’s spectacular to look at and offers a cool shade of which I am always grateful for, especially when sitting under it while the girls bike up and down the block.

I’ve started to enjoy running again, never could resist a chocolate cookie, and life smells as sweet as purple mangos once more. Life is cyclical like that, much like the flowering of good mango tree.

By the way, did you know you can visit over 160 varieties of the mango tree right here in Miami?

Check out The Fruit and Spice Park over in Homestead: http://www.fruitandspicepark.org/ It’s a fantastic place to spend the day and enjoy all the tropical fruits. Tell me what you think, if you ever visit.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

A Sisterhood Worth Lacking

I have 5 sisters and they are all strangers to me. If you were to ask me their favorite color, their favorite restaurant, their dreams and fears, I could not tell you. I've met them, and have known them my whole life, but our relationship has been strained by circumstances so much so that developing a friendship, let alone a sister bond is highly unlikely. 

This used to me make me sad. I have wonderful girlfriends whom I love and cherish, and I know there is nothing like the female bond. Most of my friends have sisters they consider first and foremost in their lives; they are each others best friend and their preferred confidante. Occasionally, I wish I had that too, but then I recognize this is a false sense of nostalgia for something that never existed. The alternative for me inevitably always results in toxicity.

It's an interesting conundrum. Some of my sisters have relationships with each other, a fact that might make you think the problem lies with me.  It's more complicated than what appears, but in essence I did make a conscious decision, years ago, to fly away from the family tree. There are few members of my family that I choose to have in my life for various reasons; I have no regrets or qualms about this.  

We are a large family, just counting half siblings, we are 9 in all: 6 girls and 3 boys. The physical and emotional distance between us is unnoticed by the majority, but has proven to be a mentally sound choice for me to make. As all dysfunctional families goes, mine happened to play favorites, and like many patriarchal cultures, the boys held the preferred status. This seems appalling now, how a family could disregard children because of gender, but when you’re a kid the status quo is silently accepted. I always wanted a younger sister, thinking perhaps I could make it right. These are the immature ideas kids sometimes get.

Life gave me something better though: 2 daughters. Both births were met with reassurances from family members and acquaintances alike that a boy would be next, that I should try for a boy next time, that a boy was surely what we wanted. But we wanted daughters, I wanted daughters. I wanted a chance to raise children in a way that I wasn’t, and the fact that they were girls was even better because I could prove to myself that girls were just as capable of being intelligent, having ideas, academic aspirations, and being worthy of love. I’m not near to being a perfect parent but every day I try, I try and nurture them with goodness, values, experiences, and warmth. These are just the essentials that every child needs, regardless of their gender.   

This is an open letter to my daughters. Your bond, your relationship is one of the most sacred things in this universe. Love each other. Trust each other. Praise each other. And above all never compete, never compare, for when one soars the other soars with her. If you can make this promise not to compare, I promise I will make it too. You are each amazing, and radiant, filled with light, beauty, and intelligence as infinite as the cosmos, as time. That light shines brighter when you are near, when you treat each other with love, when you share your thoughts, and whisper secrets to each other, when you love and respect the other wholly. That bond should always be, as long as the earth bond can extend, and as long as the soul can travel. 

My sister troubles have been worth it if my daughters could have the sister bond relationship I never had. It is true that parenthood makes you selfless, because I would give up everything just so they could have it instead. 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

How Old Are You?

This woman asked my age last week, and I blanked. I completely could not recall how old I was. I knew it was more than 35 though not quite 40; how could I answer “Uuuuhhhm, I think I’m around 36 or 37, no wait, maybe 38. Yeah, I am 38. Actually, I might be 39.” That would sound crazy right. I ended up just giving her the year I was born because I couldn’t handle it mentally. “You do the math lady!” I said, while averting the alarmed look on her face.

Then, I remembered I have a birthday in a couple of months. It’s not really a big deal after a certain age, but it’s a good time to ponder your life, the transformations you’ve made as a person, assess your feelings about where you’ve been and where you’re going. Age is a wonderful thing and in honor of what I think will be my 40th birthday, here are 40 reasons I personally am ecstatic about turning 38, 39, or 40.

1.      Despite my occasional mental blocks, I am more health conscious than ever. Was the food pyramid even invented before 1985? If so, my parents ignored it and fed us Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes and pork rinds daily. I’ve learned that fruits and vegetables are quite tasty and healthy too.

2.      I’m fitter than ever. Face it, we’re not 20 anymore, we have to hit the gym, we have to work it out, and after a lifetime of thinking I could never be a runner, I am proud to hit that pavement at my slow ass pace 4-5 times a week. Yes, most other runners pass me - some way older than 40 - but hey I’m out there nonetheless.

3.      I can live wherever I want and decorate as I please. I can hang that Moroccan tapestry, the Tibetan flags and I can choose not to put plastic coverings on my sofa like my parents’ generation did. I still have plastic burns from those.

4.       I don’t care what people think. Don’t get me wrong, I still get offended and occasionally my feelings get hurt, but I truly do not care whether people like me or not, whether they agree with me or not, or whether I’m on their friend list or not. This is a truly liberating feeling.

5.      I’m a parent and I get to make the rules now. We can eat breakfast for dinner, watch movies in the middle of the afternoon, or visit as many museums and parks that we can muster in one day.

6.      I embrace my quirkiness and my periodic bouts of oddness. Sometimes I say strange things and make random comments. When you’re not looking for approval you can be free to be as weird as you like.

7.      I embrace my laugh. I have a very loud, dorky, guttural laugh, and personally, I dig it, but I recognize why some might find it a turn off. Who cares though? Not me.

8.      I gave up smoking. I called it quits over ten years ago and it was by far the best relationship I have ever ended.

9.      Speaking of relationships, I don’t brood over pretty boys anymore. This is something I should have learned in preschool – if they don’t want to play with you, it’s all good, someone else will want to.

10.  I am comfortable saying no. As a former people pleaser, this was particularly hard and only recently was when I started to feel okay with not being able to do everything that was asked of me. The world continues to orbit regardless.

11.  I’ve become an introvert. More of a spiritual awakening as opposed to a revelation, but it’s made me question how much of our personality is defined by labels put early on.

12.  I don’t need to pigeonhole my spiritualism to anyone. Maybe I’m a reformed catholic, flirting heavily with atheism, or courting Buddhist practices. I can believe what I want without having to justify it to any church, organization, or person.

13.  I don’t have to smile if I don’t want to. This isn’t a beauty pageant or a Miss Congeniality contest. If I’m not in the mood I don’t have to fake it.

14.  I’ve eliminated toxic people from my life. I highly recommend this. There is no need for any type of toxicity in your life, so whatever age you’re in, if you find yourself surrounded by toxic people, it’s time to do some spiritual cleansing.

15.    I can choose to walk away from bullshit conversations. At times, I’d be at a social event, and with no warning whatsoever I’d find myself listening to the biggest pile of bullshit I’ve ever had the audacity to hear. I can walk away. I don’t need to argue just for the sake of correcting every ignorant person I meet.

16.  I’ve become a minimalist – this one is a work in progress but I’ve realized that I don’t need to buy a bunch of crap, the latest gadget, and have a big house to show the world how successful I’ve become. There is nothing to prove to anyone that can be demonstrated via material goods.

17.  I’ve paid off my entire student loan balance and it felt orgasmically good. Spell check is alerting me that orgasmically is not really a word, but when it comes to paying off your student loans, I beg to differ.

18.  And on the topic of orgasms, I’ve become more comfortable in my own sexuality. Society has inundated me and womankind with different notions and ideas of what we should like, how we should perform, and how sexualized/non sexual we should be. That lurid propaganda is no longer dictating my primal pleasures.

19.  I enjoy my own company tremendously. Being social is great but discovering you love your own company the best, is the most wonderful gift you can give yourself.  

20.  I am open about my progressive political ideas and have no qualms about voicing them.

21.  I also don’t have a pressing need to scream my liberal views at every NRA bumper sticker I see driving through Miami.

22.  I have friends that may or may not be right wing conservatives. I prefer not to delve into that facet of ideological difference between us, but they happen to be pretty decent people. I know. Shocking.

23.  I don’t need to show my boobs to be sexy. Or my legs. Or my midriff. In fact, I don’t need to use my body to be sexy. Here’s a crazy revelation: Intelligence is pretty darn sexy.

24.  I don’t need to wear makeup if I don’t want to. Bare faced ladies are beautiful too. I like my freckles, my lines, my imperfections.

25.  My clothes don’t need to match. Wearing different prints and patterns is pretty cool, or says my ├╝ber cool Italian husband.

26.  I can openly enjoy period pieces on PBS Masterpiece. I don’t know, perhaps there a million Puerto Rican Downton Abbey fans out there, but something about British television drama just turns me on.

27.  I can still pursue my dreams. One of my biggest inspirations was a woman I met in my previous office job; she held a Ph.D. in Psychology and at 50 decided she wanted to become an attorney, so she went to law school. At 50. If that doesn’t rock, then I don’t know what planet you’re from.

28.  Being a nerd and a social outcast is probably the best thing ever. I was a closet nerd and an outed social misfit my whole life and if in fact I could send my child self a piece of advice, it would be to nurture that; it could take you farther than you could ever imagine.

29.  It’s good to be kind; in fact it’s Great to be kind. I’m instinctively a good, kind person but I think I spent a lot of time rejecting it, not wanting to stick up for the underdog for fear of god knows what. Now, I actively seek to be kind, especially to the underdog.

30.  I find gray and silver hair attractive on both men and women. Especially on women. All shades of gray feminine aging are beautiful.

31.  I’m finally comfortable with my gender, my culture, my language. For the longest time I questioned whether I was too Puerto Rican, looked too white, too brown, acted too girly, spoke English with too much of an accent or Spanish with too much campo slang. Now, it’s a take it or leave it attitude.  

32.  I forgive and ask for forgiveness more openly. As best stated by Alexander Pope: “To err is human; to forgive divine.”

33.  I can discern bullshit with much more ease than before. This is a great thing because you can decide whether to allow people access to your life Before they turn it toxic.  

34.  I don’t wear under wire bras anymore. Those things will cut you like a motherfucker.

35.  I don’t want a boob job anymore. Or liposuction. Or plastic surgery. Ever. I am happy with my natural body, my saggy parts, scattered stretch marks, and uneven coloring. There are far more important things to think about in this life.

36.  I’ve finally found a deodorant that works. And guess what it is? Lemon. All natural, 25¢ lemon. Let’s bankrupt the carcinogenic deodorant corporation!!

37.  The first lines of the Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald says it all:

In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since.

“Whenever you feel like criticizing any one," he told me, "just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had.”

This rings true on so many levels, but in essence it confirms what took me almost 40 years to get, don’t be so judgmental.

38.   I’ve learned to curb my narcissistic tendencies. Turns out my problems weren’t on everyone’s mind 24/7; in fact people have their own problems, worries, and lives to live. I think if we could all get this on the most basic, fundamental level the world would be free of a lot of ugly self-entitlement.

39.  I’ve become a better listener. Less is more, and definitely less talking is more learning. Note: This one might be a work in a progress.

40.  And last but not least, I’ve learned that no one needs to approve of anything in my life. It’s enough to trust myself with decisions I’ve made. I’ve allowed myself that to the fullest. 

The 1970s

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Liebster Award for Bloggers

I’ve just had a week with no home internet. The plan was to read together as a family every night, meditate every morning, and write like crazy. The reality consisted more of checking out a dozen library DVDs, aimless mental rants, and a sufficient bout of writer’s block. Suffice to say, I was happy to log on to my blog today and read that DragonSpark nominated me for a Liebster Award. 

The Liebster Award is a cool way to discover other bloggers, read what else is out there, and maybe bring some fresh eyes on your words. It also helped tremendously with the writer's block. 

Here are the rules:
1. Link to the person who nominated you
2. Answer their questions
3. Nominate new blogs for the award
4. Ask them 10 new questions
5. Let the nominees know they have been nominated
6. Smile

The following are my answers to their insightful questions:

1.       What’s a good book ending/ what’s the best book ending you’ve read?

There are many, but the first that comes to mind is "Things Fall Apart" by Chinua Achebe. After years of reading predominantly European and American authors, African literature literally blew my mind. This particular novel takes you on a journey relating the effects of cultural imperialism. In regards to the ending it’s not necessarily a surprising one, yet the personal affliction of the main protagonist makes you question everything about history, colonialism, and life.

2.      What’s the most interesting thing you’ve ever done or that has ever happened to you?

Deciding to hold off on university and traveling the world a bit (well at least 2 continents of it). Though I sometimes question whether this was the best professional move, the experience has changed me wholly. There is no price on a 2 year hiatus from life’s expectations to pursue your heart. 

3.      What is/would be (if you had one) first on your bucket list?

To travel the world with my family: two kids and a husband in tow through all the continents via plane, train, bus, on foot, and bike, preferably for 2-5 years. 

4.      If you could change one thing in the world what would it be?

For the world to be less materialistic, for there to be less focus on our big houses, luxury cars, our brand name goods and more focus on our internal spirit. Ideally everyone would meditate, practice yoga, and read books. That would be a good world to live in!

5.      What time period would you live in if you had the choice (“now” and “the future” are not valid answers) and why?

Ah! This one is hard for obvious reasons – how do you disregard the past’s blatant discriminations? As a woman and an Hispanic, where would I survive? I am fascinated by the period Shakespeare lived in, though the practicalities of living in 16th century repressed England, well I’d rather not. I adored the Little House on the Prairie books, but the reality of everyday farm labor, weather trouble, and illness, sounds just dreadful. Alright, since this is just for fun, I pick early 1900s in France, as a fly on the wall hearing conversations between all the great cubist artists. 

6.      You’re stranded on a desert island with four books, two movies, and an album. What are they?

Can a series count as 1 book? I would choose the Harry Potter series, the Golden Notebook, Love in the Time of Cholera, and good solid dictionary. The album would have to be The Wall by Pink Floyd, and 2 movies: The Matrix and anything by Hayao Miyazaki. 

7.      If you could play any role in any movie, what would that role be and why?

Ha! A sexy and vicious Telenovela (Latin American soap opera) villain, preferably on a huge rancho with a cowboy hat. Talk about therapeutic. I imagine because I am generally such a nice person, that unleashing a raging inner ego looks like fun. 

8.      You can go on a three week road trip. Where are you going and what’s your ride?

A rusty orange vintage VW camper, and I am driving from Key West, Florida to Portland, Oregon. That would be fantastic!! A diagonal road trip. 

9.      It’s the best day of your life. What happens?

Nothing too spectacular per se, a quiet breakfast together with the family, a great morning run, maybe an art workshop with my girls, maybe a day at the beach – what’s important are the moments, I have endless time for my family, I am not distracted by household duties, I have all the patience in the world, and my inner peace and happiness radiates to everyone around me. I top it off with an evening mediation, exuding gratitude to the universe. 

10.   You are stranded on a desert island with a box (of any shape or size). What’s in the box? (The answer can’t be the same as the desert island question above)

A blank notebook with infinite pages, a pen with endless ink, and my husband and the girls. I now doubt the practicality of this box, when I probably should ask for antibiotics, tools to build a boat, and an endless food supply, but what can I say – I am a dreamer after all.   

*Bonus: I figured you might have gotten tired with the “why do you blog?” (either DragonSpark too or he just didn’t think about it) but if you want to answer it as a bonus question feel free.

I blog because I am driven to write, because I have been ignoring it for far too long now, and because I strive to perfect my literary thoughts until I can bring forth the novel that continues to elude me with just fleeting moments in my dreams.

Here are my questions to the following nominees (I included DragonSpark just because I am curious as to his answers) Happy Blogging!

The Relative Cartographer
The Wizard's Word
Tiny Purple Me

1.      What writer most inspires you?
2.      Do you write/blog for yourself or for others?
3.      Who is your favorite visual artist of all time?
4.      If you could learn a new language, which would it be? How would you approach it?
5.      What is your biggest phobia? What is your biggest dream?
6.      Assuming you believe in reincarnation, who do you think you were in a past life?
7.      What mythical creature most represents your personality, and how?
8.      If you could invent something to improve the world, what would it be?
9.      Would you rather: Be a recognized, acclaimed writer in your lifetime, or Remain unnoticed until your death in which then your words will live and be studied forever?  Explain why.
10.  Tell me about your perfect dessert.