Sunday, July 30, 2006

Here's to the Good Times

I found this photo a couple of months ago while I was cleaning. It's a Polaroid, the kind taken at a party and then tucked in a sleeve and sold for a couple of bucks to the people who are in it as a memento of the good time they were having. (You know, like when you ride a rollercoaster and a photo is taken of you just before you soil yourself on that first drop and when you come off of the ride they try to sell your fear back to you? Yeah, I have one too.) I have no idea how it ended up in my things, but I'm glad I found it. It makes me smile. This photo is the quintessential snap shot of a Sunday afternoon at the Club. My parents are dancing with Bertie and Felix Izquierdo, two of my favorite people of all time. I'm guessing from my mother's and Bertie's sleeveless-ness that it is summer. I can't quite tell what year it is, although my dad is smoking, so it must be pre-1982.

My dad's birthday is on Friday, August 4. This photo is how I would like to think of him celebrating Number 74. Some people will say that dealing with a loss like this gets easier. It doesn't, not really, not for me. It will be three years in September and the hurt hasn't gone away. It never will, but the intensity of that hurt has diminished a bit. I have a very full life, a life my father would be proud to boast to his friends about. There's plenty to keep my mind occupied what with my relationship, my job, my friends, my writing. My brother and sister have kids, jobs and homes, too. And, of course, we work together to make my mother's life easier (I'm no hero, my siblings do the bulk of the work with my mom). What never changes is that every year, there's a birthday and Father's Day and the anniversary of his passing. Bumps in the road, I guess, but there they are.

I think about my dad every day. Little things will remind me and make me smile. My mother will do something crazy (anything, really) and I'll think about what his reaction would be (laughter, usually). I'll hear a song that he loved and feel like he's with me. Baseball is a good way to feel close to him, so I watch more games now. Then there are the things that totally throw me. Funerals are different now. I can relate to what the family is dealing with on a very different level. I understand the process better. Weddings are hard. The Father-Daughter dance is impossible. I have to duck out because I start to cry and it's not the "isn't that sweet!" crying that relatives and bridesmaids do. It's much worse. It's sobbing, the kind that is accompanied by gasping and lots of nose blowing. It's not that I'm not happy for the bride and her dad, it's just that...well, you know. I feel gypped. And yeah, I get angry because I don't get to have that moment, which I know is very selfish. And then I think, "who the hell are you mad at?" There is no one to blame, it's just how I feel. Maybe lots of women who lose their dads feel that way too. I don't know. I can only speak for myself.

I have to say that I feel very lucky to have had him around for as long as I did. And I'm lucky that I got over myself and my teenaged angst in time to have a decent relationship with him.Even when I was all but living in the Bell Jar, I knew that he cared about me and wanted to see me happy. Maybe I've said this before, but to have gone to bed every night being absolutely certain that my father loved me, no matter what, is the greatest gift he ever gave me. And no one can take that away from me.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Here goes...

This poem isn't part of the book I was talking about in the previous post, but it's one of my favorites. Am I allowed to say that about my own work? Sure, why not?


I came to this place now for peace.
The green how I want you green.
A mist rises with me in the morning
and kisses my face
the way you used to.

Dewdrop kisses on my eyes,
my brow.
You said I was beautiful,
that you wanted me.
Encased me in the tangle
of your arms and legs.
The pressure of you on me
never seemed too much to bear.
I felt I understood at last
made the connection.
Steady now.
And I remember the scent of you.

There is always you,
gone all this time
but still sneaking up into my body,
saying good morning on the back of my neck,
the inside curve of my thigh.
And still there is no place safer to me
than the crook of your arm.
The halo of your hair.
The jagged lines of your face.

Blue how I want you blue.
Blue eyes.
Navy blue.
The first time I saw them
I wanted to cry
and I wanted to fly into them.
I have never known a passion
that came so innocently.
Was I a fool.
The crackle of your smile
and the lightning bolt it sent through my body.

The warm spot I kept for you.
crawled in.
Sinewy arms around my waist,
head on my chest,
warm, moist breath between my breasts.
Rolling to each other,
to safety
and on.
In that moment it was all.

You were a candle.
easily inflamed,
but melting away if I fired you up enough.
And I loved you for it.

Daisy C. Abreu Spring/97

Friday, July 21, 2006

Express Yourself, Don't Repress Yourself

I don't want to get all soul searchy here, but I've been doing a lot of thinking lately. Mostly about my writing, which is weird because I thought I had given up on it years ago. I had really reconciled myself to believing that writing wasn't going to be the way I made any sort of living. Maybe I'm wrong. I can be wrong. I've been wrong about a lot of things, I could be wrong about this, too.

Here's a little back story for those of you keeping score at home: I wrote my first poem in the fourth grade. For a boy. And it rhymed. It was terrible. How terrible? Here's a taste: "I know you're going to grunt and gripe/but to me you are the perfect type." Seriously? Seriously. I can't believe that (a) I wrote that in the fourth grade and (b) I just shared it with whoever is reading this. My apologies to those who were rendered so nauseous by reading that bit that they cannot possibly continue. I never got the boy, but I kept writing.

I wrote poems all through high school. Rhyming poems, haikus(!), I think I even tried sonnets. To be fair, it wasn't all terrible. I had a couple of poems published in Nova, the high school's literary magazine. I was also co-editor of Humanist, my high school yearbook (my first job writing copy!) All of the classic themes populated my work: love, death, war, things that, as a teenager, I had no clue about. I realized years later that the more I lived, the more I experienced things, the more specific my subject matter became. The bigger my world, the "smaller" my writing. Junior year, I was introduced to a playwright named Andrew Young. He spoke to our writing class and invited us to see a performance of his play at Maxwell's in Hoboken. I spent that summer going to a writing/theater workshop every Tuesday at the Y (what is it with me and not being able to stay home on a Tuesday night?). It was good for me, so if anyone knows whatever happened to Andrew Young, let me know, because I'd like to thank him.

I kept writing in college, and eventually declared English my major. (I can still hear the classic question in my head, "So...English major? So, you want to teach?" I've had some wonderful teachers in my life. They nurtured, supported and encouraged me. I would never besmirch their noble profession by joining their ranks. That is my final answer. But never say never, right?) I had a couple of poems published in the school paper and the literary magazine. My friend Benni (nickname) even made some of my poems into beautiful pieces of art. You can check out her awesome work here.

I don't think I've ever written more than when I was in my early to mid twenties. Lots and lots of poems, all a bit sad, some a bit sexual, mostly about one person who I will refer to as the Magnificent Obsession. I could be less dramatic and simply use initials, but he actually went by his initials, so forget it. How magnificent was this obsession? I basically wrote a whole book about it. Yup, a book. I was showing it to Furonda (not her real name) the other night and realized that I hadn't read the thing in at least five years (I wrote it ten years ago).I don't know why, but I was scared of what it would be like to read it all again. Maybe I was afraid that it would suck, maybe I was afraid that it would bring back bad memories. I read it yesterday morning and (a) it doesn't suck, (b) I'm not that person anymore and (c) most of my memories from that time are good. Basically, a win-win-win. Which brings us back to me thinking seriously about my writing.

I haven't written a poem in over four years, and aside from the late-night rambling I do here, I no longer keep a journal. I stopped right around the time my dad's health took a turn for the worse. I guess I lost my focus in a lot of ways during that time. I do spend a lot of time writing for work. Some of it's serious (memos, reports, meeting minutes), but a lot of it's not so serious (Tea Leaves, marketing copy, web stuff). The boss occasionally calls me Punster, and I'm often called upon for my brainstorming skills. Does that sound geeky? Well, I'm proud to be a three-time spelling bee champ and scrabble nerd, I can't help it if I'm good with word association. Go ahead and call me bookish, I'll take it as a compliment. Anyway, I'm feeling like it's time to get back out there (because this blog isn't out there enough). Seeing Sharon Olds definitely stirred something up inside me. But it's more than that. In some ways, I'm trying to regain my focus in every aspect of my life and writing was a huge part of my life for twenty years. Writing the blog is part of regaining that focus, but I feel like there is more to be done. Why not take a chance? Oh, right, fear of rejection. I'm working on it. I'm showing the book to a couple of people who know nothing about that time in my life. I figure they'll be objective. I'm also running the idea past friends who were with me the first time around. I figure they'll be as encouraging as ever (I'm getting a lot of "About time!"). We'll see where this all takes me. Baby steps, people, baby steps.

Poodle (again, phony name) said to me the other night, "Like it or not, the world wants you to be a writer." Well, like it or not, I guess I am.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Words Are All We Have

This should be so easy to write, because I feel so full of, well, feeling. But how? How do you write about meeting someone who has moved you in ways that you might not even be able to explain to yourself. I guess I'll start at the beginning, or as close to it as possible.

Tonight I went to see Sharon Olds give a reading at Yale. I heard her read at the University four years ago and was pretty blown away. In fact, I barely got out of the auditorium before I got all teary after she autographed my book last time, which may seem silly, but whatever, everyone knows I'm super sensitive. Tonight was different. Different room, different crowd, different vibe altogether. For one thing, I've never seen so many people at a poetry reading. Seriously, there were at least a hundred people in there, all ages, all walks of life. And the one thing we had in common was that we're all totally enamored of this woman. The excitement in that room, when she walked in and people realized it was her, was electric. As soon as she took the podium and started her remarks, I was teary. I know what you're thinking, "Are we talking about a POETRY reading here?" Yes, yes we are.

Sharon Olds doesn't act the way you'd think someone who was the Poet Laureate of New York would act. She's an amazing writer, but she's still a person, someone's mom, someone's daughter, someone's teacher. She is who she is and that's it. No diva attitude, no entourage, no crazy demands. She brought her own bottle of water, carried her own case. When the guy introducing her had trouble with the microphone, she helped him figure it out. The first poem she read was not her own, but one in which she had found comfort after September 11. And her poems...they're just good. (you can read one here) Some are funny, some are dark, some are sexual, some are heartbreaking, but they are all simple and beautiful in their own way.

She read some of her older work and some stuff she's working on for her new book. She took a break from reading in the middle to do some question and answer stuff, or "have some conversation," as she put it. She was so gracious in answering and seemed to be enjoying that part of the reading most of all. She was really into it, which is important, because who wants to hear someone read poetry if they aren't even excited about their own work. Imagine going to see your favorite musician and being all psyched and the band just sort of phones it good right? Sharon Olds is right there with the audience the whole time. She read one of her favorite poems, Those Winter Sundays by Robert Hayden, and when she finished, she looked so happy to have shared it with us. I recognized the poem as soon as she read the first line. I had read the poem in college and in that moment, I felt so grateful to have had that opportunity. It was like coming full circle in a way, because college was where I first read Sharon Olds.

She wraps things up and thanks us all for "your lovely company." There's thunderous applause. Now, of course, people are going up to her to meet her and say hello and have something signed, and I'm in line too. I'm super nervous and emotional because I'm going to ask her to sign my copy of The Father, the book of poems about a woman dealing with her father's illness and death. Yeah, I know. So, I'm standing there, waiting my turn and thinking about what to say and how much this book has meant to me in the last few years. This naturally leads to dry mouth and the beginning of a lump in my throat. I let the mother-daughter combo standing diagonally across from me go first, since they have three books to sign. Sharon turns to me and says "You have such nice manners!" "Well, yes," I'm thinking to myself, "but I also need to stall so that I don't blubber all over you". Finally, she turns to me and thanks me for coming (I think, it gets blurry here). I smile, probably shyly, probably weirdly, and hand her the book. She says (to the book), "Ah, my old friend." and I start to say "This one got me through a hard time," but I get choked up and my voice drifts off and, if it wasn't for all the people in the room, I would have just let go, because she makes me feel like I could if I needed to. She pats me on the shoulder and tells me that the colors on the cover of the book are based on a handkerchief (dark grey with maroon stripe). The publisher wanted to make the cover glossy, but she insisted that it be something softer, something you could rub against your cheek (she demonstrates). She asks to whom she should sign it and I tell her my name. She loves my name by the way. "I haven't signed a book to anyone with that name in a long time," she says. "Maybe since the last time you were here?" I ask. She smiles, "I think so!" and she draws a little moon and stars in the book for me. I thank her for her work, especially this book and ask if I can hug her. She gives me a hug. She's a good hugger. And then I leave. I walk part of the way with two other women who had been at the reading, and all three of us are gushing about how great Sharon is, what a wonderful soul. We totally have girl crushes on her and we are not ashamed. I'm on my own for the last few blocks, trying to keep from crying. I don't know why I cry whenever I see her. Maybe I do, but I can't explain it. Wait, yes I can:

When I get home, Mike asks how it went. "Imagine getting to meet Jimi Hendrix and you'll understand how I'm feeling right now." It's enough to make a girl start writing poems again, or at least start trying to get the old ones published somewhere. Now, where's that old notebook?

Monday, July 03, 2006

Read Any Good Books Lately?

As you can see, reading is fundamental. I'm not absolutely sure, but I'm guessing from my bookbag and braids, this was snapped at some point during second grade. And yes, I'm reading a textbook. Why? Because I'd probably read everything else I could get my hands on at the time. At least it's a reading textbook (something with a brilliant title, like Adventures in Reading). I'm not reading about fractions there.

I've always been a reader. It runs in the family. I remember my parents reading in bed all the time (unless there was a game on, of course). My mother used to have me read to her before bed. She taught me to read basic Spanish by reading the comics in the back of Replica, the big magazine of the time. My father read the Spanish newspaper and studied the New York Daily News very closely. I have a theory that both of my parents developed quite a command of the English language years ago, but have refused to let their children in on their secret.

To say that my reading was encouraged, well, no one discouraged me, to be sure. My father would buy the Sunday paper for me to read in the station wagon on those long rides to Nyack or the Jersey Shore (there is only so much staring out a window one can do). My sister would let me read her copies of Glamour, Cosmo and Bride (that should explain the stack of fashion magazines next to the bed). I still love magazines and I still get excited when there is one jammed into the mailbox. I tear through the weeklies (New York, Time) within a day or so, but I save the fashion magazines for when I can really devote a couple of hours to flipping through them, reading every article and losing myself in the clothes, shoes and bags (oh! The bags). I'm not about to reveal how many magazines I get in a month, not because I'm ashamed, but because I've lost track. Yeah, things may be out of control on the magazine front.

The magazines sit in a basket next to the bed and are purged regularly. I used to drop them off at my local Laundromat, but since I moved across town, I've found that there is a woman at my favorite coffee shop who is always happy to see me walk in with an armload of Vogue and JANE (who wouldn't be?). I will admit, not every issue of every magazine leaves the house. I buy the Vanity Fair Hollywood issue every year, study every photo, then placeit with the other "collectors' issues". Don't ask me why.

I was a very faithful library user throughout my childhood. We had library class once a week and got to pick out a book to take home. (Do they still have that? A class on how to use the library? Do they even have school libraries anymore?). I remember coming back to the school library the day after class to return a book. The librarian asked me if I was returning it because I didn't like it. "No," I said. "I finished it." I was in the fourth grade and the book (Primrose Day by Carolyn Haywood, still a great book) was over 200 pages. She looked at me in that, "Either this kid is lying or she's some kind of freak" way, but she stamped the book returned and let me choose another. (For the record, I have never lied to a librarian, and if reading a 200 page book in one day makes me a freak, so be it.) I spent my high school summers working at Town Hall during the day and reading 1950s romance novels all night to cope with insomnia. These were Harlequin-type books, but there was not a lot of bodice ripping. I remember reading a whole series about nurses in extenuating romantic circumstances. And yes, they all ended up married to a doctor or a handsome patient who had been saved from the brink of death by the care of the right woman in white tights and orthopedic oxfords.

I don't visit the library anymore. If there is something I really want to read, I'll buy it. I had to start keeping a list of books in my wallet, because if I am left to browse a bookstore without any idea of what I am looking for, well, a search party might be required. I'm also happy to share the wealth. If I finish a book I think a friend will like, I pass it on, no strings attached. I regularly meet two of my girlfriends for dinner and a movie and we always bring books to swap. The books I love best, the ones that mean the most, (To Kill a Mockingbird, Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing, Letters of the Century, Anne of Green Gables) I keep and read over and over. I received a bunch of books (hardcovers!) for my birthday and they are all stacked on the nightstand, so I'm good for a little while. But, as it says on my favorite bookmark (I have a lot of those too), "When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes."