Thursday, January 29, 2009

Midnight Rambler

  1. My earliest memory: Gene Kelly dancing in the fountain at the end of An American in Paris.
  2. I wrote a fan letter to Gene Kelly when I was seventeen. A year later, I received an autographed photo. I have it framed in my office.
  3. There is no simple answer to the question, “What’s your favorite movie?”
  4. Movies I watch whenever they are on TV: To Kill a Mockingbird, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Auntie Mame, The Philadelphia Story. Notice anything?
  5. I love a good “wink,” in a movie. For example: In His Girl Friday, Cary Grant says, “Listen, the last man that said that to me was Archie Leach just a week before he cut his throat.” Cary Grant’s real name was Archie Leach. I think that’s fantastic.
  6. The older I get, the more I dislike chick-flicks, especially ones that have been released in the last five years. I want to shake my fist at the screen and shout, “We are not all desperate for a husband! Some of us just want to have sex regularly with someone who is not a total jerk!” I’ve pretty much stopped going to those types of movies.
  7. I have never walked out of a movie. Not even to go to the bathroom. Once I’m in, that’s it. I’ve made the commitment and am sticking with it.
  8. Based on numbers 6 and 7, I have become more selective about which movies I see in the theater.
  9. I own ten little black dresses. I can’t stop buying them. I like to fancy myself the Cuban Audrey Hepburn. I am delusional.
  10. I try to be a lady, but I'm more of a broad. I love to swear (the F word is so versatile). I love a project where I can do some heavy lifting (although my back is not a fan of that). My best friend's parents call me Mighty Mouse...small but strong.
  11. I like to think I'm good at bringing catch phrases into my friends' lexicon. Perhaps you have heard (or spoken) some of my work? There’s sweet cracker sandwich, that's SO Audrey, and batshit bananas. My most recent creation? Random Act of Hotness. I may also be responsible for bringing back "douche." Yeah. Sorry about that.
  12. I used to eat ice cream for breakfast while watching Saturday morning cartoons.
  13. My mom and I would watch Tarzan movies on Sundays after she got home from church. She thought Cheetah was a riot.
  14. Sometimes when I am falling asleep, I hear the voices of deceased loved ones. I find it comforting and scary at the same time.
  15. Years ago, my best friend’s family cat died. I was upset for her and when she told me it was OK, because he was 19, I said, “Rose Kennedy is 104 and she is still alive.” Rose Kennedy died a few days later. I have since “killed” Bruno Kirby, Estelle Getty and was an accomplice in the death of Luther Vandross. Ever since, whenever someone says, “Is so and so dead?” I know it’s only a matter of time.
  16. I celebrated my twenty-first birthday in Dublin, Ireland. I sat outside the Norseman Pub and had a pint with my best friend. Best. Birthday. Ever.
  17. I was a late bloomer and didn't have a boyfriend until I was twenty-one years old. In retrospect, I'm glad for the experience, but I should have waited a bit longer.
  18. I fell in love at first sight when I was 22. It was across a crowded room. It didn’t last, but man, it was something. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
  19. I still think of him.
  20. I like to refer to that time before a summer storm, when it’s warm but blustery and the sky is getting dark, as “sexy weather.” Because it is.
  21. It took me thirty-four years to realize that if I am reading a book and it’s not interesting to me, I don’t have to finish it. You have no idea how freeing that is for someone who studied literature.
  22. Based on the kind of food I grew up eating (rice, beans, fried meat, fried plantains), my mother’s style of cooking (lard played a large role in most meals), and my father’s penchant for bringing a candy bar home for me every night, I’m truly amazed I didn’t grow up to weigh a thousand pounds.
  23. When I feel like I’m losing control of my life (personally or professionally) the secret switch inside of me flips and I stop eating, sometimes for long stretches of time. The last time it got really bad was when my relationship ended. Yes, it's a disorder of the eating variety, and yes, I keep an eye on it.
  24. If I could go back and change one day, it would be my first day of high school. It was epically bad, but not for the typical reasons.
  25. I keep a list of encouraging things people have said or written to me over the years. It’s called Self-Esteem Check. It helps.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Poem for the Moment

I've made some notes in my book, finished Bird by Bird and started Thinking About Memoir. Now what? A poem.

The Words

There they are
on the page
And now
I'm writing
The words, the words, the words
sometimes they don't show up
sometimes I can't keep up
it is surprising
their presence
is a comfort
and a terror
all at once
No one may ever see them
There it is
the comfort
and the terror
all at once

Daisy C. Abreu, 9/16/07
revised 1/25/09

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Notes on the Process

In a few days, I will have written more posts on this blog than I did in all of 2008. How cool is that? I have to admit that this seeming burst of creativity isn't actually a burst at all. It's a daily grind. It's my other job, writing. It's my avocation. Spilling my guts, working on the stories of my life, trying to make sense of everything in my life is a therapeutic work out and an exercise in getting over myself. Except when I'm staring at the screen trying to figure out where to start.

I realized after talking with T tonight, that part of my "problem," is that I am used to writing in tidbits. Poems have long been my preferred method of expression, so writing longer pieces on a nightly basis, that aren't in longhand in my journal, seems daunting. I love telling stories, but writing them down is a whole other deal altogether. I was thinking about this in the shower this morning. The issue I'm having with Coach E's assignments isn't that I can't write about my past. It's realizing I can't remember most of it. The pieces I'm working on about my childhood trip to Cuba are daunting because although I "thought" I remembered a lot of it, getting Coach E's assignments makes me realize I don't really remember much detail. The things that would flesh my story out? Gone. I look at photos and remember the broad strokes of the story, but I fear the minutiae is lost. What to do?

For now, I will keep making notes on the stuff I've started on to fill in the blanks the best I can. I'll also keep brainstorming offline and piecing the bigger story together. And I'll keep posting writing exercises, award show recaps and notes on my current life to keep my momentum going. It turns out, importing blog posts to facebook gives me access to an audience of objective and subjective readers. Keep those comments coming, especially if you remember something!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

It's Not About the Dress

When Michelle Obama walked out of the Blair House today on her way to church, she took my breath away. Not simply because she was on her way to becoming the First Lady or because of her lovely lemongrass ensemble, but because of what that outfit meant to me. Here's the thing: the woman who designed that dress and who has now been brought to national, if not global, prominence was once a Cuban girl from West New York, New Jersey. Just like me.

Whenever someone mentioned how much they liked Mrs. Obama's dress today, I beamed. And maybe I bragged...OK, I totally bragged, "I know the designer! She's my sister's oldest friend and she used to babysit for me AND she is amazing!" Yes, today was a monumental moment in our nation's history. And yes, the matter of what the First Lady wore today may be considered minor, even trivial, to some. But, to the people of a small town in New Jersey (not to mention the contingencies in Miami and Camajuani, Cuba) this is HUGE. This is "yes, we can," Latin style. And what it means to this Cuban girl from West New York is immeasurable. Because it's family.

Isabel Toledo has been a part of my family's life for as long as I can remember. Our families were tight when I was growing up and Isy remains very close with my sister. They went to high school together. They were at each other's weddings (my sister was her maid of honor). They catch up the way all best friends do when they can get each other on the phone or send a quick email. It's never "my friend, the fashion designer," with my sister. It's just Isy.

I on the other hand, might be considered a bit of a stalker. Not a scary stalker, just a very avid fan and follower of her career. It still amazes me that someone I know, someone I grew up around and always looked up to, is...famous. I still get a thrill when I open up a fashion magazine and see her work. It's beyond cool to me. I know she's just a person, but she's a ridiculously talented person who gets paid to do what she loves and has had great success at it. Like I said, beyond cool.

I have mentioned before that Isy's parents, Bertie and Felix are two of my favorite people of all time. I will say it again here. I loved them the way I love my own parents. They were loving and hard-working and hilarious and they treated me like I was their own. Felix, tall with silver hair and a dark mustache, looked like a movie star to me, like Gregory Peck. I remember he laughed through this teeth. I can hear it now. I remember my mother always called Bertie by her maiden name, "Berta Perez," but I couldn't tell you why. I remember spending afternoons at Abuela Casilda's apartment on the 22nd floor of one of the senior housing buildings with my mother, Felix and Bertie. We played bingo for pennies (cleaned out Parkay tubs are good for holding the loot), drank Cuban coffee and had a lot of laughs.

I wish Bertie and Felix had lived to see this great day, to see their girl achieve this great thing. In my heart I know that they, together with my father and all those old Cubans who raised us in that giant extended family in West New York, New Jersey, are smiling down, saying ¡Si, podemos!.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Practical Magic

With apologies to my sister if I got any of this wrong:

My sister was talking to her kids the other night about our father and how he is still a presence in our lives. Apparently, Brian (her youngest) remembered playing in his room shortly after my father passed away and feeling someone rub his head and put a hand on his shoulder. He knew it was his Papi, so he wasn't afraid. In fact, he said that he had felt the same presence recently when he was playing in his room. "I know it's Papi." My niece has had the same experience, that feeling that someone is in the room with her, watching over her.

My family has always had an affinity for the spiritual side of things. Growing up, I experienced a healthy mix of Catholicism and...something else. Not Santeria, not voodoo, but some sort of white magic mixed with old wives tales and a belief system my mother feels as strongly about as she does the church. Religious statues and photos are spread around the house (most notably Santa Barbara, San Lazaro and Pope John Paul II) and called upon daily. My mother spends the first part of her day reading from a book of prayers to honor my father and grandparents, but also for the comfort she receives from the ritual. In good weather, she is known to go to church multiple times a week. She will ask God to bless us before we leave her side and she will thank God (and Jesus and the Virgin and the saints) whenever good fortune shines upon a loved one. Candles are lit, holy water is sprinkled, prayers are said, but sometimes there is more.

Here's a good one: I'm a teenager holed up in my room and my mother calls me out into the hallway. I walk out and go "What?" She proceeds to rub me from top to toe with...a coconut. A real unopened coconut. This is supposed to clean me of any bad spirits lurking within me.

Another: On New Year's eve, my mother will mix up a bucket with holy water, regular water, some perfumes from the botanica and some flower petals. If you are living in that house and planning to shower, please know that you are expected to do your final rinse with whatever is in that bucket. What difference does it make if flower petals stick to your body? After midnight, she will walk through the whole house sprinkling holy water and then she will pitch that bucket out the door, sending all the bad spirits out with it.

She's got a million of them. You better believe
my mother can fix what ails you through the power of prayer, a well placed lemon or a strong dose of Vick's Vaporub. In recent years, I have come to know my mother's powers and am starting to believe that I may have some too, although I have no idea what to do with them. I often say to my friends, "I must have brought you with my thoughts." Part of me is starting to believe I can. Is it magic when I have a dream about someone I haven't seen in a long time and then I hear from them the next day? The strongest example was the time my mother, sister and I all had the exact same dream about my dad, on the same night. Spooky, yet comforting.

My mom says she learned how to use her gift from her mother, who had learned from her mother before. I have never known my mother to use her skills for anything but good, so maybe leaning in and listening more closely when she tells the story is what I need to do. You never know when a good spell could come in handy.

Trying to Piece it Together

OK, I'm frustrated. I made an attempt to write last night when I got home, but nothing seemed to make sense. There's a lot on my mind, but I'm not sure how to get it out and on the page. What's a girl to do? Stream of consciousness it is.

I had a dream last night that crossed from past to present and back again. I was at my dad's lab, but I was with my New Haven friends. The lab looked the same as it did the last time I was there, which is to say it was kind of a mess. Stacks of newspapers under the counter, molds for teeth on the work tables and a fine dust covering everything. It was late at night, it was cold and there were people there waiting for a ride to the airport. One of my coworkers was in the space, and one of my interns, someone I hadn't seen in a long time. I remember hugging my intern and seeing the people off to the airport. That's all that comes to mind now.

I spent the bulk of my childhood at my dad's lab, doing homework, sweeping up and hanging out with my father and his friends and clients. It was close to the grammar and high schools, so it made sense for me to go there in the morning and have breakfast with him, then come back after classes to go home together. And it was where I waited the two hours between school and gymnastics practice. The TV was usually on, tuned to a Yankee game. If there wasn't a game on, then the radio was playing. My dad loved us, the Yankees and music.

I was there when the Challenger was lost and it was there that I ran after learning that one of my high school classmates had died. I remember my father hugging me and crying with me and telling me he understood how I felt. He was always the more emotional one of my parents, though my mother has softened some over the last few years. That was his place, the hub of his world. He spent more time there than he did at home, six or seven days a week, sometimes up to twelve hours a day, making dentures for every Cuban in town. I couldn't tell you if he loved the work, but I can tell you that he was good at it. He was so good that after he retired, he still made teeth for people, although now he was doing it out of my childhood bedroom. I wonder what all his clients thought of the hot pink walls and the Michael Jackson stickers.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Note to Self

It is super late, but I have the computer up and running, so I may as well write.

I am grateful that I even have the energy to be typing. It's been a long and busy couple of weeks, but I am happy. Things are falling into place, or maybe I am putting things in place. Getting my priorities straight and putting out a more positive vibe has helped me see the good in my life. I am feeling stronger than I have in a long time. I am open to what's out there, personally and professionally, and I am striving to be my best. I wish I could go back in time and tell the fourteen year old girl I was all the things I know now. I would assure her that mistakes will be made, but she will be better for them.That all those times she followed her heart, she was right, even when she thought she was wrong, because that's how lessons are learned. I would tell her to not worry about that dance she didn't get to go to, because there will be plenty of opportunities to dance all night when she is older. I would encourage her to keep reading, because it will come in handy in life and at trivia night. On that same note, I would tell her that there is nothing wrong with being brainy...some boys actually like that in a girl. Speaking of boys, I would tell her that it's OK to wait, because although there is a rush when you finally get there, there's no rush in getting there. I would tell her that she will find friends that feel like family and that she will eventually see her family as her friends. She should hold on tight to all those people, because they will get her through the worst of it. And I would tell her that, in the end, things will turn out the way they are supposed to.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Waking Life

Wondering, wandering, searching my mind for something to say that will make some kind of sense. I am beginning to realize that if I have an idea over the course of the day, it would probably be wise to jot it down so that I can share it here. I had something in my head when I woke up yesterday morning and foolishly thought I would remember it, but between work and social engagements, I lost track of somewhere over the course of the day. Dammit.

I used to write notes to myself about particularly vivid dreams the moment I woke up. "Remember dream: hospital room." Then I would pick up my notebook before bed and fill in the blanks. It's funny when that happens, the super vivid dreaming. Not "funny ha ha," more "funny hm," and occasionally, "funny uh-oh." I suppose I dream every night, but only remember some and of those some, very few are super vivid. By super vivid I mean I wake up wondering if someone has been in the apartment.

More peculiar (to me) dream stuff:

When I was little, I was able to wake myself out of scary dreams then drift back into them in a safer moment. Not time travel, more sleepwalking, without the walking.

In times of extreme stress, I have what I believe to be panic attacks in my sleep. I'll be puttering around, doing my thing in the same room in which I am sleeping. Everything will be the same as it is when I'm conscious, until I notice one thing that is totally out of wack, not like a monster, more like a feeling that things are not what they seem. I begin to panic, open my mouth to speak or scream and nothing comes out. For example, I once had a dream that something was wrong with me and I was trying to call out for help to someone I could see in another room. No sound. I wave my arms and scream at what I think is the top of my lungs and...nothing. I know I'm dreaming and try to force myself awake, but can't do it. More panic. Actually, it's more of a freak out. If and when I wake up, the struggle in the dream is so exhausting that I pass right back out...and then I am in it again, fighting to get out. Typically the coming to and passing out happens three or four times. These dreams have become rarer, but on the occasions when they do happen, they will mess me up for a whole day. Good times.

About a year after he died, I had a very intense dream about my dad. I was in our old apartment on 60th Street, standing just outside my bedroom. I could see my dad down the hall in the living room. Up to this point, every dream I had about my dad was a happy one. He was young and healthy and totally at his best. In this dream, he was in his pajamas and didn't look well. I wanted to go to him but reach him. I woke up in tears and called my sister to tell her about the dream. She and my mother had both had the exact same dream on the same night. Coincidence? Powers.

I have had deja vu in a dream. This dream: I am sitting at a restaurant bar with some celebrity crush (OK, it was Gary Fencik). There is a giant window behind the bar looking out on the ocean. At some point, Gary, puts his arm around my shoulders. And I felt it. The weight of his arm across my shoulders. It was heavy enough to make my shoulders sag. And in that moment I remember thinking, "This seems very familiar. This has definitely happened before. " Then I woke up. I had this dream twenty years ago.

How is it that I can remember things like that, but somehow manage to occasionally leave my apartment without remembering to take the keys out of the door? I guess I'll sleep on it.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

More of the Same

I had lunch with a new colleague today. We both have a thing about writing...we like to do it, we want to do it, but we are having trouble sticking to the "write every day," schedule. The usual excuses came up over lunch, "It's hard to get home after a long day at the office and work on your own writing." "It's easy to put it off until the weekend and then not do it at all." And, my favorite, "If the inspiration doesn't strike me..." By the end of our meal, we'd agreed to nudge each other on a regular basis and be writing buddies. Yes, I know I already have T as a writing buddy, but right now, I'm thinking you can't have too many.

I'm starting to realize there are more writers around here than I thought there were. I know the city is loaded with journalists, authors, professors, etc, who have all been published over magazines and newspapers. Hell, there are plenty of people around here who make a good living writing books. Can you believe it? Books! I have always been intimidated by these people, maybe because I think they know something I don't about writing (like how to get published). They get paid to write and, for the most part, people read their work. They seem so far ahead of me, so literary. It seems effortless for them. I know it's not, I know it's a perception. I'm working on getting over it and it's getting easier. Over the last few months, I have come across more people who aren't just working writers, but are working at writing. I am building relationships with writers. Finally. I'm not even seeking them out. I'm just talking about what I'm doing and discovering that I'm not the only one. The solitary act is becoming less lonely and I am (I think) becoming braver about it. I have a mentor in Elizabeth and two new friends who are in a similar boat. I've gone from hiding out and not knowing what I'm doing to having three people in my life who understand what it is I'm trying to do, who get what I'm struggling with and who help me push myself to do it. And I have friends and family to cheer my on while I work all of this out.

It's exciting be able to tell people that I'm writing every day. It helps me understand why I'm doing it. I'm trying to put into practice what I learned at school. I'm exercising the muscle. I've set a goal and I'm not afraid to mess up in the process. I still worry about what I'm going to write about every night. I fear that I'll have nothing to say. I procrastinate, sometimes a little, sometimes for hours. But then, I get over it and get to it. And now, I'm coming into contact with more people who understand and speak the language. I'm finding a whole new tribe.

After all these years of shying away from the title, of scribbling away in the safety of my apartment, I am beginning to understand that this is not just a way for me to pass the time. Patrice said it to me tonight, "You may have always written, but I get the feeling that you're really starting to think of yourself as a writer." She's right. I am.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Long Goodbye

I just cracked open my book of writing prompts to see if I could strike a spark tonight. The page I turned to said "write from the point of view of a person on their deathbed." I'm taking a liberty and writing about my point of view at my father's deathbed. This seems right tonight because there is a new baby in the family, and from the looks of him in photos...the old man might be back.

My dad was sick for a long time. By the summer of 2003, he was wasting away and it was getting harder for him to walk. He was getting weaker and thinner.I came home every weekend to a different person. It was a shock to me seeing how much a person, this person, could change from week to week. I didn't know how any of us were going to be able to let him go.

When he slipped into a coma, I went home to New Jersey and stayed for two weeks. I was in a staff meeting when the phone rang. It was my parents' number. They never called during the work day. I answered and heard my sister's voice. "Come home, it doesn't look good." Thank God for my coworkers who managed to call my boyfriend, get me home and take me to the train station in what felt like one huge gesture. I barely remember the train ride, but I remember Mike and I walking through Grand Central Station and seeing an exhibit of work by film students. There, in the middle of this horrible moment, in the middle of Grand Central Station, was an installation that reminded me I was still here. One lamp post, one umbrella and a screen playing Gene Kelly in Singing in the Rain. As I watched the scene Leonard Bernstein called "an affirmation of life," Mike squeezed my hand and told me it was a sign.

By the time I got to the apartment, it was full of people. Neighbors, family, friends, all crammed into the living room of my parents' tiny one bedroom and that's how it was all day, every day for seven days. My dad was in the bedroom, in a hospital bed, eyes closed, breathing deeply.I had always known him to be a big guy, but now he was literally half the man he had been for most of his life. In spite of the steady stream of visitors bringing food, stories and comfort, I spent most of time with him. I rubbed lotion on his feet, cleaned his face, gave him water and medicine through a syringe I imagine people use to give kittens milk. And I talked to him. I told him who was in the room, who had visited that day. I kept him informed because I knew he would want to know things. And I knew he could hear me. That's what I tell myself anyway. The hardest thing I had to tell him was that it was OK to let go. I assured him that we would take care of my mother and each other. I told him I would be OK without him (not that I believed it at the time, and not that he's not with me every day). That is the toughest one-sided conversation I have ever had. I didn't want him to let go. I wanted him to open his eyes and ask me for something, anything. I wanted him to tell me to turn the television on because he was missing the Yankees game. I wanted him to ask me why I wasn't at work. I would have settled for a "hey, there's my girl."

At the end of the first week, I thought I would come back to New Haven, catch up on a little work, pack some more clothes and get back to his side the same day. When I went into my parents' room that morning to give him his 6am dose of morphine, I heard it. That sound they call "the death rattle." He had been breathing quietly for about a week...this was a totally different sound. I knew I wasn't leaving that day, or any time soon. I closed the bedroom door to keep my mother from hearing it.

It was Monday, September 29th. For the first time in a week, the only people in the apartment were my father, my mother, my sister, my mother's best friend and me. The hospice nurse had been there earlier in the day to see how things were going. She was surprised he had lasted so long, especially since he hadn't eaten in over a week, but she also said it wouldn't be much longer.

When my brother came home from running errands, he went into the bedroom. It took me a minute to realize that it was quiet in the room. I didn't hear the breathing anymore. I looked in and saw my brother bent over my dad, listening. When I walked in,I looked at my father and saw him exhale for the last time. My brother turned to me and said, "That's it." I said "OK," and then I lost it. My sister walked in, saw us and went to get my mother. This is where things get mystical and strange. My mother, her friend and two other neighbor ladies walked into the room and started crying and praying. At that same moment, there was a bolt of lightning and a crack of thunder. As the women prayed, it began pouring. By the time they said "Amen," the rain had stopped, the sun was shining and the sky was clear. And he was gone. When the women took my mother out of the room, my brother said, "That was fucking weird." It was, but we all agreed later that there was no way he was going to go quietly. That just wasn't his style.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Golden Ticket

Is it just me, or did this year's Golden Globes seem a wee bit...meh? Don't get me wrong, I'm thrilled to have them back. Last year's press conference was depressing and downright unwatchable, but really, this year's just seemed long. Take the following comments as highlights or lowlights (and take them with a grain of salt, these are only the opinions of one avid viewer). Your choice.

Kate for the win: Kate Winslet might be the actress of her generation. She's got the range, the chops and whatever else it takes to make everything she's in better for her presence (Sense and Sensibility, Finding Neverland, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Iris, etc, etc.) Not to mention that she is well-spoken, smart, funny and seems to be a genuinely lovely person. Thank goodness someone finally recognized her for it. Not once, but twice! Good job, Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Let's hope this is a sign of more shiny objects being handed to her in the near future, like, oh, I don't OSCAR. She's been nominated for an Academy Award five times, which is very impressive, especially considering that she is a mere thirty-three years old. Oh, and she has manages to look flawless every time she hits the red carpet. Some people are not as fortunate. For example...

You OK, Renee?: I refuse to believe that Zellweger was wearing Carolina Herrera last night. The bottom is classic Herrera, but the top (if you want to call it that)? So wrong. I know that I have said before that Renee should take a fashion risk from time to time, but this is not what I meant. She looked a little Sharon Stone on a bad day to me.

Someone call the Police: Dear Sting, what the hell happened? You know I have loved you since I was ten years old. You know that you can do no wrong in my book. You know I still think you're totally hot. But if you ever, EVER, show up at an awards show looking like that again, well, I just don't know what I'll do. That look may work on Colin Farrell, but even he's cleaned up his act. You are a Commander of the British Empire now, buddy, show your Queen a little respect and button your shirt.

Bed head: Um, were people getting frisky in the limos on the way over? I'm only asking because I saw a lot of people with seriously mussed hair. Not the Gisele Bundchen beachy waves, mind you...Messed. Up. Hair. Cameron Diaz, Amy Adams, Vanessa Hudgens, Blake Lively all looked a bit wind blown as Miss Clairee would say in Steel Magnolias. Only Mickey Rourke and Drew Barrymore appeared to have crazy hair that seemed intentional.

Demi, De-Mom: I love that Demi Moore called her daughter Rumer out for slouching. No one wants to see Miss Golden Globe all hunched over like she's so over the whole thing. This is Hollywood's biggest party, and you are wearing a very expensive gown, so the least you can do is stand up straight. It's about time someone told those It girls to how to present themselves. At least Demi opened with a compliment.

Who wants to be a Millionaire: So happy for Danny Boyle and everyone involved with Slumdog Millionaire! If you haven't seen this one yet, go now. And stay for the closing credits!

I'm Latin, let's party: The President of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association spared us all the long speech about how the awards work and opted to encourage everyone in the room to have a good time. Another reason to love my people.

OK, I do like him: Colin Farrell won me over last night with his sweet speech. I have never been a fan of the guy, but he just seemed so genuine, so moved by his win...fine, he's adorable. There. I said it.

No, you can't: That's my answer to Steven Spielberg's eternal film making question. To be clear, a little boy finds and befriends an alien? Yes. Richard Dreyfuss sculpting mashed potatoes and then being swept away by aliens? Yes. An island of dinosaurs? Yes. Whatever the hell is going on in Minority Report? Yes. The ending of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of Crystal Skull? No. The man is indeed one of the greatest film makers of all time, but I will not give that last one a pass.

Oh, shit, I forgot to hit the seven second delay button: Darren Aronofsky giving the finger to the world (OK, just to Mickey Rourke, but the world saw it). That moment is now up there with Bono dropping an F-bomb on the Globes a few years back. It's that sort of unpredictability that makes this show worth sitting through. But it would have been nice if someone's name had been called while they were in the bathroom.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Still Do, Always Will

Taking a night off might have set me back, but I'm pushing on with this. I don't know if I've learned a lesson, but I do know that the writing is important enough to to feel a little guilty when I don't do it every day.

I think the writing I'll be doing will focus more on the process and the project and less on some matters of the heart. For now. And by that I mean my present state of mind and heart. The past is the past and I have made my peace with all that happened. I was younger, eager to find love and easily convinced that I was in it. Now I find that I am ready to be more discerning and maybe I am willing to wait and see.

It may seem foolish, but my heart, my mind and my body want what they want. It doesn't make it right. In fact it makes it somewhat difficult to get on with it. I guess I know the final answer, but it doesn't stop me in my heart. Better to be alone than in bad company. This one will be tough to get over. And really, there are always one or two you never get over. This might be the second time I've felt this. The wanting something I can't have even though every fiber of me says yes I should have it. It feels right. I suppose it always have, since the beginning.

I keep dreaming about him. And the weird thing is that my dreams have been in the stages that the reality has followed. Passion, protection, distance. The dream I had last night was either a prophecy or a fantasy. I have not figured it out yet. I guess time will show me one way or the other. The dreams are so real. The sight, the feel, the conversations...there is nothing fantastical about them. The things happening in the dreams could and have happened in real life.

I miss him. And I don't know if the waiting and the wondering are the answer, but it's all I have right now.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

2008: The Year that Was

I took last night off from writing and now, I'm a little stuck. It wasn't my intention to skip it, I just got home super late and a little tipsy. I was pretty much useless, but it was good to unwind, see a movie and have a drink with friends. Now I'm sitting here, thinking about nothing and trying to come up with something. Perhaps I should ramble and see where it leads.

I'm ten days in to 2009 and I already believe it will be better than 2008. I've got a clean slate at work and a good sense of where I want that to go. I'm excited about writing again and feeling better about the prospect of a project that has a definite beginning, middle and end. I'm reconnecting with old friends and developing strong relationships with new ones. I really feel like I am coming into my own space, in my own time and way. That said, let's recap a little, shall we?

Check one, check two: I went to two open mics this year...and read. Kind of a big deal. I also gave a little speech at my boss's farewell roast. I killed. Pretty satisfying.

Let me entertain you: I had more parties and gatherings this year at home. Turns out I like playing hostess. Poodle even gave me a very Betty Draper apron with cherries on it. Speaking of Betty...

Mad about the men: I am totally hooked on Mad Men. I watched one episode on demand, and the next thing I knew it was five hours later. It is perfection. The writing, the design, the characters, wow...just wow. Don Draper is a bad, bad man. And I love him for it. If you haven't seen it, go out right now and get season one on DVD. Seriously.

Opening my eyes: I'm becoming something of an art collector. I'm interested in the process and the people who make the art. I'm going to more art openings and buying what I like and what I can afford. I guess hanging out in the art buildings with my friends in college is starting to rub off.

Bottom line: I'm still a serious person and a worrier, but I'm learning to let go more and enjoy my life here. Feels great.As Jenni and Patrice say, "enjoyable!"

I'll be back to my regular schedule tomorrow night, but right now I am going to get ready for a weekend away with old friends. Stay tuned for my Golden Globes report!

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Back and Forth

I am standing in two worlds at once. Here I am, living this life I have created for myself while simultaneously mining the past I thought I had left behind. In the last few weeks, I have reconnected with a number of people I went to high school with and it's been great. People are posting old photos (the clothes and the hair!), telling old stories and roaming the virtual halls saying "HI!" The timing is interesting, especially since I am mining my memories for this memoir project. It's like I've brought these people back into my life with my thoughts.

As I said before, I knew a lot of these people all the way from kindergarten through senior year of high school. Many of us are part of what I call the "American Dream" Generation. Our parents came from other countries to start over in the US. Most of us were born in this country and are the youngest sibling, with brothers and sisters anywhere from five to fifteen years older. We are tied together by a connection to a place many of us have never been to through language, food, music, photos, families stories and hope. Hope that we would grow up, go to good schools, get good jobs, marry and create families. And, every December 31st, hope that next year we would return"home."

What I know about being a Cuban born in the US is that there is longing; a deep rooted desire to go back to a place we have never lived in, to be with people we don't really know. As a child, it was confusing to me. I wondered why my parents and their friends talked about going back. Wasn't it bad there? Isn't that why they left? Do I have to go too? I don't know anyone there. I like it here with the ice cream truck and Saturday morning cartoons. When I think about my one and only trip there, it all makes sense.

My father took me to Cuba when I was eight years old. I met my grandparents, my aunts, uncles, cousins, and my half-brother. I remember a lot of it, maybe because I knew there was a strong possibility that this was a one-shot deal. Here's what I remember the most: everything was in color. I have a pretty good idea of how Dorothy felt in the Wizard of Oz when she opened the door after landing in Munchkinland. I walked off that plane into the heat of Havana and WOW!I had only ever seen black and white photos of Cuba, so I suppose I got it in my head that everything there and white. Amazing.

We arrived at my maternal grandparent's house and, like any child that had been traveling all day, I told my father I was hungry. He relayed the message to my grandmother who asked, "What am I going to give her? She's American. Doesn't she only eat hamburgers and hot dogs?" "What do you have in the house?"
"Rice, black beans, pork and plantains."
"Put a plate of that in front of her and see what happens."

Apparently, my visit was a big deal. The gringa was coming to meet everyone! Word spread that I had arrived, because the house was full of people waiting to see me. Correction: the kitchen was full of people waiting to see if this American child would eat. Oh, I ate! Man, did I eat. We stayed for three weeks (standard allotted time for Cubans visiting Cuba). I met everyone my family had ever known, saw where my parents had lived and got to know my extended family. And I ate very well. My last meal in Cuba was arroz con pollo (chicken and rice) made especially for me by my mother's mother. I found out later that a neighbor lady had killed one of the chickens in my grandparents' backyard especially for my farewell meal. Hard core.

I realize now how important that trip was. I can't imagine how hard it was for my parents to leave that life and start over with nothing. But, the more I read and hear about what Cuba was like fifty years ago, the more I understand why they had to do it. I also know that, as much as they embraced the American lifestyle, they never really left the old ways behind, not in their hearts and not in the life they created here for me and my siblings. They couldn't be there, so they created as much of that world as they could here. The food, the club, the language, the music was all there for me to absorb. I soaked it up and I take it with me no matter where I go. And every time I hear Celia Cruz sing Guantanamera, I understand the longing to go home.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

New Year, New Direction

Today was a good day. The weather was crap, but it didn't deter me. Things are becoming clearer and I am beginning to see the possibilities. Call me cautiously optimistic.

I set aside the hurt inside me long enough to really say what was troubling me and I asked for an opportunity to take my professional life in a slightly different direction. It wasn't easy, but I did it because I needed to feel in some control of my destiny at work. I took some time over the holidays to think about what the changes at work could mean for me and I really believe this is my chance to tackle my job in a new way. It's exciting and a little scary, but it beats the hell out of what I was feeling before. In the end, I think it will be OK.

Between work and writing, I have much to do, so I need to get organized, manage my time and try not to be so hard on myself when I come up against some crap. Moderation is key here, I don't want to hit the wall again. I've been pushing myself, but I'm also trying to take a breath when I start to feel overwhelmed. My priorities are shifting and I need to know when to say no if I feel like taking on one more thing seems like too much. I also need to remember to have a life and not let the work consume me like it has for a long while. Luckily, my friends and family remind me to stop and have a laugh (and a drink). Cheers to that!

Starting in the Middle

This writing every night thing is hard...but a deal is a deal. It's not so much writer's block that's got me right now, it's that I've been going full force all day without time to think. I worked all day, came home, ate and then straight to trivia night at Liffey's. It's always a blast and I get to utilize my vast knowledge of absolute nonsense. There's also the bonus of getting to spend time with my friends AND sometimes we win money! I can be fiercely competitive, but it's all in the name of good fun, so I think it's OK. Anyway, enough with the excuses. Time to write.

Note: this might be a bit of a ramble, but the book I'm currently reading says I should start with "shitty first drafts," so here goes nothing.

I'm reading Anne Lamott's book Bird by Bird and it's got me thinking about how to put my story together. Frankly, it's got me a little spooked. I'm used to writing poems and "essays," so I have no clue how to put a larger story together. E. suggested taking a look at all the pieces I've written about my family and growing up Cuban, making some notes and going from there. There's so much, I almost don't know where to begin. Lamott talks about looking at a scene through a one inch square and describing what can be seen through it. Right now, I'm doing a lot of thinking about the past and the people that populated my life back then. This might sound crazy, but Facebook helps. I find myself back in contact with so many people from that time. People I knew in high school and grammar school are back in my life. I've thought about a lot of these people from time to time, but having them right there, even virtually, stirs a pot of memories I forgot I even had. It is great to be back in touch, but at the same time, I think of the person I was back then (rather the person I thought I was) and I think, "Who was that girl?" Let's explore a little bit...

I was, in my opinion, a nerd. Seriously. I happened to attend a high school where the honor society people were also, for the most part, the popular kids. I was not in the honor society, but I did alright as far as my grades went, if you don't count math or science. Many a teacher took pity on me, but no matter how hard I tried, I just didn't get it. Numbers have never been my thing. I was friends with lots of people, just like now, but most of the time I didn't feel like I fit in any particular group. So many people say high school was the best time of their lives. I can look back now and say it wasn't awful. My classmates and teachers were always nice to me, it wasn't them. It was me. I hadn't found my way and I was hard on myself. I felt different (as in not cool) and I think it showed. I lost myself in books, I went to the local "art house" movie theater and lost myself in films like Howard's End (side note: The Galaxy Theater is sad), I wrote bad poetry and I wrote in my diary. Some things never change, I guess. Well, the poetry might be a bit better.

What happened to that girl? When and how did I start to feel like myself, like the woman I am still becoming? I left home. It wasn't easy leaving that incredibly close community of Cubans behind and venturing to the wilds of Connecticut by myself, but I knew I had to do it. I needed to get away from the girl I had been, the girl I thought I was, the girl everyone knew as the Abreus' youngest girl, as Pete and Maria's baby sister. I needed to figure out who I was outside of all of that.

By the end of the first year at school, I had found my tribe. Granted, for the first month, I was pretty lost, more lost than I ever felt at home. I would call my sister every weekend and cry because I was so lonely. Then I met Chris and things started falling into place.Chris introduced me to Kev who introduced me to Cat, Jenni, Cyn and the rest of the Girls and the Boys. For the next three years I ate nearly every meal with these people. We took trips together, walked to class together, studied together, watched our favorite shows together (Northern Exposure!) and, as college kids do, drank together. It was wonderful and it felt right. I felt right.

You should know that all of these friends of mine are artists. Painting, printmaking, photography, sound design, ceramics, on and on. Maybe that's what drew me to them. The great thing about my writing back then (and now) was that I could do it anywhere. I didn't need a studio, I could keep my friends company while they did their thing. For example, if Jenni was in the print shop, I could sit with her and write while she worked. I could hang out with Cat at the music school and scribble away while she recorded things. It reminded me of being in my Dad's shop after school doing homework while he worked. Considering the amount of hours I spent in the art school buildings, I should have an honorary Bachelor of Fine Arts...too bad I can't draw worth a lick.

The difference between my college friends and my high school friends is time. By the time I started high school, I had known a number of my classmates since kindergarten. You get to know people pretty well during those years and if, like me, you are awash in self-doubt, you aren't going to take a lot of chances. I was in a constant state of "Oh God, I hope they like me. I want them to think I'm normal (whatever I thought that was)." I'm going to guess that my high school mates weren't thinking about whether I was cool or not. They liked me for who I was and treated me accordingly. I realize now how much time I wasted worrying. I've always been a worrier. (Again, thanks to Facebook for facilitating a second chance with so many of my childhood friends. I really did wonder what happened to everyone. Glad to be back!)

When I got to college, I didn't know anyone. Did that free me up a bit? Maybe. The people at college had no idea I I wasn't "cool," so I had nothing to lose. I didn't expect to be the most popular person at college, I just wanted to have one friend who "got me," in spite of my preference for English films and 19
th century poetry, and maybe because of it. A lot to ask, I know, but I found them. Or, maybe they found me.

I am still in regular contact with most of my tribe. You might say I'm the hub of the wheel or the conduit that so much information flows through to the others. People move, I've got the new address and phone number. These friends are as much my family as my parents and my siblings. They've seen me through so much (breakups, bad jobs, bad hair) and I love them for it. No matter how many days or years have passed between phone calls or visits, I know I can pick up where I left off. They know me better than anyone. Sometimes better than I know myself.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Somewhere Different Now

"I'm not on fire, but I'm not burned out. Just somewhere different now." -Girlyman.

I'm in a different place than I was a year ago, and somehow it feels the same. On my own, starting over and feeling like this place I'm in is not one where anyone can really reach me. I've got to get my bearings, adjust to the surroundings and push on to the other side. Not easy, but perhaps I am up for the challenge.

The writing helps. It gives me an outlet, something to focus on, a goal and maybe a little peace. I started writing again to deal with my grief, to try to understand my place in this world without my dad. Then I branched out, started telling the stories of my life (as interesting or boring as they may be). I had a place where I could spout my ridiculous theories about the Academy Awards, go on about the wonder that was Audrey Hepburn and expose my mother for the delightfully wacky little old lady she is. Better to have it all down somewhere than have the wheels turning all day and night, right? Sometimes the stories make sense. Sometimes the stories only make sense to me. No matter, no one is really reading this thing, right?

The thing that worries me now is how everything will fit together. How will I tell the story I am supposed to be telling? What is the story? There are actually multiple stories. I've already told one, Spell. I managed to write a series of poems out of order and put them together in a way that made some sense. And it's a love story of sorts. And I've been sitting on it for over ten years. Yeah, I should do something about that soon.

So, what's the next chapter? The story of my childhood? How I came to be in this place at this time? My experience with losing a parent? It's obvious to me now that I have something to say, a lot of something. How do I do it? That's what I need to figure out. Now. It's time.

Another View

I went to see the Curious Case of Benjamin Button tonight. It was good in that escapist, get out of the house for three hours kind of way (yes, it was three hours long and although it didn't feel like it was long to me, I recommend you use the bathroom before you commit to it). It is also one of those movies that I will put on the "I saw it on the big screen and will probably never watch it when it's on TV" list. Titanic, The Talented Mr. Ripley and The English Patient are all on that list too.

The thing that got me about the movie was Cate Blanchett. Granted, she is always luminous, always perfect. The woman played Katharine Hepburn for crying out loud. I would watch her read the back of a cereal box. But there was more. There was an aspect to her character that was, how do I say this without sounding like an ass? Me. Let me clarify. There's the obvious bit about her character being called Daisy. But then, she's a I once dreamed of being. And then, she teaches dance at her own I once dreamed I would. It was weird. There's a lot of other things that happen that I won't give away, and obviously the Brad Pitt factor is not something I expect in my life (I'm more of a Daniel Day Lewis/Javier Bardem kind of girl). But...still. What are the chances? What are the chances that I would go to a movie on a whim and see a portrayal of someone with my name doing the things I dreamed of doing as a child? It made me think about what my life would have been like had I been able to pursue those dreams. Just seeing it on screen made me wonder "what if?"

Curious indeed.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

The Insomniac Speaks, er, Writes

I have been writing more, mostly in my journal late at night. Here's last night's entry:

January 3, 2009 at something like two in the morning.

Lately I fele like I want to give up on writing. But then I realize that I haven't given it a real fair shake. And there are so many people who believe in me. Why can't I believe in myself more? Good question. I am scared that I will fail again. Scared that I will be laughed at and considered a hack or not be taken seriously. And after the year I've had, I don't know that I can give it a real shot. My confidence, the thing that I've been working hard to cultivate for the last year or so, is shaken pretty badly. I gave it my best shot and I failed. Really, this was a major setback. This was the voice inside of me saying, "I told you so." And I am afraid to try again, but really, I am more afraid of never trying. So I need to keep going. I need to wrap up the mourning, close out the pity party, put on my big girl shoes and push on. Because as bad as this feels, giving up and resigning myself to a life of quiet desperation would be worse.


So, I lie in bed and write in my head. Sometimes, I put it in my journal. Sometimes, I post it here. Sometimes, I just leave it in my head. I'm bursting with things to say, but I can't seem to get it all down. That makes no kind of sense. I have to keep reminding myself that I don't have to show anyone anything I write. I can keep it to myself if I think it sucks. The important thing is getting it all out, because right now it is all keeping me up.

This is actually not as bad as it seems. A few months ago I couldn't write anything down. The well was dry. Now I don't feel like I need to push. The words are coming faster and easier than before, sometimes I can't keep up. It's not the actual writing that's the issue (OK, maybe a little), it's what to do with it. It's being brave enough to share it with anyone at all. I want to, but I'm scared, like I said.

You might be wondering what I'm going to do about all of this inner conflict. Step one: keep writing. No matter what. Step two: keep reading. Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird is helping me get my thoughts in some kind of order and I have another book about memoir writing on its way to me. Step three: find a great coach and a great workout buddy. E. is always there when I need her guidance, humor, honesty and general fantasticness. T. and I have made a deal to meet regularly to talk about writing, share our work and work together. Step four: don't stop believing.

It's actually a little bit exciting, the idea of having a real project to work on, having other writers to talk to and work with, making myself make something of all of these stories. I don't know what it's going to become, but it could be the start of something good for me.