Friday, November 24, 2006

Cada vez que me miro en el espejo (Nota biográfica)

Cada vez que me miro en el espejo descubro que no soy la misma. Entonces me asombran mis cambios. El reflejo que el espejo me devuelve no es el mismo que me devolviese ayer, antes de ayer, la semana pasada y mucho menos el año anterior. Entonces aprendo que se cambia en el transcurro de un segundo, durante el instante que tarda un minuto, en lo que dura un día, corre un mes, vuela un año... Se cambia y ese hecho es inaludible, e inevitable. Siempre existen los que le irían a la contraria a esa idea como a cualquier otra. Yo le voy a favor. Cada vez que uno se mira al espejo es una nueva persona.

El padre de una amiga, a quien admiro y estimo mucho, sentado en el sofá de mi casa me dijo un día: -Se oye a la gente decir, eso va en contra de mis principios. Tiempo después se les oye decir de nuevo, no hago eso porque contradice mis principios. Pero a fin de cuentas, cuáles son sus principios? Si los principios cambian con el paso del tiempo. Los principios de los que inicialmente hablasen no son los mismos de los que hablan tiempo después.

Yo sé que ayer conocí a dos personas nuevas. Trabajé todo el día en un reportaje que vieron muchos. Una anciana me dijo unas palabras dulces y casi me hizo llorar. Cuando me lavé los dientes y el espejo del botiquín me mostró un rostro cansado, vi que no era la misma persona que viese en él por la mañana. Para cuando haya terminado de escribir este pequeño párrafo ya habré vuelto a cambiar, porque me cuestioné parámetros y se me ocurrieron ideas.

Yo creo que cambio y usted, mi querido lector, también cambia. Todos cambiamos después de llorar o bailar con una canción, después de escuchar la confesión de un amigo, ser testigos de las vivencias de alguien, escribir un poema por bueno o malo que éste sea, leer un libro, o ponernos en contacto con otra historia que no sea la nuestra. Se cambia con cada idea nueva, palabra aprendida, noticia, mal sueño, fantasía, restaurante, viaje, detalle... A cada hora, e instante se cambia.

La pregunta es: si usted, mi lector, se mirase en el espejo ahora sería la misma persona de unos minutos atrás? Yo creo que no.

A Cellphone Conversation (Kind of a Story)

It's around 2:30 in the morning. My yahoo email informs me I have two messages on my space. I log in and to my surprise, my friend is online. She sends me a message asking me to connect to the yahoo messenger so we can talk. I explain I don't have one. My computer is too slow to download a messenger now and besides, I've never used one. Instead, I call her by phone and this is a fragment of the good conversation we had until 3:45 in the morning.
"Alina, I've thought of you a lot. Remember when you told me that David and you broke up and then got back together for no particular reason. Even when all the problems why you broke up were still there. Well, I was thinking that I got back with Steve for no good reason, either."
"It's only human to do that. We do things we can't explain. It happened to me, now it happened to you and it could happen to anyone."
"Yes, but remember how sad I was that first time we broke up. Alina, I was doing really, really bad. You saw me. I felt a pain in my chest that was unbereable. Now, I don't cry as much as I did the first time around. When I met Steve for lunch on Saturday, I didn't feel anything. I don't miss him now. I didn't want him, then. It just seems amazing to have him out of my life, as if he had never existed, when for so long he was my life. Or it seemed he was my life. He obviously wasn't"
"I know you loved him and he loved you, too. But you weren't in love with him. You didn't like him physially. Your relationship was missing the passion factor."
"Somehow, I knew Steve wasn't the man of my life. I knew he wasn't the one for me. I didn't see myself marrying him. Do you see yourself marrying your boyfriend, now?"
"Ashley, let's keep it about you. You know something? Your problems lately have started to confuse me. I do think he's the man of my life and I could marry him, have kids and be happy, but sometimes I don't. I guess you have to be with a person already knowing that not every time you are together everything will be good and perfect. You two are not always going to be happy."
"Yes, I know that. But between Steve and I was no desire. We had no fights, no big problems. When we took the last trip we made together to L.A. and met with his friends, I heard him telling them things I've never heard from him before. I didn't know him. He also had dreams, I wasn't the only one. I wasn't part of his. He wasn't part of mine."
And so went my conversation with Ashley for hours.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Isabel Allende and I (biographical note)

Thursday, November 16 of the year 2006, is a day I will always remember. It was the day I met Isabel Allende. I first discovered Allende's writing in 1996, when my family and I were exiled in Costa Rica. The first one I read was De amor y de sombras (Of love and shadows is the English translation). I fell in love with the main character, a strong woman who worked as a journalist and had to leave her country to avoid being murdered for reporting on government corruption. I was twelve years old when I read that novel. I still remember. Now, I'm 22. I'm graduating with two bachelors, one in Journalism, the other one in Spanish. I remember I decided to be a writer at 12, when I first read De amor y de sombras. I don't know if I decided that. I still think I don't have the courage to actually sit down and write something very long, but after I read that novel, I wanted to write. I was inspired to do it.
On Thursday, I met the woman whose work I used to read for pleasure. Ain't that something? Reading for pleasure is a luxury that college students like myself seldomly get to enjoy. I met the creator of the works that helped me escape as an adolescent. I met the woman behind Alba, Blanca, Rosa la bella and Clara, one of my favorite characters. I met the inventor of characters I only wish to be one day.

In the meantime, my grandmother Esperanza asked me to write her story. She didn't question me. She was sure I would do it and what's even more important, she thought I was capable of it. She barely knew how to write herself. The only thing I ever saw her reading was her book of prayers. "Mi nieta, mi nieta va escribir mi historia en un libro. Arlena, no dejes de escribir esto y aquello." She used to tell me in her distinct, special voice. She pushed me to do something I still haven't done. I would lay in the wooden floor of our house in Costa Rica and spend hours reading those and other novels. Then, I would write letters to the friends I had left behind and write some for myself.
Ever since I read De amor y de sombras, I've read La casa de los espiritus and even done a research paper for school comparing it to Cien años de soledad. I also read El plan infinito when I moved to Miami. I bought La ciudad de las bestias on a train station, while waiting to catch a train that took me for the first time to Barcelona, a city I have never forgotten it. Here and there, in different countries and emotional moments, Allende's novels have been in my life. The first one I read now reminds me of my diseased granma. The second one of a school paper. The third one of the trip I was taking to Barcelona while reading it. When my uncle died, I sent my aunt another one of Allende's greatest novel, Paula, and she thanked me for having helped her to cope with her pain. She said the novel had helped her.
In these ten years, I've discovered more books and developed a more critical approach towards literature. You can even substitute critical for the words harsh and cynical. But that hasn't been my fault. Spanish professors construct and deconstruct the writers' techniques and their novels. In any case, professor Camayds, among other professors at FIU, are to blame for the cynism and criticism some students are approaching literature with.

On Thursday, I remembered the times when I read for pleasure. I remembered my adolescence and teenage years, in which Isabel's writings played a special role.
"Isabel, no dejes de escribir. Yo estoy leyendo tus libros desde que tengo 12 años y ya tengo 22 y sigo leyendolos. Nunca dejes de escribir." I told her.
Isabel smiled and said: "Que linda! Que linda! Gracias por decirme eso." Isabel touched me in many ways but I paid her back. I made her smile and motivated her to keep on working, since she had been talking throughout the conference about how hard it was sometimes to write a new story, not her own, a new, different and exciting one. She talked about the writing process and pushed her to keep at it.

Now I have Allende's latest book, Ines of my soul. Unlike the other books of hers that I've kept throughout the years, this one was signed by her. She wrote Isabel Allende in beautiful cursive. She struck me as a happy woman. A woman over fifty who is satisfied with what she has done and achieved. As I heard her talking, Isabel even seemed as a person who never thought she would get far, touched many lives, or write as much as she's had. She was unforgettable, inspiring, beautiful. She must be over fifty years old already, but she shines more than a fifteen year old. She has the blissful smile of a woman satisfied with what she's lived and achieved. She had the confidence only the years bring and the happiness that she has brought to herself.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The letter I wrote to my best friend Yanelis for her wedding

I wish the two of you overcome your fights. No matter how selfish and petty they end up being most of the time. I wish you to move on and forget. I want you to go on living with little regrets.
I wish you to be happy and when you are not, as I’m sure you’ll be plenty of times, I wish you learn to wait, learn from it and let it pass.
I wish you find time to travel, to escape and fly. I wish you two to travel to Florence, Paris, Venice and Spain. Just try to do it, don’t postpone it and I go. I know those are some of your dreams and everything shouldn’t be work.
I wish God blesses you with healthy kids, maybe one or two or maybe lots of offspring. I wish for them to be healthy, happy, loved, well raised. I also wish for them to be good-hearted like Grosvin and you, but not as quiet as the two of you.
And after you have kids, I wish you two remain more lovers than friends. I wish you then that you still hold hands, cuddle, kiss and have fun.
I wish you two keep on fighting and maintaining your flame alive. I wish you two keep the passion evolving and fun. I wish you to accept the changes the time will bring to your love.
I wish you learn how to deal with work, maternity and daily life; yet, find time to sit alone side by side, watch sunsets, dine quietly and taste a glass of wine.
For now, I wish you that your wedding on Sunday comes out nice. I wish you enjoy yourself and the company of good, old friends. I wish you dance and drink for a change. I wish you celebrate your love. At the end of the day, celebrating your love is what your wedding day is for.

The Wedding (A story)

"We have set a date for our wedding,” Ana tells me excitedly and opens the menu she’s been holding for a while. Nothing comes out of my mouth. The obvious, appropriate thing to say now is: “Congratulations”. It’s not coming out. Instead, I am speechless, almost motionless. I told her less than a week ago that she should break up with her boyfriend. How can I go from advising a break up to praising a marriage?
“These are the types of things that happen to me for giving drastic advises when I should have kept quiet,” my brain insists.
“How could I have held it in? Those were special times that required decisiveness?” my conscience corrects me.
“Really?” I ask Ana instead.
“Yes,” Ana beams.
She giggles and goes into subtopics. She talks about how much of a mission it’s to stick to a budget and how much they need to save if they want to be married by December of next year. She also mentions Alex and how he has been extremely efficient, researching salons’ prices and the cost of dinner courses. This Friday, she plans to start calling churches to set up the date and time of the ceremony. Supposedly, you need to do that in advance.
“Thank God the pressure is off me,” I tell myself.
I’m happy she is concentrated in the conversation and doesn’t have eyes to notice my distraught, nor the disbelief grimace I’m trying to wipe out of my transparent countenance. I look at her calmly; while she's talking. She almost seems happy. How can that be possible? Where does she hide all her fears and doubts, the resentment and guilt? Or maybe she doesn’t have any. She hasn’t dyed her hair. I can say that for sure, unlike other things. Her black roots make a stark contrast with the blonde ponytail.
“Alex’s parents are going to help us; you know? We can’t do this by ourselves,” she adds.
His family has played a role in more than just this wedding's cost, I think to myself. They are one of the anchors holding her still. And I learned that the moment she asked me:
“How can I tell his family the truth? They are already my family. I love his brother. My parents and his parents spend Christmas together. I don’t have the courage to back up now."
At this point, we were riding our bikes around the neighborhood and I had to refute her.
“I know. It’ll be hard in the beginning, but you’ll hurt them more in the long run. You should think of Alex. Just think of him. Yes, you’ll hurt him but you might hurt him even more by not breaking up now. If that’s not enough, think of yourself. You shouldn’t settle down, shouldn’t sacrifice your life or give up your happiness in the name of someone else’s happiness. Most likely, he’ll be as unhappy as you’ll be.”
“His parents said their weeding gift would be our honeymoon!” Ana tells me while flipping the pages of the same Thai menu.
And I think about how hard it must be to have people treating you nice, when you are trying to leave them. They practically force you into loving them. Then, you do but not in the exact way they seem to demand from you.
“What places do you have in mind for the honeymoon?” I inquire.
“Paris, Italy, Spain, we don’t know yet… But Susan, regardless of whatever might happen, I’m going to need your help. I have to do many things. I still have time; I mean, it’s next year but there’s still a lot to do… Oh, finally, here is our waitress.”
There is nothing like food to ease all kinds of worries, the stomach and the soul’s. I ordered a Pla pao, also known as Thai grilled fish. Ana hadn’t tried Thai food before, but she ended loving the hotness and spice of it, just like I had predicted it. She ordered spicy chicken with vegetables. While we ate mouthfuls of fried rice, we talked about the appropriate food to serve at the wedding banquet and my mind kept on wandering all the time.
I was astounded at how fast everything had happened, in front of my eyes, but almost imperceptible. First, the doubts and questions that increased with the passing of months, then the rippling effects.
I remember the day Ana voiced first revelation.
“I don’t think I am in love with Alex, anymore. I mean. I don’t think he’s as much in love with me, either. We both have changed.”
“Are you sure he's not in love?” I asked her, “You might have changed, but he looks to me like he hasn’t.”
“He does,” she tried to sound convincing. "He does have change." I thought she was trying to make herself feel better by projecting her feelings on Alex. In my opinion, Alex was extremely loyal and wonderful with her.
“No, Susan, he doesn’t look at me the way he used to. We don’t look into each other’s eyes and know what each one is thinking, anymore. In fact, I don't know if that ever happened to us. The other day I asked him to pretend we didn’t know each other and start talking as if it were our first time together. He didn’t want to. We’ve lost something, we’ve lost that which I can’t describe.”
When I heard this I was shocked, I would never ask my boyfriend to start all over again, as if we hadn’t known each other. I kind of understand the idea of the chase and the conquest and the romantic aspect of reminiscing past times. Yet, I wouldn’t like to undo and forget all the way I had walked by my partern's side. Then again, I was never uncomfortable enough with our relationship to the point of make believe we didn't each other. Ana and I had different circumstances.

Her second confession came over the phone.
“The thing is that I’ve been with this guy,” Ana whispered to me from her office. “What we have is something beautiful, so, so beautiful and pure, I can’t describe it. I just have to look at him and he’ll know what I’m thinking. I don’t even say a word. It’s like he knows me. And he’s smart, sensitive, a good person.”

Due to that and much more, I ask myself now, at this moment, in which Ana is looking at me over her Thai food. Why didn’t she stop the affair after the afternoon we rode our bikes around the block. That afternoon I told her that she was going to find someone to love and be loved by; even when she insisted that no-one would love her as much as Alex did.
“Why does that matter, Ana? What matters is that you love passionately, intensely, sometimes to love is more fun than to be loved,” I tried to make her reason. But nothing.
“I can’t hurt him,” Ana had argued. “I mean, I love him, we have grown together. We’ve been together since I was 17 and he was 16. It’s been six years. I love him. He is my soul-mate. I can’t do that to him. He’s my life, Susan. He is my life.”

He is her life. It’s hard to understand it, but all those variables could be possible in this equation. The day we rode our bikes, Ana and Alex were boyfriend and girlfriend. I thought it wasn’t late to break-up the commitment. The day she called me from work and confessed me her unfaithfullness (and not just in her thoughts); they had gotten engaged already. I thought her time was running out and she needed to have courage to break it. The situation was unraveling, but she could gain back control of her life.
“But how do I break the engagement, Susan?” She had asked me over and over. No matter how good or bad my advises were, she never broke it.

Now, while we share my favorite Thai dessert, of doughnuts floating on a condensed milk lake, the question I ask her is:
“Would you rather marry and then get a divorce, than break-up this engagement now?”
“For what, Susan and for who? Richard is too old, anyways. He’s 48; I’m 24. There is no future for us. He’s married; he has kids. He called me today. And he said he was sorry for interrupting my life. He said he knew I had plans and a boyfriend and he shouldn’t keep on calling and getting into my business. He loves me, Ana. I know he does. And I love him, too, but we can’t be together. That’s just the way it is and there’s nothing we can do about it. It’s weird, ‘cause on the weekends I try to decompress. I try to fall in love with Alex. I cook for him. We spend the days together. We go and do everything together. Then, Monday comes, I see Richard at work again and he drives me crazy.”
After a couple minutes of silence, I reply to that:
“Maybe Richard is not your final destination, but just a catalyst, a wake-up call to push you into doing the drastic change you need to make in your life. I get the feeling that he’s not the one. He is just the signal to let you know that Alex isn’t the one either.”

Ana started to cry; she had hidden the fears and the guilt. They had been hidden, but there. I asked the waitress for tour bill and helped Ana walk out of the restaurant with as much dignity as she could manage.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Putting on a costume....

Some of us love to put on a costume. We love to pretend we are someone else, even if it's just for an hour or a day. I love to dress as a flapper, from the 1920s, the times when Coco Channel designed 'scandalous' clothes and women started cutting their hair really short. I've never worn anything like it, but I would also love to wear a high headdress and a voluminous dress, like the ones Marie Antoinette used to wear. I would love to pretend I was Jane from the jungle, instead of dressing all covered-up and conventional for a change. One big change for a change! I could dress as a bellydancer, not a fake one, but an Arabic belly-dancer, with colorful, silky fabrics and lots of bracelets. Dresses, customes, masquarades, they are all the same. Putting on a costume for Halloween is the residue of childhood fantasies. In my childhood idyll, I used to believe I was a princess and to dress the part, I used to make long dresses out of white sheets and old mosquiteros. Putting on a costume for Halloween now is a way of remembering how Sundays were like at my grandma's house. The days in which I used to be whomever I wanted and live wherever I wished. Regardless of the year in time I picked.

Acaso... (Poema)

¿Acaso te ríes?
O es tu sonrisa el febril relámpago,
que trás iluminar el firmamento retorna al pántano.
Para así encerrarse en su mundo,
prohibiendo que se filtre la luz en lo más profundo.
¿Acaso me deseas?
O me encuentras linda, sensual, fresca,
cual riachuelo que besa la llanura seca,
un agua caprichosa a diferencia de tu princesa,
la dama y reina perfecta en tu cabeza.
¿Acaso me besas?
O en mis labios las sombras del pasado,
se reflejan junto a las del rostro amado
y en mis besos descubres la añoranza,
del agua que zarpó a la mar, por no ser mansa.
Acaso me necesitas?
O llené inconcientemente tus vacíos,
vestí de sol inviernos de hielo frío.
y te rescaté del miedo de quedarte solo,
como playa sin olas, pirata sin oro.
¿Acaso te enamoraste?
O estabas solo cuando una puñalada,
de soledad y melancolía te atravesó el alma
y la razón premeditó al corazón,
acelerando tus sentidos en conmoción.

Acaso no tendré más acasos?
No renacerán las nubes de espanto, duda y fracaso.
Cuando al fin me fundas en tus brazos,
iluminando entonces todos y cada uno de mis ocasos.

Claude Monet pintó esta obra entre 1872 y 1873. Monet decía que hubiese querido nacer ciego y recobrar su vista después de un tiempo, para poder pintar lo que veía y no lo que conocía. Fue el título de este cuadro "Impression: Sunrise", el cual le dio el nombre al movimiento impresionista, formado por amigos, Pissarro, Caillebotte, Mary Cassatt (¿Cómo se habrá sentido Mary, la única pintora entre tantos hombres? Ella no dejaba de ser muy mujer, pintaba muchas madres cuidando a sus niños), Morisot, Renoir, Bazille y a veces venía con ellos Degas. A estos amigos les gustaba reunirse en pequeños restaurantes como Café Guerbois. A mis amigos y a mí nos gusta reunirnos en Starbucks. Eso sí, yo no sé pintar.

Tiempo estancado (Poema)

(Escribí este poema en doce grado, high school. Todavía recuerdo que lo escribí sentada en la clase de Mrs. Sanchez, mi maestra de español. Hoy, más o menos 4 años después, lo releo y como casi siempre me sucede con las relecturas de las cosas que escribí tiempo atrás, me acuerdo de otros yos. Me acuerdo de otro tiempo, el enamorado que tenía entonces, mis sueños apacibles y las mil musarañas de las que me encantaba colgarme para escapar de las clases y la realidad. Cuánto habré cambiado? No sé. Sé que veces no hay nada como buscar y encontrar poemas y escritos que creíamos perdidos. Entonces nos da mucha alegría, los sacamos del fondo olvidado de las gabetas y a veces, hasta los escribimos a máquina. Sin embargo, hay escritos como las cartas de amor o las de despedida, que pierden su encanto cuando se impersonalizan pasando a la computadora. Este poema no es uno de esos. )

Se quedó el libro abierto en la página quince,
con la pluma tirada a un costado
y otro libro de referencia que hube usado.
Y yo ya había soñado tanto, que los 3 años los creía vividos.
Pero no era así, mi mundo se había detenido.
Saliste tú por una puerta y por la otra la vida.
Ahora vivo en el eterno presente,
no hay futuro, pasado, ni presente participio.
Sólo momentos esquematizados,
cada uno igual al otro.
Vivo en este eterno ocaso,
instante enigmático y perdurable.
El sol no sale, pero aún no se ha ocultado.
La luna no llega, se refleja sobre el lago.

Me despierto y pudiera jurar que escribí algo.
Mas un libro, una pluma y el papel en blanco,
atestiguan lo contrario.
Debo haber escrito en sueños,
qué más da si lo imaginé, o en realidad ocurrió?
Si existes, si existo, o no existimos los dos.
Si somos entes de ficción
y en realidad lo que verdaderamente existe,
existe de los cuatro, sólo es El.
El amor.
Si no existo qué más da!
Si en mi vida no pasó nada antes de tu venida
y el reloj se detuvo tras tu partida.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

I had a moment on an ordinary day (biographical note)

Everything happens for a reason. I wasn't paying attention. The radio was on but I wasn't listening. I had just gotten out of class, tired, stressed, in a hurry to get to work, rush hour, traffic and rain. Lots of rain. The rain was pouring from above as if all the angels were crying, my grandma would have said. I didn't make a right turn. I kept on going by mistake.
When I realized I was going in the wrong direction, I turned into a shopping mall to make a left and head back onto I-95 South. Just 'cause I was distracted. Just 'cause I had kept on going mistakenly, I ended in front of Venetia Pizzería. "I should go into the pizzeria and eat. I'm hungry anyways. It's 3 something and I haven't had lunch," I told myself.
And I wondered, right then, how difficult was it for us to just stop, JUST STOP and sit still. Just stop and read slower. Just stop and dedicate half an hour to the act of eating. Or to any other act, for that matter, the act of sitting motionless and waiting for thoughts to come to mind. And if not thoughts, waiting for memories, colors, or just letting nothingness overcome the brain. That nothingness that always lacks the nothing aspect, 'cause there's always something brewing in our brains.
At least in my case, it has become harder to sit still, sleep longer, speak in a whisper, take time to look at window displays, or read the new books' titles on bookstores. How hard is it to focus in one activity and not think about something else, such as having to work, do homework, or go to the gym.....
I walked into the pizzería. I immediately felt the warmth of the place and the welcoming smell of baked bread and melted cheese. I had gotten wet from walking out of my car and into the restaurant, so the change in temperature felt good to my skin. All of a sudden, I was glad it was still raining and breezy outside, that way I could have the joy of sitting alone in an empty restaurant, while the rain was pouring.
"For here or to go?" The pizza baker asked me.
"For here," I answered.
I sat there. Enjoying the waiting. Enjoying my four cheese pizza when it arrived. Enjoying every second of each minute. Enjoying the silence, the cheese, the sound of the rain hitting the roofs and the wind blowing. Living the moment has become the most difficult task to accomplish.
When I walked back into the rain, I thought I would never regret having stopped.