When The Planets Align

There’s a moon, Mars and Venus configuration going on in the skies this week. If you look up near the moon, you’ll find a super bright star—Venus. But then, when you move a bit closer to the moon with a smaller, orange glow you’ll find Mars.

I have a tendency to look up as often as possible. To find where the sun is throughout the day, figure out where the the moon is peeking through and always trying to find a shooting star.

I’ve been doing this for as far back as I could remember, even taking a college course to be able to learn more about astronomy and eventually diving into astrology almost 10 years ago.

When I was little, my family had a small, super cushioned couch that I would pack with a backpack, several blankets and all my stuffed animals, and pretend we were in a rocket ship heading out to outer space. The couch was different shades of brown with wagons and trees patterns.

“Poosh!” I would yell, holding on to the pretend steering wheel, with a enormous universe before me.

***

The sun will always rise and set the same. After the winter solstice, you can expect the days to get longer again, the nights shorter, as nature begins to jump back into course. The seasons, tides and moon’s rotation remain consistent in what they do.

“I read somewhere that the moon affects everything from ocean tides to soy and plantations,” I told Luis. “So why can’t it also do something to us and our bodies?”

He didn’t reply back. But I think it somehow made sense to him. He usually stays quiet when he gets what I’m talking about. After almost two decades together, I’m pretty sure it’s what makes us work.

I honestly didn’t care if the moon physically did anything to me. For me it was enough that she’ll be full in a few days, then new again and that we can predict when an eclipse will happen even decades from now.

That consistency. The fact that we can rely on that rotation is what brings me comfort.

“And what about the other planets,” he said, sorting them out in his mind.

“They’re there too… they’re always there.” I said.

***

Luis lost his job a few days ago. Earlier today when the moon and planets were first showing, I pointed up to the sky where Venus was and playfully said, “That’s my homegirl right there.”

We were getting into the car to pick up the kids. He had just gotten back from the gym and looked tired. I wasn’t sure if he had been crying. I’m sure he wasn’t, but you never know.

He sat down, got comfortable in the seat and pulled down the window to take a peek.

“Where?” he asked, unsure of what the hell was I talking about now (I’m sure).

He then laughed, after seeing how this super bright thing and then glancing at me to see how serious I was: “I don’t think she likes you very much right now.”

Luis had picked up a bit from my Astro-talk over the years, and this was his way of telling me he’s sort of getting what I’m saying. I think he knew how sensual Venus is supposed to be, and that maybe calling her “home girl” was the best way to welcome her tonight.

“No, please—she loves me,” I said and he smiled back for what was probably the first time since it happened.

It was honestly the strangest conversation we’ve had. But talking about Venus at that moment as my homegirl and sign ruler, about the moon and the sky – I just knew I had to take him away from what was going on around us.

It wasn’t my spaceship-couch. But I still could imagine an invisible steering wheel and the enormous universe before me.

“Poosh!”

A Mom More Than Anything

I was part of an all-female, girl-power podcast early a few weeks ago.

The topic – of course, because it’s me – was parenting. The hosts of the show were all young women, none mothers and then the real invitee (who brought me along) was a new mom to a 9-month-old boy.

HEAR PODCAST HERE: Uptown Girls

I felt a bit lost, having already retold my parenting story to death for over a decade, but yet still excited to talk about it from the perspective of parenting Max, who (for all intent and purposes) is growing up as an only child and making me feel like I’m starting all over again. (My oldest is very immersed in teen-land with the nonstop drama, high school, friends and life.)

As the conversation started rolling, we talked about breaking the news to our parents, the relationship with our baby-daddies and other related drama. It was all good – and then the other guest said something that stuck out for me, but that I didn’t get to digest until I reheard the episode.

“…I’ve been a non-mom longer than I have been a mom…”

I know my roles as a woman, daughter, Latina and sister have always been intertwined with motherhood. It’s actually the one thing I often try to separate – with a lot of fail – in my life.

From the moment I found out I was becoming a mom, everyone always reminded me of the repercussions – friends stopped talking to me and adults scooped in to help me learn about this new, immense role.

It was only natural for me to develop into that, so I took to it the best I could. Often sacrificing the other pieces of me that still needed to grow up, while also – and more often than not – struggling hard to become this multidimensional person.

My mantra suddenly became: “Yes, I am a mom—but look at what else I can do.” As I made my way out into the world.

I’m the first to admit that I know very little about being a woman/woman in all her singleness. I didn’t date or go out a lot – even before having my daughter. I was, contrary to what folks like to think about young moms, a homebody to the core; always reading, writing, painting and already enrolled in one of the best universities in the country.

I’m still also with my kids’ father, who had grown up with me on this insane, lifelong adventure.
So for me, self-exploration as a woman was with and through these simple things I loved, and that included (of course) my daughter. None of my relationships were typical. Absolutely none. Nothing of me was spared when I became a mom.

Think about that for a second: 19-year-old, raising a child, while going to college, maintaining a relationship with her father and trying to build something for her future.

Yes – at nineteen with little to nothing to call my own – I was raising a child. The biggest thing I had of anything was a shoe collection that I accumulated by working at Aldo’s Shoes. I definitely put the 50 percent employee discount to work.

Years later, when the shoes no longer held up or new fashions rolled in, it hit me how badly I had used my money and I swore never to misspend like that again.

But back to relationships, because this is at the core of that podcast discussion.

I grew up with my daughter. All those things I loved doing, well I started doing them with her; we painted together, visited museums together, strolled parks, traveled, checked out restaurants – always together. When I met with friends, my daughter more than likely also tagged along, because I couldn’t afford a sitter or the thought of leaving her behind for too long bothered me.

I then became closer and better friends with mothers that had kids, and as the universe would have it, I met other moms that were my age. These became my playdates. I’d managed to combine my different worlds – yet again.

But it was a detriment. She developed relationships with my friends, and often herself experienced the drama I went through with them: the good and the bad. That meant if they were flaky, liars or selfish – because let’s remember, these were all still early twenty-somethings – she experienced it as well. I didn’t realize my friendships and other relationships (until much later in life) were too intertwined with my kid.

It wasn’t until my daughter was a little older, able to stay with folks for longer periods of time, that I was able to begin exploring things of my own. By then, I was in my mid- to late twenties, when others my age were looking to settle down (maybe) or already well into their partying ways.

For me, I was just getting started. Still a mom, but learning more about me. I broke up with her father only to get back together a few years later. I felt

There are times I think back on the young me – before becoming a mom – and wonder “What would she think?” or “What would she do?”

Because unlike a lot of people my age, my relationship to that cut-off part of myself is very strong. I admire that young girl so, so much more than I think anyone my age will ever admire themselves at 19.

I admire her for taking on this role, risking those relationships in the past, to build a different relationship with myself. I’m better for it. My family and friends are better for it.

So yet, most of my life has been as a mom, and I don’t know much of anything else – but it’s been with my flavor of it and my terms and for that I’m forever grateful for it.

Dog-Eared Books, Highlights and More

I write in my books. It’s what I did in college to survive, quite honestly, and I never stopped since. I highlighted, took notes on the side and post-it notes. Did everything possible to engage and have a personal connection to the book. It’s the close I’ll be to really interacting with the authors (some now long gone, of course).

I still have a lot of those books and appreciate the little notes I took to remind myself of things. It shows not just how I was thinking at the time, but reminds me of why and where I was mentally at that point in life. Why did I highlight that one point that now makes no sense, while missing that other that I now believe is so brilliant?

While in college, I read Soren Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling and Repetition for a morality  and humanities class. In a piece called “Eulogy on Abraham,” which was the same Biblical guy known as Abraham, I highlighted the text: “If such were the situation, if there were no sacred bond that knit humankind together…”

There was more – but this was all I got.

I then wrote (and this is probably the most interesting to me now, almost a decade later): “life does have meaning cause hose could it just be something done that’s it?”

I have no idea what this version of me is referring to, or if whether I’ve grasped the real meaning of the text, although I passed the class. So maybe I did?

Maybe. But that’s life. You grow and change and eventually your relationship to the book.

“I enjoy taking a beloved book I’ve read multiple times off my shelf and looking at the pages. I am reminded by the faint trace of folded corners where I’d stopped along the way. Some sections are bigger than others, meaning I never paused once while engrossed in those pages. It’s almost as if those corners serve as a scrapbook from my reading journey.”

Abbe Wright, In Defense of Dog-Earing

Highlight provides those glimpses into our thoughts from time to time. I sometime enjoy reading more my notes and highlights than I do of re-rereading the texts.

How do you approaching highlighting and marking your books?

#NaNoWriMo Warmups

I was debating whether to try #NaNoWriMo this year or not, but honestly, if you’re writing anyway (like me), why not join the energy that’s already flowing from this annual event. Plus, it’s free and also – I just learned recently – has branched out become a real nonprofit thing with programs for young writers, camps and lots of resources.

Although #NaNoWriMo has a prep calendar on their site also to help writers along the #NaNoWriMo journey, you can never have too many writing prompts, right?

So without further ado, here are your November writing prompts and ideas with memes and Pinterest pins to come soon.

  1. When was the last time you mourned someone or something – whether a loved one, relationship, etc.
  2. What are the lyrics to your favorite song? Why is it your favorite song?
  3. How much do you currently have saved – and how does that make you feel?
  4. What is the most or biggest pain you’ve ever felt?
  5. Log on to Facebook or Twitter, and write a story about the first person that appears on your timeline.
  6. Do you have a unique talent? When did you realize it was unique? If not – is there anything you wish to learn?
  7. Write a checklist for one of your characters. What are the must have items you want them to have or do?
  8. It’s #ElectionDay! When was the first time you voted? Who did you vote for and why?
  9. Happy Birthday to astrophysicist, astronomer and author, Carl Sagan! Write about everything you know about space. Everything. Even the made-up stuff.
  10. What did you really want to be when you grew up? How different are you from being that role now?
  11. Today is Veteran’s Day. Do you know a veteran? Interview them today and talk about what it means to them to be a veteran.
  12. How old are you? What does being that age really mean?
  13. Why do you write?
  14. Pick a ton – any town – where you think you’ll be able to make it. Check this list of “15 Best Cities for Creative 20-Somethings Other Than New York“.
  15. When was the last time you stepped out of your comfort zone and how did you feel afterwards?
  16. How far back into your family history can you go – and who is this first link to your family/tribe?
  17. What book classics and authors do you think are overrated?
  18. Revisit a character you created long ago. How will this character change if 5, 10, or 20 years older?
  19. Pick a picture and write about what you see, how you feel and so on.
  20. Go back in time and write about that point in history.
  21. What is the “1” thing you can’t live without? When did you first acquired this thing?
  22. How old do you think you’ll be when you pass away?
  23. When was the last time you cheated?
  24. It’s Thanksgiving. Write a letter of thanks to your loved ones.
  25. Society shifts into holiday gear around this time. Write about a society that’s shifted by holidays – a-la-1984.
  26. Did you ever believe in Santa Claus? Why or why not? Write about your holidays as a kid?
  27. What has been your biggest lost?
  28. What was your first job?
  29. The year is almost up – what’s your biggest accomplishment so far? Your biggest disappointment?
  30. Happy Birthday to author, Mark Twain! What is your favorite Twain piece? Rewrite some of his work to get your writing mojo started today.

Between Worlds on Halloween

I tend to get nostalgic around this time of the year. While everyone is celebrating, buying and eating candy, or coming up with great costume ideas and events, I’m simply waiting.

They say Halloween is the time of year when the dead is allowed to roam until winter sets in, visiting loved ones. It’s considered the thinning of the veil between the worlds. So I wait, to see if I’m worthy of one of those visits.

If this is true, I say, I’ve lost a few that I wouldn’t mind connecting with again. A few I long to see and talk to, who have already made their way into my writing and prose.

My mother-in-law passed away almost seven years ago. But if you ask me, it feels like Angela is always near. Although I’ve never dreamt of her, I think of her often, wondering if she’s able to really see from the other side. “Do you see us, Angela? You were right about just hanging on.” I wonder if she’s had a hand in keeping our love hold for so long.

She passed away after suffering several strokes. The last time I saw her, she was tied-up to a machine and unable to speak. I don’t really remember our last conversation. The second to last stroke shut her down almost indefinitely. But her last one – which she had quietly, alone in a nursing home in the Bronx – destroyed her brain. I ran to the hospital while Luis worked. He would meet me there later. One of Angela’s neighbor arrived before he did and stayed around to talk. But as soon as he got there, several doctors approached us, with some looking like they were just starting that day. They sent the newer one – with a thick Indian accent – to break down the news for us. “Over 50 percent of her brain is not working…” He said something else about how there was nothing else they could do, I think. Or maybe it was me who asked him. I’m not sure. Luis was there listening as well, except the words weren’t making sense to him. “What did he say? What does that mean?” I stared back blankly and before I knew he, he was hanging on to my shoulders. The neighbor, who understood very little English, asked me as well – her big eyes holding fast to the tears, “Que pasa? Que pasa?” I nodded.

Analia passed away a few months later. I met Analia years before she got cancer, when I interned for a trade publication that later hired me full-time as an assistant editor. She worked for the events department. Although our offices were far apart, we hit it off immediately, she would hang out often with my daughter, eat breakfast with my mom, visit family with me in Rhode Island. Her calm, all-knowing demeanor grounded my fast, sporadic energy. It was weird, I later thought when I started learning more about astrology, since she was an Aries and I the Taurus.

She moved to Canada a few years before she passed, shortly after getting diagnosed with cancer. She wanted to be closer to her family – her two siblings. I just thought she wanted to be home. We remained connected only through Facebook; probably my biggest regret. Even the last dream I had with her – about a month and a half before she passed away – I noted on Facebook.

Thinking of you… Posted this on Alicia’s wall too cause I had a dream that we were working in Lockwood (still). It was actually a very nice one…

I wish I could remember more details about the dream. I wonder what she would’ve said about it. She never replied back. I think she was too sick by then. I then decided to email her a week before she passed. Telling her how much I missed her and that another friend and I were planning on visiting her soon. I wanted her to hold on for that. I don’t know if she ever read it.

Then there was my Nena, who died five years ago, and is probably the most painful lost in my adult life yet. The last time I spoke to her, I did most of the talking, because she was comatose and unable to talk back. Although had suffered several strokes, which had left her bedridden far away in her daughter’s home in the Dominican Republic, she hummed in excitement when we spoke. She knew who I was, I thought.

Nena helped my mom raise me. I would often stay with her overnight. It was strange, or something made for a TV-sitcom: a school-aged child always wanting to be with a 60-something-year-old aunt. I still remember those days, because it was mostly spent us drinking coffee and watching novelas. When she wasn’t watching TV, she was admiring herself in her small handheld mirror or talking on the phone. At night, she would spend hours praying in quick whispers for what I assumed was everyone in the family. I would watch her from under the covers, the glare of her night clock beaming sharply against her face and beads. She almost always caught me though. “Acuéstate muchachita,” she would say. “Después mañana no te vas a querer levantar.”

Is there someone you wish you could dream about, have a conversation with or touch again?

Relentless Files — Week 42

“I wonder why it’s so hard for me to acknowledge myself. To love myself enough to say: Look at what you’ve done. Be proud. Own it. You did that. You.”

Vanessa Martir's Blog

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*An essay a week in 2016*

We all want to be seen. Every single one of us. Ad there’s nothing wrong with that. Absolutely nothing.

***

There is probably no better or more reliable measure of whether a woman has spent time in ugly duckling status at some point or all throughout her life than her inability to digest a sincere compliment. Although it could be a matter of modesty, or could be attributed to shyness—although too many serious wounds are carelessly written off as “nothing but shyness”—more often a compliment is stuttered around because it sets up an automatic and unpleasant dialogue in the woman’s mind.

If you say how lovely she is, or how beautiful her art is, or compliment anything else her soul took part in, inspired, or suffused, something in her mind says she is undeserving and you, the complimentor are an idiot for thinking such…

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You Always End Up Where You Need to Be

I’m writing this from our new apartment in Riverdale. We live right across from Van Cortlandt Park. Not only one of the most beautiful green spaces in New York City, but also – and we’re finding this out now – quietest. The only sounds we often hear are cars driving along Broadway, the occasional sirens or trucks and crickets. That’s it.

It’s a far cry from Northern Manhattan, where we lived most our lives (for Luis it’s been his entire life) and where we thought our kids were going to grow up, too.

When we first moved out here, we were scared, already plotting a way to sell our place and move back home.

“We’ll do two year – tops,” I told Luis, already skimming Zillow and Trulia for apartments near our old place again. Luis nodded in agreement. He more than anyone – at first – didn’t give up on that dream.

I, on the other hand, struggled with what was it that we were leaving behind. Yes, our worn out dream of our kids growing up where we did, but other than that – what else was there? Our old hangout spots were gone (more on this later), along with several longtime friends and some of our most loved ones. Although my mom and sister-in-law still live nearby, my mother-in-law passed away several years ago, and Luis’ other siblings were dispersed and tending to their own families. Even my best friend, who introduced us and lived in our neighborhood way before me, had left over two decades before. She never looked back.

Maybe we should do the same?

Despite physically living in Inwood, we were tired of so much of what was going on – the high rents, noise, landlords. Plus, our family was growing fast. Prior to moving, we spend over three years looking for a place in Inwood. Three years. Everything was either too expensive or too small, and nothing was ever in between.

So we did what a lot of people in our shoes are doing these days – and moved to the Bronx.

We found our home rather unexpectedly. We made an offer on one place nearby in Riverdale, but were shot down after a brief negotiation round. We were devastated. Three years of looking in Inwood, plus a shot down offer makes for a desperate situation. We were taking turns seeing new up to four apartments each week. “The next place one of us sees – that we like – we make the offer. It doesn’t matter if the other person doesn’t see it.”

It sounded crazy, and fortunately I’m with a man that supports and actually loves my crazy, so we went with the plan assuming that the quicker we jumped on a place the higher our chances.

Well, it worked for us.

Luis saw our apartment early January last year and made an offer. He called me quickly. “I really like this one for us,” he said. “You think I’ll like it?” I said, feeling crazy when I asked. “I think so,” he replied. “I already know where you can put your desk to write.”

“So make an offer,” I said. “I already did,” he said.

We closed nine to ten months later (passed the board review with flying colors) – and that was when I first saw our home.

I was so nervous prior and convinced seeing it before closing would jinx the process somehow. I trusted that Luis knew me well enough to pick a home that defined us and my working corner.

When we closed, signed all paperwork and got the keys, we literally sped to our new home. “You ready?” he asked. I took a deep breath: “Yes.”

Boy – did Luis deliver. It needed a few repairs, but the layout and yes – the corner he picked for my desk – were perfect. We completely moved in several months later, after painting, furnishing the space and the kids wrapped up school.

My desk window overlooks our neighbor’s terrace, surrounded with plants and art – very much how our terrace is evolving with my mini garden. The other neighbor below has colorful lights and candles draped along the window and a beautiful outdoor patio set. Another neighbor’s window has a Buddha statue with some other wooden figures, similar to the crystals and globes I have looking out of our window.

Our neighbors – I now see – are truly a reflection of where we are now in life. I could glance across and notice so many similar touches to their terrace and homes as ours.

These days, with months decorating and bringing warmth to our home, we don’t go back as often. We’re embracing a different future ahead; one that’s slowly really becoming where we need to be. Sort of. Maybe. I still haven’t unsubscribed to Trulia and Zillow yet.