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


*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.

Taking Inventory of the Year

I always count down the remaining months of the year after the school-year for the kids begins.

With less than a handful of holidays left, the days run down quickly and busily; that before you know it, you’re counting down to the new year.

I realized shortly after my son’s birthday that since before his birth, I hadn’t done much of what I wanted, and although I promised myself I would “pick up where I left off” (whatever that means), I haven’t picked up much of anything. I’ve barely picked up my ass to exercise.

So I did what any ambitious, crazy woman would do – and signed up for an accountability project a friend created.

(You know that whole: “Show me your friends and I’ll tell you who you are…” I take that very seriously and even try to emphasize that with my true-Libra teen, who is constantly making “friends” left and right, yet often forget their names.)

The accountability project asked that a group of us – approximately 5 women – select a series of goals that we want to complete by the end of the year.

I picked several items that I’ve sort of been working, or mostly pushing further back down the pipeline on my list. The first – which is the easiest, yet most pressing – is that I create a timeline for a story, brainstorm topics for it and do the research for a story, which I will then submit to an MFA program.

It sounds simple enough, except that I’m very scared – of not doing it.

Because if I can’t do it now, then when and why hold off much longer? And those are questions I don’t really have an answer to, and I don’t want my 75-year-old self to look back on this point now and continue wondering the same.

So the pressure and goal-crushing is on, friends. Wish me luck!

Writing Prompt: Do you have any writing goals you want to complete before the end of the year? What’s stopping you?

Don’t Forget the Music

“She plugged the alarm-clock radio, that once belonged to her husband, into an old outlet inside her mom’s old kitchen and merged the memories to an old Juan Luis Guerra tune. Who would’ve thought; it was the perfect melody.”

I’ve been thinking about this character for a long time, but very few things made her real to me, until I wrote listening to Juan Luis Guerra’s “Ojalá Que Llueva Café.”

It could’ve been the thought of rain, coffee, poverty – or the sweet trumpets that carried his words throughout the song.

Whatever it was, she suddenly appeared in a warm yellow, knee-length cotton nightgown, as if she’d been waiting all along to be asked to dance. There she was, this half-spirited mom of three, ready to start anew in her homeland. Yes, her husband had passed away, but she was a dancer, I thought. Or at least had always wanted to be. Like me, she became her best self with music and dancing.

Her hair was clipped back, except for a few frizzed curls tugged behind her ears. She hasn’t washed her hair in days, because she was reserving the warm water for her kids, who still hadn’t gotten used to the campo’s quick showers. It would be months, she thought – maybe years – before they could thank her for this. She hoped.

But at that moment, the images of aguacero de yuca y té, that Juan Luis Guerra was singing about, made her know they would.

Although I listen to music all the time while writing, often jazz and instrumental or ballads to slow down my thinking process (and dive into certain angles of my writing with the pace of songs), I think my character was just ready to get up and dance this time around.

Maybe she loved this particular caribbean tune, I thought, inside her now caribbean setting, which blended beautifully with memories of my own upbringing (summer in D.R.). She must have thought, “Now you’re getting me,” after I wrote about how her husband passed and she felt the need to return to something familiar to her, and how nothing felt quite as natural as her own mothering back in the country.

I first thought of this storyline about four years ago, before Max, when I wanted to move to the Dominican Republic. I thought of my mom, and how different her life would’ve played out, had she moved back after divorcing my dad. She was a teacher there and more likely to find a fulfilling life. But her new dreams were here, it seemed – the possibilities in New York were more enchanting. I wanted to move after struggling to find our own place, with the rising cost of rents in New York City, it seemed impossible. I walked by a realtor space that had a flier for homes in Santo Domingo for $40K. It was four times less than what we were willing to pay for a place here, plus promise of a yearlong summer. It struck me how I think of “returning home” to a place I only visited during the summer; but I wanted to explore that more through a different character.

The storyline disappeared for me as we settled with a newborn now toddler, only to return last year when a friend packed her stuff and moved her family to the motherland. I don’t know the specifics to my friend’s move, but realized then that the heart of that story and character was still somehow beating for an escape.

I’m still plugging away, discovering what else there is to her. Discovering more ways to continue writing her story. In the meantime, here’s a bit I found about the roots of our music, published over two decades ago. 

[PROMPT: Is music instrumental in your writing process?]

“African rhythms are the heart of all Caribbean music. Almost every island culture has a root music that is almost unchanged from its original African source. In Cuba it’s the music of the African religion ‘santeria’; in Haiti it’s ‘voodoo’ music; in Trinidad it’s called ‘Shango.’ Over the past 400 years, African musical roots have intertwined with European, Native American and even Asian traditions. Today’s Caribbean music is diverse-constantly changing and often confusing.” | Black Enterprise, May 1991