The best thing that ever happened to my writing life was breaking my ankle. Painful, yes, but it bought me seven weeks of forced bed rest—kind of like a paid writer’s retreat, except for the part where I had to figure out how to get myself to the bathroom.
I’ve written in the margins of life since I was a college student selling cardigans at Lord & Taylor; a graduate student tutoring kindergarteners on the alphabet and prepping high-school seniors for their SATs; an adjunct with a five-class courseload across two campuses; and a late-twentysomething/early-thirtysomething “in marketing and editorial.” Lunch breaks bled into long nights, and long nights bled into weekends. All the while I was chafed raw: I had to eke out my passion in the hours between helping other people achieve their dreams—or at least get what they wanted.
This prolonged, uninterrupted time out of the office was the silver lining of a catastrophic injury.
There are no soul mates. Not in the traditional sense, at least. In my 20s someone told me that each person has not one but 30 soul mates walking the earth. (“Yes,” said a colleague, when I informed him of this, “and I’m trying to sleep with all of them.”) In fact, “soul mate” isn’t a pre-existing condition. It’s an earned title. They’re made over time.
this last year, has been belonging to an online writers group. There’s 7 of us. We each post about 150 words of our work on our designated day of the week. I post on Saturdays. This is what I posted today:
We got drunk on Havana Club, this fancy rum they have over there available only for tourists and those high in the government. We came home singing, drunk as skunks. I went to sleep in the clothes that I was wearing. My dad stayed with my grandmother. I had never seen him happier–except maybe the time after I graduated from Pratt. The next morning we drove west, from Havana to Pinar del Rio. That’s where we’re from. The strangest thing about this, is that when I saw the truck coming towards us, I didn’t have time to be afraid. I’m sure it was the same for my father. I was fooling around with my camera, and I remember my uncle, who was driving, saying: “look at this guy,” we looked up at the truck, he was trying to pass someone and he couldn’t get back into his lane. This main road in Cuba, the Carretera Central, was only two lanes, one going each way. I heard they gave the driver a ten year sentence. What a useless, stupid thing to do. Like the poor guy wasn’t already in jail, after what he did. He probably never felt free, after what happened. Me neither. . .I haven’t felt free since. . .
From a work in progress currently titled From Mountain Road to Easy Street, a brief passage:
I walked towards my neighborhood up the Fourteenth Street Viaduct, its steep angle rising towards Union City matching the increasing elevating effect the pot had on my mood, as I walked on. When I reached the traffic light at the top of the bridge I turned around to look at the island of Manhattan below me, the live version of a black and white photograph from the nineteen fifties, taken around the time I was born, pressed into my memory. The skyline had grown new skyscrapers since I had arrived, like the newer trees in a jungle, they had sprouted, changing the outline but the basic premise remained. She was lit up from the edge of the water to the highest penthouse, permanently awake, as alluring still as the first time I had seen her. On this night, my existence, with all of the unconquerable problems it owned, was dwarfed by the magnitude of the man-made landscape before me. . .
I took the photos of the New York skyline on the slideshow above over the last few years. These are just a few of the hundreds of images I’ve taken since arriving in Hudson County, New Jersey, in 1970. It’s impossible to ignore the view when you’re on this side of the Hudson. To some of us who, as kids, imagined living here, it’s the physical manifestation of dreams realized.
IN DECEMBER 2005 Antonio “Toño” Zúñiga, a young man who worked as a street vendor in Mexico City, was abducted by police and accused of a murder he didn’t commit. He was held without charge, and there was no physical evidence connecting him to the crime. He had no link to the victim, and no motive. Witnesses could testify he was working at the market and provide an airtight alibi for the time
For my good friend Andy Marino’s 60th birthday, his wife Dianne asked that his friends bring artistic presents to the celebration. There were gifts of songs, heart-felt testimonials, music, love and friendship.
I read from a work in progress, FROM MOUNTAIN ROAD TO EASY STREET, a novel I hope to complete soon.
Most of the people I write about in ESPERANZA FARM are composites of people I’ve met at some point in my life. A few are completely made up to fit a particular story-telling need while others are closer to their real life persona.
Reinaldo, a next door neighbor and confidant of the young protagonist, fits the latter group:
Reinaldo Garsa, who had lived in the United States for many years, was saying that an attack by the United States on Cuba could come any minute. People believed him when he said that the plane that flew low above the fields earlier that afternoon was an American spy plane. Reinaldo should have known, they said, because he had fought as a Sergeant in the American Army during the Korean War.
“Reinaldo” was my real-life neighbor. I remember the content of our frequent conversations, his very strong opinions about the Cuban government and other matters. I could also recall his descriptions of New York from the time in the forties and fifties when he made the city his home. His love of baseball is still fresh in my memory. But because I had not seen him in approximately forty years, his physical features were lost to me. It’s odd how one can remember almost all about a person from one’s past, except their face. That was until very recently, when I discovered the photo that accompanies this update.
Suddenly, “Reinaldo” came back to life and I realized, at the same time, where his love of baseball probably came from: he managed one of the baseball teams that traveled my province, Pinar del Rio, delighting Sunday fans. This was a detail I did not know about the character or about the person.
I’m considering slipping that detail — about him being a manager — into the final revision of the manuscript. It would add depth and context to the character. I also know it would please the person I knew.
“Reinaldo” is the man on the far right. Looking at the photograph, I concluded that he came to the ballpark straight from work. He was in such a hurry to get to the game that he didn’t have time to change. “Let’s get this damn ceremonial first pitch over,” I can imagine him thinking, “let’s play ball.”