Adventures in Vermont

 I have fallen deeply and irrevocably in love with Vermont.  We came home today and although I was eager to go get back to Brookline, because, it’s well…home,  I was also crestfallen to leave.

We’ve enjoyed the kind of slow pace I knew I wanted but had no idea how much I truly needed.  I’ve sat quietly without expecting things to work a certain way, watched the girls also connect to a sense of calm. The log cabin we called home is tucked in a serene spot off a verdant windy road that barely gets any traffic. We were surrounded by trees and the sound of happy birds. It rained non-stop since we arrived, but somehow every morning we got a slight reprieve and we managed to get out with enough time to hit the roads and do some low-key exploration. Always in the background coming into the cabin, from every window, we enjoyed the sound of a spectacular waterfall.

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I had simple goals on day 1. Write, read, meditate, and plan my calendar. I had secondary aims of creating syllabi for my fall classes and going through a mountain of paperwork that weighs my bag every single day.

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Writing the entries on the blog have sparked the writing. I struggle with identifying as a writer and generating continuous material, so writing a blog entry is a big boost. Often in my entries, the prose is clunky and choppy but I enjoy interweaving images which are so much fun for me to take and at times procure. It’s a state of being and takes me a while to live in that writer’s space.

Here’s the punchline: I didn’t check everything off my list but I didn’t care. Everything I didn’t do on my list means that I managed to sneak something else that brought me closer to my own disheveled brain and to my family.

 

Toolkit

A client recommended Headspace as a primer to meditation.  One of their taglines is:”It only takes a few minutes to change the rest of your day.”

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I downloaded the app a couple of months ago but only had time to try it during the Vermont week. Easy!  Nice and super revelatory process for me.  I’ll talk a bit more about my experience with Headspace on another post.

 

I had been chomping at the bits to get my mechanical keyboard from Lofree and it was a blast to be perched up in that sunny cabin sitting in a cozy studio clicking away on the keyboard. I I brought it to the coworking space, people might throw paperclips at me, but I was on such a roll in my retro typing that it made me want a cigarette.

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We packed for rugged- living. Think bikes, rain boots, big beach towels, food and anti-bug stuff. These Ikea BRODERLIG bags were amazing for trunk organization and toting stuff about.

The FRAKTA long duffle bags in the indistinguishable Ikea blue was the ultimate clothing carryall. The DIMPA became our dirty clothes hamper and wet towel totes.

That’s it for now. I have a ton more to share about surprising places we discovered in Vermont. All I can say is that I am already planning our next visit.

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I Want my Mommy

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One of the other many reasons why I dislike the month of June, is because on June 25th my mother was born. A month and some days later in July of 2003, mom died  due to complications of colon cancer. Instead of celebrating such a day, I am back reliving all the stages of grief in one sitting.

Even years after she died, I’d pick up the phone to give her a call. It was an absentminded gesture, muscle memory really, from talking to her almost every day of my adult life. But on the 25th, I miss her differently. I call up anger and regret and find it hard to see any silver lining or hidden blessing. I remember times that I upset her, hurt her deeply, while seeing the surprise in her eyes that I “the diplomat” was the one inflicting the injury. Mom never said a word back to me. Up to this day, even typing these memories. I feel a sense of shame that doesn’t wash all of the times when I showed her how much I loved and admired her.

Daily I miss her in the most primal of ways, as if from my “lizard brain,” as a friend likes to say. I want mom here just as my girls want me: To find things, to vent, to confide in, to grab that mug they are too lazy to get, to chat and laugh, to share some chisme and for dancing.

Regret is a complicated word. “I regret to inform you,” never comes with good news. “Regrets only” means someone doesn’t really want you there; they expect some sort of turnover. “Send my regrets” means you’re too chickenshit to engage in direct communication. “Live your life without regrets” could mean all that carpe diem stuff, but also that you’re a selfish idiot who won’t say sorry or please and thank you.

So even when I had no control over my mother’s death, I am filled with regret for my daughter’s life without their vivacious grandmother. I regret that they won’t benefit from the impressive boyfriend bullshit detector she was. “Why do you always have to date all those weirdos?” She was however respectful and quick to say “Get over it, live your life, that’s the best revenge.” I am sure she lived her life with regrets, but she was starting to make up for most. She traveled, supported her daughters always and went back to school to get an education that ultimately landed her a dream job. She was the most deserving woman of anything good who I have ever met. Stupid cancer.

I don’t miss mom at night, like when kids want to cuddle. She wasn’t a cuddling mother. I want her like a lost kid in a busy international airport without knowing what to do next. I don’t want a cuddle, or bedtime story, or there, there.  I want to be found. I just want my mommy.

Nature: Nature’s Pause Button

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A few weeks ago a friend and his wife invited my husband and me to a tour of the Frederick Olmsted House in Brookline. We hadn’t seen this couple in a long time so it was nice to reconnect. We scored on getting a park ranger who knows his stuff and is passionate about his job.  Before touring the home of the “the founder of American landscape architecture,” our ranger breaks down the philosophy behind Olmsted’s interest in designing outdoor spaces. Olmsted’s vision for reducing city living stress in the presence of nature resonates instantly.  Listening to ideas, which extend to everyone’s access to this communication with nature, reflect civic and political implications of designing inclusive physical spaces for all.  Central Park was Olmsted’s first major example of his vision but his touch expands to many other local green mere miles around where I live.

The house is impressive, and the archival work the National Historic Park Service is doing makes Olmsted’s work continue to live beyond the divisive times we’re currently experiencing. IMG_4446

 

But I buried the lede.  It’s about nature. Visiting the historic park reaffirmed an uneasiness I’ve been having. I wanted to hit a giant pause. In my mind I designed a simple button, like the ones they have at Staples, that say “Easy.” Instead, my button would have a huge “Pause” icon on it. I’d press it and the whole world would freeze, kind of like in the Matrix. I just wanted a moment to get perspective and to hear an uninterrupted thought that helped me look forward. It had been a hellacious 3 years of non-stop life junk and I wanted a lifeline.

When a friend, who needed to leave her cabin in Vermont for a week, offered her home to us to use in her absence,  I instantly said yes before looking at our calendar. I had missed out on the offer in previous years, because June happens to be a jerk of a month. It’s constantly battling me with its ultra-scheduling kung-fu and I alway lose. This time though, I made it work.

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I’ve traveled to incredible places in my life, but I have to be honest with you here: I’ve never been so excited about any vacation before.  When my friend, also a writer, described her log cabin in the woods, the land around it and – wait for it… a waterfall in the back yard – I knew I’d found my pause button. When I say waterfall, I am not talking Koi-pond waterfall. I mean, a nature-built-it type of beauty that soothes any brain and boy did my poor brain need soothing.

 

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I packed every book I could imagine would fit into one tote. All of the titles, half started, not started, not looked at, ordered but not thought about in a couple of years or used as a coffee cup coaster instead, are here with me now.  I have simple goals for this vacation: write something, read something, meditate using one of the many meditation apps I’ve download so far, and enjoy downtime with my family. So far so good.

On my second day here, I am writing this post. Not too bad! I’ve taken a long drive with my husband in search of perfect tomatoes on a roadside farm stand, but no luck there. Somehow the farms were all closed. We wound up instead at a cool health food store in Montpelier and got them there. During our long ride with our windows open, looking at the expanse of land, my breathing opened up and softened. We stopped off to the side of the road and picked up bunches of Queen Anne’s lace and placed them gently between my husband and me. He kept saying how happy I seemed. I was and I am. Thanks, nature.

 

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I grew up in an island where there’s no shortage of communing with nature. Ocean breeze, bright night skies dotted with clear stars, salt water, exotic plants and fruits, were just every day of the week occurrences.  People say that Dominicans are on “island time” which is true. I wonder if it’s because they live around so much natural beauty there might never be a need to press pause.

 

 

Toolkit

Links & things for chaos prevention

These old faithfuls kept me somewhat sane during AWP17:

 

 

 

 

 

  1. A portable charger. Ha! So long suckers who have to fight for outlets in every corner of the conference venue. I use this one to keep me juiced up.
  2. LOQI bags because I always pick up too many things at the Bookfair
  3. This functional and small new backpack by Everlane. Big enough for my MacBook Air, and deep enough for some bulky things, even lightweight sneakers.  I chose white and haven’t washed the yuck I’ve managed to spill over it, but I am confident it will clean easily.
  4.  Mavala lip balm– For years I have hoarded extras because I am afraid that one day I’ll wake up and someone will discontinue this luxurious, rich smelling, perfect balm. Don’t do it Mavala.

 

 

 

  1. Best travel piece all around. Period.  By Crane & Lion : It’s a scarf, a wrap cardigan a shawl, it fits everywhere and I own 3! Though C&L specialize in gorgeous and functional workout clothing, their lifestyle pieces are yum.
  2.  I learned my lesson carrying around large surface notebooks to scrawl, write, and doodle. Once in a workshop a woman next to me remarked on how much she liked the way I was taking notes. I need space and room to spread my thoughts people! However, I wound up carrying too many things, my bags multiplied and all of them were too heavy to carry around comfortably. For this #AWP17 I grabbed myself some lightweight compact yet spacious smaller notebooks by Semikolon. Check them out!  A gorgeous site with tempting options. Thank goodness for Google Translate.

 

Sustenance

Anyone who knows me will tell you I am big on snacks and I like them to be pretty. Here are some of the stops I made:

Pain Quotidien: I’ve been to the ones in Ct, NYC and was happily surprised that they were around the corner from my hotel in D.C. New faves from their winter menu: Steamed ginger lemon drink I picked up a large one of these every morning on the way in to the conference and a Daily Blend on the way back. Pick up the refreshing cups of natural juices and whole fruits and veggies and bring them up to the counter for an on-the-spot-blend.

 

 

When I tweeted out that the lines were worth it, I wasn’t kidding. These are nice folks and the coffee is worth the long line. Writer in one place gravitate towards caffeine.

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Writers and caffeine

Compass Coffee– Incredible smooth coffee and nice people

 

They make a great Cortadito and it’s almost as good as the one my friends in Brookline’s 4-A make it.

 

  1.  All over great screen and eyeglass  electronics cleaning cloth by Real Simple. I make a mess out of my eyeglasses all the time and this cloth is my savior. Since it’s big enough for my laptop screen too, my eyes and electronics are smudge-free.
  2. Muji Gel Pens- Muji has my heart in every single curated object they carry. I have too many colors of this pen but enjoy them all the same.

 

 

AWP17

I won’t lie. I wasn’t too eager about going to D.C. for the writers’ conference this past February. I had whiplash after November, and hadn’t processed all of the stages of grief. I spent very few days in denial, not that recall if fear is part of the stages, but I will admit to being afraid and since I am not a thrill-seeker, I don’t do well with uncertainty.

 

I enjoy going to AWP for all of the right writerly reasons. I like the community, the workshops, the engaging talks and if I’m lucky I see old friends and make new ones. Normally, I wait too long to make reservations, the hotels are all sold out but this past year, I acted quickly. The conference hotel option was gone but I managed to score a deal in a nearby hotel on Embassy Row.

I unpacked my bags,  got organized and decided to let D.C wash over me without any orange crumbs and to make the most out the conference.  It turns out that AWP soothed my uncertainty  and I had a blast.

 

Highlights

Lodging

Hotel: The Fairfax hotel on embassy row: Not too close to the venue, but the price was right, the hotel room super big and the metro ride was super easy. My stop was in  Chinatown which was super vibrant at all hours

 

BTW- What I vowed to never do again: Rely on Apple’s maps! Having said that, I also vowed to spend less time trusting any map other than a paper map. I walk way too fast and sometimes the corrective response of the map doesn’t go as quickly as I want it to. Next time I am grabbing one of these crumpled maps

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Sessions

Here is a common problem for me: Cool sessions happening at the same time.  Since I haven’t figured out how split myself in half, I normally pick my top 2 and go to my first choice. If for some reason the first one doesn’t work out the way I thought it would, I duck out quietly and make my way to choice number 2.  I’m mentioning my favorite ones.

Solo en Español

Wow! how it gave my heart alegria to hear only Spanish read in the literary form. The essay read by Lupita Vargas-Strathman, about identity, language and place,  was nicely relevant during this political climate.  Right before the conference I watched a series based Sor Juana Ines on Netflix . I was especially inspired and still in my mother tongue’s language embrace when I sat in the audience for this session. When I was younger I read  Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz’s poetry only to have the memory languish with the sediment layers of my daily english speaking life. Guess what I have on my endless to read book pile? I am going to read her plays

 

The panel’s readings and conversations unearthed for me Spanish words and terms that were not permanently lost by any means,  but suppressed.

Solo en Español: An All-Spanish Reading and Craft Discussion. (, , , ) This reading and craft discussion celebrates work of the Spanish-language, multi-genre anthology, Corazon y Una Lengua Peregrina. It features work by Latino Writers Collective members living in the Midwest who have roots across the Americas and Spain. Esta lectura y discusión celebra el trabajo de la antología en Español y múltiples géneros, Corazon y Una Lengua Peregrina. Nosotros presenta la letra de miembros del Colectivo de Escritores Latinos con raíces a través de las Américas y Espana

 

Powerhouse Conversation

Reading and Conversation with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Ta-Nehisi Coates, Sponsored by the Authors Guild.

I had missed the opportunity to hear Ta-Nehisi Coates in person, when a Harvard conference (Universities and Slavery: Bound by History) booked up quickly. I taught his book and his essay A Case for Reparations, last semester and was motivated to join a packed house (no hyperbole) for this important dialogue. I managed to get in before the previous session ended and caught the tail end of the Emma Traub and Ann Pachett session so I secured a seat and got to hear a delightful conversation about independent bookstores and advice on reading and writing characters.  I had a great seat, and as the venue filled out and more people tried to come in I was relieved to stay put. The reading by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was amazing and I seem to be the only person in the country who hasn’t read Americanah. So, guess what’s waiting on my endless to-read- book- pile?

 

Writing the Dual Self

Every once in a while you happen on a session where you find yourself saying “get out of my head!” over and over. This was one of these sessions. Writing about self when so much of the outside world has expectations of who you should be has been a specific challenge for me. Once, in AWP Boston I attended a session of writing across diasporas. At the time, although the authors were all East-European I latched on to the vocabulary and language of the experiences of those, who like me, call other countries home.  This session had solutions and honest perspectives. In this panel all the speakers were intuitive and articulate. Props to Sonya Larson from Grub St. who makes everything she touches radiate pleasant clarity.

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So the photo isn’t great folks

Writing the Dual Self: Opening Spaces for Hybrid Identities . (, , , , ) Writers with dual ethnicities or hybrid backgrounds often struggle to find ways to tell a nuanced story of identity and community. Five writers with diverse racial, ethnic, and gender identities share experiences of the struggle and strategies for forging a space for the dual, hyphenated, multiple self—one that does justice both to our art and our ancestors, working through the liberatory possibilities of writing and to resist the urge—or to market’s demand—to self-stereotype.

On essays

The Assay Journal has a nice comprehensive recap of the session. I am particularly interested in the form of the speculative Essay because of it’s open-ended form. The ideas of a speculative essay, far from being wavering, ask pertinent questions and invites the reader to inquire along with the writer. Just like a solid essay in the speculative form, the session peered into questions of author’s responsibility for voice and for truth, ideas of self and belonging through Emerson and Thoreau’s writing, origins and intent of the essay and impressions of the form. I came out of the session with a nice reading list, and while trying to find the subterranean location for the session,  met the super-cool author Michael Tager.

 

The Speculative Essay

Many essayists have employed speculation throughout the form’s history, relying wholly on speculation (relating nothing verifiable) rather than engaging “fact.” Virginia Woolf’s “Death of a Moth,” for example, does not require a verifiable moth to achieve its power. But what are the limits to speculation? Must essayists always signal their speculative intentions? Can an essayist delve into the traditional realm of the fiction writer, overturning traditional notions of point of view in the essay?

Immigrant perspectives

An important panel exploring the responsibilities and perspectives from the immigrant writer’s voice and experiences. The timeliness of the session in the midst of conversations about the freshly instituted travel-ban gave the panelists plenty to discuss.

Immigration: Cultural Binding, Creative Chaos, and the Survival of International Writers

How does immigration affect a writer’s creative pursuit in another country? There are many success stories of immigrant writers, but there is yet another side of their stories to tell their challenges after migrating to another country, either by choice or in an event that forces a migration. Immigration not only results in binding of cultures, but also leads to a creative chaos in want of proper opportunities, recognition, and an environment to be creative and productive. A much-needed debate!

Also

Around Bookfair

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Randos

 

About the pieces in the Convention Center by artist Donald Lipski

Also

The Latino X Caucus Meeting-  Check out the FB page. The Latino X Caucus continues to develop and expand. New initiatives, ideas and focus need your help. Get involved!

Off site

Wonderful authors reading great work  but none best than my dear amigote and talented  Chicano Noir writer Ito Romo. His reading was the most entertaining and engaging I’ve seen-ever- . Seriously. Check out his exceptional work.
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Join the editorial staffs of Grist and Iron Horse Literary Review as they present several of their recent contributors at the 2017 AWP Conference. The Mulebone offers regional Southern-American food with craft cocktails. Their appetizers: corn maque choux, Texas shrimp & buttermilk biscuit, pickled fried green tomatoes, and the “script board” with Virginia ham, biscuits, deviled egg, pickled veggies, and pimento cheese.

Writers Resist

Candlelight vigil in front of the Whitehouse:
Excellent recap here from Ivoh.org
I was glad to be there, a brief moment standing on my tiptoes trying to get a glimpse at the speakers. I couldn’t see well, but the signs, the tempo of the voices and the candlelight reaffirmed messages of love, determination and the beauty of words.

 

Article in Publishers Weekly

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Just planning ahead

Future Conferences

So that’s it until we meet again in AWP18. I think we’re going to a sunnier spot.

Tampa, Florida

  • March 7 – 10, 2018 | Tampa Convention Center & Marriott Tampa Waterside

Portland, Oregon

  • March 27 – 30, 2019 | Oregon Convention Center

San Antonio, Texas (Hooray!)

  • March 4 – 7, 2020 | Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center

Kansas City, Missouri

  • March 3 – 6, 2021 | Kansas City Convention Center

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

  • March 23 – 26, 2022 | Pennsylvania Convention Center

 

 

Prompt Writing Nights

A nice habit to develop.

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The second PWN was simple and effective. We got down to business quickly and shared our work effortlessly. What amazed me the most is how out of practice I am. I am creaky and achy. All of the writing I have been doing has been all in my head. My material has been trapped, forgotten, swept away, and ignored. I am hungry for more opportunities to write and these PWN’s are just the thing.

Word prompts we used:

  1. Garbage
  2. Basement
  3. Stung
  4. Call me

The prompts  came from from Lynda Barry’s explosively cool inspiration-source book   What it is.

Art of the Yearly Birthday Dinner

The perks of having lovely friends who like you even when you don’t stay in touch that often.

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When Mr. Belm emails out a ‘save- the- date’ I get giddy that we’re still on the list. The Belms were in my husband’s life before they were in mine but it only took me meeting them once to understand their tight connection. As much as we like one one another somehow we only see each other once a year during Mrs. Belm’s birthday dinner.  We’d like to see them more often but being on the invite list, regardless of our lack of communication, almost makes up for being out of touch.

Mr. Belm is an accomplished chef. He’s mastered the elegant precision of the basics and embarked in the truly experimental and creative. Mr. Belm doesn’t just cook us dinner,  he choreographs a stunning feast to celebrate his wife. I imagine that the preparation starts early on with deliberate planning and since he’s a scientist; some kind of experimentation. It was during one of these dinners when I first learned about (and tasted) molecular gastronomy and the precise alchemy of Sous Vide.

On the evening of the dinner when I come into Chez Belm, I head straight to the kitchen to hug the chef and scan around for unexpected equipment (hint: there’s usually a somewhat unrecognizable gizmo). There’s always a neat assembly setup and light conversation. Some of us go to the living room for Prosecco, and a damn good cheese platter until it is time to eat. As we sit down to the first course Mr.Belm makes an appearance at the head of the table wearing  meticulous chef’s whites. He describes in way of  charming stories, why will be eating what will be eating,  and then we toast the birthday girl.

 

What stays with me, after the sumptuous dishes, the flawless wine pairings, and the guests’ lively  conversation is the unmistakeable love story.  The yearly birthday dinner is about exquisite food yes, but it is also a tender valentine from Mr. Belm to his charming Mrs. Belm, who is obviously appreciative. My husband and I spend time with a lot of couples, and we admire them all for different reasons. I take particular delight in seeing partners who demonstrate, sometimes effortlessly how much they genuinely ‘like’ their partners. The Belms embody this notion of reciprocal like. They are clearly smitten with each other. 2016’s dinner was another knockout and I can’t wait to get our ‘save-the-date’ for 2017 (no pressure at all Mr. Belm).

You can read  it all about it from Mr. Belm himself.