I sense the Noor’s disappointment. She and her husband were not real to me until tonight. In hindsight, I had heard whispers in the street that Noor not being the best wife and her ankles were on the medium side, but I dismissed it for jealousy. Now that I know she is awaiting a pregnancy that may not come, I feel for the first time I have invaded someone’s privacy. If she can’t produce the next Diego, how can their line survive? From downstairs I smell something curious-cigarette smoke- and leave the bed. Our company went home an hour ago. Tiptoeing down the stairs, I station myself outside the kitchen. Neptuna is gathering and washing the dishes.
I watch her fill up the sink twice. She works over the silverware with vigor. A cough incubates in my throat from all the cigarette smoke and I step out ready to request juice, but pull my foot back into the shadows. Neptuna purses her lips out and she kisses the four dessertspoons. She serenades them chanting “Happiness/Good luck/Praise”. I look away to ease the burn in my stomach. When I look again, she takes out a metal container from underneath the sink and drops dessertspoons inside. Despite the volcanic activity in my stomach, I concentrate enough to see her take a wooden bowl and mix honey, sugar, leftover champagne into a gelatinous pile. Then she is quiet. A trickle of sweat oozes down my back and leg to my ankle before she inexplicably she cries “Osiria, Osiria” holding the bowl underneath her mouth. I behold her releasing drops of her own saliva into the container and a sea of acrid liquid rushes up to my throat threatening to out me. Father Infanta doesn’t spit in church, and I know from the countless retelling of the gypsy story that spitting has deep meaning. I just can’t think right now.
Neptuna straightens up from her crouch and seals in her mixture. What is she doing? Why the spitting? I know she is performing a spell. Denalis have a separate religion from Guerros. Sometimes I see in the marketplace Virgin Marys with offerings of watermelons and fish tantalizing the stray dogs. That religion is not allowed in our house, but I cannot tell Mother. Neptuna’s mother was my grandmother’s maid. I need to walk away and think about what is happening. I need a moment, but I cannot look away now. She lays the box on the counter and washes her hands. My throat constricts when she picks up the box and walks out to the garden. I hesitate, but run to the largest sculpture for cover.
Under our mahogany tree that looks like a headless man with broken limbs, Neptuna digs a small hole. A stray dog comes from nowhere looking for scraps. Gently cursing the animal, she dismisses it with her foot. I insert a finger into my mouth to steady my breathing. Inhale, exhale, and inhale as the new smell arrives. Charcoal. Neptuna stands still and looks in my direction. She knows I’m here and is going to scold me for being out in the night air. Inching up higher, I stand on the balls of my bare feet when another sound besides my breathing presents itself. It is low at first, I sniff again and the charcoal undercurrent intensifies, Neptuna gathers something in her throat. With each heaping shovel of dirt, Neptuna spits. The stray dog runs away.
As a teacher most of my acts of charity are directed towards my students. So outside the classroom, I don’t always have much left over for other humans. For animals, however, it is another story. My dog is my baby and I cannot for the life of me bring home another one. Every time I have volunteered with other dogs, Gladys gives me the side eye when I get home which leads to me giving a particularly vigorous belly rub. SO to keep the peace, I send in sizable donations to the ASPCA, Humane Society and recently one to PETA.
I was once a militant animal rights activist. Boy if I saw a fur coat on you I would seek to dress you down. Now, I realize that it is better to set an example than try to make a stranger submit through harassment. I put my money where my mouth is. Some days, I think teacher and donor, my next life better be sweet.
My least favorite quality in others is instability. If you say you are going to do something, do it. If not, don’t say it at all.
In myself, I recently understood how incredibly dismissive I am of other people. Perhaps I have not always shown others the respect they deserve because I think their lives have been so easy.
There are two opposing schools of thought regarding this matter: Taylor Swift and J.D. Salinger.
Taylor Swift kisses and tells to the point where it can be mildly irritating. I am not interested in her love life and she seems quite whiny. As an Irish dna holder, this can grate my last nerve. She puts everything into her songs. Every big moment can be a song to her. Kisses are all documented and pillow talk is shared. I am always amazed that she and Honey Boo Boo’s mom can still find dates. I don’t find living so publically appealing, then again I don’t even like people knowing my name. While I did use a man I met this summer as a muse for my second book, he is not a man I spoke with for longer than a few hours. If he had asked me not to say anything about him, I wouldn’t have. We writers look for inspiration in everyone, including ourselves. Most debut novelist base their protagonist on themselves whether or not they realize it. It is a sign of creative immaturity to use the person wholeheartedly without changing many details. People should inspire characters, not be carbon copies. Give these people challenges, different characteristics, or new platforms.
Some of my acquaintances ask me if I put them in my personal works or if I was inspired by something that happened to them. Most of the time the answer is no. Their lives should be inspiring for them, not me. People want to be in your works; it is simply human nature. Rules change as the inspiration does. If the story involves a court case, then make sure you change identifiers to the case such as names, dates and locations. In my ghostwriting I am working on a fictionalized account of a court case. It is key to tread lightly here. Don’t make anything obvious. There are books out there on famous court cases because it can be argued that the information is common knowledge. A private citizen is most likely to guard their privacy than an attention seeking pseudo celebrity.
My rule of thumb is anything a person wants shouted from the rooftop is acceptable, what they do not is off limits. Writers may be lonely creatures because we tend to use people for our creative needs initially. Once one person walks away from the creative because they put them out there, then they learn to be discreet.
The other school of thought is nothing should be used from real life and creativity/imagination should suffice. This is fun, but the danger is that the characters will not ring true. People are not all good nor all bad. But in order for readers to relate they must have something in common. Reality can be the best inspiration.
Be careful with using your real life connections. Some will be into it, others don’t want the emotional equivalent of kissing and telling. You must decide how much you are willing to lose someone’s trust for something that may never be published.
I have been ghostwriting self-help books for over six months now. Everyone thinks they have the answer and it generally falls into two camps: select your thoughts or monitor your feelings. I have written hundreds of pages of both. Thankfully the clients cannot see me rolling my eyes and meditating on the other end.
We can select our thoughts. Buddhism teaches this and as every Eat, Pray. Love fan recalls Richard saying this to Groceries when she cannot sit for longer than five minutes. It is hard though when you tap into your programming and finally hear what you say to yourself all day long. I obsess over my writing career and if my book is going to get published. It is like a freight train all day. Once I tuned in, I was not pleased. You can’t write with so much doubt swimming around.
Then there’s feelings which have been mostly peaceful. I can hop on the expressway and feel comfortable. This used to terrify me as I had a shitty car and the looming thoughts of my sister’s near fatal accident crowded my mind. Now my feelings just don’t get riled up anymore.
As someone who has spent time in the self-help world, I can just tell you not to waste too much time thinking if only you could just have a book of answers. There really aren’t any. That’s the point of life though, we just have to sit with our thoughts and feelings until they fade away into peace. Sometimes feelings and/or thoughts bubble up that we don’t like. There will always be twinges of jealousy or even pure hatred. Trying to change them into positives just breeds resentment. Feel your emotions and think your thoughts, strive to make them authentic and more positive than negative.
We live in the real world and I can tell you from experience the self-help guys throw epic tantrums, say ridiculous things and attempt to bully. They are as clueless as the next guy. The thing is we listen to them, thinking they know better. All they have in their corner is a specific kind of certainty that not everyone attempts. I just don’t want anyone to ever think the answers are outside of them. All answers are within if we can have the same confidence in ourselves as we do in others.
Over the summer a beautiful man made me a list of Pink Floyd and Beatles songs to get over my dislike of these iconic bands. The gesture was lovely and I had the urge to send him a list of mine back in thanks for introducing me to the song “Wish You Were Here”. Instead, my fabulous readers, here is my list:
1. State of Love and Trust -Pearl Jam. Best song in the universe, has been since I was in high school. Eddie Vedder’s voice just does something to me on an atomic level.
2. Rebel, Rebel-David Bowie. My favorite bisexual in the whole universe personally wrote my anthem.
3. Tomorrow Never Knows-The Beatles. A favourite game of my neighbor is to play Beatles songs and have me ask who’s this. I love this song more than words can say. I love Ringo’s beats and the lyrics are from the Tibetan Book of the Dead which is in my desk at school. Masterpiece.
4. The Thong Song-Sisquo. I did not know how I lived before this song. Totally ratchet, but I love it.
5. Human Behavior– Bjork. No words can describe the ecstasy I feel when I hear this song. I love the drums and the lyrics. In my debut novel the love interest is Icelandic. Bjork is a strange one and I have always admired her independent spirit. Debut is her best album.
6. Beetlebum– Blur. In college I had a Brit Pop radio program and I opened with this song as often as possible. It is melancholy, but I believe in having a whole spectrum of emotions, not just what is comfortable.
7. Waiting Room– Fugazi. I am a punk rock girl.
8. Fuck Was I-Jenny Owens Youngs. Perez Hilton introduced this song on his website. I think it perfectly captures heartache and the dark humor that develops as a result. “Maybe I’ll be the lucky one who doesn’t get hurt/ What the fuck was I thinking?”
9. Settle Down-Kimbra. It is about not wanting to settle down and live your life to fit society’s mandates.
10. Pure Morning-Placebo. I listen to this song every morning. No words can describe my attachment. It just is. I have no memories for this song in particular, but the opening riff sends me to heaven. Sometimes I like to imagine I’m a Bond Girl and this is my song as I enter a room in my Jinx bikini and shoot down all the chandeliers.
11. A White Tara Kirtan-Various Artists. I had a Thai Buddhist monk introduce me to this deity a few years ago. I try to do my malas as much as possible.
12. Closer-Nine Inch Nails. Nothing needs to be said.
Yesterday I was helping my neighbor hang her Halloween lights. The old hook no longer worked so I was spotting her as she nailed in a new one. I looked down for just a second and the nail she was hammering away at ricocheted out from under the hammer and the blunt side hit my head. Had I still been looking up, my eye would have been hit. She got flustered and I was just shocked. There was no blood, but my head was smarting. We went inside to put ice on it and she profusely apologized. I told her not to worry it was an accident. A few minutes later, half joking she asked if I would sue her.
The thought hadn’t even crossed my mind. Accidents happen and they are unpleasant. Money hungry is not an adjective for me. I live simply, but I laughed and we watched the telly to take our minds off the scare. I was in awe that seconds earlier my green peeper could have been a goner. I vowed to light a Archangel Michael candle in thanks. After being dropped off, I promptly lit one and laid down. SO dramatic I thought as snuggled into my huge blue bed. Still, I was lucky. Still early I looked for ways to entertain myself. Meditation would require too much focus and I wasn’t in the mood to do my kirtan. So I answered emails and set up ghostwriting appointments.
In my inbox was a note from the man I saw on Saturday from MantraFest asking if I was interested in his programs. Sure I replied. I love finding out about new things. Sleep hit me hard and when I woke up at 4 I checked my email and the candle that I had left on. It was from the Mantra man saying he was giving a special for a mentoring program. It would be a steal at $3,000. I must be dreaming I thought turning over. No one would expect anyone to pay that.
As I pulled into work I checked my email again. It was there, the email with the unbelievable price tag. Who, claiming to be enlightened, would feel comfortable charging that much? God is free and more than that since I have done a bit of self-help ghostwriting, I know firsthand that those “helpers” are somewhat egomaniacs who hate challenges of any kind. Humans are human and they only claim to know better. This was disgusting.
I wrote him a terse email telling him the price was outrageous and ridiculous. In Buddhism, followers feed the monks as the walk the streets in the morning. I have done this before and they are grateful. I buy the monk buckets in the Thailand equivalent of Walmart. You have to admire a country that sells pretty sweet gift baskets for their holy. Some have cellphones and tattoos, but they don’t wear Rolexs, just saffron robes. They have chosen a life of service.
Within a half hour he had written back saying I was misinformed and my anger was inappropriate. First of all, I was not angry. I had written I was disappointed in his price gouging. Second, I had called him out on his greed. Yes, you have to live, but you don’t need to live like a king when you are in a life of service. I guess he had a change of heart and sent me or “Barbara” as he mistakenly labeled me a long email thirty minutes later. Here’s the best part:
I had a rough day at my new job. This comes with the stress of a beginning. There is always so much learning that goes on daily. Whenever I feel stressed I head to the beach. The dog and I bring a tiny picnic of water and fruit. She will hop into the passenger side and we head off. The shores are always packed, but by some miracle it wasn’t on Wednesday.
The ocean is my bathtub with its water still warm from the day’s sun and a vastness that is almost numbing. My head goes under the waves and my nostrils fill with salt. As I was move about something touches my leg. Must be seaweed I think as I lift my head. I have spent hours floating in the water and nothing has every touched me. Again something whizzes by me and I squeal like a girl leaping out of the water.
Some Haitian fishermen comes by to check on me. In my broken Spanish I explain that something keeps touching me. He laughs and points to like fish I had never encountered. “Hibiscus,” he explains pointing to these silver fish. I am intrigued. I ask if they bite and he laughs at me. “No, no nina.” He laughs as he walks away and throwing his net a few feet away.
I debate whether or not to return to my spot in the sea. The situation reminds me of the fish pedicures in Thailand where you sink your feet into a small aquarium allowing the fish to nibble away dead skin. I wasn’t into it them, but now I though why not. I slowly approach my spot and lay down. The fish welcome me back and proceed to tap into me. Between the warm water and what feels like little kisses from their surprising warm bodies, I lull into a meditative state.
I am more of a giver than a receiver. My mind is more of a man’s than a woman’s. My aggressive nature that helped me survive being on my own for so long has a hard time being. I always go for what I want and now I am learning how to be more feminine in receiving than masculine in doing. So as I lazed in the sea I let these little creatures frolic about my submerged body and delighted in their tickling bodies.
I only left reluctantly when a few teenagers being rebellious with their dangling cigarettes began to film each other twerking. Miley Cyrus may be adorable doing it, but these girls were so harsh with their movements, it was embarrassing to watch. The dog greeted me with boundless energy begging to go home as I emerged in my own mind as the Birth of Venus. Gladys loves the sand, hates the water. She jumps around me much like the fish did. I mentally said good-bye to my tiny companions thanking them for a magical experience that I vowed to put in my new book.
It is better to give, but sometimes a girl needs to learn how to receive- the ultimate luxury.
My name is Maureen. A solid, old-fashioned Irish name, which means the dark in Gaelic. My mother’s name was Breege Henry. We come from County Mayo in the West of Ireland. My Grandfather wrote a book based on local tales and I like to think while I never really knew this stern man, he smiles at my writings. I am his granddaughter: a Black Irish girl who writes as well.
I can’t ask my mother too much about my name since she died when I was 23. She was a beautiful, flawed woman who taught me to be tough. When I was younger growing up in Miami, people would be confused by my name. There were Davids or Rauls in my classes, but not someone with a strong name like mine. One kid told me my name sounded like moron; I kicked his ass by gently letting him know he was worthless on the school bus.
As I grew up, I found strength in my name. It takes a bit of character to have a strong, pure ethnic name. A name that held its own was what I needed more than my crown tattoo or my Chinese character for angel. Maureen let people know I meant business.
Maureen is a strong Irish girl who dances to her own beat, drinks beer, and will write you under the table. I will smile at you showing all my teeth, but secretly light candles for people who are going through a rough patch never expecting anything in return. Maureen connects me to my Irish heritage and lets me feel as if my mother’s heart still beats any time I feel mine is breaking.
The idea for my first book came when I was twelve listening to how my grandmother’s family lost their wealth in Cuba due to a fire. My grandmother is legendary for her sadistic abuse of my father, but I felt this was an interesting story and could explain her brutality. Nothing took shape for years because I just didn’t know how to begin. Then when I was ready, I didn’t know how to develop characters.
I sat in meditation until a name came to me: Neptuna. Who would be named this? Then like a rustle of sheets, she whispered her story to me. I think I wrote for twelve hours straight before my dog realized she missed dinner and did her feed me tap dance. Inocencia came next as did the fictional Caribbean island. For five years I wrote about all this consumed by a territorial muse who did not want me to stray.
It didn’t get published and I fell into a tantrum. A psychic said my second book would be the breakthrough. I stalled. How much rejection can a chick take, I wondered not ready for another big commitment. A few ideas came, but I tired of them quickly: a short story collection about girls with the same name residing in Miami, a collection of essays on my dysfunctional family and finally a book of lucid dreams. I rejected all of them.
People say ideas come when you least expect them. I scoffed at the notion. Nothing comes unless you work your bum off for it. I started living and had some adventures. I was thinking of one adventure when I started questioning what would happen if a hurricane came. Both of my books deal with the aftermath of hurricanes. I guess Hurricane Andrew could be a phantom in my brain.
A man of all things became my muse. I’m not exactly a reverse chauvinist, but it took me a few years to realize men have feelings outside of destruction and anger. Not particularly a reader himself and the only blonde I have ever been attracted to (besides my beloved David Beckham), I suddenly saw my muse as an intriguing riddle with layers of subtext and nihilism. I began writing and writing. I can’t spend hours on my new project which is the way it goes when I have hours of luxury during the summer and none during the year. I had waited for over a year to be inspired. The wait was worth it.
An added bonus is not naming my muse and letting people think it is really them. One of my female friends asked if she was the inspiration. When I explained it was an actual man, not one I know very well at all. She winked and asked again if it was her. If I ever found out I was someone’s muse, I would dissolve into molecules of happiness. Some of the minor characters are from my life, but they are only mentioned in the first ten pages fleetingly. Not enough for anyone to feel flattered or annoyed. My muse is clueless about my doings. I admit it is a strange compliment to be someone’s Gala.
For those feeling uninspired, stop looking. Just go out there and let the universe drag you in a million directions. Don’t sit at home fighting the wait. You can’t win against creativity. It enslaves you on its clock, not yours.