Hedgebrook Diary: Week 2

September 6, 2015

I read this month’s Power Path and apropos is an understatement.

I know I am working on a good project. (I’m rotating between several – a short story collection, an essay collection, a wisp of an idea for musical theater, possibly a coming of age novel I abandoned years ago…but I’m talking about The Novel.) It is ambitious, especially for someone who has become comfortable with short form work. I believe in the story. What I need to believe is that I am the person that can make it great. That the story is not a prodigious orphan. That along with the characters, the plot, the world – whatever I bring to it, my me-ness is a part of that as well. That a person with an MFA, a historian, a seasoned fantasy writer could do it, but not like I can. That I can commandeer this, whatever I perceive my shortcomings to be.

“At the end of the day, all you will have to really rely on is FAITH and TRUST.” -Lena, Power Path

September 7, 2015

I have to remember I’m here for more than parking myself in front of a screen and typing. Or even reading. Rather, I want my experience to culminate into more than that and I think I came here because there’s more.

20150907_071558I slept in the Farmhouse last night because I was up late writing. I write in spurts so when it trickles out continuously, I just go with it. I woke up at sunrise, without much of a plan, just ended up at the garden and cut some flowers for my cottage. I walked up the path leading past my cottage and was moved to stop and look at sunrise streaming through the trees. Encountered a banana slug. Was standing under a tree when a burst of rain showered on me. I looked up to where the sound of leaves being shaken came from and it was a squirrel (chipmunk?) jumping from branch to branch. Discovered the spider on my porch that I had lunch with, who hung in the eye of its web all day yesterday was still there, but its web had been washed away by the rain. It was a beautiful web, I regret not having a better camera to capture it, but maybe that’s the point. That I am to take in the things that are exclusive to my being here.


September 8, 2015

I rode a bike for like the third time in my life yesterday. No, it wasn’t just like riding a bike. If anyone used that expression to describe something being second-nature I would ascribe a completely different meaning to second-nature. You mean something that I steal away to do out of sight from other humans, cannot completely figure out (how does one go uphill?), and gives me small heart attacks in doing? Because that’s what riding a bike is for me.

The spider that lives in the shrubbery(?) right by Oak, the one I had lunch with, rebuilt its web. Chose a new spot, a little to the left, and by this morning was right in the center, waiting again. Didn’t seem to have many feelings about the loss of the other web due to something so out of its control like heavy rain. It just did it. I give the spider a nod every time I cross my porch.

September 9, 2015

It’s 5AM. An ungodly hour for me, but I woke up from strange dreams. I’ve been having them since I got here. Vivid and urgent. I’ve dreamt of E’s father at least twice. He is always a dark presence, a menacing energy. Even after years of not speaking with him. Even though our last conversations have been cordial. In dreams, I am always trying to keep him out or get away. So much so, that in last night’s dreams I could read the street signs and concentrated hard enough to make them appear in sequential order. It is almost impossible to read in a dream – the words and numbers are usually illegible or change.

E’s grandmother died last week, her father’s mother. I’ve seen her at least twice in my dreams here too. She was a great boon to me during my pregnancy with E and especially during E’s collicky infancy so her death certainly affected me. Neither E nor I were able to attend services, both of us being far out of state, and to be honest I prefer to maintain distance between myself and certain areas and people of my past. If we dragged our entire pasts with us, there would be no room for the present or the future.

In my dreams, E’s father and I alternated between following, annoying, and getting away from one another (like the good old days) all the way to his mother’s apartment. She came to the door, sad, in mourning clothes. Teary. He tried to sell her something he’d stolen (like the good old days) and I tried to give her two Mickey Mouse car seats he’d tried to sell me. But I discovered they were used and worn, not brand new under the packaging and got irritated. He made a show of strength outside by body slamming people into the steel cellar doors commonly found outside of bodegas in NYC. That is what made me start reading the signs and forcing myself away, toward home.

I woke up from this feeling disturbed, fearful, invaded, with the urge to cry. Most of all I felt unprotected, missing my grandmother and with the resolute thought that the purpose of family is protection. I have been working on a fantasy novel – about maintaining power, class, migration, what a matriarchy could look like, what a world without the influence of Judeo-Christianity would look like, especially for women, especially for gender expression, but at the heart it is a story about a brother and sister. It is about family.

Clarissa Pinkola Estes calls these “dark man” dreams. The man, a manifestation of the predator in our own psyche. The dreams have a strong physical aspect – jolt you awake, make your heart pound. They’re initiatory dreams – preparing us for the change from one level of knowing to another, deeper one and the actions that go with it.

“Dark man dreams are wake-up calls. They say: Pay attention! Something has gone radically amiss in the outer world…The threat of the “dark man dreams” serves as a warning to all of us — if you don’t pay attention, something will be stolen from you! The dreamer needs to be initiated so that whatever has been robbing her can be recognized, apprehended, and dealt with.” (Laura Knight-Jadczyk‎‎’s modified quote from: Estés, Clarissa Pinkola. Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype.)

September 10, 2015

For the fourth time, the same ant scurries across the journal page I’m writing in. It is alone. Where is its colony? It searches frantically. At least, I see it as such because it refuses to pause or even change pace, covering the same ground. Over and over. From the side table to the coaster to the bookshelf, back to the side table, across my page.

Only once does it try something different and climbs the lamp on the side table. Look at this stupid Icarus, I thought, about to incinerate itself with the heat from the bulb. Relentlessly marching toward its death. Like all of us. One day, it’s your grandparents dying, the next it’s your parents, everyone else’s parents and then you.

I grow annoyed with this ant. Why doesn’t it go somewhere new? It feels out in front of itself with its legs, only stepping where it feels solid ground. But sometimes, there are small gaps. Well, I perceive them as small. To the ant it must be places where the world ends. A fall to certain death. I suppose it feels like that to us sometimes too. If the ant just took a little jump at these edges, it would land somewhere that would put it on a new path.

I push the ant off the table. Perhaps that’s what life or God does to us.

Somehow, it has reappeared, scurrying across my page again. For the fifth time. I give up on him. Jodete, entonces.


Hedgebrook Diary: Week 1

August 28, 2015

I learned what stinging nettles are by tripping into a bush of them. I think I’m communing with nature all wrong.  20150829_105256-EFFECTS

Also got lost for a good ten minutes on the way back to my cottage from the bath house. Dirty underwear in hand. The bathhouse is literally 300 steps away from my cottage. The back of my cottage is visible from the bathhouse and the bathhouse is visible from what I christened my meditation nook in the cottage. I suspect some sort of enchantment at work.

August 29, 2015

I rediscovered the joy of thumbing through a thesaurus. Usually I scoff and google, but there is something about flipping pages, singing the alphabet song in your head to narrow down where your finger should stop, and reading through a few words you weren’t even looking for.

A less joyous discovery was when I bent over to inspect what I thought was an animal turd only to be confronted with the existence of banana slugs. Those things are literally God’s snot. I don’t know who I thought I was inspecting what I thought was a turd either. It’s not like I’d be able to identify the animal from its poop. I know two poops, from living in NYC: other humans and dogs. That’s it.

My terror and revulsion only increased when I realized how well the slugs camouflaged against the ground, easily passable as acorns. My life has turned into a heinous game of the-floor-is-hot-lava.

August 30, 2015

The end of the summer came with big changes. E left home two days after I left for Hedgebrook, the timing of which had me anxious as I wasn’t able to participate in the rite of passage of moving her into her dorm. Mostly I was missing the rite of nagging her to keep her room clean and ceaseless reminders to stay on top of her coursework and laundry.

Thanks to the marvels of modern technology, I was able to see that her desk area already looks appallingly cluttered and she took my newest sheets, the one for the sofa bed which is full-sized, not twin, even though I asked her a million times and she assured me her twin sheets fit her dorm bed.

August 31, 2015

I have seriously got to stop taking these spontaneous walks into the woods at sunset.

20150830_192740-EFFECTSI spotted this fantastical garden doorway. (Trellis? I don’t think I’ve ever used that word in my life.) I mean c’mon. This is bait for any kid that liked fairy tales and I spent whole summers checking out volumes of Grimm’s from the local library. As if that wasn’t enough, a brown rabbit scampered through the field you can just see beyond the doorway, and hopped up a path.

Of course I followed. All the while beating back that voice saying:

This is exactly how white people die in the movies. Buscando lo que no se le ha perdido, Mami would say. Stop it! Remember what Vito said. There’s nothing on this island that can harm humans. No bears, no predators, no poisonous snakes. Not even poison ivy. That’s exactly what caretakers say in horror movies! This is a ridiculous use of your imagination, you know that?…So this looks like every place some girl got killed in the first season of True Detective. This is a perfectly innocuous storage space or barn-like structure. Not creepy at all. Oh, the path inclines. See, just like Fort Tryon Park back home. I never really ran those paths well. Always gasping and sweating. Wouldn’t really be able to outrun anyone following me. There’s no one following you. Those are your own footsteps echoing, moron. You know, everyone always laughs at the cliche of the girl falling down running through the woods to escape the murderer, but no fucking wonder she falls. Does anyone realize the amount of stuff on a forest floor? Tree branches, twigs, leaves, rocks, spots where the ground sinks in for no reason. I would totally bust my ass or roll my ankle if I took off running right now. Okay, seems like I covered a decent distance. The perfect distance where no one will hear me scream.

September 1, 2015

I’m literally about to keel over. I had plums, coffee, and vegan granola (stop making that face, it was handfuls of awesome) for breakfast. Thank goodness I exerted myself and managed to workout, but there ain’t enough burpees in the world to save me.20150829_154527

Lunch was half an avocado, stuffed, overstuffed, it was a shrimp fountain spilling forth its bounty onto my salad of greens. Did you know tomatoes could be sweet? Eureka! Dinner was chicken enchiladas, rice, beans, guacamole, blue corn tortilla chips. There is such a thing as too many snickerdoodles. I wonder if I will have room for that dutch chocolate ice cream I saw in the freezer.

Seriously though, there’s absolutely no better way to support someone (the broke artist in your life) or say I love you than food. (Other than, here’s my half of the rent.) That’s deeply nurturing. I thought back to the last time I was so consistently well fed, supported, and shown love through food and it had to be when my mother was alive.

Sometimes I like hauling my laptop into the living room in the Farmhouse just to hear the sounds of dinner being prepared in the kitchen. Denise or Ann or Rio running water in the sink, clanging pots, aluminum foil crinkling, glasses being set on the table. It reminds me of hearing my grandmother in the kitchen while I studied or read or did homework. How she did those things for me to free up my time to pursue thinking and learning. A gift then and a gift now.

Also how in the hell is The Left Hand of Darkness NOT a movie? In my head I have cast Chiwetel Ejiofor as Genry Ai. (I cast Ejiofor in a LOT of things in my head. If I were a casting director that man would get all the work. All. Of. It.) And I keep picturing someone young-Oliver-Reed-ish as Esteven. Ursula K. Le Guin is the Truth and the Way. I have been meaning to read her for the longest. This novel is kinda perfection and especially inspiring as I am working a bit in fantasy right now. As usually happens with works of literature, it was put into my hands (thank you Adrienne) precisely when it needed to be. At a pause when I’m considering which direction to head in next.

September 2, 2015

After days of editing and revising short stories I have finally sidled back up to The Novel. That’s all I’ll say about that.

Actually, I’ll say that it’s fun. Fun in the way exercising is, which is to say, you’re moody and dragging your ass until you do it, get lost in the doing, and emerge on the other side glad you did. Maybe even a little impressed at your effort. Maybe.

September 3, 2015

I am in the presence of some amazing women. I don’t know if it’s because I’m kinda prone to saying that or if it’s because I’m consistently around amazing women, but it’s true. Shy, serious, insightful, hilarious, sweet. Women who have traveled farther than the east coast to be here, who have studied with masters, who have taken risks, made changes, tried new things, been bold. Who are doing these things, taking a risk, changing, trying new things, being bold by being here.

September 4, 2015

I checked on the “real” world for a bit last night. The news story about the Syrian father who lost his young sons, two and four years old, along with his wife fleeing Syria and trying to put distance between themselves and war via the Mediterranean sea followed me into my sleep. I dreamt I was on a huge ship that sunk. I vividly felt the sensation of the deck going vertical right under my feet, as quickly and easily as if it were a mere canoe.

I don’t know that there’s an appropriate response as an artist that doesn’t ring self-indulgent. After all, it’s the artist’s own feelings that are assuaged first, not that father’s. There’s barely a response as a human being that doesn’t seem limp, much less from an artist. A refugee certainly can’t eat your small, stupid poem, but I do know art can preserve so that these events aren’t forgotten. We’re exceedingly good at forgetting.

Being short on skills and knowledge that would be of good practical use in a refugee crisis, and being thousands of miles away from the Mediterranean, I chose to donate money to MOAS (Migrant Offshore Aid Station). “It is dedicated to preventing loss of life at sea by providing assistance to migrants who find themselves in distress while crossing the Mediterranean Sea in unsafe vessels.”

Coming Back

I’ve been back from my residency in Wyoming for about five days. The morning I traveled, Monday, I made myself an omelette with farm fresh eggs and sat outside to enjoy a view of mountains while I ate. It was too cold to be out there, no more than 40 degrees, but I was snapping a mental photograph. I knew I would need an image and feeling to hold on to when things at home became too much. And I wanted to return home conscious of when that feeling of too much loomed near.

The residency program manager and I had a chat in my studio. You have to protect yourself, she said about my returning home. Everyone will want a piece of you. Her words have been a daily mantra. If there was something I observed and admired in the few folks I had contact with in Wyoming it was their desire and ability to maintain their pieces together. Perhaps their sense of wholeness is helped by the distance between properties, or the fact people seem to remove themselves from their own bustle and go into nature regularly, or maybe it’s the fact that life doesn’t revolve upon immediate gratification, but more on preparation. Whatever it is, there is a deep sense of personal space and respect for the space of another. There is a harmony in physical distance. There is stillness after you’ve done all you can do.

The airport in Sheridan has one gate. Trust me, I checked as discretely as I could without asking. Inside, the airport is no larger than your average company office in the city. There were about a dozen people waiting. A man who reminded me of Robert Redford’s older, outdoorsy countenance. A father with his son. The young man still had that lanky adolescent look, wearing tan boots that seemed entirely too big for him, but he had the aura of someone who grew up doing manual work. There was an older woman with short hair and fluorescent orange sneakers. An announcement was made that our original 12:25pm flight to Denver was delayed until about 1:50pm. No one flinched. Orange sneaker lady called whoever was expecting her and told them not to wait on her and go ahead and have their soup. She’d get there when she’d get there.

The plane itself had no more than 10 rows, only half the seats were filled. You had to go out onto the tarmac and board outside. Something about that made me feel like someone important in the 60s. Like I should’ve had very large sunglasses on and a black shift dress. And while I was boarding, I’d turn around and have my picture taken on the steps up to the plane. And someday, that picture would be shown at my funeral and everyone would remark on what a beauty I was. (Wow. Where did that just go?) It reminded me of the days where people dressed up to travel, how I caught myself blowdrying my hair and choosing accessories the night before flying out to Wyoming and laughed at how some Dominican habits die hard. I thought of my grandmother who on her first flight back to the Dominican Republic from the States, wore a wig and Lee Press On nails for the occasion. With the heat, the nails never made it. The wig just barely.

In Denver, running to make my connection, I thought there is something about being in an airport that makes you feel like someone. Or at least someone with a purpose. You have a charted route. A clear destination – one it’s important to get to even if only to you. Everyone around you is there to get you where you need to go as fast and well-fed and entertained as possible. More than can be said of life.

There was a time, for someone like me, flying must have seemed as feasible as a trip to the moon is now. Once on a flight to Puerto Plata, I said to a friend, isn’t it amazing how this huge machine stays in the air? Nothing holding it. I mean I know there are mechanics to how, but still when you think about it, doesn’t it defy everything you think should happen? She told me to shut up and I looked to see she had dark circles of sweat painted under her arms. One person’s sense of awe is another’s terror.

On my packed flight to Denver, I felt home approaching. The faces I passed on my way to my seat looked comfortable being indoors, in close quarters with many people. More hoodies and t-shirts. Denim hung differently. Other than clothes more suited for a bar in the LES than driving in your pick-up with your dog riding shotgun, exposed skin varied more – shades from fair to bronzed to chestnut.

I can’t lie. On our descent, when the city lights came into view like blood running through arteries, a vast network of pulsating life, I felt I would always call the city home. Even if I lived somewhere else, a possibility being in Wyoming opened up for me – living in a smaller rural place was not just possible, but welcome, perhaps even necessary – I would always feel something swell in me returning to this city. 169

Walking out of LaGuardia, one cabbie talking to another punctuated his story with “this motherfucker.” The first words I heard on the streets of New York. This motherfucker. Hearing a group of teenage girls talk, I realized I hadn’t heard a “yo” in a month. I was home.

On the bus into Manhattan, I felt as if a lot of eyes on me. I don’t know if they really were or if it was me taking note of the fact there were more people on the bus than there were in the whole Sheridan airport. Maybe it was the fact I was wearing a hoodie and knee-high boots when it was hot as balls – a balmy 74 degrees.

I got home to sticky floors, trash that needed to be taken out and a dog that ignored me until the next day. I thought of that morning’s eggs and mountains, but I was grateful for my bed again, for the streetlights that gave me a goodnight kiss on the forehead. I missed the sound of the creek, sure, but sometimes the car tires rolling by on the asphalt come pretty close. After a reading in Sheridan, I was asked of course about how it felt coming to a small town from New York City. I said I thought it was a misconception of people from the city that a quiet town is silent. There is sound. The orchestra is just different. There isn’t much satisfaction in comparing the two either. Each one is it’s own experience to be enjoyed that way, maybe with the amusement that comes from recognizing a note here that I thought only existed there.