“Tell Me a Story”

OUR FASCINATION WITH STORIES GOES BACK AS FAR AS THE ORIGINS OF HUMANKIND

We ARE the stories we tell.

And, we can’t get enough of them.

The human race has been dazzled and charmed by the power of the narrative since the days our ancestors sat around the fire to captivate and entertain us with their tales of heroism, danger and adventure.

Our love for storytelling has survived across millennia, and has even sparked the curiosity of the scientific community (which despite their many theories and data-collection, continue to struggle to definitively explain the roots of our fascination).

This unexplained phenomenon manifests itself in a plethora of flavors, from the most humorous accounts to the most gruesome of tales.

Some of us love fantasy stories; its journey into the magical realm allows us the escape from the grind of daily existence so many of us crave. Many of us prefer Science Fiction; fantasy’s counterpart which serves a similar escape into new and “undiscovered” worlds driven by the lore of scientific speculation and mysticism.

Then, there are those of us who yearn for the emotional voyage into the world of happy-ever-afters of romance novels – some argue this is perhaps to escape our disillusionment with the realities and complexities of relationships. And, of course, how can we leave out the thrillers, suspense and mystery novels that fulfill the need for puzzle-solving and deliver that rush of the whodunit that comes when all is revealed. The YA and realistic or more literary masterpieces, often serve those who seek to answers life’s most challenging and infinite questions. And this is all just the beginning…

There are unforgettable war stories, David and Goliath stories, and success stories (hence our fascination with biographies and autobiographies – in which the more the person struggled the better). Some people obsess over characters, rather than the stories themselves – hence the countless fans of such fictional heavyweights as Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter, Laura Croft and Indiana Jones. We shouldn’t leave out the large readership of great world-building masters like J.K. Rowling, R.R. Martin and Tolkien.

Beyond literature, lies a world of stories in visual form that have been just as successful in capturing our attention and validating our obsession with storytelling: the grand and colorful world of movies and television. Star Wars. Star Trek. Jurassic Park. E.T. Every Harry Potter ever produced for the big screen. And you may be surprised to know, that in that same vein, at the heart of every epic story is a character we love, cheer for, for cry for and ultimately make part of our own life. Character struggle makes our fascination possible – its the reason we may read one of the great heroines of all time, Elizabeth Bennet, and in that same night, tune into our favorite episodes of the Kardashians. NO – Kim Kardashian is NO Elizabeth Bennet – shame on you for even thinking I’d ever propose that! This risky comparison is just to illustrate that at the heart of every great story is a character that makes us continue to want more; more conflict, more battles, more mysteries, more challenges, more of that magical journey that happens when PEOPLE face off with LIFE (fictional or real, magical or mysterious) – WE WANT MORE AND ALWAYS WILL – long live our fascination with stories and characters, despite WHERE that fascination comes from! Don’t fix it, if it ain’t broke!

SARABETH’S KITCHEN (a love story I dusted off/circa 2002)

The screeching halt of the 6:10 train wakes Otto from a restful sleep. Today’s the day. It doesn’t seem quite like morning yet. A cool darkness prevails within the confinements of this one-room, dilapidated apartment where Otto has carried out his daily rituals for over a decade now. At the corner near the door instead of a bed Otto has padded a floor mat with Salvation Army gray-wool blankets, rolling a few for pillows. He nests on the discolored family quilt passed down from his great-grandmother. He emerges from the warmth of a dusty quilt revealing a thin, naked body. Otto welcomes the cold with a crusty smile as a sign of a new day.

The room feels unusually frigid for October, but Otto takes comfort in the long-gone smoothness of his flannel bathrobe and flattened, terrycloth slippers.

The first few weeks he lived without electricity were a learning experience. Now he has mastered the art of living in the dark, if there ever was to be such an art. He maneuvers perfectly around the deep armchair with the missing cushion resting in the center of the room. Across the room Otto sees a tiny opening between the windowsill and the rotting wood of the window frame. The only window in the whole place. He heads over to the window to prevent the chilly mist from creeping in. He remembers forgetting to jam down the window last night. In most cases people find themselves having to prod windows open with sticks during the summer months in the hopes of catching the hint of a breeze. Otto’s window situation antagonistic in nature calls for him to force the window shut. On cold days he uses a rusty metal rod he picked out of a neighbor’s rusty trash can, otherwise the window recedes a few inches back to its desired open position where its most happy. He looks through the darkness at the rusty metal rod resting against the cracks on the wall, grabs it and secures the window. Laughing his negligence away, he turns to his right where a steel sink waits.

Continue reading “SARABETH’S KITCHEN (a love story I dusted off/circa 2002)”

A Miami Club Scene

The nightclub energy at the Clevelander rooftop terrace camouflaged its danger. Loud music coursed through the concrete beneath the clicks of high heels and the taps of men’s dress shoes. A constant stench of stale dried up beer permeated the bar tops. The heavy smell of hot oil fused with the hot breeze as endless appetizers were fried back in the kitchen.

At the center of the nightclub tableau, irresistibly gorgeous, scantily dressed club goers engaged in aggressive grinding, a mating ritual more akin to sex than dancing.

Jules may have found it liberating, and even primal were she not there on business, or if she didn’t know the truth of what happened behind the scenes. Miami club nights were infamous. They were not just a must-do activity on a traveler’s brochure. For locals, the nightclub was a way of life. It was when hundreds of singles, and not-so-singles, packed themselves into tight spaces to drink, mingle, and grind, unaware of the risks. There to parade and flaunt their wares under the neon lights or in the dark corners of South Beach’s most coveted party spots.

At the bar, Jules slammed her second Kamikaze, determined to take in the scene a bit longer. Jules dragged the empty rocks glass back and forth across the wood grain of the bar top. Jules tilted the glass back, optimistic about harvesting one last sip of alcohol. Her heightened need for booze was a familiar sign her nerves had kicked in. She ran the glass across the sticky bar top again. When the sexy bartender leaned her bouncy breasts over the counter to asked Jules if she was ready for another, Jules struggled through the loud thumping of house music and responded with shaky, maybe in a little bit.

Continue reading “A Miami Club Scene”

An Unexpected Dinner Party – Part II

“I hope you don’t mind. I took the liberty of selecting a wine to go with our steak tonight,” Lee grabbed the wine bottle then reached into his pants pocket and retrieved a Swiss Army knife. “This 2010 Argentinian Malbec was a gift from a buddy on the second floor that just returned from a trip through South America. He told me he stumbled upon Trapiche,” Lee had a unique storytelling gift that transformed even the most mundane incident into a mystic folktale.

Perhaps it was his thick East London accent? Or maybe it was the way the word Trapiche rolled off his lips? Either way, Rosa and Adriano listened on with great interest.

Lee continued. “This winery was in the foothills of the Andes Mountains in the Mendoza region of Argentina, and it was the specifics of the altitude that give its wines the ripe blackberry and plum notes you’ll be tasting tonight.” He let the word tasting linger a while.

“Geography lesson aside, this full-bodied red is the perfect match for Lee’s bloody filet,” Cassandra slid past her husband and snatched the uncorked bottle from him to poured four glasses before sliding into the booth. “Okay L, you’re on,” she lapped his ass again—his cue to make his way back to the kitchen and fire up the steaks.

“Medium rare, good for everybody?” Lee verified.

The others hummed in the affirmative then Lee lifted his glass for a toast, “Here’s to good wine, rare meats, and new friendships.”

Continue reading “An Unexpected Dinner Party – Part II”

A Latina’s Cultural Education Continues

I am sadly aware of the misconception that the term Latina/Latino or LatinX is believed to be a blanket descriptor for all latin cultures around the world.

Unfortunately, this one-size-fits-all approach or perspective leads people to misinformation like “all Latinos eat tacos” or “all Latinos dance salsa” and one of my absolute favorites, “all Latinos are undocumented” and on and on.

While these misconceptions are unfortunate, and avoidable with a few minutes spent searching the Internet or wikipedia for (even the most superficial) of cultural facts – I find that a greater problem exists within our own Latin communities and the lack of knowledge and awareness we have of each other’s cultures, beliefs and points of views.

As a Cuban immigrant, I know very little about the countless Latin cultures around the world. I am most acquainted with Puerto Rican and Dominican culture because I grew up in Miami and was welcomed into the lives of many of my Puerto Rican and Dominican friends. I ate their food, danced to their music, played their games, heard their concerns, and often times, even listened to their prayers. But there are so many other pockets of Latino culture I am complete ignorant about and have recently felt a sense of responsibility to continue my education in all-things Latino.

I am starting today with this post because it so happens it is the third day of the Day of the Dead.

Continue reading “A Latina’s Cultural Education Continues”

Zen Master Bob – Walking the Path

A year ago, when Julian was in the dumps about Lucas’ workplace affair, his then bestie recommended he see a renowned Zen master who was said to work miracles in the area of self-discovery and healing. After just a month, Julian managed to forgive Lucas and make a full recovery from the emotional trauma. Julian called it “untying knots.”

It meant reflecting and identifying the cause of stress, suffering or negative Chi and consciously working to let go of that emotion through acceptance and forgiveness—thus facilitating the untying of such knots. 

Julian continued to visit the Garden Center for Healing and Mediation every Saturday, even after his relationship was mended. Now Julian was about paying it forward—sharing his Zen success in order to help those in need. So, after some shameless gossip and too many cocktails, Julian proposed that Samantha, a fellow knot-tying-stress-monger, visit the Zen master. Samantha, Julian’s newly acquired BBF, followed Julian’s lead and agreed to call Mishka, the center’s appointment goddess. Sam would lie to Mishka and say she was Julian’s sister, a kinship that allowed her to take his appointment the next morning.

Sam accepted the invitation and inspected the appointment card from The Zen Center for Healing & Meditation. The front was beautifully printed in white script contrasting against a delicate mint green backdrop. Below the center’s name was a semi-transparent Zen garden path creating a peaceful effect. On the bottom of the card, in a flowing white ribbon that seemed to glide from left to right, future Zen-ers could find the address and phone number and begin a path to healing.

Continue reading “Zen Master Bob – Walking the Path”

Hunting for More

The young woman set out for her customary morning ride after a cup of French Roast and a few forbidden drags of a cigarette. The grass wet from the previous night’s rainfall, splashed up as her horse raced forward. Tall furs lined both sides of the dirt road, forming a straight path toward the seaside cliff. The woman rode for the enjoyment, the beauty, and the tranquility. The day held the promise of serenity. Rain had a cleansing quality about it, as if to wash way all that which needs washing, she thought.

The woman continued to ride, unaware of the darkness the island’s winds had carried in on a cold westerly breeze.

Just past the heavy foliage, the edge of the cliff beckoned. The perfect vantage point for catching the sunrise. 

The woman’s ride was interrupted by a silhouette standing in a clearing in the woods. Intrigued by the rare occurrence, she dismounted and tied the reins around the trunk of a nearby pine. She crouched and tiptoed in an effort to remain unnoticed. The wet grass soaking her sneakers. The squishy noise startled some birds pecking for sustenance on the forest floor, and in turn they startled her. Her heart beat faster with excitement and anticipation. And as she got closer, she was able piece together the fuzzy picture.

Standing just a few feet away from the male figure, she realized it was a hunter. The fifty-something man was abnormally tall and wore the usual hunting gear. A bit disappointed her surveillance didn’t garner anything more interesting, the woman turned to walk away but something felt wrong.

She decided to stalk a little longer. Observing. Spying.

Ready for the hunt, the man stood in plain sight. He was pointing his gun at something, but he was trembling with fear. The woman saw that at the edge of the cliff stood a powerful creature. Majestic, it stared into the horizon. The curves of its beautiful horns seemed to pierce the clouds. She watched them both attentively, the man and the beast.

She was still hiding behind the abundance of multi-colored shrubs undetected when the hunter aimed and shot the steel-like monument off its pedestal. As if in slow motion, the creature’s limp body fell over the edge. Down it went. Crashing against the rocks at the end of a long abyss. This once mysterious and astonishing forest dweller was nothing more than scraps for scavengers and vultures.

Without a single effort to collect his prize, the hunter turned away from the cliff ready to move on. In search of another kingdom to destroy, the woman thought. She was still hidden behind the tall shrubs when she saw the man turn back in the direction of the abyss and looked into the sun. He took a few slow steps to the edge of the cliff where he looked down to what must have been a bloody scene.

Then, with grace and determination, he made one last move. The man turned the riffle on himself and with a long steady right arm, he pulled the trigger to execute his final hunt. And, as if in slow motion, the hunter’s limp body fell over the edge. Down it went. Crashing against the rocks at the end of a long abyss. This once mysterious forest dweller was nothing more than scraps for scavengers and vultures.

Still Stressing About Which Story to Write?

Figuring out what to write can be quite messy and time-consuming when you have drawers and drawers & files, upon file folders of story ideas you’ve collected over the decades. I promise myself (almost on a daily basis) I will commit to a project/idea and see it through to the end – hence the whole commitment thing – it’s about staying with it, persevering and not flaking out when 10 other great story ideas come calling. Still, I waver, I fail at this commitment thing. I think I’ve become my own enabler – I entertain these cool, out-of-the-blue sparks of imagination and allow them to hijack me away from my current project.

This act becomes a very convenient way to tell myself, “You’re still writing, brainstorming, plotting, whatever….you’re still engaged in that which they call the “writer’s life” right? After all, you are breathing life into this tiny spark of an idea with every character sketch, every plot point and every metaphor you invent.

In short, I have become my own worst roadblock. I don’t suffer from “Writer’s Block” – instead I am perpetually infected with the “Me Block.” Instead of doing what the great Margaret Atwood advises me to do in the afternoons as I listen actively to her Masterclass (on repeat almost daily) – instead of sticking to it….instead of listening to her words: “A word, after a word, after a word, is powerful,” I digress.

For now, I will march onward with my sketches, and brainstorming and plotting and imagining…but at some point…if I am to be a writer, I will have to choose one of these lovelies and just write, one word after another (a la Atwood) until the entire manuscript is complete – until I can type the infamous two words: The End. Until then, I am just playing at being a writer – and play I shall <3

BECAUSE WE ALL NEED A LITTLE ROMANCE (OR A LOT)

AN EXCERPT FROM MY 3rd NOVEL: ONCE UPON A CUPCAKE SHOP

Available through: https://amzn.to/2O0b96E

THE FARMER’S MARKET on Niagara Street teemed with life. Fresh, earthy smells and vibrant, indescribable colors found nowhere else except amid the splendor of a street bazaar—a true farm-to-table experience. Eva knew nothing matched the sheer enjoyment of an open-air market. The endless rows of vendors under battered awnings and tents formed a multi-colored landscape as far as the eye could see. Tables and crates overflowing with nature’s harvest: the egg-nog yellow of summer squash piled high on wooden baskets, the impressive pyramids of the fire-engine-red plum tomatoes and bell peppers, mounds of vibrant purple eggplants and red onions, the citrus potpourri of a table stacked with Valencia oranges, limes, lemons, nectarines and bright green lemongrass.

Eva’s absolute favorites were tables stockpiling a medley of apricots, peaches, mangoes, gooseberries, and warm summer cherries—these were the fresh delicate summer fruits she would soak in a sugar bath, drizzled with honey or coat with confectioners’ sugar to use as toppings for her iced cupcakes.

“This place is amazing.” Leandro took slow steps to match Eva’s leisurely pace.

“Is this your first?” She figured he must have bumped into many farmer’s markets throughout the years; after all Manhattan was known to have some great ones, from Columbia University’s Greenmarket north of Central Park down to the Tuesday market on Broadway and Battery Place, with offerings from local farms to Lower Manhattan’s Bowling Green plaza.

“No. I’ve seen a few pop-ups in Hell’s Kitchen on Thursdays along the pier. But I’ve never quite gotten over how these places shock the senses.” Leandro smiled and walked beside her.

They strolled past the section of the market showcasing the seasonal fruits and vegetables. At the southern entrance of the lot, a toothless vendor with a propensity for haggling over the price of his fresh produce shouted bargains at whatever passerby happened to be within earshot. Leandro stopped to smell the farmer’s plums and apricots. He felt the warmth of the sun in his palm.

“I’ll take these three.” He decided.

“Make it a whole pound for just five dollars and we have a deal.” The vendor swayed in anticipation of Leandro’s negotiating tactic.

The toothless man seemed almost dissatisfied when Leandro agreed to his price, handed him five singles from his wallet, took the plastic bag full of freshly-picked summer apricots and joined Eva at the next stall.

“How’d you make out?” She asked, admiring his selection.

“Five bucks. Can’t beat that.” He smiled and his irresistable dimples controlled the moment.

“You could’ve gotten them for four.” Eva pointed to a basket of apricots near the Valencia oranges she was inspecting.

Leandro saw a handwritten sign propped by a popsicle stick in the middle of the apricot pile that announced a special deal that would fetch $3.89 a pound. “What can I say, I’m a sucker for sweet things.”

There he was again, Eva thought. Leandro and his metaphors were fast becoming famous. Always flirting, taunting, with his innuendos and cute little dimples. If Eva wasn’t careful her Leandro-free days would soon come to an end. Truth be told, Eva didn’t want any days without Leandro. For someone who hadn’t dated or had the pleasure of a man’s company in eight years, she felt completely at ease with Leandro. Completely relaxed. She could be herself. She felt at home. Home? She freaked and pretended to calculate how much oranges  would cost her. Could Leandro be the home she was yearning for, the home she’d been missing? The home she deserved?