Silent Sentinels

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Some might characterize me as being a little anal retentive. Those are the kind ones. The less kind ones might say that I border on the obsessive compulsive side. Just because my journals are color-coded and alphabetized by title and then sub-categorized by genre doesn’t mean I am obsessive. It just means I am organized. Meticulous. Precise.

All of my journals are organized like this except one. This one doesn’t follow my color scheme. Nor is it the same size as the others. It also lacks alphabetization and is not sub-categorized into any genre. It’s an old, fat, mint green journal whose lines are starting to fade. My dark journal, so called because it is the only journal that I go to when there are dark thoughts swimming in my head, is an outlier. It doesn’t belong with the rest of those neatly ordered journals that line the side of my bed. Nonetheless it sits beside the rest.

Because lurking inside the cover of that journal are pages and pages of poetry. Free verse spills across the spaces of once blank pages dancing into the margins. Uneven lines of thought bear testament to the upheaval of emotions, a snapshot of my life captured in ink with my pen acting as the conduit between thought and truth.

This poetry, so unlike my usual style of writing, is completely antithetical to the solid security of the sentence or the comforting structure of the paragraph that line the pages of my color-coded journals. There is no order to be found here, yet among the chaos of words flowing into words unchecked by such conformities as punctuation or line spacing, there is meaning.

And I remember.

I remember why I keep this odd little journal though it fits nowhere into my carefully ordered life of subjects, verbs, clauses and phrases. This journal with its cracked cover and yellowing pages is the one place where I can write for myself. Those other journals, as important as they are, are full of stories I tell for others, but this one is mine. With its hastily scribbled words and half-formed ideas, it shows the truth more clearly than any of my precisely written paragraphs ever could.

I am meticulous. Careful. Precise. Well-ordered, color-coded and alphabetized. Yet, when I need comfort or solace, I go to this journal, and invariably, I wind up finding myself.

Silent sentinels

Nights spent walking

Bare toes shuffling across floors bathed in the lights of

Street Lamps—I glide from room to room,

A shadow in the moonlight.

Unseeing eyes guide my steps as slowly

I wander

With listless hands

Moving, working, writing, washing

Unseen hands in the dark, I wander

In solitude.

No thoughts whirl behind closed eyes.

No worries beyond navigating the furniture

Those silent sentinels who stand guard

Over my silent flight.

Logic and the Creative Mind

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When I was in college, I remember taking a logic class as part of a requirement for my linguistics minor. Aside from my French Civics class that I took while living in France (given by the most boring little French man quite possibly in the world), it is the only other course in which I received less than a B.

Logical, I am not. There was this one theorem that my professor taught that went something like this:

A equals B but B does not necessarily equal A.

It made absolutely no sense to me. How could two things be equivalent but not? My professor tried explaining it to me. My husband has tried explaining it to me (using the example that all Jacuzzis are hot tubs but not all hot tubs are Jacuzzis). That made more sense than whatever my professor had been trying to get through to me. Finally, laboriously, a breakthrough came, that wonderful ‘aha’ moment when everything crystallizes into perfect clarity.

When I started writing I finally understood.

All writers are dreamers, but not all dreamers are writers.

A equals B but B does not necessarily equal A.

By their very nature, writers are dreamers. I firmly believe that. People who write have such a gift for elevating the ordinary to extraordinary and creating stories that inspire, excite, and provoke thought. It always amazes me how writers are able to take the same words that are available for everyone to use and arrange them in a certain way to make something completely unique and fresh. We all have the words at our disposal and there is no end to the amount of brilliant people in this world with novel ideas floating in their heads, so why doesn’t everyone writer?

That’s when I understood what my professor and my husband had been trying to tell me. You can be a dreamer and create elaborate stories in your head, but if you don’t write them down, can you call yourself an author? What about all those so-called writers who talk a big talk on Facebook or Twitter about ‘working on their novel’ but accomplish nothing? If they do not put their ideas on paper, then can they be called a writer?

Personally, I don’t think so, and it’s for this simple reason: it is intimidating to take that leap.

There is a certain amount of vulnerability that exists in taking that step from thinker to doer, from dreamer to writer. Putting words out for people to read is a lot like an open house–you never know who is going to come, what they are going to like or dislike or how they are going to leave the place when they are done. It’s daunting, which is why up until this year I was a dreamer, not a writer.

Since taking that step, though, I’ve come to realize something else about writing that has made it easier to open that door and let people in. While it’s true that writing allows for vulnerability, it also forges a powerful connection between writer and reader. Words have meaning and carry tremendous power. Knowing that my words have the potential to inspire, excite or provoke thought is enough to keep me going in spite of the possibility that those who come to my open house are going to trash the joint.

If you’re like me and you’ve spent much of your life as B does not necessarily equal A, make that leap of faith. Make A equal B and see your dreams become reality.

Economizing words, or “How I learned to say more by saying less”

This year as I was working on my novel, I entered several writing contests. Most of them were fairly prescriptive demanding so many words about a specific prompt. Regardless of the constraints, it was easy writing, and I was able to successfully complete several entries before summer had ended. There was one contest that I struggled with, however. The Museo de la Palabra, or Museum of Words, sponsored by the Cesar Egido Serrano Foundation was a definite challenge. Their goal, “to unite people by using words,” through fiction writing.  Sounds innocuous enough, right? The catch, though, is that all stories had to be 100 words or less.

Let’s be real for a minute. Brevity is not my strong suit. I like to write and have the tendency to be fairly verbose. There is something so intoxicating about seeing one’s thoughts written out for all to see that it can be difficult to get to the point. Yet here I was presented with a unique challenge–to create a complete story in 100 words. It was a struggle to find that one experience that could tell a story that was meaningful  in so few words.

In the end, I picked two experiences, snippets really, of what my students experience in their daily lives as they navigate life and culture in America. Since the contest is still being judged, I cannot share those with you; however, I can share my first attempt at writing micro-fiction. This story entitled, “The Translator,” is based on a real experience I shared with one of my students when I first started teaching. Since the contest specified fiction, I didn’t feel it would be fair to submit this work, even though it was pretty funny and is one of my favorite stories to tell. It did help me to narrow my focus on one particular experience and to practice economizing my words.


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“A favor, please, maestra,” he begs, so when the doctor has quieted, he watches and waits.  My mind spins grasping at words, a synonym or a phrase that comes close.  I reject them all.  Desperately, I lower my clasped hands in front of my stomach and wave them back and forth like a snake.  A low “psst” emerges from my lips.  “¿Difícil?” I ask.  He reddens and shakes his head no.  When we leave, I tell him, “Let’s never speak of this again.” Later, I find that elusive word, “orinar,” forever destroying my dreams of translating. Defeated by urination.