Saturday, May 26, 2012


When people ask me what I do for a living, I really want to tell them that I am a writer, down to the very fiber of my being. Having kept a journal since I was ten years old, it was only natural that I would major in English with a specialization in Creative Writing. I don’t go anywhere without a pen. I used to say that I had a novel written on Dunkin’ Donuts napkins…but I am not a novelist. I’m too restless to be a novelist. My desire to see and understand the world runs too deep through this blood. I have a deep desire to understand humanity. I believe that we are more alike than we are different, and that’s why these differences are so beautiful. I love to explore in an attempt to understand different cultures, ethics, music, food, lifestyle, etc.

In the late 90s, when I decided to go down to Colombia in South America for the first time, people called me crazy. (I preferred fearless.) Although they warned me about drug trafficking and kidnappings, I was never afraid. Their warnings only incited my desire further. I wanted to see the country for myself, rather than follow the paper trail of statistics and stories. I wanted the full experience: to meet people and to understand their culture. And against all odds, I always believed in the good of humanity.

When you arrive in a country like Colombia, a country that is truly a sensual experience, the world comes alive. I can describe it as switching from black and white to color television. I was born and raised in the United States, in New England. My parents immigrated to the United State from Portugal, and I have visited Portugal many times throughout my life. My 95 year old grandmother still lives in a small village in Portugal, a village that is almost a ghost town now. I have loved all of my travels to historic Portugal, but Colombia is vibrant. My first year in Colombia, I lived in the desert along the mountains in an area referred to as “the wild west” by some travel guides. My second year, I lived on a small private island in the Caribbean. I have been horseback riding and white water rafting in Costa Rica. I have traveled across the United States several times. I once spent a summer exploring the southwestern states with a rental car, a tent, sleeping bag, and my college roommate. So you can see that my travels to Colombia were not the first time I had been called crazy (while quite possibly secretly envied).

On my spring break during college, I jumped on a bus from New Haven, Connecticut to Taos, New Mexico alone, while my friends ventured off to Cancun. I had been to Cancun the year before and was searching for a different kind of adventure. The bars full of skimpy panties hanging from the ceiling and wet t-shirt contests were not what I was looking for. I had wanted to feel Mexico, to hang out with the locals in their everyday lives and just talk, but I had left Cancun empty. While my friends curled their hair and shaved their legs after a long day of tanning on the beach outside of the hotel, I went out exploring the shops in an attempt to meet the people. The following year, I decided against returning to spring break in Cancun, and I set off alone on a Greyhound bus to New Mexico with a backpack, sleeping bag, and some mixed tapes and Dead bootlegs to listen to on my cassette walkman during my three day bus journey.

I’m sure there are not too many people who have pursued writing and explored the lands that I have explored, and seen the things that I have seen. Although I am fluent in Spanish, there were places in Colombia where the indigenous people I met did not even speak Spanish. I fell in love with the romance and the passion of  Colombia, the music in the streets, the dancing people with laughter and deep sadness in their eyes who always had a story to tell. The truth is that my curiosity for the world and my desire to get to know the people is simply in my blood. There are (many) days that I want to throw away my material possessions and find the next adventure where unexplored territory and somewhere a story awaits.

Friday, February 10, 2012

A Good Life

There are days when I imagine giving away all of my material possessions, and running away... Furniture and household items would be sent to the Goodwill, my books and music to friends who I know would appreciate them. I imagine leaving behind utility bills, telephone bills, tuition charges on the credit card, rent, car problems, cable TV... Deep down inside, I'm a poet and a dreamer. When I allow myself to daydream, I always remember a man I once saw on a cobblestone street corner in South America. He was selling flowers to support his family, and he was happy. 
I have worked hard and studied to be a teacher. I should tell you how I love working with children, and I really do. Yet, deep down inside, I know that I am a writer at heart. I write children's books and poetry. I write about literature, education, and politics. I am concerned about the future of this world: our people and our children. I want to make the world a better place. Believe me...I know how cliché that sounds, but I believe in love and humanity.

I see two paths in front of me. Two very different paths that would both bring me great joy. I see myself teaching children. I smile when I think of it, and I know how hard I have worked to bring this goal to reality. But the other path is my passion. It is what keeps me living and breathing. I want to write, and with my writing, strive for the truth knowing there is always more than one side to every story. I want to strive for the good, because there is so much good to tell; and maybe we don't spend enough time there, remembering the good. I know there are heroes all around us. Everyday we survive because someone reaches out to touch our lives, for just a moment. We succeed because once someone believed in us, and someone still does. I know I will teach the children who most need someone to
believe in them. I know that there will be lots of dreams I will fulfill.

But still, there are days when I imagine giving away all of my material possessions to go off in search of the man who sells flowers by the side of the road. I will write his story, and I will be happy. 

Monday, January 23, 2012

Dividing Politics, Multiplying Hope

In 2008, I voted for Barack Obama. As someone hoping for a better future, I loved the invitation to have "the audacity to hope." It resonated so clearly with what I was feeling at the time. After 911, I felt as if the world had shifted. It felt as if I got on the wrong train, a train that was heading in the wrong direction. Standing outside with my neighbors lighting candles in the days following that tragic day, I thought things were going to be different. There was an opportunity in that moment for humanity to take a different “track” and to come together. Sadly, this was not the case, as war and more destruction were followed by discord on a world-wide level. Someone once told me that if you’re not depressed with the current state of the world then there must be something wrong with you, and I understood because in the years following 911 we were in mourning and shock. But then the campaign for 2008 began, and I began to feel that it might be okay to feel hope, again.

During that election, I understood the magnitude of the fact that, not so far in our distant past, this country had fought for Civil Rights and Women's Rights; and that for a woman or a person of color to hope to become president would have seemed like an unrealistic dream only a short while ago in our nation's history. I also understood that what this country so desperately needed, maybe more than anything, was to remember what hope felt like. It was with awe in the possibilities awaiting the people of this beautiful country that I watched as a woman and an African American man were both in the candidacy for our country's most significant recognition: President. I was inspired by the idea that whoever won would do so regardless of gender or race but based on their own merit. It was a glorious historical moment, and I was most excited by the prospect that an intelligent leader would take the oath as President of the United States and offer us the opportunity to hope for a better future.
It's been three years since I drank champagne on an election night hoping that our train would get back on the right track. I’m trying to stay optimistic, but sometimes I do feel discouraged, disappointed, and even disturbed. I'm tired of the division created by politics and how this rift is  holding us back from moving forward. "United we stand, divided we fall" is our nation's motto, "Indivisible" is in our pledge of allegiance, and yet we continue to allow our political differences to separate us. Have we not yet learned that the greatness and strength of our country comes from being the United States of America? On the night of Obama's election, I had the audacity to hope that those in government, regardless of political affiliation, would rise above their ideological and political differences to become role models for the people of this country. Call me idealistic, but I'm going to keep on hoping because I truly believe that being "United" is not only our country's name but also our strength, and we should no longer allow politics to keep us divided.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Born and Raising the Roof in Connecticut

Born and raised in Connecticut, I think I've been trying my whole life to escape. Just over a decade ago, I was offered a position teaching internationally in South America. I remember giving all of my winter clothes away to a good friend. I told her not to worry about keeping them for me because I would never be back. Of course, I did come back...and here I am, still daydreaming about my life in the caribbean and always planning my future escape. But in my quest to try to see the good in all things, I wonder if I haven't given Connecticut a fair shake. Here are five things I respect about Connecticut:

5. Pizza Paaarty: Although Connecticut offers a wide range of culturally diverse food options, I think pizza needs its own category here. The pizza in Connecticut is amazing. Right in New Haven, you have Frank Pepe's Pizza, Modern Pizza, and Sally's APizza, all of which, having received national recognition, are always a sense of great debate among Connecticut's residents. As for which brick oven pizza, garden-fresh sauce of perfection, and melted cheese deliciousness is the best, the jury is still out. 

4. Down with the Politics: One thing I love about Connecticut is the balance of politics. There have been several occasions where the majority of the people voted for a Democratic Presidential candidate while simultaneously having a Republican Governor in office. For example, from 1995 to 2011, Connecticut had a republican governor, and yet has voted for the democratic presidential candidate since 1992. It's refreshing that the people of the state are not necessarily devoted to a party but will take into account the individual running for office.

3. Caring for the Kids: World-wide, we have a long way to go with environmental issues, but one thing I am really proud of is that in 2005 Connecticut passed a law banning the use of pesticides on school lawns. The ban, which officially went into effect in 2010, applies to day cares as well as schools through grade 8. Last year, New York passed a similar ban which sadly makes them the only two states in the country currently requiring these regulations.

2. Nothing but Love for Connecticut: In October of 2008, Connecticut became the second state in the U.S. to recognize same-sex marriages. Currently, in 2012, there are only 6 states in the country. With the current rate of divorce in this country, perhaps people should worry more about their own relationships.

1. Keeping the Dream Alive: For the most part, I have found the people of Connecticut to be friendly, down-to-earth, and forward thinking. In addition, according to the 2005-2009 U.S.Census, 12.8% of Connecticut’s residents were born outside of the United States. I love the growing diversity of the state which I find generally results in an influx of culturally-diverse foods and original music as well as something we all need a lot more of: tolerance. After all, when did we forget that (unless you are 100% Native American) somewhere in your geneology, someone arrived in this country with a dream, a hope, and a prayer.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

World Wide Woes

As someone who has kept a journal since she was ten, I’m not afraid to admit that I find the changes in technology slightly overwhelming and even a little frightening. I guess I’m just not used to putting myself out there, publicly. In my generation, everything was always kept under lock and key. Your thoughts were something you kept in your diary which was hidden, usually under the mattress of your bed (which is probably the first place your mother looked). Your best friend was the keeper of your deeper secrets, and your deepest, darkest secrets were shared only with stuffed animals and pets.  Honestly, I kind of admire the way the youth of this generation put it all out there. Although some people would describe it as reckless, I choose to describe the candid nature of this generation as fearless. I think my generation had more than a healthy dose of guilt weighing far too heavily on our conscience.

While the boys of my generation were scared to talk to girls and the girls followed the unspoken (and ridiculous) social “rule” of playing hard to get, this generation boasts of relationships with people they’ve never even spoken to outside of social networking and texting.  My generation wanted “space,” while this generation attempts to “friend” almost anyone including their parents. With the philosophy of “keeping your enemies closer,” kids today also keep their enemies as “friends,” even when there’s adolescent drama.  My generation grew up believing that if you had one truly good friend, you were lucky. This generation sees friendship as a number game leaving me to wonder exactly how friendship is now defined. More importantly, how is respect now defined? 

Although I don’t necessarily agree with how the concept of respect, especially self-respect, is changing, I guess it’s a good thing that kids no longer feel that they have anything to hide from their parents or the world for that matter. There’s a growing self confidence that didn’t come easy to my generation. I hold  a really strong belief in the value of building self confidence in our youth, but I wonder, Are the kids of this generation saying too much? Isn’t even a mild dose of inhibition healthy? Is growing up on the web literally messing with their minds? I'm sure there are already researchers investigating the inadvertant effects of technology on the areas of the brain that deal with conscience, moral reasoning, and/or inhibition, but here’s an idea: Maybe it’s just us, the adults, who who need to adjust our way of thinking to change with the times (just like every prior generation). If you think about it, the idea of putting yourself out there without sensing fear or vulnerability is sort of intriguing. My guess is, with the tough skin they’re developing, the kids of this generation should be just fine.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Taking Up Optimism in 2012

As someone who has always been, by nature, optimistic, I do feel that I've lost some degree and measure of hope during the past decade. Amidst feeling bombarded by the constant media rainstorm of negative news of looming war, human deceit, and mindless and irrelevant celebrity gossip, I've always tried see the good in people and the possibilities of a better future. I would watch the news and think, What a limited view of the world? I'd wonder why we were so focused on such a narrow and negative view of the world and weren't, instead, focusing on the good. I think we've lost sight of the fact that there are good people in the world making significant contributions to humanity every day. Why is it that we are so interested in drama and betrayal and conflict as seen in our obsession with certain television programming? Why don't we value positive contributions to society? Why is it that we get so emotional when we hear about the goodness and generosity of people? And more importantly, why are we so surprised?

I've always believed that people are innately good, but (sadly) I feel that I've lost sight of that since the beginning of this century. I want to believe (and remember) that there's good in the world. I've often felt as if I want to make a difference, but I've felt helpless in how I can contribute. How can little ol' me make a difference in this big old world? Like so many others, I want to make a positive difference in the world. I want to live in a loving world, but I do feel overwhelmed by the dark cloud of despair that seems to have been looming in recent times. Mother Teresa said, "If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to one another." I feel a lack of harmony in our world and a disconnect from humanity. I smile and say hello to strangers, but when I look into people's eyes, I see sadness and inner turmoil.

I've never been very attached to the idea of a new year's resolution, but this year I've decided that I want my optimism back. Mahatma Ghandi said to "be the change you want to see in the world," and this is the change I want to see. My new year's resolution is to make a positive contribution in my own small way. I want to open my eyes to see the good, and I want to give back by spreading positivity. I truly believe that people are innately good but that our view of humanity has been greatly skewed by the negative focus of the media. I want to once again see, with the eyes of a child, all of the beauty and goodness in people; and hopefully that goodness will continue to grow and spread around the world. So while some people may be frightened by the anticipation of what awaits us in 2012, I have to say that I am hopeful...and optimistic.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Neglecting New York

I arrived home from another interesting day at work on my birthday; and all I wanted to do was put on my fuzzy sweats, eat sweet potato fries, and watch The Wedding Singer. After that much needed night of comfort, I was ready the next day to bring on a new year of living. Growing up in Connecticut, I had never really taken advantage of the fact that one of the most exciting places on earth was only an hour drive away. We tend to not appreciate the things we have; and for me, New York had always been the neighboring place where I'd catch my flight to other adventures. I love to travel, and I've been to some amazing places; but this past spring I realized I'd been neglecting an amazing place so close to home. I learned that the train, which I can walk to from the town I now live in, will take me right to Grand Central Station. I wanted to get away for my birthday, and I didn't have the time off to do more than a day trip, so we boarded an early morning train to the city.

There's something so special about this city that can't be explained in a simple way. I think everyone loves it in their own way for their own different reasons. For me, it's the energy of the streets, the diversity of the people, and the tolerance for the eccentric. I love watching the people. Nothing fazes them. It's as if they've seen it all, and they probably have. There's always someone interesting on the subway or someone doing something unique (like the three 20-something-year-old boys doing handstands and tumbling all over each other in Bryant Park during an evening concert). Regardless of the wild shenanigans going on around them, the people of New York just continue to go about their business. Last time I went, there was a woman preaching apocolyptic religious notions on the subway, and nobody paid her any mind. There was no one arguing with her. No one trying to quiet her. No one even shaking their head. People just let her say what she had to say and let her be. When Carrie on Sex and the City said that her one true love was the city, I didn't really get it at the time...but I think I'm starting to.