mother & Cuba

Maybe it was my mother's huge presence in my life that was the commanding influence, a presence as large as my father's absence. Maybe it was the visits to Cuba and the slow and sultry summers in Camaguey that taught me about two ways of living. As a young child, I sensed the island air as heavy with the pungent sweetness of cigars while back home in Miami the air was tamed with the smell of cut suburban grass. In Cuba the streets were filled with shouts of street vendors; in Miami I could hear the crickets at night. The light was softer as it fell on the warm- colored palettes of Camaguey's houses, dramatically different from the white brightness of the '50's ranchhomes set back on Miami's green lawns. I stared at Cuban widows forever dressed in black and marvelled at the staccato movements of their abanicos. I knew my own mother never wore black in Miami and it seems this was never a place for fans anyway. Indeed, the straddling of two cultures early on has informed who I am today and continues to refine the capacity to move out of my-self and into another.

Camus, Collins, Cortazar, Calle, Cisneros, etc.

Literature has always cast a long shadow over my life. By its very nature, books can clarify what otherwise might remain obscure. Fiction helps us imagine and ultimately hope. I learned from the likes of Camus and Joyce, Bellow, Faulkner, Tolstoy and Mann. Cortazar became my imaginary teacher and to this day "La Noche Boca Arriba" has been the best lesson in what is dream and what is real. A.S. Byatt still clarifies the contemporary English woman to me just as Eudora Welty sweetly defines Southern eccentricity. I am always waiting for a new poem from Billy Collins to take me somewhere unexpected or one from Sandra Cisneros to remind me that chicanas can be wickedly funny. With Frost's shattering of broken glass from "the inner dome of heaven" I think of who God might be; I also understand the need to leave youth and beauty behind from the poems of Eavan Boland and even after so many years I can better understand my son's illness through the language of Sharon Olds.

Teaching literature at the local college has given me the rare chance to engage students in this illuminative world of words. Storytelling has predictably influenced my recent interest in video, a medium that can provide a way to connect words with image. disconnect was the first attempt at this by exploring argumentative relationships through improvisation followed by k, a "mocumentary" meant to recover a life through the memories of others. Joining W-10, a women's group of Latin American artists, has pushed me even further in exploring the shifting worlds of fiction through film.

And, yes, one day I would love to meet Sophie Calle.

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