Monthly Archives: May 2014

Things I would say if I didn’t have a filter, Part 2.

I don’t know about you, but I sometimes daydream about saying certain things that, for one reason or another, I didn’t say in the moment, particularly when something made me mad. Makes sense, too. Filters kick in more frequently when something makes us mad, and there’s a danger of being unkind. Luckily, the first one in this installment is a happy one. (I first talked about things I would say without a filter a few months ago–the link is HERE.)

To parent-friends at my boy’s preschool.
Thank you! After I gave up my paying job 4 years ago to be home with my baby, I lost an important sense of community, and felt adrift for part of those first years. Post-partum depression in the early months didn’t help. At preschool, I have met working parents, stay-at-home parents, parents from Hispanic and many other heritage backgrounds, writer parents, parents who work part-time, and in every case, parents committed to raising children who are at least bilingual from a very early age. Several of you offered words of kindness and support during the first difficult weeks of adjustment to preschool for my little guy, our first real separation after he was home with me for his first 3 years. I will never forget that! Many of you have expressed excitement about my writing projects. Some of you have become dear friends. When I look back on this year and a half, the best memories I will have, in addition to the joy that school now brings to my boy, will be of the incredible, committed, smart, caring community of parents I’ve had to pleasure to know. Wow!



It’s early May in DC, and out come the shorts and flip-flops. Only the outside temperature is barely breaking the 50-degrees mark. To the person wearing shorts and flip flops outdoors.
Okay. I know you know I know that your feet must be freaking freezing. Get some socks! Put on a sweater! Here, I’ve got an extra one–I’m Puerto Rican, I frequently carry an extra sweater with me. You can have it. Just cover up those goose bumps, please.

To the parent who bemoaned to me that their 15-month-old had, sadly, outgrown all of the toys in their house.
Sorry, I’m still laughing at this one. That thing you hear? That’s me still laughing.
This was years ago, by the way…


To the man who said to my husband, “I know your wife has a lot of opinions…” (You know, with a tone, like it was a bad thing.)

Actually? You know nothing about me. But hey, thanks for reciprocating the benefit of the doubt that I had so generously extended to you, until I knew about this. And how’s this for an opinion? Oh yeah, here she goes again, won’t this housewife ever stop with the opinions?! In my opinion, it takes a weak man(A) to talk smack to another man(B), whom he barely knows, about man B’s wife, whom he knows even less. But of course, put-downs always say so much more about the put-downer than they say about the put-downee. My own husband would never do anything even remotely like that–one of many reasons why I have such a high opinion of the man. And by the way? It’s called having boundaries, and I happen to like that about me. Yes, that was me giving another opinion.

At writing conferences or classes, typically about two-thirds of the way in.
Stop! I’m done listening to advice.
“Grab the reader in the first two paragraphs, or else forget about it. Keep the points of view straight or lose the reader instantly.”
Seriously?! One of the last novels I tried to read (keyword here is tried)–not naming names, but it was Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin–started with the point of view of a freaking horse and was all over the place from that moment on. I thought I was going dumb, which usually annoys me. But I get it, authors like Helprin can pull it off. It’s just the rest of us beginner writers, who will never be the next J.K. Rowling (why do writing “experts” love to remind us of this? I don’t want to be the next J.K. Rowling, I just want to be Sandra Falcón, thanks), who shouldn’t dare try. Oh and I may scream if I hear the word niche–and its seemingly infinite possible pronunciations–one more time.
“Readers cannot spare the time or attention span or brain power for historical detail. But show them, don’t tell them. Make the characters come to life and pop out of the page, but for the love of Christ and Krishna, if you do nothing else, you must spare your busy, instant-gratification-seeking, electronic-device-addicted readers the drudgery of back story.
Print is dead. Don’t believe for a second that print is dead. Just kidding, it’s all about the e-book, didn’t you know?
Facebook is in. Facebook is out. Facebook is back in.
You must have a blog, but don’t presume that it will do you any good unless you write about topics very specifically related to your current book, and unless you have thousands and thousands of followers.
Hey, these are the current trends in publishing, we’re just telling you this to help you!”

Yeah, time to tune out, wake me when it’s over. I call it trend-fixation fatigue: when I get so wary of the the nonstop talk about “trends” that dominates things like writing (and parenting!) that I shut down. Advice is great, and usually welcomed. I want to know the trends. But then trend/advice fixation bugs the hell out of me, particularly when it’s used in the interest of an “expert’s” power trip.

To people looking at their cell phones while driving.
Please. Please. Put your damn phone down and drive! What makes you think that you are above being tragically distracted when you do this? No one is above this danger, no one. And it would bother me a lot less if it were only your own life you’re endangering. But it’s not, is it? It is just plain reckless and … well, the s-word that we try to never say in our house (it rhymes with Cupid when British people say it).

I’ve actually confronted people about this. One night months ago, I was driving home from writing class, and I saw a man who would not put down his phone. At a red light, I motioned something to him. He motioned, “What?” and rolled down his window. I rolled down my window, and said, “I’m really worried about you being on your phone! It’s dark, the road is wet, and there you are staring at the screen of your phone.” His response? “Oh, I’m not texting!”
Oh.
Okay then.
And my hair is naturally blond.
And straight.

In case you haven’t met me, this is my hair in its natural state.

My husband David later said to me, “You know, honey, I really wish you didn’t confront male strangers on the road at night.” David’s got a good point there.

Again, I think there is a good reason why most of these things I’d say without a filter are mini-diatribes. I try to actually say the good things, rather than keep them to myself. It’s the ones that I know could get me into trouble that tend to stay bottled up inside. But keeping them in is way too hard for me. That’s the other very good reason for these.

Here are a few final things I have been tempted to say–many times!
Are you going to finish those fries?
Are those shoes as comfortable as they look?
I think it’s awesome when you are intensely enthusiastic about things you know well; I find it less awesome when you are intensely aggressive about stuff you know.
Is having straight hair so easy that it sometimes gets boring?
Would it be weird if I asked to feel your hair right now?
I really think you and I could be great friends. No, really! What do you say?

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Ask and it shall be given. Part 2, Oprah and Alanis.

In 2012 and 2013, my sister Laura and I attended a conference in DC hosted by the publisher Hay House, called I Can Do It. It is an annual event in different cities worldwide that features authors like Brian Weiss, Christiane Northrup, and Gregg Braden. It has been a fantastic time, not to mention an awesome opportunity for Laura and me to have girl time together, away from our husbands and kids for an entire weekend! We’ve resolved to make this, or at least something like it, an annual tradition.
Laura and I. My first photo with Brian Weiss. One of my favorite Power Point slides, by Gregg Braden.

A few weeks after last year’s I Can Do ItI learned that there had been another conference–which I had just missed–in which Alanis Morissette and Elizabeth Gilbert had both been among the speakers. Hang on, what do you mean I could go somewhere and listen to Alanis Morissette and Elizabeth Gilbert speak? Don’t ask me why this thought had never occurred to me before, but it hadn’t.

Now I was on a mission. And I said to my husband, “Next year, I will not go to I Can Do It. I am saving our money … I need to go to this other conference!” I started checking in regularly, but neither Alanis nor Elizabeth appeared as one of the confirmed speakers this year.

This didn’t faze me. And I somehow knew that if seeing these fabulous women in person was a possibility, 2014 was the year when that would happen. Was this rational thinking? Perhaps not. Listen, some somedays don’t need to happen this year. Some day I will go to Paris again–not this year, and that’s okay. But the distant unknown future is not the place for all of my somedays. Where’s the point in that? I don’t dream in abstract wouldn’t-it-be-nice terms. Uh-uh. So I kept my eyes open for something–anything.

Then in January, a brochure from the Omega Institute arrived at our house, announcing the following workshop.

Shut the front door. My heart started racing; it seemed too good to be true! My husband was in Indonesia for work that entire week, and I emailed him immediately. “Honey, we need to talk!” Within 24 hours, I had booked the weekend.

In the weeks leading up, I wasn’t certain what to expect. James Van Praagh appeared as the lead teacher, and I started to wonder whether Alanis would be there the entire weekend, or maybe just for one of the sessions. (I like James, but my love for Alanis runs deep, and has done for years–I dedicated a blog post to her a few months ago.)

Friday night arrives, and there they both were!

There she is! And there’s James!

And so it was, a weekend with James and Alanis. She wasn’t just physically there for the entire workshop. She was present, warm, funny, real. James was humble, emotional, very available and easy to talk to, and also funny. Together, their chemistry was fantastic. And the group in attendance was made up of individuals who were all kinds of awesome.

We talked about creativity and art. Harnessing the lousy feelings in life and redirecting them creatively. Meditation and prayer. Children and parenting. Finding strength rather than weakness in our unique sensitivities. Giving ourselves permission to truly exercise our self-expression. Getting over what other people think of us. There was also dancing both Saturday and Sunday…I danced with Alanis Morissette.

You know when the reality is even better than anything you could have dreamed? That. The words that best capture what it felt like for me are, “May I always remember what this feels like!” I thought that over and over again during the weekend. I’d wanted a lecture with Alanis Morissette. What I got was an entire weekend, in an intimate setting, discussing art, love, spirituality, and healing, along with the incredible James Van Praagh, too. And it had only been six months since I dreamed it!

When my husband asked me as I came home Sunday night, “So how was it?!” I burst into tears. For days, I cried happy tears every time I talked about it. I honestly still can’t believe it all really happened, and I sit in awe as I write this blog post.

James and Alanis created a Facebook page for the event, and these photos were posted on there. I’ve circled myself in red.

It was kind of like my Oprah Show moment, back in 2009. I had dialed the number you were supposed to call for getting seats at a taping of an Oprah Show countless times. Late one night, I submitted a form for last minute tickets online, thinking, “What the hell, it’s worth a shot.” It only took a few days…

Now, here’s something that only Oprah fans will likely get: When you come home one day and see Harpo Studios among the missed calls on your caller i.d., you know something special is happening. They left a message, with a number for me to call back! This was a Monday, and they had tickets available for a taping that Thursday. I can’t remember exactly what I said. It was probably something like, “yes, God yes, hell yes!” And get this. I was able to use frequent flyer miles, and only paid around $25 for the round-trip ticket. Also? My classes that semester were Mondays, Wednesday, and Fridays; I flew to Chicago Wednesday evening, sat at a taping of the Oprah Show Thursday morning, flew back, and was back in class Friday morning. Never missed a minute of work!

Holy mother of all clichés. Wait for it, ’cause you know it’s coming: Dreams come true, man. This sh*t is real! And I don’t think I am any better or prettier or more interesting or deserving than anyone. I do, however, dare to dream big, like my parents taught me.
These are my go-to moments. Whenever I feel lousy, I think of the miracle that all my loved ones are well and healthy, and I revisit the wonder of what’s possible when I give myself permission to really dream it.
So instead of the I Can Do It conference, guess where Laura and I are spending our sisters’ weekend this year? See photo below. One of the speakers scheduled to be there? Elizabeth Gilbert. I’m telling you … !
(You can read Part 1 of Ask and it shall be given here.)
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To Mami on Mother’s Day

You know your mother did a good job at soothing and comforting when, at age 38, any time you are unwell, you still cry, “I just want my mom!” And you know you’re lucky when she’s still just a quick phone call away. Mami still has the gift of making anything better with a simple touch or word of reassurance. And though she’s in Puerto Rico and I’m in DC, I know I can still count on her to do just that.

Beautiful mother of the bride in May 2005.
My mother, Norma Ruiz de Falcón, is and always has been utterly devoted to her family. She is an undisputed hero to her three children and six grandchildren. And her children’s spouses adore her, too. I love watching the easy closeness she shares with my husband David, as well as her sincere admiration for him and how she laughs at his jokes … sometimes more than me!

Mami and David.

When I was wheeled away for an emergency c-section the day my little boy was born, she was the one who stayed strong, who comforted David and prayed with him, while also keeping worried family members in Puerto Rico informed of every detail every step of the way. (Thankfully, it was over quickly, and everyone went home healthy just a few days later!)

October of 2009, I was 4 months pregnant.
March 2010, when I became a mama, and really realized how much I need my mom.
My mom’s grandchildren know that there are always treats at her house. They know every Christmas, that one of their awesomest gifts is guaranteed to come from Abuelo and Abuela. They know she is the type of doting, adoring, indulging, silly-playful grandmother who is an easy joy to be around.
With her adoring children and grandchildren two Christmases ago. Serving one of countless holiday dinners. Getting into the spirit of silliness on a family Disney cruise (a gift from my parents to all their children and grandchildren). With my boy–one of her biggest fans.

Also, though? My mother has followed her own bliss. If she had stopped at devoted wife and mother (grandmother, sister, daughter, member of her church), I would be grateful to her, certainly. But I also would feel a sadness for her, and wouldn’t know what to make of her as an individual with dreams of her own and the need to thrive in her own right. I suspect it would be awkward to talk to her about my dreams, the ones that go beyond the realm of my own wife-and-mother identity. What earns my admiration and respect for my mother more than anything has been witnessing her pursuit of her own path and place in this world, not simply drawing her entire sense of worth from the various selfless roles she plays–very well, to be sure–in the context of her family and faith.

The logical choice for godmother of our boy? Abuela, of course!
The year before her 60th birthday, my mother earned a doctorate in theology. This, in turn, has sparked her interest as a constant seeker. Instead of becoming stagnant and entrenched in her old religious beliefs, my mother’s curiosity has increased in proportion with the growth in her scholarly achievements. And so has her openness grown. This, to me, makes my mom freaking awesome! She is present, never stuck in the past, ever-evolving, adapting, reinventing …
My mother is also assertive. The woman does not mince words, and–this is something I value very highly–is not given to platitudes in the interest of pleasantness. Ever. The last time she was in DC for a visit, her first words to me were to the effect of, “Honey, you don’t look so good.” (To provide some context, my family had been hit with a nasty stomach bug in the weeks leading up to her visit.) She will not hesitate to tell me I should buy some new clothes or replace a pair of shoes or maybe put on a little bit of makeup.

Trip to London in 2011.
With this in mind, words of admiration coming from her mean more to me than similar words from just about anyone else. Knowing my mother is honest, that she isn’t being trite when she compliments me, is one of the indescribable blessings of my life. When Mami tells me she thinks I am a good, devoted mother to my little boy, my heart swells. When she finds me funny, when she says she is in awe of my pursuit of my independent passions (and reassures me that that this pursuit doesn’t compromise my parenting), I believe her. When she said it made perfect sense to her when I started writing in earnest, because she always thought I expressed myself the way writers do, I felt simply exulted.
I am my mother’s daughter, and proud to be her baby. Whereas other parent-child relationships often become more distant after years of living apart, I am grateful for the close bond I still have with my Mami. I honor her. And I love her from such a primal and yet transcendent place inside me, that it’s a place probably only occupied by one other person, my own child. I admire and respect the many achievements and pursuits she has to her own name. I am inspired by her to follow my bliss, compelled by her example to be a tireless seeker. Finally, I need my Mama. Still. Always!
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