Saturday, February 25, 2012

thirty-three years, thirty three love letters

Today is my thirty-third birthday. I've jokingly called it my Jesus-Year, since 33 was the year of crucifixion, resurrection, the beginning of 2,000 years of what-have-you. For the record, I don't plan of being crucified, dying, come back to life and all the rest. I'm not interested in bearing crosses, healing lepers and being chronically misunderstood.

I don't have anything special planned for my birthday, no party, nothing special. In thinking about my life I have realized there have been three major periods. Age birth-13, formative years: religion, family, the seeds of self taking root; ages 13-23, more self, voice, figuring out my passions and how to follow them, first loves, heartbreaks, the foundation. Ages 23-present: voice, voice, voice, a developing sense of who I am and who I want to be, romantic love, fuck-ups galore and the writing, always the writing.

Instead of a party to celebrate myself, I've decided to write 33 love letters to people I am grateful for, today and now. These are small love notes, mini tokens of appreciation; gratitude for the love I have known and the lessons learned. There are people who are left off this list, but this is what I came up with. After the list of family there is no order to the list, just the order in which I wrote down the names while I was jotting down notes last night. Enjoy!

1. Mom: I had a thought this morning while I was journaling, how you have loved me since before I was even fully formed. You have loved me since that first missed period and the beginning of nausea. Your love is everything. You are the most beautiful woman I've ever known and I am so damn grateful you are the woman who gave birth to me. I remember when I pierced my bellybutton at 14 and you said "How could you desecrate the part of you you were connected me at?" I love you more than anything in this world.

2. Dad: You are crazy in the best way. I've never known anyone who is as hard of a worker as you are or as creative. I love how you have been singing to me my entire life, sacrificing, working to be the best father and husband. You showed me every day with your actions and love, that family is the most important thing in the world. There is no man greater than you in my life and I doubt there will ever be. The gifts you have given me are not just the tangible ones but the lessons that define who I am, every second of my life. Thank you. You are the rock, loved and appreciated every moment.

3. Deanna, first sister. Holy shit. How lucky am I to have a sister who also my best friend? My first memory is seeing you in the hospital the night you were born. You are my anchor, my life line whenever I'm lost and you are the heart of ability to laugh. I love how we balance each other out, how we always know how to comfort each other, yell at each other, make each other laugh and love. And now you're getting married and will be a mother yourself one day soon. I'm so happy that you have Matt, he is a lucky man. I can't wait to dance at your wedding and hold my first niece or nephew. I look forward to being the crazy aunt.

4. Teena, baby sister. You are the light and always have been. When you were little I was floored at how a little thing like you, all hair and smile, could hold so much love and laughter. Your laugh is the sound of love. Your spirit is fierce, something that at times scares me because you have a well-spring of strength within you that is stronger, I think, than you know. You are wise beyond your years and struggle sometimes. I see a lot of me in you and it cracks me up and worries me. I love you, I couldn't ask for a better baby sis. You balance D and I when we're too serious. I am so proud of you for all the work you do. I know you'll do great things in this life.

4. Ampa, dearly departed. What can I say, viejito? You were my first soul-mate. I love the story of the first time we met, at the airport. I'd never seen you before but I held out my arms to you as i I had known you. I did know you. You were the best teacher I've ever had You taught me silence, contemplation. You taught me never to give a shit about what others think. Now I paint for a living like you did, I'm as independent as you. I miss you. You know the rest.

4. Grandma Amor, oh wise, wise woman. Amor, you are the quiet heart of me, the wisdom in everyday things. Planting seeds, weeding, tending physical and emotional gardens. When we were sick, you went to plants. You taught me the lesson of what we put into our bodies affects us. You taught me cooking is love, preparing a nurturing meal for those you care about is one of the simplest and most important acts of love. You are queen to me, quiet then laughing with that high, girly laugh you have, even at 80. Thank you for the wisdom and the grace,

5. Grandpa George, Mr. Deal with It. Oh grandpa, I miss you. I miss your laugh, your joke-telling and your fierce love. You brought this crazy family up into who we are. You taught me so much about love, about taking on challenges and about loving life. I don't know if I ever met anyone who loved life more than you did. You, your strength, has changed the world. This family is who we are because of your love. Amazing. Awe-inspiring.

6. Grandma Maria. I want to call you witch, but in a good way. You are the wise old woman who takes no shit and tells many stories. I think my gift of storytelling came from you, that you were always able to weave great stories of imagination and intrigue, even though you just called it gossip. Great Ama Mia, I love you. I love how you raised seven children and they all came out to be fucking great humans who give to the world. You didn't raise anyone to be selfish and that gift is priceless.

7. Titi Hilda, second mom. You are the sweetest woman ever, full of love and imagination. Your sweetness was and always is inspiring. You see love everywhere and are forever joyous. I see you as my second mom, your love has been and is always a gift. You taught me my love of books, of reading. You gave me one of greatest gifts, imagination. You taught me believe in story, myth, fable. I would not be who I am without you.

8. This is a group love to my aunts and uncles on my dad's side. Silvia, Ray, Lily, Joe, Patty, Eva. The greatest, strangest mix of aunts and uncles in the world. You are all so strong and full of love. All of you have taught me crazy lessons in love and above all, how to laugh. You all doted on me, kicked my ass and taught me how to tease and be teased. How to pull practical jokes and then pull back and be strong when life gets challenging. Thank you.

9. The cousins: brothers and sisters from other parents. I love you guys. We're a weird bunch. I like to think if there was a before, that before we came into this world we were all best friends who made the choice to come into this life together, to laugh, learn and be there, even peripherally for each other. I love every one of you. I can't wait until we all have our own families so we can give them the love we have been gifted.

Now to family that isn't blood.

10. Tree. Best friend of my heart, first true friend. You were the best friend a girl of thirteen could want. All the things we learned together, how to share secrets and dreams. How to fight and forgive. How to negotiate the beginning of wisdom and womanhood. You gave me the gift of being true to myself, of not giving in to fear. You taught me about love of self and how to share that love. I wouldn't have grown the way I have if it wasn't for your voice in my head these last twenty years. I love you. Thank you for showing me how to be my best me.

11. Adam, first love. I love that wherever I go in this life, you are there. In my love of art, music, the great mystery of creative spirit. Together we first learned of romantic love, the pain and the joy of giving of oneself to another, or giving in, of letting go. We loved, didn't we? We still do. Thank you for being my first love and for being my friend every day since the first day we met. I love you and always will.

12. Jessica. High school would not have been the same without you. We're not close anymore but I think of you often. I admire and have always admired your fierceness of spirit and willingness to take risks. You were my first friend of womanhood, of becoming an adult. We had so many secrets between us. So much love of literature and creating. Thank you old friend, I hope we reconnect. I love you and love seeing how you have followed your dreams. Inspiring, always.

13. Greg, Greg, Greg. There isn't much I can say to you that you don't already know. Our love was an epic love and the cannon that shot me into being a woman. The gifts we gave each other are priceless. I'm so happy that we're still friends. I love that you are living the life you wanted. You are a wonderful father. I've never known anyone as romantic as you. I've never had anyone love me the way did and I'm glad that I knew that kind of love. Thank you.

14. Serena. Oh little love, I have seen you grow and it has made me realize how fast life goes. I remember when we first met, you had just turned four and your dad introduced us. You taught me that there is a maternal instinct in me, no matter how much I try to deny it. Seeing you grow up and turn into a young woman has been miraculous. I'm glad we're we're friends. You taught me how to appreciate innocence. You taught me about miracles. I look forward to seeing you grow. I love you Bean and am glad you are a part of my life.

15. Kat. Wow, we have come a long way. You have always been awesome and inspiring. You taught me about love without boundaries, love that is steadfast and beautiful. You are SUCH an amazing woman. You held my hand through that transition from being a young woman to being a woman, the gifts and sacrifices. I love how honorable you are, a good daughter, a good friend and a great mother. Your friendship, your sisterhood and all the phone conversations have been a life-line. Thank you.

16.Stephanie. Puti. Wow. We have been through some shit. You pulled me along, sometimes dragging me into realizing that writing is not only a gift but a responsibility. We gave each other so much love, crap, laughter and peace. We went through some of the hardest parts of our lives together You held me through my first huge heartbreak and showed me that we always survive, that we always come out stronger, even if in the moment we don't know it. Thank you.

17. Steve Kowit. You were the first creative writing teacher to kick my ass and you have been kicking it ever since. You showed me politics. You taught me editing. You taught me to believe in my writing and the way writing can and does change the world. When I'm writing and editing, it is your voice I hear in my head, urging me along. Thank you. You are the sage, the wisdom, the Great Teacher we all hope to one day have.

18. Lorna Dee Cervantes. You gave me the magic. Before I knew you, I knew you. Your poetry opened me up, let the ancient muse in. When we met in real life I was awed and intimidated by you. That week on the island changed me forever. It was then I gave myself fully to the muse, to the great mystery within. If my writing has a fairy godmother, it is you. Musa, maestra, hermana. You are the Voice, the great inspiration.

19. Planet, you know who you are. I've said most of what I've needed to say to you and most of what hasn't been said we know. Our lives orbit around each other, quietly, mysteriously. I respect you. What I learned from and with you is a quiet thing, not a secret but something sacred. We are and always have been great friends. I appreciate you, distant as your are from my life. We will orbit back in whichever way is meant to me. The phone calls changed me. The brief meeting changed me. You reminded me of what I needed to be reminded me of. Thank you.

20. Nuvia. Sister! Insanity! Love! Music! Dancing! Crying. Questions. Great love. You are my soul sister, my friend and companion. I adore you. You are one of the most brilliant minds I know and so damn hard-working you make my head spin. You always make me happy. And with your marriage, you and Jim have shown me what true love looks like. I am beyond blessed to have you in my life. I love you with a fierceness you showed me I have. Thank you.

21. Heather. CREEP! I love you more than any other woman who isn't related to me. You are fucking fantastic. You are such a crazy inspiration of strength and patience and love. We have been through some shit and I'm sure there is more on the horizon but there has also been great love. I laugh with you like no one else alive. You are a great mother, warrior, ass-kicker and friend. I wouldn't not be who I am every single day if it wasn't for your phone calls and connections. I couldn't ask for a better friend.

22. Beau. The poem I wrote for you is one of my favorites ever. You are the slayer of dragons, the great hero I have needed the last four years of my life. I can't express how much your love and friendship mean to me. You are brother, friend, platonic Prince Charming riding beside me. You believe in me every day. Your love and friendship saved my life. I know we bicker but even our bickering is a lesson in forgiveness and acceptance. We grow, sweet friend and I look forward to even more.

23. Cecil. There is no one else like you on the planet or known universe. You are the brother I ever had but always needed. No one knows me like you do, all the secrets and fears I've shared with you. All the wisdom you've sarcastically bestowed upon me. I can't imagine my life without your friendship, you are family. You are in so many ways my other half, shadow to the light, contemplation to the frenzy. And look how much we've grown up. Crazy man. Call me LG all you want but the love and gratitude I have for you is real.

24. Chrigu. We were brave. We were madly in love. We were adventurous and took more risks than we were ready for. You were an adventure. You were a turning point in my decision to live my life a certain way. Thank you.

25 . Rolf. I know this is your favorite year, all rolled Rs. :) Since that first email I've known there was something special about you. From the first night we met in the shadow of Charlemagne's horse, that rainy summer night in Paris, you have changed my perspective about love and living in many ways. You showed me that intellectual connection is something I need and crave in my life. You gave me the gift of throwing caution to the wind. You showed me that even though the fall from love can be devastating, it is worth it. I love you, dear fiend. Your friendship is one that is essential to my life. I look forward to your phone calls, I know when we speak I remember and know my best self. Thank you. I look forward to knowing each other the rest of our lives. One day we'll be old, sitting on some porch, sipping bourbon and still laughing about the road trips, the Kansas poem and Portugal.

25. Patricia. Witchy long haired sister who convinced me to go one of the greatest adventures in my life. I think of all the crazy San Francisco nights in the Pan Dulce clubhouse and am glad we had that. Pan Dulce is a state of mind. Your talent and dedication to it is an inspiration. I look forward to a life of knowing you, seeing where your gifts take you and I'm glad I was and am a part of it. I miss you.

26. Sharline, lotus blossom. Your laugh is one of the best laughs I've ever known. You spirit is crazy bright and amazing to behold. I love your love of life, the peace you have in you. I love how at the heart of you you are solid gold, solid good. You're a great dancer, like a bamboo shoot. All I have to do is think of you and I start giggling like a kid. You are a wonderful combination of silliness and wisdom. I adore you. Pan Dulce!

27. Geoff. Poet, roommate, brother. I love everything about you, you are crazy and wonderful. Talent and love and insanity all mixed together. Convincing me to try new things, to go for my dreams, and to buck a like a donkey. Zebra print and boats, holy shit. You have been witness to much, all without judgement and I am grateful for your love and friendship.

28. Ehud. Holy world. The best reminder of how everything always works out. You always, without fail, show up when I need you, when I don't even know that I need you. One of my best and beautiful soul mates. I am always always grateful for and to you. Friend to the end and beyond.

29. David. Cousin, fellow black sheep. You show me patience, forgiveness, love. I see you in your struggles and the best part of me comes forward to hold your hand You've shown me that I can be stronger than I think I am. You have shown me about bravely moving forward even when I don't think it is possible. I love you more than you know.

30. Seth. There is much to say and this isn't the place. But through the history of us I learned my almost limitless capacity for patience, forgiveness. I've learned, good or bad, to listen to my gut feelings. I've learned that one of my gifts is to see the best in someone even when when they can't see it in themselves. The piece of art trapped in the marble. I've learned that as much as I want to be, I can't be the chisel. May the "L" stand for love, for lessons learned, for loss.

31. Justin. Ass-kciker supreme. Artist, friend, mover and shaker. I am often in awe of you and how much you accomplish. How you see the best in artists and then encourage them to follow their dreams. We've shared many a drink, many a sad confession, many adventures in greatness and debauchery. Knowing you has changed my life, made me a better writer. You've helped me see parts of myself I didn't even know existed. Thank you.

32. O. You are one of the great mysteries in my life. You taught me about fear and strength, left me shaken enough to stand on my own, the warrior. You, for better or worse, changed me, made me brave. The scorpion knowing itself. And forgiveness. You taught me the lessons come in the aftermath.

33. Charlotte. I love you woman. I love knowing you, our sporadic friendship of flying by, quick connection. I am inspired by your commitment to who you are. How you have a dream and you follow it, accepting and loving. I see your relationship with Eric and Cora and I know I am blessed to see true, true love. I love your laugh, your drive. You are one of the kick-ass woman I am grateful to know, you remind me to live and live well.

I'm sure there are many people I've forgotten to put on this list but this is the list for today. I celebrate the people in my life who have helped make me who I am the last 33 years, even in little encounters.

The older I get the more I know life isn't defined so much by what we do but who we know, who we love, who we lose and the lessons learned in each relationship.

I celebrate you, my friends and family. I look forward to creating more memories, learning new lessons. I am grateful, thankful, honored to have known all of you. Happy birthday to me, I'm glad I was born to know and love you.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

born into

I spent Sunday with my family, not that there is anything unusual about that. One of my cousins, Chris, was in town for 48 hours, on a quick leave from 29 Palms, a Marine training camp. He's currently station in North Carolina and the whole family misses him. He's leaving for Afghanistan in a little over a month so we all want to spend as much time as possible with him. No one in our family has gone to war since before any of us were born. Our grandfather fought in World War II and when my cousin decide to join the military, our grandfather tried to convince him otherwise. But we are all stubborn.

Sunday morning I went to my parent's house. My father made his famous bacon and potato dish. We had white and red menudo. We had orange juice, freshly squeezed from my dad's naval orange trees and lots of champagne for mimosas, beer and love. My sisters came over and my cousin Chris, his sister Cherise and their parents.

The older I get the more I realize how incredibly lucky I am to have been born into this glorious family. We are love and there is no love like family love. I am so grateful for my parents. I am thrilled out of my mind to have sisters who are my best friends. And the aunts and uncles, their wisdom. And my cousins, brothers and sisters for my life.

Sunday night I went out to a local beer bar with my cousins and one of my sisters. They sat across from me and I wanted to cry with the love I feel for them. What a gift. I don't know who I would be today without the family. I am so incredibly grateful.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

the ugly and then

Yesterday was one of those rough, rough days. I saw something online in the morning that hurt me deeply. I was morose over it and weepy, feeling sorry for myself. I knew I had to get out of the house.

I drove to Coronado beach, my favorite beach in San Diego. The day had turned cloudy and cool, darkening skies ahead of the storm that hit later on. When I got out of my truck the wind was fierce, stinging me with driven rain. No matter. I had come to walk on the beach and I soldiered on. I was pretty much alone on the beach except for the birds, seagulls riding the currents and these little sandpipers chasing the waves back and forth. As I walked I remembered all the times in my life I had gone to the beach. As a teenager I had spent many solitary evenings on that beach. I've walked up the beach countless time with Cecil, having discussions about everything under the sun. I've walked the beach alone more than anything.

As I was walking the winds blew the clouds open and the sun came through. With the darkness of the clouds over the water and the way the sun reflected the light, the water shone a brilliant turquoise. It reminded me of my baptismal sea, the Caribbean. I walked over to my favorite rocks and sat for an hour or more, letting my mind wander, challenging myself to accept certain things I'd rather not accept. Then out of nowhere, my storm-stilled mind popped out a solution to something that has been bothering me in my novel. I had a journal in my pocket and wrote it down, grateful for the emotional turbulence of the day that had led me to be there.

Last night was also a night of ideas. I had to keep waking up to write down ideas and plot points for my novel. The ideas that are coming to me now are central to the backstory of the book, the creation mythology and spiritual evolution my characters are caught in the middle of. Not bad for a bad day.

On my walk back I saw a tide-sculpted sandcastle. Or that's what I considered it. A little Atlantis, self-formed.

I turn 33 next week. My Jesus year, as I call it.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

my favorite love poem

In honor of Lupercalia, aka Valentine's Day, here is my favorite love poem in the world:

The Benjamin Franklin of Monogamy

Reminiscing in the drizzle of Portland, I notice
the ring that's landed on your finger, a massive
insect of glitter, a chandelier shining at the end

of a long tunnel. Thirteen years ago, you hid the hurt
in your voice under a blanket and said there's two kinds
of women—those you write poems about

and those you don't. It's true. I never brought you
a bouquet of sonnets, or served you haiku in bed.
My idea of courtship was tapping Jane's Addiction

lyrics in Morse code on your window at three A.M.,
whiskey doing push-ups on my breath. But I worked
within the confines of my character, cast

as the bad boy in your life, the Magellan
of your dark side. We don't have a past so much
as a bunch of electricity and liquor, power

never put to good use. What we had together
makes it sound like a virus, as if we caught
one another like colds, and desire was merely

a symptom that could be treated with soup
and lots of sex. Gliding beside you now,
I feel like the Benjamin Franklin of monogamy,

as if I invented it, but I'm still not immune
to your waterfall scent, still haven't developed
antibodies for your smile. I don't know how long

regret existed before humans stuck a word on it.
I don't know how many paper towels it would take
to wipe up the Pacific Ocean, or why the light

of a candle being blown out travels faster
than the luminescence of one that's just been lit,
but I do know that all our huffing and puffing

into each other's ears—as if the brain was a trick
birthday candle—didn't make the silence
any easier to navigate. I'm sorry all the kisses

I scrawled on your neck were written
in disappearing ink. Sometimes I thought of you
so hard one of your legs would pop out

of my ear hole, and when I was sleeping, you'd press
your face against the porthole of my submarine.
I'm sorry this poem has taken thirteen years

to reach you. I wish that just once, instead of skidding
off the shoulder blade's precipice and joyriding
over flesh, we'd put our hands away like chocolate

to be saved for later, and deciphered the calligraphy
of each other's eyelashes, translated a paragraph
from the volumes of what couldn't be said.

Jeffrey McDaniel

I have no work today so instead I will sit here at my desk and work on my novel. Tonight I will spend the evening with my students at the homeless shelter. We'll eat pizza and I promised them we would spend tonight writing inappropriate love poems and crazy Valentines.

Last night I had a dream I heard familiar footsteps on my stairs. In the dream I got up and saw there were flowers on my doorstep. This morning, even though I knew the doorstep would be bare, I had to look.

Friday, February 10, 2012


I've always had a vivid dream life. Since the beginning of the year I've been waking up each morning and writing down my dreams. Not only have I been remembering more but the dreams have become more detailed, or my remembering has. I've had one person revisit me nightly in my dreams, usually before waking and we have long conversations that we we have never been able to have in real life. Odd, interesting. Writing down the evolution of these conversations has been pretty damn eye-opening. This is what they, (the infamous they) call processing. Very interesting.

My month of not drinking has affected the way I think about alcohol and my body in general. When I drink my dreams aren't as vivid and I struggle in the morning with meditation. And when I drink I don't work on my novel. The novel wins. Period. My social life is pretty much at a standstill except for the few true, my sister Deanna, Beau, Cecil and La Creep. Everyone else is out of the picture.

I am in love with meditating. The other gym at the gym Cecil noted that I look "blissed the fuck out." Yes.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

I'm in love

I am. I'm in love with my novel. I wake up thinking about it. I fall asleep thinking about it. I take it with me wherever I go and when I have a spare moment I take it out and read it, with a pencil in hand, shaping, culling, adding, subtracting. I want to sing Sade to my novel and slow-dance with it in the kitchen while I'm making it dinner, while wearing beautiful lingerie. I want to wake up next to my novel and smile. I want to walk with it late at night, stopping to smell the night-blooming jasmine. I want to watch old movies with my novel and tell it "Yes, you and I have what Ilsea and Rick had, except it will work out for us. We'd be on that plane out of Casablanca, together."

I know this is the honeymoon phase and soon we'll get used to each other and start snapping. We'll need breaks from each other and days when all we can do is scream at each other. It will get old but well have these golden days to remember. I'm in love. I'm in it for the long wrong. May it last and last and last and last.