I Remember

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I woke up this morning wanting to write. And I had taken a ton of notes yesterday on what I wanted to write about and it isn’t at all what I’m about to say.

I felt like it wouldn’t be appropriate, not today, to write about anything but what happened to our country 15 years ago.

I don’t talk with anybody about what I’m about to share with you, except to my husband, who knows where I was and why I always cry over breakfast on this date, as I expect many of us do. When people ask where I was, I answer simply, “on the train” and go no further. I guess I’ve always felt like my story wasn’t valid, that because I didn’t lose anybody (thankfully) that it didn’t matter as much as those that did.

But perhaps that’s part of a bigger problem: People don’t share enough or at all because they deny the validity of their stories and feelings. And when we don’t share, we don’t connect.

I believe that all our stories are legitimate simply because they are our own, as individual and unique as we each are to one another. And who has the right to judge the ways we are each of us affected by those stories and changed by them?  No one. Not even myself.

So here’s my story…

I remember waking up late. I remember I was a sophomore at NYU and I was rushing to get to a class that I didn’t really care about but needed to take because it was a requirement. I remember I was on the train and the train kept stopping and starting and like any New Yorker I was cursing the MTA in my head.

And then just before the train was going to cross the Manhattan Bridge it stopped again and the conductor came on and it was really scratchy and he said something about a plane crash. I remember not thinking anything of it and still being frustrated that I was going to be late for class again. I hate remembering that I thought this way.

Then someone started preaching about the end of days and shit got scary. I became uneasy because I had watched too many horror movies to know that when people start quoting the Bible in public it’s because they think it really is the end of days.

Now I wanted to get off the train really badly but it wasn’t moving so I started to think about ways I could get off. I thought maybe I would  have to walk through the train tunnels back to the last stop in Brooklyn and then, shit, I was really going to be late because it was already a little after 9am.

And then the train started to move, very slowly.

We started to creep onto the bridge. The train stopped, my car right in the center of the bridge. Silently, every person on the train turned to look out the window and we all watched as a plane crashed into the World Trade Center, which already had another plane in flames inside of it.

I remember going numb. I remember thinking it wasn’t real, that it couldn’t possibly be. And I didn’t realize it at the time but the skyline I knew so well, the one I took for granted, would never be the same.

The train started to move and people prayed aloud. Someone was singing. My heart started to race and I lost my hearing for a bit (something that used to happen a lot).

We got to West 4th street and as soon as I got out of the station, I started walking to class not even thinking it would be cancelled. I got to the middle of Washington Square Park and people were screaming and there was another perfect view of the towers. I remember thinking, “Poor Freshman. They’ve only just started.”

I picked up my phone and called my mom. I started to have a full blown panic attack. I heard her tell her co-workers that I was having a panic attack and she tried to calm me down but it was hard over the phone and it took a while. My mom finally snapped me out of it and said that my dad was stuck in New Jersey so to not go to the store we had on Bleecker Street but rather to where I worked at the time around the corner, the restaurant Da Silvano.

So that’s where I went. It was on Sixth Avenue. Another perfect view. There were droves and droves of people walking up the avenue from downtown. It looked like the zombie apocalypse.

We started to hand out water. Strangers exchanged cell phones thinking that it was the phone or their particular service that was a problem, but barely anyone could get through to anyone. I couldn’t get through to my sister. And I was scared to all hell that I had lost the most important person in my life, even though she worked nowhere near there. It was hard to think with any rationale that day.

And then I heard about the plane that hit the Pentagon, where my uncle worked at the time, and I called my cousin and couldn’t get through. I had this fear that everyone I knew was dead.

My co-workers and I stood in the middle of Sixth Avenue and watched the flames and hugged and cried. I hugged and cried with strangers. We all needed to hug and cry and watch because this was our city and it really didn’t matter who knew whom, because on that day we were all related.

I don’t remember too much of what happened next. I know that I somehow got in touch with my sister and my Aunt Maria who worked near her. I remember them walking down to get me and then taking the train up to my Uncle Carlos’s job in midtown and driving to New Jersey to my sister’s place. I remember sleeping on her couch and wearing her clothes to bed and I remember waking up the next day and finding out my Uncle was safe because he was on the other side of the Pentagon.

The city was eerie for a long time after that. Quiet. I remember going back to class a few days later not because I had to but because I just wanted to be around people. We just sat there in silence. We tried to talk about what happened but didn’t know how.

It was so inexplicable and no one could make sense of it. If I didn’t see it happen, I don’t know if I could ever fully believe it did, even today, when year after year people post about it on Facebook, and there are memorials, and it’s everywhere on the news.

It’s been 15 years and it’s still feels like one of those dreams you have that you can’t tell if it’s real or not. But it’s real.

New York has resumed its fast busy pace and we’ve started not looking at each other again, not because we are terrible people but because that’s just the way this city works: it’s a living, breathing organism that evolves at a quick pace and we have to keep up. It vibrates with energy and I’m almost positive I’ve heard it breathe.

But on that day and for many days after, New York slowed down, not to a halt, but just enough so that strangers could hug and cry and connect.

That I remember, that I will never forget.

How To Fight Fear With Willingness

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Greetings from the Atlanta airport*, where I am charging up and waiting for my connecting flight to Little Rock, Arkansas (don’t ask). I put off writing today as long as I could because I felt like I didn’t have anything to write about. I still don’t know if I do. But sometimes you have to just start writing to keep writing. That’s the worst part about it. You have to come to the computer or laptop or paper and trust that it will come. Y’all know about my struggle with faith.

Writing is still one of those things that I have to force myself to do because it’s not easy and I’m not as used to it as say, acting or biting my cuticles. It’s funny because people have often said things to me like, “That’s really cool that you do all that,” and they don’t just mean the acting and making movies but also the writing. They almost immediately follow it up with, “I wish I could do that too but I don’t know where to start.” I get that. I’ve felt that way. Like I said, I sometimes still feel that way with writing…

But I call bullshit.

It’s about willingness. You start with the willingness to try. If it’s totally new and hard and maybe something against your habit (not nature because people mix these two words up too often– big difference), then you find the willingness to do something different. Now, you will probably do things imperfectly and inevitably judge yourself for it (pot, meet kettle), but that brings me to my next stop:

You have to have the willingness to be a student again, to accept that no matter how many years you’ve been on this earth, you still only know a fraction of everything you could know.

I love this quote:

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I just Googled it because I couldn’t remember who said it and apparently, according to the internet, it was either Alan Watts, Penelope Ward, or some guy named Doug. Seriously, we need a more accurate system of quoting.

Like I said, I love this quote. It reminds me of being a kid and just trying shit because I wanted to know what it felt like. I didn’t care (till puberty) whether or not I was good at it. I was a figure skater for a hot moment and fell on my ass a lot. I played piano because I liked the way it sounded (but I hated practicing). I wanted to be everything when I grew up because everything sounded so cool– and that’s one of the reasons I’m an actor 😉

Do you remember when the fear of trying something new wasn’t even a factor because the desire to do so was so great? I think all kids are super curious. My favorite question was why. Ask my mom, it didn’t annoy her at all. But what happens to that curiosity when we get older? Do we get jaded or think we’ve tried it all? Do we develop a fear of failure?

And there’s the next stop: the willingness to fail.

10422328_10205517759805983_2722818121634443668_nHave you ever seen our first movie? Oof. If we had given up after that, and there were lots of reasons to besides the film itself, we wouldn’t have made anything ever again. And when I think about that, I think about all the people I wouldn’t have met, all the great actors I wouldn’t have worked with, and never again having that feeling of a bunch of people in a movie theater watching your film.

I think the fear of failure is coupled with the fear of success. I believe that’s the subtext of the statement I mentioned earlier, “I wish I could do that too but I don’t know where to start.” We know where to start: at the beginning.

But what happens if you make it past all the stops? If you find the willingness: the willingness to try, to be a student again, and to fail? Well then you might actually succeed and when people see success, they see you.

You have to be willing to be seen.

How fucking scary is that?

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*I am now in Little Rock but still, don’t ask.

How The Show Girls Contributes to My Identity Crisis

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Do you define yourself as a Marnie, Jessa, Hannah, or Shoshanna, or do none of these women even remotely represent you?

I had a dream that my life was a Girls story line, which means it looked nothing like it actually does for a regular gal living in Brooklyn. Things were good. I was of course a working actress, because the women in that show have no problem making money in their chosen professions and my biggest drama was some love storyline that I can’t specifically recall. I walked up to Lena Dunham and said, “Life is good. Don’t fuck it up by writing me some shitty storyline where Jessa or Marnie steals my boyfriend.”

Like I said, life was pretty simple.

I like Girls. The dialogue is funny and the plots keep me entertained. I think Lena Dunham is a super-talented writer. But I do have to say, I wish there was just one show that shows how life in Brooklyn actually is for a young woman trying to make it as an artist. We don’t all live in Fort Greene (I WISH) and everyone isn’t white and we burn the candles at both ends with day jobs and preferred career work and ain’t nobody got time to care who their ex-boyfriend is dating.

Am I the only one who wants to see someone more like me on the screen? I can’t tell if my life is too boring or if I’m not white and privileged enough. Maybe if someone watched a show about me, they’d be like, “Where is the entertainment in this entertainment? And if she’s Latina then why isn’t this more of a ‘real’ Latina show? Why isn’t this a telenovela?”

Identity has always been a tricky thing for me and the entertainment industry sure as hell hasn’t helped that. I’ve never quite felt like I fit in a white world or in the Latino world.

Because frankly, I’m too white to be Latina and I’m too Latina to be white.

It’s like that in the world for me, and it’s definitely like that in the acting industry for me.

Too White To Be Latina

There are few auditions I’ve been on where, with a tilted head, someone hasn’t asked me, “What are you?” What I’d like to answer is, “A human being. One that just gave you a kick-ass sample of my work. Were you paying attention to that?” Instead I say, “My dad’s from Portugal and my mom is Puerto Rican.” That’s immediately followed up with the question and a glimmer in their eye, “Do you speak Spanish?” No. No, I don’t. A sigh before they say,”That’s a shame.”

Too Latina To Be White

And then there was this one time, when I was sixteen and worked at the Gap in Bensonhurst. I was folding clothes and talking to my friend/co-worker about nothing at all and a group of Hispanic people walked in. My friend/co-worker turned to me and said, “Ugh. I hate fucking spics.” I hate to admit this but I was actually scared she would no longer be my friend when I told her, “What do you think my background is?” She said, “Aren’t you Italian?” I said no and told her what I was.*

And then there was that time when I was at NYU that a girl asked me if I would technically be considered mulatto because Portuguese is white (as if there aren’t Black people in Portugal). Oh yes, I am hybrid offspring of a horse and a donkey. Want to see my tail?

Whenever I tell these experiences to people, they can’t believe it’s true, like “You mean racism actually exists?” Yes. Yes, it does, and in more subtle ways than in the stories I just told you.

When I was a kid and I learned what melanin was (the skin’s brown pigment) I thought, “This is what the fuss is all about? How much pigment people have? Well that’s stupid.” I’m not going to lie. I believe that the perceived ambiguity about my race or ethnicity (and even the ambiguity of whether it is a race or ethnicity) has helped me in some ways. I have been able to hide, to just not talk about it with people who I fear won’t get it.

But then I wonder, why am I hiding? Frankly, because it’s just been easier than explaining. And like I said, I’m also too white to be Latino. I can’t tell you how many times Puerto Ricans have told me I’m not really Puerto Rican because I don’t speak Spanish or I don’t speak/look a certain way. This is not reverse racism. There is no such thing. This is straight up, plain old racism.

There you have it. I am still confused, to be honest. And then sometimes I wonder, why do I have to identify myself to anyone at all? I’m a person and while a lot of people define themselves in a lot of different ways, there is one universal definition:

A person is a person because they have the right to be a person.

_______

*BTW, I used to define myself as Hispanic and the government still does. But what do they know? After further investigation, I decided to define myself as Latina. I can define myself as a puppy if I wanted to. My choice.

 

 

 

Patience and Faith

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It’s been a busy summer. All of a sudden, the weather turned cool and I like the breeze but I wonder, where did the time go? They say that life speeds up when you get older. I didn’t believe it would happen so soon.

I thought I’d never get out of my 20s, that that angst and drama and feeling like things would never settle down and that I would never know what to do with my life, or never have any money, would ever go away. Some of it did. And some of it didn’t- does anyone ever know what to do with their lives? It’s hard, in a busy life, in a world that moves so fast, to keep your eye on what you think or say you want, to believe that even though it’s not in front of you, that that’s just a matter of “not yet” and not “never.”

I have never been good with patience, and maybe that’s an immaturity thing but what I’m starting to see is that it may be a matter of faith. I am a a spiritual person. I pray (yes, for those of you who think I’m an atheist because I am not a Catholic like I was raised to be). I pray to the universe, that which connects me to the trees and the earth and to all of you. I meditate. I listen for guidance. And some times I get glimpses, glimpses that what I want, who I believe I am supposed to be, is real and within me.

But how does one keep that faith when they can’t even recognize a whole summer has gone by? When our whole lives seem to be consumed by what’s happening right now, how do we see that we are still on the right path, heading towards what we want when we don’t immediately see results? I think the answer is faith, but I doubt my own faith. Often.

It’s said that there is no faith without doubt. Well,  I must have a shit load of faith then because I doubt a lot. I wish I could say that my belief in myself and in the universe supersedes everything. That I am one of those strong and confident women who is entrepreneurial and believes she can do anything, much like a lot of the women in my generation that I admire. But to be honest, I am sometimes consumed bfear.

Fear that it will just never happen for me. 

I am only 33 and yet I feel like I’m already too old, that by now I should have a kid or two and a house and/or a thriving business where I am my own boss that brings in a comfortable amount of income. But I don’t have any of those things. I have a day job and I make movies with Michael and I act and I sometimes write (hard for me of late) and I aspire to be. I’m told I’m building up the tools, gaining experience, making myself ready. It’s like I’ve been going to the gym my whole life in order to be strong and healthy but truthfully, my body is sore and tired because I’ve overworked it and I’m ready to just wear a fucking bikini already. Did that make any sense?

I feel like I’ve done enough prep for the life I know I want and sick of being consumed by the pace of this world and my own fear. My muscles are ready. I am ready. And yeah, I’m fucking impatient and I want what I want and I want it right now. Why is that a bad thing? Who has ever been content with waiting on the tarmac? Isn’t the point in life to take off to new heights? To change and grow and evolve? Isn’t that what humans just do naturally?

I’m tired of  my life as is, even if so much of it looks a lot like the rest of Americans. This is not a judgment. More power to you if you are happy with the way your time passes. This feeling within me, this restlessness and this impatience and even the fear, maybe it’s not a bad thing. Maybe I need to feel all these things in order to grow… or rather to explode.