Friday, September 12, 2008

Free Hispanic Heritage Book Giveaway!

Hispanic Heritage Month Giveaway – September 15th – October 15th

Morningside Writers Group and Harlem Writer are hosting a FREE Hispanic Heritage Book Giveaway sponsored by Hachette Book Group.

Answer one of the following three essay questions below and submit your response as a Word or PDF attachment by midnight on 10/15/08, to, with the Subject: Hispanic Heritage Contest Giveaway.

Format: Please submit responses using the following guidelines (Courier New, 12 pt, double –spaced, 1” margins on all four sides).

Word count: 500-750 words

1. What are the most important contributions Hispanics have made to American culture within the last five to ten years?

2. What is your most memorable cross-cultural experience with a native Spanish-speaker? (If you’re Hispanic, what is your experience with someone outside your ethnic background?)

3. What is the importance of cultural awareness and heritage in a changing national stage?

Contest Rules:

1. The contest is open to US or Canadian residents only with a valid mailing address. No P.O. Boxes.
2. Applicants must use a valid e-mail address and home or cell number.
3. The top five essays will win the eight books below:
  1. Dream in Color By Linda Sánchez , Loretta Sánchez
  2. Gunmetal Black By Daniel Serrano
  3. The Gifted Gabaldón Sisters By Lorraine López
  4. Bless Me, Ultima By Rudolfo Anaya
  5. Brownsville By Oscar Casares
  6. The Hummingbird's Daughter By Luis Urrea
  7. The General and the Jaguar By Eileen Welsome
  8. Tomorrow They Will Kiss By Eduardo Santiago

Books will be mailed to contest winners courtesy of the publisher.

4. All decisions are final by panel judges.

Good luck!

Monday, September 08, 2008

Let Go, Let God

I believe that all people and situations happen into our lives under the watchful eye of God. Inasmuch as I believe that, it can be difficult to accept at times. I've been doing my best to strengthen my faith that everything will work out for the best, even when dark clouds hang overhead, and I've left my umbrella at home because I didn't pay attention to early warning signs.

Oftentimes we struggle against ourselves, when it'd probably be best to wait out the temporary storm. When we're beset by malevolent spirits who seek to undo all the good deeds and rattle our foundation, remember that this too shall pass.

Mondays are typically filled with anxiety because it's the start of the work week, but the day follows Sunday, a traditional Christian church day. Why can't we change the script and look forward to Mondays, regarding than grumbling when the alarm clock sounds?

I've been firing off resumes to reenter the job market after several years of freelancing as an Adult Education/ESL/Accent Reduction Teacher. I have to let go of the anxiety that I'll lose something by returning to fulltime work outside the apartment or local community centers within walking distance of home.

Job interviews are meant, we hope, to select the best candidate at that time, rather than filling a racial quota, or reacting to mounting competitive pressures to fill a void at a company.

I'm not looking forward to playing daily games of office politics, wherein I must remember who's a member of which insular clique, and who's the boss's pet.

I will remind myself that upon successfully landing a fulltime job, that it is a job, and that it will not define who I am and what I stand for. I'll be paid contractor, only with a regular paycheck. I'll no longer have to hustle and jump through the freelance hoops of always being five days ahead of my current gig, while trying to complete it.

If need be, I'll step away from my desk and bow my head in prayer.
Dear God, give me grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things which should be changed and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Friday Gratitude - Granny Gums

I'm grateful for having had a grandmother who instilled in me the importance and power of prayer, patience, and humility.She was the glue that held our family together, and now that she's gone, it feels as if we've all scattered to the four winds off Montauk Point, or have set sail via Galveston.

I don't like feeling disembodied in the aftermath of her passing. Many things were left unsaid and undone. I longed to bring her to New York to show her my immediate world, but knew she'd have been unable to walk as briskly as she did when I was a child.

The fantasy continued that I'd make a name for myself outside of Houston, and return to rebuild her house, and set her up as the matriarch she was and will always be in my heart. The parcel of land wouldn't accommodate a horse stable, swimming pool, and tennis court - that wasn't who she was - but I'd have at least designed her a gazebo in her backyard, just below the pecan tree, where we'd sit and reminiscence about her life.

Granny Gums and I always shared a special bond, and I know that will always be the case. Now that she's separated from her earthly vessel, she can watch over me from on high. I can hear the cadence of her voice, see her sitting on the corner of the living room sofa, nodding at the evening newscast at some local injustice, wrapped in her tri-color bathrobe.

I'm blessed for having known her, and saddened by her physical absence, but know that the most important lessons she taught will sustain me until we meet again.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

That Really Chaps My Hide

I'd like to think I'm one of the most patient people on earth, but will settle for in New York City. My patience has been wearing thin over the last few years, and I don't want to become yet another angry, foul-mouthed person bumping into pedestrians on the sidewalks, or raising my fist at oncoming traffic as I walk against the signal.

One of my granny's favorite expressions, "Your eyes are bigger than your stomach," has been applicable in my life recently.

Exhibit A: Someone contacted me a few months ago because he wanted to start a Sci-Fi/Speculative Workshop under the Morningside Writers Group umbrella to replace the shuttered Graphic Novel Workshop. Fine. No problem. The online real estate was stagnant. Why not create a new division? The new moderator would be autonomous; I'd be on hand if needed.

I'm chapped at myself because I didn't listen to the quiet, still voice that is my early warning system. I should've walked away from the initial meeting knowing that this person wouldn't actually form the new group. The heretofore nameless sent an e-mail about epiphanies and early life changes, and unrealized goals as reason for bailing after three months of sparse two-way communication and several interested applicants in the queue waiting to launch the group.

I'm all for this person pursuing creative goals elsewhere, but why approach me if there are things unsaid and undone? I'm chapped because it could've been avoided. I hope I can save face and continue to build the Morningside Writers Group brand, but an e-mail seven days before an intended life-changing relocation event, I can do without.

This person obviously bit off more than was needed to be satisfied. Next time, push away from the table and put the leftovers in the refrigerator for another day, or better still, don't pull into the drive-through at 3 a.m. rousing the sleeping attendant. The napping student will be pissed off, and the glutton will have heartache from stuffing greasy fast food while trying to steer the car.

I wish this person every success, but I won't soon forgive the slight. Yes, it's most likely a blessing from God. It's best not to question the timing of the revelation because I sensed this would happen and didn't heed the warning.

Exhibit B: Last night's US Open Women's Quarterfinal match between Venus and Serena. What was that? My arthritic granny would've played with more zeal. Where were the famed power shots and razor sharp angles? The match lasted just over two hours, with commentators citing it was a great match. It wasn't. Tracy Austin and John McEnroe (of all people) were being gracious. The match was painful to watch.

I've two younger brothers, and grew up in a large Southern family. We competed against each other all the time, and after the game of checkers, basketball, kickball, or softball ended, we were the same as when we began. There were no bribes or persuasive talks from our parents to allow one to win over the other as has been long rumored about Venus and Serena. Oracene and Richard weren't in the stands last night, and if they were . . .

Venus totally blew the match. She had ten set points and couldn't convert any of them. During the match Serena look like something the cat dragged in, but was magically refreshed and exuberant during the post match commentary.

Ladies, it's a game. Play on the court as competitors, not older sister looking out for little sister. It'll make for more interesting and competitive matches.

Exhibit C: I've been summoned for jury duty after having postponed three times. I don't want to responsible for sending anyone to jail for petty crimes or white collar crimes. I'm looking for fulltime employment and called to speak with an operator because I feel on the verge of landing a plum writing/copyediting/blogging job. She was so obnoxious. I could see her wagging her finger at me for not yet serving on jury duty.

Does this make me a bad citizen? Why make $40/day (to be mailed weeks later) when I could earn more freelancing or at a fulltime job?

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Writing Without Excuses

It's easy to find excuses not to write daily with the Internet, instant messenger programs, TV, DV-R, phone calls to return, and e-mail that seem to require an immediate response. The essays, film reviews, artist profiles, fiction, screenplays knocking about in my head will not spring forth fully formed and onto the yellow legal pad, marble notebook, or computer monitor if I don't plant my butt in a chair or on the sofa and write.

I used to be in such awe of some published writers that I felt frozen when I sat to write, but realized that I didn't set out to be wholly impressed, only enjoy the reading experience.

My mistake during this difficult transition from reader to writer was investing too much money and time reading how-to books on technique, rather than writing my way into a story or an essay. I became an expert on characters and viewpoint, scene and structure, description, and conflict, action, and suspense by reading and absorbing, not through practical application. The Elements of Fiction Writing from Writer's Digest Books remain in my library as a reminder of looking rather than leaping in the deep end of the pool.

The floodlights blinded me years ago during a Morningside Writers Group Fiction workshop. A member at the time grabbed my hand as would an older sister or mother: "Stop reading those books. You're hiding behind technique." It was obvious to her what I'd been doing because I easily cited writing terms and definitions when giving feedback.

I approached writing as I had acting. An actor prepares with exercises, warm-ups, script analysis, character notebook, rehearsals, and finally performance. Why would I be any less prepared to write and give constructive criticism?

Falling from Mt. Olympus was bumpy. I had to confront my fears of being a fraud head-on. What did I have to say that would be of interest to a reading public? Could I hold my own with writers who had studied the craft and earned an MFA? Was my imagination vivid and detailed enough that readers would suspend disbelief and travel to pre and post Civil Rights Texas?

I've stopped hiding behind the books on technique, and committed myself to making mistakes and learning from working writers in a workshop setting. I continue reading classics and contemporary authors, but I'm no longer depressed by what I see on the page. I don't know what the writer might have gone through to write his or her masterpiece that I'm either stumped, awed, or envious.

Writing and acting are both tightrope acts. When the writing and/or acting is good, everyone applauds, awards are bestowed, and some authors' work is immortalized on film. When the acting is bad, the performer isn't sent to Siberia, but can make a career of playing certain types of roles. When the writing is bad or untruthful, editors and critics denounce the efforts, and it ends up on on the discount shelf at the local bookstore.

Writing without excuses requires emotional, spiritual, and physical stamina. Do you have what it takes to become a successful writer?

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Artists in The Concrete Jungle

I've lived on the East Coast far longer than I imagined I would when I first relocated to pursue the blaring lights of Broadway and two of my deceased aunt's favorite soap operas - One Life To Live and All My Children. I've yet to perform on Broadway, and realized that performing on soap operas aren't for me, eighteen hour days notwithstanding.

I originally thought I'd get invaluable training and knowledge performing off-Broadway, and make my way out West, find an agent, land a TV series or three, and several supporting character film roles before returning to New York for my Broadway debut. It's still not too late to realize my performing goals, but I think it will happen with one-man shows or plays that I write and direct in the future.

Most artists in urban cities, unless they have parental support, must live with roommates to survive and audition on a regular basis. Roommates are a necessary evil. Living with a roommate isn't always easy because two or more strangers attempt to coexist while respecting each others' boundaries, not drinking the last two glasses of low fat or soy milk clearly marked with masking tape and magic marker, or forgetting to leave a note when out of state relatives phone.

Roommates require understanding, endless patience (if you intend to live together more than three months), and selective recall. Living with someone in a big city other than a family member or a trusted friend from grade school can wear on the nerves, but the alternative is moving to a more affordable city or your birthplace.

I believe that roommates we seek on some level are extensions of or missing links to our personalities. I think I'd make a great father, and to that end my roommate for the last three years is younger and needs limitless encouragement, nurturing, and support. We have become father and son. I never wanted to raise an adult child, but this is who the universe has sent me for a lesson I'm supposed to learn - I think.

An unfortunate side effect to some roommate situations is that the dynamic can morph into an old married couple, replete with old wounds that refuse to heal, petty jealousies, and competing for attention with mutual friends.

I've lived with several memorable roommates: a human lab rat who subjected himself to all sorts of poking and prodding to earn money, a female kleptomaniac with a penchant for Paloma Picasso lipstick, a gadabout who'd seduced his sister if it meant getting something he wanted, and a peeping tom.

I know it's because I'm an oldest child who as an adult became
an overprotective nurturing father figure that the above sampling of broken-winged souls found their way to my door.

I never set out to create an artist's commune or charitable organization in my apartment, but there were times that might have happened with the assortment of people who followed the beacon from my lighthouse. At the end of the day or just after sunrise, this thing that I do, this way of being, weighs heavy on my mind and soul.

My family and former classmates are in Texas, and it was a hard lesson to try not to recreate or repopulate my emotional life with people who might have resembled those I left behind. It's not healthy. Some of the roommate choices I've made were snap decisions because I wanted to save money, audition more, and live what I thought was an artistic life in New York.

The most important lesson I've learned, and sometimes have to remind myself is that everyone and everything we try to escape, hide, or avoid finds us in subtle and blatant ways. Problems dealing with your mother or father, odds are you will date or live with someone who's just like your parent. Unresolved anger issues? You'll undoubtedly find the one person in your new city that stomps on every landmine you've buried. Never learned how to balance your checkbook and maintain your finances? Watch out. You'll live with a shopaholic whose carefree spending confuses you as s/he tells you the rent will be late again.

My solution to the roommate shuffle is to become financially solvent in the next few years and buy real estate so that I don't have to depend on anyone else to share the expenses.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Turning Over A New Leaf

Monday mornings oftentimes stir grumpiness when the alarm clock sounds, the garbage truck revs outside, and the cat or dog scratch at the bedroom door after hearing you complain about getting out of bed.

The blues don’t only strike at the beginning of the work week, listening to Billie Holiday or Phyllis Hyman, but times when we’re faced with things and people we’d rather not.

What is it specifically about Mondays that cause us to reach over and press the snooze button for the third time before we stumble to the kitchen to eat a bowl of Cheerios or Wheaties that we hope will ignite the brain cells?

Do we think that five more minutes will change our disposition, or perhaps when we wake it will still be Sunday, with another day to prepare for the week?

I've been jogging off and on over the last few weeks to recondition my mind and body. Exercise does a body good, if I can get to bed at a reasonable time the night before rather than trying to catch up on Netflix DVD's that have a fine coating of dust from having rested on the entertainment center for two weeks. The mornings I jog the reservoir, there's a difference in that day's perspective and productivity.

I thought I'd be inspired by the recent Beijing Olympics, but there was too much pressure trying to compare myself to those determined speed walkers.

Monday mornings can be a fork in the road for some. Tasks left undone from the previous weekend or week come to the forefront of the mind, so we want to burrow underneath the pillow rather than confront the task list in Outlook or Post-Its lining the perimeter of the flat panel monitor.

It doesn't help living in the past, nor does it help overextending yourself with too many projects. I've been working on saying no more often, rather than trying to be a people pleaser, afraid of hurting someone's feelings. This character flaw has its origins in Southern Guilt and Hospitality. I'm not a bed-and-breakfast, and have to stop behaving as if I were.

I'll reorder my priorities so that I can spring out of bed more mornings than not, unafraid of who will call or which e-mails will arrive. Besides, if I want to accomplish half of my goals, I'll have to combat my Monday blues, as I'm sure some of you are dealing with people and things that are rushing through your mind like a pinball machine.