"we forget the sun, we forget the air"

I'm still searching for the original author of this piece. It's part of a advertising campaign for a bookstore in Portugal that ran a few years back. The tagline, "If one page makes you think, imagine a book."

"I know we get used to it. But we shouldn't.

We get used to living in back door apartments and not having another view but the windows around. And because there is no view, sooner or later we get used to not opening the curtains. And because we don't open the curtains sooner or later we get used to turning on the light earlier. And by getting used to, we forget the sun, forget the air, forget the magnitude.

We get used to waking up in the morning exasperated because its time. To rush into breakfast because we are late. To read the newspaper while on the bus because we can't spare any time. To eat a sandwich because we can't stop for lunch. To go home because it's already night. To fall asleep on the bus because we are tired. To go to bed early and sleep heavily without having lived the day.

We get used to waiting the whole day only to hear on the phone: today I can't make it.

To smile at people without being smiled back. To be ignored when all you needed was to be seen. We get used to paying for all we want and need. And to fight to earn the money in which to pay. And to pay more than things are worth. And to know that every time you will pay even more. And to look for more work, to make more money, to cash in at the lines that charge.

We get used to pollution, to closed air-conditioned rooms and to the smell of cigarettes. To the artificial quivering light. To the impact of the natural light on the eyes. To the bacteria in drinkable water. We get used to too many things in order not to suffer. Trying not to notice, in small doses we push away here and there the pain, the resentment and the anger. If the beach is polluted we dip our toes while the rest of our body sweats. If the movie theater is full, we sit in the first row and twist our neck a little. If there is a lot of hard work, we get relief from thinking about the weekend. And if during the weekend there isn't a lot to do, we go to bed early, satisfied as we can always catch up on our sleep.

We get used to it, so that we don't get scratched by harshness, to preserve ourselves. We get used to it to avoid wounds, bleedings, to spare the heart.

We get used to it to spare life. Then little by little we wear out and we wear out so much by getting used to it, that we loose ourselves."



This post finds me at a coffee shop on Chicago Avenue in a non-descript part of town (i.e west of Western). There's something about coffee shop culture that is both interesting and monotonous at the same time. The Tuesday afternoon coffee shop crowd is comprised of the unemployed, the non traditionally employed, students, retirees and recent mothers with their babies. This assortment of humanity can make for some interesting observations.

I'm not one for eavesdropping but, for the sake of this blog entry, I'll admit that I have opened my ears and allowed the limited content of other people's lives to massage my eardrums. OK fine, I am one for eavesdropping.

When I first arrived, the visual landscape was cluttered by a table of older ladies, about 8 of them. They sat at the largest table in the place and their coughing seemed to bounce about like a piss poor drum section. I immediately wondered whether they were all sharing the same cold and questioned whether I should be in such close proximity to them. They all traveled to the counter together and ordered a slew of sandwiches, drinks and chips. The pleasant waitress maintained a sweet attitude and tried to keep the ladies in line. At first I felt nostalgic for the company of older women, my abuelita, my great aunts, my grandma. But, before long, I remembered that huge groups of women, whether young or old, are not my cup of tea. I prefer my ladies one-on-one.

I settled into a booth and decided to zone out with my iPod for a while. There was a guy to my right multitasking between IM and a business project and a girl to my left doing the same. The three of us in a row represented the office contingent of this establishment. Before long, about four of the older ladies came up to where we were sitting and started observing us in the way that a child would observe a tank of fish. They asked what we were doing and we all responded that we were working. They were impressed, not by the fact that we are responsible employees, but by the fact that with computers you can now work virtually from anywhere.

The women finally grew tired of spending time at the coffee shop and went on their way. The girl to the left also left and was replaced by a couple, probably in their very early twenties. The girl in this couple is in a photo I took at an after hours club in the city about a year ago. The weird thing is that I haven't seen this girl since then but I did look at the photo yesterday. Sometimes you just have to wonder about these coincidences. They seemed to be at the beginning of a relationship, probably just spent the entire day in bed, and the glue in their bond seemed to be sex more than anything else. They discussed their messed up families, school, their schedules, other people. They had a heated discussion about the people they know in the escort and porn business. Ah, young love!

While the couple discussed their short lives, the coffee shop employees and loyal patrons sat at the bar and discussed the old ladies. The patient waitress who had served them recounted the hectic moment when they all came to the counter together to order slight variations of the same sandwich. The conversation soon shifted to Halloween. I had to chuckle when one of the guys mentioned that there were at least four cops at the party he went to last year. I was a cop last year, after all. In my defense, it was a costume that Leah had worn the year before and therefore required no expense or thought whatsoever. The way I see it, Halloween is over in a blink which is considerably shortened by the fact that you are drinking during that blink. So, I try to make the costume part of the charade as painless as possible.

It's now after 5 pm and the crowd is gradually switching over to those people who have been at work all day. The energy level and collective chatter is escalating. There's clearly something about going to the office and then being released at the end of the day that gives people a rush, the adult equivalent to recess.

It's 5:30 pm and I'm logging off. Song heard overhead, Prince's "Money Don't Matter."


the love of family

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abuelita y yo, enero de 1978

Last night I attended what is known as "The Love Party," held at my friend Shaun's house. Some dressed the part, others brought lovely foods, music and beverages. Good times were had by all that I spoke with (and probably by those who I neglected as well). On account of the fact that I'm friends with the organizer of said party, the idea of love was discussed incessantly this week. So I had the opportunity to review my mental notes and reflect a bit on my definition of love.

What I found while traveling around in my mind is that love is limitless, flowing and multiplying indefinitely. Love is built on a foundation which is composed of everything you have known and learned since you were a child. For me, love starts with family. I think of my abuelitos, who showered me with affection, attention and support for my entire childhood. They served as my teachers of morals, culture and decency. They taught me good manners (some were forgotten), hard work, intellectual thirst and curiosity. They taught me to enjoy good foods, to make things last and to value family above all else. I have never met two more beautiful people in my entire life than mis abuelitos, Jorge Ruiz Lara and Leonor Angarita Ruiz Lara. In her book, The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy talks about how when people pass away they leave holes in the universe in the shape of their former selves. Mis abuelitos definitely left a huge hole in my family's heart and in the universe when they left us. Despite their absence on earth, they are still everywhere and in everything, guiding and inspiring me in all that I do.

My parents were young when they had us, younger than I am now is what I mean. Well, my mom anyway. Despite their youthful inexperience, my parents loved and nurtured us, and learned the ins and outs of parenting along the way. What I’ve found is that most parents don't know what the hell they're doing at first, no matter their age. And kids don’t realize this until they’re all grown up and reflect back on their childhoods.

For me, motherly love is best illustrated by the one-on-one moments that my mom and I had when I was young. Since I had two sisters, this time was rare and usually limited to time spent traveling to and from doctor's appointments. When I would inevitably survive a shot in the arm, a stop at McDonald's was to be anticipated. My mom would order nothing, but beg for a few french fries. After all, they're not fattening if you steal them from someone else. My mom would write songs about the scary moments in my life to the tune of My Fair Lady's, "I'm Getting Married In the Morning." They went something like, "I'm having an operation in the morning!" We would sing it with such glee that I actually have good thoughts when I think of the cleft palate surgery that I had at the age of 5.

My mom coupled these songs with stories she would tell about 3 characters which always seemed to be going through the same experiences that my sisters and I were going through. The characters were called Dubadoo, Dubadee and Dubado. We would all climb into my parent's bed and my mom would make up these hilarious stories on the spot. Then we would write our own short stories in our journals and recite them aloud, trying to be as funny as possible in order to entertain each other.

My mom was never a great cook. Being raised in Colombia with maids that cook 4 course meals 3 times a day will do that to a person. Looking back, the meals that my mom made for us were a beautiful expression, despite their pathetic appearance. A typical spread included a pile of peas, 1 or 2 fried eggs and a pile of white rice. The plate was always split into 3 sections and that is as creative as things got on our dinner table, unless my dad was cooking. Then we could expect something super American and exciting, like Cream Chipped Beef or Chicken Ala King. Or, on a truly wonderful night, breakfast for dinner, Waffles!

My dad is, simply put, the best dad a kid could ask for. And I'm not saying that because he’s my blogs most avid reader. My dad was the team captain of the Fitzgerald clan. He may have learned a lot of tricks about how to handle a crew of women from tagging along with my grandma, Rita, to her Girl Scout meetings. She was troop leader. From day one, my dad proved to be a feminist. He never did anything for us that he felt we could do on our own. He loved to spout the “teach a man to fish” lesson. The most challenging childhood task I can remember was stuffing my sleeping bag into this little tiny bag that it came with. When you would look at the two, it just didn’t seem to make sense – the bag being so small and the sleeping bag so huge. My dad made the stuffing process look so easy. My sister, Alicia and I would take our tent down in 4 minutes flat and then sit down for the 10-minute bag stuffing process. It doesn’t seem so hard these days so I guess I learned something.

My dad was our coach, our tutor, our proofreader and editor. He taught me the proper form for shooting a basketball, dribbling, defensive stands and lay-ups. In softball, he taught me how to catch fly balls and grounders, hit a home run and pitch. Looking back, I realize that all these activities were simply a reflection of his love for us. I was the sole fisher woman in my family. I secretly always knew that fishing would be a way for me to get one-on-one time with my dad and I cherished those opportunities. I always admired my dad’s love for nature and for getting away from the drone of suburban life. For two weeks every summer we would pile into our failing Dodge Ram van and head out to West Virginia for camping, hiking, swimming, shuffleboard and family bonding. I can’t think of any hotel that would have been nicer than sleeping under the stars with my family by my side.

My sisters, Alicia and Paula, were my partners and friends from day one. Could there be anything more beautiful than sharing your childhood, your parents, grandparents and cousins with 2 girls, one year older and one year younger than you? I think not. Sure, there were fights and arguments. But, the discord could not stand up to the bond that we all shared. The sweetest moments were those where we suffered a common punishment at the hands of my wonderful parents. I recall slithering along the floors of my house, trying to make it to a central meeting spot so that my sisters and I could try to figure out an exit strategy, or at least keep each other company while on punishment.

One of the hardest things about growing up was leaving this environment where we were all together and going out on my own as a singular human being. A few months ago the five of us were together for about 15 minutes while walking home from dinner. I was immediately struck by a wave of nostalgia; this was the first time it had been just the five is us for probably 10 years. I don't think I'll ever forget that moment, an extraordinary scenario which was once so commonplace.

In its purest form, love is my immediate family, Steve, Claudia, Alicia and Paula. From there, it branches out to my extended family, mis abuelitos, Leonor and Jorge Ruiz Lara, my grandparents, Rita and Stephen Fitzgerald, Sr., my aunt and uncle Jorge and Clemencia, my cousins, Anamaria, Liliana, Nicolas and Santiago Segura, my abuelita’s housekeeper, Maura and my family’s housekeeper and nanny, Miriam. The love density in this short paragraph is truly overwhelming. I'm pretty lucky to have ended up with this crew.

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Lurray Caverns, VA, sometime in the early 1980's.


the mind is a chaos of delight

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Notes from my visit to the Darwin exhibit this morning. The Field Museum, Chicago, IL.

On the thrill of observation:
"The delight one experiences in such times bewilders the mind,-if the eye attempts to follow the flight of a gaudy butter-fly, it is arrested by some strange tree or fruit; if watching an insect one forgets it in the stranger flower it is crawling over. The mind is a chaos of delight."

On the theory of evolution:
"There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

On the pros and cons of marriage:
"Children-(if it Please God), Constant companion (& friend in old age) who will feel interested in one, Object to be beloved and played with, Better than a dog, anyhow, Home & someone to take care of house, Charms of music and female chit-chat...These things good for one's health, but terrible loss of time." -- Charles Darwin (July, 1838)

On Darwin:
"He is the most open, transparent man I ever saw, and every word expresses his real thoughts. He is particularily affectionate...and possesses some minor qualities that add particularily to one's happiness, such as not being fastidious and being humane to animals."
-- Emma Darwin, wife of Charles Darwin (1838)


my dinner with andre

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About a week ago, I decided to cross the cinematic threshold and finally watch "My Dinner With Andre." The idea of watching this film had been firmly planted in the back of my brain sometime in 1982, when my parents started talking about it and never really stopped. After that initial mention, references to the film seemed to creep in and out of our dinning room every 5 years or so. "It's just one long dinner conversation! What an incredible film."

By the time I was old enough to go to Power Video on my own, "My Dinner With Andre" had become way too huge of a concept for me. I got cold feet. I just couldn't bring myself to rent it. Films are funny like that. The longer you go without seeing them and the more people talk about how amazing they are, the harder it is to get up the energy (or the guts) to go see them. Perhaps what holds us back is a fear of disappointment, a sense that the experience of watching the film could never live up to the idea of the film that you have carefully constructed in your own mind.

I'll admit, I'm being a little silly. But, there's some truth to what I'm saying. I've never seen Gladiator or any of the Harry Potter films. I've never seen The Silence of the Lambs or Poltergeist. I have, however, seen one of the worst films ever made, "The Stupids." The renting of "The Stupids" is an example of what happens when 3 people can't see eye to eye so they pick the worst possible film in the store and rent it because at least they can all agree that it will be terrible.

I digress. When I told my parents that I would finally be seeing "My Dinner With Andre, " I received 2 responses. My mom's reaction was one of disappointment (or veiled sentimentality about my absence at home), "I wanted us to watch it together." My dad's, of concern, "I wonder whether the film will still resonate today."

The good news is, the film does still resonate. It brings up life questions that I've asked myself many times and discussed to death with friends and family members. I don't know whether I find more comfort or angst in the fact that these questions were being asked a quarter of a century ago. It's comforting to know that I'm not alone in my dissatisfaction with the American rubric of a life success which is directly bound and dependent on monetary gain and corporate advancement. Or a life where one lives to work rather than working to live. Since many will not make it through the blandish first hour of this film to the meaty and delicious second half, I've included 2 of my favorite exchanges here.

2 Excerpts from "My Dinner With Andre" (1981)

Wally: We just put no value at all on perceiving reality. On the contrary, this incredible emphasis that we all place now on our so-called "careers" automatically makes perceiving reality a very low priority. Because if your life is organized around trying to be successful in a career, well it doesn't matter what you perceive, or what you experience. You can really shut your mind off for years in a way.

Andre: Right! Our minds are focused on these goals and plans. Which in themselves are not reality.

Wally: No! Goals and plans are not -- They're fantasy. They're part of a dream life! You know, it always just does seem so ridiculous that everybody has to have this little goal in life. It's so absurd, in a way. When you consider that it doesn't matter which one it is.

Andre: Right! And because people's concentration is on their goals, in their life they just live each moment by habit!


Andre: If you don't have that electric blanket, and your apartment is cold, and you need to put on another blanket or go to the closet and pile up coats on top of the blanket you have, well then you know it's cold. And that sets up a link of things: you have compassion. Well, is the person next to you cold? And are there other people in the world who are cold? What a cold night! I like the cold, my God, I never realized, I don't want a blanket, it's fun being cold, I can snuggle up against you even more because it's cold! All sorts of things occur to you. Turn on that electric blanket and it's like taking a tranquilizer, it's like being lobotomized by watching television. I think you enter the dreamworld again. I mean, what does it do to us Wally, living in an environment where something as massive as the seasons or winter or cold don't in any way affect us? We're animals after all. What does that mean? I think it means that instead of living under the sun and the moon and the sky and the stars we're living in fantasy world of our own making.



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Portrait of Fritz Perl by Otto Dix

"The whole is greater than the sum of its parts," is how my high school psychology teacher, Mr. Poythress, defined gestalt on an ordinary day in 1995. Mr. Poythress was big on teaching us the things that really mattered. He always said that he knew we would ultimately forget almost everything we learned in high school, so he was quick to throw a lesson plan out the window if a more pressing topic presented itself. I recall an entire lecture on hygiene which focused on the importance brushing one's tongue. In the realm of psychology, it is Mr. Poythress that first taught me about Wilhelm Wundt, Pavlovian Conditioning and, of course, Gestalt.

Or so I originally thought.

My father is a psychologist. As the daughter of a psychologist, I was raised with an intimate knowledge of Dorthea Dix, schizophrenia and multiple-personality disorders. I spent a small chunk of my childhood stuffing envelopes for the Friends of Saint Elizabeth's Hospital and going on family outings with patients from my dad's hospital. In this way, even the craziest of people have never seemed that crazy to me.

My dad was actually the first person to introduce me to Gestalt as a therapy. As a child, I had a hard time with decision-making (some things never change). On one occasion, I was trying to decide whether to do this or that and I started to worry about the people that would be affected by my decision. My dad advised me calmly and then recited the Gestalt Therapy Prayer:

"I'm not in the world to live up to your expectations and you're not in the world to live up to mine. If perhaps we meet, that's groovy. If not, it can't be helped."

And so, in honor of Gestalt, my dad, Dorothea Dix, Mr. Poythress, Ivan Pavlov and his dogs, Phineas Gage and anyone who has contributed to the obsessive study of unraveling the mysteries of the human mind, I am attaching an excerpt from Gestalt Therapy Verbatim by Fritz Perls (1969). Words to live by, if you can manage to.

1. Live in the here and now. Get in touch with yourself.

2. Listen, understand, be open. Look at what you avoid. Get close to the impasse (something you feel you won't survive, a fantasy of a psychological catastrophe), get into it, go through it. See the obvious, which has been eluding you.

3. Let go of your parents. Throw them into a metaphorical garbage pail, and forgive them.

4. Take risks. You can win as well as lose.

5. Change your questions, which are "hooks," into statements. Use the word how, not why. Turn it to I, nouns to verbs.

6. When stuck in resentment, express it, pretending that the person at whom it is directed is there, saying, "--, I resent . . . " Then express the demands that lie behind the resentment as commands. And last, express what you appreciate about the person.

7. Talk for five minutes about your awareness of yourself and another person, emphasizing the how (ongoing process).

8. If you are stuck, confused, or bored, try shuttling from here to there (some other place you imagine in your mind) several times, each time noting changes, until you "feel right" in the present and literally "come to your senses."

9. Relive your dreams (everything in your dream is an aspect of you), writing them down with all the details. Then "be" each element, creating dialogues, remembering what appeared in the dream. Talk to the dreams themselves: "Dreams, you scare me," for example.

10. Try the exercise of transforming yourself: first into someone else, imitating voice, expression, and so on; then into a road, a car, a baby, the mother of the baby, the baby again, the mother again, the baby again, a two-year-old, you at your present age.

11. Use appropriate behavior for each situation. Some require aggression, others withdrawal, for example.

12. Remember that changes take place naturally, not through some "program" you set up. Go into what you are; accept it. Change will happen by itself.


soggy shoes

It's Sunday night in Chicago and the rain unexpectedly pounds against my 3rd floor window. There's nothing I've found more beautiful or captivating in this city than the rain. There's a certain drama to it, the way it falls diagonally rather than straight down, the way the wind howls and the drops vary their beat depending on the distance traveled or the surface that breaks their fall. The way it seems to never quite stop, blowing in and out continuously, creeping up on you out of nowhere, yet traveling predictably by road from miles away.

I never carry an umbrella. There's something I find stifling about the planning that goes into the act. I'll admit that I love the feeling of soaked through soggy shoes and damp hair and that transition from wet to dry, when you're safely back in your apartment, freshly released from your sopping clothes, sucking on strands of shampoo flavored rain.

The photo below was taken in downtown Chicago during one of the most intense storms of the summer. The rain swept in with a fury, crashing gallons of water back and forth across the street in tides. From a hotel lobby, I was able to safely observe the scene and avoid total inundation. Singles and pairs raced about with a lighthearted urgency. Cars sailed quickly by. And this man just stood there, frozen in the middle of the street, hunched over like a streetlight.

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after the blog age

I've been around computers most of my life. When I was a kid, I remember my dad coming home with the 1st Atari. And then the Commodore 64. And then the 128. I became a wiz at Printshop and could throw around words like MS-DOS and dot matrix in casual discussions (still can).

So, when I think of computers, I think of my dad. I remember him staying up well into the AM hours, working furiously to learn everything he could. His computer desk was an old massage table, not unlike a school cafeteria table. He had 3 computers on it, 2-3 printers and 4 metal folding chairs which offered minimal comfort. Looking back, it was more like a computer lab than a home office. When my syllabus demanded a research paper, my dad would stay up by my side (or on call by the television in his rocking chair), assisting with challenging bibliography questions, proofreading my masterpieces and serving as the IT professional when the printer would ultimately malfunction.

My mom would always say, "Steve! All you do is play on that damn computer!" To this day my mom is terrified of computers. She finally has an email address as of a few weeks ago (thanks to my sister Paula). Despite this development, I know my mom will always see the computer as the machine that captured my father's curiosity and paved the way for widespread desk clutter. Like she said to me last night, "This huge mess and not a pen in sight!"

That gets me to the point I'm trying to make, should there be such a point. I have lived through the progression of the computer age. I own a Mac. I own an iPod. In fact, I own two. I keep up as best I can. BUT, I have never had a blog and I never read blogs. I know that I'm too late on the blogging tip to expect that anyone will read my ramblings. So, this blog will merely serve as an outlet for my personal observations, inspirations and curiousities. I will follow that thread wherever it may lead...