Sunday, October 09, 2016

My 3-Day Writing Retreat

I took a three-day writing retreat to the Highlights Foundation campus in Pennsylvania. What a wonderful experience - thank you to the Highlights staff who made me feel special during my time there. I don't think I've ever been somewhere like this where writing and creating are supported so fully, and inspiration cultivated. I accomplished more in three days during this retreat than I've completed in three months prior. 

Here are a few pictures from my trip. 

Driving to get there, through the fog, then on to the quiet roads closer to the location, and finally through the local roads to get to Highlights. 

I made it! Here's the cabin where I stayed. Notice there's no t.v. and no distractions, this was three days focused on writing alone. 

 My view from inside the cabin to the outside.
 The other cabins.

 And finally, my writing starts. What a view! This was the ultimate environment for writing progress.

...and a little writing in the rain. 

 This is where the magic was happening. It was cool outside but I put on plenty of layers and it made for an amazing spot to get words to paper.
 Posing for a selfie outside my cabin. Love the "unworkshop" experience!

 My view as the sun set outside the cabin.

 Working inside after dark.
 Getting my chapters in order.
 Some word-rocks for inspiration.

 The Barn where the most amazing food was prepared for my meals.

 I highly recommend this experience to anyone who is looking to have a focused writing experience. Contact Highlights, if you want more information.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

15 Years Since the World Trade Center was Attacked (9-11-01)

It’s been 15 years since the attacks on the World Trade Center. Terrorist attacks are happening more frequently around the world now, but none as devastating as this attack on our home soil. Yes, we've built a memorial, but let us not forget what happened that day and the lives that were lost.
Photo credit: Michelle Reynoso

I'm re-posting what I wrote a couple years back about what I saw that day - it sums up my experience with those events and what happened.

The morning of September 11, 2001 started like any other day; little did any of us know that it would be a day that changed our country. I was ironing clothes, preparing to leave for work. I lived in uptown Manhattan with my husband and cat, and worked in lower Manhattan, only a few-minutes-walk from the World Trade Center.

News of the first plane hitting the North Tower (WTC 1) was on the news channels – I watched it as I ironed. My husband called – he was looking at the smoking tower from the top of the building where he worked in mid-town. Everyone was glued to the television, listening to the radio, or had their eyes trained upwards looking at the smoking tower. There were a lot of theories circulating, lots of speculation both in the news and among everyday people as to what was going on. No one really knew. Then the 2nd plane hit. It became evident that this was not an accident, it was a terrorist attack.

My husband saw the second plane hit from where he stood. More rumors started to fly about additional attacks - some people thought they heard that the white house had been hit, others correctly identified the Pentagon. In a disaster situation, it’s often hard to disseminate reality from fiction, and this was never clearer than during the first hours of 9-11. Phone lines still worked at this point, albeit it took a few tries to get through. I talked with my supervisor, and it was agreed that everyone should stay home and not come to work until we knew what was going on. I was still in communication with my husband, and he said his job was also considering letting them leave, so he’d be gathering his things and heading to the subway once they gave word. Then the buildings started collapsing, and all seeming normalcy was suddenly thrown into chaos. Subway service was halted. All traffic including public transportation was frozen to lower Manhattan. Bridges and tunnels were closed. People were advised to walk, and if they didn't know where to go, they were advised to just walk north.  My husband went north - he walked and took the bus when he could; I drove down from Washington Heights to 63rd Street, the furthest I was allowed to travel downtown with a vehicle. I tried to call my husband – I called and called and called – my attempts were met with either a busy signal or a recorded message that told me all circuits were busy. I parked and waited. And waited. And waited. The waiting was the worst. I started worrying. I kept trying to call, and finally one short call went through and the breath I'd been holding in my chest was released. My husband was close. He would meet me where I was parked. All I could do was wait some more.  I watched the throngs of people who passed, the fear and panic on their faces. I watched the people who had walked up from downtown Manhattan, their clothes covered in soot, business suits ripped and torn, faces & hair caked with a grayish powder…the pulverized remnants of everything that had been in the towers. Once I saw my husband coming down the sidewalk, tears streamed down my face; everything I'd held in all day finally came out in one emotional exhale. 

Photo credit: Michelle Reynoso

In the days that followed, it was heart wrenching to see all the pictures of people who were missing posted on the sides of buildings; to watch the coverage of the search for so many missing people and to see so few rescues. I reached out to friends. We shared stories. We shared theories. We shared sadness. I discovered friends who narrowly escaped the tower collapse, others who saw the planes hit the towers as they circled the airport to land, and others who lost loved ones there. Those days were some of the scariest and darkest days I have experienced in my lifetime. 

I will never forget what happened on 9-11-01. I hope none of us do. 

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

What’s In a Name – The Next Installment (#5)

Picture by: Michelle Reynoso
Our name, we either love it or hate it; often questioning why we're named as we are, what was the thought process, what does it symbolize, why this name over all the others? We want to know, because it provides us connection and understanding. It means something. A name can be that very first defining label in your life, connecting you to family, culture, lineage, and history. That one string of letters summarizes how our parents see us when we first arrive. Last names withstanding, first names are a conscious choice by our parents to say who they want us to be. Yes, we can change names nowadays, but do we? Most times, we don't. We stick with what we've been given. 

We get attached to our names; we like the familiarity of it, the sound of it in someone's mouth, the immediacy of knowing that someone is talking to us. And we get offended if someone messes up our name. If you're introduced as Sarah when you're Sally, it can be annoying, because this person didn't think it important enough to remember you. You are Sarah, not Sally, not Tina, Jada, or Megan. Right? I was at the coffee bar the other day, and the barista wrote my name as Michael instead of Michelle on the side of my cup. Ok? Did he think I was a man? I joked about it online, but it made me wonder how someone could get such a common name so wrong. And yet, I'm horrible with names. Go figure! I'm guilty of the same thing.

As a parent, we agonize over finding the perfect name for our new bundle-of-joy. Do we want an inspiring name, a creative one, a union of both mom and dad's name, an homage to our ancestors; what are we trying to say, what point are we trying to get across as we name our children. In writing, it's the same struggle because these characters are like our children, and the right name can either complete them or ruin them, link them to turmoil, or liberate them to greatness. 

So, here are the newest inductees to the “What’s In a Name” list of quirky and unique names: 

  • Scott Wank
  • Richard Gross
  • Timothy Child
  • Tom Mascara
  • Greg Indelicato (last name is of Italian descent; meaning tactless, indelicate, indiscreet)
  • Nada Cavigliano (nada means nothingness or nothing in Spanish)

Here are links to my previous posts in the “What's In a Name” series:

(post #2)

(post #3)