Wednesday, May 6, 2015

10 Ways to Give Writers Helpful Feedback

Identify what you want and learn how to ask for it. 

Lisa: So I was just wondering if there was one general thing that you've found over the years to be generally true in a general way that would help anyone in any situation?
Psychiatrist: That's a great question, yes, I would say figure out what you want and learn how to ask for it.
Lisa: OK. Those are both really hard.

The above quotations are from the movie "How Do you Know." I appreciate this movie psychiatrist's advice as it relates to writing as well. Many writers are intimidated to ask for what they need related to feedback. In fact, it is difficult to know what types of feedback will have a favorable influence on your work. Most of us have experienced that situation where a reader's feedback was tough and caused us to stop writing for a while. The best kind of feedback helps writers to move forward in a writing project. The following suggestions are given to my students so that they can benefit from and give helpful feedback on their class blog projects. They are adapted from Peter Elbow and Pat Belanof's book, Sharing and Responding. New York: Random House, 1989.

TYPES OF FEEDBACK for Blog comments:
I. No Responding: Sharing
1. Just read the blog out loud; see what the words sound like. What is your reaction? (Write this)

II. Descriptive Responding:

2.   Sayback
Write back in your own words some aspect of the post. But say it more as a question--Are you saying...?
3.   Pointing
Write the words or phrases that stick in your mind. Which passages/features did you like best? Don't explain why.
4.   Summarizing
What is the main point? Subordinate ones?
5.   What's Almost Said or Implied
Explain what is almost said, implied, or hovering around the edges. What would you like to hear more about?"
6.   Center of Gravity
What is the source of energy, the focal point, the seedbed, the generative center for this piece
7.   Structure
Comment on the Voice, Point of View, Attitude toward Reader, Level of Abstraction/Concreteness; Language, Diction, Syntax
8.   Metaphorical Descriptions
Describe the blog in terms of weathers, clothing, colors, animals.
9.   Believing and Doubting
Believe or pretend to believe everything that was written. Offer ideas and perceptions to help the case. Then doubt everything that was written. Say arguments that can be made against what was written.
10.   Movies of the Mind
Tell the writer what happens inside your head as you read the words in the blog.

These tips are a way to improve both the reader and writer's experience. Let me know how they work for you.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

5 Essential Tips for Burgeoning Writers

The Basic Question:

What do writers need in order to be successful in their creative work?


1. Finding your place to write is of utmost importance.  In  “A Room of One’s Own,” Virginia Woolf stresses this requirement when she writes: “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”

Of course, not all writers have the luxury of having money provided so that they can develop as writers. Many have to spend some of their time in gainful employment. She stresses that women must make a special effort to write because during her time (1882-1941), it was more common for men to develop into great writers. She successfully broke out from her historical confines and became known as one of the first modernist writers. During her lifetime it was the "man of the house" to have a private study. Her life struggle to become a writer of merit led her to understand that having a place to write means that you are giving priority to your work. Nevertheless, the logistics of being in one location and/or finding a room in a busy house can be frustrating. The author of Writing as a Way of Healing,  Louise Desalvo, explains that you can be more flexible and place a desk in a hall or in any room to provide yourself with a place that is your own. A writing location allows you to form a routine. It is the writing habit that provides you with the platform to grow. For many writers, it may be a local coffee house that creates a sense of place. Students often write at desks in their bedroom or on cushioned boards (or laptops) while still in bed. Some writers such as Jamaica Kincaid, author of the short story "Girl," the novel Annie John, and the essays, A Small Place (among others), continues with this technique.  She has comments on staying in bed and in her pajamas all day so that she can write - a routine that allows her to concentrate. Maya Angelou discovered her time management strategy through necessity since she had to travel so much to speaking engagements. She decided to make her hotel room her writing room. Her solution worked so well that she continued renting a hotel room for this very purpose. She said in an interview, "I do still keep a hotel room in my hometown, and pay for it by the month. I go around 6:30 in the morning. I have a bedroom, with a bed, a table, and a bath. I have Roget’s Thesaurus, a dictionary, and the Bible."(Link to the full interview, The Daily Beast, "How I Write," Maya Angelou)  In this same interview, she explains that the room must have completely bare walls so as not to cause her any distraction, which demonstrates a significant degree of self knowledge. My writing room goes by the name of "the writing closet" because I store my clothes and write my secrets there. I visit the "closet" every morning. 

2. Self knowledge
Pensive Miss Junie

A writer should have some understanding of her personalized and unique path to writing or finding the muse. The discovery of your insight can be obtained by self-observation as you write. Through noticing your own process, when and in what circumstances trigger writing, allows you to develop as a writer.

3. Inspiration and Creativity 

Naranjito, Puerto Rico

Another strategy is to seek out writers you admire and read their works. Even though these writers may be personally inaccessible, it helps to have an image of a writer for inspiration. Through an internet search, looking for comments, blogs and writing workshops, a connection could be made with this author or other writers interested in moving forward with their own projects. 

Be ready to write. I am not alone in recommending that you keep a notebook handy (journal). Recently, in the two day "Student Research and Writing Conference" at the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras campus, keynote speaker and author Luis Negrón (Mundo Cruel) emphasized that carrying a notebook to jot down writing ideas is important, "Relying on memory is a mistake because you think you will remember but you will forget!"

4. Feedback

Sunflowers in Ocean Park, San Juan, Puerto Rico

One of the most difficult aspects of writing is locating a trusted reader and receiving feedback. Often, we block feedback from others because we feel our creativity is at stake -  not an unreasonable fear. In fact, the wrong kind of criticism can shut down inspiration. The trick is to find someone you can trust and ask for the kind of feedback that might be useful. Reactions about specific writing areas are helpful. Readers questions and asking for clarity on certain meanings might be useful. Seek out readers who understand that you are developing a work, i.e., your writing is evolving. If your reader senses resistance and/or hostility, she may not be willing to read anymore of your work. That fact established, you do not have to make changes or do anything about the comments offered by readers. I rely on my own (flawed at times) judgment when it comes to sensitive revision and editing, but would love to find a reader (who also writes) to share in my process. Author Zadie Smith (White Teeth) recommends that you ".... try to read your own work as a stranger would read it, or even better, as an enemy would." Brave indeed!

5. Routine

Ocean Park beach, San Juan, Puerto Rico

Writers who consider writing a priority in their lives make time for it by establishing a routine. But that routine is highly specific to your kind of writer. Virginia Woolf scheduled a three hour morning routine while Maya Angelou stretched herself across the bed and maintained all day writing sessions. Louise Desalvo warns that you may not be able to find blocks of time in which to write. She suggests grabbing snippets of time (equaling three hours) throughout the day in her article, "Why Having Kids is No Excuse."

What matters to a writer is that you write. You continue to write throughout your days, perhaps feeling dissatisfied with your work but you continue. As Virginia Woolf said, 
“So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say. But to sacrifice a hair of the head of your vision, a shade of its colour, in deference to some Headmaster with a silver pot in his hand or to some professor with a measuring-rod up his sleeve, is the most abject treachery...” Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own

 Give your writing a place in your life. If necessary follow Desalvo's advice, "Call it work, not writing. No one I knows cares if you’re writing.  That’s why you have to call it work.  Because that’s what it is.  Your work.  Your life’s work." 

Monday, March 16, 2015

Seven Reasons to Write in the Morning

Oasis Feature ~ Seven Reasons to Write in the Morning

 San Juan, Puerto Rico
Do you ever wonder how to develop your creativity so that your writing ideas are fresh and inspired? I am sure that the key to unlocking new ideas is to foster an ongoing relationship with your creative self. You can develop this ability. Decide to be dedicated to your own projects and make them a priority in your life. If your time is constantly compromised because of work demands, family duties and social commitments, be warned. You have to choose to develop contact with yourself first over being on call for everyone else. If you are a people pleaser making this decision is a lot harder than it seems. It forces you to reexamine how your life is organized and insists that you commit to fitting in alone time which is devoted to writing.

As a morning writer, you have to have the same dedication as the surfer in the above photograph. Waking up early, he walks to the water, carries his surfboard and enters the chilly ocean long before an ordinary swimmer feels the need to take a plunge. Every morning, you must write a few pages about anything. It does not matter if you write about nonsense because the initial point is to develop the habit of writing. Over time, your writing content will change. Many writing coaches suggest that it is important to write in the morning; however, over the years of my own writing practice, I know that it provides the perfect way to develop your insight and creativity. When you wake up and write, you gain these and many other benefits.

Seven Reasons to Wake Up and Start Writing

1. Remembering your dreams: When you start a morning writing practice, you are able to remember your dreams better. At first you will likely remember only dream fragments, but later you begin to discover that the more you record, the more you also remember your dreams. Dreams provide you with clues about your life and make visible the creative force of the unconscious.

2. Understanding yourself better: Writing over time allows you to realize who you are and identifies your values. As a consequence,  it becomes easier to say no or yes to people without feeling pressured or compromised.

3. Clarifying your intentions: Through the process of writing, you may write about why you made certain life decisions. These written explorations help to strengthen your resolve because you remember how you arrived at these decisions.

4. Discovering hidden motivations: Nothing reveals dishonesty as much as writing a long rationalization about how and why you are right. In fact, the real reasons behind a particular action become clear as you see your words on the page. 

5. Knowing what is bothering you:  It is so much easier to know the truth about your feelings if you write down some of the disturbing mental noise that bothers you upon waking. Without writing, these worries often accompany you during the day. Often just writing about anxiety lessens it or may even take it away.

6. Improving your life: A regular morning writing practice provides you with a sturdy framework that helps to build self trust and confidence.  It enlivens your day with zest and lends purpose to the years.

7. Making ideas real: Dreams and ambitions identify what you desire but writing about them helps you to become proactive. Through regular writing, you are able to move forward and accomplish these life goals.

Finally, I suggest that you extend your morning practice into your day by carrying a notebook and pen with you everywhere. I do not recommend that you use an electronic device because the temptation is too great. You will take out your smartphone to make a note; for example, and before you realize it, you are surfing the net, socializing on Facebook or reading Email. With paper and pen handy, when you have a few spare moments, you can continue writing and exploring the ever-enriching conversation with your creative self. 

Happy writing!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015


In the garden, the delphiniums were in flower. Through scented twilight the girl in the white dress walked with a step as light as a cobweb. That evening, she hadn't a care in the world.

Mrs. Delahunty, My House in Umbria

Mrs. Delahunty: I may be dead next month. The moon may have crashed into the earth. Who knows what dreadful things may come to pass? But at the moment, I'm happy. What else matters?

Colonal: Carpe Diem

Mrs. Delahunty: I'm never really sure just what that means.

Colonal: Oh. Seize the day. Embrace the present. Enjoy life while you've got the chance.

Mrs. Delahunty: Carpe Diem. I'll remember that.

My House in Umbria

Lately, I am aware that I have to do just that, carpe diem, because everything seems to have a feeling of impermanence. Not in a dark somber way but in the way that you feel that something's moving and changing.

I wonder why after you hit a certain age, you wake up with memories of people and places that you haven't thought about in a long time. Often fragments of youth-inspired dreams come back to your mind with a strong force. When I was a teen, I wanted to travel to Europe and it became one of my main goals to tour England, Scotland, Ireland as well as France and Denmark. After much saving, planning and determination, I finally was able to make the unforgettable trip. I think my early obsession with travel was connected to my love of romance novels. Though the love story obsession was left in my teenage years,  the enjoyment of other lands and people remained.

I think that's why I love Maggie Smith in My House in Umbria. The film is set in Italy, where she plays the lead character Miss. Emily Delahunty but (as she tells us) her name is not important. In fact, we learn that she has many other nom de plumes and we realize that she actively creates her own fluid identity. She's a writer of romance novels who feels most alive when she's helping others. In one scene, she invites a group of complete strangers to move in with her after a train explosion. Through her engagement with the other characters, we fall in love with her quirky personality. Whenever I want to imagine myself in another life this movie does the trick.

If you can watch My House in Umbria and not yearn to travel to Italy, you are a strong person.  If you are having an Italian themed movie night, you might watch Under the Tuscan Sun or go out to see Letters to Juliet. Both of these movies will make you feel as though you have been in Italy or that it's essential for you to go there now!

I have read the memoir, Under the Tuscan Sun (Frances Mayes), and found it to be richly satisfying. I loaned this book to a close friend who found it tedious with detail about the Italian countryside, garden restorations and house renovations. However, I like these details of ordinary life. I like to see how people make decisions and what occupies their time. I'm interested in both real and spruced-up life. (A little magic making fantasy is fine with me.) Another popular book made into film that has an enchanting section on an vacation in Italy is Elizabeth Gilbert's memoir, Eat, Pray, Love. (Julie Roberts plays the author Gilbert in the movie.) There is another saturate-yourself-in-Italy movie that I have already mentioned in previous blogs, Enchanted April, which documents a life transforming month in an Italian Medieval castle. Gorgeous scenery!

In the London Times, a small classified ad appears:

“To those who appreciate Wisteria and Sunshine:

To let for the month of April - a medieval castle on

the Italian Mediterranean shore.”

Photographs and movie review here.

If you want to explore Italy or imagine yourself there in real life, try Rick Steves' link to travel. Now I wonder, which movies you watch (or books do you read) that bring you into lovely romantic Italy? Have I missed any? 

Do you hear Italian music...


Waking up on the Island of Enchantment that is also know as Puerto Rico, I plan to bake a fragrant pan of vegetarian lasagna, toss a green salad and toast garlic bread.

I promise myself that at every moment I will carpe diem!

On a side note: my struggling gardenia bush finally bloomed after three years of waiting, hoping, and supplementing it with coffee grounds. 

I like to believe that this momentous occasion is symbolic, perhaps it's foreshadowing a trip in the near future?

Saturday, January 3, 2015

5 Ideas for Your New Year's Resolutions

Should you make New Year's resolutions? Yes, indeed, but make them with care. 
What can be a better time to start fresh than at the beginning of the year? What follows are my own 5 New Year's resolutions. By sharing them, I hope to convince you that you can make progress towards your 2015 resolutions if  you frame them in the right way.

1. My resolution for exercise this year is to walk everyday. I plan to walk for 30-60 minutes each day. Since I walk a lot normally, I believe I can do this. If walking is one of your resolutions and you cannot easily locate a place to walk, you would have to modify it. Perhaps you could go to the gym a few days a week. Just be proactive and sensible about exercising more often and give yourself a certain number, such as 4 times for 30 minutes each week. 

2. I plan to eat healthier in order to bring my  cholesterol levels down. My easy goal is to eat more vegetables at every meal. I know that about half of my plate should be filled with vegetables so I'll work toward that vision. If you have to cut down on fat, you could use olive oil instead of butter or eat meat-free meals two days a week. You can decide how to change your eating habits based on what is possible for you. 

3. So far I've mentioned exercise and healthy eating resolutions, now we move on to relationships. I want to be with more people who like me "just as I am." (Do you recall Bridget Jones, anyone?) I know that this means I need to be honest about myself and who I show to the world. Being honest is a brave stance. I admire people who are real in this way. My resolution is to stay true to myself (in words) every day. Tricky. How will I know when I'm being real? (I tend to please others and avoid talking about differences.) For this resolution, I will need reminders such as "Speak your truth!" posted on mirrors, calendars and in other key places. I believe that as I am more honest about my feelings and thoughts, I will connect on more authentic levels with others. Think through your own relationship resolutions so that you know your motives and obstacles, then tailor them into visible, accomplishable behaviors. 

4. Write every day. I've had this writing goal for a long while so I know I can do it. Now I need to be more specific about the   kind of writing I do every day. This year, I will write three pages related to a specific writing project - the memoir. I know it will be difficult to turn my free daily practice into a focused daily practice but it needs to be done. I'm procrastinating. I've made a writing plan so after my daily practice, I will write these three topic centered pages. Consider a project that you want to begin right away. Make a resolution that works in stages toward its completion. 

5. Have more fun! As my final resolution, I want to be more upbeat and change my approach to routines. To accomplish it, I need to identify what behaviors and activities encourage pleasure. I like to laugh. It's a good indicator that I'm having fun. I like to dance and sing, too. I can play more music in the house, at work and while walking. Oh no! With so much music added to my routine, dancing and singing will soon follow! Girls just wanna have fun! 

My five resolutions are offered to you as examples of how to create a thinking process to formulate your own New Year's resolutions. If you follow this method, I know that your resolutions will be meaningful, practical and last until New Year's resolution 2016! 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

On Seeking Home

Oasis Reflection: Obstacles are a matter of perception...
La Ventana "Windows" Park in Condado. San Juan, Puerto Rico

What is your view?

Recently, I've been reading On Moving: A Writer's Meditation on New Houses, Old Hauts, and Finding Home Again by Louise DeSalvo. the author addresses the topic of "home"and the strong desire people have to choose the perfect home. I started to think about how often people move and how most of us hope that a new location will solve most of our problems.

However, I am sure that we bring our problems with us wherever we go. What I mean is that the cause of our dissatisfaction is often not external, but internal. It's part of our personality and/or is shaped by our attitude.  I admit that like DeSalvo, I love to travel.  I love to imagine my life in those new unknown places; nevertheless, it's healthy to remember that our disturbances come with us wherever we find ourselves.

What do you see in the photograph above? Do you notice the rock in the center? The water flowing over the rocks to form a small pool of water in the right foreground? Or the deep blue ocean in the distance? Our perspective informs what we allow ourselves to see and experience. The rock can be seen as an obstacle to blocking access to the water or an interesting formation to scale up and over - an opportunity to see the unobstructed ocean from the top. However, what we see remains with us no matter where we go.

I believe that we have to be bravely curious about our obstacles in life and learn from these ever present rocks.

But today, the Rock cries out to us, clearly, forcefully,
Come, you may stand upon my
Back and face your distant destiny,
But seek no haven in my shadow.
I will give you no hiding place down here.

Excerpt from "On the Pulse of Morning" by Maya Angelou

Simon and Garfunkel "I am a rock"
© 2014 Cynthia Pittmann

Friday, November 7, 2014


Playing Tourist in Puerto Rico; Oasis goes to El Morro

Good morning and welcome to sunny El Morro. Did you know that Puerto Rico was under the Spanish flag for about 500 years until the United States came 100 years ago? Knowing that bit of information goes a long way in explaining the culture and attitudes of this beautiful island. El Morro was constructed on the protruding parts of the land surrounding the city to protect the island from invaders approaching by the sea, which explains why there is a wall going around much of the Old City (El Viejo San Juan). There is an El Morro in nearby Cuba, too, and it is made in the same style and material.

El Morro in San Juan is actually called Fort San Felipe del Morro but not by anyone on the street. I have a little confession to make; this photograph was taken a bit down the road from El Morro at another fort, Fort San Cristobal, though most tourists call all of these structures El Morro.

 I like this one near the entrance to the road leading up to the Old City because you can walk right into one of the sentries and take a look at the framed sea.

Come inside with me and let's take a look.

There is a mysterious story about one of these sentry boxes in San Cristobal, La Garita del Diablo (the Devil's Sentry). I must caution you that a legend has been circulating that says those who dare visit this most extremely situated and the first constructed lookout (1634) might mysteriously disappear. Though word on the street is that the only real disappearance was of a romantically involved couple who escaped by way of the sea in order to elope (Oh, how dangerously romantic!)

I'm feeling a bit hungry for lunch. Why don't we walk down the road and look for something to eat?

Or maybe first, we could cool off with a piragua? These traditional iced syrups are quite refreshing. Look at the selection on the glass. Spanish and English are respectfully placed side by side. Agua Fria/Cold Water! I think I will have an anise flavored PIRAGUA.

Do you see the large solid block of ice inside the glass cart? The man is shaving it with a special tool, which he uses to scoop up the ice into a cone and then pours flavored syrup all over the top. It's a handmade snowcone! I caution you to avoid the ajonjoli (sesame seed) flavored syrup,  except when selecting locally-made candy.

If you're like me, you might find the grainy texture disturbing in your cold piragua. Of course, there are a lot of healthy and calming B vitamins in sesame seeds so it's entirely your decision. The coco (coconut) flavored syrup is quite popular with the local residents.

For lunch, I would like to have a traditional pasteles with rice and beans. Pasteles are made from plantain and sometimes yucca root ground into a paste and filled with a spicy, but not spicy-hot, meat mixture. Unlike Mexican-style food, generally, Puerto Rican's do not enjoy hot peppers. The stuffed masa filling is wrapped in banana leaf, tied with string and boiled for about an hour. It's a tasty meal all by itself but presents a problem for vegetarians. (Be nice!) However, I have found several women who are willing to sell me a dozen garbanzo filled (chick peas), vegetable filled or sometimes soy filled pasteles. To be honest, I usually have to provide the textured vegetable protein meat substitute. If you are in FRESHMART in Condado on Ashford Avenue, you can pick up a half dozen vegetarian pasteles for about ten dollars.

Making pasteles is a grassroots (and underground) business that thrives during the holiday season. Obtaining the best possible pasteles is all about maintaining your local connections.

What meal would be complete without a side of crunchy salty tostones? Tostones are large unripe plantain bananas, sliced thickly and fried of both sides, flattened and fried again until golden (insert cholesterol warning here!). They are served with salt, ketchup, and/or a bit of garlic.

Yum! Warning: these must be eaten fresh or not at all because they can get quite dry and hard. Tourists who eat dried out tostones are often disappointed and left wondering what is all the fuss about?

~~~Make your own! If you make these at home, cut thick slices diagonally, fry in oil for 2-3 minutes on each side. Remove from pan, flatten -I use the bottom of a plate- on a board, and firmly press down. Return the plantain disks to the hot oil. Lightly cook on each side again, remove and place on an absorbent towel. Cook just one large green plantain banana at a time, and serve immediately.

Note: If your plantain's are turning yellow, they do not make tasty tostones. Let them ripen, slice, and gently fry them once on each side in hot oil. These are called amarillos. Also, when looking for plantains in the States, go to Chinese grocery stores and/or look for "macho bananas,"  which is a most curious name! ~~

For lunch or dinner, I can recommend an atmospheric restaurant in the Old City, Raices (Roots), which is known for its mofongo, which is mashed plantain filled with garlic spiced meat. The servers wear white traditional costumes with headdress, and serve food on old fashioned looking tables, complete with a wood and tin service. Two recommendations here: arrive before you are hungry and bring your credit card because service can be slow and the food pricey. That's okay. Afterall, you are getting a taste of Puerto Rico from the past. Just drink a Pina Colada and enjoy the atmosphere. If you don't want to sit in an air-conditioned space, you can eat at an outside table while listening to Puerto Rican folk music. Street life in Puerto Rico is always entertaining but may be somewhat overwhelming. If you prefer a more authentic experience, you can try Cafe Manolin on 251 San Justo in the Old City. In fact, I prefer the diner feel of Manolin's and enjoy plain mofongo surrounded by a plate of salad. You will notice that many local residents enjoy this restaurant, which serves hearty portions at economical prices.

I should clarify a point here, traditional foods are not special occasion meals. These foods are eaten every day all around the island. Why just this morning, I had freshly made hot tostones with a sprinkle of sea salt crystals and a tiny bit of ketchup. (Plantains are available all year, but in season locally grown freshly cut plantains are of the highest quality and flavor.) Back to the subject of restaurants, Raices servers dressed in costume and rustic tables set with tin cups and wooden dishes are not commonly used anymore -  except for festive decorations at various cultural activities. Puerto Ricans have access to many of the same stores as those in the United States; consequently, most people ordinarily wear the same clothes as the US tourists and use "regular" cups and plates. One exception is that sometimes US tourists dress in safari clothes - complete with a hard wide-brimmed hat, a many pocketed vest and tough leather boots. I think these tourists thought that they were going to a jungle! What a surprise it must be to discover that Old San Juan feels like an old European city.

Today, there is a blend of both old and new in foods as well as with all things related to culture. For example, take the traditional El Noche San Juan festival, which is both formally and informally celebrated during the summer solstice, specifically on the birthday of John the Baptists (San Juan/St. John). This wild night combines all things pagan and Catholic into a modern synergistic mix. If you can handle crowds and would love to throw yourself backward into the cleansing surf a few times after midnight, come to any of San Juan's beaches on the night of June 23, throw yourself backwards into the ocean three times, and be blessed with good fortune by Yemayá, the Ocean Mother, or St. John (as you wish).

Another cultural blend is found in reggaetón music, touted as the real Puerto Rican music of today, I remain reserved. (Follow the link to read about Puerto Rican culture and music.) Have you heard of the group Calle 13 (Street 13)?  I located a Calle 13 reggaetón video that has an interesting sound when combined with the well known salsa singer, Ruben Blades. You can see the barrio (neighborhood), La Perla (The Pearl) just below El Morro. As a matter of fact, it's right over the wall and next to the sea. I have been down as far as that atmospheric old graveyard (seen in the video), but probably tourists would not be welcomed (read safe) inside this neighbor.

Warning: these lyrics are not tourists friendly. Yes, it's true, we are said to be in the way. Listen carefully to these Spanish lyrics, which say tourists are blocking the view while they take pictures of the view. If like me, you don't particularly like reggaetón music, you should still take a look at this exceptional video. Ruben Blades, you're worth it!

It's time for farewell and goodbye.

Would you just look at that sign in the photograph which coincidentally reads, Oasis El Morro .

Visitors and potential tourist alike, though we are finished with our Oasis El Morro tour, I hesitate to overload your royal reading patience with anymore today. Stop by for future
Tourist for the Day posts and enjoy playing tourist with me.

© Cynthia Pittmann

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Reflection on Insights Gained from Falling

Photo credit

I fell into a hole.

It really was just a broken place in the sidewalk but I had a flash of insight, which is why I' m writing about it here. The fall was accompanied by one of those familiar memories of the future where an event seems to be repeated but it's the first time it happens - as in déjà vu.  Has this happened before, I questioned. I tried to think of similar experiences of falling. The first memory I thought of happened after moving into a new house in Puerto Rico. I was jogging and following my bliss down a quiet side street

in a romantic dreamy fog when

Photo credit
I noticed a large Victorian house to my right that was set in the middle of a lush green yard filled with slightly overgrown but cultivated plants. (It looked like this photo of a sub-tropical Victorian home in Springfield, Georgia.) Still thinking about the possible residents of this romantic looking home, my senses were jarred by the view of a new condominium building project. Reflecting about the possible demolition of the aging house, I was suddenly shin deep in a small metal encased hole in the sidewalk. I was cut and a bit in shock. I realized that the accident happened because someone did not replace a cover over a water meter. At first, I was angry because of the missing cover, but then I wondered why I didn't see the hole right in front of me. I felt uneasy as I remembered that when I was younger, I was often told that

I had my head in the clouds. I was a daydreamer. 

Keep your eyes on the road! (photo credit)
Once while driving on the scenic panoramic route on California's coastal highway (California State Route 1), I was so captivated and excited by the view that I nearly drove off the cliff. Talk about entering the moment! So I remember that time of falling into the hole and wondered if I was daydreaming. I keep thinking of Alice and her adventures while she was falling into a hole. I'm showing myself in my own looking glass by observing the way I react.

Thinking now, I remember that I had sprained my ankle exactly twice in my life, and both times I had to be rushed to the emergency room. The first incident happened because I was riding on the butterfly handlebars of a new pink Schwinn bike that my younger brother was steering. (I was twelve.) I was thrilled with the fun loving ride until my foot caught up in the spokes of the front wheel. The second time occurred at the same age. I was when I was sitting on the wheel cover of a tractor driven by my father and my foot slipped into the wheel. In both incidents, I remember the face of the driver, my brother and my dad, looking pained and guilty, which may have contributed to my profound hurt at being wounded. I felt seriously sorry for myself both times. I have an insight as I realize that I want someone else to be guilty and sorry when I am hurt.

The incident of falling into an uncapped-water-meter hole on the sidewalk repeatedly returns to my mind because I notice that I'm looking for someone to blame.

Years ago when I moved to Puerto Rico, I complained to my director about the parking problem at work. I am a bit ashamed to admit to it now but I was overly critical. It bothered me that people would park their cars everywhere and sometimes double park so that I could not leave. In busy times, cars were parked on the sidewalks or drivers would create a middle parking lane behind the legally parked vehicles, which made it impossible for them to leave because they arrived early enough to park their car in an assigned space. My director listened to my explanation about being late to class because I was blocked in and she said, "Yes, this is a small island and parking is competitive." Was I supposed to infer that people didn't have a choice but to break the rules? My angry reaction to illegal parking occurred many years ago. I've learned that rules are flexible and subject to interpretation by the drivers.

The most recent time I fell into a hole, I realized my orientation had changed. I no longer took it for granted that the sidewalk ahead would be evenly paved over. I accepted that I needed to look out for myself in this life. I know I cannot prevent every falling incident (read mistake) from occurring but I noticed that I have accepted responsibility for my own well being rather than blaming others. I realized that thinking or focusing on someone's behavior (rather than my own) resulted in my victimization. I have to pay attention in life.

Living in Puerto Rico (where my expectations are frequently challenged) has taught me to pay attention. I'm grateful for this experience.

Friday, October 10, 2014


Reflection on Trust During Troubled Times

David: Why do people do such terrible things?
Sophie: Like what?
David: Like beat people, and kill them, and make them prisoners.
Sophie: Most people don’t do that, David.
David: My friend Johannes always used to tell me, "Trust no one."
Sophie: Oh, life wouldn’t be worth living if you did that, David. You can be cautious, but you have to let people in.
David: How do you know if they’re bad or not?
Sophie: David, most people are good. They have families and friends, and they just want to live their lives as happily as they can. Oh there will always be bad people in this world and you will usually know them when you meet them, but sometimes you won’t. But you can’t let that stop you from living your life fully and freely. And making friends and seeing the goodness in people because if you can’t do that you will never find any happiness.

Do you ever wonder how you can trust again after a difficult experience? I admit that I struggle with this one. Sometimes I think I'm a bit like the 12 year old David in the quote above. He was taken by himself to a Bulgarian concentration camp when he was young because of his family's political beliefs. Growing up away from his family in a lackluster environment surrounded by guards who are quick to administer punishment changes the way he interacts with people. He forgets how to smile. When unexpectedly he is given a chance to escape, he sets off on a journey across Europe to Denmark carrying important secret papers which later turn out to be his personal identification and the information needed to reunite him with his mother.

The story is compelling, but it is his interaction with Sophie, the Swiss woman who helps him to get in touch with his mother that is the most moving. She is played by Joan Plowright, a favorite English actress who plays a similar role, Mary who takes care of Luca Innocenti, in Tea with Mussolini. Both Sophie and Mary are exactly the kind of people I admire. In both of these roles, we meet creative, self-sufficient yet engaged with others woman; these women are not afraid to reach out when help is needed. Admittedly, I like Joan Plowright best in Enchanted April, where she plays Mrs. Fisher, a woman whose feelings have contracted so much that she has lost the ability to feel compassion for others, but then her time in Italy thaws the her heart and she realizes the importance of yielding to creative impulses and allowing connection with others. (photos from Facebook fan page)

Why am I pulled toward this type of character? I think I have to continually learn the trust lesson. I imagine myself sitting down and discussing life over a cup of Earl Grey tea with a wise woman like Sophie. If I let my imagination go further, I can envision that I might be a woman like Sophie in the future...and maybe a little now. However, at the moment, I'm feeling more like David-cut off and fighting with my own emotional demons- I'm particularly battling with trust issues.

Perhaps you know that my own mother was murdered by a neighbor. (I have told the story before-just click the link.) I don't know if you realize how perplexing it is to that young person who resides inside me -ever an innocenti- she who cannot comprehend how someone familiar and well-known-a lifelong neighbor- could do something so cruel.
You read about people- this past weekend in Puerto Rico, for example- who kill their own spouse or family, and then turn the gun back on themselves. It seems like such a foreign experience. You never think you will have to confront that type of situation with anyone you personally know.

I have never been able to connect the act of murder with the known person who was my neighbor.

Factually, I know he did it. I've looked at him in photographs and in court but it never made sense to me. I think about his behavior more as a symptom of society's sickness and lack of tolerance for difference. I have to make myself remember that it was his hand that pulled the trigger.

It was Jim Brooks who killed my mother and her partner, Christine.

No, even after writing that statement, it still feels remote.

While viewing I am David, I allow myself to feel upset. After the movie, I watch an episode of Friends and found it extremely amusing. I laughed out loud. I felt freer somehow and more open to all emotions. I know it is important to feel. I also know that trying not to feel leads to depression. Did you know that when you have trouble, it often acts like a trigger for a cluster of repressed feelings, and there are some things that you just don't want to remember. Noticing myself going through this emotional roller coaster made me realize that I need to remember to feel and allow myself to trust people again.

Sophie is right:
 "...there will always be bad people in this world and you will usually know them when you meet them, but sometimes you won’t. But you can’t let that stop you from living your life fully and freely. And making friends and seeing the goodness in people because if you can’t do that you will never find any happiness." 

I'll take that wise woman's advice!

(Note: OWL)

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Writers Notebook: Remembering Dreams

Remembering Dreams

Do you ever wonder how you can remember dreams? Lately, I've been reading Carl Jung's Memories, Dreams, Reflections and attempting to record my dreams every morning. If I can remember my dreams, I will have a view of the hidden me. I want to look into the parts of my personality that I hide from myself - risky business! I consider myself honest about my motives and practice self-witnessing. Maybe that sounds strange but those of you who are in some kind of meditation practice know that witnessing your thoughts and actions (without judging) can yield a tremendous amount of information about yourself. I am looking to find a creative energy source that will bring my writing alive with vitality. I've discovered other techniques to wake up the muse but I would like a more reliable routine that keeps me in touch with my imagination.

The goal is to wake up everyday, notice what in floating around in my mind and then immediately write down everything in my mind - take a "mental picture" as it were. Words, thoughts, images, sensations, songs and so on. I have discovered that I must notice my thoughts before I move from the bed. I cannot allow myself to talk or engage in any preliminary activity before I write or else I lose the thoughts. Some days I'm successful while others (like today) I get caught up in washing dishes, making coffee, preparing for the day and before I know it - the dreams are gone! What did I dream last night? What influenced my subconscious? Blank! My mind is unable to remember my dreams because I had too many intervening thoughts before I recorded my dreams such as - why hasn't anyone done the dishes in two days! It's a good thing I didn't cook dinner last night or else there would be more dishes. How can I get cooperation about cleaning the house? And then my mind goes analytical - Why are we so stuck in these social gender roles that I'm the one who breaks down and does the dishes first? It's enough to wipe out anyone's morning dreams! My thoughts are a giant eraser rubbing out the lightest dream pencil marks first but today, the entire page was all gone.

Mental palaver! Jung uses that word as in to arrange a palaver to mean conversations  he has with the Africans at night. He wants to know if they have dreams and if they provide some kind of insight into their daily lives. He attributes their resistance to sharing their dreams with him as evidence of a lack of trust or "shyness." Jung even offered rewards - cigarettes, matches, and safety pins for sharing dreams but they wouldn't budge. I'm thinking that maybe they didn't remember their dreams because of too much palaver! I have been recording by dreams every morning for two weeks - let's see if some pattern emerges. I have a safety pin in my pocket for good luck.  Do you have any dream wisdom to offer? How do you remember your dreams?

(Also posted in Writers Rising)