Loneliness expresses the pain of being alone and solitude expresses the glory of being alone.”- Paul Tillich
Days 9 and 10
I am officially over the rocking of the train. Maybe because this train, the Cardinal which goes from Chicago to NYC (stopping at Philly in 1 hr) does not actually rock. It's like what I imagine being in the pouch of a mother kangaroo must feel like. I don't know why, but this train is so bumpy and bouncy! I literally have to hold onto the rough in order to not fall over when walking around. Trying to type and work is a challenge as the words are bouncing in front of me and my hands keep missing the keys, and my long legs keep hitting the desk. Somehow I've been doing it.
Thankfully there is not much need to walk around as this sleeper has a side table that turns into a toilet. There is truly nothing stranger than typing away at my little desk, then sliding over a few inches if I have to pee. There is also a little sink which I thought was a wall, and a bed above me that slides down, it even has little straps on the side to keep you from falling out of it. Honestly, this sleeper has all the accommodations of my one bedroom except for a kitchen. Who knows maybe one will slide out from underneath my seat or something...
I had a lovely time arriving in Chicago yesterday. I went to Giordano's to get some deep dish pizza. YUM. I understand why it became the stuff of legends. I met up with two lovely theatre ladies named Elizabeth Nunguray, and Deanalis Resto. I always appreciate just how easy it is to establish camaraderie and realness when dealing with people who are so much like yourself. Latinx Theatre makers gotta stick together! We talked about the ways we came into being proud of our Latinidad. I told them how when I first came to college I didn't want to associate with my Dominican-ness for fear of being seen as less then. It took me joining Lambda Theta Alpha, a Latina Sorority before I started feeling really proud of my heritage. Elizabeth told me about her visit to Mexico for a family emergency and how aware she was of the fact that the dark skinned Mexicanos barely interacted with their light skinned countrymen.
We talked about self-hate within the Latinx community, how so few Latinos want to associate with their African ancestry. How finally Afro-Latinidad is starting to be embraced with pride. We talked about the term Latinx itself, how it was introduced, and how some people are still not quite on board with it. For the record, I love it. Inclusion is the solution y'all.
Deanalis shared how growing up in a predominantly white neighborhood and going to a predominantly white college left her always feeling like the 'other', and how she is still learning to embrace her heritage and history.
All the realness.
Of course, we also just talked about theatre nerd stuff and the great projects the three of us were working on respectively. Keep doing good work ladies! I hope we meet again soon :)
I was so glad that when I reached out to my fellow Latinx artists that I was going to be in their cities so many of them took the time out of their days to sit and chat with me about the arts in their communities. I am also glad that being an outgoing theatre person, and so many years of babysitting in strangers houses and some online dating have left me with absolutely no fear in meeting with strangers and striking up a conversation. I cannot imagine what it would be like to be shy on a trip like this. I'd be so lonely by now. I have enjoyed the relative solitude, but I very much miss my little apartment, and my cats. I complained about them keeping me up before I left and now I can't wait to hear them scrambling about the house chasing each other. Not having the weight of their little bodies on my legs as I sleep has been sorely missed.
Today this bouncing train was almost empty, I sat with an old man at dinner who didn't seem to able to talk loudly enough for me to hear him, so I mostly just smiled and nodded and laughed when it seemed appropriate to laugh but I couldn't really tell you what he was trying to talk to me about. I frantically answered emails I've been ignoring, I scrolled Facebook and remarked about Beyonce's twins. I was not super productive but I'm okay with that. Sometimes you just have to sit and hear the CLANG CLANG CLANG of the bouncy train.
I'm thankful. This trip has been extraordinary. It has flown by, yet each day felt unique and important. I am thankful to all you amazing people who have been reading and sending me messages telling me you were reading! I have you in mind as I jot down these thoughts.
I'm thinking maybe I will keep doing this blog thing, maybe not everyday, but for future trips, or special events. Even if no one reads, it helps me to reflect and really think about the day moment by moment.
It's too soon yet to really know what the biggest take away is, or what I will remember most. I left two days after the inauguration of our new president and so much has happened then to make me lose faith in people and governments. For now, I know that I have new appreciation and love for this country and all its beauty. I feel more deeply what it is we are really fighting for.
Until next time :)
Days 7 and 8 :)
Reverse, reverse. Cha-cha now y’all.
However, I am reversing the exact same way I came. It is day 8 of my journey. And what a journey it has been. The Rocky mountains are almost behind me again, and I arrive back in Chicago tomorrow around 2pm. My little sleeper room feels comfy and cozy and probably smells like a mixture of Vix Menthol and DayQuil. My body decided to go full on cough/cold so that has been fun! I feel bad for anyone else in this car who has had to listen to my nonstop coughing for the past 24 hrs.
Honestly, I rather get sick now when I don’t have much to do but relax and write. Take in the sights. That is one of the benefits of this trip. I’ve gotten a sense of what a productive sleep/work schedule would be for me. My body naturally wants to wake up at about six AM most days. No matter when I have gone to sleep. If got to bed at 9pm the night before then I wake up at 6am feeling rested and great. I have gotten some of my best writing done during these times.
Then, If a take a little nap after breakfast for about 30 minutes I wake up and feel super refreshed before lunch. After lunch I bang out a few more hours of writing (or reading/ or looking at my phone). I take another little nap before dinner and after dinner I write again until bed time around 9. Unfortunately, this schedule really could not exist in the real world where I don't get home from rehearsals until 10 or 11pm most days, where I can’t just eat, and write, and nap all day long. Oh well.
Yesterday was a blur. As was today... They are all sort of mixing into each other a mess of writing and coughing and talking to strangers.
A highlight was dinner with Dave and Carol last night. For the first few minutes they both seemed very closed off, who knows maybe it was my own energy. I was tired and not feeling well.
Dave confessed that he was from D.C and had been traveling since before the inauguration and protests because he didn’t want to be around for any of that. He told us that in D.C everyone picked a side and sometimes he just didn’t want to be on anyone’s side. I wasn’t sure right away how to interpret that. Dave was a young white man, so I felt a bit uneasy wondering... What do you mean 'side'? Which side are you DAVE?
I’m embarrassed sometimes writing this, I’m aware of my own biases, but I think it is important to be honest with yourself most importantly if you hope to grow and change. As soon as I felt myself judging before I knew anything I changed my thought pattern, I remembered my convictions from Day 1. Be positive. Live your truth.
Well, as often happens, Carol asked me about my trip and I shared with her that I was a playwright. Dave asked me what my plays were about and I gave them the run down. I went right for the big words, “My plays often deal with the issues of social justice, and feature Latinx characters because I myself am a Latina from a predominantly immigrant family. The issues have ranged from gentrification to domestic violence to PTSD and sexual assault.” Kaboom.
Well. Let me tell you. These were the magic words! What a conversation. Carol almost immediately opened up and said that she herself was in the middle of a divorce as a way to escape from the domestic violence inflicted on her by her husband.
“Being alone on this trip is the first time I’ve felt safe in years.”
Wow. Dave and I were aghast, and heck I was proud of Dave, he opened up and softened up right away.
“You must be so brave.” He said. Then, “I am on this trip trying to heal as well, I’m a veteran, and suffering from PTSD.”
WHAT! Literally all the themes of my plays were pertaining to these people’s lives. The magic of theatre y'all.
The conversation flowed from there as if we had known each other for years. Even more coincidentally, Dave mentioned that gentrification was a huge issue in his community in D.C. Again I’m like, “The first play I ever wrote was about gentrification!”
I've also been thinking a lot about gentrification just in general because said first play is going through rewrites right now, and of course because of my trip to to The Mission.
Dave told me about the great work he was doing, trying to educate his black neighbors on their rights to prevent them from getting kicked out of their homes. He said, “I’m using all my white guy privilege showing up at meetings in a suit and tie acting like I have credentials to help these people. It’s not right.” I decided right then that Dave was all right. And that the issue of gentrification seems to be effecting a lot of communities negatively... I'm thinking of digging deeper into that issue. It keeps popping up in my life and that's for a reason... though I am not entirely clear yet on what that reason is.
I thought a lot in this last day or so about the power of positive thinking. I chose to alter my thinking and believe that my dinner mates were awesome people before we even had a chance to connect, and then ended up having one of the most open-hearted and moving discussions with them. And they weren’t just okay people, they were exceptional, brave, change-makers.
Two years ago when my health declined terribly and I was fearful for my future due to the Crohn's nightmare I remember promising myself that if I got better I would make it a priority to travel. I didn’t know how I would, due to the whole being sick and poor thing, but I just kept putting it out there, kept putting myself out there, applying for trips like this on whim, imagining myself seeing the world. Travel is so important. I feel badly for people who have not had a chance to see more of the world.
When I look out my window and see the beauty of this Earth I can't imagine how anyone would not want to protect it. When I meet so many different and wonderful people who just want to be safe and happy I cannot understand how people can harbor such hate for their fellow humans. Every soul is important and beautiful. But I can in a way understand, because if you don't know anyone who looks different from you or prays differently than you than of course you will 'other' them. It's too easy to think that the world revolves around you and your desires. But it doesn't.
I'm trying not to be angry when I think about the horrible things happening in the world this past week that I have been traveling. I keep reminding myself that people operating from a place of hate have a deep fear and sadness in them that they have never been allowed to express in a healthy way. This is not to excuse the inhumanity running rampant, but to offer some perspective. My sorority sister Daniela used to say that when someone was mean to her the first thing she thought was, "Who hurt you?" She probably has no idea how often I think that when I hear of someone doing something awful. (Who hurt you Donald?)
There is a always a choice. I will always choose love. I will always TRY to choose love. I am not perfect. I choose optimism, I choose positivity.
I still can’t believe I got to take this amazing trip for free. But I can believe it. Because I dreamed it and it came true. I know not everything will get wrapped up all nicely like that, and not all my hopes and dreams will come true (and heck I did get a bad cold on this trip so it's not all rainbows and roses) but I will keep hoping, and I will keep dreaming.
If anyone would like to give me a trip to Japan, or France, or Australia you know where to reach me :)
I am sitting in a cafe called The Workshop. It's pretty a innovative, huge space with workspaces specifically tailored to being productive. I'm half asleep to be honest, and hoping my coffee kicks in soon. These last two days have been insanely busy and filled with amazing experiences. FULL STOP.
I need to mention something first before I continue. Yesterday, the (not my) President of these Divided states took the next step in creating his deplorable America by imposing a ban on Muslims and refugees from entering the country. I didn't mean for this blog to get political (haha), but I am so filled with fear and disgust right now that I can't help to make it clear that while I had a lovely time in San Francisco these last two days, my enjoyment has been continually scarred by disturbing news updates. I've spent the last 30 minutes frantically texting my boyfriend asking him what our plan is if war breaks out, and Googling:
Will Chinese declare war on U.S?
How did the Germans resist Hitler?
War survival kit.
Amongst other things...
I am privileged. I was not one of the families detained at JFK today after what was likely months or years of preparing the paperwork and paying the fees. I am not the woman who attempted suicide today when she was detained for fear of returning to her home country where her fate was likely worse. I am not an undocumented human. But I could be. I could be.
So, I fretted and took the first step, I cancelled my Netflix subscription. I signed up to send those $10s a month to the ACLU and you should too!
That's what I can do for now.
Day 5 and 6.
Tour of the 415.
After another complicated night of sleep (my cold has turned into a terrible cough!) I let myself sleep in a little before meeting up with a local theatre-maker named Paul Flores. We met up at Cafe La Boheme in the The Mission. A local spot that has been around for many years and carries a deep and complicated history. Paul's work is very locally oriented and politically motivated. He told me about his plays have dealt with gentrification in The Mission, a historically Latinx neighborhood that has recently become overrun with techies from Silicon Valley driving up the prices and pushing out the residents. You know how gentrification goes.
Thankfully, it seems like in some ways San Fran has progressed a bit to combat this phenomenon by declaring The Mission a historically protected area. If your Taqueria has been there for a certain amount of years it is illegal to push you out. So, many of the salons and taco spots are protected, though the actual residents who used to frequent these locals are becoming few and far between.
Paul has also worked on a piece about Alex Nieto. Alex's story will sound familiar to you. He was a young man taking a break from his job as a security guard when someone called the police on him for looking suspicious. Within seconds of the police's arrival Alex was shot down with FIFTY-NINE bullets. 59. For one man holding a burrito and minding his business. Alex Nieto has become a bit of symbol for the neighborhood and their are multiple murals throughout the city dedicated to him. https://justice4alexnieto.org/alex-story/
My fabulous tour guide Dorothy Martinez of Teatro Campesino (among a million other credits) met up with me after my lunch with Paul and we walked around all of The Mission and checked out the amazing murals and graffiti that have made the neighborhood a tourist destination. I loved walking around and smelling the papusas and hearing the mergengue playing. Here are some of my favorite shots.
I am currently re-working a play of mine called MinorityLand which deals with the issues of Gentrification in North Philadelphia, so I felt like my San Francisco Friday was perfectly tailored for this research.
The show was HILARIOUS. Y'all. I laughed until tears streamed down my face, and then the tears turned into actual crying because some of the stories being told were seriously depressing.
The one that sticks out the most was the story of a family that owned a Pin~ata shop which was burned down only to be replaced by a cat cafe. -___- The interview with the woman who owned the shop was heartbreaking, "Why?" She said, "Why take away my life?"
This video was followed by a sketch about the cats from the cat cafe feeling badly that their new home took away the home of the previous owners. It was absurd and delightful and painful. Just as theatre should be.
I got back home around 1030pm, and slept (COUGH) not so great. But hey, that's sort of become a staple of my travels. Today was more relaxed. Dorothy and I met up and went to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art which was lovely.
I do have to say though that I found the murals in the mission more interesting than most of what the Modern Art Museum had to offer.
I was particularly put off by the Carl Andre exhibit which ties directly into the musical I am working on right now about Ana Mendieta. Quick catch up. Ana Mendieta was a Cuban American Feminist Artist who 'fell' to her death in the 70s. The only witness at the time was her husband Carl Andre. He was tried, and acquitted. Of course. They had Carl's work on display but not Ana's. OF COURSE. Oh the injustices just seem to pile on top of each other don't they?
Anywayyy... I had a lot of thoughts about the San Francisco theatre/artist community. I think there are a lot of things that this city is doing right, and that Philly could take note of. The Latinx Theatre community seems really tight, and not just theatre but the artist community in general. Everyone is multi talented, and wherever we went we seemed to run into someone from the art world. In Philly my home company Power Street is the ONLY Latinx run company, and there seems to be very little intermingling of the different arts communities. I have to reflect a little bit more on that, and what my role can be in ameliorating that issue. I have a lot of ideas, hopefully the resources will be there to make them come into fruition. Stay tuned...
Tomorrow A.M I head back to the train! Oh boy... Time to head back. Wish me luck!
What a day. Where to start?
At the beginning!
Today started out a little rough. I had a hard time getting to bed last night due to a wisdom tooth that has to go, and a cold that wants to sneak up on me. Thankfully, I packed a bottle of Vix with me like a proper Dominican. I rubbed that all over my body last night and that helped me get to bed. I also went to the Lounge Car on the first floor of the train and bought a bottle of whiskey to rinse my mouth out with so my tooth would stop hurting. I'm getting that baby pulled next month. It was also hard to find sleep due to the overwhelming news I took in before going to bed.
Everyday it feels like an assault on all I believe in and stand for when I see what new antics this administration is up to. I close my eyes and all I think is: He's only been president for 5 days and it is already a nightmare. What else do these crazy, old, powerful, white men have up their sleeves?
I feel really helpless, and then when I look out at the beautiful landscape passing by outside my window I think: How much longer will this Earth be here? How can these people not care about our beautiful planet?
I woke up this morning feeling a bit despondent. I hadn't slept well due to my sore throat and stuffy nose, and I felt nauseous from the anxiety. I went to breakfast late and ended up sitting by myself. I called my boyfriend and hearing his worried, loving voice made me feel better. Things are bad, but there is still love in this world. Love is much stronger than hate. I believe that 100%. I decided then that I would stop focusing on my fear and anxiety and try to channel that into love in every way that I could think of. I had service for a few minutes and checked Facebook. Speaking of Love. The city of brotherly love made me proud today.
My city rocks man. Click here if you don't know what I'm talking about. #resist #lovetrumpshate
My day took a fun turn when I heard a woman in the hallway say, "Hi, I'm an Amtrak resident writer."
I popped my head into the hall.
Her name was Tamara, and she works as a journalist for the Associated Press. We had an amazing conversation, and it felt good to know there was another creative aboard the train with me. I can't really talk about what we talked about because she is a journalist, and journalists aren't allowed to have opinions really because they have to be neutral so... I guess I'm not going to be a journalist. Tamara is interviewing people for piece she is working on, when she posts it I'll be sure to tag it here. :)
I started noticing as we went further and further west that more people of color, and more young people came aboard the train. I even had the pleasure of sitting with man at lunch who told me all about the cheap clothes he was able to get because his partner worked at Nordstrom. The man sitting next to him squinted for a moment when he said partner, it was delightful to watch him connect the thoughts. Even more so when he answered with, "Check my tag on my shirt, Nordstrom." I can't afford to buy Nordstrom, but apparently they are great company that only promotes from within. I learned a lot more about Nordstrom than I needed to at lunch, but I won't bother you with all the details.
The snow was melting away, and we finally crossed into beautiful California. I let myself take a little nap before we arrived so I would be well rested because I was heading out as soon as I arrived at my Airbnb.
In December I was lucky enough to me an awesome artist named Dorothy Martinez at the Latino Theatre Commons convening and she is showing me the wonders of the Bay area over the next few days.
Tonight I checked into my room in Oakland, threw on a dress, and ran out the door to hop on the BART (metro) for a gallery opening at SOMArts that was curated by a fellow Latinx artist Javier Hurtado. The theme of the event was about honoring the lives of sex workers.
I was NOT readyyyyyyy.
It was an extremely powerful exhibition which made me think a lot about my own preconceived notions of people who work in the sex industry. There was a live performance by a transgender man who figuratively shed the skin of his unwanted femininity and stood in front of us naked and scarred, but so strong. I don't think I've ever seen anything so brave. I looked around and saw all these beautiful, white, brown, straight, queer, artists sending nothing but love and admiration to this man. I closed my eyes and drank in the healing power of art, even hard art that hurts you a little. The curators urged us to think about the individual power we have as citizens. I looked around at mi gente and thought: Yes. There is hope. We are POWERFUL. As long as this room exists we will not lose.
I started off the day feeling a bit lost and unsure and now as I head to bed (exhausted) I feel empowered by the resilience of my community.
Y'all, these are scary times, but the bad times are here for a reason and I think one of those reasons is to show as just how strong we really are. And to test our convictions and what we stand for.
So.. go, live your truth, make art, fight. I know I will.
Hasta luego mis amigos!
What sights I've seen!
Day 3 has been by far the most relaxing and productive.
Thankfully, I got a good nights rest last night. I had my head on the pillow by 8:45pm like a grandma, but man did it feel good to sleep.
I also keep gaining hours as we head west which has been lovely, though I really am dreading the opposite of that when I head back home next week.
This morning I woke up before the sun again. I pulled open my window shade and with my head on my pillow gazed up at the stars. So many stars y'all! I could see constellations and everything. I started having all sorts of existential thoughts. Here are some:
What the hell is out there!?
There has to be life on other planets.
What if Earth is hell and that's why we are all so obsessed with the concept?
I can't believe everything around me is made up of exploding stars.
This is so beautiful, I'm so lucky.
Is it too late to change careers and become an astronaut?
How is this train moving so fast yet nothing is changing in the sky?
What if aliens landed right now what would I do?
Is there anyone else looking up at the stars right now and thinking the same thoughts as me?
Anyway you get the picture.
Breakfast was Biscuits and Gravy. Yum! I gotta say, the food has been pretty acceptable this whole trip, and I'm not just saying that because it was free. I've pretty much tried everything I can eat at this point though :( My diet is pretty limited due to the Crohn's disease that exists in my body. I've been trying to avoid bread, cheese, and dark meat which makes up about half the menu.
At about midday I had the bright idea of going to the observation car to write and see the sights as we sped through the Rocky Mountains.
Turns out everyone else had pretty much the same idea and the observation car was packed. There were large groups of Amish people taking up whole tables. I guess they don't believe in flying? The other dominant group was middle aged white people. They seem to be the main base for Amtrak's sleeper trains.
I sat with Tom and Gretchen which was a great choice as far as middle aged white people go. They were heading to Utah from Nebraska. They were literally the nicest most easygoing people. We talked about our travels, places we had seen, and places we hoped to see in the future. Tom's favorite place he ever traveled was The Grand Canyon, for the record.
My favorite part of this whole exchange was that Tom and Gretchen were obviously still so in love with each other. Gretchen kept giving Tom those love eyes whenever he said something endearing and Tom kept putting his arm around Gretchen as they gazed out the window together while we careened through the Rockies at 9,600 ft, Amtrak's highest point.
I made great progress on a story I am working on about Anakaona who was a Taino Cacica from Quisqueya (a Chief from the Island that now encompasses the Dominican Republic and Haiti). Anakaona and her husband Caonabo where one of the first Taino's to encounter the Conquistadores when they landed on Hispaniola. Things did not go well for her after that...
I am convinced that Anakaona is my ancestor, as soon as I learned about her she has been popping up in my dreams, and I just knew I had to write something paying tribute to her. My hope is to one day turn this piece into a play/one woman show.
Here is a short excerpt:
"It had been early morning.
Anakaona was taking a walk along the shore not too far from where the rest of the village was still sleeping when she saw their large canoes. It was bigger than her bohio home which she shared with her husband and several other family members. She was transfixed.
She had seen the image before in a dream. She had not understood what she was looking at then, and even now she wasn’t quite sure. For a moment she didn’t even know if it was a dream, a vision, or reality.
She pulled on each of her fingers. She pounded the sides of her head. She pulled out a piece of long dark hair from her head. Pain.
It was real. Her dream had come true and there were strange men coming on those giant canoes. She knew right away that they would do nothing but cause her people harm."
Sounds bad right? Don't worry it gets worse...
Alright, back to work! I arrive in San Francisco tomorrow at 4pm!
Thank you everyone who has been reading and commenting :)
Check out my interview with Rep Radio about my Amtrak Trip, and thoughts in my brain here!
My mother has a bad habit of assuming the worse in any situation. If I tell her I’m calling her at 8:00pm and it is 8:05 she has been quite sure for about five minutes that I am kidnapped or dead. I remember when I was in high school I used to get out of school around 3:10 and walk home through the city of Reading. I had been walking home on my own as a latchkey kid since I was 8 yrs old, but every school day around 4pm my mom would call the house to see that I was home safe.
“Mommy!” I’d say, “I’m 16! I can make it home safe without you having to check!.” I used to take it as a slight, as if my mother didn’t trust me. I would joke with her, “Yes I’m home, I sold all my drugs quickly and the gang sent me home for the evening.”
My mother didn’t find this as funny as I did.
I don’t have any children yet, but I have a feeling I might be as big of a worrywart as my mother when I do.
My worry had me up last night. I did not sleep well. It turns out, trains are very noisy, and very bumpy. Who would have thunk? During the day time when I wasn’t supposed to be tired it was easy to fall asleep, but at night… Did you know that the train blows its horn every time it passes through some place residential or crossing a street? Did you know that was basically all the time? I didn’t. That was fun to learn.
I won’t dare to complain. My little bunk was comfy and warm, but as soon as I laid my head down I remembered about the Amtrak train that got derailed not far from Philly in 2015. Something like 8 people died and many people were trapped inside and critically hurt. I started wondering what I would do if my train suddenly toppled over.
“Stop thinking!” I said to myself shaking my head as if to send the negative thoughts free.
I couldn’t help it. I started looking around for the emergency exit, I pulled my coat out of the closet because it would be cold if I had to escape. I made sure I knew where my shoes were. As if in the case of a derailment I'd take the time to look for my shoes... My mind raced. Finally, I took a melatonin (thank god I brought those!) and that knocked me out for at least 5 hours. My train has yet to derail. Don’t worry mom.
Breakfast is served between 6am and 8am. They start making announcements for it at 6 on the dot so I had no choice but to wake up then. I honestly cannot remember the last time I was up before the sun.
Breakfast in the dark.
For a while I sat by myself happily, too groggy to imagine making conversation. I eavesdropped on 2 older white men talking about… You guessed it Drumpf.
It seems like that is the theme of pretty much everyone’s conversations around me no matter age, sex, or race. One man had a beard, and the other one did not.
Beard: "I heard that guy on Saturday Night Live, one of the Baldwin brothers, he signed on to make fun of him for good."
No Beard: "Oh really? He better be careful."
Beard: "That’s for sure. Well Trump better get used to being made fun of."
No Beard: "What was it that that lady said Kelly whats her face?"
Beard: "The spokesperson? Yea, Alternative facts was the phrase I heard. Now we’ve got Alternative facts."
I was joined at the table by Erica and her son named Juice. I can’t imagine that was his real name, but maybe it was. Erica seemed like the kind of woman who would name her son Juice, or let him call himself that. She had a tattoo on her face covering her entire chin, and huge gages like I had never seen. Juice was 7 years old and remarkably well behaved and communicative.
They were both coming back from the Women’s March.
“I’m not like all these women, so invigorated, so full of hope now as if that march fixed everything.” Erica said.
“Look at this! Look at this!” She pointed out all the plastic wear that the Amtrak Dining services used. “They throw it out after every meal. Every meal. All this plastic.”
I couldn’t believe it. Since Amtrak is sponsoring this trip, I won’t say much more about that subject, but I understood Erica’s point. We are going backwards, we are fighting now for things we should have already acquired. Equality, women’s rights, reproductive rights, healthcare. We SHOULD be focusing on other the major issues like Climate Change and protecting our fragile environment.
Erica sends Juice to go tell the server that he forgot her sausage. When he’s gone she admits to me, “I chose to have him. I artificially inseminated myself and everything. Now I wish I could take it back. His future is damned. He’s gonna be living in a Mad Max world.”
We can’t give up, I tell her. We have to keep fighting. I ask Juice what he thinks. He smiles and plays with his glow stick.
“I don’t know!” He says happily. I tell him he should run for president someday and he smiles at his mom and looks at me like I’m a nut.
He probably thinks all the grown ups around him are all worrywarts over nothing like I did when I was a kid. I wonder how his young brain is processing all of this madness.
I’m an adult now and I see the real dangers everywhere, the real problems we are facing as a society. It’s enough to make you not want to get up in the morning. But...
I’ll try to keep Juice’s attitude and not completely turn into my mother. We cannot lose hope.
I watched the sun come up over farms and fields as far as the eye could see.
Who lives out here? And why? What must that be like? So far away from your closest neighbor. As a writer I can see the beauty in isolation, but only for so long. What does a typical day look like for rural America? It seems so monotonous. Field after field after field. I’m sure there are perks, I hate to generalize, but I truly could not imagine living in that environment.
I wish that this country would invest in more trains connecting all of our rural communities with our urban ones. Flying is completely inaccessible for anyone who doesn't have a spare couple hundred dollars. Maybe if we had an accessible and affordable way for these disparate communities to connect it might ease the stark divisiveness that has become so prevalent in our country. Maybe President Juice can make something like that happen for us someday…
The Sears Tower (Willis Tower?) is coming into view. Hello Chicago!
Layover in Chi-Town.
That's what Chicago is called right? The windy city? Well it was pretty windy that's for sure.
I walked through all of downtown from Union Station to Millennium park taking in the sights. Chicago reminds me a lot of Philly, I even saw a bunch of food trucks!
I met up with Alyssa whom I had met briefly in early December at the Latino Theatre Commons Convening in NYC. We talked shop. Theatre, diversity, politics. I love that even though Alyssa and I know knew nothing of each other we are both Latina theatre makers so it took about 30 seconds before we fell into conversation as if we had known each other for years.
Alyssa works for the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health doing interactive devised theatre work that addresses the issues of sexual health and education with teenagers.
Thanks for meeting up Alyssa!
I am waiting in the business class lounge now, very fancyyyy. I think I saw someone handing out a glass of wine, so I'm gonna go and grab one of those. My longest train, the California Zephyr arrives departs at 2pm so we should be boarding soon.
I'm going to focus tonight on working on my play Las Mujeres, and on writing a short story for La Galeria which is a Dominican diaspora magazine.
They are calling me to board!
I am a writer. Though I would not consider myself a blogger. In the past I attempted to keep a blog during a dark and difficult time in my life. I was very sick, and not feeling like doing anything creative, especially writing. I started chronicling my thoughts, and soon after I stopped. It was like my creativity had been stifled and giving myself a chance to think about everything that was really going on in my life opened up the writer's block. I stopped blogging, but I started working on my play She Wore Those Shoes which got produced by Power Street Theatre Company this past October 2016. Now, thankfully, my cause to blog is much more positive! I am going on a trip as an Amtrak Resident Writer. Find out more about that program here.
The journey has begun! I am excited and anxious. Excited because there is a whole 8 days in front of me that are uncharted territory. There are people to meet that I have yet to meet. There are so many sights to see that I can only imagine. I am anxious, for all those same reasons.
Today has been… a good day. It is almost 7pm. The rocking of the train feels like what I imagine being pushed a very fast stroller must feel like. It has the effect of lulling me to sleep, and I admit I took a 30 minute nap as soon as I was loaded into my room. But now I am awake.
There is no internet. A fact I did not foresee. In fact there is no service whatsoever as of this moment. A challenge for me. To write without distractions. I can’t procrastinate by doing research or looking up a quote I like. I can’t distract myself by logging onto Facebook and shaking my head at the latest insane political news. I can’t even look out the window for distraction because the sun has set the world outside looks like deep, deep space.
I didn’t sleep much last night. I hardly ever sleep well the night before a big trip. There are two reasons for this.
1. The anticipation of course. The worries, the, “What if I I miss the train?” the, “What if I forget something important that I need?” And of course, “I hope my cats will be okay.”
2. My crazy cats. There is no way to avoid them losing their minds before I go on a trip. They are too smart for their own good and when they see my luggage out they know I’m leaving and it sends them into a frenzy for the whole night. My kitty Molli spent the night pawing at my face and scratching at the picture frames she could reach in order to wake me up. I wonder what her though process is with that… I’ll annoy you so much you won’t leave mama!
My boy Desmond spent the night running around knocking things over and crying his little chirps that sound like “Mama” I know that sounds crazy but I swear to you they are both very aware of what is going on. Maybe they think if I am too exhausted I won’t leave, but alas.
I am currently along the border of Maryland and West Virginia en route to Pittsburg where my dinner friends Claudia and Phil will disembark. Claudia wanted to be an actress, but somehow it didn’t work out. I told her if she ever has a chance to pursue that passion again she must, “We need more artists in this world!” I proclaimed and her eyes grew wide and she smiled, “Yes, maybe… I think maybe I will try again someday to do theatre.” Claudia works for a magazine that was at the Women’s March on Washington yesterday (Jan 21st). She said she interviewed many women of all different backgrounds on what brought them to the march and that it was the most inspirational experience. I don’t know much about Claudia, but she seemed like one of those White Feminists whose eyes were starting to open up in a way they hadn’t before. She seemed like she was still processing a lot. For the record, she said she also attended the inauguration and in her words, “To be honest it was very lightly attended.”
I was glad I was seated with her and her friend (brother?) Phil who was dropping everything and moving to Japan soon to teach English. Now that’s an adventure.
More interestingly however was Karla who sat next to me. Karla was also coming back from the Women’s March. Karla is a pastor. Karla admitted she hates telling people she is a pastor because they assume they have to behave around her. She hates the religious right for giving all other religious folks a bad name. I can imagine she must feel like she has to work overtime to prove that she is not one of ‘them.’ She seemed like she was working hard to prove how cool and with it she was. I wish she could just be herself. That’s the sad part about all this division. I am not a religious person, but I really don’t care if you are… Unless you try to strip me of my rights of course, or try to convince me that I am destined for hell because I don’t believe in your brand of making sense of this world.
I felt myself Code Switch about halfway through our conversation with Claudia, Phil, and Karla. I sat down at this table with three White people and thought okay… here we go… How is this going to play out? I hate that my brain even thinks that way. I am aware of the fact that it is problematic and I'm trying not to make assumptions about people based off of whatever preconceived notions I may have.
Recently, I had an experience where a middle aged white man asked me what my plays were about and I blanched. I was scared to tell him that my plays were about historically marginalized communities, women’s rights, domestic violence, rape culture, gentrification, immigration…I was embarrassed with myself for simplifying my work in order to not 'other’ my self. I promised myself I would live in my truth, and not be afraid to stand for what I believe in. I hate being silent on the things that matter to me.
“So what are your plays about?” Claudia asked me. I told her. This was about 20 minutes into dinner, and at this moment I felt ‘polite, don’t stir the pot’ Erlina be replaced by ‘life your truth Erlina.” I’m glad I did because this opened the door for real conversation with my dinner mates. Obviously our new president became a big topic of conversation and I felt so invigorated and proud to have been able to facilitate a thoughtful discussion, even offering up my point of view on the controversy of exclusionary white feminism at the Women’s March.
Day one. My take away? Live my truth. I could have had a polite conversation with Claudia, Karla, and Phil, but I’m glad I let things get a little messy. I have about 15 more dinners with strangers to go on this journey and I’m excited to see what types of people I meet along the way. A part of me hopes to only meet like-minded individuals, but… we shall see.