Posted in Writing

The Official Unofficial Pre-Announcement

So, here it is. The official unofficial pre-announcement. Next month, I will be releasing a book of poetry. Right now, I am making final tweaks to the layout, and it will go to the printer in early to mid-February. I am very excited about this new project. It’s been about a year in the making.
I haven’t talked about this one much, because it was just a side project that I thought I would play around with for a few years. But, the time and the money just all lined up to do it right now, so carpe diem as they say.
The book is called, The Ode of Captain Hook: Memoirs of a Life in Time. It features 40 pieces, some of them have been posted here, some of them are new. All of them, I am excited to share, and I hope you will enjoy.
Right now, I am only doing a printed copy, not an e-book. But, this may change. The book will be for sale on my online channels, that is, this blog and my website, http://www.laylavelasquez.com. It will also be on Amazon for a ridiculous mark-up, only a small fraction of which I will receive. So get it from me. Once the book is at the printer, I will start taking pre-orders. Woo-hoo!!

Thank you guys for reading my stuff. It has meant the world to me. I’m going to try not to cry now.

Posted in God

The Art of Silence 

Today is a day off. A true day off. I have no plans, no projects breathing down my neck. Of course, when you work from home, there is never truly a day off. But I’ve found you have to listen to the calendar and clock for the most part, or you’ll have a nervous breakdown of sorts. (Those that have lived with me can attest to this).

So being that, today is a day to just..be. And yet, I can’t. I don’t know how to rest. I don’t understand rest. My definition has something to do with rest is a time to slow down, wear sweatpants, and then spend the whole day doing minor productive activities that make life run smoother. Things like cleaning out drawers, finally fixing that spaghetti mess of cords behind the desk, or transferring the data I’ve got stored in a spreadsheet, to a much more efficient app. This is what rest means to me. Something’s wrong. if I can’t find such things to do, then I get anxious, cranky and bored. Rest stresses me out. Something is really wrong. 

I heard about these nuns that believed in this thing called contemplative silence. They would spend hours just silencing their spirits, minds, and bodies just to let  the refreshing power of God wash over them. Its a beautiful concept. I imagine it would make someone so secure in the beauty and reverence of God that nothing could shake them.

 I could see them, after these silent hours, working out in the community dealing with the frazzled, frustrated people of their time. How they must have been a rock to those they met. How must people have thought, “In this crazy, mixed up world, where nothing seems right, there is peace and stability.”

Being somewhat this frazzled, frustrated person, I wanted to be this secure, peaceful, person. So I tried this experiment in silence. I lasted about five seconds. Even in my silence, I planned. I prayed. I thought. I could never just be. What is it about our world that we don’t understand silence? We can’t handle it. And if we can’t handle silence, then we sure can’t handle rest. 

This is why we can’t understand God. We can’t shut up long enough. Then again, who am I to talk? I’m a writer who just spent her afternoon off blogging.

Posted in Writing

Poem: Morning

The morning comes up over suburbia
In tiny rays of blue light
With intermittent tail lights
Shining red against the darkness

Like brazen eyes of evil
That shriek and shrivel
At daybreak’s final call.

Beware you in picturesque houses
And beautiful lawns
Sin and lies by gorgeous lips
May prosper for a season
But they all come to judgment
Before the end.

Posted in Writing

Poem: Heart by the Sea

Heart by the Sea

I left my heart by the sea
And there it was
Quickly swept away by
The cool ocean tide
My heart out to sea

Sucked through slithering current
Then tossed about
On rolling, raging waves
Dropping, rising, pounding
Then building up again
My heart went to sea

And then one day I found it again
Washed upon the slick muddy beach
A discarded, barely beating mess
Battered, crushed and gasping for air
My heart returned from the sea

So I nursed it quite fondly
Then carried it home
And kept it safe in jar
For wayfaring no more

Now no more will I leave
My heart by the sea

Posted in Writing

Fiction: Death in the Phoenix’s Nest

Here’s another scene from the story I posted earlier. Now that I am dusting it off, I am remembering the piece and liking parts of it. It’s got problems, I know. But, this was just a fun story to do . I hadn’t written anything in three years and the writer in me was smothering to a slow, painful death in long, violent convulsions.

This post is essentially the next scene, minus a couple of connecting paragraphs. The first scene that I posted a few days ago, is a sort of prologue, if you will, of a story told in flashback. This is the beginning of the actual story. Much longer scene. Enjoy.

________

Mandy Pierce was everything Phoenix Michaels was not. Shy and insecure, she  desperately fumbled for success. She had finished art school a few years before and now flitted through a series of miscellaneous jobs to keep the rent paid. Now and then, she consoled herself by making halting stabs at corporate artistry.

As the summer of 1998 began its optimistic start, she took a motivational seminar. They asked her to complete the sentence, “For me, life is…” She thought for a long time and finally, wrote, “For me, life is an endless pursuit of something, ending in nothing, resulting in a meaningless journey of disappointment.” The speaker stared at her, and then tried to sell her his book on positive thinking. She did not buy the book, but realized she needed a change in life.

She applied for an art show at a community center. It was an open-entry event, with only a few other exhibitors, but she thought it would help her get back out in the art world. That was where she met James Hinkey, a military reservist with no discernible inkling toward the military.

Mandy thought him rather odd. He was the only one not an organizer, artist, or friend or family member of one of the artists. In fact, in the drab room of a little over a dozen people, he was really the only attendant. He sauntered into the room wearing sunglasses at 8:30 in the evening, and appropriated a flamboyant entrance the common may attribute to drunkenness. Although the trained eye might notice it was, in fact, a calculated move roughly borrowed from ballet.

James was a man of “almost’s.” He was almost successful, almost funny, and almost hip. He had almost been married once, until his fiancée announced she was joining the circus to become a lion tamer and he could come or not. When he told her he had never really seen himself as a lion tamer, she told him that that was what she had decided to do. If he could not support her in it, he was a chauvinist keeping her from reaching her true feminine potential as a universal goddess.

“I am woman,” she yelled, “Hear me ROAR.” A somewhat awkward boy-man to begin with, he never really recovered from this bruise to his ego, and stayed in a sort of arrested development, and spent the next few years fumbling for eccentricity.

A mid-twentiesh man of no handicap, he carried a black metal cane. He periodically twirled it and repeated his ballet move, thinking he looked something like Sinatra. He wore flip flops, baggy jeans and a rumpled almost witty T-shirt, with a black tuxedo necktie around his bare neck. Mandy was intrigued by him.

He did not think Mandy was the most talented painter there and she was not particularly attractive, but she was not ugly either. The only exhibitor under forty, he was forced to contemplate her. He would not have noticed her elsewhere. She was dangerously slender, and slightly petite. Her light brown hair fell in subdued tresses at her shoulders. Her wide grey eyes seemed cloudy, searching and sad, even though she smiled beautifully. She dressed simply, but softly effeminate, in black shirt and pants, black flats, and a simple pendant necklace. At second glance, he actually found her quite pretty. He waltzed with confidence to her exhibit, twirling his cane in an off-Charlie Chaplin sort of way.

She displayed six paintings, and stood with her hands clasped in front of her, waiting. The first one he thought a rather laborious and intricate landscape that bored him with its commonness. He could not grasp the second piece, but nodded reverently as if he did.

“It’s called Fibonacci in Motion,” the voice behind him said.

He said nothing.

“I’m Mandy Pierce,” She said, after a moment. She offered her hand.

“These are mine. I-I mean, I am the artist.”

“Charmed,” he replied. He ignored her hand and attempted to affect the cool detachment he once saw in a documentary about Andy Warhol.

“And you are?” She asked after a pause.

“James Hinkey,” he replied, flicking at an invisible hair in his face.

“So tell me about your paintings, Miss Pierce. They’re quite lovely,” he said, still keeping his theatrical detachment.

“Well,” she said, trying not to laugh, “This is Fibonacci in Motion, it’s based on the Fibonacci Principle, which is a mathematical theory that has to do with symmetry in nature. The nautilus shell, like the one here, is a classic example of the Fibonacci principle. For this I used…”

He was not really listening. She captivated him as she spoke. Art to her, he realized, was not art. It was her love. He felt a vague sense of shame at his shallowness, as if he had in some way exploited a coital couple. But it did not stop him from asking her out.

Over drinks and burgers, he told her his new fascination with Charlie Chaplin, Gene Kelley, and the continental gentleman. She told him about art school, and her roommate the gymnast whom she would sometimes find hanging from the closet shelves. He told her he should find her the number for his ex-fiancée, Cristina, the lion tamer, currently hospitalized for depression, after her lesbian affair with the circus contortionist didn’t pan out.

“No kidding?!”

“Yeah. They found her huddled in a corner of the neighbors’ bathtub eating cat food, wearing panty-hose on her head, and mumbling the chorus to Lady Marmalade.”

They both laughed. “Wow. You got out just in time.”

“Nah. She used to eat cat food when we were together,” he dismissively replied.

She paused, pursed her lips, furrowed her brow, and finally asked, “And you wanted to marry this girl?”

His face turned somber, and he looked down at his food.

“She said yes,” he whispered.

They were quiet. She took his hand across the table and they shared a smile. Suddenly, that wasn’t enough for her.

“You wanna get outta here?” She blurted.

“Totally.”

They barreled down the Seattle highway with the windows down. She held his hand and let the midnight air massage her face.

“What kind of music do you have?” She asked.

“Uh…” he pulled a thin CD case from the driver’s side door. “Here.”

She flipped through the pages, and settled on Morrissey. She turned the volume, and the warbled voice through the speakers rendered them needless of words. The Light that Never Goes Out...Neither of them cared where it took them. They just wanted to drive, and drive and drive….

 

Somewhere outside Seattle, she leaned over and let her breasts gently brush his arm. She murmured in his ear.

“I have an idea.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Let’s keep driving, we’ll just drive and drive and drive….until we reach…the ocean.”

“The ocean?”

“Yeah, you want to?”

He smiled slyly, reached behind the seat and pulled Tequila from a backpack. She laughed mischievously.

He floored the accelerator. “Let’s go.”

She closed her eyes and concentrated on the freefalling sensation of speed and the warmth of the liquor hitting her stomach….She listened intently to the lyrics…the tale of a lonely drifter with no one to go home to, no one to care…

Shortly after dawn, they reached the foamy ocean. They drunkenly stumbled into all-night department store and bought bargain-basement swimsuits, cheap sandals and ridiculous hats, garnering disapproving stares from the graveyard clerks. She giggled incessantly, nearly knocking over a display. She apologized to it, and offered it some of her slushy. James rambled incoherently about capitalist America and freedom. The clerk stared at them and shook his head. When the young couple finally calmed down, they found a quiet area on the beach to park.

“I don’t do stuff like this,” he told her.

“Me neither.”

“With you, I just feel, so free.

“Me too. God, I needed this.”

He discovered a boulder against the water. They sat and let their feet dip. They held each other on the rock, and listened to the sound of the waves and the seagulls. In the distance, a ship’s foghorn sounded. The roar of traffic hummed in the vague background, remote and hazy. They sat, suspended, with only each other.

“Nothing is real, Mandy,” he whispered, his warm breath tickling her ear. “Nothing is real but this moment, and you and me.”

She smiled as he kissed her hair. He took in the scent of her strawberry shampoo. They watched the gentle rolling and crashing of the waves.

“Hold on.” She jumped up suddenly.

“Wait, where are you going?”

“Just a second.”

He followed her. She went back to the car, and pulled a camera case from her purse.

“We must capture the moment,” she answered and unpacked the Canon Rebel.

“Wow, girl. Now, that’s a camera.”

“I kinda do photography,” she answered shyly.

She grabbed his arm and dragged him back toward the rock. They snuggled together, with his arm around her waist. She leaned into his chest. She clicked the shutter, and the camera flashed and whirred. She stood and draped the camera around her neck, her inner artist awake and critically scanning the scenery for the hidden beauty of all things.

“Come on,” she gestured toward him, “Let’s walk.”

“So, you do photography?” He asked as they walked along the beach.

“A little bit. It’s not my strong point. I took a class on it, but it was so technical. F-stops, shutter timing, light properties, chemical composition…I was just interested in the aesthetics. I barely passed the class, and that was only because I went to the professor and begged him.”

He nodded.

“On occasion, I’ll try to take a really great photo, something that’s a piece in itself. But mainly, I just take pictures of things I want to paint—which is why I carry this everywhere.”

They walked in silence.

“Like this. This is beautiful,” she gestured toward a young mother, squatting in the ocean, holding an infant upright. The child stared in slight doubt as the cool foam licked at his tiny feet and the sand under him shifted. He turned to his mother wide-eyed and cooed with ecstasy. The mother laughed, as if suddenly she too, felt the ocean for the first time. She kissed his cheek.

From a distance, Mandy snapped a picture of the moment.

“Life can be so beautiful, if we stop and look,” she editorialized.

“So, that’s you, huh? The observer?”

She shyly blushed. “Yeah, I guess. I don’t like being the subject. I just like to record the moment. People by nature are very vain creatures. They like to talk about themselves, analyze themselves, express themselves, think about themselves, look at themselves, immortalize themselves…if you indulge them in that, they will love you for it.”

“What about you?” he continued after a pause. “Do you indulge yourself in your own vanity?”

She laughed, and turned her face to the cool ocean wind, letting it invigorate each pore.

“No. I’m the only truly humble being on earth,” she quipped.

“Yeah.” In one fluid motion, he twirled her around and pulled her to his chest. She felt his breath hot on her face. He whispered. “You’re perfect.”

The sensuality of the gesture momentarily caught her. But she quickly recovered and tossed him a wry look.

“You’re full of it,” she told him, laughing and pulling away.

“No I’m not,” he insisted vehemently, his eyes flashing, “Whatever short-sighted corporate head wants to stick you in a tiny cubicle to rot is full of it. You’re an artist, Mandy. The real thing.”

She bit her lip, both embarrassed and flattered by the compliment and his intensity.

“I-I’m sorry, I just, I didn’t mean to say all that, or I did, but well… ” he stammered, embarrassed that he had embarrassed her.

“No, no it’s—it’s sweet.”

“You hungry?” She finally asked.

“Starving,” he answered.

They walked until they reached a boardwalk strand. The first of the deserted shops yawned and stretched, reluctantly flicking neon signs awake. A vintage diner piped Frank Sinatra into the dead morning air. James’ eyes twinkled. He threw his green fedora hat in the air, and debonairly danced around a light-post. He caught the hat with a comical flourish. She laughed and softly applauded.

“Come, dance with me,” he offered his hand.

She nervously scanned the empty beach.

“Come on, there’s nobody out.”

She took his hand, and they walked into another decade–one where he was the perfect gentleman, and she was the perfect lady. He twirled her. She saw the deserted beach fade into a slick ballroom, electrified by music and the sound of fancy shoes scraping the wood floor.

She wore a flirty skirt and sexy heels. He wore a black tuxedo with a necktie, had a coiffed mustache, and faintly smelled of cigars and brandy. They swayed gently to the music. She leaned against his chest and closed her eyes.

Posted in Life

But a Breath

Today I have been thinking about life and death. Life is a beautiful mess, full of curves and twists, and poignant moments and joy and pain and everything in between. I stand by all that.
But, in the scheme of time, we are but a breath. No truer had I understood this than when I studied history. Most of the students slept through the class. But I found it riveting.  There in a white walled classroom, the some two dozen bored twenty year olds faded away, and I was Confronted with kings, and emperors and nations, and generals…none immune to the prey of the great hubris. Then there were feudal lords, and peasants and knights in not so shining armor,  with their torrid affairs all scheming for money, sex and power while the downtrodden peasants gave their lives to make it all possible.

And in this epic movie of human life, I came to a dramatic realization. My country, a long standing beacon of life as I knew it, which seemed to always have been– except in the case of dusty Pilgrims in knee-high tights and curvy corsets staring back from revered oil canvas, was but a blip on the radar of time. It was not the definitive way of civilized life. It was an ongoing sociological experiment in democracy and liberty that had yet to prove its longevity. But, this experiment, evangelized by American imperialism, and softened by increasing globalism, was the only way I understood existence:

..Everyone has the right to pursue wealth, happiness, regardless of class. Your family’s standing does not define you–you define you. You can change your born status if you want. You can be whatever you want to be, you just have to work hard for it. Hard work is the only real way to achieve big things. No one owes you anything, you must work for what you want. And anything you have, you can lose so you have to maintain it. Every person matters. Every person is equal to the law. No one is above, or below, the law. You can marry whomever you want. You can think or say virtually whatever you want–although if you say it In a public forum you have to be careful or you can get sued. If you see a way to make money-then go after it….

And yet, I came to understand, these ideas are so new to human thought. And even within my own culture, my specific way of life was so new. My understanding of the world was a subculture within an infantile culture that was still struggling to find an identity in itself. How small my life was.

I have been thinking about this lately. If my country and culture are but a blip–what of my life? What of my small space in the world? Mine is smaller than some, I will say. Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE my life. It is a hard-earned lifestyle of impermanence marked by artistic inspiration and Bohemian minimalism. My most valuable earthly possessions are a decade old vehicle, a laptop, and most recently, an iPad. I deliberately fashioned this low maintenance life to create room for art.

But my life is full of people, ideas, plans, memories, stories, photographs, and books and music…all the things that make life vibrant. And in this way, I have carved out a little hole for myself in the surface of the earth.  And there I live, something like a hobbit with an addiction to wifi. But how easily this hole can close, even if I were I to live an extraordinary life.

Recently, Paul McCartney did a song with Kanye West. After  the single was released, Twitter was a buzz with Kanye fans, saying things like, “Who the $?!@ is Paul McCartney?!” Or “I don’t know who this PaulMcCartney is, but his career is about to BLOW UP.” Another said, “That’s what I love about Kanye. Always taking the time to help out newer artists.” Here it was, a man who was once “bigger than Jesus,” just a few generations later, being washed from memory

I have moved over thirty times. In those years, I have said many goodbyes, some tearful, some not so. And in each case, whatever hole I had carved for myself there, closed up and life moved on. I became nothing more than a mental video decreasing in clarity with each passing year.

And, what did any of it ever mean? What is man but a breath?