Recently in my Dream Retreat, a weekly virtual gathering I lead, we discussed the importance of having the right group of people around you. Those who support your authentic self, who, instead of saying why, say why not? Those who celebrate your wins, inspire you and are there when you need them most.
Although I was an honor student, I loved the streets. Urban culture, along with all the bad words you find there, peeked my curious nature. As a matter of fact, my graffitti name was Bad90. I have no clue why I chose that name, but I wrote it everywhere. To avoid losing me to the streets, my Mom moved us to West New York, N.J. where there was a Cuban diaspora and a quieter lifestyle. I went to Memorial High School where I made real friends, many of which are still part of my life, and many new dead friends. In those years, I was introduced to literary giants like Pirandello, Buchner, Camus, Shakespeare, Emerson, Thoreau, Hesse, and Dostoyevsky to name a few. The only time I've ever stolen anything, was a book from the school library, Steppenwolf, which I still have on my book shelf.
Outside of school, my brother introduced me to other luminaries: filmmakers. We would spend our summers going to the Angelica and other great movies theaters in the city and devour one restrospective after another. In the dark, I fell in love with Ingmar Bergman, Tarkovsky, Goddard, Hitchcock and Kurosawa, just to name a few. At home, Mom immersed me in Cuban nostalgia, which usually came in the form of music. That's how I met bolero legends like Elena Burke and Omara Portuondo and learned how to dance to the Afro sounds of guaguanco with Celeste Mendoza. Brazilian tunes and jazz also became part of my listening party. In literature, music, dance and film I found my chosen community of kindred spirits.
At Bard College and then the University of Pennsylvania, my mind went from the Greek plays to Don Quixote and Latin American literature. It was then that my interest in my native language, Spanish, surfaced. I fell in love with the rhythm and sound of my language, and the masters who knew how to make magic with it. That's when Carlos Fuentes, Garcia Marquez, Cabrera Infante, Neruda, Borges and Paz, joined my chosen family. Some were living spirits who lived in far away lands, but they may have well been dead in my mind, I couldn't be with them in physical form. I realized then that magical realism was the world that felt most like my dream life, it felt lucid, I understood it, I could travel in it, I could wonder and get lost. Inside the worlds of magical realism, I felt like I belonged.
At Florida International University, where I earned my Masters in Liberal Arts, my interests were interdisciplinary. Ecology, psychology and spirituality were pulling, calling, and sometimes screaming. There is where I went deep into mythology and symbolism. My mind jumped from Carl Jung to the Aztecs and Joseph Campbell, from Frida Kahlo to Native American literature and spirituality. There is where I was exposed to the deep ecology movement and furthered my readings of nature writers like Barry Lopez and the counterculture guru, Theodore Roszack.
I had visited a ton of museums, galleries and art collector homes, but it wasn't until recently, in 2017, when I moved back to NYC from Miami that my personal connection to art exploded. My exposure to art in NYC and in Santa Fe, New Mexico, catapulted a process which started ten years ago when I began to experiment with my photography and doodling. Although I've taken art history, studied many books on the subject, and worked at the Frost Art Museum FIU for two years, my own art practice works from an amateur mindset. I make a deliberate effort to stay as innocent to my own artistic process as possible. In this expansive visual landscape, many friends have joined my dead people society. These dead people hang out with me all the time, I find them pretty cool. Georgia O'Keefe, Frida Kahlo, Agnes Pelton, Ana Mendieta and Hilma af Klint are some of the regulars. Oh, what great friends they make! The conversations we have! Their art, minds and lives are such an inspiration.
All this suffice it to say, that when I am alone, I am never alone. I am surrounded by kindred spirits who support my highest self. With them, I've co-created a universe which nurtures my soul. It is in this nurturing that I become. I love them. They are my dead people.
Who is in your universe?
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