Saturday, July 14, 2007

An Affair of the Heart

Love is the greatest gift of all: the binding of love, the fire of love, the freedom of love.

Last Saturday, Maria (that's me, the creator of Manola Blablablanik and author of Sex and the Beach), was hospitalized for acute atrial fibrillation. My heart started going beserk early in the morning, beating irregularly and shooting upwards of 250. (Normal resting heart rate for a woman my age is 70 beats per minute.) My blood pressure also skyrocketed to 150 over 90 (the ideal is 120 over 80).

I'm not going to bore you with the details of my stay at South Miami Hospital, but I will tell you this: I'm finally out of the cardiac ward and my heart received a clean bill of health.

Unfortunately, the good news doesn't rule out atrial fibrillation. According to my doctor, a relatively healthy young heart can still suffer; in fact, I may have had this most of my adult life, the condition masked as anxiety. Since I left the hospital, I've had one episode, far less intense and very short-lived, to be sure, which I've managed to control by yogic breathing. Of concern here is that prolonged acute episodes could lead to stroke; as well, my father has chronic arrhythmia.

In the days to come, I'll be wearing a Holter monitor to test my heart rate under different conditions of rest, stress, exercise and so on. I'm working with physicians, taking medications and most importantly just taking things easy.

"All changed, changed utterly" -- Yeats

Inside the ambulance, a caring and compassionate team of four paramedics tried to slow my heart rate down the only way they could, by injecting adenosine into a blood vessel that goes directly to the heart, via the shoulder. Adenosine stops the heart momentarily in order to convert its haywire circuit back to normal. I was told not to be afraid, that the sinking feeling would only last a couple of seconds. Indeed, the effect was brief, but to be conscious while my racing heart came to a crashing halt marked a turning point in my life.

Not only did I experience the effects of adenosine once, but twice, because my heart failed to convert. The second try felt even more intense than the first, like a crushing blow. All I could think was: "This is what death must feel like."

Angel of death: stay away. I am now more alive than I have ever been. I am more certain now of what I've always known, that I was put on this earth to love and to write. I am here to follow my heart. This is all I need to know to live.

Could this be my heart's way of telling me to listen, to recognize what is within me?

A long-time friend of mine who knows me very well is a paramedic and nurse in Collier County who has administered adenosine Lord knows how many times. When I told her my ultrasound result was normal, she responded: "Maria, your heart isn't normal, it's fucking amazing." Inspiring words! I also want my life to be fucking amazing. I want my love to be fucking amazing. Why the fuck not?

Really, life is too short. And that moment when your heart stops, that's way too long.

What about Manola?

As far as Manola is concerned, don't worry, she'll be back. As a matter of fact, she was born out of despair, during a very difficult time of my life when I hadn't yet even hit rock bottom. Yes, the wacky character you've all come to know and love was my black sun -- a shining light in the darkness. I have no doubt that she will be even more resilient than she has ever been, even funnier and more irreverent, but this time, with a little more of Maria.

I'm also going to be launching a new site in the weeks to come called Miami Good Vibes; it's a project I've had in mind for months. This site will focus on good people doing good things in our community, with information on philanthropic organizations and volunteer opportunities. I'll also highlight artists who are inspired by our culture and environment. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, I'm enjoying the blessing of devoted family and friends who bring love into my life, as well as the opportunity to not write, which is incredibly challenging for a writer to do. Well, I'm actually writing as little as possible, save for assignments at Miami Beach 411. I've been a wordsmith in some creative published or professional working capacity for over twenty years and it's time to step away from the thing I love in order to let my heart rest. Ironic, isn't it?

I'm creating as much space in my life as possible to live; to have a life away from the internet; to breathe free, to love and eventually, to write again.

I've had so much fun cracking myself up with Manola, as well as the honor of giving a few folks some laughs; if you're one of those folks, I hope you will indulge us a little leave of absence.

And fellow bloggers, I hope you'll understand why I haven't stopped by for a visit lately, but please do carry on with your wonderful work -- I want to read you again when the time is right for me to return.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Independence Day

JL asked to marry me within five minutes of meeting. He said Haitian men have a special "ting" for Cuban women, but of course he did not believe at first I was Cuban; considering that my big fat Cuban ass might be confused for an albino beluga whale, I'm not surprised.

He told me that Haitians don't like Dominicans because they shoot people on the border. This and more in his tale of woe; a story I've heard hundreds of times from my own people and others, the story that makes Miami a special place, a confluence of hearts and desires for freedom, very much like the gulfstream -- a current that constantly pulls us out of our comfort zones unless we learn to adjust our sails and navigate in its fickle yet determined path.

He repeated "you know what I'm sayin" after each sentence, which honestly was very annoying to me, after which my thoughts drifted to Toussaint L'Ouverture, the Bolivar of the slaves, legendary leader of a horrific bloody revolution that made Haiti the first Caribbean island to strip away its shackles from the mother country; I also thought of one of the best novels ever written about Haiti -- In The Kingdom of This World, by magical realist master Alejo Carpentier, a Cuban. I wanted to see paintings by Edouard Duval-CarriƩ; I craved some spicy picklese; this is all I understood, my filter about Haiti. I didn't want to have this particular conversation; I felt awkward, very awkward, letting my high-brow Caribbean studies crap get in the way of simple communication.

JL did not know the elders who currently live in Little Haiti, whom I had interviewed in a reporter assignment, but he did tell me about internecine strife among Haitians here in Miami.

And then I realized, what a pointless conversation. This man just wants to swim up my skirt, get his feet wet in a world that doesn't let Haitians cross our borders. I'm just talking to a man who keeps telling me I have lovely eyes; in fact, he doesn't stop talking about them or his need to meet the one special love of his life, be a good husband and go to church on Sundays. "Your eyes are amazingly beautiful. Do you want to get married?" he keeps asking. This mantra he keeps repeating to me and after a while I just want to be on the beach alone.

And it's a damn shame too, because on this day, I'm swimming in the Atlantic, and the great sea is just a big lake, welcoming me to its warmth, bathing me with thick, hot sea water. I am in my element and I feel everyone deserves the right to this freedom, but not at the cost of marrying a citizen for papers, my friend. I'm not some stupid Cuban woman with a big ass who will sleep with a stranger, you know what I'm saying?

Oh hell. Even when we feel the deepest kindness, comforted by the ocean or whatever pleases us, we must still stand strong like our Lady Liberty. No matter how you look at this, here in Tancredolandia we are faced with the reality of either accepting the truth that we are one world with artificial borders and at the end of the day, we are all human. It is what it is. Compassion is something you must practice minute by minute each day and each instance will vary. Life is like the ocean, it's going to be warm and delicious one day, hard and merciless the next. So how do we in this environment, in which we are all trying to stay afloat, perpetuate the luxury of prejudice?

If we could only thank each other for teaching us lessons in patience, tolerance and love, Miami would be a better place; feeling gratitude for what irks you is a big step and one that we humans should all migrate to, regardless of our political and geographical borders. This is the true immigration problem in this country -- besides everything else.

I just wanted to celebrate independence from whatever might've been tying me down, as my friend Yvette suggested. After all, what is the meaning of independence, personally? I love me some fish and chips and British tea, but over the years freedom has been redefined. In fact, it's what we're all dealing with, every day. Did you celebrate independence well and truly yesterday? From what?

You get the picture.

And no, sir, I don't want to get married, not like this or for any crap excuses people use to tie the knot. I'll stay proudly single until I meet the right man for me.

I don't know why people open up to me, be it bullshit from a guy who wants to get laid for a green card or a person who just wants to talk; yesterday I also met a six-year old girl from Havana named Maria. She and I had a splendid time, wading in the water, yapping about the little fishes. When night fell and the tide started to rise, she took it upon herself to be responsible for me and she yelled at the top of her lungs, amid her family: "Maria, please get out of the water, the tide is rising!"

One meets amazing souls on the beach, but I'm not an impulsive woman who falls in love so easily -- with children, however, it's different -- it's easy, very easy to fall in love with children. They are what we always wanted to be, in the moment and living happily; part of the beauty of falling in love is feeling like a child all over again, isn't it?

And so unlike Narcissus who treads the dangerous waters of self-deception, I saw the truth of myself and the love of my heart reflected in the ocean -- it was a good day. Independence from everyone that ever kept me from seeing this love was what I celebrated. And today a little girl named Maria whom I barely know, who lives on the other side of the city, is probably yapping about something or other I won't ever hear about. The love remains and that's all that matters.

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Manola Does Miami: Flapjack or Arepa?

EPISODE 1 Manola ventures out to the suburbs of Miami, only to find that a vibrator is useful in traffic and that the landscape reminds her of mammograms.

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Photo courtesy of yours truly with additional nuttiness and talent by srcohiba.