Road Trips and Four Things That Bring Me Pleasure & Joy

One of the benefits of a long road trip, other than admiring a scenic view and listening to a great podcast or playlist, is uninterrupted time with your travel partner to really dig into a discussion. On a recent drive upstate through the breathtaking Catskills, my husband C and I delved into a conversation about the difference between pleasure and joy when he asked how my writing was going.

(For those who may not know, I am working on a coming-of-age memoir that spans ten years of my traumatic experience growing up in a dysfunctional family battling unresolved issues from generational trauma. I struggled with self-worth and emotions of guilt and shame for feeling disconnected from my family and wanting to pursue a different path. In my journey to find a sense of belonging, I made unconventional choices against familial and cultural expectations for a world that wasn’t ready to receive me. After years of self-healing guided by intuition, relationships, and my love of learning, I discovered my purpose and identity.)

I was on a tight deadline and struggled to write that week. But for me, that’s often the case. In fact, I find little pleasure in the process. Eating pistachio gelato? Now, that brings me pleasure. Coming up with the right framework and words to describe something when my head buzzes with a million, often mediocre, ideas, making me freeze in self-doubt and want to give up, is not a physical feeling that brings me happiness. Writing came to me much later in life, and reading in earnest was something I found in my mid-twenties. I accept that I am learning and require an exorbitant amount of inspiration. So much so that I wonder if it’s the same for other writers. If so, why they would voluntarily do this for a living.

I am in awe of past and present writers who persevered and published their gifts to the world. I can’t be sure their process was pleasurable, but I imagine it brought them joy. It’s what I feel when I complete a scene, a chapter, or an article — joy, a state of mind that goes far beyond the momentary physical feeling of doing. I imagine I’ll feel it once the book is done, knowing that my words will be capsulated, alive for others to read long after I’m gone.

Pleasure and joy are worthwhile, and I want more of them. At least I want to recognize the difference when I’m experiencing one or the other, if for the purpose of magnifying it and stretching it, like taffy, as long as I can.

What about you? How would you define pleasure and joy? What examples come to mind?

Here are four things that brought me pleasure or joy this month. I hope they bring you feelings of happiness.

  1. This article from the incomparable Zadie Smith inspired this post and former discourse on the same topic. It’s well worth the read. You may never think of joy and pleasure the same.

The thing no one ever tells you about joy is that it has very little pleasure in it. And yet, if it hadn’t happened at all, at least once, how would we live?

Zadie Smith, JOY
  1. In my never-ending search for inspiration, I stumbled upon Joan Didion’s Why I Write. Such a pleasure to read.

Grammar is a piano I play by ear, since I seem to have been out of school the year the rules were mentioned. All I know about grammar is its infinite power. To shift the structure of a sentence alters the meaning of that sentence, as definitely and inflexibly as the position of a camera alters the meaning of the object photographed. Many people know about camera angles now, but not so many know about sentences. The arrangement of the words matters, and the arrangement you want can be found in the picture in your mind. The picture dictates the arrangement. The picture dictates whether this will be a sentence with or without clauses, a sentence that ends hard or a dying-fall sentence, long or short, active or passive. The picture tells you how to arrange the words and the arrangement of the words tells you, or tells me, what’s going on in the picture. Nota bene.*
It tells you.
You don’t tell it.
* “Note well.”

  1. I recently read the beautiful novel by Xiochilt Gonzales, Olga Dies Dreaming, a New York Times Bestseller and International Latino Book Award Finalist the Kirkus Review describes as a “tough-minded story of a sister and brother grappling with identity, family, and life goals in gentrifying Brooklyn.” In my quest to extend the pleasure of living in the world Xiochilt created, I searched Spotify to see if a playlist existed. It does, at least one inspired by the book, and it’s pretty good! Consider a playlist for a book you read and loved.
  1. La Brega is a beautifully produced and engaging podcast about the “stories of the Puerto Rican experience.” Episodes are done in both English and Spanish, which is terrific for those who want to brush up on their español. Tip: Listen at ¾ speed for your language learning pleasure! A second season was just released: The history of Puerto Rico in eight songs. The show’s producers will release a cover album of the songs this month! Connecting to and finding new ways to celebrate my culture brings me lasting joy.

“There’s no direct translation of “la brega” in English, but for Puerto Ricans, it’s a way of life. To bregar means to struggle, to hustle, to find a way to get by and get around an imbalance of power. It’s got a creative edge, a bit of swagger; as Puerto Rican scholar Arcadio Diaz has observed, it’s a word that belongs to the underdog. Hosted by New York-born Puerto Rican journalist Alana Casanova-Burgess, La Brega tells stories of an island and a people trying to cope with too many challenges, and who deserve and demand better. The series is created by a team of Puerto Rican journalists, producers, musicians, and artists from the island and diaspora; a co-production from WNYC Studios and Futuro Studios.”

Consider your next road trip a mobile garden to fertilize the marvelous world of imagination. Thank you for taking the time to connect with me here. It brings me both pleasure and joy to be in community with you.

With love, 



pistachio gelato in Florence, Italy – a pleasure & a joy
working manuscript, 160 pages

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A Safe Alternative: Finding Relief, Identity, and Self-Esteem Through Expressive Writing

How I Turned to the Keyboard for Clarity and Hope

“I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.” Anne Frank

I sat at the corner hugging my legs and gasping for air. My bedroom shrank away from me, taking the oxygen with it. It was an early summer day in 1988 when the oppressive weight of depression settled onto my chest.

To drown out my thoughts, I’d turned on the radio, the fan that rattled on my bedside table, and every light with a working bulb. 

After an hour and eternity, a cold rush came over me as if doused with a bucket of ice water – I decided it was the end. I’d lived a full, sometimes agonizing, life – thrust into adulthood in the mere single digits of life. I could go already, I agreed. I wanted the pain to end. I thought about the old bottle of antidepressants in my dresser drawer. 

I can still hear myself whimper, “I’m so tired…I’m so tired…I’m so tired…” as I rocked myself. A tired ninety-year-old trapped in a seventeen-year-old body.

Was there a particular incident that drew me to the corner that day? I suppose it could have been the conversation I’d just had with my boyfriend, my first love and best friend, that definitively ended our relationship. 

It could have been the fact that my circle of friends was disbanding, not because of anything that happened, but the way friendships end after high school when we reshuffle to new schools, the military, or to Florida, where many of my friends had family and a desire for warm sun and long, sandy beaches. 

It could have been that I hadn’t seen or spoken to Mami in over a year. Mom tended to separate from things that were too hurtful. Not long after my parents’ divorce, she joined the Florida migration and moved as far away from us as she could from the Connecticut coast. 

Or, it could have been that I suddenly found myself completely lost – alone and invisible between two worlds that couldn’t see me in my pain.

I no longer belonged to my familia. So many broken relationships from choosing sides in the divorce, mine – to live with my father when I was fifteen- was unforgivable to my Puerto Rican family. While I had steadiness and security with Papi, I lacked identity and self-esteem. 

“Nena, your Spanish is really bad,” I was told by some in my family. I heard the rumors, too. “She ain’t down with our familia.” 

“Yeah, she’s just in it for her.”  

“She’s conceited. Thinks she better than us with her white girl english.”

In those pre-AOC, Salma Hayek, and Justice Sotomayor days, I couldn’t see myself outside of my inner-city neighborhood either. That spring, I toured NYU’s Stern School of Business with my prima Wanda. As we walked the campus and visited the dorms, we noticed no one looked like us. “Damn, girl, where are the Puertoriqueños up here?” I asked.

Hello? Am I alone? Where are my people? I felt misplaced and boxy in a world accustomed to people who fit neatly into smooth shapes. 

Later, when I received my letter of acceptance and a half-ride offer, I turned it down. I decided my place was at home to watch over Papi. He didn’t push me. I had no plan B.

I didn’t trust myself at that moment, so I called my best friend Lisa. She rushed over and saw me pressed into the crease of the corner like a wet banana leaf. 

I’ve seen girls like me get called changa and estupida for showing too much confusion and emotion as if the deal was already sorted for us and there was nothing to feel or figure out. Pick up your pantaletas and join the rest of us who are suffering, en la lucha!

I measured what I shared with Lisa, something I’d become used to doing with people because I didn’t want to freak her out and scare her away. 

Later, when she left to go home, so did the sense of relief she provided. I panicked. 

What if she hadn’t come over? 

What was I capable of doing? 

Who could I turn to next time? 

No one understands me!

I always thought diaries were reserved for girls who believed their dreams were possible.

The green letters on my monitor screen were twitching. I sat in front of the computer, barely able to see the wavy letters through my tears, and began typing. Like a ravine during a heavy rainstorm, my thoughts screamed down my arms through my fingertips and exploded onto the hard keys. 

I wrote letters to two people that day. 

I thanked Miguel, the yin to my yang, for keeping our promise to say when another eye caught ours. I gave thanks for our four years of love and described everything I admired about him, everything I would miss about us. My heart ripped through my ribs as I finally let him go.  

The second letter was to myself, by a voice I’ve always heard but never understood. This time I let her speak through my fingers. She told me I was where I needed to be, feeling what I needed to – I would grow from all of this, she said – and she assured me I’d know what to do when the time came.

This new self-talk way of expressing myself, translating my feelings into words without thinking or censoring or judging myself, calmed my racing thoughts. The weight on my chest felt bearable. 

In front of me, her words unfolded like a present: “Just keep going, Nancy. Just keep going.” 

The next day I read my journal as a friend’s note, allowing me to separate from my feelings and see things more clearly. That same week, I enrolled at my local community college.  

Still today, as a Latina woman trying to adapt to a new life in London, I journal to relieve stress and to observe my thoughts. I write to get to the bottom of how I’m feeling and why I’m feeling that way.

And I began reflecting on what’s positive, things that make me happy, big and small: my bed, my blanket, a good book, the smile from a stranger in passing who sees me.

Over time, I’ve gained confidence in myself, knowing there is good in my life, and believing the voice in my head who assures me I’ll know what to do when the time comes.  

How about you? 

Is there a letter you need to write? Is there someone to forgive, to let go, or thank? We don’t have to mail these to release the hold they might have on us.

Let me know how journaling works for you.


Latinas and Depression

Recently, I met with a group of young ladies in Ohio who completed the La Mariposa program. As we spoke, they shared how journaling helped them gain clarity and to feel better about themselves.

As bicultural females, young Latinas today have many of the same struggles I did growing up. Yet, anti-immigrant rhetoric adds to their worries and feelings of inclusion and security.

In his book titled Latinas Attempting Suicide: When Cultures, Families, and Daughters Collide, Dr. Luis Zayas, a psychologist who conducted a 10-year study to understand the mystery of the alarming number of suicide attempts by young Latinas*, found that journaling helped significantly reduce attempts among his study group. He found it gave them a voice and an immediate way to express themselves and safely release the heavy pressure they hold inside.

ABC News reported that 1 out of every 10 Latinas has attempted suicide, and nearly half of all Latina teens have felt a sense of hopelessness (2017 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey administered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to people ages 10 to 24).

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255); Suicide Crisis Line 1-800-784-2433.


When I want something easy and comforting, nothing tastes better than a bowl of rice and sweet plantains topped with an egg over medium.

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