bus from cuba

Re-creation, or now what

Here I go again, re-creating myself, this time into a writer slash editor. Except it’s not so much re-creation as acceptance of the fact that those are the two things I am best at AND enjoy, so I might as well suck it up and try to survive doing those things. Despite a degree in playwriting, I’ve avoided the writing/editing life because I don’t understand how to break into it, and it feels so insecure, hopping from job to job, with no guarantee of the next, and I like security. Sure, I quit a steady job and left my home to teach in a foreign country, but I knew I’d have a place to live, with enough food, what my plans would be for the next ten months, and that I’d have someplace and someone to return to at the end.

Hmm…as I qualified my statement, the bullshit meter sounded. Did I really know what would happen over that year? A lot of crazy can happen under the umbrella called “teaching and living in another culture.” Methinks my tolerance for the uncertain is higher than I realize. Also, don’t I have a fairly secure living situation now, too, as I look for a job? (Hello, retirement savings!) So, really, self, what’s there to fear on this next adventure? A little credit, puh-lease. I’m too hard on myself, I’ve been told. Often.

Wow, you have just had the joy (or annoyance — I have no idea how you’re feeling) of witnessing a successful moment of self-therapy. Hugs all around. I actually feel a little more confident, and I need all the help I can get because it was tough putting on my brave face last week, Week Two of the Quest for People to Pay Me.

Week One was energized and hopeful as I crafted a decent resume, slogged through the clunky platform known as LinkedIn, discovered a few jobs that excited me, and brushed up on a long overdue skill. Week Two, on the other hand, was more of a kid-sized mood roller coaster as I filled in tedious online applications and crafted writing samples (Sell us toothpaste! Come up with awesome medical topics for our blog!). But the mood roller coaster may have been due more to the daily hot chocolate-induced sugar and caffeine crash than the dark hole that is job searching. I’ve been reluctant to admit that, however, because it feels so right to settle cross-legged on the round tuffet between the coffee table and couch with a cup of syrupy hot chocolate as I open my laptop to start clicking job links. A bright spot that coffee (decaf) cannot replace. It is with reluctance and baby dinosaur fist waving that I thrust the cocoa powder from reach. Here’s to Week Three being approached with more of the verve from Week One.

I’ve also been lost as to how to approach this blog. As the header says, it’s here to chronicle my attempts to take over the world, but now that I’ve returned to a world I’m much too familiar with, sometimes the attempts simply don’t make for blogworthiness. I don’t want to post about my breakfast or other dull minutiae from life. So I’ve been quiet, unmoored and searching for the voice again. I think the restlessness relates to my last post about avoiding passivity. That death of life is creeping in much too quickly, helped along by long days searching through job listings, the morning routine of scooping the cat box and watering the garden, the (occasional) evening routine of planning and making dinner. All those tasks are part of life but don’t make a life. It’s easy to get caught up and not look beyond them. I need that manifesto.

Here is something larger than me. I’m doing transcription, and a little PR writing, for a photographer who is interviewing and photographing engaged or married gay couples in celebration of the June SCOTUS decision, one of the few bright reports from the US during my absence. I’ve always been a softie when it comes to love stories. Check out the project.

So long,

theresa

P.S. I’ll probably post pictures from Cuba for awhile, unless you’d like pictures of my cats.

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On Passivity

Hello, World! it’s been awhile. I last wrote from Honduras while sitting and sweating in a gray plastic chair, aged laptop burning in my lap, and semi-effectual fan quaking above. Now, after brief stops in Guatemala, Belize, Mexico, and Cuba, I report from my new-old home of Portland, Oregon, USA, chilled from the AC, with a large striped orange cat snoozing in my lap and construction wailing, pounding, chopping, grinding, drilling, and clanging outside.

It’s a different world [sound cue] physically, socially, economically, emotionally. The roads are paved and I’m anonymous. The papayas are barely larger than my hand and cost twice as much. I bus or bike anywhere without consideration to the area’s safety and wince at the frivolity of my $5 almond milk decaf latte (vegan again). People’s eyes don’t meet mine as we pass, and I sometimes pass them while holding hands with my partner. New Seasons, our overpriced local grocery chain, carries several varieties of kale chips and half a wall of energy/protein bars. Hot water and drinkable water are available with only a turn of the faucet. Passivity, born in comfort and strengthened by the option of relying on another to make tedious and sometimes important decisions, because choices carry risks, big and small, slowly creeps in.

And I fear that disconnection from life more than the zombie apocalypse. Perhaps more than the thought of another Bush presidency.

Last year’s steps away from a secure job and comfortable home were not passive. As a teacher, a job that consumed my waking hours for the first several months, reliance on someone else was not an option. I made decisions all the time, sometimes bad ones. I can’t deny that there were passive aspects in my life, which lead to my not learning Spanish as well as I’d hoped, but/and/or several others have suggested that I be gentler with myself on the language matter, given how much energy I expended in trying to be an awesome teacher. Ultimately, I’ll have to decide how to frame that memory.

The few weeks of solo travel after school ended were the highlight of my year, because they weren’t passive. I knew and (usually) did exactly what I wanted, like earning my Open Water diving certificate, visiting random art galleries in Antigua, Guatemala and swimming and scrambling through the beautiful Actun Tunichil Muknal cave in San Ignacio, Belize. Not only was there no one else to make decisions for me, I didn’t want there to be. I didn’t want to compromise my limited time, and there were so many delectable options, life adventures awaiting. I had moments and days of unqualified happiness (and a few of distress). Now, I’m back to before, and while I’m not the same person, I’m similar enough that if I’m not careful, I could slip back into my previous life, especially as I face challenges, like job searching [any leads welcome] in a town that builds apartments before infrastructure.

My passivity springs from fear of the unknown, of discomfort, of displeasing others, and from assuming that everyone knows the answer better than me. It comes from unhappiness and feeling trapped. It comes from rejection and failure. Also, comfort. Too much choice (First World Problem). Obligation. Inadequacy.

I’m searching for a manifesto, akin my beginning entry on the eve of my departure. A manifesto of self-action that makes bold, confident declarations. I don’t have one, yet. I do, however, have an ongoing list I started several months ago as I looked ahead to the pitfalls of my return. A list of things I’ve wanted to do for some time but haven’t:

  • join Last Regiment of Syncopated Drummers
  • archery
  • learn swing dance, among others
  • kayak
  • go beautiful places in nature
  • incorporate more music into my life
  • take writing classes (check! I start a personal essay class on August 4)

There, that’s the list. Pursue action that brings joy and fulfillment. Easy enough, right? While the sun is out, anyway.

The returned,

theresa

Before I forget

Friday was the last day. Many of my students signed a t-shirt for me (*sniff*). The administrators gave the volunteers plaques and a speech of thanks, goodbye, and eternal welcome. I dripped tears in front of everyone. I received unexpected hugs from certain students and wrangled others into chokeholds before they could flee my affection.

This was all more than I expected. Even if my inner cynic takes into account the fleeting romanticism and sentimentality that comes over many of us during goodbyes—perhaps the fear of the unknown as we depart the familiar—it cannot ignore the love. There was love, a lot and surprising given the challenges I’ve had. I don’t understand love. I never really have. Or maybe I just don’t understand kids. Being a kid is hard.

I’ve been here ten months. In one week I leave this small town for Útila, Guatemala, Belize, Mexico, and Cuba. In a month I’ll be back in Portland, Oregon. I return with browner skin, tighter jeans, and a greater tolerance of spiders near my bed and pitter patter of ants on my skin. While for months my anxiety addiction has been directed at teaching, I’ve too quickly redirected those superheroic powers of worry on my solo travel plans and money making capabilities. (Please, gods of anxiety, turn your faces from me.) Before I get completely caught in that net, I need to do some looking back, some internal analysis. Before it all fades beneath the dust stirred in the relentless push on.

From my first post:

If I take too long of a look, I’m afraid about all of it, so I pick one fear: I want to be a good teacher for these kids! This journey toward selfhood is difficult and I’ve whined a lot. But, despite my fears and doubts and whining, something inside of me believes I’m up to this challenge, that even failure will be a success.

So, was I a good teacher? Yes, for a neophyte. Could I have been better? Obviously, and I was the best teacher I could be. I tried to approach each child with compassion and understanding. I worked hard to create interesting lesson plans. When I could, I let the goof out to make kids laugh. I refused to accept cheating and laziness as okay.

I see my failures and understand them; they’re easier to elucidate. When I failed, I looked for solutions, although sometimes I just gave up for an hour or two. I was never firm enough—damn you, self doubt—which meant that the students who wanted to learn suffered, in particular. I couldn’t cater to all levels of learning, so the brighter kids got impatient. Also, I could have tried harder to get into what the kids were into—a recommended bonding tool—but I couldn’t muster the enthusiasm for One Direction or Frozen or the Fast and Furious series. I wasn’t a typical teenager and am much less one twenty years later. Sometimes compassion fell apart, particularly at the end when exhaustion and frustration led to sarcasm. Every now and then I just waved my hands in the air and wailed incoherently like a crazed muppet. These are failures I can live with, because I and the other volunteers did what no one else wanted to this year. We showed up and worked with these kids.

I am proud of the work I did these past months. Next year my grades, fingers crossed, are getting experienced teachers. Unless they turn out to be scary people, this can be only good news.

And now…

theresa

static

Inútil

I’d wondered if it would happen, if Glisa would come to class with marks clearly human in origin, like a swollen face or belt stripes that couldn’t be hidden by her sleeveless top on Color Day. But I’d doubted it. While the younger kids confide, follow their teachers like ducklings, openly crush with star-pooled eyes, the older ones stay aloof, confiding in each other or no one.

I wasn’t prepared. Can you be prepared for confession? When sitting alone on a bench, lost in space, while your students listen to music or play on tablets during an earned play afternoon? Can you prepare yourself for a tall, lovely girl who is quick to laugh, rather careless, and rarely concerned to suddenly be in tears? And what were we talking about, nothing, I don’t remember, I was in the middle of some joking comment.

“My [step]dad says if I’m not good, he’ll hurt my mom.”

Probably not. I couldn’t prepare for this secret warrior to remove her armor.

The night before, the stepfather came into her room and hit her. She doesn’t know why. He was looking for something in her room; she doesn’t know what. When her stepsister cries or whines or cries—she’s always crying—Glisa gets hit. The stepfather has threatened her with a knife. Glisa is afraid to go home. She stays at her grandmother’s as long as she can during the day. Probably everyone on that street knows what happens in that house, but her mom talks to only her sister. Her mother wants to leave, but doesn’t know to where. Glisa’s aunt is trying to get her and her brother to the States, to Houston. Her mom can’t afford to care for all three kids.

Glisa sat above me on the table, I rubbed her leg, squeezed her foot, maybe took her hand as she talked. I wondered what to say, knowing that listening was the right step, but wanting to hand her a solution, feeling helpless in this pain, trying to not let my own tears show. It’s not my place to cry here. I asked if there was someone who could help. Only the aunt. Thank goodness for the headphones, most students were too absorbed to notice our island at the crowded table, Gilsa’s tears.

“You know you don’t deserve this, right?” Glisa nodded. I murmured words about that asshole, her intelligence and wonderful personness. My hopes of her escape.

Then, she was done and went to play with her iPod. Football was played that last hour. At home, I fell on the bed, drained, teary, and am still somewhat lost.

The days after September 11 were emotional and paranoid below 14th Street, including where I worked in the West Village. Cars weren’t allowed. A stranger sold cleaning fluid in unlabeled bottles and we suspected anthrax. Spontaneous memorials grew on fences and street corners. Pictures of the missing, Have You Seen Me?s, were hung; of course they were never seen again. I knew, and they did too, the hangers of those pictures, they had to have, but they hoped, I guess, that their friend, lover, father, mother, child was out for coffee during the fall and just got…confused. Or lay unidentified in some hospital. I passed them and looked, the candles always burning. The faces gradually familiar, and I looked for them each morning.

My story of that day and the weeks that followed is inconsequential amidst so much loss and real pain. I lost no one and was not even close to being lost. I worked in the Village, a lower part of the island, but still streets and streets away. I was close enough to see the flaming maw in the first building before it collapsed. I was close enough to see the ash-filled sky as I looked south, those days that followed. The ash rained on the cars outside my arts school.

I attempted to join a blood donation queue outside St. Vincent’s Hospital. I arrived just as the crowd was disbursed: there were no bodies. Someone recently pointed out that obviously there wouldn’t be any bodies, but he wasn’t there that day, walking north up 6th Avenue, away from the cloud that obscured the lower island, huddling around someone’s open car door to listen to the report that the Pentagon had also been attacked, and feeling desperate and alone, so alone, and shuffling slowly to some where, to find someone to shake and ask what the hell is happening? I worked in a shop on Greenwich Avenue. The store was dark but I punched the access code, lifted the gate, and waited. The phones weren’t really working. They wouldn’t start working well for awhile. I found out the next day that I missed my coworker Laura by just a few minutes.

I had more luck finding warmth at a nearby church where a friend worked. He and his partner hugged me. The video footage repeated, the buildings kept collapsing. And then I wanted to be alone again, because I felt so alone and it’s better to feel alone away from people. But when I got home—190th Avenue, the trains must have restarted quickly, or did I walk? I know some did—I was alone, and that was the worst place I could be. The phones didn’t work. That night I screamed into my pillow. Why had I come here?

My luxury is that I get to forget most of that day and those that followed. I hold flashes and emotions, one of the strongest being helplessness, uselessness. I wanted to help, but there was nothing I could do. I couldn’t donate blood. I had no skills. All I could do was stand behind the counter and wait for customers. My coworker Laura had a task, something to do with the search and rescue dogs sniffing the rubble. I answered a call from someone connected with our store (a trainer? supplier?) and I found my task. The rubble was hot, the pads on the dogs’ feet were burning, we sold special booties for the winter, our store could donate. But in the end this fell through. People around me rushed around, and I stood static behind a counter, completely useless, without ideas or skills. What a waste.

The Volunteer Coordinator suggested that Glisa’s mother could be killed if she told the police about the abuse. That night she emailed me a list of shelters to give to Glisa, and I did the next morning. That I could do. But not much else. I can’t take Glisa away from here. I can’t stop the abuse. I can’t stop her fear. There were days as a child I didn’t want to go home, because of my own (first) stepfather, of whom I was also afraid, but not physically. I didn’t fear that I might not leave the house alive. I can only guess what she’s feeling. I can only hug her when she asks, listen to her chatter, and laugh, these last few weeks. I can’t rescue her.

So I feel pretty useless.

I suppose that feeling has never gone away.

theresa

Our cat, Nova

The me of me, or I don’t love *Serial*

In my former life, I loved This American Life. TAL, Radiolab, The Moth…. Give me a good story, sprinkle on some intelligence, and I’m yours. These podcasts accompanied my bike journeys between home and everywhere Portland. Engrossing enough to pass the time and learn me some new stuff, and light enough that half my brain could follow the narrative arc while the other half dodged cars, bikers, debris, humans.

I haven’t listened to any of them in six months. The moments with empty ear time, such as walking through town or taking a bus somewhere, aren’t moments I’m comfortable having technology exposed. Yesterday, however, I started a long-term project, making friendship bracelets for my 7th graders (desires of the heart don’t always make sense), and tuned in to the first episode of Serial, that much-hyped podcast from the TAL team. I liked the story well enough, but what grated was the nasally, detached, self-aware tone of the presenters and even the interviewees. I’d noticed this previously but my interest in the storytelling had been enough to override my distaste. Now, with clean ears, not so much. Couldn’t Sarah Koenig show a little bit of messy emotion as she analyzed the situation, in this case a man possibly wrongly convicted for murder? Rather than sounding impartial, Koenig seems superior to this messy gray-zone battle among truth, lies, and memory. The right words are there and passion is acknowledged, but it’s too pretty and detached to sound genuine. At least Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich of Radiolab get goofy and giggly sometimes and are genuinely excited about their topic whereas Ira Glass and family couldn’t be bothered.

After Serial I tuned in to The Moth and, again, was annoyed by yet another nasally, self-aware tone, now with a huge dose of self-aggrandizement, that of Dan Kennedy as he introduced a live show recorded in Portland, Maine. He opened with his appreciation of the city’s beauty while simultaneously making them aware of just how busy he was on his book tour—this was the most beautiful city he’d landed in after all his flights the past four days. He subsequently commented on everyone’s niceness by way of a New Yorker’s desire to protect the innocence of young stranger who greeted him warmly. Yes, Dan, we are aware that you live in New York City. The audience came to hear just how important you are.

Closer to (my temporary) home, my coworkers are women primarily in their late teens/early 20s. Every event is a story told in that stilted, somewhat valley-girl-but-not voice that is self-conscious, self-interested, detached. The storyteller laughs at herself—isn’t this ridiculous? Isn’t this all just so funny? Aren’t those other people idiots? Unintended but no less present is intolerance. Someone comments about an activity she’s done and another comments that he has never done that before…like never eating chicken noodle soup while sick. One of the girls then gets in that person’s face, OMG, really?! How could you have never done that?! Really?! as if we aren’t individuals with different backgrounds, with our own histories. As if this is something very important and the person is very wrong. This lack of compassion can apply toward the kids, in the teacher talk that happens after hours, laughter at the kids’ behavior in a way that isn’t loving and just…surprises me.

The detachment makes me think of reaction videos where someone puts an odd object somewhere or does something silly that startles a stranger. Then the video is put on the internet so we can all laugh at the stranger being surprised. What is this but manipulation for our own pleasure? The expression of some superior, heartless attitude toward others. Ha ha, I just scared someone with a stuffed animal; I just made someone react in a perfectly normal way; I engaged someone’s startle reflex.

I’m also reminded of backlash to the former chief executive of Abercrombie & Fitch two years ago after a 2006 interview in which he commented that he didn’t want ugly people wearing his clothes resurfaced. To protest this sentiment a young man bought A&F brand clothes from thrift stores and handed them out to people experiencing homelessness. Now the dreaded ugly people were wearing the brand. What was this but manipulating people for his purpose? His own desire to make some point about a revolting man. By all means, share with those in need…because they need it. The people aren’t props for you to use for a political statement.

This lack of compassion, this self-consciousness and detachment connects with the You’re Doing It Wrong trend in the media the past several years. BuzzFeed, Slate, Alternet, Huffington Post, et al, regularly, perhaps daily, feature articles about everything we are doing wrong. We are making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich wrong, we are putting on our shirts wrong, we are breathing wrong, and obviously we are having sex wrong. In fact, we’re just wrong all around. My way is not different—it’s wrong. It’s black and white, this world. We must follow The Way. Okay, the headlines are just click-bait (just like my adorable cat picture above), the messages are nothing new in the world of sales, the cosmetics industry is built on it, but with so many competing for advertising dollars the message has spread beyond product purchase to my innocuous daily choices. How can there be a wrong way to make PB&J? I like mine with banana. That’s probably wrong. Why not call it different? Why not let the me of me and the you of you be something interesting to learn about and adopt if desired? Why can’t we just exchange our points of view without there being a right point? This what the uber-religious and the Republican Party thrive on—who you love is wrong, what you want to learn is wrong, what you want is wrong. Perhaps this is just the (US) American way, a lingering Puritan value.

To succeed is to fail, fail, and fail, and in-between failures, stand back up, learn from the dust, rest, and try again. To be wrong a lot of the time so you can occasionally be right…. Wait, no, failure isn’t wrong. Wrong smacks too much of morality. Failure is a key to learning (Oops, I made my chocolate cake without chocolate. Next time I’ll use chocolate.), but if we’re constantly chastising, teaching people to not trust their efforts and points of view, how can we expect our kids to Just Do It if they’re bound to Do It Wrong? I’m afraid of failing. I’m afraid of messing up, and I grew up pre-internet, when messages had fewer means of reaching and corrupting my tiny mind. My kids are slightly less connected than those in the US but they are still terrified of failure, and why wouldn’t they be? When parents get angry over 90% grades, when kids laugh at peers that mess up, when The Church looms over most of their lives, that doesn’t create an environment where kids are ready to try new things. So they turn off their brains, wait to be given the answer, and pout, whine, and get angry when the answer isn’t clear.

And now to go full circle, how does this relate to my criticisms of Serial? Failure means putting yourself on the very edge. It means having all the feels—the sadness, the pain, the extreme joys, the laughing out loud when no one else is, the crying in the corner for no good reason at all and letting the snot run out of your nose. It’s not always pretty and cool. So the vocal detachment sometimes seems a barrier to the sharing of experience. I suppose the idea is to, in reporter fashion, remove the teller from the story, to not influence the listener’s perspective, to allow space for independent opinion, but I don’t hear that. I hear hiding and judgment. I hear apathy. Sometimes. They’re doing it wrong. Or they’re doing it differently, in a way I don’t understand.

But I’m probably wrong.

And that’s okay.

theresa

P.S. The above is our new cat Nova. He wandered into our house on Valentine’s Day and hasn’t yet left.

Owl a student made

New becoming

The older I get, the more meaningless my numbers become. There are fewer markers than in youth, when 5 = school, 13 = hormones, 16 = driving, and 18 = adulthood and voting for the civic-minded, and 21 = drinking. To somehow get a handle on how quickly time is passing and how slowly I am changing I calculate the distance since key events or non-events. I graduated from high school almost half my lifetime ago. I’ve known my best friend for 23 years. I met my partner in crime when I was 30. My mother gave birth to me when she was 30. Despite my age, I’ve never owned a house or car and don’t see either happening soon. I’ve never been pregnant. I’m older than many, if not most, my students’ parents. I don’t feel 35, whatever those numbers should feel like. The 3 has two little cubbies I could crawl into; the 5 has one. Neither is as pointy as the 4.

Still, if I think about my age, I piddle a little, that is to say my heart thumps, my throat squeezes tight, and then I shut down the emotional circuits, disconnect, and find a book to escape into. Despite the message of youth-obsessed culture, I know 35 is not old, and older age doesn’t have to be the sad, hopeless, decrepit, inflexible, ugly, and undesirable portrait culture paints. I haven’t reached the half-way mark of my 82 year expectancy, according to WHO. My wise mind understands that age is worthless and bears only the value I ascribe. But let me indulge and say I’m not where I’d hoped I’d be. Or, letting go of expectations, impossible predictions when I’m a small part among billions, foresight, shoulds, I’ll adjust that to I’m not where I want to be, because I don’t know where that is, and I feel the door to there shrinking. [Not to get all Dr. Seuss, but Where is There? It’s not Here. Is it Near? Should I fear the Here and There not Here?). I feel too old to be this lost and insecure, more lost than I was at 18 and without the hope I had then, that hope of Youth, and Potential, and Bright Future, to be fighting some of the same demons as at 13, like acne, and disordered eating, and depression, and self-contempt and -doubt, and loneliness, and conflict avoidance. I don’t want to be on the proverbial deathbed ruing the time I wasted disliking myself. It’s nonsense, really, more not important stuff, that time spent in dark places. I’m old enough to have the important stuff sorted by now…aren’t I?

Growing up I wasn’t told that dreams change. In school, by family, I was asked what I wanted to be, as if there were only one thing I would ever become, similar to the myth that there’s only one soulmate. There might be many, or none. Stories usually end when the protagonist has reached The Dream or found The One. Maybe it’s our desire for certainty. I want certainty. There is none. People hop from job to job, live with parents indefinitely, see retirement as a fantasy, cling to worthless college degrees for a guarantee, cling to anything for a guarantee. In The Dream, I wanted to be a Writer, but the vastness of the field—the people, their skills, their voices—and my inability to foresee my place…. Bah, that’s just a fancy way of disguising that I got scared. I wrote a problem I couldn’t solve—how to bring the garden of a story to life (figuratively)—and then lost my confidence to write my way into and out of other problems. And then the stacks of half sheets—the white space of full sheets being too intimidating—filled with snippets of plays that went nowhere got too tall and I stopped waking at 4am to write and just…stopped chasing that dream. I doubted too many of my lines. I tried replacing it with others in theatre, but that drama eventually broke my heart. It took me into its gapping maw, chewed up the juicy bits and spat out the rest. I want(ed) to be married and just a little bit famous. Now I’m in search of another dream, another becoming. Or becomings.

This new becoming is so much more difficult than the first. The first time around I had teachers encouraging me, the relative comfort of school and peers, the cradle of parental support, the promise of potential. That meaningless potential, a bottomless cup to be filled. I’ve let, my fear has let, all those people down, not that they remember. I always felt like a phony. This second time ’round I’m dream-shy, leery of the chinks in the armor, the blade of confidence duller. I’m conscious of the need for money and medical care, that I somehow must prepare for the day I won’t be able to work. I shamefully consider the income-earning potential of my dreams. I plunge my soul for new dreams and find vagueness. I explore ideas and run aground. I skim my resume for skills and come up empty. I pick up a book and hide.

I’ve never wanted to go back to my younger self. The current demons are generally kinder than the old. But I do envy my students. I envy our teenage volunteers. Unless I can carry my current knowledge, I don’t want to be that young again, but I do want what that youth represents. The clean future slate. Untarnished hopes and dreams. So much time to mess up and succeed. Ignorance of failure’s weight and how much nonsense can hide the The Path.

If age isn’t important, why am I worrying? Because one day I’ll look too old to start over at the beginning of a field. Because I’ve lived this long and tomorrow could die with nothing of note in my obituary but regrets. I censor my self-ageism. I publicly cry that you’re never too old to change. I tell myself that I will make something work one day, if I keep trying (how American of me). My public face is hopeful. It is this hope that keeps me going, despite knowing that I might not ever make anything work. It took me here. The hope and the reality play tug-of-war with miles of intestine.

My heroes are Stargirl, Ramona QuimbyYotsuba, and Black Widow of The Avengers movie. In my dreams, theresa is lithe and flits from person to person, place to place, the world a hopscotch board, making smiles. She wears sparkles. Roadblocks make her laugh. She never needs sleep. She’s probably a fairy.

ta ta,

theresa

P.S. The owl was sewn by one of my (male) students in Actividades Practicas, a.k.a. Home Ec. I liked it so much he gave it to me.

Cats!

Hagfish don’t speak Spanish

Last week’s post cancelled due to ignorance. It was something on the theme of the temporality of so much here and poverty, then I realized that nearly all I observed here could apply to poverty in the US, which lead me to wonder what, if anything, was different and what should my role be in that. I’m here trying to make a small change, why do I not do that in my home country? It all became too complicated for a weekend and I didn’t feel qualified on the topic. So the post remains in the draft box.

Today’s thoughts:

Five months in, how’s my Spanish coming along? I was so proud of my first efforts, my first fuck-ups. Full of hope and energy, I valiantly struggled to push aside the language barrier and exchange ideas with my newfound friends. No, not really. That’s how my ideal self envisioned the events, but there haven’t been many friends and the barrier falls over. My Spanish sputters along in the same old way. I teach English and live with English speakers. I use Spanish to communicate to the principal that I’m borrowing his calculator and ask if I’m really supposed to give the 9th graders extra points for the museum trip, offer one of the school cleaners a piece of cake, and request a pound of green beans at the market. I’ve learned the words for cash (effectivo), come in/move by (pase), and sloth (peresozo, the same as lazy). Flustered, I often mix up pensar (to think) and querer (to like), despite having known them for years. A month ago, when I was invited to one of my favorite homes with a fellow volunteer—a local favorite who became fluent in a year—I was reduced to observer, straining to understand their conversation for, no exaggeration, hours. Meanwhile, Vee travels in Guatemala for two weeks and returns confident and willing to barge in with broken Spanish at any opportunity.

Maybe language learning is for extroverts. More accurately, language learning is for people who are able to make small talk or say nothing, really, just for the sake of talking. It’s also for people who have confidence that others will want to talk to them. None of these are me. At a recent birthday party four of us attended, I was seated with two friends of the family, one of whom was the mother of a student. I would have enjoyed getting to know her, but it’s difficult enough to bridge that gap in English without self-awareness-reducing chemical aid like caffeine or alcohol, much less in a language I barely speak and when I’m unsure of culturally acceptable topics; and then my style of semi-intense probing might not be appropriate for a party. I’m more into the What makes you tick? conversation and less This music makes me want to dance, OMG this goofy thing happened to me yesterday you have to listen to it, Isn’t it funny how much the kids are obsessed with their phones? To each their own, I just can’t do it. If I were engaged by someone else, I would try, bravely, strongly, but it wouldn’t go very far because we’d reach the limits of my abilities or the topics I can ask questions for quickly. And generally the families assume we don’t speak Spanish, so they don’t try to engage.

When I chose to work with this school, I was afraid that this lack of learning would happen since I would be living with volunteers rather than a family, but I wanted the proximity and support of other teachers. The alternative was life with a family but possibly too rowdy for my sanity and with not as much support. There wasn’t an ideal situation, and I chose the one that would better promote teaching success rather than language learning success.

This is all a terrible way of looking at language learning and myself. I’m just disappointed that I’m this socially awkward hagfish that resists evolution, that I’m not someone else, someone who believes that she is worth talking to, even in another language, and disappointed that I can’t kick my ass hard enough to…to what? find little funny things to say? find anything to say? I’m rather negative about all of this, especially when I see how quickly my roommate is progressing, due to her newfound friends. Maybe I need longer calves.

Okay, I need to believe in the lights ahead. I do have a conversation partner at school I should utilize more. As far as topics of conversation go, I can always ask her how to navigate the cultural waters that divide us and appropriate party conversation. I could also accept my status as a perennially awkward seafloor-dwelling scavenger. We all have a part to play.

Yours in goof,

theresa

P.S. The cats at our school understand that it’s not what you say but how much sun and playtime you enjoy that really matters.