The Machine (4)

Prior parts.

[indignation] What the hell kind of advice is that? Return to the water? 

Advising someone to use swimming or bathing or hot tubbing as a physical therapy against forthcoming grief when the nearest body of water requires a swimming permit that costs more than most make in a year month, the public pools are too expensive for the public, and water rationing prohibits use of bathtubs, is like throwing a firefighter an empty fire extinguisher to use on a raging flame. Sure, I considered not bathing for a week and collecting my daily water ration in some type of barrel, but how much comfort can be derived from sitting in a tepid, dusty barrel-bath. Better to recall that we are mortal, with unspoken expiration dates. Better to place the photo in a difficult to reach place beneath the kitchen sink that can be reached only by removing the dishes and soap and the wood cover hot glued over the picture, so that it cannot be held and stared into the long mornings and evenings, until the person isn’t remembered, only the person in the photo, who is someone else entirely, an idealization, a shadow, a moment.
The water is climbing higher and higher up my leg
The water is above my ankle and slipping to mid-calf.

The water has slipped above my ankle and is climbing to mid-calf. Crane-like against the dock presses my other (right) and wedged into a smallest gap between planks are my fingers. Any moment (past the knee) gravity will overcome my grip and pull me in, where I desperately want to be, in the satin ice of the water, wrapped in its cocoon.

A barely perceptible whine, shudder of ripples against the dock. I wrench myself up and out, teeth clenched, panting. The patrol boats are white, and this one, it’s too far off to tell, but it could be. But it could also be illegal fishers or someone who bribed the right officials for a permit. I slap my palm against the dock, then the edge of the dock. Hard, then harder. The boat is gone; the water smooth. It’s ridiculous that this water was cleansed if…no, of course it should have been cleansed for the life that belongs there…and for the rich, of course the rich…the beach is barren because no one can afford…I can’t afford…


My clothes are off/lumped on the dock and I’m in the air, I’m in, dear God, oh am I in, pouring between the sweetest sheets, skin vibrating/throbbing with a gazillion pricks/an army  as each hair erects, each pore welcomes this cleansing/purification. Surface. Breath(e). Face upward and float. Green earthy tendrils slowly creep from my hair, back, heels, heading/curling/creeping deep into the water to make anchor. I am an island, a mangrove; let fish nestle among my roots and birds and monkeys caper in my branches above. I can/will bring/invite life back into this world. But not human life—we have enough of that. No one has said it aloud—yet—but one day it will be said publicly that The Loss was necessary. We were too many, barely any part of the earth remained without our footsteps and clutter. Now there are open spaces again. Some politicians are calling on followers to replace those that were lost, so, mindlessly, their sheep engage in production sex, but when they hold that tiny human they’ll realize that their grief remains and the child will grow up beneath that shadow.

We get too attached and expect permanence. Attachment limits our ability to accept that the world is changing every second and there’s practically nothing to hold onto. No one is permanent and we shouldn’t convince ourselves otherwise. All that time and energy wasted on grief could be spent on…making really delicious tacos. [seriously?] Okay, that’s flippant, but rather than pointlessly wallowing, I wish I had spent that time…

…those hours…


…making really delicious tacos.

I don’t know. I spend a lot of time massaging the twitch from my clicker finger. Maximizing the space in my miniature refrigerator. Holding my hand over the door handle to the outer hallway, searching for an urge to exit into the public sphere, to move away from the stench of my skin, without a destination. Listening to my lower neighbor speak EXTREMELY LOUDLY to her pet fish, Marbles. WE’RE ALL GLAD THAT MARBLES IS VERY HAPPY ABOUT HIS FLAKES. NO, WE ARE NOT JEALOUS. I don’t understand people who talk with fish.

Some fish still live in the deepest parts of the ocean. Gorgeous exotic fish with neon colors, nightmare fish with inch long fangs, practical fish that make their own light. Every few months I check out a vintage National Geographic photo book about deep sea fish. It must be so quiet down there, and deadly; darkness often brings violence. Many of them haven’t changed since their beginning. Their world is so constant that they haven’t had to make adapt or die plans, unlike the rest of us.

Even with my eyes closed I can tell I need to leave to catch the last train. [too quick?] Skin sodden with water I attempt to propel my upper body upright, but my bones are too soft and my muscles refuse to contract. Evidently I will be sleeping here tonight, perhaps forever, and my neighbor can bring Marbles to nibble my flesh as it gradually peels away. What is the reason for returning to that apartment? Without books I spend too much time watching nonsense on my tablet or dust build up in the corners or peeking into the refrigerator.

But, no, I will be found and fined for exposure and swimming and the fees will be much too high to pay and I’ll have to carry their weight forever. The urge for life is already waning without that additional burden/impediment.

Eyes open to the dusky haze the world has become, its corners softened. I spin around to find I’ve drifted a surprising distance from the dock. I roll over, breast stroke, heave myself up, shake off, dress, lift my leaden feet to the train station. I don’t know if its the dusk or the hours spent with closed eyes, but everything is slightly blurred, as if I suddenly needed glasses, and sounds are muffled. While buying my entry code, a couple passes by to the exit, laughing as if through a bag of cotton. Heavy as my limbs are, they continue to tingle softly. The daily pain in my shoulders and wrists is absent. I shuffle around the room several times before I find the well-marked direction to the platform. I’m just a little bit drunk, I think.

As I wait, I nibble on the ridges of my wrinkled fingers, pass them over my cheeks. Because of the hour the northbound platform is empty. Several southbound trains stop and expel/birth commuters across the way. Chattering, fatigued, bright, dark, only their blank backs glance toward me. I’ve played the ghost today, maybe so much so that the northbound train—there’s the light down the tunnel—will hurtle past and I’ll be left on the platform, staring at the diminishing red tail lights.

Yet it slows to a stop and the doors clop open. Then I board, back to the city.


Photo by Tim Laman from National Geographic

Basket made from newspaper

The Joy of Solitude

Friday, May Day, was a fantastic day because I was alone, without threat of undesired company, all day long. That hasn’t happened since winter break. Vee and another housemate left town for the long weekend, and our male housemate is rarely ever here, leaving me and Kay, my fellow uberintrovert, to ourselves. I knew Kay was here by only the occasional kitchen sounds or slamming of the bathroom door.

That morning, I awoke. There was no one to comment on the minor drop in temperature the previous night that was “freezing.” The water flickered off and on. No one commented on a thwarted desire to shower or how she couldn’t focus or how odd it was that the men who arrived to weed the yard just hopped the fence and started working (but I did text The Boy about this). I wasn’t expected to react to the lack of bananas at the secret pulperia or expend energy on matters I didn’t care about. Ahhhh, relaxation. I read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy, made and ate brownies, typed and thought and typed and thought on The Machine, researched end of year travel plans (swimming with sea turtles!), ate brownies, watched a movie, and discovered new music, including Mexican alternative pop. My only interactions were at an end-of-year dinner at Miss G’s house with the other volunteers and the Honduran teachers, the highlights of which were discussion of a volunteer’s 18 intestinal parasites and scheduling a future date with Kay to see the new Avengers. I wonder if I have parasites.

The pleasure of solitude comes from having control over my internal environment, interactions, and choices, to the maximum extent possible. It means cooking dinner uninterrupted, farting loudly when required, paging through a book for hours, and leaving the vocal cords and the Spoken Word Generation Neural Network (SWoGNN, pronounced “swhoa-gen”) unexercised. I can give everything I have to my own interests. The alternative is just too tiring, especially within a group of people whose needs, ideas, or modes of expression rarely coincide with my own. I’m unsure how to respond and resent that my interpretation of social convention requires that I do so for the sake of politeness. Some days I just grunt noncommittally.

Aside from my living situation, I get the impression that desire for solitude is not understood here. The room Vee and I share initially had three twin beds and we briefly had a third roommate, which for us was a bit much. But some families live in homes smaller than this room. Multiple generations live together. Families are large. Solitude requires space, which is a luxury, so the need might be somewhat culturally developed.

Being shy and self-concious, in addition to introverted, contributes to my frequent yearning for all extra people to be gone. These qualities, unfortunately, interfere with my ability to follow some Honduran customs. When entering a room, even if people are having a conversation or you’re late for a meeting, it is proper to say “Excuse me” or “Hello” or “Good afternoon,” to call attention to yourself beyond the physical interruption. If you pass by someone eating, even if it’s a stranger, it is proper to offer a “Buen provecho.” These courtesies are beyond me in any language. They require me to break the fourth wall and call attention to myself, assume that another cares to interact with me and cares about my existence, increase the risk that the person with whom I interact will want more, and risk rejection. My awkwardness has lead to unintended rudeness before. As a child, when I left a friend’s house I wouldn’t say “goodbye” to the family for the reasons listed above. So some families didn’t like me. I still have this problem, even with my family.

This seems to be a very outward and social culture: what happens to introverts and shy ones? Activities require so much more assertiveness and personal interaction here. To buy almost anything I have to tell the vendor what I want rather than grabbing it myself. Replacing the gas tank requires a visit, sometimes multiple, to the Tropigas shop. People don’t line up but push to the front. There are no street signs, so finding a new someone or something entails help from someone else. It all requires people, whereas I love the impersonality of the internet. The language barrier here makes all of this so much more challenging of course, but, even at home, I shy away from small stores, where the attention of the clerk is unavoidable.

The roommate will return Sunday, then it’s back to the stress of unwillingly lending brain space to another, but it won’t be long now before I’m back home, sharing my space willingly with my partner and a little less willingly with our three cats. And when even that is too much, retreating to my room for some quiet time.

Shake your ta tas,


P.S. Today’s picture is of the winning art project from the Earth Day competition. The lid removes so you can store tiny trinkets inside or your false teeth.

Placencia view

Placencia and Virginia Woolf

A week ago I returned from a blink of an eye trip to Placencia Village, Belize, a touristy beach peninsula with one main road. The transition back to school and its surroundings, even after such a brief excursion, was rough, but I think I’m back.

Technically we are here on tourist visas, 90 day stamps issued upon entrance. We can’t tell immigration we’re volunteers. While the school’s attorney works on our residency visas, something that is years in the attempt, we have to leave the country every 90 days, linger outside the border for a few hours or days, and re-enter. Guatemala isn’t good enough because it’s in the CA-4 region. The closest qualifiable escape destination is Belize, an 11 hour, 5 bus, 1 boat journey, plus 1 more and a taxi since we went to Placencia. Add in 2 currency exchanges and 2 border crossings. All for a two day stay.
And what a stay it was. NevMy roomer have I so relished having my own room (see: A Room of One’s Own), hot shower water, potable water from the faucet, the ability to flush toilet paper, a reasonably quick internet connection. Consistent power. Consistent water. Miles upon miles of town to wander without accompaniment. The locals and I spoke the same language. (English is the official language though most speak Spanish or Creole as their home language.) These are all things I’ve taken for granted during my life, except for the past three months.

Oh delicious solitude here in luxury let me compose an ode to thee…the quiet, the independence, the crickets calling in the night.

Our inn was a minute to the beach, if that. Being the offseason, a little stormy, it was mostly deserted, a little seaweedy, with trash among the weeds. Between the inn and the sand ran a skinny sidewalk—or the skinny sidewalk that the town is known for—that I ambled down to the tip of the peninsula to find breakfast at a spot known for its smoothies and stuffed fryjacks, doughy pieces of bliss filled with beans, eggs, and cheese. That first morning, after breakfast, I walked along the shore, back to the inn, sandals in hand. I waved to one or two locals, admired the vast blue-gray water spreading west, calculated how to move there. Calculated how many meals I could reasonably squeeze into my stomach in two days. I observed happiness.

The Copán trip was full of aOliverdventures; this was much quieter. I swam, exposed my thighs to sun, read in my room, on the porch, on the beach, in a cafe, avoided, mostly, the other volunteers, except for a brief bike ride north of the village center on new bikes with extremely uncomfortable saddles, and met a parrot named Oliver. I met two delightful women who run a cafe called Brewed Awakenings. The cafe served espresso, even decaf, chai lattes and kombucha (what?!), and delicious, luscious shakes with seaweed powder harvested sustainably. They stressed the coffee was roasted and the chai spices grown locally. (“Sustainable”? “Local”? Haven’t heard those emphasized in awhile.) The women, who spoke different Creole dialects, I was informed, admired my hair on the first visit, greeted me familiarly the second, and gave me a departing hug the third and final time. I wish I could have tucked them into my pocket and carried them back. Surely the locals need to experience the joys that are chai and kombucha and sustainably grown seaweed?

Delightful sums up those 2 days. I don’t like thinking too much about the trip, actually, because the transition back to life here, reality some would say, was painful, literally. Respites are necessary but the cost of re-entry may be too high at the moment. I fantasize about the solitude. The reading a book on the porch with frequent breaks to watch the cat descend the stairs into the rain at the house across the way. Walking along a deserted sidewalk to breakfast. Swimming alone in the ocean, chasing the waves. No one needing anything from me. And not worrying about anything. I could have done that for a very



Sign: Judge a person by the contents of his character not the color of his skin.IMG_1551
As I wandered, I wondered, of course. How can I have these moments of happiness more often, not just while I’m in Honduras, but ever? Or not happiness, but satisfaction and contentment, with bliss highlights. Over the past few years I’ve read so many blogs that say you get those by Doing What You Want Or Are Good At. Often this means the blogger is on a beach making money writing a blog about giving out advice on happiness. It’s circular, isn’t it? The people who are happy are writing blogs about how to be happy. So to be happy I should just write a blog about how to be happy, but anecdotal evidence and cherry-picking pop psychology aren’t my style, neither is cleverness, obviously. All this aside, how do I get here, to this beach, to what it represents? I want to believe that it can happen for me, but I don’t. I think it requires a sparkle of magic dust or a massively huge sense of self-worth that isn’t growing in this little garden.

I met a man from Vancouver B.C. who moved his family here a few months ago. They’ve rented a house for a year. Yep, the dream is real. I didn’t inquire after his secret, but our conversation lead me to suspect money.

Well, those last bits are little downers, aren’t they?

Other interesting trip moments: Puerto Barrios, Guatemala—Look at all these women driving and riding on motorcycles and mopeds!

Rapidito to Frontera (border), Honduras—A 60+ year old Guatemalan man and I have a very rough conversation. Honduras is dangerous, Guatemala is beautiful, he has a friend in New York, or maybe it was Florida. I enjoy the conversation but wonder if I should be worried that he will get off at our stop and then want something. This is actually something I fear in any stranger-meeting conversation, no matter where I am. Sigh. Introversion + anxiety = distrust of anyone.

Placencia grocery store—Should I buy this dark chocolate Milky Way bar for the shear reason I haven’t even had the option in months?

I suppose I will end this post dangling and unresolved. I want to keep Placencia in a little bag like some precious object. Once I was happy here.



Me with a bike, looking bad ass.

I attempt to look bad ass with my purple bike.