Monday, May 15, 2017

Assigned Seats


This is my first try at short fiction.  Like always I write in false author voice.  I hope you like it.


                “Hurry up Bailey!”  I yelled just like I do every Sunday morning and Monday morning and Tuesday morning; you get the picture.  “We’re gonna be late!”

I know I shouldn’t yell since we’re on our way to church and I should be more, well, Jesus-like, but I yell all the time.  No need to fake it just because it’s Sunday.    It’s usually Bailey who’s yelling for me, since I’m late for everything and I don’t necessarily feel bad about it but for some reason I feel guilty being late for church. 

I didn’t grow up being late for anything, my Mother made sure we (my brother Spencer and I) were always on time, which to her meant 15 minutes early.  Since my divorce, I’ve had to start a routine of new apartment, new church, new school (I’m a teacher) but the one constant in my life is I’m always running late.

I know you’re thinking Baptists don’t get divorced and that’s usually true.  I didn’t have a choice.  My selfish ex-husband simply walked out after 22 years of marriage because he “didn’t get a chance to enjoy my 20s”.  I guess he didn’t enjoy the time we spent moving around the country while he served in the Navy.  I thought we had a great life; sure, we fought sometimes, but I can’t imagine doing that with anyone else.  Just goes to show you should never marry a pretend Baptist; he never went to church with us, leaving me to be the spiritual leader of our family.  I guess you can pursue a noble profession without being a noble person.  And why would anyone want to re-live their 20s?  No thank you.

I’m not bitter.  I’m just irritated and a little embarrassed.  We just don’t talk about it.

Even though I am late I always have a seat near the back row on the left at the Friendship Baptist Church in Yellow Finch, a small church in a sizeable city in the panhandle of Texas.  Small enough not to make me nervous but big enough to keep most relationships at the surface level.   It’s not that I don’t want new friends, it’s just…well, I guess it is I just don’t want new friends.  New friends want to do stuff and go out and drink and eat and other than Taco Tuesdays at Rosa’s, I just want to go home after work and curl up with a book or an episode of The Bachelor or Pretty Little Liars or something else Spencer judges me for watching.

At Friendship, I can give a quick nod or a ‘Good Morning’ and keep on going; a ‘God Bless You’ if it’s required.  It usually isn’t.  Even though we’ve been going to this church for almost a year, I don’t know very many of our seat-neighbors, at least by name.  Bailey and I refer to them by description.  Sweet Old Couple (SOC) sit to our right. I make sure I sit on the outside edge for escape purposes, bathroom or early exit in equal measure.  Jeanine Leather sits directly in front of us.  It’s an inside joke.  Our first Sunday there, I noticed her name engraved on the cover of her Bible.  When I mentioned it to Bailey after church, she burst out laughing saying, “Mama!  It said, ‘Genuine Leather’.  Oh, my gosh, that’s hilarious!”  She will not let me forget about it, laughing long and deep, pointing at me standing uneasily in her high heels and designer dress her Uncle Spencer sent her from California, where he’s been for the last five years.

Bailey is 5’ 11” at the age of 16 and still getting used to her new form like a more graceful but still stumbly-limbed baby giraffe.  She’s determined to master her long legs quickly and she sometimes trips and stumbles as much as she glides.  She is embarrassed by nothing it seems; I am embarrassed by everything, including my bangs which I can’t stop trimming at home with toenail scissors because they don’t look ‘right’ about a week after each haircut.  I try to explain it to the lady who cuts my hair and she nods and mmm-hmmms me, but it’s the same every time and I just gave up. 

My weight, which I exaggerate, according to Spencer, but I don’t feel emotionally equipped to manage.  I always said I felt fat when I was skinny in high school and college but more out of a sense that I was supposed to say it than actually thinking I was fat.  Now, I just avoid mirrors if possible.

My divorce, which was unplanned and this move to the Panhandle, also unplanned, has left me feeling a little bit lost.  I moved here to be closer to Bailey when she started college and I have no nearby family for the first time since the beginning of my marriage.  Bailey skipped her junior year of high school after her Dad left; it shook both of us to our core, although we haven’t really discussed it much other than to vent when he forgets birthdays or graduations.  He always was selfish, now that I think about it.

The last of our immediate seat-neighbors, The Mayor (he isn’t the mayor but is well-dressed and very polite like politicians used to be) always makes a point to tell Bailey how pretty she is and then tells me he can tell where she gets her beauty, which is a lie but one I always accept because he’s just so nice, like someone’s Grandpa from a Hallmark movie.

I really don’t know what I look like from the neck down.  I wasn’t kidding when I said I avoid mirrors.  Even in photos I make sure I stand behind Bailey or am only photographed from above.  Bailey picks out my clothes and does my hair and make-up most days.  I trust her and I just don’t care anymore.  She is as stylish and tasteful as Spencer.  I don’t know how I missed that gene from my mother but I did and I’m scared to make a mistake so I don’t try.

Bailey tells me, “You look pretty Mama” and I choose to believe her.  She is stunning, like a model from a magazine.  I don’t know how my husband (I guess I should call him my ex-husband but I don’t like that phrase – it sounds vulgar somehow) and I did it, but we managed to produce a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model, all long legs and confidence.  I don’t know where she gets that.  I never had any confidence and Spencer didn’t until he left the South but he and I have told Bailey how amazing she is since she was a baby and she believes it.  She is fearless and sure of herself and I am glad.  Her life will be much different than mine.

We finally squeal into the parking lot and rush toward the door, slowing to the appropriate speed when we get to the front doors, which is one of the reasons we sit so far back.  When we open the door to the sanctuary something feels off.  Something’s not right.  Bailey stops short and then whispers, “Someone’s in our seat!”

“What?” I say, thinking I misunderstood.  I can’t see around her because I’m only 5’ 7”.  Someone in our seats?  How?  It’s our seat.  Didn’t SOC say something when they sat down?  Did Jeanine Leather sit there with her monogrammed Bible and allow them to sit unaware they were in a reserved spot? 

I see it’s a young couple with an almost newborn baby so I’m pretty sure they were so distracted they simply sat in the closest available seat with the clearest exit path.  Why don’t they take the baby to the nursery?  It’s going to start crying as soon as the pastor, Brother Charles, starts his sermon.  Friendship Baptist is one of those fire and brimstone Baptist Churches that I grew up in.  Spencer stopped going to Baptist Churches about 10 years ago.  He says we’re too hateful.  I know people can be mean about gay people but I’m not hateful and I’m Baptist.  But I understand fire and brimstone isn’t for everybody.  I’m used to it and I don’t think I could go to a different church.  I went to Spencer’s church when I was in California last year and it was a nice little church but I just need to be kept on my toes.  I sometimes feel bad about myself when I leave but God wants us to strive for perfection.  Most days I don’t make the cut but I try.

Bailey and I scanned the pews and I try to quickly figure out a new seating plan before the ushers get concerned and we cause a scene.  I mentally ran through everyone I could remember in our section of the church and tried to remember exactly where the habitually late Stressed Out Mom with Cute Teenage Son and Overweight Couple sit so I wouldn’t cause them any issues when they finally arrived after the announcements but before the special music.  

Seat assignment is something dear and true to Southern Baptists.  It’s like the Christian Flag at Vacation Bible School; you don’t really pay much attention to it but you definitely notice it when it’s missing.  

I decide the best place is behind Weird Shoe Guy where no one sits because the sun streaming through the stained-glass window will make you sweat no matter how cold it gets outside.  We made that mistake our first Sunday here.  SOC told us to move behind them that next Sunday, which was sweet and how we got their name.  I call them old not being rude but because they are really, really old.  I don’t know how old, but they are at least in their 80s.  If they’re younger than that then they look terrible for their age.  I don’t know their names and they don’t know mine, I’ll bet.  Everyone knows me as Bailey’s Mom.  Bailey’s hard to miss in any crowd especially a small church with a tiny youth group.  The first Sunday, it was like someone from Hollywood was visiting or someone had a new baby, the way everyone oohed and aahed. 

Once we settled in, I immediately begin to regret my decision as a trickle of sweat ran down my back.  However, right on cue, as soon as Brother Charles stepped to the microphone, he startled the sleeping baby and the wifely member of SOC whispered to the parents of the newborn that we had a nursery and they left following her directions, giving us stress-filled, apologetic smiles.

As soon as they cleared the doorway, the husbandly member of SOC waved us over and Bailey and I moved as quick as a misbehaving child trying to avoid a parental thump to the back of the head to our assigned seats.  Once we got situated, we and our neighbors visibly relaxed and breathed a sigh of relief.  All was right in the world again.

Now to listen to the sermon.  It’s about Moses and Zipporah meeting at a well and then getting married.  Apparently, in Biblical times, a well often served as their version of Starbucks because Isaac and Rebekah and even Jacob and Rachel met at a well when the women were there drawing water.  One more reason to get my water at the Sonic.  I am not about to try and meet some man for a date who is going to start trying to tell me what to do.  I ain't got time for that. 
I almost said Amen out loud.


Friday, April 28, 2017

Revisionist History

     The incident from last week (when I lost my religion) reminded me of an essay I wrote in Costa Rica at the Writer's Retreat of San Buenas.  I know you've been made privy to all my musings and ponderings from that time, but this particular essay I hadn't yet shared as I wondered whether it was relevant.  I think it is.
     "I had relatively few bullies in my formative years, mostly The Dad.  There was one guy, however, in high school with whom I only had one interaction but it reverberated for most of my senior year.  I won't tell you his name, but will simply call him Football Player.  Football Player was much like The Dad; red-haired, almost my height and thickly built with muscle under a layer of fat.  He and I didn't move in the same social circles but were both in Nola Faye Boyd's Honors English class, although it was the only advanced class I remember us sharing. 
     The one incident happened the day we watched the film 'Romeo and Juliet'; the 1960s version.  After the brief nude scene (a very quick shot of Juliet's buttock), our class fairly buzzed due to this anomaly in a town akin to those in 1950s television shows.  I can't remember if his or my reaction to this scene started something or whether it was irrelevant, but toward the end of the class Football Player decided to engage with me. 
     Although I was an honor student and toed the line most every day, I liked to sit on the back row of class, just like a Baptist does in church.  Football Player sat across the aisle on my left.  Apropos of nothing he called me 'faggot' under his breath.  I chose to ignore the word, although it sliced through my chest like a rapier.  I consider this to be one of the most violent words; it's purpose always to wound.  Not getting his intended reaction, he said, again, more loudly, "Faggot!" 
     I half-heartedly told him to shut up as I was embarrassed and honestly not equipped for an altercation.  He just sat and glared at me.  Once class was over, he didn't seem to want to let it drop.  He said, "Faggot!" again as we stood to leave.  My best friend Paige, who sat in front of me, said to me, 'Ignore him", and to Football Player, she said, "Shut up!"
    As we left the aisles near the teacher's desk he walked over to me and backed me into the corner, poking me in the chest and said, "Say something, faggot!"
     I said, "Leave me alone!"
     One of my more unfortunate traits used to be when I got truly angry, I started to cry.  When Football Player jabbed me in the chest again, I was crying and not knowing what to do and without any fighting skills, I decided to remove the unpleasant situation from my immediate vicinity.  I yelled, and pushed him as hard as I could across the room into a row of desks by the classroom door.  He sat up, dazed and as surprised as I was.  I continued to cry.  Mrs. Boyd stood in the doorway in stunned silence. 
     Football Player stood on wobbly legs with the help of his girlfriend and limped from the room, looking at me in confusion.  My friends surrounded me and told me, when I was angry at myself for crying, "It's ok to cry."  Mrs. Boyd asked me how I was and I apologized for what happened and left the room.
    As the reality of what happened slowly sunk in, I walked somewhat proudly into the hallway.  I still couldn't believe what had happened.  As it does in most small schools, word traveled quickly and I heard the report of our 'fight'. 
     "Football Player made Dusty cry in Mrs. Boyd's class."  "Football Player made you cry?  Damn."
     When I protested that I had won the fight, the repeated response was, "You cried.  How can you say you won if you cried?"
     I guess sometimes losers get to re-write history if they are assumed to be winners.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Losing My Religion on the Sidewalk Yesterday


                Warning:  This particular posts has a couple of cuss words, but only for context.

Last night I experienced something I haven’t since I moved to Southern California, especially in the liberal bubble that is my neighborhood, Belmont Shore.  I experienced vehement anti-gay behavior and it was somewhat shocking.

                I needed to go to the bank and find something to eat for dinner so I set out for a nice walk down 2nd Street, which is the primary destination for everything you could possibly want from food, clothes and libations to jewelry, gifts and caffeinated beverages.  I adore my neighborhood and as usual it was just starting to get busy as it does around 5:30 pm; still early enough to snag a table for dinner without reservations.

                As I just returned from a week-long business trip and I hadn’t gotten my clothes from the dry cleaners, I was wearing one of the more sedate ensembles in my wardrobe – light blue Polo, navy chinos and, because I like a dash of style, two-toned navy wingtips with coordinated belt.  This is my version of blending in with the regular people. 

                I was headed toward the bank when I found myself behind a tall gentleman walking his dog; a terrier of some sort.  He abruptly stopped in front of Saint & Second, one of the restaurants with outdoor seating.  When he stopped suddenly, I attempted to step around him when his dog darted away from him and circled behind me, effectively wrapping the leash around my legs, causing me to trip and almost fall.  After I righted myself, I was still wrapped in the leash and I said, “Excuse me.”  He ignored me.

                I then attempted to step over the leash on his left but was unable.  I backed out of the way and attempted to go around him on his right, saying “Excuse me” once again.  When he again ignored me, I stepped beside him and saw he was petting someone else’s dog.  I said, “Can you please watch your dog.  He almost tripped me.”

                He replied, “Yeah right.”

                When I attempted to explain what happened, he suddenly straightened up, looked at me for the first time and said, “Fuck You Faggot!”

                My initial thought was, “This is the least gay outfit in my closet.”  I didn’t say anything out loud as I was too shocked.  He then proceeded to repeat this phrase and also included instructions on activities he felt I should engage in that Bill Clinton doesn’t count as sex.  And he repeated “Fuck You Faggot!” at least five or six more times.  My hands became clenched fists and I wanted to hit him but I didn’t want to go to jail or lose my job so I held back.  I would like to tell you I took the high road and simply walked away but I am embarrassed to say I replied, “Fuck you, asshole.  If you say faggot one more time I’m calling the police!” 

                I realize he did not see Jesus living in me in that moment, but what can I say?  I was angry.

                He walked away repeating the FUs, but removing ‘faggot’ and repeated it until he was far enough away where I no longer heard him.  I was so angry I didn’t really know what to do.  Thank goodness I have the little internal voice, which I assume in Jesus or my mother, who keeps me from fighting, but I understand now how easy it is to want to hit someone, and I have never picked a fight in my 46 years on this Earth. 

                Fight or flight is the animal reaction to a stressful situation but since I had neither fought nor flown, the natural adrenaline kept coursing through me for at least the next 20 minutes or so, keeping my heart rate elevated and driving me to buy and eat a gigantic Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup cookie. 

I was troubled by the situation the rest of the night and even this morning.  I felt so helpless.  I couldn’t do anything about the situation.  I couldn’t stop him from saying what he said unless I was willing to break the law, which I am not.  I do however; have a better understanding of why and how activists are created.

                I share this, I suppose, to remind you hate is everywhere, even in liberal, multi-culti Southern California and it seems people are more comfortable than ever spewing their hate since November. It’s a crazy world, y’all.  And I guess that’s all I had to say.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Costa Rica Diaries, Part 8


February 2, 2017

 

Today was a very productive writing day.  At breakfast I was thinking about an essay I wanted to write about our jungle guide, Oscar, when Ray and I saw what we think are the same two parrots from the other day, which led to this quick essay.

 

I just saw what I think are the same two parrots Ray and I saw the other day.  They were green with yellow tips on their wings and they were flying in formation, one just behind the other, on the right.  I don’t know if this formation is for the air flow and lift like geese use or something akin to misogyny in the bird world but I wonder the impetus to travel at the same time each morning.  Do birds have a routine, clocking in and out?  Do they forage for food in a grid pattern like police searching for a missing person?  Do birds have jobs?  Are these two commuting to heir appointed perch somewhere up the mountain?  Do they notice me watching them?  Do they question the presence of this random house sitting precariously atop a hill like something made of Legos placed by a child giant with little regard to the physics required to reach the driveway in an earth-bound mode of transportation?  These verdant hills, teeming with life, are dense enough to hide even the largest of creatures.  Maybe the parrots are the sentries sent to ensure the humans remain unaware.

 

A few nights ago we watched the movie ‘Barfly’ at the behest of one of our teachers, Will Viharo. 

 

We just watched Charles Bukowski’s ‘Barfly’ starring Mickey Rourke and Faye Dunaway.  I didn’t connect with the premise or the characters whose lives revolve around drinking but I appreciate the glimpse inside a life that exists not too far from mine, depending on the choices I could have made.  It’s set in Los Angeles in the early 80s although the city itself isn’t one of the characters.  It could have been anywhere.  While I thought Mickey Rourke’s performance was a caricature with the ridiculous gait and poor posture, I do understand how he became famous as he comes to the edge of the fourth wall and dares you to take your eyes off him.  Faye Dunaway is believable and a surprisingly sympathetic character even though she cheats, lies, steals and pulls out a preppy woman’s hair at one point.  I will admit I did enjoy some of the dialogue; so real, so witty.  “I don’t hate people, I just find myself happier when they’re not around” and “The more things you believe in, the better off you are” and “I don’t like you.  Well, that’s just the way the world goes.  I don’t like you either” are but three of the most memorable.  I’m always appreciative of learning new things to broaden my view, to crack my bubble just a little more.

 

My jungle adventure, if you can call it that, has had me thinking about how other people view me.  Would I understand who I was if I met me?  I know I always attempt to create a backstory when I see someone outside the norm but I wonder if others do the same?  My mother always said, “Just because you’re talking about people, Dustin Terryll, doesn’t mean they’re talking about you.”  Thus, my second essay about the jungle debacle.

 

Oscar is the name of the young man who helped us into and then almost immediately out of the jungle this morning.  He is one of the workers here at the villa.  He stayed back with us, the slow ones.  When he saw we were struggling, he cut branches into walking sticks with his machete and wordlessly handed one to me.  When we asked if we could return to the villa early, he silently acquiesced and immediately began carding a walkable path to the road so we wouldn’t have to re-trace our perilous steps through the river.  Unsure of how to even thank him with more than a woefully inadequate muchas gracias, I wondered what he thought of me; this pale, overdressed American trying to push myself too much in a literal jungle.  Does he even think about us?  Is this just another day working in an environment that includes a steady stream of foreign travelers?  Are we an anecdote he uses to amuse his family around the dinner table or is he the silent type who processes internally and shares little needing to conserve his energy for things like rescuing gringos from themselves?  I imagine I’m thinking about Oscar more than he is thinking about me.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Costa Rica Diaries, Part 7


January 31, 2017

Last night Nick (Halverson) and I discussed the many similarities between rural Costa Ricans and rural Southerners in the US.  Regardless if there is a change in income, many remain in their same tiny houses; you only know their fortunes have increased because they build an enormous electronic front gate, buy a more expensive car or a much larger flat screen TV.   They also burn their trash in barrels.  I laughed as my nephew asked for and received his very own burn barrel for Christmas his sophomore year in high school.

Our retreat is in a beautiful private home well off the beaten path.  A location like this wasn’t unfamiliar to me as most of my childhood and almost all of my Christmases even now have been in houses outside a tiny town in the rural South and Texas.

After dinner tonight, we were discussing haiku after I told a story about meeting one of my favorite authors, Douglas Coupland, at a book signing/reading in Anchorage, Alaska and he quite cleverly read from John Grisham’s The Client instead of from one of his own books. While reading a passage he stumbled upon a haiku about a hushpuppy.  This led to Zach Roz teaching us how to write haiku and each of us trying our hand at the five syllable-seven syllable-five syllable poetic structure.

My offerings:
Practicing Haiku
After watching Mickey Rourke
Seems beside the point

A Brita Bottle
Costa Rican water source
No diarrhea!

February 1, 2017

Today we had a jaunt in the jungle after our morning writing class.  I had to turn back relatively quickly as did Tom (Shaw).  I couldn’t seem to catch my breath and felt slightly dizzy from the oppressive humidity.  Tom had to go to the hospital because of his blood pressure due to the humidity.  Tonight on the way to dinner, we stopped at a beautiful waterfall then had a delicious dinner at a tilapia farm where, oddly, not everyone ate tilapia.  You could catch the fish yourself and they’d cook it if you wanted.  I chose to eat what had already been caught and cooked by others.  Far be it from me to be an immigrant taking someone’s job from them.

We stopped for ice cream at the local tiny store, their version of a quickie mart.  It was very small and they had one of every item manufactured in Costa Rica, China and other countries.  You couldn’t fit an additional whisper on the shelves.  I felt very much at home, remembering the tiny store down the road from my grandparents’ farm in Alsatia, Louisiana from my childhood.

 We later watched  one of our instructors Will (Viharo’s) dad in the movie “Bare Knuckles” and everyone made funny comments about the acting, the clothes, the choreographed fights and , of course, the flute.  John Kapelos did five years at Second City Improv (the home of talented Canadians) and can riff like a pro.  He is hilarious!

 My jungle-themed essay from our afternoon class:
I know the definition of intrepid and I know it doesn’t apply to me, but I decided I couldn’t come to Costa Rica and not at least wander into the jungle, even if only by accident.  I had been instructed on which rubber boots to buy from Amazon (the website, not the river) and I borrowed a jungle hat from my truly intrepid friend Jamie.  I was feeling rakish having written a haiku about my ensemble:  Washable silk shirt, lovely linen pants I wear, Costa Rican Prep.  I wasn't dreading this event as I had been assured the terrain we were to traverse was flat.  A motley crew of poetic wanderers in the capable hands of mostly silent native Costa Ricans, we set off at varying speeds.

I’ve lived in north Louisiana.  I’ve visited south Louisiana, farther south than New Orleans, in the summer.  I thought I knew humidity.  I did not.  Imagine touring the French Quarter in August wearing an angora bodysuit, jogging everywhere you go.  The air was so thick you could almost grab a handful of it.  Imagine trying to walk through a memory foam mattress over loose rocks in ill-fitting rubber boots trying to keep your spirits up by throwing out what you intend as witty asides comparing the jungle stream to the Bogue Chitto River in South Mississippi.  I’m not sure if that’s the reason the most adventurous of our group (Zach and John) strode ahead at a quicker pace, but I don’t blame them.  I was being so absurdly chipper I was starting to get on my own nerves.

I began to have trouble breathing in the soupy air and noticed my fellow slow-traveler (Tom) had taken a seat on a rock to catch his breath, too.  I seized upon the chance to rescue us both by suggesting I could be easily convinced to return to the villa without further ado.  Tom, God bless him, concurred.  I admitted to Tom and our consummate host, Nick, that although I grew up in the country and had hiked and explored the woods and rivers of Louisiana, Mississippi and East Texas, it has been more than twenty-five years ago and it feels almost disingenuous to claim that history.  It’s like I’ve co-opted someone else’s childhood for dramatic effect, however accurate it may be.  I keep saying I am not that guy, but I must come to terms I have become that guy; City Slicker, Gringo, Greenhorn, whatever you call it.  I’m soft, people.  Soft like a down pillow.  But I’m okay with it because at least this down pillow agrees to leave the couch and be thrown into the wild (be it woods, plains or jungle) from time to time. 

Friday, March 17, 2017

Costa Rica Diaries, Part 6


January 30, 2017

 

Woke up several times last night and wondered if I had been asleep or not.  I felt odd.  I think it’s the book our other instructor, Will Viharo, asked us to read (Things I Do When I’m Awake).  I’m finding it difficult to enjoy the subject matter; it’s too violent and sex-centric for my little innocent Baptist self.  I am always open to experiencing new things but my brain is like a computer and what you let inside, takes up space and stays awhile. 

 

I’m wearing my pink pants today; a walking fiesta.  I don’t play golf but I sure do like the clothing. 

 

Last night we went to the ocean and were asked to write about the sunset.   Zeke Tyrus loves him some sunsets and I must admit those in Costa Rica are breathtaking.  “Ever forward is the mandate” is the last line of my essay.  I’m feeling inspired.  I left the beach before everyone else as along with my inspiration, I got a cramp in my butt cheek from the log I sat on and I am not about to recline in the sand, like some castaway.  I have my limits.  I retired to the nearby restaurant and ordered papas fritas, which is Spanish for french fries, and not Frito Pie like I initially thought.  When they arrived, just before my colleagues, they came with a pink sauce that I discovered, upon questioning, to be ketchup and mayo mixed together.  Costa Ricans are my people!  For dinner I had the most amazing red snapper fajitas. 

 

I talked to Michelle (Halverson) about her book and our rudimentary Spanish.  I find it interesting that Costa Ricans are so happy you’re even trying to speak Spanish that they readily offer assistance and try to figure out what you need.  They are very supportive and giving.  Americans, on the other hand, demand everyone “SPEAK ENGLISH”.  The only group I can think of in America who is collaborative when learning or using their language is the deaf community.  They are so patient and kind when you try to use Sign Language.  We’ve got to be more like that.

 

My sunset essay:

 

The sun is still fairly high in the sky but it is already casting its glow on the water like a golden carpet placed perfectly between an island configuration called The 3 Sisters.  Though they aren’t symmetrical, these islands are balanced on either side of this glowing aisle like fortunate families sometimes are.  One like a Phoenix rising, one like a rabbit sitting and the third and largest like a face looking up to the sky with a protruding forehead and prominent chin.

 

This golden carpet, reaching almost to shore, gives me a sense of calm contentment.  I don’t know if I’m to go to someone at the other end who is waiting for me or if they are headed my direction, so I wait patiently.  I know whichever way will be the best because I‘ll know which movements to make if I simply sit and listen.  As the sun continues its descent, the carpet moves toward me; coming as close as it dares and then retreating like an unfamiliar dog deciding if I am friend or foe. 

 

I know I will have to take a few steps to meet it as even good things coming toward me require some movement, some commitment on my part.  All success is kinetic; it requires an agreement to move.  Where you are is the result of a previous success; it’s now an inert success. 

 

Ever forward is the mandate.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Costa Rica Diaries, Part 5


Zeke our instructor had us write words, phrases or thoughts onto 50-60 index cards to use not as writing prompts but to see, after the writing is complete, if there is a connection to what we wrote during the assignment.  I thought we would use them as writing prompts but found that simply being outdoors in Costa Rica enough of a catalyst to get my brain whirring.  Here is my first essay.

 

I sat eating a breakfast of amazing fresh fruit, eggs, some weird but delicious cheese and a black bean/rice combo they call ‘pinto’ with my new friend, Ray.  Interestingly, the Costa Rican jungle surrounding us led to a discussion about London and how we both enjoyed our trips there and agreed we could spend months simply exploring. 

 

As we talked, two green parrots, which kind I don’t know, flew by and I was immediately transported back to Texas when I was in seventh grade.  My Dad has always liked either exotic pets or, at the very least, mundane pets with exotic names.  He had a particular affinity for parrots.  One named Seymour, we owned when we first moved to the tiny hamlet of Bogata, Texas.  We actually lived about seven miles northeast of town in a community called Fulbright. 

 

My Dad always kept Seymour’s wings clipped so he wouldn’t be able to fly away.  He typically did this in the house as it was a fairly easy thing to accomplish.  For some reason The Dad decided to clip Seymour’s wings while sitting on the front porch.  Maybe he wanted Seymour to fly away.  I found out later how dire our financial situation had become so maybe my Dad was trying to rid us of the added expense of a bird of this size, which served no real purpose, even on a non-working farm.   Unsurprisingly Seymour took his opportunity to escape and flew away quickly and with little fuss. 

 

We assumed we would never see him again as we were told he may have been bred in captivity and wouldn’t be able to survive in the wild.  Surprisingly we did see him once more, maybe two weeks afterwards, flying in tandem with a hawk.  I don’t know if they were a couple or trying to start their own bird gang but I was secretly glad Seymour was free from our little house just outside the middle of nowhere.  I used to wish I could escape that house, too, but my Dad’s hurtful insults always seemed to keep my wings clipped.

Goodness.  Apparently, meeting John Kapelos has reignited the teen angst I felt as a youth in Texas.  However, as I find it absurd to be filled with the residue of past torment while wearing hot pink chinos, I'll celebrate my awesome Costa Rica life, awash in pineapple tea and delicious food.  Pura Vida as they say.


Monday, March 6, 2017

Costa Rica Diaries, Part 4


January 30, 2017



I awoke my first morning in Costa Rica to a knocking at what I thought was my chamber door.  When I checked, no one was there.  I lay back down wondering if I had been dreaming, enjoying the air-conditioned comfort of my room and immediately fell asleep.  When the tap-tap-tapping began again my reaction was, “Is this house haunted?”  I believe this area is one filled with spirits although I may be confusing Costa Rican culture with the Gullah culture in the Low Country of South Carolina and Georgia. I hope I am mistaken.  I was theoretically prepared for a band of marauders and even monkeys, but not ghosts.  Having experienced a ghost once in high school I was not looking forward to a repeat of that traumatic event.



I sat and listened and realized the knock was coming from the window.  I stood on the lovely aqua coverlet and looked out the window at a bird perched on the chains running from the edge of the roof to the ground that serve as a more efficient drainage system than drainpipes.  The bird was pecking at its reflection.  When I went down to breakfast and mentioned it to my host, the esteemed pale warrior Nick Halverson, he said it was probably trying to mate with itself.  There’s a story there; at the very least, an allegory.



Today was our first writing class and we discussed writing as an exercise, a workout.  According to our instructor Ezekiel (Zeke) Tyrus, Stendahl said everyone who considers themselves a writer should write 20 lines per day “genius or not”.  We were asked to bring notecards and I had 200 in my writing kit as that was the size of the package from Dollar Tree.  I was more than willing to share with my classmates and did so to one of my retreat-mates.  I won’t tell you his name but it rhymes with John Kapelos.



Toward the end of class, someone noticed two creatures about the size of my fist affixed to the eaves of the covered veranda.  When it was asked what they were someone said, “Moths.”  When I looked over, I said, “It looks like those moths are wearing leg warmers.  I think those are bats.”  And they were.   Welcome to the jungle indeed.



After dinner tonight there was great conversation and John K. was telling wonderfully entertaining stories about John Waters, Tom Waits, Tracy Chapman, Robin Williams, Elliott Gould and a host of other names in Hollywood.  Someone asked the question, “Why are we so interested in celebrity?”



This led to what I will call “Things I Learned from John K. While Eating Chiky Cookies”.   

                                      

To loosely quote Mr. Kapelos, "Celebrity is one of our cultural totems; a status game.  It’s tribalism, like sports.  We align ourselves with those who like the same things we like, people included.  This tribalism is a matter of taste; a matter of trusting someone’s opinions.  But we need to separate the person from the opinion.  We don’t really know celebrities.  We can’t if we’ve never spent time with them.  We just think we know them.  With writing, we can’t see a writer’s ability until they write.  Then we can have an idea of who they are.  However, timeless art transcends personality."



I’m thinking about his words as I mull over the questions and advice from the first workshop.  We must write to perfect our craft, not to always be good.  Tennessee Williams wrote every day as a workout.  Writing is like the first day of rehearsal of a performance. You have to sometimes force inspiration. You can’t break the rules until you know them. 



Questions to myself:  Why do I write?  Who is my muse?  Who is my audience?  Should that matter?  Why have I always been, and to this day remain, slightly pink and scared of horses? 

Tomorrow I have a one-to-one with the author of Eli/Ely and he is reading the 70 pages of my memoirs I shared with him.  I'm looking forward to the feedback from Zeke.  I'm interested in the reaction to my story from someone with whom I feel pretty certain I share only two commonalities:  we both love writing and we are both carbon-based life forms.



Friday, February 24, 2017

Costa Rica Diaries, Part 3

January 29 (1:00 pm)


Everyone is finally here including John Kapelos (from Sixteen Candles, Breakfast Club, Seinfeld and many other things) and my inner 80s nerd is freaking out a little.  I thought I would play it cool but since I've not been cool at any point in my 46 years on this planet, I decided to just be a nerd and took a picture with him 24 seconds after introducing myself.  You know I was excited as I posted the photo on Facebook even though I was wind-blown and looked like a big ol' mess.


We grabbed some snacks at The Wal-Mart, which they call Maxi Pali; I think it's Spanish for Big Pallets, but I could be wrong.  We started the 3 hour trip south to San Buenaventura and our host Nick wanted to show us a part of Costa Rice many don't experience - the tall cool mountains with the chilly weather and beautiful views.  In between bouts of motion sickness, I did appreciate the thought behind the idea.  It did lead me to my first essay in Costa Rica.


"I'm sitting with my face poised above a Wal-Mart bag in the front seat of the Mercedes bus headed to the San Buenas Writer's Retreat by way of a mountain pass.  I'm trying to soak up the scenery although it is near dark but I'm also trying to keep from vomiting as I get extremely ill when traveling a meandering route in a vehicle as a passenger.  I know the roads are following the path of the mountain but I feel like the surveyor who mapped this area was either drunk or chasing a burro as I have never experienced so many curves on one road, with the possible exception of the Pacific Coast Highway.  Our expert driver fortunately is fearless like the other Costa Ricans I've noticed walking on the edge of the road, at night, without reflective protection mere inches from hurtling traffic.  I swear I could have tousled the hair of the last guy as we sped by. 


Fearless is not something I instinctually am but I do have a constant inner push to move forward regardless of fear because I know it is what I need to do.  It is why I'm here, in a country that is outside my comfort zone, at a retreat to push myself to tell the story I'm almost afraid to tell because I'm not sure strangers will understand me.  But I'm here because I'm supposed to be, for some reason.  The voice inside me who hijacked my mouth and agreed to this trip in the first place, demands to be heard.  I have to tell my story, so I will."


January 29 (8:00 pm)


We stopped for lunch and dinner but I did not eat either time.  You can't throw up if there's nothing inside you.  We finally made it to the villa and disembarked from the bus.  Juan the driver was so kind to me.  I have never been so happy to be on solid ground.  My room is fantastic and they were telling the truth - there is air conditioning.  I'm happy because if there wasn't I would have felt the need to fight someone but I am unprepared for fisticuffs on a good day.  I could be beat down by most anyone in my present state.  To bed, to bed I go.  I will sleep the sleep of the traveling tired.   

Friday, February 17, 2017

Costa Rica Diaries, Part 2


January 28, 2017

I’m headed to the airport – just said goodbye to Ben.  I will miss him but since we only get to see each other on the weekends, this week will be like normal but with more expensive text messages and no hope of meeting my daily FitBit step goals.  I fully intend on seeing Costa Rica, through the looking glass, as it were.  If I wanted to commune with nature and animals and those who don’t necessarily understand me while sweating in the heavy humidity, I could simply go to Mississippi.

 

I’m sitting in the Delta Sky Lounge as I got to the airport very early to ensure a stress-free passage.  When I showed Delta my return flight ticket for Alaska Airlines, they said, “No problem” and I fairly zipped through security arriving at my gate a full four hours ahead of my flight boarding time of midnight-thirty.  The Sky Lounge is very quiet with comfy seats and great food and now that I’ve experienced it for the first time, I am hooked.  Gonna go peruse the buffet.  Yes, I said buffet.

 

January 29, 2017 (7:00 am – 1:00 pm)

Sleepless flight.  I’m in row 18 and the light outside the restroom is shining in one spot and that would be directly into my face.  I asked if they could turn it off, point it elsewhere or at least dim it.  I never realized how many ways you can be told no.  At least I caught up with my TV viewing, watching Season 9 of Big Bang Theory.  It’s not as funny as it used to be.  Awoke tired but with the bonus energy often afforded travelers, I was able to speed through customs like a visiting dignitary. 

 

First impressions:  cool and windy at 8:30 in the morning.  Costa Rica doesn’t seem any more “foreign country” than Miami if I’m being honest.  Just bought a bottle of water from a very friendly lady, paying Lord only knows what as I don’t understand the exchange rate or their currency – colonnes.  For my change I received colorful bills and two rather impressive coins.  These coins have personality as if they might have magical properties or allow me entry to somewhere off-path and spectacular. 

 

I was instructed by my hosts to wait at the airport for the other attendees to arrive.  Unsurprisingly I got here first.  There is nowhere to sit other than this concrete bench so I guess my “roughing it” has begun.  Via the wonder of Facebook Messenger, Zeke Tyrus (of the San Buenas Writer's Retreat) gave me the scoop on the one restaurant at la aero puerto; Deli Malinche, where I had a ham and cheese croissant, because I could recognize what it was and point to it, and a cafĂ© con leche.  Delicious.  Not to take away from their culinary prowess but if I’m being honest, at this point, I would have tried to eat a boot or a dead body if you had melted cheese on it.  Soy Queso!

 

I’m sitting here alternately reading The Tangier Diaries, as recommended by Zeke, and people watching.  I just marked a great passage, “The difference between our god and theirs is us.”  I’m experiencing some truth while I wait.

 

After several hours I am hungry again so I am attempting to order food at the restaurant.  I pointed to what I wanted (it was cafeteria style) but when I tried to ask if it was spicy I couldn’t think of the word for ‘hot’.  Asking if it was ‘not cold’ caused confusion.  My brain took over and used the only other language with which I have any familiarity – American Sign Language.  I abruptly signed ‘hot’, which is forming a claw with your dominant hand, placing the thumb and fingers at the sides of your mouth.  Then you quickly turn your hand toward the other person as if removing something hot from your mouth.  The servers eyes widened in fear.  Afraid this choreography was going to leave me bereft of food, I smiled, pointed at what looked like tuna salad, smiled and said, “Gracias”.  She did not smile back.  Where, oh where, is Senora Franklin (my high school Spanish teacher) with her side pony-tail and snide attitude when I need her?  Luckily I can say chicken, watermelon, bathroom, ‘please’, ‘thank you’ and ‘I’m sorry’ in Spanish.  Also, should the need arise, beer and party.  I think I’m all set.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Costa Rica Diaries, Part I

     I recently returned from a week-long writer's retreat at Villas de San Buenas in Costa Rica.  I am as surprised as you that I actually went on this adventure.  A writer's retreat?  Absolutely in my comfort zone.  In Costa Rica?  Absolutely the farthest thing from my comfort zone outside of going shirtless in public or bullfighting.  When Ezekiel Tyrus, author and ceviche enthusiast, asked me to attend, I found myself agreeing very quickly, much to my surprise.  I guess my inner writer needed to get to the jungle.
     I was productive in the jungle in between eating, sleeping, sweating and failing miserably at communicating in Spanish.  There was a whole lot of como se dice-ing, pointing and head nods.  I accomplished much writing as well as journaling.  I will share with you a little of both over the next couple of weeks.


January 27, 2017
I'm celebrating my second anniversary as Assistant Director the VA Medical Center in Long Beach.  I love my job and look forward to work most every day but tomorrow is my last day before my vacation and I am just beginning to wrap my head around my impending attendance at the San Buenas Writer's Retreat in Costa Rica, where I hope to make significant progress on my memoirs tentatively titled Slightly Pink and Scared of Horses.  I don't think my 40 year-old self would believe this much less my 20 year-old self. 


January 28, 2017
I tried to check in online but Delta wouldn't let me.  I'm sure it's because my return flight is on Alaska Airlines so they can't tell if I have plans to leave, which you most assuredly must have according to the Costa Rica information from the State Department.  This is the price you pay for bargain airline tickets.  I hope all will be well.  I'm heading to the airport even earlier than planned to make sure there are no snafus.  I can tell you I am a little nervous, especially considering what happened to me when I tried to enter Canada in 2010.


I'm packing my clothes for the trip and I realize I am about to embark on one of the most frightening escapades of my adult life and I'm not talking about heading to a place just South of Nicaragua.  I'm talking about traveling without Spanx t-shirts.  This will be the first time I have left my home without foundation garments since my significant weight loss in 2009.  Spanx t-shirts keep my torso in the general shape of a human torso.  I'm going commando under the washable silk shirts of my cabana style wardrobe.  Do you call it commando when it applies to t-shirts?


I am mentally assessing my clothing choices recommended by my hosts as well as friends who have traveled both here and neighboring Central American countries.  I have never traveled to this part of the world and while I am aware it is probably not close to reality, my mind can't help but believe I am Kathleen Turner heading to Cartagena in "Romancing the Stone", but without the earth-toned footwear or deep voice.  I'm hoping the reality will be more akin to rural West Texas, without queso but with air conditioning.  I've been promised air conditioning.  They better have air conditioning.