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.