Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Imagined Birthday

Felicidades, Jenny, you would have been 40 today. I'm trying to conjure up what you might say or think about it. You'd wear a great shirt or some killer black boots, and your sparkly hair clips. You would meet Megan and I at Cafe Royal, which I don't think exists in the exact same form anymore. You would have a nonfat latte, no cinnamon, and a croissant. We'd try to get the couches.

Meg and I would force you to open your gifts and exclaim over each bit of wrapping paper, sticker-covered gift tag and contents within, most likely having to do with art, craft, kawaii, folklore or an inside joke. We'd talk about work, passerby, Max, our families, guys, movies, books, zines, politics and plans, always plans. It'd be the season of the fun list, after all, where we comprised goals for summer diversions, like having a gourmet picnic during Shakespeare in the Park, or stenciling up a neighborhood with a secret slogan.

Then we'd rush off to our various corners of the universe, but you'd have a day full of celebrations. People, maybe the Eating Club, taking you to lunch or dinner, preferably for something ethnic and spicy chased with some fried plantains. You might hit a movie or a cafe, or people might expect you to come to their houses and grace them with your presence. The party would go late, and then you'd come home and tell me the details and show me the goods.

If you were in Oaxaca with me, we'd have started the day with the kids tackling you in bed. You could have joined us in mango for breakfast and a mototaxi ride up the mountain to school, where each bump merits a laugh or speculation over whether we can make it. We could have walked home, commenting on the stellar banana plant in blossom or the vintage rusted Wonder Bread sign hanging by the Walkway of the Secretaries. We could hit Cafe Cafe for organic cappuccinos and pan dulce and then go to a museum. Or we could hike to the waterfall in San Felipe. For comida, I'd take you to La Biznaga for cocktails and salmon or shrimp in tamarind mole. Your gifts would be artesania from the villages or daily items from Abastos.

We would sing old pop songs and old-timey tunes loudly, off key.

Can I summon up this day for you, and you for this day? Because 40 is something special, I think. xoxo

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Do something brave

It's three days until Jenny's 40th birthday, and I find it only fitting that I'm reflecting on what Hilair told me she does to remain inspired by Jenny: do something brave.

There are a million small moments of bravery, I think, like when Max told me he was ashamed that I mentioned my mastectomy to Liz, a parent at the school who works for a gynecologist and knew where I could find a new prosthesis in Oaxaca. I told Max he could be proud of me for fighting cancer, but my insides wanted to cry when he said that to me. Maybe the bravest thing is to reflect on what happened to me nearly two years ago, because I don't let myself think about it, read about it or even look too closely in the mirror.

Another type of bravery, I think, is meeting new people. We spent the weekend visiting the houses of new friends. On Saturday, it was Miguel, Rosa and Kobe for an afternoon talking about art, writing, children, gardens and books. Rosa shared a story about how, years ago, she was sitting in the zocalo when she was approached by a man. He said he was a painter and asked if she would model for him. She agreed. The painter turned out to the maestro Rodolfo Morales, and the painting was the famous huge mural in the municipal palace. In the painting, she is making some kind of offering.

On Sunday, we spent the afternoon at the home of Sadie, Anthony and Jasper. Sadie made a delish Puertoriqueno lasagne, with plantain stuffed inside. We sat on the porch and watched the children play and sing and, in Geni's case, sometimes pee, and it seemed to unfold like a beautiful (if flawed by occasional reminders of body functions) movie. We talked about compost and travel, painting and families. The world continues to offer up fascinating people to meet.

I'll be seeking out something symbolic to do or to connect with in the next few days. I'm struggling over this, foundering over what it should be, maybe something to do with art or some kind of happening. I will have to be somewhere and be receptive so I know that it's right for Jenny and me.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Get on the life rollercoaster

A day of ups and downs. It began with Geni's teacher encouraging me to come to flag ceremony to see Geni in action, marching to the patriotic song. I show up, only to see Geni firmly placed on the sidelines, not participating, while her classmates march and sing. I felt bad for her, even though she was happily playing with her shoe, because I worry about her being left out of things. She's behind in language and in her motor skills, and I perceived that the teacher might find it easier not to include her. I walked home feeling down, but found my newest green juice lady, which generated some cheer.

I got home and finished my article on Japanese artist Kenichi Yokono for Hi-Fructose, which was a blast. Then, I found out my tutorial "How to Make Out with Pop Rocks" got published, albeit not where I had hoped (I wanted it on, but it's on eHow). Here's the link so that you, too, can start making out with pop rocks.

It's actually quite informative, I assure you.

Then, we got to take Geni to the early childhood stimulation center, if that's how it translates to English. This was her first appointment. The psychologist is hoping that she can boost Geni's motor and language skills via her method of rehabilitation. Geni loved the session, and will continue going three times a week.

So Geni's happy, but I can't get over this possible snub. I tried removing myself from the emotion of it, to look just at the pure series of events, but it still seems like she was excluded. She loves Colegio Teizcali, to the point where she waits at the door every morning with her backpack in hand, asking "Maestra? Maestra?" She runs into her classroom without looking back. This is what I tell myself: This is what matters. Her perception of events are more important than mine here, right?

I needn't live her pain when she has had no pain but, the crux of it is, if she's can't express herself to me, how will I know the depth of her feelings? I remember a mother posting on a forum about her silent child. She said, "I long to know his inner world."

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

We Need a Pitcher Not a Belly Itcher

I have been feeling way too dependent upon my weekly writing gig, which offers tons of work at mediocre pay. So, I've been trying to branch out.

I do the usual, applying cold through ads, putting in some bids, writing notes to my contacts, but I avoid writing pitches, and I can't figure out why. I have a list of good magazines to pitch, and a ton of ideas, but I've become lazy, I think, with all the work, and the idea of going through the whole pitch-and-get-rejected process seems insurmountable.

I'm stuck in this syndrome of writing for short-term goals, but not looking at the long-term and broadening my client base.

Two months ago, I was on the beach, and found this man selling extraordinary paintings on the street. I interviewed him on the spot, bought a handful of paintings--he was the ideal outsider, visionary artist, taking a traditional Mexican art form and completely reinterpreting it with his visions. His work just jumped out at me, and I wasn't the only one. As I talked to him, almost everyone who passed by stopped to take a look at his work. I took a bunch of pictures and knew I had a story. I assembled a list of alternative art magazines, but the pitch drifts somewhere out of reach. How can that art and the potential article about it keep me up all night with excitement and, by day, elude me because I don't want to write the pitch?

The good news is that I've garnered some excellent gigs in the past couple days, including a quick tutorial on "How to Make Out with Pop Rocks Involved", a review of an art show inspired by monster movies and, my favorite, a piece on Stacy and Clinton of "What Not to Wear". Pop culture paradise.

Somewhere, in here, is a lesson for me, but I'm not ready to learn it.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Mathematics of Laundry

With four people in the house, including a grubby preschooler, we have to do a load of laundry about every other day. Laundry in Mexico is interesting, at least my version, because we have no dryer, so everything goes on the clothesline for my over-analysis of whether it has been cleaned to a worthwhile state.

And I am the only one who does laundry--the sole portal through which all filth must pass, which drives me to some puzzling conclusions about what happens with laundry.

I'm not talking about the lost sock syndrome over which so much has been written. It's everything else that winds up on the clothesline. Like the other day, after hanging it all up, I tried adding it all up. Why was it that Genevieve's only piece of clothing drying on the line was her giant green tank top that she wears as a mini-dress, accompanied by eight pairs of underpants? Am I to believe that, over the course of two days, all she wore was a saggy tank top and four pairs of underpants per day? It seems unlikely and uncomfortable.

Then there's Steve who, in this hot weather, seems to enjoy wearing two or three black T-shirts per day, no pants, and an extraordinary number of socks that I do not even bother to match up.

Max is more predictable. Lots and lots of pajamas and shorts, but no shirts. I know his habits, loving to jump into pjs as soon as possible, alternating from this routine only to wrench on his too-small Ninja costume to see if it has magically enlarged to accommodate him in the past week. He, too, seems to wear a lot of underpants, if the clothesline tells no lies.

This is what I am left to wonder, is if the clothesline is just an abstract symbol, representing the chaos theory of our weekly lives, whittled down to the essentials, the socks, the underpants, whereas the embellishments, the hand-knit sweater great grandma made in the sixties, the light-as-dandelion-spores shirt I bought in the market, get sucked into the black hole of the laundry that will never be washed, never worn again. My dirty laundry broadcasts my failures--no, that's too strong of a word--my never-realized intentions. But maybe that's okay? I mean, it's just laundry.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Expat Paranoia Syndrome

Well, Colegio Teizcali and every other primary school in Mexico has been closed for a couple weeks now, and this may be the cause of my sense of reason tipping.

It was set off a couple nights ago when we got a random phone call at midnight. The phone rang and then beeped, indicating there was an urgent message. This unto itself was strange because very few people know our cell phone number, even fewer people use it, and no one calls us a midnight.

I checked the message and it was a man stating my full name, a long list of letters and numbers (beginning with T-H)and a message that I could not make out, not a word of it, for the life of me. I listened about seven more times, jotting down the random letters and numbers. I caught the word "urgent" and I thought I heard the word "vehicle". There was an address and an insistence that we show up to withdraw ("retirar") something.

I am not a worrier, but my heart was pounding in my ears. I ran upstairs to our terrace shouting, "I think our car's been stolen", but there it was, sitting on the street.

And here is where Expat Paranoia Syndrome sets in. Because I live in a foreign country where a certain amount of daily life remains incomprehensible to me, my mind leaped to many unrealistic conclusions. Someone was about to steal our car! It was a warning.

And then my mind wandered to kidnapping. We had to withdraw money from the branch ("sucursal", they said) because they had our kids. But they didn't, our kids were in the house, asleep. Or were they? I checked. They were. But how long would they be there, snug in their beds? I had Steve check all the locks.

Who knew my full name, my cell phone number, and wanted me to withdraw something urgently? Was someone following my wanderings from Colegio Teizcali down to the Volcanes Friday market, to the cactus juice lady on Martyrs of Cananea Street by the Elvis Tortillas shop and then to my bank? I am a creature of habit, I know, and my rituals are downright predictable to the minute, I suspect.

I laid awake feeling like I was in the movie I had just seen that evening "Get Shorty". You never know when a gangster or a mob boss or an investor and his bodyguard might slip into your living room and turn on "David Letterman", do you? And, in a foreign country, with a message I didn't understand, and no working knowledge of how to call the police via my cell phone (or even knowing if police in Oaxaca are a good thing to call, when most evidence points to the contrary), I felt the only solution was to stay awake and ruminate.

In the morning, I stopped the guy that was delivering water to our house. I handed him my cell phone and asked him to listen to the message, that it was urgent and I was worried. He looked at me seriously, listened for a minute and said, "It's DHL. They have a package for you. You need to withdraw it from their branch."

And, you see, this is why Expat Paranoia Syndrome is so insidious. Because, as far-fetched as my midnight wonderings were, it is also ridiculous that a DHL employee would call me at midnight and leave an urgent message to pick up a magazine.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Our Journey to Ixtlan

Somehow we've been living in Oaxaca for nearly two years and managed to miss going to the mountains. Sure, there was the time we coaxed our reluctant vocho up the first peak, to get a blast of cool, fresh air, before careening back down to Oaxaca proper.

We decided that, with the swine flu epidemic supposedly raging somewhere just out of reach (maybe in Texas?), we might as well go camping. Now, I'm not a camper. I was a Girl Scout for a couple years, but I was in it for the HoeDowns (and Thin Mints). I don't like sleeping in tents and waking up in cold dirt and a semi-warm shower located across a public campground. And I really have to ignore that "we're getting everything dirty" obsessive streak of panic that runs through me.

Camping near Ixtlan de Juarez, the mountains to the north of Oaxaca City is altogether different. You go to the town center and stroll around until you find a sign about ecotours. You call the numbers on the sign and no one answers. You check your guidebook and call those numbers and get someone. Just not someone who knows what you're talking about when you ask about "hay una cabana disponible para esta noche?"

As you wander aimlessly around the zocalo, chasing after your three-your-old, you see the only open door in the center. It's the office to the ecotour company, randomly open on a Sunday afternoon during a holiday weekend with a flu scare on. You go in and they shrug. "Sure, there's cabins. Just head on over there."

Sure enough, a simple 4.3 kilometers away, after several prominent signs, we found the ecotour campgrounds. We drove down a gravel road, parked, and found ourselves in the midst of a pine forest, not a sight to which I'm accustomed in Oaxaca. It was so...California, down to the overly dry conditions.

It was my kind of camping. Cabins with beds and furniture. There are fireplaces and logs. There are porches for lounging around. Private hot showers (well, hot for two minutes).

We took the kids down a trail that led across a rope bridge to a cave, where we could hear bats squeaking. Then, it was to the ropes course. Max and I rented mountain bikes and careened down to a river where we threw our shoes off and chased tadpoles. We watched trout swimming in the pond before trudging and semi-riding our bikes back up the mountain. We ate fresh Oaxacan cuisine at the lodge and collected pine cones. The next day, Geni and Max tried horseback riding. Geni threw a tantrum when we pulled her off the horse, crying "burro burro burro!"

And all of it about a 40-mile trip from our house. How about that? And I would have thought this an impossible thing for me to say just a week ago, but I look forward to camping again soon. But next time we bring Carolos Quinto chocolate bars, Maria cookies and bon bones for the Mexican version of s'mores. Can't believe I forgot that stuff.