In an interview, Dan Fante was asked how he was able to publish such a large quantity of novels and short stories all seemingly based upon his own life. He responds ¨I was a drunk and a madman for over twenty years. I’ve had many marriages; I’ve been to jails and worked 100 jobs. I could probably write a hundred books.¨ I realized that it´s our experiences that make us good writers, good storytellers, the type of person you want to happen upon on the bar stool next to you and tell you the story of their lives. I´m continuously torn between these two realities. While I button up my white collared shirt and spend my days amongst women whose craziest adventure is a glass of wine too many on their living room couch and who constantly drivel on about family values this, society is full of hooligans that, my brain literally folds in on itself. I think about those full of life times, when you’re just the right amount of wine in and your laughing with the right people and lighting up a cigarette and life seems literally full of possibilities as long as you keep drinking, keep on laughing. When I drive down the freeway in California at 4 in the morning and no one else is on the road and the window is down and my hair flips me in the face but I don´t care everything is better at 4 am. You feel different, special, because you´re out when you should be in and almost everyone else is sleeping. Every question they ask I lie to them. Why are you here? What do you do on the weekend? The only thing keeping me going is the classroom. Oh, in the classroom I am an artist, I can spin stories and lessons spontaneously and I love telling the girls everything I know about something. If their uninterested adolescent faces get under my skin I teach anyways, gesturing enthusiastically and weaving fascinating stories. On the other extreme of the spectrum, the time I´ve spent amongst street kids in California or hitchhiking with hippies in Argentina I haven´t felt entirely at home or self-actualized as you are supposedly supposed to feel when you finally throw in the towel and rush headfirst into the oncoming winds. I felt like a faker, a traitor, a middle class white girl acting out a fantasy and running home to tell mom and dad about it. As I´ve delved farther into the genre of what I think of as self-deprecating, black humor, at times vaguely autobiographical and other times brutally honest novels, I find myself wanting to throw it all away and join them. Bounce from meaningless job to meaningless job, solely to have enough money to rent a room, shoes on my feet and to throw away at vices. What is it that keeps us going each day in a seemingly tireless never ending cycle of routine? Why do we envy those that escaped this labyrinth and live other, alternative lifestyles? Maybe I should chalk it down to maturity to changing tastes that I suddenly craved responsibilities and routine.  Maybe life will have be bouncing from one desire to the next.

Dust

I had spent more than half my life now seizing at this, seizing at that, my body clenched around air. If only I could learn to live here, in the chasm he cut, in the void out of which our world was born, if only I could.

At my weekly Tuesday Mayan Calendar goup. In Quito blackouts were daily and as a result our leader´s house was filled with candles. Rain streamed down the windows and instead of leaving we drank tea and smoked handrolled cigarettes. Looking down at the green Guapolo Valley as it filled with water below us for hours.

Sitting outside on the sidewalk outside of our friend´s pension in Mendoza, sweat pooling under my knees and elbows, stretched out on a cheap lawn chair sipping cool beer. Speaking of and getting thrilled about Central America, trips forgotten, on the wayside, but the sweet apprehension fresh on my tongue.

After walking down a mud-filled road outside of Pisac, sitting in a beautiful house, a fire burning and drizzle outside. A Canadian guy strums his guitar while another girl sings clear and firm. A tiny kitten purrs in my lap.

Driving to San Francisco with no money, no plan, the wheel of my Sentra sure in my hands, a bottle of JD and an old comrade in the back.

Standing on a roof overlooking Rio on a hot night, a can of beer cooling my hand. Telling you I wanted to be closer to you in the future, hearing those words back to me. Marveling that I never knew I needed to hear them.

Slipping my hand into yours and delighting when you squeezed it back.

Clutching at strings, stuck in my daydreams, wondering if I had walked that way, turned this way, taken your advice when you gave it, I would be sitting next to you. Often we dream of a better place, a happier life, Tomorrow we sigh. Thinking of the future is a form of nostalgia.mepuppy

High Tide

He lifts his ashplant high with both hands and smashes the chandelier. Time´s livid final flame leaps and in the following darkness ruin of all space, shattered glass and toppling masonry–

As I stood at the edge of the icy lake my arms spread out by my side. My mouth even wider. I tried to breathe in the whole wide world, everyone´s experiences, memories, thoughts. And for a millisecond I held it all in and I tingled from head to toe and I sparkled.

But everyone has to exhale sometime and even though I held in my breath until I thought I would pop, it still slipped out. Slowly at first like a wisp of smoke then more and more until finally it popped out of me and left me gasping, rocking back and forth on my heels and clutching my stomach.

Back

The other night I walked home alone around 1 or 2 in the morning, a time when I always feel more powerful when I find myself outside. I smoked a cigarette and stretched one hand out beside me, imagining the air around me was liquid. The cool breeze refreshed the back of my neck and the streetlights gave a glow. With not a single person in my neighborhood, it was oddly peaceful. Only a few combis could be heard in the distance, and I felt laughably alone for a brief moment in this tumbling metropolis. Jorge Luis Borges once wrote, ¨I cannot walk through the suburbs alone in the solitude of the night without thinking that the night pleases us because it suppresses idle details, just as memory does.¨

I´ve come to terms with a lot of fears these past few months, most notably my gnawing uncertainties about loneliness, about being on my own. I believe we all deserve one true love story and I´m mostly afraid that mine has already come and gone. Is that what everyone fears? That our most defining moments have passed and the rest of our lives will be full of only a contemplation of that which already happened?

I know what I´m afraid of: oblivion, being forgotten, alone. Leaving a place and finding not one person misses me.

The other day, I went to a soccer game alone, without my usual companions, and found the guys asking me questions about myself, my studies, my job. After the game we stood in a circle around a case of beer and one asked me the classic question that makes me squirm inside: How long do you plan to stay in Lima?¨ I gave my scripted answer, explained how I had just signed a year-long contract. They cheered and exclaimed how lucky they were to have me for another year, and I couldn´t help but smile.

There is a quote that I often use, but it seems like it was taken from my lips: ¨I´d led such an adventurous life, geographically speaking, that people mistook me for an adventurer. They had no idea I´d sell my soul and my travelling shoes to belong someplace¨

I´ve been searching so long for a home, but I never expected it would look like this.

Turning Points

 

My legs swing and hit the concrete as I sit on the edge of my favorite roof. The warm air of August in Sacramento makes my arms and neck sticky with sweat. A boy sits next to me, as eager as if this was a first date, confused but intrigued about my insistence we scramble up this roof that doesn´t even have a particularly good view. He´s here, because you aren´t. He fills that empty space. Eventually you call me and I answer, your voice sounds like its underwater. There´s music and shouts in the background and I know you´re at one of our bars in the city. ¨Everyone says hi¨ you say to me, but they´re all already gone, lost in some memory of mine of one sweet summer. Its my last night, my last night I repeat, hitting my legs against the wall. Does anybody care? The next day I stepped on a plane, and everything changed.

I stood in our apartment 10 days after arriving again from the States. You told me you were leaving again, and I begged and yelled, trying to keep you with me. Something in me knew you were slipping away, something was distant and different. If you knew what was going to happen in the next few months, that this night was the last we would ever be a couple, would you have done something different? Would you have held me tight and not let go, unpack your things and stay? Or would you have swung your backpack on your back and walked out our door, not even looking back like you did that night.

I walked along the sidewalk in the impenetrable heat of Granada at the end of a fairly disastrous Europe backpacking trip, eating gelato with my friend. Suddenly she turned towards me and spoke urgently: ¨How do we know which of these experiences matter? What will we remember and what will we forget?¨

I drove away from work, still dressed in my uniform, smelling of leftovers and spilled food. My high school friends called, insisted I go to somebody´s apartment for a party. As I pulled into the parking lot and walked up to the door, I had no idea you would answer the door dressed head to toe in a perfect matador costume. Nor did I know that in this stranger´s living room, on this random night, I had found my best friend.

I stood at the bus stop with you and you asked me for one last cigarette. As I opened my pack I realized there was only one left, so I suggested we share. Sometimes I wish I had just given it to you and gotten on the bus and left everything unsaid. You told me you had something to say and then stopped looking at me in the eyes. Casual, we had insisted. None of this will mean anything, I told myself. But as you told me things were over, the hot tears down my cheek and shallow breaths I was forced to take told me otherwise. To this day, I pass that public park in the center of the city and I think of all the ways our lives change in a single moment.

Gone

Four years ago I was young and impressionable and I moved to a foreign country. I met you and I held my beating heart in my hand and asked you to keep it for a while. You accepted with thick honey on your tongue, a hint of mania in your right eye. But how could I think with my heart in your hand. Everybody knows that’s where your brain’s at. You took me places and pointed and said “Look at that” and I looked. It was beautiful. You held my hand but it wasn’t as warm as a beating heart. I met all the people who mattered to you and I thought “I’m glad I gave my heart to you” because you had people who cared for you. I felt glad and smug and congraulated myself on my choice.

But yesterday I touched my eyelids and found they were covered in crust. I paw at them and try to wipe it away but I can’t even open them to see. Blinded I place one foot forward to find it dangling ahead of me. No soft, firm ground to place it on. All I want is to find you there, hand outstretched, my heart in your hand.

Deconstructing the Violence at La Parada

A few weeks ago now, the Peruvian news channels were splashing images at us of nearly incomprehensible scenes of violence. Apparently, fruit and vegetable vendors at the La Parada market in the district of La Victoria had risen up against mandates that would force them to move to another location (a market named Santa Anita)

The market that currently exists at La Parada is one that doesn’t exist outside of the Third World. It’s dirty, unsanitary, loud and crazy. But it’s also CHEAP. It sells vegetables and fruits for cheap to those who can’t afford higher prices (and those who simply don’t want to spend more) and therefore the rent is cheap. 

At Santa Anita, yes, the market will be safer, cleaner, organized, but the rent will be significantly higher. The clientele a different level of clientele. And we mustn’t forget that this move won’t just effect the people who sell fruits and vegetables in the market, but the elaborate web of people that depend on it’s location: Peruvian journalist Dante Castro wrote the following on his blog:

Around the big businesses with their wealthy merchants, an extensive network of exchanges involving many people and families is woven. These people live near La Parada and have formed their various ways of life around it. In that galaxy of constellations of economic interests, we have small merchants, street peddlers, receivers, stevedores, laborers, watchmen and…thieves, muggers, pimps, drug and cheap alcohol dealers, etc. The rich can accept moving to Santa Anita, but the poor and the marginalized cannot.

If we look at the protest and violence through this [simplified] lens, I think most of us would come out on the side of the vendors. They were protecting their livelihoods (no matter how difficult it is for us to wrap our minds around it when we come from such different backgrounds) and their violence sprang from their feelings of desperation. For these people, selling garlic cloves and onions for a mere 30 cents a kilogram each cent literally makes a difference. 

If only it were that simple.

One of the most striking images from the protest were those of a policeman falling from his horse and upon landing on the ground being brutally beaten by a group of men covering their faces with bandanas. 

The general theory that has been published by some newspapers, and TV news programs (as well as through word of mouth) is that the people propagating this violence, were not innocent strawberry sellers defending their right to work, but young men hired by the Mafia to defame the reputation of Mayor Susana Villarán. As Gustavo Faverón writes:

For at least forty years La Parada has been a center of crime, run by mobsters, that live completely outside the Peruvian legal system, starting with the most basic area of business, the tax system. . […] (Villarán) is the first authority in our history to grab the bull by the horns, designing an alternative plan and trying to put it into practice.

No one should be surprised, in fact, that Villarán’s actions are immediately combatted by a band of underprivileged murderers for hire brought together by a group of merchant mobsters

Here in Lima, politicians are praised and loved for their “projects”, that is simple construction of roadways or tunnels, but are discouraged from getting into any “real” politics. That is because everything from our trash pickup to our bus systems are closely controlled by a Mafia that doesn’t like getting it’s toes stepped on. When Villarán decided not to take No for an answer in anymore she stepped into never-before-entered territory. She looked the problems in Lima straight in the eye, and decided to tackle them. She is requiring taxis to register, taking ancient polluting buses off the roads, and extending our public train system. The response to these so far has been EIGHT different Mafia-sponsored strikes by bus drivers. 

Is La Parada violence just more of the same? It seems not to be just a coincidence that the very day of this violence, the recall votes were found and signed for Villarán, and all ready to go the courts. 

I have to ask though, is Villarán really to blame? Is she the cause of the chaos and disorder in Lima in places like La Parada? Should we really spend desperately needed money on shuffling one politician out, and putting another one in her place? 

How bout we just try to move forward Lima? Instead of moving back. 

Let’s be Realistic for a Minute

I’ve been noticing a lot of people speaking out against Columbus Day on social media websites, and thought I would add my own voice to the mix as someone who came out as anti-Columbus Day long before it become a trend.

First off What exactly are we celebrating? I think it’s safe to assume some Americans are ignorant as to what exactly Columbus Day means beyond an extra day to sit around in their jammies or hit the shopping malls or enjoy Sunday night drinking. We were spoonfed in elementary schools that nice little story about the Three Ships that sailed to America where naked, primitive Indians were awed/impressed/frightened by the Europeans (but more than anything, formed a background to the real history of America)…

Let’s backpedal here a little bit. Christopher Columbus actually first landed in the Canary Islands of today, visited Santo Domingo and The Bahamas and never actually set foot in mainland America. Not to mention the fact that the entire time he was convinced he was kicking back in the East Indies.

But despite the popular confusion about Columbus, what does remain is the chain of events that his arrival started, the destruction that resulted from the first European-indigenous interactions.

Prior to European arrival, the Americas were lands of complex, developed civilizations that rivaled their European contemporaries. The introduction of European diseases that they had never developed the antibodies for, led to the type of widespread destruction that had never been seen before, or since in the history of human civilization. According to Charles Mann as much as 95% of Indians died as a direct result of European contact. Many before they even had a chance to see a white man (bacteria and diseases can travel and spread faster, then the physical arrival of their people) What resulted was that the civilizations that Europeans witnessed and wrote off as “primitive” or “savage” were actually just the leftovers of a seriously depleted, wildly depressed civilization. Imagine what we would look like if 95% of us were wiped out?

What’s most saddening is what could have happened during the exploration days. The American civilizations had grown completely independent of influence from Europe or Asia or Africa and their discoveries, inventions and political structures were fascinatingly complex. If the Europeans had found them at their prime, what could have resulted would have been a wonderful meeting of intellectual minds; a mixture of cultures.

Instead, the Europeans dominated and controlled these apparently, “lesser” societies and set the precedent for their subordinate relationship that continues into today. More modern policies of “acculturation” or takeover of territories are the modern remnants of a colonial mindset when looking at our indigenous peoples of today.

So what do we owe ourselves America? I challenge us to abolish Columbus Day and instead initiate a national holiday dedicated to Native Americans as a way to honor the genocide that happened centuries ago, appreciate the traditions and culture that remains today, and to challenge us to improve indigenous people’s lives today, as well as to start telling the truth about history in our schools.

For more information check out this news program featuring the Real History of the Americas event:

http://www.democracynow.org/2012/10/8/on_columbus_day_indigenous_urge_celebration

A Country on its Feet

Earlier this month tens of thousands of people poured into the regional capital of Cajamarca. They had peacefully gathered to speak out against a proposed mining project. Their signs were colorful, their messages politically meaningful but catchy. Hope of change was in the air. But violence? destruction? Far from their minds.

In response to this peaceful demonstration police attacked brutally leading to injuries, harassment and general fear. And of course, it directly led to the empowered country-wide mobilization we now see in Peru. The best way to get people riled up is to make them afraid.

The police brutality is part of the greater plan to discredit social mobilization in Peru as “violent”, their political positions as “extreme” and “radical”, pitting the rest of “sane” Peru against them.

What we have then is a dramatically divided country. One side is promoting mining as a non-threatening way to increase foreign investment, boost the local economy, create jobs, and increase Peru’s international prestige. The other side doesn’t care about those things. They’re worried about contamination of their streams and rivers, the irrerersible change of their landscape that will be caused. Since when is progress an excuse to use force? Why is money more important then health? then dignity? Over 80 % of Cajamarca citizens depend on agriculture as their livelihood.

The facts: Conga is a proposal by Newman Mining Corporation to increase the size of nearby Yanacocha (currently the biggest gold mining project in the history of South America). It will be the largest investment in mining ever seen in Peru. It will use mercury, one of the harshest chemicals existing and its byproducts will leak into streams and rivers making the water in the region undrinkable. The project will also obliterate currently existing waterways. Because of the hugeness of the project it will affect a wide area (as well as its position in the headwaters, which will affect all communities downstream of the project)

The response by police, and by the Peruvian president are sickening, and bring back memories of a not-so distant violent past of Peru (during the 80s Peru was victim to a violent civil war that was crushed only through monumental massacres at the hands of Peruvian police). The current president was supposedly elected on a leftist ballot, but quickly succumbed to pressure and has turned increasingly conservative in his actions and words: “I’m ready to combat, because it’s time to establish order in the country. The ostrich policy of the past, allowing violence in the interior to destroy the rule of law, is not right”. Ollanta is clearly promoting this idea that the protest is extremist politics, not people peacefully expressing their influence over their lives.

For me the biggest issue is the violation of one of the most important basic human rights: access to water. Taking away a people’s access to water is taking away one of their intrinsic human rights, and condemning them to a life without dignity. There should be a commitment worldwide to solidarity in the face of losing water rights and the protests in Cajamaraca and throughout Peru affirm that commitment.

Thousands of people marched for their right to water in Cajamarca

Think again before you buy a gold bracelet. Think of the violence, name-calling and political disruption, the people who have no water, the division of a normally peaceful country, the imprisoned, injured, the displaced. Think again.

A Reflection on a Year gone by,

oh, yes

 

there are worse things than

being alone

but it often takes decades

to realize this

and most often when you do

it’s too late

and there’s nothing worse

than 

too late.

 

–Charles Bukowski

Apparently Conn graduation happened again. Isn’t it funny how things just keep going when you’re not around? It’s a good reminder of how non-permanent and circular life really is.

 

Anyways, I found it a good an excuse as any to reflect upon where I was a year ago compared to where I am now.

 

Back then I was standing on an edge of a cliff eagerly awaiting jumping off, bouncing on the toes of my feet without much of a sense of what or whom I would find myself saying good-bye to. I had spent the greater part of the year tumbling towards the eventual decision of moving to Peru. It kept me going through the hardest parts, and was my comfort whenever I found myself no longer belonging in situations in which I had once excelled.

 

I have witnessed a lot of changes in myself here, begun a chain of compromises and sacrifices that seem sadly largely due to the desire to earn money, to achieve comfort, things I never thought I would want or be bothered about. Ideals seem to have fallen by the wayside. Promises of great things forgotten. My professors who once told me that I had promises of publishing forgot about me. They set about promising this year’s graduates the same things.

 

The greatest surprise of all is how genuinely satisfied I am with this, with my job, with the general path that seems to be forming slowly before me. The future seems nothing but open.

 

I think the greatest thing that I have learned is that there’s no one there to hold your hand at the end of the day, and the amount of freedom you have to make choices is astounding. You can jump and hope to fly in an infinite amount of ways, but really it’s you who catches yourself in the end. I can’t believe how much I’ve had to depend on my own resourcefulness and strength in the past year. More so, I can’t believe how much I’ve caught myself over and over again.