Friday, January 13, 2012

no habla espanol

I ran away to Costa Rica to avoid Christmas, but that’s not really why I went to Costa Rica. I went to learn Spanish, but we all know you can’t learn Spanish in two weeks -- and certainly not in a town like Montezuma where everyone speaks English, and its service professionals have little patience for a gringa-ass like mine practicing its Spanish in restaurants where a sandwich costs $12, and yes, they take American dollars. What I really wanted to do was read and write for two weeks in front of the ocean, uninterrupted, which is what I did (except for those four hours of Spanish every day and the hour and a half of yoga every night, and all of the fire-dancing I was required to watch as a temporary denizen of this town ruled by the Poi People, who -- around 9 p.m. each night -- crawl from the ocean and into the streets with their flame-retardant, underworldy elfin garb, fire sticks a-twirling).

What I really wanted was time to figure some things out.

I packed my seriously heavy copy of Swann's Way and downloaded John Jeremiah Sullivan's
Pulphead to my Kindle (dear everyone: go read Pulphead now). I didn’t crack the Proust, but was instead pulled toward a battered copy of the Rings of Saturn, found in my one-bookstore-town’s one bookstore. Too much multi-tasking meant I didn't get through either, but Sebald and Sullivan made excellent traveling companions on a trip about figuring stuff out.

I wrote every day until my hand cramped and could tell you 30 stories and give you a few epiphanies. Maybe I’ll get around to putting some of them here, but I'll probably save most of it.

The thing I struggle most with in writing, and why I can’t commit myself to getting serious about it, is that I’m a slave to the first person. I write best about myself, or with myself as narrator, and I’m kind of ashamed that fiction is so hard for me. It’s like I’m constantly punching myself in the head, telling myself to get over myself already. It feels self-important -- what makes my POV so interesting anyway?

But here are a couple of things I figured out: John Jeremiah Sullivan is a great first-person essayist and my roommate was a total weirdo. She was so strange that I devoted pages of my journal to her without realizing I was doing it. And what a great thing that was for me: the privilege that time affords, the ability to pay attention, to notice, to get out of my own head a bit.

"I feel so alive here," was the roommate's constant refrain. She said it at least once a day, half to me, half to herself. And then she would sigh. She sighed a lot: tiny Chinese-American sighs, the repression escaping in bursts through her pretty mouth.

The roommate was dreading her return to the states, and as the date approached, her affirmations of life were followed by the occasional, "I don't want to go back."

I, on the other hand, felt ready. Most of my vacations are followed by a week of crippling depression -- the Hollywood sign becoming a shadowy, ominous thing hanging over my head -- but I had a feeling this time would be different. It was. The trip strengthened my resolve to read more, write more, work on my Spanish, and be more present. I was feeling good about this, motivated.

Apart from being arguably present, I haven't done much of these things since my return.

For example: I want to revise the essay I wrote before I left, and try to submit it somewhere. The problem is that it's so sad, and I'm not. Every time I look at the thing, it's such a buzzkill that I put it back into the metaphorical drawer. Unfortunately (for my productivity), I met someone before I left for Costa Rica, and I’ve been very distracted since my return. He made me black-eyed peas and collard greens on New Year's Day, and we haven't spent much time apart since.

And that's all I'm going to say about that because reading about another person’s new-relationship-euphoria is boring.

Instead, I will tell you about my roommate, who, on our last night in Montezuma, danced for the first time on the back lawn of the town's only bar. The music was terrible, a genre I dubbed "Thump-Thump Latin Grind Fuck," and it creeped from the bar's dance floor onto the grass, infecting our bare feet. We danced in a circle -- me and my far-flung classmates, some of whom I'd grown to love in those two weeks. Back home in my insular Holly-world, I can't imagine our paths ever crossing -- and I'm not talking about the geographical distance that separates us. The bar's DJ insisted on reminding us where we were every minute or so, cutting through the music to shout the Spanish equivalent of "Give it up, Montezumaaaaaaa!"

The tropical mist swirled around our ankles like cauldron smoke while the mosquitoes were held at bay by a force field of Deet, our toxic Costa Rican perfume. The roommate's dancing was a thing to behold: a jerking marionette at war with her puppeteer. Her arms flailing, her head thrown back, she faced the moon defiantly, but with closed eyes. I watched and wondered what she was thinking.

1 comment:

Adriana said...

i want to read your sad essay. i also feel ya on the slave-to-first-person-thing. guess what? your personal stories are GD compelling.