Here’s a little song I wrote inspired by the ideas of Lindy West, Rebecca Solnit, Hannah Dreier, George Orwell, bell hooks, Colin Kaepernick, and New Yorkers who scoop their bagels.
Betsy DeVos is right. Lives have been ruined by allegations of sexual assault. It’s really such a shame for rapists. When a woman is sexually assaulted, she most likely will not come forward, as only an estimated 37% of rape victims are heartless enough to report their rape to the authorities. The remaining 63% rightfully spare their assaulters from the life-ruining consequences of their actions, (like 3 long months in prison for poor Stanford rapist Brock Turner, for example) and swallow their trauma in silence.
As they should, of course. Just ask the National Coalition for Men, to whom DeVos lent a listening ear during a series of meetings about sexual assaults on college campuses this past Thursday. I imagine the group expressed their view that while “false accusations are hard to measure and there is not much available research…the problem is much more common than we are told.” That’s enough evidence for me right there.
So what if FBI data indicates that “the prevalence of false reporting [of rape] is between 2 and 10 percent”? I say statistics shmatistics. More importantly, let’s take a moment of silence for the poor Gustavus Adolphus College rapist who allegedly had to write a 500-word essay as a punishment for rape. What a life-ruiner his accuser turned out to be!
In case the National Coalition for Men didn’t make their points clear enough about an issue that affects women disproportionately (1 in 5 women will be raped in her life as compared to 1 in 71 men) DeVos gathered more information about campus sexual assault from yet another men’s rights group: SAVE. The group is not only opinionated about sexual assault, but also about domestic violence in general. Members likely explained to the Secretary of Education one of their core views that “female initiation of partner violence is the leading reason for the woman becoming a victim of subsequent violence.” I mean, what was she talking back for?
Even though 90% of murders are committed by men, and according to the Surgeon General, “domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women between the ages of fifteen and forty-four, more common than automobile accidents, muggings, and cancer deaths combined,” it’s really OK because, you know, she started it.
I’m just glad we have Candice Jackson as the top enforcer of sexual assault cases at the U.S. Department of Education who famously said that “the accusations — 90 percent of them — fall into the category of ‘we were both drunk.’” That’s right. Ladies, leave the keg-stands to the boys. Your responsibility at an event involving alcohol is not to have fun, but rather to protect yourself from male advances. If you fail, well, I guess you were just too drunk.
So thanks so much, Donald Trump for appropriately appointing a business person to be the Secretary of Education. May the rights of rapists continue to thrive under her tenure.
Blogging is narcissistic, but when are we going to start trusting each other?
I remember when Trayvon Martin was tragically murdered, a flustered CNN reporter at the scene desperately cried out, “When are we going to start trusting each other?” I think about that a lot. I want that to be an attainable goal. It would be nice if I could trust strangers more and be less suspicious of them. Especially men.
But it’s hard. Sometimes when I am jogging and a male is trotting close behind, I wonder if maybe he is not a jogger at all. I spin tales in my head about the possibility that he is a fraud, pretending to care about fitness only so that he can follow me down to where the trail winds and the bushes grow tall. Where he can do something unthinkable, and no one will suspect anything for hours because I never remember to tell someone where I am going, or when I will likely be back.
I also notice that often times when I am jogging and coming up behind a female, she will whip her head around, eyes a bit wider than normal, but will relax and return to her calm inhaling and exhaling when she sees that it is just me. Just a woman, that is.
And this is fair, and it’s normal, and it’s expected. But it’s also sad. This is how my fourth grade teacher explained bias. You make judgments based on your personal experience, or experiences you have heard about. That’s what we’re doing.
Now be me for a second. You’re a female driving alone in the early evening. It’s not completely dark, but streetlights are on. Your headlights are on. You turn the corner onto the street that branches out into your neighborhood, and you see a guy standing by an old, oversized truck, one thumb extended upward, hitchhiker-style. In the other hand, he is holding the metal clamps of jumper cables. Do you stop?
He needs a jump, and when are we going to start trusting each other, so I stop.
“Do you need a jump?” This is a dumb question.
He leans in toward the car and I notice his weird bowl-cut hairstyle. His hair is oddly thin and straight, encircling his head like, well, a bowl. He has freckles and moderately crooked teeth that reveal themselves when he smiles and says, “Yeah, I do if you don’t mind.” I decide he looks like a cartoon hillbilly. If only he had a straw of hay coming out of his mouth, the picture would be complete.
I flip around and our engines are now nose to nose. I am positioned as though parked on the wrong side of the road, his truck large enough to consume my compact car. But it is mine that has the power.Though she be but little, she is fierce.
In an ideal world in which we trust each other, this is really not a big deal. But here and now, I start to wonder, Is this a bad idea?
I pop the hood open for him, then reach into my purse and take out my phone so that it’s ready, in case I need to call someone.
He approaches me, leaning cautiously into my window saying, “Thank you so much, I really appreciate it.” I now notice he is young. Maybe mid-twenties.
“Don’t I need to turn my car off?” I ask.
“No, no, it’s fine,” he says, and as he clamps, he repeats, “Thank you so much!”
In a perfect world, he would not need to be so gracious because I am offering him nothing, really. I am certainly not sacrificing anything. I’m not even getting out of the car.
Suddenly I see sparks shooting out of the clamps. He jumps back. “Oh, maybe you do need to turn the car off,” he says. I can’t tell if this is weird or normal. I know that I personally can never remember the order involved in jumping a car, and maybe he can’t either.
Now he has rearranged the order. My car is off, things are unhooked, then they’re hooked again, then mine is on and he’s turning his key, but still, his truck remains indifferent. Nothing. The hillbilly doesn’t seem too dismayed. He suggests we wait a moment. Again, I can’t tell if this is weird. Wait for what? I wish I knew more about cars.
As we wait and my engine gently rumbles, he leans in again and tells me that he came into town to pick up dinner from a Vietnamese restaurant for himself and his girlfriend. “To make matters worse,” he complains, “she lives out in the country with no cell service. She doesn’t know where I am.” Does that still happen?
I say I know the restaurant. I hear it’s pretty good, but I’ve never been. He pauses. “Would you like to try it tonight? Can I offer you my dinner?” I laugh and say no thank you, and he insists, “Are you sure? Yellow curry?” I consider this way too generous for a jump, especially one that doesn’t even seem to be working. I decline the yellow curry.
The next thing I know, smoke is rising from the cable clamps. “Is it supposed to do that?” I ask, gesturing toward my engine.
He looks startled. “No it’s not!” he says. I shut off my car. He unclips the cables. “It must be these cables then,” he says shrugging, again not looking too concerned.
“I have some,” I tell him without giving myself time to think, and now I get out of my car. As I’m leaning into the trunk, I start to think terrible thoughts. Is this his chance to throw me into my trunk and drive off with me somewhere? Even though he has been completely nice up to this point, I again start to lose trust.
I hear him mumble, “Never seen that before,” and I admit that for some surprisingly terrible sexist reason, I think he means he has never seen a girl with jumper cables. I start to explain, “I donated money to NPR. They gave me an emergency kit as a gift that came with cables.” He looks at me as though he doesn’t understand the words that have just come out of my mouth, and I realize the thing he has never seen before is smoking cables.
Once again, our engines are hooked up (no thanks to me), and still, even with my brand new cables, nothing. He shrugs. We tried. He thanks me again and again, even adding, “You’re such a nice person.” But I’m not, really. If we lived in a world in which people trust each other, it wouldn’t be especially kind to offer someone a jump. (I’m not so great in this world either – in adulthood, I once called an 8th grader a jerk.)
He wraps up my cables nicely. I tell him it’s not necessary. I feel awkward standing over him while he’s squatting, making sure the wires are perfectly lined up in an infinity shape. “So you don’t have a mess in your trunk,” he says. He’s a nice person. And then he adds, “Are you sure there isn’t anything I can offer you? A beer? A joint?” I surprise myself with a loud, unexpected nerd laugh. I decline both offers and tell him that there is a Jiffy Lube right up the street, and wonder if I should offer to drive him, though it is completely in walking distance. In the end, I don’t offer.
And now, we are parting ways. I am just about 50 yards from the small street that leads into my neighborhood, but in spite of everything, I don’t go directly home. I circle the block. When I come back around and see that his truck is there, but it is empty, then and only then do I pull into my neighborhood.
Blogging is narcissistic, but we should be talking about threats of violence at schools.
In Spanish, you can’t talk about something as though it is a fact if there is any doubt about its existence. Not if you want to be grammatically correct anyway. This is because Spanish is a practical language. It possesses an entire linguistic category dedicated to addressing things that may not actually be true: the widely used and irrationally feared subjunctive.
I harbor great respect for the subjunctive. After all, we can’t take for granted something that may not actually be true.
In English, for example, we can say, “I hope everything is OK.” But is just sounds so certain, doesn’t it? And we’re merely expressing a hope. Everything might not be OK. In Spanish, you have to manipulate the verb “to be” so that instead of using es, which corresponds to is in English, we have to use sea, the subjunctive version of “to be.” Therefore, “I hope everything is OK” in Spanish would be, “Espero que todo sea bien.” Because maybe everything is not OK. We can’t be sure.
A couple months ago, I tried to express this concept to my students with the help of Carlos Ponce and a song called, “Busco una mujer,” (“I’m looking for a woman”). I told them that Carlos Ponce has to use the subjunctive throughout this song because maybe he will never find the woman he seeks. Maybe she does not exist. Poor Carlos Ponce.
And just as I could see the room full of fourteen and fifteen-year-olds caring a little bit less, I heard her voice spilling soothingly out of the school’s intercom system. “Attention,” she said, sounding like a yoga teacher announcing a change in pose, “The school is now on lockdown. This is not a drill. Students may not leave the building. Please remain in your classrooms even after the bell.”
Maureen*. I can’t think of a better person to be a school principal. She moves like she is underwater: slow, flowy, peaceful. Maybe she is a mermaid. I wouldn’t be surprised. Her wisdom and quiet control attract respect, but she doesn’t have to say anything to gain it. A sort of calm authority just emanates from her, like wake in the water. No one would dare disrespect Maureen. Yet she is fair and kind, like the time when I accidentally set off the fire alarm and the entire school, pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade, had to evacuate their classrooms and line up on the soccer field. I heard her whispery words through the walky-talky system: “We’re still determining the cause of the alarm,” she said without a trace of panic in her voice. I had to come clean. She paused, looked at me for a moment and said, “That’s fine. We were due for a drill anyway,” and smiled revealing perfect teeth beneath her matte plum lipstick. Why can’t everyone be more like Maureen?
But now she was announcing something serious. A lockdown. What a stupid compound word. Don’t we lock things up, and shouldn’t it therefore be called a lockup? English is not a practical language. But regardless, its meaning is clear. I am sadly experienced with locking classroom doors and hiding under desks thanks to the infamous Columbine shooting that happened when I was a kid.
But Maureen didn’t sound worried. She may as well have been announcing a campus-wide nap. Her way of speaking and her flowy pants and tops make me think of a character from a video my sister and I used to watch as children called, We Sing in Sillyville. It was a movie about a town that had lost all its color. Or maybe just the main character had lost all the color in her typically multi-colored jumpsuit, which I assure you was better off colorless. But there was a character who wore long, tinkling necklaces and loose-fitting silk tops. My sister and I got a kick out of the way she said, “Let’s make it brighter in here,” in a sing-song voice and spun in a circle, the room suddenly illuminating. We used to reenact that scene in the bedroom that we shared, taking turns flicking on the light switch, timing it just right so that the room would light up precisely when one of us twirled in a circle. “Let’s make it brighter in here!” we would say. That’s what Maureen is like. So I didn’t really worry. But then she came on the loud speaker again to repeat her message and to remind us that this was not a drill. That no one was to leave the building under any circumstances.
And this is when you realize that even though in reality you are equally as uninformed and confused as the students, you are now the responsible adult. The students now look to you for instruction. And what do you know?
I had a similar realization just a few months ago when a scrawny, puritanical freshman paused before leaving my class to ask if I thought it was OK for him to eat his pizza that had been in his backpack all day. My first inclination was to say yes. Why not? But then I had to check myself. I mean, I would totally eat a piece of pizza that had been in my backpack all day. I would totally eat anything, really. But suddenly I felt this immense amount of pressure that comes from waking up one morning and playing the role of responsible adult. Because that’s why he was asking me, right? He thinks I know better than he does just by virtue of being a grownup. And suddenly saying yes seemed like a risky response. His health potentially depended on my answer, and I do not know what I’m talking about. Especially when it comes to food. I have no sense of food danger. I’ve eaten chicken hearts on a skewer right off the streets of Peru. My friend and I once shared soup in Ecuador that we’re pretty sure had a deer hoof in it. I once even ate a live shrimp in Japan. I have no radar that indicates whether food should be consumed or not.
(But I would like to take this opportunity to pat myself on the back as I suddenly realize that considering my lack of discretion, I have fared pretty well. I really haven’t experienced any vicious tummy troubles like many of my fellow travelers, with one exception in Hong Kong at a most unfortunate moment after climbing 268 steps to reach the biggest Buddha I’ve ever seen. But even that wasn’t as bad as some stories I’ve heard. Oh right, and that time I had a mystery illness that led to my hospitalization which most certainly came from food, probably ceviche. But other than that, I’ve done pretty well.)
“Does your pizza have meat on it?” I asked him, buying time. I don’t really know if it makes a difference. Someone once told me vegetables expire faster than meat. Is that true? I should look that up.
“No,” he stared at me, waiting for my response.
“Oh, OK then. I think it’s fine.” Which is true. I do think it’s fine. But I don’t really know.
“Wait yes!” He said, rethinking his previous answer. “Sausage!”
Now what? I still think it’s fine. But to be consistent, I should have said, “Oh, in that case, no, don’t eat it.” But I don’t really think it matters if there is meat on it or not. Either way, I would still eat it.
I told the kid that it was probably fine, but that he should get a second opinion.
“OK,” he shrugged, and was off, gigantic backpack tipping him forward a bit as he walked out the door. Good thing teenagers don’t really listen to adults anyway.
And on the day of the lockdown, I once again was supposed to have some kind of answer. As if the students were asking me, “Is it going to be OK?” and my automatic response was, “Yes of course!” But just like the pizza, I didn’t really know.
I tried to continue teaching, but it was understandably challenging to maintain their attention, especially since they already had trouble grasping why someone as dreamy as Carlos Ponce may never find the woman he seeks. They asked if they could look out the window to see what was going on, and I said, “Yes of course,” but then immediately thought, what kind of teacher lets her students stand in plain view in front of a glass window during a lockdown? “OK! Back to our desks now!”
At my school, all of the classrooms come equipped with what our students call a “terrorist stick,” which is basically a doorstopper that you squeeze beneath the door itself and under the knob to prevent someone from forcefully entering your room. The students asked if we could put it to use. I should have thought of that myself. Then they asked if they could barricade the door with a table and chairs. They were half-joking, but some of them seemed really worried. I was willing to let them do whatever made them feel more at ease, and whatever would distract them from the situation. I acted nonchalant, and suggested we continue to learn the subjunctive. They didn’t want to. Neither did I, if I’m honest.
And if I’m completely honest, I was a little nervous, and I am not generally a nervous person. I found myself conjuring up progressively darker and darker thoughts. At first it was just things like, I don’t know what I’m supposed to do if there actually is a dangerous person on campus. And then I would reassure myself and think things like, Just keep the door locked. Maybe get all the kids to stay low to the ground. And then I would start to worry more and think, Maybe we should be quiet. Maybe we should turn off the lights. Maybe I should text someone? And perhaps the worst thought of all, I have no idea what I’m doing. I have no business being responsible in a situation like this.
And then my brain flashed before me the memory of Victoria Leigh Soto, the Newtown, Connecticut hero who threw herself in front of her students to protect them from flying bullets. She and I were born the same year.
The best thing I could think of was to tell the students that we should all just sit in a circle on the floor and share funny stories. Embarrassing moments, I suggested. And most of them complied, and I think it relieved some tension. One of the best things about teenagers is their ability to recover from things. One minute they’re a frustrated whirlwind of emotions, the next minute they’ve moved on, seemingly unaware (or maybe just indifferent) to the collateral damage they have caused.
Fortunately, the lockdown turned out to be the result of a nearby off-campus threat. A car with guns and possibly explosives was detained a few miles away, and as a result of some kind of law about schools within a certain number of miles of a certain kind of threat, we had to lock the school down. The law is reasonable and reassuring, but the fact that there was a man with guns and explosives nearby in such a quiet, family town is distressing. Equally reasonable yet distressing was my students’ instinct and familiarity with locking and barricading the classroom door.
But because the threat did not permeate our campus, the issue was just sort of swept away. The kids got over it almost immediately. Many even boasted about their lack of fear, or complained that they had to pee but were trapped in a classroom for two hours. They made jokes about being lucky that they didn’t have to take a test that day.
For the remainder of the day, I offered my students in each class period the opportunity to talk about what happened that morning. But no one really wanted to say much. It’s hard to talk about something that never materialized. Like Carlos Ponce’s elusive dream-woman, there was lots of speculation, but nothing certain. And an almost-tragedy is not granted the same language we use for actual tragedies.
But I think that’s part of the problem. There must be a special kind of language for talking about things that may not exist, but whose existence is tragically possible. All I can think in regards to the future of our young people in what is meant to be a safe, enriching environment is, espero que todo sea bien.
[*I changed her name because I don’t know the rules about these things, but trust me, her real name is SO PERFECT for her personality.]
Blogging is narcissistic, but so is our obsession with the way we look.
Watching The D.U.F.F. brought me back to when I saw the musical, Grease for the first time. My parents took my sisters and me to see a live production of it in San Diego. I know I was in second grade because I wrote about it in a daily journal that my teacher made us keep at the time. And journal I did on that scratchy, jumbo-lined paper that we give kids to keep their handwriting from straying too much.
As a kid, I was crazy about musicals. My parents used to take us to see them pretty frequently, and I would always envision myself jumping up on stage and singing and dancing alongside the performers like it was no big deal. There I was, stamping my feet along with the cast of Alabama, tap dancing in heels in 42nd Street, zooming through the audience in my purple roller blades in Starlight Express.
Who is this girl? The cast would whisper to one another. She is amazing!
But Grease? It failed to inspire me. My imaginary self stayed seated. The singing and dancing was nice, but the story was just meh. In penmanship that really hasn’t improved much, I commented in my second grade journal that Grease wasn’t all I had hoped it would be. I didn’t like that Sandy had to change herself to be with Johnny. “Maybe this is a different Grease,” I suggested. My dad had built it up so much. He said I would love it.
Had I been a little older, I would have articulated this better. I would have asked what kind of concessions Johnny made to establish a healthy relationship with Sandy. He just acted like a douche all the time and in turn, landed himself this pretty, intelligent girl. Maybe that happens sometimes, but as a kid, I didn’t want to believe that I would ever be that girl.
And similarly, while I found The D.U.F.F. to be moderately entertaining, the storyline failed to inspire me. To be fair, I don’t really think the filmmakers’ goal is to inspire the audience, nor do I pretend to be among the film’s target demographic. But I still think that if I were in second grade, I would write in my journal, “Maybe this is a different D.U.F.F.”
In all fairness, I can say that The D.U.F.F. signals some kind of cultural improvement since our days of “Tell me more, tell me more, like does he have a car?” In the more modern example, the main character accepts herself as she is. No teased hair and slinky leggings for her. That’s nice. But she accepts herself as the “Designated Ugly Fat Friend.” Let me cushion this commentary by saying that I know nothing about movies and am in no position to critique one. It just makes me wonder.
And here is what I’m wondering.
Why did so many of my students, all high schoolers themselves, go see The D.U.F.F.? Why did so many of my students say they could relate to the story? Like most teen movies, The D.U.F.F. is at best a hyperbolic rendering of high school. It is not realistic. And my students know that. So why did they still identify with the characters?
And I am also wondering about how my students truly perceive themselves. Does the fact that so many said they could relate to the main character suggest that they consider themselves to be ugly and fat? How literally should I interpret their connection to the protagonist?
And why is it funny and acceptable to call people ugly and fat?
And of course, who decides what constitutes ugly and fat in the first place? I thought the main character, “The D.U.F.F.” herself, was actually quite pretty and not fat at all.
This feels like a worn out topic, but it also feels important to me because so many of my students consider themselves to fall short of our accepted standards of beauty. I have on more than one occasion wanted to talk to some of the particularly self-critical students about this, but I don’t know where to begin. This is partly because outside of an academic context, I wield no power among my students. I can’t convince them of anything if it doesn’t have to do with things like making sure their adjectives match in gender and number. And sometimes they’re even skeptical of that.
If it’s a mixed group of males and females, why does it take a masculine ending?
Spanish is sexist, I tell them.
I am also at a loss with my students because I admittedly haven’t made peace with the issue myself yet either. And that worries me because I don’t want to believe that the fifteen-year-olds I face each day have another fifteen years at least of self-criticism to look forward to. Maybe they exist in a more open-minded society, one that now features plus-sized models in Sports Illustrated, but it is not completely satisfying for me to represent the Sandy to their D.U.F.F.
I partially feel reassured looking back on my Grease experience. Young people are not idiots. I didn’t watch Grease and approve of Sandy’s wardrobe and personality makeover. However, simply recognizing that something is unrealistic does not mean that it does not make an impression on us.
So can we make a teen movie that’s about something else? Can it have to do with something other than the way people look? If anyone is on the fence about whether or not they are, in fact, the ugly fat friend, movies like The D.U.F.F. just might confirm their doubts.
Blogging is narcissistic, but so are couple selfies.
An acquaintance I knew as a teenager married her high school sweetheart. And not in the never-left-home kind of way. They separated during college, dated other people, did different things, but got back together as adults and got married. I don’t know the exact details, but I know that’s the basic outline of their story. They now work for tech companies in Northern California. A quick perusal of my Facebook homepage provides glimpses into the immaculate windows of their world. Warm, fuzzy, happy. They are both attractive, successful, and in love in that gushy kind of way, like they might talk to one another in baby voices. Oh, and their Facebook #tbt’s are amazing, of course.
I imagine their day-to-day like a sitcom or a romantic comedy. You don’t see the boring parts, like what goes on at work; you just see them walk up the steps of their Victorian-style San Francisco home early in the evening, then enter and clink their keys on the countertop, tired but happy to be with one another. Maybe they argue about gender roles, Why don’t you try making dinner for a change? Or their in-laws, Your mother is coming this weekend?? And then they laugh it off and settle onto giant fluffy pillows, putting bookmarks in their novels, and pecking each other on the lips before going to sleep.
They recently posted a couple selfie before heading out to a holiday party. The guy was wearing a trendy, metro sweater with a tie, and the girl was smiling with a serious red lip, her dark, straight hair perfectly pulled back on top, the rest of it swishing over her shoulders. I imagined they were going to some kind of fancy office party. I imagined them remaining side by side throughout the night, her hand lightly touching his shoulder. He would probably make well-timed jokes, she would probably wear heels and hold a wine glass between her index and middle finger like people do (although I was told you should really just hold the stem of a wineglass so you don’t affect the temperature of the wine). And I was suddenly filled with that sensation many of us get from seeing such photos on Facebook. You know, when you start to ask yourself, “Why doesn’t my life look like that?” I come from the same place as these two. I also have a supportive, stable family. I also went to a good university. Why don’t I get invited to Christmas parties that require me to buy a dress, to bring a gallant husband? Why don’t my social events involve schmoozing over hor d’oeuvres?
A fun time for me very rarely involves heels. (I own one pair made by a brand called Dexflex that are squishy and comfortable, meaning they are less likely to end up dangling from my fingertips as I walk home barefoot. Still, I’ve worn them twice.) I often excuse my heel aversion with the fact that I once had a short boyfriend (for real, he was 5’3) and therefore gave up heels forever. But I was never really into them anyway. I don’t know why the grown-up parties don’t appeal to me. I don’t know what I have against high heels.
And perhaps fittingly, I don’t have a husband, but I do have a younger boyfriend. He doesn’t care much about shoes either. He likes to wear these peasant sandals he got from some Spanish island if he wears shoes at all. (“Can’t you do something about those?” a British coworker once asked me.) I’m pretty sure he doesn’t own a tie. He also doesn’t own deodorant. I think he would feel uncomfortable at a fancy Christmas party, but feels perfectly comfortable sleeping in a car, or sleeping on a beach. In fact, we’ve slept on beaches twice now. The first time was when all the hostels were sold out in a little-known beach town in Peru due to a surfing competition. We had no choice. The second time was in La Costa Brava in Spain after we found ourselves at a hidden bonfire below some steep cliffs where we didn’t really know anyone. It was also like a movie, though not the romantic comedy kind, more like the kind featuring strangers being kind to one another sharing beer and passing joints. The kind where you think, this never happens in real life. But apparently it does. We weren’t well prepared for such festivities. The others brought tents. But that’s OK. We huddled up close to one another under the cloudy beach sky in our sleeping bags and slept a little bit. We watched the sunrise for a few moments until the mosquitoes started to viciously attack us, and self-preservation seemed more important than the beauty of the European sunrise. We cursed and swatted, then scurried up the cliffs in an unattractive scene that would be cut from a movie.
But that’s one of my favorite things about this relationship. The element of surprise, I suppose. Letting things unfold without tampering too much with them. Letting things be. Like my boyfriend’s beard, which he once promised not to trim or shave until he saw me, and we were apart for three months. This was his own idea. I never asked him to prove his dedication through hair-growth, but I also never discouraged it. When we finally saw one another, his beard was thick and wiry. I could grab a fistful of it. He wondered why he was briefly detained during a layover at the Miami airport while making his way from Peru to Spain. He said he thought it was because of a Catalan symbol on his T-shirt that may have been confused for a Communist symbol. Europeans have strange ideas about America. Let’s be real. It was the beard.
And now I imagine us posing in our very own selfie, perfectly timed and touched-up for Facebook, though not too much in order to preserve the impression of spontaneity, of that social media casualness. I woke up like this. And I wonder, could I rock a red lip? Could he pull off a tie? Does he even know how to tie a tie?
Before visiting me in California, he asks if there is anything specific he should bring. “Maybe something nice for the New Year?” I suggest. His face changes like I’ve caught him off guard. He pauses, and then, “I don’t really have anything nice,” he says, completely earnestly. And I feel this inexplicable sense of relief.
Blogging is narcissistic, but so are goats it turns out.
My dull American life is making me have strange dreams. And I like it because the metaphysical me gets to experience surreal adventures, while the physical me must endure the humdrum that comes with living in a small, safe American town.
I am now a high school Spanish teacher, and I like it. I love it actually. I remember a time in which I sealed an intent-to-register check into an envelope to attend Baylor Law School. I remember my brother-in-law, a lawyer, said to me, “You are a creative person. Make sure you do a job that allows you to be creative.” Those are the kind of words that stay with you, like a movie flashback where you hear a faint echo in someone’s advice. Those words were a big influencing factor that pulled me away from law school and propelled me toward Cambodia, then Chile, then travels through South and Central America, and ultimately to a love for the Spanish language and Latin American culture. So rather than becoming a lawyer at the age of 26, I became a Spanish teacher at the age of 29, and I don’t regret a single moment. I don’t regret a single decision, even the really stupid ones that I look back on and think, “Wait, how am I alive right now?” And I get to be creative in my work every day. And teenagers fascinate me, and they say amazing things, and sometimes really offensive things too, but I love it all! Sometimes they’re too cool for me, but other times I catch their attention and I can see it in their eyes, and they ask questions that I never anticipated and it makes me want to put the back of my hand against my forehead and tumble to the ground, damsel-in-distress style. Their sporadic yet intense enthusiasm inspires me. It overwhelms and excites me. These are the things that make you want to be good at your job.
But the town I live in is dull. It used to be a farming community, but is now halfway overtaken by rich Silicon Valley tech families who have built giant, polished homes, all clones of one another, sitting in dry weedy plains or up on top of brown hills. So you get this strange juxtaposition of farmers and software engineers. Tractor meets iPhone.
I don’t really know how to answer the question of what people here do for fun. A middle school student explained to me the other day that she shows goats. That’s actually just what it sounds like. She raises goats, then brings them to these sort of goat-raising competitions where she lines them up and shows them to judges. Part of the competition involves picking the goats up so that they’re standing on their back legs to show off the muscles in their hindquarters. I guess that’s pretty cool. Unique at least. But I don’t know if you can really call examining a goat’s ass fun. Maybe you can. To be fair, I’ve never tried it.
The closest thing this town has to an art scene comes from weekend concerts in the park, in which families sit out on blankets while their small children scream and run around, and cover bands play, well, covers of the kinds of songs you hear at weddings like “Play That Funky Music White Boy.” But at a wedding everyone is generally too drunk to be bothered. Here, the people who attend the concerts in the park don’t appear to be intoxicated, so I don’t really get it.
Yet while I may be a bit bored in this small town, for whatever reason, my subconscious is having a great time. Last night I had a dream that I was offered to be on a reality TV show in which the mafia (a very cliché Italian mafia complete with chubby men in suits) buys you a plane ticket somewhere, and you just go. You don’t get to ask where you’re going; you just get on a plane, land somewhere random, and survive. So in my dream I got on a plane and landed somewhere dusty, noisy and brown. I went to a public bathroom that was rundown and dirty. Then the mafia guys interviewed me and asked if I could tell where I was based on the toilets. I remember proudly saying, “Well, I know I am not in Europe because the bathrooms don’t have running water.” I remember they were impressed, like that’s something that only a seasoned traveler could tell you. I told them that I guessed I was somewhere in South Asia, to which they responded, “No. Wrong.” It turned out I was in India. I remember thinking, “Those dumb mafia guys don’t even know that India is in South Asia.”
Interestingly, I’ve always imagined India to be the kind of place that would trigger my crowd anxiety. I imagine it to be not only overpopulated but also overrun with tourists of the self-proclaimed enlightened variety. That’s the way everyone always describes it anyway. But in my dream, I loved it, even though I was almost struck by a bus full of people. And now I want to go. Now I wish the reality show from my dreams were a real thing and that I could just get on an airplane sponsored by rich mafia men and land somewhere arbitrary and try to survive.
But my real challenge right now is surviving this small town. Part of the problem is that my brain is still in Peru mode. When I see dogs, for example, domestic and harmless, I freeze up and say things like, “Stay. Don’t come near me.” To which they cock their comical heads, wag their tales, and come near me anyway. Nobody has ever kicked them before. They want to be friends. But my natural response is to panic and desperately call out to their owners, “Is your dog friendly?” People here don’t get that. They think I’m a freak. I always want to justify my seemingly irrational fear by saying, “I just came from somewhere with mean stray dogs.” But people here don’t really care about that either. They never ask follow-up questions anyway.
I’m not about to say that I miss the danger of Trujillo, and I certainly don’t miss the rabid stray dogs, or the noise or the pollution. But I miss the excitement. This town is too groomed. It’s the opposite extreme of my previous location. That’s not to say that there is no danger here, it’s just different. In Trujillo I didn’t like running at night because of the very likely possibility of being kidnapped and assaulted. Here I don’t like running at night because of the very likely possibility of being ravaged by a mountain lion. It’s just different.
This post doesn’t have a real ending because I haven’t reached a solution. I am suspended between adventure and the commonplace, searching for a balance.