Wednesday, October 19, 2011


Though a little outdated, I stumbled upon an audio-recording I'd made of this piece today, and, nearly three years later, still find it poignant.


I used to believe I wasn’t naïve.

But falling in love with a 28 year old Republican has somehow proven me wrong.

My father tells me I think the world is kinder than it really is, and that sometimes I need to respect its danger.

My independence tells me that I shouldn’t be afraid of walking down the street my whole life. If something bad is going to happen to me, it won’t happen under my pretense.

But my independence has begun to fail; I used to spend Sunday afternoons on a whimsical jaunt through campus or along the river road, finding whatever I might find in old buildings and in river-muck. No one to keep time, I’d drop schedules and deadlines aside for a while and turn to my shuttered craft of focal length and light. But those other kinds of Sundays were years ago, and Sundays now mean the couch. We sit curled, vegged, and wedged. Between his chest and the furniture's brown, leather skin I pass time without a thought.


The light this morning is shut out by a gray filter; clouds and dotted precipitation slow traffic as I dive through a hole in it toward the Hennepin and Uptown. I don’t usually turn here from 394, but the hunt for breakfast and wi-fi has my stomach pulled in several directions. After a meandering drive through the morning’s dimness, I park both my Corolla and myself at the Longfellow Grill. An americano and a breakfast of oatmeal pancakes and fruit wait while I write here in a pensive calm as rain patters outside the window. As the earth cleanses itself, I’ve found my own moment to breathe.

The question was posed to me yesterday: “Have you found that you’re missing the weekend?” Though missing the weekend doesn’t mean I was so drunk I don’t remember it, I’ve begun to book myself with events that would normally take place during the week. I schedule them in and around my work schedule because the week brings my thesis and midterms and essays, and I feel like my blue papermate pen will never leave my hand.

It follows me to work where I take orders in its script; it’s responsible for filling my calendar; it writes assignments and my to-do lists that rival the length of a library catalog. Yet I cannot seem to separate myself from it. It is my favorite thing, this blue pen. Sometimes, when I write with it, all slows for my thoughts to collect, but usually its ballpoint can’t scribble fast enough. I have a box of 64—which reminds me—I started to write this because I fell in love with a 28-year-old who thinks I’m naïve.

After dating a week, he had wrapped that box of pens in brown paper. “Happy Knowing for a week,” he said, handing me the smallish box as I sat across from him on the couch. As I tore the sturdy wrapping, I realized he’d paid attention and noticed my favorite and only kind of pen and I had sort of melted right there. Well, I would have melted save for the fact that his apartment—a drafty, converted stable house with its original 1911 windows—was particularly cold that November evening. Playing dumb and pretending he hadn’t intentionally turned down the heat, we made a fire in its space and spent the evening as close to its flame as we could get without burning ourselves. The pens watched us from the coffee table.

It was yesterday afternoon we’d fought. Not in a screaming and yelling sense, but a frustrated confusion. He called me naïve for buying a solo ticket to Atlanta that landed at 10:00 PM. I didn’t understand the problem. “You don’t wear a bullet proof vest you know,” he said and furiously ended the call.


With wet eyes and my defenses alert, I demanded a second opinion on the matter.
And after no one else picked up, I called my father—a 54-year-old Republican—to find that he sort of agreed.

He was laughing when he answered, knowing the question’s premise before I could even pose it to him. “You know you’re not supposed to call your father when these things happen,” he chuckled. I defiantly asked him not to get too excited, reporting that he was the only one in the moment who’d answered the phone.

But the truth is I call my father for advice a lot. As the old saying goes, your parents become your friends as you age, and so far I’m fitting the bill like every other twenty-something on the planet. Allowing the other man in my life to do so, my father doesn’t take me on dates to dinner and the theater like he used to when I was in my teens, and our relationships has taken on another kind of form. He’s removed much of the say-so and control he once had… allowing me to figure out my own agenda, and call on him when I need a little support in my endeavors.

Nevertheless, he will always be the person I seek for gentle reassurance, and all the right words when I’m upset or discouraged or in a general disarray with my life’s plan. He speaks softly when he explains matters to me—the words come almost under his breath, as if he’s reserved them only for my ears. But as his own ears age, I’ve found that my own volume requires increase. It's nice, though, to have the option to speak up, to own up, and to explore my own words as they exists in the lives of those who surround me. And so I turn the volume up when ears become deaf or I must match the volume presented to me. But when it comes to my father, I tend to turn my own volume to a bare minimum—catching the bumbles and mutters of his speech. He is not an old man, but as he ages, I realize just how carefully and intently I must place myself within his life and his advice.

But as the volume of my naivety has become lowered, it has not disappeared.

I used to think I wasn’t naïve at all.

But I also used to think I knew everything at 13.
Once I hit 16, of course, then I knew better.
And then, there was 18 and college.

And at 22? I used to think I’d be past all that.

March 8, 2009

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Just a Note...

For the moment I'm blogging with my students on another site. So if you'd like to keep up, click here.


Wednesday, April 27, 2011


Frankly, this piece of writing is long overdue, and to be truthful, it has been sitting in my draft box for quite some time now. However, the time has really come to catch up with you. The difficult part is that I feel we've been out of touch for so long I'm not really sure where to start.

Currently, I am teaching American literature at Colegio Internacional de Guatemala. To say the least, the job has really been an eye-opener in terms of understanding just how profound the divide between the wealthy and poor here really is. Getting blackberry-obsessed sixteen year olds remotely interested in English literature has been a challenge to say the least. Perhaps it's just that they are sixteen, but more often, these sixteen year olds have never been exposed to their own countryside--the one in which infant mortality and respiratory diseases are among the highest in the Central America and the rest of the world, because open cooking fires pollute homes. Certainly, my students have seen the beaches, tourist attractions and grandiose Mayan ruins located in Tikal. (If you're interested, this is the incredible jungle where Episode VI of Star Wars was filmed with the Ewoks). But understanding just how cyclic the poverty in their country remains, or how desperately lacking the access is to healthcare in the highlands, is another concept entirely.

I have had the opportunity to enlighten a few of my 150 students by chaperoning their chance to work as medical translators with HELPS International--the nonprofit I have always been a part of with here. In March, I completed my 14th medical team, the last three of which were accompanied by my students. It is encouraging to sit back and allow them to experience their people in an entirely new way. They return to school enlivened, and determined to create change. They make me hopeful for Guatemala, knowing that they, quite literally, are the future. While adolescents now, they will become the country's stakeholders--those who eventually take over the family business and control the circles of money among the elite.

Really, my school has a variety of families; some kids are picked up in Toyota Corollas with the hub caps missing, others jump into Escalades with their armed body guards following behind in a Volkswagen Jetta. Fortunately, none of the kids at my school are sent there with body guards during the day, but it is not an uncommon practice at many other schools with other families. What most homes and schools do have, however, are small armies of housekeepers, gardeners or janitors. Experiencing the country's lower class serve the elite in friends homes still makes me uncomfortable. I suppose the discomfort comes from either my midwestern work ethic or my inevitable and unavoidable theories of the American dream, but it is different than having a cleaning lady come to help once a week. My boyfriend has a housekeep who came from the area in which their coffee farm is located, and who lives in the house with them. Sabina has her own room, but it is a humble space. She laughs and feels like the grandmother of the family, but having someone tell me "my breakfast was served" while I was living with them for the first month or so was strange. It is a constant reminder of the class divide here. And, of course, I am a de facto member of the upper class because I am both American and in a relationship with someone who comes from a wealthy family.

I can understand, however, just how easy it is to forget the realities of the country's poor. Aside from the dingy, dirty and dangerous half, the portion of Guatemala City in which I live is filled with restaurants and coffee shops and many of the houses mimic the beauty of Spanish architecture. I live in a fully furnished apartment with its own parking space. But the difference between my neighborhood and, say, Uptown Minneapolis is that I use three separate keys to enter my apartment, and its door lies behind two, tall security gates. Oh, and I can't walk to any coffee shops nor would I ever imagine biking or taking the city bus. The only time I walk anywhere is in the morning on my way to the school bus stop around six (that's right, I take the school bus with my students to school). Even then, there isn't a morning that I don't hear more than one car horn or that I am unaware of just who is walking within my vicinity. I don't have a fancy cell phone, nor do I wear jewelry that even appears expensive on my way to school. And this is the nicest part of town.

I love to escape to what I call "my Guatemala"--the highlands. I relate to those in the highlands in a simple, but more human way. There, people are more concerned about tortillas and firewood than the latest deal on iPods and Blackberrys; though frustrating and tragic, the simplicity is also refreshing. These experiences remind me to maintain my humility and remember where I come from. While I am sometimes discouraged by my students apparent lack of interest in my class, I go the highlands to remember that my life isn't so terrible. I don't plant corn by hand. I don't pick coffee for a living. Working as a medical translator makes my effort feel worthwhile and like I am part of a true change.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Morning Stroll.

During my seven minute walk to the school bus stop this morning, I was honked at by a truck-full (and I mean overflowing) of men, a pickup filled with vegetables, three cars spitting black smoke, and two motorcycles. I was "shht"-ed by three other men waiting for the city bus, and solicited for chocolate by a woman with missing teeth.

With the sheer quantity of men in the back of the pickup, that's nearly six men a minute.


Sunday, January 16, 2011


While in Spain over New Years, Daniel and I made enough traveling plans to las us a decade. We also spent time deciding on an object we can look for in every country to which we travel. Something, a commemorative object of sorts, that we can hang in our someday home that we can tell our someday children about...

"That clock is from this beautiful artisan market outside the Royal Palace in Madrid," we might say to them someday.

"...See the green one with the swinging ticker?"
That's from Brazil when we went to watch the World Cup Soccer tournament. Or from Poland or Portugal or wherever it is we end up next.

But amidst the sickeningly-sweet, lovey-dovey planning of our new traveling collection, I've only been able to think one thing:
"Oh. No. We've become a clock collecting couple. We are now officially that cheesy couple that appears so in love it sort of makes everyone else around them a little queasy from all the love juices oozing between the two like goo." And I can't seem to get over the idea.

My God. We've started a clock collection.

A collection to show our grandkids.
A collection to fill a special wall when we have a house.


But even still, amidst all of that, the idea of our clock sort of enlivens me. I can't quite ignore the fact that I am completely embracing the idea that we, as a couple, have become clock collectors over these last weeks, commencing the hunt for a new clock with every new trip we take. That it is absolutely cheesy and I love it.

That we did find an incredible little ticker made of clay and fired in a kiln not unlike my grandmother's. That clocks, in themselves are representative of it all: the timespan of beginnings and endings, of certain eras in our lives, of live and death- of endlessness and the cyclical nature of all things.

While the analytical portion of my literary mind would perhaps like to continue with these muses, the socially conscious side of me knows quite well the threshold that an audience has for such things. So I'll stop there with the clock metaphors, but do brace yourself, because there's more.

"Think of the clock like our relationship. So, if it breaks on our way home, we know now that we're not going to make it. You just have to trust that I've packed it well enough."

That's what Daniel said to me as we entered the airport in Madrid.

I laughed and shook my head; as if we are uncertain of where we're going or wether we'll end up together.

But through this realization that we are now proud owners of a 25€ clock, it was hardly shocking or frightening in an "I don't want to be married anymore"/Eat Pray Love kind of way. If anything, it made me embrace the solidity of my relationship even more than the six months and various weeks we have spent apart from one another.

However, it did, for some reason seem more of a committed gesture than an engagement ring. In today's era, jewelry comes and goes and is significant only in the representation of a marriage or an engagement; and it seems that so many fall apart. A clock collection, however, is something you add to over time, that changes the landscape of your walls. It moves, not only circularly as the collection's ticking hands, but also outward as the collection grows, creeping along the walls of our eventual house. Though we bought the clock in a covered artisan booth in a row of similar shops, near a statue of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, it was somehow intimate and romantic and significant. Though it wasn't a ring, it interestingly felt like we took some kind of unspoken oath, or made some sort of silent promise to each other as our clock was being bound in brown packing tape and bubble wrap. Covered safely in red paper and stored carefully in Danny's computer bag for the flight home, it feels like we made some other kind of journey over the last ten days.

From my drunken crying on New Years Eve, to the patience it took my dear boyfriend to trudge up and down the streets of Bilbao searching for the perfect New Year's getup because the dresses I brought were still packed away somewhere in my suitcase that remained somewhere between the airports of New York, Madrid and Bilbao.

If taking four hours with your (for the moment) vain, crazed girlfriend to go shopping while your friends polish off four bottles of wine and several rounds of beer along the ocean isn't love, then I'm not quite sure what is.

There are some days, like the morning of New Years Eve, where I am positively sure Daniel loves me more than I could possibly love him back, and sometimes, I think he loves me more than I even love myself.

But he does this, because he knows that I'll eventually come to my senses several hours later, and I'll apologize over cappuccinos for the selfishness that usurped what was supposed to be a lofty, sweetly drunken afternoon. We'll join our friends in our new clothes, and drink Calimochos to ring in the new year until the sun comes up around seven o'clock and we ride the metro home in the clouds.

And then, after several days, several drinks and twenty-some hours of travel, we'll go home and hang the clock in the stairwell of my apartment. It's burnt, brown, clay face will clash with the rest of the vintage decor already posted around the place, but it will stand proudly as a swirling reminder of what we believe in and why we believe in one another.

And certainly, the who idea remains a cheesy scheme, but it's really of no importance to us.