Monday, July 6, 2015

All the Pretty Blog Posts

I am reviving Loved To Happen because I miss writing.

I started blogging in high school when Xangas were cool and you could change the background of your page and make music play when people visited ala Myspace. My background was a black and white picture of a dirt road in Jamaica and my song was Ziggy Marley's "Who's Gonna Drive You Home." I was a quasi-emo fourteen. My (poor) mom gently mentioned the overtly melancholy nature of my layout and, embarrassed, I changed it. So began my pattern. I deleted pages, changed usernames, made everything pink and then back to black and white but still, I wrote.

Around fifteen, I started to write in Spanish. Grammatical errors abounded but I liked having something that was mine. In our tiny "everybody knows everything about everyone" world, it gave me something new and unknown. My sisters and friends used Babel Fish (Google Translate's predecesor) to translate my posts. So I stopped doing that too. Why did I want to be different?

I don't remember blogging again until I studied abroad in Argentina. I loved writing about Buenos Aires. I loved finding ways to keep each experience there alive. The tangos, las milongas, the accent and the beautiful vos tense. I fell in love deeply and even though it was my first time, I knew that when you are really in love, you want to share it.

But when I came back home things made less sense.  I wondered, as I graduated during the height of the recession, if the need to articulate my experience automatically grouped me with the entitled selfie-taking glamorons of my generation. I didn't think I was special. So what did I need to say? And why? I stopped writing again.

I moved to Spain and I didn't bring camera. I wondered if I could just take it in and be in the moment. I was anxious and I had insomnia the 9-month span I was a teacher's assistant in La Comunidad de Madrid. I rarely slept more than three hour stretches. I didn't understand what was wrong with me and I was embarrassed. I wanted to write but I didn't. Eventually, I made better sense of myself. I made friends who valued me and helped me see the value in myself and then I started wanting to share again. I started writing. It wasn't all happy but it was genuine.

And then back to the US again where I started to try to carve out my life here for the first time and I didn't want to write about it. I worked in restaurants in Rochester and then moved back up to the border land of Northern New York. I made it my job to apply for jobs, I helped a friend with her wedding and eventually, I moved to New York City. The year and half leading up to my move everyone had told me I would have to move. I resisted it but as soon as I found myself in Brooklyn, I knew they'd been right. Adrenaline kicked in and I hit the ground running. I was ready.  I've been pounding pavement in the concrete jungle ever since but off and on, it occurs to me, I miss writing.

In our fast-paced record, click and share culture, there's a lot of confusion. One of my sisters wisely labeled it "Life envy." I've always hated the idea of people being jealous of me because, as great as my life can be sometimes, it makes me feel fictitious and fraudulent. On the other hand, writing about things like death or sadness, anxiety and disorder, can sometimes feel as if one wants to play the "my pain is more than your pain" game and quite honestly, I don't.

So why start writing again and why, God forbid, blog? Because I miss it. And I still believe that writing for others has the power to connect us, to help both writer and reader process and grow. I still think it's a skill and one I want to use and develop.

I'm not sure how frequently I will write and I'm not entirely sure how focused or genre-specific I will direct LTH but I'm looking forward to sharing openly again. I'm working in New York, I'm growing up, I'm challenging myself to live ethically in a big city, in a big complicated world and here goes -

It loved to happen and it will love to happen again.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Friday- July 1st. Madrid Barajas Airport. 1:06pm

I just went through security after hugging who I would count as my best Spanish friend-

“You really are a good actress!” he joked as I started to tear up.
“Yes! I’m going to go win my Oscar!”

The security man smiled.

I am amazed that I have friends who in nine months will not only meet me for a coffee to say goodbye but will actually offer to go to the airport with me. He carried my backpack and found a cart for my suitcases. He told me not to stress when the airline informed they would charge me fifteen Canadian dollars for every kilo my suitcases weighed over the limit. He helped me consolidate all of my belongings into one suitcase- pull out the boots to put on and put the lighter tennis shoes in- “Muy bien ‘look’ para Canada!”

A good ‘look’ for Canada- suede boots and all my jackets piled on. He weighed my one suitcase until we were sure it was under 25 kilos and took my empty one for me- “No te preocupes.”

He’s the one who told me he’d been my friend months ago and meant it. He consistnently went out of his way for me- to make sure I was okay when I seemed “off” or to be sure something said wasn’t lost in translation. He made an effort to help me intergrate into the school and even came to see me in the play I was in. He’s listened to me complain and put up with my teasing. When I’ve said it’s hard to make Spanish friends I discounted him- I shouldn’t have. He’s a friend for life and not just for here.

Last night I went out to my favorite Argentine resturant with my two girlfriends left in the city- my fellow American companera and my Italian friend. They’ve both been with me since the beginning. Mari gave me a collage of photos of us and Caterina bought me my dinner and gave me a card. The waiter put dulce de leche on my brownie and gave us free chupitas- “solo porque es tu ultima noche” - just because it’s your last night. It was surreal and special and exactly my favorite kind of Madrid night. I don’t know if anyone can understand our jokes- our mess of Spanish, English, Italian and Spanglish but I know that whatever it is we’re speaking I am so happy I know how. I’m so happy I’ve know them.

I didn’t think I’d feel sad to leave Spain. I knew I’d feel worn out as I’ve felt that for weeks now but this feeling is more unexpected. I’ve met some beautiful people on this side of the world. And despite the fact that I have never quite felt like I’ve found my footing in Spain- the people that gave me the most ground to stand on are people I don’t want to let go of.

It must be a typical airport feeling- the anxiety always comes with customs and boarding passes and making everything just in time. The uncertainity of what awaits you and wondering how home has changed. Maybe it has and maybe it hasn’t but you can never really tell becaue inevitably in so many ways- you yourself have changed.

You’ve gone further then you’d imagined going and still as hard as it has been the friend who just left you is proof that you’ve gained something good.

Sunday, June 12, 2011


Last night I walked from my house to the club in Goya. It's more like a milonga then the dance studio in Lavapies. There are no bars along the walls but there are floor-length mirrors. There are no bright florescent lights. The lights are low. It's atmospheric.
I dance my first tango with Luciano- my professors' son. Everything feels so easy. Luciano dances the way most people breath- instinctually. I know to put my knees together, to keep my feet on the floor, to move slowly- but it is coming from a place deep within me. It is becoming my instinct too. We are fluid and it feels beautiful. When we finish Luciano asks his father, Claudio, if he saw me dancing-
"Yes she dances well" - and I think that's enough. Seven euros is worth one tango with Luciano and a compliment from the prof.
In the middle of another tango Luciano looks up at me and asks me if I've gone somewhere else to learn.
"No- have I improved?"
He nods dramatically,"I can do more with you now!"
"Maybe I'm more relaxed?"
"Hmmm! That could be!"
I can't help but remember the question his mother- Caro- had asked me my first month here in Madrid when I'd force myself out of my apartment to go dance: Why are you so timid?
I didn't want there to be but there was an insecurity behind my dancing and a desire for perfection that was laced with anxiety. It was winter and afterwards I'd walk home alone in the cold staring at the streetlights and looking at the closed shops' window displays wondering how to make this city mine and what it would take to move my life along.
But now- it is months later and I know how to walk to this new place from my apartment. It's summertime and there is a pale white moon in the still light blue sky. So much has happened between then and now. I have learned how to live in Madrid. I have learned how to move across more then just dance floors and now tango is what it ought to be- not something to catapult me into life- but an expression of what I love.
Que es esta? - Luciano says as he imitates me clasping my hands together. What is this?
Esta es 'por favor baila conmigo!" - I tell him. This is 'please dance with me!'
The truly great moments are when we are not talking at all- just moving. And I know that it's different this time. I can feel it too. I'm happy.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


I fell a little in love with Pablo Picasso in Malaga. The last time he ever visited his birthplace was at 19 but they still claim him as their own and the museum there is a beautiful collection of his work. I was mesmerized. Some of his works are like Sesame Street cartoons- comical with eyes too big for their faces and their bodies in a jumble- a puzzle for the mind to put together. I can imagine the woman bather tangled up in a wave is me when I was thrown into the pebbles and shells at the Malaga beach by a large wave- my top coming off and then me frantically putting it back in place- long limbs and wide eyes. A mess.
Then some are so gripping and stirring that they disturb the core of one's expectations. Something hurt responded to the daggers in his paintings and I felt like that was beautiful- art is meant to be relatable and I related. I think the anti-conformist and anti-academic nature of his work is so liberating. I love the idea that beauty does not have to be conventional and not what the infamous they declares it to be. Beauty is not always definable. It is like life. It's multifaceted with layers and complications and not all its works are pleasing ascetically but it's still art. It has its own beauty even if you can't discover it at first glance- like the bather. And sometimes you do see it- it is subtle like the romantic woman with the melancholy eyes whose body becomes an outline and fades out into lines- strokes- space. It doesn't look like he had a plan but the end result is stunning.

Someone wrote me asking what the next plan is for me- after the play I was in- and I thought of all the ways I could answer- I could have written that I have another part- a real part this time- it's small but she's a character with a backbone and I want to play her- but that's not a plan- it's just a part. I could have written that I'm here till the end of June with a break most likely in the States and then back here to Madrid again. But that's not a plan either. It's just the progression of my life at the moment. So really, it comes down to that- my life is being lived in the present and all plans are hypothetical, theoretical, slightly crazy and mostly just dreams.
Sometimes I think I'm much like that woman in the wave- tied up in knots- and I have to remind myself that that too is a story. It's okay to be a jumble. It's okay to be a puzzle. And then sometimes I think I'm the melancholy woman who can't quite find her body behind all the lines and that's okay too. Each moment is a picture; a work of art in the story that is life.

If perfection is relative does that make it impossible? Perhaps but impossible in a hopeful way- in a way that there is no joy in pursuing the unobtainable. Go for what brings you joy- God and love and life. And the result can be what it was meant to be without a grid and without carefully met expectations. That is not to say there is no planning and no buying some paint and canvas but it's not always what you think it need be. That's what I was reminded of in the museum in Malaga. And that's why I fell a little in love with Picasso- for telling me everything I feel and putting into a painting for me.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Semana Santa

There are times when I wish I could write in Spanish because I want to write for people who speak Spanish as their first language. I feel certain things and experience them in Spanish and it has a certain poetic quality that English does not hold for me. But even memories made in Spanish still translate themselves to English in my head and when I want to write something personal it only makes sense to do so in my mother tongue. So if I could write this in Spanish and say what I wanted- I would. In fact, if I could always say what I meant when speaking Spanish, well, I would do that too. But, for now, English will have to do.

"Have you written about us yet?" - Lucas asked me (in Spanish).
"What did you write?"
"Ah! You've written so many things you don't remember"

I hadn't yet but here goes- we all met in the hostel in Sevilla on the rooftop terrace when Lucas invited us to sit down and share some drinks. Two Argentine boys and an Italian girl traveling together and then us three girls- British, Italian and North American. The next day we made plans to meet up and went to to the river to drink mate- my first mate since I was in Argentina. I suddenly remembered sitting in Centro Conviven- passing around the mate cup- the fall sun shining through the open windows. Was it really so long ago? And was it so surreal to be in Sevilla- a place I never thought I'd go to- drinking yerba mate with new friends in a new country? From then on it seemed from there on out we were like a family on vacation. We stuck together.

"Can I try some?" I wanted some of Lucas's empanada- I was already so full from the best empanadas I've had in Spain but I wanted to try a caprese one.
"Just take a piece- as if we were friends our whole lives instead of for just two days" he said. That's how easy he is to get along with. I would like to be more like that. I would like the ability to just let people be my friend so easily instead of thinking about the last time I got hurt or worrying about whether I talk too much and if people like me. It must be easier to be that relaxed and it's a more beautiful way to be- welcoming.
Or be more optimistic like Panchi- who seems to have a positive word for everything and a balanced perspective. He seems to have the ability to just take it in and then give it all back. These are the two guys who will dive into the ocean with you and your crazy friend when the weather couldn't be any less beach-like just because you are there.
Then there are the girls, of course, who are so easy to just be with and make me revel slightly in the fact that we can have much-needed girl talk in our second language (with Italian and English thrown in). It's a bit miraculous if I think about it.
I wish I had more time to get to know Silvi better because she has an undeniable and obvious depth combined with a fantastic sense of humor. She is the kind of person you look across the table at and you both know what you are laughing about without saying anything.
The girls I came with who are some of the first people I met here in Madrid and I can really be myself with them. Pepa, my British girl- so sweet and intelligent and Maria- my faithful theater class friend- who looked at me when we are shivering in the sea and said "Who would have thought that when we met in Madrid that we would be here now together?" I don't think I did but at that moment I felt so happy and so grateful.

Meeting people is one of the best possible reasons to travel and I am blessed to have had both the opportunity to travel and really wonderful people to meet. It's other people who allow you to move past yourself and open up your mind to new ways of being and thinking. Sometimes people are the ones that hold up a mirror and make you realize you need to give others the second chances you wish to receive. The guys made me rethink the way I'm not really fair when I'm mean about Argentine men or say that they are too "pesados" because my experiences are and were limited and I'm generalizing too much. I set my standards for the world so high that I forget to let people exceed them, meet them, surprise me. I leave out the positive as if everything good doesn't count but it does. It counts for a lot. I have a lot to learn. It's humbling. And yet, the fact that people have the patience to let me learn along with them in the same way they don't seem to mind bearing with my broken international mess of Spanish means a lot.

Maybe we'll all travel together again or run into each other in some other corner of the world but for now I'm just happy to know that I have these people to add into my memories of this year. Because when I remember Sevilla I'll remember the narrow streets and tiled bars, the flamenco music playing on the radio and when I think of Malaga I'll think of the cold gray sea and clouds but mostly I'll remember the joy in being with this unexpected group and the feeling of new friends.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Through It

"Sometimes you just have to get through it," My tango teacher told me as we sat at a table in the closest thing to a milonga I will ever find in Madrid. That was midway through December and I had had my job as a teacher’s assistant in a bilingual school for two months at that point. I kept turning her words over in my head and now in the new year they continue to return to me only this time they are not like a mantra but a revelation.

She told me about how she had only one true friend here- the kind of friend you can call up crying- the kind who will come over for no other reason then you need someone to be with. “She’s rare,: my maestra said, “It’s hard to make friends here.”
She told me how lonely she had felt but whenever she thought of returning to Buenos Aires she realized she didn't have anything left to go back to. Her husband and son are here in Spain. Her life is here now. And there I was sitting there waiting for someone to ask me to dance and wondering why I couldn't just be happy. I felt badly as the words spilled forth from my mouth as if it was the first time anybody ever talked to me. But it felt like she was the first real live person here who not only cared but immediately understood. Her empathy was an incredible comfort.

My experience here in Spain is less of an experience in the sense that my study abroad semester was. I felt like I had to make the most of it in Argentina and although I felt pressured at times to behave or speak a certain way I accepted it because I understood why I was there. When I got to Madrid I just felt empty. I didn't know why I was here. I can not help but contrast my life here in Madrid with what it was in Buenos Aires.
The first thing I did was find a tango class and scouted out the good Argentine eateries and bakeries. I downloaded El Gotan Project to listen to as I took the metro and walked through Lavapies to tango class. It was almost instinctual- I was trying to make Madrid mean something to me in the only ways I knew how. That had made me feel better once upon a time, where was the magic now when I needed it?

I’m not going to lie- this past year (year and a half?!) was nothing like I thought it would be. It was a hard year for me- full of learning new lessons and swallowing the fact that not everything always goes as planned. Looking back I can see that it it was hard in a good way. I have and am growing. But I’ll admit it was enough to give my cynical side solid footing. In the midst of it all I lost faith - not in everything- but enough to be weary and apprehensive. If you have been hurt you want to protect yourself. And moving past that is a matter of healing. But you can move past it. You can get through. Sometimes, most times, you have to.
And a little bit of your faith comes back with every thoughtful action you receive making you wish to be thoughtful in return. Being picked up from the airport by people who knew you when you were little. Being invited to see castles and being lent a phone because you need one and someone happens to have an extra. Going for tapas with your hostel mate and having him pay telling you he’s happy for the company- your company. You start to carve out a life. You meet people, you make friends. Slowly but surely, your faith is increased. Mustard seeds, perhaps, but nonetheless, plantable.

My teacher is right. At first, when she said that - I envisioned getting on a plane and going back to the dark cold North Country promising this time to really make a start but I knew that I had to see my time here through. Now I wonder if that’s what Madrid has been for me- a start. A gentle introduction to the world- hello, you’re not studying abroad, you’re living your life. Let’s get through the start and then you can enjoy the beautiful middle of it all. I am always dreaming but now I am beginning to realize reality has a very deep sweetness- living moment to moment has a joy of its own.

I woke up this past weekend and the last with somewhere to go- somewhere I really wanted to be and I’ve woken up lately with more then just my coffee to get me out of bed. Somehow so mercifully and so unbelievably beautifully I have a small collection of people in my life here who... care. I had felt as if that were impossible here. I felt like Madrid was always going to be all quiet and all alone. But it’s not.

Now I feel like this was what was supposed to happen all along. It is such a gracious feeling.

I’ve gotten through.

Saturday, September 11, 2010


"Do you remember were you were?"
My mind slowed down. The mood in the fast-paced kitchen shifted and I stood there trying to formulate a response. I was at the New York School of Urban Ministry and we had been carving turkeys and putting together Thanksgiving dinners "to-go" for the city's homeless. The chef was loud and had a contagious sense of energy and humor. His serious question caught me off-guard.
"He wants to know where you were on 9/11" one of the boys from my group tried to help me.
September 11th, 2001. I was aware we could not compare experiences because his was of an intensity that I could hardly begin to comprehend.
"I was home. Upstate." I told him. More specifically I was thirteen and I was here in Northern New York. Vaguely if aware of the World Trade Center and its significance. I had never been to New York City. But I remember sitting in the living room glued to the TV. My Mom had been making bread. We ate it for lunch- still in front of the TV.
"Do we have to do school today?" I don't remember her answering me. We just sat there- my mother and my siblings and I all day in front of the TV. New words filled my head: Al-Queda, terrorism, hijack. Everything was burning and the images were un-erasable. Fear exploded into our consciousness and like a little girl I was scared at night again. There was a world that acted in ways I was unaware were possible. If that was true, then monsters could still be in the closet; waiting.
I do not know if we live in a heightened reality now because the first time I ever got on a plane was in a post- 9/11 world. My exposure as a young adult to the world began shortly after this new world came into being. Fast forward nine years and the tension is ever present. The media is full of discussion on whether or not an Islamic Center should be built two blocks away from ground-zero and a little-known preacher is suddenly having conversations with our President Obama on whether or not he will burn the sacred text of a religion I have to question his understanding of. Fear is mixed with remembrance. Ignorance and extremes are folded into true understanding. What will we chose? How will we proceed? We can't continue burning...
I am not suggesting I hold the keys to world peace, to healing or understanding. The situations we face as a nation are multi-faceted and layered in complications. I understand that terrorism must be taken seriously. But I have to admit that there is something that makes my heart ache when September comes and it seems we're fixated on anti-Muslim demonstrations and fundamentalism. I find the idea of burning the Qur'an profoundly disturbing.
I want to remember and honor those whose lives were taken. I want their families to know that there are so many whose hearts go out to them. I want to say I remember.
His face was so sad. So serious. A New York City native, he knew people who had died that day. He remembered every detail and here he was making turkey dinners for the homeless. I did not know this man well but I can assume he was aware that he was serving a population that represented several different races and ethnicity and people of all religions. I also have reason to believe that his faith informed his actions. He somehow took his pain and confusion and acted thoughtfully. I can only hope that as my life continues I do the same. He didn't forget. He remembered and I am left with the question:
Could it be that it's not if we remember or not (because we will) but how?

Saturday, August 28, 2010


Buenos Aires, Argentina 2009

Deciding to come to Buenos Aires was not an easy decision for me. So much seemed to rest upon this experience- whichever country I chose was going to influence my Spanish more than any other place yet. After I saw Italy I thought I would choose Spain. Europe was so beautiful and inviting. It was like being dropped in a post card. After two summers in the Dominican Republic and three months at language school in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, it seemed to be a logical choice.

But I found myself drawn back to Mexico. I went to Tijuana twice with my college on two incredible trips. For a long time I had hoped I could find some way of returning. My freshman year at Gordon, Professor Lutz set up a Spanish table once a week in Lane. Anyone who wanted to practice was welcome but they might have been a bit discouraged as I used it as a chance to argue over the fact that Spanish majors aren’t actually allowed to chose Mexico as a study abroad location. I remember asking her if the department would let me study in Tijuana. I like to think she enjoyed these interactions and my rather theatrical pleas. I still knew I had to go to Latin America even if it was not Mexico and began sifting through programs, cities and countries. I tried to weigh my motives and reasons for going to Latin America. It began to feel trickier when I began to lean towards the Paris of the South, Buenos Aires.

As my time here begins to fill in and form into an actual experience I am not completely sure why I chose Buenos Aires. Sociology played a role, peoples’ recommendations, opportunities, the chance to do something different, to stretch myself, etc. I do not tell many people this but I actually considered dropping my Spanish major and heading of to South Africa. However, when I really thought about it I wanted to keep chasing this dream of fluency. The most concrete reason, however, is fulfilling the remaining quota of Spanish credits. I would like to think it to be more profound than that but there it is in all of its honesty.

I do know I am being stretched, first and foremost linguistically. Mexican Spanish continues to be the easiest for me to understand. When Mexican telenovelas are on television here it’s a refreshing break from the Buenos Aires accent. I love Mexican accents. Once I was told that I sounded “like we do” by a Mexican. I was on top of the world. Last year when I was in Guatemala on a sociology seminar with Gordon, I made friends with our driver, Oliver. We bonded over our shared love for Latin music. He’d always look back at me in the rearview mirror to see if I knew who the artist was when a new song came on over the van’s speakers. When he told me I spoke like I was from northern Mexico I was giddy with happiness at the idea. He may have been lying or trying to please me because it’s obvious I do not speak that way anymore. Not even close.

Mostly people tell me they can’t identify where I am from, that is, if they cannot note right away that I am American. They tell me my accent is a combination. For anyone who has never learned a second language, imagine combining four accents- a New York accent with an Alabaman accent, and then mix in a few words that only the British use with the pronunciation of a Canadian. I imagine I sound that bizarre at times. I say “yo” like a Dominican and then throw in “ahorita” like a Mexican all while trying to make the “sh” sound when I make the “ll” sound like the Argentines then I slip up and lisp like a Spaniard (blame it on all those Almodóvar films). I am also sure this is amusing but one grows tired of not just talking but striving constantly. I quickly get irritated with patronizing smiles and try to resist speaking in English “just because.” One of the people who strongly recommended Buenos Aires to me told me not to be deterred by the accent. “Your accent will always be a mix” he said. I knew that was true but I did not want it to be. My host mom, Claudia, says she likes the way I talk. She added that the most important thing is that they understand me. So is it just vanity then that I want a pure accent- fully one country or the other?

I had this idea that I could develop into a fully bilingual human being with two complete identities in both English and Spanish. When I was seventeen this was incredibly much more plausible. Now, I’m twenty-one and not to be all fatalistic, but I am getting older. It is not nearly as easy as it once looked to my big blue eyes.

I am desperate to move beyond the typical and comfortable topics like the weather (yes, New York is cold and no, I do not like it) and music (no, I am not a huge Charly Garcia fan and yes, I like reggaeton). But I want to sound intelligent when I talk about politics or someone asks me to explain what we are studying in my Latin American social thought class. I do not want to talk in haltering sentences or look to someone else in search of the word I need to make sense.
My identity is more English than Spanish. I knew this but adjusting to the weight of this statement takes something out of me. I’m running up against a wall. There are things that I cannot ever change about myself. Even if I looked Argentine I will never sound Argentine. I am a native English speaker. I am not Hispanic by any means. Even if my cultural understanding was superb and my people skills were excellent, I am American. When I put my pen to the page or my hands to the worn out keys of my computer my instincts are in English. When I aim to understand a thought or an intellectual idea my perspective is American. My political understanding, my social norms, my spirituality, and my way of being are inherently American.

I do not know that I will ever feel like I fully blend into this country or even this continent. Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe I am being taught a deeper empathy than I have yet to know. You cannot know the difficulty of moving from one place to another until you do it.I am beginning to know deeper parts of my being- some of them beautiful to me and some of them more painful to assess. I have come to no concrete conclusions but that I still want to be here. That is the most important at the moment. I would like to be here and have answers to all of my doubts. I am not yet halfway through my time here so I daresay I will at least have a few erased. Perhaps the other questions and doubts will stay with me- there to remind me that I am only human, and that purpose does not always require perfection.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A Distant Dream Revisited

"Maybe I'll just move back to Buenos Aires" I told my Dad last night as we discussed my various life options.
"No!" he said, "It's too far." It does feel far- too far. Far enough that if I could I'd catch a flight to my Southern Paris just to make sure that it's still there. Last night while in bed I thought about this piece I wrote in January. It still feels appropriate and I figured I'd share it here. Besos!

I remember my second to last night in Buenos Aires and it's like watching a film play across the inner workings of my mind.The glow of the kitchen is pleasant. There are four of us at the kitchen table- my Buenos Aires self in my brown harem pants and tee, Eduardo and Claudia, of course, and one of their American friends- an intense woman with a tiny knowledge of Spanish and a much larger one of tango. She makes me feel as though I am cheating when I say something in English. It's not like I never speak English with my friends or on Skype but I never speak it in an audible voice in the kitchen- at least not in the presence of my Argentine padres. To speak it now feels strange. I'm self-conscious. The words come too easy- the accent is my accent. My vowels are long and flat with a Canadian lilt. I switch back to Spanish quickly- it is suddenly my security blanket. It covers my tongue like a thick caramel and wraps around it safely. The visitor doesn't seem to mind and we all try and make her speak Spanish as we cut through our lomo with steak knives and hefty appetites.
Claudia remarks on how my Spanish has started to retain a decidedly Argentine influence. I agree and we both mimic the most Buenos Aires-esque attitude possible. Eduardo and Claudia laugh at whatever it is I say in my vain attempt at being clever in Spanish.We continue talking of Buenos Aires and reviewing what I have learned together. Claudia thoughtfully assesses my progress like a mother viewing her young child's report card approvingly. She is proud of the way I've learned to navigate the subte and buses elbowing my way through like a true Porteña and how I have begun to tango with a slight but certain sort of confidence. She notes how I've completed my courses with satisfactory grades - a true accomplishment considering I barely knew a thing about Argentine history five months previous."You know so much now", she says. She has tears in her eyes.
The movie pauses. I don't remember what I said. I must have said that I'd never forget. I must have meant it too. Eduardo cuts into my post Buenos Aires self's reflection.
"Soon it will all feel like a distant dream," he says with the wise authority of one who knows. He always challenges my most naive and idealistic leanings in politics, religion and life.
"No!" I say as if saying the word with effort will prevent the inevitable from happening.
Deep down I know he is right. It's exhausting to maintain a forced nostalgia no matter how well loved the people and place are. I knew it was going to feel distant because Buenos Aires is so far away but I never wanted it to feel like a dream that is cloudy and blurred- as if it never happened.Now the experience is not a reality but a film that plays out various scenes over once a while in my crowded out head. It's no longer my present but something finished and fading.
Another scene comes- my last day in the Paris of the South. I'm still wearing those harem pants as I stand over the kitchen table arranging my laptop and camera in my backpack and crying. I can’t control myself. It was strange because I knew all too well that I'd sit contentedly at kitchen table in the family farm house in the North Country within 24 hours. That is not to say that I felt no sorrow in the transition but enough of me was relieved that the move was softened considerably. I thought it might- I took Edu seriously. But the weeks following many of my other trips were often filled with acute longing so I couldn't help but wonder if that would happen this time. When I look back on those other trips now- my memories are more or less snapshots and no longer hold the fluidity of film- and see the teen angst that much of the reorientation home produced I'm embarrassed and think it all a bit ridiculous.
But I really valued the friendships I made and I hated that tearing feeling that came with leaving them. They could no longer be organic once forced to continue through email and the occasional visit. Maybe when you come from a place like I do you don't take such things for granted- it's a fact there are few people here. Our population is one of villages- it is rural and frontier. Either way, the leaving and the mourning that was sure to follow each of my adventures made me feel at the very least human. It was good to care so much and love and miss with so much passion. Now I just feel stagnant. I do not have much feeling at all - perhaps it's because I'm drained from last semester and the work that remains to finish up my college education. I am not unhappy nor happy to be here or to be there. I just am...I cried on occasion once back from Argentina. I cried quietly and seriously but always alone and always at night. I had learned how to be nocturnal under the equator. And then I went back to Gordon. I cried there too. But that was it. It was like when it happened at the kitchen table in Caballitos. I couldn't control it. I couldn't stop it. I let it out and that was that. I didn't sit and yearn for things I couldn't have. I just was...But not even that- it's not like my existence is steady or settled. It's not like I've stopped tossing around questions and pursuing solace in my memories. But I am apprehensive.
Shouldn't I know where I am already?
Or who I am?
I promised Claudia to make a half-decent attempt at continuing tango. I so honestly wanted to and yet as I drive out across snow covered back roads and look out onto collapsing barns and over-grown hay fields my mind starts to wondering about other things in this world. I don't know that dance could heal it even if I could find a place to continue learning how to.
Maybe when I wish to dance a sad tango I could just buy some malbec wine and put a tango on my itunes or listen to my Bajofondo station on Pandora radio in my bedroom just like I did those nights I stayed in back in Caballitos. I wouldn't tango but I'd write and write as the hours slipped by.
Truth is, I don't know that I even feel up to that. I still have that paper to finish. I still have that application to fill out. I have to be up for work. I need to stop and think. Maybe I don't need to miss Buenos Aires so desperately and play it all over in my mind like a favorite movie one watches again and again. It might be better to keep moving. It'd be nice to know that it all matters and not have to trust that it does.
But the trusting part comes more easily now- maybe that's what is softening my many transitions into adulthood and new places. Maybe I'm not really apathetic as much as I am ready. Ready to be filled. Ready to be directed. Ready to be still. Maybe I can have both movement and stillness and both reflection and direction.Maybe I don't have to be scared that I don't feel more and that I don't know more and that I am not more. I suppose it is when we are empty that we have the opportunity to be filled. Maybe now is my chance to be filled with what really matters. It's when we are transparent and translucent that we can either fade into oblivion or let light shine through. That is something real to rest upon.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Massimo Cruciani: Going to photograph the photographer’s paintings

Just towards the original gate of the medieval city of Assisi is a small studio that overlooks that overlooks the green Umbrian hills below. It’s raining and cloudy out but there is a warm glow coming from the Massimo Cruciani’s gallery. I am accompanying Elise D. on an interview as photographer. As soon as I enter I am taken with a large painting of an Italian poppy field. The red is instantly striking but as I look closer I am equally struck by the way the drops of gold in the center of the poppies glow and the way that the dark azure sky swirls onward towards its glass horizon.
As we wait for Massimo, Elise and I wander around the gallery. There are several other works of the countryside, villages with houses stacked up on each other and sunflowers. There are also several booklets with photos of his collections that include paintings of cities such as Hong Kong and San Diego. Among these books I notice a book of photography, The Long Road East, in both Italian and English with the face of a serious little boy on the cover.
His daughter, who works in the gallery, informs us that the book is a collection of the photos Massimo took on a road trip he took from Turkey to India when he was 22. The black and white photos portray a strange sort of journey. It’s the sixties and the two young men in the photographs are skinny with shaggy hair cuts. There are images of their Volkswagen beetle and a few of them posing proudly or making silly faces. There are both urban and rural landscapes but what stands out are the portraits- elderly men and women, women holding their babies, children playing, men working. I shut the book with the impression that its author is trying to say something through his photography that is both joyful and serious. It is a statement on life.
Massimo, like his painting of the poppies, is larger than life. He is tall and thin and wears a knit cap that covers his salt and pepper curls. He is a youthful sixtyish. He waltzes over to us and suggests that we go to the café next door for the interview as he is famished. He insists that we order, at the very least, something to drink and worries that we’re going hungry though we assure him we’ve just had a large lunch.
Elise begins her questions and I move around shooting some video footage and snapping photos. When he moves towards the camera waving with a smile and asking which way he should look I can’t help but laugh. The interview resumes when I tell him not to worry about it and to try to ignore the camera.
Massimo was born in Rome where he started out as a set photographer. Although we’ve met with him to talk about his glass paintings, he admits that his true love is photography. He worked as a set photographer and on assignment for magazines and newspapers in Rome during his early twenties. When his equipment was stolen at the age of 28, another artist offered to help him out by teaching him how to paint. By combining different techniques of the artists he worked with, he began to paint directly onto glass with acrylic paint and found his own style. He moved to Assisi in 1981 and enjoys the culture as well as its low-key atmosphere. He seems clueless in regards to his success as a painter perhaps because he never intended to be one. The way he tells it, it seems one day someone just happened to buy several paintings and then his style just happened to catch on. Before he knew it, he was shaking hands with the pope, heading to exhibitions all over the world and, of course, selling paintings.
When Elise finishes up her questions and closes the interview, Massimo takes this as his cue to interview us in turn and we talk about where we are from, what we are studying and discovering in Assisi. But I am anxious to ask him about his photography. He does not take many pictures these days, “Yeah but stupid photos you know like of my kids, my lovers, myself. I’m not too much into it anymore.”
He published The Long Road East a few years ago and is happy that the trip he set out on as a young man is now a beautiful collection of his early work. Although Massimo is honest about preferring photography over painting, he is remarkably positive about the direction his life took and rightly so. He appears much more the happy-go-lucky type then tortured artist. He does, however, confess he misses his dark room and seems a bit mournful regarding today’s digital revolution and the disappearance of film. This turns the conversation towards the instantaneous nature of today’s newer technology and I find myself explaining the way blogs work to Massimo who is wondering if he should add one to his website.
“I’d rather have a publisher. I’d rather write a book” I say as we explain how difficult it is to garner enough interest in a blog in order to make a living off it.
“That is some crazy idea. Start putting yourself naked or something like that” he remarks with a twinkle in his eye.
“Something shocking?” I ask as I wonder if he’s actually making a serious suggestion.
“No” he says, “But something that makes people say, ‘Oh let’s go there.”
His cell goes off and we continue talking for a while. Once finished, Massimo pays for his sandwich and our drinks (I offer to pay for mine but he shrugs it off, “It’s only two euros”) and we head back into the gallery to take a few photos of him with his paintings. He smiles mischievously, “So, should I take off my clothes?”
Thankfully, Massimo has already garnered enough interest in his artistry without having to resort to such blatant exhibitionism. No doubt his generous spirit has helped him along the way. He suggests Elise and I each pick out a print of his paintings. When I say I can not decide between the village scene or poppy field he tells me he’ll give me both of them and Elise should pick two as well. He tells us we’re both smart girls so one day we will be able to afford one of his glass paintings.
“Come back and say goodbye before you leave Assisi” he tells us as we head out onto the stone street. I promise I will. I already know what book I am bringing home as a souvenir.

UPDATE: I wrote this while still in Assisi. When I returned to buy the book, Massimo sold it to me for less than half-price and I couldn't be happier with my souvenir. In fact, he gave all of us in the class wonderful deals on the book and prints. Grazie mille Massimo! It was lovely to meet you!
Elise's much more official and well-written article on the artist is up on the IJSA blog. It's under "Assisi" and is called "Artist's Town." Read it!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Everything Is Beautiful

Before I came here I watched a mini-series that aired here in Italy a few years ago, The Best of Youth. It chronicles the lives of two brothers starting from their early twenties in the seventies to today. At one point, one of the brothers, Nicola writes his sister from a trip abroad, “Everything is beautiful.” As time goes on his radical declaration is tested. It may sound strange but I identified so strongly with each of the characters that as I watched I felt as if I were given a glimpse into my own future. I related on an intimate level with the story portrayed on screen.
The political, social and spiritual transformations felt so familiar. The natural progression of relationships with their pain and dysfunction simultaneously wrapped up with joy and love is universal.

When Nicola is a bit older, his sister asks him if he still believes in the words he wrote to her as young man. He confesses that he’s not sure. Some things are beautiful but too many are terrible. I confess I too have felt conflicted this week. One minute I am in love with the small moments and then I’m thrown off by the difficult ones.

Beautiful is coming back from Orvieto and falling asleep to the sounds of a party in the patio below me. I dangerously craned my neck out to try and see but a canopy of vines prevented me from truly spying. I loved those sounds- the way the voices carried on the night wind and how when they couldn’t decide on what to play they would skip through the tracks. When I woke up late the next day I eventually wandered to the window again. I looked out onto the Umbrian countryside perfectly lighted with the midday sun. This time I could hear someone playing the accordion. It was so unexpectedly cinematic and lovely.

Terrible is the nauseous feeling I have as I try to write an article about a trial that disturbs me beyond belief. It is exhausting to feel close to something so horrific because it becomes familiar. You put yourself in the place of someone else and play out the scenario in your head wondering how you would react if you were in their shoes over and over again. It is painful. I see my own failure through the failure of others.

I think, however, beauty is most accurately represented in grace. I walked into a store with our instructor to speak with the owner about a potential interview she said something but I didn’t understand. A man called out the translation, “She says you’re beautiful!”
I think I managed to say ‘Grazie’ and I felt my heart swell up with gratefulness. By saying something that she didn’t have to say she allowed me a moment of beauty. She did not say that I was ascetically pleasing or attractive or that I was good, nice or right. Somehow that allowed me to revel in it.

How can we all be so awful and then so wonderful?
Everyday I find myself content and discontent. I am faced with the unexpected reconciliation and all I can say is that I have so much left to learn. I wonder which character would be me right now. I’m not halfway yet. This is just the beginning but by the end of the series, Nicola can say it again.Everything is beautiful. I am not sure that I can say it but I think I can hear it- just like I could hear the party down below and know it was there without seeing it. I know that someone sees beauty in me even if I do not.
I know that life is beautiful. Everything is.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


Today in the Basilica when Brother Stephan was showing us the ancient texts I was most thrilled when I understood what he said and managed to ask a question. As impressed as I was with the texts- the gold plating, their age and history- I could not help but wonder what made Brother Stephan chose to pursue a religious life. He was just as interesting to me because he represented the idea of continuing history. Those books so full of facts and clues about the past somehow brought him along on a present day journey that crossed our own prospective paths.
The same thing happened when led up to the Hall of Prayer by Brother Silvestro. He led us up a flight of staris and out onto a long balcony that wrapped around the basilica. It was surrounded by a low wall that provided us with an expansive view of Assisi, the surrounding hillside and valley below.
I was initially struck by the beauty but was that much more conscious of it when Brother Silvestro told us to turn off our cameras and take it in. He seemed concerned by our almost instantaneous picture-taking. I wondered if our eagerness to take pictures appeared to be a lack of reverence. He smiled and was gentle. He wasn’t pious in the way that one stereotypically might associate with the obviously religious.
What is important about places like the Hall of Prayer is not something that can be captured in a photo such as its architecture and structure but rather the purpose and intent behind it. The arches are meant to symbolize hands in the shape one makes while praying. As one prays they are also covered in prayer. This was the place Brother Silvestro chose to show us. It is not open to the public. Because of this I had to assume that this unique place meant something to him.
He also led us to the oldest part of the Basilica where the monks of St. Francis’s order lived. He answered my questions and seemed to appreciate my attempts to use Italian and didn’t mind deciphering my Spanish- my first actual conversation with an Italian on this trip!
I wonder what sparked his desire to commit himself as a friar. I loved the way his face expressed so much of what he must have been saying in the Italian I didn’t understand. And even so, he was saying something by choosing to show us what he did, by his generosity and obvious delight in our awe. I can’t help but wonder if living a life of devoted connection to God, he was enabled to connect with us.
This is what impresses me about Assisi- not its stoic walls or ornate cathedrals nor its ability to attract tourists to snap away at them but the fact that people like Saint Francis and Saint Clare established it as a community, an order, of those who wish to live a life like Christ. It remains a remarkable testament to something not found in well-worn paths but in halls of prayer.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Senior Reflection

I had the privledge to share this at Gordon's Senior Breakfast and thought it fitting for my first post:

I came to Gordon with little thought or planning. I packed in a day and felt sorry saying goodbye to my home as anxious though I may have been to leave it during high school. It wasn’t my first time away but Gordon proved challenging in many new ways. I’ve jokingly compared it to putting shoes on a girl who went barefoot her entire life. Perhaps the metaphor is a bit extreme to describe my experience as a homeschooler entering the world of college. I had taken advantage of community college and traveled but I had never moved away ideologically or mentally. I was suddenly in a world where everything was defined in ways foreign to me.

I wrote papers with no thesis statements because I didn’t know what I wanted to say. Thankfully, I was put in the freshman seminar, Christianity, Character and Culture with Elaine Phillips who has the not-entirely unique ability to make a two credit course feel like six. I can’t complain however, because without her I wouldn’t have half the writing skills I have today.
And yet, I became overwhelmed quickly. I didn’t know if I belonged in the pursuit of strictly academic understanding. Dr. Hildebrandt unknowingly convinced me that Gordon was the school for me by patiently answering all of my questions and listening to my doubts after several Old Testament classes. It was the first time in my life that I felt that ideas and misgivings I had weren’t crazy. Maybe I had something worthwhile to say and I knew I had a lot left to learn.
So I stayed and found the next four years to be some of the most difficult and yet most rewarding of my life. I immersed myself in Spanish and became obsessed with sociology with many thanks to the departments of both disciplines and, of course, took full advantage of my liberal arts education with thanks to the entire Gordon faculty and staff.
I interned at Gordon in Lynn and found five millions reasons to smile every Tuesday and Thursday while tutoring. Lynn also became my home for three semesters and gave me the opportunity to have an urban experience while still attending Gordon. I hiked the mountains of Guatemala on a two-week sociology seminar with Kirk McClelland and Dr. Dan Johnson. I learned what it really takes to brew a beautiful cup of coffee but I also learned that we are all connected in ways I will never fully comprehend. My actions affect my brother- a thought that first terrified me and then liberated me. Class of 2010- think of what we can do if we keep this in mind as we head out into our futures!
I had the privilege to visit Tijuana, Mexico twice on Mexico Outreach with leaders like Isaiahs Rivera and Cheryl Deluca where I was given the gift of seeing what true faith looks like. All of these trips tied my Spanish and sociology majors together perfectly and gave me a chance to connect what I was learning in the classroom with the real world. I realized there were reasons that I was in college that had less to do with getting high grades than seeing the world with honest eyes. Many times I found my heart a bit broken and my mind much more confused than it wished to be. Life seemed to contradict itself again and again. My Gordon experience wasn’t confined to the Wenham campus. It stretched past seas and crossed boundaries I didn’t know existed. It was so much to take it!
One moment I was convinced of my beliefs and feeling centered. Then another sociology discussion with my friends would send me spinning. I tore down and reconstructed what I thought I had already learned again and again. But it’s this exercise that I think has taught me the most. I am not sure we every fully learn anything. The Bible tells us to be like sheep, which as Timothy Keller points out quite correctly, is slightly unflattering. I’m a country girl. I know this. Sheep are stupid. Timothy Keller says we all want to be like dogs- we want to know where we are running. We don’t want to have to trust. But what I like is that the Bible also tells us to be like children. This is something I have found disconcerting at more than one point in my life. I was afraid this meant dumbly accepting rules and guidelines. But having worked with children for a few summers now and, of course, tutoring, I realize that children are the most questioning and curious beings one could ever know. And yet, at the end of the day, they still trust their parents. They aren’t afraid to go and get a little scraped up as they learn what’s in the world around them but there is an infallible and intrinsic trust built into them.

It is a beautiful thing to graduate and admit that you have no clue what’s next. It is amazing to walk with the knowledge that you are ignorant and that you will always have everything left to learn. As frustrated as I was when I realized I could not magically “arrive” at full and complete understanding, now I see this as one of life’s beautiful mysteries. I can honestly say I believe that God made us this way.

So please follow peers and classmates- follow graduates of 2010- walk in humility and don’t forget to be childlike and don’t forget what you have yet to learn.