“Bah, humbug” no, that’s too strong
‘Cause it is my favorite holiday
But all this year’s been a busy blur
Don’t think I have the energy
To add to my already mad rush
Just ’cause it’s ’tis the season
The perfect gift for me would be
Completions and connections left from
So deck those halls, trim those trees
Raise up cup’s of Christmas cheer
I just need to catch my breath
Christmas by myself this year
Calendar picture, frozen landscape
Chilled this room for twenty-four days
Evergreens, sparkling snow
Get this winter over with
Flashback to springtime, saw him again
Would’ve been good to go for lunch
Couldn’t agree when we were both free
We tried, we said we’d keep in touch
Didn’t, of course, ’til summertime
Out to the beach to his boat could I join him?
No, this time it was me
Sunburn in the third degree
Now the calendar’s just one page
And, of course, I am excited
Tonight’s the night, but I’ve set my mind
Not to do too much about it
Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas
But I think, I’ll miss this one this year
Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas
But I think, I’ll miss this one this year
Hardly dashing through the snow
‘Cause I bundled up too tight
Last minute have to do
A few cards a few calls
‘Cause it’s “RSVP”
No thanks, no party lights
It’s Christmas eve, gonna relax
Turned down all of my invites
Last fall I had a night to myself
Same guy called, Halloween party
Waited all night for him to show
This time his car wouldn’t go
Forget it, it’s cold, it’s getting late
Trudge on home to celebrate
In a quiet way, unwind
Doing Christmas right this time.
“A&P” has its provided me
With the world’s smallest turkey
Already in the oven, nice and hot
Oh damn! Guess what I forgot?
So on, with the boots, back out in the snow
To the only all-night grocery
When what to my wondering eyes should appear
In the line is that guy I’ve been chasing all year
“I’m spending this one alone,” he said
“Need a break, this year’s been crazy”
I said, “Me too, but why are you?
You mean you forgot cranberries too?”
Then suddenly we laughed and laughed
Caught on to what was happening
That Christmas magic’s brought this tale
To a very happy ending
Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas
Couldn’t miss this one this year
Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas
Couldn’t miss this one this year
That Salamancan glow of summer faded too damn fast. Who am I kidding? I let it fade. Instead of just transferring it back home, I sat around with a look of petulance, bemoaning the American Way. Stupid. So stupid.
Once you’re knee deep in your 40s, I think you’re supposed to be painfully aware of the distance between “then” and “now.” By now we should realize our lives are constant examples of forward motion. That is until we allow ourselves the live in a state of arrested development. Remember, I’m just the guy who cain’t let go. Yet, I’m also the guy who will embrace change when I am left with no other recourse.
I left my job during the summer of 2013 to find a better self.
I returned to the classroom in the fall of 2013 to restore a better sense of self by studying Spanish again, this time at East Los Angeles College.
I ventured to Spain in the summer of 2014 to live out loud with what I learned being a student again, continuing my studies at the Pontificia in Salamanca. My self-esteem was in the process of being rebuilt, gaining strength and perspective. My voice was finally registering with so much hope, creating a narrative of optimism.
Then I went home.
I relapsed…no..willingly wallowed into a pit built with self-pity and binge eating.
I’m sitting here in a hotel room in Primm, Nevada. Watching these words flash across the screen, words given power by my hands. All I can think is, “What the fuck is wrong with me?” Why am I still chasing the same damn demons that I’ve let dominate my life since childhood.
I want to be liked.
I want to be pretty.
I want to be skinny.
I want to be happy.
I want…I want…I want. What the hell? What more can I want, Veruca? I have everything! Yet, why is it so hard to say “I have” and acknowledge the good amassed in this last year? Why return to the scene of my crimes against my own humanity?
We are living in a culture that has turned self-reflection into a business. But I think we are deluding ourselves. It is just a different brand of narcissism, this still being unable to be still. As I sit here with my thoughts, so late into the evening, I can’t help but ponder the obvious. It’s the doing that matters, not paying lip service to a dream you’ve opted to stall because you’re so chicken shit. But what happens when you realize you’ve outgrown the dream itself?
I can compose a narrative on a whim, revising it in my brain like a chewed up wad of gum, mulling it over and over until it loses all flavor. As we wade further into September, I am facing a reality I’ve been too afraid to acknowledge.
Maybe it wasn’t about MY being someone. Maybe it is about inspiring someone else to dare to express themselves in a way that affects us ALL in such a profound manner, it prompts change. That’s a dream worth chasing at any cost because it isn’t about me anymore.
I don’t want to see language devolve into statements constructed with 140 characters or less. I don’t want a filtered image on Instagram to be the defining record of our time, an image without context or nuance. I convinced myself to be ashamed that I worked this hard to reach only the middle. Truth be told, not all of us can be LeBron. That lofty status is reserved for those who are truly touched by the hand of God. I represent something between extra and ordinary, like so many of us who have the desire to make our time on Earth matter. It’s about the little legacies we leave behind without fear of judgment that counts. It’s accepting that we are SOMEONE, even if it is to a party of one.
What I have discovered at this juncture of my life is that I am deserving of a patch of blue, a landscape of green, a sense of peace and quiet within. I have understood that I possess enough good in this life to allow the optimism I carry inside to not be obfuscated by the chaos of people who only see what they want to see. I don’t want the status quo of being a proxy anything to anyone anymore. Nor will I allow myself to build a fortress of empty calories, sponsored by the folks at Emotional Eating and designed to hide me from the world again. It’s about knowing that we all carry the stars and the moon in our hearts.
Let’s remix this business…
“I met a man without a dollar to his name
Who had no traits of any value but his smile
I met a man who had no yearn or claim to fame
Who was content to let life pass him for a while
And I was sure that all I ever wanted
Was a life like the movie stars led
And he kissed me right here, and he said,
“I’ll give you stars and the moon and a soul to guide you
And a promise I’ll never go
I’ll give you hope to bring out all the life inside you
And the strength that will help you grow.
I’ll give you truth and a future that’s twenty times better
Than any Hollywood plot.”
And I thought, “You know, I’d rather have a yacht.”
I met a man who lived his life out on the road
Who left a wife and kids in Portland on a whim
I met a man whose fire and passion always showed
Who asked if I could spare a week to ride with him
But I was sure that all I ever wanted
Was a life that was scripted and planned
And he said, “But you don’t understand —
“I’ll give you stars and the moon and the open highway
And a river beneath your feet
I’ll give you day full of dreams if you travel my way
And a summer you can’t repeat.
I’ll give you nights full of passion and days of adventure,
No strings, just warm summer rain.”
And I thought, “You know, I’d rather have champagne.”
I met a man who had a fortune in the bank
Who had retired at age thirty, set for life.
I met a man and didn’t know which stars to thank,
And then he asked one day if I would be his wife.
And I looked up, and all I could think of
Was the life I had dreamt I would live
And I said to him, “What will you give?”
“I’ll give you cars and a townhouse in Turtle Bay
And a fur and a diamond ring
And we’ll be married in Spain on my yacht today
And we’ll honeymoon in Beijing.
And you’ll meet stars at the parties I throw at my villas
In Nice and Paris in June.”
And I thought, “Okay.”
And I took a breath
And I got my yacht
And the years went by
And it never changed
And it never grew
And I never dreamed
And I woke one day
And I looked around
And I thought, “My God…
I’ll never have the moon.”
“Stars and Moon,” music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown
Composed on Saturday, September 6 at Buffalo Bill’s Resort and Casino in Primm, Nevada — Posted on Sunday, September 7 from Wayne Avenue Manor in South Pasadena.
“Muchas veces las crisis se ven como algo muy negativo, y con mucho miedo. Y al final, la palabra crisis es sinónimo de cambio, de transformación, de limpieza, de quitar telarañas, de quitar vicios adquiridos, y reformular, reconstruir.¨ — Pucho, Vetusta Morla
Desde la noche de la ultima parranda en Salamanca, tengo días de estar tragando cada pedazo de comida como si fuera limosna. De Salamanca a Barcelona y el regreso, desde Madrid hasta Nueva York y Los Angeles comía mis sentimientos para aliviar el remordimiento de salirme de España. Pero todo tiene su final, como el tema de este serie de blogs. Por fin ha llegado el momento de escribir el último capitulo de mi aventura en Salamanca – y lo tenía que escribirlo en español.
Puede ser el “jet lag” esta jugando un poco con mis sentimientos. Dure como 15 minutos en mi escala en JFK cuando la ansiedad me pego bien fuerte. Estuve de nuevo en el pecho mi país maternal y me sentí como el hijo recién llegado de un conflicto. Pero la experiencia de Salamanca y el resto de España no era conflicto. Era un reencuentro con cosas que valoro con tanto de mi ser. Pienso en detalles de la vida real, cosas tan substantivas son como el pan fresco que Manoli nos daba con cada comida.
Se que tengo que vivir estos próximo días en una manera muy tranquila y no romantizar lo que me ocurrió en España. Pero como puedo regresar a mi vida normal cuando pienso en:
- Los comentarios de Manoli cuando comimos todos juntos, incluso los de Brianna y Krystal porque fuimos una familia
- Los dichos de Manoli como: “Lo que escupes al aire te va caer y lo tragaras”
- Los opiniones de estrellas del cine americana: “Julia Roberts tiene una boca como la Plaza de Toros
- Sus sopas de alubias, lentejas y su preocupación con la frescura de la fruta que compraba de la vecina.
- ¡La tortilla española!
- La voces claras y dulces de sus nietos
- Escuchando las risas autenticas de Krystal y Brianna cada día sobre nuestras experiencias y vidas
- La mujer en El Corte Inglés quien sacó su móvil de su sujetador cuando pagaba el saldo.
- El taxista de Barcelona que soñaba en visitar Los Angeles.
- Cenando en Chueca y charlando con Montse, una noche tan divertida que perdí el tren.
- Las mañanas caminando por la Plaza Mayor en Salamanca.
- Mis cafecitos en la cafetería de la Pontificia.
- Las manías de mis profesores con “Los chinos” en la Pontificia. (Y no en una manera negativa.)
- Las diferencias entre el castellano y el español de Latino América. Como dijo Palmira, el futuro de español no esta en España. El desarrollo del idioma será controlado por el oeste, los Latinoamericanos.
- Los sentidos de humor y respeto que encontré con Palmira, quien realizo un ambiente segura y autentica durante nuestras charlas reveladoras en la clase de conversación.
- El amor intenso de Dr. María José Boyero cuando hablaba de gramática y literatura que me dio animo para vivir de nuevo.
- Samuel, la sorpresa y, al final, el regalo de España.
No es cuestión de visitar un país para conocer su gente. Tienes que vivirlo con ellos. Tienes que vivir sus tradiciones, compartir su comida como su cultura. Así puedes sentir el apego que existe cuando entiendes que eres parte de cosas tan cuotidianas, se sienten como si siempre eran parte de tu vida desde el principio.
Creo que las consecuencias de este viaje a España tendrán efectos no voy a reconocer inmediatamente. Pueden llegar hasta el fin de esta semana. Puede ser al final del año o nunca. Tengo tantas emociones que quiero expresar en este momento. Siente como una corriente eléctrica sin rumbo. No puedo salir de este país tan bello sin decir algo. Este mes era dedicada al estudio de gramática y literatura. Sería una tontería en no ofrecer un “blog” escrito en español. Yo sé que voy a cometer muchos errores. Solo te pido disculpa. (¡Te juro que mis calificaciones de ser “sobresaliente” no fue broma!) Como mis razones en tener esta aventura tan inolvidable y transformativa, pienso la sinceridad de esta nota será bastante. Como las lunas escritas por el autor mexicano Juan Rulfo, tú eres mi lector y testigo a una vida singular.
Soy americano, de primera generación. No nací como hispanohablante, me convertí durante mi colegiatura. Sentía una pena tan enorme, a veces soñaba de una vida diferente donde el mundo me llamaba ¨George” y no ¨Jorge.¨ Que falta de respeto porque llevo el nombre de mi padre. Pero el disgusto que sentía por dentro era como un purgatorio. Mi identidad era falsa, manipulada por la cultura dominante de los Estados Unidos. Este rechazo de mis raíces mexicanas no era algo tan raro. La fuerza de la cultura americana contiene elementos que no son basadas en la naturaleza. Sino son algo de ciencia ficción, realizadas en un laboratorio oscuro e insidiosa. Pienso en el doctor Frankenstein, revolcado por una locura en dominar todo el mundo sin pensar en las consecuencias.
Muchos compran lo que está vendiendo los Frankensteins de los medios, la publicidad, el gobierno, todos. No juzgo los que no pueden rechazar la mentira de valorar el sueño americano. No juzgo los que confunden ignorancia con nacionalismo. Solo juzgo los que piensan que no importa mantener dos identidades. Lo que se gana en ser bilingüe, esta mezcla cultural sobresale saber otra idioma. Es mantener lo bueno de ser humano. Es la ingrediente especial que realiza una receta tan poderosa y incomparable a lo resto.
“Well, we wish we were happier, thinner and fitter,
We wish we weren’t losers and liars and quitters
We want something more not just nasty and bitter
We want something real not just hash tags and Twitter
It’s the meaning of life and it’s streamed live on YouTube
But I bet Gangnam Style will still get more views
We’re scared of drowning, flying and shooters
But we’re all slowly dying in front of fucking computers…”
From “Scare Away the Dark” by Passgener (Michael David Rosenberg)
Como me han sorprendido mis amigos – mis lectores — por su apoyo y sus reacciones a las Confesiones de este mes. Mis observaciones han llevado a algunos comentarios interesantes, añadiendo más leña al fuego de mi deseo de liberarme de las redes sociales. La ironía es que ninguno de estos Confesiones habría alcanzado a nadie si no fuera por Facebook. Un dilema, ¿no?
Al final, no importa cómo se registraron mis pequeños terremotos del alma. Lo que sí sé con certeza es que expresé lo que tenía que expresar sobre este viaje. Para aquellos que leyeron todo y también ofrecieron un comentado con interés, te doy las gracias por la creación de un diálogo. Eso es lo que significa ser una comunidad, compartiendo ideas y teniendo en cuenta el discurso para darles forma a algo profundo y útil.
Esta conexión era real. No creo si no evolucionamos, nos convertiremos extinta porque no somos relevantes si no tenemos “followers” o un mogollón de “likes.” No necesito la validación que proviene de un botón, porque quiero que me lo dices en persona. Ya que son palabras de apoyo o un “cállate la boca”, se trasladaron a sentir algo tan fuerte seria una pena no hablar.
Esto puede ser una generación que piensa el iCloud esta llena de lo importante, pero tengo noticias para ellos. Imagínense un momento cuando todas las luces se apagan y no se puede subir cada imagen de tu narcisismo. ¿Dejaras de existir? Sócrates tenía muchos seguidores, sin necesidad de Twitter y dio forma al mundo en los siglos venideros. Así lo hizo Jesucristo. Ellos no tienen que cargar sus teorías o ideologías. Ellos sabían cómo hablar con la gente, cara a cara, y la gente escuchaba.
Eso es todo lo que necesitamos hacer. No temer a nuestra propia voz o la reacción. Lo importante es hablar y cuestionar y compartir. Para poner una cara a todo. Es curioso, yo no pensé que tenía que ir al otro lado del Atlántico para conectarme con personas totalmente desconocidas y sentirse parte de la raza humana de nuevo. Pero lo que es una maravilla para sentarme y hablar con la gente que vive con ganas de ser escuchados. Qué sensación es el privilegio de sentarse en un aula y tener conversaciones reales, compartir ideas y experiencias. Y en un idioma diferente, joder!
Temo que mantener este impulso será duro de nuevo en Los Ángeles, al igual que los muchos planes de dieta que he luchado para mantener durante años. ¿Es justo decir que tengo un cerebro sin grasa? ¿Que si soy capaz de derramé de todo el exceso de peso provocada por años de ser parte de la cultura de consumo de la Nación de comida chatarra y información de relámpago y conjetura?
Lo que he perdido no tengo ninguna razón para encontrar o querer otra vez. Lo que he ganado es todo lo que necesito en saber como afrontar el futuro. Tengo mi maleta y mi pasaporte listo para ir, por si acaso. Gracias España. No puedo esperar para ver a dónde voy a ir después. Tengo México en mi sangre porque mi familia Mexicana es algo que me da fuerza y valor en este mundo. Pero España siempre estará en mi corazón porque ahora representa esperanza, amor…y vida.
Martes, 29 de julio. Escrito en Barcelona, Salamanca, Madrid y South Pasadena. Subido desde Wayne Avenue Manor.
It was the first time that we met
How can I forget
The moment that you stepped into the room
You took my breath away
La musica vibro
Yella nos unio
And if God is willing
We will meet again
Someday” — Freddie Mercury, “Barcelona”
When in doubt, I’ll always go with a showtune to cue exactly what I’m feeling. Today, when I sat in the humid confines of Barcelona’s airport, listening to angry Germany dads tell their families to, ahem, “Hurry the fuck up,” I felt “Dreamgirls.” You know, the big closing number, when Deena Jones and the Dreams sing their final song as a group. It is hard to say goodbye. Now it’s past 2am and I am also sitting here feeling somewhat helpless, wondering if these last entries properly close out this series of “Confessions” from Spain. As I just finished packing, I realize how these last days were like someone pressing the FF button on my remote. It’s all moving so fast and I can’t seem to retain any sense of focus.
I have all sorts of feelings going on right now. I miss Samuel because we didn’t get a chance to really say goodbye. He spent the weekend doing what men should do, and I feel kind of, well, icky. Trust me, I didn’t have some “Green Card” fantasy. I liked how I felt with him when we were together and it would have been awesome to close this out with some “Love, American and Spanish Style” fireworks. Instead, we just “What’s App”-ed it up, texting ourselves into oblivion. Sorry, but emoticons don’t do shit when you’ve spent real time with someone who gets you. I remember why I hate surprises, and Samuel was a major one. I will never think about Spain again without thinking of him.
Barcelona was meant to be to this great, big bear hug goodbye of a trip. It wasn’t. Instead, it magnified what I can’t stand about the tourist experience. Rushing around, standing in line, sweating and not giving any of this great city its due. Part of the reaction is due to my desire for a more tranquil life, which is what made Salamanca such a revelation. The history, the calm and the absolute beauty of it all made me feel so centered. Yet, the effects of studying and my Madrid life proved a lot more overwhelming than I anticipated. Once I landed, I went to the hotel and…slept early.
I made a valiant effort to enjoy this excursion. But, Barcelona made me feel anxious and burnt out thanks to the urban pace and the packed crowds found at its tourist centers. This wasn´t what I wanted. Even the Gaudí of it all is designed to be shared with someone, not witnessed alone at breakneck speed. Hell, who chooses to see a Spanish version of ¨Les Miserables¨ on their last night in Barcelona, for fuck´s sake? Or how about the entire bus load of Brits who stepped off the tour to see the Barca football complex? Hahahaha. But I still enjoyed the Catalan flavors to be found in Barcelona, so complex and singular. This is a city to return to with purpose and I will come back to give it the respect and attention it deserved.
I´ve been doing that all weekend. Sighing at every monument, at every church, with every forkful of paella, at every park and at every person smiling as if this is their best moment ever. All of this feels like a last dance with a lover you know you may never see again, or at least not soon enough. The distance between me and this beautiful country has been widening since late Thursday, right when night turned into early Friday morning. I could see my lover´s back beginning to retreat further into the horizon. Nothing I could say would make him turn around, nor should he. Ours was a love affair to remember, the kind you write about like a Mary Chapin Carpenter song.
“Tonight I’m thinking of someone, from 17 years ago. We road in his daddy’s car down a river road. Come on, come on. It’s getting late now. Come on, come on. Take my hand. Come on, on. You just have to whisper. Come on, come on. I will understand.”
This adventure was meant to be this way. One big slap of life across the face, a wake-up call to arms and better living ahead. It was so good to feel something so electric, so real. None of this was planned. None of this was made to order. It happened because I woke up and stepped into the world with my eyes, and more importantly, my heart wide open.
I’ve been taken aback by the support and the reactions to the “Confessions” this month. My observations have prompted some interesting comments, adding fuel to the fire of my wanting to liberate myself from the social networks. The irony is none of these “Confessions” would have reached anyone if it wasn’t for Facebook alone. A quandary, no?
In the end, it doesn’t matter how these little earthquakes of the soul were registered. What I do know for certain is that I expressed what I needed to express about this journey. For those who read and/or commented with interest, I thank you for creating a dialogue. That is what being a community is about, sharing ideas and allowing for discourse to shape them into something profound and useful.
This connection was real, discounting the reality being forced fed to us that social media is our only real unifying detail. The young have given it credence, that people like me are of an age that is dying out. The spin is if we don’t evolve, we will become extinct because we are not relevant if we are not being “followed” or “liked.” I don’t need the validation that comes from the push of a button because I prefer that you to tell me in person. Whether you offer words of support or a “Shut the fuck up,” at least you were moved to feel something strong enough worth speaking out.
This may be a generation that thinks “I Post, Therefore I Am.” But I have news for them. At one point, when all the lights go out and you can’t post a GD thing, guess who will be able to weather the storm better? Better yet, think of this historical reality, providing a context for a generation that finds looking back has no bearing on the present or future. (Context is on life support!) Socrates had many followers without the need of Twitter and shaped the world for centuries to come. So did Jesus Christ. They didn’t need to upload. They knew how to speak to people, face to face, and people listened.
That’s all we need to do. Not fear our own voice or the reaction. The important thing is to speak and question and share. To put a face on it all. Funny, I didn’t think I needed to go across the Atlantic to connect with total strangers and feel part of the human race again. But what a marvel to sit down and speak to people eager to be heard. What a sensation and privilege to sit in a classroom and have real conversations, sharing ideas and experiences. And in a different language, joder!
That’s why it’s hard to say goodbye. I fear keeping this momentum will be hard again in LA, like the many diet plans I’ve struggled to uphold for years. Is it fair to say I have a fat-free brain? That I shed all the excess weight brought on by years of being part of the consumer culture of the Fast Food/Fast Facts Nation?
“It’s a need you never get used to. So fierce and so confused. It’s a loss you never get over the first time you lose.”
What I’ve lost I have no reason to want again. What I’ve gained is all I need to know to face the future. I have my bag and my passport ready to go, just in case. Thank you Spain. Because of you, I can’t wait to see where I’m going to go next.
I love you.
To be continued….
Sunday, July 27. Written @ Barcelona Airport, posting for the last time from Manoli’s House in Salamanca, Spain.
“Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life.
The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives
Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t…”
From Baz Luhrmann’s “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)”
Ah, the taste of bittersweet is starting to make its presence known. This post is not originating from the safe comfort of Manoli’s house. I am now in Barcelona, celebrating the end of my term at the Pontificia (or “Ponti”). I wish I could say I was having a blast here this weekend, but that feeling of “denouement” is coloring everything a darker shade. If the awe-inspiring work of Gaudi can’t break through, the sun blazing over the Barceloneta isn’t going have much of a shot, either. Sure I spent the better part of the day touring this beautiful city, reading “Pedro Parámo” while eating my paella and later turning a rather interesting shade of red thank to forgetting my hat. So, I better focus on happier topics to raise the animo of it all, beginning with:
Yes, I did earn my first ever diploma!
I have to say I was starting to take issue when people would say, “Hope you’re having fun in Salamanca.” Like this was a freaking vacation. No, it wasn’t. Sure, from the outside it looks like all I was doing was eating tapas, meeting hot men, strolling villages and stepping over rivers of piss in Madrid. Don’t get me wrong, all that shiz did happen almost every day. And I’m very glad it did.
But, in between all that, I was going over grammar rules. (¡Ahora entiendo, Professora Boyero. Sí se usa “cuyo” en la vida real!) Reading complex texts from the Hispano masters of literatura. Understanding the concepts of realismo mágico in literature, as well as el pluscuamperfecto, frases condicionales y el puto perífrasis. To be honest, I equated my grammar class with learning math again. I abhor structure, finding a greater control with the abstract offered by deconstructing texts. But, as I have learned, without structure there can be no foundation on which to build any kind of art.
I stand humbly corrected.
Suffice it to say, I did study hard and the results were rewarded with one of the highest grades in my group. After careful consideration from my professors, my initial marks were upgraded to the C1 level, one of the more advanced groupings, thus scoring a 9/9 out of 10/10 in both exams. Considered Sobresaliente, it equates to an “A.” Granted, issues were recorded with my grammar test, particularly in conjugating verbs. But the professors’ reasons were to encourage me to stay on this road, to strive higher and engage with more complex aspects of the language. Dr. Maria José Boyero had great words of encouragement for me and my writing. And you know, I’d like to make good on her faith.
Of course, as some of the pics posted elsewhere have attested, I did go out after finals with the “Kids.” Like most of the adults, I did judge them a bit too hard for turning this summer in Salamanca into a roving spring break party out of bounds. Some registered disappointment at their marks, but they knew couldn’t have it both ways.
As we went from bar to karaoke to the infamous Camelot, their enthusiasm was absolutely irresistible. They had respect for my wanting “to do my own thing” and my agenda to do more than just learn and refine my Spanish. They knew I came here to live out a change in life. What they don’t know is that they, too, played a part in why allowing for change is such an important part of being a human being.
Granted, I don’t want to return to those halcyon days of reckless youth. My mojo died around 3:30 am. More, that awkward mix of confidence and uncertainty in your 20s is like mixing beer and buttermilk to me now. I like being sure of myself and understanding the reality of consequence. But, they made me feel part of their group. If not quite Regina George, I was def Veronica Sawyer that night.
I will never forget the statuesque beauty and Queen Bee allure of Kolby, who knew EVERYBODY on the Salamanca circuit. (Seriously, the looks of envy that I received just by dancing with her at Camelot. That girl has power!) Or how about hearing Mariah’s incredibly soulful voice resonating with emotion and purity down the empty stone streets near the Plaza Mayor? The girl has pipes designed to move people to feel their most buried emotions like heartache to bursting with joy caused by new love in a single phrase.
How can I not smile at Audrey’s gamine innocence, which was wonderful to behold? It proved a counterbalance to Blair and Alejandra’s “I’m gonna get you before you get me” swagger. Those broads have no shame in their game and they shouldn’t. Being bold and beautiful comes naturally to them and I hope they never lose their desire to lead – and not follow.
And, I can’t forget the intense honesty and sweetness of Lena, who opened her heart to me about her complex childhood in Russia and her very American dream of being someone with a purpose in this world.
No, this was a night to remember because we all connected on our own terms. I kept seeing myself as being the “old guy,” which these ladies (and the charming bohemian Jimmy Cedillo) would promptly shut down. I wasn’t their chaperone that night. I was one more student celebrating the end of a summer to remember.
Some of them will continue their European adventure through August. Everyone else, like me, is going home as planned. I am curious to see what becomes of these “young ‘uns.” Maybe they will all live lives a little less ordinary as a result of being at the Ponti. I hope so.
As for Graduation Day? Waking up in a noxious haze of beer farts was not what I envisioned! (I’m sorry, Manoli!) I opened a window, in both the figurative and literal way. I did survive the night out in strong enough shape to witness the fruits of my labor just a few hours later. I wasn’t alone in carrying a liter of water on Friday AM. The ever watchful Palmira was quick to point out my secret shame. But it also prompted one of the most personal conversations of the entire session. We talked, openly, about our place in a world that values the young. About how this generation of self-entitled adults have lost the ability to respect the maturity and “word” of an older generation.
We had only begun to let our weaves down when my classmates started to file in for the last conversation we would have as a group. As usual, it didn’t disappoint because Palmira shrewdly kept the topic alive. Going from “Young Turk” to “Establishment” was as easy as slipping on a banana peel. But you won’t know that until it happens to you. I wish I could say the insights culled were hits to the solar plexus.
If anything, it was a variation of a theme we all know at every age: Balance is everything. Extremes are bad for everyone. No one has all the answers. No one is “that” much prepared for the curve balls life will throw at you. The usual generation gap blah blah. However, I did walk away with one vital thing. Both factions could use a little patience when it comes to the other. Young lion or Mufasa before the stampede, we have plenty to learn from each other. This jungle needs a little balance restored and the answers could very well be found in just relinquishing a little piece of…well…pride. (It’s way beyond 1am in Barcelona. But if I wait any longer to tell this tale…)
It was time to return to the Aula Magna, the place at the Ponti where all of this began. I have at thing for full circle moments. I really do. I often marvel at the symmetry of life. Beginnings always lead to endings, we know. It is what happens in between that makes it all so damn tasty when the objectives are clear. Even still, it was a surprise that Profesora Culton’s greeted me with her revelation just before we went into the room of the school’s decision to reward me with a higher level of completion.
The irony is not lost on me, finding this need to find some sense of purpose in the one thing I couldn’t get far away enough from as a kid: speaking Spanish. Yes, going from George to Jorge raised a few eyebrows when it happened. Ahora no tengo el coño para ruidos on my refining my español to ease my mid-life crisis. Who cares how it happened, right?
Que se jodan. It worked, majo.
Now, I have to go buy some sunscreen. Barcelona awaits…
Sunday, July 26 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Barcelona, Spain.
If you want to view paradise
Simply look around and view it
Anything you want to, do it
Want to change the world, there’s nothing to it
There is no life I know
To compare with pure imagination
You’ll be free
If you truly wish to be…
— Pure Imagination (Leslie Bricusse/Anthony Newley)
from “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”
Finals happened today at the Pontificia. Tomorrow, we receive our grades. Should I score better than a 5-6, I shall receive my first ever college diploma.
Yes, you read that right. My first ever college diploma.
Funny, while I should be concerned about my final score and grade, I feel it is secondary in all of this. I had a specific agenda here, and it wasn’t specifically an academic one. I knew I would learn something. How could I not? The passionate and inspiring lectures from Maria José and Palmira validate why attending college as an adult can be such a gratifying and enlightening experience. It’s even stronger when you are focusing on literature, sparking a creative drive that seems limitless. You project so much of your own experience into texts and prose that expands the scope of the life you’ve lived…and are living.
I will never forget these women, just as I won’t forget Manoli, whose directness and candor also played a major reason why I feel so much like my former self again.
Books and words were my first friends and have remained my most treasured confidantes. They never judged me. In fact, they gave me power to stave off so much that made me feel left of center for much of my adolescence. For too long I spun a message to myself that was cynical, judgmental and positively destructive. I used words to attack myself, allowing myself to build a veritable fortress of woe and self-pity. What is emerging as a result of this experience in Salamanca feels like someone…well…different. That’s what I wanted to happen in Salamanca, a total recharge of self, a reboot, if you will.
True, as dramatic as that reads, I can only amend such hyperbole to say the effects of Salamanca are subtle, but strong. Which is why I have such mixed feelings about going home. Already my MediaJor life is ramping up to its usual state. Interviews are being scheduled for the month of August. A film campaign I am involved with at a studio is now in full swing. I’ll be covering junkets again for Desde Hollywood. I’m ignoring the start of Comic-Con, but it is hard not to want to understand the Malaysian Airlines tragedy in the Ukraine and the shameful Gaza Strip/Israel conflict. And slowly, my time spent looking at entertainment news sites (hello, the “50 Shades of Grey” trailer) is increasing and so on…
These realities are clashing horribly with the buzz of being challenged by a culture and literary art in a language that doesn’t come natural to me. I have gained such confidence in being a Hispanohablante. I am pouring over texts recommended to me by Maria José, texts that used to intimidate me. Now the works of Garcia Márquez, Cortázar and Rulfo present challenges that I can’t wait to embrace. Their use of language is as visual as any film that’s ever delighted me, a medium that is as much as my religion as literature. I “see” what I’m reading and the effect is positively addictive. But, I don´t need to be in Spain for that need to continue to burn.
I cried as I walked through the Plaza Mayor after my final exams today. The emotion was surprising and telling, mercifully hidden behind my sunglasses. I had been listening to Jane Monheit sing “Pure Imagination” and I just felt it. Truth is, I like who I have become here and I worry that returning to LA will mean slipping back into old habits because that´s what my hometown does to me if I let it. It´s like I´ve been in a rehab for the soul in Salamanca. I´ve had 30 days of purging the anger and detoxifying from all that made me sick of myself and the life I was living. I don´t want to suffer the Lohan Syndrome, falling back on old excuses as to why I can´t seem to help myself, staying weak and feeling irrelevant.
I wasn’t sure I wanted to admit that, and staring at it now makes me want to delete it without hesitation. But I won’t, because it is a thought that is very much at the front of mind right now. I know going home doesn’t have to mean backtracking on all that was accomplished here. I just have to create Spain in South Pasadena, living out acts of pure imagination and truth. Period. But for now, I don’t want to ponder such fears any further.
Tonight is what it means to be young for the school part of this summer in Spain is coming to a close.
Tonight is about celebrating the end of one unforgettable journey and looking forward to what’s ahead.
Tonight, I want to feel like I’m 22.
“We’re happy, free, confused, and lonely at the same time
It’s miserable and magical.
Tonight’s the night when we forget about the deadlines
I don’t know about you
But I’m feeling 22”
— “22” by Taylor Swift
Thursday, July 24 @ Manoli’s House in Salamanca, Spain.
“I can slay a dragon Any old week- Easy. What’s hard is simple. What’s natural comes hard. Maybe you could show me How to let go, Lower my guard, Learn to be free. Maybe if you whistle, Whistle for me.” — “Anyone Can Whistle,” lyric by Stephen Sondheim
Things are starting to wind down in Spain. Soon, the entire nation will be shutting down for their August vacations. Our professors are offering their reviews. We are preparing for our final exams, which are tomorrow! Soon, we will be departing our temporary homes and heading to our respective comfort zones we prefer to understand in our own languages. And I find myself in a strange limbo.
Because I always have a hard time letting go.
No matter where you run to in this world, your unsettled self will follow. That which remains buried will reveal itself. All that you have left behind without reconciliation haunts your house until you find the strength and knowledge to cast said spirits out. My ghosts roam this inner planet with a pair of blue eyes so intense, they radiate whether I’m aware of it or not. I think I fear letting go of this section of my past means losing a big part of my identity. Who am I if I am not able to piss and moan about “the one who got away?” If I put this chapter to rest, what am I left with in this world? I may have found my answer.
Today in literature class, we are studying the works of Mexican author Juan Rulfo. And, as I wind down this academic adventure in Salamanca, I find myself presented with a mirror reflecting back something that I have taken for granted of late. My job is predicated on asking the kind of questions that can reveal something about the people I am charged to interview. Sitting in class today, our final lecture, I was asking myself questions that are challenging my own sense of purpose.
The famously tortured Rulfo, an orphan haunted by a tragic past, did not turn out an expansive canon of work. His life is encompassed by a single novel (Pedro Páramo) and a group of short stories. The volume presented by Dr. Maria José Boyero was slim, only 300 pages to be exact. It literally fit in her pocket. But contained in those pages was a collection of writing designed to provoke and challenge readers. Sound played a key role in his writing. As my professor continued to explain the themes and symbols of this author´s work, I distinctly heard my heart beat faster. More, I saw the questions presented by his writing enveloping the small, stuffy classroom I´ve called my second home for nearly four weeks.
In Pedro Páramo and most of his works, his carefully rendered narratives feature characters trapped in a living purgatory. Between the black and white of our existence, there is the sky and fire. In these circles, they navigate in tandem, journeys intertwined, often representing polar opposites (purity/sin). For Rulfo, life is about questioning the basic realities of our human existence: What is death? What is love? What is fault? What is eternity? And so on… His works do not offer any answers at all. Rather, what we must know is that a specific death, like a singular love, awaits us all. In the end, these questions take a corporeal form and we will answer them with the experiences we live.
If we view ourselves as half-moons, our lives are built around the other halves (family, lovers, partners) that will make us complete. But these halves are destined to leave us, and for the characters created by Rulfo, they are destined to live again because life is nothing but a series of memories. These memories, strung together by force of will, are an attempt to resuscitate that which has been lost. For their journeys are an eternal search for answers without end.
The idea of destiny is such an expansive one, we can only offer it a passing glance because it scares us so much. Better to not even contemplate the end, rather, we focus on the seemingly mystical aspects of destiny. Like meeting certain people at certain times. Or, extolling the power of certain events occurring at certain times. I will never diminish the power of what appears like happenstance, but life really is more than a series of random events strung together. Like Rulfo’s characters, it is about the memories we set out to create for ourselves, good and bad. But, I don´t fear the end, not if life continues to offer the adventures I have had of late.
In a series of letters to his great love, Clara, Rulfo wrote of her being “Una estrella junto a la luna.” That’s what Spain has been to me, that star coupled next to a moon. His worlds are not often romantic ones, even though the characters’ cruelty is compounded by their desire to love and be loved. Many of his protagonists are condemned to experience unrequited love, which can lead to a different form of death: madness. That’s what these last four years have felt like for me, a madness I’ve inflicted upon myself because of a love I cast away. It’s stupid and selfish to imprison oneself with the memory of a past realized. We cannot be cavalier with our feelings, our lives. We cannot voluntarily place ourselves in a purgatory of our own making. That is not living, that is death: madness.
It is fitting that Rulfo’s work, in keeping with his own questioning of faith, functions as a confessional. He doesn’t judge or absolve his characters. That is our role as a reader, to project our own morality, our own sensibilities into the complex lives we encounter on the page. In many ways, that’s what I hope to have achieved with the words from the authors and professors that have brought me such inspiration these last weeks at the Pontificia. I am projecting much of what I’ve felt for so long into their work, finding solace, comfort and a wonderful burst of clarity despite the darker recesses where these narratives inhabit.
This journey is not over in the physical sense. I leave for Barcelona on Friday, one last hug from Spain before making my way home. But in the emotional sense, I think I’ve reached the end of a complicated road, one that I’ve made incredibly complicated by obsessing over so much that is no longer in my control. It is time to vanquish that purgatory and aim for the blue, not the fire. It is time to trust my half-moon is circling other halves that bring me great joy. This is one more memory, a pearl strung with countless others, all representing a life worth living.
As the great Stephen Sondheim encapsulates so brilliantly in the longing brought to life in “Anyone Can Whistle,” what is hard truly is simple. And what comes natural to us, can truly be difficult. But sooner or later, we will find the means to establish our true place in the world, to learn to let go and be free.
Just like learning how to whistle.
¨Ahí te dejo Madrid Tus rutinas de piel y tus ganas de huir…” — Shakira
Leave it to me to try and squeeze in one more trip to Madrid before this Salamancan Summer comes to a close. No, I didn’t go back to see Samuel, although that’s causing me plenty of tsuris at the moment. He’s one half circle I’d love to have rotate around me one more time, but it doesn’t look like it may even be possible. Damn you, Rulfo! Hahaha.
No, I went back to reconnect with the past, which took the form of the lovely Montse Gil. A former co-worker of mine from the days at 20th Century Fox International, Montse and I were thrilled to find ourselves in each other’s midst again more than 15 years later. And we literally picked up where we left off.
Such friendships are a miracle, particularly in the film industry, but Montse and I made the most of our reunion in Madrid with real brio and affection. She met me at Charmartín and took me straight to Chueca. Mind you, I had my reservations about going back to this district after Orgullo turned it into a urine-soaked variation of “The Purge” (but without the body count.) Yet, the insanity was on hiatus and Cheuca was pulsating in a manner that was so inviting, it’s making it harder for me to want to leave this country.
We walked through the neighborhood, talking and laughing, catching up on our lives, everything. If Bogie had “Casablanca,” then Montse and I will have:
“I’m Fruit” — a local fruit stand.
“San Wich” — a Chilean sandwich store
“Péinate, tú” — a local salon I preferred to call “Péinate, ya!”
Talk about paying attention to the signs!
Of course, we gorged ourselves with the best tapas I´ve had since arriving here in Spain. The spicy goodness of tortilla con callos alone is reason enough to stay in Spain. That kick of fire, so intense it makes you sweat, made the Mexican part of me dance el jarabe tapatío. More, it was just hanging with Montse that made it all incredibly vivid. So much so, I missed my train back to Salamanca. I didn´t make it back in time for this morning´s grammar class. Boo! Hiss! Haha. But, as I´ve discovered of late, anywhere I hang my hat is home. Especially when you get to spend time with a good friend.
Wednesday, July 23. Started on the Renfe train back from Madrid to Salamanca. Finished and posted from Manoli´s house in Salamanca.