Sunday, October 5, 2014

Now it's Time to Write (or See This)

Such precious quiet this morning at Casa Parque – on the outside. Cool fall air floats through the dining room window, chills my toes.

But on the inside I sense agitation. Can't get comfortable in my chair – hard as a rock under my sitting bones. And inside my skin it feels disorganized.

9:18. I’d planned to be up earlier. Dedicating my weekends to the writing now. I’m behind on the book, I know, trying to find my rhythm again after Mom’s passing. Writing is a practice, like playing the piano. My fingers are out of shape.

I need inspiration. From a New Yorker article? Flipping through an August issue, this draws me in: ‘Finding the Words,’ the story of a contemporary poet’s elegy to his dead son.

9:29. I read the first page. Maybe it’s telling me: You’re not good enough to write this Mexico memoir or this newly brewing essay about your mother’s life and death. Such is the work of Wordsworth or Tennyson or the father, a celebrated writer named Edward Hirsch. Never even heard of him. Though further along in the article, a quote of his speaks to me:

‘Why would I have Skokie in a poem? But you become resigned. Your job is to write about the life you actually have.’

I can do that. I do do that. I’m not formally trained nor particularly sophisticated. But I’m still worthy, because I see inside, feel the texture, cherish the truth and transcribe for others the universality of experience. I try.

In a stanza of the poem to his late son, Gabriel, Hirsch writes:

Look closely and you will see    Almost everyone carrying bags   Of cement on their shoulders
That’s why it takes courage   To get out of bed in the morning   And climb into the day 

So that’s why I read that article. Because I got out of bed this morning.

9:49. Now it’s time to write.

Mom’s sleeping upstairs. I hope it’s deep, rejuvenating sleep. But how could it be. There’s nothing that could revive that broken body. It’s already abandoned her. She tells me that at night, in bed, she has visions of her old, strong self and she, who she is now, reaches out, yearning to re-inhabit that body. But she cannot reach it. She awakens, and the bloated belly that encases a cancerous liver is still there, a nightmare from which she cannot wake-up. 

Was it death that visited me at the foot of my bed that haunted night in Mexico? I dove out of my sleep and onto the cloaked monster screaming ‘Noooo,’ landing on the cold cement floor of my Jimenez hovel. Awakened from the nightmare, I crawled in the dark to my dorm fridge and found a pack of frozen peas to put between my bruised knees. I made it through a frightful night and went on to survive and thrive in Mexico.

But Mom cannot dive. She can hardly sit up. She cannot walk or eat and barely drinks, thus she cannot even eliminate. Was that the problem in the first place, pent-up toxins in the bowel? Simply that? Her brain, heart, lungs are perfect. She can do 20 leg lifts, she showed me yesterday. And she has lovely toes. 

She’s a model of health, proud to have never 'soaked the system,' the only drugs she’s ever taken a light dosage blood pressure pill and one for cholestoral. I went to the CVS today to buy her Aleve and a stool softener. That’s the least ‘Western’ medicine can do for her. 

Me, I’m taking a G&T for the pain. Fresh mowed lawn, brilliant green carpet laid out before me, sound of the CSX freight train tooting its horn in the distance, the blessed wind in the trees, brushing my shoulders. I want to cry for how beautiful this moment is. 

And mom’s asleep upstairs. 

You wish you could go through this experience like this: rub your mom’s neuropathic numb feet with the miracle cream you picked up at the running race, comb her thin hair, scrub her bathtub and wash her bed sheets, prepare a smoothie she forces herself to drink, out of the bendy straw a child drinks from. 'Just two sips, mom, no three, please, for me?'

You wish you could do this for her: reminisce quietly as BookTV blares, about the good ole days, that illustrious trip in the station wagon to Niagara Falls when we kids had just discovered the thrill of spitballs. 'Do you remember the one that landed in your ear!? And you, angry, promised that was our last trip.'

My coming home with trophies, celebrating childhood triumphs in tennis, swimming, running. Or the times I stomped up to my room, an ashamed loser. 'But when it was a win,' Mom reminds me, I’d walk into the house with a big smile, and she knew right away, the prize hidden behind my back: 'Which hand?' I’d ask.

I brought one home for her today: a wood plaque in the shape of the state of Illinois, first place, 4-mile, Steamboat Classic, Master Female.

'You’re still winning,' Anne, she chuckles with joy as I perch the plaque on her dresser, upside, the flat border side of the state down.

She gazes down at my new fast Adidas. 'When my feet get better,' she says, 'I want a pair of those.' 

You wish you could get past this together; then you promise yourself you’d REALLY live. But now is what you’ve got. The luminous summer evening, the sound of a lawn mower, the tinkle of the ice cubes. 

Mom’s resting in her bedroom. Should you go wake her up so she can see this

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Dedicated to My Mom, Rosemary Copp, My Motivation & Inspiration

Dear Readers,

I’ve been keeping you regularly updated on my Mexico memoir progress, starting last December, upon successful completion of the Kickstarter campaign. It's been exciting to share book excerpts, get your feedback, and gain encouragement to forge ahead on the creative journey.

Unfortunately this update is not quite as bright. Sadly, I report the passing of my mother, Rosemary Copp, on Thursday morning June 26th. Cancer had been looming for over a year. In fact I’d just returned from Mexico, barely settling in to DC life last April 2013, when I got the call. Mom was being rushed into emergency surgery.

Mom fought a good fight with an arsenal of chemo and a lot of courage. She was rewarded with an almost-normal year, traveling, visiting friends and family, keeping up with politics and the stock market, enjoying life, between treatments. And, as responsible as she was, getting her affairs in order. 

But on Mother’s Day, she took a turn for the worse. The treatments had worn-off and the cancer was spreading with a vengeance. We shifted Mom into hospice care and took-on the care-giving. It was only 12 days, but seemed like we lived another lifetime before she passed peacefully at her home in Peoria, IL with her three children by her side.

My mom was a great supporter of my creative life. She managed to let go little by little over the years, encouraging me to travel where life's road was taking me, reserving judgment, though not ample motherly concern.
Mom and Me - Pre-Peace Corps Garage Sale

‘Maybe it’s time to come home,’ she told me often, as I regaled her with stories of adventure and woe over Skype from Mexico. She was scared for me; but she knew that I couldn’t abandon the cause. I had something new and important to learn from my Peace Corps experience. And mom would never get in the way of learning.

I did complete my service, landing back on US soil after a harrowing bus ride from Rioverde across the border; and mom was there in Austin, TX to meet me. She hugged me and would not let go; her relief was palpable. I was in one piece. We celebrated with a bottle of mescal I’d procured in Oaxaca, which had remained in one piece too!

When I announced I was embarking on this Kickstarter campaign to turn all my Mexico stories into a published book, that got her shaking her head once again in joyful disbelief. 

'Kick what?' she questioned, then when right online to research this new technological, entrepreneurial wonder. And she got behind me once again, as my biggest funder and moral supporter, sharing the link with her friends, and boosting me closer to my mark at the most crucial time in the campaign.

As we sat quietly in her bedroom during those last 12 days together, classical music playing in the background, I shared with Mom my progress, reading aloud one of the latest excerpts.

It’s mother’s day. My mom is far from me; but Chuya has invited me to San Miguel de las Flores for a celebration at the school with Lupita and the other village children. Lupita is tiny but strong. She easily wins the rice sack race and, glowing, brings her mother the prize. After the games we enjoy a special pizza lunch on the playground picnic tables. Each child gives their mother a handmade tissue flower to wear on her shirt. Then we walk Lupita, hand in hand, down the baked mud road to their casa.

I’m mildly surprised. Their home is dirt floor dwelling, bare of furniture and appliances. Chuya cooks on a wood stove under a palm awning; and she gets the fire going as soon as we arrive. Chickens peck around the dirt yard. The garden blooms with fruit trees and chile plants and nubby nopal. They have a milpa, a family farm plot, at the far end of the village, where they grow corn and peanuts, she tells me. She raises a bunch over her head, leafy topped and a muddy cluster of peanuts dangles.

‘Son semillas?’ they are seeds, I marvel, feeling embarrassed as the words come out.

Chuya chuckles at me. She can’t imagine my life either.

I sense she wants more. Or maybe it’s me wanting that for her. She has three sweet children, two boys and a girl; but they eat food out of bags, Bimbo and Frito Lay, and throw their trash on the ground. Her senor is only half there; the other half he’s on the other side doing construction or picking crops. When he returns home they are strangers.

He tries to make himself useful, she says as she rolls her eyes. Today he’s hanging laundry on the line. He greets me with a respectful handshake; a few minutes later he hops on his horse and rides out of site.

Chuya tells me he was a drunk for a while; after his father died it was very bad. Now he’s okay. But he’s barely there: he works the fields, she tends to the ninos and on the side makes her palm jewelry. She developed the skill while he was away; and she's very proud of it. 

She shows me the fans of palm, brightly died, hanging from a line, waiting to be weaved into jewelery creations....

By the time I finished reading, I worried Mom was bored to sleep. Her eyes were closed, the fan whirred, her beautiful long fingers were clasped across her chest which rose and fell with her breath.

Then suddenly her strong voice punctuated the silence: ‘I feel like I’m there with you,’ she said. ‘What a tough life in those villages.’ Her blue-gray eyes popped open and gazed over at me. ‘If you just keep going like that, Anne, you’ll have the book. But not too many pages, dear,’ she cautioned. ‘People don’t read anymore. That twitter thing, you know.’

She certainly wasn’t referring to herself. Her bedside table held a stack of eight books, and her TV stand another 10, and there were book collections in every room in the house – histories, biographies, books of poetry. But she’d watched the devolution over the years – participated in the technology revolution and praised it, but also acknowledged its ills.

I’d hoped to have my Mexico memoir done and dedicated to Mom before she’d passed. If I allow it, I can feel awfully sad that I didn’t. But instead I will allow Mom to be my inspiration to finish what I started and make her proud.

Readers, yes, the due dates have shifted a bit. But I remain committed to you and this book.

Sinceramente, Anne

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Writing Progress & Obstacles on Chincoteague

Sitting here in the protective capsule of my Ruby Subaru ’98 gazing out onto the roiling sea and the vacant, windswept beach, a take-out rockfish platter on my lap, I realize…writing really makes you hungry, especially when you’ve just finished a chapter featuring a Thanksgiving fusion feast at your host-family home in Mexico.

Back at the casa we have the whole tomatoes boiling for the sauce and the ropey Oaxacan cheese sliced and ready for the lasagna. As I  prepare the meatball mix, adding parsley, chopped onion, an egg and some fresh breadcrumbs to the meant, I hear Abuelita calling me from the back patio.'Anna, me ayude, por favor.'

I flip-flop across the slippery tile floor only to find her, a hammer in one hand and machete in the other, poised over the giant beige monster of a squash. I kneel down beside her and steady the pumpkin as she drive-in the wedge, creating an opening just wide enough for our fingers. We get a grip on it and pull in opposite directions,splitting the pumpkin in two and revealing golden orange meat inside. With our hands we scoop out the oozing mass of seeds and connective tissue; then we chop the calabasa into hunks and load the pieces, along with a cone of raw sugar, into a pot to boil. 

It sure seemed this Thanksgiving day cooking was as important as any Goal 1 project I had going. And then, hours later, the dinner table laden with the fruits of our labor and the guests gathered, it was time for comida. 

I’ve whisked myself away to Chincoteague Island on the southern tip of the Delmarva Peninsula for a Spring Break writing retreat. And what a treat it’s been: re-immersing myself in words, returning to my Mexico life on the page. I long for the story to flow all over again. But after a month or more away from it – busy with real-world endeavors like making a living (chamba, the Mexicans call it) – picking-up the thread where you last left it isn’t easy. It feels awkward, like running on stiff limbs and gasping for breath after a long winter’s break.

But this is the way it is.

I pour over pages of manuscript; the easiest thing to do is edit, but I’m not at that stage yet. I’m still creating the puzzle pieces and moving them around the table to find the right fit. I’m smack in the middle of Part II: Survive. Reading through hundreds of pages of my Peace Corps journal, culling-out material, I’m getting exhausted. I can see and feel the obstacles confronting my main character – the language barrier and the extreme heat and Monteczuma’s revenge hitting again and again.
 
I tell you, I’m down on the Mexico today – or at least Rioverde (I guess I can’t blame the entire country.) I tried talking to this carpenter today, recommended to me by the Engineers in my office. I need a desk that will fit into my 10x10 foot studio apartment; and I’m committed to getting all my furniture hecho local. If I’m going to promote sustainable, I have to live sustainable. 

But I could not understand a word this Enrique had to say to me. Mande, por favor, otro vez, repeat it please, I asked politely, at first. But he was speaking shit – using impossible grammar and pronunciation, garbling his words. It was like a different language – and I just didn’t have the patience, in the wake of three days of gastro-intestinal drama, to get him. After a few crude drawings and some high price quotes, the muchacho was clearly not interested in my business. He wanted to talk chisme with me. He asked if I worked with Bibiano, that 'old soltero', he called him. 'El no es cansado (or casado).' Tired, married? I always get the two words mixed up.

It didn’t matter, it was gossip. He knew I worked with Engineer Bibiano; everyone here knows everything about me. He wanted me to engage, but I refused, waving him off, turning on my heels and marching out…and not a moment too soon. I picked up my pace down Madero, Montezcuma chasing me the whole way home.

Then there are the unknowns with her Agenda 21 project assignment – and the drive to have an impact.

The wind whipped and the dust swirled and our flipchart pages few off the cinder block walls. As we setup, the community members gathered. A few muchachos rode up on horseback, one old man straddled a donkey, others arrived on bikes and foot. A large group perched on the bumper of a pickup.The composinos stood, arms folded, waiting.

Agenda 21 was the entertainment of the day. It did strike me: are we just a dog and pony show? Are we doing more harm than good here, creating expectations in these 200-odd ejido communities that we cannot possibly follow-through on? The list of community needs went on an on – and I learned a number of big new words: pavamentacion (paved roads), luz (electricity), drenaje (drainage). But the real biggies: Empleo, Apoyos por el Campo, that’s where they all gathered.

I was assigned to the Farm Support (Apoyos por el Campo) group. We filled-up a sheet clarifying the problem: No seeds, no fertilizer, no market any longer for their corn and tomatoes, competition from the industrial hot houses…

But there were no solutions; only problems and complaints. One muchacho piped up: If we don’t get our government supports, I’m going back to ‘the other side.’ A threat, a Plan B, an exit strategy? 

Beyond the dismal facts on the flipchart, their attitude would cripple them.

The main character is relentless – exijente, Abuelita calls her. If she would just take it easy, relax, be patient, confident and calm. Though, of course, I know what’s to come. It only gets harder; the ups and downs are just beginning. And THAT makes for good material.

I step out of the Subaru, wind whipping, and head down the empty beach wondering: If I had to do it over, would I join-up again?

Frankly, it’s enough just to relive it on paper!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Dance the Huapango ~ Reading at Studio 4309

As I stood before my audience at Studio 4903 last Saturday night, tea lights flickering, voices quieting, 35 familiar and new faces staring up at me in anticipation, I felt nervous, but also grateful.

I’d set-out last summer to launch my Kickstarter campaign to raise awareness and funding for my Mexico book project. But more important than the money, it was this kind of engagement and accountability from supporters that would carry me through the creative process.

It’s what got me to the desk that morning – and kept me there all day – much to my chagrin. The winter pall had broken and sun poured in through the dining room windows; the jay blue sky and sound of children’s voices taunted me. The inner voice of Resistance taunted as well, telling me all this material was crap, there was really nothing to present, and who'd show-up anyway?

Yet here I was, manuscript in hand; and there they were, hoping to be entertained. The poet had preceded me; seasoned and poised, he’d delivered the goods.

Now it was my turn. I started by announcing my new working title: Dance the Huapango - And Other Lessons from South of the Border on Surviving, Thriving and Serving. I explained that, during the campaign, I’d posted a ridiculous photo of me dancing the huapango, kicking up the dust, they say, at a Fiesta Quinzeaños. And a Facebook friend had shot right back: That’s the cover of your book!

Then I bent down and opened the lens of the projector, and that photo flashed onto the screen. Laughter emitted from the crowd. I was surprised and amused and a bit calmed. Unsure where to begin with the reading, I spontaneously decided: at the beginning, the very first chapter from Part I, called ‘Guapo’s Revelation.’

It was a frigid Winter Solstice night at Guapo’s on Wisconsin Avenue. My friend Beth and I had just been to a candle lighting ceremony with the Insight Meditation Community of Washington to celebrate this turning point in the seasons. Now we were reflecting over margaritas at the bar, amidst the whirring of the tortilla machine and the blare of piped-in mariachi music: What was next for us in our respective lives over this coming year? 

I’d been thinking a lot about it. 2009 was coming to a close; and it had been a year of death. My very first boyfriend, from Wyngate Elementary days, who’d become a professional violinist, died in March suddenly and of inconclusive causes. Coincidentally, I’d bumped into him in the very same Mexican bar a year before (after not having heard a word from him in over 10 years). He told me he’d stopped playing the violin. Four months later he was dead. 

Then in May my cousin Jonny Copp, world-famous mountain climber, was on a virgin ascent of Mount Edgar in the border-country between China and Tibet and was buried alive in an avalanche. He was 38 and died doing what he loved. These two young talented men were gone from my life and the planet long before their time.

In June another blow came; my Italian Grandma Lena passed away quietly in her bed in Staten Island. She, by contrast, had lived to 101, outlived everyone in fact – her eight siblings, her husband (by 50 years) and both her children (by 25). By then she must have been so lonely. 

‘Beth, I’ve been thinking about joining the Peace Corps,’ I said looking down into my birdbath of a drink. She almost fell off her bar stool. ‘Get out. That’s fantastic. You’ll make an awesome PCV!’
I felt myself smiling nervously. I’d been keeping this a secret – once spoken it had more force. … 

I finished that chapter to a nice round of applause, taking note in my mind of parts that dragged. But on the whole I sensed the chapter was useful chapter in setting up the main character’s drivers and, as my friend Chip would later validate, establishing a contrast to the life I was about to enter in Mexico. 

Then I continued...
 
Air light, sun bright, sky piercing blue, sewage canals, rolling arid hills, ribbons of highway, truck stops. Gliding north by bus from Mexico City’s airport, we 39 volunteers had a chance to take in this new land that would be home for the next two years and three months. Seemed more like America than any third-world scene from the Peace Corps brochures. Of course, it WAS America.

Drifting in and out of sleep, I was suddenly awakened by an abrupt halt. Outside my picture window, on the cobblestone street below, a trio of children was jumping and waving wildly, utterly delighted that this monster of a machine wound-up in their tiny pueblito. I was utterly delighted too.

But the country director was not. I could sense his annoyance from the seat next to me as we sat at the dead-end staring into a field of cows. ‘Where IS this Hacienda Castillo?’ he questioned the unruffled bus driver in gringo Spanish.

Ahorita, Señor. I assumed that meant we were near. (I would soon discover the real meaning and ubiquitous use of that word: now – ahora – in a little bit – ita – which usually meant never.)
We volunteers were dying to escape, AHORA, hike across that field, feel Mexico under our feet. We’d have hauled our 80-pound regulation packs if we had to. After all, we were in the Peace Corps now. …
At the conclusion of that chapter I got more applause. I was on a roll, and asked if they wanted to hear a little more? They did; so I read from ‘Hacienda Castillo Acclimatization’ and concluded with ‘Fish Farm in the Desert.’ I showed photos from each of those chapters too, to bring the world of Mexico to life.

When I finished reading, I felt relieved. I opened it up to questions…

When will the book be completed?
     By the summer, I hope, provided you continue to keep me accountable.

How did the experience change you?
     Ah, to find that out, you’ll have to read the book.

Once the guests had left and I'd gotten my equipment packed-up, a group of us headed a couple blocks up Wisconsin to Guapo’s, the place where the journey began four years earlier, to drink margaritas. Life imitating art imitating life. 

Thanks to all who came out for the reading and to Gayle at Studio 4903 for hosting.  (http://www.gaylefriedmandesign.com/Gayle%20Friedman%20Design%20-%20Studio%204903.html)

Hasta la proxima, until next time!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Will it Play in Peoria?

Re-reading my last update, it struck me that my opening comments about the family holiday in Peoria might have sounded incriminating. I’ve also gotten a few off-handed comments. My mother said of the post: It was long.

Well I can read between the lines.

So let me set the record straight.

First of all, Peoria really is a lovely place. Despite the name, the root of which (peor) in Spanish means the worst, it’s got many positive points.

A bluff city, it overlooks the grand Illinois which still carries barges, pushed by tugs, of corn and soybeans, downriver to the Mississippi and eventually the Gulf of Mexico. Back in the 1800s, Peoria became the first world distillery leader. The revenue generated by the liquor barons spawned development, including the construction of majestic in-town mansions. To this day, along Moss and High, these mansions stand tall and stately, with coach porticoes and ornate copper turrets, scalloped roofs and wrap-around porches, a reminder of the opulence of that era.

Of the people, Peorians are friendly in a genuine way. There’s an oft-quoted expression from Vaudeville days, Will it play in Peoria? I like to think it refers to the fair-mindedness of the people versus the boring predictability of middle-American townsfolk. The bar and restaurant scene is decent and prices are good for an ample plate; cost of living is manageable enough to support a decent art scene. Drive a few miles out of town and you are suddenly in rolling, expansive countryside; and if you go far enough you get to the End of the Road where they serve-up a good plate of eggs and bacon and better Bloody Marys.

Secondly, for the record, my family are a group of interesting and generous people. Musicians, artists, scientists, activists, adventurers and geeks, they are engaged with their world - and definitely worth writing about. On holidays we cook, eat and drink, talk (too much) liberal politics and generally relish in each others' company. I remember one Christmas reunion in back country Colorado: I brought along then-partner Tom who, scrambling for a seat at the dinner table packed with aunts, uncles and cousins, remarked: I don’t mind where I sit; there’s not a dud in the bunch.

Tom’s gone; but his comment lives in the family history.

Still…holidays are always a challenge because family can bring you back to your haunted, pimply youth in an instant. In an inflection or a look, you’ve time-traveled back to Friars Road, face-to-face with your own unfinished business. As the Buddhists put it: Family is the final frontier of enlightenment.

But family are a part of my history; so they are oftentimes present on the page, or just slightly off-stage, influencing what I say.

And then there’s you, dear reader, who creates your own world from the written word. This is the challenge and the beauty of writing: to get your truth on the page – open to as many interpretations as there are readers.

I'm sure I'll be facing much more scrutiny (especially from my Self) as I proceed through the writing of my Mexico story. I hope to be truthful, fair and entertaining – that I don’t incite the ire of my family (or my Mexican host-family) – though I cannot make promises. Most of all, I hope I allow enough space on the page for my readers to fill-in with their own frivolous, biased, and expansive imaginations.

Who knows?  Perhaps my Mexico book, when finished and published, will play in Peoria.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Into the Creative Void

I did lose my way, loose my way, on this holiday. I have to reorient, re-frame, resolve to remain on the path of creativity.

Much of this journal writing is about psyching myself up. If I don’t cheer for me who will?

Time to leave the laments over holiday indiscretions behind – too much alcohol, gluten and diary, not enough peace, love and family understanding – and re-enter that dreamy space.

Reading Jonny Copp’s journal excerpt (Patagonia, Thanksgiving 2006) on the puddle jumper outa Peoria, I am transported to a different place. From the flat barren farm terrain and rheumy winter skies of the US Midwest to the rugged outback of Argentina – and further beyond that to the life and mind of my cousin.

He reminds me of what I already know: life itself is a journey, if you take it that way. Or you just take what comes; and even that can be its own kind of adventure.

I would like to have known him better. I know little about climbing, tried it once on a wall in a gym in (aptly-named) Rockville. But Jonny’s journey (and journal) go beyond the physical sport to the mental and spiritual, the real limits we reach for inside ourselves, in the boredom of base camp rituals.

Don’t get me wrong: his goal was clear, and that chispa, the spark to get to the top was alive inside him. The peak of San Lorenzo, though physically obscured by the ‘domed-out giant turbulent cloud mass’, was ever present in his mind’s eye.

I have ‘turbulent cloud masses’ that block my way too. One’s been hovering before me for two weeks, in the midst of family holiday joy and trauma. I haven’t been ready to ice-axe my way in the dark slippery mist to get beyond and through it. So I sit at base camp taunted by questions that obscure my path: Where IS this story leading? What AM I trying to say?  And who REALLY cares?

‘Here,’ writes my cousin, ‘there is always the potential for being ill-prepared for the extraordinary. If you don’t believe it can happen, it probably won’t, for you.‘

Domed-out days like these, writing about and around the writing rather than writing, I pray for the sky to open up and the ideas to blow in on a sudden high. But more often than not, I have to gather the courage to head into the unknown, feeling around in the dark for the thread of my story, grasping at whatever nub of rock I can hold onto and propel myself onward.

Whatever nub.

Ahh, today it’s Rioverde Arrival, the beginning of my real Peace Corps experience, bonding with my host-family, trepidation at the thought of being stuck in the middle of nowhere rural Mexico for two whole years – and my drive to be accepted so I wouldn’t feel so lonely.

It’s a slippery nub; I feel the resistance rising up in me to reveal the painful truth, my hopes and the ambitions for a ‘successful service' luring me into some suspicious waters.

'I awoke to my host family’s orange truck starting up each morning and fell asleep to the sound of Mexican CNN playing on the flat screen at night. Saul’s brother got the orange business and Saul got the Rainbow Restaurant and Hotel. Another brother ran the eco-tour company and the sister managed the clothing boutique in the Centro. My host family was high-up on the Conquistadors’ pecking order which revealed 88 shades of a Mexican. Light-skinned, the Flores family came from Spanish blood. They were land-owners and merchants, educated and sophisticated; and I felt comfortable in the relative sameness.

'They even spoke a little English; they had an 'American family' in Kansas whom they visited on occasion. They believed in cross-cultural exchange; thought it educational for their young son. And they talked about bringing the American ways to incite change in their community. They hoped I'd help them regain control of their Agenda 21 initiative.

'Was this the ‘something bigger than me’ to which I aspired when I started the Peace Corps process almost a year ago? Seeds of doubt continued to germinate. Was this too comfortable? Living and working with the entitled, was I likely to lose perspective? Fall into the trap of ‘perverse paternalism’ that Professor Gamboa warned of on one of our pre-service training lectures? Time would tell. And I had all the time in the world, if I could only be patient.'

Doubt inside the slippery writing doubt...is that what I want to say about my Rioverde arrival? Is that the best place to begin? It doesn’t matter; it’s enough to buoy me, re-ignite the spark to get this Mexico adventure story down on the page – like Jonny’s urgency to climb, infused in his journals, watching, waiting, assessing the chances to make it to the top, and sometimes entering the void against the odds.

RIP Jonny Copp, 1974-2009

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r52qft0OX4w  --> In memory of Jonny Copp and Micah Dash, from "The Sharp End"

Friday, November 1, 2013

Put in the Efffort & Let Go of the Result - Peace Corps Lessons DO Apply to *Real Life*

Striving these last three weeks to reach my Kickstarter book campaign goal, so focused on the concrete $15k metric, I've lost site of my hard-earned Peace Corps lessons.  

Put in the effort, let go of the result. Do what you can with what you've got where you are.

But these mantras awaken me this morning...out of my campaign trance. Perhaps these lessons do apply to *real life* and will be valuable to readers of my book.  Ah, my book, there's a book at the end of this, and I've lost site of that too, in all the pressure to make this financial goal that will fund the completion and self-publishing.

There’s such a fine line between Effort and Ease, between Striving and Kicking-back.

With 5 days to go, how much do I push?  I have over 100 backers and I’m at over $9000 – an amazing effort. But it’s not enough.  Do I accept that?  Or dig my heals in and do whatever I can to get to the $15k mark?

I’m living my Peace Corps deadline experience all over again. Last year at this very time I was desperate to wrap-up the Viva Viveros project with concrete success. What if we hadn’t sold those Zamachihue trees the last week of my Peace Corps service? What if I hadn’t pushed up until the end to get that contract signed with CONANP and find a way to transport 20,000 trees across the state to the National Parque Potosi in a borrowed, converted flatbed?  

It would have been a pity. But the truth is, the BIG work was done. The Zama Mamas and I had had a year of shared experience within us already, trying, learning, fighting, taking action, having small wins and disappointments.

Same thing with this Kickstarter initiative. Maybe it’s not time for this Kickstarter campaign. Maybe there IS more learning in *failure* this time around than there would be in success. 

I awoke this morning with a delightful sense of relief at the thought of really letting go, and in my grogginess, before getting out of bed and facing reality, preparing my concession speech.

Because yesterday, god knows, was a Shining kind of day.  I caught myself on Skype video looking like Jack Nicholson hunched insanely over his typewriter with a stack of neatly typed pages beside him - every page filled over and over again with ‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.’  Ahhhhh, get me outa here!

I wouldn't want to tell my supporters this quite yet, that I'm going looney and planning my concession speech - or fluctuating between the two extremes.  

I want to forge ahead with Right Effort, appreciate all that I've learned, and reflect on all the people with whom I've connected (or re-connected) during this brief but intense process. (Remember, I'm the one who chose the 30- vs. 60- or 90-day campaign deadline.)

Turns out Kickstart isn't just about the money. It's kickstarted me to finally come out of my shell and start talking about my book project, bringing the Peace Corps Mexico experience home. 

The salons and happy hours and fiestas - the stranger at the bar who was so jazzed by my Mexico stories he pledged $150 bucks. 

Professor Edgardo from Mexico who found me on Facebook and pledged $1000 pesos. 

My mom and aunt who committed fat chunks and recruited their friends and neighbors to get on-board too. 

Good old AMS work colleagues who hosted a dinner and invited their friends to listen to my tall tales. 

My meeting with the Mexican embassy and the Mt Pleasant library, both of which are leading to book talks and slideshows.

All the Peace Corps pals who've pitched in because 'I'm telling all their stories.' 

My brother who devoted time to help my 88 year old uncle through the onerous online payment process when he couldn't remember his Amazon password. 

And my friend Rita who logged-in from Rioverde to send her support for the gringa across the border. 

People who've never heard of Kickstarter, many who don't know me - but all who believe in this creative, collective process.

Be grateful. That's another life-saving Mexico mantra.  And I'm feeling that now.  And one more: 
Never give up.