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Places

Time July 7th, 2014 in First Generation Scholars | No Comments by

I have always been fascinated by someone’s connection to a place; a hometown, a bend in the road that was meant to be a pit stop but turned into much more, a place in a movie or a book that takes on a life of its own.  I want to know who we are in relation to where we find ourselves in one moment or for a lifetime.  This is something I look for and become attached to in the books that I read, and I have found that the older I get and the more that I write, this is something that I do in my own writing; my words gravitate themselves towards where I am, how I identify the memory, and write about it.  A place, a home, a backyard, the open road, a room, or anywhere, really do become their own entities, something we attach ourselves to. For me, I see it in a lot of books by South African authors who struggle with their Apartheid-ridden country and a connection to a land that holds their identity, no matter how complex that identity might be.  I see it in Joan Didion’s writing, a California dream told through the eyes of a woman who has seen it all and who maybe still doesn’t understand all of it.  I saw it once in a Toni Morrison novel, and then another time in a story by David Sedaris, and every book by Adichie.  Where we are, who we are when we are in that place, I think never leaves us, it is with us forever.  And forever isn’t a word that you can use with people, you can’t be with any one person forever, even yourself. But with a place, it will forever follow you. It might change while you are away and become unrecognizable, but if you checked for sure on a map, you would have to say, yes, this is definitely the place. A place kind of follows you until you come back to it somehow, picking up whatever you haven’t finished. Or perhaps what the place hasn’t finished with you.

I am from a place that has been described as neglected.  And dangerous.  And dirty.  And eclectic.  And historical, classic, where we have really really good food.  I am from a town that is famous for the best and worst things, and I am from the side where you can find both of those things all at once.  I grew up in a small house on a small street that had both its quiet and louder years, a very old house that I really do love.  And I suspect I will never be as comfortable in another place as I am in that old, small house.  It’s outside porch, the patio that we built a few years ago, the one bathroom that we all share, the beautiful big tree in the front yard that my dad says is my mother’s tree, the one that has pink flowers everywhere in the early spring.  The three trees on the front sidewalk that we planted, representing the three daughters.  No, I do not think I will ever find a place like that, more simple, close together, almost suffocating, yet the kind of suffocating that settles into you to the point where when the house is empty, you can’t quite put your finger on what feels so weird.

I didn’t think that there was anything wrong with where I came from until I started college. If privilege has a smell, it smells like freshly planted trees surrounded by gates in a run down town not so far off.  It smells like nature being forced.  I graduated from a local high school to attend a private university in Connecticut, and I don’t think I ever really considered, before starting school, that to the rest of the world, or to the rest of the small world at my school, that I was from an inner-city, a place to only pass through on the train.  Class differences became apparent, and what I could talk about this my peers remained superficial and unreachable.

I began to feel a bit ashamed that I had friends who went on vacation to other countries and that I had no stories to share like that.  Or that I skipped out on restaurants because I couldn’t fathom working at my job for three hours just to spend it on a chicken salad.  I began to resent that it was harder for me to connect with my classmates because all of a sudden I was conscious of class.  I read more and more and then found friends who were, like me, from other inner-cities that did not quite belong.  I found my little group and we went on our way, with our dreams in tow, slowly forgetting that we were living in a little fantasy as we concentrated on the reality of real life.

That is how I spent the first two years of college, with a new class consciousness and trying to find real friends. Then we all began to realize that we can “study abroad,” something none of us had ever though of before.  So what the hell?  We always wondered what this or that place might be like because we saw pictures once or because there is that one interesting part of the culture.  Some of us applied, some of us went, and then all of a sudden all the shit that we were dealing with as first-gens, inner-city and socially conscious kids became real shit.

Boom.  Our new realizations that were realized at college were put to the test, and we had to learn how to budget living in a different country without a job, being separated from our families who, during our time at college, were our backbones when we felt like we were never going to truly understand our classmates the way that they don’t understand us because they never had to worry about money or things like that.  We struggled with knowing that our parents never have and never will have the opportunity to travel or have a college education, and the weight of succeeding to show our parents and maybe even the whole world that in fact we ARE the ones who deserve to make it out somehow.

I am in Chile, and all of a sudden I have the privilege of being a person who has traveled.  And who has an education. I am not quite sure how to deal with this shift of who I am, or maybe not a shift, but a gradual development.  And my hometown for me now is taking on a new form, something I am more comfortable with.  Yet it is funny that I had to live so far away to be close to something that will always be my everything.

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A letter, not sent.

Time June 11th, 2014 in First Generation Scholars | No Comments by

The day you left, you didn’t really leave. I know this because the waves still come and go, recycling each other over and over again. And since you left it has rained almost every day, a greatness that lifts itself up for long moments and short ones; it rests in the interim of a great cleansing and sometimes gives us rainbows of warmth. We see ourselves peeking out from behind our curtains at the falling rain, looking at the coldness clinging to our windows, looking at each other for a second before turning away again to a warmth that comes from within, from aloneness, or the feelings of aloneness that we all get with a greyness that settles above us in the sky. It is a sadness that isn’t quite sadness; a settling, not quite an embrace, but not closed-ness, either. And peering out from our sheer curtains that still remind us of a summer we will always cling to, we are all the greyness that is spread across the sky, moving with the clouds that glide above our heads, giving to us a damp way of life, a rain that makes our hands cold even when we are inside. The kind that makes us dig into our closets for our blankets; we seek out human touch and the softness of our bare skin, the only kind of warmth that comes with bareness.

And you are the bursts of blue that come to me in moments when I feel that I have become unraveled, a coming apart that makes no noise but falls quietly around me, sinking beneath us, invisible, blanketed. And when I miss you, I dream of walking to the ocean alone and walking in the cold sand. The water is cold, and if it is blue, like the time we passed by it and saw its rising and falling below us outside of our windows, then I wouldn’t see it in the darkness. But I do not think it matters. And I do not think I would know what to do once I got there. Maybe I could let the cold take over me in a winter that hasn’t reached you yet. Or I could turn back and walk towards home. Maybe I could whisper words that would carry themselves to you while you were sleeping, near your own ocean’s shore. I would think of persistence and inconvenience and the molding of a tenderness that is strong enough to be thrown back and forth. Maybe, a cold sand can make one think of warmness that persists in the places that we cannot see. But I would not think of a luck that has carried itself to us while we waited to bump into each other in this life, to carry each other to where our true selves belong in the idea of who we think we are.

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What is a Word

Time June 2nd, 2014 in First Generation Scholars | 2 Comments by

I wrote an essay the other week that was more like a story, and if you don’t know the difference between the two, then I would tell you I don’t really know either.  I guess when it comes down to it, an essay is more like a story that you wish you could tell even though someone else already told it and you are just highlighting the parts that you like, or care to analyze for your own poetic sake.  And in a story you can find the words you really want to tell in the perfect order you can imagine them in, and they were probably inspired by the book or story that you wrote the essay about.  And if you are smart enough, you know that your story was inspired by an author’s words that you really admire.  If you are wise, you read their work so that you can imitate their style and grow into your own hand and head that make you write down and organize your words in whatever order speaks to you the most.  If you are like me, you do all of those things at once and never know where the beginning begins and where the end ends.  But I have a theory that that the beginning and the end start at the same spot and are the same thing.  Like midnight on a clock; the end of one day and the beginning of a new one are the same thing, and for that I don’t believe in any of it.

***

Chile has given to me less than it has forced into my hand, into my consciousness for all eternity.  It has not asked, it has taken.  It has not gently eased me into a life abroad, it has given me a mirror with answers that only lead to more questions.  If I thought I came here to learn, what I really did was unlearn the things that I thought I knew.  And if I ever thought about books in a certain way, the way that they give to me an imagination and the feel of language when perhaps everything else escapes us in the end, I only understand it more now that I am in a different place.  But maybe it has taken away my fear of daring to think like a writer, to seriously think that maybe one day I could write something worthy of being read by others.  And even more than that, that I could write and write and write without ever knowing if one day someone will will know my name on the street.

Can you call yourself a writer if you no one ever reads your stories?  Can you call yourself a writer if you don’t have your name and picture on the jacket of a book or in a magazine?  Can you call yourself a writer if luck or courage never found you?  If you have three kids and one dies tragically, do you still tell people that you have three kids when they ask?  If you were injured playing on your college basketball team and can’t play, do you tell the girl you like that you are a basketball player?  If your dog runs away but you hope it comes back soon, do you still have a dog?

And I would say that it is a peculiar thing that in a country whose language escapes me in many moments can still give to me, more intensely and abruptly than I have felt before, a connection to the integrity of language.  If I cling to my books, or the written word, or the idea that when we have nothing else left, we always have language, then I know that in Chile more than I did in any other place.  And if I have never been to many places, perhaps it is because I have always waited to come here, to the south of the south, words unknown still ringing in my ears in moments of confusion and frustration.  And still, I have language, the idea of it, its existence and the way it shapes and molds itself, and in the process, us.  And if we bend and fold through the years always speaking and writing, then maybe that’s how we always remember who we are, or were, or wished we could be.  But in this moment, maybe Chile hasn’t shown me who I am or will be or what I want except for an inconvenient love that will follow me back home. It has given me the guts to know myself through words in a perfect order; a courage that has timidly crept up on me the way a longing patiently waits to come to the surface of a restless person’s skin.

I am a foreigner, at home in a familiar place.

 

 

 

 

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What you look for

Time May 19th, 2014 in First Generation Scholars | No Comments by

Last night, I was standing in my kitchen making my favorite breakfast.  I had the bananas in my hand and I was reaching for the chocolate chips in the cabinet next to my stove.  The pancake batter was all over the counter next to me; most of it was able to stay in the mixing bowl.  Eggs were ready to be cracked into the hot pan next to me on the left.  And even though something inside of me knew it was nighttime, or supposed to be nighttime in a reality that seemed far off, the windows in the kitchen were open and the sunlight came in along with the kind of spring breeze that made you feel warm and just a little chilly at the same time.  I saw what I was seeing out of my own eyes in front of me, cooking for myself or people who were not there.  I saw myself standing in front of me by the back door.  I was wearing an apron and I was in many places at once.

And then I woke up in the dark, in a bed that, for a second, I thought I had never been in before.  Why was I not in my room with my rainbow Christmas lights or all of my books or my flower comforter?  I turned to my side and remembered where I was, a body sleeping quietly next to me.  I was so far away from a place that is called home, yet when I realized where I was, I was able to turn over and close my eyes again.

It was the first time I had dreamed of home, of something that I maybe didn’t realize I missed so much.  American breakfast?  Chocolate chip and banana pancakes?  The comfort of my own kitchen?  And if, for a moment, I thought I woke up in my own bed, do I miss that more than I realize as well?  And when I am grocery shopping in Chile, do I sometimes keep an eye out for pancake mix that kind of looks like an American brand even though I am pretty sure I will never find it?

And yet I am not ready to go home yet; maybe just visit for a day or two so that I could return to Chile feeling refreshed.  Or maybe I am okay with just dreaming of home a few times, knowing it will come to me when I am not ready for it, or more ready than I would care to admit.

I am writing about a dream that I had last night.  And I know a place that has really good crepes.  They aren’t pancakes, but they come  pretty close.

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Places with different views

Time May 19th, 2014 in First Generation Scholars | No Comments by

The days have been cloudy here.  They begin with a fog that rolls down the hills.  I can see it in the morning from my window, not sure if it really is dawn or perhaps the approaching dusk.  The sky is almost white and sometimes it feels like it is coming down on all of us, like a dome that arches above our heads; we couldn’t make it out if we tried.  I wake up now, everyday, bracing myself for the greyness of outside, the kind of greyness that would settle into the Earth and stay for a long time to come, making itself comfortable between the edges of the plants in our gardens and the spaces between our bodies on the street and quiet words whispered into our pillows in the morning.  And the grey makes the bright green chair standing in my neighbor’s window more radiant and my orange dress sway a little more forcibly in the wind.  And I sit down and try to write in the same cafe every week, ordering the same sandwich that I know I like.  At first, I settled down in front of a window where the sun shined through every day until slowly it became a looking glass into a world that gave me a sky that was more like one giant cloud.

The very absence of the sun makes me crave its rays even more, wondering if I shall not have the rain beating against my window every morning nor the sun’s sweet light, why I am stuck in the middle of a sky that looks the same at sunset and sunrise.

This is settling into newness; a sameness, a routine, the way that you find a pair of socks that were made for you to wear them on the days when comfort can be completely consumed.  Or the way that a song, no matter how much the instruments stay the same ringing in our ears, give to us the realization that maybe while it will always remind us of a certain person, or place, or a smell, and sometimes all three, we never listen to it the same way twice.  And the song comes to us in the form that we are in that day, and we are never the same person every time the same beat hits our ears, so familiar we almost forgot what we appreciated about it in the first place.

And Chile is like a favorite song.  It comes to me every day though I am not the same person.  Its beat hits my ears when I wake up, so familiar I almost forget to listen completely.  And on the monotonous days that only seem so because the weather dampens the colors of everything that surrounds us, I think I will seek out the sun a little more closely so that I can see the bright yellow houses outside my window in my bedroom as if they were made from the sun themselves.

And then I decided to sit at a different couch, with a different window, with a view I had never really looked at.  And the smallest bit of sun along the horizon peaked out from behind the clouds.  I was sure that the sun was setting and its image reflected off of a window far away, bright, sure, disappearing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I sleep easy

Time May 1st, 2014 in First Generation Scholars | No Comments by

Sometimes it feels like I stepped on Chile’s foot. The kind of stepping that happens when you go in for a hug or a kiss and come out having stepped on the precious toe of a stranger, or a friend, and you have broken a sacred pact of the never-to-be-touched-ness of the corner of someone’s pinky toe. The betrayal of personal space, the sudden moment of embarrassment before you move on, almost reluctantly, guiltily.

I discovered Chile through the stepping on toes.  On rocks in the ocean, on dance partners in clubs, the spilling of wine, the kissing of an ear by accident when I meant to brush a cheek with my lips, and inaccurate calculations of height, and weight, and a restaurant bill.  I discovered Chile through awkward hellos and through the conscious effort of using language, of accessing the part of my brain that connects to my mouth that tells me to fling the words from my tongue.  I discovered Chile through quick bursts of sweat under my armpits in public as I panicked to understand something, independently, with looks of ease, tranquility.

There are still parts of me wandering down streets whose names I think I will never really remember even though I know exactly where they are, how to get there, and which place has the cheapest drinks.  I am a wanderer with her head looking up at the grey or sunny sky, reading a book on a patch of grass in a quiet place, or dreaming of other places that I might go in my life because I have made it this far already.  I dream of using foreign words with fluidity, the kind of words that roll off my tongue the way we carry music notes in our mind along with a beat.  I have friends that I hardly know but will forever know them the way I did during that night of that barbeque, or when we all danced together, or when we all stayed in and sang and played the guitar.  And being alone sometimes is the greatest comfort in the world, and sometimes falling into an inconvenient love that is all-consuming shines in the same light.  And I want to make love to the rising sun every day, and lay next to the book the I fell asleep reading the night before, or a body lying next to me, silent and sleeping, breathing gently the smell of my bare skin.

I think to myself, at times, Chile has found me, too. And when I got here, I slept with my windows closed even though the weather was warm and inviting.  I stayed quiet, and watched, and looked, and thought.  And I stepped on toes, and then I recovered not so quickly after, settling into a life that I could see out of my bedroom window until I went outside and walked along the same view until I felt like I was really living.

And the truth is now I sleep with the windows open. And I keep the sheer curtains drawn back all the way so that the sun wakes me up in the morning, never giving me an extra moment of sleep. And I think time lasts forever. I think that a second is just as long as a year, and a deep breath lasts as long as you want it to, the chest, because it made itself big with one gulp of air, will be big always, ready to heave out a breath of despair, of relief, of an unsure moment turned into comfort once more. I think that time allows us to save moments forever. And when something happens in a particular spot, it is happening always, dancing around other memories of other people at the same time. We live in a ballroom of dancing memories and moments that exist forever. They spin around ticking clocks.

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A fire in the Night

Time April 21st, 2014 in First Generation Scholars | 2 Comments by

An empty tea cup, resting on a pile of rubble. An overturned doghouse, a charred remembrance of a family pet perhaps now dead, left behind, wandering. A pile of twisted and ashy tin, houses no more. Trash, to to picked up in the aftermath of the fire that started way up high, shining along the tops of the hills.  A dustiness that sits in the skin and settles as you climb the hills, ascending into a cloud you really can’t see. In your car, or your work boots, the smell of burned things violates your nostrils.

There was a fire in one corner of the world. It took advantage of a dryness that began to consume itself, a spark that rolled and rolled down the hill until it swarmed and twirled across sections Valparaiso, a home, a city, rolling hills of Chile. What will they pull from underneath the rubble of things that used to belong to the identity of a child, a family? What will be born out of the dust, ruined houses, the news stories?

In Chile, the bomberos don’t have a salary. Thirty hours or more spent in the hills during the fire left them with just as much energy as if they had slept all night, or were standing at the peak of a mountain high up in the clouds.

I drank pisco sours one night a few days after the fire ended with the bomberos of Valparaíso and Antofagasta. I sat and listened to the firefighters unwind in the midst of memorized gringos, happy to pass the time smoking cigarettes and making conversation about anything but what captivated their lives in the moment. We stumbled around our awkward praise, we moved on, and settled into a language that let us take a deep breath and lay back in our seats.

They said that they were going to stay away from the hills tomorrow. They shook their heads and said they were going to sleep, sleep. Maybe they are going to pick themselves back up the way that Valparaíso could, with a little bit of rest and a little bit of time, snoozing, while it’s people move and bend within it, leaning against each other in the wind.

Maybe I am a gringa. That might be true when I open my mouth on the micro. Or when I ask someone to repeat the same sentence twice or three times. Or my ideas of culture and feminism and comfort. And maybe when they pulled out their dirty uniforms that smelled like ash that night I really wanted to try it on when they asked if I wanted to even though I didn’t, never ever could. But I still peak my head around the corner of streets that I don’t know and take a deep breath when around the corner, not everybody turns their head at a smile, or forgets to laugh when it sometimes hurts, and that when there are flames in the sky, everyone stands at a distance until they, all together, sweep up the dust that settles underneath grayish clouds.

We pick ourselves back up and it is enough. Nobody asks for more.

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Welcome to wherever you are

Time April 9th, 2014 in First Generation Scholars | No Comments by

We were headed way south.  Changing altitudes, if you will.  Bumping along the road in the bus, we were mildly dirty, tired, driving towards the south of Chile, visiting the Mapuche.  Person of the Earth.  La tierra. We found ourselves in the middle of a foreign land to look at mountains on every side of where we stood.  To take pictures with our cameras.  To learn a few words in their language, only to perhaps forget them five days later.  We were there, sweaty, with our memory cards empty, so that we could fill them with a new way of thinking about the stark greenness of the earth.  The Mapuche, they are the ones who take care of Chile’s earth the way that a mother loves her child while it is still in her womb.  And we are the people who rub the stomach, almost forgetting to ask if we can as we reach out our hands to feel a preciousness that we want to brush up against our fingers.

Our rafting adventure, our zip-lining morning, learning the different uses of medicinal plants, the smell of fresh manure, our oily hair, the quietness of a pure appreciation, locally grown food, the distinction of identities, fluidity, the different meanings of the word “right,” clouds that are almost touching mountains, cold water that looks so pure that it could trick you into thinking it’s warm, getting talked at for hours in a language we sometimes like to think we know, the heaviness of a darkness that sees not one ray of light:  maybe these are some of the things that sailed along the currents of our consciousness once or twice on our trip, or maybe they are things that only sailed passed mine, making a sort of nest in the periphery of my thoughts, the kind that I see in the corner of my mind while I am looking at something else.  And still, I do not know exactly what we learned about the tribe called Mapuche, other than that they are not Chilean, living in a country that is called Chile.

Maybe some Mapuche do not own the mountains that surround their houses, or the water that is their moat around where their people have lived for centuries, or the beaten down grass that has formed a crooked path in between the trees.  But nobody, not even the people who have the papers that give them the right to claim ownership, owns the water that flows beneath the surface of the rivers.  Nor does anybody own the dips and the cliffs around the mountain bends, or the clouds that are almost touching the summits of the mountains like a blanket almost falling into place on somebody’s bare shoulders.  Nor does anybody own the seeds or the trees that spring to life underneath the green grass, invisible for eternity to our eyes.  And who needs to call themselves Chilean, or American, or Sudanese, if none of those things are ours in the same way that we want them to be?  And if the Mapuche say that they are not Chilean, it is because they really aren’t, and will never need to be when the dirt-formed paths that lead them to their neighbors’ houses, or to where their animals graze lazily in the sun all day, will always guide them home.

And sleeping in a hut native to the Mapuche for one night might make us better people, or it might make us think long and hard about why we as college students really dragged our asses all the way down to Chile for a semester.  Not the reasons that linger on the surface, like the ones that make us say we want to learn Spanish or live by the water.  But the kind of why that makes us face our own whiteness in the mirror until we learn about medicinal plants and wonder how simple life could be if we lived in a ruka and raised our own animals.  The kind of why we would have to dig for with a shovel that dug and dug inside our own selves for an answer to a why that perhaps now, we only answer mechanically.  The kind of answer that doesn’t let us get away with four days in the south of a country, but the kind of answer that is hungry for more, the kind of answer that will never have an end.

***

Sometimes we send a prayer to the children dying in some faraway place and we are all infuriated at the injustice done around the world.  And we think about what others should do, what they must do.  And maybe sometimes we try to put in check the kind of privilege that enters the realm of who has access to clean water, or land rights, or who can speak a language that is so old that if souls do in fact exist, it would be born into each person that spoke it.  And other times, we pack a bag and head down to the south of Chile, or the slums of India, or try to learn Xhosa, clicking our tongues like the gringos that we are, imagining what life would be like if we lived our lives speaking a language so foreign and unique.  And those are the times when we turn off our cell phones, tell our families that we will see them later, and sleep in our own sweat on a bed while we borrow the lives of others.   Maybe we think how pure of a life it would be to live more simply, but perhaps never consider our own un-pureness living on the other side of the world.  In four days that could really be counted in hours, we all packed our bags and saw the same things through different eyes, and I will never really know what that trip in the clouds meant to us.

***

The bus, clinking down roads and roads of places that we will never know and perhaps never see again except through the lenses of our cameras.  Pictures, that we may or may not have for the rest of our lives.  Memories that surely have already begun to fade just a little bit; I wonder if we really did gain a new perspective on the southern tip of our world.  And if we went any more south, what would we have found, realized, about people whose very name tells the world that there is no separation between human and dirt, and beast, and grass, and that the idea of being from the earth is not a perspective or an idea read out of a book.  It just is.

Maybe our comfort will one day bring us to our knees.   And I would dare to say that I am afraid that I might one day forget how green the Earth is in one of its corners that has not seen gravel, or plaster, or the incessant trampling of car tires.  And I would dare to say that there are very few places where human hands have touched a patch of grass with delicacy, fragility, with a consciousness that has risen from the ground itself. I would dare to say that I looked at the greenness, at its length, at its depth, and I put away my camera, lest I miss the moment and forget it forever.

 

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When there is no title

Time April 1st, 2014 in First Generation Scholars | No Comments by

He asked me what I thought of his country.   I am sure that the silence that hung between us felt like a long-awaited drum roll, the kind that brings news that is not quite worth its entrance.  A vague disappointment, language that has escaped out the back door.  A shift from a shared romance to an internal one, a reflection that is my own.  In Spanish, in English.  Driving to the ocean in the nighttime, an increasingly regular past time, could I switch from looking at his face into my own?  Mi pais.  I might has well have spun the globe around and put my finger on a random place to live for six months.  Chily?  No, chee-lay.

But that is not how it happened, really.  How it happened was more of an accident, an unintentional dream.  When you are from a place where you are taught that you cannot, cannot be, cannot dream of the same things as, let’s say, the kids in the private school one town over, it doesn’t matter where your destination is as long as you have a one-way ticket.  But Chile speaks in a language that you can only hear if you listen really closely, if you try really hard to get yourself down to its corner of our universe.  It’s the kind of place where someone might go not to get away, but to get away somewhere else.  Like a slight shift in reality, language exists in the streets, in its art, and in its literature, in the couples that you see on the subway, in the guitar played on the street, in the artist spreading their paint over a dirty wall.  It is so loud that you can’t miss it, and also so quiet that if you aren’t careful, you could miss it really easily.

I came here to read, I said.  A bullshit story if I ever heard one.  More than that, I came here because one day some time ago, I was told that I couldn’t.  What do I think of this country?  I think that it is mine, too, for a short while.  And I think that one day I will be able to speak Spanish the way that I do English, with a sassy flare and hand gestures that suggest comfort and emphasis, not fear and embarrassment.  What do I think of your country?  I asked him as we parked at the ocean.  I think that the lights in the hills at night don’t hinder all of the stars from shining in the sky, and I like that very much.

Maybe the moments that are the most vital to us, the moments that determine who we are and who we will be until the day we die are the moments when we feel like we are frozen still.  Attached to words that hang in the air after a serious question.  Stuck to a thought that can’t seep through the spaces between our teeth, hanging on the edge of falling into the air.  I am here to live.  I am here to write, to talk.  I am here look up at the sky everyday.

His skin didn’t really taste like anything and it wasn’t one of those moments when you remember exactly how that person tasted.  It was one of those moments where there is a realization that has come after the moment has passed, the kind of realization that allows the moment to last a little longer, to linger on.  When I undressed by myself in my room that night, a scent that I recognized as his own stuck to my skin and hung in the air.  I smelled like him.  A smell that reminded me of a home that I feel like I always knew, traveling with me in my skin, a reminder of everything that I have.  Maybe the heaviness of Chile, what swayed me completely to be here is like that smell; a little slow coming and a little fast in knocking you off your feet.

A famous writer once said that she writes to find out how she feels.  Maybe living is the same way.  We live to find out where we are.

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Visions in a Flash

Time March 17th, 2014 in First Generation Scholars | 1 Comment by

Spare me, a moment.

I saw Michelle Bachelet waving to the crowd, to me,  in a convertible passing by as if she were in a movie reel in slow motion.  Chileans screamed, te amo Michelle, and I cried a little bit because it seemed like I could almost touch her hand, even though I was too far away.  I thought of the Chilean mountains that I saw out of my airplane window, a moment when reality held dream’s hand.

Four stray dogs walked by my side one night on my way home in the dark, aimlessly following another human at night, but to me, on my way home alone, they could have been my best friends.  That night, I slept easy for the type of luck that followed me to my doorstep.

I left the house one day with my map and a notebook from class and found myself wandering around the city with my head in the clouds and the map in my hand, turning down every road I came across. I think one day, if my map survives its creases and folds, that I might frame it, because it might be one of the most important things that I own.

I danced with the best dancer I have seen in Chile at a club, and after promising him two songs, I gave him three.  And I didn’t even realize it until I snapped out of what seemed like a dream.  He spun me around until I started laughing a little bit.  I don’t think I will ever see him again.

I thought of all of my friends from high school and wished that they could see through my eyes.  The mothers, the fathers, the dead, the faces forgotten not too long ago, the dreamers, and the jaded.  Privilege has many faces, but I don’t want to the person that wraps it around me like a blanket; how did I get here?  Is this what getting older feels like?

Chile is as bright as I always imagined it would be.

 

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Anonymity, considered.

Time March 7th, 2014 in First Generation Scholars | 1 Comment by

Joan Didion once said that we tell ourselves stories in order to live.  I guess that this must be true, no matter who you are, because in the end the things that we cling to are the memories that become stories that we tell ourselves over and over again, whether they are good or bad.

My stories from Chile are the kind that mesh together to make up one long novel of a realized newness, of romance, of discovery, of wonder, of a consciousness developed while a life is lived in moments swallowed whole.   But this is a story of one particular moment, so fleeting that it could have been passed and forgotten, an unsacred shame if I had remembered my headphones that day.

On the train one day, there was a man who played the guitar for a mostly oblivious audience, one of the best gifts Chile has given me so far.  He played a song that had no lyrics, no other instruments; a man and his guitar.  I think he may have been a kindred spirit, or someone that I crossed paths with in the past life, only to see him again briefly in this one, for two train stops that would have passed me by if I kept my head down in a world entirely my own.

And I swear, in those two bus stops, the sound of the guitar fit so perfectly into the rhythm of our lives; the precision of the chords lent themselves to the looks on our faces, to the positions of our bodies, to who we were and who we might have been to each other as the world outside sped past us in the dark.  It was a story in motion and we were given our own beat to live to for a little while, no matter who we were, what languages we spoke, or where we lived, packed into the same car.

And somehow, the man playing that tune on the guitar, going in that one direction at that time, gave to that mother kissing her baby sitting in the middle of the car, and the middle-aged man staring off into the distance, thinking about something that I will never know, a beat to live to if but for a moment.  A tune to kiss to, to think to, to cry to, to smile to, to be rocked to sleep to, wrapped up all into one.

To that little unknown tune, anyone could have felt the presence of the mother kissing her baby on the subway, or a couple resting their heads on each other for what looked  a long ride.  Or felt the presence of the man reading psychology studies on his IPad who could have been a professor or a concerned citizen, or the young man sitting across from you with a backpack who could go to the same school as you, and maybe he does, and you wonder if you will see him again because you want to ask him what he listens to every day on the subway.

Maybe we do walk to our own beats, sometimes with our heads down or in the clouds.   They play as we walk in the street, or wake up in the morning and imagine how our day is going to be.  They become aligned with a thumping inside our chests that quickens as we run to catch the subway, or feel someone new for the first time, or find ourselves lost in a new place after dark.   But this was a kind of tune that could be the opening tune to a story of a life in motion, a backdrop of a melody that is entirely our own, yet belongs to everyone around us at the same time because of where we found ourselves in one particular moment.

And I could swear in that moment, the made-up tune of an anonymous musician belonged to all of us at once, even if we all didn’t know it, a sacredness that hung in the air even after the last string on the guitar ceased to vibrate against his fingers.

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When Time Slows Down

Time February 28th, 2014 in First Generation Scholars | No Comments by

In America, all I could ever think about was time.  The way the numbers looked on, let’s say, the clock in my room, or my phone, or my computer.  Or in a brightly lit classroom.  How much time I needed to get to class, to eat my lunch, to do homework, to get ready for a party.  To know what time it was so that when it was a different time, I could move on, not within.

And I should say something about infatuation.  The moment when time must stop.

I am here to talk about the kind of love that lights the world from the ground up, the kind that starts in dark places and seeps into the light like a fog that quietly covers the ground, lingering, lingering.  And it seems that, from a distance, it could choke you if you get too close, but you don’t realize until you are in it that it is too late, and that being lost in a haze is like being surrounded by something that is both around you and within you, untouchable to the core.

I guess infatuation is kind of like that, a choking kind of feeling that makes you feel like you could cry at any moment, the lightest bit of restless urgency, or a view from a high window that vaguely reminds you of something you can’t quite put your finger on.

It’s like the city Valparaíso.  Or Viña del Mar.  Where colors meet a newness that never cease to keep its residents in awe, mesmerized by the realness, by the able-to-be-touched sensations that live amongst them in a city filled with street art, stray dogs, greenness, dirt, food carts, a zeitgeist for what the West would call a country on the rise.  A place where tiny streets spill into more streets and more, winding this way and that, familiar, foreign, wrapped up into one.

And who wouldn’t be infatuated by sprawling hills upon hills that begin and end with each other, that roll within and amongst each other, for miles on end until you think that the view around you is the same city, must be, connected to the very core.  And one has looked and forgets to look back; love.  And what is time but a thing that allows us to wander among the things that make our heads spin, around and around.

So you walk through the fog and let it consume you for the moment until you find your way out of it.  You look back and see that the fog has dissipated, and that what is left over is an invisible testament to what was there, for a moment in time, and, because of that, will be there always, claiming its stake in our puny idea of a timeline that makes up our lives.

I stare at the time, painted on a wall of a street whose name I do not remember.

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Looking Up and Out

Time February 19th, 2014 in First Generation Scholars | 2 Comments by

Once, I dived off a cliff in Vermont.  This moment is kind of like that.

If that afternoon was hot like the rest of them in July, I didn’t know it because I was shivering,  buried beneath the shadowy trees   whose growth remained uninterrupted by isolated wilderness.  I stood at the top of a small cliff and let my toes hover over the edge as I peeked at the water below, and, even in a few places, I could see all the way down to where the sand met the water at the bottom.  If I had ever been truly afraid of breaking a leg, or a tooth, or my neck, it was in this moment, covered by a blanket of darkened shade.  Fear.  It makes our skin feel prickly and like we will never eat again, even if we could conjure up the best meal we could imagine.  Fear, half excitement and half irrationality, yet it comes from the realest of the real roots that lie within us.

This could be one of those stories where the person says, “and then I just jumped.”  But it isn’t, because I didn’t just jump.  I thought a lot before jumping, and almost didn’t do it.  I saw myself laid up in a hospital bed with broken legs, or coming up from the water having lost my bathing suit top, or slipping off the edge right before jumping.  Real movie stuff.  In that moment I must have imagined that sometimes, even if it is bad, life really can be like it is in the movies.

Anything could have happened but it wouldn’t have been far off from flying.

I guess in the end, I knew that I couldn’t see if there were any rocks at the bottom, or exactly how deep the small watering hole was, or if it would hurt to feel the water meet my skin at impact.  But what I did know was that it was getting late and that maybe I would always wonder what if if I walked away.  I jumped, body sank into the cold water. There were no rocks; I didn’t even quite reach the bottom.  I swam underwater for a moment and forgot the shock of the cold, of the jump itself, of anything that existed beyond my body and the water. When I reached the surface, I could see that the sunshine found a spot to shine beyond the leaves, beyond the shade, beyond the cold, onto the water, my face, my hair, where it had found a space to rest itself before the day was over.  It warmed my skin and as I looked up I had a clear view of the last of the blueness of that day’s sky.

Maybe we are all just looking for a place to look up at a really pretty sky, even if when we look back down at the world around us all we see is newness, a foreign sensation that warms itself to us slowly.   Maybe things like that keep us grounded, even if the very nature of them flings us into chaos. I think Chile will be one of those moments that feels like it is going to last forever.  And I think that this trip, too, will feel a little like flying.

When we are young the things that we get ourselves into feel like they are going to last forever, even if they only last a moment, like swimming underwater or catching the last of the sun’s warmth.  I wonder what the night sky will feel like in Chile, except when I leave tomorrow to find out, I won’t think twice about jumping.

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