Archive | September, 2009

Ignorance is bliss

19 Sep

It would not be the first time – nor the last, I hope – that I would be labeled “ignorant” for what I’m about to say. I have no shame, as these words are ingredients from the heart, sprinkled with accoutrements of humor. And besides, if I am never ignorant in life, then by default I will know everything, and that is not only impossible, but infinitely uninteresting. I’ll take dumb over boring any day. I think.

When I was in middle school, I walked the colorful hallways of a culturally rich institution. What I mean by that is we had a lot of immigrants. I’m pretty sure there was a higher likelihood I would hear Chinese, Spanish or Portuguese being shouted down the hall than English (those Spanish and Portuguese speakers sure are loud people. Jeez). So instead of shooting themselves between the eyes as the school’s funding drowned in ESL and other foreigner-centered curriculum expenses, the administration boasted in its annual production of a Multicultural Festival. It took place in the spring; a lovely time when no one gives a crap anymore, and we all walk around counting the minutes until the final bell of the school year. We had a half-day of classes only, and directly after lunch, the student and faculty bodies were welcomed to join the festivities outdoors. Booths were set up to represent different cultures and languages; the Hebrews had their dreidels, the Brazilians had cheese balls and naked women (just kidding. Not really, I’m sure there were a handful of inappropriately dressed 13 year-olds), the Italians had boche, the Haitians had… I’m not sure. You get the idea. We all walked around, listening to songs, sampling food, trying games, laughing, and co-existing in a rarely seen, guards down, open hearted, human connecting manner. And of course, it was warm out and we were not in class.

I know I was in the 6th grade when this happened because I don’t remember interacting with any American kids. My grasp of the English language was satisfactory by that point, having moved to the country eight months prior, but I still existed in the sub-culture that was the ESL program. This essentially meant I had no idea what the white kids were doing, listening to, talking about, etc. But that’s all right, we had the Multicultural Festival, and I’m pretty sure they were stuck in class, so go us! After walking around for a bit I stumbled upon the German kids’ booth. My education thus far had mostly centered on Brazilian and South American history, but I had read Anne Frank and was well aware of the fact that Germans were Nazis. Regardless, I thought I might use the day’s theme of open-mindedness and socialize with them, especially since they looked pretty lonely in their funny clothes. Their corner lacked the nakedness and loudness of the South American style I was accustomed to, and when a teacher monitoring the booth noticed my side-stepping away, she asked I stay and invite a couple of friends over to hear the song the Germans were about to sing. Never capable of saying ‘no,’ especially when I’m not entirely sure of what is being said to me, I motioned for a couple of friends to join me and we stood there. Moments later, the Aryan kids were singing at the top of their lungs and in perfect unison, some kind of angry song (their national anthem, I later learned) that I translated to: “RUN AND HIDE, brown child.” As they Ichted and GutenTaggended away, I avoided making eye contact, carefully put back the flyer I’d taken from their table and walked away. Fast.

“Are you kidding me? Did you hear that? I was pretty sure Hitler was gonna come out from underneath the table and Zig Hail the hell out of everybody out here,” I whispered in Portuguese to my friend. She didn’t get my joke, as I should’ve expected, because she was very stupid.

How young and inexperienced I was. The fact of the matter is that frequenting a private catholic school in Rio had me interacting with just a few varying shades of white and light brown. It all depended on the combination of Native, European, and African blood your family had. Sure we had the occasional Asian (I remember a Chinese transplant in my 5th grade class who was ostracized for the better part of the first semester until she learned to pronounce her L’s. Yeah, catholic school girls are bitches), but for the most part, we were white-to-manila colored and either Catholic or some other type of Christian. Say what you will about the US, but moving here definitely exposed to me to a greater piece of the pie than I’d seen before. I had the to share my views in a very intimate setting when my 8th grade teacher proposed the following in-class writing assignment: “Reflect upon your journey in middle school and share an important lesson you learned while here.” It was near the end of the school year, and my heart was filled with mixed emotions; I was scared to be moving on to high school so soon, I was excited that my breasts might finally grow over the summer, but most of all, I was proud to have adapted so well and so quickly.

I thought about the multicultural festival, now a distant memory in my adolescent mind. I laughed at my naïveté in associating German culture with Nazi mentality. I was inspired at that moment by my recent history and wrote a heartfelt essay that went something like this:

When all of you guys were gearing up to start middle school with each other three years ago, I was struggling to reconcile with the fact that my family and I were moving to a completely different country. I left all of my friends and extended family behind. I left my dog behind. I was scared and I had no idea how things would turn out. I worked really hard, despite feeling so homesick, and I joined the green team by the beginning of the seventh grade. That’s when I met you guys. Back in Brazil, my friends all looked like me, dressed like me and talked like me. But the friends I made at Fuller Middle School come in all different sizes, shapes and colors. The most important lesson I learned in middle school is to be open-minded. For example, I had never had Indian friends before. At first, I thought it was really strange how Indian people don’t shower every day and they use that oil on their bodies that makes them smell really different. However, I kept an open mind and my Sri Lankan friend explained to me what it was all about and I grew used to the smell. Back in Brazil, I had never had any Jewish friends, but here I learned that they too can have fun in the holidays even though they don’t celebrate Christmas. I learned a lot from many different people, and I can honestly say that I’m happy you are all my friends, and I can’t wait for all the new things we will experience in high school.

I stepped down amid faint applause and open jaws and sat back on my seat. Mom would’ve been proud… I wonder why I’m not friends with any of those kids anymore…

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Try Again, iPhone

15 Sep

I love my iPhone, but I never love it as much when I’m sober as I do when I’m high. First, it is the most THC intoxication friendly device. Blackberries can kiss my ass. When I’m high, I need big white buttons, like the ones in those elderly Jitterbug cell phones. I need to see my shit loud and clear, brother, and the Crackberry little black buttons simply won’t do. Second, the iPhone quickly answers all the questions I have when I’m stoned. Sure a laptop is nice, but what if you’re burning one when you’re at a friend’s house? What if you’re tuning up in the car, before watching a movie and you get really horny in line for tickets and, in an attempt to distract you from grabbing his crotch, your boyfriend asks you to look up some reviews to help him make a decision?  He probably already knows what he wants to watch, but he’s fully aware that once you pull out the iPhone, you’ll forget what you were doing and focus on all the doors that have been opened through this magical little device. Email, twitter, facebook, space invaders, Wikipedia, voice memos (those are the best when you’re blazed). Infinite adventure! Where was I? Oh yes, the iPhone is amazing because it can give you MUSIC… and the Internet. What a combination. You don’t need anything else – when the sex has to be delayed, that is.

Sure when I’m doing a number with other people I spend my time interacting with them. Shoot, I bet they wish I’d spend some time on the iPhone just to shut me up for a few minutes. But the truth is, this happens with much less frequency. Most often I am by myself with my dog passed out on the couch next to me, after having diligently and thoroughly worked her tongue over and over the soles of my feet. What a good girl. I am now left to my own devices (pity me not, as I cherish these moments wholeheartedly) and have not a care for makeup, neat hair or the need for clothes, for that matter. It’s just me, my dog, my grass and all of my mother’s deliciously prepared, full week supply of nutritious home cooked goodness, so adorably and meticulously separated in tupperware. And of course, the entertainment; writing, tv/movies, or reading.

Can life get any better? I digress, comrades.

I am typing this note ON MY IPHONE right now (at bionic speeds, no less) because I finally recognized the iPhone’s single and greatest shortcoming – a gigantic faux pas – it does not serve as a cable/television remote control. You really dropped the ball on this one, Apple. You can be my book (Kindle for iPhone!), you can be my word processor (go Notes with copy and paste! Woot woot!), but you cannot change my channels or pause my DVD.

So thanks for the great, innovative multimedia-handling-sure-to-be-greatest-selling-cellular-phone-ever- in-the-history-of-the-universe… But I still need the remote control on the nights I choose television or movies. I suppose you redeem yourself somewhat by serving as a flashlight when one of the controls falls underneath the couch. Still…

Besides I read the Japanese can use their cell phones as credit cards! Suck on that, Mac Daddies (so lame… Sooo, so lame).

I’ve been told my clock is ticking, but…

15 Sep

I am a “single gal” in my mid-20s, so from time to time I poke my head into the dating world. I’m pretty sure I was better at this game a few years back; I had less experience and more eagerness to connect with someone. Some might call me jaded, but I prefer to think that the more comfortable I become with myself, the less energy I have to impress someone else. If that comes across as less attractive than the next girl, so be it.  Nevertheless,  I’m not better than anyone else, and as much as I rejoice in the ‘freedoms’ of single-dom, there is no denying that we thrive with companionship.  There’s also no denying the psychological and physical benefits of frequent sex, so for my own well being, I’ve got my baited fishing rod in these seemingly still waters.

As the gorgeous and eloquent Jennifer Aniston recently put it, “dating sucks.”  The majority of people I know would agree; especially the married ones. “I’m soooo happy to have found my husband. I can’t believe how many losers I had to date before we met.”  I’m never quite sure how to respond to that, so I opt for the half smile and change of subject.  The truth is, I really, really dislike dating. I psyche myself out before I even get there. I’m a chronic over-analyzer, and there is no worse position in which to put myself than on a date.  I’ve prayed to have him call and cancel, I’ve wiggled myself out of dates last minute way too many times, and I’ve even stood up a couple of really nice guys.  I have no issues spending time with men; I have a lot of guy friends and I’m pretty good at making new ones wherever I go. But the minute I know someone might be romantically interested in me and I’m asked out to dinner, I want to run and hide just as much as I might want to spend time with him.

Dating is a moment you set aside to judge and be judged; I cannot help but feel this way. I am being judged on my appearance, my mannerisms, my humor (or lack thereof), my choices, my manner of speech… I’m supposed to analyze his and my body language, laugh only at appropriate times,  keep certain opinions to myself, and anticipate how awkward things might get if I do decide to go in for a nightcap. And what I struggle with the most; do I let him pay or not? I once went on a lunch date with a bar manager I’d met while completely inebriated two nights earlier.  Ten minutes into it, I couldn’t wait to get back to work. I insisted I pay for lunch and he was incredibly offended. With another guy, I wasn’t really sure how I felt about him after our first date, but I let him pay for dinner anyway. At the end of the night, in the car, he closed his eyes and puckered his lips my way… I turned my head really fast, he landed a wet one on my cheek and I said “Good night!” while staring at the ground. The look of disappointment on his face was so obvious, I once again, wanted to run and hide. In conclusion, if I don’t let him pay, he’s offended. If I let him pay, he thinks I’m interested and when I’m not, he’s offended.  I can’t ever win.

I can’t ever win because I’m analyzing every second as much as I think he’s judging my every move.  That’s why boyfriends are few and far between and why I find amazing comfort in making new friends.  There are no expectations; I can say the stupidest things that I eventually will say, I can walk into walls and trip and fall, and I’m happy to laugh at myself with you. But I can’t do any of that in high heels and I have to remember to not mention the apathy I have for the Red Sox and the Patriots, because I really would’ve preferred to have stayed at home than chew my food through the awk-ward-ness.

My scene is hanging out with my friends, meeting new people in a relaxed environment and being completely honest from the get-go. When I’m not wearing a push-up bra, when my makeup hasn’t transformed me into a different girl, and when I don’t have to list my hobbies in bullet point format.  I recently met a guy at a show, and before I even remembered to ask his name, we had already discussed our favorite authors and our love for writing. He was holding my hand before I knew his age. I still don’t know what he does for a living; I don’t care. My biggest issue with dating is all of the packaging and marketing you have to do of yourself before any connection is made.  I prefer to look into someone’s eyes until it gets uncomfortable and listen to him laugh, before I find out if he has a car. At the end of the day, you have no idea how long any relationship will last. I have fallen in and out of love and hope to do it again at least a few more times.  If I worry more about hyping up my career and my plans for the future than how he reacts to my unfunny, badly told jokes, then I won’t have shared myself with him and I’ll probably lose a bit of myself in the process.

Innovators, Immitators, Idiots…

14 Sep

Originality is lost nearly as soon as it’s birthed. It is virtually impossible to remain single and unique – what you create now is copied an instant from now. A retrospective look is simply incapable of capturing the essence, context, feeling, strength, and experience of an innovative piece of.. anything. Arguably a paradox considering something cannot be conceived innovative without comparison. If it could, then everything would stand exclusively, untouchable in its singularity. In this case our analytical skills come to good use; we trust ourselves with the power to disseminate truth from lie; original from imitation; stimulating from bothering. A daunting task, but I digress. I feel an intense compulsion to remain on the cusp of new; a present and persistent committal to experience things in their entirety, with truth in feeling. It’s exhausting at times and often feels a type of trap. My greatest fear is not knowing why I follow the impulse and worst yet, where I’ll end up. My current goal, and truthfully in part borne out of this mentioned fear, is to track the process. The hope is that herein lies a journey worth narrating and that, via some miraculous, inexplicable supernatural force, the journey (and narration) resonate with other minds and manifest in… whatever vehicle fancies the receiver. Isn’t that the most beautiful prospective?

I’m holding on to dear life, with splitting nails dug into rough terrain, with might and sweat and full regard – as full as my 26yo aimless mind can – to my spot right on the brink. The wind rushes past, even swaying me, but incapable of penetrating or causing a drastic shift. I want to sink my toes into this spot, leaning my body over as deep as I can. Your wind, your rain, your noise and your chatter can’t move me. I want to know what I can see from here. I hope it’s something good.

Tori, the dog

14 Sep

My dog is the best gift I ever got for myself. She makes ‘living alone’ possible. My friends think I’m a hip, independent chick, but I really need companionship, just like everyone else. Unfortunately, I dislike the extended presence of most people in my own home, so animals are the perfect answer. I grew up with dogs in my household, and the one I had from ages 6 to 12 was at the top of my BFF list. Maybe it’s because she always played the games I wanted to play with genuine enthusiasm and without much input. Regardless, that pooch meant the world to me, and I was a very sad child when my evil parents drove me away from her, to a whole ‘nother country, where they wanted me to have more opportunities for a better future. I never forgave them.

After Charlotte Maria Pessôa Varjão dos Santos Leal was left behind, it took a couple of years for my evil parents to be convinced that a dog was imperative to my emotional development. Our apartment at the time was your average, fresh-off-the-boat immigrant family abode; small, with hand me down furniture and outdated carpeting. I don’t know if I was aware of this, at the time, however, because all my friends lived in similar homes.  That’s a lie. I was very aware of it. We’d moved from a four bedroom, two bath large property with a pool in Brasil to a one bedroom basement apartment. It sucked hard.  I pestered my parents endlessly to let me have a dog; it was the least they could do after stripping me of my innocence and happiness, I thought – a small consolation prize. We eventually moved into the TWO bedroom apartment with outdated carpeting that became available on the third floor of our building. Moving on up, we were. I didn’t feel the need to rely on my literary heroine, Anne Frank, as much after this move because we now only had two people per bedroom… and I had a dog!  My sister and I went to the town of Ashland’s animal shelter, signed some papers, and took home a cocker spaniel mix.  The joy didn’t last very long, as, after a couple of months, I came home from school to find my parents had returned Choquito back to the pound. I had never wanted to break my father’s teeth with my own fist as much as I did that day. I weighed the consequences and decided my best shot at rebelling would be to skip school the next morning, and let my mother deal with the principal’s office calling. “It’s your fault for traumatizing me,” I told her. From then on, I decided I would move out as soon as I graduated from college. Only then, no one would have a say in how many animals I would cram in my home. The landlord, maybe, but when you’re a middle school student you have bigger and better things to worry about.

I don’t believe I was ever as true to my word as I was when I made that promise to myself.  I had no idea what a drastic change it would be from having my mother to lean on for every-thing – to being completely alone. Granted, she was a 30 mile drive away, waiting with open arms, my clean laundry, and tupperwares galore full of delicious food, but still, it was an overwhelming experience.  I moved out on a Wednesday, and on Saturday I was picking up Tori from the airport. I had found her on www.petfinder.com and had her shipped from Missouri to Boston. People thought it was too much too soon – an apartment and a dog – but I knew better. I knew myself enough to imagine how I would chicken out if I did truly live on my own. By Thursday night I was already crying in my living room, wallowing in my loneliness.  The incessant fire truck – police car – ambulance – screaming juveniles noise coming from underneath my window didn’t help, and I counted the hours until my four-legged companion would come and save me.

And save me she did. She was the reason I didn’t flee when I found out I had mice in the apartment (I have a real phobia – don’t judge). She was the reason I didn’t move back in with my parents when I learned that one could easily rack up a $275 heating bill in Boston’s badly insulated old apartment buildings.  She was there for me, with her pleading eyes, when I contemplated giving up once I became unemployed and depressed. She instinctively knew all I needed was for her to massage-lick my feet followed by a big dog-kiss on the cheek. I knew everything would be all right. I was her mother, and I would find a way to provide for her.

Fast forward a few years and here we are, despite the ups and downs, still a solid team.  There were some days she had to go on canned tuna and rice because the budget wouldn’t allow for her usual Science Diet, but I don’t think she minded. As she lays in bed with me in front of the fan (her favorite spot), sleepy after a meal on this rainy Saturday morning, I’m happy and relieved that I have, at least this once, kept my word.

My Humble Thoughts on Religion

14 Sep

I have a friend who spends the better part of her days thinking critically about space; its role in the world and how to maximize its ability to serve the human race (try doing that right now). Another is a tireless record-keeper; the filing-cabinet of details turned management extraordinaire. There are self-less ones, hilarious others, and occasionally wretched some. Each is unique, as all humans are, but in my circle, what all have in common is a notable detachment from religion. Perhaps because it isn’t a part of our immediate worlds we discuss it so often and at length. One of these friends’ recent trip to the Middle East left her with a strong impression of the power of collective prayer. At a public, ordinary setting, and carried in unison by hundreds of people, my spiritually jaded friend was moved by the combined sound, sight, and energy of humility and servitude to something higher than the self. This spiritual connection is experienced through generations and is never superseded. It moves mountains, reshapes history, and dictates daily life for millions of lives. Not mine.

I thought about what my friend shared, when she recounted her being present at Salat in Jordan. It must’ve been a beautiful sight; a setting sun in a troubled horizon, undoubtedly magnified in beauty by the mystic quality the place bears. I understand the physical manifestation to a stimulus that reaches you through a medium transcending and defying reasoning; I see how this moment could inexplicably bring someone to tears. We are both of Catholic backgrounds – she more so than I. Having grown up with a Catholic immediate family that is practicing still, “breaking away” was the result of self-education and a choice different from the status quo for my friend. In my case, the religion was prevalent in my social circles, rather than at home. Any semblance of religious belief I had was passing at best, and a direct result of a desire to fit in with my friends. I tried on the shoes, but they felt stifling, quickly. I loved my catholic nun teachers, I felt comfort in the quiet luxury of our church, but I questioned the teachings and was dissatisfied with the answers. I grew bored and they were irritated. We agreed to disagree.

My reluctance in practicing Faith is strengthened daily as I learn the ways of life on my own. I’ve been well prepared, cared for, and supported by living beings; my lessons are not other wordly and need not interpretation from third parties. Life can be scary, it can be hard, and it can wear you down. But simply put; people raise people. We raise one another’s spirit. When a woman goes to church, it’s with other people she spends her time – in a state of joy, of praise, of gratitude, and openness. This energy is solicited, shared, recycled, and it revitalizes from person to person. This to me personifies the goodness of Faith; positivity, encouragement, mutual lifting of souls; forgiving, accepting, learning, sharing – and these can only materialize intra and interpersonnally. If it isn’t a physical person, it is the creation by one; a musical concert is capable of breeding as much human energy as a particularly lifting sermon. I attend concerts because music speaks directly to my heart and evokes laughter, contentment, sadness, pain, clarity, and a stillness that is maximized when all of these feelings are shared with other people, side by side. This is what makes me feel alive. I seek the experience and I revel in it, I share it with others, and I leave rejuvenated. Something quite similar happens in religious practice; the common elements of togetherness and aliveness are what inspire people to live by their scriptures and what give them a spiritual push to move forward and to overcome.

The difference, for me, lies in your freedom of choice. On a daily basis I choose how to behave, with whom I associate, how I bring positivity into my life, how I do it for others, and where I turn in times of hardship. Aside from the rules by which we abide to maintain harmony in society (rabbis and atheists alike will go to jail for shoplifting – God can’t get you out of that), I make my own rules. I seek my truth, my context and my resources and I decide as I will. I attend concerts, I connect with nature, I read books, I am touched by art, I seek comfort with the presence of others… I carve out my encouragements, I appreciate the little things that make me alive, healthy, content, what helps me, what teaches me, what stills my heart. And the more in tune I am with myself, the more often I step back and realize how lucky I am to have my freedom to choose. I bring into my life what I wish, and I push what I do not want. These decisions are made by me and for me, and I strive for balance and reasoning as often as I can. Faith, adversely, confines me. It dictates and resolves, on my behalf, my worthiness. It creates boundaries, and these inherently discourage and/or limit exploring, learning, and living. I am bound already by my physicality and my government; I do not wish to add another perimeter in exchange for masticated Truth and a promise to deliver what I can search on my own.

As my friend and I discussed her experience and how it affects our respective feelings toward religion, given our personal histories, we agreed that a. what she experienced was undoubtedly powerful, and b. that religion as a package does not appeal to either of us. Still, she felt I was perhaps dismissive of the power of prayer and its significance. I don’t think of it that way; I think of it as a singular moment where human energy is harnessed and overflows. I see its beauty and yet I am content with exactly what it is; coming together of people. That is inspiring to me on its own, and the need to add a layer of mysticism, of a being greater and better that coordinates it all only undermines the power of our actions and makes us spectators rather than creators in our own right.

I want to feel ecstasy and hope from a day spent in nature, from bonding with my dog, from sharing laughter with my friends, from the physical rewards of exercising my body and mind, from making choices that benefit others as much as, if not more than myself. I want to be connected with what I have now and exercise gratitude with my actions. And if we live this way, is there a need for praising a “creator?” Is there a need for striking fear with the thought of his wrath, is there a need to worry about life after death? Is there a need to thank a God for turning my life around, when I have living heroes who veered me every inch along the way? If I can pass this on to my child, is there a need to baptize him, to teach him stories that he can’t question, but is supposed to believe… just because?

I don’t see the reason for the middle man. I see instead the importance of seeking and learning, of accepting what we don’t know, improving upon what we do, and never forgetting that time after time, my prosperity is heightened with the prosperity of others. I know this because I feel it and I see it all around, not because it is preached to me. I see importance in holding ourselves accountable as opposed to leaving it in someone else’s hand. On this planet, as far as we can tell, we are the manipulators over all other living organisms. This immense power of thinking and analyzing, coupled with our physical dexterity is all we could ever need to create the best for ourselves, to care for our environment and to cope with tragedy we can’t control. We don’t need a middle man. We don’t need a third party to blame or to thank; because we have ourselves. It’s daunting, I know, but if life is not in your hands, then what is the point of living?

A lil story

14 Sep

It’s just another frigid New England Friday night. The slushy gray mud-snow covers everything, but at least the winds are not at skin-piercing levels. Didn’t go skiing with everyone else for the weekend because, as it turns out, unemployment leads to a depletion of one’s bank account. It’s 9:30pm and I refuse to spend my night watching television and listening to my middle-aged neighbors have sex (I imagine they played a lot of 7 Minutes in Heaven when they were young, because that’s how long the sex always lasts). This is not how I envisioned life as a young, independent, college graduated adult. I was encouraged to take charge of my life and carve out my future. So far, all I’ve carved out is a nice and warm dark spot on my IKEA couch, compliments of my ass.

My friend Janette is usually as broke as I am, or at least she says so. We’ve been friends for a while and she hasn’t made any large enviable purchases during this time, or given me any reason to believe she might be investing on mutual funds and/or saving for a house. I’d be pretty pissed if she is because I plan on counting on her friendship when I am officially recognized as a bona fide loser – which, by my calculations, will come around age 34. But that will be then, and this is now, and now I digress. We’re broke, but we’re never too broke for a couple of drinks. We agree that she’ll pick me up and we’ll head to Down Under, an aptly named, ill-lit basement that is all the rage with the cool (read: attractive) kids this winter. Partly because the DJ knows what the girls like and partly because the options are THAT limited in Cambridge.

Once I get off the couch, it’s a race against the clock: shower, shave, style hair, moisturize body, moisturize face, tan body, tan face, prime face, makeup, fix eyebrows, quick coat of nail polish, accessories… fuck, which shoes?? The only thing I’m not worrying about tonight is the dress. It is a good luck charm and has delivered the right amount of elegance and sex to land me two highly enjoyable nights on the town. I’m banking on the third time being the charm for bigger and better things; pairing it with my new thigh high boots, I’ve created a visually transmitted message written in man-code.