Thursday, April 2, 2009

Gifts: a guitar and Bon Iver

You know those gifts that stand out in life and truly mark a change? The ones that draw a clear line between before and after? Often gifts like this aren't material, like a new friend or mentor, but occassionaly you receive something that is entirely transformative. For me, one of these gifts was a guitar. 

It came as a surprise, a recognition and thank you for the work I put into my sister's engagement party. Apparently my mother and sister had been planning to take me out to get a pretty dress, but my father intervened and said, "How about a guitar?" Of course I knew none of this till after. And although I rarely give my father the credit he deserves, he was dead on with this. 

Getting a beautiful guitar came almost hand in hand with the gift of some of the greatest music I've come across. In late December I crossed paths with an old friend I hadn't seen in about 5 years. One evening, in between having a beer and playing rhyming games around a campfire, he asked me, "Emma, have you heard of Bon Iver?" Following my "nope" response, he pulled out his laptop and promptly put on an album with an eerily apropos title, "For Emma, Forever Ago". I didn't really listen to it then, but he burned me a copy that since then I think I've listened to at least a hundred times. And I've bought everything Bon Iver I can get my hands on. 

Following some painful breakups (band and girlfriend) Justin Vernon, main guy behind Bon Iver, moved out to his father's remote cabin in Wisconsin in the winter. Determined to take time and space to be alone, he brought minimal rudimentary recording equipment without any real plans to put down music. From that beginning "For Emma, Forever Ago" was born. I don't want to tell you too much, I'd rather you have your own experience of it without me influencing you. But I will explain the link I'm sharing with you a bit. I found this through my youtubing attempts and was blown away. Something I could seriously relate to. Bon Iver "toured" through some major cities in Europe to promote their album and had the opportunity to do some informal performances for a radio station/website in Paris. The a cappella version they first sing in this performance I can't get enough of, but you may want to fast forward through the talking at the beginning. Also, take a look at their new album, Blood Bank and Justin Vernon's appearance on an incredible compilation album called Dark Was The Night. 

This gift, along with several other gifts of music, pointed out to me just how important it is to pass on the things we love. Many of my favorite paintings, books, and music I discovered through friends. I think I want to say more than favorite. It seems that which has had the most meaning for me has been connected to people around me. So, to the friends who pass through this blog and love clicking links as much as I do, I encourage you to check out Bon Iver. Maybe it can mean something for you too, or this might inspire you to comment or post about music or the like that has been meaningful for you that I can check out.  

Friday, March 13, 2009

Chile, What Drew Me There and Drove Me Away

My last post was the day before my 24th birthday. That was a long time ago, and since then I have moved back to the States, survived my first winter in over 2 years (which really isn't anything big because I'm in the DC area, snow sprinklings are true winter events here). 
The question I find myself faced with right now here in blogosphere is, what has kept me from blogging in the past 6 months? While the answer may want read like an epic poem, I will do my best to keep this post sensible, clear and not unreasonably long. The interesting thing is, I started writing this draft just the night before Kyle posted the group blog idea, What Draws Us To Or Drives Us From Chile, which seems entirely tied to me ditching the realm of public writing for so long. 

I have had two very separate and different experiences of Chile: study abroad and what I have come to call "life". My study abroad story is pretty much the same one we all repeat to each other when we meet...what is the deal? Are we all from the same womb? Is our generation instrinsically prone to latin-love-affairs-turned-serious-life-altering-decisions? Something to think about. Neruda, Mistral, Allende, Pinochet, military coup, long skinny country with dope geography, all buzz words most Chile study abroaders pop out about their reasons for giving this place ago. I was no different. So yes, I studied abroad my junior year (other july 05-06ers out there?) and life, in general, was study abroad-tastic. I went to class, I drank beer at noon, I danced until the micros started running again, I traveled, I fell in love, and, thank god, I learned Spanish. Main goal accomplished, check plus. I returned home sobbing, bemoaning the long-distance state of my relationship. D and I held it out and as soon as I could graduate and put together some dollar bills, I hopped a plane with a half-cocked plan and tried out Chile times 2. 

Ah yes. The Chilean Love Affair, the second round. I realize now that I never was head over heels in love with Chile. I knew I thought Santiago was just ok, not exactly my scene if we're talking about sweet cities, but people I loved were there so I knew I'd be ok. Besides, I didn't want to do what a lot of my fellow graduates were doing. I wasn't ready for this internship here, that intership there, foot in the door helloooooo career! I had (HAVE) no idea what path to take, all I knew was someone I loved was somewhere and I couldn't stand another minute living in the agony of separation and I wanted to grab life by the ***** and stick myself out there, really project myself out of my comfort zone. 
But slowly I began to experience my environment as toxic. The food, the transportation, the work, the people. The bad started to sit on the good like a giant boulder that I lacked the strength to move. I never really got the ball rolling, mostly meaning my work was not satisfying enough to keep me motivated; I was treading water and eventually I was going to drown. The saving grace? My gringa friends. We may have complained about the same ridiculously frustrating or ridiculously hilarious things, (rampant incompetence/racism/classism/sexism, is there a "service" industry? chilena friends? am I gonna die on public transport? pokemonas, mullets) but we made life FUN and supported each other through the madness. And many of you still are! But for me, Chile Round 2 ended after a year and a half and I find myself back in Gringolandia, the forever displaced gringa trying to find her way.  

Did I leave Chile because of Chile? In part yes. But mostly, Chile and I, at this point in time, are not the right fit. There is something I need to be doing in the world right now and somehow I know to the core of my being that Chile is not where this is going to happen. In a certain respect I am disappointed in a lot of my behavior while I was there. I was often impatient, uncompassionate, rude and judgemental. I told myself it was fair because of how I was treated so often, but in retrospect it just made me bitter. It was energy wasted. Now I'm not beating myself up saying whoa is me it's all my fault, but it's important to know that it is something I am slowly recognizing. Chile was this magnifying glass, like a personal development alarm that would go off all too often to tell me, "Yo gringa! Get your **** together fast or someone or something is gonna mess you over!"

I left Chile for introspection and reconnection, with myself and with family and old friends.  
If I were a spool of thread, my time in Chile was one of unravelling. This experience was both scary and very, very necessary. Before I was wound up way too tight and not in the way I wanted to be. My life in Chile took me out of my comfort zone, forced me through challenges I would have certainly avoided if it had been possible. While many of those experiences I hated bitterly while I was in them, they were gifts for me to practice being the person I want to be. I am learning to come full circle and appreciate Chile in a different way and recognize the ways I think it is sick and the ways I think it is healthy. And most of all, how not to take things so personally. I can honestly share that I am optimistic and happy and certainly no longer the anxious girl I once was. And I share this small victory with Chile, its mountains and its sea, and all the people there that I love.  

Thursday, October 9, 2008

How to babysit Papito

It seems blogger has kirked out and I cannot be bothered to figure out this photo madness right now. You get the idea. Papito = cuteness. 

Last weekend, while Kyle was shooting Tamsin's beautiful wedding, I, along with my housemates, took care of precious Papito. Suffice to say, we loved it.
So what are the rules for being nana for the day for Papi? 
1. Take her away from Mama Kyle quickly so crying doesn't commence (magically, Papito was happily distracted by bushes and plants and other dogs' pee that Kyle could slip away without too much notice) 
2. Careful with the leash tugging, especially while entering and exiting death-eater elevator. 
3. Treat time!
4. Carinyo time with all house mates. This entails lots of jumping and frantic running, Papi likes meeting new people. 
5. Treat time!
6. Take her for an outdoor lunch. Good Papi, she just sits all relaxed, no table harassing while my housemate enjoyed her kebab. 
7. Treat time!
8. Take her for a wee pee break. Laugh as D marvels at how girl dogs pee (had he really never seen this before?)
9. Grab Papi and evacuate as big street dog meanders into my park. Papi is thankful.
10. Feel sad every time I leave the apartment and Papi cries at the door. 
I am such a luck Tia to get to spend the day with Papito.  I think Papi had a good day. 

Sunday, September 28, 2008

What do Chileans think of gringos?

This is in response to the group blogging that Kyle has been organizing. Go check out her blog for links to other participants' blogs.  

I've been resisting reading everyone's posts so I won't be influenced by things people have already said, but I imagine I'll repeat things here just because many of us have a lot of shared experiences. Nevertheless, here goes. 

What do Chileans think about gringos? My gut response to this question is simple: I haven't the foggiest idea. In fact, most of the time when I catch a Chilean unabashedly staring at me, I shout (internally, of course), "What in the **** are you thinking? Is there food on my face? Is my fly open? Does the capitalistic society I represent disgust you? Do you find my obvious foreignness fascinating? Are you thinking of every MTV stereotype and applying it to me?" Although to be honest, I'm usually just thinking, "Please stop undressing me with your eyes. Please. Right now. Now? How about now? No? ****it."  

But the question is not what Chileans think of me necessarily, it is what they think of gringos in general. But I have a doubt, as my students like to say. First of all, do we interpret this as gringos in the States, or expat gringos? Is there a difference? In my experience, it totally depends. For example, it seems that for some it is particularly difficult to understand why a gringo would leave the US, especially to go to Chile. A friend of a friend once asked me, "What are you doing here?" I told him I was, well, um, living here because I wanted to experience life outside the US and be in Latin America. He was dumbfounded. "But why? The US is so much better. Everything works there. Life is so much nicer and easier." This understanding contributes, I believe, to what seems to be a commonly held perception that the gringo has it made: money, cars, a house, etc. With the help of television and Hollywood, this perception is often taken to the next step: the gringo is a spoiled creature with an easy life. Living here, I have learned the influential power television has over the perceptions held by the masses. Many a time a Chilean has asked me, full of curiosity, if we really are like those teen movies they always see. Are our high schools overrun by cliques of sexy stick figures and hulking football players? I never really know how to respond except by saying, well, according to my personal reality, no, but I imagine in some places yes, although it is most likely an exaggeration of a truth. 

Speaking of truths, a student of mine (grown man, very high up in the production company he works for) often likes to tell me how gringos are. Just the other day he told me that all gringos have huge cars. I tried to tell him that yes, while many do, there are people who choose to have smaller cars, or hybrid cars, or (gasp!) no car at all. They do exist. He informed me that I was wrong; "the gringo has to have a big car, it is his way". Thus spoke Mr. PP. 

In terms of personality, however, I have heard some interesting conflicting perspectives. During a conversation where I was the only gringa, I heard of the shameful character of "the gringo" from someone who had firsthand experience with them (it seems they had all forgotten I was in the room, or that I was a gringa, because no one thought about their experiences with me...I was invisible, which is surprising because I am usually the gargantuan white elephant in the room, so to speak). In this situation, these people railed on the gringo as "cold" (probably the most common criticism), not affectionate at all and very difficult to get to know. The men are all business, the women all self-obsessed, and instead of raising their children, they spoil them. 

At the same time, however, Chileans have told me how friendly gringos are, often using the term "buena onda", they are fun to be around and know how to have a good time. For example, when D came to the States to visit me (over 2 years ago) he was pleasantly surprised by how warm and welcoming my family and friends were. It seems, similar to Chilean culture, if you have an in, you can learn a different, often more positive aspect of the culture and the people. 

It is difficult to demonstrate all the different perspectives I have come across and some days I think it's all horrible, others all superficially positive. Suffice to say, my life here has been terribly easy thanks to the fact that I am white. If I could count all the times I've tried to field questions and dispel myths about African Americans, well, I can't. And that, my friends, deserves its own post. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


It has been over 2 months. And this is unacceptable. Especially since writing is my passion and I want and need to keep practicing! These past months have been completely transformative for me. It seems the time leading up to my 24th birthday is pretty significant. Of course the task of bringing you up to date of what has transpired in my life is daunting and pretty impossible, but it is important to know that I learned an incredible amount about myself, my relationships, and what I need to be doing in the world right now. My time in the US was beyond amazing, I spent 2 eye-opening weeks at the Rudolf Steiner Institute where I took a course on Socially Engaged Spirituality with Nicanor Perlas (badass from the Phillipines) and a creative writing course with Paul Matthews (badass brit poet). I helped a friend move, visited friends in NY and attended one of my best friend's wedding! I was all over New England, spending hardly any time at home. I visited so many friends that I felt half of my time was spent saying goodbye! But seeing these people and meeting  new people really brought me back to my center. Just what I needed to learn to trust people again and feel more like myself. After spending so many consecutive months in Santiago, I felt myself getting more and more repressed (I used to express it as my soul being sucked out of me, but it's still there! Just somewhat squashed by smog and lack of kindness to strangers). This city works a number on me and I have since discovered that I need to spend some time living in a more rural environment. So, plans are in their baby stages of where and when I will head next. 
Chile will always have a part of my heart and soul (and a solid number of really amazing friends and "family" who for me have really become one and the same) and the idea of leaving is not an easy one. If you see me and we talk about this, if I seem nonchalant it is because if I allow myself to become emotional I might just totally fall apart. This you do not want to see. At least not more than once! So let's save it for the despedida. But till then, I plan on having fun, learning as much as possible, working and planning for the future. On top of that, most important news about me is MY APARTMENT! I am in love. I am living in my own place with 2 other gringas and I have never enjoyed something quite this much. Ok, slight exaggeration, but truly, it is stupendous. My new header by the way is the view of the matching apartment (baby blue, mine's pink) and the mountains in the background at sunset. Recently, my housemate and I went to Sodimac and bought some plants. I now have some violas, sage, rosemary, and a few other things that I don't know the name of. I have scrubbed the balcony, dusted and washed walls, cabinets, etc. and loved every minute of it. It is satisfying peeling away layers of dirt or organizing and simplifying. I have always had a partial OCD side and here it is being put to work in the best kind of way. So I am planning a wee fiesta to share this great space (duplex! yes!) with perhaps a cocktail party (I have an immersion blender i.e. best invention ever) or poker night. Or both. 
Other important news: I learned to dance the cueca! I have been moaning for weeks now about how dieciocho (patriotic Chilean holidays) makes me ill because of the amount of fatty meat consumed (plus empanadas and chicha, excessively sweet wine) and the freaking cueca. I swear that dance puts disappointment all over my face. This dance imitates courtship between rooster and hen. You think I'm kidding? I am not. Imagine what that looks like. It is not a pretty sight. And definitely not sexy, not even particularly rythmic. Awkward is how I describe it. So I was not looking forward to being turned into the entertainment of the asado as the pathetic attempt of a cueca dancing gringa. But this year I decided I would conquer the stupid thing. So, come September 18th, D decides to teach me. We youtube some videos and cueca music and he teaches me the form. There actually is a pattern! And guess what, the woman controls the movement of the thing! Unbelievable. Suffice to say, I wowed them at the asado with my mad cueca skills. I mean, I was still pretty pathetic and terribly embarrassed (of course they made D and I dance alone as the spectacle, but it was all in good humor) but I had a blast. I love dancing, so even if the dance is a bit...odd...I enjoyed every bit of it. Lesson learned? Shut my big mouth, stop whining, learn something new and have fun doing it! 

So that's what's up with me. I promise blogging will be back as a priority and I will jump on the group blogging bandwagon that I have been following. I love the idea and can't wait to participate! 

p.s. After a wonderful bachelorette party for Tamsin, I came home (IN THE COW TAXI!!! please tell me Santiaguinos that you know what I'm talking about. If you ever get in a taxi that looks like a cow, ask him to honk his horn. It's special ;) ... anyways...) so I came home safely making it through the park by my apartment to find an email from Kyle about a handbag give away. And of course, it being way past my bedtime, I decided to click the link and check out what the deal was. So this website is launching October 15 and are giving away 24 bags in 24 hours. I never win these things, but I felt in the mood to give it a shot. Why not, right? It's all too easy to try (of course lessening my chances) so if you are interested (and want to lessen my chances even more!) check out the site: 
so thank kyle's night time internet haunting for my return to blogdom :)

Friday, July 11, 2008

On my way!!!

The next five weeks I will be running around the US on "vacation". I am so excited to go back to the States, I need a little dose of "oh yeah, this is where I come from" for better or worse. I have been planning this trip for some time now so it seems quite surreal that I am actually right in the middle of it! I am in the airport outside Lima, Peru and will be flying to El Salvador if everything goes as planned within the next hour. From San Salvador I have a direct flight to Washington DC! It's a long and harried journey, but hey, it was about $600 cheaper, and I'm young, so whatever. Not a big deal. Plus, now I get to say, oh yeah, I've been to Peru and El Salvador. I know that's majorly cheating, just kidding. Still, from the airport Peru seems like a cool place, I'd love to run around a bit except that the airport is not in the actual city.
So my trip to the US will include 2 weeks at a conference where I will be working and taking classes, 1 week home, a weekend in NYC, a long weekend in Boston/Portland, Maine for a wedding and then a few more days home and then back to Santiago! It's going to be even more surreal coming back. But life will take a new turn when I come back, I am moving into a new place, I will be much closer to friends and work in general, so I'm pretty excited about it! But I will miss people...lots of gringa friends, who I had a blast with last night at happy hour by the way, I hated that I had to leave early! And of course, D and family. So as usually, I am happy and sad and always missing someone and something. The daily challenge of my life! For the next 5 weeks I will do my best to just live in the present and soak up as much love and fun that I can from all my friends and family in the US. It's gotta last me for a while!

Wishing all my other bloggers out there well, if I don't post you know why!

Saturday, July 5, 2008

adjusting expectations

Kyle once told me about some excellent advice her mom once gave her. It was about adjusting expectations and let me tell you, that is oh so relevant here in Chile. I am sad to say that from my perspective it often seems like I am lowering my expectations, but to be fair it really is an adjustment. Things are different here, y punto. Important point: this is not a post to bash Chile, it is an extremely important aspect of Chilean culture that many, many people struggle with, foreigners and Chileans alike! I have had many a Chilean English student rage on about the backwardsness of their culture, and while that's taking it to an extreme where I would never go, it seems many are aware of some of the challenges Chilean culture poses.
So, back to adjusting expectations. Perhaps I come from a particularly sheltured and rosy life, ok yeah let's face it, I do. I'm not talking supreme luxury, just an amazing family, high quality education, and consistant and amazing friends; quite rosy indeed! Suffice to say, I could always expect honesty and fairness from those around me. That is not to say that here I cannot expect honesty and fairness as well, however, in Chile it looks and tastes quite different. This is basic differences between cultures and it is just the kind of thing that creates conflict, misunderstandings and hurt feelings. In order to avoid all these unpleasantries, I now try to practice Kyle's method of adjusting expectations (well, that along with Heather's people filter, also a solid piece of good advice).
Taking this into account, many of those recently arrived, those who haven't reached the somewhat jaded point I'm at right now, can see the quaint and the beautiful, interesting and profound of this amazing country and culture. However, I have found that over time, in order to prepare for what seems the inevitable, I have to adjust my expectations and quite in the negative direction. In order to avoid getting burned, I expect to get burned, I expect to be attacked, I expect that someone will try to screw me out of pretty much anything, I expect people to not tell me the truth (I call this lying, although time and again I am told that this is in fact not lying....yet another cultural difference I have yet to really come out on the other side of), I expect plans to go awry, for people to not show up and not call to let me know, I expect people to arrive (in my terms VERY) late and to not apologize for keeping me waiting, and in general I expect to be taken advantage of. Many of these things have to do with the particular fact that I am a foreigner and this I recognize; there are always consequences for being a foreigner. At the same time, however, many of these things that can agravate the foreigner Chileans do to each other, and this does not go over well with all Chileans.
I must point out the essential: these are some of the difficult aspects of Chilean culture. I strongly believe that there are many that are really wonderful, otherwise I would not be here! Like I said before, this isn't to get down on Chile but more to be aware of some of the things that can happen and how some of us can handle it and not take things so personally. I invite open debate about these particular issues I am drawing attention to, as long as no one goes into the typical rant of, "the US is just as bad!" because that is not what I'm talking about. I am talking about specific experiences here in Chile, particularly the cultural differences that are really hard to come to terms with and how to face those in a way where you can actually learn and protect yourself.
I will add, however, that after about 10 months (on top of the year I spent here in 2005) my Emita pizazz for life is getting a little dull. I have had a hard go of adjusting to living here - it is nothing like studying here. I know this has just as much to do with me as it does with Chile in general, I miss my family and friends back home to the point of hating pretty much everything else at times (though not always, just sometimes!). But mostly, anywhere in the world this next step would be difficult. Figuring out where I am going from here is a daily challenge, one that worries me and unecessarily uses a lot of my energy. Adjusting my expectations on top of that really has taken its toll. I am tired and in such a state it is much easier to fall into the "man, this sucks" chorus. But I am taking things as they come, trying to figure out the best way to face cultural differences and make decisions accordingly. If there's one thing I remember from my Anthopology class at college it was that cultural relativity only goes so far. We have human reasoning for a reason; not all cultural differences are good and not all are bad. We can think for ourselves, and hopefully share some of those thoughts along the way.