Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Big Bad City Part 2

6/26/11 – The BBC Part 2

Remember how recently I had a minor freak out about money and jobs and life and “Oh my god, what have I done by selling all my things, renting my house, quitting my job and moving out of the country?”
Well, I’d almost decided that when my three month self-imposed trial period was over I’d use my return ticket and fly back to the States for a mo, maybe go see a friend in Sweden for a month and then figure out what to do with the rest of my life. Not that I was giving up here. I just wasn’t seeing how things were going to fall into place.

That’s the prologue.

Friday my unlimited internet became active and my World Wide Web drought ended. I email a query to an agent about my first novel and read about 14 of the many entries in Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s “Freelancers Survival Guide.”
I have this dream about making my living with words. I love them. I love working with them, I love using them, I love turning them over and looking at them, finding how to refresh them, hearing the sound of them as they scratch across a page from the tip of my pen... So yeah, I know I’m weird, but words are pretty darn special to me.

There’s nothing wrong with
Wanting to be a full time writer
I am a writer
That’s who I am
That’s what I do

 I sometimes feel I have to justify this desire. I don’t know why I think this. Writing is hard work. It’s not a lesser kind of occupation. Writing is a craft, an art, a skill, a device, a fire lit road of torture and delight. The agent I queried sends me a prompt reply saying she’s received my email and will respond more in depth in two months after she reads the chapter portions and synopsis I sent. I cross my fingers.

Friday evening Walter and I work on his book for a while. I go to get my computer and when I come back into the office he has his mini-disco lights on and the music blaring. At first I’m a little leery. What the heck is this? I ain’t here for a party, bro, I’m here to do a bit of stenographing and that’s it. I sit down, open up a Word doc and act businesslike.
The lights are mesmerizing. The pattern reminds me of the time my younger sis and I watched the meteor shower together over the phone; she was in Texas and I was in Colorado. Watching those shooting stars flash across the dark Colorado night sky was one of the neatest things I’ve seen and sharing it with her made it even more fun. I think I nearly froze to death since it was the dead of winter and she’d called right after I’d gone to bed to tell me to go outside and watch with her. So I’d thrown a coat on over my PJs and stood with the phone up to my ear, my head cranked back to watch space and my teeth chattering.

Walter tells me the story about his trip to China with his daughters and their crazy friends when he bought the disco device. When I’ve typed all I can stand to type, he takes the disco-lights outside and we watch the kaleidoscope swirling of the green and red lights against the trees and grass and sky.
It’s like Christmas lights and fireflies and shooting stars. I remember my dad telling me that “drugs are fun, but dangerous,” and I think this would probably be even to watch cooler if I was tripping on acid. And it’s pretty cool already. Don’t worry, kids, I don’t have any intentions of doing drugs. Just say No!

Saturday morning I pack my bag with snacks, make sure I have some cash money, put on my tennis shoes and go to catch a bus to Lima to go to Katrina’s BBQ. This bus stuff is so old hat by now. At the bus stop, there’s a lady sitting on the bench next to me. A combi-taxi comes by and she gets up to ask how much it’ll cost for her to go to La Molina. She shakes her head at the driver after he tells her and comes to sit back down. Curious, I ask her, “How much did he say?”
Four soles,” she says.

“A lot,” I reply. It’ll only cost me 2.80 soles to get all the way to where I’m going and it’s a stop much farther along the route than La Molina. We fall silent. Then she asks me where I’m from and a conversation gets going. It just so happens we’re going on the same bus, the Molinero Express #49 towards Lima.
She asks me about the United States. I ask her what things I should be sure to see while I’m in Peru. She shows me a picture of her niece and nephew who live in Utah and/or California. I ask her where she’s traveled and where else she’d like to go. She asks me why I came to Peru and tells me about a European boyfriend she’d had and how she kind of regrets not leaving her family to go be with him. I tell her, it’s sometimes hard to know how to live so that you don’t have regrets and that we just do the best we can. After we’ve paid our fares and received our little ticket stubs she reaches over the seat back and hands me her stub. It has her name and phone number written on it. “If you ever need anything, just call.” I think she’d be someone fun to hang out with, to talk to, so I give her my number and she says she’ll call sometime so we can get together. I like these connections. I like the sincerity.
Cecilia gets off the bus at La Molina and I read the rest of the way to my stop. Katrina’s directions are good. The Saturday traffic is much less than weekday traffic and I’ve gotten to my destination nearly an hour earlier than I’d anticipated. Fortunately, the Metro Grocery store is at my stop so I go buy some things to take to the BBQ that I’ll be able to eat and also pick up some shampoo and conditioner while I’m there. Maybe I can tame the frizz that the humidity plagues my hair with. Maybe.

I dally and then I dilly a little and walk slowly the several blocks down and the few blocks over to Katrina’s apartment. The doorman asks my name and rings up to the apartment. I wait outside the gate. After a small passing of time he tells me, “Señorita Amanda, she didn’t answer.”

“I’m a little early,” I tell him, “I’ll just wait.” I turn away, prepared to wait outside there. He asks me if I’d like to come sit in the lobby and I say, sure, so he buzzes me in and I go inside.
South America and Peru and Peruvians have a more lax sense of time. Katrina had told me that she’d set the BBQ start time for 2:00 but didn’t really anticipate anyone showing up until probably 4:00. And here I am, startlingly early at a quarter to two.

I text her a few minutes after two o’clock to let her know I’m there and several minutes later she comes in from her excursion to the store and takes me up and we get working on cutting and slicing and boiling and cooking and prepping for the party.
I love this. I like the meditative rhythm of knife work (Ha! That sounds rather alarming). I like the way she and I can talk like we’ve been friends for a long long time. I like how she, and I, and her boyfriend Oswaldo make room around each other in the kitchen space as if we’d rehearsed this dance a million times before.

Katrina likes to cook and she has her weekly recipes to try on the refrigerator. She posts her recipes and the cooking results on her blog which unfortunately I don’t have the link to yet. While Oswaldo and I are cutting veggies she brings out aprons, “Who wants one?” she asks and I take one. I can be messy. I tell her she reminds me of Julie in the movie “Julia and Julie” or is it, “Julie and Julia”? Because she does.

After a while, some of the other guests show up and Oswaldo goes to play host. Katrina’s roommate Colleen comes in and we talk about home remedies (I hope I don’t bore them endlessly with ginger tea and green smoothie recipes) and prepare yucca, sweet potatoes, cole slaw, potato salad, and slew of other dishes. More people show up. Each introduction calls for a round of cheek kissing and handshakes. I meet a bunch of people all at once and know that their names are lost on me in the rush of greetings. I’ll have to catch up later.

Over the course of the night about twenty or twenty-five people filter through the apartment. The food is eaten and enjoyed. Dishes are dirtied and washed. Conversations in many languages play through the air. Spanish, English, and even French. I, a fourth generation Texas, feel immensely cosmopolitan as I’m leaning up against a door frame talking in Spanish to Victoria, who is originally from Moscow, and to Fabian who is French.
Later I sum it up like this:

At one point
A Russian
An American
And a Frenchman who says, “No Ingles, no me gusta. Mejor Español. Español es mas bonita.”
All stand talking together
In Spanish.

 I’m living an amazing life.

I feel like I’m living a life I’d
Once read about
Wondered about
And here I am
Really living

Around 12:30 two more people show up. One is a girl that has taken English lessons from Katrina and she’s brought a British guy with her who is traveling the world. He’s the same age as I am and over the course of the night and well into the morning we all talk of life, travel, politics, psychology, cultural differences and dialects among other things. At one point he says he’s looking for the line between, “Brash and blasé.” At one point I try to imitate his accent and he asks me, “Do I really sound like that?”

“No, not exactly” I reply. “But it’s the best I could do.”
“You have a less highbrow accent, more to the such and such part of London,” he tells me, “like the accents you hear in the movies.”

“That makes sense. That’s where I’ve learned my English accents,” I say, “but sometimes if I’m not careful my English accent turns into Australian.”
At another point he’s again talking about English the language and I get a twinkle in my eye as I ask, “You mean proper English then, don’t you, not American English?”

“You could see me thinking that?” he asks, somewhat abashed.
“Sure,” I say. I totally forget to tell him I know about Eddie Izzard and all about how to “talk British.”

I feel like a lifetime of experiences are given to me in one night. Oddly enough, a quote from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory comes to mind, the one where Charlie’s mother tells Charlie, “There are a hundred million people in the world.” It’s like I’ve met a portion of the most interesting of that hundred million (and yes, I do know that’s not really an accurate number) in one evening and feel like friends to them as well. How strange human connection is.
Earlier in the evening, and at the risk of being an imposition, I ask Katrina if it’d be okay if I stay the night. Taking a potentially three hour bus ride home doesn’t seem like a really good idea to me and she agrees with that. She is super gracious and makes me feel at home and very welcome.   

At one point she tells me, “My roommate is moving back to the States at the end of August. You should think about moving to Lima and being my roommate. I bet you could teach English classes like I do. I know several people who I could refer you to.” In the blink of an eye, in the uttering of a few sentences, an ovalo (a roundabout) appears in my mind, spinning out new directions to choose from; a Robert Frost Road Not Taken kind of moment.

Now, after all these words, I can go back to what I was saying in my prologue. All at once, I can see myself staying here longer. I can see myself teaching English to bring in some money even while still keeping my writing as the main priority in my life. It may not be adventure trips right off the money, but this is an adventure already for me, no matter what I do. Diverging roads? Sure, I think,  

I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.


  1. Good luck on the query! Fingers and toes crossed for you.

    Thanks for this wonderful post. I feel like I've met every single person that you have through your words. This is what writing is all about.

    Keep up the good work.

    -- J.T.

  2. Remember you gave me the t-shirt that says "I took the road less traveled, now where the heck am I"? I still wear that shirt.