Saturday, September 10, 2011

Fiction and Other Problems

September 10, 2011 – Fiction and Other Problems
“I went into a church today.”
“Why did you go, Yamilet?”

This is the start to a story I want to write. I stay up well past my bedtime yesterday working these words around. I create a scene, I feel the air coming in through the cardboard covered window of the shanty Yamilet is in, I feel her hands push against an asthmatic man’s chest. But the story doesn’t come to life. Even worse, when I call it a night I feel I’ve lost the original inspiration her name had given me. I fall asleep frustrated.
This morning, I wake up after a series of strange dreams whose plots make as little sense as Yamilet’s story. A cherimoya sized dread crowds my stomach. I have no appetite. Blast this artistic temperament! It makes me feel inadequate. I make my bed and head to the kitchen. I dump some fresh grounds over the old grounds in the coffee pot and plug it in. The last two spoonfuls of coconut milk are sour and I have to throw them out. I almost don’t want my coffee now. I shouldn’t be drinking it anyways. I have some minor aches in my hands and in my neck and I fear the pain symptoms of my arthritis are returning. Caffeine is high on the list of foods to avoid, I know this. I’ve been lax with my diet. I’ve been negligent with exercise. I justify this by saying I walk a lot, but I know it’s not the same. I’ve been willy-nilly with my sleep schedule. All in all, I’m a mess.

Everyone’s better at everything than I am, my mind cries. No one likes me. I’ll never be completely fluent in Spanish. I’m a failure. Katrina’s students hate me. I bore my own mother. I’m an awful writer. My books are trash. I’m a disappointment to my grandmother. I’ll never amount to anything. My best friends have already replaced me with other people. My hair will always look frizzy. I can’t even speak English. I’m a laughingstock.   
Self-Immolation pics make me cry
My rational mind knows this is all bosh and laughs at the word laughingstock (also at willy-nilly and bosh). My greatest personal asset is my sense of humor. It’s saved me from self-immolation on many occasions.
It reminds me I’ll look like crap if I cry. It keeps me from groveling in self-pity. You little fool, it tells me with affectionate severity.

I greatly appreciate my sense of humor.
On my way to class with Giancarlo on Friday I stop in at the church at the corner of Las Nazarenas and Caminos Del Inca. I kneel on the padded knee bench and gaze into the partition that holds the golden crucifix sun thing and watch the shadows of the flies make designs against the glass as they circle the room. I am hoping for that connecting flash of inspiration that fuses one idea with another and engenders a real-live story. (Ah, Pinocchio, you really want to be a real boy.) Yamilet has something to do with the Catholic Church. She might even be a nun. I can’t see her yet. I can’t quite hear her. I close my eyes hoping to hear the voice. I spy on the worshippers that come in. I tune in to the omnipresent sound of the city. Nothing. I leave the church, without crossing myself, without genuflecting, without inspiration and without the sense of calm I was hoping to find.

The class with Giancarlo goes well until he gets frustrated with the difficulty level of the article I’d printed out for him to read. He’d wanted new vocabulary so I’d spent at least three hours over the weekend looking for an article I thought he’d enjoy and then pulling out the words I felt he wouldn’t know and marking down their Spanish equivs. We’re at the end of the first page and I think it’s going great. We’re working on pronunciation, comprehension, grammar, vocabulary and conversation all in one go.
“I don’t like this,” he says after reading a particularly long sentence. “It doesn’t interest me. It’s too hard. I’d rather read something else.” He types into his laptop, pulling up a book on his E-reader called Neuromarketing (or something like that). “Can we read this instead? It’s much more interesting to me.”

“Sure,” I say. I haven’t prepped this work and so trying to explain the turns of phrase or the scientific words is harder for me. I can’t explain to him simply in Spanish like Katrina would be able to. In my mind I know he’ll learn more if I stick strictly to English during class even though it’s a longer way to go, for both of us. Full immersion is the best way to capture a language, but I feel over par.

“Your Spanish is terrible,” Giancarlo teases me. I’m a realist (an opto-realist most of the time) I know my Spanish isn’t perfect and I know he’s teasing. But it still stings a little to hear the words. I want to be perfect at everything. I shrug the words off like water off a duck’s back and that works, for the most part. “On Monday,” he continues, “maybe it’ll be better if we work on the past tense of verbs and their conjugations. Can you do that?”

“Of course,” I reply. “See you Monday.”
It still feels strange to kiss a student goodbye (cheek kisses, kids, cheek kisses). The dread in my stomach is only lime sized at this point. I stop back at the church hoping that I can find a peace there, that I can discover Yamilet’s story. That some inspiration will jolt me. That I won’t feel inadequate. I kneel on a different bench this time. I try to be reverent. There’s an old woman cattycorner from me praying the rosary.
There’s a lady to my right--I see her reflection in the glass—who wipes her heavily mascaraed eyes with a tissue and I wonder what has made her sad. A teenage boy comes in. He looses his backpack from its spot on his shoulders and sets it on the ground. He kneels, makes the sign of the cross and clasps his hands. What is he praying for? An older gentleman enters, crosses himself but stays standing in the back against the wall. Then he leaves, crossing himself again before he heads back into the world.

Yamilet, I plead, tell me your story. What is it that you do? Who are you? Talk to me.
But she, like the goblet behind the glass partition, has nothing to say to me.

I leave. I think I might wander Surco to see if I can calm this dread in me and find some tranquility. Just then the IO-50 passes by. It seems providential so I jump in and go home.

I sit shoulder to thigh next to another girl. These buses are always so packed.

The night before when I come home from my classes with Matias and Ivonna I have to climb over an old woman to get to the square cubit of space behind the driver’s seat. The woman and her daughter (who is next to me) get off and a woman with her small child climbs in and takes the old woman’s seat.
The child, a dark headed charmer, glances at me with curiosity. I smile. He presses his face into his mother’s bosom then looks at me again. I give him a fresh smile. He sits up, a bit at ease now, unafraid of the gringa on the bus. “I don’t have a ticket,” he tells his mom. I reach in my jacket pocket and pull out one of the numerous tickets I have in there from my trips to and from Surco this week. I hand it to him. “Here you go,” I say. He takes it and sticks it in the pocket of his alpaca sweater. Content. He is at peace. He leans his head against the comfort of his mother’s body then he sits back up. He evaluates me again and then begins to tell me a story. I don’t understand a word.

“Uh-huh, sí?” I ask him when his voice rises in question or at the end of a sentence. He’s maybe three years old tops. Perhaps when I can understand a three year old in the noise of a bus then I’ll have mastered any language.
“Si,” he says. “Entonces (and then)…”

I BS my way through his story well enough that the lady whose knees are pressed to mine asks me which street we’re on. I twist around to try and read the signs. It’s dark and I’m at the wrong angle. “I can’t see them,” I tell her, disappointed in myself. I want to be helpful.
The child goes on.

“He never stops talking,” his mom tells me over his head.
I believe he’ll be Peru’s next great novelist. “El cocodrilo (the crocodile),” he says, “was there and I was afraid I’d fall in the water. Entonces (and then). Entonces. Entonces.” He gathers enthusiasm. “Entonces, there was an elephant too and he blew water out of his trunk. Water! From his trunk!”

“En serio (really??)?” I ask.

I twist around again trying to read the name of the streets. I make eye contact with the lady at my knees and shake my head. What a failure I am.
“And then what?” I ask the child.

“Entonces,” he says. The story is as wonderful as this little French girl’s tale.
I hope it will never end.

“We’re at Ricardo Palma,” the mother tells me and the lady next to us.
The lady at my knees climbs over the woman and the child and gets off. I take her spot. The child falls asleep and I lean my head against the window. “Entonces,” I think. And then. My mind takes the question and turns it into that phrase that makes a story interesting, And why, it asks, and why, and why and why?

I don’t know.
Yamilet. It’s a name I saw on the back of a bus. There’s a story there, but I don’t have it yet.

Patience, I tell myself. Give it a little bit more time. Not every day feels magical, but every day has a story in it. Not every day will feel like a success, but I’ll have lived it. Not every day will I feel adequate, but there’s no one else in this world like me.

1 comment:

  1. Oh, Amanda, you got that right! Don't forget whose you are, and how the enemy lies to your thoughts. Every moment of weakness is an opportunity for strength for the One whose life resides in you! Joy comes when That life rises!