Tuesday, June 23, 2009


Not much has changed, but little by little I'm seeing some improvements, largely because of good people in my life.

Still no job, but over the last few days I've sent in a couple of applications for real jobs at real universities that would give me real paychecks. I'm keeping my fingers crossed. I discovered these listings because of a lovely relative who told me where to look. I would never have found this site on my own.

A wonderful professor of mine from my MA has been helping me with my grant proposal and application (much more than he ought to feel remotely obligated to do). One component of the proposal that had been worrying me was the requirement of securing a letter of affiliation from a foreign institution. In the past, not all candidates have been sucessful in filling this requirement. Imagine: you send a letter to a professor or a librarian or an archivist or a research lab director whose name you've found on the institution's website, essentially a cold call, saying "I'm a student/graduate at University X, I'm writing a grant, you don't know me from Adam but is it okay for me to come invade your lab for a year in the unlikely event that the committee should award me the grant?" Now you understand why it can be sticky. However, if an applicant is lucky enough to know someone who has a connection to another someone at that institution, and the first someone is willing to organize an introduction and give a recommendation. . .well, it significantly simplifies the process. I happen to have such charmed luck, since my prof did his PhD at the university whose aid I am soliciting. He's already heard back from the friend we've asked to sponsor me, in the affirmative. Now I'm just waiting for the hard copy of the letter. With some auspicious aid, I've gotten over one of the biggest hurdles in this lengthy process.

Last week I had coffee with a friend who is a fantastically experienced creative writing instructor and editor, and over the course of our chat I shed some fears about writing fiction. There's a novel that's been rolling around in my head for several years now, and I haven't had the courage to really start it because it's such an important story to me, one that I believe has to be told, and I'm terrified of screwing it up. I love this story. It's a bit of folklore that has haunted me since childhood, and over the course of my life it keeps creeping back into my consciousness. I've come into an awareness of its universality. Writing it down and fleshing it out intimidates me. My friend told me to just write it, that passion for the story matters, and the rest will work out in the editng process. It's still slow going in these earlier stages, but I'm working it out mentally in ways that I hadn't been able to before, being blocked by fear. It may take a month or a year or ten to get this manuscript onto paper, but it will happen.

God bless these people. It's good to feel like I'm not going it alone.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Escribo, escribo

The two parts of my life that suck right now:

1. I am sending out résumés like mad and still have no job.

2. After a nice stint of around eight years free of them, I started have panic attacks again about a week ago. I've had two now, and I hate them. They're awful in their moment, but mostly I hate them because they're a sign that I'm cracking up and they make me feel like a wus that can't handle life. Luckily I have a mostly-full bottle of anti-anxiety sedatives that the good doctor prescribed for me last fall. I used only one pill the week of my comps, but I'm glad I kept the rest in the drawer.

Some other parts of my life that rock right now:

1. My husband (this is always, not just right now).

2. After an icky stint of writer's block, I've broken free and am writing again. A dear editor friend sent me a wonderful exercise for sketching a novel. It's proven useful. So, I'm writing that novel I've been joking about for a while, the one I swore I'd never really write. It's taking shape and my excitement about it is super-nerdy, even for me. I'm planning a couple of other novels when this one gets going. I still have to flesh out the plan for that non-fiction book, but it's finally coming together. Most importantly at present, my research proposals have moved beyond "ugly mess" to "workable".

3. The data collection stage of the current research project is up and running. I love my data.

4. I think I'm on track for my big intimidating scholarship/grant application. God bless the offices at CU that still help alums.

5. The seeds I planted ten days ago have finally sprouted.

So, I'm hopelessly unemployed, but I'm keeping busy.

Monday, June 1, 2009

poquito a poco, ¿progreso?

Still no job offers, but my CV looks lovely (thanks Aunt Tam!) and will be sent out in multiples to various intitutions of higher education this very afternoon. So, something is happening. Now, if only I could find something to tide us over for the rest of the summer. . .

I've spent the last half hour on the laughably named "servicio de cliente" line for our bank in Mexico, trying desperately to get a bank statement. The poor girl just couldn't get it into her head that we wanted it sent to the U.S., and that I can't just drive over to my local branch at the moment. She transferred me to an English speaker, and now my husband is dealing with her and seeming to have better luck. I love Mexico, but somedays I am exasperated by Mexico, even when I'm not there. It's similar to the relationship I have with the U.S., but one of the two is home, at least.

I realized something a few months ago that I never posted: if I take apart the name of our former residence, completely ignoring its true etymology, I come up with something like this: peñ-asco. Ha! Porque me da asco. Ay, el asco que me daba! I know, if you don't speak Spanish you don't get it, but it means something like, "Wow, but that rocky place sure is nauseating".

But I'm back in my nation of citizenship, jobless but without necessity of a work visa, and hopeful that something will come up shortly.

And a regretful(?) notice to Rocketgirl: don't hold your breath for us join you in your prospective Wisconsin anytime in the near future. Sorry.

Saturday, May 30, 2009


It's been nearly a full month since I've posted, and even though not much has changed I feel ought to say something. You know, for posterity and all that nonsense.

I'm still in the ranks of the unemployed and our savings is slowly draining. Unfortunately neither of us can apply for unemployment benefits; I graduated and failed to get a job, and my husband resigned. Dangit. The job market really is awful here. I'm hopeful for teaching gigs in the fall, but until then the mortage is still due on the fifteenth of every month, and student loans are coming due. The word "forbearance" hovers in my thoughts. We have no health insurance, and without it the bare minimum of my prescriptions costs over $200 per month. Ouch. I know I shouldn't single-handedly determine which drugs and can and cannot do without, but I can't afford to pay a doctor out-of-pocket right now, and it's not like I haven't been managing my own medications for years. My slim wallet makes the decision easier. I got home from the pharmacy the other day and just cried.

In other downer news, one of my cousins commited suicide recently. The funeral was earlier this week, and it was a rough one. Weeping, wailing, and a cardboard homily that failed to console anyone. The Catholic Church has become a little more pragmatic about giving funeral masses to suicides and now allows it, at least in this diocese, and when somebody ponies up and pays for the mass. It's cynical of me, but I observe that doctrines are prone to increasing maleability when those who hand them down are in a dire financial situation. I'd like to know what cruel, uncompassionate sadist of an early church father invented the doctrine that suicides go straight to hell and the policy that they can't be buried in hallowed ground. Way to blame the victim and torture the bereaved souls of the family. What happened to God as a loving Father who judges us not only by our actions, but by our hearts? I hardly think that an otherwise good and loving person, who but for unbearable emotional anguish would gladly have gone on living, will be judged so harshly. That's my take on it, anyway. I, for one, do not count my cousin's soul as lost to damnation. On a more personal note, even though I hadn't been close to this cousin in many years, his death was an ugly reminder to me of what I'm up against. Is it for better or for worse that these things run in families? For me, it increases both the comfort and anxiety factors.

But enough of the negative. On the upside, I got to see some family that I hadn't seen in a while. I wish it had been under better circumstances, of course. These things are bittersweet. Joblessness means that I had the whole day to go to the funeral and back, and that I have time to spend with family and friends while I wait for someone to pay attention to my résumé. Now that we're back I realize that I was completely justified the degree to which I missed my friends and my Colorado life while we were in exile in that rare part of Mexico that is both ugly and unfriendly. The beach was nice, but friends are so much better.

It's good to be home, even if my life doesn't seem to be moving.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Esperando. . .no sé

I suppose I ought to say something since I haven’t posted in a while, but I’m not sure what to say. I’m happy to be home. I’m happy to have left Mexico before this swine-flu media mess made the border crossing potentially stickier. I’m happy to be back among so many friends.

There are worries here, of course. At the moment, we’re both unemployed. I’m looking for work and doing some of that research that I didn’t have time to do while I was getting my MA. Meanwhile, my husband is studying to take the state Bar Exam at the end of July and feeling out work opportunities. It’s funny—since we’ve gotten back several people have told us what a lousy economy we’re coming back to, and what a difficult time this is to be looking for work. Ha. They have no idea. I want to tell them how awful things are in small Mexican resort towns where the economy depends almost solely on tourism, how relatively safe things are in a diversified employment market with minimum wage laws. I’m not saying the job market is great here, because it isn’t, but it’s a far cry better than Peñasco.

I feel a little like my life is in a hover pattern right now, and I’m not quite sure what’s next. Work, hopefully. Health insurance and access to a prescription for anti-depressants, hopefully. I’m still hovering on the edge of starting a couple of books, but at the moment I’m focusing instead on some research proposals and getting started with the research itself because those things are more concrete and less difficult to articulate than some of the other ideas knocking around in my head. I can be an very, very organized person, but sometimes it’s hard for me to bring my ideas down out of the ether and organize them into something coherent and readable. Of course, I don’t want to discuss any of my ideas in such a public forum because I’m completely paranoid about being plagiarized, or just plain robbed of my ideas before I’m able to pounce on getting them published.

I’ve spent most of the day gathering information to apply for a big scholarship. It would cover my research expenses, including travel, for nearly a year. Competitive, of course, and the application process is unbelievably long and complicated. Cross your fingers for me. If I get this, I can walk into just about any PhD program i choose when the research is done. That's what they tell me, anyway.

I’m still feeling a little lost, but at least the fog is clearing.

Friday, April 24, 2009

La vanidad

The other night my husband had the channel on one of those cable news shows where people argue at high volume. That evening, the topic was Miss California’s statement about gay marriage, and a panel of pundits were loudly taking turns (a term I use generously) defending her and tearing her apart.

The point that everyone missed: this is the Miss America Pageant. My husband’s initial reaction to the whole situation, even before analyzing what she had to say, was "I can’t believe they still have that thing. Why does anyone care what a beauty contestant thinks?" Indeed. Why do we still have that thing? I know some people think that Miss America hearkens back to a more wholesome time, but there has never been anything wholesome about it. Any way you cut it, it is public debasing and exploitation of women who, seeking validation in something so superficial and fleeting as physical appearance, hollow-headedly conspire in their own objectification. Miss America reinforces our society’s skewed perception of women as mere pretty pleasure-givers. Proponents of beauty pageants argue that they teach self-confidence. Hooey. They undermine self-confidence by teaching that a woman’s value lies in being Barbie-grade “beautiful”, and that the girl with the shiniest teeth and best bikini-body wins in life. By that standard, Mother Teresa with her imperfect teeth is not a role model, and neither is anyone whose belly is a little saggy from bringing a child into the world, nor anyone whose nails are less than manicure-perfect from hard work. ¿Qué? Beauty pageants reduce the value of femininity to sparkly dresses, tiaras, and camera-perfect make-up and hair. The pseudo-profound questions that the judges ask them are a mockery of the true intelligence and articulate expression that so many women cultivate.

I’m not saying pretty is bad. I’m not saying that a person, male or female, shouldn’t take care of their appearance (and hygiene, please). A good haircut or a good dress can help a person feel more confident, but it shouldn’t be the main source of confidence. What I’m saying is that the pursuit of beauty shouldn’t swallow up a person’s identity, and that it should never define a society’s value-judgment scale of womanhood. If we insist on judging, there are better measuring rods out there.

In her later news interview, Miss California reaffirmed and defended her stance on gay marriage. In a way I admire her for standing up for her beliefs, for refusing to take the politically correct position. What I don’t admire is her phrasing, her insistence that she was being "biblically" correct. Did she miss all those parts about modesty? About vanity? About looking not on the outward appearance, but on the heart? The Bible euphemistically refers to homosexuality as "abusing" the body. Would she defend parading in a bikini before the eyes of a lascivious crowd as something other than abuse of the body? Is that body, made public property, a worthy vessel of the Spirit? If she's going to claim moral high ground, maybe she should pay more attention to holy writ than to whether her roots need a touch-up. Admittedly I’m no saint, but I am suspicious of the soundness of the moral foundation of someone whose heart is so set on the vanity and praise of the world.

Was it a loaded question? Yes. An inappropriate question for the venue? Probably. Maybe she didn’t win because of what she said. Entirely possible. And maybe she didn’t win because the other girl had better hair or eye make-up or perkier boobs. We’re kidding ourselves if we say that the quality of these women’s minds matters to their audience. I have to wonder, what weight do our views on marriage, heterosexual or otherwise, carry in a nation where we still celebrate such an assault on real womanhood? Just wondering.

Thursday, April 16, 2009


There is something freaky going on with my husband's job, and it distresses me. Please don't ask questions, I don't know the answer. Given that the situation is delicate and I don't understand it anyway, I will write about something absolutely unrelated. Our life in Peñasco is mired in confusion, but the Mississippi of fiction is mired in something much juicier.

My husband is a patient and un-jealous soul. He is resigned to the fact that when I pick up a novel that really grabs me he will lose me a little during the reading of it, and nobly fails to feel the least bit threatened when my heart goes adolescently pitter-pat for a man that exists only in the literary ether.

I am currently reading Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!, and I am in love. I am in love with the prose, the story, the words, the eloquent half-page run-on sentences, and the flawed people that populate the pages. That, and I have a desperate crush on Charles Bon.

Charles Bon represents the worst of all that has ever made me swoon, long before I matured to associating “sexy” with stability, work ethic, motivation, fidelity, and an absence of relationship drama (all of which is not to say I don’t love my husband’s sexy hair). But I am seduced. In the same way that Jason Compson Sr. tells Quentin how Charles didn’t have to seduce Judith Sutpen because he’d already gotten Henry under his spell and so Henry seduced his sister with the idea of Charles on his behalf, so Faulkner has vicariously seduced me with his description of Charles, and the Frenchman didn’t have to lift a finger. Jason Sr. describes Bon’s apathy (almost ennui), his careless way, and I think it’s kind of sexy. Is it surprising that I find his sentiments toward his bought woman tender and magnanimous? That there is appeal to his pragmatic argument that they, women reared solely to love and be loved, are the last truly chaste women in the Americas? That his laissez-faire approach to life (because who cares about the Adam Smith and a free trade economy?) makes me want to sit under the oaks, smelling the magnolias and watching the river crawl past? It’s that mellow c’est-la-vie that makes Louisiana creole culture so appealing. It would be that way even without the food (and you all know how I feel about food. Oh, pralines, chicory and beignets, bisque and etoufée. . .)

New Orleans, the city itself, is a seducer, and by association are its natives. The sultriness of the air paws at you. A New Orleans drawl pauses to kiss the earlobes before the sound makes its way inside the ear. It is a low, soft voice that obliges the listener to lean in a little closer to the speaker, making even a conversation of virtuous content feel sensual and intimate. Even a low laugh from grey-eyed grandmother calling me "bou" or "chère" is warm and rich like molasses. It is a distinct voice. That is how I hear Charles Bon’s voice. Even without imagining dark creole features and penetrating eyes, the drawl tugs at me. I heard that voice in my head when I read the letter written in stove polish.

The stove-polish-ink-on-pilfered-French-watermark, the un- love letter, drew me in. It is devoid of frilly romance, devoid of compliments (aside from "I will not insult you by saying". . .) and I love yous. Its pragmatism, its fatalism, its honesty, its eloquence make those pretenses superfluous. The fatalistic laissez-faire is infectious, so much so that when Henry kills Charles by the front steps the seduced reader fails to hurt, except for the loss of such a lovely being. The blank tragedy of it is sultry, the kind of emotion experienced in the dusk with the eyes half-closed. Judith understood, and so it is the letter that remains, not what WAS but what IS, passed to Mrs. Compson to safeguard that letter’s moment of stark ironic beauty.
It’s a good thing I was officially sworn off men for a while when I lived in Louisiana, and probably a better thing I didn’t spend much time in New Orleans. Listening to that voice for days uninterrupted would have gotten me sooner or later. Some women may go in for more understandably romantic types like Edward Cullen, and that certainly makes loads more sense (and don’t even ask how I know that name, blame it on mass media because I have not wasted any precious reading time on that book). Leave it to a supernerd like me to get sucked in by a pragmatist, bigamist, French-creole beauty of a man in a decidedly unromantic bit of prose. Grotesquely, I vaguely remember having a hopeless crush Quentin Compson for the intricate, if depraved, inner workings of his brain in that last day before his suicide, when I read The Sound and the Fury in high school. I suspect that was unhealthy, but his mind is so very, very lovely.

Having spent time in the Mississippi of flesh and blood and terra firma, I do not have particularly warm feelings for the place. But Jefferson, Mississippi I may not mind, for all its flaws and the wrecked lives of its inhabitants. From the distance drawn by pages and print and fiction it’s a beautiful place (and right now anything greener than Peñasco is a little bit of heaven). From that same distance Charles Bon is the most beautiful man (not) alive. (Be assured that my husband holds my off-paper equivalent of that esteem).

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


My husband and I got back Sunday night from a quick road trip to Los Angeles. He only had a few days off at the tail end of Holy Week (not two weeks like the rest of the country, thanks again un-Mexico). We had originally planned to spend the time kicking around southeastern Arizona ghost towns with the in-laws, the highlight of which was to (hopefully) be a night at a haunted B&B in Bisbee which, apart from the usual spooks, features a hooker-haint who reportedly entertains guests with an otherworldly strip-tease from the foot of the bed. The in-laws had not been informed of these particular details; they are not believers like us, and we figured we’d mention it (or not) after the fact, if we managed to stay a night there.

Alas (or not so deep a sigh), plans changed. My husband’s great uncle died, and my in-laws decided to go to the funeral in L.A. instead. We decided to join them A) out of respect, B) because we’re not sure how many more opportunities we’ll have to seen my husband’s aged grandfather in this world, and C) why the heck not? Neither of us had ever been to that part of Cali before (he used to live in the Bay Area, but had not ventured that far south). I admit that at first I was hesitant; the image I’d always had of L.A. was a plasticky one, and didn’t think I’d find much to do since I’m not in the slightest interested in buying a StarMap and stalking the Pretty People. Gack. I couldn’t care less. What’s a Hollywood-apathetic girl to do? LOTS, we discovered. Much to my pleasant surprise, I *heart* L.A. We seriously tossed around the idea of living there. Quite seriously. Now I want desperately to find a job lucrative enough to take up residence in Santa Monica, maybe Pasadena. More accurately, I want my husband the attorney to bring home sufficient bacon, and post-PhD I’ll get a gig at one of the many universities. Because, let’s be honest, a humanities professor is never going to make that kind of money.

In retrospect, the drive out may be evidence of a lapse in good judgment. We left fair Peñasco at a late hour and drove through the night in shifts, pulling into the L.A. metro area around 6am. Ouch. We stopped in a Kmart parking lot and tried to sleep a bit, to no avail. So, we found an ATM that dispensed spendable green dollars instead of multi-colored pesos, procured some breakfast, loaded up on diet Coke, and made a day of it. By the time we checked into our hotel late that afternoon we were zombies and it took my thirty-something body longer to recover than I’ll admit, but we still managed to have a rip-roaring good time.

Among the joys we crammed in:

-Driving around the city and taking in the view of Angelino humanity in its mind-boggling heterogeny

-The Getty Museum, where in the portrait gallery we discovered my brother’s eerie twin, a Fulano-de-tal 16th-century financial advisor to Carlos V

-Lunch at one of those macro-biotic vegan cafés, because we needed to cleanse after eight hours on the road. After salad-spare weeks in Peñasco, it was delicious mouthfuls of green heaven.

-Strolling Santa Monica Boulevard, including some shopping in which my husband scouted out a very pet-able velvet jacket for me. Why is it that my husband is always the one to spot my best shoes and jackets?

-The carnival rides on Santa Monica pier and requisite funnel cake (after the rides).

-People-watching on Venice Beach.

-Truly talented street performers, including Russian acrobats!!

-Black bean soup, jerked chicken and fried plantains at a Caribbean joint.

-The LaBrea tarpits and the Page Museum. I discovered:
1. I love sabertooth cats just as much as I did as a little kid;
2. While they may have gone extinct millennia before the Grimm Brothers and a continent away, paleolithic Dire Wolves are straight out of a fairy-tale nightmare;
3. I have a new respect for paleontologists, particularly the black ooze diggers, since during the course of NO archaeological excavation did I ever get as sticky-filthy as they do.

-Navigating Pasadena to meet a friend, followed by his guided driving tour of much of L.A. In comparison with my current environs, even the seedier areas didn’t seem so bad, given their paved roads, minimal trash in the streets, and lack of third-world dogs.

-Giving gursha to my husband and aforementioned friend in a dimly lit and delicious Ethiopian restaurant (if you’re scandalized, get your mind out of the gutter and look it up). Quote of the evening: "If I’d known what kind of food they have over there, I’d never have sent money to the Ethiopians when I was a kid". –Our friend, after swallowing a mouthful of spiced lamb and lentils.

-Live Coltrane-imposter jazz at a club in VanNuys.

-Copious quantities of ice cream and gelato.

-And yes, we spent a little less than an hour in the bustle in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and got an eyeful of the freakshow in the surrounding blocks. Mostly I was surprised at how tiny Carmen Miranda’s footprints were in the concrete.

-But we didn’t get to go on The Price Is Right. No chance for Drew Carey to tell me to ComeOnDown!! This is why we have to go back. (That and a garlic restaurant I heard about).

All of that, and we squeezed in the great-uncle’s half-day funeral and some good visiting time with my husband’s family. The interment was very nice and good words were said, but the cemetery was insane. It sits on a steep hillside overlooking the valley. It has a beautiful view (for what that may matter to the deceased) but the graves are set in a precarious slope and I worried for the welfare of the more senior members of the family and for all of our ankles as we hiked up to the open grave. I guess when level real estate is at a premium, one invents (barely) workable solutions.

So, I know I have to take into account that I’m living in a place that makes all infrastructured civilization hover on paradise, but I really was taken with the city. Yes, the traffic is hell, but better than Atlanta or Mexico City. The beach is just as pretty as Peñasco (but much colder, *shiver*). The views are gorgeous. The people are friendly. The air was surprisingly clean (maybe the smog is a summer problem?). The weather was beautiful. It is refreshingly cosmopolitan—even mentioning the ethnic diversity seems redundant. Fresh vegetables and fruits are plentiful year-round. "Organic" and "locavore" are options, not mystery concepts. Name a cuisine and it’s available to satisfy my cravings and curiosity. Every heat-level chile known to man is in somebody’s cooking. It is the Vanity Fair; the seeker can find anything and everything she might want or need. I understand why so many people want to live there. Maybe me, too.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Déjenme en paz

I'm having a crappy day today. I just am. This happens sometimes. And here's the silver lining: When I live in a place with few friends and one close one, the only person to look at me and ask "are you alright?" is my husband (that would be my one close friend). No friendly acquaintances or polite strangers picking at the cracks in my unconvincing I'm-okay mask. Heck, I don't even have to wear one! It's a relief, really.

I'm an optimist.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

¿Por qué no la compartes?

Mexicans must think I am the stingiest person in town.

Silly norteamericana that I am, I assume that my neighbors prefer that I keep it down. That’s how it is at home, right? I shut the windows and keep the volume at what I think is a reasonable level.

Not my neighbors. When they put on some music, they open the windows and crank it so high that the already dissonant strains of banda are further distorted—the volume at which both bass and treble buzz. Unfortunately, buildings here are not typically insulated against either weather or sound, and so it comes right through the walls. And it goes late into the night, even on weeknights. Businesses do this, too, so that when you drive past the music rattles your wheels and your teeth. It certainly gets my attention.

I am dubious that it has ever crossed their minds that there exists a person such as I who cannot stand banda or norteña, because it seems to be universally adored in these parts. How on earth could someone not love this music? If you want to try it out yourself, search “Los Tigres del Norte” or “Alicia Villareal” on youtube and you will not only hear it, but be dazzled by the costumes that I, in my close-mindedness, have deemed ridiculous. (Parenthetically, if you want to see some scary-tight mariachi pants, look for Alejandro Fernández and you’ll get some cheesy ballads out of it, too).

So now I feel stingy, because I don’t share. In fairness, I’m afraid that if my music competes with theirs an ugly volume war will break out. I have memories of this from my freshman year in the dorms. Would they mind, though? Maybe it’s unfair to say this, but banda and norteña are already so cacophonous to my ear that it might not make a difference. Sure, add more sound! they might tell me. Let’s all bring something to share! It's a bad musical potluck where the flavors of all the dishes clash. I don’t, though. Out of shyness and a desire not to offend my neighbors (without really knowing that it would offend them), I keep my music to myself.

I am beginning to suspect that ¡sube la radio! is as important in north Mexican culture as ¡Viva Villa!.

Friday, April 3, 2009


There’s a little something about the culture here that’s been frustrating me. I know that I should accept it, that I’m the foreigner that therefore I should be the one to make the adjustment. That’s all good and well. Fine. I’ll say that I have adjusted to it, but that doesn’t mean I can’t still be frustrated by it. I’ve overcome exasperation, at least, and am settled at annoyed acceptance.

Here it is: in my book, Mexicans lie. Only the don’t think they’re lying. They would likely be extremely offended if I called them on it. Lying, you see, is deliberately and maliciously obscuring the truth. They aren’t doing that. It’s the opposite of malicious. I’ve gathered that they believe they’re making sure I’m happy by telling me what they think I want to hear. They are going out of their way to make sure I don’t get upset by telling me something unpleasant. In a way, it’s very considerate of them.

When I moved to Mexico for the first time in 2003, I learned early on that keeping things pleasant and making sure everyone is happy is an overarching cultural value here. I think this is part of why it can take so long to get some things done here; you can’t proceed until you’re sure that everyone involved is not only on the same page, but happy about it. I’ve observed repeatedly that meetings, conversations, classes, dinner—anything, really—stops and hovers at smoothing over upset feelings, and we can’t move on until we’re satisfied that no one in the room is upset. Reflecting on it now I think I’ve unconsciously picked up on that in my teaching, because I find myself repeating “¿todo bien?” and looking around the room for consternation. If people don’t grasp it, I give additional examples, alternate explanations, memory tricks, whatever works, until the confusion passes. I don’t need them to be happy about it, though. They can loathe the subjunctive with their whole souls for all I care, as long as they can conjugate and know when to use it.

This happens frequently when I’m trying to get my hands on something that I need, and the store is out of it, or the person I need to talk to isn’t in. For example, I go to the grocery store, actually several of them, only to find that everyone is out of tomatillos. Yes, we are in Mexico and there are no tomatillos. In the wasteland of Sonora where nothing will grow, everything has to be trucked in (it gets pricey, hence the outrageous cost of living here) and the trucks aren’t always reliable. They get held up at state and international borders, military checkpoints, tollpoints, and other nonsense that hinders efficiency. I digress—back to the tomatillos. So, I ask the produce guy if they have more in the back. No. When will there be more? This afternoon, he says. Naïvely satisfied with his answer, I come back in the afternoon. No tomatillos. This goes on for three days, every day someone telling me that the truck will be here later in the day. Finally I find some at a fruitstand. They are sad looking but acceptable, and I take them home and roast them and turn them into the salsa that I have been madly craving for four days (by the way, convenience foods haven’t made inroads here, so I have to make most things from scratch. That’s right, I can’t buy fresh salsa at the deli. What deli?) Even if they don’t carry what I’m looking for, never have and likely never will, they smile at me, shrug, and say “tal vez mañana”. Mentiras. Which leads to another important lesson for living in Mexico: “Mañana” doesn’t necessarily mean tomorrow. It means, “not today”.

There is an exception: at the bank, they are straightforward with the truth. Of course, you can’t fudge telling someone that the wire transfer number is correct when the transfer won’t go through, and you can’t tell someone that their debit card has arrived when the mail from Mexico City hasn’t shown up for over a week and a half. So, they tell me what I don’t want to hear, and yes, the truth is frustrating. I can take it in stride, though. It helps that they deliver the disappointing news with the sweetest voice they can muster.

And that’s my culture clash. I am still the foreigner (and how). No matter how Latina I may be, I grew up in mainstream culture in the United States. It’s difficult to reconcile my black-and-white, Puritan North American ideals of truth and lies to the gentler Mexican concern for avoiding the unpleasant, even if the solution is short-lived. I hate to admit this, but despite speaking the language, trying to understand and adapt to the culture, blah, blah, blah, I am still an Ugly American. True, I don’t go in for loud public drunkenness and insisting that everything be done in English and US dollars, but I accepted some time ago that I will never go native in Mexico, especially not rural northern Mexico. My first instinct is still to say what’s on my mind, and to share what information I have when someone asks for it, even if the truth isn’t happy-making, because I assume that when someone asks a direct question they want a direct answer. If I don’t know, I say so. So, my automatic reaction is to think that Mexicans lie. I’m sure they think I am rude and blunt (with some justification). So, I try to bite my tongue and resign myself to repeated petitions for goods and services I might require, for people who dodge my questions with a pleasant voice and a big smile.

So, um, thanks? Gracias, México, por preocuparse tanto por mi bienestar. Sé que solo quieren que lo pase bien.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

La mera verdad

As previously mentioned, I recently updated my résumé and CV. It makes me feel so pretentious and slightly dishonest, using all that drivel-licious terminology that abounds in résumés. Yes, I accomplished the stuff I said I did, but there’s so much more to the story. Here are a few examples of what I’d really like to have said:

Spanish Instructor, University of *****
-Introduced students to the idea that communism isn’t so bad, relative to fascism and/or the imperial yoke.
-Let slip that practicing Spanish conversational skills while slightly tipsy (though not drunk) is a great way to gauge how much you really do know when you’re uninhibited.
-Showed films and played music that would get me totally fired in a K-12 setting. “Me gusta marijuana, me gustas tú”. Gracias, Manu Chau, for your fine illustration of the use of indirect object pronoun structures. And seriously, Almodóvar nudity is only sexual in really creepy ways. What I am supposed to do, show them children’s shows like Xuxa? The woman was a porn star. At least Todo sobre mi madre gives them a peek at Spain’s post-Franco, wahoo, free-for-all cultural liberalism.

ESL Instructor, ***** Hispanic Community Center
-Developed a serious chip on my shoulder about those Chicano Power jerks who tell me that I’m not Hispana enough and accuse me of having "brown shame". Because, you know, it’s not like there are non-Mexican-American Hispanics in the world.

File Clerk, ***** Oil & Gas
-Lost last shreds of tolerance for mind-numbing paperwork.
-Lost last shreds of tolerance for petrochemical engineers and geologists who think they’re smarter than the rest of us, yet stare at me blankly when I make a quip about anything non-scientific. Say, a witty literature joke. Shakespeare who? Faulkner what? Isn’t that a dirty word?
-Almost turned to drink, but applied for grad school instead.

Reading tutor, ***** Elementary school
-Pulled kindergarteners’ fingers out of their noses and other orifices all stinkin’ day.
-Became adept at wiping noses without getting the boogers on my fingers. (If you're wondering, yes, I washed my hands. My poor chapped hands).
-Expanded my vocabulary of childish insults, way beyond "poopyhead".
-Headed off drug deals between kids who pass stuff for their parents. Those brown bags were not always lunch, I tell you.

I wonder if I’d get a job with that version. It does highlight some of my more unique experiences and qualifications, after all.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


My husband has a friend who is getting a master's in development at UCLA, and since he's a relatively short drive away he and some friends came down and spent last weekend with us. When people are in town to visit us we tend to shell out a little more cash on entertainment, to make sure our guests enjoy themselves. So, we eat out more, go out on fishing boats, rent ATVs to ride around the dunes (not my idea), etc. Oh, and buy fireworks. Domestically produced fireworks. I pause here to remind my fair readers that quality control and manufacturing regulations are not the what they are north of the border.

There is a bizarre, pyromaniacal pleasure to living in a place where recreational explosives are totally legal and can be bought on the roadside. This was our first adventure with Mexican fireworks, which have alarmingly short wicks. In the desert around town there's nothing to burn. Except us, that is. Nobody caught on fire, but we did have a few that went off right next to our heads, and more than a few bottle rocks that shot not up, but horizontally, sometimes straight at us. One shot straight under the car, and for an arrhythmia-inducing moment we all worried that it would go off under the gas tank. I guess it didn't, because it's all in one piece and unscorched. It was a hoot. It reminded me of younger, more devious days driving down long country roads, shooting bottle rockets out the car windows with wild cousins. Those were the days.

Sigh. There are some aspects of our little strip of desert-meets-the-sea that I will miss. Some. Thank heaven for Wyoming.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

El curriculum

Ah, the tanking Mexican economy. It's predicted that the peso will fall to twenty-to-one against the dollar by summer's end. I predict sooner. To fill you in, when I was in Guad last summer the peso had fallen just barely below ten-to-one last summer, where it had been in a steady hover for years. When I was there in 2003, some days it got close to nine-to-one. We avoided changing money or withdrawing with US ATM cards on those days. This January, 2009, it was at twelve. February, 13.5. By March first, it was at fifteen. Today, it's at 15.5. It pains me every time I make a transfer from Santander to our US account. I miss the ten-to-one days.

The local economy is really in trouble. So much so that I'm looking for jobs in Colorado. We're not sure how long it will take my husband to wrap up here, but now we're old hands and spending a few months apart. It still sucks, but at least we know we can live through it successfully.

This, of course, is requiring me to update my résumé and my CV. I haven't done that in, oh, about three years. Gack. I thought it would be fairly easy, until I realized that my old CV was on my old hard drive, the one that crashed a little over a year ago. An IT angel at my husband's office was able to recover my non-duplicable data and sound files, but the rest was a loss. Imagine my bitter surprise when I found that it was not, in fact, backed up on my thumb drive as I had hoped.

So, I have spent the last couple of days reconstructing my employment and academic history for the last ten years. Gack. It's as hard as it sounds. God bless the internet. It's unsettling how many names I have forgotten, and even the name of an organization I worked for.

Cross your fingers for me. I'm bilingual and bi-literate, surely someone will hire me. . .

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

La muerte, figurativa y literal

High time I updated. Much has happened, but I've decided to avoid a list (a numbered one, anyway).

I took a trip to the States. It was supposed to be a short one, and the plan was simple: one-way ticket to Salt Lake, buy my sister-in-law's SUV, drive it over to Colorado to register it, hang with some friends, tie up a couple of loose ends at the University, and drive back to Peñasco. How complicated can that have been?

Getting to SLC was fine, but a storm blew in and I ended up staying there a couple of days longer than planned. It was pleasant, though, since I was staying with some beloved friends that I hadn't seen in ages, and we had a nice time together. There was some drama in their lives at the time, involving a father in the hospital and a hysterical mother not taking it well, but I'm glad to say I was able to help out with some things and alleviate a wee bit of the load. Once the storm had passed I took off on I-80 across southern Wyoming, and just east of Ralston the wind started to blow. I had forgotten: in Wyoming falling snow isn't the problem, rather the fallen slow that blows across the roads and creates white-outs and icy highways. I spun out on the interstate, and by some blessing ended up unharmed with my back end in the median, perfectly poised to pull back onto the road once I'd started breathing normally again. I said a wee prayer, remembered that I now had 4-wheel drive at my disposal, turned it on and proceed the next fifty miles at about 25-30mph, with sometimes only a few yards of visibility. I arrived in Denver otherwise uneventfully.

My father had called my the night before to let me know that my grandfather had quit eating and drinking and had lost consciousness, and would probably pass in a few days (in accordance with his living will, he was given no artificial nutrition or hydration at this point. 90-some year-old men should be allowed to die when their bodies tell them it's time). I was glad that I would be in town for the pending funeral, since I wouldn't have been able to make it had I been here in Mexico. However, when the doctors told us that he wouldn't go long, they hadn't factored in the Montoya effect. We're a stubborn, long-lived bunch, and he went six more days before passing. Naturally, I stuck around waiting for his death and the funeral. My father spent most of that time in New Mexico while we waited in Denver, and he was there with his father in the moment that he passed. We shared sweet memories of him, especially of what a funny, smart man he had been before succumbing to the Alzheimer's. Nobody should have to suffer the final stages for as long as he did. Again, he's a Montoya. Oddly (or perhaps not), I didn't cry for him. There were some tender moments, especially during the funeral, when I got a bit teary-eyed, but I haven't cried for his death, and I doubt that I ever will. It was a release. My father stated it well, several months ago when we were driving back from having visited him: I have already mourned my father, he said. The part of him that I knew is gone, and I have already mourned him. I will not mourn the shell of his body when he goes. Well-stated, indeed.

The funeral was beautiful, sweet. There were some awkward moments, such as when my self-blinded, unrepentant uncle saw face-to-face the children of the first family that he abandoned so many years ago-- and when one of his daughter from his second family (bless them for the good people they are despite him) graciously introduced herself to her unknown half-siblings. Mostly, though, it was wonderful. My grandfather's wife has been our angel in these long years (he remarried a few years after my grandmother's death in 1989). It was the first time I had been to a graveside with full military honors. My mother's father and one of her brothers were buried with them, but I wasn't able to attend their funerals (a sad casualty of my globetrotting). My grandfather served 33 consecutive months in battle, making his way on foot from Algeria to Normandy, then to the eastern front in Germany (he took a boat across the Med, of course) and was awarded multiple Bronze Stars. He was an honorable man, always. A man without guile.

The long stay for the funeral permitted me to spend more time in Colorado, and though I didn't see everyone I'd hoped to I was able to spend more time with friends and family than I'd anticipated. When I finally headed back to Mexico and my husband, I ended up staying an extra two days with my in-laws in Phoenix, laid up with a nasty sinus infection. A stroke of luck, though, that my father-in-law is an otorhinolaryngologist and was just the right person to make it right.

Finally, home to my husband, where I encounter another slow death, a moribund town waiting and praying for plentiful spring-breakers to revive the foundering economy. We are in the middle of spring break for the big Arizona schools, and the streets and beaches are nearly empty. Thank you, prensa amarillista. Thank you, sensationalist US media for making it sound like the entire country is as dangerous as Juarez. Thank you for driving away tourists. Thank you for fatally wounding the economy of Mexican resort towns in a nation that depends heavily on tourism. And a special thanks goes out to the Dean of Students at the University of Arizona, who on unfounded rumors and grisly fantasies issued a letter to UofA students and their paranoid parents warning them specifically not tot travel to Puerto Peñasco for Spring Break. Thank you. Thank you for destroying jobs and families and businesses and whole towns. Give yourselves a well-deserved pat on the back.

Lola, who feels perfectly safe in her present Mexican home, loathes the self-centered blindness of the US media. Jódanse, CNN and Fox news and all the rest of you.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


To restore (or, at least preserve) my sanity, I am trying to get into the habit of talking walk-jogs on the beach in the mornings. I follow the tide calendar to see when the tide is low, so the sand is compacted but still requires some effort, and I try to get in a few miles a day, a few days a week. When the tide is really low, like today, I get a bit distracted by wonderful creepy crawlies in the tide pools. Sometimes it's just hundreds of hermit crabs, but they're still pretty interesting.

I saw a dead jellyfish on the beach this morning during my walk. It wasn't even in a tide pool, it was trapped far up on the sand, left there by last night's extremely high tide, stranded and asphyxiated. It looked like a giant glob of mucus, at least a foot across. Huge. Soft. Wet. Squishy-looking. I really, really wanted to poke it, but I restrained myself. I don't trust rural Mexican emergency response to make the connection between a writhing poisoning victim on the beach and the venomous animal lying at her side.

Lola needs a long poking stick.

Thursday, January 22, 2009


Everyone out there, what do you know about semiotics?

I'm looking into a PhD program at the Universidad de Guadalajara, in part because I adore the city but mostly because I think the program is right up my alley. It's a program in Literature and Linguistics, two of my great loves, and I wouldn't necessarily have to choose between them as I did with the MA. So, I'm trying to brush up on all those literary theory places where my knowledge is scant. I say "brush up", but wow this is a big job. I'm trying to settle on a theoretical bent that suits me and my interdisciplinary approach, so I'm looking at philosophy-of-language theorists. I also think that's a suitable approach to my favored area of Hispanic Literature: ahem, Colonial. Friends from my program poke fun at me for that, but I love Colonial Lit. There's so much more to it than just the text; so much depends on context. It's a fascinating period to me because, even be it one-sidedly, it documents the collision between such wildly different worlds and worldviews, and the Spanish were scrambling to find a way to express themselves in their Brave New World, and they had to reformulate their Eastern Hemisphere discourse. This meant reorienting and recontextualizing symbolic thinking. As I perceive it, anyway.

So, I'm leaning toward semiotics. It's a bit like semantics and pragmatics (a course I adored in the MA, minus a few opaque lectures), and focuses largely on symbols and contextual meaning. I think I may have found it. . .

I'm starting soft, though. I just started reading Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose, because it's supposed to be the great fictional text in which he shows off the application of the theory in fiction. We'll see if I can grasp it. Then I'm going to read a little more Kristeva, and if I get her then I might take a stab at Barthes, Foucault, Lacan and all those other françoises.

Damn, how I hope I'm zeroing in on a fruitful theoretical approach, one within which I can operate, and perhaps even add to it someday. And oh, how I hope I can grasp it.

Lola will penetrate this novel, dangit. Er, comprehend. I'll stay away from that oh-so-phallic verb for now.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


I get mixed messages from fluffy womens' magazines when I stand in line at the grocery store. Consider the following:

Will I really lose weight fast by baking and devouring the oreo layer cake? Which am I supposed to do?

Lola feels weird about being the citizen of a nation where our poor are obese, and where starving ourselves in various ways is a multi-billion dollar industry.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Esperanza, parte II

I could just complain about how difficult things are here and now, but I don't want to be a broken record. So, I'll say something happy.

President Obama's inauguration speech this morning made me really, really happy. I wish I could have been there. I was so impressed and inspired. It was like a good sermon: Have faith, have hope, now pony up and do something so we can fix this mess together. He's much more eloquent than I am, of course, but I loved that message.

I do have hope. I'm finally truly proud to be an American (though I do remind people here that I am _not_ from Arizona. They're always so shocked that my Spanish is so good, so they believe me about where I'm not from). I have hope that the rest of the world will stop hating us now that they see we're capable of electing someone that isn't an idiot. Not only is he not an idiot, he's honest-to-goodness presidential, world-leader material. I love that he extended an open hand to the world, including the nations willing to unclench their fists. How much more effective and diplomatic than pounding his own fist, like his predecessor! I have hope that the nation will unite under his invitation to pull our act together, together, and to take responsibility and fix our nation. I have hope that we can look past our differences as we work together (I guess that means I should quit knocking Arizonans and other tourists that come to the shores I currently occupy).

If only Mexico could elect someone who could inspire them to pull themselves out of their hole! Then again, maybe I only say such a nasty, jaded thing because I live in Mexico's most unsavory, sad fringes. Ah, the border. . .

If I keep saying things like that, nobody is going to come visit me. We do have lovely, warm beaches.


Jane, as far as books: thank you for your kind offer. I'm in Phoenix this week and my mother-in-law showed me an awesome bookstore called Half-Price Books. It's one of those cool used bookstores, the kind that has a wide selection of far more than ragged cheap sci-fi and romance paperbacks, and doesn't smell like damp basement. It was really cool. I got some books that will make me happy: Faulkner, Hemingway, Eco, Tolstoy, Kristeva. I didn't even spend lots of money. Yay! Sadly, the closest ones to the Jungle are in the Bay Area. Though, it sounds like you've found a nice little joint yourself. And guess what, Rocketgirl-- only two of those books are non-fiction. Are you proud of me?


Lola is going to kick back and read, but not for too long. Then I'm going do something to make the world a better place. Thank you, Mr. President.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Todavía no me acostumbro

I've been here two weeks and two days now. It feels like it's been much longer, in terms of trying to pass the days. My husband refers to me as the princess locked in her castle all day, which isn't too far off. I know he feels bad about me being here with so few books (and no bookstore within less than 200 miles, so far as we know), a shared car, and so little to do. The beach is still to cold to play there for long and much to cold to get in the water. I have research I should be doing, but right now I'm still in the phase of getting all my background information. Of the dozen books I brought with me, six of them are about the tribe I'll be visiting this spring and their language, and two more are about bilingualism. Also, I should be writing, but I have trouble finding the motiviation/ inspiration/ ánimo/ ganas to pull that off for more than an hour or two a day. I can feel myself starting to slip down that depression slope again, and it seems like I have to pull myself out of it every day. It doesn't help that the anti-depressant I'd been taking is not yet available in Mexico (neither is my birth control, by the way. Lovely). I'm trying, trying, not to let on too much to my husband, because I don't want him to worry about me, but to him I'm transparent. I can't hide a thing, and I know he knows I'm struggling. If I can't force myself be happy for me-- it's familiar, like an old bad habit, to feel listless and depressed-- I can try to be happy for him. I know it means so much to him.

I'm working to find things to be happy about, and a few days ago one fell into our laps. We were out driving around after church on Sunday, and we met a really nice guy, El Yucateco. We got to talking, and it turns out that his wife La Terapeuta is from the states. She also goes to the same church we do, but we hadn't met her yet. She's in the same boat that I am, with no demand for her specialized occupation in this backwater, hence unemployed and at home all day. The other night they invited us over for rosca to celebrate Reyes Magos (normally not celebrated in this cultural wasteland part of the country, but he's from down south). Like good fellow countrymen, we shared the last of our stash of cheddar with them. If you've been stranded in Latin America without good cheese, you understand the significance of that (I thought of you, Rocketgirl). We don't have loads in common but they're really friendly people with great senses of humor. I think we've found friends.

When we were telling people that my husband had gotten a job here, they would say, "Oh, you must be so excited to be going back to Mexico!" Sometimes I would just smile politely, and other times I'd clarify that it's not like the Mexico I know and love. The central plateau it ain't, folks. I explain that it's as though someone had gotten to know the US by living in San Francisco or New York, and then "move back" because their spouse gets a job in some backwater fifty miles outside of Little Rock or Biloxi. Just like SanFran, right?

My cousin accuses me of being of a Mexico snob, and she's right. She's just as guilty, anyway. Her husband's from Leon, outside of Guanajuato. Lovely, lovely area; it's mountainous and green, with little colonial villages tucked into the valleys. Earlier, she did her postgrad in Tucson, and made the occasional seedy border run to Nogales for entertainment. She know the difference. She teases me, but only because she understands.

As the silver lining, I know my marriage is getting stronger because we're passing through this together. My husband's job is challenging in the ways he didn't anticipate, and I'm struggling to figure out what to do with my life now that I'm out of grad school with no job opportunities here. It makes us both a bit more sensitive, and I feel like we're taking better care of each other for it.

Also, we've finally found some good taco stands. Ay, vampiros. . .me hace agua en la boca just thinking about them.

Lola's trying, but this is a tough place to love.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Espero un Prospero Año Nuevo

In case you were wondering, my excuse for not having written about all the thrilling things that have happened in the last month, is, well, all those thrilling things that happened over the last month. Once again, I will proceed to sum up some significant details of my life in pithy list form.

1. I wrote my two final papers of my MA program. Yes, this means I turned in all the work, it's graded (yay for As!) and I'm officially DONE. It's an odd feeling.

2. I'm also done teaching. I wrapped up the dreaded review for the final exam, my kids did a great job, and once again, we got through another semester with not a single F. Barely, but not a one. They were a good group-- my highest number yet of adult and non-traditional student. We don't get many of those at the Boulder campus, and so it's a treat to have them and their rich life-experience contributions to the class. I miss it already.

3. I complete part of the international move, in the form of a one-way flight with a crammed suitcase and an overweight carry-on stuffed with books. I have now an unofficial (illegal?) Mexican resident. I'll be working on that Visa starting Monday.

4. This means I now live in the same nation and house as my husband. Relief!

5. I'm not really in Mexico, not culturally. More on this later.

6. I spent New Year's Day on a yacht watching dolphins and eating too much. Is this my life? The rest of it is filled with a combination of dust, unavailability of anything besides Mexican food, and mind-blowing sunsets.

By the way, I was wrong about the name of our P.O. Box. It's Gringo _Pass_. More on that later, too. Also by the way, my new book is going to include a highly unscientific survey of people's perception of the word "gringo". Racial epithet, or benign categorization?

Lola isn't sure what to think. More to follow.