30 September 2015

A Married Couple Walks into a Bar ...

wah wah what the ...?
When your marriage comprises two languages and two cultures, communication is challenging at best. At worst, it's a drunken conversation with Charlie Brown's teacher over a bad Skype connection.

The esposo and I switch languages every week. I know, weird system, but there's a reason. Turns out it's really hard to change a relationship language once it's set. I didn't even know there was such a thing as a "relationship language", but there is, and apparently after a while it feels unnatural when you attempt to use the other, sidelined language. It feels awkward. Affected. Like group practice in high school French class.

Every dual-language couple we know has fallen into using only one language or the other because of this.

Some couples start out in one language, but then the situation changes and they need to start using the other. Maybe they move, or one person needs practice to get a job in the other language. A lot of people have told me they tried but couldn't make the shift. Others don't need to change their relationship language, but say it would be nice for communication to be more balanced, to be able to express themselves or use humor the way they can in their native language. Or just for the person doing life 24/7 in a foreign language to get a freaking break.

So the esposo and I decided from the get-go to use both languages. Now each of us knows what the fuck is going on about half the time, which is pretty good odds in a dual-language marriage.

Sometimes I'm envious of English speakers whose relationship language is Spanish because they're more fluent than I am. They can argue in Spanish, they know all the slang. They can freaking tell jokes in Spanish.

So bitter.

Humor is the hardest thing in another language. Well, that and prepositions. It's a big deal for me. I was raised at the tit of sarcasm. I like funny people. I appreciate witty banter, a well-tooled phrase, penetrating conversation dripping with double entendre. Okay, maybe not quite that cheap and obvious, but you get my point. I like funny, but funny is hard in Spanish.

So it turns out I have two personalities. There's English Me and Spanish Me. I'm not even going to lie; Spanish Me is kind of a dud. English Me is fun at parties. Spanish Me, not so much. I mean, I'm not "unfun", I'm just kind of ... there.

Translating humor is a bitch. Take British and North American humor; even a shared language doesn't mean the culture translates. If you're North American, you either love or hate British humor. I find most of it brilliantly subtle and entertaining, but then there are those weird, over-the-top sit-coms bordering on slapstick, and it's like ... what the fuck is that about? And the Brits find our humor about as subtle as Jane Russell's bra. Now throw in a different language on top of the cultural divide.

Imagine you're at a party where half the guests are Seinfeld fans, and the other half, Three Stooges fans. Like that. That's me doing humor in Costa Rica.

If my friends were to describe English Me, humor would be mentioned. Granted, they'd probably make good use of the aforementioned witty turns of phrase to mock me and make me the butt of some excellent joke. Because that shit's funny. If my Spanish-speaking friends and acquaintances were to describe me, they'd probably say, "Es muy amable." Basically, "She's nice".

Right. Just put that on my tombstone. "She was nice."  Zzzzz.

... because a banana.
I'm making headway. You know how it is when a kid starts getting humor? Now he's got jokes. And he keeps starting over, like thirty-seven times, and he says "no, wait," and "okay, okay, so what happened was," and the punch line isn't that good, but the adults laugh because the little bastard has heart and doesn't quite realize he sucks, and there he is smiling, all pleased with himself, not noticing the adults  winking at each other over his head. Poor little fuck. Yeah, that's basically me, doing humor in Spanish.

It's an awkward stage.

So, as you may well imagine, the esposo and I sometimes have misunderstandings. Like every day. It happens often enough that I've decided to make these "moments in the life" a regular feature here. Lost in Translation, perhaps, though that's been done. What the Fuck Does That Even Mean? is also a possibility. Now that you all have the backstory, you're all set for the ensuing chortle-fest. At least try not to point. That's just taking it too far. This is another good reason that we switch it up every week, people -- who wants to always be the one who doesn't get it? Spread that suckage around.

So stay tuned for the first episode of What the Fuck Does That Even Mean? or whatever I decide to call it. (This is where the possum story comes in, for those who are breathlessly waiting.) Hey, I know you guys lost the This Old Motherfucking House series when I moved. I've got your back, amigos -- new show in town. And this one's cheaper. Well, except for my pride.

23 September 2015

Coffee Fields (Not) Forever

(In which I introduce the child who will become the esposo, a trap is laid, and cherries are not cherries at all.) 

I saw this while taking Tonka on his constitutional, and it literally stopped me in my tracks.
Yes, we have cloudy days here, too.  But only during the rainy season. And only later in the day. (Score!)

One of the coffee fields around the corner is for sale. See the terracotta building peeking out from behind the sign? That's my apartment. There's an empty lot behind us, then this little coffee field (cafetál) to the east of the empty lot. Makes for a nice view out the back windows.

So one more farmer bites the dust. Whoever buys it will surely put up apartments or cookie-cutter houses. Or worse. They already built a childcare center on the other side of the lot behind us. The teachers are either hard of hearing or sadistic, because they recently added microphones to the fun. Now the whole neighborhood can sing along to jolly songs. All morning long. They also painted the wall facing us a lurid neon blue that screams at me from across the empty lot. Along with the kids.

Anyway, this is my view of the soon-to-be-razed coffee field. The mountains are hiding.

My current view to the east from my back windows. Little coffee field rocks some verdant green.

On a clear day, you can see the mountains, too. Somehow, them basically being a parade of volcanoes isn't scary. Volcán Poás is the only active one within view, anyway. True, the world's second-most acidic sulfur lake sits up in the crater, but hey, the geysers can't reach this far, and the lake is such a tranquil, milky aqua-green that it lulls you into believing it's gentle. Okay, those three tourists were just struck by lightning there this week, but you can hardly blame the acid lake for that. Volcán Turrialba, which occasionally belches ash when it's feeling petulant, is southeast of us, out of sight, but it's the one that will coat the floors with a fine grit that's slicker than goose shit and makes you cough. It's the wind pattern, not the proximity.

Cafetál by the empty corn field. 
Volcán Barva (inactive) is to the left.
I know the farmer who owns some of the coffee fields that run the length of the opposite side of the road, aka Tonka's Poop Path. He's an older gentleman with one of those really old, classic trucks. He plants corn in the one field that's not a cafetál. He has chickens and two grouchy little dogs that are Tonka's friends. I hope he doesn't follow suit. I sure would hate to see him sell.

Transporting coffee by ox cart, 1920s
La Nación - Manuel Gómez
More and more independent coffee growers are selling. The big coffee corporations keep picking up more and more of the market. It's sad. Back in the early 1800s, Costa Rica gave land grants and free plants to anyone willing to grow coffee. Coffee became the country's most profitable export until bananas surpassed it more than a century later. (Tourism now out-earns them both, despite the occasional stray lightning bolt.) Yes, an elite class of coffee barons rose up, but there were a lot of independent growers, too, and those small-farm coffee growers made a huge contribution to the development of the country.

When my esposo was growing up, coffee was important, and not just for waking up in the morning. He grew up poor. His parents raised eight children and buried two more who had died in infancy. His father drove construction equipment, and his mother had the harder job of raising seven boys and a girl. She made tortillas by hand and washed clothes by hand. No family car. The kids didn't just share bedrooms, they shared beds.  They watched TV through a neighbor's window. And every year, the boys picked coffee so they could buy clothes, shoes, and supplies for school. My esposo says they "weren't really poor". Because they only had to pick coffee before school started, not all the time. They didn't have to work during the school year. Perspective, people.

I never had to work as a child, so my perspective on what "poor" means has shifted.

Of course, you laugh about it later. Like childbirth. Or basic training. At family gatherings, once the beer and guaro* are flowing, the childhood stories start, and someone invariably brings up the coffee fields. I learned that picking coffee is no easy task. You're paid by volume, by the bag, but you can't just fly through there willy-willy. Only the ripe, red cherries (or berries) go on to become those brown, addictive, magical beans that breathe life into us every morning. You have to pick them individually, and carefully: you can't pick the green ones yet, the dried up purple ones are no good, and if you strip the branches or pick the stem from the plant along with the cherry, the flowers won't bloom in those places and next year's crop won't grow.

It takes some skill to pick coffee. To do it quickly, even more.

So one of the boys -- the name changes, depending on who's telling the story, but I'm pretty sure it was my esposo -- spied a big bunch of the reddest, ripest cherries, lying on the ground. One of his brothers must've dropped them! He must've been going too fast and missed his bag. What a prize! A good-sized pile, just there for the taking among the leaves. He snatched them up ... along with a big, steaming handful of dog shit. His trap-laying brothers se cagaron de risa, as the phrase goes in Spanish. In Costa Rica, you don't laugh your ass off, you shit yourself laughing. Appropriate.

Growing up in Ohio, we learned to watch out for yellow snow.  My esposo learned to watch out for pretty, red coffee cherries on the ground.

Picking coffee here in Costa Rica is kind of like picking strawberries or grapes in the US. It's a job nobody really wants to do, a job people do to survive. A lot of Nicaraguan immigrants pick coffee here. There's a lot of prejudice and discrimination here against nicaragüenses. Some ticos complain about nicas "taking their jobs", but picking coffee is like working on the pineapple plantations; it's the last job people want. Everyone likes having that hot cup of yodo on the table, though.

I hope the fair trade cooperatives can get more of a foothold here so that small, independent growers and pickers here can have some security. If you guys have access to fair-trade coffee, please consider coughing up a little extra to support it.

café chorreado
A lot of ticos make coffee with a chorreador. This was my coffee maker for my first year or two here. If someone hadn't given us an electric one as a gift, I'd still be using it. Some of the more traditional sodas* make their coffee that way. Some of the fancier ones do it for the tourists who pay big bucks for "quaint" because they don't know enough to go to a regular soda.

Anyway, I'm sorry, little coffee field. I'm fervently hoping the bigger ones on the other side of the road don't follow you. I love our tranquilo little area. Selfishly, I don't want it to change. But more than that, this little cafetál is representative of a bigger change for small farms and for the country as a whole. I guess change is inevitable, but watching the coffee fields fall to housing developments -- or amped-up childcare centers -- is sad.

If McDonald's buys it, I'm out of here.

cafetál - coffee field
guaro - sort of like Costa Rican moonshine. Made from sugarcane. There's a national brand you can buy in stores.
cagarse de risa - shit one's self laughing. Laugh your ass off. Crack up.
tico - a Costa Rican person. 
nica - a Nicaraguan person.
yodo - Literally, it means "iodine", but in Costa Rica it's also slang for coffee. I guess because of the color.
chorreador - old school coffee maker. Basically a frame holding a sock-like, cotton coffee filter.
soda - a little restaurant that serves traditional, cheap, basic food.

15 September 2015

Happy Independence Day, Costa Rica

(Which was a relatively peaceful event, but into every history, some asshats must fall. This particular one came from Tennessee.)

On this day in 1821, Costa Rica, quietly obtained its independence from Spain, as did most of Central America, with the exceptions of Belize and Panama. Costa Rica abolished its military in 1948, and people here are very proud of the reputation they've built as a peaceful, tranquilo country. They've avoided many of the hardships suffered by their neighbors, starting with colonization. Not that the colonizers didn't come. Of course they came. They just didn't amp up the raping, pillaging, and murdering to the levels they enjoyed elsewhere. They did pass around some smallpox because that's just the colonizer's calling card. A given.

When that genocidal asshat, Cristóbal Colón, (You may know him as Christopher Columbus) came a-sailing in 1502, he dubbed this place Costa Rica, meaning "rich coast", believing it to be rich in gold.  It wasn't. Nor were there enough indigenous people for old Cristóbal to pull his usual stunt of enslaving them and forcing them to work their own land for his pleasure and profit. The settlers on the seemingly Rich Coast were largely left to their own devices, meaning they had to do their own work. Needless to say, Costa no-muy-Rica was mostly ignored while the Spanish colonization *cough genocide cough* continued in golder pastures.

Likewise, Costa Rica hasn't been affected by military conflict, dictators, corruption, or the effects of the drug cartels to the extent that its neighbors have. They did have to fend off an attempted takeover by one William Walker, a member of the Southern Confederacy who hailed from Tennessee. Willy decided he wanted a couple of Central American countries of his very own, by gawd, so he pulled a Cristóbal and decided to just go take them. Willy planned to convert Central America into a slave territory, extending the land of cotton right on down to the land of bananas.

Manifest Destiny wasn't just heading west, y'all.

He declared himself president of Nicaragua in 1856, and then set his sights on his neighbors to the south. The Costa Rican president rallied his people and raised a substantial militia in short order. Armed with farming tools, rifles, and (of course) machetes, they tracked down our Nashville native and commenced an ass-whooping. The Battle of Santa Rosa lasted about 15 minutes, ending with the would-be usurper high-tailing it for Nicaragua.

They followed him.

This is where the story takes on the stuff of legend and folks start with the toasts. Having cornered Walker and his men, President Mora asked for a volunteer to carry a torch and set fire to the building in order to drive the evil-doers out. A humble drummer boy, Juan Santamaría, bravely stepped forward, asking only that his mother be cared for in the event of his death. Our courageous boy-soldier did his duty and, tragically, met his end, but he succeeded in flushing out ol' Willy and his merry band of assclowns.

Costa Rica prides itself on its claim of being the only Latin American country whose national hero is a campesino, a humble laborer, rather than a politician or military hero. Juan Santamaría was also of mixed race, being partly of African descent, though you won't find that reflected in any of the statues. (French sculptor. What are you going to do?) Our main airport is named after Juan Santamaría, so if any of you head down, now you know the story behind the name.

This is the Costa Rican national anthem. I like how it reflects peace, the beauty of nature, and working the land with your hands. It briefly mentions defense in the context of the pueblo -- here meaning the people -- exchanging their tools for weapons to defend the country's honor, in the tradition of the militia that schooled William Walker.  No rockets' red glare, no bombs bursting in air. I like the idea of a national anthem being about peace, work, nature, and the land providing sustenance and shelter for its people.

The video has some nice scenes of Costa Rica. Give a listen. It's short and sweet. (Lyrics in the comments)

The anthem sounds sweeter to me this year, as I just received notification that my Costa Rican citizenship has been approved. In about a month, I should have my cédula, or national ID card, making me an official, card-carrying citizen of Costa Rica, or as my favorite taxista likes to say, más tica que gallo pinto. (You're more Costa Rican than the national dish. Yeah, flattery, but I'll take it.)

Feliz Día de la Independencia, Costa Rica.

12 September 2015

Language Arts

Using another language on vacation is a whole different thing from living your life in another language.  After a trip, sure, your brain is mush, but then you go back to handling life in English. And that's that.

Try moving, though.

There is no "going back to English". Your new normal is brain exhaustion. But you keep plugging along, hoping someday you won't sound like a third grader. You master the basics. But you soon realize that those happy chats with taxistas and market vendors are not fulfilling. You have opinions, you are interested. You miss feeling intelligent. You miss being heard. You want depth, an exchange of ideas beyond the weather and the price of papayas. You resolve to fill your days with deep and fascinating conversation. Enough of this Spanish 101 business.

It's time to level up, bitches.

But despite having a somewhat steady grasp on the nuts and bolts of the language, you are blissfully unaware of the number of factors at play here:

You know how in your native language you listen to things without even trying? You talk on the phone while you check Facebook. You text and watch a movie. Or you update your blog while belting out some sweet harmony with your boys, the Eagles. You listen to your fifth-grade teacher perfectly well while reading A Wrinkle in Time, hidden inside your science textbook. (Curse you, Mrs. Dunkle. Give me my book back. Still got an A on your dumb test.) Yeah, well, forget all that. That's over. If you want to know what the hell is going on now, you have to focus. Your mind cannot wander. Multitasking? No. Done. Thinking about what to make for dinner? Sorry, nope. Full concentration mode. All the freaking time.

Background Noise
If there is music or TV in the background, forget it. You know how a sound engineer can adjust the volume on different audio tracks? Bring up the lead vocals, bring down the drums, mute that guy who coughed? Yeah, well, that's not you. Your brain cannot yet filter different tracks in your new language, let alone adjust or mute tracks. You never even knew your brain was automatically filtering out noise in your own language, did you? Now it's all on one track. Everything. Music, the person talking to you, the convo at the next table, TV, traffic, barking dogs, ticking clocks -- just one big, cacophonous assault on your ears.  If you're a noise-sensitive person (hello), this is anxiety hell.

If more than one person is talking at once, same deal. Your brain cannot filter that shit. In a group, there is no pause for "your turn". This is not call and response, people. By the time you formulate a sentence, the point you wanted to address is three sentences back and someone else has the floor. You do a lot of smiling and nodding. Which you hate because you are not a passive, smiling nodder by nature. Groups are often in places with -- you guessed it -- background noise, as well as our next factor: alcohol.

There is mother-tongue tolerance and there is new-language tolerance. Never the twain shall meet. You have a window of opportunity. One or two drinks: you're killing it. You're confident, you're conjugating, you're clever. Hola, mi compa, dónde está el baño, te ves guapa mi amor, siempre tomo el bus los miércoles, tengo un lapiz, regálame una birra, mae*!  You are in the zone. Okay, stop drinking now. Trust me, this is the best your language skills get. Order that next drink, and it's all downhill. It will hit fast, too. Like mid-sentence. Do not miss your window.

You know how in English, talking to someone from Boston is a world apart from talking to Honey Boo-Boo? How Scottish English is just a wee bit different from Texas English? Same thing. Costa Rican (tico) Spanish was, for me, a difficult accent. It's a river of softlyconnectedsoundsrushing past my ears rather than clear.distinct.separate.words. Then there are regional accents. You understand one guy easily, turn to his buddy and ... nada. Awkward. I quickly discoverd that no podía entender ni papa. Literally, "I couldn't even understand a potato". Which brings me to the next factor:

Every Spanish-speaking country has its own slang. I never know whether I'm learning standard Spanish or tico Spanish until I talk to someone from another country and they don't know what the hell I'm on about. Then there's pachuco, which is the really street tico slang. My husband is a librarian. I'm not very street in Spanish.

DeviantArt: panelgutter
If you are tired, stressed, sick, or angry, you can't even. This is why I still fail at arguing in Spanish, which is a pity because that shit would be satisfying as hell, pendejos. It's exasperating because the times when you are stressed, sick, tired, or mad are exactly when you need communication to be effortless, but nooo, your brain just shuts down. Access denied. That bastard retreats into its skull-cave to hibernate and leaves you to deal with the situation. Brainlessly.

Other factors
-- When people mumble, turn their head away, or cover their mouths.
-- Volume. Your brain can't fill in missing pieces like in English.
-- PA systems and microphones.
-- The phone. You can't see gestures, facial expressions, or the person's mouth, and sometimes audio quality sucks. If I don't pick up, take the hint. Leave a message.  Better yet, text me.

So it's a process. Sometimes it's just easier to smile and nod.

It feels like doing life with your brain all tangled up in giant bedsheets.

Sometimes it actually feels claustrophobic, and you go all spastic-freakout in your head, trying to mentally Bruce Lee your way out of the tangled covers so you can fucking breathe, but they're not real. You can't throw them off. The only way out is to calm your ass down and keep trying. Which is maddeningly slow and frustrating.

But it's also fun and satisfying with a lot of fuck, yeah! to it, like when ...
  • you realize you just watched the news ... and totally got it. 
  • you have a conversation without thinking about the language. 
  • you've gone from "Rains. No parasol" to "If I'd known it was going to rain, I would've brought my umbrella." 
  • some guy catcalls you and you cut him off without breaking stride. 
  • you can read novels. (Yes, of course with the Kindle dictionary. What am I, Merriam-Webster?)
  • you can finally talk to someone in a crowded bar with music playing. (What is it with the 80s music? That shit just stays popular in other countries.)
Right?  Fuck, yeah. That's what keeps you plodding forward. Incrementally.

So listen up, friends. When you hear people speaking with an accent and making mistakes, don't you judge them. That shit is hard. Their brains can never relax. Their brains are probably fucking exhausted. And if they sound like a third grader, do not assume they're not intelligent. They could be a rocket scientist in their own language. Maybe smile at them. Maybe ask them what they think. Catch their eye. Maybe pause your own mouth for a minute so they can arrange their thoughts into words you can understand. Maybe include them if you're in a group and they're smiling and nodding a lot.

I started this draft almost four years ago. Now I can say "I speak Spanish" without feeling like a fraud. A lot of the factors above aren't such a big deal anymore. I'm not going to lie, though; sometimes they still kick my ass. People ask if I'm fluent, and I never know how to answer. According to criteria online, I guess I am. Sort of. Maybe. In my own mind ... um ... no, I don't feel fluent. Hey, perfectionist here. Blessing and curse, people.

My accent is getting better. Thankgawd. What I wouldn't give to have a sexy accent. Italian, Spanish, French, Hungarian. Face it, of all the world's accents, the gringo* accent has got to be among the ugliest.  We are the nails on the chalkboard of accents. And that's what I'm working with here, folks.  No matter how fluent I become, that accent will still be there, assaulting Costa Rican ears like an enthusiastic child learning violin. On an out-of-tune instrument. After guzzling Mountain Dew.

Last week, someone asked if I was French after we'd been talking a while. (I know, right?) Seeing my expression, he amended it. Swedish? Not ... Dutch? I said I was from the States, and bless his heart, he was surprised. Apologized! I was like, nooo, no apology necessary, good sir; just let me shine those boots up for you and build you this pedestal real quick. Hey, I know what the accent of my people sounds like. I'm under no illusions. I totally took that shit as a compliment.

Granted, it was probably just in comparison with the hordes of gringos who move here and never learn to speak beyond Yoh kee-ay-roh Tack-oh Bell, but still.  I'll take it.


*Gringo/gringa is not offensive or derogatory in Costa Rica. Took me a while to get that, but it's just what people say here. No negative connotation at all.  Now, if someone calls you yanqui ... okay, not good. 

*Mae = dude.  It's like güey in Mexican Spanish. 

*Alcohol-induced, in-the-zone Spanish: "Hey, my friend, where is the bathroom, you're looking good, baby, I always take the bus on Wednesday, I have a pencil, bring me a beer, dude!"

03 September 2015

Paradise Lost and Found

view from the laundry room window
How many prodigal-blogger posts does this make?  Whatever. 

I found an assload of drafts in here. Apparently, I wrote a bunch of shit while strapped to the roller coaster that is culture shock, after blithely setting off for paradise with nine suitcases and a dog.

I almost deleted them. But this is how I felt at the time, and this was my path from there to here.

I wrote this three years ago.  I'd forgotten the post, but I remember that night so clearly.


Paradise Lost and Found

It's March. 2012.  Seven months since the exalted move to Paradise and entering into wedded bliss with the proverbial Latin lover.  Who needs Calgon?  This chick probably spends her perfect days on the beach, being served cocktails in a coconut by her surf-instructor husband, listening to toucan calls and the spicy strains of salsa music while all her troubles are borne away on a sultry, floral-scented, tropical breeze.

Bitch probably has a pet monkey, too. 

Well, sort of. I don't live anywhere near the beach.  Or even a pool.  The esposo is a librarian whose swimming skills are about in line with my salsa skills. We are, however, surrounded by coffee fields and volcanos, and we do enjoy the occasional coconut with a straw.  Or box of cheap wine. The breeze, while often floral-scented, has not borne away life's troubles, but it does occasionally deliver volcanic ash or monstrous insects through the screenless windows. There are banana trees (which are not actually trees), palm trees, mango trees, papaya trees, avocado trees, and fifty-eleven-jillion types of flowers, birds, and butterflies. Sunshine. Always.

No pet monkey, though.  Sorry.

I live in paradise.  I wake up to sunshine, birdsong, and warm tile floors every single day.  Except sometimes I feel like I'm supposed to feel like I live in paradise, and I am secretly guilty if I'm not 100% ecstatically happy all the time.  Like I have to live up to living the dream, you know?

There really is no magical place that is paradise, though you can be coaxed into believing in it when you're vulnerable, when you're shivering under a Snuggie, alone in your vast expanse of king-sized bed, listening to the endless rain beat down on the new roof you just paid for in your soon-to-be-foreclosed house, and it's dark by 4pm.

You can sure as fuck believe in paradise then.

I moved to Costa Rica, but my kids didn't.  My friends aren't here. I feel isolated, emotionally and linguistically. I'm getting better at Spanish, but it's like communicating with your head wrapped in a thick, wet blanket. That shit's hard, people. I now have a husband to have and to hold till death do us part, but marriage doesn't magically transport your ass to the pages of Harlequin any more than taking a salsa class magically makes you Shakira. (Yeah, that shit didn't work. Turns out they don't actually put those footprints on the floor for you to follow.)  I traded in my big, empty bed for the challenge of managing marriage across two languages and two cultures, after a largely long-distance courtship.  And that, my friends, no es nada fácil. We could be a weekly sit-com, trust.  Yes, I walked away from my job -- how great is that?  Everyone's dream!  But I also walked away from my own pension and salary, stepping into the role of a housewife completely dependent on her husband in a machista part of the world.  And that kind of messes with your head.

The separation from my kids and friends ... ain't enough paradise to fix that. My insides try to rise up and choke me if I let myself go down to that cellar where the real feelings live; oily, snakey things, locked up tight, away from the daily business of life.  As a single mom, I got pretty good at compartmentalizing, at handling shit while appearing sane and competent, at keeping that padlock snicked shut. Tight.

Until I'm alone.

Because then no one has to know. 

So one night I'm cooking dinner (because I'm a housewife now, y'all) and my iPod pops up this lullaby I used to sing to the kids when they were babies, in that big rocking chair that got left on the porch of my now-foreclosed house.  It was fast, too -- James Taylor reached out and gut-punched me with a baby's song, hard, and the padlocked things slithered out, into my consciousness where they don't belong, except I'm not alone now, because I moved to paradise and new husband is sitting over there playing computer chess, and James Taylor is singing "and you can sing this song ... when I'm goonnnne," and now I'm the one who's gone, and freaking James Taylor slams me back into the rocking chair with that soft, chubby baby in terrycloth sleeper pajamas, except it's not real because now the baby has a goatee and a job and college and  bills and is doing it alone, without his mom, because she's in paradise peeling beets ...

... and then I'm in the laundry room of this tiny apartment, trying to get it under control because I need to be in control, but it won't stop, and I'm looking out at the coffee plants and banana trees (which aren't really trees) under the moon, with the mountains blocking the low stars, and this is paradise, where I'm not alone but I'm a different kind of lonely ... and then new husband is in the laundry room, probably hoping like hell it was nothing he did to make this gringa volverse loca in the laundry room (possibly wondering if this is an appropriate time to practice the "go nuts" phrase he just learned in English), and I try to tell him it's just that I miss the kids ... I just miss the kids ... only it's hard to speak clearly when you're crying and James Taylor is crooning his freaking baby's song, and I'm speaking in English because I can't think in Spanish when I'm crying, so it's harder to understand me, and we're doing that "¿Qué? ¿Cómo?  What?" thing, and I want to punch James Taylor but I secretly believe I deserve to feel this way because (you wouldn't be missing them so much if you hadn't LEFT THEM) really, who deserves to be happy in paradise?

And that's how it hits you. Like a fucked-up, run-on sentence that won't stop.

Anyway, I've been doing a lot of thinking about paradise and happiness and relationships and about how where you are affects how you are.  I'm having a pretty hard time, to be honest, living without my family and my friends.   I was prepared for the whole culture shock thing; I didn't Pollyanna that shit. I know the drill, I've done international moves before.  But not without my kids.  And in those places, there were other transplanted people who got it.  And who spoke my language. 

How can you feel sad when you're "living the dream"?  I feel like an ingrate. I mean, you quit your job, moved to a tropical country and found love to boot?  Bitch, shut the fuck up and get back to your fairy tale before I throw a mango at your ass.


In Seattle, I had people whom I loved more than life, but I wasn't happy.  I had happy moments with my people, but I wasn't really happy in general.  I don't think most people know how deeply Seattle got in there, what it did to me. It was sucking the life out of me, sucking the me out of me. 

Here in Costa Rica, the sunshine restores me, I feel better, I feel more like me.  I feel happy in general.  I have someone who loves me.  I have my dog.  I have time to breathe. It's warm.  It's yellow and red and so many greens and nothing is grey or cold or damp.  I just miss my kids, my friends.  Sometimes almost to the point of panic if I can't keep it shut up tight, where it belongs.

Even in paradise, life is trade-offs, people. Always.

I feel like I'm healing something, being here.  It's a process, but I feel it happening.  A location isn't really paradise, but it does make one hell of a difference.  There will always be stuff, but sunshine makes handling the stuff easier.  At least for me.  I'm that freaking Seattle crocus escaping the cold, snowy ground, basking my ass off in the sunshine.  Alive.  Sunshine is so fucking good.

Now if I can just find an agreeable monkey and teach it to ride on Batman, we'll be golden.