Tuesday, August 28, 2018

THANK YOU

Dearest regular readers,

Thank you for the past 10 years of reading this blog. You've given me motivation to organize my thoughts on daily life. You've inspired me to add depth and breadth to my first thoughts on every topic. You've made me feel heard and appreciated. Without the audience, the other half of the connection the artist strives for, there is no art. Although your part here has been largely passive, it is the crucial part of this creative endeavor.

My daily creative practice is now re-focused on acting, improving my abilities, building skills, seeking out opportunities to use them, and, of course, putting on film an authentic connection with the audience. I hope we can connect there, through the medium of film and television, and occasionally the stage.

I'm not going to say this is my last post, because who knows when I'll have something to say that this medium is best suited for. But for now, we're pressing pause.

Hugs and kisses,

Sarajoy

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Sarajoy vs. The Machine

The 2017 re-match between myself and the mad machinery of modern times is turning in to a route. Not in my favor. Obviously. The score at this, the midpoint of common-man's fiscal year, clocks in as Sarajoy -2; The Machine 435,766.

Negative Two? How is this possible? My friends, I have extraordinary, nearly-superhuman abilities to offer myself up for financial sabotage.

Six weeks ago, every thing was fine. No, that's not true really. I was still smarting from two legal/financial issues in which I did not necessarily lose, but neither did I win, and I certainly was not treated fairly. I may write about these some day, but I'm still too butt-hurt over some of the finer points. Thanks to a modicum of smarts and some measure of good fortune, our financial ship is still afloat, sitting low in the water, yes, but we live to fight another day.
The Peter Iredale shipwreck or possibly our finances

But then, Coyote ran in yelling about the family computer and some sort of virus and to come quick. This elevated my adrenaline levels and thus higher level thinking turned off and a more primitive flight/fight mode took over. Once the adrenaline is pumping, nothing smart can happen -instinctual, maybe- but not intelligent. I'm not blaming Coyote, although blaming someone other than myself sounds fun. Rather, I'm explaining the chemistry of what happened. And, especially since my head injury, adrenaline spikes can now be quite tricky: long lasting, confusing, chaotic.

Our computer had been possessed and the entire screen was screaming that we'd been infected. Not only was the screen yelling it, the speakers were too. The whole world was yelling at me to call Microsoft RIGHT NOW. It was the official Microsoft voice and the logo and there was the number conveniently flashing across my screen. Normally, I would go find a different number, through a different source, but I was all flustered and agitated and relieved to see that an easy solution was being generously offered to a problem I have zero ability to deal with. So I obeyed. I called and went through a relatively painless phone tree. It was a phone tree! I was put on hold! Perhaps the ease with which I was able to navigate the phone tree should have tipped me off.

Civil War Ruins in Oregon. Really.
The man on the line, which crackled and cut out occasionally, had a thick Indian accent. An Indian accent means "real tech support." It means you are getting The Expert. I could hear the other tech supporters in the back ground, all busily fixing the world's tech issues. I occasionally asked him, point blank (because scammers always respond honestly to direct questions), if this was just another scam. And then I apologized for insulting his integrity and possibly being racist and difficult to someone who was only trying to do his job, but a girl can't be too careful in this crazy world, ya know? And he happily took over Big Mama (our family computer). And he showed me documents of massive attacks on my computer, 4000 at least. He said the Crampi Virus had infected my router and would soon ooze it's virtual viral puss all over every device in communication with the wi-fi router.  After the "power-point of panic," he told me that I'd need to buy a $400 7-layered firewall for my router. I am apparently all kinds of gullible, but when it comes to actually putting the gullibility to the test, actually manifesting it in the physical world, I wake up pretty quickly. [EG: No, I'm not getting in the back of your van to look at your organic meat. Although I listened to your pitch with an open mind, I'm not betting my body on your story (true story!)] I'm willing to entertain wild tales about router viruses until it comes time to plunk down real dollars. So I told him that $400 was in the "need-to-discuss" range with my husband, who I'd need an hour to track down and confer with. I was 100% planning to call him back. But he told me that in that hour, I could expect to experience 1000 more attacks. I would have to replace my computer, and all devices in communication with my router, I would lose all my family photos, and then I would need to buy $700 and TEN layers of protection. Ten? Like this is a burrito from Taco Bell? Like Little Shop of Horrors but lasagna instead of a plant? Seriously?!

Huck's response was shock and awe: A router virus?! You called the number the virus gave you?!
Oregon coast swimmers, no wet suits, batshit crazy people

So I hung up on Huck because my now shattered ego was not equipped to deal anything any more and I crawled into bed and hid from the world. How could I be so stupid!? Worried I might actually call the guy back and give him $400, Huck texted me article after article about the Crampi Virus scam. Fuck. I knew all of that. I knew to Google random phone numbers before calling them.

One of the articles was about how many people were falling for it. It is the most successful scam to date. They've tested it on people who would normally know better, people both old enough and young enough to know better -my generation- and half of us fell for it. And this is why I write. Maybe I can help you from falling for it. Or if it's too late for that, then I write so that we don't feel alone in our failings, in our confusion and betrayments. And I write because this scam fascinated me as it preys on humanity's tangled mess of cynicism (of course, I've got another damn virus) and hope (Oh look at such an easy solution presented to me so clearly! How lucky!). Both of these at once! It is a clever scam, taking advantage of our complexities.

As my ego shakily glued its fragile self together shard by shard, I called my internet service service and climbed around in their extensive phone tree until I found a computer expert and she said, "Honey, there is no such thing as a router virus." She knew I was broken, and liberally applied a salve of "honeys" to our conversation. I was so broken that the computer-fixer felt compelled to fix me too. How embarrassing. And she said, "Do you know how many customers Microsoft has, honey? It's in the billions. Billions, honey. A company with BILLIONS of customers will never, ever ask you to call. Ever." She'd be happy to help, honey, with remote access to my computer. She could go through it all to make sure nothing had been left behind or stolen by this encounter, except that I wasn't signed up for the $20/month Help-Me-I'm-An-Idiot (tm) plan. And the business office was closed for the day. In the mean time, I should unplug my computer from the internet. It's shit like this, this complexity and tm-branding, that make everything sound like scams. Half of the "real" companies are just scams for shareholders anyway. I am happy to pay a fair price for goods and real services, but it's harder and harder to tell what's real and what's not.

So I left Big Mama unplugged for a month. It was all too overwhelming and difficult and humiliating. And I had my smart phone, so no biggie.

Then I got an email from Amazon. It said my order was on it's way, which seemed about right. And it said that since I was such a loyal customer, which I am, (Brick and mortar stores complain that Amazon is ruining them, but as long as they insist on being understaffed and poorly laid out, people who hate shopping will continue abandoning them, feeling justified because we were actually abandoned first) that they'd like me to take a quick survey. I kinda love surveys and am a regular Gallup Panelist. As a SAHM, it's literally the only time in my day anyone wants to know what I think.  After the survey, they offered a free gift. Gallup never does that. So I sifted through the shitty offerings, a spread of second-rate junk. I picked some facial lotion because I'd just lost mine (no idea how I did that). But then I needed to pay for shipping apparently, which seemed odd because I never pay for shipping. But, why not throw good money at wasted time? Then I had to wrestle with a series of suspicious pop-ups at the end of which I got a receipt for $20. I did not mean to do that. I did not even want this un-rated lotion. $20 is the range of perfectly acceptable "oops" expenditures, but I was sick of it all. I often feel like a cash-cow. Like our family's financial entity is only allowed to remain afloat because the system is still milking it. I feel like we're being farmed for money. We are hooked up to a machine twice a day and sucked dry. They feed us silage and grain and sometimes let us go on vacations, but it's all in the service of getting more milk. Mostly we're just here to make investors happy.

So I decided to complain. But the line was busy. Not even a phone tree. No hold. Nothing, just busy. Like it was the 1980's and the family just sat down for dinner and took the phone off the hook or because Stephanie was dishing to Jennifer all about Jason, the spiral phone cord weaving down the hall and smooshed in her closed door, and no one would be getting through until Jason's jeans and specifically the way his butt looked in them, had been sufficiently discussed. The line was BUSY. So then I clicked on the email address which led me to an announcement that they don't allow emails because "spam". The hypocrisy was mind-boggling. So I called my bank and cancelled payment, cancelled my card, cancelled my faith in humanity, cancelled my subscription to be part of this overly-complex, overly-easy-to-abuse machine. And then I re-signed myself with a new card, fool that I am.

Neah Bay Black Jacks in July
Some scam CSI revealed that the scam-clues were in the email address all along: eet_hisbab@zenithtip.com  I would have noticed the lack of "Amazon.com" immediately had I been on my computer and I'd have laughed at the lazy attempt to part me from my money. But I was on my phone, which only gave me the name the writer chose: Amazon.  Dammit, I'd been had again. And then my phone quit working and I lost all of my contacts and text conversations and had to reboot the whole thing to factory settings. Was this all part of the plot? Can you get a phone-killing virus from an email?

Holtzmann ready for duty. Ghostbusters, a business more real than most
So I plugged my computer back in. Navigated CenturyLink's Giant Sequioa of a phone tree and eventually found my way to another man with a thick Indian accent. And my heart jumped with scam PTSD. And I double checked myself: I had called, yes. I'd found the number on my bill, yes. Was I being racist? I hope not. But still, I mentioned his accent tentatively and maybe on another day I would have asked where he was in India to see if I'd ever been there. But today I told him I'd been scammed by a man with his same Indian accent. And the guy says, thickly accented, "No ma'am. I do not have an Indian accent. CenturyLink's call center is located in El Salvador and I'm born and raised in Brooklyn. The accent you are hearing is straight Brooklyn. It just sounds different to you because there is some Bronx mixed in." I'm sure he gets pissy people harassing him about his accent and outsourcing and all that, so he'd probably come up with some line to deal with it. Or, more likely, he was so impressed by my tale of gullibility that he wanted to give it a test drive himself. I would have believed Bangladesh. But El Salvador? Brooklyn? Bronx? I got the giggles.

It took 90 minutes to get where I needed to go in that phone tree. But finally, I handed my computer over to someone who ... I don't even know... maybe they were the right person for the right job? We can only hope. Literally. And after 8 hours, we were cleared of all shenanigans.

But when I checked my bank, the charges for the "free gift" had gone through, twice. My credit union took care of it promptly. But it turned out that the second set of charges (also just a long line of weird numbers with no words) was actually the charge for my CenturyLink Help-Me-I'm-An-Idiot (tm) plan. Oops. And then the lotion came in the mail. What. The. Fuck. Why would you act like a scam if you aren't one? And I'm not paying to send it back. So am I the scammer now? I feel guilty using it, so it's just sitting by my bathroom sink with the wrapper still on. It'll probably cause me to break out anyway. My god, this whole thing is too complex. No one can tell who's telling the truth. Many seem unable to even tell if they're telling truth themselves! I'm not sure anyone knows what's true or real any more. I'm not sure I could tell what a real business is; it's all so blurred. It started with cassette tape clubs that you could supposedly "cancel anytime" and has devolved from there. Even our President now just sounds like a low-budget infomercial, just another scam.




Sunday, April 30, 2017

Bed Time for "The Bed Book"

I fell hard for Sylvia Plath. I was hooked from the first line. Poppies in July, Fever 103, The Moon and the Yew Tree. Her words are pure energy, power. For people-pleasing 15-year-old me, I borrowed her fierce light every time I read her work. With every line I memorized, I took in a fragment of her strength and made it my own.

My love for her work was expressed in the usual way: collecting. I bought and read her collect poems, her letters home, her "novel," her journals. I collected every biography. I acquired the 1993 Plath Edition of the New Yorker. I found recordings of her readings. I eventually even obtained the book she was reading when she died: The Ha Ha by Jennifer Dawson. And when that was all satisfied, I began collecting her individual chapbooks, as they had originally been published. This was long ago. Back in the day. Back when we had to hoof it through the northwest's notorious drizzle to each book store. We had to read the spine of every musty old book to make sure our treasure was not there. Alphabetized? Occasionally. But often, we collectors had to spend hours with our heads cocked to this side, then that side, reading the vertical titles. And if they didn't have what you were looking for, you had to ask an actual person, perhaps a narrow angular woman who looked not entirely unlike the spine of a book herself, with a dower downturn at the corners of her mouth. Or you'd search the store to find the owner, round, dusted with dandruff and sitting among a pile of books. And there was usually a cat or two. And you'd ask them if they had it. And then they would accompany you back to the poetry or biography section and read the spines of every book and confirm that they did not have it. And then they would promise to keep an eye out for it, taking a little note on a little piece of paper and pinning it to cork board. And then you would check back every few weeks, trekking through rain, to see if they had gotten a copy in and had held it, or forgotten about you entirely in their ocean of notes, and shelved it, so you'd go to the way back and read every title on every shelf in the poetry section again.

Boston, 1997
Today, one could just google the author and within minutes, budget allowing, transform oneself from having never heard of an artist to owning their complete works in every possible format in less than an hour. All the fun has gone out of collecting.

Back in my day, it took years, decades, and many unsociable shopkeepers, to fulfill a collection. It was a challenge. It was devotion. It meant something more than the sum of it's parts. And that's how it was with Plath and I. Every used book store from Bellingham to Seattle knew what I was looking for. There was just one book I could never find: The Bed Book, a bedtime story book for children written while she worked in medical records at a hospital.

My fandom even extended itself to possibly the worst, most misguided coz-play in the universe. Just before Halloween, back in 1999, I'd become enamored with the phrase "Sacred cows make the best hamburger," and I decided to translate that in to my costume. I took my hero, Plath, a woman who's portraits I had bedazzled and glitter glued and pasted on to my rented room's walls, and turned her in to a costume. It was easy to do: just a cardboard box painted white, gas burners festooned with fluttery tissue paper flames. The turn-able knobs all went up to 103 degrees. I dressed as a 1960's housewife in burnt orange and avocado, a turtle neck, a wooden spoon in one hand and a journal in the other and the cardboard oven over my head. There was a photo, but I've stashed it too deeply to retrieve. I offended so many people, so many. Some never spoke to me again. My people-pleasing tendencies and making hamburger out of sacred cows don't really go together very well and I was profoundly uncomfortable with myself as I tried to socialize with a satyr and a bumble bee. I put myself in a most awkward situation and dragged the entire party along with me. It was a costume in dire need of a trigger warning, but it did actually come from a good place, I like to think.

As every other "good" (after that costume, I'm not sure "good" applies to my fandom) Plath fan, I also hated Ted Hughes, the husband who cheated on her and left her, precipitating her suicide. I hadn't read his work, I just didn't like the idea of him. When I finally read his work, accidentally of course, and accidentally loved it and then turned the book over again to see who it was who wrote this lovely thing and of course I was horrified and felt like I'd accidentally, ala Greek drama, cheated on my true love. And yet I loved his work in spite of myself. And I found solace in the idea that at least I could now see what Plath had once seen in him.

I wondered, along with every biographer and their multitude of theories, why she killed herself. Why oh why oh why? Why, we all demand to know, why! We, the bereaved fans, need an answer. Was it her daddy dying so young? Was it her demanding mother? Was it that her husband had cheated on her? Was she bipolar? What were her 13 reasons? Why, with her children in the home? Why, with her friend in the flat below hers, just steps away with a sturdy shoulder to cry on? How could someone with so much talent, not see how badly the world needed her to go on?

And yet, her suicide seemed a daring, rash statement. Everything we want from an artist. It intrigued me. And I suppose I had my own questions about suicide that had no other outlet, no other answer than to be foisted on to Plath, the sacrificial goat bearing all of our questions and unresolved issues. A friend in high school killed himself. We shared 4 of 6 classes together and since the teachers sat us alphabetically and his last name started with W, we were together for most of the day. For 1 1/2 years, we'd graded each others papers in math and Spanish. Learned tennis together in PE. We'd been CPR partners in health. We didn't go out for coffee, we didn't call each other at home or sit together in the cafeteria, but we'd been companions for 3 semesters when, on the 2nd day back from Christmas break, just weeks after we'd learned to revive the rubber infant with teeny tiny pinky-finger CPR, his chair beside mine in our first class of the day was empty.And the announcement was made.

The day before, he'd found me in the hall. He'd asked if we could talk. But I was already skipping class to talk to another friend who was having an issue, so I told him I was busy. I'd been trained as a "Natural Helper," someone people came to confide in, someone who was able to help them get the help they needed. I felt honored that people would confide in me and yet I sometimes felt I carried the weight of too many. And I'd told him a soft no; I was sorry, I was busy. I'd had no idea he was in such distress. There were no clues. I'd told him I was sorry and I'd told him I was busy, too busy for him. And I carried that shameful secret in my heart for decades. I did not feel safe grieving or talking about it then and so I ran away from home. I had my own close calls with suicide. I dumped my perfectly fine boyfriend. I drank on the bus to school, I got stoned at lunch. And I fell in love with Plath. And I did not talk about it for a very, very long time.

When I finally pried myself open, the shame burned like a vampire in the sunlight of my therapists office. And then it turned to dust as all vampires do.  I had only been 15 and he was just 15 too, maybe 16. I hadn't been cruel or mean, just busy. He needed before he came to me. I didn't cause him to do anything. Eventually, hopefully, he may have learned how to care for his own mental health. But back then, how could either of us have known just what to do, how to handle anything, how to handle these giant things, how to help ourselves, how to help each other? Even as adults, there's a befuddling muddy line between what you can do and what you can't, how to help, when, and if you can at all. A good therapist is a good place to start, no matter what role you are stuck with in these situations.

And now there is the show "Thirteen Reasons Why," widely criticized by mental health workers and anyone with any level of mental health. The premise is that a teen commits suicide and leaves 13 videos telling people what they did to contribute. The justification is anti-bullying (which I don't even think is a thing because most bullies don't self-identify and don't self-shame into changing their behavior and the bully/bullied identity can flip so quickly and easily, from home to school, from grade to grade. Compassion-training, now that's a thing that's proven to work on all parties involved). But I cannot imagine my sophomore year and all that it contained being layered with a show like this, with my own suicidal ideation and coping with the suicide of a friend who I brushed off as gently as possible but brushed off all the same at the wrongest of times. I'd like to offer a big "FUCK YOU"  to everyone involved in the this show, you money-grubbing sick-o fuckers.


I hate when people say that teens are just babies and just wait until they're out in the "real world."  Most teens are experiencing things that they won't even have the tools to make sense of for several more decades. Most teens are going to emerge from the trauma of high school with a bit of PTSD and eventually need a therapist to unwrap all that went on during such impressionable ages.


All of my soul-reckoning and true healing would wait for 20 years, for now there was Plath, with her poetic self-sabotage. And she became a piece of my heart. I filled in the missing and broken pieces with this fierce woman.

Plath's Boston apartment, 1996
At the time of her death, Plath was a New England girl, living in Old England, the land of her cheating husband. She had two young kids. She was alone, isolated. She'd had a sinus infection and it was the worst, coldest, longest winter England had seen in a century that February 11, 1963.


There came a day, when I had two young kids and we lived in Pullman and we were looking for something to do in the cold and we went, as we often did, to Br-used Books. As we meandered towards the children's section at the far back of the store, I would slowly zig-zag from section to section, lusting after all I could not fit for that brief moment (which felt like eons on some days) in to my life. Finally we would arrive in the little children's literature room in the back, lit by florescent tubes. Coyote ate board books and Blue "read" bigger books and I looked for something to fill the evenings with as we still didn't have a TV and had yet to instituted the "3 books before bed maximum" rule. There was always the library, but by the time all my library fees were tallied, I might as well have just bought the damn books. One board book had one word on each page. I paid $.50 a word in library fines.

There we sat on the floor together, feasting on a picnic of words and pictures. And suddenly, a paperback, so flimsy even the cover was thin as old newspaper, floated into my hands. The Bed Book. The last piece in my collection. I'd stopped looking long ago, of course. Young kids being what they are, plus working. I'd lost touch with my hobbies, with large parts of myself as mothers sometimes do, for a time. I'd not expected this final piece to ever slide in to place. And here it was, like magic, falling open effortlessly upon my lap.

I called Blue over and began reading it to her. It was not engaging and she soon toddled back to whatever she'd been engrossed in before. When Plath had written it, the world was still coping with "Dick and Jane" books, so it was probably interesting by comparison. But today, with authors like Audrey Wood, it can't hold up. The price was penciled in at $6, which was a song for the collectible but which felt like a lot to us then, a student family on food stamps and child care assistance, and me working more than I wanted to. Plus, Blue was amassing a pile of books in her arms and I couldn't buy every thing.

Shocked at the find, I sat in stunned contemplation. Life had come for me too over the years. I too was cheated on and left by a husband. I too had sinus infections, with young children, and a husband out of town all in the same week. I too had endured bad winters with tiny kids. I too had lived abroad, lonely, at times. I too had worked in medical records, had written in stolen moments from office jobs. I, too, often feel that February will be the end of me. As my experiences expanded, I questioned less and less the why of her suicide. Life is hard, internally, externally. Although there is no allure for me, it's not really a mystery why people want out at times. And certainly between aunts, uncles, a cousin, an ex, and a step-father-in-law, our family has dealt with the wake of this "decision" plenty enough. It's not artsy, it's just painful.

I've said it before here, but it bears repeating:  "Again, we had that talk with our kids about depression, bipolar, and how if you are thinking about suicide you needed to have seen a therapist a while ago, but it’s better late than never. If you are sad or anxious or feel crazy for over 4 weeks, you need to see a therapist. There is a giant army of well-trained professionals who have dedicated their lives to helping people in these situations. They are standing by, eager to assist. Therapy does not mean something is wrong with you, necessarily. What it means is that life has given you a challenge greater than your current skill set [and sometimes that challenge comes from within]and a therapist will help you develop the skills you now need to approach this new challenge in new ways we can’t always figure out on our own."

I imagined Plath that night, or early morning, opening the window to her sleeping children's room, rolling up the towel to put beneath their door, turning on the gas oven, kneeling before it. I was about her age that day in the book store and it was no longer an exotic image of the artist in her final work. There was nothing daring or powerful about it. I did not feel reverence for her, but neither was there anger, even as she abandoned her children. She must have been so ill. She wasn't thinking clearly. I felt neither enthralled nor repulsed. She's a fine poet, I thought, but a terrible children's writer. And severely ill. Severely. Poor woman. Leaving an inheritance of pain for her innocent children; she couldn't have been thinking. She couldn't have known what she was doing. There was no single reason, there was no reason at all. She was not capable of reason by that point, though she likely thought she was.

I imagined the thin papers of The Bed Book tearing at the first touch of any child, much less the book-eater. No wonder there weren't many around all these years later. And if the kids weren't allowed to touch it, where would I keep it? High on the bookshelf and I could only look at it when they weren't around, which was when? It didn't seem to have any place, physically, in my current life and I was appalled that such mundane considerations had seeped in to my holy obsession. Ten years ago there wouldn't have been a practical consideration in the world that would have prevented me obtaining that final piece of my collection. Had my Plath obsession drifted off to sleep over the years? Had I finally had enough? Was it time to let her rest in peace? But what of finishing my collection? Was this just another way for a mother to lose herself? Or was I finding my own own power, my own confidence and no longer need to borrow Plath's? I'd finally found the final piece. It was in my hands; literally literarily (and now alliteratively) at last within my grasp. How could I let it go? 

We brought our books down the long tempting corridor to the counter by the front window. The owner had a eye out for some Mary Oliver for me and we discussed the dearth of used Oliver books (this was still before Amazon, amazingly) while he tallied up our total: Blue's little stack, and Coyote with one to chew on. And me with The Bed Book. But when I slid the frail booklet on to the counter I said, "I found this in the children's books. It's actually a collectible and pretty delicate."

"Oh, wow, yes it is," he said, "Thanks." And he placed it to the side to be re-priced and re-shelved.

And we left, me and my two kids and their bed time books and book-snack.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Missing the Zapatistas


There are huge parts of my life that are hidden, not intentionally, but because there are no obvious markers they exist. There is no way to work them in to casual conversation without some sort of unwieldy and forced segue. Even here, on my own blog, I have a story I want to tell, a story I've been asked to tell, and yet can find no sly, smooth introduction, no discernible connection to my current life, no way to ease you in to it. So I am going to plop it artlessly here:


I had been working illegally in Mexico. Both bosses promised to help me get papers, but neither did, the first one held it over my head, a perpetual carrot, "You want me to get you those papers, right? Then go clean this thing that keeps electrocuting people!"

After two jobs and 5 months, I was finally ready to return to the US but wanted to visit my friend's family in Belize first. From my emails: 

“8/13/99 ...And, just when I was thinking it was time to go, some official
guy came in to my work and took some photos of me, and then later that
night a man approached me in the plaza and said he knew that i was
working illegally and that i was about to be deported.  So, that just
seemed like the cue to leave."

(You can read an abridged account of Belize here, if this extensive post some how leaves you begging for more.)

I left for Guatemala from there, got a hotel in Flores and spent my days exploring the adorable Island of Flores in a huge lake, a place I wouldn't mind returning to. The steep stone streets were picture perfect and the bar on the beach with the rainbow of boats made my heart thrill.
Boats on Lago Peten Itza

From there, I booked passage back to Mexico (Palenque, Chiapas to be exact) via a tourist shop in town. There were several modes of transportation required for this complex journey: vans, buses, canoes, etc. It was a bit expensive, but I was assured that my package included arrangements for every single leg of the journey. 

In a small van, with a motley crew of tourists from across the globe, we cruised through a variety of farms: banana, coffee, cocoa, as well as pre-farm clear cuts. In order to repay predatory IMF loans, subsistence communities were forced to transition from growing a variety of food that they use to growing mono-crops for export and sale because the IMF takes their repayments in cash, not local foods.

Eventually the farms turned to jungle and then suddenly we were in Bethel, a tiny Lancondan village with grass-roofed mud houses and a few canoes on the shore of the Usumacinta River. From there, I boarded a sharp, knife-like canoe outfitted with a little grass roof and an outboard motor. There were maybe five of us ferried several hours up the soil run-off, silt-opaque river. I was super high on adventure. I had a passenger snap a photo of me glowing in my new Mayan tattoo (given to me by a Mayan friend using a tape recorder motor, a guitar string and homemade ink. 17 years on, it's not wearing well, but I'm still awfully fond of it.) 

Glowing with joy on the Usumacinta River (that's someone else's pack. I traveled much lighter)
That evening, we arrived in a tiny village and much to our surprise the people in that village were angry to see us. There were more than a few tourists piled up in an extremely chaotic scene. No one had been able to leave the town. It was not immediately clear if we were being held hostage or if something had happened to the van that was supposed to pick us up. People were panicked and crying. I remember a plump woman in white running shoes and billowy shorts, her face red and shaking.  The residents were appalled that more of us kept coming, five at a time, a steady trickle in to a town with no way out. They could not simply take us back because the boats were only powerful enough to go up stream with the weight of one person, the helmsman.

At first I felt a shock of fear, my nerves on fire with panic. Then, as it became clear that I could not understand any thing that was happening, I settled into a state of surrender. Whatever is going to happen here, is going to happen here, I reasoned. I was traveling alone, among tourists whose languages I did not speak. I knew some Mayan, but mostly just cuss words my Mayan room mates had taught me. Although certainly used in this situation, they were not particularly useful for getting out of it. Plus, I was pretty sure there would be different dialects. I had no idea what language my fate was being decided in. And in that situation, my mind shrugged "Oh well." I cannot remember how long I was there. Hours? A night and a day? I had no internet access so my e-mail/journal is silent on this.

The next adrenaline rush came when I realized that the other tourists had left without me. In my "Oh well," state, I'd stopped trying to follow every conversation and apparently missed the one about the bus coming. Someone in the village spoke a little Spanish and I was told this: things with the Zapatistas were heating up. (Goody Goody!) Bus drivers weren't able to make it through the myriad of federal check points in the jungle. They were setting up a system to bus the tourists out, as none of the villages along the way had the resources to feed us for long. Runners were sent, phones were accessed, the villagers wanted us out and a patchwork transit system had been set up. However, there wasn't room for all of us on the taxi that had come. But no worries, I'd be the first one on the next taxi, if there was a next taxi. I guess my lack of panic was translated as, "She doesn't care how long she stays here." And I didn't. I could have stayed there the rest of my life. I probably wouldn't have even minded if I'd been a hostage. I'd included Chiapas in my itinerary hoping to find, and perhaps join, the Zapatistas. Yes, I was happy at the edge of rebellion.  

They were still working on sending word back to Bethel to stop canoes, so there was one more load, a group of Dutch college boys. We shared the next taxi. They were obnoxious and one would have guessed them to be American frat boys. After maybe an hour in the taxi we were dropped off in the middle of the road in the middle of the jungle. It was indicated that we were to walk from here. So we walked, without a clue where we were. And soon we came to a couple of Federalis (a domestic soldier) in the middle of the road. They asked us questions about our affiliations and we were easily allowed through the check point.  We kept walking. I remember an issue of not enough drinking water.  Out of sight of the Federalis, we came upon another taxi. This taxi brought us to a beautiful lodge in the middle of the jungle. It was a restaurant/hotel made of large logs and stones, with an unusual, tall ceiling. It looked like a Norweigan long house mixed with a medieval castle, but with bright Mexican tapestries on the walls.

We ate here. The Dutch boys decided to stay the night, but I pressed on, eager to ditch those rowdy rude boys. There were a few more check points which involved me walking alone through the jungle. At one point, I heard "psssts" coming from the woods. When I looked, there were two little girls in giant men's undershirts. I followed them in to the woods where they showed me bead necklaces they wanted to sell. The beads were large gray seeds with a chunk of sandalwood incorporated like a charm. I happily bought the wonky jewels and we giggled and talked, or rather gestured, for a while and then I returned to the road and on to the next check point.

I was finally dropped off at the ex-pat hotel in the city of Palenque.  It was a small hotel full of chronic world travelers and that might sound hypocritical, but the thing is that some people travel like consumers. They avoid locals and when they must interact with them, they treat them like crap. They hunt out American food. They hang out only with other foreigners. I could not understand why one would travel to a foreign country and ignore or disrespect the residents, except to be able to brag about it later? They name drop places, saying things like "This is SOOO like when I was in Nepa-a-al." I too was a tourist, and there is nothing wrong with being a tourist, with admitting you are here to tour, to see, to marvel, to gawk, to photograph. I was also there to learn, to open my mind, to experience a different way of viewing the world, to try on how other humans, obviously my equals, live. Really, they just seemed scared of life, like they wanted the reputation of traveling, but actually hated and feared it, which is simply another variation on the human experience, just not mine. I suppose we're all entitled to travel as we like, but there was an essence-ial gap between me and those in that hotel.

I feared being sucked in to the tiny ex-pat world. And in an attempt to not become one of them, I rarely talk of my adventures, lest I come off as bragging, or a consumer of other cultures. In a classic case of judging-others-and-then-fearing-similar-judgment, I don't want to be judged as "one of them." But I DID have those adventures and I DO get to speak of them from time to time. And I'm not doing it to tell how cool I am, how rich (I wasn't), but rather they are a core part of who I am, who I've been. Sometimes people don't believe me or think I've exaggerated. But my stories are plenty wild without any additions and if I were to exaggerate, people really wouldn't believe me. And I hate not being believed, hearing "Then what did you imagine happened next?" (literally was someone's response). I got sick of dealing with other people's fuckery, so I stopped talking about it. But, not today dear mother-fuckers. This story is by request. Apparently I now have friends who respond with, "Why the hell are you keeping these stories to yourself!?"

Anyway, this hotel was crawling with consumer/travelers, collectors of countries in the service of ego, little notches carved into their passports. (God, I was a judgy about this. Apparently only MY travels are real!) And I left as soon as I could. I took a bus out to a camp site by the ruins of Palenque. The Mirabel campground was a collection of grass roofs under which one strung one's hammock. The grounds were so large, one hardly noticed the giant Jurassic Park fence around the property that kept out the howler monkeys and panthers.  Before the fence, there'd been a few lost campers, I was told. It was an international crowd here too, full of travelers more oriented to fully experiencing a place and its people (see, I'm not super judgy about EVERYONE!) My palapa-mates were a Mexican priest-turned-jewelry-maker and his Canadian girlfriend. This guy gave me the creeps so I worked to keep on his good side. One day he joined me at Mirabel's cafe and brought out his shitty jewelry. He complained that other jewelers made fun of his jewelry, said it was fake.  He said some people, NOT him, take glass beads and paint them up like they're Chiapas amber, but he would never do that. Looking at his beads, he clearly was doing that. And so I bought a bunch of shit-jewelry from him. I hoped I was buying security so I could sleep at night. But I also used to have a knack for knowing people were lying yet happily enabling it.

The palapa I shared with Edwardo and Julia
There had been thefts from the ruins recently, so the entrance, just a few yards from the camp, was heavily guarded at night by well-armed local volunteers.  One night a drunk group of us wandered out to the road, there was a brief, terrifying confrontation with the guards, but the old man among us soothed it all over. Then we laid down in the middle of the road and sang local folk songs up at the stars.

One morning, early, on a hot tip, I walked down the empty road. From the bushes I heard it: "Hongos. Hongos," they whispered. I whispered "Hongos" back and followed the echo into the jungle.  A few preteen boys were there with a bag of fresh mushrooms. I gave them $10 and ate the bag for breakfast.

Many of the petroglyphs I'd studied were carved in to the large temple stones and I loved using them as flash-cards to help me memorize their meanings. That day at the ruins, I could no longer tell which stones were carved with petroglyphs and which were not. After a while, each stone seemed to be inscribed and they all seemed to be talking to me, telling me all manner of amazing truths.

At the "peak" of Temple of the Cross that day.
Previously, in Cozumel, I'd ridden my bike to the San Gervasio ruins, the only known temple devoted to the Goddess Ix Chel. I loved those ruins, the spiral altar, the white stone paths. During a full moon, pilgrims would boat over from the mainland and the moon would make the white path "glow", lighting the way to the entrance altar. Couoh, a grounds keeper, noted my enthusiasm for every nook and cranny of the place and approached me. I immediately had a good feeling about him and agreed to join him when he offered to show me more. We climbed to the top of a temple and he moved stones to reveal hidden paintings, hieroglyphs. In the jungle, he moved some branches to reveal a scene straight out of an Indiana Jones movie. Behind the branches was a path and he took me down that path to a tall hill. That tall hill was actually a temple that was slated for excavation soon. We became good friends after that and eventually he introduced me to the Mayan underground...a system of cultural self preservation and I'll never say more.

The entrance altar at San Gervasio ruins on Cozumel
At Palenque that day, I met a man who had the same story. He knew of un-excavated temples and he would show them to me. I happily agreed. but when I arrived at the huge ceiba tree that was our meeting place, it was suspiciously too far in to the jungle. Luckily, the mushrooms were still active and the ceiba tree was able to tell me, very clearly, that although everything had been fine with Couoh, this was an entirely different situation and I needed to leave immediately. I didn't believe her until the ants climbing up her trunk started to agree, chanting at me to leave. And then the river said, "What the fuck are you still doing here? This is really pissing me off. Dammit, Sarajoy, listen to us!" Well, okay then. I can see where I'm not wanted. I left with a little bit of a broken heart which is probably better than a broken back.

Later, there were waterfalls to swim in. I felt lonely then, at the local swimming hole, alone. I loved traveling solo, each decision, left or right, was mine alone and I was free to follow my instincts. But here, the kids splashed with their friends, the women murmured among themselves. It was sometimes lonely, traveling like that, so I made friends as often as possible. The local Mayan women did not talk to foreigners, so that meant I was talking with men, and not knowing the language, I found it actually easier to read them for safety... paying more attention to body language than to pretty words. Other than one violent boyfriend and that incident in Belize, I was safe with every man I met.

The one native woman I spoke with in Chiapas was very old. Some days I took a bus to other ruins and we picked her up in the morning with a cooler full of tortas which she sold to workers (and me) during the day. I helped her load her stuff on the bus that evening. When she disembarked, she stood in the door way. She took my hand and said, "Ix chel va contigo." Which meant, "Ix Chel (the goddess whose hieroglyphs are tattooed across my arm) goes with you." It was the mostest benediction ever. I almost exploded with the thrill of it.

I eventually tired of playing tourist at all of the ruins, some quite remote like Bonampak with more canoe trips, partially excavated ones, climbing up the tallest pre-Columbian building in the Western Hemisphere, and life threatening interactions with Yaxchilan's howler monkeys that I swear were trying to steal my soul. I think my 23 year old self was hoping for a sort of Jane Goodall moment, where I'd meet an archeologist and they'd take me on right there. But it kept not happening. So I decided to take a break from the ruins and go for a hike at Aguas Azul. On the bus there, I collected a few others to hike with me. The "village" at the trail head was a simple, random-seeming collection of plywood stands selling trinkets, tortas, and water, nothing interesting.

Painting at Bonampak that I wasn't supposed to photo due to the flash. I didn't know at the time. So sorry!
We stopped at a hanging bridge (about two feet high over a tiny creek, not too Hollywood) to chat with an American girl and her aunts who I'd kept unfortunately running in to. The girl was the only one to speak Spanish in her entourage and she drove me nuts. She'd studied Spanish in school for 4 years and was obsessed with perfect execution. She spoke slowly, using the formal conjugations that no one outside of court uses. She was constantly referring to her translation book. Judgy-me felt that she was abusing the language, dissecting a living creature, forcefully applying a spread sheet to a song. I could have appreciated her willingness to leave her hotel and talk to the local residents, or her attempts to communicate, but instead I was hung up on her stiff approach to speech. Maybe I wanted to be the only American girl out there, maybe I was jealous. I'm a pretty good girl, but there are dark corners in here too.

Beginning at the bridge
This is how I learned Spanish (aka: The Proper Way):
1) flail in high school for a few semesters,
2) move to Mexico,
3) flee your violent alcoholic boss so your life depends on learning the language fast,
4) move in with girls who don't know English,
5) go out clubbing with them,
6) get drunk and start trying to speak Spanish with abandon,
7) make a shit ton of mistakes,
8) get laughingly corrected,
9) say "sorry!" a lot,
10) repeat every night for a week and then
11) wake up speaking Spanish with such a thick Yucatacan accent that anyone who didn't watch this messy process thinks you were born there.
12) Start translating books for your new employer and arguing with coworkers in Spanish
(Secret step #13, move back to the US, never use Spanish again and forget nearly everything)

Really, I just wanted to get that girl drunk and see what she could do, Spanish-wise, but she was so heavily guarded by chaperones (I could have maybe used one of those) that it was never going to happen. We parted ways and my small group proceeded through the first bit of corn fields until a tall, thin European couple came screaming from the field just in front of us. They were running so fast I almost didn't catch the content of their screams; they'd just been dragged in to the fields and robbed at gun point. My new friends were all: "Run! Zapatistas!" And I was all: Why couldn't it have been ME! Dammit! Just a few minutes too late! And also, "I didn't think the Zapatistas were like that." I'm still not sure it was them.


I'd never found much success or joy in capitalist-extremism. I'm bewilderingly unable to make it work for me (even just in the past few months the "Sarajoy vs. the Machine" score is Sarajoy: 1?, machine: 2-3). Without enjoying its benefits, I'd grown to hate it. And I was horrified to see how fast and forcefully it was being exported and imposed on the world, the whole variety of human cultures being funneled into one behemoth of a single culture, a single, destructive "culture" that places profit over every form of life, with shareholder dividends valued over drinking water and life-saving medicines. I hated that I was born in to such destruction and I could find no way to not be a participant in it. I longed to escape this trap and the Zapatistas seemed like a step in the right direction. And here I was, missing my chance by a minute. Realistically, I'm pretty sure they wouldn't have let me tag along. I would have been an unwelcome international incident with no real skills to contribute.

(To contribute to the Zapatistas while fueling up for your long days in the Machine, you can maybe get yourself some Zapatista "Fuck Trump" coffee starting here.)

My new friends dragged me along, running, while I gazed back longingly like Lot's wife. Back at the village, shit was going down. Clearly this had happened before and there was routine to it. Every stand had been tipped over to create a shield. Every shop keeper now had several automatic rifles slung over their shoulders and was hunkered down behind the upturned stands. This random little village was actually a battlefield-in-waiting. As we ran towards them, every gun was aimed at us. There was yelling and screaming and my compadres all put their hands up in the air and I followed suit, although I had little idea why. The robbed couple (the man, not the hysterical still-screaming woman) confirmed to the authorities and crowd that we were not the robbers. We were then grabbed and bruised and thrown on to buses. I yelled, "This isn't the bus I came in on!!" But the door slammed in my face and we peeled out down the steep dirt mountain road, almost flying off of it as trucks full of armed and alert Federalis barreled towards the scene which was all over the news by the time we got back to the city.

Things were pretty boring after that. I wandered around Campeche, a gorgeous, peaceful town. I stayed in a mansion at Merida that my boss/boyfriend had insisted I stop at, although he did not join me there. And then I returned to Cozumel to pick up my stuff, party one last time, and return to Washington. I worked at a Mexican Cantina on Orcas Island for a few weeks, making margaritas ALL day, which took a bit of the sting out of my Mexico-missing... in several ways. And then I moved to Seattle and immediately joined the WTO-protest planning were I met Huck. If you can't find the rebels in a foreign jungle, become a rebel in your own concrete one.

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