23 April 2008

Lessons from the Playground. (You’d think I’d learn.)

These little daily assignments have certainly been inspiring. Yesterday we were prompted to recount the first time we had our heart broken. I was a little precocious, so I had to think far back to my earliest crushes.

The very first crush I remember was when I was about 3. Marino. He was 8 and had the longest, most beautiful eyelashes. He was also my third-cousin---hey, in Colombia from third-cousins on, they're fair game.

When I was four, we moved to Montelíbano where I met Fabian Perez. We were twin souls, he and I. We even looked alike, with our matching bowl cuts and honey-blonde hair. We were pretty much inseparable. There were long afternoons spent together, picking star fruit from the tree in the courtyard of his house, or going to the club to swim in the pool, or terrorizing his little brother.
Our favorite pastime though, was locking ourselves up in the music room in his house. It was an oddly shaped little room with one wall made entirely of windows looking out onto the courtyard. We would draw the lace curtains, lock the old creaky lock with the big antique key, and listen to Henry Mancini records. Our favorite was the Pink Panther theme. We would dance and fall down in a fit of giggles every time...and then listen to it again and again. Inevitably, our raucous laughter would bring a discreet rapping at the door, and the maid would appear bearing fruit juice and snacks. She would purposefully prop the door open behind her as she left.
Once we were in school, things were different. We were in transición*, after all, our pre-school days were behind us, and we were big kids now. He had his best friend Juan Carlos, and I had mine, Maria Claudia. She and I would chase the two of them during recess to give them kisses. They dutifully gave us a run for our money, only occasionally getting caught---just long enough for a quick peck on the cheek.
Come to think of it, that's probably the longest I have ever been so constant in my affections. He was my crush all through transición and the first grade. After that I moved to the States and saw him every other summer until we moved back to Colombia.
I would always get the phone call at my grandmother's house, hours after our arrival, and off we would go, as if no time had passed.

But the real point of this exercise was to recount our first heartbreak...

That dubious distinction went to an American.

I was in the 5th grade and the object of my affections was Peter Okorn. I really, really, liked him and wanted him to be my boyfriend. When I told him I liked him, he told me he really, really liked a girl named Teresa. He'd liked her for a long time...since, like, the third grade. He was finally going to ask her to be his girlfriend, but, he added "if she says no, then yeah...maybe".
I was crushed---and indignant.

Little did I know that my interactions with the opposite sex twenty-some years later would not differ much from those early schoolyard romances.

And what of Fabian?
I moved back to Colombia when I turned 12. As usual, news of our arrival had already spread. The first afternoon back, I heard the high pitched buzz of mopeds and the spray of gravel as they pulled into the drive-way, about five or six of them. He'd decided to play it cool and had brought his friends along. He was the only familiar face that remained from our elementary school days. It was a political move, I suppose, being the one to introduce them all to the "new girl".
Of my new group of peers, most had grown up together, so any new face caused quite a stir. Fabian quickly saw that he would have competition. He was a "townie", and though considered an acceptable childhood companion due to his family's economic status, we were reaching an age where those little distinctions began matter.
He was no longer the alpha male, and he faded out of my life as the other boys vied for my attention.
It was then that I, just a budding adolescent, had the first inklings of woman's power to mesmerize and captivate men.
As to whether I would use it for good or evil...well, I'm still undecided.

* In Colombia the grades run: Kindergarden, Pre-school, transición, then 1st-11th grades.

All Content Copyright Juliana Tobón, 2008. All Rights Reserved.

21 April 2008

A memory of my grandfather

When I was little, my grandfather owned an heladería. There is really no direct translation for it in English. It was part bar (only beer, rum and aguardiénte, our national drink), part café, part ice cream parlor. It also doubled as the post office and the principal newspaper distribution center of the town.
The heladería was located in the very center of the town, diagonally from the municipal offices and the police station. It once had a proper name, but that had long been forgotten. Everyone simply knew it as my grandfather's corner, La Esquína de Don Gonzálo.
A little after dusk, the two maids/employees would start cleaning up and shutting everything down. They would shut all but one of the 4 large doors that opened onto the sidewalk. Every night my grandfather would pull up a chair and lean it up against the door frame of the fourth door. He would smoke a cigar every night. Just one. Just his time to unwind after the day. I was the only one allowed to interrupt his little ritual.
On this particular night, I was hanging on his knee, happily chattering away, very likely spun out on the many sugary treats he could never refuse me. He leaned back, balancing the chair on two of its legs, the red plastic straining under his weight. The smell of sweet heavy smoke mingled with dust and baking concrete.
Power outages were fairly common there in those days. The rainy season brought almost nightly outages as power lines got blown down by the tropical gales. Power stations were also popular targets for the local guerilla groups. It was a beautifully clear night, so it must have been the latter.
Everything seems to stop for a few minutes when the power goes out, as if the earth's orbit has ground to a halt. And then it leaps back into action--- dogs barking in the distance, people shuffling for flashlights and candles.
I remember looking up in those moments, those seconds in between as the earth stood poised, and seeing a swath of white across the pitch black night.
I asked him what it was and he told me about the la Via Láctea, the Milky Way.
I remember feeling so insignificantly small and yet so loved and safe; sitting with my grandfather, looking at the stars, listening to the soft swish swish of the maids mopping by candle light...


Over the past several days, I have been participating in a relational art project an acquaintance of mine is doing for art school. Each day she gives assignments; three questions or activities for participants to complete.
To date, I've had to name my worst, most embarrassing habit (dating musicians) and list my least favorite word/s to hear/say (hearing people say "irregardless", "supposibly", and "my bad" makes me cringe). I've researched the origin of my surname, and picked what song I'd like played at my funeral. We were also asked to write a memory of somebody we have lost. I chose a memory of my grandfather and wrote the little vignette above.

All Content Copyright Juliana Tobón, 2008. All Rights Reserved.

17 April 2008

edit, edit, sleep, edit, repeat...

The Dry County Crooks

The Dry County Crooks

Braxton Bragg

Braxton Bragg

All Content Copyright Juliana Tobón, 2008. All Rights Reserved.

06 April 2008

The Tale of the T-rex and The Princess Bride

I've been a bit of a hermit of late---I’ve been working or sick or hiding or...working. When the Sassy Lass told me she was having a few people from the Dahlia family over today to "watch the game" I thought: eh...why not? Even if I wasn't really into the whole sports thing, I'd still get to see some friendly faces and I'd get to see the Sassy Lass' new condo for the first time.

The Lass came to pick me up, and when we arrived at her new home it was pretty much what I had expected. She is a minimalist and her home resembles a West Elm showroom. It was immaculate and sparsely, though tastefully appointed.
Wow. Someday maybe I'll live in a grown-up home too. Mine more closely resembles that of a college freshman---after the raging kegger.

Of course I had no idea just how magical a place it was until a little later.

It turned out to be a small gathering, with only Keith and his little one joining us. I eyed the small interloper warily.

I had baby-sat her once when she was an infant. I had been roped in with promises that I would likely never even see her, that she would be asleep when I arrived and would remain so until her parents returned. I had my reservations, but I dutifully arrived, with a friend in tow for moral support. Mom talked me through it, showed the baby monitor...
"You'll hear if she wakes up. If she does, just change her diaper and she’ll probably just go right back to sleep..." she told me cheerily, before heading out the door.
Diaper?! Diaper?! Wait a minute...I didn't...wait, diaper?!
Trying not to panic, I prayed to every power and deity known and yet to be known, that the baby would not wake up.
My prayers were answered.
Since that night, I've only seen her a few times, and those have been brief and much less nerve-wracking.

I wasn't quite sure what to expect from her today when she bounded into the room. The Sassy Lass and Keith were engrossed in the game and I was quickly bored to tears. Our young guest was getting restless and hungry. I ventured an overture of friendship. When befriending a strange creature, feed 'em, right?
She politely thanked me for her snack and devoured it with alarming speed. That had kept her occupied for all of five minutes. She tried to coax her dad to play, but he was busy yelling at the screen.
The game in question was ice skating. I looked at the expanse of bamboo floor then down at my stockinged feet and felt the stirrings of a pure joy and mischief I haven't felt in a while. One more glance at the T.V. and I was convinced.
Ice skating it was. I clumsily "laced up" and off we went!
We reached an icy slope (sometimes doubling as stairs) and with some effort, managed to skate our way up.
Once we had reached the top, it was time to switch to skis. We did a little cross-country across the carpeted rooms, then made our way back to the slope for some downhill skiing.
After a brief stop to say hi to Dad and check in on the game, my young companion was ready to set out on another expedition. Back to skates. I took too long lacing mine up, so she had to do it for me. We explored the bookcase upstairs and decided upon a whirlwind reading of the Harry Potter series---about a page from each book, and she got the gist. Of course we had to be sure to leave out any parts with scary monsters in them.
"Read me this one! I like this one!" she demanded.
"Um, noo...I don’t think Daddy wants you to read The Unbearable Lightness of Being...how about The Princess Bride?" That put an end to reading time.
With an exasperated roll of her big eyes, she laced up my skates again and we set out to find all sorts of hiding places. We settled comfortably into a utility closet.
"Shhh..." she motioned putting one finger to her lips "We have to hide from the bears." Apparently turtles are excellent at camouflage, and we became turtles so that we could hide in our shells. Sure enough we heard a rustling and a stomping coming closer and closer. We exchanged knowing looks from beneath our shells. She was right!...or it could have just been the Sassy Lass...but my money is on the bears that roam the wilds of Multnomah Village.
I'm hopeless out in the woods, so I turned to my young friend for guidance. She determined that we needed a better hiding spot, one safe from bears. She seemed to be satisfied with the Sassy Lass' closet. She found a spot for our skates (again, the laces---good thing she was so gracious and helpful!) and showed me where we could curl up for a nap should we have to wait out one of the marauding brutes.
She was well prepared, too. As if from nowhere, she produced a wondrous knapsack. There seemed no end to what this knapsack could hold. She laid out a fine repast, very health conscious, too, for a 4 year old. There was broccoli, and grapes, and cheese....oh, and crackers. She had even thoughtfully packed two copies of her favorite book, so we could both read along. I asked her to just read it to me.
She regaled me with the story of The Princess Bride who had to marry the king who wanted to eat her. They had known each other for a long, long time...since the dinosaurs. And there were some little dinosaurs and they were nice, but there was a T-Rex who ate people. And then Harry Potter saw that the king wanted to eat the princess...and then...she got bored and it was on to a game of hide and seek.

Today's adventure was exactly what I needed, even though I never would have guessed it. My spirit has not felt this light in a while.
And, now I can proudly say this brings the number of kids I can actually stand, to a big whopping....two.

All Contents Copyright Juliana Tobón, 2008. All Rights Reserved

03 April 2008

The Doctor Is Out...

It seems to be my role in life to be an advisor or counselor of sorts. Ever since I can remember, people have poured out their souls to me...strangers, family and friends alike. Over the years I have alternately looked upon it as a curse and a blessing.
Sometimes a girl just wants to wait quietly for the bus, not hear some stranger’s tale of woe. On the other hand, I feel honored to be a confidant, to hear people’s stories and to be able to provide some insight for people I love or admire.
For whatever reason--- call it intuition or divine guidance or dumb luck--- I seem to know what to say, when to say it, or when to say nothing at all and just listen.
But sometimes...ah sometimes, it is difficult to discern when people are seeking honesty and when they are merely seeking confirmation of their own opinions.
Lately, the seemingly innocent question "What do you think?" is anything but. I’m finding that, more often than not these days, it is a loaded question. What a person is really asking is "I’m right...right?"
I’m sympathetic, but I don’t coddle people when they come to me for perspective. In the past, I believed that was the reason why people came to me.
When asked my opinion, my opinion is what I give, otherwise I try to be a mirror and help guide people to what they already intuitively know they must do in a given situation, without judgment.

Several of the most important people in my life recently asked for my opinions of, or help with, their current situations. None were satisfied with my answers, and somehow I ended up looking like the asshole for speaking my mind.
So I’m closing up shop.
The crisis center is CLOSED...
Don’t ask me if you should break up with the girl you’re cheating on, don’t ask me if I think you’re really turning into an alcoholic, don’t ask me if I think he’ll change...don’t ask me unless you’re prepared to hear what I really think---and then don’t hold it against me.
I haven’t the energy for it these days.

All Content Copyright 2008, Juliana Tobón. All Rights Reserved