Thursday, October 23, 2014

Que lastima, pero adios!

So I'm doing something I haven't done in years. I'm writing publicly again. Which, in the internet era, is to say, I'm putting up my blog again. i.e. This thing that I've had around for ages but was only read by a few friends through Google Buzz (remember when that was around?) back in the day.

Anyway, I thought it fitting, given all the humanities stuff I'm doing this year. That, and I figured it was time to stop being so chicken-shit about my writing. Obviously, I've got some shit to say. Obviously, I've had some shit to say for a while and need to start saying it sooner or later.

Where do I start? Good Lord. Who the hell knows, and who cares. Just write.

So I've been going to this writer's workshop downtown at Gemini Ink. Every Wednesday morning, I pick up my friend Susan, who is probably a good 40-50 years older than I am, and we make the drive down I-10 to 513 S Presa. We're a motley crew, the 6-7 of us that come every week. Loren's a graphic designer from Seattle. Wilburn is a whimsical old crackpot with rampant ADHD. Terry's a local haunt of the San Antonio poetry workshops, crossed the border with her family as a little girl and made a life here. Casey is tall, always wears sandals, sometimes no bra, seems to like political topics. And Susan, the sweet elderly lady with bad arthritis, a retired lawyer, lives alone, her late husband a pathologist and missionary in China in a former life. Finally there's me, the med student who spends his Wednesday mornings writing fiction and poetry.

Terry shared some of her inspiration last week, a poem called "Adios, Fresno" by Tim Hernandez, a relatively well-known writer and performance artist of the west coast and southwest. She explained the idea of using it as a prompt--writing about a city she'd left and the reasons she did so. Then I got to thinking about doing the same.

(Hear "Adios, Fresno" here: Tim Hernandez Poems)

So I wrote about Seattle--40 lines about what I hated, what I loved, and why I needed to leave. I guess I didn't write about why I went back after. But suffice to say, it's always been love/hate with me and Seattle. The city, the rain, the floating bridges, the trees, the mountains over the Pacific, then the black hole of loneliness, the debilitating depression, the things I never talked about growing up, and still didn't, even when I went back. I read it in the workshop today thinking it was overly affective and splashy, and was relieved to hear that nobody thought that was the case.

Then tonight I went to TA my med lit class, the topic of which was soldiers and war, and the comparison to doctors and medicine. One thing that got me a bit was when we got to the subject of how we share our traumatic experiences with the people we love, and that ever-sweet notion that yes, love is enough to tear down that wall of isolation. But the understated nuance of reality is that no, love is sometimes not enough, that sometimes healing those wounds takes more, which Dr. Winakur made a point of saying. I chimed in with my agreement, offering up my own examples of how difficult it is to talk with Angie about bad days in the hospital, and really, it's true of any of the bad memories, any of the bad history. It's why I write so much, I said.

Finally, I get home, and here I am at 1:23 AM, serially recalling Seattle and every other city I've left. What's funny is that each time I've left a place, I've always promised to come back and visit often, which has been far from the reality of things. Call it irony, my mental fixation on the past belying my physical avoidance of it.

There's this old Julieta Venegas song - "Me Voy," that we used to drink and sing to all the time in Brownsville. I have it on loop, and listening to it, even though it's a breakup song, I feel as if it's my anthem for this silly crack habit I've had. Mostly because of this one line: Me voy. Que lastima, pero adios! "I'm leaving. What a shame, but goodbye!" And breakup-y though it may be, I'd rather sing this song for the cities of my past than the women of my past. I hear this song and I want to get drunk, go back to the house on Guadalajara St. for one more dance, find my friends who've all dispersed and shout for one more song, stand shoulder to shoulder with the men and women I've loved and forgive myself. Because while Julieta here is singing all these contrived, breakup-y allegations--"Porque no supiste entender a mi corazon"--there is no rule that says you can't go back at any time and fix the bad.




Tuesday, August 12, 2014

And then there was that time when....

....when CF came home early, brought a couple beers out to the pool and said to me "Screw it, I'm gonna sleep with her." It was summertime, I had just quit my job in anticipation of moving in a month's time, and I was filling my time with "nights like this" stories, scattered reflections and aimless speculation about where we'd be in 20 years.

Somehow, those years of childish, aspirant histrionics that mimicked adulthood had translated into the reality of what we were living. I took it in, realizing that I wasn't doing any of it ironically, or out of social necessity--I'd actually grown to appreciate some of these themes of "what-it-means-to-be-a-young-guy-living-in-the-city" that we'd plagiarized for our own.

Consciousness is mystifying like that from time to time. You force yourself to live by a new set of principles for long enough, and you're bound to become them. In with the new, out with the old. Finding yourself. It's a transference of consciousness without the presence of mind to know that "transference" is, in fact, what it really is.

All this from a ragamuffin band of kids that used to wander like strays under highway bridges, venture to gas stations in their Sunday clothes and spend their allowances on slurpees and Slim-Jims. Did moments like that really even exist in the past? They're still clear as the light of day in my mind: the lawn of the old office building rented by the church, the gnarled trees and warped cinder blocks leading up the block to the Chinese Culture Center, the hot asphalt open lots parching under the summer sun. Sometimes for shade, we'd sit in a spot under a small awning at the building entrance. And then, so we wouldn't have to sit on the burning concrete, we dismantled and carried out the back seat of our pastor's old, unwanted mini-van, propping it against the hot brick walls so we could have a proper stoop seat.

Then a few times, when one of us got busted for something we weren't at fault for, when even the small injustices of our lives seemed so inadequately explained, and practice wasn't what they preached--maybe then we went off and did some things in protest. Maybe things like stealing beer from the Stop-N-Go, vandalizing street signs with pocket knives, things I'd do with a combination of fear and thrill, realizing that I'd now found that incredible power to both destroy and self-destroy. But they were small rebellions in the grand scheme of things, rebellions I stopped when I realized my sole objective was to point out the hypocritical imperfections in the world--a world which I already knew in my heart to be implicitly imperfect.

These are the things that come back to you, during those chance moments that are so painfully candid about the current state of your being, but seem otherwise inconsequential. These are the things that you recall, the things that have permanence and likewise confer permanence to those new moments, solidifying more deeply with each recollection. What's paradoxical about it is how clearly events can be recalled, yet how utterly dissimilar they can be to the character of events in the present, as if they were from a different life altogether.

Here in the present, two of those ragamuffin kids are now lounging by the pool, drinking, talking about women, lamenting on work and what it takes to make money. They are years removed from that old mini-van backseat in the shade, and the old lessons on accepting the world's imperfections are now laughably obvious. Summer is passing again, and there are more mediums for enjoyment but also more restrictions. "Those who don't work, don't eat," for example, was not a concept shared between this life and the last. But then, the thrill and mystery of stepping into a new nightclub, for example, is also here but not there. Did these two points in time really happen in the same plane of existence? Does the mere fact that we remember these moments prove their existence?

We say time is a linear construct. We believe it with all the known argument of human intellect. We see that belief in the way we've modeled society: You start at point A and move to point B. Things you do at point A include I, II and III, things you do at point B include IV, V and VI. So then this transference of consciousness, from point A to point B, is like a living testament to that notion of linearity. But sometimes, the mind takes flight, the heart opens, the impercipient soul snaps awake to action, transcends our customary bounds.

Here's what I think--maybe time isn't really linear; maybe we've simply fooled ourselves into thinking that it is. Maybe you actually see it in a circle, point A to point B, but then point B never for a moment unbound to point A--time moving forward but consciousness always circling back. We call it memory, that construct that allows us to circumvent time. We diminish its value because we've always had it, and because we reason that, for the simple fact that it only ever lives in our minds, it therefore can't be real in the present. But is that the correct thinking? Isn't it possible that memory is something real, something tangible? Isn't it possible that memory is as material as the earth we walk on, the food we taste, the air we breathe? Isn't it possible that memory is actually a sensory experience, rather than a metaphysical one? Isn't it possible that moments spent in memory are actually moments spent circled back and lived again?

And then, ask yourself, if that were the case, how much differently you might tend to your life, how much happiness you could relive, in place of regret; or love, or cherishing, in place of sorrow. Isn't it possible, in this world, that we might find within ourselves, in the immortal passages of our memories, the very secret of our being?

Isn't that a hope worth having?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Every day I'm hustlin'

It's times like this that med school bothers me--when I want to do something different, think about something different, but find it hard to derail myself from medical hodgepodge. Huff.

My father once told me, while poring over a stack of scientific journal articles as a post-doc, to never pursue a life in research. Tomorrow I move further away from that advice. In the course of trying to find extra cushion for my resume after college, I somehow managed to become a freak about analytics. Now, 4 years removed, I've completed a Master's and have a trail of data crumbs behind me. After I left the West Nile project in Houston to start med school, I didn't have it in my mind that I'd return so soon. And now I'm riding a project into another one of Kristy's mad-scientist discoveries. West Nile causes chronic kidney disease. Who knew? Well, I guess we did (ha!).

But it was a frantic hustle to get to today. When I left Brownsville back in 2010, I didn't have a single achievement to my name. Jess and I were co-authors on two swine flu papers that we weren't even sure would be accepted. But she had a ticket to med school by then. Me? Different story. Then I entered SPH as a full-time student and RA right around the time the administration was in upheaval. Kristy's lab was much smaller and low-tech back then. And me? Still hustling. Trying to pull together grades, MCAT scores, research, schmoozeable professors to back me and bam! Two years later, I wake up in a funk after a big-ass cardiology exam, Angie's getting ready for work, and my West Nile poster is due at 4:00. It feels like the last 4 years have been a constant hustle--never running ahead of the game, always frantically racing to catch up.

I turned in my poster 5 minutes past the 4:00 deadline last Tuesday, and it's on display in the auditorium as I type.  Now Kristy's talking publication, authorship, the works. She got tenure a few days ago. So all's well that ends well, I suppose. Except we can't say the end is well until we actually reach some perceptible materialization of "the end," can we?

Well. Death or retirement. Surely one of those will fit the mold.



To my future kids:

Daddy is about to go get his 4 hours of sleep, now that the apparent "end" of his research project/Tuesday has arrived. Daddy isn't looking forward to the day you guys come along. Read this blog post whenever you feel Daddy is being a sour, crotchety grump, and you'll understand why that is. Cheers.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Epitaph



[Sometime back in May]



Sometimes a train passes through, my father says, and suddenly you find out it's your train.


Turn the tables, wind the clocks, and we're not talking about good fortune anymore. Now we're talking simply about destinations. The idea that you're not waiting around for opportunity or that bit of luck you've dreamt about. That you're simply waiting to be carried off to the next place. If you strike it rich, is it really that you're lucky? Blessed? Or are you just on your way to wherever you were supposed to be next? And is death really the end, or is it just on the way to whatever is ahead? Suddenly it's not so much just a ride to a temporary fortune or misfortune as it is an inevitable passage forward, and finally everything along the way matters more.


Is there a place after this? My grandmother asks.
Yes, there is, my father says.


Let's not talk about what we believe to be real tonight. One day we'll be old, and things that we thought were important won't be anymore.

Above all, God tells us, love one another deeply.



A man sits beside his mother's bed.
He tells her there is a place after death:
whether it is called "Heaven" is uncertain,
but there is a place. And because there is a place,
there will be a time.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Poems from Lago Enriquillo

Holding clinic in Sabana Real

The road to Sabana Real is chiseled out
from rock and soil by secondhand motorcycles
and the feet of women carrying vegetables.
The mountain and its people are a clay from
God, made firm
by the rising and setting sun. Our caravan stops
twenty miles in, where a crowd
of men and women, children and chickens
gather around a cinder block hut. The day opens
as feet leave truck beds and stamp the earth.

A man with swollen hands comes
from a far off sugarcane field for vitamins.
A woman is told she is pregnant with her fourth
child. We have bags of lollipops for the children,
but no shade for the elderly. To everyone,
we say "Espera," not knowing
whether we are telling them to wait, or to hope.

But here in the hot dust
of the sprawling afternoon, there
is also the bare wealth of the human spirit.
It is surprising, but it isn't.
"Could we be happy here?" is the unasked
question of the day. Here, where
the boys' feet are caked in mud and their guts
are filled with worms. But they laugh
just the same, and terrorize the windows
with hands and fingers akin to all boys
who have appetites for lollipops but not soap.
Here, where the girls squeal in delight
under the squeeze of a blood pressure cuff
and run out with our butterfly stickers
on their foreheads. No, perhaps
the world is not such a mystery.

Or is it? In the airport, I look for postcards
for my mother and father. The plastic rack
has pictures of palm trees and phrases
like "Carribean Paradise." There are no pictures
of the Haitian woman to whom I gave
a sack of granola bars; the girl in her arms
and the one clutching her hemline.
The tree canopy from the side of the mountain
road to Sabana Real, the children chasing down
our jaunty truck of students and supplies.

I seal up these images and concede to promise
just my good intentions. And then, on the back, what
would I write? Probably something bittersweet,
like "Having a great time, wish you were here."




Above La Descubierta


Back home, I would have dreamt
of these stars, the secret
wonder of being one body, sleeping
beneath them; the leveled rock path
leading up the mountain
and these unfamiliar constellations,
pouring nameless loves and other
mysteries in droves as we go up.
Back home we were less deliberate.
Back home, no one got up before
daylight to climb into the coming
sun. It's that notion of how
provoking the new world can be,
because it's still new, and
because we might well be too.
It comes with a different craving
in the bellies of our hands,
our feet, a hunger for exhaustion
and the feeling of having earned
the windswept path we walk on.
It's not something I would have done.
Nor this whole strategy of living,
in fact. I couldn't stomach it,
not after knowing what I
know, knowing how easily a whole
methodology or people, even, can be
extinguished, forgotten. That's my
honest answer, as we stand hard
against the storied mountainside.
Yet here we are, sweat-matted
hair in clumps, copper scours on
rubbed skin, bleating goats
muffled in the sound of our
breathing and nothing else: living
proof of ourselves, proof that we want
more of ourselves than we thought.

Monday, January 23, 2012

7 minutes

I have 7 minutes to write.

This is life. I throw a load of laundry into the wash, clean up the sink, read through a lecture and call home. It's New Year's in China, my parents are telling me about who is gathering where overseas, what's on the dinner table and who is wearing what, cooking what. My grandmother is dying, my father is going home to see her for what may be the last time, I'm eating dinner and thinking of home, a friend is no longer speaking to me, my girlfriend calls and tells me she loves me. This is life.

We live in a world where there is so much to fear and yet we can't be any less than bold. The distance between success and failure is not so far as we would want ourselves to believe. Some days we wake up and conquer ourselves, other days we wake up alone and are struck by how finite everything is. This is life.

A day passes and it's coffee, lectures, meetings, ramen, basketball stats, dirty dishes, misplaced car keys. A week passes and it's an extended argument over the phone, a dismissal of useless meetings, a search for remaining drinking water in the apartment. A month and it's a drink among friends for a job well done, an important decision made, an "I love you and I'm sorry," a new calendar and a batch of emails about deadlines saying "I would get to work on this very soon if I were you." God, it all adds up so quickly. I have 7 minutes, and always, I use more than I have, expecting the price I pay later to amount to something much less than it always is.

I have so much but lose so much along the way. We celebrate our being, our dignity and our pride while we have it, a testament to how we want exactly what we have in some moments, and despise so much of ourselves in other moments. Living and dying, hoping and hating, this is life, and within the unknown scheme of God and whatever other great beyond there is, we are all we have.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

"Medium coffee, please"

There was a period in my life not long ago when I regularly spent 12 hours on the road each week. 6 hours from the valley to Houston, 6 hours back. My meals were taken in the parking lot of a Valero somewhere off highway 77, my car was covered in dust and dead bugs, my jeans smelled like cigarettes and B.O., and my best friends were John Mayer, Jimi Hendrix, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

I drove 6 hours in the dead of night to get to Houston, then 6 hours at the crack of dawn to get back 2 days later. A lot of people thought I was crazy, my mother most of all. My father thought I had a secret girlfriend in Houston. My boss thought I was a freeloading slacker.  My friends thought I was searching for something, and I wasn't sure what to make of that at first. Then later on, I thought, yeah, ok, we'll call it searching. Life seemed like an amorphous sea of shit, and I was looking for an anchor. Friday afternoon, I'd sit down in lab meeting, grind my teeth for a couple hours, and roll out without a second look back at the office. Throw some clothes into a bag, throw the bag into the car, and pull out of Sugar Tree Lane, saying "Hey I'll see you in a couple days" to my roommates, not knowing whether I'd hold true to that. So I drove the hell out of my car, which earned my respect and gratitude as the most reliable thing I'd ever owned in my 25-year lifetime.


And what did I find? What did I learn? Well gas ain't cheap, for one thing. Cops trying to make quota at the end of the month don't let you off with a warning, for another. Spend enough time alone and eventually you'll either start talking to yourself or to God. Having a destination motivates you to keep going, even if trivial. The return trip always feels longer than the departing trip.

Finally, truck stops are the best place to see stars on the road at night, other than unlit, grassy shoulders. My favorite ritual during night drives was buying a coffee from Valero, heading down the road a ways and pulling into a truck stop. Turning off the car, stepping outside, lighting a cigarette and promising myself I'd never be too good to drink shitty, leftover gas station coffee. Looking back on that time, I still can't decide if I was searching for a way out or a way in.

Anyway, went to Valero and bought a coffee tonight, and that's what brought all this about. So I'm drinking to that and whatever stars I can see from the balcony in my new digs.




Cheers.