I have been coming to Oaxaca for 16 years now. I come for weeks or even months at a time, and yet I am so far unable to master the language. In spite of all the time I’ve spent going to dinner, riding in taxis, and attempting to decipher the labels in the galleries and museums. Despite months of Spanish lessons at home, I speak like a stunted toddler: in monosyllables, two words at a time. I am unable to coherently express so much as, “I came from Seattle yesterday.”
Here I have no tenses but the present. I can say “I going out now,” but cannot manage “I arrived on Tuesday,” or, “I went to the Toledo museum this morning,” or, “I would like to ride the horses tomorrow”.
In Mexico I have few futures. I can manage a sort of “further tense” using the present tense of ir (to go) and an infinitive — loosely “I am going to” [do this thing]. Voy a scriber mañana. I am going to write tomorrow. Continue reading
… is an old computer term for removing all of the software from the hardware and starting over again. Back when we could rm ‑rf we would occasionally find that a system had got itself into a non-recoverable state and need to be rebuilt from the ground up in order to function again. Or on a happier note when a project finished we often wiped the software off of the hardware and repurposed it for the next project.
While systems have become much more resilient than they used to be, and rm ‑rf is rarely available to the average user, a compete wipe down of the buggy system using rm ‑rf’s newer relative, reset to factory settings, is still the only solution to certain problems. My iPhone got into one of those states recently. Slow to load apps and data for several weeks it finally reached the point of being unable to load the App Store for updates.
Google has as many solutions for these sorts of problems as there are ways of creating them. Everything from killing the running apps to fully erasing the phone’s memory and rebuilding it from “like new.” It’s a fraught process. There is a frisson of dread and hope. You will definitely start with the simplest least destructive options but there’s always the question: What if you have to go all the way?
I found and tried a number of folk remedies. Kill all the running apps and then restart the phone. Tap any button at the bottom of the App Store app 10 times to clear the cache — that worked for about 10 minutes. Remove all of your network settings and reboot your WAP — okay so the WAP was little wedged, etc. In the end none of these worked. The last non destructive option was a full backup and restore. And easy but lengthy process that could leave the phone in exactly the same barely functioning state that I had started in. An hour and half later that’s exactly what happened.
So there I was — faced with the option of last resort. The nuke and pave. Leaving me with a blank phone without a single bit of the personality that I’d given it over the last two years. That at once wonderful and frightening prospect of a new start. There is dread. It’s a colossal hassle. You lose everything. Every setting, every App, every bit of data. Your contacts, your text messages, your fitness band data, your photos of the dog acting idiotic. All of it. It’s like losing your phone only without the cost of new hardware. A total PITA.
And yet, and yet. It is also an exciting prospect. The new, virgin terrain. All of the miscellaneous cruft and crap and useless apps and passwords for wi-fi points in airports you’ll never visit again, and oopsie pictures of your feet are gone. You get to start again with a simpler, cleaner, less overwhelming device. You will also spend the next week adding back the apps, passwords, and data that it turns out you were using but had forgotten about. You will lose all of your deeply ingrained kinetic memory, the automatic finger presses and unthinking scrolling though the pages to reach the thing that you need.
Still.. new terrain. As an adult how often do you get enter new terrain for such a small price? Sure you can change jobs, change houses, change spouses, all of which take up a lot more than a lazy Sunday afternoon babysitting a hardware reset and a couple of hours of software updates and restoring data and passwords. And so I did it. Settings -> General -> Reset -> Reset All Settings and pressed the many pop-up buttons that confirmed that I did indeed intend to remake my phone into a pristine version of its now non-functioning self.
We all love the opportunity to reinvent ourselves. Even if it’s only in terms of little bit of pristine electronic wilderness that we can remake to suit our now two years older and wiser self. New phone wallpaper, a clean slate of wi-fi settings, and some nifty new apps. — Even if you end up reimporting all of the depressing fitness band data.
I think I was a cat for Halloween one year. I have a picture of me in a leotard and tights with a construction paper ears and a tail and my face painted white with black whiskers. It’s not much of a tail and I remember being a little disappointed that I didn’t have a cloth one with wire in it so that I could make it twitch or at least curl it interestingly. I don’t remember anything else about that Halloween, or that costume. But I do have the picture.
I’m trying to work with the notion of family stories in some essays that I am writing. The need for those stories and the variability of those stories and how they organize and glue together families. The problem is that I need examples and at any given moment in time I can’t just call up stories. My memory is entirely associative. It’s as if my memory is a very tangled ball of twine — the only way to find my memories is to be offered an end of the string made up of some other memory or some remark from someone. Or a picture.
I have a small album of pictures that my mother gave to me when I got married. In it are pictures of me as a child and a few of me and my siblings. I love those pictures.
Some of those pictures of me are from before I making conscious memories. There are pictures of me being held by my grandparents. One of me as a one year-old proudly wearing my father’s watch. And oh the hair, bright white and all over the place — fright-wig and looks like Einstein were frequent remarks.
Slowly as a I page through the pictures some things become clearer. I remember a house we lived in when I was 4 and my grandparent’s back yard. There’s the one of my in a tutu and those blue cat eye glasses with my friend from kindergarten — whose name was… oh yeah Linda! And how I wanted to be a ballerina — but I don’t think I ever took dance lessons. (If I’m wrong my mom will tell me.)
There are pictures of me and my siblings. One special one of the five of us just after my youngest brother was born. I don’t remember the picture being taken but I do remember the warm September day that he was born. The neighbor was looking after us and told us in the middle of the afternoon that we had a brother. And remembering that afternoon reminds me of the family story that’s told about my brother’s birth. You see, it’s said that my dad and the doctor watched the first game of a Pirates double-header while waiting for my brother to be born. It continues that after Joe’s birth with my dad, the doctor, and my new baby brother watching the second game. True? Most likely not. But it’s been told over and over again and it does explain Joe’s grade-school obsession with baseball.
Once I start down that road — grab that bit of string of memory I can find another story and another story and yet another. Stories about my brothers and their oddly balanced relationship (5 years and a goodly number of pounds separated them but they put up a united front whenever challenged.) Stories about my sisters and their passions, one for music, the other for horses. All the things that make my family uniquely my family.
But without the first picture I get no where.
So I keep in my studio a small brown, now quite beaten up, photo album. With a handful of pictures. That can send me back in time and unravel my memory knots. Every time I open it I’m grateful that my mom made it for me.
Why is everybody so down on Hallmark? Aren’t we inarticulate enough without denying us the chance to have someone help us to speak? Haven’t we all had that moment when we don’t have any words of our own. When the words have been blasted right out of us? When all we are left with is a heaving heaviness in our guts? No more than an empty space — black, boiling in on itself — that cannot signify some acceptable meaning? When there is an absolute requirement — the need to speak, but no words.
That time when all you have to say is: This thing that has happened — it has torn a hole in my heart and taken the words right out of me. I want to show you the blood rushing out to pool at my feet. To speak in the red sticky coppery taste of sorrow, to give you the torn out piece of my heart and say “eat this — it is my heart’s ache for you.” But no one wants to see the gun-shot hole in your chest. You cannot point to a pool of blood and say “this is for you.” But, you can always send a Hallmark with its carefully decorous words that say “I have a hole in my heart for you.” without making an unseemly display of arterial blood.
The thing about Hallmark is that the reply, the acknowledgment of the other’s sympathy, of the wound that they have taken in response to your own heart-ache, can be as carefully ritualized as the expression. With Hallmark you do not have to say “I see the hole in your heart but I can not answer it — the hole in my heart is too big and bleeding to quickly and it threatens to overcome me. And I cannot be held accountable for your sympathy.” You can simply let Hallmark say “Thank you for thinking of me.”
Hallmark. Because sometimes the best you can do is to let someone else help you say “I have some feelings about this. I thought you should know.”
I believe in the image, the line, the stanza, the iambic foot, the perfect word. Assonance, slant rhymes, that the formal forms still have a place in modern poetry. I believe that Shakespeare wrote the plays. I believe in a constitutional amendment outlawing poetry about poetry and the use of the word “suffuse.” I believe in revision, interlinear translations, publishing in print — not on-line, and I believe in long, slow, deep, wet poems that last three days.