I’m Telling You This for the Last Time

I don't know what to say, except that it's close to the end here in Brazil, and it has been a whirlwind of emotions, and things to do, and anxiety, and parties with friends, and alcohol, and emotions, and wait…I already said that.

Update: until last week, I was excercising every day, just like I said I would try. But this last week I didn't make it…unless you include frantic sprints or angry gesticulations towards bus drivers. But I'm sure anxiety burns it's share of calories, so maybe I'm ok. Except no, I'm not.

Uma cesta de Natal: cheio de coisas que você não quer :)

Another update of sorts: after I blogged about that special graffiti in my old neighborhood (notice I said “old neighborhood”–that is because I did succeed in moving out of my apartment. Juuuuuuuust barely. Money and tears can do wonders. And money. Did I mention money?) there were some folks that reminded me that it's not true that “no one cares.” You are right. Sometimes my language tends towards the realm of extremes. Well, maybe all the time. But here is what I meant: there are some who care, yes, but there is such an overwhelming majority that are indifferent or ignorant or apathetic or lazy that it brings all the rest who care down. In fact, it wears us out so much that sometimes we even forget that we care, and we start making excuses for the majority that don't care, saying that the situation is complicated, and we try to offer excuses for them. But here is the reality: it is not complicated. Life is ugly. Cultures are not perfect. We all have improvements to make, and those improvements require LOTS of work. I am worried about Brazil, but I have not yet given up hope.

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve…doesn't matter your tradition, your religion, your culture: now is a season of hope. And it's also a season of mistakes. Of reality. Of shitty decisions. Of grace. I wish you all the best, but you must understand, MY best includes things that you may not want: truth, tears, chocolate, suffering, good music, hoppy beer, loud voices, perfect cookies, children laughing and complaining, difficult questions, beach vacations, forever covenants. If you don't want my best, ok, don't take it. But this is all I have to offer. Beijos! Até a próxima!

 

Getting older

Some days just turn out different than you thought.

And then some days are just chock full of life, so full in fact that things are bursting apart.

But then again, maybe the trouble is the wineskin. Maybe this one is getting a bit old. Doesn't take much new wine to burst an old wineskin, or so I've heard.

In any case, I have two images that I don't think I'll forget from today. One is Caravaggio; there is something about seeing a masterpiece right in front of you. For me it usually brings a certain amount of tears, and I'm not altogether sure of the reason every time. I remember Rembrandt's portrait of his fiance: his love for her was still so obviously oozing out of the canvas. And today? I don't know, maybe there's just something so truthful about beautiful images. Capturing the essence of humanity, of life, of reality.

And the other? Well let's just say it involves children playing games, blood all over the floor, a trip to the emergency room, four stitches, and McDonald's for dinner. Oh yes, and might as well splatter a few yelling bouts in the mix as well, just for flavor. Sigh. All's well that ends well?

And this old wineskin? Feeling stretched, leaking, a bit worse for wear…I suppose its time to decide to leave some things behind. And maybe that's right at the turning of a new year, time to grow older, hopefully wiser, and continue to leave the things of youth (but not the youthfulness) behind. I'll try. To trust more, worry less, love completely.

 

 

Happy Birthday to me.

 

One sorry cookie slut

I spent a good deal of time this afternoon in the kitchen: baking, prepping, cleaning. I do enjoy that: I enjoy the sense of accomplishment that comes when everything turns out just right. And I love making bread for many reasons: I know exactly what goes into it, I get to use my hands, it doesn’t take long (I have a rhythm when I make it), and it tastes DAMN good. Seriously, it is really hard to buy bread for sandwiches at the store–none of it tastes much better than cardboard.

Cute, but yucky to eat.


My bread is better


 

I also love to make cookies. I love to make cookies because I love to eat cookies. But I love to eat cookies so much, that pretty much any cookie will do. I am a cookie slut. I have thought long and hard about what makes the perfect cookie, and I have my methods and my secrets (most of them are not so secret). I always hope the cookies will turn out perfect, because I want to eat perfect cookies. I love to eat cookies.

Living in Brasil makes me sad about cookies sometimes. Their store cookies are different, but they are fine; that is not the problem. What makes me sad? I don’t have all of my cookie tools here, namely my kitchenaid mixer, and a suitable sifter. You would think the sifter would be easy enough to find or bring from the US, but somehow it has slipped through the cracks yet again, and I do not have one. I miss that. But even more, I miss my mixer. And it is ridiculously heavy, so bringing it here is kind of crazy. But I’m getting kind of crazy, so it just might happen next time. Why can’t I buy it here? Well, I could, I suppose, if I wanted to spend 1/3 of my monthy paycheck. “Oh, I’m sorry kids, we’re going kinda light on food these next few months, but hey, we do have that fancy mixer that Daddy’s been pining after!” Yeah, that quote is not going down in the annals of great parenting history.

Another thing that took forever today was getting home after my concert. Public transportation is pretty impossible on Sundays in Belo–life slows down, and the busses don’t come very often. Plus, there’s this HUGE fair every Sunday right in downtown (very close to where my concert was taking place), and it makes navigating that section of the city nearly impossible. And so here’s what my trek home looked like: about 15 minutes of hard walking with a cello on my back, waiting for about 15 minutes at the bus stop, a 20 minute bus ride (there was traffic, this ride should have taken only 7 minutes), and another 8 minute walk home. Interesting cultural observation at the bus stop: Brazilians (at least here in Minas) rarely speak up when someone is cutting in front of them. There were dozens of people waiting for taxis at the bus station, and when one would arrive, it didn’t matter how long you had waited; whoever got to the door first was the one who got in the taxi. But no one ever said “Hey! I was here before you!” Nope. That’s just the way things go. There has actually been a recent study about this phenomenon, and if you are interested you can look here.

That’s all I will say about that now, but I’m sure I will have more to say in the future. I’m never short on thoughts, or ideas. Just cookies. Always short on cookies. *sigh*

 

I wanna hold your hand

Oooh….New blog post! New category!!

“Meh,” you say, “what’s the big deal?”

I have done a lot of thinking about cultural issues in the past, even before moving to Brazil. I have to say I’m fascinated by culture and how it interacts with language, religion, and everyday life. I suppose this interest is part of why I was willing to live in a foreign country in the first place–I love discovering how people work and how that interacts with the forces that surround them: family, country, laws, faith, history, etc.

I’m going to try and keep things positive, but truthful here–“Culturally Incorrect” if you will. That is my attempt at a pithy name tonight. I tried.

The other day I was walking and thinking, being careful not to get hit by cars, and watching mothers and fathers do the same with their children hand in hand…I like that. I regularly like to walk holding my children’s hands–it’s a comfort to know that they are right with me, and there’s something significant and spiritual about the fact that we are “walking alongside one another”. And that got me thinking about the difference between the way we communicate something in English and in Portuguese. In English, when I ask my children to hold my hand, I say “Hold my hand, honey!” or something close to that. In Portuguese, it’s not much different, but literally translated it would sound more like “Give me your hand!” Ok, not so interesting on the surface maybe, but I look closer and see some important differences. The English phrase asks the child to use their hand to hold the adults, meaning that it is the child’s responsibility to do the holding, and that the hands, while together, will remain independent of one another–my hand will remain my property, and your responsibility will be to hold it. This type of language construction is an easy window into American culture: we value independence and individuals, and even within families there is a resistance to trust when it comes to valuable items (including body parts). I like this thinking–it’s clean, and it makes sense to me. The Portuguese begins similarly with a demand, but in this case, the demand is for the child to GIVE their hand to the parent, and implicit within the language here is that once the hand has been given, it is now my responsibility to take care of that hand. I’m not a native Brazilian, so I’m still trying to fully understand how this is reflected in the culture, but initially it seems to point to more of a willingness to trust, to be taken care of, and to nurture those around you. I see it on the bus, and encounter it in stores: it’s not the same “Can I help you?” bend-over-backwards-to-please-you consumerist mentality that you might find in the States, but it’s like I’m suddenly everyone’s favorite son, with all the good and bad things that come along with that. It can be way overwhelming at times, and I often mistake it for disrespect, but that’s more my own baggage than the fault of the culture. A whole country chock full of people looking to trust and be trusted–crazy for this independent skeptical American to wrap his head around, but in my best moments, I recognize it for what it truly is: beautiful.

 

Still Breathing

I know I have this blog and its about how I yell sometimes (or a lot…it depends) and that would make it seem like I’m fairly comfortable with that or even celebrating my vociferous eruptions. And I am comfortable. I like who I am. I’m passionate. And I’m flawed, and sometimes, if I’m honest, I also don’t like it. But isn’t that normal, or shouldn’t it be? I mean, if you’re honest with yourself, don’t you have things about you that are really YOU that sometimes you could do without?

Well I do.

I’m workin on patience and kindness. I love the TRUTH, but I don’t always dole it out with LOVE. But I’m workin on it.

Like this morning, my son was having the usual issues that come with and 8 year old with no sense of responsibility. I could have yelled: “GET YOUR SHIT TOGETHER!” But I didn’t (and for the record, I do not swear at the kids). Instead, I had a patient conversation with him–three different times within one hour–about the importance of becoming more responsible. And then I told him that if he could grow in responsibility over the next week, then I would have to cut his hair. That was the holy grail. He loves his hair. He’s been forbidding that we cut it for months. I have to admit, it’s starting to look kinda cool. A friend came over tonight and told him that he looked very handsome with the hair. I hope I don’t have to cut it. But I will if he doesn’t grow in his responsibility–heck, it will be a great reminder: “Son, just think, as your hair grows, so will your responisibility.” Like I said, I have no trouble sticking to my word.

I have to say though, that one of the reasons yelling has become such a large part of my life is because it really seems to work. It gets the job done. When I speak, they listen. And sometimes it really IS important. But sometimes it isn’t, and well, let’s be honest, most times it isn’t so important that I need to send chills down someone’s spine. I’m learning. Workin on it.

And we’re all workin on it, right? I mean I hope so, because if we aren’t, well shoot, this world is even worse off than it seems. I read a blog today that makes me think some people are workin on it. Today was a pretty significant day in terms of civil rights, at least in the political world. No, this is not a political blog, but this is a speak it like it is blog, and so that’s what I will continue to do. Today, voters in N. Carolina passed an amendment to the constitution that will ban same-sex marriage in that state, and then a few hours later, President Obama spoke clearly and rationally in support of the right that gays and lesbians have to married. In the heat of this moment, I read a blog written by a gay Christian man who was calling his friends and his community in N. Carolina to respond with patience and love. Now there’s somebody who’s workin on it. And even President Obama, who has been a bit wimpy with words ever since he has been elected, said some pretty strong words today in support of some basic civil rights. He’s workin on it too.

Because we can’t be content to stay where we are, right? We gotta keep striving to be better, different, more, improved, larger, more intelligent, quicker, slower, louder, softer….. just not the same. Not stagnant. Luke-warm. Dead.

 

A Fragrant Offering

I smell.

Morning coffee. Soapy shower. Fresh air. Old food. Smokey neighbor.

We live in a world of shared spaces, and many of the smells that find their way to my nose come uninvited. Some of them make me quite happy: I love the way each of my kids smells different when they wake up in the morning, the smell of my bread baking in the oven, the diesel-y freshness of the bus as it clamors by, the brilliant dusty-ness of the air just before it rains. I love them not for the smell in itself, but for what it produces inside of me, for memories, for good intentions. The smell of the dust in the air just before it rains is not really my favorite, but each time I smell it, I remember a conversation with a friend in which she confessed that one of the main reasons she moved to Oregon was the seemingly infinite possibilities of this smell. The sheer innocence and abandon and truth of this memory is still lingering in my nose.

I also have a smokey neighbor who lives just below my apartment. Let me be clear: I don’t really mind cigarette smoke in public places, so long as it has somewhere else to go. But it’s not my favorite smell in my own house. While I’m taking a shower. Or cooking. Or practicing. Or playing with my kids. So when Shelley and I first began smelling this, we thought we’d be smart, and we started to drop hints in semi-loud voices of how we thought that cigarette smoke was bad for your health, not good for the kids, etc. Mineiros tend to communicate indirectly, so we thought we were being clever and culturally appropriate. It didn’t work. She kept right on smoking.

So our voices started getting louder, and our opinions stronger.

“Wow! I hate cigarette smoke!”

“I can’t believe someone is smoking again!”

“IS SOMEONE SMOKING DOWN THERE????”

Good intentions have a brief shelf-life.

How I might think of my neighbor

And I wish I could say that worked too. Or that we (mostly me) only yelled at her once. But, no. Except recently I can feel my spirit changing (or tiring more easily?) and as the smoke rises, I’m wondering if I can change my reaction, my desire to scream, choke, stop, madly educate, judge. I’m reminded of the many stories of Old Testament sacrifice, where the smell of burnt animal flesh and blood is rising–a fragrant offering, a call to prayer and thanksgiving. I’m positive that in comparison, that smell is more invasive and pungent than one small Dona smoking in the common area that feeds into my bathroom and laundry room.

But I digress. I think it’s possible for that the smoke rising into my life could be a call to prayer as well:

A prayer to love neighbors

of thankfulness

of patience

A fragrant reminder that what I deem to be ugly, disgusting, and unworthy on the surface often contains that which is sacred, holy, and loved.

Driving me crazy.

Driving is not so good for my heart. Or my head. For some reason, going long distances (more than 45 minutes) in a car kills my spirit. My operating system did not come with tranquility already installed, and so I had to install an after-market version, and that version doesn’t work while I’m behind the wheel.

What to do, what to do?

Me in my Fusca

Usually I talk to myself. And to the people that are driving near me.

Allright silver chevy, let’s keep movin’; “OH COME ON RANGE ROVER! REALLY?? REALLY????”

I naturally talk to myself anyway, so I spent much of my time in the car talking myself down from the ledge of driving oblivion. Needless to say, if the car ride lasts longer or possibly includes a traffic jam, things can spiral down pretty quickly. Let’s just hope you are not a child of mine that is not behaving in the car at that point. Or possibly someone else who has gotten the directions wrong yet again. Yeah, you won’t likely receive much mercy from me in those instances.


But what is it with the car? I can take short trips and be just fine. And if I know where I’m going, and the roads are great and directions perfect and there’s no traffic, I can sometimes drive for hours without incident–singing away the day, tongue wagging in the wind, not a care in the world.

But NONE of those things exist here.

Which is why it is AMAZING that I do as well as I do. Seriously, driving in the United States is a piece of cake for me now. But here? I don’t often know where I’m going, and if I do, it doesn’t matter. I still can get lost, or make a wrong turn and end up going in a direction I don’t want to go for twenty minutes before I can turn around and fix my mistake. You don’t want to be in the car with me then. It’s not pretty. And let’s not forget that the roads are horrible here (most places), and the drivers? well, they’re just trying to survive, just like me. Many will cut you off or traverse three lanes in order to turn left, but that is the road currency here, and there seems to be a mutual respect for bad driving in all it’s forms. I still get mad at those folks, but it’s not always necessary: the other day the devil incarnate that cut me off turned out to be a nice middle aged soft spoken woman who actually apologized for cutting me off. I was surprised.

Too bad I flipped her off first.