Archive for May, 2009

Hola from Panama!

Sunday, May 17th, 2009

I kind of hate to brag, but I am sitting by a pool in Panama.  It’s 95 degrees.  I actually don’t hate to brag–I am having the best time and am deeply in love with Panamanian life.  OMC is proving to be the best tour guide ever (he’s lived in this town every summer for 6 years).  Our house is insane.  In the backyard there is a mango tree, a papaya tree & an avocado tree that we are welcome to pluck from as we wish.  It’s strange being a gringo in a small Panamanian fishing town: everybody knows we’re here and what we’re doing and where we live and boy do we ever stick out.  I haven’t seen a cockroach yet.  I have seen geckos.  I have had the best coffee of my entire life this weekend.  I want to move to Panama.  It’s charming and dusty and ridiculous and noisy and fantastic.

Panama City is absurd.  It’s huge and is never quiet.  The Canal is surprisingly dinky.  So many sky scrapers are being built there right now: rumor has it our little economic crisis hasn’t effected Panama.  I went to the top of a tall building and counted so many cranes.  Tomorrow field work starts, which will be considerably less fun.  But now, it’s time to swim!!!

Like Van Halen said, PANAMA-A-AAAAAA

Thursday, May 7th, 2009

While I have been doing loads of readings this week (I read both Dan Savage’s Skipping Towards Gomorrah and Sarah Vowell’s Take the Cannoli and am 75% done with Koren Zailckas’ Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood), I feel a little too high-strung and anxious to tackle talking about any of them at this moment. Some of you know, some of you might not, that I am going to Panama next week for 5ish weeks to work on OMC’s archaeological dig on the Pacific coast.

I am leaving work, Pittsburgh and my happy little dogfriend behind to go on this adventure. This trip started as a joke: Lydie and I were shooting the shit one day in January about me following OMC to Panama, and doing an independent study while I was there (working the system, you know, getting credits that I don’t really deserve). I don’t remember exactly how the conversation went, but Lydia said something to the effect of: “Why don’t you just go? You only live once” (Sorry for the terrible paraphrasing.). Suddenly this made sense to me, so I did the necessary paperwork and talked to the necessary people, who pulled the necessary strings, and now I am leaving for Panama in 8 days. And I am really, absolutely terrified (yet thrilled!) about it.

Things to know about this trip:

  • While the entire trip is paid for thanks to the generous grant-providers of the Canadian government, I have to work. In the dirt. In 95 degree weather. Digging for pottery shards and animal bones and stuff.
  • My Spanish is decent. I have a pretty good vocabulary but am kind of terrible at talking in anything other than the present tense. This will be a challenge. Basically, I hope that lots of Panamanians will want to discuss household chores with me.
  • I can only take a backpack and a carry on bag. I am one of the heaviest packers I’ve ever known. I routinely pack bags that are too heavy for me to carry. I am not terribly worried about clothing because I will really only wear crappy field clothes or tiny dresses that amount to nothing when packed–no, I am worried about reading material. I am struggling to find the balance between books that will hold my interest and books that will consume enough time that I don’t run out of reading material there. Because I will be in a small, provincial cattle town. That doesn’t sell all too much English reading material.
  • Our house won’t have the internet! I will have to go to McDonalds to use wireless. Blogging will be infrequent and probably kind of manic. One of the requirements for my independent study is to keep a blog about my schoolwork there. That will be separate from this.
  • I am extremely excited and extremely nervous.

Additionally, OMC successfully defended his dissertation on Monday and I get to shamelessly call him el Doctor. This is more fun than you think. Let it be said that I am also super proud of this boy: I could never pummel successfully through a dissertation (or a thesis) the way that he did.

In sum, I will not be posting often for 5 or 6 weeks (that is so scary to type). I’m going to miss yinz.

When cuteness isn’t enough

Friday, May 1st, 2009

I had been meaning to read Miranda July’s book No One Belongs Here More Than You for the better part of 2 years. I really like Miranda July. I thought her movie, Me and you and everyone we know was supremely adorable and terribly funny and it made my heart ache for hours, and I think that she herself is supremely adorable. She also wears super-cute clothing, and rumor has it, if you write her a letter she will write one back to you. All of these things seemed to say to me that her book would be full of wonder and pandas hugging and rainbows and sparkles. They also seemed to say that she might actually create something enjoyable and good.

Color me the fool.

I should have known from the reviews on the back. I really should have known. Dave Eggers loved this book. Dave Eggers is my mortal enemy (he doesn’t know that, though) and I SHOULD HAVE KNOWN that if he loved it, I would hate it.

I don’t think Miranda July is a bad writer. I actually think she’s a strong writer (I read a review somewhere that described her writing style as “fierce”–maybe so, and wouldn’t Tyra Banks be proud?) who isn’t quite there yet. There are a lot of sentences in this book that are hilarious and that I want to capture and wear as a necklace for all time. At the same time, there is a lot of total garbage. Do you have any friends who constantly say uncomfortable things just for the sake of being uncomfortable? Just for the sake of making you squirm in your seat? I have friends like this, and an uncle too, and while I fully appreciate artwork that freaks me the fuck out because I am so nervous, I cannot honestly stand 16 short stories with only two repeating themes: pedophilia and incest. A lot of her writing verges on vulgar, which is also fine and dandy. Maybe this is just July’s type: awkward and nervous and uncomfortable. Okay, great–three or four freaky, creepy stories would be fine in a collection like this. Can we maybe, just maybe, try to break out of this? I hate to go back to Ty-Ty on this (actually I LOVE IT), but honey, you’d be in the bottom two over and over again for showing the same damn pose every challenge. Do. Something. Different.

I have read countless glowing reviews of this book, and I really don’t get it. I liked one or two of the stories a great deal. She has many great thoughts that seem to just go nowhere. Saying something just to say it, if you will. I can’t excuse this, though. I think July is a wonderful filmmaker and, from what I’ve seen, a gifted artist, but are we excusing her book just because we already know she’s talented? I refuse to do this. I will not let this slide by because she’s adorable. Nope.

I read this book in under 36 hours (it’s kind of skimpy in length and I also have a lot of free time this week)–this might have been my problem. I recall reading one story from this collection in the New Yorker two years ago and really liking it. Maybe I can’t stand the shuffle of one story that’s not unlike another story I just read that’s identical to the story I’m about to read sixteen times in a row.

I honestly wouldn’t recommend this book to anybody. I would suggest maybe an excerpt or two to devoted friends who won’t judge me for recommending such total garbage to them. It’s depressing to think that so many people loved this book, and give it as gifts, and carry it around, and probably quote it in their fiction classes. If I hadn’t already known Miranda July’s work, I never would have given this book a second thought when I passed it at the library. If I hadn’t enjoyed her movie, I never would have finished it.

Can we stop passing cuteness off as talent? Say something new. In a new way. And I will love you for all time. Forever.