aimless love

But my heart is always propped up in a field on its tripod, ready for the next arrow. billy collins

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

oh, and I'm still waiting...

no, you're not seeing double. I am STILL waiting for feedback from my external examiner!


Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Las Mesitas

Here's the essay I wrote for this week's class. It definitely needs some work, but at least it's a start - at least, it's something!!!!

It’s eleven-thirty in the morning when we arrive in el campo. We have been told a bit about the rural communities of El Salvador during our orientation, but nothing can quite prepare us for the odd juxtaposition of a falling down outhouse accompanied by powdered lye with a homemade computer CD drive that imports my son’s Orange Sky soundtrack and that runs on bi-weekly charged car batteries. We know it’s the year 2005, but we can’t quite reconcile our growing awareness as we walk around the community, that in spite of our solid connection to a global economy via the digital world that we access through cell phone, internet, and television, here, in this place, there are few signs of the modern world, and few opportunities to reach beyond the perimeter that defines their compound.

Sam and I have volunteered to participate in a 13-person delegation to visit El Salvador from Cambridge, Massachusetts. Our mission is one of solidarity. Our job is not really about doing, but rather about seeing. We are there to “encounter the other.” When we arrive in Las Mesitas we are told that 90 families live together on this small southeastern track of land, and that as a rural community they have agreed to host our group in hopes of learning more about the United States, and in hopes of helping us to learn more about the plight of the rural farmer in El Salvador.

We are told that our group will be divided into twos and threes, and that a group of families has volunteered to house and feed us while we tour their area, and learn more about their particular way of life. We are told that we will be entering a community where basic resources of clean water, electricity, education, and food are not easily accessed, nor readily available. We do not necessarily realize that we are coming to a place where few families have running water, and where some families have only their cinderblock house, a handful of clothes, and a single chicken, shared by many, to call their own.

As we drive up to the edge of the community in a small tour bus, our vehicle is the only car on a small dirt road leading into the region. There are several young men on bicycles, but once we arrive we learn that few people drive. There are cars that come through the compound once a day, and one can buy a ride into the city for $10 (a weekly wage for many in this part of the countryside). We arrive just before lunch and unload the bus. Most of us have brought a backpack with a few personal items, toiletries, and a change of clothes to last us the three days we’ll be spending with the families.

As we disembark, we hear an announcement in Spanish on the community loudspeaker:

“Calling all who promised to care for these families, come, they’re here. It’s time for you all to come and prepare the lunches. Come, get the water.”

We have brought gallons of bottled water with us because the water here is not safe for us to drink. I marvel at the communication system as women begin to gather near the family home of the Coordinating Regional Office community leader. There are two loudspeakers on a pole, reminding me of old M.A.S.H. episodes, the only other place I remember seeing that type of set-up. Many within our group don’t speak Spanish and as the women arrive, to sort out how to divide up the visitors, a young woman carrying a small child is told that she can take Sam and I, and that I speak Spanish.

I feel as though I’m being auctioned off, and that somehow my ability to speak Spanish makes me a good prize, and suddenly I panic that my Spanish is not good enough, and that somehow I will be a disappointment to the family to whom we’ve been given. As we walk, I realize it’s just that this whole adventure has me feeling quite vulnerable. I try to focus on taking in my surroundings. The woman who is accompanying us is pretty. She is twenty-three or twenty four I think. She has brown skin, long black hair tied up, and she has a beautiful baby in her arms. Estefi Sarai is the baby’s name, and I estimate her at about a year old.

Slowly, as we walk through the family areas, I start to take in the scene. Our hostess is barefooted. Everywhere there is a dirt floor – a sandy brown dirt. Soft, but sandy. Around us everywhere are animals – dogs, cows, pigs, chickens. The animals are just wandering around, in every state of being – big one, little ones. We cross a kind of roadway and reach Lucia’s house.

The woman who has brought us here is Lucia’s daughter, but she does not stay. She lives in a family area near by, but leaves before I find out her name. Lucia has four daughters, I meet three of them. Hola, we say. Mucho gusto, I say – my pleasure. Beinvenidos, Lucia says - welcome. “I’m making you lunch,” she says. “Come in, sit down.”

I sit with Sam. She has set a table for us. Two red plastic chairs like the ones I bought last summer at K-Mart for the backyard sit opposite one another with a simple wooden table that is covered by a plastic tablecloth with a tropical print. Lucia asks if we want ice. I say sure, wanting to be as accommodating as possible from the beginning, and she sends her youngest daughter for the first of many special trips to the store for us. She has prepared rice and chicken, a homemade pineapple juice and tortillas.

I immediately feel guilty – meat – chicken – I know this must cost her. She doesn’t have extra chickens hanging around as far as I can see. (I find out within a day that she works quite diligently to ensure that her one chicken lays an egg each day, and that too is saved for me while we are here.) She and her fourteen-year-old daughter, Brenda, watch Sam and I as we eat. I quickly must tell her that Sam doesn’t eat anything except bread and fruit, and she quickly sends her daughter out again, this time to buy oranges. Sam’s picky eating takes on a new meaning in this environment. Lucia offers him a banana.

There is a baby on the floor, the daughter of Lucia’s daughter, Areli. The baby is quite dirty and as she sits on the floor she plays with a plastic bottle cap, putting it in her mouth and then dropping it, putting dirt in her mouth each time. Sam stares at me with fear in his eyes, and whispers, “is that ok, mom?” I nod yes. I try really hard not to judge. And I immediately feel Brenda – watching me – watching me judge. I try to control my reactions. I try not to shudder inside as I think of all the privileges my babies had.

After we eat, I slowly try to find my bearings. Lucia has four daughters. Two who are married and in their twenties who do not live with her, a nineteen year old who is not married and raising her six month old daughter and Brenda. Then there is Corbata, the dog, who is very skinny. Lucia’s husband, Saul, is out fishing.

When we are done eating I try to make a little conversation, but I can barely understand the rural broken Spanish that is spoken here. Lucia doesn’t understand why Sam doesn’t speak Spanish and I do. She wants to know how I can understand him. I explain that we speak English at home.

After lunch, our group is given a tour of the town. Las Mesitas is close to delta of the Lempa River, and we visit the fish ponds that have sustained this community in the past.

As it turns out, we have arrived just a month after severe flooding from Hurricane Stan, and we learn that all along the fish ponds and the surrounding area the levees have broken and much of the area has been destroyed. We begin to hear how the town and the surrounding areas were affected by the hurricane, and we learn that for many, the hurricane brought complete devastation.

Everywhere we go, it’s pretty much the same – dirt, pigs, skinny dogs, chickens, people who have lost almost everything. All around us are girls in skirts and tight sleeveless shirts, carrying water or bowls of maiz on their heads, women wearing aprons slapping tortillas together, and small groups of children walking around and doing chores. I just start to really appreciate the generosity and vulnerability not only of the families who have taken us in, but of the organization which has hosted our trip. I just start to appreciate the impact which visiting this community will have on me in the years to come.

excuses, excuses, excuses...

so I was in New Orleans, and then frantically trying to prepare for Thanksgiving, and then caught this awful cold, and now I'm trying to get back on the straight and narrow.

but it's funny how things work. Here I was exactly where Katrina had hit, seeing the shadow of the destruction and devastation that the hurricane had brought, only a year after having been in Las Mesitas where Hurricane Stan and the government's complicity in not protecting its vulnerable citizens so clearly echoed our own!

Thursday, November 23, 2006

inspired to action

So I did get inspired while in New Orleans, despite the city itself, which is pretty sad. It's a shadow of itself, not quite returned. I could see and feel that and I had never even been there. The first few days we were there it felt like a ghost town! We were staying along the river (the Mississippi river!) right near the French Quarter and you'd think it'd be bustling with renewal, but it was just a whisper, a cancer-infested, smoker's throated whisper!

We arrived on a Tuesday afternoon, and decided to try to get something to eat - it was about 3 pm, and we went walking through the French quarter looking for someplace that was open where we could grab a bite. Some red beans and rice, or a plate of shrimp. But what we encountered were empty streets. As you walked along every few buildings were still boarded up, or worse, just shells of themselves.

Between the city and the particular workshops I went to... I've decided to develop a course to teach in my department on social action. I think it combines many of my passions and interests and ironically brings together exactly the kinds of things I've been struggling with over the past few years - maybe the things all socially minded therapists struggle with - the political, the social, the larger-than-the-individual piece.

Monday, November 13, 2006

can't quite get it moving

I'm trying to understand these times when I just crash... the past week I got virtually nothing done! Sure I did a few errands (I renewed a few memberships to professional organizations, I set up an interview for my dissertation - if my proposal ever gets approved, I hosted a dinner for a friend who's moving out of town, I ordered the rest of the books I need for spring) - but in terms of my writing and this project - nada, zilch, nothing.

I just couldn't produce.

And now it's Monday (again!) and I have nothing to bring to class.

Last Friday I had a migraine the size of North Dakota! but that's the only day I really deserve a pass for...

tomorrow I leave for New Orleans. I'm heading out to a conference and I really wish I had more momentum going. I hope I can get inspired while I'm there!

Thursday, November 9, 2006

pigs in the front yard

One of the other things I want to do is to make a powerpoint, with images and music in the background.

I'm a little worried though that I'm trying to do too many things.

I'm also not sure if the images of El Salvador are as powerful to other people as they are to me...

From my diary:
She takes us walking through the family areas. Slowly, I start to take it in – everything has a dirt floor – a sandy brown dirt. Soft, but sandy, around us everywhere are animals – dogs, cows, pigs, chickens. Just wandering around in every state of being – big one, little ones. We cross a kind of roadway and reach Lucia’s house. Hola, mucho gusto – beinvendos. I’m making you lunch – come, sit. I sit w/ Sam. She asks if we want ice. I say whatever, and she sends her daughter for the first of many special trips to the store for us. She has prepared rice and chicken, a homemade pineapple juice and tortillas.

When I met with my colleague who did this kind of project, she told me that the final performance was a collection of several different versions. I'm not sure I can really pull this off...

Monday, November 6, 2006

oh, and I'm still waiting!

for the last of my dissertation readers to get back to me - it's the expert (who I honestly expected to get back to me by now). Officially she has two more weeks, but I am SICK of waiting... this thing has pretty much been done since mid-July and it's now nearly mid-Nov!!!!!

can't seem to slow down

This is the third week in a row that I haven't turned something in to my writing class.

I MUST turn something in next week... and I don't want it to be something I write an hour before class... I want it to be a piece I consciously try to put together. Essays are hard! I'm getting tired of hearing myself say that writing is hard... but it is!

I've been transcribing my travel diary from El Salvador and that's been good... there are kernels of stories there.

And I still have half of the autobiographical essay I wrote for my dissertation (the one I was asked to take out). I had submitted the first half, and the feedback I got was good, but hard. The teacher wrote:

What a mine of rich material! It could be a first-rate piece if:

1. You would choose a focus. Is this a family history? Is it a contrast between you and your brother despite similar external circumstances? There are many interesting characters that could be developed but are not. So you need a clear purpose here - which in turn would provide a clearer, more logical structure.
2. Your style is fluent and readable most of the time. Note my many suggestions for more precise prose and stronger, franker diction.
3. The dash is meant to be used rarely; you are overfond of it. So that mark signals your haste or unwillingness to slow down and think about what you are saying.

A promising start but you can and will write much better! The potential is certainly there.

I'm mostly having trouble with the idea of "focus" - I don't think I do a very good job of focusing my pieces... there are too many details I want to include, and I get side-tracked and distracted by all the side stories, and I don't want to leave anything out. Or perhaps it's just more true that I am trying to "not slow down too much" so that I don't have to really "think about" what I am saying or know what I know.

I think this is true of so many aspects of my life... this inability to be where I am. To really slow down and attend. And my fear that if I do I will get too bogged down to keep moving (by sadness? by rage? by despair and depression?) or that I just don't have it in me to make something out of it... not trusting that I have the inner resources (whether strength or cleverness) to turn what I see and know into something good and true.

Thursday, November 2, 2006

red light, green light, 123

I heard from one of the two dissertation readers last night - a big GREEN LIGHT!

nothing to add or revise... just a rave review:

"I have had the pleasure of reviewing your proposal and am delighted to tell you that I approve it. You are developing an all-too- neglected theme in the clinical psychology literature. Further, your use of the narrative research design seems especially well suited in discerning the subtle qualities of experience that is the focus of your project. You write well and clearly, and have a particular knack for the articulation of internal experience that will serve the dissertation process well.

I congratulate you on this fine work and look forward to reviewing the finished product."

I am really pleased!!!!

although, how neurotic am I??? there was a small part of me that wanted to hear more - not criticism, but it just seems like given that I spent all this time on the project, there should be more to say... Is it enough that folks are basically just giving it the green light? Pretty neurotic.

Ok... I'm waiting for one more reviewer!

I've emailed two potential interviewees to set up interviews for late Nov/early Dec. Yipee!!!

Wednesday, November 1, 2006


So I bought a book called "The Ethnographic I" by Carolyn Ellis where she describes in more detail the methodology of writing authoethnography - defined by Holt as:

"a genre of writing and research that connects the personal to the cultural, placing the self within a social context"

I can't decide if it's high-falutin snake oil or academic integrity...

but for now, I'm trying to work on this performance piece that combines the stories from my own narrative, my interviews w/working class psychotherapists, and my confrontation with poverty in El Salvador.

Also, I've decided to go to Spain in January...

Wonder what influence that will end up having on the piece?