paradise on the first try

“She has become an expert at confusing what is with what was with what should be with what could be.”

I’m in the space between. 

The quote comes from Everything is Illuminated, a book I’m reading that reminds me why I want to write and what I want to write and writing and language. A Jewish-American writer returns to Ukraine to find his ancestor’s town and his heritage, to find a way to write. He is assisted in his quest by an unfortunate translator, a Ukrainian teen with a mangled command of the English language who speaks in butchered, overly eager phrases of unexpected clarity. 

“I’m looking for my voice,” says our American writer about why he writes. 

The eager teen helpfully responds, “It is in your mouth.”

Sometimes the most obvious advice is the best. Your voice is in your mouth. Do what you want to do. What to do?

My 8:35 a.m. American Airlines flight home on Sunday, December 21—this very Sunday—has forced a decision in my life. I was bumping happily along on the road into Gigante, curving left down onto the sandy beach, enjoying my friends and Nica family here. All badly rutted and muddy roads pointed to Gigante, and I had decided I’d be crazy not to return. Come last week, all things converged and suddenly a fork in the road appeared and I have to make a decision.

I got an offer for an internship from 5280 Magazine—a great city magazine in Denver—last Friday and after lots of thinking and contemplating that bumpy road, I decided to turn it down, not even close to ready to heading back to the United States. 

And then, I dragged myself out of bed before the sun was up last Monday morning and Juan dropped me off in Tola and I made my way into Granada. Four hours of travel later, I stumbled off the bus and, power walking to my hostel, saw two lovely and familiar faces sipping coffee in a café—Kate and Brooke arrived! Yay. It was wonderfully bizarre to tool around Granada with them, familiar and foreign. We ate breakfast together and I headed off to newspaper-land to design another issue of the Nicaraguan Post. Mid-way through design, Darrell drops the bomb:

The newspaper is going under. It’s finito. 

After our skipped issue, advertising revenue didn’t pick up. The outlook in Nicaragua is grim. Between the Waves, the magazine I was writing for, backs the Post financially and the magazine is in the same pickle as the newspaper—advertisers aren’t buying ad space, and so even a five-year established magazine is feeling the crunch. For a free newspaper and magazine, it’s a trifle hard to continue operations when your only revenue stream dries up. Therefore, the double whammy arrives. Not only is the Post going under, and thus am I out of my designing job, but also Jesse (editor of BTW) doesn’t think he can financially support a staff writer come January.

And capricho is at it again—the whims of the universe. Capblooop went my lovely planned existence. I landed these two amazing jobs, making great money, in beautiful Nicaragua, something I had never expected, and surely it was too good to be true… and it was.

As I whirl myself into a tizzy trying to decide what my next step shall be, I remember a line from Kung Fu Panda, the in-flight movie I was forced to watch three times en route from Miami to Managua five months ago. The wise old mongoose, or cricket maybe, I don’t remember, says to chubby Jack-Black-cartoon-panda… “Remember… accidents don’t exist. There are noooo accidents. You have to give up the illusion of control.” I quite enjoy how in-flight movies always worm their way back into your life. (The blue butterfly, anyone?) 

So, in the midst of all this, my two wonderful girlfriends are visiting, and I’m simultaneously staring down a life decision and attempting to show them a wonderful time in Nicaragua. Actually, it was great to be able to analyze (and over-analyze) all my life decisions over margaritas with two people who know me well, so although I felt a little bi-polar, their visit’s timing couldn’t have been better. We went out dancing Tuesday night in Granada and, after I ran into about twelve people I know, realized 1. how small of a town Granada really is and 2. how much I feel like I live here in Nicaragua. Wednesday we headed to the Isla de Ometepe, an island in the southern part of Lake Nicaragua and the very site of my ascension up Volcan Concepcion and the snickers-bar-stealing-incident.

We ended up staying at what seemed like a lovely lake-front hotel but instead turned into a bizarre place run by some very mean Nicaraguan women. The food was fantastic and the location great, but they were, for lack of any better word, just plain mean. However, the place offered some fun (expensive) activities, so we kayaked up the river that splits the isthmus connecting the two volcanoes, into a swampy green marsh, silouted by the two fantastic volcanoes. Brooke and I tried to hike Volcan Maderas on Friday morning but because of poor timing, a horrible guide, lots of mud and wind and rain, we decided to turn around about two-thirds of the way up. Our guide was a silly 18-year-old who talked.   like.             this.         and.       used the word.      ‘danger’. without.        clarifying.    what kind.     of.     danger.      it.     was. Arg! So, as were debating the decision to turn around or keep pushing onward, I did some quick calculations and realized that if we did turn around, we could make the last ferry and thus make it home to the beach by dinner-time and away from the weird weird weird hotel with the bad vibe. 

We made it back to Brio and found Matthew, the DU professor, and his gang making fresh lobster, which they generously shared with us. Matthew told us that they went to Ometepe the previous weekend, had made a reservation at the same hotel we stayed at; they drove there, got out of the car, and got such a bad vibe that they got right back in the car and drove away. Oh, when shall we learn to listen to our vibes! Although it was a bizarre place, there were two very cool things about the mean-people hotel on Ometepe: a GIANT chess set and a donkey named Fiona that rambled and ambled around the property like a dog, sticking her nose into books and attempting to eat pieces of the giant chess set mid-game. The pieces were at least six inches tall. It was awesome. Kate and I actually got quite into chess, continuing our battles when we arrived back at Brio (so much that we actually got to Googling Chess strategies, and attempting to apply them). 

And thus we spent our visit splashing in the clear blue ocean water, laying on deserted beaches, drinking beers at sunset and eating fresh fish. They kept saying… “you live here. You live here.” It was nice to be reminded that indeed: this is a bit like paradise. We went to dinner at the restaurant on the beach and watched a three-way mating drama between, what we assumed were two male geckoes and a female. It was intense. So much so that we got to gasping, cheering, and naming the dark night gecko who tried to steal lady-gecko away from her hubby (the hubby we assumed was the one who mounted first, although this could be stretching it a bit). Interestingly enough, geckos reproduce when the male bites the females neck, which we saw in full action. And also, Google later informed us, the odd and incredibly loud chirping sounds that they make are their mating calls. Interesting to find out that the gecko chirping that has been the soundtrack to evenings at Brio are actually the precursor to the geckos getting busy. 

So… yes. Am I coming back? That is the question of the week, everyone and everywhere. Ioxlina, Jackie and I chatted about my life over lunch and they both prescribed me with solutions. I should either find a job in the States (duh) or find a rich husband in the States or find a rich Nicaraguan man to marry and move to Nicaragua for ever and ever. In fact, Ixolina says, I have a brother who is really tall! (And 40, may I add. Sweet?). I’ve put down roots in Gigante and have a great community of people here and am only now beginning to understand and appreciate this place. But also… there is so much else out there in the world! It perhaps is a question of depth versus breadth. I need a new challenge either way, so I suppose that’s what I’m looking for now… wherever that may be. 

As Kimery, my buddy in the Ometepe snicker’s bar incident helpfully mentioned… “it’s hard when you find paradise on the first try.” 

The Brio/Gigante gang are throwing me a going away party tomorrow (aaaaah tomorrow!?!?!?!) night, and Saturday I head off to Granada and Sunday to Managua and to the United States of America for a giant dose of culture shock.

Speaking of culture shock, the power’s hasn’t gone out in three whole days! Which is incredible since a couple of weeks ago, we had a week where we probably had power half of the time. I’m jinxing it now, and the Nicaraguan power line Gods shall surely smite me, but I just felt like pointing out how my expectations are have been wildly adjusted so that I consider only an hour power outage just wonderful. And yet I’m still incredibly excited about a hot shower (even though I’m quite toasty right now in my shorts and tank top) and a giant bowl of Go Lean Crunch. And a chocolate chip cookie. Mmm. 

I’m cracking up by myself in my room right now because Natasha Bedingfield’s Unwritten just shuffled up on my iTunes and it is so darn appropriate and perfect for my current mood and blog and life—and so damn corny—that I just can’t believe it and suddenly I’m singing along. Life is hilarious. And live your life with arms wide open today is where your book begins the rest is still unwritten. I love the ability to crack myself up, alone in my room in amazing Nicaragua. Oh me oh my. What will I write in 2009? 

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