Another Jaunt to the USA

Folks! I apologize for the lengthy and unexplained disappearance. While there were no mysterious fogs that consumed me, nor an unintentional overdose on ceviche, there WAS another trip to the United States of America.

And boy, was that joyous and action-packed!
It started with a harrowing all-the-worst-things American Airlines flight (two delays, flight switching, late boarding, engine failure, flight cancellation, hundreds of angry passengers and no way out of Lima, an inexplicably *closed* Lima airport???, passport stamp cancellations, long lines, sleepless night, to name just a few) that somehow managed to deliver me not to Baltimore as I originally scheduled but to D.C.-Reagan. I made it to my family by the hair on my neck, and we attended my cousin’s wedding as planned. A great time was had by all.

After a few lovely days in D.C. visiting family and the headquarters of my day job for the first time EVER, I flew back to Ohio, which began a whirlwind explosion of friends, family, and fall! 
There were dinner parties, shopping sprees, cleaning sprees, art nights, family visits…

…and road trips…

excellent time with soul mate friends…

good quality OHIO moments…

reunion of best friends…

this dog…

and best of all, a surprise 60th Birthday Party for my beloved father!! And he didn’t even suspect it! 

The time was, as always, a desperately fun and fast-moving, delightful whirlwind. By the time I felt settled in the USA once more, it was time to leave. The only thing that made my departure easier to bear was that a certain Argentinian was waiting (VERY patiently, I might add!) for me in Lima.

Experiencing fall in the USA again was, as suspected, almost too much for my fair Midwestern heart to bear. When I arrived to Baltimore in early September it was basically high summer still, though within a week or so it firmly switched to fall. I was able to drink apple cider, sometimes spiked and sometimes not, touch pumpkins, crunch leaves, and witness gorgeous tree transitions. The crisp fall airs at night, too, were appreciated.

And as though Ohio was making sure I left the country completely satisfied…the day of my departure, it felt exactly like spring.

Thank you, friends, family and homeland, for yet another delightful, inspiring, and nourishing visit!

Weather Whining and Other Truffles, Part One: EARTHQUAKES

Every place in the world has its own special terrifying natural event that will completely uproot the fabric of existence every once in awhile.

In Ohio, it’s tornadoes. In southeastern USA, it’s hurricanes. In Alaska, it’s snow and ice for 8 months and grizzly bears.

Haaay, Ohio funnel cloud!  Time to go collectively shit our pants.

But down here? In Chile, the natural disaster of choice is earthquakes.

When I first moved to Chile, I didn’t really know a lot of earthquakes happened down here. That was mostly due to my own ignorance. But then as time wore on, especially once I moved to Valparaiso, I would hear comments like, “Did you feel that tremor last night?”. And I’d be confused. Because I never felt any tremors.

They usually occurred at night. Strong enough to feel and comment on — for most people at least. But I slept through them.

In retrospect, this doesn’t surprise me. I hit Snooze roughly 8 times every morning without knowing it, and I sleep so deeply I always had a sneaking suspicion I could sleep through the ground moving.

But I felt gypped. If I live in earthquake land, I want to at least recognize that something is happening with the ground and seismic and tectonic and stuff.

You know what they say…Ask and you shall receive.

Approximately three months ago, I started to feel tremors. And it is not as fun and thrilling as I thought it might be.

It is terrifying. It is counter-intuitive. It is completely jarring. It is a cold fear that creeps across your entire body, starting in the pit of your stomach and going in all directions at once. It is a horrifying realization of ‘Where…the hell…do I go?”.

And to be perfectly honest, I still haven’t even felt a big earthquake. All those feelings right there? That’s just from tremors.

Tremors make me think this is happening below me.

The first tremor I ever consciously acknowledged was during the day — about 5-7 seconds in length, enough for me and all my roommates to run into the common area and scream “OKAY, NOW WHAT?!”. That was about 3 months ago. But about three weeks ago, they started increasing in frequency, and all at night, around midnight or 1am. There were a couple small ones. At this point, nothing to get ruffled about.

But then about a week ago, there was a big tremor. And when I say big I mean the thought crossed my mind that this would probably be the time I had to go crouch in the doorway and crap my pants like all my Chilean friends had instructed me (well, they instructed me on the doorway part, at least). I was prepared for more, like let’s get ready to hear glass crashing and steel warping because the earth isn’t just clearing its throat, it’s vomiting.

That little tremor on March 6th, 2014 turned out to register 5.3 on the Richter scale. Nowhere near the earthquake that hit Chile in 2010 (8.8) or in 1960 in Valdivia (9.5, also the number one earthquake since like, the earth was born).

This happened in Concepcion in 2010. This was at the epicenter.

Let’s just restate the obvious: I cannot imagine what either of those feel like.

The tremor on March 6th inspired me to write a goodbye email to my family, just in case something happened and they never heard from me again. I mean, hey, if enormous seismic activity were to strike three days after that and they never heard from me again, I’d be happy I had the foresight to send them a little bit of love before I was gulped into the earth.

But, that hasn’t happened. And though it could, I’m not sure it will. Valparaiso is pretty dang prepared for this sort of stuff.

Every place is prepared for their own natural disasters, after all. While tornadoes would have a field day with everyone here, in Ohio we got that covered — BASEMENTS. But no basements in Valparaiso! Yet if you turn the tables — earthquakes in Ohio? — you’re screwed. Buildings aren’t prepared for that sort of movement the way they are here in Chile. These buildings are BUILT to sway, rock, tremble, move and otherwise resist up to something pretty high on the Richter Scale.

After all, my house is still here, and it’s way older than 2010. It survived the effects of that 8.8 earthquake, and the cracks in my kitchen prove it. There was a battle — but the building won.

CHILEAN STORY TIME: A good friend of mine, a porteno (i.e. from Valparaiso) named Bernardo, has lived here his whole life — and lived through the 2010 earthquake personally. I pestered him with questions recently, fascinated to know what an 8.8 earthquake might feel like compared to the measly 5.3 sneeze from the other night.

Bernardo told me that he remembers being woken up in the night, and his first thought was that it was just a tremor — like they usually are. But it didn’t stop after the normal amount of time. And it kept getting stronger. And stronger. And then he got out of bed, and noticing the floor was undulating. Like the waves in the sea. His ears were filled with the sound of creaking, grinding, crunching. Light bulbs started to explode.

I.E. TIME TO GET OUT.

My thought in response to an earthquake used to be get the hell out of the house, go outside and plead helplessly into the sky, but according to Bernardo this is not the recommended course of action. He says it’s best to go for doorways, but if on a higher floor of the building, GO DOWN — and then to a doorway. That way, if roofs cave in and things otherwise collapse on top of you, the doorway protects you.

That night, he was on a higher floor of a multi-level building. So he bolted for the stairs. And on his way downstairs, he saw the staircase moving back and forth in the air, which he says looked like the stairs were dancing. Bold and fearless (I’m imagining him like a superhero in his pajamas at this point), he careened (or perhaps hopped like a character in a video game, because this is what it’s sounding like by now) down the staircase, crouched in the doorway at ground level, and waited.

It finally calmed down. And once it did, the next phase of events began: the streetlights flickered out, water lines began to explode. And what remained for him was the moon, which seemed to hang low and huge, enough to illuminate the night even without electricity.

But the earthquake protocol doesn’t end there. That night, Bernardo stayed at his house (with no light, and no water). But people in other areas of the city — specifically, closer to the sea — were abandoning their houses and fleeing upward into the hills.

Because, you know, that’s just one of those things you have to think about after an earthquake on the ocean coast.

Tsunamis.

These Chileans are seasoned veterans when it comes to earthquakes. The tremors that make me write goodbye emails to my family are they same ones they laugh at and roll over to go back to sleep.

Though it’s just part of really living in a region.

I think back to plenty of severe thunderstorms in Ohio, evenings that went from sunny to pitch black in ten minutes, the heavy weight of humidity and pending doom in the air, something close to funnel clouds in the distance, and me, sitting on the front porch watching it all with a glass of wine and enjoying the cool breeze of the rainfall while the tornado siren wails tirelessly in the background.

Maybe Chileans there would be wondering about basement protocol.

But we Ohioans know what’s scary and what’s not. We know to wait for that unnerving stillness in the air.

It’s all about where you grow up.

Greenwich Vs. Candelaria

I know I already wrote about Candelaria, the tiny pueblito from whence my boyfriend comes, but there’s more to be said. For this round of Contemplations On My Boyfriend’s Hometown, I’m going to compare Candelaria, Argentina to Greenwich, Ohio (the village where my mother and the family were raised).
It deserves this extra post because when I went there, I was intrigued by how similar the place feltto the hometown of my mother, aunts and uncle. The more I got to know the city, the more weird similarities I found.  And then when I started researching deeper, the similarities multiplied like single-celled organisms and this blog post was born (or perhaps spawned spontaneously).
Population Background: Candelaria’s population according to Jorge is around 3,000 people. Greenwich’s population estimate for 2012 was around 1,500. City-Data.com calls Greenwich “100% rural”. Interestingly, City-Data.com has nothing to say about Candelaria.
CANDELARIA!

GREENWICH!
Realtime Family Background: All of Jorge’s family was raised on the outskirts of Candelaria (not even seen in the map). Jorge is the youngest child and was the first child to be born to electricity in the house in 1986. Three out of his five siblings continue to live and raise families in ‘downtown’ Candelaria (two left for the capital city). Of the four children my grandparents raised in Greenwich, all left to pursue families and careers in other cities and states. All of them were born to electricity in the household throughout the 60’s and 70’s.
Other Facts: Candelaria (in the state of Ayacucho) was founded in 1870; Greenwich’s first settler arrived in 1817 but it was formally incorporated in 1879. 
Now let’s get to the good stuff…

Valley Beach vs. El Muro: Looking for a fun summertime spot to while away the blistering Ohio/Argentinian peak weather? Valley Beach sits about 15 minutes outside Greenwich in a city called Norwalk, Ohio; and about a 15 minute drive outside of Candelaria sits El Muro (in English, “the wall”) in Quines, Argentina. Both are dedicated to daytime grilling, summer passage of moments and cooling off in bodies of water. Valley Beach features grills scattered along the landscape, while El Muro has one dedicated asado center which looks more like a mausoleum. Valley Beach is flanked by deciduous forests, and has cement pools with an exciting array of diving boards, slides and ancient ropes for swinging into said bodies of water. 
Valley Beach: Whoo Hoo, Childhood!

El Muro, however, is flanked by the unimpressed and unmoving  face of the Sierra (Andes mountains); bathing options include natural rivers and inlets that end in a waterfall that apparently everyone knows not to go over (lifeguard usage is unknown). Editor’s Note: El Muro would be expressly forbidden if it were in America.

Totally fine and permissible unsupervised waterfall area
at El Muro in Quines, AR.

Another view of El Muro — truly a spectacular daytime hangout.
Mausoleum-style asado area not featured here.

The Green Witch vs. La Heladeria: Need a spot to cool off, sit down and eat some damn ice cream? Both countries got this one. The Green Witch in Greenwich kills two birds with one stone, allowing patrons to both buy ice cream AND wash all those sweaty summer undergarments at the attached Laundromat. 
Best dang Oreo Flurries in the land.
Not so sure about that peach shake, though. 
Or whether it doubles as laundry detergent.
In Candelaria, the local Heladeria offers no such multi-tasking efficiency, and their tasty treats have nothing on the Green Witch’s exciting array of both hot and cold consumables (note: does not include the laundry detergent next door). La Heladeria only offers about 10 flavors of ice cream. Both establishments are run by the daughter of someone your grandparents are close to, and both maintain that weary air of one regretful owner trapped in a small, dark room amongst the whirring machines in the peak of summer.
Well, it’s better than nothing, I guess.
In true first-world problem style, it looks like you’ll have to
wash your sweat-encrusted unmentionables outside of the establishment.
Soy Vs. Soja:  Candelaria’s list of growables (and whatnot) includes: berries, watermelon, wheat, soy, corn and potato. The town also has a startling amount of sheep, cows, horses, goats, and chickens.  Jorge’s family alone deals with the majority of these items. Most of the people operating these farms and businesses are recently immigrated Italians or purebred Argentinians (which means, of course, partially Italian, and prone to excessive gesturing and consumption of Fernet).  
Farmland in Candelaria, Argentina.
In Greenwich, the production is mostly the same—soy, wheat, corn, hogs, chicken, and dairy operations. The majority of the farms fall outside of the village limits, and are run by one of two camps: the Mennonites, or the Children of People Your Grandparents Taught.  
The sprawling farmlands of Ohio.
Siesta Vs. The Food Coma: Americans don’t participate in the siesta (basically translates to “socially acceptable adult nap time”) on a cultural level but for a couple times a year: July 4th, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Shannon, what the hell are you talking about, you might be asking. I’ve never taken a siesta in my life. But you have, my dear American friends! The American Food Coma is the closest approximation we have to the siesta. And I point out July 4th, Thanksgiving and Christmas as the most definable moments of when you overeat yourself into a coma and then crash on grandma’s couch for a couple hours afterward. And in Greenwich this occurs without fail, especially for July 4th celebrations and that ridiculous amount of GMZ Deviled Eggs/Potato Salad/Anything Fried from the Downtown Festival.
The Siesta in Latin America falls between 3 to 5pm (give or take), and occurs after lunch—right when you were getting sleepy anyway. This works out in Candelaria because that time of the day is also the hottest – and we’re talking a heat where even if you wanted to do something, you couldn’t. Air conditioning is not utilized. Add onto that the ridiculous amount of rural, home-cooked Argentinian food, plus red wine (BECAUSE IT’S ARGENTINA), and, well…you’re looking at waking up in the early evening with a thick layer of sweat and a desperate need for a shower.
America Smalltown vs. Argentina Smalltown: Both towns in question feature population’s small enough to allow easy face recognition for anyone that passes by, along with at least one juicy bit of common knowledge family history. Whenever I call to the local floral shop to order surprise flowers for my grandparents for a variety of occasions, I only need to say the first fifth of the address before they exclaim, “Oh, you must be the granddaughter of…!” And while the residents of Candelaria might remember me for awhile due to the fact that I am gringa and have dreadlocks,  I heard plenty of similar exclamations amongst locals while I was there: “Oh, you’re the second cousin of…!” And as in much of smalltown America, in Candelaria as well the weather is the first topic of conversation – always.
Another big difference?
Greenwich and Candelaria hit summer at opposite times of the year.
January 14th: high/low in Candelaria: 96F/67F, winds N, sunrise 6:31AM, sunset 8:32PM.
January 14th: high/low in Greenwich: 42F/24F, winds SSW, sunrise 7:53AM, sunset 5:26PM.
Sources:

and REAL LIFE, MAN. 

The USA Whirlwind

I’ve been back to the United States for over two weeks. Not only did I update my blog once (ONCE) in June, I also failed to mention the Great Return Via Steel Bird To Native Homeland. Nor did I adequately expand upon the Period Of Mutual Genius that transpired when Jill and I spent a month in Chile together.

Here are some excuses for my poor blogging behavior, mostly in an effort to rationalize away my personal guilt:

1. I’ve been busy. This is a lame excuse, but seriously, it’s been a whirlwind since I got back to the States. Not only that, I’ve been really busy enjoying myself! Living in the moment, and all that jazz! My USA schedule is pretty packed — I gave myself 6 weeks here, thinking that it would be “plenty of time” to do “everything I wanted to do”. What I’m finding is that 3 months is a better figure. Next summer I shall aim for this time frame. In my two weeks back, I’ve visited my hometown, seen a variety of friends and family, visited Cedar Point twice (more on this later…), experienced a healthy amount of thunderstorms, went to a burner festival in Michigan, spent a week in Chicago, passed the 4th of July holiday amongst fireworks and revelry, shopped at Kroger, and had a doctor’s appointment. Also, work.

2. My computer broke. AGAIN. It broke the day I got back to the USA when it was just 7 months old. This incident was timely and fortuitous for a number of reasons. Not only did it mean that I could repair my laptop without exorbitant continent-spanning mail charges (and the terror that accompanies leaving expensive equipment in the hands of foreign mail carriers), it also happened while under warranty. The non-timely and non-fortuitous aspects to the situation were that it broke in the first place, and that Sony ended up NOT repairing it due to the fact that it would be “uneconomical”. I’m still working on getting a new one. Now I’m paralyzed with indecision facing the surplus of options that I have.

3. I forgot about my blog. What??? No really, I did for a little bit. I think it had something to do with Item #1.

Now that I’ve expanded upon reasons for Blogging Laziness, I would like to recuperate my street cred with another list!

Things I Forgot About Home:

1. So much English! I can understand barely audible conversations in my periphery, I get the gist of a half-muffled discussion, and no word escapes my ears un-understood. This is normal for us English speakers, but reminds me of the fact that I’ve been living in something of a quiet language bubble for 9 months. Sure, I hear sounds around me in Chile, but I don’t tune in because it’s Spanish, and it doesn’t zip through my blood vessels on a subconscious level like English does.
2. Free coffee refills. Sure it’s the gut-rot variety that they serve in diners and restaurants, but my god they refill the cup before I’ve even made a dent. Sure beats having to fork over almost $5 for each meager sip of espresso in Chile!
3. Starbucks on every corner. This is not an exaggeration, and especially not in Chicago.
4. Too many options. This is both good and bad. While I’m happy that the majority of America, especially in larger cities, caters to every type of lifestyle imaginable and consistently surprises me with vegetarian and vegan goodies galore, this same principle makes other activities, such as buying contact solution, relatively hellish.
5. Things are easier? This may have something to do with the fact that I and everyone I know has a personal car, which makes trips to the store less of a feet-dragging, ugh-where’s-the-change-for-the-bus, its-gonna-take-two-hours-just-to-get-soymilk-do-I-really-feel-like-doing-this type experience.

Some days I feel totally re-acclimated, and other days I’m struggling to remember the phrasing of a particular idiom that seems to have been replaced by Spanish vocabulary. Furthermore, my automatic response in restaurants and stores still tries to come out in Spanish. When I’m in a Mexican restaurant, this is acceptable. In most other places, it’s not really appreciated.

Reflections On An Important Anniversary

I’m not good at remembering birthdays, maiden names, anniversaries of any sort, and sometimes what I ate yesterday. Even things I feel I could never forget, not in a million years, tend to slip my mind.

I write today to confess that I have forgotten an important anniversary in my own life, a date that I swore to honor every year for as long as I had breath in my lungs.

For those readers who are not familiar with my journey, on May 29th, 2007 I had major back surgery to remove a benign tumor that had been growing for possibly a decade inside my spinal cord. The surgery to remove it was successful, but it left me paralyzed for an amount of time that my neurosurgeon said could possibly last the rest of my life.

Luckily, it didn’t last the rest of my life — ya’ll have seen me using two legs — but the window of time that included paralysis from my chest down was life-altering. The months spent in the hospital and the ensuing years of rehabilitative efforts were similarly life-changing. It was a transformative experience that not only reminded me to be grateful every day for the gift of mobility and independence, but one that reinvigorated the passion of living life to the fullest. I promised myself then that I would no longer limit myself based on fears, social norms, or any other form of perceived physical or societal limitation.

This is why I do what I do. We’re all familiar with the stories of mid-life crises that involve a high-powered exec or other mid-life professional dropping the cash and career in favor of extended travel, or starting their own business, or enacting that personal goal that had lain dormant for decades. What I took away from my experience is that life is meant to be lived now.

I do not want to nor will I wait until I am 40-something with too many years of unfulfilling income-earning behind me, with a host of material possessions to prove an ambiguous degree of “success in life”.

As homage to the neurosurgeon who saved my life — he resolved the excruciating pain of my daily existence, a pain that I’m embarrassed to say would have led to me taking things into my own hands down the road — and also reinvigorated my life, I bring him photos from my travels whenever we have a follow-up appointment. I tell him, “This is possible because of you.” I’m not sure I can ever thank him enough.

I believe we are all capable of living our dreams, and choosing our dreams. What I strive to avoid is falling into the trap of living a life that I haven’t chosen. Following a path that someone else decided was right for “someone my age”, “someone like me”, or “a successful twenty-something”.

I consider myself lucky and blessed in too many ways to count. And one of the best experiences of my life was going through the agony, trauma, pain and challenge of back surgery, losing my ability to walk, and then fighting to get that back. Not just the ability to use my own two legs, but the ability to live my life as I imagine it. 

This is why I am here. This is why I have embarked on many trips, why I do things differently than maybe what parental figures might suggest for their children, why I won’t stop doing this until I absolutely cannot continue any longer.

In 2009, during the climb up the 
Steps of Repentance on Mount Sinai

During a 2010 trip to Tikal in Guatemala…
Sweaty, humid pyramid climbing!

Cavorting around Cedar Point in 2012,
definitely a physical feat as mentioned in my previous post

My legs (and some planes) have carried me down south
as of 2012 to continue the explorations…

What inspires me most is the wide variety of goals and dreams in this life. It is a deeply personal decision, and nobody can tell you if you’re right or wrong. For some, living life to the fullest might mean studying in an ashram in India, or raising three children in a safe neighborhood, or twisting culinary conventions in a hip restaurant in NYC, or writing books about science-fiction robots, or perfecting their color-coordinated living space, or starting an e-Bay business that sells doorknobs. It doesn’t matter what it is…all that matters is that it comes from the pulsating, wrenching pits of your gut; that it forms the unseen lining of your blood vessels and internal organs and can only be felt, understood and enacted by you.

Life is meant to be lived now. Look around and ask yourself if where you are and what you’re doing is truly what you want to be doing. If so, congratulations, and keep doing it! And if not, the first step of an exciting new journey can begin at exactly this moment. 

Why Growing Up Near an Amusement Park Might Permanently Taint My Career

We all know that the best writers take moments, experiences and relationships from real life and inject them into their writing with a finely-disguised syringe, sending a therapeutic jolt of relate-able life zipping through the blood stream of their prose.

I try to do this as well. Really, it’s the natural byproduct of what happens from living life — writers observe people, the ebb and flow of relationships, striking life moments, dull life moments, and these all collect into a Pool of Usable Material at the fingertips of a writer. Or in the tip of their Bic pen, or under the keys of their typewriters.

Jill and I have been talking a lot lately about our craft, why our stable middle-class childhoods both helped and hurt our art form, and why it might not be a bad idea to take a quick dip into the pools of Suffering and Addiction — just momentarily, for the sake of the craft. But scheduling heroin cycles and past domestic abuse isn’t something you can just decide to weave into the tapestry of your existence. Actually, hold on — I suppose I could start with the heroin or instigate some highly unhealthy domestic habits and make my life go south, but I’m not going to do that.

That being said, I’m stuck with my middle-class stability…my relatively non-traumatic childhood, my degree, my job(s), my good health, and my loving, supportive family. SHEESH, GUYS!

Although this is just a sampling of Those That 
Constitute My Genes, I am so blessed to have the 
family that I do. 

I guess the only thing I can do is use my formative years to my advantage. Much to my chagrin/delight, the most resonate aspect of my childhood is Cedar Point. That’s right — America’s Rockin’ Roller Coast. Located in Sandusky, Ohio, this gem of a thrill-seeker’s oasis constituted the bulk of my introduction into Real Life. Summers were focused on obtaining season passes to Cedar Point, from my youngest memories until present day, and then abusing those passes to the fullest extent. Winters were spent pining for a variety of wood and steel-based experiences. Falls were spent being haunted by local ghosts and riding the last wave of available thrills, and springs were spent waiting desperately for the Opening Day.

It comes as no surprise, then, that my adult years are spent relating a majority of my life experiences to the cycles of Cedar Point. I didn’t realize this right off the bat — in fact, it took a good number of years before I realized how ingrained Cedar Point and its environs were in the fabric of my being….all the way to my artistic metaphors.

This came to my attention for the Nth time when Jill and I were caught in a rainstorm on our way to the Chilean version of Wal-Mart way across town. We had been dodging various gushes of water from the streets, multiple dripping gutters and a whole slew of rain-borne lakes when I mentioned (i.e. screamed over the downpour), somewhat offhandedly given the storm, “This is worse than Thunder Canyon!”

Any Cedar Point Aficionado will know exactly what I’m talking about — the desperate unknowing of when the next gush of frigid water will unexpectedly saturate, douse and completely chill you to the bone. Will the raft rotate enough for you to miss the waterfall, or will it place you directly in its torrential, unforgiving path? The feeling of helplessness is overwhelming…and apparently a life experience that resonated most strongly with me via Thunder Canyon.

This is not the first time Cedar Point and its rollercoasters have been the subject of my (select one: poorly-timed/lame/ambiguously creative/regionally-based/mildly interesting) metaphorsimiles. Once in Europe, Jill and I encountered a museum with a line so long it prompted me to shriek, “This is worse than when Raptor opened!”

See, Ohio-folks? You know exactly how long that line was. INSANEly long.

This emergence of a Cedar Point-focused understanding of the world around me has led me not only to seek an appropriate diagnosis in the new DSM-IV, the giant book of  disorders that was recently re-issued, but also to delve a bit deeper and find out what else, exactly, I understand in terms of roller coasters and amusements parks.

Childhood Amusement Park Coming of Age: A bit different than the classical coming of age later in puberty, this experience coincides with finally reaching the height requirement for the Big Kid rides. Any Sandusky native knows about waiting with desperate, nearly fatal excitement for the time when the height stick is the same level as the tippy top of your head (possibly with hair teased a bit higher by mom). This milestone of reaching the height requirement for all the cool rides inevitably forms the foundation around which Childhood Life is based. (“That summer we finally could ride the Magnum”, or “The day you finally made it onto the WildCat”) Boasting to your friends that you finally rode such-and-such roller coaster proves to be good fodder for street cred later in the halls of Perkins Schools once the end of summer hits.

The “Holy Shit What Did I Get Myself Into” Second Thoughts: A brand of roller coaster regret that, although short-lived, is soul-piercing and also nearly fatal. Occurs most often once boarding a new ride, or one you haven’t been on in a very long time, just after your window for changing your mind and getting off has passed and the car begins heading up the first hill. Usually accompanied by an intense urge to pee and or defecate. This is when you shouldn’t look down.

Coaster Second Thoughts tend to occur
at about this point in the ascent.

Amusement Park Exhaustion: A specific brand of exhaustion that occurs only after a special cocktail of elements are mixed, including mid-summer Ohio heat, twelve hours of walking/roller coaster riding/line waiting/greasy food ingesting/water-logged pants from the water rides you swore you wouldn’t go on in your clothes but you did anyway because it was so damn hot out/refusing to sit down and rest because we’re going to ride as much as we possibly can today/lines that reach the 2 hour mark or higher, and sun burns.This exhaustion is usually accompanied by the notable scents of sun screen, body odor, sweat, aforementioned fried food smell clinging to your clothes, and the lingering grit of countless metal hand rails.

Loss of a Beloved Coaster: Cedar Point deals with limited real estate (but really, can’t we extend the peninsula by now? COME ON) which means that certain rides and coasters get ousted in favor of the latest and greatest. Many of my childhood favorites have been heartlessly canned — such as the Pirate Ride and, more recently, Disaster Transport — but at the very least this teaches us an important lesson in the changing nature of life and love. Everything must come to an end. We all get dismantled and discarded eventually….which, I guess in human terms, would be dying. Even Disaster Transport, which, to be honest, I still haven’t dealt with that grief. (Roller coaster counseling, anyone?)

In reality I began detaching myself from 
Disaster Transport when they removed the
outer space theme and the all moving bits and bobs
in the repair bay.

New Coaster Excitement: This is a type of excitement that, for coaster enthusiasts like myself, penetrates deeper than most anything else in life. Let’s talk about Gatekeeper — I’ve been watching simulated video footage of this beast for over a year. I’m living in Chile but I’ll be damned if I don’t get a season pass for the four weeks I’m in Ohio just because I am positive I will go enough times to more than pay for the cost of the pass. This isn’t just excitement, this is dedication. Sure, the ride will be over in a matter of minutes, but that’ll be some damn thrilling couple hundred of seconds. Also including in this branch of excitement are people who track time in terms of number of days until Cedar Point opens.

The “One-Chance Shot” Letdown: This is a brand of disappointment that thankfully doesn’t strike often, but when it does, can be highly disruptive. The scenario usually goes as follows: you’ve either left the city or state for work or school or pursuing-life-goal purposes, and either don’t have it in your budget or priorities to purchase a season pass for Cedar Point. This means you visit once, and during your trip to Ohio you buy a day pass, probably from Meijer. You have one chance to go, and you plan to make the best of it and ride as much as possible, but the one day you’re able to go between park hours, family obligations and general vacation timetable is….the one day it rains. Or the one day all your favorite coasters are down for repairs. Or the one day the wind is so strong that Wind Seeker is closed due to weather and you still haven’t had a chance to ride it since it came out. So what do you do? Ride Calypso? Play Skee-ball? Oh, like that’s worth $50? This is the one-chance shot letdown. Better luck next year!

Other Cedar Point-Specific Phenomena: the Gray-Out that occurs after the first hill on Millennium Force, the specific emotional arc that accompanies Top-Thrill Dragster (anticipation–surprise–glee–one moment of heart-stopping beauty and adrenaline from the front seat at the top curve–glee–feeling like you’re dying/being born–the come down as the ride stops), the spine-jarring experience of the Mean Streak, and the dismay when you realize the Back Lot is full…

As evidenced by this excessively lengthy post, Cedar Point is near and dear not only to my heart, but to my understanding of the world around me. Though there are some life moments that are best understood in terms of roller coasters and amusement parks, I will make a sincere effort to wrangle this probable disorder so that it does not negatively affect my creative fiction. Unless, of course, I decide to get into Roller Coaster Fan Fiction writing…now that might be a real moneymaker that combines all my passions!

Extremely Tall Tales (and Other Ways To Explain Your Unexpected Pregnancy)

I first became enchanted by Chilean Folklore during my brief stint as a moderately ineffective tour guide in the south of Chile. Marcelo, the tour company operator who needed me to translate for his American customers, took me all around the Lakes Region with our clients (taking chairlifts up the volcano instead of hiking, visiting quaint colonial villages, etc) and one place that stood out was Chiloé.

Sure, Chiloe was quaint and colonial and precious and all that. But what I loved most about it was the tiny blue book of Myth and Folklore that I bought for a mere 1,000 pesos, something of a steal in the land of Ridiculous Patagonical Prices. It looked like it had been hand-made in the back room of the dilapidated German-style souvenir shop, and most certainly hadn’t been proofread at all or edited since 1971, but it was an invaluable resource that granted access to the mystical side of Chile. Not to mention some really great old-timey recipes I’m going to try that involve toasted wheat and witches breath. (Just kidding.) (Or am I?)

I was thinking about Chiloe and it’s rich history of myths and legends this morning when I woke up in Valparaiso to find a dense fog covering the city. My roommate Rodrigo – who is Chilean – casually remarked that there’s a legend about the fog in Valpo that grows ever-thicker and eventually begins to consume people.

Excellent. Perhaps it’s just another one of those dangers of a port city — transients, petty theft, prostitution and flesh-eating fogs. But I’m beginning to wonder if maybe there isn’t a kernel of truth in Rodrigo’s claim.

It seems likely that this fog has a rumbling belly and sharp teeth somewhere in the distance.

If you’ll recall, the view from my patio tends to look like this most days:

No signs of low-hanging, flesh-eating stratus clouds here.

At any rate, my pending disappearance into the carnivorous weather phenomenon got me thinking about Chilean folklore in general. I remember thumbing through the Blue Book of Poorly-Edited Folklore back when I first bought it, intrigued by the quantity of legends and the rich mixture of the fantastical and the mundane that accompanies all legends: one’s immediate surroundings coupled with the unexplained mysteries of daily life.

One of the most famous legends of Chiloe involves La Pincoya, the resident water spirit of the Chilotan Seas. She is a friendly yet incredibly sensual lady who appears from time to time to dance near the water. Based on whether or not she is facing the sea, the sailors will either have a really great time finding seafood or a really hard time finding seafood. Also she’s married to her brother and sometimes they rescue shipwrecked sailors with their ghost boat, the Caleuche.

No one can really explain why she’s blonde. Perhaps she’s a former German settler who got roped into the underground ghost world of seafood decisions and shipwreck salvaging.

My personal favorite – an perhaps one of the most culturally necessary – is the legend of El Trauco and La Fiura. This is a humanoid and possibly-extremely-ugly couple that haunts the forests in Chiloe. Both El Trauco and his wife La Fiura possess a magnetism and sexuality that is inescapable, despite their dwarfish and aesthetically-appalling characteristics. Not only can El Trauco attract a woman even while she’s asleep – she will essentially sleepwalk into a helpless pile at his feet – he is pretty much the fallback answer for all single mothers – Unexpected pregnancies clearly are the result of a chance forest encounter with El Trauco. This legend effectively absolves the woman of any blame. (I mean, let’s be real, can she really be expected to resist or avoid the sexually potent forest gnome?) Societal discomfort: successfully avoided.

Did I mention that El Trauco’s wife, La Fiura, is also his daughter? Maybe this is why she similarly roams the forest attracting and seducing men. Psychological issues can effect anyone — all the way to the humanoid creatures of the Chilotan forests.

La Fiura: hideous but no man can resist her, making those casual forest walks something of a gamble.

While it’s still not certain whether or not this fog will give way to a pleasantly sunny day or a horrific fate in the belly of a Fog Beast, I am left with a particular sense of appreciation for the varied ways in which we as humans observe, process and then reform the physical phenomena of daily life into legends that eventually come to influence our everyday experiences.

Furthermore, it got me thinking about legends and folklore from my own country. I asked myself some questions, trying to get into the underbelly of American mythology (without the aid of Google) based on my own childhood and family memories, because my initial reaction was that we didn’t have such a rich spectrum of tales. Here’s what I came up with:

What hideous creatures do we watch out for in the dark wilderness? Bigfoot. What lurks in the foggy nights? Any assortment of ghosts, since American culture is big on colonial spirits that just can’t seem to leave their New England residences, as well as the Headless Horseman. What do we use to explain unexpected pregnancies? This is where American Folklore really drops the ball. I don’t think we have anything as effective (or widely accepted) as El Trauco….but someone please correct me if I’m wrong. Also we have Bloody Mary (the mirror ghost, not the well-loved alcoholic beverage), but I’m not sure what she does except scare the shit out of 9-year-old’s in unlit bathrooms.

The fog and the enchanting tales from the southern island of Chiloe have unwittingly inspired an appreciation for my own culture’s myths and legends, even though I’m not terribly well-versed in them. I would love to use local Ohioan myths in an effort to both terrify and manipulate my future children, so, Ohio readers, what stories do we have to tell from the fertile lands of the Midwest? It sounds a bit silly, but it took a total shift of hemisphere, country and dominant language to get me thinking about the tall tales of Home…and how us Ohio girls might be able to explain any surprise pregnancies.


UPDATE: In terms of investigating Ohio Legends, this is all I could really find:

Strange Tales from Ohio: True Stories of Remarkable People, Places, and Events in Ohio History. Still doesn’t seem like it might do a very good job of explaining unexpected pregnancies, though…