Monday, April 30, 2012

A to Z: Zeitgeist

The spirit of the times. 

Genius seculi

What defines a nation, a community, an era.

Zeitgeist is important to writers. It doesn't just get us published. It makes or breaks our work's success.

Our characters may be alive and poignantly human, our prose organic, our settings crisply three-dimensional, the tension and inherent conflict present on every page, the stakes masterfully escalated... But without zeitgeist, the work's shelf-life is comparable to that of potatoes.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

A to Z: You Know You've Lived in Curaçao When...

Porto Marie, our favorite beach

... you're completely used to people speaking at least three languages--fluently
... your sentences often contain more than two languages--and you're surprised when people don't understand you

... you end your sentences with "swa"
... you automatically switch to Spanish at the snek (and you know what the snek is)

Thursday, April 26, 2012

A to Z: Xenophobia

intense or irrational dislike or fear of people from other countries.
~ Mac dictionary

fear of foreigners or strangers or of that which is foreign or strange

unreasonable fear or hatred of foreigners or strangers or of that which is foreign or strange

Irrational. Unreasonable.

And yet... So prevalent.

It's not a modern thing, a product of our globalized era. Xenophobia has been around from the beginning of time, so much so that I'm beginning to think it's a key ingredient of the human psyche. Us And Them. Insiders vs. Outsiders. Black vs. White. Old vs. Young. Me vs. You.

A to Z: Words

Word: the smallest element that may be uttered in isolation with semantic or pragmatic content (with literal or practical meaning).

Ah, but what content--and what meaning. The simplest words (blue, for example) have countless meanings: the color, a feeling, adult movies, lack of air. Even taking a word at its "face" meaning--say, sin--the connotations might be completely different--nay, opposite. If I say this chocolate cake is sinfully good, it's a positive thing. But if I say it's a sin to treat animals that way, the word clearly has a negative meaning.

Words are like slithery, slippery creatures. And their power multiplies exponentially when we introduce other languages.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A to Z: Verjaardag: Birthdaying in Dutch

In Dutch, people don't have birthdays--they birthday. The closest translation for birthday is verjaardag--the day you celebrate the anniversary of your birth. As in it's your birthday.

But jarig, an adjective (in English it might be more of a verb) is used much more often. Instead of saying today is my birthday, people say Ik ben jarig vandaag, which translates as I'm birthdaying today. In Dutch, you wouldn't ask when's your birthday, but when are you birthdaying (waneer ben je jarig?)

In Holland, birthdaying is a unique thing that, for us poor non-Dutch souls, is totally worth experiencing.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A to Z: Universal Values

Respect, integrity, honesty, freedom, equality. If the whole world lived by these values, we'd all be just fine, wouldn't we?

But--wait a minute. Is there any culture on Earth, any group of people with a belief system, that doesn't believe they do live by them?

Talk to anyone. A Ku Klux Klan member. The Catholic church. Any religious extremist. Any Republican, or Democrat. Any political activist. Your friendly neighborhood terrorist. They all believe they live by these values, too.

Monday, April 23, 2012

A to Z: Tying the Knot

Are you married? How old were you when you got married? Why did you get married? If you're not married, are you planning to?

Cor & I at the Taj Mahal
September 2008
Most of my same-age friends (I'm 39) are either married or single, and by single I mean they're not in a relationship. As a matter of fact, I can't think of anyone I know that isn't either of these two right now. I have some younger friends (early 30's) who aren't married but in a relationship. Most of those have been in said relationship for less than a year, and most of those relationships are still in the "going steady" stage; only very few couples (two, maybe) share households.

Whereas my dushi and I have been co-habitating for--oh, eight years.

Did we consider marriage? Yep. In 2008, when we spent a few months in India for work (how lucky are we to have done that together?), he proposed. At the Taj Mahal. And I said yes--naturally.

Why are we still legally single? Why haven't we tied the knot?

Saturday, April 21, 2012

A to Z: Skin--Thick or Thin?

You a writer? How many times have you heard, "grow a thicker skin"?

Lots, huh? Me too.

Have you succeeded? Does criticism or--gasp--rejection now slide off your back like so much water off a duck? Really?

Oh, wait. You mean you've stopped caring? You gave up and now you're so uninvested in your own work that a harsh critique or a rejection letter (email, whatever) leaves you unmoved?

Friday, April 20, 2012

A to Z: Restaurant Culture Shock

What's the etiquette for restaurants where you live? Never thought about it? If you've traveled to different countries, you've probably noticed there are some variations.

Before I came to Curaçao, I considered myself culturally sophisticated. I'd been to Europe, lived outside Mexico as a child, grew up with a father who was essentially a citizen of the world and valued the different much more than the average Mexican.

I was naive, and spoiled. Because, for all that traveling, I hadn't really stepped out of my comfort zone.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

A to Z: Querying

Apparently, "querying" used as a verb ("I'm going to start querying agents soon" or "I've queried fifteen agents so far") is a uniquely American term--or perhaps just uniquely used in writer circles. A British friend of mine had no clue what I meant when I used it.

Then again, he's not a writer :)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A to Z: Progress

Tarahumaran women in the
Chihuahua mountains.
Up in the Mexican Sierra that scars the country from North to South (same tectonic origin as the Rockies), there are a few communities left that live the way they have for hundreds of years, maybe thousands. No electricity, no plastics, no pop culture.

Once in a while, medical missions make their way up the craggy paths and provide basic care--vaccines for children, prenatal controls, setting bones, treating infections. But most of these communities have, at best, minimal involvement with the modern world.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Saturday, April 14, 2012

A to Z: Motherhood and its consequences

I choose not to be a mother. Why? Pfff... Many reasons. One: I'd suck at it. Two: I'm not really a fan of tiny humans. Three: I love my life the way it is--sleep in when I want to, be a couch potato if I feel like it, travel on a whim.

Yeah. I'm selfish. So sue me.

Friday, April 13, 2012

A to Z: Lawful Proceedings, Due Process, & Florence Cassez

This post is a continuation of yesterday's on Kidnapping. You don't need to read that one before reading this one, but you might want to :)

The only reason Florence Cassez is international news and not just the blatant tabloid exploitation of Mexican press is because the French government has been officially protesting Florence's incarceration since day one ("day one" being back in December 2005). Outside of the French and Mexican news, I doubt it's made the front page anywhere else.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A to Z: Kidnap, Kidnapped, Kidnapping

Look at these words--read them to yourself a few times. KIDNAP. KIDNAPPED. KIDNAPPING. Don't they start to look funny? Like... They lose their meaning the more you look at them, right?

That's kind of what's happened in Mexico. And, I imagine, in Colombia during the 80's rampage of FARC-associated kidnappings. We tend to lose perspective when things are too close.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A to Z: Just Joking

When I was around 7, my mother took me and some friends to the movies to see Peter Sellers in The Party. We laughed until we cried, until it hurt to laugh, and we didn't want to laugh anymore but we just couldn't stop. The movie sticked in my mind as the funniest movie ever.

Skip forward almost a decade. My high school sweetheart, his best friend, and I are browsing for a good movie at a video rental place (this is the late eighties--no DVDs, but I think we'd graduated from Beta to VHS). On a shelf at the back I catch a glimpse of Sellers' trademark goofy face. The Party.

"This one! Guys, this one--it's so good."

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A to Z: Immigration

Credit: M Monica
A couple of years after I moved to Curacao, I had my first experience with immigrant discrimination. My boss (Mexican), a coworker (Antillean, i.e. from Curacao) and I (also Mexican) were training employees of a new resort in Punta Cana (Dominican Republic), and this coworker didn't like the food.

Monday, April 9, 2012

A to Z: Holland, a Boutique Country

Tulips at the Keukenhof Gardens
Spring 2009
When you think "Holland", what's the first thing that comes to mind?

Tulips? Windmills? Marijuana everywhere? Van Gogh? Gay Pride? The Red Light District? Dikes and water engineering?

Saturday, April 7, 2012

A to Z: Gezellig, the untranslatable word

Gezellig is the essence of Dutch culture--and it's untranslatable.

The difficulty starts with the pronunciation. Dutch has a few sounds that are a mystery to us English speakers--the funky ui sound, for example, that's made by shaping your mouth as if you were going to say oo but then saying ee (as in eerie). If you speak French, you know what I'm talking about. If you don't... Give it a shot. Funky, ain't it?

Friday, April 6, 2012

A to Z: Friendship vs. Love

Ever noticed how much more tolerant we're with our friends than with our lovers?

If your friend cancels a date, it's no big deal. Sure, you wanted to see your friend, maybe had something specific you wanted to talk about with them, or you were just looking forward to spending some time with them. But it's no big deal. You don't get all "so you're saying there's stuff--stuff--that's more important than me?", and you don't give them the silent treatment for days (okay, weeks).

Thursday, April 5, 2012

A to Z: Expatriate

One hears this word tossed around--"I'm an expat", or "expat rulings". One knows what "expatriate" means--a person not living in their home country.

But what does it mean, exactly, to be expatriate?

To some, the idea of leaving their home country and settling somewhere else conjures visions of the Wild West, of endless prairie, of new horizons. To some, this idea is inspiring, a challenge, a dream. To others it's as appealing as a rectal exam--why would you even consider leaving everything behind, your family, your home, your friends? What for?

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

A to Z: Dating

Where I come from (Mexico), dating is a pretty straightforward affair. Assuming, for ease of comparison, that this Boy and Girl that Will Date don't know each other from childhood (very common in Mexico), this is what happens:
  • Boy meets Girl.
  • Boy asks for Girl's phone number, Girl says no. (Yes, even if she likes him. He's the hunter and she's going to make him chase her.)
  • Boy embarks on crusade to get the number--find out who her friends are, see if any of them are friends of his friends, too, and might hacerle el paro (slang for "do a favor").

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A to Z: Cash Flow

Do you work for yourself? For your children? For your grandchildren?

A German boyfriend once told me that the main difference between Mexicans and Germans was that the former work for themselves, while the latter work for their grandchildren. It took me a long time to understand what he meant.

Monday, April 2, 2012

A to Z: Beauty's in the eye of the (cultural) beholder

Visit the other A to Z Bloggers!

There are various orders of beauty, causing men to make fools of themselves in various styles.

What is beauty? What makes someone beautiful?

Before you jump up like the eager teacher's pet and shout out, "their soul", let me specify: we're sticking to physical beauty today. Call me superficial. Just for the sake of argument, today it's all about the shell and not the meaty and savory oyster flesh, ok?

A woman, for instance. Blonde or brunette? Tall or short? Thin? Fat? Big boobs, tiny waist? Long legs? Tiny feet? Shiny straight hair, a mass of curls? Dark eyes, colored?

Sunday, April 1, 2012

A to Z: Allure of the Different

Remember high school? I watched a rerun of Grey's Anatomy recently, I think from season 4 or 5, about high school, and at some point one Mc-character says to another, "we never really grow up and leave that behind." "Leave what behind?" says the other character. "The cliques."
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