Noise, Part II: Electric Boogaloo

Continued from Tuesday, June 21 post

Pensando, Henry Rael

Albuquerque was quiet in comparison to Oaxaca, mircro sounds of life at the street level replaced by macro sounds of airplanes flying overhead, cars passing, the neighbor’s phone ringing. I wanted to hear voices and not just the ones in my head telling me that the profound joy I had experienced in Oaxaca was now behind me, and that I’d been foolish to believe that the inner plentitude I had come to accept as my natural state was anything more than a temporary respite from a life of loneliness and misery. (Yes, it was a rough transition.) So I would take my six-year-old Mac PowerBook G3, which was so cool when I bought it in 2000, but now lacked enough memory to open a PDF or handle a wireless internet connection, and walk or drive to the Starbucks on Rio Grande or the downtown Flying Star, both of which charged more than I could comfortably pay (what with grad school loan payments and all) for coffee or muffins, but which allowed me to sit in the presence of other human beings. And herein lay the problem. I wanted to be with people. I wanted the comfort of their voices. But I didn’t want really want to hear former lovers comparing their current lovers from a secluded table at the Flying Star or two moms talking camp and babysitters and private schools while a toddler pounded chocolate biscotti against a table at Starbucks.

Look who thinks she's all that.

I confess that both times I’ve lived outside the U.S., I’ve returned to my home country feeling just a wee bit superior to my paisanos, believing that because they had never lived outside the U.S., of course their world must be small, and so they must have nothing better to talk about than former lovers or camp and babysitters and private schools, and surely, if I were still in Belize or Mexico, the people around me would be discussing the fate of their countries or the plight of farmers or immigration or something bigger than themselves.

I graduated with a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing that summer I returned from Oaxaca. It was over breakfast one morning, as I sat across from a woman who had spent the previous year in Vietnam, that my superiority complex took its first hit.

“Are you having a hard time being back?” I asked, expecting her to roll her eyes at the shallow Americans dining in our vicinity.

Instead she nodded and quietly said, “It’s so loud. I can’t tune out side conversations like I do in Vietnam.”

Balmy Alley, The Mission, San Francisco

Because Spanish is my second language, it’s easy for me to tune it out, like the geese in the yard across the ditch, or the car alarm across the street that goes off at least once a day, even the hip hop booming from farmer Joseph’s speakers while he and the Valle Encantado team prep squash, chard and other market veggies right outside my office window. I learned Spanish as an adult, really learned it while I was living in Oaxaca, teaching writing workshops and working on Malinche’s Daughter. Learning Spanish returned to me something intangible and vital that had been robbed from my parents when they were children. My parents got in trouble for speaking it in school, and so Spanish became a private language, a code they exchanged to talk about my brothers and me, but not with us. Unlike my parents, I had the luxury of opting in and out of Spanish as I sat in Los Cuiles Café and wrote Malinche’s Daughter, my English-language essay collection. When I returned to the U.S., the private conversations that seemed so quiet in Oaxaca bore through my ears and knocked me off the page again and again.

So I had a choice: isolate myself in my casita and risk falling into a lonely depression or venture out with my laptop and risk writing nothing.

Tune in next week for Noise, Part III

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Published in: on June 29, 2011 at 2:58 pm  Leave a Comment  

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