August…

So many times I have written about how we as Americans (rather North Americans) tend to lose ourselves in stuffing our days full of activities and responsibilities and leave the leisure time obscured.  I guess I find myself both critical and receptive of this kind of lifestyle.

But, such has been my August.

I have been putting my heart into creating.  Through art and writing and by just being me;  I have some things in the works..

One good thing.  I feel good about everything I’m doing.  It’s kind of exciting to me to see whether I can develop work with my art in a country so unfamiliar to me and in addition, a place that could perhaps be lacking a strong art scene.

When I think back to my life several years ago, my present situation is exactly what I could have hoped for.  And maybe I enjoy it because there is so much possibility involved.  I’ve learned to be way more open for those kind of things.  Definitely, I could not have done it years ago without experiencing so many other things.

It’s not without times of setbacks and sometimes stressful days.  This has been my second August in Chile with the same symptoms of congestion and tiredness.  I even lost my voice for a few days which brought about several new additions to my medicine cabinet.

Nevertheless, I feel pretty happy with myself these days and I find myself enjoying the process of my daily life as it plays out as I try to manage the usual tensions and pressures of living.

It reminds me of my days with The Artist’s Way which taught me that art didn’t only have to be sought through painting or music or by some traditional form.   I could uncover the “art” that existed in the creation of my life in general.  Mediocre tasks such as decorating my living room or making my bed or washing my dishes generated a new meaning for me, as acts I could perform to support my own state of mind and state of being.  I began to consciously put my life in order not because I felt like I had to painfully do these petty errands that interfered with my day, but because they offered my life some possibility.  Actions such as cleaning create space…physically and mentally.

The small things we do for each other help to create this kind of space as well.  For me, these actions can create even more of an experience than perhaps a painting can, because in these actions exist the space to feel some freedom in the life of the person you are helping.  God knows, I have been given these “gifts” often from so many people throughout my life.

All that said, I am forever grateful because I need never feel alone in that respect.  The people I have loved are just as much in the work that I do and the life that I live whether they be present in my life or not because I know that nothing I have accomplished was ever truly done by only me.

I try to remind myself to be happy with the me that everyone has created as a gift in return…

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Are Places What We Expect?

One of my life dreams was always to visit Machu Picchu, Peru.  It was probably one of the greatest travel aspirations that I have had for most of my life.  It is interesting to say that here because it isn’t so uncommon for people to travel between countries.  But for me, coming from a place like the U.S. where we tend to not travel outside of our own country that often for a variety of reasons, I had always imagined Machu Picchu when I was younger as a place that was remote, far away and unattainable.  Years ago, I probably felt that way about all of South America.  Perhaps because throughout my childhood, all of my memories of the news on TV centered on scenes of guerilla war and uprisings (many caused by our own government) as well as drug trafficking.  Never mind the major contrast of all of the Latin American countries, not to mention the major distances between them, our news helped grow the vision that all of Latin America together must be the same:  unsafe.  Interestingly enough, most of my students are now having the same thoughts towards the U.S. after continuously hearing about loose gunmen randomly killing people in schools and movie theaters. Their opinion is that we are somewhat crazy, and I think they probably have good reason to think so.

The truth is that flying into Cusco, the closest city to Machu Picchu was really very easy.  While the city is somewhat touristy and the local people are adamantly trying to sell you things like hats and magnets and massages on every corner, it is definitely a place where I felt for the most part, serene.  The architecture is a combination of the colonial Spanish and the indigenous Quechua culture of the Andes Mountains.  For me, having a vacation from the dreary winter of Santiago, I couldn’t get enough of the clear sky and the balky clouds that hover low that remind me of places like the desert of New Mexico and Arizona.  The only problem was becoming accustomed to the higher altitude during the first day which led to me spending the first five hours in bed nauseous, with a migraine headache.  However, the hostel provided plenty of free coca tea which supposedly relieves these symptoms.  I think my body eventually adjusted.

In the days leading up to Machu Picchu, I was able to travel outside the city to an area called the Sacred Valley which is filled with scattered indigenous ruins.

     

There are two options for seeing Machu Picchu.  One is by taking a train from outside of Cusco and the other is by hiking the Inca Trail.  Because access to the trail is limited by the number of people per year in an attempt to preserve its existence, the latter involves making a reservation at least five months in advance with a guide and a small group of other hikers.  This is what I decided to do and yes, the trail can be tough at times, but it’s really the better way to see Machu Picchu.  Not only because you see many other ruins along the way and have the opportunity to connect with other travelers from different countries, it also builds more of an anticipation to reach the destination.  And, in addition, you acquire much more of a relationship with the land.  The hike is not completely difficult as I passed many people that were very young and very old, but it can be exhausting since you are walking six to eight hours each day up and down very steep steps, part of the time in the rain, the second day being the most strenuous.

   

We were lucky enough to have signed up with the tour that we did because I have heard of some that give little food.  On the contrary, ours offered three huge meals each day and not mediocre food, but a variety of homemade soups and vegetable and meat dishes complete with a dessert.  Below are the men that carried and prepared all of our food and equipment.

These men, some of them wearing only sandals literally ran very quickly ahead of us on the trail transporting all of these items on their backs.  Some people even paid them to carry their own personal belongings as well.

Usually it takes four days to reach Machu Picchu, but our group arrived just before sunset on the third day which only gave us enough time to view it from a distance and relax a little before walking to Aguas Calientes, the closest small town to stay the night in a hostel.  The next morning we returned around 6am to have an official guided tour of the site, unfortunately, in the rain.  The area was covered in a thick layer of fog that later began to disappear.

Not long after our tour, hundreds of other tourists began appearing which made me think of when I went to the Grand Canyon and found myself bombarded with large buses of loud mouthed families all anxiously waiting their turn to take pictures of themselves on the edge of the cliff.  It sort of disrupts the serenity of it all, to say the least, especially after spending so many days away from the sounds of vehicles and city life.  Therefore…..

No, I didn’t have any spiritual realizations.  For some reason, I always considered that I would, but I find that I have those in moments that are more unanticipated.  This is why I am happy that I experienced the hike, because the actions of walking the steps and spending so much time under the trees and noticing all of the subtle changes in landscape and climate and altitude from the beginning to end are what affected me most and what I will most remember of Machu Picchu.  Sometimes I like to think of places in terms of relationships and so I could say that in some ways, I had a short encounter with a very beautiful and amazing place and I wish I had had more time to continue knowing it.

  

And, it was an interesting experience having always imagined a place, a perfect place and always carrying a certain image of how I might be changed in some way by that place.  The reality is that real change cannot be predicted or foreseen or maybe even longed for; instead, it is usually quite unexpected.  I must admit with some honesty that I am more certain that I have had spiritual and emotional shifts in places like….yes, Santiago… only because it is a place that has tested my patience and caused me to struggle in ways that have forced me to grow as a person.   It is a place that I have built a relationship with and in this respect, I am always seeing myself mirrored back to me, the good and the bad.  And so, the trip made me think a lot about the expectations I project towards places as well as the time limits I place upon them.

Finishing the trip also made me think a lot about fulfilling life dreams and life goals.  It sort of gave me that dreaded what’s next? feeling.  Maybe it’s even caused me to feel like I can be finished (at least temporarily) with all of that traveling I was dying to do all those years.  Not that I don’t want to see other places, but at the same time, I can let go of that feeling of having never really experienced life outside my country in a profound way.  It’s no longer a big mystery and I see it as something do-able instead of unattainable.   I guess my goals in life are returning to that need to once again build a career for myself and maybe how to do it a little differently this time, and that leaves me with making some decisions on how to approach things next.

I used to think I would know what to do when the time presented itself to me…but I think it’s more like me being ready enough to seek out the time and knowing that making the decision is just like taking an opportunity…like trying something new and interesting.

Whatever I decide, the process continues…

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Why can’t I write??

Okay, so I’m really struggling to keep up with this blog and I can’t figure out why.  I love to write and I want to continue it.  But why can’t I make it come together as easily as it did, say, 6 months ago?  Every time I sit down to write, I find myself remembering to do things like pay for my storage space or worse…I dedicated an hour yesterday to skype Sallie Mae about my student loan payments….not to mention relentlessly checking the latest Facebook posts and finding new things to like.  Still, I am insistent on getting one more blog post in by June (and that leaves only one more day!).

I guess without being self critical (as I could call myself lazy)…I like to think that my circumstances have changed a lot from when I began writing on here.  Last year I suspect I used it more as a source of expressing my frustration and uncertainty about many things, while this year, I feel….more….at peace.

And to what do I attribute this peace?  Maybe I have just resigned myself to the fact that I am here…that I live here now.  In a strange way, even though I am far from completing all that I want in my life, I like to think I have begun to resolve a certain sense of incompleteness that I have always felt (of course I am speaking about that part of me that has always felt unsatisfied with my life as it is in the present moment) and I find myself with much fewer “troubles,” feeling more balanced and hence more content maybe more than I have ever felt in my life.

I still feel ambition for all the things I would like to achieve, but I’ve also broken away from insisting on the grand objectives and becoming disappointed.  I think I’m a little more open to the random things that life sort of suggests for me and so I find myself more and more enjoying the moments I have to paint, travel and experience my relationship or the new friendships I have made, rather than anticipating the next big life change or dwelling on how to preserve some sort of stability or better yet, why, I have not attained it.

I realize it’s possible that this could be my greatest accomplishment in coming here.

Plus, its winter now, and I was able to walk home today in the rain (wearing wet socks because my boots no longer withstand the water on the street) and not feel like I was counting down the days….

I’m pretty sure this is good news.

But what does that leave me to write about when I cannot complain?  This is my new problem!

In any case, I’m determined to keep up with this thing.  After all, if not for this blog, I would never have met my newest best friend, who first wrote me in response to one of my posts that she too was a “vegetarian,” who “loved the desert” and was also “thoroughly defeated by the puna in San Pedro de Atacama.”  Both of us being from very small towns in the same geographic area of the East Coast of the United States, we also moved West at the same age, and we practically arrived in Santiago on the same day in March of 2011.  We swear that for sure we must have been completely linked in our past lives…and we are continuously assessing what those lives may have been.  When we last left off and after some wine drinking, we had convinced ourselves that we had without a doubt existed in some era of the old American west as to account for our love of the desert…most certainly outlaws of some sort.  (Well, it sounded reasonable at the time).  But here we are in Valparaiso, in this lifetime, pretending to proudly represent our country in what looks like some kind of US summit meeting, secret agreement, take over of Chile photo:

(Somehow, like Waldo, the US flag always shows up in unexpected places, like here in front of this Chilean war memorial for a war fought against Peru…that to my knowledge had absolutely nothing to do with the United States.  Maybe we assume we won that war too?

A few weeks ago, my boyfriend and I went on a long drive through the mountains.  This was the day of May 21 when supposedly it was predicted by some Brazilian scientists that there would be a mega earthquake (and possibly also the end of the world – as the day drew nearer, I was hearing more of that).  Naturally, “the end of the world” worked itself into this date as well, as did its cousins, the Mayan Calendar and the year 2012.

Obviously, I survived and none of those things happened.  (Although, I admit it.  I took 10 cans of tuna fish and a bag of almonds as food rations, just in case!)  Here are some photos of the drive…

There is something to the whole end of the world phenomenon as well as all of the catastrophic news that is reported daily, even if it conjures up feelings of fear and dread, that remind us that we are totally vulnerable to whatever might happen.  I am not totally at ease with this feeling, although at the same time I like to think that only through vulnerability and only through giving up a little control and adopting a faith in the unexpected, have I gotten this far.  It has allowed me to travel, meet new people and have certain experiences both abroad as well as in the States.  Ironically, choosing the non-secure lifestyle is what has led me to the harmony I am discovering now.

So, I appreciate my days here even more, knowing it’s not something that will last forever…and maybe none of what we know now will exist one day.  Places, friendships, relationships all have the potential to change or dissolve.  This doesn’t have to signify failure or defeat or destruction…it doesn’t even have to imply an “end,” but perhaps a transformation.

This makes me remember a story of a friend of a friend who had worked in a remote area somewhere in the South of Chile as a person who shaved sheep.  There he met an older woman whom, when she was a pre-teenager, had been kidnapped, kept in a basement, tortured and raped for years.  Today this woman has a husband and five children and would appear to live relatively normal.  I guess one could judge this woman without knowing her past and assume she hadn’t done that much with her life…a simple house wife with kids.  But, in reality, considering all that she had experienced…just to live relatively normal, to raise kids and to be married is a huge accomplishment.  This makes me wonder if maybe the greatest thing we can hope for…is just to feel joy….I mean despite anything negative we have all experienced…maybe this is the greatest achievement in life…and since the energy we possess we inadvertently offer to one another, the greatest thing we can offer to the world is just to be a content person who works with life instead of against it, a joyful person who has gratitude for all that they have in this moment.

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I’m Still Here…

So…It’s the beginning of May and I haven’t written in this blog since sometime in December.  The longer the time has elapsed the more intimidating it has become to produce something new…just because I think after the last 4 months I should perhaps report back something…say…earth shattering.  However, it’s not really the case.

I’m still here.

But I did take advantage of the summer here and had an extended period of vacations in Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil…    

    

      

    

      

And when I came back, I felt great.

And now I also have the new experience of dating someone in Santiago which is making me happy:)

And I am also painting again.  Returning to my art has been great…even if I am not doing it every day.

Of course when I think about being here…I am still pressuring myself over finding a good meaning and purpose and if am I am living up to all that I could do here…not only for myself, but I also spend a lot of time being conscious of my affect on others as a foreigner here.  Probably I’m not, at least living up to all of the expectations I place on myself and sometimes I feel a little overwhelmed…in fact I think too much focus on this stops me dead in the tracks of enjoying myself here.

A couple years ago I worked for a mental health institute, as an assistant to train people in the mental health field.  There I learned about a concept in which all people have a “core value.”  It speaks of the person one is at their core beyond what defines them as a worker with skills or even their own personality traits.  The process of learning about your “core value” is through a series of questions which takes place in a group.  It can last for hours as the group discusses and decides what they feel could possibly motivate you as a person.  I remember mine being about curiosity.  It was as simple as that.  I’m a curious person and somehow my curiosity is supposed to work for me in this life.

As I return to how I originally felt about coming here, I think about how I tried something very random and let myself see where I would go with that experience…all for the joy of exploring and traveling.  Each experience building upon another…and here I am.  When I think of the core of me…a person who loves to investigate and experience things….I came here because I was acting on an instinctual desire of something I love to do for my own curiosity.  Maybe it was a little random, but I started something and now I am trying to figure out what it means to me.

Because i’ve been painting again, I’ve realized that my process of painting is very similar…because I have always started my work with some very random marks and no image in mind (all of my work is abstract)…and many layers later it slowly becomes something but not without fighting with it.  The constant struggle is the part I hate and so I always feel like I don’t completely love painting.

For years this has made me think that maybe I am not a “real” painter…because it doesn’t always flow for me.  Actually, it never completely flows for me and sometimes I have no idea what the hell I am working towards because I had no idea in the first place (one would think that by now I would considering making a plan…but I just don’t work that way!!).  Usually the middle point of my paintings look like a freaking mess of small build ups of texture and color that I don’t want to give up, but they don’t quite support the whole of the painting.  Usually it takes me some time to back away and come back and simplify everything after I’ve let it be for a while.  Every painting is the same.  During the process of it all, it’s difficult for me to realize that I need to eliminate those things to find a balance in the painting.  It can make me feel very insecure as a painter.  The only thing that keeps me going is that somehow I have always had this tenacity (coincidentally…very similar to my last name) where I don’t give up until I find some sort of ending that satisfies me.  And I always love the outcome of all my work.

If that is not an analogy of the way I live my life, I don’t know what is.  My creative process pretty much equals the way in which I live my life.  I struggle and try to do so many things that seem to sometimes be going somewhere or that might lead to something temporarily but then go nowhere and something inside me tries to resist so many things that could perhaps be easier until one day I clear away all of the fears and “problems” and find a sudden peaceful resolution.  The thing is…for some reason I have to go through trying all the possibilities until I find that resolution.  I don’t know any other way.  Yet, I always put up the same fight because there are so many times when I hold on so tight to those same “small build ups of texture and color” in my life that I think are going to keep me feeling so “secure,” but are not supporting the real me totally.  And, just as with my art, it makes me also not always completely love myself.

My original intentions of being here were to explore.  It wasn’t until I came here that my purpose began changing and taking different forms and avenues…maybe I need to remind myself of the origin of who I am…that person who loves to “explore and investigate”…who is “curious”…and that it is okay just being that…because I can feel downright insecure considering all of my plans and intentions and whether I am doing all of them the best I can.

Leaving the city for the day yesterday and being in nature, was an affirmation to give space for what I love.  It reminds me of my very first blog entry of when I went hiking in the mountains for the first time here.

Maybe the best purpose I can offer in my life right now is what I feel that my art is supposed to be about until I begin challenging it with all of the expectations of what the outcome should be…its a matter of play…the joy of building and creating and seeing where it takes me.  I perfected this in my childhood and as an adult I hold on.  This is what I need to remember about both painting and my life…to take a little advice from my silly side in which I feel the most free…let go of trying to make it all work, give it some space and accept the absurdity of it all because maybe that is where I sort everything out and it comes together for me.

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Why Chile?

Its Christmas time here, but it’s a little difficult for me to get into the spirit especially after walking down to the center of the city today and seeing Santa and his Elves sweltering in the heat.  I’m happy though.  I made it through the commitment I originally had proposed to myself…that I was going to stay here and teach until the end of December.  Next week I will be headed to Buenos Aires, Argentina and then to Uruguay, and Iguazu Falls and then up to Sao Paolo, Brazil…that is on a very small budget which involves taking a lot of very long bus rides.  The summer months here are extremely slow as far as work and my friend invited me to stay with her and work in Brazil for a while.  I plan to return to Chile…most likely sometime in February.  During the winter months I was counting down the days to leave this place, because I missed my life in California, but now I feel so much more adjusted to life here.

Since I’ve been here, the Chileans have always asked me, “Why Chile?”, and I usually give them answers like being attracted to the mountains or the beach (which is actually where I spend the least amount of time).  I also tell people that it was because I wanted to learn Spanish and people laugh knowing this is the hardest place to learn.  And my other excuse is because of the Chilean economy, even though, as an English teacher I don’t make much money at all to compete with the high cost of living here.  But aside from all of this, maybe this place attracted me or vice versa because I really think it was just the right place to mirror back to me, “me,” in so many ways that I would never have considered.

So many of my students speak of Santiago in a negative way.  They speak of people that are unhappy with their jobs, people that are stressed, people that have a lot of fear…fear of knowing people outside their comfort zones and a fear of trusting each other.  This is so interesting to me because Santiago is supposed to be the “ideal” because of its financial prosperity and its reputation for being for the most part “safe” and “secure” unlike other areas of South America where you have to worry about kidnapping and corrupt police.  Parts of the city resemble the United States with huge shopping malls and Starbucks and wealthy people living in the hills.  But, I sometimes wonder if all of this push for materialism is the reason for my students’ thoughts on the unhappiness of the people here.  It makes me think of my experience living in South Orange County, California where people live in separation, no one knowing their neighbors and how rare it is to actually see someone outside other than their gardeners.  Parts of Santiago, particularly in Las Condes and Vitacura have that same secluded vibe.  My students also often speak of how this place lost a lot of its creative expression during the dictatorship and is still struggling to retrieve it in the midst of becoming a very materialist nation.  In fact, the dictatorship helped boost this materialism.  Maybe this is more true in Santiago alone, but it seems like a country that is trying to make sense of itself and its identity.  They say that out of all of the Latin American countries, and perhaps also because of its geography being that it is so isolated by the Andes Mountains, Chile sets itself apart as the most introverted.  Maybe this was the perfect place for me to learn about myself because that similar feeling of confusion, fear of money and success, and struggle to regain creative expression is exactly what I brought with me to Chile.  And this is actually changing now, but I really discovered how I had been living internally in the time I have spent here.  I felt this the many days I spent alone, most of the time sick, in my apartment during the cold winter months here.  Particularly in August.  That was the worst.

But, its summer now and I feel like I have woken up a little.

And I feel great.

Despite the distance I feel from the people as a whole, the people I have met individually are incredible.  I think recently the thing I’ve been thinking about most is how great solidarity is.  I feel this so much more in Latin culture than in the United States.  I actually feel like people care and want to take care of each other.  No matter how close I am to people here, I am always invited for lunch or dinner to someone’s house or taken care of when I’m sick.  I think I’ve actually finally realized what it is to feel true compassion.  I felt overwhelmed with this feeling for the first time the other night walking home from my friend’s apartment while I thought of my friendships here and how people have helped me and how people say I have helped them.  My friend here actually helped me believe it.  He actually made me feel real compassion for myself.  Maybe I was never opened to that kind of feeling before.  Maybe I never trusted it because in the US often we don’t believe in people in this way, we want to find the flaws in people, waiting for them to screw up, or we want to protect ourselves from something that could be false.  For the most part, my friends here are very expressive with their feelings and show their affection physically and verbally without all the sarcasm that we have in the US.  In fact, most of my students don’t even understand that word.

There are those small things here that I like that make me feel respected.  Of course kissing is the main greeting and expected when meeting someone for the first time or seeing friends or friends of friends.  I am always amazed when I come to someone’s house and even the little kids stop everything to come greet me and they do the same when I leave.  It’s expected of everyone no matter what the age.  In the US, often times the people closest to you won’t even get up from the sofa to answer the door for you, let alone have their kids acknowledge you.  And I grew up this way, being allowed to dismiss my own company.  This only ever trained me to assume that people are not important.

And, maybe this is why I want to stay a little longer here, because my thinking is changing.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what is going on in the States with the Occupy protests and how maybe many of us are waiting and hoping to return to that same lifestyle we have always lived in the States with job security and the availability of mostly whatever we want.  I think we have to accept the reality that nothing is certain and that striving for constant stability in life is sort of futile.  What we need to do in the US is start focusing on helping each other and to stop living so solitary like we have in the past.  So many of us (including myself) would never do anything for anyone if we did not feel that we were getting our fair share.  This is something I see that no longer works in my life.

The common criticism I hear of the protests is that “there are no handouts in life.”  I get that.  But what about compassion and kindness?  Do those things have to be earned?  Perhaps we could stop criticizing the protesters and instead do and say things to help empower them.  Obviously, they are people who have suffered.  Does it matter how or why or who is to blame?  It would be a bit more productive to give up this constant criticism of right and wrong and do something more real and affective for the good of our nation.  How great it would be to actually help people see that they don’t have to live like victims and can change and build their own lives without the limitations of fear.  I swear, the greatest thing we can do as a country is to be of real service to others no matter if we are being paid to do it or not.  It’s kind of a responsibility we have as human beings for the good of humanity.  We can only really do this through showing compassion and empathy, and through little things like actually listening to one another, and not through the joy of hearing ourselves tell each other what we are doing wrong.  I have learned this through the relationships in my life and I can see where I have constantly treated myself the same way.  It hasn’t benefited me at all to remain in this state of being.

I can honestly say that the greatest thing in my life is my friendship with others in the United States and here in South America.  I think of this often and I am so grateful.  I couldn’t survive being alone.  We create each other and so I think we should honor each other often.  I believe in this.

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My Community Art Project and Why I Want to Create Again…

In July I started working on a mural as a community volunteer project in one of the poorer areas of Santiago.  The community is about a 40 minute bus ride from where I live in Santiago and for about six weeks before the start of the mural, I helped Roxana with a project she initiated by volunteering to teach English to kids.  More than anything, it became a play session with the kids, creating games to practice the alphabet, numbers and very basic vocabulary.  They loved it.  They loved it so much that when I came back recently to paint, the kid’s faces lit up, asking me when the next class would be.  My heart sank a little, thinking about how we hadn’t planned to return again.  They actually really missed us.  This wasn’t some boring class that they were forced into, they actually had become quite affectionate with us.  It made me think about how these kids need so much more than a 6 week volunteer project, they need this type of nourishment all of the time.  I think it takes time to build a relationship and I wonder about what a shame it is to begin getting close to the kids, only to leave them just as they were becoming so comfortable with us.  At the same time, it was obvious that we made some kind of positive impression on them.

When I first started the project in July, I had the help of Roxana, my friends Angela and Dinah, and a few others from the community.  And because of the winter, we put a hold on finishing the project.  For the last two weekends, I came back to finish.  Having this break was actually good for me because after learning more Spanish, I was able to communicate a little more with people in the community.  So when I noticed a little group of children behind me, watching me paint, I let them join in.

This is the first time I’ve ever painted with kids in this way and they really did a good job.  At first they were a little shy and nervous about putting the paint on the wall, fearing that they would do something wrong and so a lot of what they painted ended up being very small.  I encouraged them to eventually paint larger.  And, so the whole mural is by no means consistently proportional, but maybe that gives it some character.  The little girl and her cousin actually consistently painted with me all day, painting butterflies, dogs and flowers.  I gave them little instruction and basically let them do what they wanted.  I think they were a little surprised by my confidence in them for allowing them to paint so freely on something so large and so public.  They were really proud of what they painted too and I like to think of them getting older and remembering what they had painted years ago.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately of how my feelings toward my art career have changed.  I spent so much energy working and developing my art in the States.  I used to joke that my art was like my kids that I had to always pick up when my show was over and I was tired of driving them all over the place on the freeway in California and that they were spending so much of my money.  I look at photos of my loft now and I don’t miss it.  I think I allowed the whole idea of art as a career to take over so much that it replaced the joy of creating and expressing myself through my painting and ultimately robbing me of enjoying all the other things in life that I love because I was forcing myself into this certain artist lifestyle that was more determined by what I thought I was supposed to do according to the art world rather than finding the passionate within myself to forget about “making it” and just create.

In the States, I somehow lost track of my original attraction to art as I saw it more and more as a means of paying the rent.  Being here has separated me from continuing this and now I’ve been able to return to the desires that I initially had when I was younger, back before I was even in art school when I would stare at paintings and imagine other lifetimes or listen to music that really caused me to think differently of the world, no matter how simplistic the lyrics or how accomplished the artist.  All that time spent trying to make money from my own art detached me from enjoying my own work, let alone the work of others.  Sadly, I think even art school detached me from this in ways because suddenly I had all these people in my life constantly discussing what was good art and what was bad art, or what was marketable, more intellectual, low brow, etc…  All of a sudden art seemed so serious and no longer mysterious and fun.  It’s like I couldn’t see something without comparing it to something better, making some kind of judgment about it in my mind.  All that imagination and inspiration I felt long ago…how did I abandon that?  It’s like through trying so hard to pursue art, I disconnected myself from my true feelings and desires.  Sounds like the opposite of what art is supposed to do.

I realized something lately through learning Spanish.  Because I can’t express myself in Spanish like I can in English.  I don’t know the words or I don’t know how to put the words together.  I have to limit myself in what I can say and it’s quite frustrating to not be able to form what I can in English when I want to express something.  So I have to keep it very basic.  And since I don’t have the words, it’s put me more in touch with recognizing how I feel.  I mean I have to really thinking about what I am feeling, so I can choose the correct words.  So now I can appreciate the beauty in expressing something simple again.  And because I have been learning a lot of Spanish through the arts; through music and through books, now I am concentrating on the very simple beauty of how the words are used.  This is art, because language is expression.  It makes me appreciate so much how we express our thoughts.  It makes me not want to take this for granted.

I think the joy of just being able to express myself is returning.  I’m remembering those early feelings of discovering well known artists and writers for the first time and how I felt when I would see something inspiring.  I feel it through learning a new language and sharing my language with others.  It brings me back to what I had already figured out when I was a teenager and later forgot about, that my love of art involves other people.  It doesn’t come from me isolated in my studio trying to conquer a project to get paid.  The end product – the actual finished painting, for me is only 25 percent of why art is so important.  Painting with the kids, painting with other artists, using art to ignite conversation, to influence others, to make someone’s life more inspiring, to connect myself with others…these are all more interesting and give me more of a reason to start again.  I guess that everyone has their own role in life and probably I will never be like some of my friends here whom are very successful in the financial industry and can assert themselves in ways I can’t.  They are great at what they do, and their passions are different than mine.  But, I can assert myself artistically in ways that they can’t.  I need to keep in mind what I can do and what it means to be me and somehow it almost seems like a responsibility to myself to create art because its the greatest way I know of how to give myself to others.

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Mi Cumpleaños en San Pedro de Atacama

Two years ago, after I was laid off of my job, I wanted to change my life.  I started gathering every interest I have ever had and began the process of sorting out my life in order to build a new life that reflected me and not what I thought I should be doing.  For my 31st birthday that year, I took myself to Sedona, Arizona to be alone.  To think.  It was one of the best birthdays I have ever had…and it made up for my pitiful 30th birthday that for the most part went uncelebrated.  In Sedona that year, I set the intention to travel abroad and I have now finally realized that.  And so, this year I took myself to the desert again…but in Chile.  Last week I went to San Pedro de Atacama for my 33rd birthday, a two hour plane ride to the North of Chile.

The day prior to the trip was quite strange.  My Brazilian friend Alzinete flew to Santiago from Sao Paulo to celebrate my birthday and to accompany me on my trip; however she had been having health problems and thought it best to not go to such a remote place and be so far from a hospital.  Instead, she stayed in the city for my birthday dinner and decided to go to the beach to relax while I was in the desert.  This was also the advice of one my friends who had had similar symptoms to Alzinete in the past.  Oddly enough, during my birthday dinner Roxana was the one who became ill at the restaurant.  She had to leave immediately, but kept calling me to make sure I was okay because she felt she had ruined my birthday.  At the doctor’s office, she told the staff that she had a plane to catch.  Apparently, she had planned to surprise me at the airport the next morning to go with me to Atacama.  The doctor’s response must have been something like….ummm…you aren’t going anywhere.   I had no idea until the next day when she called me with a fragile little voice telling me that she had been planning this for months with another friend of mine named Farzad who would be meeting me in San Pedro later that night.

Despite all of the unusual circumstances, just the thought of Roxana planning this in addition to having my Brazilian friend visit me really made me feel amazing.

Traveling to the North gave me a different perspective of Chile.  For one, I was feeling more confident traveling on my own since I have been learning the language.  This gave me more reassurance and more desire to connect more with the country.

I also was so happy to finally get away from Santiago.  People always ask me if I like Chile and up until now I could only give an unfair response as I only really knew one area.  I’m just not a big city person and therefore not a huge fan of Santiago.  But also, I love the desert.  It has to be my favorite environment and it was my most loved place “to breathe again” when I needed a break from the endless suburban California coast.  Some people think of the desert as being a flat, stark place…but I think of open space, invigorating sunlight, and unique and bizarre landscapes that seem to transform themselves by altering their color depending on the time of day.

The morning of my actual birthday, I flew from Santiago to a small city in the North called Calama and from there I shared a taxi with two people I met at the airport to the bus station, where we all took a two hour bus ride to the town of San Pedro de Atacama.  San Pedro is a very small touristy town of all adobe buildings filled with restaurants, hostels and tour offices.   The first day while I was still alone, I joined a tour with three other people from Germany and Brazil to see some of the Lagoons and Salt Flats about an hour outside of the town.  The first day was so mellow.  I found the hostel that my friends had reserved, had dinner and waited for Farzad and his brother.

Some of the Salt Flats……

End of the First day……Sunset

Farzad and his brother from New York finally arrived around midnight.  We managed to find a restaurant that was still open and probably waited an hour and half for the pizza we ordered.  Service appeared to be the same as in Santiago.  Because we had no sleep the night before, we missed all of the early morning tours.  We also realized how it’s practically impossible to leave the town without joining a tour.  Farzad almost threw his Lonely Planet guide in the trash when he discovered the real cost of taking a taxi out of the town was at least ten times the amount listed in the book.  The first day with all of us seemed to be about walking aimlessly through the town and watching the Independence day parade.  September 18th is Chilean Independence Day, but it is celebrated for the entire four day weekend, day and night.

But, by four in the afternoon we were able to find a group to see a part of the desert called the Valley of the Moon.  This place resembled Death Valley in California and even had its own Valle de Muerte.  The heat was so intense in this place.  We were baking in the sun.  The Atacama desert is supposed to be the driest place on earth and I was having major allergy problems from all of the dust and sand that I was breathing in.

The walls of the canyon were covered with this texture…

This rock formation is called the “Three Marias,” except that we were told that four years ago a French tourist broke one of the Marias while hugging it to take a picture.  (I’m thinking its the one on the left?)

By the end of the day we were so exhausted from walking in the heat and my allergies were making it difficult to breathe.  We had enough energy to have dinner and drinks and then we were out. Farzad (who speaks maybe just a little less Spanish than I do) and I actually made a good team of putting all of our vocabulary together to ask questions and understand the people we met on the tours, at the hostel and in the restaurants.  The next morning we woke up to both the distant sounds of people still partying for the Independence Day as well as a rooster.  This rooster did not stop making noise for at least two hours.  I always thought roosters weren’t supposed to awaken people until the sun came up.  Farzad kept commenting that he was going to find the rooster and lock it in a room and turn the lights on.  When we finally did get out of bed, we met with a group of people to visit what is called the Lagunas Altiplanicas which included a National Reserve for Flamingos that existed in the middle of Salt Flats and water.

Gradually we made our way towards higher altitude which started to make me feel really sick.  Sometimes my love of nature makes my mind wander into these unrealistic fantasies of say….devoting all of my free time to learning every trail in the San Gabriel Mountains of Southern California and becoming an expert on plant life.  It’s just not going to happen.  Nor am I ever likely to hike the Appalachian Mountains or do any other such great hikes that have always fascinated me.  Five minutes out of the van on our hike at high altitude and I was nauseas and immobilized by the cold weather.  The scenery was incredible, but I’m sure I would have enjoyed it much more without the sudden migraine and dizziness.  I had to remain in one place while my friends walked on.

The next morning we woke up at 3:30 in the morning for a tour that only left at 4am.  This is because we had to take a two hour drive to see geysers that are only active for about two hours or less in the early morning.  This morning I wouldn’t have minded the rooster so much.  I tried to sleep a little on the way to the geysers, but I could not find a comfortable position as I sat next to the window in a freezing van.  I couldn’t get warm.  For some reason, we decided to wear our bathing suits under our clothes thinking we were going to go to hot springs and not really understanding what we were doing that day.  Thankfully, I was wearing many layers and brought my heavy coat.  The guys didn’t.   Once again we were in high altitude.  I left the van to walk around the geysers but couldn’t wait to return to the van.  This was the coldest I had felt in some time and once again, I felt some nausea from the altitude.

After the geysers, the three of us sat in the van and propped our heads up against the seats in front of us and fell in and out of sleep.  When I woke up we came to this small village to eat homemade empanadas and sopaipillas.

I just knew at the end of the day that I’ll never be the type to really put my backpack on and face real challenges in nature.  The extremes of experiencing the desert sun and then the ice and the wind in addition to the altitude changes really wore me out.  But something about this exhaustion caused me to think about how maybe I don’t need to push myself anyway.  I actually felt pleased with the idea of going back to Santiago to rest.  I mean usually I am notorious for planning my next trip or wanting more adventure…more time away, but this time I just felt like four days in the desert was enough.  And I also felt fortunate.  I saw some amazing places that maybe some people will never see.  I don’t need to be the authority on nature or the great adventurer.  And in relation to other parts of my life, I thought about how I also don’t need to be the great artist or teacher.  Much of my time in Santiago has been spent sort of pressuring myself to reinvent myself and recover for all of my years not going after what I wanted.   If anything, all I was really feeling at the moment was weak.  In regards to coming to South America, My friend Roxana likes to tell me that we don’t need the gold medal and that it’s enough that we showed up.  The desert knocked me out.  The thing on my mind most was how much I wanted to take better care of my health especially before attempting big hikes or adventures and especially after seeing my friend black out without warning before I left.

Leaving the desert, I realized how I actually feel satisfied for once in my life.  I have enough, is a little phrase that kept playing in my head on the way home.  Maybe it’s that I am finally really adjusting to being in South America or that I have been away from my life in the States long enough to let go of a lot of things.

I think mostly what I’ve come to terms with lately is that I don’t need to do it all.  That I’m really happy with what I have done and what I am doing.  Having my friend come all the way from Brazil and having Roxana plan such a great surprise for my birthday also made me feel satisfied with the people in my life.  I’m not sure I have ever felt this way.  That in itself is the biggest accomplishment for me.  Two birthdays ago in Sedona was much different.

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