Archives for posts with tag: brain

Since it’s the end of the year, I’m going to reflect on the way it all went down. First thought: the first five or so months of this year were some of the worst five or so months I’ve ever felt. This was because I couldn’t feel them at all. 

Every few years I get really depressed. It’s just the way it is, and the way it likely always will be. I am a sturdy house with faulty wiring.

2013 will go down in my own little history (joining 2008, 2002, a fair bit of 2010 and all of middle school) as one of those years. I don’t feel like going into detail about it just now, but it got ugly. Then, gradually, it got better.

The second half of this year has been one of the better second halves of any year, so far. I read and wrote a fair bit and travelled good travels, baked grill marks into my side in a slatted white swimsuit on the first really hot day of late-June, and ran ~355 miles. Most of all, I had nice times with good people and remembered how nice it is to have good people, realized to the fullest extent in my life so-far how grateful I am to have so many people who truly have my back. I’ve always had a loner complex, so it’s been a pleasant surprise to be able to see what everyone else already could: that people like me. That I am a person to like. 

And that’s the thing, when you’re a person who periodically loses the ability to feel. You forget that you are a person of worth. Remembering otherwise is also a relearning, and each time, what you learn gets bigger. “Wisdom” is one word that gets thrown around carelessly, and I’m not going to be one of those assholes who pretends to be wise. “Perspective” might be closer. Anyway, I feel like I’m coming out of this year with more of a sense of how to BE, in the most pared-down sense of the word. Wiser, maybe, if not yet wise. Maybe this will be the time the learning sticks. 

My second thought: this blog has run its course. I talk about myself enough in other places. This will be this blog’s last post. It’s been real.

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Every Tuesday night I take a bus, then a subway, then another bus to get to the church where my choir rehearses. I sit on public transit for an hour, give or take, and I get off and walk for three minutes down a woody path that cuts straight through a cluster of apartment buildings and spits me out within view of the church.

I didn’t always know about the path. Before I found it I would get off at the next bus stop and walk, at an impatient clip, for 11-13 minutes through an outdoor mall to get to practice. Sometimes I would stop on the way for a too-hot and too-expensive cup of soup from the luxury grocery store on the periphery of the complex. Then another member of the choir showed me the path. The shortcut saves me a minimum of six minutes.

The shopping centre route I used to take is the maze with all the recycling signs.

The path is genius. It acts as a bridge where the grid of the city lets up into an unwieldy tangle and smells like forest, to boot. But, also like the forest, my path is unlit.

This past Tuesday, the sun set in Toronto at 6:20p.m. Last week Tuesday, sunset was 6:31. Rehearsal, both Tuesdays, began at 7. Both Tuesdays, the “give or take” hourlong commute gave instead of took and I was late.

Last Tuesday I got out of the bus with my earbuds tucked in. It’s probably not a good idea to walk into a wooded, unlit path after sunset with earbuds tucked in, but I was listening to a podcast about a woman who got attacked by a shark and I didn’t want to stop listening. So I walked into the dark, wooded path without being able to see very well, and also without much ability to hear things apart from the podcast, which was very good.

That’s when the man appeared.

I saw his arm first, which he extended toward me with a piece of paper at its end. Then I saw his hood and his shape. He said something I couldn’t understand.

“NO!” I shouted at him. I half-heard my own voice as it came out of my body, girlish and shrill. I had re-watched Clueless the night before and it occurred to me that I’d just sounded like Cher.

“God!” said the man. He sounded wounded. I could hear him because I’d pulled out an earbud. “I–I’ve lost my cat!”

I could tell from his voice he was telling the truth. He had probably asked me, “Have you seen my cat?” before I could hear him, and he probably lived in one of the apartment buildings adjacent to the mouth of the trail. He was probably trying to hand me a poster he’d made with his cat’s picture on it and a number where I could reach him. He was upset.

“You can’t just sneak up on a girl walking by herself in the dark like that!” I realized I was crying.

A serial perpetrator of sexual assaults in my neighborhood (possibly, allegedly, a teenage boy) didn’t stop my nighttime jogs. I don’t carry weapons and I don’t know self-defense. I walk alone more often than I don’t, usually through the city, sometimes at night. While I wouldn’t say I haven’t been cautious, I haven’t really been scared either. I guess you could say I’ve been macho.

But I wasn’t crying because I’d been macho. My tears were hot and so was my face. I was crying because I was angry.

I was angry because I had acted like an asshole. Fear and a pair of earbuds and a guy who didn’t know not to approach a woman in the dark because he had never lived as one made me into the kind of person who shouts at a guy who’s just lost his cat. Who shouts at someone who just lost their cat? An asshole. And, well, me.

I was angry at myself for other reasons, too–for losing composure, for being slow on my feet. But probably, more than anything, I was angry at the cosmic injustice of knowing that, if guy had hurt me, people would be wondering why I was careless enough to walk down a dark path wearing earbuds. And I was angry at myself for being careless, too! It was all very circular.

Anyway, nothing actually happened. Thank goodness! But now I have to think about whether it’s a good idea to keep taking my shortcut. And it’s a bummer.


As I’ve written about a lot before, I’m a mixed kid who grew up in a bicultural household. My mom moved to the U.S. from El Salvador as an adult. My dad’s grandparents were immigrants to the U.S. from Poland and Germany (so, generic white person). I grew up listening to my mom’s Latin pop (my dad’s not really a music guy) and eventually got into noisy alt rock as a teenager (my fave bands were Sonic Youth and Sleater Kinney, neither of which sound like merengue). But I didn’t discover Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez’ Love and Rockets, the early 1980s alternative comic series, until I was in my early twenties.

I loved the aesthetic of the series, the women-centric storylines, and the punked-out Chicano characters of especially Jaime’s stories. I don’t think there’s been anything quite like it, before or since. Los Bros Hernandez were on my favourite music podcast yesterday, NPR’s Alt.Latino, to talk about the music they grew up on and how it shaped their work. Here’s the link.

I shaved my body hair six weeks after that last blog post. The legs came first, because they were patchy and looked like they’d been sprinkled in dirt. The pits were last, and those finally went because I was developing b.o. that smelled like celery, which I hate. It may be the way my body is supposed to smell (I don’t wear, or own, deodorant and haven’t purchased any in about five years, so this is a genuine mystery). But my body doesn’t produce these smells when I shave under the arms, so that’s what happened with that.

I also haven’t been sleeping well. This is unusual, as I usually sleep easily and often. Now I’m in a constant state of half-awakeness, and I feel like I have the flu. Maybe I do have the flu, though it’s been a month. Maybe I’m actually dead. Maybe I’m in an M. Night Shayalaman movie.

Finally, one of my foster kittens got adopted Friday. I fostered three of them in June, which I wrote a lengthy post about in July that WordPress promptly deleted (thanks, WP!). Anyway, I meant to get them out of my house around then, because I didn’t want to get attached. But they stayed, and I did. Finally the longhaired one I named Flurkin went off on Friday to a pair of sweet undergrads who are “thinking about naming her Luna” according to the email response I got from them this afternoon, after I casually asked them how she was doing as though I hadn’t dissolved into shake-sobs the moment they took her.

But life is okay otherwise.

Photo courtesy of some insipid Internet gossip blog. Do I really have to link to it?

I got my first armpit hair when I was 9. For awhile it was just the one and I kept it around for quite some time. I was maybe a little mesmerized by its existence.

 When others joined, maybe a year and a half later, I retaliated with a pink daisy-printed BIC razor my mother kept in the shower. I would proceed to retaliate daily for the next 15 years of my life.

Body hair removal is probably the easiest way we women can avoid looking like women (much easier than starving away curves, I’d guess), which is itself transgressive. It’s also something I’d never given much thought until last week, when I decided to stop shaving everything.

I made the announcement to a group of girlfriends in the park. “Oh get over yourself,” sighed one of them, a self-proclaimed hippie who stays away from razors. But she’s exactly that: a hippie. I’m not, and sporting hippie signifiers like hairy pits (and, on the beach, full fluffy bush) doesn’t mesh with whatever it is I’m presenting as. So, as the hair has tufted out over the past days, I’ve found myself thinking a lot about what it means to be a woman in this world, about the boldness of body hair. How puberty makes us enemies of our physical selves. I’ve also realized that, my goodness, I am hairy.

No, I’m not surprised. I’m slavic and Salvadoran. I probably came out of the womb as a mound of fur (must check with mother). At 13 a classmate caught a peek of my bare belly—this was the late ’90s, when we stupidly wore hip-huggers—and shrieked: “Ew *Kellikorducki, you be HAIRY!” which prompted me to depliate the entirety of my pelvis to my ribcage for the next ten years. In sum, I expected there to be hair. What I didn’t expect was how fast.

The hair on my head is a mousy medium brown, wavy and fine. Everywhere else it’s almost black and triumphant. It is darker and starker than the body hair of most of my hippie friends, freckled blue-eyed gals with freckled blue-eyed gal hair.

While visible in this phase, it doesn’t quite look like anything other than its owner being too lazy to shave. When it gets a little longer, it will be a statement. Because that’s what body hair is on a woman.

I find myself talking about it a lot. It’s summertime, so it’s out there. I feel eyes falling on it and then quickly averting. We’re very guarded about our hair, and seeing it on others can feel like trespassing. So, I tell people about my experiment. “I’m growing out my body hair, just to see what it feels like.” Not what it feels like to have hair of course, but to walk through the world as a person who does. As a woman, that is.

The reality is that nobody really cares. But, they do notice. “I didn’t want to say anything,” said a friend at a beach party over the weekend after I’d explained myself, “but I saw it.” Then, “I couldn’t do it, myself.”

So, another day as a hairy non-hippie, a bundle of mixed signifiers navigating July. I dare you to give it a shot. 

 

 

 

 

 

*Yes, my name in elementary school was often Kellikorducki. Sometimes, Kellikorfucki.

 

1988:

2010:

(This post was originally written for the Ethnic Aisle blog, but I just realized all my links in that post are broken, so here’s a corrected version. Please do check out the other hair-related posts on that blog,though!)

I have never been one of nature’s blondes, one of my aching desires as a kid. Before I come off like some Aryan Nation weirdo, I should mention that my motives were strictly pragmatic. See, my future career backup plan was to become a Spanish-language television personality.

Outlandish as it may seem, this vision was fairly sketched out. Ideally I’d host my own song-and-dance variety show—something Xuxa-esque, but weirder—but I’d have settled for a telenovela gig too. (This seemed less far-fetched than my other ambition, to one day make a living by writing things.) The overwhelming majority of women on Spanish TV, the ones who weren’t playing maids on the prime-time soaps, looked a lot like me—as in, they too were white as hell. Univision, the Miami-based Spanish television network we picked up at our house, was (and continues to be) a virtually Mestiza-free zone. I figured a Caucasian-looking halfie like me stood at least a semi-decent shot.

It didn’t seem like talent was much of a factor for getting onto Univision. I’m no actress, but neither are many of the ladies on the social mobility-bent love dramas I grew up watching with my mom. A fair complexion, a little surgical enhancement, and flowing locks seemed the requisite criteria for climbing the Latin programming pyramid, as a woman.

Oh yeah. You also had to be blonde.

Okay, so blondeness wasn’t exactly required. It was more like the silver bullet that could make even the most marginally negotiable amount of onscreen charisma sufficient for stardom.

It’s no shocker that I’m not the first person to make this observation. A Google search for “blondes latino television” pulled up this LatinoLA blog post that criticizes Spanish TV for perpetuating a “Euro-cute” ideal of beauty rather than represent characters who reflect the Mestizo majority of its viewership. That search also brought up a Yahoo! Answers forum that asks: “Why is Latin American television so blonde obsessed?”

I feel like, if you’re reading this, you probably don’t need a basic lesson on the history of Colonialism and the remaining correlations between economic stature and whiteness in Latin America, or the uneasy identity baggage of Meztisaje. If you do, the Internet is an excellent resource. At any rate, the answer to Latin American television’s blonde obsession can almost certainly be found within that complicated history. Just like back in the day, when flaxen locks meant you probably came from European stock and were on the side of the conquerers rather than the defeated, or a little later when they meant you were of the land-owning instead of the workers, or now, when it still means that you’re likelier to possess greater wealth and power than someone whose hair is not blonde, the reasons for the appeal are clear. Blondeness is power. It’s post-aspirational.

So, back to me. I am not a telenovela star. I used the funds I’d squirreled away for breast augmentation to pay international tuition fees, for better or worse. (Just kidding; I never possessed that kind of foresight). But I still watch Spanish-language television whenever I visit my folks back in the states, and it’s still more of the same: Euro-cute with a bonus for blondeness. At least no one can accuse Latin American television of ignoring minority populations.

Photo by Flickr user CristianGs. As you can see by that watermark.

Last night Sol, our tour guide from a couple of weeks back, invited us out to her dad’s swank house just north of the city to eat asado. Asado is Argentine barbecue, a ritualized feast of a variety of God’s grilled creatures that puts our sad North American hamburger and hot-dog endeavors to total shame. Chorizo, pork chop, two kinds of beef and an exquisitely marinated chicken were all consumed in the same belly-expanding meal. Before last night, I would never have believed this was physically possible.

It was a fabulously Argentine affair, gabbing over Fernet with Cola about the Argentine economy (key word: INFLATION!) with J, Sol and two of her friends, Sabrina and (I think?) Natalia, whom she lovingly referred to as “las pendejas” (which in this situation roughly translates to “my bitches.” Argentines swear a lot more than Canadians do, and it’s usually pretty endearing). Anyway, I’ve eaten so much meat in the past three weeks that I feel the chemistry of my body has actually changed. I’m starting to smell like a bouillon cube.

Argentina is well known for its earth-shattering, grass-fed Pampas beef, but the truth is all meat in Argentina is cheap, plentiful, and of exceptional quality. Sol said that it’s actually rare to encounter bad meat, a legitimate challenge. For this reason, Argentines eat an absurd amount of flesh; fresh produce, though also abundant, is very much an afterthought. In fact, the very word used to describe salad items at many Buenos Aires restaurants translates literally to “garnish.” Go figure.

Sol sent us home with leftovers from the asado. “A doggie bag,” she joked, a concept she must have picked up in her dealings with foreigners as a tour guide. While no longer as unthinkably gauche as it once was, the practice of bringing home leftovers from restaurants and the like remains decisively outside the norm. I’m not sure her Argentine galpals caught the reference.

Argentines have had a rough go of it over the past several decades, between military dictatorship and, more recently, total economic collapse. But throughout it all, they’ve maintained a healthy appetite. While leafy greens might not be a national staple, even the most run-of-the-mill street food here is worthy of marvel. Lonely Planet did a roundup not too long ago of 10 non-steak edibles to eat in Buenos Aires, and I’d say they were right on the money with their mention of ice cream (also, the best I’ve ever had in my life), pizza (ditto), and dulce de leche. Apart from some horrible American tourists we encountered while waiting in line to eat at B.A.’s ancient and famous Cafe Tortoni (“Empana-what? Looked like Hot Pockets to me!”), all the foreigners we’ve encountered have been impressed by the offerings here–and rightfully so. But, even more impressive is that the locals know better than to take it for granted.

President Cristina Kirchner. Photo from somewhere on the Internet.

This morning, walking past a kiosko (that is, a street kiosk that sells magazines, newspapers, and smokes), I saw my first front-page headline pertaining to the falsification of the Argentine president’s cancer scare. A bit of background: la Presidenta Cristina Kirchner (whose late husband, Nestor, was the president before her) was diagnosed with thyroid cancer last year. This very legitimate health scare was played up by the prez’s PR machine and subsequently amplified by national media–as would be the case anywhere with that scenario, I suppose–to elicit sympathy and a sense of national solidarity. “Fuerza Cristina” graffiti multiplied on Argentine walls. When it unfolded last week that the thyroid removed from the president’s body turned out to be devoid of cancerous cells, however, there was very little fanfare. It immediately struck me as odd.

What if, say, Barack Obama had been diagnosed with thyroid cancer? Surely, the media wouldn’t let it go. But then, say, after his nationally-breath-held operation came through and it turned out that, Oops! The cells were healthy after all!  wouldn’t there be investigation? Wouldn’t people insist that something smelled fishy? Of course they would; someone would immediately suspect a stunt at play. North American democracy is founded upon a healthy sense of skepticism. Not so in Argentina. The fundamental distrust of democratic governance held by the Argentine people, recently released from the throngs of a dictatorial regime, is apparently immune to bizarre marketing schemes that will play up a head of state’s potentially life-threatening illness only to overlook its subsequently positive prognosis. It’s easier, here, to simply put one’s faith in one’s leader. She’s strong and speaks for the people!  is the prevailing rationale. It’s called Peronism, and it’s a curious beast.

The Peronist political machine relies upon a degree of personality cultishness that I’ve never experienced elsewhere. When I visited the Casa Rosada (presidential palace) last week, I was immediately stricken by the dozens of photo installations of the president, her late husband and their children, displayed along the entrance. These mini-billboards showed “day in the life” type scenes: photos of the president blowing kisses from outside a car window, presumably at a crowd of her loyal countrypeople; la presidenta mid-embrace with her children; “candid” shots of Cristina at speaking engagements, eyes welling with emotion before the masses. Why are images politically relevant? Well, they aren’t. Nothing about Cristina’s ability to smile at a camera suggests shrewd policymaking. Rather, the message is, “I am one of you. Love me.” And, it seems to work.

Back to the cancer thing. Why wasn’t this front-page news last week? Why has it been discussed on television broadcasts only as an afterthought? Why haven’t people been celebrating her–apparently, unexpectedly–good health? I can’t help but come to the conclusion that there’s a fear of throwing off a narrative of support and well-wishes coming from high up, trickling down to mainstream media. A populist head of state’s life-threatening illness is quite the unifier, after all. Why break the circle? It’s an idea that especially makes sense in the context of what I’ve been told, that the press isn’t completely, 100% free in Argentina.

Not to say that North American politics are any more civil, but it’s been fascinating to see a totally different kind of machine at play. Techniques of ruling also have their cultural differences.

A blurry live-action tango scene.

Buenos Aires is beginning to make sense. Maybe because today was the first time I got properly lost on my own, which is a fabulous way to get one’s bearings in an unfamiliar place. For the past 13 days (!) I’ve been relying on my travel partner for navigation. In a sense, he’s the orchestrator of this trip, and I’m the guest, so I follow. Besides, this is a working holiday for me; many potential brain-map-making hours have been spent drinking cortados in coffee shops while pounding away at my laptop about goings-on back home. This is no complaint, but it was an adventure to begin forging my own sense of geography earlier tonight.

Stationed on the southern-ish edge of B.A.’s “old money” Recoleta neighbourhood (note: the apartment sublet here was, miraculously, comparable in price to others in less quiet/chi-chi locations), I ventured for a 10k run to and from the border of Palermo, a gigantic expanse of parks and nightlife broken up into four real-estate subsections for easy marketing appeal. From my monthlong dwelling at the intersection of Ayacucho and Peña, I headed northeast along increasingly swanky territory along Ayacucho and onto Avenida del Libertador–Avenue of the Liberator–to make my way westward.

As a headphones runner, I had the latest record by Argentine electro group Poncho to keep me from bursting into an anti-exercise tantrum. According to the current Argentine edition of Rolling Stone (which I picked up at a nearby kiosko a few days ago)  iTunes is relatively new to the country and, within moments of its inception, Poncho’s sole English-language single “Please Me” became its most-downloaded track, even surpassing Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep”–quite a feat, if you’ll ask anyone in the Western Hemisphere.  In true tech-gen fashion, I discovered the tune by Shazaaming it at a Palermo bar earlier in the week, but it’s been apparently inescapable for months. ( In case you’re wondering, the entire album is brilliant.)

After I figured out how to return home, we ate what could almost be called a homecooked meal and drank Fernet and Cola, which I’ve discovered is the cocktail of choice for Porteños (the name given to people from Buenos Aires, a port city, which literally translates to “Port dwellers”). I learned about the concoction during a fabulous walking tour last Monday, which I’d recommend to anyone considering a visit to the city. Upon mention of the drink, a German tourist in the group made a horrible face and said that his experience with Fernet y Cola was unpleasant and headache-inducing, which naturally led me to try it a few hours later. Some loser on Vimeo described its taste as “mouthwash,” but my refined palate reads notes of Ricola cough drops and Sicilian mafiosos. It’s simultaneously classy and dirty, which is really the best any of us can aspire to. For my Toronto friends: Fernet Branca is apparently available at the LCBO, but at about 6x the Buenos Aires price. In other words: hit me up, for I shall be importing.

Fernet y cola was something that got consumed last night, as well, when we ventured to a hip milonga called La Catedral at the recommendation of a local friend-of-a-friend named Elena. Milongas are where tango happens, and el tango is just short of religion here. The dance originated at the end of the 19th century but waned in popularity during the mid-20th century, when newfangled rock-n-roll business decided to take over the public consciousness. The folkloric dance was further suppressed during Argentina’s most recent, and most violent, military dictarorship, which lasted from 1976-1983. But, after a long period of decline, tango is making a major comeback, thanks to a number of Bohemian and youth-centric milongas and–of course–a bounty of international tourists drawn to  its undeniable sexiness. As my new friend Elena explained, “Es una obsesion.”  Having experienced my own first tango lesson and show last night, I can understand why: it’s a dance that relies on intuition and reflex, a communication between dance partners, more than any other.  Basically, the dance is foreplay on heels. I hope to get a second lesson tomorrow.

Beyond tango and exploration, today involved a visit to the MALBA–the museum of Latin American Art in Buenos Aires–where we experienced some amazingly trippy “physiocromic” (my own attempt at an English translation for it) work by the artist Carlos Cruz-Diez. Google the guy, as your mind will surely be blown. The following photo is from one of his less-impressive (but more interactively fun) pieces. Apologies for dorkiness (I is what I is).

[Final note: for more intelligent/comprehensive Buenos Aires recaps, follow this blog here.]