I’ve been thinking recently of reinvention.
Prior to my departure to South America, I struggled with a post – never published – about my reasons for making this trip; it had much to do with the realization of an ideal self, most aspects of which I will probably never come to resemble (e.g., being prettier, taller, size two and capable of wearing high heels instead of orthopedic flip-flops). But there was one attribute of this ideal self – fluency in Spanish – that I was determined to realize before it was too late, before neuronal connections hardened beyond the reach of a second language.
Unfortunately, since coming here, I have realized that it is already too late for me.
I don’t mean that it’s too late to improve my language skills, to expand my comfort level and overcome my insecurities and, for once in my life, to have an unobstructed conversation with my Cuban grandmother. But fluency on the level of my mother or my aunt, engaging the world fluidly in multiple tongues, is not likely to happen for me, not here and not ever, and it is perhaps owing as much to my quickness with English as it is to my slowness in Spanish.
There have been other realizations. Since getting all my stuff stolen, I have been adrift from my usual comforts, even the tactile familiarity of my backpack – the backpack that was my constant companion during months and years of couch-surfing and homelessness, the backpack I had kitted out to cover whatever I might need in any emergency, from a flashlight to an umbrella to a half-dozen packets of ketchup (YOU NEVER KNOW WHEN YOU WILL NEED KETCHUP OKAY?!?!). I lost my comedy notebooks, and spent two solid days re-writing all of my standup material from memory, sharpening it as I went; I lost a Spanish-language novelization of the first “X-Files” movie, a gift from a decade ago that never failed to make me smile, even as the relationship between the giver and I contorted and turned ugly – the small book represented, to me, the best of our friendship, and I was reading it both to practice the language and to have a comforting narrative and memory in my head as I moved through strange places. I lost my computer, repository of pretty much Everything That Matters In My Life, all my in-progress works of literature and comedy and video – backed up in California, yes, but inaccessible to me now until July. I lost another notebook, dozens of pages of notes on different projects, handwritten and without backup, prescriptions to fix stories and characters and ideas.
And, interestingly enough, I have come to be oddly grateful for this loss.
Not in its totality, to be sure – the computer will have to be replaced, and probably at a cost much greater than free – but, freed from those epic notes and the labor I’d invested in trying to make some things work, I’ve realized that those things not only aren’t working, but aren’t worth fixing. Perspective, I believe, is the word; without an eight-page scrawled reminder of all the effort I’ve put into improving a problematic piece of writing, I have the luxury of recognizing that, actually, it’s time to just move the fuck on. It needn’t all be thrown away – there are some things worth salvaging, worth converting into short stories or short films – but losing all my shit has had the unanticipated effect of clarity in evaluating which projects are worth pursuing.
I do, however, mourn the loss of my camera; I take some decent pictures (evidence at ihops.net, under the ‘Fotos’ tab), and Valparaiso operates in the most incredible visual language of any city I’ve ever encountered. But in a way, even being without the primary instrument of documentation for this trip has its roundabout benefits – the project I have been embracing, my secondary purpose in coming here, demands a visual record of Valpo rendered not in aperture widths and shutter speeds but in words, and those, those I will always have, in English more than Spanish but as immediate and expansive as any photograph. And, more importantly, I’ve realized that this project – which began last summer in Spain and will culminate its international research tour in my grandmother’s living room in Miami – is absolutely worth it, as much (or more) a path to understanding my heritage as any language.
That’s the funny thing about reinvention, though, isn’t it: more often than not, it only brings us closer to ourselves.