It was cool. This was my second PVWG conference. I was out of pocket for last year’s, but by all accounts this one surpassed both last year and most people’s expectations for this one. Speaking of which. We were handed a questionnaire to help organizers figure out what went well and what fell in the water.We rated our expectations of the panels, seminars and workshops and then rated our actual experience. With the exception of one event, my expectations were significantly lower than actual. Which is good. Continue reading
Stella is a timid girl. She lived on the Puerto Vallarta streets for most of her young life. Weighing in at about 12 lbs. caution meant survival. She lived in hiding under cars only dashing out to eat. Then one day she was rescued by a passionate, affluent, dog loving activist here in Vallarta. She had been watching and coaxing the frightened pup until finally she could bring her off the streets. The two adored each other and Stella blossomed in her two months of care!
We got lucky and were able to adopt her after she was psychologically and physically strong enough to go from her rescuer’s home to a permanent one. It was a hard separation, but she got along fabulously with her new bro, Strider, another rescue pup. A little older, a little smaller he also had a tough start and was glad to have a frisky, friendly — not large — companion.
Unfortunately, PTSD doesn’t go away so quickly. As I’m writing we’re enjoying a tropical thunderstorm. After a particularly loud thunder clap, Stella got off of the bed and crawled into the small space under it. Now that it has stopped, she unceremoniously hopped back up and went to sleep.
A few nights ago, coming back from a walk, she got spooked by a little dog that dashed out his door yipping and chasing. In a split second, she wriggled out of her collar, leaving it, her leash and her i.d. tag behind. She ran like she had a hell hound on her heels. Tail solidly between her hind legs, I swear I saw both back paws in the air at once as she raced off, small dog on the chase, and two teenagers behind him, screaming for their dog. Fueling her nightmare.
Some blocks away they found the trouble-making pint-size attack dog and brought him home. Meanwhile, Stella kept running. And running. Away. It was dusk and we called and ran and walked and jogged and called some more. It was hopeless. We knew she was crazed and by then, completely lost.
The kids pointed to where they last saw her, and the hunt was on. Until dark and way beyond. One of us dashed back home and grabbed the car, one rode shotgun and the third kept watch in case she came back. We quickly printed up fliers. When I had house watch I took a deep breath and posted her picture on Facebook.
Then I waited for the recriminations I knew would come. You, You did this. You big human You lost a tiny, timid, puppy dog. After all she’d been through. And in the rainy season to boot.
I heard it all, over and over. Plus anything else awful I could throw my way. I replayed every horrible moment and tried to see who, other than myself, I could be angry with. OK, so maybe I wasn’t being reasonable. But I got a lot worse by morning.
I gathered my courage and checked FB again. Kindness! People I didn’t know began to repost. For the sleepless in Vallarta. More reposting. More compassion. By early morning my FB page was filling up with prayers, hopes and shares.
At first light we were out again. My son, visiting from the States, jogged around the streets we thought she might be in. We drove and looked and hung fliers. A little rest. Repeat. repeat. Meanwhile each time we printed out fliers, I checked FB. I tried taking time to answer a few, but the response was too large and the clock was ticking.
My nasty voices began to recede, overtaken by the kindness, support, and drive of others. Most were strangers. They were helping find a dog they had never known and reunite her with a family they would never meet. I lost track of when I was crying out of gratitude, when out of grief.
One thing was sure. I was no longer drifting alone, hanging fliers, cruising, looking under cars, asking strangers. I was part of an invisible, powerful army. I was part of the largest dog hunt Vallarta had ever seen.
Late morning the call I had been dreading came in. Stella’s original savior. She was devastated, as I knew she would be. I steeled myself for the criticism. The only one I heard was ‘Why didn’t you tell me right away?’ Then she jettisoned into action throwing her considerable influence behind the hunt.
She put her business and personal life on hold, made her own fliers, put out her own reward, in addition to ours, sent out fleets of cars, and more. She contacted the media, the pound, the fire department. Her assistants canvassed the neighborhood like detectives.
Meanwhile my FB page exploded. Stella’s picture was shared at least 100 times. By the time she was found in the late afternoon, some 300 comments of support, prayer, visualization, and finally joy flowed over my FB pages.
The village’s efforts paid off. A local woman who spoke no English noticed a frightened little black and white dog run out from under a car twice, both times almost getting run over. She took pity on her and managed to coax her to safety. Two hours she kept her not knowing what to do, until the network of calls, requests and fliers bore fruit. Someone told her to look at the flier hanging at the grocery store.
She later told me she still wasn’t sure. “It looked just like your dog,” she said, “but she had no collar or I.D.”
The power of an ex-pat community combined with FB turned out to be the stuff of dreams. Speaking of which, this was a while later. Three tired troopers:
This blog post is dedicated to all who showed up in our lives when we so desperately needed you. With ten thousand thanks.
P.S. I know that should come at the end, but I need to start with it. Normally I just bang out a blog to clear my brain and expected this would be the same. It wasn’t. It was hard to write and I keep feeling like I want to apologize. It seems I am battling with the same assumptions and larger than life mythologies I’m about to discuss — and I didn’t even realize it. Anyway, here goes…
Just came back from a trip to Ell-ay and SF Bay. Back home to Mexico. Undisputed — the US has some amazing, wonderful aspects. People consider where we live in Puerto Vallarta paradise, and I often feel that way as well, but the U.S. has its own versions of paradise and Cali has more than her fair share.
Still, I came back confused about tons of stuff from the US. Life seems so hard right now and almost everyone appears confused, anxious or depressed. Logic notwithstanding, people desperately cling to a sense of entitlement that is peculiar to America and feels totally outdated to me. It’s a subtext that says no matter what, this is the greatest place on earth. We are so bound up looking at other places and declaring them less than, that it stops us from looking in a mirror.
Looking from the outside in, I see a nation refusing to accept that it may be no worse but is in fact no better than other countries. I feel that deep-seated mythology even from my progressive friends who have many criticisms of the US. It’s still a subtext that gets in the way of self-examination. From where I stand, I see a nation without mirrors.
Mention corruption to a Mexican and you’ll likely get a sympathetic response about how terrible it is here. Or poverty, problems with the school system, cronyism, etc. You get agreement without shame, confusion or defensiveness. The national ego is not built on being the best country on earth.
Mention the cultural depths reaching back millenia, strong family ties, the comforts of life here, or the delicious food and you get enthusiastic agreement. People here have pride of place and country as much as Americans, and love their place of birth no less. By way of strong contrast with the States however, national pride is constructed without comparison to other places.
What I keep wondering is why we can’t do the same. We have mega corruption — assuming we agree that corporate power and vested interests should not have a place in government. We have more poverty now than at almost any time in the past hundred years. We are constrained by a constitution that was conceived in an agrarian nation of the 1770’s and in many respects is irrelevant to respond to today’s challenges. We have humongous problems with health care, education, traffic (OMG! Ell-ay really is off the charts!), random violence, prisons. I could go on — not because America has more problems than other places, but because it’s my country and I know it well.
In discussions, both personal and national, even gentle critiques are often defended with absurd comparisons — “At least here we can express our opinion and not end up in jail like in xxx.” “You think there’s poverty here? What about yyy.” Women, violence… it’s all the same. The absurd part is that the country is never (and I mean never) a comparable western industrialized nation where we won’t come out on top in any of those areas. It’s usually a country we’ve stereotyped anyway, but it’s always a country in an entirely different stage of socio-economic development.
Why bother? Why not wo/man up and move on. It’s all rationalizations that fuel outdated mythologies and that holds us back. We could avoid a lot of verbal exhaust fumes if we found a national mirror that could give us a relatively objective 2012 appraisal.
We would get a lot further with in-depth discussions on solutions if we dumped the stifling and ridiculous mantras that the US is the best country in the world, the greatest democracy on earth, and we’re luckier than anyone else on the planet.
Hogwash. Double think.
America doesn’t need to be defended against its own condition. Like every country, it is well-loved by its citizenry. It has blemishes like every place and it just might be a hell of a lot easier to fix problems if we owned up and focused on solutions.
If you live in Vallarta perhaps you saw this online article in the PV Pulse. Come on guys. You can do better than this kind of reporting. Having worked in the environmental field for some years, I can say with a certain certainty that herein this story presents a classic case of environmental stumbling block.
The story is about Mexico’s National Day of Reforestation, July 17, 2011. First a few factoids from the story:
- Nearly 128,000 people planted four million trees of 118 species at events across Mexico at 360 sites to help reforest 4,600 hectares.
- Volunteer numbers exceeded expectations by about 30,000.
- Mexico is one of the world’s five most reforested countries and has been acknowledged by UNEP, the UN’s Environmental Program.
- In the 5 years between 2005 – 2010, Mexico cut its deforestation rate by more than half.
- The country’s official goal is zero deforestation in less than 9 years — by 2020 .
So where–you may rightly ask–is the problemo? It’s here: “… some have questioned the effectiveness of the program… and here: “A SEMARNAT report suggested that of the 4 million trees planted, 1.7 million will not survive.”
Look, 55 percent of trees DO make it. Of the 4 mil, 2.3 million will grow up to become magnificent trees. And that’s because we the people really do care. Yet in the never ending quest for ‘fair’ journalistic reporting–say nothing of the never ending search for bad, sad and horror stories–the ‘facts’ are laid out to appear equal.
They aren’t and it’s a stupid crying shame to report it that way. Of course tell the whole story. Go ahead and print survival stats. But we should be cheering. We should be reporting on how great it was, of grandparents helping little ones plant a tree. We should show the community created and the sense of accomplishment. That’s how we help build MORE OF IT. For heaven’s sake, isn’t that the point?
Besides, never mind that in ‘factual’ reporting no one considered the full impact of the planting day. That was 128,000 people out there. That’s not a cold taco! What about the seeds they planted with their engagement. What will come of the stories they brought home to friends and family? Of their example? We may not be able to quantify it, but we sure as hell can report it.
Part of the reason we need environmental awareness to grow pronto is because we haven’t been measuring the full impacts of natural resource usage. That completely screwed up how we value and price our f i n i t e resources. I’ll save this rant for another day, but you don’t honestly think that US$4.00 is the real price of a gallon of gas, do you? Or that clean air is free?Please tell me you get it.
As we are finally learning to include the ‘externalities’ into costing of resource use, let’s include the full impacts of damage control and reversal. All I’m really saying is this is cause for celebration!
Me, I’m purring. I’m basking in the living miracle of 4 million tree births-in-ground attended by 128,000 midwives!
Next time I want to invite friends I won’t tell them to come the week after Easter when all is calm. Two reasons: First off it’s not. Semana Santa, which is the week before Easter is crowded. But the following one, Semana Pascua, also has its own name. That should have clued me in that it too would be busy. In fact it’s also packed here at oceanside PV. Somehow it works out that the group that second week replaces the young, single Spring Breakers from DF Mexico and Guadalajara with families from the same areas whose younger kids are on spring break .
Apparently you feel that change big time if you live in the tourist zone (Emiliano Zapata aka to gringos and other tourists as the Zona Romantica). Which we don’t. We live in a Mexican neighborhood. Both weeks were crowded here, but there was no major difference for us. Well it was a bit noisier than usual but mostly it was different noises — more people laughing in the middle of the night and cars showing off. It outdid the regular noises of dogs, pick-up & delivery trucks and the stereo early calls of roosters. By Monday a.m. of the following week life had returned to normal, but not.
That brings me to the second reason I’d reschedule on the invitation thing: The weather is getting muggy, hot and hotter&muggier. When we moved here 1 June a year ago after close to a year in Suriname, a relentlessly hot and muggy tropical country, we thought we knew muggy. HA! and HA! By July we were hoping for a let-up. By August we were panting. By September we were really REALLY over and done with the damn humidity, sweat and mold. By mid October we were moldy. By beginning of November we thought we had moved to another part of the world. Or, pardon the pun, had a sea change.
So begins the cycle of perfect weather in paradise that lasts close to 6 months. But now I’m S.A.D.ding and I didn”t think I would. Some snow bird friends are gone NOTB (that would be north of the border). Some activities have stopped and places shut down, but that’s not it. In Seattle we take that Seasonal Affective Disorder stuff seriously. When you’re sunless for months on end it’s no surprise to feel the loss of all the goodies we get from Vita D and sunshine. But here in paradise? I expect it’s the transition. My body is arguing with me about going out between oh, say 11 and 5. It’s complaining when I try to sleep, and I’m astounded when I go on the terrace at midnight and it’s not much cooler than it was 5 hours earlier. So I figure I’ll just do what the animals do and learn to live with nature instead of arguing with it.
I’ll let my body and psyche adjust and jump into the ocean to cool down, go to the occasional afternoon movie, seek out air-conditioned coffee houses to work in, and snuggle into the major PV contraction known in other places as Summer.
This is our first Holy Week and Easter Week here in Vallarta. Having been here in December with one party after another and the astounding marches on behalf of the “Virgincita” for the first 12 days and nights of December, we were looking forward to the same mellow atmosphere. A mix of Aztec and Catholic. Mmm. Probably not from what we’ve seen so far.
Rather think Ft. Lauderdale at spring break meets Rio for Carnival. You’d be a lot closer to the look and feel of PV right now. Thursday, through Sunday is considered the height of it. It being beaches packed with sunburnt kids, families, singles, party-goers mostly all from Mexico city and Guadalajara, some folks with light fingers, and lots and lots of drunks. It also refers to traffic jams, crowded stores and sell-out crowds. Despite diverting buses and bringing on minivans, traffic is already close to a crawl and the Malecon is packed.
This is the time when folks from the inland and mountain areas flock to Mexico’s beach towns and the coastal locals head into the mountains and inland. Musical places. Not much holy so far, but Good Friday is still to come. Hopefully good happenings for local business as well. It’s the last hurrah before the heat, humidity and rains sends Vallarta and Vallartenses into summer hibernation.
So, first off the presenters were totally cool, professional and awesome. OK, there was one exception, but that’s okay. The unexpected bene beyond generally humble, charming and successful presenters was the talent among the participants. Talent, dedication, and a don’t give up the ship attitude that was contagious.
As I said in WC1, I had never been to one of these. A question one presenter put out was how many of us had set aside a budget for our writing at the beginning of the year — for you know, entries, submissions, conferences, etc. I had not only not done it, I had never even thought about it. But I’m thinkin about it now. First hundred bucks of 2012 goes to the 7th annual PV WC.
I thought some good things would come from the conference, and was right. Beyond that, I’ve crossed a personal line. An offline discussion the first evening was worth the price of admission. Michael, who has written more than most people would think possible said there’s no such thing as writer’s block. I thought, sure, you don’t have it. That doesn’t mean I don’t. I indicated something along those lines and his response, albeit more polite was — bullshit.
“Have you ever had a plumber say: ‘I’m sorry ma’am, I can’t fix your toilet today. I’ve got plumber’s block.’ Or a doctor tell you he couldn’t see you today because he had doctor’s block?” Bonk. Reframe! By the time he was done we were both laughing and he had me convinced. We agreed only writers could even think up a term like that for not taking care of business. Worth the price of admission right there.
Looking at writing as I would going to any job has allowed me to set a schedule and so far stick to it. And if I don’t at some point in the future when the high wears off, at least I’ll know it’s me not tcb’ing. Lisa, who was just worth the price of admission period, dropped another pearl. She, with her ‘Rock Paper Tiger” novel on Amazon & NYTimes top 100 books of 2010, along with other accolades, said writing for her was often not fun. Not easy. Hard. Double bonk! ”
You don’t wait for the Muse to appear before you write. You don’t wait for the mood or the brilliant idea. You…write — whether you feel like it or not — and sometimes the reward for doing that is a visit from the Muse.
Just finished the 2-day workshop at Vallarta’s only Biblioteca. Los Mangos is a huge white building enclosed by large metal gates and set back behind a huge lawn with a sprawling veranda. And a mango tree. It has been on life support for the past 2 years, existing on a contributions and charity. For heaven only knows what reason, the government cut all funds. It has been rough, but pushed the library even further in the direction of becoming a cultural community center, as these kinds of events become fund raisers.
The staff appears to survive on love and roses. How else do you describe a manager that works from 9 am to 9 pm M-F, 9 – 6 Sa & Su and has to be the last to leave from the library’s many events, often getting home at midnight? They couldn’t afford to hire a part-timer to help out and I’m guessing if we knew his wages and those of the rest of the staff we would laugh or cry.
But to the conference. The theme of ‘Becoming a Writer — Seriously’ felt both tantalizing and irrelevant to me going in. Me? Of course I’m a serious writer. Why would you even ask! I’ve done it for a living for the past 20+ years and have written, written, written for myself since I was a teenager. Oh, wait a minute. Did you mean something like sending out a query to a publisher? Looking for an agent? That process? No, I don’t think so. You must have me confused with someone who can handle rejection. Add in that I’d never been to a writer’s conference and you might intuit that even though I was very excited, I had mixed feelings going in.
Here was the line-up: http://www.puerto-vallarta-writers-group.com/Conference.php
2011 FEATURED SPEAKERS & SEMINAR PRESENTERS:
|Opening speaker Rick Najera promises to mix humor with insight as he outlines the pitfalls he encountered on his way to becoming the man Hispanic Business Magazine twice selected among “the 100 most influential Latinos in America.” Najera has written movies (Nothing like the Holidays), starred on Broadway and has written pilots for major TV networks. He’s also one of the most sought-after comics in the industry. His talents will also be shared in a seminar on using humor to best advantage in writing.|
|Concluding speaker Lisa Brackmann, whose first novel Rock Paper Tiger was ranked by Amazon as one of the top 100 books of 2010, comes with an impressive background in the film industry, a worker on a presidential campaign and a singer in a rock band. Her talk will follow the conference theme: Becoming a Writer – Seriously. She will also lead a seminar on “writing the high impact novel.”|
|Susie Albin-Najera, an extensive traveler who has covered broad facets of travel, tourism, art, entertainment and culture, will conduct a seminar on travel writing blogging and freelancing.|
|Sunny Frazier, who specializes in writing mysteries with an astrological twist and has edited four anthologies of mystery stories, will address the issue of finding a publisher and delve into the question of what publishers are looking for. As an acquisitions editor at Oak Tree Press, Frazier will also be on the lookout for potential manuscripts.|
|Sarah Cortez, who has received a PEN Texas literary award for poets and has edited and published an anthology of short mystery fiction by Latino authors, will discuss the fundamentals of writing a memoir.|
|Michael Bracken, who has written 11 books and more than 1,200 shorter works that have appeared in over 150 publications, will recount how he became successful at selling and writing confessions.|
A natural life, a life in nature. Easy to find here. We’re still getting our ocean-front sea legs as we settle into life here in our home of choice — Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. After our 10 months in Suriname we realized we had become addicted to a variety of things about life beyond the US borders. We looked a lot at maps and decided PV would fit just perfectly — an easy plane ride back, or a long but interesting road trip, a place my husband can practice acupuncture, inexpensive living, slow pace but still lots happening. All true, but it doesn’t begin to describe anything about life here.
It’s a trip back in time in many ways that appeal to me — like small shops, kids playing outside, clothes lines, lots of public transport, people that talk to each other, safe places to walk, fruit & veggie trucks that come down your street, lots of stuff done by hand. Mexico seems to have a flair for color, a love of beauty and an almost constant array of smells that may be matched elsewhere, but would be hard to beat. Some gringos can’t take the constant sounds — dogs barking, roosters crowing, cats screwing, cats fighting, burros hawing (or whatever that sound is), music, street vendors, cars… I’m amazed at how easily I have adapted.
Missing here is the entire commuting life style which granted, you can avoid by living in the city where you work, if you can afford it and if it’s not totally the hood. While PV has top medical and dental care and is totally WIFI-literate, lots of conveniences are missing. But that suits me fine as well. I’m not trying to convince anyone to come; I’m just sayin’.
It’s the same and very different from a few decades ago in the States. Sometimes I feel like it’s familiar and I can just about put my finger on it. Then we stroll over to the sandy beach and amazing view of Banderas Bay and it’s something I’ve never known. Now that view in a warm clime is something you’d pay a lot of money to live near in the US — if you could get to the beach at all. Unlike my country of birth, here there is no such thing as a ‘private’ beach in MX.
We’re expecting a visit from our kids in March — via sailboat from Cali. Sometimes I think I’m dreaming. Maybe I am, and that’s ok.