Quack! Quack!

My book review of Moby-Duck: The True Story of 28,800 bath Toys Lost at Sea and of the Beachcombers, Oceanographers, Environmentalists, and Fools, including the Author, Who Went in Search of Them by Donovan Hohn is live at The Internet Review of Books.

I loved this book. Aside from the title, which has to be one of the longer titles in publishing history, the book is full of interesting information about our oceans and where all our plastic goes, but it is also a meditative and thoughtful book about wanderers and seekers.

“1992. A container ship from China steams toward the United States and along the route encounters gale force winds. Tossed about in “the six degrees of freedom… what naval architects call the six different motions floating vessels make,”  the ship with its towering stack of containers begins to pitch like an inverted pendulum…” To read my complete review click here.




An essay I started a few years ago is in the current Bluestem online quarterly. “Kingfisher” stemmed from a sighting of  one on a morning walk in Costa Rica, where I now live.

It is interesting to me how essays evolve. That one started out as pure observation and a memory from my childhood. The piece sat in my Scrivener project titled Essays in Progress and there are quite a few in that file. I’d pull it out now and again and look at it.  I felt it lacked focus and really, taken on it own, it had no point. I have a lot of those kinds of pieces, too. Over time, though, it began to dawn on me that the sighting and the memory did have a point, and the essay grew from there.

I cannot imagine trying to crank creative essays out on a schedule or deadline. Mine seem to have a life of their own and their evolution is slow. Three, four or five drafts is not uncommon for me. And, even when I think they have a point or they are finished, editors do not always agree with me. So, I was very happy this one found a home.

I am in quite good company at Bluestem. The spring issue is full of wonderful poetry, fiction, and, of course, nonfiction.  Click here to see all the contributors.


Magical Realism, or Gabito Meets the Mexican Mafia

According to my dictionary, magical realism is a literary genre or style associated especially with Latin America that incorporates fantastic or mythical elements into otherwise realistic fiction.

After this week, I would venture to say this definition is largely a North American attempt to grasp events as they naturally occur in Latin American countries. Authors may simply be writing about actual events and readers refuse to  believe it isn’t a fantabulation.  In other words, it’s just what went down. Take for instance, the case of two accused Mexican drug dealers currently being held in Costa Rica.

It all started on October 10, 2010, when a light plane went down in a gully shortly after takeoff from a small airport in the seedy suburb of Pavas, just west of San José. When police and emergency teams arrived and accessed the plane, wedged next to a roaring river, they found 170 kilos of cocaine spilling out of the fuselage where baggage is normally stowed. They transported the pilot and passenger to the hospital where they were treated for their injuries. (I believe the pilot died, but haven’t followed that part of the story.)

The following day, two Mexican nationals named Martinez and Mendoza were arrested by the Fuerza Pública (police) in the northern border town of  Peñas Blancas. According to the daily La Nacion, they were riding all terrain vehicles, baggage in tow. The assumption was that they were attempting to flee across the border into Nicaragua. The two men were handcuffed and brought back to San José.

It appears Martinez and Mendoza are the owners of the airline Aerolíneas Turísticas de América with offices and hangars at the Tobías Bolaños International airport in Pavas, an airline that only six months ago was broke. So far, this is just another criminal story that could appear in any newspaper anywhere, especially here.

The San José court decided the two were a flight risk and placed them in preventive detention, something akin to being held without bail in the USA, although in Costa Rica there doesn’t have to be any indictment in the works. They were held in La Reforma, a maximum security prison that recently has had a rash of murders and one failed prison break, but that isn’t part of this story.

Then, on May 10, 2011, seven months after their detention, Judge Kattia Jiménez Fernández, of the Pavas Criminal Court, ordered the two Mexicans released and placed under house arrest. Her reasoning, the prosecution had failed to file charges against the two men.  This augment was advanced by one of  the defense lawyers with the last name of Villalobos Salazar, not to be confused, and this is easy to do, with their other defense attorney who has the last name Villalobos Zamora.

When local residents discovered a condominium in the tony neighborhood of La Sabana was the chosen pad for the two Mexicans, they organized protests. Several other locations were bandied about with the same results. In the meantime, newly appointed Vice Minister of Security, Celso Gamboa, presented the Pavas judge with a written reprimand for her decision. It failed to dissuade her. She was then threatened with a judicial investigation by the attorney general’s office. At this time it is unclear whether that will proceed or not, but if it does it is sure to be slow.

Then, replacement Pavas criminal court judge, Joaquín Hernández, removed Villalobos Salazar from the defense team. Apparently, in the course of things, a long-time police officer of the Fuerza Pública ––the same officials who bagged the two Mexicans in their flight from Costa Rica–– told the court that he had been under pressure by Villalobos to change his story.

Los Dos Villalobos have maintained their clients were not really fleeing Costa Rica the day after the plane crash in Pavas, but rather on their way to visit family in Mexico. One has to ask about the wisdom of traveling the full length of Central America on an ATV , but this was their story and they were sticking to it. By the end of last week the replacement judge in Pavas had rejected as truth that version of their travel itinerary.

But, there was a delay in ordering the men back into preventive detention. The police officer who accused Villalobos Salazar of coercing him to change his testimony had to be reappear in court to clarify exactly which Villalobos had approached him. It turned out to be Villalobos Zamora not  Villalobos Salazar, so the judge reinstated the one and fired the other.

The Mexicans remain in La Reforma’s maximum security unit with preventive detention orders until August 2011.

I only bring this story up to illustrate that while the literary device of magical realism, “.. an aesthetic style in which magical elements or illogical scenarios appear in an otherwise realistic or even ‘normal’ setting,” we can see that one only needs to report the facts to carry it off.  Gabriel Garcia Marquez might have said it best when he noted, “My most important problem was destroying the lines of demarcation that separates what seems real from what seems fantastic.” Or, in the vernacular, you cannot make this stuff up.




Pebbles in the River

Like acrobatic biplanes
dragonflies buzz overhead in the dusky light
Soon the mosquitoes will be feeding off me

Clean sheets on the clothesline blouse in the breeze,
evidence of my virtue.
Let me sleep in its sweetness tonight.

Cold Turkey

addict |ˈadikt| noun a person who is addicted to a particular substance, typically an illegal drug : a former heroin addict. • [with adj. ] informal an enthusiastic devotee of a specified thing or activity : a must book for the crossword-puzzle addict | a self-confessed chocolate addict. ORIGIN early 20th cent.: from the obsolete verb addict, which was a back-formation from addicted.

I think I have a problem. Owning up to it has been difficult; in fact, if I weren’t the age I am I might have needed intervention to acknowledge the issue. I’m not talking about drugs or alcohol here, I’m talking about email and Internet addiction, a relatively new malady that has cropped up since high-speed hit us all several years ago. I am probably not alone, although finding an online support group seems like feeding the beast. I’m going to have to fight this on my own, I think. Cold turkey, as they say.

The ridiculous part about this is that it hasn’t been that long ago that I had no internet connection at all. I was thrilled when the first phone line gained me a whopping 1500 bps. It took ten minutes to download mail and god forbid that anyone should send me a photo. Now I have satellite, which is not exactly high-speed Internet, but it’s as close as I’m going to come to it. With this has come a plethora of connectedness that is driving me insane. So, I need to break the habit. But first I had to figure out why I might be addicted to my mail and social networking sites.

* Loneliness? Sure that’s part of it. We live in Costa Rica and my family lives… well, all over the place, but not here.

* Boredom? Yes. But that is part of the above problem. (I’m beating around the proverbial bush here…)

* Low self-esteem? Maybe. I know I do feel good when people want to converse with me.

* Inability to concentrate? Yes. I’m trying to write a memoir and focusing on it is sometimes hard. No, it’s hard all the time, and it’s far easier to “look something up” online and then, hey, there’s an email from so and so. It’s endless.

But enough self-abuse. What to do about it?

I decided at the beginning of the year that I would turn off my internet connection for at least four hours every day. That’s a good start. If there is no connection my little Mail app is not red, showing me that I have umpteen new emails to read. And, in that regard, I have unsubscribed to several dailies I used to get. In reality it had been months since I read The Huffington Post, Mark Allen, Mother Jones, Salon.com, or Slate. If I want to read them I can go online and read them there. I did keep a daily Costa Rica online news rag, which isn’t very good, but I kept it anyway, and The New York Times.

Another thing I did was dismantle my notification systems for all but Mail. I used to have Growl, which is very efficient, and relentless. Alerted (in any program I was running) when people came online, on Skype, and when mail arrived, I began feeling hunted. It was overbearing to say the least. I simply don’t need to know all that. I have dismantled email notification from facebook, the one vice I am allowing myself to keep—for now. If I behave and can handle the silence I am creating for myself, I can sign in late in the afternoon and read what my friends are up to. I’ll be tardy for a conversation or two, but often that just proves to me that I really needn’t respond at all.

I do belong to an online critiquing group called The Internet Writing Workshop and I’m not giving that up. I’m on three of their lists and they generate a ton of email, but they are useful;  I submit my writing there and get wonderful feedback from gifted writers.

If I’m going to get anything written on this memoir of mine, I’m going to have to block out some of the other distractions. I do find it somewhat ridiculous that we humans are always looking for more of a good thing only to discover shortly afterwards we’ve become consumed by it. Lots a noise out there. Writing really requires reflection and that doesn’t work well with all the chatter around, or I can’t concentrate, anyway. I can’t even listen to music if it has lyrics. So you know how badly I’m distracted. So that’s my plan and I’m going to try to stick with it.

What are your methods of coping with it all?