Dinacon is Over September 2, 2019

I just finished a week of the Digital Naturalism Conference (dinacon.org) in Gamboa, Panama. It was an intense and life-giving week. The best part was probably meeting a bunch of women doing great work like Janne, Lisa, Kristina, Tiare, Madeline, and many, many others. A lot of the dudes were great too, especially Ashlin and of course, my partner Albert, but there's something magical about working with non-men (i.e. women and non-binary folks). In general, they so easily handle vulnerability, use it as fodder for connection. For example, one of the last nights, when there was a party at "the mansion" (a crazy nice house built by the somewhat disgraced former president of the Smithsonian institute in Panama, where several dinasaurs were staying) a group of us were sitting out on the deck chatting and someone gently chided me for underselling my work. I said, "I know, I've been doing that too much this week. I've just been feeling a little out of place here as a writer." "You've been feeling out of place?" one of the group asked. "I've been feeling out of place as a musican." And then sooo quickly it turned into a nice discussion of how we each feel pressure to mold our work to a platonic ideal of a project and how that pressure is pretty much bullshit and how we're all doing fine work. Bing, bang, boom, we all can move on to talking about interests and future projects a little more settled and confident. People were asking each other questions, listening, trading off and getting inspired. So different from the info dump competitive style of communication you see in more masc spaces. I loved it.

Gamboa, of course, is beautiful and fascinating--a little ghost town/American style neighborhood right next to the Panama Canal, in the middle of one of the most biodiverse jungles anywhere. Noriega holed up in one of the buildings back in the day before American troops dropped down tanks from helicopters and rolled up on him, afterwards leaving jeep doors and rocket launchers strewn about town. Many buildings were abandoned once the work on the canal was done, so now you can do things like drink beers in a falling down Catholic church and even spray paint a portrait of your strange looking dog on an old community center, like a certain frog scientist did last year. The town is mostly scientists from the Smithsonian, plus people like Andy and Kitty, who are doing their own crazy open lab thing in addition to putting on events like Dinacon. Biodiversity means lots of crazy animals, and if you wanna see vids of sloths and leafcutter ants, you can check out my instagram @dezmediah. Oh yeah, and if you wanna see the generative poems I made you can go here

Now I'm in Panama City for a few days and so far it's been good food, hot weather, and basking in a little luxury at the hotel, after a week of sharing a room with several other people and eating a lot of canned vegetables. I'll check back in here in a few days mabes.

Mujeres Only September 6, 2019

Honestly my experience in Panama City was overshadowed by my experience of the Panama City airport, in which I was misgendered three times, twice of which I was stopped from going into a women's bathroom (while on my period no less, which feels especially insulting). It actually made me consider growing out my hair again because God, I'd like to be able to go to the bathroom without proving my gender, and this bathroom thing happened to me once in in Cambridge too. Of course, hiding my gender isn't a great solution, necessarily.

But some other facts about Panama City are that I had great ceviche, and a great mojito, and incredible ramen. The city is quite beautiful, and the Panama Canal fascinating, though a little foreboding, when one considers the impact global shipping has on climate change and capitalism on the well being of the world altogether.

One strange moment happened when our fancy "digital nomad" hotel didn't have water or electricity for twelve hours. That morning, my partner and I wandered the darkened hallways for fiteen minutes looking for a way out and it felt like we were in a zombie video game.

Our last night there, a giant rainbow appeared while we were on the roof drinking a beer. Atlas, incidentally, if you ever need to know, is the best Panamanian beer according to me.

I dyed my hair and ate the best tacos of my life September 8, 2019

Mexico City is so cool, like a more interesting NYC, less of a capitalist hellscape. My Spanish is passable, which felt pretty good on the first day, and then felt less and less good every time I had to stop and say "lo siento, mi espanol no es tan bueno." I've been enjoying working on my novel in this lovely room.

In other news, I got my hair dyed blonde and ate easily the best tacos of my life at Tacos Orinoco. My only complaint with the food scene here, which is just extraordinary, is that it seems like in order to get a good glass of wine you have to go to an Italian restaurant, of which there are many, more than I'd prefer, and so far none are that good. At least not the one I'm at now. I'm eating fancy curly fries, guys. Why do I want wine then? There's hundreds of amazing taco places I could be eating at, and drinking cerveza if I really want to drink, but I've been craving wine. Maybe it's because this city reminds me somewhat of Paris, maybe because I'm writing, maybe it's my period.

"There are no laws here" September 24, 2019

Last night I met someone who gave me a three-hour lecture on Mexico. It was one of those situations where you expect to take turns talking, but it turns out that the person you're with actually just wants to be the only one talking. The upside was that I learned a ton. I won't go through all of it, but the one thing she said that I can't stop thinking about is this: "There are no laws here. This is a lawless country." For example, she explained, it's legal to possess a small amount of weed here (not to mention opium, cocaine, mdma, etc.) But if you get caught by the police with weed, you should still immediately give them at least 200 pesos. Because they don't know that it's legal. They haven't been educated about the laws. They don't care.

I think she was probably overgeneralizing somewhat, but the idea is pretty astounding. We certainly have laws that aren't enforced in the States, but what would it mean to have a default expectation that laws would not be enforced? It's a whole different way of thinking about governance. What do you do as an activist, then? "We don't have politics here," she said. "If you're a real activist you just end up murdered." She then told the story of a friend of hers that was murdered a couple years ago--"committed suicide," she said using air quotes.

Another friend died in a "gas leak" after organizing indigenous folks who'd been pushed off their land. It's easy to complain about the States and mourn the growing corruption. This conversation, though, was a reminder that actually, we do still have some power to change things, and that's a special thing. Nancy Pelosi started impeachment proceedings today. I don't know how that will turn out. But I do pretty much know that I won't get murdered for my activism. Part of that is of course white privilege. But in general, there's the possibility to be an activist still in the States. I trust there is a chance that a change in the law will have far-reaching consequences. That's something. That means there's still a fulcrum. I'm not sure what the options are in Mexico. The more I travel, the more I'm disgusted how little we're taught about other countries. My knowledge of Mexican politics doesn't go much broader than what I learned last night over those three hours. Thankfully the lecturer gave me a list of documentaries to watch. But I do know that in the States, we definitely still have politics.

Lucha Libre October 5, 2019

I’ve been trying to process the Lucha Libre show ever since I saw it, a couple weeks ago now. I went as a part of an Airbnb experience.

A short word on Airbnb experiences: I’ve been a heavy user of Airbnb here as far as finding places to stay. It seems almost likely the only way to do it these days. At first I felt too good for the Airbnb experiences—I don’t want to be too touristy, you know? But when my partner was here for a visit, we gave it a try, and honestly most of them have been great so far. They’ve been a way to do somewhat touristy things while actually being given context for everything you’re seeing. In a way, avoiding being the oblivious tourist bumbling through the culture.

So a couple weeks ago, I went to an experience that involved seeing a Lucha Libre show with a “big fan.” We met up with a couple other people at a taco place. It was me, an Australian woman, a Mexican woman, and a French/Argentine family with a few young teenagers. We ate got tacos then headed to the stadium. When we arrived, we were separated by gender (I was thankful I was dressed slightly more feminine than usual) and patted down thoroughly. Then we found our seats in the “good guys” section.

It was exciting. It wasn’t the most packed night, but people were lively, especially as the matches wore on and the more famous guys fought. There’s a lot to say about Lucha Libre, but the first thing is that the athleticism is incredible. You have men and women, some of them very small--yes, even little people, many of them with obvious painful back issues,--and some of them near giants, all flying across the stage. You have 300 pound men picking up other 300 pound men and throwing them over their shoulders, then doing a roundoff over that man’s body.

And you have entertaining characters, like the sexy nun during the women’s match, who of course was on the bad guy’s side, and who of course drew the most ire from the crowd.

The hard thing to take in about Lucha Libre is that inherently it is about airing one’s griefs about society, one’s frustrations with other genders, sexualities, and mostly, with other classes. This is almost the point, it was explained to me. So, for example in Guadalajara, you still have a system where poor people sit in the back and rich people up front. And during the match the rich people will yell back at the poor people, “the bus is leaving soon!” or “Your mom is my maid!”

We didn’t so much shouting between audience members here, and I couldn’t understand everything people shouted, but I did ask my host, a very nice, warm, otherwise respectful guy, to translate for me what he shouted. During a face-off between two of the women, he shouted, “Beat her like you get beat at home!”

When a female heel was beating up on one of the angels, “A quesadilla with peppers please!” This, he explained, was a reference to her looking so low-class that she could be selling quesadillas on the street.

Toward the middle of the match, he moved to the other side of the group to share his wealth of knowledge with those folks and I stopped getting translations of what he was shouting. But the taunt that made me the most uncomfortable was one that kept poppint up, and which he had prepped us on at the taco place before we went to the arena. You hold your hand up and wave it and say “ahhhhhhhhhh” and then all together the crowd points toward the ring and says, “puto!” Faggot. It also means coward. And it also means prostitute. I participated, hoping I was saying coward and not faggot. Me and the Australian lady looked at each other every time, asking, “are we saying faggot?”

I asked a Mexican friend about this a week or so later and she said, “Oh, it means faggot. Yeah, you’re saying coward, but it only means coward, it only means gigalo because it means…” and I nodded, my suspicions confirmed. She said this chant only started maybe five years ago, and when it spread to the soccer stadiums, it was forbidden. And then, since just forbidding it didn't work, it was decided that if a team’s fans start chanting this, the team itself would be penalized.

I don’t want to judge. “This is only okay here,” said my host about the "puto" chant. “Never out there.” Is such a release healthy? I have my suspicions, but it’s just not my role to make that call. Selfishly, I wish I could just go to a match without any of that chanting, because the athleticism and the costumes—-and some of the bodies—-were incredible.

Street Sounds October 12, 2019

Every morning I am awoken, rather pleasantly, by the sound of people hawking things on the street. One man draws out the word “gas” so long that it took me weeks to recognize it. Other chants I still can’t decipher. Several are food related—although I don’t recognize every word, I certainly know “tamale” and “chorizo.” Over time I've come to understand "oaxaqueno," a word with a satisfying mouthfeel that means products from the state of Oaxaca.

The trash collectors ring a literal bell as they make their way down the street, pausing the ringing only to pick up the trash. Other sounds are less analog. At least once a day, a truck passes, blasting the sounds of a woman reading a list of household products through a megaphone. "Estufas, colchones, lavadoras" (Stoves, mattresses, washing machines). She reads in such a monotone, uniform voice that I can’t figure out if it’s pre-recorded or live. Sometimes I hear rap music, which, in half-sleep, almost convinces me that I’m back in Atlanta.

All day long, I hear dogs fight or whine. There are no strays here, but people generally seem to keep their dogs outside, in courtyards or on terraces, on balconies or roofs. The other day I was walking behind a man walking his doberman and the street absolutely filled with barking and growling. The doberman somehow remained calm, totally ignoring the dogs straining their heads out between bars of metal gates, or peering down from upstairs terraces, trying their best to menace the doberman. S/he might’ve been breathing a little heavy, but otherwise s/he seemed to be enjoying the walk. Good dog.

I hear kids playing and the sound of cars--new and old--coasting slowly or quickly down these residential streets. My favorite street sound so far, though, is one I heard for the first time last night. A man sang, not chanted, a list of foods: “chorizo, mole, tamale,” and then punctuated the list with three quick squeezes of what sounded like an old fashioned car horn.

I feel like I’m in Beauty and the Beast sometimes, as if all I’d have to do is peek my head out the window and sing, “Just one tamale for the boyish girl on the top floor!” Unfortunately, the one window that faces the street is so high up that to look out it, I have to do a pull up on the tiny windowsill, which only allows me a couple seconds of vision. So instead I let the sounds wash over me, and let my imagination go wild. Did the singing man have a mustache and wear all pink? Does the woman listing things in a monotone have a tired face, and does she sport a blue mechanics jumpsuit? Maybe. Whenever I venture out from my little writing cave of an apartment, I never seem to catch the source of the sounds in person.