Sunday, December 28, 2008

Sanibel Island

I am on vacation on Florida’s Sanibel Island for one week. It is a trip we always take after visiting my family in El Paso, and it is a trip that Laura’s family has been taking for over forty years. With champagne held high in my plastic cup, I have celebrated only eighteen New Years in Sanibel, so I am a relative newcomer to this family tradition. Yet over the years, Sanibel has truly become my family tradition as well. Laura, Aaron, and Isaac could not live without our spending time together on this island, and neither could I.

How do you metamorphose from an outsider, cautious and even suspicious of the family you are adopting by marriage, to an insider, a member of the family, someone who belongs in the most intimate moments an extended family can share? I think one answer to this question is persistence. If you don’t leave, if members of your wife’s family see you act and react in many different situations, and grow to respect how you do things, what you think, how you hold your own in an argument, then perhaps over many years they begin to accept you.

For in Sanibel, I was adopting my wife’s Jewish family. I remember my first year in Sanibel; it was a bit overwhelming. It is basically a hothouse, in which Laura’s parents, sister, brother, aunt, and cousins, and their extended families, are all in adjacent rooms at a small hotel on the beach, many often sitting together at the pool, or barging in and out of your room to make dinner plans. Each night we take turns cooking dinner in our rooms, which are meant for two adults, but into which we drag chairs and extra tables and cram as many as eighteen people for a free-for-all dining experience. Grandparents, babies, children, teenagers, middle-aged adults. In Sanibel you press the flesh to the max, and there is no place to hide.

Over the years, as I grew to know the different personalities in my wife’s family, as some became truly good friends, I became more relaxed about going to Sanibel. Everybody had successes and failures over the years, just as we did. We gossiped about each other, we asked for advice, and we argued politics, sometimes bitterly. Often old family squabbles, which predated my arrival into the Sanibel scene, erupted out of nowhere. Yet every year, almost everybody returned to Sanibel. This year we have a full house.

Is this a family then? When you don’t leave whom you are with, even after the bitterest of fights, or even after your fortunes may have diverged dramatically over the many long roads of the past? You could ask why do we return here, why with these people? No doubt, there are selfish reasons to return to Sanibel: the gorgeous beaches, magnificent shelling, biking to Captiva, the simple pleasure of walking on the white sand at dawn.

But no, those are not the reasons why I come back. I come back to remember who I am; I come back to see who I might be; I come back to be with the people I miss all year. Yes, sometimes a few of them rub me the wrong way, but not always. I myself, as my wife has often reminded me, possess a prickly pear cactus of a personality, and so perhaps I am lucky to have found this family whose appearance may seem forbidding, but whose insides contain the sweetest of rewards.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

An Ysleta Christmas

I arrived in El Paso, Texas yesterday, my hometown. For Christmas. To visit with my mother, and to see my brothers and their kids. Laura and my kids have always relished this holiday visit, a trek we have made since we have been married. It releases Laura's inner shopper, and for a week before Christmas she gets to pump prime the economy at El Paso’s bustling malls. Aaron and Isaac love their cousins --they are similar ages-- and they have spent the first two days playing New Yorkers against Texans (their version of Cowboys and Indians) and exploring the irrigation canal behind my parents’ house.

For the past three years, however, this visit has been an awkward one for me. Three Christmases ago, I had a vicious argument with my father, ostensibly over something trivial, but in reality over old, deep resentments and that bitterness that can sometimes build between a prideful and headstrong father and a son with the same blood in his veins. For three years, my father would not speak to me whenever I called from New York. Instead, at the moment he heard my voice, he would pass the phone to my mother. For three years, even after I apologized for my harsh words to him, my father would not forgive me, and he would not say hello or goodbye whenever I saw him at Christmastime.

I thought about so many things during those three years. I thought about the argument, and why it happened, and even wrote an essay about it, which I called, “This Wicked Patch of Dust.” I thought about how I had hated my father’s macho personality as a child, his domineering control over my mother throughout the years, his bad decisions made by fiat. I thought about how I hated my own temper, and why I did not roll my eyes behind my father’s back, as my brothers did, but instead confronted my father, challenging him to a fight. I thought about how my mother agonized over our family's rift, my mother the avid reader, my mother who is relentlessly curious about the world, my mother whom I have always believed deserves to stop sacrificing for others, and do more for herself. I thought about my father’s deteriorating body, how he cannot walk more than six feet at a time and is now totally dependent on my mother, and how he cannot stand to be so weak when throughout his life he was indefatigably strong.

Indeed, my father was a good father. Yes, he was tough and occasionally mean. But he did push us to work hard for our family, for ourselves. In Ysleta, my father was there to help me make posters when I ran for Sophomore Class President in high school, to fashion an intricate puppet theater for a play I wrote for an English class, and to teach me how to handle the stick shift of our Volkswagen Beetle. He had to compromise in his life, primarily by adopting a country in which he could speak the language, but with an accent that still embarrasses him. My father truly loved Mexico, but he knew his family would have a better life in the United States. He gained the possibility of a better future, but he relinquished his voice. He cannot stand how his beloved hometown of Juarez, which he visited with my mother every week for decades, has descended into an orgy of drug violence in 2008. Their loss: they have not crossed the border all year.

So as Laura, Aaron, Isaac, and I arrived in Ysleta yesterday, I expected, again, just to make the best of another awkward Christmas. But my father surprised me. As soon as I stumbled through the door with suitcases in both hands, he reached up from his chair --he can’t easily stand without his walker anymore-- and hugged me. At the kitchen table, we talked for a precious forty-five minutes, exchanging news, before I finished bringing in our luggage. I thought perhaps this was a first-day aberration, a momentarily lapse in his anger at his prodigal son. But today, again, my father and I have talked, and we have even laughed together, and although we have not yet uttered the words to each other, we have finally forgiven each other for being Troncosos.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Disastrous 2008, and the Need for Simplicity

Madoff. Blagojevich. Paulson’s bumbling of the bailout funds. Predatory lenders. Ted Stevens. Detroit’s Big Three Dinosaurs. Credit-card lifestyles. College funds and retirement savings going up in smoke. George W. Bush, and an Iraqi journalist who can’t aim a shoe. The news has given me a headache. The relentless scandals, the unseemly corruptions, moral responsibility in our culture in tatters, our economy shedding jobs quicker than Ocistar sheds his hair. The news in 2008 has often been a series of financial and political disasters.

We don’t trust our financial institutions to help us manage our money; instead many of them are out to sell you what will do you harm, to nickel-and-dime you with a barrage of fees, or to outright rip you off. We don’t trust our political leaders, who seem at best out of touch, or already sold-out to the highest bidder, or stupid and unapologetic and even proud of asserting that the fiascoes of their own creation aren’t really that bad, or are akin to ‘natural tragedies’ in which no one is truly responsible for anything.

It would be a miracle not to be depressed during the holidays during such a year, but I am not. I am indeed worried, I am cautiously hopeful about January 20, 2009, but I am not depressed. Why? Because I have always tried to keep my life simple, or at least as simple as I can make it given living in New York, and having a wife and two boys, and a stream of bills to pay every month, and so on. Here’s how I have kept it simple, and how those choices have helped me during these difficult times.

I take care of my family. That means, when my children come home from school, I am there to answer their questions on their homework, to help them discuss school issues, to cook dinner for them. Every night, before they go to sleep, my wife and I kiss our children goodnight. I rarely go out by myself, and the upcoming AWP conference in February 2009, in Chicago, will be that rare time when I travel without Laura and the kids. I like being a homebody. Perhaps I am not popular with those writer-friends who are constantly recounting their late-nights at poetry readings, or who are in residence at far-flung retreats, sequestered from their families, productive yet solitary. But that’s okay. I know who I am, and I love being with my family.

My wife and I spend only on what we need. I wear Gap pants, and about half of them have holes above the back pocket where my laptop rubs against me when I lug it around the Upper Westside. In our living room, we still have my speakers and Laura’s stereo receiver from college: we just attended our 25th Reunion at Harvard! We do have nice things --high speed Internet, an iMac, MacBooks-- but we tend to keep them forever, and we do spend on books. Hundreds of dollars on books. The kids’ bookshelves are double-stacked. We are not fancy people. We are book people. We love to read. We often do it together.

We have saved money. We do it every month. Laura and I have done it for over twenty years. We invest mostly in index funds, domestic and international, and the small portfolio of stocks I own I have owned for years. I have done my own research on these companies, years of reading annual reports and 10-K reports, and listening to analysts’ discussions with management. Saving and investing in this manner is laborious, and you can’t brag to your friends about what ‘hot stock’ you have found, because we don’t invest in hot stocks. We don’t day-trade. Indeed, we have ‘paper losses’ during the vicious bear market of 2008, but since we did not enter at the peak of the market, we will survive financially. I invest every month what we can spare for investing, and I invest wherever stocks have fallen the most. I am a contrarian, and I keep it simple.

This way of life has allowed me to make steady progress on my goals, and has kept me from making big mistakes. When the world seems to be shattering to pieces, I am still reading and I am still writing. Living a simple life, when you have friends pursuing the next million, or the next accolade, or the next conquest, requires having a sense of who you are. The night is cold outside, the wind from the Hudson River whistles through the canyons of buildings in Manhattan, and this hot cup of Red Zinger revives me for another day.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

For an Unofficial God

I was driving on Interstate 684 this morning, on my way to Connecticut to do some errands in Litchfield. I found a radio station that was playing Christmas songs exclusively, and “Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer” reminded me of El Paso. Soon I would be back home, with my parents and brothers and sister, and Christmas, and shopping, and the blinking lights on rooftops, and the ceramic mangers in front yards of adobe houses in Ysleta, and our nightly Posada processions, all of it overwhelming me again with God in the world. Happy Birthday. Happy Birthday to my ambivalence for and even anger toward the Catholic Church of my fathers. Happy Birthday to the simultaneous and schizophrenic materialism of the holidays. Happy Birthday to my not-so-secret existence, between believing in but not knowing of God, as an agnostic with faith.

I stopped knowing God, as I had in Ysleta, when I went to Harvard. ‘Knowing’ had meant I accepted God unconditionally, as part of the world I inhabited, as unblinking overseer, as heavenly judge, as absolute standard for my good actions. All of that stopped in college, when I met others following, and believing in, and knowing, a potpourri of religions. Why should Catholicism have predominance over these other religions? For me, there was no good answer other than it didn’t. What I assumed to be the true way was perhaps just one way among many. I certainly wasn’t about to label these other believers as ‘heathens’ or ‘infidels,’ because I would not accept that believing in your God meant you had to squash your neighbor who believed in some other God.

I also did not like to be threatened to believe in God, or to follow certain rules created by priests, without any justification other than this was ‘tradition.’ As I grew older, I did not see a reason why there should not be female priests in the Catholic Church, for example. I saw it as a matter of power, not religion, that women are kept out of the priesthood. Women can be just as holy as men. I also believe gays should be able to marry legally, and spiritually, and any other way they see fit, also because of what I have seen: gay couples I have known for years love each other as much as Laura and I do, and these couples, the ones with children, have been exemplary parents to their own children. Why are we denying gays the right to marry and pursue their happiness? There is no good answer other than those who advocate against gay marriage are prejudiced against gays. They don’t know gays, they don’t want to know them, and so they demonize them.

I grew to believe that the Catholic Church, as well as other churches, spends too much time on buildings, collecting money, power politics, and not enough time, at least for me, on helping the individual to understand how to act morally and philosophically in today’s world. Moral teachings have to be beyond platitudes and rote repetitions or scary threats. Why do some religions worship idols, figurines, bloody depictions, as if only these images will shock you into morality? The ‘you’ assumed is a weak self, one that responds to only simplistic, materialistic admonitions. What about a ‘you’ that thinks? What about a ‘you’ that not only believes in God, but wants to strive for God, and wants to do it philosophically? God as a question to answer. In organized religion, there seems to be little room for that ‘thinking, striving you.’

What do I believe now? I believe in taking care of my family. I believe in the work of helping my children everyday, and in their helping me. I believe in responsibility. I believe in being true to my word. I believe in sacrificing for others, yet I also believe in saying no, when I can’t. What will happen when I die? I will live in the memories of others, I will live in the work I leave behind, and I will live in that worm that finds my body and nourishes itself, hungry to be alive.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Yin-Yang, Opposition and Balance

I recently helped my eleven-year-old son on a project. He had been studying religions of the world, and his focus was to study Taoism for school. Isaac had already written a short paper on what he learned about Taoism and drawn a map of where it is practiced. The assignment now was to make a three dimensional object which characterized Taoism. He chose the Yin-Yang, black and white figure so many of us are familiar with.

In our garage, he found an old solid wooden wheel, which we had found at the dump and which I believe had been originally used as a platform to hold a candle, for a reddish wax had hardened on one of its sides. Isaac cleaned the wheel of the wax, and used sandpaper to smooth the wood and remove the splinters. I watched my busy bee of a son in the garage, his sleeves rolled up, perfecting the wheel before he started painting it white. I gave him a can of white primer from our basement, and held the wooden wheel as he painted first one side and then the other. Outside, a granular sleet had already covered our driveway, and I could see my breath in the garage.

Once the wheel was white, Isaac drew the curvy S that separates the black and the white, with pencil, adjusting the curve so that he got it just right. He had to erase his work several times before he was satisfied with the symmetry of his Yin-Yang. Finally, I gave him a small bottle of black enamel paint I have had in my desk for years, which I believe was originally used by my wife Laura to touch up the frame to an old mirror she loves. With the care of a brain surgeon, Isaac colored his Yin-Yang black, following the S curve with an amazing precision. He also took a yogurt container and drew the dots of the Yin-Yang.

I mention this minutiae of our Thanksgiving weekend, because watching my son work reminded me of several important things. Work bestows pride on the worker, for his accomplishment, for his product, for his craftsmanship. Isaac beamed when he placed the finished Yin-Yang on his desk, away from our pesky, but affectionate cat, Ocistar. He could not wait to show his class what he had done.

When you are working hard on a project, when you feel you have the skills to accomplish something on your own, you lose yourself in your work. Time becomes irrelevant in a way. I feel the same way when I am working on a story. I have written stories before, so I feel I have the skills to do a good job. Perhaps, as with a story I am working on now, I have written half of it, and I have not thrown out what I have written, but I don’t quite yet know how it will end. So the ‘good product’ is not a foregone conclusion. It may in fact be a story that is never told, because it was never a ‘fully formed story’ to begin with. Whatever that means, and it seems to mean something different for every story.

But the point, at least for me, is the work. The work to finish the story. The work to lose myself in the quiet I steal away from my family obligations and daily responsibilities to try to write. The work is what matters, even if you don’t end up with a good representation of what you imagined your ‘story’ to be, as you wrote it. Because this moment, when you say this is a ‘story,’ instead of saying this is garbage I should throw away and forget about, is a moment that is probably impossible to pin down, to regularize, or even to explain clearly. Yet it is a moment that becomes easier to appreciate the more you work at writing stories. The more you work, the easier it will be to have that judgment, like Isaac, to tell when your work is done, when you have in front of you what you imagined you wanted to create.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

600 Pages of Patience

I have been reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace, and had found it truly a slog. Before, Anna Karenina had swept me off my feet, and I truly looked forward to War and Peace. Until I started reading it. The Russians have for decades mesmerized me with their novels, particularly Dostoyevsky, and I often wish I had been born in the nineteenth century, before TV and movies, before the computer, and before the 10-second rants on CNN that nowadays pass as ‘political discussion.’

For weeks now, I have only been able to read War and Peace at night, at home, the book (the Pevear-Volokhonsky translation) too heavy to carry around the frenetic streets and subways of New York City. It’s 1,215 pages long! War and Peace is certainly a book out of time, and perhaps today out of mind. Books, for me, have always been a reflection of how I think, or how I want to experience the world, or how I imagine it. But what happens when the world thoroughly commercializes time, and reading, when storytelling is reduced to two hours on a movie screen, if that? Our mind changes. What our mind expects, wants, gets accustomed to, changes. And perhaps many of us don’t know what to do anymore with this massive doorstop called War and Peace.

So I felt guilty as I read page after page of Tolstoy’s ‘historical novel’ about Russia during the Napoleonic war at the beginning of the nineteenth century. I thought perhaps that I was becoming too modern, my mind needing that fix of another Seinfeld rerun, or the mindless quick-talking of television pundits. Had I been irretrievably poisoned by this modern world I have no choice but to inhabit?

I was also angry at Tolstoy. What happened to the wonderful plots and subplots of Anna Karenina? To the type of characters whose obsessions, jealousies, insecurities, and rivalries drive the action of a novel? The first 600 pages of War and Peace, to my mind, were a blur of fancy soirees and half-hearted descriptions of the war, a fox hunt, and proposals to marry among the elite.

I even skipped ahead to the end of the book, to an 1868 note the translators reprinted, where Tolstoy discussed his intentions for War and Peace. What is power? What force produces the movements of people? What is man’s relationship to history? To what extent does man have free will in the history of his time? With these questions in mind, perhaps, I thought, I myself had no free will anymore, and could only read snippets of prose and listen to ditties selling chocolate. I was about to quit this book, and move on to something else. The character Pierre Bezukhov, a good man trapped in an immoral world, seemed my only reward as a reader.

Now, at about midpoint in this gargantuan novel-like experiment, I have met Natasha Rostov. She has actually appeared before, but now Natasha is thrust into the plot front and center. She’s betrothed to the indecisive Prince Andrei Bolkonsky. Indeed, Pierre Bezukhov also loves her. But at this point in the novel, a scoundrel by the name of Prince Anatole Kuragin, who is secretly married, is attempting to seduce Natasha. Now the novel seems to have life in it, and I look forward to reading it every chance I get. I have even started lugging it around, to steal more reading time here and there. I don’t know why it took 600 pages for me to get into this novel, whether it is the novel itself, and how the characters and plot change, or even perhaps how I changed as a reader by forcing myself to keep reading, to keep hitting that book even though I wanted to quit.

Perhaps that, in a way, is one of Tolstoy’s points. We are set in our time, in our place, puny atoms in a great historical maelstrom, amid this unprecedented financial crisis, the slow decline of America as the sole center of international power, and an overly commercialized world that prizes glib intelligence, great visuals, and a trashy popular culture. Yes, we are set in our time, but with enough willpower, with perhaps a crazy stubbornness and a bit of luck, we may reach beyond our historic trap to make the best of it.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Writing and Investing

I have always had interests in two, somewhat incompatible areas: writing stories, often with philosophical questions in mind, and investing money. I tell friends who have known, or discovered, these long-standing interests in me that I love stories, language, immersing myself in working out hard philosophical problems and in creating characters to play out the questions in my mind, and I also love numbers, discovering the ‘story’ of a small company, and the detail work of finding a good business or management before many other investors do. But there is more to it than that.

Right after college and during graduate school, I had in my mind that I wanted to write what I wanted to write, without the pressures of writing what the prevailing commercial book market wanted of any writer, including a ‘Latino’ writer. I wanted to hone my craft in my own way; I wanted to keep reading Aristotle and Nietzsche; I don’t ever like being under anybody’s boot. Also, when I read what was routinely published, and promoted, at local bookstores, I did not want to have to compromise my work for the sake of making money. Perhaps this was too self-righteous and even stupid, but that’s me. I think I have mellowed over the years, but as my mother would say, “Eres demasiado terco.” I am too stubborn.

To pay for this cursed independence, to pay for not wanting a boss, years ago I began learning how to invest money. I finished finance and accounting books my friends who were in MBA programs recommended to me. I studied the annual reports of Berkshire Hathaway, read Graham and Dodd’s Security Analysis, read Peter Lynch and Ralph Wanger and many others. I began ordering annual and quarterly reports from companies, and to my amazement, every report arrived free, in my mailbox, and I just had to understand the company, the business, and find out as much as I could through the Internet. I did this, and continue to do this, for dozens of potential investments every year. Most of the company reports are now online. Alas, this year has indeed been brutal for my stocks, yet I am still surviving this bear market.

The stubbornness and independence that have propelled my writing have also informed my investing. I do not want to be part of the crowd, as an investor, or as a writer. I have little interest in the latest literary fad, or what will make a big splash at the bookstore, just as much as I have no interest in day-trading, or any other speculative way of making money. I do not market-time, as an investor, nor as a writer. My intention is to write stories that I hope will still be good stories ten years from now, and I buy shares of companies that I intend to keep just as long.

I am not sure I would recommend this path to any writer. I did it out of necessity, and perhaps because I also knew myself only too well (Socrates’ exhortation). I also did it because I like to work, and the value that work bestows upon my soul, and because I love doing my own work, in my own way. It is a cage, this self, and I have tried to make the best of my cage, to turn my weaknesses into strengths, and perhaps to make this cage into the key for my freedom. What else can we do?

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Obama, the Mestizo Mutt

How gratifying to hear our new president-elect, Barack Obama, offhandedly characterize himself as a “mutt” at his first press conference after the presidential election. I sensed a self-deprecation meant to keep himself grounded. Also, it was a revealing look at how he might see himself, between black and white, a representative of the new world of the United States, as a society comprised not just of many races, but also a society where the races are often mixing to create something unique. We were already this new world a long time ago, but it has taken the election of Barack Obama to see ourselves more clearly than ever before.

Mestizo, as some of you may know, means ‘mixed blood,’ and has been the reality in Latin America for centuries. Spanish blood. Aztec blood. Incan blood. Portuguese blood. Mayan blood. African blood. Asian blood. Mexicanos are mestizos, and this history has often been a source of shame, rather than pride, of being conquered and of losing our heritage. Perhaps there is great difference when the union of races begins out of domination, rather than out of an uneasy, unexpected love.

In the United States, as Mexicanos and other Latinos inhabit parts of the country beyond the Southwest, to Kansas and Minnesota and Iowa, there has been a reaction against these newcomers, their brown faces, the Spanish language, and even their religion. Can we be open-minded enough not just to accept them for who they are, but to take them in, to change ourselves as we learn from them? Can these Mexicanos, outsiders in a new land, can they change themselves too? Are they flexible enough, and adaptable enough, to change and become an integral part of America? Are we all practical enough to search for and discover a new middle ground for all of us?

For this is what being mestizo, a mutt, has always meant for me. It has meant the promise and reality of new possibilities. It has been to value practicality and adaptability to the circumstances above all. Being mestizo is the opposite of trying to be pure, or of thinking there was ever any heritage, or history, that was pure. Being mestizo is about being suspicious of categorizations, that ‘whites’ are this way, that ‘blacks’ are that way, or that ‘Latinos’ are always so and so. Categorical thinking has always been at the heart of racism, and really, at the heart of non-thinking, meant to ‘understand’ quickly so as to appease an irrational fear or a doubt. Mestizaje breaks the established category, and creates something new, perhaps over time just another category that has to be broken again to escape yet another rigidity. Remember: ‘white’ America is composed of Irish, Italian, Jewish, Polish, German, and other immigrants who were once the outsiders in our new world.

So being a mutt mestizo is about the details. I married a Jewish woman. Why? Because she was the one who took my heart away junior year at Harvard. I wasn’t looking for a ‘Mexicana,’ or a ‘woman from Harvard,’ or ‘somebody who could speak Spanish with my parents.’ I saw Laura, and how she was, and how we were together, these wonderful details, and they trumped any category I had in my mind about who I wanted to be with forever. Love is about the details, and so this Mexican mestizo created another mixture with a Jewish woman, and now with our children. The cycle of mixing and remixing continues. We are all mestizo mutts now, and we are a family.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Why Chico Lingo?

In two days we vote, in a momentous presidential election, and it’s about as good a time as any to start a blog. Why start another blog? The Internet is already a vast sea of words and ideas and rants and offbeat perspectives, and do we really need one more? I’m not sure we do, but I am sure my voice should count, and that’s why I’ll vote on Tuesday, even knowing that tens of millions of others will do the same, and that’s also why I have decided to start a blog, to leave my voice behind, even if it’s just a nearly quotidian voice I start on Friday evening, and edit on Sunday night.

I do have selfish reasons to start a blog. I want to force myself to write more, particularly at those times when I have not in the past. I also want to explore the tidbits of ideas that occur to me, questions perhaps that pop up about writing, reading, Latinos in America, money and investments, families and fathers, and so many other issues that do comprise my daily life. This weekly blog: between an aphorism and an editorial.

Dear reader, what I can promise you is that I will make an effort to be honest about why I am writing whatever it is that I am writing. That honesty won’t be without bias, but it certainly will be chock-full of questions I ask myself, and try to answer for you and for me. Perhaps, dear reader, you will help me to develop my self-consciousness, certainly one important, yet never-ending goal of my writing and reading.

Why is it that the United States is fast becoming a nation that doesn’t read? And what I mean by reading is not the ten-minute sit-down to read this blog, but a multi-day focus on a good novel, for example. What has this lack of literary patience done to our thinking? To our discourse? Of course, TV and movies are the imaginary vehicles through which we now lose ourselves, but if that’s so, what flimsy selves we must have. And as time goes on, we forget that perhaps we were once not like that. Or was reading and thinking, for hours upon hours, and days upon days, only a nostalgic, non-existent past? Perhaps this kind of reading was only the luxury of an elite. I don’t know, and I’m not sure, but I do know that when I read, when I take the time to read, when I read to my children slowly, and deliciously, immersing ourselves in a good story, there is nothing else like it in the world.

So perhaps another reason to write this blog is to create a different blog. A semi-thoughtful blog, yet still immersed in this self and its peculiar, momentary questions. I don’t condemn the medium of the current Internet, but often, yes, the message. I will also be guilty, I’m sure, of being petty, immediately reactive, rather than truly thoughtful, but I will try to catch myself. That’s what I promise.

Why ‘Chico Lingo’? The two words came to me whimsically, after I imagined my abuelita saying them to me, as in “Mira, este Chico Lingo!” That is, “Look at this little upstart, this imp!” Doña Dolores Rivero may have actually said ‘Chicolito’ or ‘Chiringo,’ or some other half-admiring admonition, also invented by her. Let’s just say Chico Lingo means ‘little gadfly,’ perhaps Socratic if you like philosophy, with a hint of the literary, in ‘lingo,’ and ‘chico’ for tidbits of ideas, for ‘Chico’s Tacos’ in El Paso, for once being a boy who always loved stories under oak trees and next to irrigation canals. That sort of thing. You can make up your own meaning to ‘Chico Lingo,’ or you can even ask yourself why we demand that many things we say, or write, must have a clear-cut meaning or reason behind them. What kind of odd creature demands that? How, moreover, does play spur a new way of thinking, a new language?