If you struggle to carve out time to write – but the LAST thing you need is another thing people are expecting you to do, or to face another round of anxiety-inducing introductions on another Zoom call – then my Zero-Commitment Overwhelmed Writers’ League, starting this coming Saturday, might be right for you. Here’s how it will work:
1. Those interested should send me their email address in the comments or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2. I will send everyone a recurring GCal invite with a Zoom link for Saturdays at 11 am Costa Rica time (during Daylight Savings, that’s 12 pm EST).
3. I will then proceed to… NEVER CONTACT YOU ABOUT THIS AGAIN. No reminders or chats. No supportive Facebook group. Zero follow-through, guaranteed. (Unless you really, really, really want an occasional additional nudge, in which case you and I can work out a special exception.)
4. On any given week, if you pop in, we won’t all introduce ourselves or anything. We’ll just say “Hi!” and write – cameras and mics on or off as you please. My camera will be on to keep me honest (you are encouraged to cough disapprovingly if you see that I’ve been seized by a sudden desire to clean the office or sort my Post-Its by size). Maybe sometimes I’ll get a little crazy and put on some coffeehouse ambient noise in the background, or wear a tiara, or get a little creative with my Zoom wallpaper. But basically, I will just sit there and write, for God’s sake.
5. After precisely 30 minutes, anyone who doesn’t feel like chatting can just exit, and anyone who’d like to say something about what s/he’s writing or read a couple sentences can do so. At 40 minutes or so we’ll sign off (or get kicked off if there are 3+ people… one of the greatest things about Zoom, in my opinion).
If you sign up and never, ever come, you will STILL be doing me a big favor, because simply the expectation that someone might be waiting for me on the call will get me there to write every week. (I know, I’m weird, and a full-fledged Gretchen Rubin Obliger.) If you DO come when you can, that will of course be extra awesome. Or if the idea appeals but the selected time will never work for you, I’d love to stay in touch with you about what you’re up to with your writing, because the more writerly accountability and inspiration and prodding I can get, the better.
That’s all, folks!
I’m a writer in San José, Costa Rica, on a year-long quest to share daily posts on inspiring people, places and ideas from my adopted home as a kind of tonic during a rough time in the world. Sign up (top right of this page) to receive a little dose of inspiration every weekday in your mailbox; tell a friend; check out past posts; and please connect with me on Instagram or Facebook! If you want to learn more about how to support Costa Rica during the crisis, visit my COVID-19 section – or for ways to enjoy Costa Rica from afar, visit Virtual Costa Rica.
I’d like to end the week with a question for you: has the COVID-19 crisis made you more creative, or drawn you to creative activities you weren’t doing before?
The Eastport Gallery will be sharing a video chat between me and Lora Whelan, an amazing artist and local journalism leader, on their Facebook page on June 25th. We’ll be discussing how this crisis in particular, and solitude in general, can help or hinder creative pursuits. I’ll be sharing som solitude-inspired writing, and we’ll discuss ways people in Eastport and around the world have used art and creativity during these hard times.
The chat will not be live, so I would LOVE to hear your thoughts beforehand. Have you started journaling, making lists, drawing bad sketches (that last one is me)? Connecting or reconnecting with creative pursuits from your past? Finding new artists or writers whose work has resonated with you? Or has the crisis squashed your creative drive? I’d like to hear what to have to say!
I’ll share the chat here once the Gallery has published it. Have a wonderful (maybe even creative?) weekend…
(In the photo: Works in progress from @corteza.cr!)
Sometimes, life just gets in the way. It’s been quite a while since I’ve written about Costa Rica on the regular. After two very difficult years and several particularly tumultuous months, I’ve realized how much I need to hop back in the saddle. Climb back on the proverbial oxcart (climbing on a literal oxcart would be even better). Get back to celebrating, exploring and pondering the lovely-complicated-fascinating country I am proud to call home.
My new yearlong project, Costa Rica Day by Day, launches September 15th – Independence Day. Stay tuned here for more, or connect with me on Instagram at @katherinestanleyobando as the countdown begins.
One of my favorite things about my five-year-old daughter is that before she runs anywhere, she winds up like a cartoon character. She leans back on her right foot, her whole body at an exaggerated tilt, her left elbow cocked in front of her like a shield, lips pursed in smiling determination. Then she takes off. I always half-expect to see billows of white smoke and star-shaped sparks escaping from beneath her pounding heels.
When it comes to talking about my father, who died four months ago tomorrow, I feel I am still winding up. I am still leaning back, waiting to move. In my world, this means waiting to find solace in words again. About the things that count, I feel incoherent.
But on this Father’s Day, I thought I would at least attempt to pay homage in his name to what this column has always been about: language, Costa Rica, and love.
When I worked in English-language education and visited an advanced young-adult class in San José, I asked them what their biggest challenge to language learning was. Lack of time? Mastering irregular verbs? The delightful traps with which the English language is laced, such as the multiple pronunciations of -ough, with no rules to follow whatsoever (think tough, bough, through, dough, cough)?
Nope. Their answer was none of these, and they all had the same one. El choteo, they answered in unison, a few sheepish glances flying across the room. When they opened their mouths to speak English, they told me, they knew that if they made a mistake, they’d be ridiculed by their peers. On the other hand, if they spoke perfectly, the mockery might be even worse – who do you think you are to speak so well? So they kept quiet, which is of course disastrous for a language learner. Their oral proficiency suffered because they were afraid to speak up.
To chotear is to take someone down a peg, to mock, particularly when people show aptitude for something or getting too big for their britches. “Uuuuuuuuuy,” you might hear if you’ve done something right, with the intonation that goes with a strut and a la-di-da hand gesture. It goes hand-in-hand with Costa Ricans’ love of fun and wordplay, but many Costa Ricans have told me it is also rooted in a cultural aversion to standing out, to individual achievement, to ego. On several occasions I’ve heard Costa Ricans compare this aspect of their culture to the famous analogy of the crabs in a bucket that pull down any fellow crab that starts to haul itself out.
Constantino Láscaris, in his excellent book El Costarricense, outlines this view of choteo as well, but ultimately dismisses it in favor of a lighter, more positive view. “El choteo is funny,” he writes. “The jokes might be good or bad, accurate, dirty or less dirty. But it represents an extraordinary popular wisdom. A people that tells jokes gives an outlet for passions… The President of the Republic is the delicious object of choteo, as well as all legislators, no matter who they are.”
I think both interpretations are probably correct. I have often been grateful for the fact that in Costa Rica, it’s tough for someone to get high and mighty, or to go to extremes, because someone will also be there to make fun. At the same time, I think it is also true that this might inhibit some people, and maybe even keep them from following certain passions.
I found myself reflecting on el choteo in an unexpected context recently, and in a beautiful place: San Gerardo de Dota, where, on a cabin dangling off the edge of a mountain, I read A Room of One’s Own for the first time. In air just about as cold and crisp as you can find in Costa Rica – which is to say, utterly delectable, demanding warm socks and wood fires at night – and in a silence that, aside for birdsong, is just about absolute, I read Virginia Woolf’s brilliant analysis of what happens to women who try to climb out of the crab bucket, artistically speaking.
I read Virginia Woolf’s imaginings of what would have happened to Shakespeare’s sister, if he had had a sister whose brilliance was equal to his own. In that patient, detailed way of hers, she paces through the possible actions Shakespeare’s sister might have taken in order to pursue her passion and live as a writer. No matter what thread Virginia pulls on, it does not end well.
Months ago, when my obsession with “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda was at its peak, I read that his family works to give him and his wife a support system, especially in terms of childcare. The article said something like, “Their priority is to make sure he has the space he needs to create.”
It sounded so delightful – and necessary, for all those of us who think that Miranda (speaking of Shakespeare’s relatives) is the Bard’s Nuyorican spiritual twin. I want his family to give him space to create. Please, provide him with whatever he needs to make the Next Great Thing.
I also want that space for myself. When I think about claiming it, though, I feel presumptuous. A voice says, “¡Ni que fueras Shakespeare! ¡Ni que fueras Lin-Manuel Miranda, mae! ¡Ni que fueras Virginia Woolf!”Ni que fueras: a classic choteo opening. “As if you were.” Think again. Come back down to earth. Ubíquese.
I am choteándome a mi misma, pulling myself back down into the crab bucket, which many people – particularly women, I’d argue – are all too good at.
But here, right here, as if she could hear my inner choteo, is what’s so brilliant about Woolf’s famous essay. She has doesn’t argue with these voices; she sidesteps them. She makes no pretense that everyone in her audience have works of genius stored within, waiting to pour out. Rather, she argues that no matter how talented we may or may not be, we all have a role to play. All books are the continuation of the books that came before, and all original thought, even if imperfectly expressed, moves the ball forward for the team she imagines of women writers throughout history.
She says that Shakespeare’s sister “would come if we worked for her, and that so to work, even in poverty and obscurity, is worthwhile.” We must recognize “the common life which is the real life and not… the little separate lives which we live as individuals.”
The common life, which is the real life.
That’s why I think el choteo has an upside and a downside. It has an upside because the common life is the real life. No one of us is such a big deal, all on our lonesome. When we start to think that we are, it’s good for our friends and family to shake us out of it with a little humor. I can think of some people in my home country, the United States, who would be much better people – and leaders – if they were doused on the daily with some healthy choteo.
At the same time, each of us has a chance to contribute something to that common life. We do have a worthwhile reason to carve out what we need for that purpose: a room of our own, whether literal or figurative. We do have a mission to fulfill, because whether we produce masterpieces or only mediocrity, we have a shot at providing the next genius, Shakespeare’s sister, with a boost. A leg up. A starting point a little further down the road.
So to every tentative English student, every aspiring writer, every one of us feeling a little pretentious as we claim our space as artists or thinkers or learners, I think Virginia would say, if she were here in Costa Rica: accept your fair share of choteo with a nod, and let it keep your feet on the ground, rooted in our common life. But after that, simply carry on. Don’t stop. Create something. No matter what they might say.
Before each chat, I was nervous, and not just because these women are powerful and extraordinary. I was nervous because they know so much about the problems facing our country, and are so in tune with populations and institutions at risk. I expected to learn terrible truths and come away the way I generally come away from the news: depressed and feeling helpless.
Instead, every time, I hung up the phone and practically ran up the walls with excitement. Allegra, Alyse, Maryam and Laura replaced my despair with energy.
I’ll admit it. When I picture an activist, I tend to envision picket lines and marches and petitions; if I associate it with a profession or field, it’s probably the law or politics. Activism is all of those things, but as I browsed with amazement through the website of Philadelphia Printworks, I realized that a true activist can infuse any of her endeavors with that spirit – art, fashion, business, writing, or, in the case of Printworks founder Maryam Pugh, all of the above.
The local business, which Pugh, 35, created in 2010, sells clothes in thought-provoking collections such as School of Thought, whose collegiate designs bear the names, not of famed universities, but of iconic black thinkers and leaders such as Harriet Tubman or Audre Lord. Other collections include Cats Against Catcalling, Professional Black Girl and Cognitive Dissonance – basically, these are clothes that are guaranteed to start a conversation.