The Truth About Colombia

What enthralls me most about Gabriel Garcia Márquez’s writing is his characters’ penchant for boldly diving headfirst into love. It’s a contagious idea, to dismiss fear entirely for the sake of the heart, and it’s hard not to take on that fearlessness while engrossed in one of his novels.

Attempts to echo that intrepidness in real life reminds us about the genre Márquez created – magical realism – and his Nobel-winning ability to indistinguishably blend fantasy with reality. His skill is in convincing readers that a man could reasonably be trailed by a constant cloud of yellow butterflies, as we witness in 100 Years Of Solitude, thus it follows that the nature of love as described by the author would play by the same rules. We all know butterflies don’t flock that way, and that love isn’t so simple, but reading the Colombian writer’s books suspends disbelief long enough for magic to seep into actual reality. That’s what makes him such a legendary writer.

You have to wonder how a person develops the ability to communicate ideas and imagery in such a way that readers are brought to tears heavy with suffering, to uncontrollable bouts of wistful nostalgia, or to elation beyond comprehension. Some might say innate talent, others dumb luck, while Márquez himself is quoted as referencing the storytelling style of his grandparents as inspiration.

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Cartagena, Colombia

For me, it took visiting Colombia twice within three months to begin to grasp his perspective. I had wanted to see the city of Cartagena ever since I discovered it was the supposed setting for Love In The Time Of Cholera, which I devoured as a young teenager, plagued with the affliction of persistently falling in love.

Years later brings us to 2016, when that dream has come to life. The opportunity to visit the country became available on what was supposed to be a Pan-American wildlife-searching expedition, kicking off in Guatemala and terminating in Colombia. I made it as far as Belize, which took hold of my wild heart. Only once it was broken did I move on to finish my trip, with time left solely for my final stop. Colombia.

Colombia, Colombia, Colombia. I didn’t really know what to expect. The news says so many negative things, things that rile up my dad’s typical anxiety when I travel to places that are beyond 15 miles of my hometown. Cocaine, kingpins, violence, murder, kidnappings…stuff dads don’t like. These things may exist in Colombia, but let’s be honest: they exist everywhere.

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The monkey grasshopper, one of many examples of Colombia’s natural colorfulness

Even so, the news never mentions the people. It doesn’t talk about their glowing warmth, their love of bright colors, their genuine kindness. Nowhere in the news does it mention that Colombians will treat you like family, feeding you and caring for you no matter how thrown-together your Spanish is. They will go out of their way to ensure your comfort. This simply hasn’t been part of the international narrative about Colombia, which means a lot of people are missing out.

Fortunately that narrative is changing, and not just because of the recent ceasefire and a peace deal in the works. Colombia is speaking for itself. The biodiversity (the best in the world), the food, the colors (both fabricated and in nature), and the environments ranging from Amazon jungle to Caribbean sea to Andes mountains. There’s a deep commitment to conserving that verdant, Garden of Eden green teeming with every type of beast. This is Colombia.

The culture is passionate, fueled by a fire that leads to salsa dancing, and a dedication towards preserving that which makes Colombia, Colombia. Like the quality of the coffee, which is what has brought me back so quickly on the tails of my first visit. Strangers talk to each other. They help each other. They love each other. There’s a tremendous amount of love, with no attempt to hide it.

When you’re in Colombia, you can feel poetry tracing its fingers along your skin. Your heart opens and so do your ears. Whether you’re chasing the scent of gardenias in Cartagena or soaking your weary skin in the thermal pools near Pereira, Colombia will inject color and love into your life, one way or another.

And so you begin to see the magic Gabriel Garcia Márquez writes about, and come to find out that the truth is, it’s more real than you could have ever imagined.

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View from the upcoming San Carlos Lodge in Pereira, Colombia

Honeymoon Breakdown

Screen Shot 2016-04-13 at 10.40.30 PM.jpgLast night I had a panic attack. A bad one. It was so bad, I wanted to kill myself.

It’s not the first time this has happened, and while I hope more than anything that it was the last, I know it won’t be. I was diagnosed with panic disorder a few years ago, which fit nicely alongside my PTSD, sleep disorder, depression, and anxiety, all of which I’ve struggled with for years. Basically this most recent diagnosis means that every so often, for reasons known and unknown, I will enter into a state of panic and if it’s intense enough, be unable to calm down without medical intervention. Think trapped mountain lion, but with less claws and more existential crisis.

Even most people close to me don’t know I suffer from these illnesses. I would describe them as “mental illnesses” but that would be like casually referring to a cough as a “lung illness” and nobody does that, so I don’t see why screwed up brains should be an exception. Either way the point is, I’m sick.

And last night, I was really sick. I don’t typically become suicidal when I panic, but for whatever reason, last night was so dark that I ended up reaching out to five people for help. Fortunately one person (who happens to be a mental health professional) responded in time to assist me, and eventually they were able to help me return to a safe mindset.

While calming down, my panic was immediately replaced with guilt. It’s humiliating to be in that situation, to disturb someone’s night because I can’t control my own emotions. I knew instinctually that asking for help was better than the alternative, but that couldn’t soothe the shame of making my problems someone else’s. I feel unimaginably weak being so low, to be unable to do what literally every other human is capable of doing every day – living.

And after all, what do I have to be so upset about? I’ve just married my high school sweetheart, I’m spending three whole weeks vacationing in postcard-perfect Belize on someone else’s dime, and I’ll eventually return home to my life of leisure where I’m free to live out my dream of writing full time. My life, from all objective standpoints, is perfect.

But like that girl who recently shared her before and after photos of having an anxiety attack, what everyone sees of my life on social media is a piss-poor representation of my actual existence. The photos are picked apart, edited, and re-edited to be visually compelling. The stories and captions are selected due to their positivity, and while everything I post is 100% true, most of what goes on in my life is left out, certainly all the negative stuff.

The shaking fear as I sit down to my keyboard, unable to write the novel that I quit my job to pursue. The crushing disappointment in myself as another day goes by without exercising, cleaning my bedroom, or addressing any of the other quickly-fading items on my to do list. The stoic numbness I force myself to inhabit, lest vulnerability lead me down the path of pain. The knee-jerk terror that arises every time I feel the slightest bit of nausea, left over from a teenage misdiagnosis of a gastric disorder as a psychological one.

I know I’m not alone in suffering from panic disorders – I read that 40 million Americans freak out with me, but it’s incredibly lonesome to be trapped inside your own mind when your mind is trying to do you in.

Nobody shares these kinds of things on social media, and this is by no means a suggestion to start doing so. My point in sharing this very personal side of myself is not to garner any sympathy, pity, or attention. I even know that some people will be disappointed in this admission. But this is a way for me to sort through what happened last night, and maybe for someone reading this, a reminder that they’re not alone in fighting an unseen battle.

There’s no revelation here. This is nothing I didn’t know before yesterday, and nothing you haven’t read already. But I felt compelled to share my experience anyway, because it’s mine, and it’s real.

For anyone else struggling, please reach out for help: Suicide prevention lifeline // 1-800-273-8255

You Are Now Free To Shut The F*** Up

It was posted about 20 minutes ago, so naturally you’ve seen it by now. I know by tomorrow it will be old news, but whatever.

The FCC has proposed that airplane passengers should be able to use their mobile phones midflight, as long as the planes are above 10,000 feet. Now before we go all crazy, it has not happened yet, only been proposed. Also airlines are free to restrict this capability at their discretion. 

So let’s look at the pros and cons of allowing airplane travelers to talk on their phones:

Pros:

1) Your plane is crashing, so you can call your loved ones to make sure they destroy the harddrive on your home computer

2) Flying will no longer restrict you from having phone meetings while airborne. Always be closing!

3) You will no longer have to wait 1-2 minutes for your phone to turn on after landing. Unless you are flying an airline that makes you turn it off during takeoff/landing. Then you will have to wait.

Cons:

1) You are bugging the shit out of literally everyone around you. Being in the sky does not change the land-etiquette of not forcing people to hear half of your stupid conversation

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2) If this applies to pilots as well, then we are all screwed

3) For a lot of people flights are the last place they can go to have an excuse to unplug. Perhaps submarine rides will be the last tech-free haven?

I fly quite frequently, so we will see what kind of effect this has, if it in fact becomes a reality. Honestly I think it’s one of those things that’s easy (and fun!) to complain about before it happens, but will more than likely not be that big of a problem. If it does become super annoying, then I vote we enact SkyLaw to make it acceptable to punch loud, rude people in the face.