Thursday, April 03, 2014

Can't Sleep for Panic, Not Happy

It's 4:45 AM. I've been up since 3:15. Before that I was up at 2 and then earlier, at midnight. It's been this way for several weeks now--it's been a little like this for a couple of years but only this bad since I came back from Peru. I've had apnea for a while--my nose gets stuffed up and I stop breathing and wake in a panic. My friend Claudia told me to put the bed on a slant, raise one end, and that would help. It did. It was perfect for more than two years. Slept good three and four hour chunks twice a night, just getting up to use the restroom and check the house once or twice.
    But now, now is different. It's like my lungs are full of water an I'm drowning all the time. I drink wine and so can go to sleep early for a few hours--maybe 9:30 till midnight. Then another hour and another. And then it's done. So I'm exhausted every day. My ankles and feet are swollen from not laying down for a long enough time. I start to panic just thinking about going back to bed.
    I try to embrace the fear: I see myself entering a tunnel that gets smaller and smaller and I want to turn and run but force myself to come to the end and start digging my way out. And sometimes I dig right into open sunlight and think, 'good, now I'll sleep' but that's not how that works. I still wake in a panic, not breathing.
    I sometimes put a pillow on the desk and sit back in the chair and put my feet up on the pillow and sometimes that works but not tonight. Tonight I just feel like I'm drowning and I'm not happy. I want this to stop. I want my own body back, my own ankles, my own sleep patterns, my own alertness during the day, my joy of living every moment. I am tired of being tired and grumpy.
    I'm going to do some sapo, frog sweat, on Saturday morning to see if I can't get this body to do a reset. I've got too many calls for a new story tomorrow to fit it in during the morning. I don't know what else to do. I can't sleep for panic and I'm not happy.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Learning to Win and Lose

Well, Madeleina came home from the regionals in extemporaneous debate yesterday and boy was she pissed off. The job was to take three or four poems, weave parts of them into one piece, read it and then be able to debate about the value of the pieces, the reason for your selections and so forth. Well, she went with the Beat Poets, which was a good choice because I have some of their books around. And she came up with a great piece which she could read very well.
    So she got picked to head to what I think are the regionals--kids were coming in from a few different counties, it looked like, and if it all went well she would have moved on to State--which is apparently a big deal here in Texas, though I don't remember even having it in New York when I was a kid in the last century.
    Evidenty she did fantastically at the reading and was held over to debate her choices. She didn't fare well there and did not make State. She said that her debate judges included a school bus driver and someone else not involved in teaching, and then one debate teacher. I think that's what she said. And the three of them, while saying they loved her reading, said the Beat poets had no value, no impact, and so were a very bad choice on her part.
   She took umbrage at that.
   They were lucky that's all she took.
   "Dad, excuse me but they were out of their flipping minds. Not important? Howl by Ginsberg is not important? Kerouac is not important? Dad! They were the social voice of the day! They were the white counter part of the civil rights movement! Ginsberg declared war on those who put down gays! They demanded the right to speak their minds in public and were willing to go to jail, like Lenny Bruce, for that! Not important! God, this is the worst day of my life!"
    They were wrong and she was right, of course. The Beats were very important. But maybe not out here in bucolic Joshua, Texas. Maybe out here they're considered as valueless as hippies and the Occupy Wall Streeters and the like.
    I tried to console her with the thought that she's still going to State as a solo flutist and as part of an ensemble. Not bad.
    She wasn't buying it. "Dad, they took some kid who read Christian poetry over me! God, I hate them!"
    She's got a point. But then, this is Texas. And learning to lose with grace, even if you're cheated sometimes, is an important lesson in life. Learning to lose isn't a good lesson by itself, of course, but learning how some people will cheat you out of what is rightfully yours--and figuring out how to make that not happen next time, how to keep standing up for yourself--well, that's important. Winning is great, but losing is where the real lessons are.

Monday, March 24, 2014

This House is Fallng Apart....

Pretty much my favorite song is "This house is falling apart" and I have no idea who does it. But the singer talks of the house where he/she lived/loved/rattled this town. What a freaking house! They're gonna rattle this ghost town even though their house is falling apart. Now that's something special.
    And my house is falling apart. The damned water pipe is leaking again, as I've noted, and today I went and bought rope to make the tree swings work again but I can no longer climb the tree to put it in place so I had to call Italo to ask for help. And then I had to call Marco to help with the damned leaking water pipe since I don't really want to put my leg in that shit. I felt like a sissy but justified it by putting a lot of hot sausage/peppers/onions/garlic on the stove to go with a nice marinara and mozzarella on hot Italian sandwiches and made several pounds of good chicken thighs to take home to their places.
   Then they both showed up, like the freaking mafia, sunglasses, radiant shirts, tough guys and I was just about crying because  I'm such a sissy and it was so nice that they came to fix things and they're at the store now buying parts and I'm sitting here just sobbing from loving them and how cool they have turned out. You guys are fantastic! Thanks for being my kids, kids. We fight, you two fight, but right now, right this minute, you have more love coming your way than you can imagine. Share it. I love you guys.
Dad

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Abundance of Ayahuasca and Admixture Plants

Someone has been writing me private notes saying they want to move to the Amazon to study ayahuasca. Their enthusiasm outreaches their experience, so I suggested spending a month or two in the jungle--they want to live away from people, alone in the jungle--before they sell everything they have and move there. I was being nice, because the jungle doesn't accept everyone. The bugs are difficult to deal with. The work, so easy for people who were born to it, is nearly impossible for Westerners to learn to do. Simple things like carrying water, making a dugout canoe, building a house when you don't know what kind of trees will stay strong and not rot in six months; weaving leaf-roof sections and all that jazz. Sure, if you go in with lots of money you can get it done--and people do, though most discover they didn't even know how to hire the right people and so everything falls apart the first time or two. Like a lot of things, experience counts. Imagination is wonderful when grounded in a bit of reality.
    So the most recent letter from this person thanked me for explaining that you can't just grow a garden in the jungle. Some jungle will grow plantains and yucca; the neighbors' land, just 500 feet away, might grow wonderful peppers and cilantro but won't grow a plantain at all. The next neighbor over might be able to grow corn and papaya but nothing else. Depends the nutrients in the soil and a host of other things and those might well depend on the high water season of rushing river depositing topsoil on your property.
   But the fellow also suggested that at least ayahuasca and chacruna--the two key ingredients for making the jungle medicine--grow in abundance, as did the admixture plants. I was forced to respond and here it is:
Dear X: Actually, no, ayahuasca and chacruna and the admixture plants do not grow in abundance everywhere. And they take a long time to grow and they have been way, way over harvested in the last several years. Used to be, a curandero on a river might have five mature vines; when he cut some from one, he or she always left the roots, sang to it, smoked mapacho to thank it, then planted one or two sections of what he or she had cut to insure that more would grow--even if that growth was going to take several years.
    These days, some camps are indiscriminately asking people like the members of my team to go get them 100 sacks of vine--and that might have been every vine including roots, of every ayahuasca plant on an entire river. So no, things are not good that way.
    Over the years I've planted hundreds; most have been stolen by people collecting for the big camps or internet sellers. They are the only ones looking for that volume.
    Remember that traditionally, only the curandero drank, not the people at the ceremony, so a few good vines could be used for years. Once you have 30 people drinking nightly at each of 100 camps, plus 10 times that many drinking in the US alone every night--well, you're cutting very deeply into the supply of something that takes years and special conditions to grow. And since typical admixture barks, lupuna negro and catawa, for instance, are trees coveted by lumber men, well, they are getting in short supply as well.
   It's not a disaster yet, but in five years if things continue as they are, it certainly could be. In 10 years, it will be. Where we used to routinely use vines that were 1 1/2 inches or two inches thick, many people are now using vines that are 1/2 inch thick. Those are too young to have learned very much. They need more seasoning to be great medicines. But the demand is there and people who dream of having an Ipod will cut every specimen down if they think they'll earn enough money to buy one. That's just the way it is, not just in the Amazon, but everywhere. In the Amazon, though, the balance tends to be a little more delicate and so needs more care and attention to keep it from becoming something awful.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Our House

I stumbled on a beautiful website today--maybe while reading Huffington Post--devoted to beautiful homes. Some of the 57 homes pictured were on ocean coasts; some were on rivers; some were designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. A couple were built as replicas of small castles; one was a really gorgeous log cabin on a river. A lot of them had fantastic pools or moats; some had bowling alleys or two-story libraries. These were beautiful homes. Look at any one of them and you could picture yourself living there in bliss forever. Just fantastic architecture, fantastic settings, thrilling designs.
    My house sprung a new leak in the water pipe last night. It's the second leak in three months. The first came about when the crew building the new road in front of my house moved the water meter in the ground with a Bobcat, breaking the line. I have not figured out why the new leak happened, but it left us with filling up a couple of 5 gallon pots with water for cooking/dish washing, and filling the tub with water to flush the toilet. I'll fix it tomorrow, but today I had to work on a story so couldn't.
    A few years ago a leak in our hot water heater went unnoticed for a week or 10 days and that put so much water under the house that the cinderblock foundation re-settled which sort of bent the beams which threw the whole house out of whack. That caused cracks in the roof and the kitchen floor, which led to rain coming in and dripping on my desk on heavy rain days and led to spaces between the kitchen floor tiles. It also almost dropped the pantry--where we have the washer/dryer/tools/junk--right off the house. That's now held onto the main structure by duct tape and a couple of well-placed beams to keep it from falling. The bend in the beam also caused the bathroom to move on angle. Not pretty.
   So I was looking at those houses and they were fantastic. And I remembered being invited to a house in Connecticut some years ago that was owned by the wife of the Russian media magnate--in prison at the time--which was a real castle and worth something like $40 million with another $10-$20 million in paintings and furnishings. And they were gorgeous. I'd like one.
   But you know what? I'll take my broken down house with the drip on my desk from heavy rains over all of them. Know why? Cause this is where my family laughs. And yeah, you all know my family is as broken as my house, but still, they all come over sometimes and we laugh and dance and paint and watch tv and eat like pigs and I just don't think there's a better house in the whole world than mine. Even though, I realize, nobody's ever gonna put me on a website devoted to gorgeous houses.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Madeleina as Guardian Angel

So I was cooking dinner--a simple rice/chopped meat/garlic/onion/zuccini/red pepper/yellow squash/spinach/achote/white vinegar/good sharp minced cheddar/cilantro mix stuffed into poblano peppers--when the phone rang. Madeleina answered and jumped for joy when it turned out to be Aruba--our friend Otmar--on the other end of the line, checking in. I heard Madeleina's answers and realized he was asking about my leg: "Well, if you didn't know anything you'd think he's got a piece of rotten jerkey below his knee, but actually it's pretty good compared to what it was."
    Then I heard her say: "No, you can't do that. You can't even mention that. No way."
    A minute later: "All we need is you to call once a year so we know you're okay; nothing more, and I mean it."
    And so on, until she passed the phone to me.
    Otmar, who calls me Uncle Peter and has been on one of my trips and has met me in the jungle several times, told me about his new girlfriend, about planning to see me in July when I'm in Iquitos and so forth, and then we hung up.
    After we hung up, I called to Madeleina, in the other living room, around the bend in the kitchen, and asked: "Madeleina, did Otmar say he wanted to send us money because of my leg?"
    "Yeah, dad."
    "And you told him no, right?"
    "Of course, dad."
    I hesitated, then said, "Well, there's 72 percent of me that adores you for knowing the right thing to do. But then there's 28 percent of me that hates you for turning down free dough!"
    "You couldn't do it, dad."
    "I know, but I could have had a moment to consider it before saying no, couldn't I?"
    "No dad. Better to get temptation out of sight immediately. That way you can't fail yourself. And you're weak. You might have given in. I had to save you."
    That's my baby. That's my Madeleina. That's my girl."

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Something I just found and I think it's worth sharing

So I went to an ayahuasca board on which I occasionally post and found an interesting topic and saw that I'd posted there a year ago. Surprised me. It was a discussion of whether organized retreats in Peru were better than simply arriving on your own and trying to find a healer. Well, the conversation disintegrated over the course of 150 responses until it kind of became an argument of "at what point are  you ripping off locals?" That's when I interjected my comments, which didn't fill the bill exactly, but gave an indication of where you're ripping the locals off. I used the metaphor of the indigenous Shipibo who sell the most beautiful woven telas, cloths. They take a long time to make and I'm always upset when gringos chew them down in price to the point where the work that went into them is nowhere near getting paid for. So this was my comment and I'm sticking to it.


Someone here is talking about the price of a Shipibo skirt in Pucallpa versus the skirt in Iquitos. I would say that if the skirt took two weeks to weave, you should pay the person 10 days wages--at 20 soles per day, plus one meal a day, the minimum wage in Peru--so that would come to 200 soles and 10 meals at, let's say, 3.5 soles each, or 235 soles.
That's the minimum for two weeks work.
Now to ship that skirt to Iquitos will cost 5 soles. To have someone pick it up at the port at 3 AM will cost 5 soles. The cargondero who carries the box of skirts will charge 5 soles, to that's, let's say, 1/2 sole.
The woman in Iquitos selling her sister's skirt will walk around, with her two kids, for a day/two days, before she sells it. So add another 40 soles, plus meals for the woman and kids--just one a day at 3.5 soles, or, let's say 10 soles.
So we've got 235 soles, plus 10.5 soles, plus 50 soles. That's 295.50 soles. So then they offer the product for 180 and idiot gringos, looking at three weeks of work, chew them down to 70. The 180 came to about 65 dollars for something you will cherish for the entire time you are alive. Why on earth would you back them down to the wall of desperation? The number they will accept but which will force them to email their sister in Pucallpa and explain that they got ripped off and therefore the sister won't get any money for her two weeks of work or the 40 soles of material and thread she put into the piece?
On my trips there are four rules.
1) you ask for cocaine, talk about cocaine, you're off the trip and forfeit all your money.
2) No complaining. If you complain you are off the trip. You do have the right to punch me as hard as you want between the elbow and shoulder to get my attention, but the minute you complain about anything vocally, you forfeit your trip.
3) No sex with anything, anyone under 18. In Peru, as a lot of people know, courtship lasts about 1/2 bottle of beer. But if you take that chicken home, you had better be able to show me a birth certificate of 18 years old or you forfeit your money.
4) No bartering with Shipibo women. You may barter, but only under the awareness that you will promise to pay double what they asked when you finish. So if they start at 180 soles, and you get them down to 90--and that gets your rocks off, fine, but then you have to pay 360, to ensure that the woman and her children and the sister who made the tela--the fancy woven cloth--will actually all have enough to eat. Break the rule and you forfeit your trip money. All of it.
I think those are good rules. I've tossed probably 10 percent of my guests off the trip over the years, like one per trip or two, for breaking the rules. Are they surprised? You betcha. Do they learn to come and ask how they should really behave? You betcha.
We take care of people, we don't steal from them just because we can. And I think that's found somewhere in the golden rule....unless I'm mistaken.