29 December, 2008

Strange Urges: report from Mexico, day one

One of the most disconcerting things about travelling for me is the reconciliation between how I imagine a place to be and its reality. When I envision Hungary to be like Russia with less snow, and it turns out to be more like Boston. Cities and countries are always more complex and multifaceted than the travel brochures I create for them in my head: messier, the people's faces more pinched, the food greasier, the streets less swept with more missing cobblestones, the stray dogs slightly more menacing. It's always something to get used to, but it's never bothered me before, and I've always ended up liking the real thing better.

When my mom and I started planning this trip to Mexico, months ago, not long after the divorce, I envisioned Mexico as I've seen it in movies, especially "La Misma Luna," one of my favorites. Bright orange stucco buildings and handpainted billboards. Children everywhere. Young guys in leather jackets riding mopeds. Shacks in every available space, some ramshackle, some not, selling tamales and tropical fruit. Reggaeton blasting out car windows. My mother told me that we would be staying in a resort, but because I've never stayed in a resort before, that did nothing to my perception of what this experience would be like. Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, when you stay in resort in foreign country, the resort is the experience. The goal is not only isolation from the real country, but from reality in general.

When we crossed the border and drove through a small city on our way to "the Mayan Palace," I saw Mexico exactly as I had envisioned it. Orange building here, handpainted fruit stand there. A young guy in a denim jacket stood on a street corner holding six roses, obviously waiting for someone. He looked adorably, preciously vulnerable, and I wanted to hug him. But we kept driving. We passed the last gas station in town which advertised the loteria mexicana, and kept driving. We got so far into the middle of nowhere I almost expected us to be going on walkabout, with only a flask of water and our wits to keep us alive. But no. We eventually reached a large compound of buildings. I'm sure the goal of the location was "oasis" but all I could think was "prison." Like in Holes, perhaps this place had the only water for miles. After two security checks, we were allowed inside.

From a distance, the place looks like a mental hospital, or a residential/office park that is on its way out. Once you get closer, you see the overlarge fake Christmas tree, the machine-driven fountain. All non-ocean waters feel artificial. The pavement is Disneyland smooth. But it isn't until we enter the main lobby that my stomach hits my knees.

Mayan Palace is a pretentious name, let's face it, and the whole resort experience to me is a big-budget, long-anticipated epic film that all critics pan as "missing its objective." All swelling John Williams score when the characters embrace, no real chemistry. The whole place smacks of "trying too hard." Trying to do what? Win my loyalty? Lull me into a trance? I still haven't made up my mind.

For a Mayan Palace the place feels vaguely Roman to me: the staff all in white, bustling about importantly serving comped margaritas, the vastness of the marble front corridor, the pillars, the smokeless fireplaces. I feel like I should be lounging on my side eating grapes. The concept is Hollywood Mayan Palace--perhaps the way Walt Disney would envision it--everything is a little too clean and polished to be real. All the opulence of the Mayan empire without the human sacrifice, without the messy, embarrassing blood. Even the quasi-authentic replica of a Mayan statue is too shiny, his tiny walnut-sized junk set back from the edge of the table, completely unlike the near-pornographic virility of the real statues I've seen in museums. He looks unsexed, castrated and impotent. Mayan culture de-offensive-ized for the wealthy sensibility. I feel sorry for him.

I don't know if I'm being stubborn or foolish to feel this way about the resort after one day. I know I'm being reactionary, but the whole place is obviously designed to evoke strong emotion. I feel manipulated, because that is the nature of the beast, as it were. The hallways are big and echo-y. Each apartment door feels isolated and surreal. There's an ashtray every few feet and I feel a strange urge to start smoking.

What really surprises me is how being here changes my perception even of myself. What kind of people come here? What kind of person does that make me? Am I self-indulgent? Xenophobic? What's the point of coming to another country and staying in an artificial environment? This is a cruise ship on land. I feel sick.

When I get undressed to take a shower, I stand naked in front of the full-length mirror. The too-bright fluorescent lighting accents every dark vein, every stray hair--every imperfection. I feel bloated and freakishly white, like a cooked lobster. I also feel a strange urge to circle all the parts of my body that I don't like with a black magic marker. I start to jump up and down in front of the mirror, to see what jiggles, then remember I learned that trick from a girl in high school who was anorexic, so I stop.

On the one hand, it's a testament to this resort's power that I feel this way. One place evoking so many emotions, and so strongly I feel I can't control them. But the power feels ill-gotten, despotic. Being a student, I would never qualify, but most guests here fall victim to the allures of a timeshare promotional presentation, which can last up to three hours and have hundreds of dollars attached to your mere attendance. The mindset reeks of an aggressive religious revival, or perhaps organized crime. I've never been so grateful to be poor in my life.

This is the hardest thing for me to say, but I'm still going to say it. Most of the people here like it. They like the isolation, the illusion of safety it offers. I say illusion because although I am less concerned with the possibility of mugging (and crime in general) than I would be elsewhere, when my little brother went missing this morning I had the same visions of him being loaded into a van and sold for scrap organs as I would have back home. I was still just as relieved/pissed off when we finally found him. But still, what is the difference between me and the people who enjoy this environment? What is wrong with them, or me? That's a real question, and one I will try to address later.

My final disappointment is this: I feel that the time I spent practicing sassy Spanish responses to catcalls with Chandler was completely wasted. I've been stared down, but not catcalled. Everyone here speaks English anyway. No Spanish catcalls so far. And I was really looking forward to that. Oh well.

25 December, 2008

AdoptUsKids.org



Merry Christmas! And now, a public service announcement by Elisa Koler.

Every year, my family spends Christmas Eve with our extended family, and then on Christmas Day, we spend some time with Carlos' birth family. They are open, generous people, and I am so glad they are in my life. They take nothing from our Christmas celebration, in fact they add to it. None of them could care for Carlos, but they still love him. I love my little brother so much, and I can't imagine my life without him. I am grateful this his birth mother recognized that she could not provide a stable home for her son, and had the wisdom and unselfishness to let him live with people who could. I hope one day she will be clean and sober, and I know my brother will continue to support her in that goal.

I read the book Oliver Twist when I was a senior in high school, and it really pissed me off. I hated the implied concept that family members who don't even know each other would be able to recognize one another on the street. Families aren't born. They're made. I love my adopted brother just as much as I love my biological brother (truth be told, he even looks more like me).

So on the off chance anyone who reads this is considering adoption, let me offer my full support. Adoption is the ultimate act of love, for everyone involved. Not just for babies, either. Even though we missed Carlos' babyhood, he is still my parents' son, and my brother.

23 December, 2008

Two Crucial Requests


I know that the holidays are upon us (Holidays, coming from the term Holy Days ... which leaves Kwanzaa out, most assuredly, because it has no religious significance whatsoever ... but no one I know celebrates Kwanzaa, especially the black people I know, who I think would be insulted if I assumed that they did ... anyway), but there are two things I need from you, my dear friends.

One, could you, this very evening, get on your knees and say a substantial prayer that I will be chosen for this class? It's a screenwriting class that you can enroll in by application only. Here are five reasons why this is really, really, important to me.

1. There is a stipend. Meaning, money for just being in the class. Note that the stipend has nothing to do with whether or not you "do well" in the class. That's right. Free money and credit.
2. There are not very many classes at BYU or elsewhere that have an application process. Meaning that if one is in the class one was chosen. Being chosen is basically the same as winning. I love winning.
3. This will show all the dumb kids that teased me in high school, both my ex-boyfriends, other boys that wouldn't talk to me because I had/have glasses, and my three female cousins who are older than me and always got to do the things I wanted to do without me, that I was chosen to be in a special class with a stipend. Equals, ultimate revenge.
4. It will be the gateway for future fame and glory. I just know it.
5. I love to write. It is my passion and I would love an opportunity to experience a real professional writing environment.

Psych! I just want the stipend.

Pray for me guys. Seriously. OK. Now that you're all on board with that, onto favor number two.

Screenwriting is really, really cool. Thus, only really, really cool people can participate in it, and only really cool people will get chosen to participate in a screenwriting class, which is the gateway to screenwriting fame and fortune. I am positive about this.

Here's the problem, though. I am not cool. I am a four-eyed, chubby nerd with few friends. I am not a sweet awesome hipster like I'm sure Matt Groening is (see above photo). I still love and accept myself, but these people will not! We all went to high school! Cool people are RUTHLESS!! Here is my plan to combat my squarosity:

1. Glasses. No big deal. Wear contacts.
2. Ten pounds overweight. Wear loose-fitting, billowy clothing that is the style of late, which will cover up self. Make sure NOBODY TOUCHES me, because then they would find out where fabric ends and I begin.
3. Nerd factor. DO NOT mention Star Trek, literature (except appropriately hip literature) or being Mormon. Mormon is totally nerdy. Don't talk about anything weird. This one will be hard.
4. Lots of friends. This is the real challenge, folks. What I am going to do? Bring my "posse" to the interview? No! There is no interview! Just an email application. However, I have a blog. Did you know that? There is a feature on blogger that allows you to ACTUALLY MEASURE HOW MANY FRIENDS YOU HAVE and, by extension, how cool you are.

This feature is called "following."

Lest you all bust out your catsuits and night-vision goggles prematurely, allow me to explain that following me does not involve any physical effort on your part. All you have to do is go to my blog (Oh my goodness! You're here now, aren't you?), go to the section that reads "people that follow this blog" and click on "follow this blog." That's it!

I promise that if you do this and I make myself cool enough to be chosen for this class, I will give you a concrete share of the fame and fortune I will someday receive. That's a promise you can take right to the bank. Metaphorically speaking.

21 December, 2008

I got home from my mission ONE YEAR AGO today


Here's where I was one year ago and two years ago, respectively. These are, in case you can't figure it out on your own, emails from my mission.

18 December 2006

To everyone:

Merry almost Christmas! I'm pretty sure the internet places are all going to be closed next Monday (as well it should be) so I will try to make this two week's worth of Koler Nővér action. This is shaping up to be a great Christmas: I don't have to stress about buying presents for anyone (family, I bought a little something for you, but it's going to be more of a Valentine's Day present).

I have a new companion. I need two weeks before I can say anything concrete about her. [Pollock, that was you]

Taking Gillespie Nover to Budapest to go home was a little like taking a beloved family dog to be euthanized. I knew it was all for the best, but inside I was dying because I knew SHE didn't want to go. I tried to be enthusiastic, for her sake, but it was rough.

"C'mon Gillespie! We're going to Budapest! Oh boy!"

It's funny: often I expect things from people, particularly from my fellow missionaries on my mission, but I am always surprised to find out that everybody is different. In Hungarian we have a saying "Nem vagyunk egy formak." That means "We are not the same" but it means more than that, really. Like you can't apply one certain way of thinking or one certain idea to everybody. Except the gospel of Jesus Christ. That works for everybody.

I'm really sorry but I have to go. I wish you all a merry Christmas filled with all those things that bring actual happiness, which are, in fact, not things.

EK

P.S. If anyone has had a baby recently, please send me a picture.

17 December 2007

My very last general epistle from Hungary:

My heart has been beating in my fingers and my ears all day today. For a lot of reasons.

I ended my last week with a lot of programs, a Zone Conference, a really cool tracting experience (more on that in just a second) and a baptism. Not someone that we taught, hanem a woman from Kazincbarcika. She has a very strong testimony of Elder Ady, who is going home with me in two days. Coincidence? She is a nice lady but at the baptism she hugged Elder Ady and kissed his neck repeatedly ... she is at least 60 ... really disturbing.

Elder Ady and I had an interesting conversation the other day (at the baptism) along these same lines. I have noticed (or rather, experienced) that female missionaries get sexually harassed a lot here, which doesn't happen to male missionaries very often. On the other hand, male missionaries have a lot of problems with investigators or members -- generally older, lonely single women -- falling in love with them. That has yet to happen to me, thank goodness. Elder Ady theorizes that older women here fall in love with the IDEA of a young, handsome guy that wears a suit every day and abides by a strict moral code and is nice to everyone. But that isn't a realistic perception. Nevertheless there are a lot of inactive women we meet with who pretty much joined the church because some elder charmed them all the way down into the waters of baptism.

Although if you saw how slim the pickings are in Hungary, how hard it is to find a decent man, it would be a little more understandable. And because there are so few nice men, they don't have to fight for women at all, and the ones who treat women badly make out OK too. What a mess.

Anyway, last night I got sexually harassed for what I hope is among one of the last times by these two drunk idiots. I try not to let it get a rise out of me, but it always does. It's especially hard now that I understand everything they say to me.

When we got home Sister Loveland reminded me about a blessing she got our second transfer together when she was sick, which said that she was going to have a great mission, that her and her companion (me) were going to be like the apostles of old. Then she showed me this scripture in Matthew:

"Blessed are ye when men shall revile you."

That made me laugh.

Also, we were an hour late for Zone Conference because there was construction in Budapest and we got lost ... we were in the car with the elders ... it was really embarrassing. So I missed the talks and the training, but was there in time for lunch.

I gave a really short departing testimony because I was the only one. I don't remember what I said. I had promised myself I wasn't going to try to give advice about missionary work because it's not like I know anything they don't. So I just said a lot of stuff about Jesus. I might have cried. That's all I really remember.

The coolest thing that happened to me all week is as follows: I may or may not be a little tired and burnt out this past two weeks, but lucky for me my companion is a slave driver and doesn't let me get away with anything. She drags me out to go tracting even if we only have an extra 15 minutes to spare. I complain a lot but I appreciate it, I guess. So the other day we had about 20 minutes before Angol Ora was supposed to start, and she dragged me out to go tracting, like usual. We were on this small street near the branch house, and because it was dark and cold, people were all telling us to go away. Then at house number 22 this happened.

(knock on door)
Me: I wish I had a greenie.
Loveland: Why?
Me: Because then I would be in charge! And if it were up to me we'd be inside right now.
Loveland: Shut up. You love this.
Me: Do not. I'm freezing. (no one has come to door yet) This guy isn't home. Let's go.
(porch light comes on, woman comes out and walks to gate) (it's my turn to talk)
Me: Hi, my name is Sister Koler, and me and my friend represent Jesus Christ's Church. We would like to share a message about Jesus Christ.
(I wait for her to tell us to go to France)
Lady: (smiles) Oh, please come in.

It was like a Church movie. Not even kidding. She let us in and cried during the opening prayer. She's totally sane.

So maybe I will miss all of this a little bit. A lot, actually.

See you soon. I love you all.

ek

14 December, 2008

Again? Really? So Soon?

Yes, I am blogging twice in one day. Shut up. I'm awesome.

What I Want:
1. To be happy.
2. To find a new job come April that pays better and makes the world a better place (and my interpretation of that can be as broad as I want to make it, because it is my life).
3. To get published.
4. To start writing poetry again (not necessarily for publication).
5. To buy wood flooring for our house.
6. To fall in love with someone who actually loves me back.
7. To read lots and lots of books.
8. To find my great-grandfather and his ancestors, so I can do their work.
9. To do well in school, per my own standards.
10. To potty-train Sego.

What I Got:
1. A dog that poops in the house. But come winter I may sign up for obedience classes.
2. School-wise, I am, actually, doing pretty well in the subjects that interest me. My progress in my science GEs leave something to be desired, as does my motivation to do something about it. Oh well, semester's almost over.
3. A lead to German military records at the Family History Library that may or may not have the information I want. Sadly, I will have to wait until next year to find out. Stupid snow ruining my trip to Salt Lake...
4. Not a lot of time, but lots of books I want to read. Right now I am in the midst of A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again and am enjoying it immensely.
5. Lots of love, and even more uncertainty! I don't know how much longer I can put up with this limbo business. Either you like me or you don't, right? Not that hard.
6. Carpet that is so stained no one knows the original color.
7. Some ideas, but even more trepidation about whether or not the poetry I might write will be any good. Onwards and upwards, I guess.
8. A phenomenal writing opportunity next semester that I don't want to say any more about, because I don't want to jinx it. Stay tuned!
9. A lot of ideas, but it's too soon to know for sure.
10. Against all odds, and in spite of #5 (pretty much the only source of real sadness in my life ... I know, right? I need to count my blessings), I am happy. Really happy.

(Speaking of poetry, this is a chiasmus!)

This Made Me Cry

This pretty much sums up what I want, in life. What a beautiful message for kids!


13 December, 2008

Tagged by Cori and co.

1. Do you like blue cheese? Sure do. I didn't know how it was made until after I had already fallen in love.

2- Have you ever smoked cigarettes? No. And yet I crave them all the time. Probably because they boost dopamine levels.

3- Do you own a gun? I hate guns. I will never own one.

4. What flavor Kool Aid was your favorite? I have no idea. I assume one of the red ones.

5. Do you get nervous before doctor appointments? Not really.

6. What do you think of hot dogs? You know, I loved them on my mission for some reason. Maybe because they reminded me of America? But when I got home it went away.

7. Favorite Christmas movie? A Charlie Brown Christmas.

8. What do you prefer to drink in the morning? Carrot juice.

9. Can you do push ups? No. Embarrassing.

10. Favorite hobby? At the moment, swimming.

11. Do you have A.D.D.? Yes.

12. What's one trait you hate about yourself? I obsess about things that are not as important as the things one ought to obsess about.

13. Middle name? Anne.

14. Name 3 thoughts at this exact moment? I'm kinda bored. I can't believe I was out until 6 Am last night. My tummy hurts.

15. Name 3 drinks you regularly have. Carrot juice. Water. Chocolate soy milk.

16. Current hate right now? Drama. Why can't everything in life just fall into place like it should?

17. Favorite place to be? The mountains.

18. How did you bring in the New Year? I think I went to the ward party and danced with Shoshauna's kids, then went home before midnight. Listen, I had JUST gotten back from my mission.

19. a place would you like to go? Iran.

20. name three people who will complete this: dumb question. Next.

21. Do you have slippers? Negative. I like being barefoot best.

22. What shirt are you wearing? My blue sweater.

23. Do you like sleeping on satin? Say what?

24. Can you whistle? Yes.

25. Would you be a pirate? I'm with Cori. I'm pretty much only down with the pet monkey aspect of piracy.

26. What songs do you sing in the shower? Oxford Comma by Vampire Weekend, I like Birds by eels.

27. Favorite girl's name? I hate answering this question because after even a moment the person who asked can tell I have thought about this way, way, way, WAY too much. So I am not going to answer. But know that when I do have children someday, their names will. be. AWESOME.

28. What's in your pocket right now? Nothing. These jeans are too tight to keep anything in the pockets. I mean, what?

29. Last thing that made you laugh? Pamela's totally inappropriate story. Use your imagination.

30. Favorite bed sheets as a child? Pocahontas.

31. Worst injury ever? I guess when I slammed my finger in Helen's van door. That is one of my few emergency room visits. Geez, though, it wasn't even broken.

32. Do you love where you live? Sure do!!!

33. How many TVs do you have in your house? 2. Neither are mine.

34. Who is your loudest friend? I feel pressure to say Sariah, but I would have to say Noelle.

35. How many dogs do you have? Two, baby. Assuming that Toby does indeed count as a whole dog, and not just a joke.

36. Does someone have a crush on you? You tell me.

37. What is your least favorite book? Summer of my German Soldier. Man, I HATED that book.

38. What is your least favorite candy? Those purple candies that look like tylenol, that everybody gives out at halloween. Now and Laters?

39. What is your least favorite Sports Team? *noncommittal shrug* The ones with racist names?

40. What song do you want played at your funeral? Live and Let Die.

03 December, 2008

This I found scribbled somewhere.

"Being a Mormon missionary is like having Christmas every day, in a parallel universe where Christmas isn't any fun."

June 19th

Darth Vader Quotes

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Andy Warhol Art of the Day