“Wear Sunscreen (or Graduation Day)”

“Wear Sunscreen (or Graduation Day)”

Whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much
Or berate yourself either
Your choices are half chance, so are everybody else’s

— From columnist Mary Schmich‘s essay for the Chicago Tribune, June 1997

Finally, a reason to write an essay about being proud and happy. I’m hitting the “Pause” button on my ravings to concentrate on an experience shared by many of us: the day we graduate from high school.

It goes without saying that we are never really ever out of school. Classrooms are either ground zero for inspiration and imagination or a repelling force that hurtles bodies into other stratospheres of life. I will never judge those who deem the classroom as their Waterloo, either. Valuable lessons can only be learned if we’re open to them, whether out of a book or experience. But the act of graduating, of moving forward, is such an empowering reality.

I’ve never been good about letting go of things or moving forward. Hell, I didn’t even graduate from college. But that’s another story. It’s just too easy to choose the safe confines of avoiding confrontation or making decisions that can alleviate all that ails or stagnates us. But, sooner or later, you get your PhD in courage and strength. You walk, head held high, smiling at all that you’ve accomplished. You’ve shed that extra weight, that 10-ton magilla of emotion and/or fear, and you move forward.

It was a glorious day to see the photos and videos of my godson graduating from high school in June. He was the first grandchild of my aunt and uncle to graduate from high school. I know my cherished aunt, his forever Nana, was smiling that glorious smile the moment he made his way down the aisle to receive his diploma. Lord knows the family has endured some trying times, but my godson has grown into one of the most sincere, intelligent, genuine and decent human beings on this planet. We need more like him and that’s a testament to his parents’ upbringing, my divine cousin and her husband. I admire their tenacity, more, I admire their ability to remain a unified front against that could tear them asunder. They were not destined to life an acrimonious life of arrogance, keeping up appearances and regret like Las Hermanas y Hermano Coraje, That in itself is a lesson for all of us to uphold and appreciate.

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It is going to be exciting to see what happens to my godson next. And rest assured, we will all be there to cheer him on to his next achievements. That goes for all of the grandkids, because that’s what family does. Whether by blood or choice, you stay together through the challenges, emerging stronger and more united. Even if it seems like the pain and emotion will never subside, you will survive intact, and most of all, loved.

I recalled the famed Mary Schmich piece for the Chicago Tribune as I was writing this essay. Immortalized by producer Baz Luhrmann as a surprise pop hit, “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen),” it is the perfect commencement speech. It is a delicious slice of life advice that any columnist worth their Pulitzer Prize would like to represent their abilities. So, in a rare bid of optimism, I am concluding this essay with a special address to the Class of 2017…and anyone else who is taking a step forward into becoming the person they were meant to be.

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Wear Sunscreen

By Mary Schmich of the Chicago Tribune

Ladies and gentlemen of the class of ’97: Wear sunscreen.

If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience. I will dispense this advice now.

Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Oh, never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they’ve faded. But trust me, in 20 years, you’ll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can’t grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked. You are not as fat as you imagine.

Don’t worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blind side you at 4 PM on some idle Tuesday.

Do one thing every day that scares you.

Sing.

Don’t be reckless with other people’s hearts. Don’t put up with people who are reckless with yours.

Floss.

Don’t waste your time on jealousy. Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind. The race is long and, in the end, it’s only with yourself.

Remember compliments you receive. Forget the insults. If you succeed in doing this, tell me how.

Keep your old love letters. Throw away your old bank statements.

Stretch.

Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t.

Get plenty of calcium.

Be kind to your knees. You’ll miss them when they’re gone.

Maybe you’ll marry, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll have children, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll divorce at 40, maybe you’ll dance the funky chicken on your 75th wedding anniversary. Whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either. Your choices are half chance. So are everybody else’s.

Enjoy your body. Use it every way you can. Don’t be afraid of it or of what other people think of it. It’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own.

Dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but your living room.

Read the directions, even if you don’t follow them.

Do not read beauty magazines. They will only make you feel ugly.

Get to know your parents. You never know when they’ll be gone for good.

Be nice to your siblings. They’re your best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future.

Understand that friends come and go, but with a precious few you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle, because the older you get, the more you need the people who knew you when you were young.

Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard.

Live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft.

Travel.

Accept certain inalienable truths: Prices will rise. Politicians will philander. You, too, will get old. And when you do, you’ll fantasize that when you were young, prices were reasonable, politicians were noble, and children respected their elders.

Respect your elders.

Don’t expect anyone else to support you. Maybe you have a trust fund. Maybe you’ll have a wealthy spouse. But you never know when either one might run out.

Don’t mess too much with your hair or by the time you’re 40 it will look 85.

Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.

But trust me on the sunscreen.

 

 

Jorge Carreón Barcelona (Week 4, Days 29 and 30)

Jorge Carreón Barcelona (Week 4, Days 29 and 30)

“Barcelona
It was the first time that we met
Barcelona
How can I forget
The moment that you stepped into the room
You took my breath away

Barcelona
La musica vibro
Barcelona
Yella nos unio
And if God is willing
We will meet again
Someday” — Freddie Mercury, “Barcelona”

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When in doubt, I’ll always go with a showtune to cue exactly what I’m feeling. Today, when I sat in the humid confines of Barcelona’s airport, listening to angry Germany dads tell their families to, ahem, “Hurry the fuck up,” I felt “Dreamgirls.” You know, the big closing number, when Deena Jones and the Dreams sing their final song as a group. It is hard to say goodbye. Now it’s past 2am and I am also sitting here feeling somewhat helpless, wondering if these last entries properly close out this series of “Confessions” from Spain. As I just finished packing, I realize how these last days were like someone pressing the FF button on my remote. It’s all moving so fast and I can’t seem to retain any sense of focus.

I have all sorts of feelings going on right now. I miss Samuel because we didn’t get a chance to really say goodbye. He spent the weekend doing what men should do, and I feel kind of, well, icky. Trust me, I didn’t have some “Green Card” fantasy. I liked how I felt with him when we were together and it would have been awesome to close this out with some “Love, American and Spanish Style” fireworks. Instead, we just “What’s App”-ed it up, texting ourselves into oblivion. Sorry, but emoticons don’t do shit when you’ve spent real time with someone who gets you. I remember why I hate surprises, and Samuel was a major one. I will never think about Spain again without thinking of him.

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Barcelona was meant to be to this great, big bear hug goodbye of a trip. It wasn’t. Instead, it magnified what I can’t stand about the tourist experience. Rushing around, standing in line, sweating and not giving any of this great city its due. Part of the reaction is due to my desire for a more tranquil life, which is what made Salamanca such a revelation. The history, the calm and the absolute beauty of it all made me feel so centered. Yet, the effects of studying and my Madrid life proved a lot more overwhelming than I anticipated. Once I landed, I went to the hotel and…slept early.

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I made a valiant effort to enjoy this excursion. But, Barcelona made me feel anxious and burnt out thanks to the urban pace and the packed crowds found at its tourist centers. This wasn´t what I wanted. Even the Gaudí of it all is designed to be shared with someone, not witnessed alone at breakneck speed. Hell, who chooses to see a Spanish version of ¨Les Miserables¨ on their last night in Barcelona, for fuck´s sake? Or how about the entire bus load of Brits who stepped off the tour to see the Barca football complex? Hahahaha. But I still enjoyed the Catalan flavors to be found in Barcelona, so complex and singular. This is a city to return to with purpose and I will come back to give it the respect and attention it deserved.

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Sigh.

I´ve been doing that all weekend. Sighing at every monument, at every church, with every forkful of paella, at every park and at every person smiling as if this is their best moment ever. All of this feels like a last dance with a lover you know you may never see again, or at least not soon enough. The distance between me and this beautiful country has been widening since late Thursday, right when night turned into early Friday morning. I could see my lover´s back beginning to retreat further into the horizon. Nothing I could say would make him turn around, nor should he. Ours was a love affair to remember, the kind you write about like a Mary Chapin Carpenter song.

“Tonight I’m thinking of someone, from 17 years ago. We road in his daddy’s car down a river road. Come on, come on. It’s getting late now. Come on, come on. Take my hand. Come on, on. You just have to whisper. Come on, come on. I will understand.”

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This adventure was meant to be this way. One big slap of life across the face, a wake-up call to arms and better living ahead. It was so good to feel something so electric, so real. None of this was planned. None of this was made to order. It happened because I woke up and stepped into the world with my eyes, and more importantly, my heart wide open.

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I’ve been taken aback by the support and the reactions to the “Confessions” this month. My observations have prompted some interesting comments, adding fuel to the fire of my wanting to liberate myself from the social networks. The irony is none of these “Confessions” would have reached anyone if it wasn’t for Facebook alone. A quandary, no?

In the end, it doesn’t matter how these little earthquakes of the soul were registered. What I do know for certain is that I expressed what I needed to express about this journey. For those who read and/or commented with interest, I thank you for creating a dialogue. That is what being a community is about, sharing ideas and allowing for discourse to shape them into something profound and useful.

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This connection was real, discounting the reality being forced fed to us that social media is our only real unifying detail. The young have given it credence, that people like me are of an age that is dying out. The spin is if we don’t evolve, we will become extinct because we are not relevant if we are not being “followed” or “liked.” I don’t need the validation that comes from the push of a button because I prefer that you to tell me in person. Whether you offer words of support or a “Shut the fuck up,” at least you were moved to feel something strong enough worth speaking out.

This may be a generation that thinks “I Post, Therefore I Am.” But I have news for them. At one point, when all the lights go out and you can’t post a GD thing, guess who will be able to weather the storm better? Better yet, think of this historical reality, providing a context for a generation that finds looking back has no bearing on the present or future. (Context is on life support!) Socrates had many followers without the need of Twitter and shaped the world for centuries to come. So did Jesus Christ. They didn’t need to upload. They knew how to speak to people, face to face, and people listened.
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That’s all we need to do. Not fear our own voice or the reaction. The important thing is to speak and question and share. To put a face on it all.  Funny, I didn’t think I needed to go across the Atlantic to connect with total strangers and feel part of the human race again. But what a marvel to sit down and speak to people eager to be heard. What a sensation and privilege to sit in a classroom and have real conversations, sharing ideas and experiences. And in a different language, joder!

That’s why it’s hard to say goodbye. I fear keeping this momentum will be hard again in LA, like the many diet plans I’ve struggled to uphold for years. Is it fair to say I have a fat-free brain? That I shed all the excess weight brought on by years of being part of the consumer culture of the Fast Food/Fast Facts Nation?

“It’s a need you never get used to. So fierce and so confused. It’s a loss you never get over the first time you lose.”

What I’ve lost I have no reason to want again. What I’ve gained is all I need to know to face the future. I have my bag and my passport ready to go, just in case. Thank you Spain. Because of you, I can’t wait to see where I’m going to go next.

I love you.

To be continued….

Sunday, July 27.  Written @ Barcelona Airport, posting for the last time from Manoli’s House in Salamanca, Spain.

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“Young hearts, run free…and wear sunscreen” or “Graduation Day” (Week 4, Days 27 & 28)

“Young hearts, run free…and wear sunscreen” or “Graduation Day” (Week 4, Days 27 & 28)

“Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life.

The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives
Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t…”

From Baz Luhrmann’s “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)”

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Ah, the taste of bittersweet is starting to make its presence known. This post is not originating from the safe comfort of Manoli’s house. I am now in Barcelona, celebrating the end of my term at the Pontificia (or “Ponti”). I wish I could say I was having a blast here this weekend, but that feeling of “denouement” is coloring everything a darker shade. If the awe-inspiring work of Gaudi can’t break through, the sun blazing over the Barceloneta isn’t going have much of a shot, either. Sure I spent the better part of the day touring this beautiful city, reading “Pedro Parámo” while eating my paella and later turning a rather interesting shade of red thank to forgetting my hat. So, I better focus on happier topics to raise the animo of it all, beginning with:

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Yes, I did earn my first ever diploma!

I have to say I was starting to take issue when people would say, “Hope you’re having fun in Salamanca.” Like this was a freaking vacation. No, it wasn’t. Sure, from the outside it looks like all I was doing was eating tapas, meeting hot men, strolling villages and stepping over rivers of piss in Madrid. Don’t get me wrong, all that shiz did happen almost every day. And I’m very glad it did.

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But, in between all that, I was going over grammar rules. (¡Ahora entiendo, Professora Boyero. Sí se usa “cuyo” en la vida real!) Reading complex texts from the Hispano masters of literatura. Understanding the concepts of realismo mágico in literature, as well as el pluscuamperfecto, frases condicionales y el puto perífrasis. To be honest, I equated my grammar class with learning math again. I abhor structure, finding greater control with the abstract offered by deconstructing texts. But, as I have learned, without structure there can be no foundation on which to build any kind of art.

I stand humbly corrected.

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Suffice it to say, I did study hard and the results were rewarded with one of the highest grades in my group. After careful consideration from my professors, my initial marks were upgraded to the C1 level, one of more advanced groupings, thus scoring a 9/9 out of 10/10 in both exams. Considered Sobresaliente, it equates to an “A.” Granted, issues were recorded with my grammar test, particularly in conjugating verbs. But the professors’ reasons were to encourage me to stay on this road, to strive higher and engage with more complex aspects of the language. Dr. Maria José Boyero had great words of encouragement for me and my writing. And you know, I’d like to make good on her faith.

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Of course, as some of the pics posted elsewhere have attested, I did go out after finals with the “Kids.” Like most of adults, I did judge them a bit too hard for turning this summer in Salamanca into a roving spring break party out of bounds. Some registered disappointment at their marks, but they knew couldn’t have it both ways.

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As we went from bar to karaoke to the infamous Camelot, their enthusiasm was absolutely irresistible. They had respect for my wanting “to do my own thing” and my agenda to do more than just learn and refine my Spanish. They knew I came here to live out a change in life. What they don’t know is that they, too, played a part in why allowing for change is such an important part of being a human being.

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Granted, I don’t want to return to those halcyon days of reckless youth. My mojo died around 3:30am. More, that awkward mix of confidence and uncertainty in your 20s is like mixing beer and buttermilk to me now. I like being sure of myself and understanding the reality of consequence. But, they made me feel part of their group. If not quite Regina George, I was def Veronica Sawyer that night.

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I will never forget the statuesque beauty and Queen Bee allure of Kolby, who knew EVERYBODY on the Salamanca circuit. (Seriously, the looks of envy that I received just by dancing with her at Camelot. That girl has power!) Or how about hearing Mariah’s incredibly soulful voice resonating with emotion and purity down the empty stone streets near the Plaza Mayor? The girl has pipes designed to move people to feel their most buried emotions like heartache to bursting with joy caused by new love in a single phrase.

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How can I not smile at Audrey’s gamine innocence, which is wonderful to behold? It proved a counterbalance to Blair and Alejanrdra’s “I’m gonna get you before you get me” swagger. Those broads have no shame in their game and they shouldn’t. Being bold and beautiful comes natural to them and I hope they never lose their desire to lead – and not follow.

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And, I can’t forget the intense honesty and sweetness of Lena, who opened her heart to me about her complex childhood in Russia and her very American dream of being someone with purpose in this world.

No, this was a night to remember because we all connected on our own terms. I kept seeing myself as being the “old guy,” which these ladies (and the charming bohemian Jimmy Cedillo) would promptly shut down. I wasn’t their chaperone that night. I was one more student celebrating the end of a summer to remember.
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Some of them will continue their European adventure through August. Everyone else, like me, is going home as planned. I am curious to see what becomes of these “young ‘uns.” Maybe they will all live lives a little less ordinary as a result of being at the Ponti. I hope so.

As for Graduation Day? Waking up in a noxious haze of beer farts was not what I envisioned! (I’m sorry, Manoli!) I opened a window, in both the figurative and literal way. I did survive the night out in strong enough shape to witness the fruits of my labor just a few hours later. I wasn’t alone in carrying a liter of water on Friday AM. The ever watchful Palmira was quick to point out my secret shame. But it also prompted one of the most personal conversations of the entire session. We talked, openly, about our place in a world that values the young. About how this generation of self-entitled adults have lost the ability to respect the maturity and “word” of an older generation.

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We had only begun to let our weaves down when my classmates started to file in for the last conversation we would have as a group. As usual, it didn’t disappoint because Palmira shrewdly kept the topic alive. Going from “Young Turk” to “Establishment” was as easy as slipping on a banana peel. But you won’t know that until it happens to you. I wish I could say the insights culled were hits to the solar plexus.

They weren’t.

If anything, it was a variation of theme we all know at every age: Balance is everything. Extremes are bad for everyone. No one has all the answers. No one is “that” much prepared for the curve balls life will throw at you. The usual generation gap blah blah. However, I did walk away with one vital thing. Both factions could use a little patience when it comes to the other. Young lion or Mufasa before the stampede, we have plenty to learn from each other. This jungle needs a little balance restored and the answers could very well be found in just relinquishing a little piece of…well…pride. (It’s way beyond 1am in Barcelona. But if I wait any longer to tell this tale…)
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It was time to return to the Aula Magna, the place at the Ponti where all of this began. I have at thing for full circle moments. I really do. I often marvel at the symmetry of life. Beginnings always lead to endings, we know. It is what happens in between that makes it all so damn tasty when the objectives are clear. Even still, surprise is how I greeted Profesora Culton’s revelation just before we went into the room of the school’s decision to reward me with a higher level of completion.

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The irony is not lost on me, finding this need to find some sense of purpose in the one thing I couldn’t get far away enough from as a kid: speaking Spanish. Yes, going from George to Jorge raised a few eyebrows when it happened. Ahora no tengo el coño para ruidos on my refining my español to ease my mid-life crisis. Who cares how it happened, right?

Que se jodan. It worked, majo.

Now, I have to go buy some sunscreen. Barcelona awaits…

Sunday, July 26 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Barcelona, Spain.