Kerry in Full Enthusiasm
The thing with yarnbombing, unlike other forms of graffiti, is that there is a lot of waiting, a lot working in the meantime, and a lot of time ticking, sitting around socializing as the stitches get stuck, the hooks pull and twist, and the art gets created. We started with about fifteen participants, and now two months later, amazingly, we still have a determined dozen still going at it. They’ve shown up twice a week for nearly two months now, through their two-week summer holiday, through two more weeks of sporadic school schedules and odd days off. They’ve stuck with the program. They’ve stayed enthusiastic.
The remaining twelve have splintered into three work groups: las mariposas (the butterflies), los leones (the lions), and los tigres (the tigers). The names, which the kids came up with, have become commonplace within in the sessions, everyone using the terms proudly, self-referentially, as they discuss current exploits. Each group has their own tree to bomb in the schoolyard, and they’ve spent most of July jointly constructing a massive “scarf” to wrap around the base of it. The meetings have become a true-blue crocheting circle, only the participants are not blue-haired grannies but rather early-teens Mayan children.
One reason for the success, beyond Emma, whose charms and kookiness are known to all of those who know me and us, is the help of others, especially former EL volunteer Kerry Griffiths, who has spent the last month helping with the project. This Friday saw her last day, resulting in one of those wild crochet parties that we all know and love so well and some rather heart-felt goodbyes, which included the boys of the group requesting that Emma find a new hot gringa to assist her. In all seriousness, Kerry has been amazing, both at the Lodge and with GUPP, and we sincerely thank her for her involvement and sassiness. She’ll be missed by all, as will her guitar-totting stud-man, Lick-Slapping Lewy.
All that said, the show must go on, and almost immediately, Emma has reined in the next “hot” volunteer to accompany her up to school. Earth Lodge newbie, Jess, will be going to her first yarnbombing session today. She’s got Kerry’s little but punchy shoes to fill, but I have the utmost faith in her doing a stand-up job. Also, by the next time I blog about GUPP, Emma’s mum, good-looking in her own right, will be here to lend a hand. So, it’s great to see folks getting involved, and the fearsome mariposas, tigres, and leones seem to be mingling well with others.
Along the same lines, we’ve got an exciting event coming up at the end of the month: the yarnbombers are going to visit Oxford Language Center in Antigua (owned by Las Manos founder Bryant Hand) to interact with the kids there and have a rather unique Guatemalan-to-Guatemalan cultural exchange. Oxford attendees come from the wealthier side of town, which rarely if ever interacts with their fellow country-people from the mountains. Our kids will be telling students at Oxford about the project, as well as giving a crochet lesson. It’s a great twist on the international community exchange usually championed by Unfinished Picture Project.
So, I, as I hope you do, look forward to the next update, to see where all these great new undertakings lead us. Don’t forget to check Facebook and/or Ning for the latest photos and such from GUPP.
It happened like most things—accidentally. Light Fingers Lewy and I, about eight or nine bottles of the nectar in, and the guitars come out, his fingers gone heavy, my voice gone shredded from cigarettes. It never matters. Sometimes the stars align, and it’s a night when you sing with your eyes closed, when your legs can’t sit still while you play, when the scales seem enormous and the riffs like a catcher’s mitt waiting for the seams to hit. For a night, Thursday night to be exact, at the wind down of Lewy’s two-day birthday bash, we were gods of porch rockin’, real hostel howlers.
The staff gathered round us, a few guests joined, gave up their warm seats inside, the mundane conversations about where-you-goin’ and where-you-been, and we entertained. I remember it in glimpses, the guitar riding across my lap in swings and tilts, my feet tapping out time with heavy stomps as my fingers tinkled over strings, Lewy barely steady on his seat as he plucked into the next song, his eyes gone a little weighty in the lids. I love that scene. I love forgetting time and just going. I love when it happens so organically, so ridiculously not at your best.
The next night, two guests, an Austrian and a German guy looked confused when at eight o’clock, the rock stars from the night before were heading off to bed. Christoph, the lengthy blond Austrian one, contorted his face at my “Buenos noches” and simply replied, “Really?” It was nice to feel loved, to feel that adoration from a fan-base of two, but one simply cannot play inspired every night. As far as I was concerned, I wasn’t going to give them a second-rate performance. That was beneath me, like a mattress.
In the morning of the next day, I looked up some new tablature, some Devil Makes Three tunes that I’ve been wanting to learn, and sitting in the corner, I played with a quiet reserve, a more earthly imprecision than drunk and raring through it all. Christoph came and spread across the couch near me to sneakily listen. This time his eyes were closed and mine were darting from chord to lyrics, my brain straining to remember the combination the way I do Tom Waits tracks I’ve been playing for eight or nine years. It was the first time, in a long time, that I wanted to expand my playlist, to attempt to please an audience.
On Saturday night, I tried to drink enough to get inspired. I smoked more than I wanted to tear a new ass-kicking hole in my vocal register, the sort of rip that cracks in unreachable notes but sounds emotionally authentic, so not so bad. At about nine, I grabbed the guitar and invited Lewy, who was being a mortal bartender, to come out and play. I started with “Jersey Girl”, one of my favorites and one of the few songs where I think my voice shines a little. It went well enough, but the inspiration just seemed to wane with each number, new or regurgitated from Thursday. It just didn’t work the same.
I’ve never quite understand that magic, never got if it’s the people listening, the people playing, or the amount of booze involved. I’ve never understood what makes me give in to play and sing above my level, whether or not I actually do, or why can’t do it on demand. I’ve forever concerned myself with being that a-hole who know one wants to listen to, who keeps playing (It brings to mind a guest who stood on the lawn free-style rapping one night until Scott, a big ole’ boy who works here from time to time, finally growled for him to shut the f-up.) No one wants to be that guy.
Regardless, Thursday has renewed me with a fervor that I haven’t had since 1999 (and I’m not talking about Prince). I went for nearly a year without picking up a guitar, and year in Moscow no less, where December through April were more or less spent inside. Emma says I sing better now than before—no practice to produce that, just getting finer with age. I feel new rhythms coming out of my fingers. I feel an old cry calling me. So, I apologize for those who thought they’d seen the last of Jonnie Angel from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He’s turned up in Guatemala, baby.
We’ve spent the last couple of weeks teaching English. Las Manos de Christine is in transition between teachers, so we have filled the gap, teaming up to take on the 4th through 6th grade, them in turn taking on learning to tell the time. It’s been some rough and tumble days of quarters past, halves past, quarters to, and o…o…o’clock. Consequently, the yarnbombing action has seemed to take a dip, at least at the Lodge. However, the GUPP group has continued to grow, expand, and move.
The first step of the project—the individual pieces—has been completed. Each child brought in a branch, one with twigs and personality splintering from it, then wrapped the entire thing in yarn. After that, they attached some of their crocheted flowers to the ends, creating a fleet of wooly plant life. The pieces turned out splendidly, and as I’ve shown up to teach over the last few days, I’ve happily stolen new looks at the artwork, which is setting atop the top shelf in the Las Manos classroom.
Emma has led them into the next project: yarnbombing the trees that line the entrance to the schoolyard. The kids were super excited to be moving on to something grander in scale, advancing from a foot-and-a-half of limb to the trunks of proper sky-tickling trees. This time their approach has been more mathematical, methodical, starting off with measuring their subject, each three-to-four team group then planning out their execution, colors, and patchwork. Now, they have begun making their great expanses of tree-scarf.
Additionally, guests at the Lodge have shown a budding interest in learning to crochet. It seems every two or three days someone new is taking hold of the hook and attempting to master the old pull-and-twist. So far, success has been varied, and no one has added to the yarnbomb displays Emma and I created, but there have been a few volunteers to visit the group for an afternoon. As well, EL spirit-pumper, Kerry, has become a regular piece of the GUPP puzzle, going up so that the kids can remind her how to crochet.
Keep an eye out for new blogs from the kids (take a look at the previous ones on Ning or Facebook if you haven’t seen them), for the summer UPP newsletter and specifically the article about the GUPP program (cool photos of Emma and me), for a new photo album of the GUPPies at work on their art, and remember that we’d love some comments, feedback, complimentary yarnbombs or flower chains to share with the group, let them know that they are international known for their antics.
About Half-an-Hour Before Passing Out
It’s been both eventful and uneventful life here over the past month. It swoops and dives into hammocks, afternoons of lazing, reading, drinking, playing backgammon, cornhole, ping-pong, guitar, shrugging off self-imposed demands of productivity. There are afternoons of intense labor, swinging a hammer, stuffing earthbags, hosting, planning, cooking, staring at the computer for hours upon mornings at websites. I wake up most mornings by six o’clock to start writing before the guests congregate for breakfast. Most evenings I’m in bed by nine or ten and down for the count. It’s not a life of leisure, per say, but one with which I dreamed of realizing.
We arrived and I fell down the stairs on the first night after staying up to drink Russian vodka and Brooklyn IPAs with Earth Lodge owner, Drew Shankman, aka el jefe (the boss), aka Don Drew, outlasting him like a champion (perhaps the pregnant wife, the lovely and luxurious Bri Havey, back at the house had some bearing on his responsible decision), then having a mild debate with an Israeli guy over settlements in the Palestinian West Bank, attempting to assist Emma with carrying her bag down the steps to our cabin, the same one we lived in when last we were here, before plunging a good half a flight of stone steps. We felt so at home we didn’t unpack for three days.
Emma began the yarn-bombing/GUPP project, both at the school—where we were also welcomed back like old friends but with far less booze—and at Earth Lodge. Students were pumped to get underway, and they have learned different stitches, flower patterns, granny squares, and nearly completed their individual projects. Emma, too, was pumped to start covering stuff in yarn, blanketing one of the posts holding hammocks at the Lodge. And, I became innovated, using plastic twine to create a sort-of waterproof yarnbomb of my own. Perhaps the highlight for me: It was amazing to see how far the classroom for which I’d labored greatly had progressed since last we saw it. It’s a functioning library and English room.
We began working at the hotel. Emma uses her charms to wow guests, put them at ease, and solve the minor problems of being on holiday. She cleans things behind the bar and organizes. She crochets all over the communal area. I moonlight as an infrequent bartender/receptionist and spend most of my time in the shadows, scheming new dishes for dinner—this Saturday’s Memphis-style BBQ spaghetti has been my favorite thus far—and concocting sauces and soups. In the afternoons, I often study manhood under the tutelage of Don Drew, a self-made carpenter, electrician, hotel owner, father, eco-building enthusiast, avocado farmer, and proud Canadian (not self-made in this case), helping with whatever projects are underway: At the moment, he’s putting a second floor on his earthbag house built when last we were here.
I am a god on the cornhole pitch. Challenges occur almost daily. Sometimes days of cornhole occur accidentally. I refine my shit-talking. We all drink beer in the sunshine on the lazier afternoons, pacing back and forth between the boards, and when that gets too taxing, we play team cornhole so that you basically just stand in the same spot while your teammate throws. I toss with a fluency unrivaled in accuracy, smoothness, and cool and have yet to lose a game since returning, despite not having played since last gracing this very pitch. (Perhaps our Tuesday night bowling in Moscow kept my form up to snuff.)
We have continued with our plan of elevating our vagabond-ness into something less attached to teaching. I have continued writing and sold three articles since we arrived. With minimal effort, a corner display in the Earth Lodge tienda (a small shop—in this case, a few shelves), Emma has sold fourtd of the hats she stitched together over the cold Russian winter, when the sun and daylight betrayed us. We have a house, food, and paid positions at the lodge, making just about enough money to cover our bar tab, which is—I think—all most people are trying to do anyway. We talk about WWOOFing, about hostel-hopping, about hanging out indefinitely, and according to plan, our plan remains indeterminate.
This blog occurs once a week, the entries being thematically mixed between expat life in Guatemala and life as an NGO groupie. The photos for this blog, website, and my life are all provided by my beautiful wife Emma.