State of the Freelancing Address

Lately I’ve felt a bit overstretched. In one sense this has been an issue of the last month or two, as I started a new full-time job while continuing to work nights at a previous one, all while simultaneously trying to meet writing commitments, provide some TLC to the new house and yard, and ramping up on the final chores leading up to a wedding.

On the other hand, things have really been rather consistently insane since coming back to Canada nearly eight months ago. Upon arriving, I began the work at multiple jobs which has never really stopped, hunting for the house I have been currently neglecting (though my better half has more than taken up the slack), planning that wedding which was, at the time, still several months away.

And now that the wedding is over, the house is being lived in, and jobs have been won, I still haven’t quite reached the point of being able to take a breather. There are post-wedding chores, there’s the settling-in period of the new job, which has ratched-down in intensity, but is still keeping me quite busy, and the house which remains unfinished.

I want to make it clear that I’m not complaining here. All of these things are good things. I’m thankful at how everything worked out over the last eight months. I (or we, rather) looked for a job and got it, planned a wedding and had it, hunted for a house and bought it.

To be frank, I thought we were a bit full of it when we said we were going to come from Central America and get all these major things done, in such a brief time span, just like that. I think we both rather surprised ourselves.

But you know, I’ve missed deadlines for my writing for the first time since I’ve been doing this. Only two or three times, and not more than a couple days’ delay, but I missed them all the same. And I have these pitches and these contacts and these markets I was on the verge of breaking into, and it’s all gone on hold a bit.

In Costa Rica I had a surplus of time and thus had a little trouble keeping to a schedule, at least as far as unassigned work went. But with experimentation and query after query, even at only a few hours a day, I began connecting with new markets, making more sales,to the point that we could actually live off of this. Then I came back to Canada and got a real job again.

I don’t regret this, except in the same sense that I regret not being independently wealthy and not needing a paycheque. I’ll admit frankly that I appreciate career and financial stability, and I’m happy to have that, even though careers take up a lot of one’s free time.

In a couple of months, though, when the debt’s all paid off and my work hours ease up, I think I need to pick up where I left off and start pushing myself on the writing again. I have promising story leads to follow up, some unfinished fiction (yes, I do dabble in fiction) that deserves to be finished and shopped around, and some would-be publishers I’ve yet to produce anything for.

I really do want to get back to it.

Readings

I brought two volumes of stories from famed Argentine writer, Jorge Luis Borges, on this trip. A Costa Rican beach seemed as good a place as any to finally acquaint myself with the founder of Latin Magical Realism. When I started thumbing through, however, I realized I had ordered the wrong edition of Fictions. It wasn’t an English translation.

“Sure,” you’re saying, “that’s a bit of an inconvenience, but aren’t you supposed to be working on your Spanish? And if anything, it should sound even better in its original language.” Which is true, except I didn’t get the book in its original Spanish either, but a translation into French. So that’s no good to anybody.

(Honestly, a Spanish edition wouldn’t be much better. Borges is a complex writer, partly influenced by Kafka, for a start. My Spanish reading level is more appropriate to See Spot Run. Fortunately, I at least managed to order the correct edition of Labyrinths.)

At the Beach

V is with family in El Salvador, so I’m on my own for a week. I’ve been lax in my work lately, but put in a good six hours writing yesterday and am on par to match or beat that again today. I doubt I’ll take very good care of myself this next week. I’m thinking two meals a day: one smoothie and one package of ramen. Keeping things simple.

We spent this past Monday at the beach on Puntarenas, which was mostly deserted due to the slightly grey weather. Yet with December just around the corner, the water was warm. Much warmer than a Manitoba lake in the high heat of August.

(Photo by V.)

I said that day that this had been only my second time dipping a toe into the ocean, the first being some ankle-deep wading at South Padre Island, Texas, 14 years ago (it was probably early November). I was wrong, however. I remembered today that I’d spent a day at the beach (with, again, some ankle-wading) when I lived in Xiamen, China, almost exactly four years ago (it was December). It was a class trip, one of the fonder memories of my time there.

This was, however, the first time I actually swam, though I didn’t venture very deep. It took us a long time to get around to making the trip, considering how close it turns out to be. I’m eager to go back soon.

Costa Rican Cuisine

We’ve only eaten out a few times, and one of those times was for (disappointing) Chinese while two other times were (mediocre to okay) pizza. But we have had actual Costa Rican food three other times and while it has its good points, I think there’s a reason it’s not as popular worldwide as other Latin fare, like Cuban, Mexican, or even Salvadorean.

The big turn-off for us is the mayo. Actually not just mayo but ketchup also seems to be a major ingredient. An enchilada, with meat, black beans, tomatoe, and yes, mayo and ketchup drizzled on top. French fries (everything seems to come with fries, which, to be honest, feels like an awkward fit — what happened to beans and rice on the side?) also come with both mayo and ketchup drizzled on top. A burrito with, instead of salsa inside, some kind of mayo-based special sauce.

It’s been a little frustrating, as we’ve constantly found ourselves disappointed by menus which feature burgers, fried chicken (oh, there’s so much fried chicken), and then a small selection of Latin fare. Then, even after we order Latin dishes, it comes with a burger-type “special sauce”.

The result is a sickly sweetness and creaminess to things that are supposed to be savoury and spicy. Of course I recognize there is a degree of cultural bias here. I can’t dictate what food is supposed to taste like. It’s all about what you’re used to. Obviously Costa Ricans like their food this way, and other countries, like Chile, have similar cultural traditions.

But it does make me suspect there has been a major US cultural invasion on the food. I wish we could go back in time to Costa Rica 25 years ago to figure out how much of what we’ve been eating is traditional and how much of it is part of a more recent trend to fast food.

Whatever the answer, we know what we like, so we’ll have to request no mayo next time we order.

The Geography of Cooking

How come the instant ramen noodles in Costa Rica are so much better than in Canada? Have they added some Latin spice to the old Chinese stand-by? Or maybe it’s the corn.

Of course, as a rule, Costa Rica is not the place to go if I you want to get good Chinese, Moroccan, or Ukrainian food. Certainly there should be some excellent Costa Rican food, perhaps some decent Cuban, Mexican, or Brazilian, if we do some digging. We’ve done most of our own cooking and not checked out many restaurants so far, but I’ll bet there are some regional gems — if not in our small town, then a bus ride away in San Jose. But we shouldn’t expect much beyond that.

It’s the mixed blessing of coming from a very multi-cultural country to a fairly mono-cultural one. If you were to map culinary traditions on a map of the world, you’d see most countries have one dominant flavour, with perhaps a few odd pockets of nearby traditions (Chinese restaurants in Japan, Chilean in Panama), and then you’d see a place like Winnipeg or New York and virtually every flavour in the world would meet there. So to leave a city like that for a place with few immigrants is to find authenticity, but lose variety.

Even after returning from Asia, I found I could still get good Thai, good (authentic, not Americanized) Chinese, good Korean, and good Japanese food. And of course I’ve enjoyed Salvadorean cooking since before I left. But since we’re not living in a country of immigrants anymore, we’re limited to what we can cook ourselves, and the local cuisine.

That’s not a complaint. When I was in China I embraced Chinese cooking (plus a favourite Korean restaurant, and I occasionally made the trip downtown for Japanese). Here we are trying to embrace Costa Rican cooking. It’s not that we’ll be sick of it after six months. Every culinary tradition includes a fair bit of variety within it. But I’m sure we’ll grow to miss certain things before we get back.

Costa Rica

Well, here we are in Costa Rica. I’m officially freelancing full-time, and my services are always available. More importantly, my fiancĂ©e and our two pups also survived the trip. It wasn’t easy for our little man, but he’s a trooper, and the longest flight was only five hours.

(Photo by V.)