A conversation with someone who was very close

In August 1993, I was sharing a large three-bedroom apartment in Barrio Dent. I wrote to my brother Mike in response to our telephone conversation. We were five years and one day apart, but I felt as if we were twins in our thinking and doing. Like me, he was something of a maverick.

You said. “If you don’t like what you’re doing, stop doing it.” Good advice. Maybe it brought me to my senses. That’s an interesting phrase. Perhaps when you are in touch with your senses you’re experiencing life on the most elemental, be here now level, aware of what you see, hear, taste, smell, and touch (note, I didn’t include think). Maybe that’s the way to go.

I went downtown, planning to have a snack and then to the movies. I wanted to see a new Steve Martin film that my roommate, Meredith, didn’t like, although she likes Steve Martin. I am not fond of Steve Martin. Just as former roommate Ann and I were so alike in our habits and likes, Meredith and I are almost exact opposites, so I figured I’d like the movie. I forgot that on weekends the theaters change their films to something suitable for children, and the lines were long with mom and dad and the kids.

The center of town is just a 20 minute walk, and I enjoy it because I do some of my best thinking then (obviously, I am not entirely into my senses.) I love naïf or primitive paintings. I like the genre in general, but it is those brightly colored tiny sometimes faceless people with animals, buildings, whatever, that I think of in Costa Rica. It occurred to me that the artists have to paint them tiny and simply to convey what they are depicting – lots of humanity interacting with each other and their environment. And I wondered if most of this naïf art comes from Third World countries.

This thought came as I entered the Plaza de la Cultura next to the Teatro Nacional, and saw dozens of people selling their wares of handmade and other stuff to hundreds of other people who were eating and laughing with their children throwing seeds and chasing the pigeons, and generally making a naïf spectacle of themselves, one I wish I could paint. Did you visit the Plaza de la Cultura when you were here?

I used to shop in the Mercado Central more often but going into town during the week is not as much fun as it was. The area around the market is dirty and noisy, and certainly crowded, but I enjoy the vitality of the people and the energy and good will they project. I live just a few blocks from an AutoMercado and a fish market, so I’m getting lazy. Fish and seafood are expensive because they have begun to export it. The cheapest fish you can get is mako or shark, which I happen to like. When I lived in New York City I found more beautiful, delicious fruits and vegetables than I had ever seen in California or Florida, which is where they came from. I am afraid that is going to happen here.

Recently I have been reading my old journals with the idea of making a story out of some of them. People who have written memoirs have said that the most valuable part was getting to know oneself. They don’t mention how painful it is to learn how petty, silly, callous or pitiful we can be. Anyone who has written an honest memoir must emerge with great humility.

Then I thought about that man, remember, the clothing factory owner, who was kidnapped and kept in a hole in the ground for 12 days and who ‘wrote’ his autobiography in order to stay sane? I knew he didn’t just think about his life, he was mentally composing it and writing it down, punctuating it. Can you imagine the experience of going over your whole life in detail, knowing that the accumulation of all that you have done or been is ending up in a hole in the ground? What am I saying? He was rescued.

That man was a hero, just as you were heroic when you got yourself out of freezing water and back on your boat with a broken shoulder. You said you weren’t a hero, just a survivor. To my mind, a hero is someone who has survived something others can’t imagine overcoming But then, we don’t know, do we, what challenge will be more than we can survive, until we are faced with it?

My brother faced that challenge 10 years ago, and I miss

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