why i don’t buy books

I am both an avid reader and strong ideological (and actual) supporter of libraries. This is a rare combination, I feel. Most people I know who take reading or books “seriously” prefer to buy books, for various reasons. Some like to “have their own copy,” whateverthehell that means, some buy books BEFORE they read them (therefore their reading depends on their buying), some claim that they want to have them so that they can read the books over and over (which I have my doubts about), and some just don’t LIKE libraries, which comes mostly from associating them with poor people.

Anyway, I’m tired of hearing people be so proud of how they own a lot of books, and I’m tired of people thinking that people who don’t buy them somehow don’t take reading just as seriously. For these reasons, I’d like to share why I personally don’t buy books.

1. “Use it or lose it.” I think libraries are VERY important, and that the best way to support them is to need and use them.

2. The idea of “owning” books or other forms of art does not appeal to me. I also don’t understand it. I just don’t *get it* when people say they want “their own copy.” It leaves a bad taste in my mouth to be possessive of something that I believe everyone should have access to. The few books that I have, I don’t consider as “mine.” They just happen to be in my care, like children, or like the library’s books are in the library’s care. The library’s books belong to “the people,” not the library; the library is just a practical place for them to exist.

3. I try to avoid materialism, for both practical and spiritual reasons. Books are heavy and take up a lot of space; the few books I have are really a drag whenever I move (often). THINGS, in general, can become a drag emotionally, if we get attached to them (and people DO get attached to them). My dedication to minimalism stems from my conviction to save my emotional energy for stuff that matters.

4. Books are expensive. I mean, I could afford some if I wanted to, but I would rather spend my money on real-life experiences. Being aware of and prioritizing my expenses plays into #3.

This isn’t all to say that I NEVER buy books. Sometimes a book is simply not available in a community, and buying it is a way to make it available. For this reason, I bought several books in El Salvador, knowing I would not be able to find them in the United States (even on Amazon). I am also considering buying several of Toni Morrisson’s books because, after reading them, I was so moved by them that I really do intend to read them over and over, and want other people to have that chance as well (it has taken me several years to read all of her books, because libraries usually only have a few of them). So I’m not condemning anyone for buying books – I just wanted to shake up the usual “if you buy books you love reading and if you love reading you’ll buy books” assumptions.

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luciernagas en el mozote

Last weekend, I took a weekend trip to the department of Morazán. Specifically, we went to El Mozóte for the thirtieth anniversary memorial…thing. I guess in a lot of places one would expect a lot of people being silent and, I don´t know, sad, but because this is latin america, there was a festival. Food, music, etc.

What´s to say? Here´s a picture of the church in the town, where they show you bloodstains, and wrote the names of all the children who got killed in it on the side of the building, under the mural detailing the event. There was one survivor, and the mural is based on her narrative:

They´ve exhumed around 1,200 bodies so far, but it´s been a difficult process. The government keeps putting a hold on the investigation. When it first happened, journalists didn´t cover it for a good while – one of the first US journalists to want to investigate it was personally stopped by the head of the US embassy. The story finally ended up in the news because someone snuck in from the Honduras side.

I feel…that there isn´t really anything “important” to say about massacres because it´s all redundant and obvious. Obviously you shouldn´t kill people. Obviously you shouldn´t support governments that kill people. What else is there? I think this is the attitude a lot of people take when they hear about things like this. “We know, we know, shit happens, life sucks, especially in countries we bomb…..Can we stop talking about it now? It´s depressing, and what´s the point?”

It´s a rhetorical question. Usually they are implying that there is no point.

But there is! It´s true that there´s not much left to say once you´ve gotten past “there was a brutal civil war, sparked by misery and popular repression, and your country helped fund it, and here, in THIS place, 1,200 people died unnecessarily.” But it´s still important to say it, because eventually (the idea is), people will actually get something from it. They´ll feel and they´ll learn and they´ll think. And when people feel, learn, and think…That´s when things like this stop happening.

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iglesia de san rosario


This church in downtown San Salvador is an eyesore from the outside. It´s dirty concrete and looks old and is crumbling and the park across the street is commonly known as the place to pick up prostitutes or get robbed. Tourists are recommended not to go there.


They´re missing out.

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Santa Ana


This is a picture of the cathedral in Santa Ana.

I only spent a couple days in there, but I was immediately charmed and decided that if I ever come live in El Salvador for an extended period of time, I would seriously consider Santa Ana as an option.

Because honestly, I hate San Salvador. What´s to like? It´s dirty, dangerous, ugly, expensive and an all-around disappointment. From a planning perspective, it just depresses me. I see no hope for it as a city at all. From a health perspective, it would probably take years off my life because of the horrible air (I´ve never actually lived in a city with terrible air quality before – it´s amazing how noticeable it is, and it´s amazing how people think they´re used to it) and because of the stress that comes from crossing the street and other pedestrian (hah) tasks.

Santa Ana was quieter. There is a definite city center with a park in the middle surrounded by the cathedral, the theater, and the government (which is typical of small towns in El Salvador). There´s a 3-4 block radius of markets and stuff leaving the center, then there´s a good amount of residential streets that are really narrow and…quiet. Not many cars, not even many people walking. And the houses look very colonial and pretty and the city is a grid, and it´s a city but it doesn´t really feel like one. There are lots of universities, and a good amount of visible organizing happening – the day I left, I stumbled upon a collective fair. It was mostly artisan collectives and credit unions – but hey! artisan collectives and credit unions! That´s what I like to see.

I don´t like to see corporate development and sprawl happening outside the older sections. So I chose not to.

Mostly I was dazzled by the cathedral. I´m not usually a sucker for churches, but this one was magnificent. The MOST magnificent. And, okay, yeah, I´ve never been to Europe so I should probably shut up about beautiful old churches…But wow. I did get a picture of the whole thing, but I thought a more detailed picture of only part of it does it more justice.

I think that I liked it so much because of the context. *Architecture always loses something when it doesn´t have good context, which is why I haven´t been too impressed with a lot of the churches here so far, or in Mexico, for that matter, where they´re More Famous And Important (as all things Mexican are…and yes. That is resentment you are sensing). Usually cathedrals are kept as relics and more modern cities develop around them and tourists visit them and people sell things at them and this all makes that presence they´re supposed to have go away. But because Santa Ana is so quiet and unassuming and has no skyscrapers or tourists and looks a lot like what it probably looked like 100 years ago, I really felt like the cathedral made the city more beautiful, and the city made the cathedral more beautiful.

*And yes, thank you, I am fully aware of choosing this picture while making this point.

/Urban planning nerdfest.

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cangrejos salvadoreños


“Do you know why popular organization will never work here? Let me tell you. I can explain it with a folk story:

There were two barrels at a restaurant full of live crabs. One barrel had Salvadoran crabs and the other barrel had imported Chinese crabs. The owner of the restaurant told his waiter to put lids on the barrels, but there was only one lid available. After thinking for a minute, the waiter put the lid on the barrel of Chinese crabs. The owner asked why he chose that barrel. 

´Well,´ said the waiter, ´In a barrel of Chinese crabs, the crabs will probably escape by creating a chain so that the whole group can get out. If any Salvadoran crabs try to get out, I´m sure that the rest won´t allow it and drag them back down, so I´m not worried about them escaping.´

So why bother?” he asked me.

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thoughts on occupy wall street

I´m feeling a little guilty for missing Occupy San Salvador (yes, there was an Occupy San Salvador event, held at the US Embassy for one day, and no, I can´t believe I missed it for something as stupid as “I never know what the date is” either), so despite a telling myself I would avoid the news like the plague for a few months (and that I would, you know, quit blogging), I´m going to address a couple points commonly made about OWS that have been bothering me.

1. The occupiers don´t know what they´re talking about

There are a lot of people going to different #occupy sites and interviewing protesters, and reporting back to the world with the news that “these people” don´t understand economics or the economic system, have no idea what they´re protesting, can´t actually explain what´s wrong with capitalism, just want to be “part of something,” are blind followers, can´t define socialism/communism/whatever-ism, and are generally stupid lazy social parasites who clearly know nothing about how the world works.

This isn´t entirely true, and if you´re interested, there´s plenty of evidence for Intelligent Life at OWS in the form of video and press interviews, and articles/blogs written by protesters themselves. I feel  no need to defend that point. It speaks for itself. If you don´t believe me, get off Fox News and CNN.

What I´m interested in admitting that there ARE people there who can´t explain what, exactly, is wrong with capitalism, or even what it is, and there ARE people who don´t understand economics, and there ARE people who have no idea whatsoever how to fix society. And there are a lot of them.

But I fail to see how that delegitimizes the movement.

Let´s look at revolutions and civil wars around the world. Would you side against Salvadoran campesinos during the war because they couldn´t tell you in clear, academic terms how they were being exploited? Would you consider slave rebellions and indigenous resistance “unknowledgeable about how the world works” because they couldn´t define and explain the economic system that led to their social status? Was it a waste of time for the people of India to follow Gandhi “blindly,” without years of their own political analysis, in world-changing efforts of civil disobedience? Would you divide protesting Egyptians into groups of “deserve a less corrupt government” and “do not deserve a less corrupt government” based on their ability to list EXACTLY what Mubarak did that was so bad?

I´d like for anyone who gets really upset when someone “doesn´t know what they´re talking about” to walk into an occupied space and look someone there in the eye and say, “you are not well-informed enough to deserve or even ask for anything better than what you have.” Because that is essentially what people are saying when they try to delegitimize OWS by arguing that the protesters don´t know anything.

No one has all the answers. Even the well-spoken and/or well-educated people out there have a lot to learn – but everyone, regardless of level of education or knowledge, has something to offer, and deserves to be taken seriously when they say they want a better world.

2(a): From the would-be sympathizer/people (not just activists) in “armchairs:” Their demands are unclear and they are disorganized. I might have been interested in a movement that was actually going to, you know, get stuff done, but sitting in tents in public parks isn´t going to change anything. This is, unfortunately, a waste of time.


2(b):  from the opposition:  Their demands are unclear and they are disorganized. This is a good reason to consider the entire movement, at best, a useless and inconvenient waste of time. 

Oh my god, I know, right? Being politically engaged, building community and making sacrifices for your values ARE SUCH WASTES OF TIME. YOU COULD BE WATCHING TV, OR WORKING FOR MINIMUM WAGE, OR HANGING OUT IN YOUR HOUSE CRITICIZING OPTIMISTS ON THE INTERNET.

…this makes me so angry.

Amanda Palmer says it best:

occupy is a small seed. and yet it’s as huge, vast and complicated as the very unwieldy problems it’s trying to address.

i feel excited and sad for my generation, for the world, for my country. excited because i am so happy to see people mobilizing. trying.
waking up and going out and doing.
sad because it’s also underlined how jaded and difficult we are.

sometimes we forget that the world is absolutely fungible, morphable, re-creatable. we forget (maybe want to forget) that governments and systems topple ALL THE TIME, that human peoples have a habit of looking around, saying “nope, nope, don’t like this one bit” and gathering enough force, energy, and will to create a change. i’m sure at every single moment in history where a regime has seen a giant shift, there’s been those standing by, thinking that the impossible (change) would never happen, could never happen.

is that you?

could you honestly imagine a different kind of country, where business and government run without corruption, where the wealth of the land is fairly shared, where people actively took responsibility to take care of each other instead of just trampling their way to the top as an accepted way of life? or does that sound stupid, naïve, an impossible hippie-dream? what if everyone who thought that was a actually a pretty good idea stood up in solidarity and forced a change? would you stand up?

if occupy does nothing else, it’s made people wonder that.

i’ve been shocked by the number of people (even pals of mine) who actually are trapped by the idea that things can’t – and won’t – get better…so “why fucking bother?”

This is why I love *Amanda Palmer. There are so few people who understand that just because nothing “big” will result from setting up a tent in Zucotti Park or wherever, it doesn´t mean nothing is being accomplished. Starting conversations, planting seeds, getting people informed…Those are all really good and useful things.  You know what´s NOT useful? Standing on the side and being all “you´re doing it wrong.” Who is that helping?

And if you´ve been silent about the matter because you´re just not sure about it, or it´s not interesting, or you aren´t ready for the actual physical commitment of “occupying,” then get together with some friends or facebook friends or random people and talk to them about it. But not one of those “did you see those protests on the news? that pepper spray was some crazy shit” conversations. Don´t just talk about what you think you know. Ask each other about what you don´t know, talk about what is important to you, what you think is possible or not possible, if your ideas and hopes for the world are being addressed or not addressed (whether by OWS or elsewhere), and is there a reason for that, and if they´re not being addressed, how can they be? 

I would be very happy to break my current resolution of not being a news junkie in order to point any interested parties in the “informed and engaged citizen” direction. Cause I completely 100% believe it´s worth it. Do you?

tl;dr: (1) stop being such an elitist asshole, and (2) get out of your armchair. stuff is happening.

*If you´re interested in more Amanda Palmer, she blogs about OWS at length, here, here, and here.

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In the past year or so, my case of who-the-hell-is-reading-this-oh-god has gotten pretty bad. Bad enough to make me not want to post anything at all. I just feel really exposed, and even though that´s the POINT of blogs – to make you exposed – I no longer want to be. To be exposed is to be vunerable, and that´s not something desireable. I want relationships in which I can communicate open and freely in an egalitarian way. The blogging world is pretty much the opposite of that. You write, and you don´t know who reads it, what it means to them, what impact, if any, it has on the way you interact.

Sometimes one-way communication makes sense. In the case of art, for example, it works splendidly. An artist presents their work, and the work speaks for itself, and it becomes meaningful to whoever experiences it.

But my blog is not art, and it never has been, and I don´t want it to be. I´ve been thinking about what kind of interactions I want in my life, and none of the weird relationships that come from blogging are on that list.

Right now I feel that is important to have a high level of meaningful human interaction in life, and while my nearly ten-year blogging career* has dwindled to almost nothing, my desire to express myself well, to share experiences and ideas with other people, and to continue to develop my ability and motivation to do these things has vastly increased. So I´ve been writing a lot and trying to do it in an intentionally personal and straightforward way, and the reason I find myself absolutely unable to write anything that I would want on a blog is because I am absolutely unable to write anything watered down. For the writing I want to do, I need space to be honest, and right now that space comes from an audience I know and trust.

*not an exaggeration. most of my old blogs are private, but it has actually been that long, dear god.

With a blog, the trust is not really the issue. It´s more the knowing. I don´t know who reads what I write, and that just makes me feel weirder now than it did before. I don´t think it´s a matter of insecurit y. I´m not embarrassed or ashamed of anything I have to say. In fact, it seems to be the the opposite. I want to say things! Many times, I even know how I want to say them! And I know exactly what I want to accomplish now, with regards to writing, and it just happens to be exactly the opposite of what a blog is for.

So, I´m officially retiring from public internet publishing for now. I will stop feeling guilty about never posting, and I will stop pretending that I will ever update again.

But! I am definitely very writing-active, and happy to tell you about my life, and doubly-happy to hear about yours. So if you´re interested in recieving a few emails a month about what´s going on with me, let me know. I won´t think you´re weird if I haven´t heard from you in ages (god, with the amount of lurking I´ve done…) and I won´t care if you never reply or even never get around to reading the emails. My intention is not to shut myself off from the world or be a more “private” person. Not at all. The idea is to strengthen the quality of my connection and communication with people – and I would be happy to do that with any of you.

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