Tag Archives: San Diego

Americano Returns: Author Interview with Dominic Carrillo

Dominic Carrillo has created a new holiday tradition: Fly home to San Diego, spend time with family and friends, host a book signing for a recent publication at a local trendy hot spot, and return to his adventurous life abroad.

Since the debut of his first book last year, To Be Frank Diego, a novel which follows the struggle of a racially mixed main character as he navigates growing up just north of the Mexican border, Dominic has been eager to compile his more autobiographical pieces into a second offering.

This year, Americano Abroad is the result: a compilation of essays lifted from his popular travel blog of the same name. The San Diego book signing will be held at the evening before Dominic returns to teaching in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Deciding what to include in the collection was no easy feat. Publication of some of his pieces in the San Diego Reader helped make the decisions as well as an expat writing group in Sofia. Separated into three sections, the book begins with an exploration of Italy, Dominic’s first experience living abroad, The writing then moves through Nigeria, his first official teaching stint, and into Bulgaria, where he now resides.

Although he describes the book as “memoir,” Dominic is quick to point out that it is no Eat, Pray, Love. In addition to reflections on his local surroundings, the book is also interspersed with homecomings and analysis of American culture. In fact, as much as the essays seem to be an exploration of Dominic’s travels, his writing spends an equal amount of time unpacking what it is to be an “American,” as the title of his book suggests.

“At a certain point in defining what it is to be American, it’s necessary to be outside of America to reflect on that and figure out what that means,” says Dominic, continuing his navigation of themes of identity which began with Frank Diego. “If I think about myself as Mexican-American. But then I’m in Bulgaria, and to locals, I look Turkish or Greek. And then in Nigeria, I might say to others that I’m half Mexican, but to them, I’m white. To be in these three different places and then trying to position my identity in those places, it’s kind of a weird twist.”

In addition to the geographical location, what also shifts in Dominic’s book is the tone.  While Italy is full of humor and expectation, Nigeria’s tales settle into ominous simplification, as he takes in his surroundings moment by moment. The narration shifts from the gentle self-deprecation of first person to the stark immediacy of second:

The loud buzz of the generator engine dies. The lights go out. Now it is only you and the insects— most of which are outside— producing a harmonious chorus of humming and chirping. The live creatures inside your room have already been accepted as a fact of life and simply categorized into “good” or “bad.” The gecko eats other insects, so he’s welcome. The cricket is harmless. But spiders here are large and potentially poisonous, and scorpions are not uncommon, so you kill them if you can, before the lights go out. (“Reading at Night in Nigeria”)

“In Italy, I tried to turn my complaints into humor and joke about it,” Dominic says. “In Nigeria, the switch was that I realized I didn’t have the right to complain about anything. There’s such poverty and every reason for people there to be hopeless and pissed. And people were awesome. They were genuine and happy and welcoming.” The awe in his voice is unmistakable, even though it’s been many months since his stint with the boarding school there.

From there, everything changes. The writing from Bulgaria is infused with appreciation, as if the practice of moment-to-moment living Dominic gleaned in Nigeria has never really left him. Even Dominic has noticed the difference in his own “Americano” analysis of his foreign surroundings.

“It’s a different kind of reality check,” he says, commenting on how his teaching colleagues stationed in other countries would ask about Bulgaria with a smirk, as if this situation was somehow less glamorous. “Everything after [Nigeria]… I just felt thankful and grateful for everything I have.” Dominic has just re-upped for a second year of his English teaching position in Sofia.

Those feelings of gratitude also extend to his local fan base. Sharing his new book with family and friends in San Diego is becoming part of the publication process, and he continually finds the support overwhelming. The reactions of these readers who have followed his blog since its inception have had a huge impact on his voice, Dominic says.

“In the beginning, it was trial and error,” he says, explaining that his first pass at travel blog writing resulted in guided tour analyses, containing very little personal commentary and very little humor. Three blog entries later, with a little exposure to David Sedaris and some positive feedback on the more sarcastic portions of his pieces, Dominic wrote what would become the first chapter of the book – a humorous commentary on teaching English in Italy and feeling like a fraud. This entry caught the attention of his eighth grade English teacher in San Diego.

“I posted that and Jeanine Bennett wrote back to me and said that she woke up at 6 am to go to school and read that and was cracking up. And of course, I almost started crying. In Italy, I was like, ‘Oh my god, are you kidding me?’ I got a few more comments like that from that story and I thought, this is the voice, this is where I should be writing from.”

dominic  and books

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The Sticking Place

Preschool“We’re lost.”

Bridget looks at me, her big eyes filling with tears.

She’s right.  I look up towards the crest of the canyon and the fence we hopped a half an hour ago.

Then, I realize: I don’t care.  Because I am four-years-old.  And I have just staged a prison break from my preschool.

I was never a rebellious child.  Okay, I did start that petition in the fourth grade denouncing mandatory recess activities.  So, political?  Maybe.  But, rebellious?  Never.

This preschool prison break was special, a moment of divine timing.  Sitting on my stiff scratchy school cot the day before, prepping for naptime, I noticed that the teachers did not check to see that all of us kids had made it in from the playground.

My mind began to race, the escape plan formulating quickly.

The next day, I approached the playground with a very specific agenda.  Phase #1: Act natural.  Phase #2: Take cover.  Phase #3:  Wait.  And that was as far as the plan went.

I played tag that day like my life depended on it, so as to not arouse any suspicion.  I carefully watched the teachers out of the corners of my eyes, tracking their positions.

After what seemed like an eternity, like, ten minutes, the bell rang.

It was naptime.  Phase #2 was a go.

I sought cover.  My fellow munchkins were now picking up sweaters, juice boxes and big red bouncy balls.  I waded through them upstream as they filtered back into the classroom.  I knelt behind a rock.

Time for Phase #3.  I pretended to tie my shoe.  A good cover story.  All I had to do now was wait.  The playground was emptying.  Almost there…

“Come on.”

Bridget’s voice startled me.  She wore a pink sundress and stared down at me from behind dark, mousey hair.

“You’re gonna miss naptime.”

“I’m coming,” I said, hoping she would take the bait and run along ahead of me.  She didn’t.  She waited.  Staring.  My time was running out.

I hadn’t planned on taking hostages, I mean, on having an accomplice.  I considered her.

“What’s your name?”

“Bridget,” she said.

Hmm.  I glanced at the classroom door where a teacher was ushering the last of the preschoolers inside.

Bridget would have to play ball.  Right now.

I grabbed her hand and pulled her into hiding.

“It will be fun,” I told her, because that is how you convince anyone to do anything when you are four-years-old

Bridget looked at me dubiously, but did not protest.  Minutes later, the rest of our classmates disappeared and the teacher shut the door, without a second glance outside.

And in that moment, we were free.

It was a feeling of freedom I would later come to recognize as the first-day-of-summer-vacation free.  Or the I’m-in-love-with-someone-who-actually-loves-me-back free.  Or the yay-I-have-health-insurance-again free.  And on that day, in that moment, with my accomplice Bridget, on the precipice of an adventure, it … was … glorious.

And then it was…confusing.  Now what do we do?

“Let’s hop the fence!” I suggested.

The preschool was perched on the edge of a canyon, a cavernous wasteland, full of strange adventure, portals through time and space, dinosaurs and aliens.

I yanked on Bridget’s arm and we darted across the empty playground.  She hesitated.

“What about the crows?” she whispered.

The teachers would sometimes take us on short walks through these badlands and if there was one thing we all knew for certain, it was that the canyon crows would eat you alive.

“I think they made that up,” I told her.  “So we wouldn’t run away.”

A few rusty metal scratches later, we were on the precipice of a new world.

The thought that we might get lost hadn’t occurred to me.  However, I wasn’t concerned.  At four, I would often ask department store clerks to announce my name over the loudspeaker because I had spent too long hiding inside a circular rack of dresses, pretending it was a fairy woodland, and I’d lost my mother.  I knew how to handle myself when things got dicey.

But, Bridget was about to lose it.  Thankfully, that’s when we stumbled upon a canyon oasis: a creek!…which was actually storm drain run off, but to us, an exotic swimming hole.  When you are four, your undergarments can always double as a bathing suit.  We immediately stripped to our skivvies and dove in.

And we swam.  We swam and dove and jumped and frolicked…right up until the point when the cops showed up.

My mother had come to pick me up from preschool, and for the first time the teachers realized that Bridget and I were nowhere to be found.

I tried to make conversation with the burly policeman who wrapped me in his big puffy jacket and carried me back up the hill.

“Hi, how are you? What’s your name?”

He didn’t answer me.  For the very first time that day, I wondered if I had done something wrong.

I look back on this now and my first thought is always the same.  Who WAS that four-year-old in that canyon?  And, more importantly, when can I get her back?  Because if there is any of her courage and confidence left inside of me somewhere, I’d really like to harness it and channel it into dating and job interviews, and I don’t know, taking over the world?

But that’s what’s great about childhood.  That’s what’s great about four-years-old.  When you run across these moments of truth, you do nothing but listen and believe.  The world has not told you any differently yet.  It will, eventually.  Eventually it will teach you about self-doubt and insecurity and the limits of your own safety.  But maybe not yet.  Maybe not at four.

April VAMPMaybe at four, you still believe.

This piece was written for So Say We All‘s April VAMP
“It Was Just a Phase,” performed on April 25, 2013
at the Whistle Stop in San Diego, CA.

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The Dawn of the Non-Apocalypse: Do the Thing

galactic-centerYay!  We’re still here!

Okay, so no one thought that the world was really going to end.  However, many believe that this is the dawn of a new shift in energy – when the extraneous elements of life will be abandoned for the truly meaningful ones, and we will begin to find balance.

As I sit here about to launch into full blown holiday mode, having just finished three weeks of production on a film for San Diego’s One Billion Rising Campaign, juggling three writing jobs and attempting to make plans for the future, balance seems farther away than the point where the sun’s elliptical apparently crossed the equator of the Milky Way this morning.

However, leading up this End of Days, I have admittedly noticed a shift in my own life and the lives of those around me.  Light bulbs seem to be popping up over everyone’s heads.  I can’t tell you how many times I have had conversations with friends about their choices to do Plan B instead of Plan A, for no other reason than it felt more authentic to who they are.  These new plans don’t make them more money, don’t grant them a path to fame or fortune or success, and often don’t even seem logical in the typical “way of doing things.”  And yet, there my friends are: moving from New York City to Portland, Maine for a better quality of life, quitting jobs that don’t serve them, taking off for teaching assignments in foreign countries, going back to school for degrees that would just be enjoyable to earn rather than a guarantee of a career path.  Seemingly crazy decisions – or are they?

When I started writing seriously this year, I experienced a balance I had never felt before.  Thus far, my life had consisted of working really hard at school and jobs and feeling that if I didn’t have my hand in 50 activities simultaneously, that I wasn’t really living.  How is it, then, that when I sit down to write a blog post to all of you lovely readers out there, I feel more balanced and energized and fulfilled than when I’ve done anything else?

A paradigm shift began to occur.

What if I did things that made me feel balanced…all the time?  Or, at least…more often?  What if I actually redirected my life to include more time for…this?

Of course, it’s one thing to recognize what makes my spirit sing, but it’s another thing to actually carve out the time to do it, and do it well.  Thus began the Angst-Ridden Dilemma Decisions of 2012:  Do I accept this part in this play, or do I make time for writing?  Do I stay in this job that isn’t entirely serving me, or do I make time for writing?  Do I  allow myself to get distracted by errands and invites and day trips and doing for others, or do I make time for writing?

I soon began to realize that my levels of commitment to anything OTHER than writing were an addictive tendency I clung to in order to mask the one thing that was truly driving me:  my fear of what would happen if I just did the thing I need/want/love/have to do.

And when I say “addictive,” I mean seriously addictive.  Like, time for intervention and rehab kind of addiction.

Who could have thought that involvement in “stuff” and “things” could be as toxic as guzzling booze?  But, there you have it.  When I have thirty things on my to-do list, my mind is occupied, numbed in its busy-ness.  It doesn’t have to go to the places of quiet solitude, where I am faced with a reflection of who I really am.  I can avoid that NeverEnding Story Magic Mirror Gate moment because, after all, who knows what I will find there?  The girl who is not doing enough to honor her authentic self?  Or worse: the potential for greatness.

Doing stuff is so much easier!

The funny thing about the universe is that when you take one small step in the right direction, you get all sorts of kudos.  Strike that.  When you even turn your head in the right direction, the universe is like “You rock!” and you get all this fun stuff. Whether this means choosing a new thought, or saying no to a play, or doing whatever the “good for you” thing is that seems hard in the moment, it is when you take a leap of faith and honor your authentic self that the net appears.  Truly.  I knew what I had to do.

My first “no” happened in late September, shortly after I wrote my “Dark Spots” piece.  I was offered a part in a play.  I agonized for a week about accepting the part, which typically would have been a no-brainer.  I upset myself to the point of nausea.  The thought of saying “no” seemed nuts to me.  Why would I do that?  Why would I deny myself this artistic opportunity?  Was I totally crazy?  But deep down, I knew I couldn’t do both.  I couldn’t prioritize writing and work on this show simultaneously.  I looked ahead to the fall and winter months and began to hyperventilate.

But…to create blank space in my days with which to fill with writing seemed…completely frightening.  I began to experience what would be my own personal brand of withdrawal pain: Oh, God.  What would I do with hours free to sit in front of my computer?  What if I wrote crap?  What if I lost my way?  What if I wrote and wrote and wrote and nothing came of it – ever?  How would I ever find the tenacity and persistence to see it through in the first place, whatever that meant?  What if I spent hours alone in my room or in some cozy coffee shop away from the world and people…forgot about me?  Panic ensued.  I needed hot chocolate, stat.

The thing about writing is that it takes time.  For me, at least, it takes time.  Thoughts and ideas have levels.  The more time I spend with them, the deeper they go.  Unless I granted myself that time, they would not manifest.  (David Lynch wrote a nice piece about this for GOOD.)

And so, I made the call.  I said “no.”  And an amazing thing happened.  No one hated me.  No one ostracized me.  No one condemned me for taking the time to shut my door and get to work.  And so, I did it again.  I said “no” to a job that I needed to let go of, the alarm bells of civilized society going off in my head the whole time.  And yet, strangely, because of various freelance opportunities that immediately came my way, I found myself more financially stable than I had been in a long time.  And also: I had time.  All of a sudden, I had time.

Of course, honoring this new paradigm takes time as well – nobody’s perfect.  As I said, I just finished producing a film, so yeah…not a lot of writing happened this month.  However, here I am today, putting words to virtual paper, contemplating the apocalypse, and finally feeling more like myself again.  I guess every day that the world doesn’t end is a new opportunity to figure out why it’s worth being here in the first place.

Do the thing.

Engywook: Next is the Magic Mirror Gate. Atreyu has to face his true self.
Falkor: So what? That won’t be too hard for him.
Engywook: Oh, that’s what everyone thinks! But kind people find that they are cruel. Brave men discover that they are really cowards! Confronted with their true selves, most men run away screaming!

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I Promise I Will Write the Novel Tomorrow…

…I’ve been a little distracted this week.

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The First “First Friday” – Dominic Carrillo

Exploring the life of a new novelist one Friday at a time.

So, in an effort to inspire and encourage awesomeness, I have been keen to interview other writers, specifically first-time novelists, in order to probe their process from page to publication.  For me, the sticking-with-it-ness is always a challenge, so I’m amazed when one of my peers has the tenacity to sit down and write a few hundred pages.  I, for one, can’t get through composing a mere blog post without checking Facebook 28 times.  How in the world will I ever finish a novel?  But that’s the struggle up for dissection within these pages, hence, I bring you a glance into the life of someone who has actually done said deed. – TT

***

La Jolla, CA.  Dominic Carrillo saunters into the brew house, fresh from a seminar on publishing which he was hoping would give him some new marketing tricks.  You see, he has a dilemma:  He is trying to figure out how to promote his self-published bow into the world of fiction successfully in the few weeks he has left stateside before taking up a year-long teaching position in Bulgaria.  I mean, doesn’t everyone have these issues?  Ahem.

He orders something dark and smiles easily, his neatly trimmed beard announcing his Jack Kerouac tendencies, his polite eyes signaling that he finds the stories of others much more interesting than his own.  No wonder his blog gets so much action.  And now with his first book, To Be Frank Diego, hitting the virtual shelves via Amazon, the fact that he can write just as adeptly about his hometown of San Diego as he can about sitting at the head table in a Nigerian village almost doesn’t seem fair.

Carrillo began his blog, Americano Abroad,  about ten months ago, during a teaching assignment in Italia after receiving encouragement from a blogger friend who thrived on writing about travel.  Also encouraging: an incident involving some travel buddies and a sudden lack of reading material.  When Carrillo’s journal, freely shared, became an intriguing enough substitute for a “real book,” he began to see his writing as perhaps not only interesting for others to read, but also full of stories that were actually meant to be shared.

Thus began his foray into the blogosphere, where he has cast himself as a newbie explorer immersed in foreign culture, astutely chronicling his experiences with a wry sense of self-deprecation that quickly endears a reader to his words.

But soon, the seed of another story began to emerge, one that had been marinating for a while in the back of his mind.  Finally, during a long bout of illness in Guatemala that left him pretty much house-bound, he began to write it down – mostly to distract himself from all he was missing outdoors.  80 pages later, he thought that maybe he was onto something.  To Be Frank Diego emerged.

A bit about the book:  Frank Diego is a San Diego native who is forced to navigate the city’s public transportation system – a rare feat for most locals.  On his day-long journey, he meets a variety of characters, faces challenging issues about his own ethnic identity, contemplates a recent relationship, and pulls no punches when offering his opinions about “America’s Finest City.”

Publishing the novel, once completed, was a daunting task.  After tapping as many connections as he could, Carrillo soon discovered that the traditional publishing route would require time and patience.  With his next itinerary looming, he decided to take matters into his own hands.  Createspace was happy to provide the means.  Fast forward six months and a few hundred people are gathered at the Starlite Lounge in Little Italy for his first book signing.

He admits he has received enormous support from friends and family.  The challenge, he says, universal among self-published novelists, is to reach a larger audience.  He is exploring social media, bumping up the Frank Diego website, and looking for reviews and exposure on local San Diego media.  The fact that the novel explores a particular city is a definite plus, even if the impressions offered by the main character can be slightly scathing at times.  He has just a few weeks to make it all work before the next adventure sets in.

Will the continual online promotion of Frank Diego be on his mind as he settles into life in Bulgaria later this month?  Perhaps.  But Americano Abroad will be up and running again as well, and therefore his attention will be more focused where he prefers it – on the stories of others and, like Frank Diego, what new ruminations on this crazy world lie around the next corner.


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T-23 Hours till Go Time

So, I leave for NYC tomorrow morning at the (insert inappropriate language here) crack of dawn and here is an assessment of my Yet-To-Do-List (further recommendations welcome from other attendees):

1. Finish grading papers (Shoot me now).

2.  Pack umbrella.

3.  Do more research on speakers and narrow down my list of Must-Attends (Be quiet, Kevin Six.  I am NOT type A.).

4.  Follow Blog World Expo coordinators on Twitter (Check!)

5.  Make business cards.

6.  Confirm dinner with my former a la Sex and the City brunch crew (Check!).

7.  (Do I really need that scarf I saw in that shop last week?  It’s super cute and would match like every outfit I’m bringing.)

8.  Download BWE mobile app on the recommendation of my new Blog World Expo Twitter friend and local San Diegan @mattsurfs  (Check!  Thanks for the tip!).

9.  Make sure I can run my online classes entirely from my smartphone.  This is a huge step into the advances of technology for me.  A little nervous.

10.  Corollary thought to #9:  My computer is a dinosaur from 2005 which is why it is staying in San Diego.  Maybe the giveaway gods will be good to me at the conference and bestow upon me a confirmation-of-my-new-direction gift from the universe in the form of a slick laptop.  Just putting it out there.

11.  Make a blog friend pre-conference.  I so do not want to be the new kid roaming the halls wondering where all of the popular people are hanging out.  If only I could find a cool blogger like me and make a conference lunch date pre-NYC…  (All of a sudden I feel like the Anne of Green Gables version of the blogworld.  Will someone be my bosom blog friend?)

12.  Deep breath.  Game face.  Smile.

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Surfing Is Life

summer sunsets in san diego
photo: moi!

So, I’ve recently taken up surfing. Yes, I know what you are thinking. “Tiffany, didn’t you grow up in San Diego? Why are you only starting to learn how to surf now?” Because I didn’t grow up a walking stereotype, people! Just because I grew up here doesn’t mean that I spent all of my time growing out my long blonde beach hair and surfing every morning and going to work/school with sand in my shoes and retreating to the beach every summer for bonfires and saying words like “rad” on a regular basis. Geez!

So, anyway, the waves were so rad this morning (passionately flips long blonde hair over her shoulder). I think this was technically my fourth time out as a “serious surfing student” under the tutelage of Kevin Olson Six. Apparently, there is a fourth lesson breaking point, which I totally hit. This is the point when you know enough about the mechanics of surfing but not quite enough to actually do it well. So, there I was, on the “inside” of the break (surfing lingo: closer to the shore and not out where the crazy waves are) and basically getting pummeled over and over again by the completely ungentle ferocity that is the Pacific Ocean.

And so, there’s a point. And, I think this happens in writing as well. The point when nothing seems to be working, you know you’re in the middle of the learning curve and you’ve realized to your own horror that there is something in this world that you’re not completely  brilliant at right from the get. (Insert future post about being a Type A overachiever). All you see is the hours and hours of time stretching between where you are now and where you want to be. Like at the end of a novel. Or surfing Pipeline. What to do now?

After the fourth or fifth time my shoulder was raked across the ocean floor, my hands flailing out in front of me to protect my head from my surfboard which was now flying through the air, bouncing on foamy ocean break, I knew I had to make a decision. Either paddle farther out to where about twenty surfers waited, sitting on their boards in the calm “outside,” waiting for the Maverick waves that would probably only reach about six feet but still felt gigantic to me, or beat it back to the shore.

Again, I know what you’re thinking. A pivotal life lesson moment! Find your inner awesome, Tiffany! Channel Blue Crush and get out there with the big guys and prove something to yourself!

Hell. No.

Five minutes later, sitting on the shore and contemplating life, I had a minor epiphany. And it went something like this:

I don’t have to be a badass everyday.

Because, truthfully, I am quite often a badass. They say that you should do something every day that scares you? I quite frequently feel like my entire life is one scary moment after another. (That might have come out wrong, but I think you know what I mean.)

But just…not today. Today, perhaps in an instinctual lunge of self-preservation, perhaps because I was still really frickin’ sore from booty boot camp the day before, or perhaps because I have spent the last two months being a badass in so many ways…today was the day to declare Mother Sea the winner, enjoy the warm sand for a moment, watch the other badasses catch the big waves, and gain some perspective.

When I am in the thick of something, I have a hard time seeing the goal. Enter perspective. Time to step back. Absorb the lessons. Choose the next path. Reaffirm the goal: This is how I want to be able to surf. This is the kind of book I want to write.

So, the morning was spent watching the pros tear it up on the outside. The afternoon was spent writing down the first lines of the first books ever published by my favorite authors and tacking them to the bulletin board in front of my computer.  (“Lily heard the shot at seventeen minutes to one.“)

Because this is a marathon, and not a sprint. Choosing to be a writer is choosing a lifestyle. And sometimes the most important part of choosing something is how you get yourself through the times when you just don’t want to do it anymore. It’s okay to beat it back to the beach. Just make sure you’re out there again the next morning. Cowabunga.

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