Gold: Remembering Robert Spellman

Five weeks ago, my Head of School called our senior class of 13 students to the curved amphitheater and sat us down. He announced with as much sympathy as one can when delivering sad news: "We recently learned that Bob, a former Head of School, has passed away."

People cope with grief in many ways. The timing of this announcement could not have been worse as we entered IB mock exams, followed quickly by final exams. Then again, when has death ever been to the convenience of anyone? Certainly the idea of a convenient death is a guilt-inducing thought, a selfish prospect - perhaps, probably, an impossible one.

I swallowed the death like I often take pills against the scoldings of my mother - quick, dry, without water. And it stayed, like it felt that the pills often did, stuck in my chest. I pushed mourning out of my head, as if it were something that could be pushed, handled, held pragmatically. 

I learned a lot about him that night, typing into Google a search for his obituary. He was 53 when he died - the same age as my father - and he had moved back to Orlando, Florida to be with his family. That last one brought about a smile that prickled my face; Bob had always loved Disney World.

One night, I read in a sitting "Tuesdays with Morrie," motionless, but for tears that silently wet my cheeks and dripped off my chin on to the pages. Then, once more, I swallowed the bitter pill and went upstairs to the common room, where the last scenes of the latest Fast and Furious movie played. The dramatic CGI scenes of men pushing each other through walls of glass seemed a grotesque contrast to the sad simplicity of the words that stayed in my head: "Death ends a life, not a relationship." 

Tonight, somehow, the chest has opened and eyes closed, the memories of the great Bob Spellman play. Somehow, the evening of cramming treaties and dates for tomorrow's 9am exam has exhausted the will to fight the natural urge to remember, to feel, cry, laugh for my friend Bob. The first person I ever knew to actually be called Bob, he had counseled me in my most depressed days. He told me walking was better than running and that my fish earrings looked great. He was a former ambulance driver and counselor at a correctional facility for men in Illinois - the kind who cared, asked questions and really listened. Everywhere he carried an arsenal of stories - drunk teens, crying wives, IV drips. I wonder how his last moments were, whether he was at peace or in pain, whether he lay strapped to a bed in the back of an ambulance, aware, whether the driver thought, 'This man won't make it.'

Back in Cuenca, the town in Ecuador where I began traveling the world as a waffly fourteen-year old, back when I first began to feel that overwhelmed sadness that would follow me, he sat me down and asked me, "Are you gold, or are you garbage?" I asked myself that question many times after, both rueful and glad that Bob was not there for the days I answered the latter.

It is strange for emails to exist from people who no longer do but in hearts and minds. They comfort, they kill. 

The last correspondence we had was in the summer of 2012, the summer I took a political philosophy course at Stanford and the summer it was announced that Bob would not be returning for the following school year. The last email I sent him reads: "I don't know, but here's the short version: I couldn't really believe it. But I know that we will not become strangers. You have taught me so much and I hope you know what a lifeline you were to me in Thailand. I couldn't have trusted anyone more."

He never replied; I never asked why. We became strangers in the way that distance, time and silence creates. But I never lost the sense that he would be there for me, a proud friend from afar, as I, as little wisdom as I carry, would be for him.

Nosara, Costa Rica in Four Days [35mm Film Travel Diary]

DAY ONE

Morning started with 9am surfing lessons and a banana pancake breakfast at 10:30am, both with Safari Surf School. Surfing...clumsy but fun. Headed back to the beach Playa Guiones to watch a surf competition and met this fellow from Colorado whose straw hat inspired me to go hunt down one of my own. After getting sadly ripped off on the hat purchase (but too sunburnt and tired with a migraine to bargain), met up with Liisa to walk around town. 

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Lunch at Robin's - Coke with Vietnamese spring rolls for Liisa and ridiculously good spinach quesadillas for me. A welcome change of pace after a month straight of gallo pinto (beans and rice). Sunbathed on towels, went back to the hotel for poolside drinks. Watched the sun set from the beach with Meli and Liisa before leaving for a party at Eskina Skate Parq. Made new friends. Walked home giddy and slept like a log.

DAY TWO

Despite my instructor Kevin's best efforts, I walked to breakfast with a belly full of salt water. Have concluded I am hopelessly the world's worst surfer, but had a good time anyway and stood up on the board so that's alright. Still figuring out how to hold the board; sad to report it seems I suffer from t-rex arms. 

Hung out at the pool before rushing to Tica Massage. After untangling an appointment mix-up debacle (massage rescheduled for tomorrow), joined the girls at Beach Dog Cafe. Afternoon spent with Cam walking around town and into a shop called Love Nosara. Photographed the lovely Spanish woman running the store (see blue shades). Bought a low back dress, felt scandalous. Free stickers!

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Beach time with Bethany. The view was so surreal. Very few people, huge stretches of sand and water and sky. We talked easily, laughed hysterically, as we do. Discussed college life in NYC, love, friendship, childhood. Dug foot holes in the sand. 

We met a para-sailer dragging his parachute along the sand, disappointed in the day's winds. Also met a Jake Gyllenhaal-esque figure. Will not elaborate any further. V embarrassing encounter.

Sunset with Bethany and Sian. We walked along the shore and Bethany said something smart, a little sad, beautiful about how sunrises and sunsets are always there, everywhere, anywhere, incredible in beauty and it's impossibly sad that we don't watch them all. Note to self to miss as few as possible. 

Dinner (burger + plantains) at the hotel. Walked along the shore with Julia for nearly two hours, with phones for flashlights. Stopped by a police car paroling the beach. Rushed to make curfew. Shower, sleep.

day three

5:30am wake-up to watch the sunrise with Sian and Emma. Turns out we were on the wrong side, but the sight of sunlight starting to pour in and light the beach was still magical. Ran into Adam, Rowena and Joseph who'd come out for a morning surf.

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Tiniest little farmer's market open in town today next to Love Nosara. Devoured an absurdly good apple raisin pie bought from an Argentinian woman and her husband. Sian, Emma and I got glitter tattoos on our shoulders by a little girl named Aiko. I photographed her mother Aiya, originally from California, who was selling all-natural beauty products. High temptations to buy coffee beans and pick from baskets of fresh fruit.

 

 

Last surfing lesson. Drank a little less salt water, got a little less stuck in my head and found a little more peace on the board. Learning that to ride the wave you can't fear it. Thanks Kevin!

Raced to Tica Massage after surfing this morning, though felt super guilty about the masseuse having to deal with the large amounts of sand stuck to my legs and butt. Highly recommend the massage - especially sore after surfing / using arm muscles for first time possibly ever.

Sleepy after the massage, so Melissa, Liisa and I went to Al Chile for smoothies. Checked out a boutique, stopped by a cafe to chat with friends.

Cooled off in my room with Emma aka stood in front of the AC for twenty minutes. Huge group walked to Robin's for ice cream (mine was caramel oatmeal cookie and cinnamon - zero regrets). Visited the organic food store in town - kombucha, rice cakes, raw organic balls (raisins, sunflower seeds, etc. etc.), chocolate-covered coffee beans, mangoes. 

The weather was perfect, blue skies, sun out with a little cloud and the water unbelievably warm. Emma, Steph, Cameron and I threw out our towels. Ate mangoes and our raw organic balls. While Steph and Emma tanned, Cam and I went out to swim and jump with the waves as they came down. Didn't say much, didn't need to. We just looked at each other and smiled. There's nothing like being in one of the most beautiful places in the world with the best people in your life.

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Later in the evening, went back out into the water, pretended I knew what I was doing for a bit and watched the red, red sun set from my board. Bonfire tonight - as it was our last - with all the guys from the surf school. Ran against the wind into the ocean. Freezing cold, shaking and laughing, ran back to the fire to warm up. Flashes sparked off the fire; ran away laughing and screaming. Sat on the beach with Kevin, discussing orthodontia and herbal drugs. Motorcycled home.

day four

Morning ocean swim with the ladies, followed by packing, turning in keys and towels. Lunch and kombucha to-go at Robin's. We claimed a little hut on the beach to spend our last hours before the bus ride back to Monteverde. Ran into the water with Sian, Cameron and Bethany. Last time jumping the waves. 

¡Pura vida! Nosara is the place to learn and live the meaning of this Tico expression. Thank you to all the beautiful people who were a part of this trip - a massively rich and inspiring four days. 

An Internal Dialectic After the MOOHONG Fashion Show

 
 

My parents are cooler than me. I know that.

Since they forayed into the world of fashion - where exists two seasons instead of four, a vocabulary of words like "norm core," and an acceptance of Mom in 1.75" Opening Ceremony platform slip-ons and Dad in lime green and zippers - this has become impossibly clear. With the territory of this world comes, as with pretty much everything, its perks and its pitfalls. For better or for worse, bizarre ensembles are simply, as Project Runway's Christian Siriano would have it, fierce. This perspective enables blasé confidence, the best armor to wear with whatever. This, the ability to dress to one's heart's desire without reservation, I say, is brilliant. And I'd argue further that fashion is not only, if at all about fabrics and threads. Rather, it is an art form. Of this, the impeccably decisive fashion designer Moohong Kim has me convinced. His eponymous line MOOHONG showed today at Seoul Fashion Week a presentation of clothing, methodical and affecting in both structure and concept. Off the frames of pale, high cheek-boned, monk-like models hung layers, mostly black, sometimes tiers, sometimes draped - always purposeful. The music, chosen by Moohong, started off as crackly ambient sound, before transitioning into piano and a male voice murmuring "You never left, you're always here."

Fashion reflects thinking and personality. Before he became a designer, Moohong's handle read University of Warwick Political Science Ph.D. In an atmosphere where those in fashion are often rejected as being dually scholarly or in like manner where scholars must scoff at fashion in order to retain credibility, Moohong and his designs bridge this disconnect between the academic and the fashion world. When both circles are informed by current events, discussion and design and yet somehow are always at odds, this connection is compelling.

I admit that the critics of fashion have a point. On the other side of fearlessness in head-to-toe paisley and the opportunity for unadulterated self-expression is a rather unfortunate truth. Sometimes, fashion (the industry, the clothing, the designers outright) slaps shame at the overweight, the wrinkly, people of color and cheaply appropriates cultures. Sometimes, it agitates, rearing self-consciousness in the gut like an allergic reaction. It is not a perfect industry; there is certainly, maybe always, more to say. But I'll place here these wisely-chosen lyrics as they apply to fashion, discussion, discovery: "You never left, you're always here.” Perhaps, that’s the answer to the recurrent question of fashion’s "point:" to never leave. To always be here, cycling, mirroring, provoking.