Thursday, January 31, 2008

Smooching in Transit from Here to There

I have been smooched and smooched and smooched, yet again. My "current lover," henceforth known as My CL, since we both like that close-yet-slightly-distanced sobriquet used first in this blog, is a national treasure of successful smooch technique, por gracias de Dios and all that's holy, and I am, so to speak, lapping it up. Is there a Smoocher Hall of Fame? Should an antique kisser like me (63) be called a Smoocher Laureate? My CL could run classes.

I'm now at my daughter's in Aurora (CO), one more full day from the plane south, and I love it here, too. Every corner of this tidy tract home from the 60's brims with functionality, based in love and smooching. Melissa and John--and the boys--just live to love and support each other, and I couldn't be prouder of my best sweetie-pies. The peak time's at dinner, when all at the table share the best and worst experiences of the day: the kitchen fills once more with tenderness, a shiny radiance of pure nurturing, way beyond the spaghetti on the platter we surround. No wonder my daughter grows twice-blooming amaryllis in her living room, with all the happy-camper-growth-energy that flows through and envelops this home! How grateful can a Pop-Pop be, just to be included in it! Gracias a Dios por todos!

I'm pretty grounded in self-love and gratitude these days, which was not so, for much of my life. To me, it takes a good, nourishing love of self to even begin to love others healthily, not the other way around, as is commonly taught in our still-puritanical American culture. Loving others as self-sacrifice is not, for me, what Jesus of Nazareth embodied as a model, but, rather, loving others as self, the classsic mystic stance of Oneness, in the moment, where miracles happen in the intersections between things. In the past, with the best of intentions, I'd created addictive relationships from my utter neediness, instead of from my current fullness, so I know whereof I speak. The puritanical model breeds self-negation and abuse, parasitical behavior that diminishes rather than empowers, whereas the love embodied by the Christ is mutually beneficial, centered as it is in the mutual connection of "Godliness" in each of us.

"I am Thou" is the foundation for understanding the teachings of the Son of Man. We "turn the other cheek" to an "enemy" coming at us, because we see "Him/Her" as "Us," even if currently angry and menacing. Why attack the incoming fist, since it is mine? Might as well love it, turn the cheek in Oneness, and, more often than not, turn the antagonist into an ally.

Had we done that, in the aftermath of 9-11, rather than spewing war for profit, we might not now need the obsessive security our fear has created. Nor would we need to find enemies in order to feel powerful ourselves. The "world's most powerful nation" could learn to exert a stance of love to the rest of the world, rather than an immature cringing based in fear and the need to control. We are diminished every day, the way things are now: we empower only those who use hatred against us. while crippling ourselves, as the whole world suffers and learns to hate our government even more. I wish I could just kiss it all away.

Gracias, CenterDoug

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Rainbow, Rainbow, Rainbow

Good Grief! I met with three college presidents from various places today on my way down to Denver. I know, by their graceful attitude towards me, that they think I'm a significant person to listen to, though that always surprises me. The trip down to the Eastern Slope moved through at least five microclimates, from snowy, blizzardy Vail Pass to the dryness after the Eisenhower Tunnel on I-70, where there is no snow, and, surprisingly for winter in Colorado, blue skies and a rainbow welcoming me. The Nicaraguans call a rainbow iris, after the Greek goddess, and it felt so appropriate that I should be headed to my lover, then, my daughter, son-in-law and great GRAND KIDS, Nicholas and Jeremy, then, Nica, and experience not only blue skies--First time in weeks!--but also a "rainbow, rainbow, rainbow" (Elizabeth Bishop, "The Fish").

Of course, it's a sign of greats to come, for me, but, then, I'm a mystic of the Teresa of Avila variety. Felt good to me. Hope I don't translate into the treetops as she did! Here's the wondrous poem by Ms. Bishop (strange format, I'll try to correct, but, if not, you'll get the picture):

"I caught a tremendous fish/ and held him beside the boat/ half out of water, with my hook/ fast in a corner of its mouth./ He didn’t fight./ He hadn’t fought at all./ He hung a grunting weight,/ battered and venerable/ and homely. Here and there/ his brown skin hung in strips/ like ancient wallpaper,/ and its pattern of darker brown/ was like wallpaper:/ shapes like full-blown roses/ stained and lost through age./ He was speckled with barnacles,/ fine rosettes of lime,/ and infested/ with tiny white sea-lice,/ and underneath two or three/ rags of green weed hung down./ While his gills were breathing in/ the terrible oxygen/ — the frightening gills,/ fresh and crisp with blood,/ that can cut so badly/ — I thought of the coarse white flesh/ packed in like feathers,/ the big bones and the little bones,/ the dramatic reds and blacks/ of his shiny entrails,/ and the pink swim-bladder/ like a big peony./ I looked into his eyes/ which were far larger than mine/ but shallower, and yellowed,/ the irises backed and packed/ with tarnished tinfoil/ seen through the lenses/ of old scratched isinglass./ They shifted a little, but not/ to return my stare./ — It was more like the tipping/ of an object toward the light./ I admired his sullen face,/ the mechanism of his jaw,/ and then I saw that from his lower lip/ — if you could call it a lip/ — grim, wet, and weaponlike,/ hung five old pieces of fish-line,/ or four and a wire leader/ with the swivel still attached,/ with all their five big hooks/ grown firmly in his mouth./ A green line, frayed at the end/ where he broke it, two heavier lines,/ and a fine black thread/ still crimped from the strain and snap/ when it broke and he got away./ Like medals with their ribbons/ frayed and wavering,/ a five-haired beard of wisdom/ trailing from his aching jaw./ I stared and stared/ and victory filled up/ the little rented boat,/ from the pool of bilge/ where oil had spread a rainbow/ around the rusted engine/ to the bailer rusted orange,/ the sun-cracked thwarts,/ the oarlocks on their strings,/ the gunnels — until everything/ was rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!/ And I let the fish go."

I love it, and I hope you will. Gracias, CenterDoug

Sunday, January 27, 2008


I've finished packing for my trip, gracias a Dios, and am resting in the knowledge, delightful, that I'm ready. As if to celebrate my grace and accomplishment, for I've packed very well, a friend just called and invited me to come over for a private "Bon Voyage" moment, so I've decided to share another poem rather than an essay-like entry this evening. I wrote "Fluff" in a 10 minute exercise at an Aspen Writers' Workshop in the late 90's, mentored by the great American poet, Gerald Stern, who loved it.
by Doug Evans Betanco (1997), to Gerald Stern with gracias.
That cottonwood
seed in genuflect might
know where it's going, what breeze
lifts it to frames around windows, to gutters,
to tapestries woven in hair. I've seen cotton
rise to the clouds, or plummet to rivers, or
stop, stuck in midair, tacked to a veil
of handkerchief linen no seed can sail through, held,
almost too long for breath,
waiting for some gust to snatch it, or some hungry wren,
to swallow, then shitcast it where it might settle, white
in a crackle of granite. There, sun-warmed, with wet dust down
for it,
even airy fluff can set a potent root.
I've performed this about a thousand times because audiences love it, and because, after all, I am a poet. I've even got a handle, "The Quiet Voice of the New Millenium," which I announce whenever I perform, very loudly. One of these days, I'll seek to publish a collection, and CenterDoug will certainly help that along. I'm thinking of writing a collection of bilingual poems--using only Latin cognates en espanol, so English-only people will recognize their English translation as they read--when in Teote this time. Hope you've enjoyed "Fluff" as much as my audiences have.
Gracias, CenterDoug

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Love and Packing

"Love and Packing"

Today. Two more days in Glenwood, then I’m off to Denver for a two-day celebration of my jubiliant, new life with my current lover; then, two days with my darling daughter Melissa and her marvelously functional family with John; then the avion at DIA, Houston, Managua, and, finally, Teote. Teotecacinte in Mayan means “kitchen of the corn god Teo,” and, believe me, it cooks in creative juices, with rampant, over-powering fertility. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Teo is actually a feminine deity, as the Jalapa Valley, breadbasket of Nicaragua, reeks of Mother energy, at least for me. Ah, well, next Friday. This must be short. All the piles-to-pack I’ve made for the last two weeks are beckoning. It’s not so bad, though: I’ve been doing this trip for fifteen years, after all.

Last night I was told by my lover, over and over, on the phone from Denver, “I love you.” How glory-hallelujah, those sounds, repeating in whispers so pleasing, so tactile beyond physicality, in the breath of Teo’s most harmonious song. Intimacy. I’m thrilled. We’ve both been very cautious of our boundaries in establishing our new relationship. Saying the “L” word has been, mostly, a bit too heavy for a very lightsome set of experiences in the past two years. Our hearts now are opening wider together in a charming, graceful way. Clearly, one reason I’ve lost so much weight lately is my renewed sexuality, after years of self-imposed celibacy. Since I’m rushed, I’ll leave it at this, the most affirmative finale: I am loved, and Teo is with me.

Gracias. CenterDoug

Friday, January 25, 2008

Reflecting Higher Powers

"Reflecting Higher Powers"

In just one week of blogging, I've discovered that I am replacing my face-front classroom, full of needy students, for another teacher's podium called CenterDoug, with vastly expanded audience, random access, intuitive connections, and, best of all, the magical ability to take back or erase or even beautify my chosen words rather than having to live up to and sometimes eat whole my more frivolous or poorly-timed words. I can edit what couldn't be edited in class.

Not, of course, that I've made that many treacherous faux pas, but, in one of my more notorious stumbles, I mentioned in a writing class that a former federal executive "who overlooked the Contra War, somehow, with his Beltway Bubble blinders on, should be, as Nicaraguan campesinos are, stolen from his big-pillared house back East in the middle of the night, then, forced to watch his body slowly being flayed by Ollie North's torturers in Honduras. This did not sit at all well with a few of my more-Colorado-Conservative-albeit-unconscious-18 year-old writers or their gnarly local grandparents, in 1987: it infuriated a top-honcho-FTE-jockey at my school, who probably summoned the spector of federal intelligence officers into my life at a time when, while not a rabid revolutionary by any means, I did wear Sandinista-red-and-black-Insurrection outfits to teach in, bearded and long-haired, every day, in support of their emerging democracy.

Comical, in the extreme, I was: at that time, my standard college teaching garb was a black-based Mickey Mouse sweatshirt from The Disney Store; a pair of black, overworn sweatpants--still wear 'em, as a matter of fact--stuffed in the tops of greatly-loved--discarded-by-a-neighbor--calf-high-riding boots, all cinched by a neckerchief of bright red bandanna below a radiant grin.

Ay-yi-yi! I guess I've mellowed.

Now, I just wear inflammatory buttons on my teaching overalls, distinguish myself with jester's caps of all kinds--my chappeaux--and have re-focused my life on BEING, first, then celebrating my life-long, active participation in the ongoing discovery of increasingly precious global solutions, from my ground on up, from my insides, looking out. Why rail against the incomprehensible? Just adds more anger to an already-way-too-angry world. I opt for joy, gracias a Dios, reflecting higher powers.

Gracias, CenterDoug

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Harried Grace

"Harried Grace"

A day of hectic but--amazing for this old codger--centered buzzing around my incredibly disheveled home, all boxes and bags and piles of T-shirts, my hive! Here's what's happened today:
1) downloaded software I need in Nicaragua and the drivers for my portable printers and camera; 2) emailed Presidents of this or that, and other friends from all the world, all-stars, all; 3) learned how to store and export photos; 4) went nuts (mildly) twice over glitches with programs, made sane only by playing Harry Belafonte; 5) edited the previous blogs again (a continuous process, as I am shaping this as a publishable book; 6) did laundry (summer clothes in midst of winter) to pack; 7) sent off a box of second-hand, cleaned-em-up-myself stuffed animals for the Betanco kids (about fifty) in Teote; 8) learned gmail; 9) set up some money market accounts; and 10) figured out my budget for the trip [all told, this trip will cost me about 4300 dolares, total (flights, food, spending money, gifts) for three months in Paradise].

I guess you could say I've learned multi-tasking from my millenial students.

As we are having the snowiest local winter in a while, here in Colorado, in the middle of a long-term drought, 90 degrees in February sounds well worth it. Not to mention the joyous welcoming brazos and kisses from at least fifty gorgeous youngsters, crawling out of the adobe-work, in my family alone, plus blessed reunions with all my adopted brothers and sisters Betanco (ten), mi madre y padre Betanco, bless their thriving hearts, and a thousand hermanos in the greater town. I'd say I end up with the best end of the bargain, in all seven directions.

Oh, I did something else today. From morning on and all day through, I just filled up with gracias for it all, and now send it on to you. Consider this a grateful love hit, from


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Attitude Healing, Quickly

"Attitude Healing, Quickly"

7 days to take-off. I just got a heart clearance from my main medico, Dr. Greg, who first caught that I'd had a heart attack sometime before my sabbatical to Nicaragua in 2000 from his intuitive hunch that I needed an EKG before going; then, this happy food Nazi, as my ex-wife used to call him, helped me through angioplasties and three stents, defibrillator placement, and severe depression over my cardiac condition. He's marshalled forth gallantly to convince me to change my ways towards health after years of abuse; increasingly, our work together is really paying off in increased energy, self-esteem and an amazing addiction to endorphins, all relatively new to me, the sedentary paper grader of old. Gracias, kind and faithful healer, Dr. Greg, of Glenwood Medical Associates.

Good health, for most Americans, means lifestyle change, supporting new, higher-laddered values of reasonable exercise; nutritious, balanced eating; and, for me, mutual group collaboration, complete with a weekly weigh-in, to handle addictions. Plus, personal commitment to change, and, for me, help from the U. No one is in this alone, yet I shake my head to think of all the years I gained, then lost, then gained even more because I refused to join a weightloss support group or to ask for help. At least, now, there's room between my smaller butt and the arms of the airplane seat when I fly to Nicaragua, though I'm still set to look like the beachball at a hardbody convention there. Ah, but wait! When I return, I will have lost 30 pounds of leftover flab by following my own sage advice. Even now, I do jiggle less like Jello as I walk.

Gracias, CenterDoug

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Oh, U., Gracias!

"Oh, U., Gracias!"

I wrote in "Are MY Eyes Deceiving Me" about "right-NOW-individual-action" and its potentially affirmative role in righting this cock-eyed world's crazy, current tilt: each life does make a difference every day, anyway, so we might as well choose the way we hope to turn the world and act it out in our own lives, right in front of us.

Thus,I've chosen to insert here an essay written in 2004 for a feature in a shelter magazine (unpublished) which speaks to successful global living as an empowerment tool for the disempowered of both the developed and the developing worlds (unfortunately, most of us). I want to stress that I've made a special point of running my private bridge on a work-as-you-grow and pay-as-you-go basis, my funds and those of my friends creating work-for-hire on projects I have going and occasional loans for seed money paid back with what the money'd be earning in a money market fund in the States.
This is not a charity: it is a mutuality of purpose that works in balance, rather than just a dole, which would build addictions no one needs. The first couple of years in Teote, I had to learn that the hard way. Now my family members are learning how to manage their own money, make interest on it, pay off their debts, etc., most of them for the first time beyond the $2-a-day-for-8-hours-of-gruntwork. There is no opportunity in either a handout or food slavery. That's what FCE offers to the world's campesinos, whose every dime goes for food and medicine: a raised and responsible standard of living through service-learning work that's paid for from the coffers of affluence in the developed world.
Beyond money and work, of course, there's mutuality of joy. For many of my fellow brigadistas, it's the first time they've experienced alegria consciously. The Teotean witness to joy comes as an unquenchable flow of light out of the very center of darkness. Wow. Pretty special.

I've updated "Changing Places" slightly to sound as if written by me, two weeks from now. Forgive me, I'm anticipating Nicaragua slightly. Since it deals specifically with the backstory of this blog, I insert it now, from the manuscript of the fictional trilogy I've worked over too many times for seven years. I'll use other portions in other moods. Now, I begin to think this new collection of daily reflections (with CenterDoug Notes for transition) might be publishable after my trip as CenterDoug in Nicaragua:

“Changing Places: A Reflection”
©Doug Evans Betanco 2008

When the red sun rises, light widens the cracks in my room’s plank door, but I, old slug of a norteamericano, am still. I wake to whispers, giggles and sighs. At Marta Betanco’s house in Teotecacinte, Nicaragua, the family of impoverished campesinos which cares for me as a new brother has been up for an hour, lighting the fire in the adobe stove, sweeping out the kitchen’s dirt floor, carrying river water for the day’s washing, sh-sh-ing, waiting for me, to creak out of bed, to welcome the dawn with a sip of my sister’s pan-roasted coffee. I walk in a land of honor here, and I'm grateful. All of Teote treats me like a visiting angel whenever I return.

I pick hibiscus for the jug on my writing desk as I dawdle through the garden with my coffee, back to mi cuarto, a 12 x 20 bed-sitting-office built in the dooryard for $400 two years ago. We dug the clay from a bank at the bend of the Rio Limon, squared the adobe bricks, sun-dried then laid them, roofed the walls with tin. Now, filled with furniture, some handmade by my brother Denis, my south-of-the-border writing studio has served as my home for seven short trips, a six-month sabbatical during Teote’s months of dry summer in 2000, and, as of February 1, 2008, for three-frigid-months-made-warm.

The hibiscus is scarlet with pink stamens, yellow pollen. I focus on a petal’s luster, while filling my journal with nonsense and inspiration, then start a piece about Teote’s choir of roosters for my book. I stop long after their crowing.

By then, Marta has swept her solar--front yard--surrounded by roses and banana trees in her garden. Her husband Cesar and their son Arnoldo, 11, have shouldered their hoes and marched to the fields to chop weeds. My sister is pounding clothes at the washing stone in the side yard. The phone never rings because there is no phone. No television. No plumbing. Along the dirt road, young women in laughing trios pass our casa on the way to the tobacco fields, where they and their children sweat for $1.80 a day, barely enough to feed themselves. The only paid work in town. Food slavery, 2008.

I flash on my Glenwood home, the graceful nursery floor of a 1901 Victorian manor house, well-preserved, a funky/elegant garret near Aspen, cleaned weekly to a white-glove shine for five times that an hour by one of my students.

I am grateful beyond measure to be US born, recently retired with an adequate teacher’s pension from Colorado Mountain College in the Central Rockies while living a short part of each year in my heart’s other center, just south of the Honduran border in Northern Nicaragua, a Sandinista stronghold still laced with undetected mine fields laid during the 1980’s Contra War. I live with one foot in the most rustically-luxurious part of the First World and the other in the dust of the impoverished Third, a balancing act of bonding which nurtures both me and all the rest, from the ground up. It’s the new edge, where everybody wins.

I met the Betancos—all 93 of them and growing—on my first trip to this oppressed nation in 1993, when, as a member of the Suyapa Gutierrez Brigade from Glenwood Springs, I traveled in the back of a dusty cattle truck up the Pan-American Highway from Managua to the hungry end of Central America’s food chain in Teote, a village of peasants at the northern tip of the Jalapa road, surrounded on three sides by Honduras. Nothing worked then, there, but compassion. I’ve made fifteen trips since.

Teote had welcomed three Sister City Brigade visits and some minor dollar massaging by the time I arrived, but it remained a ravaged Contra War zone of mortared-out homes and farmyards. Every family had lost sons and daughters. I bonded instantly with don Ramon and dona Eva Almador, in their three-room, tile-roofed, smoky adobe with little furniture—I was given the bed—and few possessions—three spoons, two forks, five bowls, one large metal pot, six hammocks, one strangely comfortable chair handmade from recycled bungee cord on a rebar frame, a creaky stool—that came to mean "home" to me over the next four years. My abundant life turned upside down. Sitting on the swept dirt floor of their sala, I discovered what feels like lasting joy.

At 63, I am the oldest son, now, along with my brother, Jose Ramon, 48. We share the burden and the honor of making life easier for our parents after decades of poverty, cruel dictatorship, revolution, inflation, war and disease.

In the 15 years past that first entry, the magic of changing places has swept through my life. From being a relatively poor college teacher of Philosophy, Culture, Globalism, Literature, Public Speaking, and Written Academic Communication—Professor Doug Evans, noted teacher, but heartsick, with two children living separately in the affluent Roaring Fork Valley, suddenly--with such a laugh!—I was rich beyond anyone’s understanding, in just about every way, in upper Nicaragua. Teote’s tobacco economy is almost cashless. A dollar’s worth of antibiotics saved a baby’s life—young Duglito, named after me, almost 8, cute as the dickens--on the first trip. That might have paid for a Pepsi in the States.

Since then, I have sponsored, as Doug Evans Betanco, children to higher education, planted corn fields no longer worked because the banks stopped giving credit to the campesinos, built a new outhouse when the old one risked cholera. When don Ramon sold that leaky house in town and rebuilt, with a little help from the norteamericano angel de Dios, his ruined finca on the river in 1998, we added my room at Marta’s on the southern edge of Teote, away from the Jalapa road. Before sleep at Marta’s, I imagine the candlelight at the new farm reaching across the wide campo from its windows. Don Ramon is happy.

It takes so little money in Teote to kindle hope. Now, pintos dance at the farm; cows grow to herds there; my former “movie money” smooths the boundary between starvation and health for 93 people, mostly children. Mostly, I provide small work projects: Sandinistas, true capitalists despite the Northern Media Spin, sure know how to stretch a dollar, to multiply it tenfold. Our next project: a tilapia fish farm out at the finca, for work, food, fresh fish to sell in the local market, thus more cash. My brother's idea. The kicker, for me? A constant source of fish-poop fertilizer for my gardens at palomas. My projects certainly help, but shared compassion is the engine between us. I'm empowered every day, there and in the US, and grateful for it.

Last trip, I spent the second and third week literally cashless, for the first time, since college. I’d made a major miscalculation concerning the arrival in Jalapa of the funding I’d set up—I thought it would arrive on the first of the month, but the dispersal date is not until the 23rd, so, I was penniless for two weeks. Luckily, I’d paid my sister Marta for my pittance of room and board the first day, so that was covered. But she said to me, “Ha! Now I am rico, Dugla, and you are pobre!” an irony that had us both giggling all day. I am the richest poor man I know.

Teote twirls my writing, as well. In Colorado, I have a phone, fax, word processor, and email. In Teote, with one hanging light bulb the only electric appliance, I've written most often on a 1970’s portable typewriter with Triumph written on the carriage, above the keys. I had to borrow it, my old, grad school manual, back from the local high school I’d helped to build. I promised some new ribbons, when I stopped being broke as any other peasant. I’ve re-learned “White-Out” revision on paper copy, an art I gave up in grad school in the sixties. After that, ‘Lito, my nephew, reads it back to me, phonetically, improving his English pronunciation, while allowing me to hear how the writing sounds, eyes closed. This works very well. I've written a veritable tornado of words this way, almost 250,000, to be exact. Phew. Gracias a Dios that the rural electricity has settled down enough for me to use my laptop, this year. And, for the first time, I will be Internet connected through a broadband WWAN hooked to my cell phone account.
[CenterDoug Notes, June 8, 2008: Turns out Central America, in between Mexico and Costa Rica, anyway, is blacked out, for whatever reason, from this service, so I had to ride a bus full of chickens to Jalapa when I wanted to pay my bills and post my blogs. Got old, fast.]

In the past, if I needed to send an article to the States, I rode the bus with ‘Lito—mi familia refuses to let me go to the “Big City” alone--for an hour to Jalapa’s post office, where phone and fax sometimes work. Now, my Nica pages will enter the Computer Age. I'll find surprisingly little to change, with word-processing, and, in truth, I think my writing's good, focused, undistracted, here.

From her kitchen, Marta calls me: breakfast, an egg and a tortilla, last night’s leftover beans. Pink lilies scent the breeze from Honduras as I sit on the patio in a red plastic chair and eat. Estania, 14, heads off for school. I've paid for her second-hand shoes so she can go, from monies my Colorado friends donated to aid my personal cause. I think of my Colorado garret with its closets of unworn shoes and clothes, and I fill with gracias. Estania exits in her radiant, dancing way, letting me know her thanks. “Hasta, Tio!” she giggles.
While risking smarminess, it’s real to say that, without a few bucks from me and my friends for her schooling, she'd be headed for prostitution, as do many, far too young girls here, at least for a while. Several women in my adopted Betanco clan are "active" in the evening. I was shocked by that, then chalked it off to an oppressive cultural condition endemic in Nicaraguan society, way bigger than me. But, Estania is learning to read, instead of acting out a potential life of sexual abuse, too often the plight of pobrecitas. She's aiming for the University in Managua en la futura, to study ingles. She's pretty assured of winning an FCE scholarship.

This, my friends, is happening all over the world. The sun comes up more hopefully in Nicaragua for my family and for families in countries worldwide, as people living in the abundance of opportunities present in the First World extend the grace of their birth to the grassroots need of the hungry in Central and South America, in Africa, in Asia. Family to family, hand to hand, friend to friend.

I seed about $2000 a year for projects into Nicaragua, sometimes more, when my global-minded friends help me to balance the world with a tax-deductible FCE donation for my family's benefit. On top, there are my travel expenses, $1000 a trip, so figure $3000, not bad for 21-90 days in beautiful country, working the family projects into being, swimming in a buttertub of love. It’s really peanuts compared to the ever-present need for cash here. While sometime amounting to a tithe of my accessible income, it’s the cheapest way I know to build a retirement home, as well, surrounded by people who consider me an angel and joyfully love me accordingly. I may grow wings this trip.
We'll see.

A dollar goes a long way here, though not as far as it used to. My satisfaction leaps beyond value to joyous affirmation. Although my life is one somersault after another with a foot in both worlds, I grow very well here, as do they. It’s mutually beneficial.

I make progress in North America as well, but more slowly. Now that I'm retired, it's getting better every day, I'd say. Yet, so much is out of balance around me in the US that I find it hard to stand tall, a strange tension in a land of such spin and bluster. However, I'm an iron bridge between worlds. I keep my footings on both sides flexible and strong. Still, while I love my life in Colorado, something’s clearly missing, there, with an achy redness down in my bones, that fills once more only when I hit the southern reaches of the ancient Mayan empire, deep in the heart of Nicaragua.
Gracias for that. Perhaps it’s just the absence of early dawn hibiscus, bright as blood, with morning coffee. CenterDoug

The Hundredth Monkey Synergy

The Hundredth Monkey Synergy

"Are my eyes deceiving me,"

I whispered this morning when I noticed that two of my blogposts from a day ago are, without doubt, showing up on my MSNBC's Headlines feature on my homepage. Can it be? Or is this just an instance of this highly interactive and intuitive Vista playing ego trips on my brain? It would not be the first time. Vista and I get along just swell, I must admit, so maybe she's stroking me outrageously by putting "Buen' Dia, Todos, Hi, Ho!" (#14 on current MSNBC list) and "Getting Ready to Go" (#22 on it)?! How tantalizing, even if it's only sweet Vista!

Thus, driving to Grand Junction and back today, I've been reflecting on the incredible power of the Internet and blogging to work the "Hundredth Monkey" miracle on a day-to-day basis. Do you know this concept? Basically, it suggests that, when a certain proportion of a species knows something, suddenly the whole species starts behaving in concert with the new idea. It just pops in for everyone. I'd add to that a little tweak, for it's clear to me that when an idea's time has come, when it is NOW, enough sensitive, attuned people on the planet catch it all at once, which like an idea-epidemic, then makes things happen from its own sheer potency. Thus, synergy creates more synergy and the world of man turns.

I give you an empowering example from my recent and final semester as an educational worker-bee at Colorado Mountain College, the best Learning College in the West. In August, about ten days before classes were to begin, I tried to psyche myself up for guiding one more round of academic essay and research paper writing in my classes, using my tried-and-true course plans, with new dates, one more time. "How will I get through the semester that way?" I asked. What else could I do? Then, I remembered that Roaring Fork Campus would be reading Greg Mortenson's great Three Cups of Tea together, about one man making a difference in the world (in a huge and growing way!) Go, Greg! He's building schools in rural areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan, mostly on his indefatigable spirit, which, in the long run, counters the frightening thrust of jihad fostered by the madrassas, by focusing on the education of women and on indigenous involvement to build strong and literate, critically-thoughtful communities.

Wonderful work, wonderful man. One man. It felt a "Now" idea to me, and I went with. As a result, I built my ENG Comp classes on finding a global issue; learning about it from electronic sources; narrowing to an acceptable focus for problem-solving; committing to its solution in four highly rigorous essays, supported by academic opinions; and, with the help of Greg and Three Cups, bringing most of my students into a greater sense of global commitment than ever, with a final Problem/Solution Persuasive Paper that demanded all the best of academic expertise, plus a commitment statement showing step-by-step personal actions already taken or projecting them, anyway, to forge the writer as a part of the solution.

Fortunately, I was helped along the way by a Doritos bag on the table down in Center, suggesting websites to "make a difference"; Bill Clinton's Giving (ditto); and almost countless other synchronicities, all showing that acting consciously for change truly is an idea coming to the fore in this country, just when I was teaching it. Newsweek ran a cover story on it this Fall. Then, I got floored, hearing the new Eagles CD set, Long Road Out of Eden, with its classic anthem of the 2010's, for me, anyway, "Do Something," almost a chant of a song by Don Henley about taking the craziness of the world and making it better from within! Of course, I played it during the Final Presentations in December. The result? More students stayed the course, achieved more successfully, than ever in 25 1/2 years of teaching! And, believe me, my numbers were pretty good, already.

There is something wondrous going on if the significance of conscious, individual action feels so right-timed and successful to me. I pray that what we do, collectively, in this time of change, proves as fulfilling for us all as both I and my former students feel now.

Gracias a Dios. CenterDoug

[CenterDoug Notes: 1-23-08 edit: It's clear to me that my sweet Windows Vista is stroking my ego vis-a-vis MSNBC. There were 5 of them on there this morning, but none on a friend's Headlines. It did get me thinking about a time when my prognostications might cause headlines on the web. Why not? CD]

The Backstory

The Backstory

Once again, I'm up before dawn here in Colorado, drawn to CenterDoug for warmth against the cold of winter. Eight days to the plane ride to Managua, Nicaragua's disaster-prone capital city, site of earthquakes, volcanoes, insurrections, and wheeling, dealing, dirty street kids, sniffing for some airplane glue. Not my favorite place to be, though it has its centralamericano charms, as well: 90 degree days in January. I've decided to import some updated articles I wrote for the Post Independent in the early Spring of 2000 from Teote, in order to give you all the backstory of my involvement with Nicaragua. Here's the first two:

“Beginnings” (@March 2000)
I’m sitting at my new writing desk, here in my room in Teote, the family dog, Rosie, sleeping at my feet in the heat of a Nicaraguan day. The pine-covered mountains of Honduras out my window remind me of home in Colorado, which is how it should be in my Glenwood’s Sister City. I’m on sabbatical from CMC for a semester, learning Spanish, teaching English, losing weight. Surely, I could not be happier.

Still, I know I will be, for Teotecacinte constantly surprises. I’m well loved here, as there, and the universe showers me with gifts. I’m also “following my bliss,” as Joseph Campbell would say, and I recommend it. My coffee is dark and sweet.

I’ve traveled here many times before, but only for short Brigade trips sponsored by Friendship City Exchange of Glenwood Springs to this impoverished, third world village in Northern Nicaragua. Each time, I’ve lived within my huge, new family of campesinos, the family of don Ramon Antonio Betanco and his wife, dona Eva, my new father and mother. I live at la casa de palomas, home of my sister, Marta Betanco, and her husband, Cesar Urrutia de Talavera; it’s closer to town, but far enough away for peace and quiet. The extended family numbers 93 in Teote. I’m proud that, in this year of the millennium, I have finally learned the names of all the brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, cousins and aunts that surround me. They all love me, and consider my addition to the family por grácia de Diós, a special gift from Heaven. This is not, exactly, an uncomfortable place to be.

I have a heart for Nicaragua, at least this rural, mountainous, over-exploited part of it, which feels endlessly deep and powerfully blessed. As part of my sabbatical, I’m sharing this love with the readers of The Post Independent, my brothers and sisters in Colorado who are, in truth, paying for it through their taxes and tuition and who support me with their best wishes. There’ll be an article every day while I’m here.

Most of what I write will be as close to the truth as I can make it, within the limits of the veil through which we all must peek in order to even approach the veracity of the Universe; within the boundaries of my own sometimes dubious taste; within the compass of my inadequate Spanish, which creates comical, curious, and, sometimes, crucial misunderstandings I cannot yet avoid; within the personal handicap of being crazy as a loon, especially for the underdog, since I have so often put myself there; and, finally, within the soulful imagination of a creator who reserves the right to change names, places, details, language, emphasis, and even history, in order to make a better story.

But, now, please excuse me. Marta is calling me for lunch, a bowl of her delicious chicken soup. Come. ¡Venga! Join me in my sister’s cocina.

“Pigs in the Kitchen”

The dirt floor of Marta’s kitchen, swept hourly by my Nicaraguan sister with her homemade broom, holds fifty years of heartache and laughter in its stains. At an earlier time, its level matched the bottom of the door, but, now, so many sweeps later, there is a four inch descent from the surface of the swept yard, deep into her maternal domain. She is queen here, benignly ordering the lives of her young children, Arnoldo and Estania, and sharing sovereignty with her husband, Cesar Urrutia de Talavera, whose grandmother Carlita’s house this was, before mortars from Honduras leveled it in the Contra War. Her ancient whip, now Marta’s scepter, three braids of leather mounted to a wooden stock, hangs from a peg on the rebuilt adobe wall here. She has only to point at it, forcibly, to command instant compliance. Everyone gets it, everyone expects it, like the first frost on Labor Day in Colorado. She grabs it off the wall solely to shoo out the pig.

Chanchita, a rusty, shorthaired piglet born four months ago, in whose genes forty years of chancho Betanco y Urrutia range, spends much of the daylight on this floor, while her parents, tied to trees at dawn, forage in the grass and garbage swept across the road. She will grow to loll hugely in the mud one day, offering herself to future broods of piglets grown for sale and for continuance.

She, along with Rosie, the dog and nighttime protector, are the family’s pets, though, in truth, they are not petted. Marta feeds them here. Bits of tortilla, grains of rice fall, a few kernels of corn, special treats for animals in favor, in a house where no food is wasted. And, so, they both wag their tails here, wandering the hard floor, hoping, as do all the inhabitants of Marta Betanco’s kitchen.

This is the one public room, the place for family conferences, for friendly visitations of the happy sort—a yearly visit from Dora, perhaps, Marta’s friend and fellow soldier during the Contra War, now a medical officer in Esteli. Or the village delgado, Andres, not a priest but sanctioned to lead a flock of ardent, newly-excited evangelicals to the catolico light. Or Dormienda, the local curandera, possessor of the old herbal knowledge handed down from the earliest Indios of the Northern Nicaraguan hills, in valleys so remote that the marvels and terrors of the Mayan culture to the North came almost only by word of mouth. There is talk, though, of a small but powerful ancient city, Quacamaya, made of stone now in Teote’s foundations, at the convergence of the Rios Limon and Poteca, where now mi padre’s farm sits.

So many people stop by for a coffee and a chat, for my sister Marta is a woman of consequence in Teote. And, to all of them, without fail, Chanchita comes squealing and mewling, as cute and as funny and as dusty as can be, hoping, as all in Teote hope, for a scrap of a new meal to come. With a “Sha! Sha! Sha-a-a!” and a snap of Carlita’s whip, Marta chases her out, but always with an indulgent smile and a chuckle from her visitor.

This tight-tailed little charmer is the promise of a future filled with pork and dinero and we Betancos know there’s a better chance now, since the Sister City Brigade began to love Teote. From the dust of this kitchen to the computer room at the seven year old high school complex, to the new town hall, through the plazas and the gutters still decorated with snoozing, fatter chanchos, where once mortars exploded, there are new yearnings and fuller stomachs.
Fifteen years ago, there were no table scraps for pigs.

Gracias, CenterDoug

Monday, January 21, 2008

Buen' Dia, Todos, Hi-Ho!

I woke up this AM with a clear direction to post a new blog, while drinking my morning coffee here at Palmer House in Glenwood, currently filled with things to pack and unpack, software to import to my new laptop (an HP Pavilion Special Edition, with bronzed, engraved finish, like me after a week in Teote), and a vast and growing collection of works by my great friend, Wewer Keohane of Carbondale. My "Silver," a Subaru Outback, sits out in front, awaiting my key. Yes, that "Silver," as in "Hi, Ho, Silver, Away," though I'm hardly the Lone Ranger or Tonto, except, I suppose, in my long-held sense that, from gratitude, I can make the world a better place, one clear step at a time, just as the ever-young Loner did, in fifties-America TV. Unlike "Kemo Sabe," however, I don't see the world in black or white, don't chase "bad guys" with black hats and bandanas over their nostrils, don't even see bad guys, for that matter.

When people come at me with anger, it's not me who's bothering them, really, but, rather, something hidden deep inside them which they're denying about themselves, unfortunately projected on me. In other words, it's none of my business, all that angst, unless I, now in my mellowness, recognize the interaction for what it really is, a cry for help, too well defended to be spoken. Sometimes, I make that my business. But, otherwise, I let those horny projections whiz right by me, gracias a Dios, as a bull whipping past a matador's taut, scarlet aside.

H-m-m-m, That'll end up in a poem someday, I'm thinkin'.

Once that energy's past me, as all things do pass, I can, then, go about my business of loving that currently angry-one-of-us for the hero/shero really in front of me, or, again, face and feint for another pass until I tire the pobrecito down to a weary grace. Works, most of the time, but, of course, not always: I can get as rattled as the best and worst of them, but Life's a fandango, and, as I continue to lose weight and grow in esteem, I may become a lithe bullfighter yet, dancing in the sand, suited in lights.

Gracias, CenterDoug

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Getting Ready to Go

Good Morning, Vietnam--I'm aging myself!--from Glenwood Springs (CO)and bienvenidos to the sites who've already hit my CenterDoug blog so far. The blog's still only tentatively formatted, but I'm an intuitive wizard, so it'll soon become more flashy, more representative of my sparkling, Senior-Citizen-as-Youth personhood, a much more graphic squeeze from me to you. I'll be writing and sharing a for-publication daily journal from Teotecacinte, Nicaragua, sometimes morning and bedtime editions.

I am known in these parts as one of the stalwart founders of the continuing Friendship City Exchange between Glenwood Springs, at the entrance to the fabled Roaring Fork Valley, and Teotecacinte, Nueva Segovia, Nicaragua, site of some of the most abusive guerrilla warfare in the 80's Contra War, chief beneficiary of Oliver North's mortars and AK-47's and random psychological terrors on the gentle--but fiercely defiant and truly Sandinista--populace of Nicaragua's Jalapa Valley. For almost 20 years, FCE Glenwood/Teote Sister Cities have shared mutual visits of many townspeople, deep massaging thru volunteer service-learning projects, exchanges, educational collaboration, and a heaven of joyful, angel-protected mutuality.

I go to Teote this trip, of 14 so far since 1993, to develop some properties I have acquired--I'm building a retreat and workshop center; to buy some land for a tilapia fish farm; to plant more coffee and bananas on some shady land on my townplot; and to once again connect with my beloved and bonded extended family of campesinos, the Betancos, whose joy knows no bounds that I'm once more returning. I'll be writing these entries before bed, from the heart, from my writing desk there, at Marta and Cesar's Casa de Palomas in Teote Abajo, deep in the northern heart of Nicaragua, right next to the Honduran border. I hope to increase my web presence and do some good at the same time. Ciao from Glenwood Springs (CO); Center (CO); Aurora (CO); Denver (CO), and all the other Colorado spots where I hang my hat, seemingly all at the same time, strange as that may be.

Gracias, CenterDoug

Thursday, January 17, 2008


I am YOU and YOU are ME and WE are WE and WE ARE, ALL TOGETHER (John Lennon "Come Together")

Welcome to CenterDoug, my new and growing blog from Center, both from the town of that name in the San Luis Valley of Colorado and, hopefully, from my own center, as well. They don't call me Center Doug for nothin'. However, while I call myself CenterDoug, I live in Center (CO) only intermittently during the colder months, as its winter temperatures are consistently in the minus 30's and I still cherish my nose and fingers and toes. So far, this blog's posts have also been written in Glenwood Springs, Denver, Lakewood, Aurora, Silverthorne and Elizabeth, Colorado, towns and cities where my extended family of friends live and welcome me, Mr. Mercury, who has, since retirement in December, been more in my "Silver" car than in any other place. My whole drift and flow in these days of revitalization after 40 years of public writing education, which chained me to my grading schedule at least 20 hours a week, has reconnected me with so many friends long not-heard-from, a joyous experience with many sidetrips down memory lane. Let my life be about connection, por favor: may it be full enough to share with the rest of Me!
I'll be including here not only daily insights and reflections, but, also, those works by others which move me and, in time (once I figure out how), many photos of my Nicaraguan life in the next three months of work and pleasure there (Feb. 1-April 25). This is my 15th service-learning trip there since 1993. Please, my friends, enjoy la alegria conmigo!

[CenterDoug Notes: An article about the former Pillsbury Doughboy in Plaid when I weighed 280 pounds on a 5'6" frame. (Access the 1-2-08 lead article of the Glenwood Post Independent (which says something about the paper's focus and its town, in the heart of Colorado Mountain High). The article, with 'before' and 'after' shots of my continuing weight loss, can be found at the following link: and is written by Reporter and Photographer Stina Sieg. She's caught my sense of where I am now and where I'm going, so I start, reverentially, my CenterDoug blog with a link to her piece. Thanks, Stina.]

Wake, Lazarus (1993)
Teote is a bone house,
a scarlet, earthen vessel filled
with pale white skulls, soldiers' bones:
too much blood cakes cracked adobe walls,
muddies toes of grinning streetly boys, starved
bellies bloated. Look, what eyes they have! Their teeth,
like ivory portals breathing light in this night of bones,
haunts, keening of crones, crowing of roosters,
danger zones. Bright, unburied funerary,
of risen flesh, of ribs and hair:
undusted freshness, grounded in air.

In 1993, I bonded with the Betancos during a homestay with them in Teotecacinte. In particular, I gained a new father and mother, ten brothers and sisters, many aunts and uncles and at least 53 kids from a variety of parents. I've chosen to share an essay I wrote on a Nicaraguan sabbatical in 2000, though I've updated it to feel more current. This is the reason I return to Nicaragua:

“The Light from Quacamaya” (March 18, 2000, Post Independent)

My father, here in Teote, don Ramon Antonio Betanco, a.k.a. don Moncho, is happy. A very fit 67, he sits on a stump in the swept yard of his new house at the finca, his 10-acre farm south of town. It is twilight, and his wife, dona Eva, is lighting candles in the casa. The Rio Limon runs along its southern edge, providing ample irrigation for the bananas that grow on its banks under the sixty-foot high canopy of the river’s kapok trees. Five acres of mud and tropicana lushness to its south, the house sits twenty feet above these green lowlands, with 5 acres of dry pasture and cornfield, to the north, in the direction of Honduras.

My father bought the finca in 1976, when he quit Anastasio Somoza’s notorious Guardia in disgust, and opted to retire to the outskirts of Teote, to lead a better life for his family’s sake. At that time, as well as buying Quacamaya, he gave up alcohol and smoking, let his other women find other lovers, and devoted himself to his wife, his many children, his newly acquired Sandinista principles, and his liberation Catholic Church. His life is a rave review for Teote’s chapter of AA, of which he is a founding member. Don Moncho Betanco knows that he’s a winner, and his happiness, all of which he ascribes to a higher power, shows it.

The last 23 years at Quacamaya, however, could hardly be called ideal for a peaceful retirement. This is Nicaragua, after all, where everything mad, bad, or sad that can happen, usually does, every day. Three years after he bought his retreat, in July of 1979, the Sandinista Insurrection and Triumph unseated the hated Somoza dictatorship and ushered in ten years of both enlightened socialistic democracy under Daniel Ortega and, also, the absolute chaos of the Contra War (1979-89), fully financed, undercover, of course, by the world’s greatest republic, the United States.

This almost ludicrous—if it had not been so deadly—struggle between one of the poorest countries in the world and its richest, most powerful nation might have passed the isolated village of Teote by; unfortunately, for Glenwood's Sister City, most of the actual combat was fought on this site and others along the northern border with Honduras, while the economic and political life of the peasants was blockaded by dear ol' Ronnie because of Ortega’s insistent refusal to kowtow to the demands of the military-industrial technocracy with has subjugated Nicaragua and the rest of this hemisphere for the last hundred years.

Lo siento, mis amigos—I’m sorry, my friends—sometimes, I get carried away by all the injustices these people have faced in the name of liberty and justice for the poor as well as for the rich. And, too, by the part, however small and indirect, my life has played in making it so unjust here, as a well-meaning but, formerly, rather oblivious norteamericano citizen.

All of the horrors of war on his doorstep came to Quacamaya, to don Moncho, in 1979. The old house at the finca was blown to adobe dust by guerrilla mortars. Twice, Contras invaded Quacamaya and kidnapped my three young brothers, taking them across the border in front of AK-47s, to fight against their friends or die. Both times, they managed to escape, back to Quacamaya, by following the river Limon out of the foothills. Teote, by then, was an armed camp, surrounded completely by trenches whose remains still snake through most of the backyards in town. I pass several on my way to Quacamaya every morning.

Women and children had either moved to Jalapa, to the south, or were living in hand-dug bunkers roofed with tin, within the city limits. The family Betanco moved to town, manned the Sandinista kitchens, helped the wounded, washed the dead. Don Moncho bought an abandoned house with an intact roof, on the cheap, since real estate prices dive in a war zone. He dug a shelter. Quacamaya was a No Man’s Land, outside the pale, loaded with mines, pocked with the craters of mortars, under fire.

In 1989, after 10 years of hell, it all ended. Teote never surrendered, but most of the populace in Nicaragua voted against their revolutionary principles in a “free” election with no real choice: either vote for a non-Sandinista government backed by the above-mentioned superpower and end the war, or starve and die. Almost everyone voted with their stomachs. Teote showed solidarity with Ortega, anyway. The Carter Center observed the election.

Still, no one lived at Quacamaya. Food was grown and harvested there for a while, after the election, until the new government stopped credit to the campesinos, so that they could no longer buy seed to plant crops and, therefore, feed themselves. Don Moncho worked at the finca, but lived in Teote. Slowly, my brothers picked up their lives. My sisters, all but one of whom lost their men to guerrilla guns, raised their babies in the house on the noisy road through town. None of these kids remembers his father, and now, 25 years old, they know only don Moncho as “Papa.” Quacamaya, houseless, was to them a place to climb trees and pick fruit in the old orchard he had planted in 1976, but not a place to live.

Then, 18 years after the bombing of the old hacienda, don Moncho built a new one at the curve of the river Limon, at a spot where all the old stories speak of a small but beautiful city, in ancient, ancient times, called Quacamaya. He built it with money from the sale of the house in the village; with dinero he had somehow saved out of his well-known stinginess, of which he is proud; and with a little help from my friends in the States. He constructed it with adobe bricks dug from Quacamaya’s banks, with stones pulled from the river, with lumber cut from the trees. He fashioned the roof with tin and earthen tiles he had scavenged and harbored for years. His sons and daughters worked alongside him; I, who entered this picture in 1993, threw in my two cents, too.

Frankly, most people in the Roaring Fork Valley would take one look at its meager size, its construction, its lack of materials, and dismiss it as a sharecropper’s shack. A typical, rural Nicaraguan farmhouse, it has no running water, no electricity, no gas; there are no appliances, no flooring, no toilets, and no sink, though a drainboard through a window flushes dishwater carried up to the casa from the river, to a ditch outside. Bats fly through the open rafters at night. Still, on July 4, 1997, don Moncho, his wife, dona Eva, and eight ninos—kids--moved into the new house at Quacamaya. The synchronicity of that date is, for me, an inescapable irony, but don Moncho claims he’s never heard of our Fourth of July.


I am honored to spend weekends there when in Teote. It’s only three miles by foot across the campo from my sister’s house to that bend in the river, so I visit every day. And, every night, when I go to bed here in town, I see don Moncho’s candlelight, shining from Quacamaya. And I know, whether I am here, there, or in the States, that it’s my home, too. He's offered a homesite at the finca to me, should I decide to build a casita there, as Lincoln Street Studio, south of the border. Although he’s not the father of my blood, whose memory I revere, he is the father of my heart, the most courageous, resilient, empowered human being I know. And yes, I also know—and this with a tear in my eye—that mi padre, don Moncho Betanco, is happy, for, in truth, he’s won the war.
Gracias, CenterDoug