Looking back over five years In Mexico
I have to clench my typing fingers to have them not start out with "Time flies when…."
I arrived in Mexico on May 28th, five years ago. It doesn't seem possible. In my adult life I've never lived in one place more than four years and on average two and one half years. It's the gypsy blood in me. My son called about two years ago and said, "Mom, it's been three years. When are you coming home?"
Home? This is my home. I'm not in the financial position to own two homes. When I sold my home in Aptos, California, I never looked back (except perhaps to regret the extra hundreds of thousands of dollars I would have made if I'd waited four more years to sell!) Where is home? My family is scattered across three states. Many of my friends have moved out of the Bay Area. I could never afford to move back into that part of the world, even if I wanted to. Ajijic is my home.
Looking back on these last years plunges me into a cacophony of memories, of people, of sounds, smells and emotions. I've shared many of these experiences with you in the last 50 " Ask Blue" columns. Others, I have not.
The millennium held no such nostalgia for me, but for some reason this five-year anniversary does. Ajijic has changed a lot in that time and I have changed even more. When I arrived I set myself two goals — one was to never let pantyhose touch these legs again (for me, a symbol of corporate America along with briefcases, cell phones and business suits — none of which have graced my humble abode since moving here.) The second goal was more difficult — to never have another goal. When I left, I felt "goaled-out." Yes, I can make up my own words and expressions when I write — author's prerogative.
I guess I've failed at that second goal. Upon first arriving, as you may recall, I had purchased a house, which was uninhabitable. I wanted it to become habitable by the end of June when I'd finished my month of intensive Spanish lessons in Guadalajara. Six weeks later, the guest bedroom, one bathroom and part of the kitchen were habitable. I moved in with a mattress, two kitchen stools, a front door that locked, and a refrigerator. My next goal was to regain my privacy, get rid of the workmen, the cement dust, the paint smells and to finally decorate my house.
Six months later, I started writing my first book. It's half finished, but by heading down that road, I took writing classes, read writing books, joined a local writer's group and an on-line critique group and eventually wrote and published Midlife Mavericks. People asked me what my goal was with the book. What they meant was how much money did I want to earn. If I had a goal, it was more altruistic. I wanted the book to make a difference in the lives of women who found themselves trapped in unsatisfactory lives and saw no way out. I wanted them to see how other women had reinvented their lives.
The book is about one year behind me now and I find myself asking, "What's next?" "Is this all there is?" Those are the same questions that led me out of corporate America and into early retirement in Mexico. Recently, I admitted to a friend that I was getting restless. He said he and his wife were considering moving on…into another part of Mexico. His response stirred up my juices as well.
I confessed to another friend — actually an e-friend who has never been to this part of Mexico — that I found myself once again in the middle of my raft syndrome. He asked me to explain. I told him that every few years (coincidentally when I get restless) I felt like I was on a raft with no oars, floating directionless. I hated being in that place. I wanted a destination, a sense of purpose, a…okay, I admit it…a goal.
He said, "Are you crazy? Most people would give their eye-teeth to be floating on a raft in the middle of a beautiful life." Or something close to that. His words hit me smack between the eyes and I wondered, not for the first time in my unorthodox life, was I crazy?
For a couple of weeks, my thoughts meandered through the landscape of options. Was I ready to move back to the States? Could I even afford it? How about another part of Mexico? Honduras? What was I looking for that I couldn't find here. Certainly not better weather. Not a better lifestyle. Adventure? A soul mate? Was I just born under a wandering star?
During the past five years, I've basically recycled my friends. Early friendships were built on such flimsy bases as the fact that we were all new here. We were single women. Gradually, I've found friends who share many of my interests like writing, traveling, playing bridge and board games. I do miss the intellectual stimulation I found in the Bay Area, the international discussions I'd become accustomed to when I lived in Germany, the cultural options found in San Francisco, the bookstores and ability to easily find what I want to buy for specialized interests and hobbies. I miss being able to take advantage of educational opportunities — in English. Learning is one of my greatest pleasures in life. It sustains me.
I do love the fact that my maid cleans my house and launders my clothes and the gardener keeps my garden looking beautiful. I love the freedom to pursue my various interests, the weather, the travel opportunities, my ability to be connected to the world through the Internet.
I hate the small-town gossip. Since my one conversation on being restless, I've had two people who don't know each other ask me if I was leaving Ajijic? They'd heard that.
So, life here is not perfect. But how much of that perception is the place I live and how much is me? Allow me to wax philosophical for a moment or two. These are questions everyone who considers moving to another place must ask himself or herself. Am I running away from something or to something? What is it I want or need? Can I find it where I am? When I left Silicon Valley, I knew I couldn't find what I needed there, because it was balance I needed and that required free time. I couldn't afford enough free time to find it. Balance. Life's a pendulum I think, and sometimes in order to find balance, the pendulum must swing way to the other side before finding its center. Perhaps that's what this move has done for me. Too much free time? Not enough structure? Not enough passion? No, ahem, goals?
I just returned last night from two weeks in Sardinia and Rome with a lifelong friend and a friend from Ajijic. The escape was just what the doctor ordered. It provided me with some perspective. As we flew over New York City, my stomach knotted with the knowledge that millions of people were trapped in a cement city, trapped in life lacking the beautiful climate, tropical flora and fauna that I take for granted everyday. They listen to sounds of sirens, alarms, horns and gunshots, deal with drugs, 80-hour weeks and long commutes. They live in small apartments, commute on public transport and stay inside most of their lives — either with heating or air-conditioning. (If you're from New York and love it, I apologize…these are my interpretations only). Okay I admit that New York provides tons of cultural and shopping opportunities…for those with tons of money.
That was a wake-up call. Then, in Sardinia and Italy, I recognized values that reinforced mine here in Mexico. Long, leisurely, 8-course lunches. Work days only as long as they need to be and no more, pride in their beautiful countryside, strangers helping strangers, birds providing wake-up calls in the morning, fresh laundry dried outside in the sun, delicious food, great wine, and time for friends. I reconnected with a long-lost friend who lives in Milan. She flew to Rome and we were able to spend a wonderful evening and long lunch together the next day. To my surprise and delight, I found her on the Internet the day before I flew to Sardinia.
Values in Italy and in Mexico, in my humble opinion, are the exact reverse of what I experienced in Silicon Valley. Sorry, if I've shared this before, but it's worth repeating. Above all, comes family. Second are friends, and last is work. It's not so far fetched, I think, to see that often in the U.S. it's work first, friends second and family last.
So, what am I going to do, you ask? I've just completed an on-line course to certify me for Teaching English as a Foreign Language. Monday I'm attending an intensive 5-day course in Guadalajara to teach Business English. I'm not sure what I'm going to do with my newfound education, but it's not going to be leaving Ajijic for Honduras or Costa Rica as I had briefly considered. Perhaps I'll use the skills to be a better volunteer teacher locally, perhaps tutor businessmen in Guadalajara on a part-time basis, or perhaps just taking the course will open up doors I can't see from this vantage point.
Next, I'm going to go through every closet and each drawer in my house and get rid of everything I don't use and value. It's amazing how quickly we can begin collecting 'things' again. I find they clutter up my life as well as my house and others less fortunate will be happy to have them. I'm going to resume creating art gourds in earnest and get back into my doll making, both activities that give me a great deal of pleasure and personal satisfaction. I'm going to investigate the idea of getting on a speakers' circuit in the U.S. talking about women retiring alone and perhaps simultaneously marketing my book. (This idea came from an old friend who recently visited).
Then I can take stock of what's important to me, take a look at my options and decide whether or not to pick up those oars or continue to drift aimlessly on the sensuous swells of the turquoise sea.
So that's how it is for Blue, looking back on five years living in not-quite-Camelot.