Some folks have asked about the process of our move to Mexico, because of multiple reasons, from simple general interest to people thinking about a similar move. I'm just now getting to a point where I can speak clearly about the experience, so I thought I should catch up a bit. It's been, how can I say,,,,,, a little uneven in places, but I think I now have some perspective on the experience at this point. There’s the bells and whistles side of this discussion, which you can pretty much Google up (move to Mexico) and make your own to-do list, as in do this, don’t do that. That list will evolve and change depending on your own experiences. My advice - trust no one - verify everything - multiple sources whenever possible. More on this later. If you have specific questions, (like what do I do at the border crossing when they find all the dope hidden in the dog food?) email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'll find you an attorney. But the “mental” side of the whole thing is something else again. This here is more of a wide brush stroke essay on one side of the mental game as opposed to a warm and fuzzy Facebook post, and it's a little long, but consider it’s taken nine months to get here physically and mentally. For the academics and those with intent in the crowd, this might be a worthwhile read. If your life revolves around 140 characters, maybe not. This is part of what they don't tell you in the Chamber Of Commerce version. No blood and guts and suitable for family viewing.
Since the idea occurred to us, this whole Mexican expat retirement/root canal/and or holistic spiritual awakening thing is now at just past nine months. If you’re a lifelong vagabond, then the transitions like this are perhaps easier. If you’re a child of ANY kind of a routine, however subtle and free in form or substance, after this many years in that routine, you need to get over yourself. You became an addict to that routine years ago and withdrawal is as withdrawal does. For some folks the process fits like Armani. For other’s it’s a straight-jacket. For me, it’s………Black Friday at Macy’s.
I just don't think either of us totally understood what it means when you change "everything". As in every little syllable in your life, right down to the toothpicks. I mean how the hell do you do that after this long? Do it at 30 and you got nothin to change except your backpack and your underwear. Do it now and it can burn a hole right through you. This has been a stunning experience full of great moments I would not trade. Even at this early date, we've had a blast, but it's no "Cake Walk Into Town" and it will challenge the evenness of your keel. I don't remember a non-medical related experience this intently focused over a series of months. To be fair with this, there are also folks with real problems in the world, so that all has to be taken into perspective, with the highest of respect for taking a walk in another person's shoes. This is a tough process for sure, and there are things I would rather not go through again, but no matter what, it could be a lot worse and that's a fact.
The immensity of all the day to day details just buried me. I thought I knew logistics. I thought I was prepared for this after 50 years as a freelance. I tried “take it one step at a time and enjoy the journey of life.” Right…….. for me, in the real world, that works in self-help/spiritual guides for at least a couple good solid minutes. That approach does make sense when you got a specific mountain to climb - plan the route and do that climb one step at a time. But if you choose to do something like this, it’s one gigantic solid wall of questions, challenges, dead ends, blind curves, and small incremental successes. You got nowhere to stand, because the ground underneath you is moving at the same time. No mountain this - it’s a wall, and there’s no route up or around, except right into the middle of it. Right down to the toothpicks. Pretty quickly, (you already noticed) I just stopped talking to almost everyone in order to focus on what we needed to do each day, and still keep myself reasonably level and ready for the next. The stress level is not intense (see brain surgery). It’s actually more at a knee-high level, but it’s 24/7. Every day for months. Without realizing it, all of a sudden you can feel like you’re breathing inside a plastic bag. The way out of it is to do the homework ahead of time and focus ahead of time on the perceptible details, so when the unavoidable surprises happen, you've already dealt with the small stuff. I think the relentless focus and hard work on the smallest details needed to begin a new life is paying off for us big time. Up until now I’ve almost totally avoided the obvious and very intense seductions of the new culture, the beauty, the art, the food and the good side of the foreign-ness of the whole thing in favor of trying to get the foundation set so we could function ok on a day to day basis. I want to bury myself in all that stuff, and there will be time soon enough. In spite of all this, we are getting into some terrific experiences, and making friends, but it’s really being held back by the need and desire to pick up all the toothpicks that fell on the floor nine months ago.
I think Deb nailed the words I need tonight. We were headed to dinner. Off to pizza (more on that later). She sat down next to me and let out a huge sigh. I chuckled and said “How you doing boss?” She said “I’m getting tired of it”. “What are you tired of Deb?” She said “……….I’d like to have……….just one day I could count on.” True that.
Two distinct sides of the mental game here. There’s the “everything” logistical problems, and then of course there’s the whole issue of getting used to how a foreign culture functions, compared to almost everything you thought was true. San Miguel has a lot of expats, so the cultural transitions are actually easier than many other Spanish locations, but that doesn’t change the basic problem - Mexico ain’t Kansas, and you and God will not make it Kansas. We’ll talk more about the culture issues in another post.
We’re not there yet, but I’m thinking we’re within sight of our first goal now. The first goal being “we need to get past the honeymoon, and work through an average day in the life.” Another month/month and a half and we’ll at least be able to maneuver pretty well through a standard expat day. That’s a place where we can start to experience life as it will be, as opposed to a loosely held foggy concept of what might be. I have some expat friends who have been through this in detail and many say it takes a year from the date you arrive till you shed what you don’t need, and you finally feel comfortable in your new skin. I think we’re on schedule. Maybe even a touch ahead. Could be.
Faced with that wall of challenges, the only thing that really helps is to look for the small victories that don’t appear to have major consequence or be factors as they happen. Personally, I can’t stress that enough. Look for the small stuff. I get a lot of that from Deb and Atticus. But you also need something extra to give your feet a little traction. A little purchase into the future. Oddly, I found something in my past.
This part surprised me. Came out of nowhere. What settled me down the most was the moment I sat down in my new office. Air just rushed into the room the instant I sat in that chair. A total surprise. I’m not finished with it yet, but pretty close now. It’s not much by any standard, but a whole lot of a little is a bunch. After the kitchen remodel, when we get the new house settled, our hopes are the house will be lovely, tasteful, simple, respectful and smooth to the touch. But when I open the door to my new office,,,,,, I want there to be a party going. I want the sounds of laughter to greet me, the sounds of history, the sounds of music, the sound of marriage, the sounds of silliness, the sounds of the rituals of fly fishing, the sounds of grown men laughing like teenage boys - laughing so hard the wine runs out their noses, the sounds of conversation, the sounds of food, the sounds of water cascading, and the sounds of engines coming to life. I wanted snapshots everywhere on the walls. Everywhere.
God I love it! This office reminds me of my room when I was maybe 10 or something. It’s the same kind of blue. That room had pictures of Elvis, Bobby Layne, The Lone Ranger, Superman, Annette Funicello, Gordie Howe, Chuck Berry and everyone else tacked up on the walls everywhere in no particular order – basically, the 12-gauge shotgun approach to teenage interior design. This is not a “man cave” - no, no. For me….it’s an oven. And mostly, with those images, I wanted to remember a few of some exact moments in my past where I was thinking to myself I sure didn’t want to die, but if I died at that moment, I thought it would be ok, because I was lucky and honored enough to be present for an instant when it just could not have been better. Photos of moments with my friends - my peeps. That’s the kind of stuff what can rebuild a beat to crap old diesel engine and that’s God’s own truth. This is not a room to cling to. It’s a room in which to look back in order to move forward. It’s a room in which to mix up a bunch of the good stuff and cook a meal to remember.
I can feel some stunning times around the corner. So much to be thankful for as I sit here at 73 going on 12, and so much to look forward to. It’s a very humbling and exhaustive experience. But right this second in my new office, I’m thinking back to an old Edward Steichen quote.
Back in the 50’s, there was a well-respected photographer named Edward Steichen who curated a huge photo exhibit of images of people from all over the world for an exhibit in New York. Very famous. The exhibit and book were called The Family of Man. A New York Times art critic at the time interviewed Steichen and asked him “what makes a great photograph?” Steichen thought for a moment and then said these words - “I think when you see a truly great photograph, you recognize an old friend.” As a shooter, I spent my whole life looking for old friends I do not know. I sit here in my office in the late afternoon in San Miguel surrounded by a bunch of my “old friends” and boy does it feel great! I can feel the energy coming back. There’s an urge to move and stretch and grow. I have some stories to tell. Some images to share. Some old friends to meet. God, I am such a weathered torn and beat up old junkie to the emotion of nothing more than the potential something good might be close by. I can feel it. Got tears in my eyes and joy in my heart for what was, as well as what might be just around the corner. I need a cocktail. It’s time to cook.