The Terrific Freedom and Terrible Loneliness of Expatriating
ZOELAB DAY 27
It’s harder to write these posts when I am feeling down. But writing these posts makes me feel more alive, more connected, and more able to work with whatever it is I am going through. Start from where you are. After all, as the poet, and songwriter Dave Berman (of the Silver Jews) says: “You can't change the feeling but you can change your feelings about the feeling in a second or two.” It is a time of great loneliness and longing for me. I have felt it before. It is very hard to live far away from my dear friends and family. Everyone who lives in the first world seems so very busy out of necessity that the modern urban life calls for, and it seems people don’t have much space in their lives for communion, relaxation and hanging out. This seems like a luxury rather than a right. The friends and family I have here are all away right now--avoiding the bad weather and the boredom. And some more recent friends that I have made here, have decided not to return, for now. I chose to be here for most of this summer so that we could experience the true seasons of this place, and so that I could have a sense of continuity, and because we finally have a home, and I want to be home.
Moving to another country is a terrifying and exhilarating leap of faith. Even in moments like these, I don’t regret it. And I don’t want to leave. I have always been an adventurer and have strived to have as many experiences as I can, and haven’t generally let fear or the prospect of failure get in my way. In fact, as an artist/seeker/psychologist, I am as interested in failure as I am in success. I find it freeing to let go of the protective grip of the ego that wants to uphold an idealized and restricted view of ourselves, and accept that we all fail as humans. We all make messes. We all feel rejected sometimes. I think our view of a failure changes once you look at it from a further perspective. A failure in a moment becomes a learning experience or just one chapter of a great story. When we don’t get the response or result we want, we want to give up in shame. But it is so important to keep going. To show up. It takes humility, and courage to show up. That’s what this project is about for me. Showing up everyday, even if I don’t want to, even if I feel sad. Because in the showing up, I am continuing to make a commitment to something. I believe a commitment is an important and rare thing in this day and age, where everything seems exchangeable. The few commitments I’ve made in my life have turned out to be the best choices I have ever made because they have forced me to grow up. Everyday of showing up, is like more change in the bank, adding up slowly. I keep going because I have faith that the coins will add up to something rich and meaningful that will give back to me someday. I don’t know exactly what form it will become, but it will reveal itself in another chapter.
In our dream to make ourselves a house in Mexico, which took about five years, and is still in the making, there were some moments of great sorrow and disappointment. We didn’t have money or prospects, getting the paperwork for our title seemed impossible, our friends who also had land near us decided to move back to their homeland countries. In those moments we stopped believing it would happen. We had a dream not only of our own home, but of a community of people who want to live a peaceful, simple, independent, fun and artful life. We have several friends who own pieces of land near ours who have not yet come to build on their land. I do believe they will come. I haven’t given up on this dream.
Our town, Elias Calles, is a valley situated at the foothills of a beautiful mountain range. Our land is on the very last foot hill before the land becomes more or less flat. The view from our land is stunning. Looking West, you can see a nice piece of the Pacific ocean. There is a dip caused by the arroyo (dry river bed) that allows visibility of the ocean through there. Looking South, you see more of the thick tangle of desert plants, looking East, there are more rolling mountains, and looking North, my favorite view, is a valley of pure cactus forest, with rolling mountains behind. There are no houses to block the pristine view. The only sign of culture is the Telcel (cellphone) tower built jutting out of one of the mountains. This tower was not there when we were camping four years ago. So we had no cell service or internet then. Elias Calles is on the verge of getting electricity, when that happens the town will change greatly. There will be more than forty people living here. There will be lights on at night. There will be stores and restaurants and a gas station. Right now Elias Calles has: a one room school house that teaches kids from age 5-12 (the teacher is known to be the best in Baja, and provides programs in filmmaking, and traditional pottery making from local clay). A church. Two small stores with no electricity--the drinks are kept in coolers. A sometimes-open taqueria. A sometimes-open highway side flower stand. And a small handful of Mexican and Gringo families living here off solar power or a generator.
I realize that building happiness is a long, slow process and we have to be willing sometimes to endure difficulty for the sake of realizing who we were meant to be. I just received a comment from my mother that said: “It’s taking me a long time but I am realizing my daughter is a 21st Century hippie.” I prefer the term bohemian, but she’s right. The process of discovering this truth about myself has taken me a while as well. For all the times of loneliness, there are many more times of great happiness and gratitude. I am so grateful that we are able to spend so much time with our child in these invaluable early years before school. I appreciate that Emilio is receiving a wonderful natural education. He has a considerable amount of physical freedom. I am reminded, and now it feels like foreshadowing, of the subject of my 9th grade term paper--Jean Jacques Rousseau’s book on education called Emile, or On Education. In the book, Rousseau recommends that children receive a natural education that emphasizes the child’s experience of the physical world, and in particular, of the five senses. Written in 1762, it was a book of great controversy at first, that later became an inspiration for a new system of education in France (which lead, based on Rousseau’s recommendation, to a nationwide increase in breastfeeding).
In our life here, I feel grateful everyday for the opportunity to have time for hanging out, artmaking, being part of a community of people who look after each other. My whole adult life I have tried unsuccessfully to create communities. Living here is the first time I have really felt part of one. I love living in a place where you run into people you know everywhere you go. People rely on each other here. We take showers at each others’ houses when the electricity shuts down. We make trades for services and goods when we can’t pay with cash. One of my goals, which I have been working on lately by having weekly Spanish conversations with one of Mexican friends, is to improve my Spanish so I can be more connected to the Mexican community here. One of the blessings of living as an ex-patriot is the inexpressible feeling of cultural freedom. The feeling of not belonging can be lonely, but it can be extraordinarily freeing. As a parent, I feel free from the judgment of my own culture. We can make up rituals and rules as we go. We are free to live according to our natures, the unique expressions of the culture of family that we are creating. I am learning a new relationship to nature, which keeps me present. I am learning about and finding appreciation for things I never had to think about: water, electricity, privacy, ownership, wind, phases of the moon, plants, creatures. I continually feel their presence and lack of presence. I also appreciate the food. The fish here is very inexpensive, and some of the freshest and cleanest you can find in the world. Vegetables grow here like crazy. We have discovered both watermelons and cherry tomato plants on our land that have grown with out our planting them. And no one makes grilled meat like the Mexican taquerias.
I want to end with a good old fashioned want ad. The photo on top of the post is of a for sale sign for the lot on the North side of us, directly across the road. We are looking for a neighbor. We will be good neighbors to you, and trade fresh vegetables, eggs, and interesting books for something you have to offer. Any takers? Think about it, it could be a lot of fun.