Better on the outside than on the inside
When we first arrived in Baja, and I was pregnant and we were camping on our land in Elias Calles, I wasn’t legal to work yet, but I needed to do something to occupy my time, to meet people, be of service, and to have a creative outlet. I decided to volunteer for the women’s organization, Manos Magicas. It’s a small group of women (Mexican, American & French) who met (and still meet) weekly in Todos Santos dedicated to helping women learn skills using their hands: sewing, knitting, making for the purpose of learning, community building and financial independence. The same day I showed up to volunteer, Marcela, and her boyfriend Sigfrido, showed up for the first time too. They were young, younger than me, and scrappy, scrappier than me. They were also from the big city, living on their raw piece of land, camping or more like squatting in their quarter-built house. It was a relief to make some young friends, who were Mexican, who spoke perfect English. We spent all our time together our first summer in Baja, and Marcela taught me many things in Spanish. One of my favorites was an expression in Spanish, that I immediately forgot, but adopted into my own vernacular in English, which translated to: better on the outside than the outside. She said this to me every time I burped, which was often, as I had an addiction to bubbly water and coke. Coca Cola that is. Mexican Coca Cola, which is holier than American coke because it has real sugar rather than high fructose corn syrup. A friend told me that Mexican coke is a high value item in the US now for $3 a bottle. But I digress.
The point is that Marcela introduced me to this expression as a way to make me feel better about my burping. And you know what? It worked. Because of her phrase, burping, or even farting, felt more like a celebration than something I should cover up or apologize for. After all, it’s better on the outside than on the inside. It also became a joke between us—the more pregnant I got, the more I felt that this phrase applied to me, not just about gas, but about the baby. I really wanted him out.
At first, I had wanted the birth to be 100% natural, hippie style. I interviewed a midwife. I read books about how empowering an all natural pregnancy was. I drew drawings of my unborn baby. (There's another wonderful story here about the drawing I drew, but I'll save it for another time.) When I found out that the baby (now the force known as Emilio) had the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck and that I would have to deliver him in a hospital, and that Lucas would not be allowed to accompany me in the delivery room, I opted for the cesarean section, which was what Doctor Ariola recommended. (Yes my OBGYN was named Ariola). I was devastated at first, I hadn’t imagined myself to be the kind of person that had a c-section, it just didn’t seem part of the narrative. But then again, no mother has the birth she imagines. It’s the first lesson of motherhood. Things not going according to plan. Eventually, I had come to accept the cesarean, as scared as I was. After all, no matter how it happens, better on the outside than the inside. That was what was most important.
The day Emilio arrived on this side of life, outside the womb that is, was not the happiest day of my life, as so many parents claim. The day after his birth was possibly the worst day of my life. (Also another story.) That doesn’t mean I didn’t love the little thing as he first nursed me, both of us having no idea of how it’s supposed to happen, just knowing that it is. The first time I heard his voice, as I lay drugged out on the operation table, I burst into tears. It was a loud sharp cry announcing his lungs to the world, to us, his parents. The sound of his voice was a great relief, and proof, undeniable proof, even more so than seeing him, or holding him, that he was alive, and here. That he is a whole person, separate and individual and able to make sound. Then Lucas showed him to me and I was surprised by the darkness of his hair, and the amount of it. He seemed small, but somehow powerful already. A force of nature. He was so so much better on the outside than on the inside.
It’s not that it was a difficult or painful pregnancy. Things went smoothly mostly—at least his part did. He grew, and grew. And I grew and grew along with him. There was not a lot of pain and only a small amount of discomfort, which mostly resulted in the fact that we were living outside, in the desert sun, and I was hotter than normal, and could never seem to find enough shade or coolness to feel comfortable, until night time, which was when I retired, at 9 PM, to the tent, ready for profound rest. Mostly, I took long walks on the beach, alone, or with Lucas, looking for shells and rocks to add to our collection. I was somehow able to stay very present, not thinking too far in the future—how are we going to raise this child? What kind of education is he going to have? Those thoughts, the thoughts that most of my friends and family asked, did not even occur to me at all. I knew instinctively that all my energy needed to go into growing this being and putting all my creativity into that, not through drawing or writing or singing, the way I was used to doing, but just through being. Through soaking in the fresh ions from the ocean waves and the moments of pleasure when I could enjoy food. My pregnancy experience was unconventional, to say the least, and not even in line with the kind of person I had been before. I wasn’t much of a camper, or a nature girl. I had always loved nature, and had enjoyed camping the few times I had done it. But, camping was more like a background to some other kind of art project or experience. I didn’t have a very direct relationship to nature. Every plant I had ever owned had died. The first time I went camping with Lucas, I referred to the forest as “in here” as in “hey it’s getting dark in here as the day faded into night.” I admit I said it partly in jest, to play up the Brooklyn part of me, the part of me that is, as Woody Allen used to say, at two with nature. But the larger and deeper truth is that I am a hippie deep inside. I have never worn patchouli oil, and I do not have long stringy hair. I never really dug the grateful dead (though some of their songs are pretty catchy, I admit), and I never call people “man” or use the word “groovy.” But inside, I am about as hippie as you get. I believe in peace and love truly and madly. I believe almost everyone is too uptight, or at least spend some more time in nature contemplating the sky. I often feel I wasn’t really made for the world that I became myself in—I feel far too large, and strange and messy and indefinable.
Now, six years later, the term better on the outside than on the inside can refer to just about everything that’s important to me. It has become a central theme of my work. What is inside? Or rather, what do we keep inside? What do we not show? This is what I am most interested in. Sometimes it’s just trapped gas, or a baby that isn’t ready to be be born, but other times its the fear that is just beyond the reach of our awareness, or the really rough novel we’re writing in secret, or the dream we dare not share in case someone else laughs or judges us, or the tear just under the surface of the duct, that would prove our fallibility if were to appear in the corner of our eye.
Yes. I say, better on the outside than on the inside lest that feeling, or thought, or work of art stays stagnant and unfelt, unimagined, unlived. We are lucky to be born into this world, and if we are alive, then we are meant to live. We can barely live if we cannot let what is inside, out. I know this from experience. I have had times in my life where I did not want to live because I could not transmit my inner world. The loneliness of being shut out from our very own liveliness is heartbreaking and often, dangerous. I believe our humanity is at stake when it comes to whether or not we can forge through our fear and risk emotional, mental and artistic expression.
I say, yes, always yes, it is better on the outside than on the inside.
Marcela, if you are reading this, please do send me the Spanish version of that saying.