Archive | February, 2017

Decision-Making for Dummies

22 Feb

Is paper/rock/scissors a valid decision-making method? Since I’m trying to make a gigantic, life-altering decision, obviously I would do best two out of three. Or perhaps I need a Tarot card reading. Or I could pose the question to all my Facebook friends, and go by whatever option gets the most votes. I might write each decision on opposite sides of the room, spin around until dizzy, and then point with my eyes still closed. Similarly, I continue to contemplate getting wasted drunk and writing a note to myself about what feels the most right, with all the hidden insight that excessive alcohol might bring out.

And these are just my better ideas.

Seriously, I cannot make this decision. I won’t do it and you can’t make me! I want to shout at the universe, complete with a stern pout and possible foot-stomping or middle-finger-flying. It’s too big a decision, it affects other important people too much, and it’s all on my shoulders, for better or for worse. I’m not gonna! (I’m sticking my tongue out at y’all, now, too, moon and stars and everybody.) The recovering perfectionist in me is pissed because there is no “right” answer. The anxiety monster in me is terrified because there are major negative consequences on both sides, but which negative consequences will be worse- and for whom? If I make this decision and the worst happens, it’ll be all my fault and no one will ever forgive me and I won’t even be able to live with myself- assuming I’m still alive after the worst. Oh, hell, no, y’all, I am not taking responsibility for this. No, siree. I’ll just wait for a definitive sign from the heavens first, thanks.

Except I have to decide. Even if I pick the default option of doing nothing, that’s still a decision that I will then have to live with, with all the positive and negative consequences that entails. And there are consequences for my whole family. Ugh! Part of me, of course, recognizes that I am ridiculously privileged to even have options, despite them not being exactly the options I’d like. Who the hell gets all the options they want in life? Nobody I know, and probably nobody I care to know. So I think about other folks with trickier and much more dire choices- or lack of choices- and I shame myself for bemoaning the fact that I have to / get to make a decision in life. Unfortunately, the shame doesn’t actually change anybody’s situation or help me make a decision. So here we are.

I have a deadline. It’s almost here. I don’t want to say the date out loud, because then it will be more real. But it’s very, very soon. (Shiver and shake!)

Because apparently, life requires some modicum of planning, and institutions like schools and jobs and banks always want to know whether you will be utilizing their services or not in the coming cycle. Those nosy bastards. Then there are the other folks, close friends and family, who also insist that your most major life choices affect them. They’d like to plan accordingly, they say. And yet they refuse to take the decision off of your hands. Selfish, selfish, selfish!

Instead of deciding for me, loved ones give me sage advice. For example, a dear friend encouraged me to listen to my heart. The problems with that are that a) my heart is divided in multiple directions, and b) my heart usually leads me down the most difficult and dangerous path available. That certainly hasn’t been exclusively awful; as a matter of fact, I’m pretty damn pleased about many of the outrageous decisions I’ve made. Once I’ve made a decision, once I’ve survived some of the results, I get very zen about it all, magically. This is forming and growing me as a person, and all that. Even the decisions I made that, in hindsight, were excessively foolhardy and ill-advised, I can shrug my shoulders and toss it into the pile of “makes for a great story fodder.” I am the main character in my life’s novel, right?

(Joyful Girl, by Ani DiFranco, is one of my anthems since adolecense that encourages this philosophy for me: “The bathroom mirror has not budged. The woman who lives there can tell the truth from the stuff they say. She looks me in the eye, says, Do you prefer the easy way? No? Well then, okay, don’t cry.”)

But I feel a distinct lack of zen now that there are small children involved. These little humans are counting on me to not ruin their lives. So the question then becomes, which path will ruin their lives less? (They’re gonna need therapy either way, as my dad would say.) But how can I calculate the least-harm scenario? There are short-term and long-term effects for them, but most of the long-term effects are potential effects. There’s a whole bundle of maybes in all my equations, which is yet another reason why I’m not a great mathematician nor decision-maker.

So if the short term effects for them are fairly negative, and then the hopefully excellent long term effects go all awry, then I will have made the wrong decision, right? Alternately, if the short term effects are mostly positive, and the long-term effects don’t have much room for astounding but might not be abysmal, either, does that mean that’s the right choice? Either way, super-duper disasterous things can happen! And where do my needs and desires, and my life partner’s needs and desires, all fit into this? What about the If Mama Ain’t Happy Ain’t Nobody Happy effect? How much and in what way does that count in this? Where is my text book? Where is my tutor? It’s like you just learned to do division and then they throw some complicated thing into mix, something like, I don’t know, exponential numbers. And the teacher doesn’t explain worth a damn in the first place; they’re just throwing random numbers crap at you, so how can anyone expect you to ever solve this problem?!

My perceptive and astute therapist mother reminded me to “use wise mind” as my guide. Wise mind, theoretically, is that brilliant and perhaps fictional combo of emotional mind and rational mind.

Here’s a little visual about “wise mind” for all you visual learners out there. I acquired this image from this site.


Does wise mind exist in me? Hmmmph! Sure, I guess it’s in there somewhere, since I can do both rational or emotional exceptionally well. But blending them? Quieting my anxiety and ceasing to analyze long enough to listen to the deeper part of my being? Ha. When? Between my full-time paying job and my full-time mother job and my full-time housekeeper/cook job, I’m pretty booked. Ain’t no space left in my calendar for an appointment with wise mind.

Maybe that’s an excuse, though. I mean, really I know what path I want to walk. I already know, because I know exactly who I am and what I want to do with myself in this one little life. I know what my values are. I know what I have to contribute to a community. I know what decision I think will put me in a position to live more in line with those values and let me contribute to the universe best. I already know.

But as soon as I say that, my raging, roaring bear named Anxiety rears up on its haunches and yells, “What if you’re wrong, though? How do you know that you’ll be able to live your purpose in life on this path? Maybe you can find your purpose on this other path just as well. You just need to look harder.”  Then I get new information that kicks rational mind back in to gear, like a know-it-all-doctor from the 50s calmly blowing smoke in my face, telling me I need this treatment for my hysteria. “Look at these facts,” that jerk says.  “This is a bad time. All of the evidence points to disaster.”

Back and forth I go, several times a day. Every day I debate and deliberate, tying my stomach in viscious knots, winding myself up like wind-up doll, and waiting to see what decision I’ll have made when the coil stretches. Every day I dream of somebody coming to take this weight off my shoulders, of someone telling me the decisively “right” thing to do. Except I’d probably STILL find some reason to keep arguing about it. “But read this study first!” I imagine I’d say.

I suspect that either way, it’s gonna be ugly and it’s gonna be lovely. No matter which path I take, I’m doing somebody wrong. All concerned parties are going to have some negative consequences. No matter which path I take, there will be some negatives and some positives and ultimately I cannot predict what they will be or how wonderfully joyous or horrendously grave life might be in the future. Which is probably a truth about the Whole of Life every single day, we’re just not usually as hyper-conscious of it as I am right now with this blasted decision.

Meanwhile, the deadline looms. Weigh in on your decision-making advice, before it’s too late and I decide to just flip a coin!! Seriously, folks, I don’t ask for advice every day; now is your chance to give me your best decision-making guide.


Visitors’ Views

15 Feb

Finally, oh finally, we got our yearly visitors! First my stepmom, Karen, came- her first solo trek since my dad passed away, which made it a whole ‘nuther kind of new. Then my mom and her partner Dee arrived, this time with Dee’s son Andy, for his very first escape from Gringolandia.

There were many wondrous moments brought on by these visits, which I may or may not share with you in some future blog post. For now I will share with you some astute observations from my fantastic, fabulous family.

Okay, I will also tell you that Karen and I got to have grown-up time and took fantastically fun photos :

And that my mama and I destroyed Conan and Andy in spades!! (No pics, sorry.) Now on to our next portion, observations from all my glorious visitors:


“Desexualized” Swimming

While Zicatela beach is world-famous for its giant waves for surfing, it is not where anyone wants to take their children to swim. There are two other sections of beach with much calmer waters- one, Puerto Angelito, being the most preferred. (We had our annual all-family-mixer there again, complete with oysters just pulled from the sea, as usual. I got out of control and bought three kinds of cake so we could celebrate everyone’s birthday this year.)

In general around here, the beach is not spring break in Florida. There are not gobs of young women laying out in bikinis. Yes, bikinis are popular beachwear here, for folks with all sizes of bodies. Yes, some people sunbathe. But particularly at the swimming beach, people aren’t hanging out trying to look sexy. They’re just swimming. Or eating. Or having a beer. Or playing in the sand with their kids. Some people wear bikinis, some don’t. Many people don’t even wear official swimming gear. Lots of people, even folks who live here, don’t own a real bathing suit. Plus you get some folks stopping by on their way somewhere else (especially pilgrims going to or from their visit with the Virgin of Juquila) who weren’t really prepared to go to the beach. So there are people in jeans and t-shirts. There are people in other thrown-together swimwear. Nobody cares what other people are wearing or doing, as seen below.


the swimming beach


A lotta people I love. Only my kids and I are in official swimwear. Check out the folks in the background, too.


foreground: my monsters with their sweet cousin. background: NOT spring break in Palm City Beach or whatever it’s called

Use of Public Spaces

“People use all the public space. People are much more present in public.” These were some important observations from Andy. “You can even lie down on the floor of the airport and nobody even looks at you,” he said.

People are constantly out in the street- on their way somewhere, chatting in the neighborhood, watering the garden, sitting on the stoop of some business to share a beer (well, men only on this one). Here it doesn’t matter if there are no sidewalks- people walk anyway, because that’s how most of us get around, at least some of the time. Thanks to there being fewer cars and there being a small corner store on every 3rd corner of residential areas, there’s always somewhere to walk to.

Pertinent to that, ideas about the public and private are radically different here. The public space is where many social events happen, rather than in a private home. People that aren’t family don’t usually just drop by your house and come on in, either. They (usually) stay in whatever outside area or public-ish open area you have, even if it’s a woman visiting another woman. I almost cried tears of joy last year when a friend came and visited us and sat in my bedroom with me, so I could play with Lucia on the bed AND talk to her at the same time (not be excluded from the social, adult world despite my parenting responsibilities in the private, off-limits realm of my bedroom). I had missed that kind of assumed intimacy, that consensual sharing of privacy that we’re into in the US.

I think that using public space more and private space less has some advantages, especially in that you don’t need a fancy home to have social time. However, I think that it gives women an automatic disadvantage at social life outside of their family. Women (pretty much universally) have more domestic responsibilities than men, and tend to spend more time at home because of it. But when your home is not a place for socializing, that means that you can’t socially multitask, like I used to do so much of the time- inviting your friends over to chat and washing your dishes while you do so, for example. Changing the baby’s diaper with your girlfriends in the US means they accompany you to whatever room so you can keep talking. In my personal experience here, that’s not the case. So this public/private cultural difference is a funny juxtaposition because on one hand, everyone being out in public, using the public space is so much more open and accessible, but it’s also less intimate in a different kind of way.

(Apparently I was dying to elaborate on this observation!)

Nature Like We Don’t Get At Home

Seeing iguanas everywhere is STILL fun for me, years later, so you can imagine how cool it is for other folks. I still giggle everytime I’m teaching class and a big ones falls from a tree with a giant clunk. For some reason, though, nobody was very excited to go see crocodiles in a lagoon, once they discovered it wasn’t a behind-the-glass, zoo-like experience. What? You don’t want to see crocodiles next to you in a small paddle boat? (Don’t worry; I was planning on leaving the kids at home for that outing.)

I didn’t even tell Andy about the scorpions, like the one that was strolling all nonchalant across my kids’ bedroom floor one evening last week. Good thing my kids never sleep in their own beds, huh?

16473866_10208290456406783_6800881647283940608_n Pictured: Our major nature adventure to the botanical gardens (obviously, it’s dry season). Andy was not thrilled to learn about the local venomous snakes and potential mountain lions around, but he braved the hike anyway.


The Dogs Run The Streets 

Dogs around here own the streets- both strays and many pets are out running around all day and night. (Pets here are not treated like spoiled children, for better or for worse.) There’s no animal control and not a lot of campaigns to help people spay and neuter, so lots of dogs end up sad and hungry. Karen, a hardcore champion of all animals, bought a bag of dog food to carry around to feed poor, starving stray dogs, like the ones she saw in the mostly-touristy beach areas her past couple of visits. She was pleasantly surprised, however, to find a street full of lazy, chunky mutts. The business owners and residents of the neighborhood where she stayed are economically well-off enough and animal-loving enough to make a little doggie paradise, in one neighborhood at least.

Never-ending Resourcefulness 

Despite very high rates of economic poverty, folks here are ingenious. They come up with solutions for everything, as I’ve raved about before. There aren’t many people asking for change on the street, but there is lots and lots of hustling to make a living, working in the street, selling candy, popcorn, toys, juice, or washing windows or whatever. Andy didn’t even see the door-to-door salespeople walking the dusty streets to sell furniture that they are carrying on their backs, and even so, people’s resourcefulness and perseverance made an impression on him.

No “Essential” Electrical Apparatus

Both Karen and Andy were taken aback by the lack of microwaves. “When you said you were warming up beans for the kids, and then you came out to get Khalil and ran back in yelling about your beans burning, I was kinda confused for a minute,” Andy joked. Karen thought her hotel’s kitchen area was well set up but was definitely missing a microwave and coffeemaker (another electrical appliance that is far from universal down here). A microwave is just not the kind of bare necessity that it is in the US. Mostly corner stores have them if they want to sell microwave popcorn and soup-cup Ramen noodles. My mother in law has one because she used to sell that stuff, although nowadays she only uses her microwave as a storage space for bread, or as an emergency cooking device if her stove runs out of gas and she doesn’t have the money then for a new propane tank.

Also missing in action here: toasters, clothes dryers (it is in the 80s or 90s everyday here, although even in cold and wet places dryers are not “a thing.”)


Mexican toaster- aka comal – not my photo! from

Go, go, go

Everywhere you go, people are walking, riding bicycles, riding scooters and motorcycles, riding ATVs, riding buses, taking shared cabs called colectivos, hailing taxis, and just generally getting around one way and another. Not everyone has a car, to say the least, but there are way more options for transport. Public transportation is more common and more user-friendly than any small city or large town I’ve ever been to in the states.

Andy asked, “How does a country that’s poorer than the United States make it easier for people to get around?” This is a question that everyone in the US should be asking themselves and then asking their community and their elected officials. This question, and so many others like it, also represents to me why travel abroad* is such an eye-opening, heart-reconstructing, mind-altering, life-metamorphasing experience: you shift your paradigms of both the normal and the possible. You shatter stereotypes. You see new things that don’t work for people and new things that do work for people. You question your home culture as much as the culture you’re visiting. It’s a win-win situation for the world and you.

Keep travelling, even if you can’t leave home! Keep loving, at home and abroad!


*I know not everyone can physically travel to another country. Having friendships with folks from a different country, reading foreign books, even watching many foreign movies has similarly altered my consciousness and my heart for the better. It’s a global world; take advantage!


Attempts to capture the moment with my mama and these random small children I found on the street bwahahaha