Tag Archives: illusion of control

Today I Freely Choose To Be Here Now

30 Aug

We didn’t have much of a choice when we moved to the southern state of Oaxaca, Mexico, three years ago this month. A ridiculous immigration system was kicking my partner out of his home of 10 years, and effectively taking me and our 7 week old daughter with him. Of course I could have stayed behind, but that wasn’t an option I was interested in. So I was going, but it felt like I was forced, like we were forced, like our life was all totally out of our control. If there’s any time in life when you’re aware of your total lack of control over your life, it’s when you first become a parent. Add being uprooted from your home to the mix and it’s a recipe for personal crises (yes, crisis plural).

When we arrived we had nothing but 5 bulging suitcases, a newborn, and a whole lot of faith in our love. We were lucky enough to have a home to arrive to, going to live with Conan’s mom, but it was still not quite our own home. Lots of things have greatly improved in our lives since then. We’ve far outgrown our 5 suitcases. Our newborn has turned into a preschooler who has a baby brother to boot. We have a car. We have our very own house. We finally have electricity in our house, complete with a refrigerator and washing machine. I have a full-time job that I enjoy. We don’t live with anyone’s parents, and we don’t live in a tiny town that we both hate. If that’s not progress, what is?

So we’ve moved up in the world and everything should be perfect now. Except it’s not. This week in particular I had a personal crisis that made me totally rethink and question where I want to be. And boy, was I pissed about it. How could I think about being somewhere else when finally our life is put together here? How could things be falling apart if everything’s finally great? I have a washing machine, for cripe’s sake! What could I be unhappy about now?

The problem is, progress isn’t what actually sustains us, right? “Moving up” in life can only mean so much, since life doesn’t appear to be some vertical venture. Despite having all the things I was sure would make my life great (and our car didn’t even break down this week), I was terribly, profoundly unhappy.

Partly I was unhappy because this whole time I’ve held onto my anger and helplessness at the injustice of us being forced to move down here at that moment. I’ve spent too much time visiting if-only land. If only we hadn’t moved here, we wouldn’t have this problem. If only x, life would be better. If only y, I’d be happy. Partly it’s that this time of year, full of anniversaries (our move, our first kiss, Lucia’s conception), makes me nostalgic and frustrated. I was clinging on to some happy, joyful memories, trying to cut and paste them into the present.

Five years ago, in the steaming hot months of August and September, Conan and I converted our friendship to something more. We went out for bike rides through Louisville’s beautiful parks. We went out for beers at all the microbreweries. We posted up on the back porch of my charming, cheap Victorian apartment and talked, for hours and hours and hours. We held hands at WorldFest, the fabulous festival of world cultures. We went to the farmers’ market, and I cooked us elaborate, local, vegetarian dishes that he devoured appreciatively. We went to friends’ parties and weddings and birthday celebrations. We ate Mexican fusion sushi and drank Vietnamese avocado milkshakes and decided on our favorite Indian buffet, among other culinary delights. We sipped bourbon on the front porch. We fell in love. Those places and activities epitomize what I love about my city, about my culture, about what I left behind. They remind me of moments, too, when my love for Conan was so uncomplicated, so easy, so perfect.

Nowadays nothing ever seems to be simple or easy. In theory I know that nothing stays the same, that you can’t return to the past. That love is a lot of work to maintain. That nothing is ever perfect. That the past wasn’t as easy breezy as it seems in hindsight. That Louisville is not utopia, and we’d just have a different set of problems there. I never did and never would love everything about my city and my culture. And while in the beginning of any relationship it can seem that everything is perfect about the other person and they way that you interact, that illusion of perfect can’t last, either. I know all these things, I do. And yet it doesn’t stop me from torturing myself, wondering how our lives would be if we could just go back. If we could have stayed. If we could return.

I did just return to Louisville for a visit, and I had to face the fact that our relationship to a city evolves while we’re away. Some things disappear, like our favorite Indian buffet. Some people who were central to your life there move away or pass on. Other things remain, but they’re not what they once were to you. Like Big Rock, my favorite spot in Cherokee Park. It used to be my spot to climb around and sit by the creek to think or talk. But this trip I could barely tear Lucia away from the playground area long enough to notice the creek, and we didn’t even climb up anything. My charming beloved apartment is still there, with the same weird neighbor who plays guitar horrendously. (Yep, I even have nostalgia for that.) But I don’t actually want to live in that apartment anymore. We payed a fortune to nearly freeze to death every winter! We had recurring mice attacks! All kinds of things were wrong with it, and, more importantly, it just wouldn’t suit me anymore. It’s not part of who I am now, even though for a good while it was the “perfect” place for me. My city’s changed, but I have changed, too.

So I know. We can’t go back to before. We can’t know what would have happened if we’d stayed. And we can’t know what will happen in the future, even if we’ve got it all planned out. We don’t have control, even if we think we do. I know. But living this knowledge, breathing it, feeling it when I’m stuck in an emotional crisis, is quite a different matter.

But today, suddenly, after days of walking around in a funk, in a daze of depression, I woke up and remembered who I am. I am a badass Kentucky girl, living in Mexico, raising children, trying to make some kind of tiny positive difference in the world, trying to find laughter and love in all kinds of places, rebelling from the system like always, albeit in different ways than before. I am my brave, wild-spirited, fiercely-loving Nonna’s granddaughter. I am my mama’s daughter. I am my dad’s daughter. (Two amazing spirits). I don’t need to freak out about what I’m going to do or where I’m going to go in the future, because regardless, I’ll make it work. I don’t need to worry about what other disasters will happen, because I’ll just deal with it. There will be good things and bad things and struggles and joys, and it’ll all be okay. Repeat after me: I am a badass, and I will be okay no matter what happens.

I woke up this morning and drank my lovely Oaxaca coffee and wrote my three “gratitudes” for the day, even though and especially because I had not been feeling so blessed. I did some yoga, and actually focused on my body, and noticed how wonderful and strong my body felt. I chose not to get upset or yell when Lucia woke up grumpy and freaking out about Cheerios and everything else possible. I put on Paul Simon, a makes-me-happy-from-lots-of-good-memories CD I inherited from my dad, and danced around my kitchen while I made breakfast, singing loudly and off-key. I decided to be happy. I decided to know that I am worthy and good just because. To feel it and breathe it in. To just be here, for now.

Because I know now that I can be here and have a good life. Or I could be in Louisville and have a good life. Or I could be in Timbuktu or somewhere, and somehow I will have a good life. It’s always going be a struggle of some sort or another. No place is perfect. Getting established, in terms of getting your physical and social needs met, finding furniture and friendships, is a process. But even if we started over again somewhere else, I now have a much better idea of how to incorporate and appreciate the things- the moments- that make life so worthwhile. I know, suddenly, finally, that I always have choices.

Even if the options don’t seem plausible, even though none of the options are ideal, I do have options. Of course they’re not ideal! Life’s really hard. And it’s also really great. It’s taken me three years of this exile with my partner to come to terms with it. To finally decide that this is my choice. We weren’t just victims of a messed up system. That’s only a partial truth. We did have other (less appealing, more difficult) options, and we chose this. I chose this. I’m here, so I might as well own it as my choice. Because the alternative is to keep resisting it. The alternative is to keep feeling angry, bitter, cheated. To wistfully romanticize the alternate life we could have had theoretically. And I don’t want that anymore.

Feeling free! If freedom's just another word for accepting that I don't have control over anything, but I can face every day head-on.

Feeling free! If freedom’s just another word for accepting that I don’t have control over anything, but I can face every day head-on.

Today, I made the choice to be here, just for now. Today, I decided not to ponder the effects of now on my future. Today, I decided not to lament what could have been. Today, I decided to trust myself and my feelings and my choices. Three years later, this is my true “progress.” Even though I don’t have control over all kinds of things in life, that doesn’t mean I’m a victim. This is my freedom- accepting my lack of control while acknowledging my inherent, universal worth as a human and my personal power over my life perspective. I won’t be happy all the time because of it, but I sure won’t be sad all the time, either. I am a badass, and I’ll be okay no matter what happens. Today I actively choose to be here, just for today. Tomorrow I can choose all over again.

Let the Rains Begin! (And Wash Away this Perfectionist Streak)

1 Jun

As the wind picked up and lightning flashed across the sky, Conan tried to convince me to wait with him and get a ride with a friend. “You can leave your bike here at Nery’s.” he suggested. “Or do you just like to suffer?” he pouted, the same way I do when I think he’s being foolish and stubborn.

Admittedly, I was feeling stubborn, and absolutely thrilled at the prospect of rain. There’s something about going six months out of the year without a drop of rain that makes even the promise of rain feel beautiful and magical again. In Juquila, I had dreaded the start of rainy season, since it meant the promise of six months of dreariness. In Juquila during rainy season it rains every single day, often for the whole afternoon and most of the night, occasionally for days on end. In Juquila, it meant feeling even more trapped inside the house. It meant wasting all the nice morning’s dry hours rushing to do chores and errands before the rain (since washing dishes was an outside chore, and you had to try to hang your clothes out in the sun for a couple hours so maybe they’d dry in less than three days, for example.). In Juquila rainy season is six months of misery only to be followed by wind storm season and then very cold season. But here in Puerto, where it doesn’t rain every day, and it mostly rains at night, and where the rain cools things down but doesn’t make it cold, I was feeling positive and excited about the seasonal change.

I was determined to ride home, too, because we’d just bought the bike that afternoon before I went to work. My old bike, that we’d bought used, had started breaking down every couple of days- one thing after another- and it was getting ridiculous to keep putting money into it. Having a bike is really important to me, because it’s one of my favorite forms of exercise, and just about everywhere here is biking distance. Plus it usually ends up being faster than public transport, and it’s free! So the need for the bike was strong. Normally, I wouldn’t rush into a big purchase like a brand new not used bike on the spur of the moment, but the transportation strike that afternoon pushed me into a quick decision.

Conan and Lucia and I had walked to the spot where colectivos (collective taxis) pass by, only to be told by a man that there were no colectivos coming. I thought he meant they were all on their lunch hour, which does happen and means a long wait time sometimes. “We’ll go walk out to where the buses pass, then, so at least we have more options,” I told him. “No, there are no buses, either. No taxis, either. There’s a paro (strike/protest),” he informed us.

We found out later that all the transportation folks (taxis, colectivos and buses) had banned together to prevent a new taxi company from doing business. Apparently it was some group who had money and thus good connections and was already getting their paperwork. So all the drivers who have worked for 15, 20 years and had to work hard to get their papers were furious.* At least this is my limited understanding of the situation.

Whatever the case, all of us without cars or functioning bicycles were walking. When we got to the main road, on the outskirts of our neighborhood, we could see that the whole road was blocked off by a bunch of buses and taxis and colectivos. I was pleased it was farther down the road than our house, away from town. We ended up able to get a ride with one of Conan’s cousins and thus avoided walking another 40 minutes or so to the market. We rushed and bought the second-cheapest bike that was small enough for me, a fancy clean white mountain bike that I’m still anxious to decorate (Send me some cool bumper stickers, please!).

After buying the bike, I’d gone directly to teach an English class just a measly 3 blocks ride away, so I was looking forward to using it to ride home. And the darkening sky was like a childhood friend double-dog-daring me to go. “I’ll get home before the rain. And before you get home, too!” I told Conan smugly. “I’m going right now before the rain gets here! You take my bag, just in case.” I kissed him and Lucia and took off. It got darker and even windier as I got closer to home. The lightning alternated between long rays touching down somewhere over yonder in the mountains and those gorgeous yellow, orange and pink giant horizontal flashes that seem to light up the whole sky. I pedaled faster, even while going downhill. Since I’ve only lived here for dry season so far, I’d never been in the rain here in Puerto, and had no idea what to expect from this kind of storm. It also reminded me of my days working at Lynn’s Paradise Cafe, my great friend Meg and I riding our bikes home together. Many times we chanced it with impending storms, racing home as fast as our legs would carry us, glancing at the sky, the adrenaline surging through us. I wished she were on this ride with me.

When I got to the entrance to my neighborhood, I thought, “Now I’ve almost made it.” Plus I knew that if the rain got crazy in the next couple minutes, there were two different places where I could stop and wait. But home would be better, so I kept up the pace, zooming past another guy on a bike. Unfortunately, it was dark and I’d forgotten about the speed bumps. I cursed in English going over the first one. The guy on the bike caught up to me just in time to hear my curse in Spanish flying/bumping over the second speed bump. I imagined, briefly, what it would be like riding my bike in the puddles of mud that my street would turn into once it started to rain.
But by the time I got to where the pavement ends I was more sure than ever that I would beat the rain. I flew over the big dirt speed bump that the arrogant neighborhood delegate had made in front of his house, cursing myself for not remembering. Almost there!

I almost slid in the sand that’s just around the curve going to my street, but righted myself in time. I saw my clothes hanging from the line and congratulated myself on getting home in time to keep my clothes dry, too, even though I’d forgotten about them. All labored breathing and sweat and electrifying heartbeats of adrenaline and triumph, I guzzled two cups of water. I sat down to slow myself down, to watch the storm roll in from the cozy nest that is my home, and to wait for Conan and Lucia to arrive.

Our friend brought Conan and Lucia, and the gorgeous displays of lightning kept up, with thunder sounding closer, but still the rain didn’t come. Eventually I went to bed, reluctantly, like an excited kid on Christmas Eve, telling myself I’d wake up when the rain started. But the land stayed dry.

The next night I did wake up, briefly but joyfully, to the sound of pounding rain. I reveled in the sound, in the smell, in the coolness, from the sweet shelter that is our bed in our lovely little house. A few evenings later, right at Lucia’s bedtime, we got to enjoy the rain together, our little family. We shined a flashlight outside so Lucia could see the drops come down. We stood in the doorway and let drops splash over us. I didn’t complain about delaying Lucia’s bedtime. I marveled at the cleansing sensation of moisture that’s not just humidity or my own sweat. We giggled in the novelty and freshness of it.

Image<Lucia with her Tia Artemia playing in her raincoat on a drizzly afternoon>


Like just about everything here, the rain didn’t happen when or how I expected it. Like so many things in Mexico, in life, I’d imagined and prepared for something, only to have bureaucrats or striking workers or inclement weather or other people’s whims or let’s call it destiny ruin my plans. I laughed at myself for having been so sure the rain was coming that night I raced on my bike. For buying a new bike in case the transportation strike kept up (it was over by the next day, although the bike is still important). For still fighting with myself all the time, my intense desire to plan for life and influence the outcomes butting up against my realistic if not heartfelt knowledge that I am not in charge. I am still daily trying to come to terms with the fact that my universe does not exist in a vacuum, that I can plan and prepare and wish for something till the cows come home, and the likelihood of that affecting the result is still about 50/50, on a good day.

I remember trying to give people updates about the house, or about other things we were doing or hoping to do since we moved here, and feeling foolish when they just didn’t get why it was taking so long. Things just happen here differently, or rather things don’t just happen; simple, everyday things are often more of a struggle than they are in the U.S. It took us like 5 days to get an extra key made in Juquila, for example. Just to get a house key! Every time we’d go to get it made, the place would be closed, and the first time we went and they were open we’d forgotten the key.

Or when we wanted to buy a bed for Lucia- for a reasonably priced bed, we had to get to Oaxaca City, 5 hours away, and figure out who could transport it back to Juquila for us. Not at all like driving down the road to Wal-Mart. Or you think you’re going to the grocery store one day but nope, you get there and it’s blocked by striking teachers again. Or just the other day, Conan was trying to deal with some tax situation for his grandmother who passed away over ten years ago. So he goes to the office, explains the situation. They say they can’t help him without an appointment. He asks if he can make an appointment. “No,” they say, “you have to make it online or over the phone at this 800 number.” He says he’s been trying to do it online and can’t get through. “Oh, yes,” they tell him casually, not an ounce of shame, “there’s a problem with the system, it’s over saturated and thus not working properly.” “Sooooo,” he says, and they’re like, “Just try in the early morning hours or late at night” which is especially tricky since we don’t have internet in our house, like most people around here. “Welcome to Oaxaca,” my mom would say (she’s got a really funny blog post if you want the back story on this inside joke: http://faustastories.net/2012/08/13/welcome-to-oaxaca/ ).

Here, much more so than in the U.S., you have to plan for things to not go as planned. “Julia, I think you’re gonna have to relax and go with the flow a little more if you’re going to live here,” my mom tried to caution me politely a week after we’d moved down. Ha! Let me tell you, I want to be a go-with-the-flow kind of person, I really do. Nobody wants to be that guy who’s devastated and grumpy all day just because their perfect biscuit recipe didn’t work because there’s no temperature control on the stupid oven here. And no, of course it’s not really about the biscuits or the temperature control, but the feeling that you lack any and all control over your life. (This may or may not be an accurate description of me in August 2012, 8 weeks into motherhood, one week into our Mexican exile- er, um, move.) No, no, let’s not be like that; let’s roll with the punches, guys! Listen to Bob Marley. Do some yoga.

So far yoga has not defeated my Type A personality. Bob has failed to convince me not to cry. Since I was itty bitty I have been a perfectionist, anxiously revising my Plans A, B, and C before being able to sleep at night. I was that kid who told her Mommy in preschool that she’d never get in trouble and have to go to time out, and then never did. I was that kid who wanted to do fire drills in her own home after learning about them at school. I was that teenager who was reckless and rebellious, but only because I carefully calculated what things I wanted to rebel against, when and how I would be “reckless”. I was and am a damn good spur-of-the-moment traveller, going where the wind blows me, appreciating all the moments for what they are- but only because my very intentional plan is to not have a plan in those moments.

Slowly but surely, I am recovering from this perfectionism, from this desire to believe I have control over my life. This wondrous job of motherhood has helped a lot; for example, for a while I was too exhausted to even get through Plan A in my head before falling asleep at night. Almost two years into this mothering adventure now, my child has taught me that I can expect any rigid expectations to be peed or pooped on, spat up, and/or vomited on regularly, just to keep me in check. And the lovely state of Oaxaca is doing its part, too. Oaxaca’s lessons for me, much like Lucia’s lessons for me, are not always pleasant, but I think they’ve been good for me, and I’ve grown fond of Oaxaca all the same. I am often forced to blow off my own plans, to make to-do lists in pencil and not pen, to laugh wildly at my expectations of ten minutes ago, to rethink what I thought I knew, even about the rain. Sometimes all this just makes me angry and crazy and frustrated and helpless-feeling. But more and more, I really can relax and laugh it off, change my plans and beloved ideas at the drop of a hat and call it destiny. I can feel not-miserable when the rain doesn’t come when I think it has to, and not be shocked when it appears out of the blue. So let this year’s rains keep coming, and wash away a little more of this perfectionist thing that’s been weighing me down. Please and thank you. 

*Their protest was effective, by the way; the new group did not start driving taxis, at least not yet.