Sunday, November 18, 2012

Get on with it


Thank God Obama won. I was equally as thankful that the campaign had finished. It was obscene—it’s negativity, the nearly $2 billion spent, the ads on both sides that were filled with half-truths and innuendos.

I don’t trust Romney and I didn’t like his vision for America but neither he nor Obama gave us much substance during the campaign. Both promised to create jobs with old paradigms—lower taxes and businesses will hire; investing in the infrastructure will create jobs. Neither addressed the complexities of job creation in the global economy where workers in competing countries make less in a week, than middle income Americans make in a day. Neither spoke of the need to readdress free trade in this environment. Or how we’re going to direct students toward the specialties employers need—many high-wage jobs are not being filled because they can’t find applicants with the needed skill-sets.

We celebrated a friend’s birthday on election night. Four of us gathered at another friend’s house for food, champagne and chocolate while we watched the returns. We cheered when Obama won. Then CNN showed a graphic of red and blue counties. Seeing his formidable challenge was sobering.
The day after the election the looming, so-called, fiscal cliff (that neither candidate addressed during the campaign), couple with continued fears about the European economy caused the DOW to plunge 2%.

As the market’s downward spiral continued, both President Obama and Representative Boehner promised to work together to reduce our deficit but that’s not what I see. The reds are still holding fast to their no tax increases stance, the blues insist the rich must play more. And continued diverseness in Congress was easily apparent in the responses to the Benghazi investigation that began last week. 

We can argue about whether Obama’s re-election does or does not give him a mandate. But what does have a mandate is eliminating the gridlock. No one’s going to end up with exactly what they want. That’s the essence of compromise.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Reality Check


I was restless by mid-July. I’d spent the month of May in the States, mostly in NYC, and was feeling that my colonial village was too small. Since I arrived in San Miguel, summers have included GIFF, the Guanajuato International Film Festival, that brought an array of films and filmmakers from around the world to our town, and the last two summers have included TEDx conferences.  This year GIFF bypassed San Miguel and TEDx was postponed until the fall. Music wasn’t tempting me out of the house much. Some of my favorite musicians were performing but I’ve heard them all more than a dozen times. Other friends who arrived around the time I did, late in 2005, were also experiencing ennui. This summer felt stale. Was it time to relocate or just the seven-year itch?

I started fantasizing about returning to New Orleans. I’d been nostalgic for my old house since my friend Rich met the new owners when he made his first trip to NOLA in April for this year’s JazzFest. The perfect for me house that I never got to live in. On my two-day pass through before returning to San Miguel, I started falling in love with the City again. I could feel it was coming back when my friend Claudia and I checked out a blues concert in one of the parks before heading to her house in Manderville,. I was experiencing the same energy that sucked me in the first time I visited in ’95. I relished the breeze off the water as we walked her dog along Lake Pontchartrain. And OD’d on oysters, plump, juicy, succulent, not the anemic ones we get in the mountains of Mexico. During my plane ride home, I remember thinking that New Orleans suited me better than San Miguel.

Then, as it moved toward New Orleans, Issac transitioned from a tropical storm to a category one hurricane and made landfall on the 7th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. As I tracked its movement, I remembered why ultimately I sold the house. I never want to repeat that experience. Never want to flee my home again, never want to repair it from the ravages of a storm. Never want to deal with mold, insurance companies or FEMA.

All the cities I love in the States have major deficits for me now—New Orleans has hurricanes, New York and San Francisco are too expensive. Plus SF has earthquakes.  I’m starting to remember why I thought San Miguel would be a good base. But after years of NYC living, it is too small to exist alone. I don’t need to move. I need to get out more.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Touching My Old Lives


I was little girl on Christmas eve excited at the end of April as I prepared for my trip home. Not really home anymore, I haven’t lived in NYC for more than six years. But it’s the place where I have the most history. Last time I was there, almost two years ago, I was overwhelmed with differences—how much the City had changed since 2005. For a brief moment I wondered if my planned month-long stay would be too long. Would New York feel foreign? Would I still feel connected to old friends now that we only have sporadic communication?
Two years ago, I was mired in differences. New York had changed significantly during the four years I’d been away. Every neighborhood had up-scaled. It was fast becoming too expensive for lower-middle and lower income workers. Where could artists afford to live? Where did you find the work of up and coming designers now that luxury-label chains stores were replacing boutiques? Would so many whites move uptown that Harlem, the Black capital of the world, would become a majority white community?
When I returned to San Miguel after that trip, I had to laugh at myself. I sounded like some of my friends who have lived here for more than 20 years. They bitch constantly about changes in their colonial city instead of enjoying what these changes bring. We all seem to be most resistant to changes at home. I vowed that the next time I went to NY, I wouldn’t let missing what was stop me from enjoying what is.
I had a great time this May.  For half of my NYC vacation, I stayed with friends on 148th Street, five blocks from my old home. The neighborhood has more diversity, both ethnically and economically, now. And this brought more commerce. Retail franchises haven’t migrated that far uptown yet but most banks have branches within walking distance, and every cell phone operator has a storefront. There’s a deli and more restaurants. Whites and Asians have moved in but many of the old residents remain. People whose might not interact are living together in the same neighborhood. All of this is good.
I had a great time but didn’t want to live there again. The expense of NY no longer matches my finances. Like many in the 60-year plus club, my salary didn’t continue to grow, like my mom’s did, as I aged. Several of my NY are experiencing monetary stagnation or downturns. The freelancers have less work. Others lost jobs in their mid to late 50s because their salaries were too high for the current economic climate. Many are making less money than they did a decade ago while paying astronomical fees of health insurance. They’ve been forced to eliminate things they frequently enjoyed—restaurants, plays, concerts.
If I still lived there, I wouldn’t be able to maintain my brownstone.  My friends on 148th Street complained that their monthly heat bills had been $1,800 two winters ago when the city experienced record lows. Electric bills last July and August when air conditioners were needed day and night had averaged $1,200 a month.
I wouldn’t move back to NY even if my income increases dramatically. I’d still choose to live someplace where you can enjoy life at a lower price point. Someplace that would leave more money for travel.
New Orleans was a different story. When I stopped there on my way back to San Miguel to replace my driver’s license, I had the same visceral response I’d had the first time I visited in 1995—it felt like home. For a moment I wondered if selling my house had been a mistake. Momentarily I forgot why I'd done this—fear of the annual hurricane season. I would be filled with anxiety every year for five months, June through November. I can’t live like that, no matter how much I love it. But I want to visit often, now that the horrors of Katrina have faded.
Now I’m back home, energized by my time in the States. Realizing that for this beat of my life, I prefer living in Mexico. I may want to be based in San Miguel but don’t want to be all the time. A month in NY has revved my engine. I’m determined to find a work to finance travel.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Racism Again

Last week when racial tensions in the States were exploding over the shooting of Black teen Trayvon Martin, we had an incident here in San Miguel. Compared with what was happening at home, this was nothing—a good, Southern, Christian woman had too much to drink at a party, the alcohol eliminated her social filters, and she started throwing the “N” word around.

I wasn’t shocked that people in this community might use that word—we have our share of Republicans that in all likelihood means a few Tea Partiers. But I was surprised that a white person would say it out loud at a social gathering. That word in white peoples’ mouths was one of the things I hoped to eliminate from my life when I decided to live outside the US. Not the word, per se, but the sentiment behind it that my African roots make me a lesser human being. I know that as long as I live in a community includes white Americans it’s possible that I’ll bump up against this attitude. And have considered moving to Ghana, more than once. Yea, yea, I know there are white people in Ghana, but they’re not a powerful minority.

There it was again, racial bigotry right up in my face. What pissed me off the most was that since moving to San Miguel this has receded deep into the background. I’d had one racial incident here but it was laughable. A Mexican worker of Spanish decent—I only mention his linage because this country has its version of Black get back between its Spanish and Indio lines—told me to go back to Africa. He’d done shoddy working and I was bitching about it. When he said it I was shocked, for a moment, but started to laugh and told him to get the hell out of my house. Mexico has its bigotry, but their prejudices are not directed toward me.

When I was in my late 30s, I decided that after spending the majority of my life in the bigoted United States, I wanted to live somewhere, for my last quadrant, where my color was not an impediment. I’ve been comfortable San Miguel but now wonder if the total lack of civility that now permeates the States is going to spill over into this American community here. Once again I’m faced with the question,

how much do I want this late 30s dream and how far away from the place where I grew up am I willing to move to achieve it?

Monday, January 16, 2012

Happiness

This past weekend, I went to see the first movie in the Santung Film Festival, a festival of inspirational films that opened in San Miguel Saturday night. There were several I thought I might like to see, but I was most interested in the one that inaugurated the Festival, HAPPY.

I became aware of happiness research a couple of years before I left New York. The article I read discussed the finding from a study that measured happiness internationally. I no longer remember the factors used to assign a quantitative measure to this intrinsic idea, but I was surprised by their findings. Mexico was the country with the highest happiness quotient. I know that wealth does not create happiness but would have expected that the place with the happiest population wouldn’t be one where so many people many stole across the border to find work. This research was in the back of my mind when I visited in San Miguel for the first time in 2004, and had moved to the forefront by time I decided that this would be my post-Hurricane Katrina recovery spot. I was profoundly unhappy, was hoping that living in the happy place would help me reconnect with joy.

The film, HAPPY, combines findings from the new field of “positive psychology” with real-life stories of people from around the world whose lives illustrate these findings. What research in this field has revealed is that once basic needs are satisfied—food, clothing, shelter—happiness had no correlation whatsoever with material success. Denmark was the only happy country featured with a high per capita income. Work obsessed Japan has very little joy. No one showcased—the rickshaw driver in Kolkata, India, the Louisiana family that lived off the land in the Bayou, the hunters in deserts of Namibia, the families living collectively in Denmark, the communities of Okinawa—was kicking any financial ass. Most had living standards below they American norm, but they were happier. The commonality among all these happy people was connectedness, strong ties with family and community, pursuing passions, caring for others, exercising—exercise released twice as much dopamine, the brain chemical that makes us happy, when combined with something silly like Denver’s annual Gorilla Run.

Studying the activity of a Tibetan Monk’s brain showed that his contentment centers had the most activity when doing consciousness meditation, performing acts of kindness, acknowledging five things, each week, that made him happy. Could these three simple things be the road to happiness?

I left this film fantasizing about what our lives would be if all countries followed The Royal Government of Bhutan’s example and prioritized Gross National Happiness over Gross National Product.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Another New Year

I hate clich├ęs but this year flew. The perception of each year gets smaller as we age because it’s a smaller percentage of our lives. It appears that I have less time to realize annual goals and I’m less disciplined.

Relinquishing discipline was one of the privileges I thought came with aging. Nothing could be further from the truth. You have to work harder to maintain everything after 50.

How do I balance the urge to slow down, exacerbated by the more relaxed Mexican lifestyle, with the need to rev up? That’s my challenge for 2012.