Thursday, June 25, 2009

the crush of life

When I told my colleagues I was retiring, they wanted to know where. Florida? Arizona? The Oregon coast?

When I said Mexico, the reactions ranged from interested nods to bewilderment to outright horror.

I have said it several times, but I think I need to say it again -- if, for no other reason, to remind myself why I am in Mexico.

I have never been interested in retiring in comfort. I wanted to add some adventure to my life.

So, I added these two factors to my list of where I should retire:

  • Factor # 8 -- daily learning to survive
  • Factor # 9 -- facing mountains of difficulties; and being repeatedly crushed

I realize that not everyone wants a lot of drama and adventure in retirement. They are happy to be safe and comfortable surrounded by family and friends. How do those lyrics go? "Some people sit on their butts;/got the dream, yeah, but not the guts."

Like Mama Rose, I am not one of those people.

I joined the Air Force because I wanted a job where I could appreciate simply surviving to live another day.

I opened a law practice right out of law school with a law school classmate. We had no business experience. No client base. No money. But we survived and thrived.

I lived in Europe for three years and learned some skills in dealing with new languages and cultures. More than anything, I developed a passion for living in new countries.

My mantra for moving to Mexico was that I want to wake up every morning and not know how I am going to get through the day.

And how is that working for me?

As it turns out, my transition has been a bit more cosseted than I expected.

I am currently house sitting. That means I stepped into a house that was in full operation before I arrived.

I did not need to negotiate with the telephone company to install a telephone and internet. No unpaid bills for me to pay off before service could be restored.

The young man who delivers bottled water to the house already knows the owner's usage pattern. Mine is similar. The day I need the bottle, he arrives unbidden.

The propane gas man seems to have the same sense. I had barely switched to the reserve tank two weeks ago, and there he was outside of the gate. No need to call for service.

I don't even need to worry about paying the electric and telephone bills. The owner pays, and I reimburse her.

As a result, I am not developing very many survival skills in my current living arrangement. A lot of the headaches that expatriates face in Mexico are simply not on my plate.

The biggest hurdle I have faced was finding a veterinarian for Professor Jiggs, with all the angst that went along with his transition to the heat -- and trying to figure out how the human food chain worked.

So far, not much of an adventure. But it has been a sweet transition.

I added that second factor (facing mountains of difficulties; and being repeatedly crushed) because I believe that we learn far more from failure than we do from success.

During one of my college courses, we were required to write a short biography of someone in the class we had known for at least a year. The fellow assigned to write mine started: "Everything comes easy to him."

I thought of that sentence this past week. I may not be able to learn easily, but my life has been almost charmed. Good things do come easily to me.

This retirement is one of them. For the past two months I have whinged about some rather minor issues. And none of them has adversely affected my life in Mexico.

One of my major concerns about living in Mexico is in the process of being fixed. My language course is starting to turn me from a bumbling tourist into a bumbling expatriate. I feel like a walk-on character in a mediocre play. My lines are minimal,. But, at least, I have some lines. If all goes well, I might even end up as Murphy Brown's secretary.

And then there is the amazing Professor Jiggs and his Merlin impression. But that is going to be the center of tomorrow's discussion.

That brings us to the question of how Melaque measures up to these factors.

I did not plan it this way, but Melaque may actually have made the "adventure" factor an easy transition. And I was spared the death of a thousand Dorothy Parker cuts in the more carnivorous expatriate enclaves.

If I want a crushed life, I may need to move somewhere else.


Babs said...

I think the time for "crushed lives" in Mexico is over - its so civilized. BUT I did think of a place that you might want to see, for sure. San Cristobal de las Casa in Chiapas. IF I was going to live in another city, that would be it! It's high and cool, to me cold. It is beyond beautiful. Very few American ex-pats but lots of Europeans. Way cool place. NOT on a beach however.

Laurie said...

I thought about you when I read this yesterday during my devotional time: Living without speaking is better than speaking without living. For a person who lives rightly helps us by silence, while one who talks too much merely annoys us. Abba Isidore of Pelussia. You don't have much of a choice right now to speak little. Maybe everyone will think you are very wise!

Steve Cotton said...

Babs -- I am beginning to realize that the beach is the portion of the equation that throws everything off. My friends who live on the Oregon coast say the same thing. They love the water, but they miss civilization. A lot of them end up moving back to the Willamette Valley and then travel the short distance to the beach. There may be a lesson to learn from their experience.

Steve Cotton said...

Laurie -- The wise silent one is an interesting persona for my Spanish handicap. I also thought of being a deaf mute, but I doubt I could carry it off.

Larry Prater said...

Still keep Tepoztlán in mind, or any part of the state of Morelos.

Islagringo said...

I'll say it again. You really need to give La Crucecita on the Bays of Huatulco a try. Some Canadians but no real expat community. You have had it lucky so far. I can't wait to see if you maintain your optimism once the day to day realities of living and surviving slap you in the face. (not that I am wishing ill for you. Just waiting for the real Mexico to grab you)

Steve Cotton said...

Larry -- My list of possibilities continues to grow. Moving every six months may not be a plan; it may turn out to be a necessity.

Constantino said...

Sounds like without the day to day trials and tribulations of normal life, you are being cheated out of a real life experience. With everything so easy for you, there is little difference of your present survival that living in a Ritz Carlton by the sea. You have taken the easy way out,and are cheating yourself out of the daily disappointments, frustrations and often joys of accomplishments until you jump in with both feet somewhere. Only then will you be able to really see what life down here is. But you kept your house NOB as a backup to an easy Exodus for some reason. "So little time, so many places to see" need to start your journey if you enjoy that. You have started it, which is half the battle and is more than probably 90% of your buddies up north will ever do except talk about it. We are waiting .....keep up the journey, after all you want the experience I doubt you will find in your sleepy little village.

Anonymous said...


You are the "little cell that could."

Margulis writes in her book on What is Life that cellular construction and replication were a means to overcome the law of thermodynamics, and that life, overcoming the law of thermodynamics, is a situation of ever rising stakes. Evolution is the process by which those rising stakes are met.

It strikes me that your "adventure" is a personal magnification of this essential process, that at some level, your consciousness senses that the core of life lies in this response to rising stakes.

You are, in short, recapitulating at a personal level what Toynbee called his "rout and rally" theory of history.

This doesn't surprise me in the least.

1st Mate said...

Steve - The name of the game is adaptation. It's good that you're getting some cosseting in these first few months. Later on, you can rough it a bit more, thereby saving money and enjoying that satisfying sense of accomplishment. But you don't need to be in a hurry. Hope you're sleeping better.

Steve Cotton said...

Islandgringo -- The Bays of Huatulco offer great ocean experiences, but the cultural isolation would be exacerbated. It may be worth a visit, though.

Constantino -- I will soon have my opportunity to deal with some of the additional trials of Mexico life when my house sit is completed in December. The house in Salem is not an escape; it is simply sitting there awaiting the day when the housing market revives.

Anonymous -- "The little cell that could." I think I like that.

1st Mate -- I thought I would be a bit more resilient on this move south. I was academically prepared, but emotionally there were still some bumps to encounter -- as you know. This house sit was a gift that I could not have imagined when I started my planning.

Larry in Mazatlan said...

I'm with 1st Mate all the way. Why suffer in confusion, when you can sample and borrow to find your way. The difficulties will come soon enough and there's no reason to be buried in them. Besides, what would be a big problem now becomes only annoying the next time you encounter it. Problem solving 101. A step at a time.


Nancy said...

I guess I have never understood the desire to be "repeatedly crushed."

I like challenges and all but I wouldn't like to be repeatedly crushed. But if that's what you really want I think you need to go very very rural.

I guess the thing I would like to know about you is what do you really love about Mexico and what made you move here? I don't get a sense of what it is you love here except the beach.

Joe S. said...

Having a hard time relating to wanting a crushed life. I'm hoping for restoration once I retire.

Trying Dennis Hopper because of my uncanny resemblence, plus he's holding the dictionary I need to keep up with your blog.

Steve Cotton said...

Larry -- Excellent point. Count on an engineer to break down the problem into its component parts.

Nancy -- Part of the "getting crushed" syndrome stems from my view of the world. I think Hobbes had a better understanding of the real world than did Locke, but Locke had a better grasp on the solution. Even though Hobbes was discussing what life would be without governance, his observation of human life as "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short" accurately sums up my view of life. That condition, of course, is ameliorated by God's grace and love. I fully expect to be run over and crushed in life -- and survive the experience to emerge as a better person. But, as I wrote in today's post, I have led an almost charmed life. Not being able to find fresh rosemary in the market is not being crushed.

As for what attracted me to Mexico, that is simple: nothing in particular. I could have had the same sense of adventure in Zambia, Costa Rica, or Paris. Mexico was simply close at hand. The day may come on one of my 6-month rotations that I will head off to other not-so-green pastures. I am not a person of place.

Joe -- The 'getting crushed" part is just a little more of my existential Zen philosophy peeking through. As I wrote in response to Nancy, most of that is stance rather than practice.

Felipe said...

Okay, smarty pants, I had to look up cosset.

Everybody loves the ocean and the sound of crashing surf. Alas, the drawbacks of living next to it permanently usually far outweigh the pleasure of the surf. Best for visits, not living.

Being crushed is overvalued. And if you are crushed, it´s better to do it young, not old. If you do have a crushing experience down here, I doubt you will find it uplifting or fun in any manner whatsoever.

Anonymous said...

Let your mind wonder,follow your heart.Glad,you are safe.Take care

American Mommy in Mexico said...

I like reading the blog and the discussion. But what I cannot tell is:

- Are you happy?
- Are you having fun?

Nancy said...

You said "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short" is your view of life.

And you picked Mexico only because it was close at hand.

I have to say I am finding fewer things appealing to me when reading your story.

glorv1 said...

Did you do something wrong in life that you never recovered from?:)Sounds to me like you are trying to punish yourself. I guess some people have to have a lot of challenges on a daily basis. But you are up to any challenge so just be happy and take care.

Anonymous said...

Maybe you could move back to Oregon and just stick your fingers in an electric socket every once in a while.

Steve Cotton said...

If the blog is all about successful communication, this has been an unsuccessful day. And it is my fault. Several people I comment with regularly are concerned. And I think I understand why.

Let's start with my use of the word "crushed." Not a good choice. It sounds as if I wish to lead the life of a slow cockroach. I much prefer Nancy's formuation of facing challenges, surmounting them, and learning from them. I assume she would also add learning, as well, when we fail to surmount them.

But the bigger problem is that I seem to have given the impression to some of you that I am not happy in Mexico. To the contrary, I thank God every morning that I have this opportunity. Not everything has been perfect. But I did not expect that.

Felipe -- You are correct. "Crush" is a terrible choice. If I were really serious about that, I would have not surrounded myself with some of the comforts of Salem: daily NPR broadcasts, British news magazines, and frequent conversations with family and friends through this nifty computer.

Min -- Perhaps I could use a bit more mental discipline -- if today's post is any example.

Steve Cotton said...

AMM -- I could not be happier. I suspect that all of this analysis is getting in the way of my larger feelings. I would not change one thing about my move to Mexico. If I had not done it, I would not have had the oportunity to meet you and your delightful family. I remember the first time I heard Edith Piaf sing "Non, je ne regrette rien." I thought: what a great way to lead one's life -- with no regrets, or with no guilt over regrets. I have tried to do that. And I hoped it was working. Obviously, not as well as I had thought.

Gloria -- Everytyhing is fine. I have discovered that 17th century political philosophers do not travel well. But I am thoroughly enjoying life with Jiggs. Earlier this week, he was extremely frisky at the start of the storm -- as if he had dopped 8 years or so. He is quite a dog.

Steve Cotton said...

Nancy -- I should not have taken Hobbes out of context -- the context of my ife, that is. Hobbes's phrase, of course, forms the foundation of American political philosophy, including the declaration of independence and the constitution. That phrase is not very remarkable because it is rather boring. It states a fact without a solution. What I left out was my own philosophical solution. And I think it is very familiar to you.

When faced with life's circumstances, we can either respond negatively or positively. My experience is that responding positively is always the best option. It gives an opportunity to learn and to grow. (My colleagues often referred to me as being a Pollyanna.)

And that is how I have tried to face my retirement. I am enjoying every day of it. Not everything has worked as I thought it would -- poor Jiggs being the chief example. But it is an amazing experience.

Do I wish I had chosen a place with more cultural opportunities? Yes. But I will be on my way somewhere else at the end of the year. I can determine just how much that matters to me then.

Will I stay in Mexico after December? The answer is certainly, yes. My scouting trips and my year of living in Laredo let me know that I had the skills to at least fit in with this beach community. My Mexican friends in Salem were also a big support in making that decision. Proximity, in this case, led to enough familiarity to get me started. Now that I am here, I can work on those additional skills.

I hope you keep reading and commenting. Your countdown has always been a source of inspiration to me.

Steve Cotton said...

Anonymous -- Sounds a bit too much like a Loony Tunes solution to me. I think I will just stay in Mexico and enjoy myself.

Anonymous said...

I'm not certain what to make of all this. I keep looking for the negative part of your blog, but I don't see it. Maybe because I have known you for over thirty years now. You sound like the lawyerly idealist who always analyzes things too much. So what! I get the impression you like Mexico. You know my opinion. You should have retired to London or New York City. You have too much Peter O'Toole in you. I don't know San Miguel. Maybe the people who talk about it have a point. Do they need an Earl of Bothel?


Anonymous said...

Steve...I might be missing something here but I enjoy reading your blog (and comments) everyday. Some days I understand what you are saying, somedays, not. What I took away from your blog today was that old expression, "adversity builds character" and I find you to be quite a character so I feel you are succeeding in that respect. I look forward to tomorrow's blog as the dog tales are my favorite. Have a great evening!

Anonymous said...

Personally, I think it's hard to have much of an adventure in a luxe beach house.

As far as I can tell, you hardly even go anywhere.

So maybe it's time to rethink whether what you think you want is really what you want.


Kim G
Boston, MA

Darrel said...

I would disagree with the statement that “everything came easy for you”. It may have seemed that way to others, but I know differently. Ever since early childhood, you have analyzing your options, debating your own assumptions, plotting the best course and set sail with a specific destination in mind. You have never been adrift without a rudder. There were times you had to decide whether to sail directly through or around a storm, but the ultimate goal never changed. You have achieved incredible accomplishments not because they came easy but because you planned and perused incredible accomplishments.
Now that you have reached retirement, it’s time to visit some of the uncharted islands and soak up the adventures that are available. We are all headed to the same final destination, but the joy, sorrow and adventure is in the journey.

Steve Cotton said...

Horst -- You too? I am beginning to feel San Miguel has its own lobby firm. It is worth a try. Did you get paid in Marks? Oops! I almost forgot. That would now be Euros.

Anonymous -- Jiggs will be in tomorrow's blog, in a supporting role. His star turn will come on Saturday, if all goes well.

Kim -- My mistake may be in thinking that the adventure is somehow separate from the place. I am getting the impression that I should put some places back on my visitation list. Felipe and Babns have done a good job of turning my mind on SMA.

Steve Cotton said...

Darrel -- What a kind comment. Nicely said.

Paul said...

If you really truly want to get crushed, stay where you are. After reading your blog these past few months, it seems to me you have been getting crushed just fine. Maybe it is not as much fun as you insist it is.

I think I agree with Nancy and American Mommy and others. Why? Why Mexico? Are you happy?

I don't agree that you have failed to communicate in this post. You have communicated very well. Are you listening?

Mic said...

I too enjoy your thoughts and the discussions they start :-)

Steve Cotton said...

Paul -- After reviewing the past two months, I have had two major concerns about Melaque. The first was finding a veterinarian for Jiggs. The second was finding people to talk with. The first has been resolved. That, of course, is not going to alleviate the ultimate issue of how I react when he finally dies. But that would be true no matter where I lived. And I am working on the second. In just the past two weeks, my conversation net has expanded -- thanks, in part, to my Spanish class. And not just the three of us in the class. I am gaining enough knowledge to start communicating with my neighbors. I may sound like someone's three-year old nephew, but I am on the road. But, in answer to your question: yes, I am happy. I was just thinking about that question as I sat here eating my breakfast and watching the ocean on this stunning bay. There is no way I could not be fundamentally happy in these circumstances. And I am looking forward to the next move -- wherever it will be.

Steve Cotton said...

Mic -- Thanks. I thoroughly enjoy these discussions.

Jan said...

I think you're happy but haven't quite transitioned into the unabashed happiness that most of us feel in Mexico. I guess I'm trying to say I feel almost euphoric here and just being in a place that gives me so few challenges (they are there but I choose to look at the beauty instead) makes it easy to deal with issues back home or ones we still have to deal with here relating to family etc. I hope you stay here and learn to really love it. I can see your an overanalyzer but I think you do enjoy your life. Obviously need to relate to the great people in your town more!

Chrissy y Keith said...

Steve, you are such a man. You have become a product of problem and solution. relax, slow down, take it all in. Your spanish speaking skills will get better. You will meet people, you will discover places. You are not even 2 chapters into the book and you are already racing towards the ending. The biggest change you have to deal with is the change itself. Lots of stuff, dont rush it. You are doing just fine.

Steve Cotton said...

Jan -- I have been a bit surprised that my challenges have been so limited here. And that was a pleasant surprise. But I am not living some of the basic skills I will need when I move to another rental, and that will all come in good time. Thanks for the support.

Cory said...

Amazing ... the number of comments to this blog entry!

I must say ... you're retired ... enjoy where your at whether its London or NYC or a beach or mountain retreat in MEX. Too much analysis going on in my mind. But like bro. Darrel said so well, it is why you have been successful ... you have had well planned and analyzed and plotted plans.

I also agree (and ditto) Anonymous' statement: "I might be missing something here but I enjoy reading your blog (and comments). Some days I understand what you are saying, somedays, not. What I took away from your blog today was that old expression, "adversity builds character" and I find you to be quite a character so I feel you are succeeding in that respect."

Enjoy and celebrate life wherever your at, do what YOU want to do and continue to thank God for your opportunities ...

Cory said...

Another thing ... part of what you enjoy in life is doing what is out of the ordinary, the unpredictable. I also enjoy this ... if you do what is predictable or what everyone else is doing (Florida, Arizona, or the Oregon Coast, etc.) ... what fun is there in that?

An acquaintance of mine accepted a a teaching job for the fall in Frenchglen, OR. She has four kids, the population of Frenchglen is approx. 12!

Adventure! Challenges! The simple life! Learning!


Steve Cotton said...

Cory -- Like you, I was amazed at the number of reactions to this post. Of course, I could have worded it a little better. As Felipe said the other day, when feelings are discussed, men leave the room. I probably should have left this one in my head. But I am truly enjoying myself.