Monday, November 17, 2014

existentialism comes to barra

Several months ago, my friend Nancy Miller forwarded a link to me.  It was a blog post written by an American living in Paris: "Loneliness or Freedom: The Existential Conflict of the Modern Expatriate."

The title (as any good title should) captures the dichotomy of the essay's theme.  The writer (Cody Delistaty -- I did not make that up) believes most expatriates are torn between the Scylla of freedom and the Charybdis of loneliness.

For the expatriate, life can get quite lonely. The expatriate desires camaraderie, time with people who are like her, but at the same time this is exactly what she’s running away from.
And, thus, the dilemma.
It’s a particularly odd situation because the expatriate wants both loneliness and friendship. It’s nearly impossible to separate the feeling of isolation from the feeling of total freedom, of having escaped a set of circumstances that you were born into, and, without meditated action, would never have left.
I have touched on this topic in Mexpatriate in the past.  It is also a running subtext whenever expatriates meet.  At least, in these parts.

Yesterday I was talking with my neighbor Mary.  She lives in Michigan half of the year and then spends the rest of the year in her Barra de Navidad house -- something she has been doing for years.  As a result she is a fixture in this very Mexican neighborhood.

We were discussing how "odd" our fellow expatriates must seem to our friends and neighbors up north -- and we put our names at the top of the "odd" list.  "Odd" seems to be the word whenever expatriates discuss one another.

Moving here should seem odd.  Most of us have given up seemingly-comfortable lives to live a life in Mexico that is a bit more adventurous, less tidy, and certainly not predictable.

If I wanted to be smug (and I am wont to do that now and then), I could point out that I would not be drafting this essay from the edge -- the wet side of that edge -- of my swimming pool if I had stayed in Salem.  And, though that sentence may seem to undercut my primary argument for moving here (to avoid the comfortable life; to wake up every morning in Mexico and not know how I was going to get through the day), seeking adventure often comes with its own benefits.

Of course, expatriates are going to be a bit odd.  Your typical Babbitt is not going to pull up stakes and move away from hearth and home to start a new life.  (Even though that is exactly what my people have been doing for at least the last 500 years.)

So, we expatriates just leave.  The list of reasons is diverse; there is probably an individual reason for each expatriate.

You only need to read the blogs written by my fellow expatriates to see that.  Some came seeking a low-cost life, and found love, instead.  Some came seeking love, and discovered that being single has a lot of blessings.  Some went into political exile, and developed an aesthetic sense that altered their new lives.

And that is the flaw in
Delistaty's article.  Not all expatriates left their homelands seeking freedom.  That is, unless you want to suck all of the meaning out of that venerable word.

It is simply not true.  The supposed tension between seeking freedom and then giving it up in the need for the companionship of other expatriates is a false construct. 

It is doubly false because not all expatriates seek out others of their ilk.  Many are lone wolves.  After living in this area for six years, I am surprised to discover new groups of expatriates who have lived here well before 2009.  Mary is an example.  Some of us are happy to be semi-recluses.

I had hoped that Delistaty would offer a synthesis to his Hegelian thesis of loneliness and his antithesis of freedom.  But I was sorely disappointed, instead, that he fired off this wet squib of Whitmanesque Romanticism:

It is here, where loneliness gives way to freedom, where your imagination of the life you always desired coincides with reality, that the expatriate finds that while loneliness is ever present, while freedom is ghost-like, and while it may be impossible to run away from yourself, your worries, and your insecurities, you can, in fact, run away.
 So, I guess that is what all of this philosophical hand-wringing and navel-gazing comes down to.  A solution that every four-year-old knows.  If life gets too confusing, you can just run away.

That is why it verges on the edge of terminal irony, that after all of these words griping about the article, Delistay's self-absorbed sentence rather accurately sums up my move to Mexico.

A place where I have freedom -- and where I am never -- ever -- the least bit lonely.


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