And That’s All I Need To Know

My nervous system is recalibrating. I don’t wake up to monkeys screaming at dawn. Ketut says they’re still there. Every day. Many.

I loved Bali. No other place has ever captured my heart and soul like that mysterious island did. No other human has shown me such kindness or giggled as contagiously as Ketut did, and still does, but from a great distance now. Life, however, moves on. Circumstances change. As Willie Nelson so eloquently put it, Shit happens.

So we pick up the scraps and move on, a little battered, a little shaken up, but still hopeful that the path will open before us and the sun will shine again.

It’s important, though, especially for those of us who are optimists, to feel the feelings. Everything is not always sunny-side-up and we need to let grief in where it belongs.

When I landed in the U.S. I was numb. Reuniting with family after two years should have been bliss. I had expectations. It would be a love-fest – joyous – thrilling. My heart experienced it that way but my mind was in a state of utter overwhelm. I remember almost nothing of that time with my children and grandchildren.

My nervous system was in dire need of a reset.

The past five months in Mexico have been healing. The joys and sorrows of life are played out in the streets. There seem to be no taboos. One day they’re dancing and drumming with wild abandon. The next day brings a procession so somber and reverent the beholder hardly dares breathe. Battles, revenge, love, craziness. People in costumes depicting angels, demons, and everything in between. Effigies of personas non grata hung over the streets and blown to smitherines. My energies merge with theirs and I’m purged and cleansed.

Writing used to occupy my free time. I could sit for twelve hours at a stretch, so absorbed in the story I’d forget to eat.

I don’t know if it’s the altitude, the weather, or the tectonic shifting within my own being, but here in Mexico, my body wants to move. It refuses to sit still. It’s all I can do to bribe it into a chair long enough to hammer out a blog post.

So in-between delightful visits from friends who view my current proximity to the U.S. as a much less arduous undertaking than a trip to Bali, I seek projects.

The patio set on my roof frustrated me. The Acapulco-style table was missing its round glass insert. If mine ever had one, it was long gone. The rubber-string top was worthless if I wanted to set my coffee cup or glass of wine on it. I didn’t want a glass top anyway. I preferred a statement table, something that would express with color and design what stirred in my heart and didn’t yet have words.

Roberto, my landlady’s son, supplied a round piece of plywood.

I borrowed a brush from Martin, the handyman.

There is a Sherwin Williams paint store down the street. I stopped in and bought a can of black, a can of white, and a can of marine varnish – a product Dad used years ago to protect an antique coffee table he refinished. To this day it doesn’t have a scratch on it. An art supply shop had tubes of red, green, and gold and the smaller brushes I needed for details. I was ready.

For some reason, I decided to use a sponge rather than Martin’s new brush to apply the white base coat. I shook the can vigorously and pried it open with a tool that was not made for that purpose. In minutes my tabletop was white.

I took the sponge to the kitchen sink and squeezed it under running water. It was at that moment I realized I had not purchased acrylic paint. A sticky, oily, white substance covered my skin and the faucet. Panic. I grabbed a bar of soap and scrubbed to no avail. By now my hands looked like the face of a Parisian mime.

Stop, Sherry. Think.

Nail polish remover? I didn’t have any. I quit polishing my nails around month number six of Covid lockdown in Bali.

Rubbing alcohol? Worth a try. But anything I touched was going to be slathered in white. I slapped my palms down on two pieces of newspaper. It stuck like glue. I found the bottle of rubbing alcohol and gave my poor hands a liberal dousing. It didn’t work on the paint but the paper disintegrated.

Now what?

Martin had been painting recently. There might be turpentine in his supplies. I applied fresh newspaper and ran downstairs. The storage cabinet was full of bottles all labeled in Spanish. One looked promising, diluyente de pintura. Dilute the paint? Thinner perhaps? Back at the kitchen sink, I poured and scrubbed, poured and scrubbed, poured…. Were my hands a slightly pinker shade of pale? There had to be something that worked better than this.

Newspaper refreshed once again, I hurried back downstairs and paged more carefully through the confusing labels. Solvente de poliuretano? Polyurethane solvent? Now we’re talking! Back up the steps, two at a time. I poured a small amount of the liquid into a cup and dribbled it on my hands. This time paint came off when I scrubbed. Jackpot! I picked up the cup for another splash of miracle juice and WHOOPS! My magic paint remover had dissolved the bottom of the cup and solvent was running over my polyurethaned concrete countertop!

I don’t want to crash the climax for you, but there is a happy ending to this story. I grabbed a rag and swabbed down the counter. No harm done. The solvent removed most of the paint from my hands but a residue clung to my cuticles creating interesting half-moon shapes that framed the fingernails for weeks.

It took each coat of oil paint three days to cure and there were multiple coats. After the basic white, I taped squares and painted them black.

When that dried, I taped over those black squares and painted another layer of black to create a checkerboard pattern. The black paint bled into the white squares under the tape. Wiggly edges looked like the scribblings of a toddler, not at all the crisp, professional masterpiece I’d envisioned. The quickest fix: sandpaper for a distressed finish. It worked.

Adding the artistic touches was a treat. The flowers, slightly transparent, allowed a shadow of the black and white to show through. Touches of metallic gold added a sprinkle of sparkle to catch the light.

The project that I’d hoped to finish in three days took three weeks because I assumed I was buying acrylic paint. I didn’t ask for a water-based product so why would I assume? If I were in the U.S. I would have specified exactly what I wanted. Sometimes my ignorance astounds me.

The important thing, though, is the finished product, a hard surface where I can securely park my morning coffee cup or evening wine glass.

But even more special for me is the subtle message written in paint. Black and white checks represent the balance between darkness and light. Every Balinese Hindu male owns a black and white checked sarong and important statues are draped with checkered fabric for protection against dark spirits. Nothing says Bali to me like that pattern.

Vibrant red flowers are life itself – creativity, innovation, fire, passion, beauty.

Green is growth. Renewal. A calming, peaceful, dependable color.

And you might ask why I didn’t cluster the flowers in the middle? It would have created a more symmetrical balance. Science shows that symmetry is comfortable. Our minds don’t have to work to process symmetry. But asymmetry is more interesting and we engage longer with it. I’ve never been satisfied with comfortable. I like challenge, and the design I chose to paint reflects that truth.

My table says it all! It’s wonderful! My body had to move a lot to get those stories painted. But for the last three hours, it’s been perched on this chair, retelling the saga that’s already been told in color and pattern. And now it’s begging me to finish because it’s after midnight and this bird is not a night owl.

I’m grieving the loss of my beloved Bali, feeling it deeply, and that’s necessary. At the same time, I’m enjoying wonderful new friends in San Miguel and visits from dear old friends in the U.S. I don’t have all the answers but I know I’m in the right place for right now, and that’s all I need to know.

Mexico isn’t what you think

That’s assuming I know what you think, right? Since I’m assuming, let’s assume that your information comes from mainstream media. Scanning the first three articles that came up when I Googled news about Mexico the results were dismal. Their keywords, killed (ABC News), bodies (also ABC News), and climate crisis (The Guardian) confirm most of our worst fears.

Of the thirty-three articles shown on the NBC News page, five were somewhat upbeat. Not hip-hip-hooray or anything like that, but they contained neutral information that wasn’t meant to shock or horrify the reader. The other twenty-eight were dreadful.

Why does the media do that? Do the decision-makers really believe the public prefers to be alarmed? An article in BBC News unfortunately says yes. Even though when asked most people answered that they would rather read good news than bad, when those same people were tested they responded more quickly to negative media. As the article pointed out, researchers presented their experiment as solid evidence of a so called “negativity bias“, psychologists’ term for our collective hunger to hear, and remember bad news.

How brutally unfair that propaganda is to the splendid country just south of the U.S. border. Before I moved here, well-meaning friends said things like, It’s so dangerous. Aren’t you afraid you’ll be robbed or kidnapped?

I’d like to take this opportunity to sing the praises of the United Mexican States – it deserves better. Did you know that’s the official name? Bet not. I didn’t.

Mexico’s economy is booming. Mexico is the 15th largest economy in the world and the 11th largest in terms of purchasing power parity according to the IMF…The country has become a new hotspot for research and development.

There are more Americans immigrating to Mexico than Mexicans immigrating to the U.S. 

Mexico has the oldest university in North America. The National University of Mexico (UNAM) was founded in 1551 by Charles V of Spain, 85 years before Harvard.

Mexico has 10-12% of the world’s biodiversity, making it the fourth most biodiverse country in the world.

Chocolate originated in Mexico, where the Aztecs and Mayans first cultivated the cacao plant thousands of years ago. They typically enjoyed it as a drink, and they used the beans as currency.

The Great Pyramid of Cholula in Cholula, Mexico is the largest pyramid in the world— it’s even larger than the pyramids of Giza.

Bet you didn’t know that Caesar salad was invented in Mexico, and

  • Color TV
  • Birth control pills
  • X-ray reflection microscope
  • The electric brake
  • Photography
  • Popcorn
  • First automated cigarette machine
  • Captcha codes
  • Zero – yup, the number or non-number, whatever
  • Translucent concrete
  • Sisal
  • Indelible ink
  • Chewing gum

That’s a small example of the many thousands of inventions we in the U.S. probably assumed were our doing.

My experience of the Mexican people is limited to those I’ve met in San Miguel de Allende. I came here from ten years in Bali where I enjoyed the most inclusive, hospitable humans I’ve met anywhere in the world. Granted, Ubud, the town where I lived, was the cultural center of the island and attracted hoards of tourists. Everything was geared toward their comfort, pleasure, and entertainment. Traditional rituals became commercialized shows staged for tourists’ consumption and the locals knew who buttered their bread.

San Miguel is a haven for ex-pats. We comprise 10% of the population and ‘snowbirds’ from Canada and the U.S. love to roost here for the colder months. But I have a distinct impression that the parades, the ceremonies, the cultural life of the locals goes on as it has for hundreds of years. They’ve made room for us, lots of room, and we’ve brought many of the things we enjoyed ‘back home’ to this city. But the Mexican people, although meticulously polite and gracious, seem deeply proud of their culture and traditions and impervious to outside influences.

I’m in the honeymoon phase of this journey to be sure. (And what a place for a honeymoon!) But the shadow cast on Mexico by U.S. media is unwarranted and unfair. I feel safer here than I would on the streets of most cities in the United States.

The Stories We Tell And The Lies We Believe

Did you know there are five brain types? I didn’t. Reading through the list I immediately eliminated the Cautious Brain. Each of the others had segments that fit the way I perceive myself, but none stood alone as the most completely descriptive of me.

How much of that is due to the stories I tell myself about who I am?

While writing my memoir there were times I had to stop and ask, Was that how it really happened? Looking back from the perspective of an older, wiser person, the version I was writing stretched my credibility. Was I that naive? Didn’t I have some responsibility for the breakup? What was going on in my psyche that would have created those circumstances?

I’m a soul-searcher. I dig deep looking for the why’s of my life. What I’ve come to realize is that my stories are a result of my beliefs and my beliefs are based on the stories I tell myself.

That poses an interesting possibility. Since they are just stories if I don’t like them, can I change them? And where did they come from, anyway? As I pondered, it became clear that everything was a story. From the moment I woke up, I began telling myself about the day. I unconsciously had a story about my image in the mirror, about what I would wear, what I’d have for breakfast, and whether I’d make coffee or tea. Whatsapp messages, emails, conversations, the way someone looked at me on the street – there was no aspect of my existence that didn’t have story attached to it.

But the question, Where did the stories come from? was the knottier issue.

Our stories occur in the subconscious. But when I started journaling, asking why I had related in a certain way, why I had taken offense to something said, why I hadn’t enjoyed an event, why I befriended some and avoided others, why I tried so hard to please…

Why? Why? Why?

I discovered toxic, negative beliefs. Some were so old and outdated I knew they had originated when I was very young and were still there at my core, informing my decisions, my actions, my thoughts.

One of the things that mystified me was the fact that I’d repeated a pattern throughout my life. I’d married five times and five times divorced the men I’d vowed to love until death parted us. Why?

I couldn’t have been more surprised when I uncovered a core belief that said, You can’t do it alone.

Was that true? I made a list of the things I had done alone, big things, little things, anything that came to mind. The list was endless. Of course, I could do it alone, had basically always done it alone. That list assured me that I was more than capable of taking care of myself, my children, and whatever life demanded.

That explained the marriages, but what about divorce? If I couldn’t do it alone, why did I leave?

The beliefs I excavated around that were brutal. I was unloveable. If I didn’t leave first, I’d be left, and abandonment, rejection – I couldn’t tolerate that. What destruction and misery those poisonous lies wreaked.

At the same time, I struggled with perfectionism. I felt I wasn’t measuring up to my own expectations. When I started asking why I unearthed a crap-load of low self-esteem contributing to that story:

  • You’re unworthy
  • You’re not enough
  • You don’t fit anywhere
  • You don’t know what to do

It took a lot of lists, but I worked through those negatives until I’d turned them around with enough evidence to convince myself that I was worthy, was enough, knew what to do, and of course, I didn’t fit everywhere but there were Sherry-shaped niches here and there where I felt seen.

An event from Kindergarten haunted me and contributed to my unrealistic perfectionist tendencies.

As we were filing out of the classroom with our Moms or Dads on the last day, the teacher took my arm and said, “Sherry, I expect great things from you.” If she’d known the terrible burden of her words, would she have said them? Her expectation followed me into adulthood and became my own. What great things was I to accomplish? What did that even mean?

I was in my sixties and one day, journaling, I wrote: Half the people in the world are probably smarter than I am. And half the people are probably less intelligent. That makes me average. I’m average. I’d found my answer.

That simple revelation liberated me. I WAS AVERAGE! I didn’t have to do great things. Leave that for the 50% smarter than I. I’ll never forget walking down the sidewalk feeling light-as-dust and oh-so-average!

I’ve become highly attuned to my own stories because I know if life isn’t working for me, I have the power to change my perspective.

But…there’s a fine line!

In 1980, Lee Atwater, a political consultant said, “Perception is reality.” The American Psychological Association defines perceived reality as a person’s subjective experience of reality in contrast to objective, external reality. One of the most blatant and widely publicized examples of this happened on January 22, 2017, during a televised, Meet the Press interview with Kellyann Conway when she defined outright lies about the number of attendees at the inauguration as ‘alternative facts.’ Over the four years that followed that inauguration, the world was subjected to the perceived reality of the then US President which rarely aligned with objective, external reality.

That’s not what I’m suggesting.

Nor am I proposing we create a la-la land of denial. There’s a place where we can acknowledge that our external reality is shitty at the moment, but choose not to let it undermine our happiness. This promotes emotional stability and sound mental health. It requires introspection and asking the Why? questions to understand the beliefs (usually rooted in fear) that are causing our distress. When we know that, we can make the lists, reverse the negatives, and tell ourselves a more hopeful, more uplifting story.

At the beginning of this post, I absolutely denied any part of a Cautious Brain. But right now I’m experiencing a telling indication of that very type: heightened activity in the anxiety centers of the insular cortex. Here I am, putting myself out there again, exposing my warts, my vulnerabilities, turning myself inside-out hoping my experience will resonate. Hoping it might shine a light on someone else’s path of self-discovery.

Taking Out The Trash In The Valley Of The Corn

I have three options for garbage disposal, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. On any of those days, if I get up before 7:00, put on my mask and jacket, grab the bag of trash, wobble downstairs, unlock the massive metal door, step outside, re-lock the door, turn the corner and cross the street, bags are piling up. Shadowy figures in the half-light of morning lugging their own refuse approach from every direction.

If I wait until I hear the clanging bell of the running man as he races down the street slightly ahead of the garbage truck, I’m too late.

I live on Valle del Maiz, a name that translates as Valley of the Corn and I’m usually awake long before 7 a.m. However, right now in San Miguel de Allende mornings are cold – 35 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit cold – and it takes a generous helping of stern self-talk to motivate.

But today I did.

I’ve established a ritual to reward the pre-dawn effort. Once back inside the house, energized by the brisk journey, I pour a steaming mug of coffee and climb the stairs to my rooftop. Sunset in SMA is glorious, but so is sunrise and the after-trash timing is perfect.

As I emerged onto the terrace this morning, four hot-air balloons floated silently against a pink-purple sky laced with gold.

I marveled, mesmerized, at this other-worldly visitation. If I didn’t look up, I’d never know they were there. Soundless, carried on breezes, they drifted directly overhead, a special gift just for me. I felt it like a bubble in my chest, a burst of joy, a message without words.

By the time they’d passed, I’d taken dozens of photos and my fingers, and coffee, were cold.

I shivered in my jacket and headed downstairs for the warmth of the kitchen. Coffee refreshed, I grabbed my journal and resumed the routine that carries me through the other six days of the week. So far, every rooftop, garbage-day dawn has been graced with balloon sitings. What a touch of magic for simply taking out the trash.

What’s with this Mexican salt!

When I took possession of my new home in San Miguel de Allende, there were perks. First of all, it was completely furnished right down to salt in the shakers, and there were two of them. There was also a bag of flour and a glass canister of sugar.

I didn’t have an oven in Bali, only a cooktop. The stove in my new kitchen looked to me like it belonged in an appliance ad straight out of Bon Appétit. I eyed its six burners and monster oven suspiciously, waltzing around its giant glass door that stared at me like a judgmental eye. I promised myself, and that eye, that soon, very soon, I’d set about re-learning how to bake.

A few days later, a friend posted a picture on Facebook of shortbread drizzled with dark chocolate. Saliva sprayed into my mouth. That was it, the challenge that made me want to bake again.

I found a shortbread recipe online: butter, flour, sugar, salt, vanilla. What could be easier? The next day I trotted down the mountain to Super Bonanza, a tiny grocery in the middle of the town center, and bought butter and vanilla. The other ingredients had come with the kitchen.

Putting that recipe together took forever. I was so out of practice, so careful…except when it came to the salt. I thoughtlessly unscrewed the cap while holding it over the flour/sugar mix already in the bowl. A shower of granules fell in. I didn’t think it was much, but I lessened the amount I added and slid the pan into the oven, did the calculation that would translate the Celsius numbers on the knob into Fahrenheit, and crossed my fingers.

Soon, a rich vanilla-y scent permeated the house. Ahhh, yes. This is why we bake.

I felt more than a little proud of myself when I pulled out the tray of perfectly browned shortbread. I could hardly wait for it to cool so I could sample the goods. You know how it is when you expect food to taste a certain way? Your mouth prepares. You lean into the bite and…

The spit reflex happened without thought or premeditation. That tiny morsel flew off my tongue way faster than it had gone in.

What in the name of everything unholy is with this salt?

Good thing I live alone. I hadn’t said that quietly.

I checked the recipe again: one-half teaspoon salt. I double-checked the ring of teaspoons. I’d used the correct one. Maybe more had fallen in when I unscrewed the cap than I thought. Or, maybe it had localized in one corner of the dough – the corner I tasted. Maybe the rest was fine. I tested a piece from the opposite corner with the tip of my tongue, shuddered, and dumped the entire contents into the trash. Well, I thought. That was disappointing.

I let a week go by and avoided making eye contact with the judging stare of the abandoned oven. But I’d invited a group of new friends over for brunch and planned to serve fruit, a quiche, and scones. Both the quiche and the scones required baking. It wasn’t the oven’s fault, I told myself. The oven is your friend.

The quiche recipe called for cheese, lots of it. Cheese can be pretty salty I reasoned, so I didn’t add the salt the recipe suggested. But the scones…I hemmed and hawed…should I chance it? I measured oh so carefully and skimped on the 1/2 teaspoon asked for. They came out of the oven looking absolutely gorgeous. Apricot Cream Cheese Scones. I had to try one.

I bit into a corner. NO!!! IT CAN’T BE! SALT! HORRIBLE, HORRIBLE SALT! They, too, were inedible. I was disappointed and so angry. I swore up a storm in that kitchen. I couldn’t believe that such a tiny amount of salt could be so utterly disastrous.

Later, when my friends had gathered around the table I told them the story and asked, “What’s with this Mexican salt?”

They looked at each other confused, shrugging their shoulders and shaking their heads. “I’ve never noticed that it was any different,” one said. The others agreed.

“Well, mine sure is!” I grumbled, then the conversation turned to a more interesting subject.

A day later I whipped up a batch of carrot hummus and left the salt out entirely. By now I’d dumped the contents of both shakers into the trash to make certain I’d never have that problem again.

But I’d put two cloves of garlic in the hummus and it was overpowering. (What’s with this Mexican garlic!) I thought sugar might offset the intensity so I stirred in a couple of tablespoons and tasted.

WHAT???? NO WAY! SALT?

Then it struck me. I stuck my finger into the canister of sugar and licked. SALT. When I’d baked the shortbread and the scones it wasn’t the 1/2 tsp of salt that wreaked havoc…it was the 1/4 cup of sugar that wasn’t sugar at all! Who puts a huge amount of salt in a big glass canister? Who does that?

And then I laughed,

and laughed,

and laughed!

I immediately went to Señora Petra’s little shop next door and bought all her carrots. Then went back home and made a huge quantity of carrot hummus without garlic or salt and stirred the ruined batch in, bit by bit, taste-testing as I went. It was perfect.

I’m glad the problem is solved and I’m friends with my oven again. But talk about a lesson in assumptions! What’s with this Mexican salt, anyway? It’s not sugar, that’s what!

Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!

I was making a video – something I don’t do often. I’d propped my phone precariously against a water bottle on an upside-down pot and it was catching too much ceiling and too little face.

Maybe it was because I’d finally gotten the perfect angle for lighting. Or maybe because the phone wasn’t threatening to plunge forward just then. Whatever I was thinking at the time, instead of finding something shorter to use as a base, I grabbed throw pillows from the couch and layered three of them on the slippery wooden seat of the chair determined to raise myself to the right height instead of lowering the camera.

As I hoisted myself to the top of the towering stack, the pillows began to slip.

I clutched at the table and missed. The chair flew in one direction crashing to the floor and I went the other. It would have been a laughable non-event had there not been that concrete pillar directly behind me. As I tumbled, the back of my skull cracked hard against the sharp corner of the square column. YOUCH! I pressed my fingers against the at small mountain that popped up and lay on my side on the floor wondering whether I would pass out, throw up, or have a concussion.

I applied more pressure to the lump and waited for ‘what next?’

When nothing happened, I gently removed my hand from the throbbing mound. It was smeared with blood. I hadn’t counted on that. Okay, time to move. I got up slowly, covering the wound with my palm, pressing, pressing… No dizziness. No nausea. I wondered what the back of my white sweater looked like. A fleeting thought.

In the bathroom, I dabbed at my blood-soaked hair with tissues and doused the gash with alcohol all the while thinking, Dangit! I will NOT let this stop me from recording that video today. I’ve already procrastinated too long.

When the bleeding was under control, I checked my face, the scarf at my neck, the white sweater. All good. Even my hair, from the front, showed no sign of disruption. The pain had localized at the point of my wound but only that was throbbing. I did not have a whole-head ache.

Okay, good from the front. Nobody will know the back of my head is hemorrhaging.

This time I did it right. I put the pillows back on the couch and found a prop that positioned the phone at a lower point. After a few false starts, I recorded a decent video. It wasn’t 100% perfect but certainly good enough under the circumstances.

That done, I unpinned my up-do and examined the damages in detail. It looked like a bad scene in a movie where the killer didn’t quite finish the job. I got in the shower taking care not to touch the golf-ball-sized goose egg, and gingerly rinsed out the matted stickiness until the water ran clear.

As I stood there with hot water streaming over me, I reflected on the fact that I almost never have accidents.

I can’t remember the last time I hurt myself. I’ve learned to be mindful. I only allow daydreams when I’m sitting down. Otherwise, I’m riveted to what I’m doing or where I’m going.

Bali was a veritable gauntlet of potential disasters: pieces of sidewalk wide open to the chasm below, a tree left growing in the middle of the path, or a low branch jutting out just where your head should be. Then, too, there were motorbikes going the wrong way on a one-way street, or zooming on the sidewalk to pass slower-moving traffic. I learned to be constantly on the alert.

San Miguel de Allende with its steep inclines, cobblestone streets, perilous stairways up and down the mountainsides pose equally treacherous circumstances.

But I was at home, fixated on making a video – a very uncustomary activity – and I lost my common sense for a moment. A moment is all it takes. One lapse in judgment, one mindless act…

I woke up alive this morning. I think the back of my head has survived though it’s very, very tender. But let that be a lesson to me! There’s no room for stupidity. Ever! You’re old, Sherry! Be careful. Be mindful. Be present. You were lucky this time…don’t press it!

The end of the line…or…the bus stops here

I’ve been in San Miguel de Allende for twenty-six days and I’m adjusting.

First, and most noticeably, there was the altitude. My home in Bali sat 650 feet above sea level. San Miguel perches at 6000 feet. I knew the climate would be different, but I didn’t realize what an impact it would make having my head in the clouds more literally than usual.

After three weeks, it was getting better. I didn’t feel feeble, huffing and puffing up the near-vertical streets, pausing to pant every third or fourth step. Tired, dizzy, headachy. Trying to fight the dread that I’d never feel strong and confident again. Just an old biddy past her used-by date. That had been in the back of my mind while my body tried to keep up with an insane social calendar. But, as I said, it was getting better.

I’ve made major moves in the past, but never to a place where I already knew people. Before, it was cold turkey, so to speak. I had to learn my way around. Take myself to places where I’d meet people and sift hopefully through the ones that turned up. It was a long process.

Here, the skids were greased for me before I stepped off the plane.

There came a point, though, where I needed to figure a few things out on my own. Like how far does the bus go in the opposite direction? The city buses that cost eight pesos (forty cents) per ride, stop right in front of my house. They come by every four minutes or less. I took this shot of the number eight from my balcony.

This one’s going into Centro, the hub of San Miguel. I usually walk in that direction because it’s downhill all the way. No huff/puffing when I’m working with gravity.

And I have a reason to go there frequently. I’ve grown fond of the Bonanza grocery just a few steps from the manicured trees and wrought iron benches of the jardin, a restful garden park. Bonanza has become a destination and I load up on all kinds of novel items plus a few recognizable ones. I know if I can carry my purchases a quarter of a block, the bus will whisk me back up the hill and dump me at my door.

I do mean dump!

I’m lucky if the driver stops. The door swings open about half a block away and I’d better have my pesos in his hand and my foot out the door when he slows down! Adrenalin rush! My motorbike rides in Bali had nothing on the San Miguel bus!

Señora Petra’s tiny shop is a few steps from my house. It has everything but you may have to dig a bit. The other day I walked in and looked around – you don’t walk around, there isn’t enough space. I wanted a watermelon but I didn’t see one. I know how to say, “Do you have a watermelon,” in Spanish so I asked. Petra bustled around the counter and dug to the bottom of the pineapples. Wallah! A watermelon!

Today was the day after Christmas – always in some ways a relief, and in others an anticlimax. I needed fruits, veggies, and eggs, and Petra’s was tempting, but I also needed a distraction.

It’s a beautiful day for a bus ride, I thought. I wonder how far the bus goes in the opposite direction? What if it goes all the way to that Costco-size grocery-plus-plus store, La Comer? I could wander in there for hours. With pesos in my pocket, I caught the number nine bus heading away from Centro and settled in for the ride.

The farthest I’d been in that direction was Tianguis, the gigantic traditional market.

There are six, or maybe eight, football-field-sized arched metal roofs that house this hodge-podge of delights from lightbulbs to live rabbits, not to mention heaped tables of clothing, shoes, and enough tortillas and enchiladas to feed the entire Mexican army. (Just a guess.) It’s full to exploding with vendors from near and far. Utterly overwhelming!

We circled the complex. A few people got off, a few more got on. Then we were back on the highway, zooming toward my destination. At some point, the driver turned right and we were in an unfamiliar downtown area. That lasted a few minutes. Another right put us on narrow cobblestone streets that became narrower and less welcoming the farther we went. We’d just passed a rusted car covered in vines sitting on cement blocks when the bus pulled to the side and stopped. The driver got out. Bathroom break, I thought. I sat another minute or two then craned my head around to look behind me.

The bus was empty.

The driver reappeared, climbed back in, and stood facing me, hands on his hips. He said something which probably translated, “Where did you think you were going?”

“Is this the end? Are you staying here?” I asked, with appropriate gestures to indicate All she wrote? Curtains? No enchilada?

He gestured back and made me understand this was indeed the end of the line. I must have looked frantic because at that point he stuck his head out the window and motioned wildly. An identical bus rattled to a stop. My driver made a shooing motion at me, “Vamos! Vamos!” I shoved eight pesos at him hollering “Gracias! Muchas gracias!” and dashed to my salvation.

The new driver retraced the jaw-jarring trail back over cobblestone streets, circled the Tianguis Market, and brought me safely home. He even stopped for me to disembark. Mission accomplished. I found the end of the line and I have no need to go there again.

I ducked gratefully into Señora Petra’s shop and found everything I needed, including this beverage.

The idea seemed good at the time. But if you should ever run across it and wonder…unless you’re really keen on beer mixed with lime and, wait for it, way too much Tobasco sauce…don’t even think about it!

You’re not in Kansas anymore…

I click my Ruby Red Slippers and I’m in Oz! Well, maybe not Ruby Slippers – more like warm socks with ugly shoes. And maybe not Oz, exactly…

I’m sitting on the rooftop terrace of my new home in San Miguel de Allende, thawing.

It’s been a long journey, mentally, physically, and especially emotionally. When did this transition begin?

In my heart, I could feel it three years ago. It was the kind of knowing that something had changed and something else was coming, but I had no idea what or when. Then Covid arrived and the pandemic took over the world. It stopped me in my tracks and made me face the reality of my age and the distance from my family. It created an urgency that had been absent before.

After finally getting my second vaccination, and jumping through a great many hoops, I was on the plane to the U.S. On October 4th I landed in San Francisco and spent two jetlagged weeks hiking the rocky coast along Highway 101 with Jessa and her partner, Dan.

The contrast between the U.S. and Bali stunned me. It felt so normal, so like life as I remembered it, before…

Dazed and overwhelmed I did my darndest to be in the present moment with them and integrate into the vibrant energy of California. I think I failed. I’m pretty sure I failed. On the heels of two stressful years in a destitute Bali, seeing the abundance of life-as-we-knew-it playing out before my eyes while my friends on the island suffered lockdown isolation, presented a dichotomy that hurt my heart.

So I stuffed that reality into the chamber of my mind that says, “I’ll think about this later,” and continued my cross-country journey.

In Minnesota it was an ecstatic, far too-long-awaited reunion with Jenny and Kennen and my delightful twin grandsons. We’d all aged two years since my last visit. The twins, at two and wobbly, were now four, running, bouncing, and talking non-stop. Those two little guys are incredibly well-behaved. Their patient, loving, but strict parents provide the magic formula for ultra-creative kids who could otherwise manufacture all kinds of trouble!

My sister and her husband live in northern Minnesota on the remote edge of nowhere. In a whirlwind week with them, I reconnected with many of my Norwegian relatives and friends. I drank more coffee and ate more cookies and cheesecakes than I’d had in years.

Gwen and her husband W, bought the family farm. She knows me better than anyone and we share a common history, common that is until I moved to Hawaii. A year later, she moved to Arizona. Covid reunited us through emails. We’ve maybe missed three days of correspondence since February 2020. I love my sister. Now my logical Capricorni-ness understands her quirky Gemini-ness far better than I used to.

My daughters and their partners are wise, wonderful adults coping unbelievably well in their individual, unique circumstances. I’m so proud of them. I had one more family to see.

Joy and Kellen and my two grandaughters welcomed me into their busy boisterous lives with open arms, bountiful snuggles, and affectionate kisses. Two years ago, my newborn granddaughter had raven black hair and screeched whenever Mommy was on the phone with Granny. Now she’d turned two with golden curls, a bubbly, joyful child. And my five-year-old granddaughter, in Kindergarten full time, is a budding zoologist. She stores more facts about animals in her head than I ever knew. Their dad, Kellen, maintains a loving, much-needed order in that household of independent females which was especially appreciated while Joy and I spent hours brainstorming ideas for her business. She also gave me great feedback for a new service I’m considering. More on that another time!

No photo description available.

All this while, I kept reading the news from Bali. My original plan was to fly back to San Francisco for one last week with Jessa and Dan then return to Indonesia. My ticket was for Dec. 6th. But the rules were strict and inescapable: if I went back I would have to quarantine in a hotel in Jakarta for 10 days at my own expense, and the devastating economic circumstances in Bali hadn’t changed.

Sitting in front of the fireplace on a chilly evening in Pennsylvania with the girls burrowed close on either side of me, I agonized.

The last thing I wanted to do was return to Bali with a new variant, Omicron, bringing more uncertainty. Over the past two years, I’d come to the conclusion that I wanted, and needed, to be closer to my U.S. family. Mexico, it seemed, was the logical option. Why not check it out before going back? See if it was a fit. I had friends in San Miguel de Allende.

Suddenly that seemed like the most common-sense idea I’d ever had. I spent a couple of hours on the phone with Singapore Airlines. They finally agreed to change my return ticket to January 4th, 2022, with a valid reason and another $50 added to the original price. I hoped I could trust the old saying: Take a step and the path will appear. The Universe seemed to be showing the way.

That’s when I clicked my Ruby Red Ugly Shoes!

ReAnn Scott (My Home On The Roam) welcomed me with overwhelming hospitality. In the first eight days, I met more people, had more invitations, (even played Rummikub with a group of fifteen people that meets weekly) than I’ve ever before in my life experienced. Everyone was friendly, inclusive, and best of all, interesting.

With ReAnn’s help, I found a house to rent that exceeded my wildest hopes. Another piece of the puzzle clinked into place.

Years ago, when I was trying desperately to figure out who I was, I made a list of things I love. Not people, things. One item on the list was: Sunlight streaming through French doors.

  • This house has five sets of double French doors.
  • I wanted to live on the second floor. The house is built above a first-floor garage/storage/laundry space. The living quarters are on the second floor.
  • I wanted a rooftop terrace. I have that, too, with a 360° view of San Miguel de Allende.
  • I wanted to be in the area called Centro which is close to the town center and I needed rooms with plenty of open space drenched in light. There are huge skylights in every room and it’s a fifteen-minute walk to the famous cathedral, Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel, that occupies the place of honor in the heart of the city.
  • I had a budget. The rental amount was within the parameters I’d set.
  • Last but not least, it had to be a Mexican-style home, not new construction void of all personality. Plaster walls, a wood-beamed ceiling, bright Mexican tiles…it had everything I wanted plus a kitchen that would make a professional chef jealous!

The Universe laughed and I knew instantly this house was mine. I paid the deposit and moved in the next day. That was fourteen days ago.

And now I know won’t be returning to The Island of the Gods on January 4th. I have a 180-day visa for Mexico and I intend to extend that permanently. This already feels like home.

This morning I journaled for the first time in over a month. In a few paragraphs, tears were flooding the pages and smearing the ink. That chamber where I’d stuffed those vulnerable feelings about Bali and the friends I was leaving behind cracked open. I sobbed for a long time.

As I write this, grief wells up again.

I had ten phenomenal years there. My dear Ketut and his family helped me grow, learn, and heal some very old wounds. He was my closest friend, loyal employee, and wise teacher. I’ve written about Ketut and our hair-raising motorbike adventures many times over the years.

His family accepted me as their own.

Perhaps deep in my subconscious I knew I wouldn’t be back but couldn’t face the goodbyes to him and so many others: Nina, who became like a daughter.

My friends in the Ubud Writer’s Group who challenged me to edit, edit, edit!

Mu and Shane who provided laughter, deep philosophical conversations, and loving support.

The courageous and beautiful Sriy Sinawati who will one day follow her dream…

And many more…so many goodbyes unsaid…

And yet, I know this is the right place at the right time for me. A new adventure for this dreamer. Won’t you please, come along…?

Fawn Lake isn’t frozen, but I am…

I’m not in hibernation, although the temperatures here in Pennsylvania warrant it. I awoke to a powdering of snow that has progressed to a blustery, biting wind. The forest floor, layered with fallen oak leaves, crunches underfoot. Fawn Lake isn’t frozen…but I am!

I left Bali on October 4th. After months of waiting, I was finally fully vaccinated and travel to the US seemed feasible.

Two years is a long time to be separated from family. After seven weeks and three different states, my ‘hug deficit’ has been replenished. It feels marvelous. I’m catching up with my grandchildren – all incredibly bright and adorable, of course – but also two years older than when I last saw them. Now, they all walk, talk, count, and ask baffling questions.

The oldest, already five, is in Kindergarten. Hadley freely shares the uncanny array of facts she stores in her head. Granny, did you know that koala bears are nocturnal? Owls can have a wingspan up to five feet. Did you know elephants can live seventy years and weigh ten tons? Granny, what’s a ton?

Questions…

I’ve felt change coming for some time but had no answers for what, when, where, or how. I’d hoped this trip would bring clarity. Originally, I’d planned to return to Indonesia the first week in December. As that time approaches, there are still no international flights direct to Bali. I’d have to quarantine in Jakarta. I don’t want to do that so…

After my visit with family here, I’m flying to Mexico to meet up with friends and enjoy the milder climate in San Miguel de Allende. There’s a built-in community waiting for me there. I can explore possibilities and wait until quarantine requirements at home are lifted.

Meanwhile….

Emotionally, it’s a strange mix. I have amazing relationships in Bali, and a beautiful home that currently sits empty. (Does anyone out there want to start a new life on The Island of the Gods? Let me know!) Letting go is easier for me than most, but this feels hard. And yet, excitement bubbles in my chest imagining new challenges.

The bottom line crystallized with Covid. The uncertainty of the past two years brought reality home to roost. I can’t count on business as usual. The world came to a screeching halt almost overnight. Thinking there’d be time tomorrow for all the important things I’ve been putting off is a luxury in which I can no longer indulge.

It’s time to see the people I haven’t seen and tell them how much they mean to me.

It’s time to finish that last edit on my novel, Nettle Creek.

It’s time to admit that life is terminal and I’m closer to the end than the beginning.

It’s time to begin the next adventure – manifest the new dream.

The way ahead isn’t mapped. It’s a hard lesson for someone who wants her i’s dotted. I’m getting surprisingly adept at leaning into uncertainty and letting go of the need to see the whole picture – especially when there’s no other choice! There’s just enough light on the path for the next step and I’m taking it. Judging from past experience, when the time’s right there’ll be another glimmer of knowing…

and I’ll step again.

Am I woman?

Scrubbed and polished sky shone brightly overhead as Dan navigated the twisty coastal road into the City. “It’s carmageddon,” he said, and I translated it karma-geddon thinking my own private thoughts. I was unaware that the term referred to actual cars. Unaware, as well, that this weekend marked the grand finale of Fleet Week in San Francisco, that traffic would be snarly, that people would be out in droves.

Our destination: the Legion of Honor Museum.

I hadn’t Googled it, so when we pulled up to a structure resembling a Roman temple on a hilltop overlooking San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge, I was surprised.  I’d assumed something more on the order of Frank Gehry architecture; edgy contemporary, in-your-face innovation.

Instead, the structure bore witness to what I’ve been taught to consider the ultimate in cultural refinement – the Roman era – art, poetry, literature, scientific breakthroughs, palatial homes with sumptuous furnishings. Power and privilege.

Perhaps I was off balance from the get-go. Perhaps two years of pandemic lockdown in Bali, isolated, uncertain of everything, stripped me of social resilience. There were people. Everywhere. And that was before we even entered the building.

Had I done my research I’d have been better prepared.

I’d have known that the brilliant work of a female artist, Wangechi Mutu, was being featured. But I didn’t know, and I wasn’t prepared.

The following quote appears on the Museum’s website and describes Mutu’s art:

Over the past two decades, Wangechi Mutu has created chimerical constellations of powerful female characters, hybrid beings, and fantastical landscapes. With a rare understanding of the power and need for new mythologies—the productive friction of opposites beyond simple binaries and stereotypes—Mutu breaches common distinctions among human, animal, plant, and machine. At once seductive and threatening, her figures and environments take the viewer on journeys of material, psychological, and sociopolitical transformation. 

Her bold interpretation of femininity, unrestrained, superimposed on a backdrop of paintings by male artists depicting women as we’ve been taught to be seen, assaulted my nervous system. Wild emotions churned through me and I could only identify one of them as I navigated the exhibits: anger. What was it that made me furious?

I’m not someone who processes quickly. I tend to go first into a state of overwhelm where I can’t think, can’t verbalize, I just absorb information. Then piece by piece, over hours and days, I bring it out and sift through the layers.

It slowly seeped into my consciousness that I was angry at myself for living small for so many years…

for buying into the lie that men hold all the cards and women’s role is subservient…

for judging my value based on how I was valued by the men in my life.

I was angry that Mutu was the ONLY female artist represented in that vast collection of paintings. And yet, perhaps that was intentional, the productive friction of opposites…

I was f***ing furious that the standards of beauty – sensuality – sexuality – purity – allure, all of it, all of what I was supposed to be, has always been dictated by men. F***ing furious.        

And there was Mutu’s art. Mutu’s depiction of the feminine going beyond simple binaries and stereotypes.

Feminine images, sleek, gritty, organic, metallic. Alien. Alien. We have alienated ourselves from our true selves by allowing patriarchy to define us.

I’d identified another emotion. Grief.

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