Talkin’ About My Resignation, Baby

If you’re wondering who the title refers to because there are several politicians in Canada who have recently resigned, you’d be right if you guessed it was our Governor General, Julie Payette, who created a “toxic environment” in Rideau Hall for her staff. The Canadian government will replace her with another more suitable candidate, hopefully someone who works well with others and won’t take a trip to the tropics during covid restrictions. Too bad we can’t replace the position with an app, thereby circumventing the issue of having to pay out an exorbitant sum of money on a pension.

My granddaughter, aged 10 and beautiful, has become the object of discrimination at her school. Bella’s dad is Mexican and has brown skin, a light stain of teak or even oak, and Bella’s mother has inherited her father’s dark southern Calabreze Italian features. Bella goes to a school with an indigenous name, a beautiful new structure featuring totem poles and native Indian art, and a significantly large population of indigenous students. Lately she’s come home with stories about some student putting notes in her cubby calling her ‘brown.’ She finally told her teacher, who, reacting in her defence, tried nailing the culprit by examining the notes against her students’ handwriting and found nobody coming close to what must have been a made-up script. Resigned, she gave an impassioned ‘talk’ to her class and ended up crying in front of the kids. The latter touched Bella more than the spirit of her harangue, saying in genuine surprise, “I’ve never seen a teacher cry!”

When affluent colonizers arrived in Latin America and coloured people fought their oppressors, they were accused of subverting the organizing principles of the universe. Century after century, the whites keep getting it wrong. White of skin were the kings, vampires and flesh traders who founded hereditary slavery in the Americas so that the children of slaves would be born slaves in the mines and on the plantations. White were the authors of the countless acts of barbarism that civilizations committed over the centuries, imposing white imperial power on the four corners of the earth by blood and fire. White were the heads of state who organized two world wars in the 20th century, killing 64 million people, mostly civilians. And white were those who carried out the Holocaust against the Jews, Reds, Gypsies and gays in the Nazi death camps.

There’s a vocabulary in Mexico and other Latin American countries that places people on a social scale. A mulatto is a mixture of black and white, an allusion to the mule, a sterile offspring of a male donkey and a mare. Other words, denoting half-caste, are ‘castizo’ ( pure, as in ‘he’s pure Spanish’ ), ‘cholo’ ( half-breed ), ‘cambujo’ ( dark, swarthy ), ‘barcino’ ( reddish-dark ), ‘zambo’ ( knock-kneed, a person of mixed African and Amerindian ancestry ), ‘jibaro’ ( an indigenous people of Ecuador and Peru ), and ‘zambaigo’ ( a son or daughter of an Indian man by a Chinese woman. ) And there are more. In 1996, a Mexican congressman visited a jail in Cerró Hueco, in Chiapas. There he found an Indian who has slit his father’s throat and been sentenced to 30 years, but every day at noon, he discovered, the “dead” father brought tortillas of beans to his son in jail. The Tzotzil prisoner had been interrogated and judged in Spanish, of which he understood little or nothing, and with the help of a good beating he confessed to something called ‘parrididio’ or patricide.

And history continues to repeat itself. No matter how much we try to burn it, beat it, break it and lie about it, human history refuses to shut its mouth. The time that was continues to tick inside the time that is. Would it change the world if we loved coloured people as much as we love their culture? Their music, for example? Especially if we understood the inter generational trauma they are subjected to, the fear they carry – do black womens’ lives matter? Or or they normalizing their oppression, dealing with sexism too, living in a “toxic environment”?

As smug Canadians we like to focus on what happens in the U.S. and then say, “thank heavens I live in Canada and don’t have to be part of a society that discriminates against immigrants or people of color!” Well…! Check out “The Skin I’m In”, a C.B.C. doc on anti-black racism with Desmond Cole, Toronto Star columnist. His parents come from Sierra Leon and he’s been targeted from a very young age by the police – he calls it ‘carding.’ His interviews with coloured people in Nova Scotia reveal how tense their daily lives are, especially the women – it’s agonizingly hard for them to speak up. My favourite program was from ‘The New Yorker’ about an Underground Railroad reinactment for students who get to act like fugitives from slavery, crossing swamps in the dark and being chased by catchers or ‘slavers’, hiding very quietly in a barn at one point while the chasers are screaming threats outside. They snatch pieces of bread as they run, fueling their sweat-streaked bodies to keep up the punishing pace. These coloured students are living African-American history and understanding their roots, and white participants understand the meaning of racism and are empowered by the experience. It’s an outdoor event, a field trip of sorts, that makes history meaningful and sensitizes human beings about the cruelties we bare towards one another.

Racism is not someone’s opinion: it’s an element of the human condition. We know it well in our own countries and in Latin America where exterminators of indigenous people and traffickers in slaves have their statues in city plazas, and where streets bear the names of those who stole the land and looted the public purse. Racism is very alive and well in my country…it lives in our governments, in our institutions and our homes. Hearts have to change. Parents need to teach their kids. Our soul-meters would benefit from recalibration.

‘Lockdown’

‘Lockdown’ is our word of the year, according to Collins Dictionary. And our most frequent search on our various devices happens to be “liquor stores near me.”

What does that tell you?

It tells us that stress is at an all-time high, and that our sense of joy, confidence, strength and courage is being suppressed. In its place we experience a hole, a sense of emptiness. The hole is a symptom of loss for deeper. We adopt coping mechanisms to cover up the emptiness but the coping styles do not reflect our true selves – we’ve left them far behind. Sometimes we’re addicted to some role into which we sink our energy and we live out our lives according to the image we create, the ego mistaking surface illusion for reality.

Ah, life – the thing that happens when we’ re off somewhere else blowing on dandelions and wishing ourselves into the pages of our favourite fairy tale.

Don Juan, Mozart’s story about an obsessive womanizer, reminds me of the addict who is creative, charming and energetic, but he is also a coward who never finds peace within. His erotic passion is insatiable; no matter how often it is consummated, it leaves him restless and dissatisfied because he has a need to possess. And it’s always about the next acquisition! He even keeps a notebook listing his amorous conquests. He scorns repentance and in the end he’s dragged down to hell.

If the difference between my own behaviour and the self-annihilating life patterns of Don Juan is obvious, the similarities are illuminating.

The addict craves the absence of the craving state. While he’s indulging in his addiction, he’s liberated from emptiness and boredom. He is free. But he thinks afterwards, “if only I could have one more, just one more, and then I could rest satisfied.” Just-one-more is the binding factor in the circle of suffering.

Is it the adrenaline? As a workaholic I’m familiar with the idea that my compulsion to work masquerades as a service to humanity. Or maybe it’s just a passion. Any passion can become an addiction though, the main question is…who’s in charge, the individual or his behaviour? There’s a deeper, more ossified layer beneath any kind of addiction, the denial state, in which, contrary to all evidence, you refuse to acknowledge that you’re hurting yourself or anyone else. And this is where it gets dangerous. Maybe it’s partly because we often withdraw from fear, or anger, or doubt – we’ve judged these qualities as unworthy of our fantasy of our imagined self. And in order to protect the mirage, instead of using our pain as a notice to go beyond our cage, we withdraw from the edge of life. We are busy inventing an accepted reality, instead of meeting the pain that so clouds our self-understanding. Rage is in remission.

We’re living in Covid times and it’s dreary. So who can blame us if we turn to the soaps? A soap opera, or telenovela, is the only place in the world where Cinderella marries the prince, evil is punished and good rewarded, the blind recover their sight, and the poorest of the poor receive an inheritance that turns them into the richest of the rich. All poor people are invited into the sumptuous settings of the soaps, because appearance is the essence of a personality and artifice is a way of life. The masses take orders in a language that’s universal; anybody understands what t.v. broadcasts. The t.v., often bought on credit, for example, by some of our Mexican neighbors and likewise in other parts of the country, is like a magic charm against loneliness and poverty. The lifestyles these soaps advance are like accessories to a crime because they promote the huge orgasm of delirious consumption that people think of as happiness. It’s utopia on an instalment plan.

If it’s not a way of controlling the dispirited masses, who are mostly poor, what’s it doing to their personalities? Their souls?

Power in Latin America, which practices and lives by injustice, sweats violence through every pore.

We’d love to live in a world where the powerful wage war not on the poor but on poverty. And where life is an adventure of changing reality and changing ourselves, making our blimp in the history of the universe worthwhile. Let’s stop being haunted by the people we could have become had we enjoyed more success as human beings, or not being plagued by an epidemic. Or taken that fork in the road, the other path that ‘makes all the difference.’ Unlived-lives is our covid preoccupation. In the Iliad Achilles chooses between two clearly defined fates, designed by the gods and foretold in advance – he can either fight and die at Troy or live a long, boring life. In the end he chooses to fight. But the world we live in isn’t so neatly organized, and most of us don’t believe in fate. Achilles didn’t have ponder over whether he should take pre-med or pre-law, buy a house in the burbs or live in town. The world goes on, covid or not, and it feels bizarrely conditional, subject in thought and action to a blanketing subjunctive mood: things as we wish they were. “My life”, a short story that didn’t go anywhere after the opening lines. We’re waiting this pandemic out with a nostalgia for lost freedoms and a vague fear of the present and future. I mean, it might not have a scooby-doo ending.

But if we find ourselves bothered by life’s elusiveness, maybe we’re wasting valuable time. Can we really find meaning in what’s never happened, or isn’t happening? We could have turned out any number of ways had we taken that fork in the road! Or been born in a previous century! Time to stop obsessing.

We’ve been given just a single shot at existence, and we owe it to ourselves to hit the mark. We must not only survive but thrive.

Live. Laugh. Speak

I recently read an interesting story in Mark Manson’s “The Subtle Art of not Giving a F..” about success. When Pablo Picasso was an old man he was in a cafe in Spain, doodling on a used napkin. Some woman sitting nearby watched him, in awe. After a few minutes he finished his coffee and crumpled up the napkin to throw it away. ‘Wait’, she said. ‘Can I have that napkin you were drawing on? I’ll pay you for it.’ ‘Sure’, replied Picasso. ‘Twenty thousand dollars’. ‘What?!’ She said. ‘It took you just two minutes to draw that!’ ‘No, ma’am,’ Picasso said. ‘It took me over 60 years to draw like this.’ He stuffed the napkin into his pocket and walked away. The story shows that improvement at anything is based on thousands of tiny failures, and the magnitude of a person’s success is based on how many times that person failed at something. Manson adds that if someone is better at something than you are, it’s likely he has failed at it more than you have.

Reassuring, don’t you think? Especially learning a second language. The more mistakes you make, the more you learn; the more you put yourself out there and speak, the more quickly you absorb the language.

It was good to get out yesterday and look for a trace of myself at “Serious Coffee” where I treated myself to a rewarding calorific snack. It was good to smell the fresh marine air and away from my fellow mariners exchanging decibels on the dock. It’s a man’s club I don’t feel like joining ( I don’t know my caulk from my grout, my thwarts from my throttles. ) The best thing about the marina is the coastline – in one spot near the dock lies the beach, and as well as the typical stones and rocks of NW coast beaches, it has two huge Flintstone boulders, one half sunk in the water, from which a small, neat face looked at me. He was in the middle of washing his hands. The ears moved, twitched at a gull’s cry….. obviously he had not learned to fear. There was a gentle courtesy in his two fore paws placed together, almost sweet. You’d better run away, I thought. His nose twitched again. But he just stood there, stubbornly unintrigued, and he watched me as we both listened to the waspish drone of motors farther out, his Robert Bateman background edged with a dark wall of cedar and arbutus trees. I think he was waiting for me to leave. He had things to do. And I was waiting for him to disappear through the spindly branches of the trees that led to his home. I was merely an object of curiosity to him. But for me he was my small miracle.

Why, asks Noam Chomsky in his “Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal”, is it so hard for governments to confront the climate crisis realistically? Why are people so willing to look the other way when survival of organic life is critically at stake? He says it’s because global warming has an abstract feel. Classical liberalism builds on the idea that everybody should be granted maximum freedom to pursue their self-interest within capitalist market settings. If an asteroid was hurtling towards earth, scheduled to hit in a decade, we would surely try to deflect its path. We’d act, and soon.

I found Trump’s America terrifying. Was there ever a worse time to be a Republican? At least the next administration knows that climate change isn’t a hoax invented by the Chinese. May it have the courage to protect our world, to read her language as she creates and communicates what she knows. And dearly wants to preserve.

Santa Claus: Ghost of Christmas Past

It’s a quiet, soot-drenched day because of the fires burning in the States. There are no birds in the marina that I can see, and even the trees on the shore look like they’re cowering. Instead of channeling the apocalyptic airs of my environment or eating too many carbs as a response, I turn my mind to work; the theme of holidays being of present importance to one of my classes, this week, Christmas, ‘la Navidad.’

I’ve disliked Christmas from the age of 12, particularly the question: “what did you get for Christmas?” Because there was no Santa Claus. Christmas Day for me is like a bad memory trying to escape, banging against the hard and brittle glass of my brain.

St. Nick, says M. Visser, writing about Christmas in her book ‘The Way We Are’, says that gradually he evolved into Santa Claus.. when the Europeans adopted the tree in the 1840s, she goes on to say, they put the presents under the “skirts” of the tree. If Santa is a phallic gift-bringer, which she strongly seems to imply, the tree is his female, fertile counterpart. Santa is a myth for kids and he leaves presents only for them. My granddaughter obstinately believes in Santa, and she told me the other day that she places icing sugar on the living room floor so she can see his footprints after he arrives via the chimney and makes his way over the gift-cluttered space, eats the cookies, swallows the milk and returns up the soot-encrusted flu to his reindeer. I just sat there open-mouthed and tried with all my might not to say anything. And I kept my mouth shut! Because I have made the mistake before of discrediting Santa in front of another grandchild. What can I say? I learned to discard playing at the age of 12 and wasn’t parented after that. It shows.

But have another angry daughter from my mistaken attempt to lead her child into the world of adult reality? I’d rather be mauled by the Revenant bear.

I see my role differently nowadays, one which belongs to the energy that holds things together rather than blows them apart. I’m relearning the ability to experience life as it unfolds, to play lightly without force or judgment. It’s actually a kindness to myself because it gives rise to a participation in the flow of changes, beyond ideas of right or wrong, opening into the vastness of what is.

“The Buddha told a story about this. A young widower, who loved his 5 year old son very much, was away on business, and bandits came, burned down his village, and took his son away. When the man returned, he saw the ruins, and panicked. He took the charred corpse of an infant to be his own child, and then he organized a cremation ceremony, collected the ashes and put them in a beautiful bag. Working, sleeping, eating, he always kept the bag of ashes with him. One day his real son escaped from the robbers and found his way home. He arrived at his father’s at midnight, and knocked on the door. The father cried out, ‘Who’s there?’ And the child answered, ‘It’s me Papa. Open the door, it’s your son.’ In his agitated mind the father thought that some mischievous boy was making fun of him. Some time passed, and finally the child left. From that time on, father and son never saw one another.” Thich Nhat Hahn, Being Peace.

‘Earth, Receive an Honored Guest’

I have just lost my best student. Ed Gilliam, a free citizen of the spirit, was an expression of the heroic dimension locked away in us all. To me, he represented the root strivings of the urge towards art which we all share. Ed was kind, generous and thoughtful. He was an amazing student ….. he should have written the ‘3001 verb book’ that so many students learning Spanish keep at their sides. If he didn’t know a verb – and such was his outstanding ability – he’d make it up, and so thoroughly convincingly that he’d have me second-guessing my teacherish correction of his ‘mistake.’ Unlike other students, Ed was at home in linguistic hinterland, using language that was supple, flexible and resilient. Sometimes I found myself in a Mexican standoff with him, meeting his blue-eyed gaze, that, if not quite withering, was unsettlingly implacable. At most I was only a side-line coach, encouraging him and providing him with a smorgasbord of language detail, helping him work the controls that would take him further than he’d ever gone before. He obtained his Mexican citizenship, not by cheating as so many do, but on the strength of his own ability to conduct himself in Spanish. He was a talented rogue, a painter, a brilliant guy, a transformer, a rearranger of the boundaries to which most of us cling blindly as we feel our way through life. Whether he was in class or at home in front of a canvas, Ed played in the fountain at the heart of creation. And unlike his rooftop jacuzzi in Villa Obregón, this fountain never needed covering, but was always there, serving as inspiration.

It’s amazing to me that the creative impulse survives a lifetime, and comes into its own and functions on its own ideal terms. Ed was a fine painter who mostly sculpted the sensuous and the sensual of naked life in its moments of glory. His art is Picasso-like, complex and tangled in the skeins of his life, acting out the potentials of his own situation in his imperfect world – he was the eyes, ears, voice, the reflection of his culture. He was like Rembrandt who sought models for his Christ and his apostles in the young Jews of his town, for Ed was an ‘honored guest’ among Mexicans, and much loved by them. His women folk are characters of his generation as well as past generations, they’re the kind that bring light and warmth and laughter because they ride defiantly athwart their own lives, persistently askew, demanding a life larger than life.

I miss him. I miss his stories! Even his eye-laden looks. It was if he retained something of the magic and vulnerability of every age he had know, from his teen years – like riding the rails with a friend, he told me once – to his crazy Berkeley years  to his later, saner years with Roxane. He was forever streaming his thoughts and ideas about life, especially the political scene. Every week we exchanged insights about Trump’s latest grotesquerie because that too was part of his world as a proud American. We laughed at some of the quirky characters in Mexico’s history that served as our reading portion of the lesson, relishing the rich Mexican humor. Luckily for him, he had the ability to playfully question, to play seriously, and to remake some small portion of his world anew, thereby overthrowing the future before it happened. Brilliant.

Goodbye Ed – I’ll never forget you. I hope you’re creating a cosmic Rosetta Stone up there. That’s a suitable project, Ed. Worthy of your time and effort. I can see you going back and forth, rethinking things, increasing the level of difficulty to include incredible learners like you. Supplying it with illustrations too. I can just imagine!

Qué Dios te bendiga, amigo mío.

Ser and Estar

In my intermediate class we are dealing with the verbs ‘ser’ and ‘estar’. They both mean ‘to be’, but an English-speaking student learning Spanish needs to understand when to use ‘ser’ and when to use ‘estar.’ The meaning of the sentence changes according to the verb you’re using: for example, ‘ser vivo’ means ‘to be sharp’, and ‘estar vivo’ means ‘to be alive’. Intriguingly, death in Spanish is seen as an ongoing action, not a permanent state, so ‘estar ‘ is used to talk about being dead. Conversely, “La maestra es muy viva ( lively )” – that’s me! ( The teacher is very lively ). Or “La maestra tiene 72 años pero está todavía viva”. ( The teacher is 72 years old and is still alive. ) That’s also me.

These are some of the things I think and worry about when I wake up at 3 in the morning and can’t get back to sleep. The times we’re living in represent a lot for one human heart to process. I worry that Trump’s government is a dumpster fire and about malevolent weather patterns and disappearing animal species. Ask any Swedish girl: we’re in trouble. I think about the world’s long overdue reckoning with its history of racism and what we can do about it, it’s terminal stage capitalism because the world is not a business to be foreclosed on overnight, and of other signs and portents – I think my world will end, not with a bang or a whimper, but with a push notification. When the s – h – t – f. When the shit-hits-the-fan. And I worry about my children. And their children. Whose job it will be to pull our planet back from the brink. Whose job it will be to take charge of the galaxy. But leave Earth? Are you kidding? But I get it: once you’ve pissed in the hand basin, where do you wash your face?

During the night I worry, and during the day I’m an escapist Queen. I have my delightful on-line classes, and my Netflix. I like to stream my movies and my audiobooks. Making my own yogurt and churning my own butter belonged to a different lifetime. I appreciate what other people are doing to change their lives during these covid months, eat organic and cook, buy a bike, install solar panels and plant gardens. But in my mind at least there’s something sinister going on, a developing abyss between the rational and the spiritual, the objective and the subjective, and every day feels like a stay of execution. It’s like I’m bungling around like a golden retriever, senselessly knocking everything down when all I want to do is  find a spot where my feminine power to nurture stands a chance to flourish. ‘Estamos vivas!’ We are alive! As women it’s about staking our visibility in the world, being proud and owning who we are, and making that confidence contagious. I’m tired of the gender images of women my age beaming over a head of radicchio, or blowing bubbles for their grandchildren while vigorous silver-haired men drive around farmland in tractors, kayak in wild waters and bunny-jump with their smiling buddies. Are you able to reinvent yourselves, ladies – yet again! – for the new economic down-turn? We’ve spent our entire lives batting down our vulnerabilities, barricading our weak spots ….. society has pruned us by cutting the wayward growth. We’ve learned to live with our mutilations, to give up our independence of thought and feeling.

I’m not sure I know how to ‘get better with age.’ All I’m sure about is how much I hate the power the market has to elevate a generation on a pedestal as the ones to venerate, or kick it to the curb. A magazine I saw the other day said: “Whatever scares you now, do it!” How about snake-handling? Another blared: “Get out of your comfort zone!” What if I just don’t want to take up the accordion or go to ballroom dancing lessons? Or become a size 4 in 2 weeks? No, I’d rather find my own ways to adjust to the new abnormal. Who’s on first? The chicken or the egg? Does a bear defecate in the woods?

I hereby release myself from the obligation to transform.

’Estoy viva!’ should become my new mantra. After all, life is limited to what you’re alive to. ¿Verdad?

 

 

Missing Those Leeks

A Dr. Jakes sermon I listened to yesterday was worth writing about: I’ll call it the ‘burning bush’ sermon. When Moses was in the backside of the dessert after having fled from Egypt as a wanted man for killing a slave-driver and leading the Israelites with him, he was confronted by a burning bush. This bush kept on burning: ‘ It did not get consumed,’ Jakes said. It was supernatural, something amazing to behold. The burning bush indicated God’s presence, Jakes explained, but it also represented an obstacle or turning for Moses to overcome, a milestone for the lawgiver who, for the next 40 years or more, was forced to put up with the former Hebrew slaves who gave him nothing but grief en route to the Promised Land. They missed the leeks they ate while in captivity. And they complained about Moses a lot. Time passed, the Hebrews continued to dance whenever they weren’t complaining, and eventually Moses died.

’He was the Maaaaan!’ Jakes roared.

And the people of Israel mourned. Their mourning was laced with self-pity, he said, but they mourned the death of their great leader Moses. Just like people did after Martin Luther King. After Mahatma Ghandi. After Nelson Mandela. They packed the churches. They led marches and rallys for freedom. They joined groups and organizations and had protests in the streets. They printed t-shirts and wrote books about how black lives matter. And then life returned to the same ol’ because people had amnesia, and they had no convictions for working out the core values of liberty and equality. Forty years in the dessert! Living in tents. Stuck.

And we’re stuck too. A worldwide pandemic has hit ‘pause’ on our lives and we’re sick and tired of being inside for 4 months. We have our lap tops, our homemade sourdough bread, our carbs to brace ourselves against the Canadian cold, but how much do we really care about renewing our minds? Is this our ‘burning bush’? Is God trying to get our attention? And if He doesn’t get our attention this time, is history doomed to repeat itself?

God says of the area his servant Moses steps into: ‘Look out there Moses, take off your sandals. For you’re on hallowed ground.’ It’s interesting to note that the ground is holy, not Moses. I think it addresses the thing behind the curtain. While some have worked to make the world a better place, we’ve ended up with a society with greater class divisions, a disappearing ozone and economic meltdown. But economic growth can’t solve the global ecosystem: economic growth is the cause of the economic crisis.

Big Business: the Alpha and the Omega.

The excesses of our culture wash up as famine or flood on the shores of another. The flotsam and jetsam of our greed.

I feel like one of T.S. Eliot’s seagulls in ‘The Dry Salvages’ standing around on the dimpled sand, head cocked to hear the latest report. The latest calamity.

It caught me off guard, this pandemic. Another burning bush in my life. I feel there must be a spinning wheel somewhere in the kingdom, just waiting to prick my finger. But I doubt this will have a Disney ending. Is it just caution fatigue? Or am I getting ready for a rug-pull ending? An apocalypse of sorts, involving neither weapons of mass destruction nor zombies, but a coming cataclysm. The human species might be finally and irrevocably fucked and nature in her death throes. In our maniacal pursuit of natural resources, despite this terrestrial snarl-up on Earth, I draw the line at using Mars as a back-up planet. It looks like a shit hole. Besides, further subjugation of groups will take place in our efforts to colonize it, if we haven’t learned this history lesson well enough to live without prejudice.

Maybe it’s time to reread ‘Women Who Run With the Wolves’. Recover my repressed wildness. Restore the power to nurture and give. Carl Jung’s Wise Old Woman archetype.

Or dance like the children of Israel.

 

Lot for Sale

Reality leaves a lot to the imagination.  John Lennon

My husband and I took photos of our lot on the canal for the purpose of advertising it in the growing expat community of Barra de Navidad, a village in Jalisco, Mexico. Barra is a magnet for settlement because it’s on the ocean and it’s full of wonderful light. Our lot sits right on the third canal, and when you’re there you can experience life on the busy waterway, and you can also sniff out the tide where the telltale sea smells are carried on the breeze coming in from the Laguna, and from there the open ocean. It’s a fisherman’s dream.

Our trip to take photos came as a surprise to me. First out of the truck my husband opened the side door. I had to give the main door a what-the-hell squint – our neighbor across the street had hung her panties between the two handles of our gate. There they were, faded blue bloomers; and although they were saggy, they fit defiantly between the two handles, making clothes pegs unnecessary. “Que cajones!” I thought.

The side door opened with an abandon-hope screech as we entered the lot, my husband demonstrating a mastery of the Here-and-Now philosophy and dealing immediately with the photos, and me trying to wipe out of my mind that starkly irregular image of the ‘bragas’, that mini-cyclops of eyesores. It came to me that there were two sides to the street, one looking out onto the canal and the affluent neighboring homes across the short expanse, and the other side representing the careworn backstreet. The old lady belonged to the latter. She lives in a narrow alleyway covered with a strip of metal.

And not for the first time the verb ‘aprovechar’ came to my mind. It means ‘to put to good use.’ We know this expression from saying ‘buen provecho’ to someone eating at a table in a restaurant. ‘May the food you are eating optimize your health.’ But the verb also means ‘to exploit.’ An ‘aprovechon’ is an opportunist.

Faced with spiritual confusion or dilemma usually leads me to counting my blessings, some of which are:

I am thankful for Mexican neighbors even though there’s sometimes a gulf between us.

I am thankful for their rare sense of humor and their love of irony.

I am thankful for owning a clothesline AND a dryer.

Reminds me of a story….

The master was going up the hill to pray. On the way he met a snail. ‘Why does he exist?’ the master asked God. ‘Funny’, replied God, ‘he asked the same about you.’

 

The Tower

In moving back to Mexico it’s as if the ‘old’ reality of my life in Canada is decomposing, and the ‘new’ reality is being constructed with dizzying speed. I’m a teacher of languages, English and Spanish at the moment, and my husband and I have been spending half the year in Canada and the other half in Mexico. I must admit: living in Canada is easier. There I’m not plagued with a sense of homelessness, and a kind of acceptance of things frees me from mind dominance: I allow every moment – well, almost every moment – to be as it is, and there are times when I know myself to be a part of a seamless kinship with all living things. I know I don’t have the total picture. But here I’m experiencing an inner resistance over persistent daily problems, like the Telmex guy who hasn’t come to restore out internet. And that cuts me off from other people and strengthens the feeling of separateness. Part of it may be what I intuit from Mexican people – although their colonial period has long passed, the suspicion, mistrust and fear of foreigners remain, and the average Mexican surrenders himself to the role he is playing. This morning in class I felt so sorry for one of my students struggling with an English lesson, and when I tried to engage her in conversation to make the concept more real to her and a little less scary, she held the book up in front of her face with a long-suffering air, and shook her head. Sometimes students like to write down their answers before vocalizing them, and that’s fine, but she must have felt my gaze on her because her unhappy expression vanished and was instantly replaced by its usual look of good-natured inscrutability. Damn, I thought to myself for the millionth time, I wish learning English wasn’t so difficult.

The biblical story of the Tower of Babel can be taken as a critique about the pretensions of human constructions, the basket-case that is contemporary Mexico aside. The metropolis whose ruins after 2500 years still betray its ancient power and glory had no equal in the ancient world. Architecture was its passion. Everyone who either lived in the mud huts surrounding the site or in the once-impressive dwellings in the tower itself, found themselves immersed in a confusion of tongues after God brought down the tower. The huts were allowed to be created in the shadow of the tower as long as the people didn’t interfere with the dominant way of life in Babylon. But God does not tolerate idolatry, and the exalted were brought low. The Babylonians were left with a cacophony of voices. In a contemporary metaphor, it’s like being in the airport in Puerto Vallarta…..once you’ve acquired your luggage and are happily on your way to the door, you’re confronted by a line of vendors holding up signs and shouting at you to enter their world of style and leisure and class – it’s an exhausting barricade of words.

In a cacophony no one’s voice gets heard.

The Israelites suffered a crisis of identity and worldview and life-pattern in their exile in Babylon – the future seemed closed to them. “How then can we live?” they asked. It may have been similar to what it is like today, for those who can hear. Because the voices of subjugated peoples, echoed by the pained voice of an ecologically devastated creation, are raising loud complaint against the arrogant mastery of several world leaders who have placed themselves at the center of the universe. How then do we live? It’s a question we also ask ourselves.

The Mayan scriptures of the Popol Vuh describes the people of the first age as having a kind of seeing in which their gaze embraced everything – nothing was concealed from their knowing. They were so far-seeing and had so much clarity and insight that they had the understanding of the world as gods. But it didn’t continue. The gods got worried and gave them myopia so that they could only understand what was close at hand.

I wonder if we can receive life as a gift rather than mere material for our construction. Until then, I think we are, like the builders of Babylon, unable to hear with compassion the voice of the other. We tend to construct perspectives that marginalize whatever does not fit. The modern worldview has fragmented into tribalism, gender wars, racial tension and ethnic cleansing. Why do we feel that the world needs mastering? Is it such a threat?

Who gets to say what, or where, home really is? This morning I nudged the doors of perception ajar – my own reality has been built on shaky ground. I’m in a world of my own construction.

I have the least-wanted structural accessory – a language school – in a seaside town comfortably anaesthetized by lots of booze as well as its own soothing beauty. Sledge-hammering rings throughout the vicinity all the day long.

Wind and sand now cover up the gigantic skeleton of the old metropolis, once a symbol of Babylon’s greatest prosperity. It was destroyed and was never again inhabited. Even the mighty Euphrates has turned its back on it and has chosen a new bed. Now it’s the home of wolves and jackels.

“By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down; yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.” ( Ps. 137 )

 

Straight from the Lip

I peer out the window of my boat onto an ocean full to bursting with life, yet fragile and vulnerable. It’s a cold day in October – intensely cold – one of the shocks that climate change is heir to. I love being here in this spot, this polychrome feast of life and color: below the dock in every crevice waft the million cilia fronds of sea anenomes and the slow opening and closing mouths of clams, and in the water swim tiny fish, each one bent on its mysterious business. On a day like today, cold with a razor-wind, this entire tableau rocks and sways under the press of the tides, the currents and the swells of the ocean. The sea glistens almost painfully and the hawk-winged clouds move overhead. I make a mental note to remember this day, the kingfisher with his high rattling call like a shake of maracas, Audoborn-drawn, and the beautiful loon, harmonizing, like me, with the unfolding changes of nature. There are the gulls – up close they look surprisingly stuffed, their legs unbent, are childish crayon strokes, their heads cocked to one side, as if to receive the latest news or gossip.

Entire populations of birds have disappeared lately thanks to various oil tycoons who have made a suicide pact for our planet. Everything we value becomes expendable in their drive for corporate profits. It’s a struggle to break free from the tyranny of the carbon cartel and create an economy and an energy system that is fair and rooted in justice, economic independence and freedom. Our systems have become exquisitely sensitive to greed, not nature. We choose conformity, materialism and comfort. The systems we’ve inherited were the products of empires,  political and military empires with an agenda of conquest. Greed has been marching over this earth since the beginning of man, poisoning the air more recently, destroying the earth’s temperature-control cycles and sickening our children. We must reconnect with nature in whatever ways restore us.

To sit in a boat, rocking, moved by the immense power of the ocean and the wind, is to develop another perspective, because losing coral reefs and thousands of living companions is not a matter of sustainability – it’s a matter of morality. We can just as easily have an economy based on healing the future instead of stealing it. One is called ‘restoration’ and the other, ‘exploitation.’ Killing off a species not only wipes that creature off the face of the earth forever, it also lops off the budding branch, eliminating for all time the infinite variation that might have grown from that limb. This is a loss beyond imagining.

I wish I knew what language to address the animal spirits that lie beneath the floorboards of this boat!

If we can latch onto something in nature that allows for reflection, brings self-awareness and enhances well-being, then one should take the next step in favor of that animal, or the habitat upon which it depends.

Birds now enchant me.