Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Gracias, Mexico

Why are we wearing these funny hats and formal clothes? Read on.

Okay, now I know the truth about my Spanish: It sucks! But people are kind, especially when I try. A few words go a long way. I constantly remind myself not to be self-conscious, just dive in. How else to learn?

Sometimes Spanish is really fun. Other times my inner child gets a little whiny. It wants someone to fix it all, to make everything clear. RIGHT NOW.

It's helpful to watch Dave in action. He knows less Spanish than I do, but he has no problem making up words, pantomiming, drawing pictures--even throwing in a Japanese or German word. Okay, that last part is unintentional. It's just the language center in his brain igniting languages he knows.

Last weekend we were at a wedding where we met a lot of fascinating people. I craved being able to talk to them more in-depth. Serious Spanish study is high on my list.

Speaking of the wedding...wow, what an incredible experience. On Thanksgiving day we flew from Cabo to Mexico City. When we arrived at the home of our friend Paul, the groom, we met a small group of his friends who served us a turkey dinner with all the trimmings--and I'd thought tacos and beer in the airport would have to suffice.

Tepoztlán

The next day, we rode with Paul to the wedding location, a town called Tepoztlán. A "Pueblo Mágico" outside of Cuernavaca, it's a beautiful place, with cobblestone streets and surrounded by mountains. It's reputed to be the birthplace over 1200 years ago of Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent god.


Up and up with Sarah.

The morning of the wedding Dave, our friend Sarah and I hiked up Tepozteco mountain (a serious climb with a 1,200 foot elevation gain). At the top are the remains of an Aztec temple. People say this sacred place has a high vibration and that there are regular UFO sightings. We didn't see UFOs, but we saw a lot of these creatures:

coati

The wedding took place at a beautiful open-air chapel. Although dress was formal and the service was Catholic, the Beatles "Let it Be" and "All You Need is Love" played as everyone filled the seats. During the ceremony, children ran around and blew bubbles while the musicians played Ave Maria and the Hallelujah Chorus.



After the "husband and wife" pronouncement to a glorious sunset, cocktails were served on the lawn. Suddenly, music predominated by drumming filled the air, and Aztec dancers in wild costumes appeared. Their traditional, freaky masks originally mocked the Spanish invaders. Everyone was invited to dance with them.

We moved into a gorgeous hall for the reception. During dinner, the band performed opera music. Later that very same band broke out into a wild array of music for dancing. A medley of songs from Grease. Disco. Salsa. A bunch of Beatles songs, "performed" by Dave and three other guests who'd been pulled aside and shoved into costumes and crazy wigs.


The bride and groom appeared in super sexy red and black outfits and performed a super sexy tango (watch here). We danced for hours. Crazy cartoon characters and props and neon flashing accoutrements for us to wear kept popping up.







There were even fireworks!


A colorful spread of quirky desserts appeared. Champagne, wine and tequila flowed freely. At 1 a.m., we were served breakfast! And then a mariachi band strolled in.  Pablo and Rosalba, longtime friends of Paul and Mari Carmen, sang the most beautiful, impassioned song. I get gooseflesh every time I watch Dave's video that captures the moment:



My Spanish may need some work, but I certainly know how to say: "Gracias, Mexico."


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Colors of the Sea

Today, my 52nd birthday, marks two weeks that we’ve been in Mexico.

Sunset from our rooftop.
After a grueling and fascinating two-day drive caravanning with my sister from San Diego to California Baja Sur, we were accompanied by an intense sunset during the last leg from La Paz to Todos Santos. In the charming downtown, we ate our initiatory Mexican dinner in an open-air restaurant. 

Then my sister led us the last ten minutes south to El Pescadero. After passing through the shadows of the tiny pueblo, we took a right on an unmarked dirt road. Our blue Subaru earned its all-wheel drive cred bumping toward the ocean in the dark. When we got to our small resort, dogs came out to greet us. We soon learned this place is dog heaven, an off-leash life.

That night, we dragged our stuff into our empty casita and collapsed on an air mattress. A few hours later, my body awoke to mattress sag. The re-inflating mechanism was so loud that my sister, whose place is next door, said she thought we were making smoothies in the middle of the night.

The next few days meant facing the reality of what we’d done. We were owners of a house in a foreign country, near an incredible beach and town—a house that needed furniture, a refrigerator, curtains, air conditioning, and a washer/dryer. It lacked cabinets and a bar/counter to complete the kitchen and bathroom. The talavera sink had to be installed in the bathroom. The one plant in the yard, a palm tree, was dead, a victim of Hurricane Odile. We didn’t even own a broom, a sponge, a beach umbrella, a local cell phone.

Our To-Do list was epic. And handling it all in shaky Spanish? Amidst a culture where things are done in a different style and pace? In the middle of a dusty resort that has a lot of construction going on? The only choice was take it easy, a bit at a time. Poco a poco.

In 14 days, I’ve had (only) two meltdowns. In each case going to bed helped (that is, after we said adios to the leaky air bed and hola to a real mattress).

I’ve also been doing yoga and meditating. I remind myself that a beach walk, a soak in the Jacuzzi, and a swim in the pool are incredible amenities. As is being a homeowner, especially in a place with a built-in community.


Hermanas con perro.

Having so many great people around has been a life saver. My sister, her friends who’ve become our new friends, other casita residents, and the resort staff—everyone has been a font of information and, most importantly, bienvenidos.

Without a working kitchen, we collaborated with my sister to make meals in hers. Our bilingual friend Paul took us on a trip to Los Cabos (an hour south) to help us buy a slew of things and arrange to have them delivered. The next day, Dave and I went alone, an hour east, to La Paz stores.

We’ve been to Todos Santos many times, buying other furniture and food. We’ve been to several excellent restaurants, including the one here at the resort that serves pizza made in a wood-fired oven by the pool. Our favorite is a pescaderia that serves the freshest (and cheapest) fish tacos ever. Down the street is a little tienda where we buy handmade tortillas. Dave almost wept the first time he held the warm bundle in his hands.

Whenever we drive around and see the leftover ravages of the hurricane—buildings and homes and cacti toppled—I’m reminded of our incredible fortune. Nothing of ours was destroyed. We have shelter, food, and water. And each other.


Unharmed cacti.

In just two weeks, we’ve enjoyed cocktail parties and meals on neighbors’ roofs, watching the sunset. We’ve dipped into the warm ocean waters and taken long beach walks. We went to the Farmer’s Market and live music on the playa.

We’ve had incredible conversations with people, most of whom—like us—live alternative lives. One was a young Polish woman we picked up hitchhiking; she was traveling Baja alone. Another was a Swiss couple on bikes who’d ridden all the way down from Canada.

Some people have retired here. Others have young children. Some live in Cabo or La Paz and come here for the weekends. One guy lives here a few months at a time, spending the rest of the year working in the states. Some live to surf or fish or just be near the sea. Others love four-wheeling or hiking through the desert hills. Some were born here. Others fell in love with Mexico and never wanted to leave.

Every once in a while an odd feeling seizes me. A sense that we’ve jumped off the biggest cliff ever. Funny I’d say that after all we’ve gone through in the past two years: retirement, getting rid of all our possessions, traveling all over—oh, and brain surgery.

One morning, a few days in, I woke up with anxiety crawling up my skin. I closed my eyes and prayed for new internal space to open up. I felt around inside for the richness of the fertile void. I asked for a sense of something—purpose? clarity? happiness? peace? What did it all mean, this living thing? My mind scrambled around like a rat in a cage.

I went for a beach walk. The ocean, my sanctuary. On my way back, a young man standing with two young women near the surf school asked me in Spanish if I knew how far it was to the bus stop. I pointed down our dirt road and told him it was probably at least a 20 or 30 minute walk. He seemed on the edge of tears and—switching to English—told me that a friend had brought them to the beach last night and then disappeared. He said his mom was going to be worried about him; he couldn’t call her because his cell phone ran out of juice. They were in their early twenties and from Guadalajara.

I guess they’d spent the night on the beach. They looked exhausted. They reminded me of my students. I said, “Wait here. I have a car. I will drive you there.”

A surge of energy and joy blasted through me. I ran to our casita and grabbed three bottles of water and three granola bars. I hopped in the car, blasted the A/C, and drove over to get them. As we bumped down the dusty, rutted road, they drank the water and tore into the food.

“Can I be your dog?” he joked. We all laughed. Clearly, they couldn’t believe their luck. I couldn’t believe mine, either.  

Casita-in-progress.
So, we are two weeks in, and I’m writing at my computer on my new little rustic table. Jazz plays from speakers attached to Dave’s hard drive that holds thousands of songs. The house is filled with furniture, a washer/dryer, a fridge, and new talavara sink. A sweet new palm is planted in our yard. We even have a dresser. What a luxury to have my clothes in drawers after so many months in suitcases.

Three guys are installing the A/C right now. Another guy has been in and out, working on the finishing touches of our kitchen counter. I was able to string together Spanish words to create Frankenstein sentences that seemed to work, more or less.

Yesterday, our neighbor Kimberly, who makes jewelry, mentioned she’s collecting driftwood on which to display her work. On Dave’s and my morning beach walk, I found three pieces that I brought to her. She hugged me, said they were perfect. Later, she came by to wish me happy birthday. Then she fitted me with an anklet the colors of the sea.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Many changes: made possible by the fertile void

On November 9--what would have been my mom's 82nd birthday--Dave and I head to Mexico to our new little house. For the two-day drive from San Diego to Baja California Sur, we're caravaning with my sister. She said she feels like Mom will be guiding us.

Rear view of Casita Once.

When Dave and I set out to live a nomadic life a year and a half ago, we had no idea we'd end up with a Mexican casita for a home base. In June 2013, immediately after I turned in my grades at the university for the last time, we flew to L.A.

Next we planned to go to Australia, Boston and Cape Cod, Hawaii, India, Sri Lanka and Hong Kong. An eclectic itinerary based primarily on being with friends during the best seasons (e.g., "let's avoid monsoons" and "let's hang out with our friends when it's best for them").

We also had an idea that we'd like to spend winter in the mountains. We found a four-month ski house rental in Tahoe through Airbnb, which we shared with friends.

Strung together, those plans would take ten months. After that, who knew?

We didn't factor in brain surgery. That happened two months in, after I had a seizure in Cape Cod.

Post-surgery, the opportunity popped up to buy a casita in El Pescadero, near Todos Santos. We'd never been there. We'd never seen the resort, except through online photos. The casita was still under construction.


We loved Mexico. We'd taken a great trip to Mexico City, and over the years we'd both spent time in different parts of the country. My sister had been going down to the tip of Baja for more than twenty years and knew the resort well. The price was insanely affordable.

These are the logical reasons. But our decision wasn't based on logic. Around the time of my surgery, I'd had a revelation, words downloaded from the ether: I want to live within walking distance of swimmable water.

To embark on our odyssey, we'd left the town of my dreams: Santa Cruz. We loved it there, but it was time to let it go.

We dove off the cliff of the known into the unknown, the fertile void. We were making space for new things. And new things always come.

Turns out, the casita is a five minute walk to a sweet beach. And there's a pool and jacuzzi at the resort. (And it has both an indoor and outdoor shower!). Water, water, everywhere.

Playa Cerritos

I'm not sure I would have known so clearly, so intuitively, that buying the place--using a large chunk of our savings--was the exact right thing to do if I hadn't just undergone brain surgery. The fertile void had delivered.

The casita was #11, our favorite number. The number of balance, of lining up with life. We named our new place Casita Once, "House Eleven."

Fast-forward a year: we will be seeing Casita Once for the first time next week. It's small. One bedroom, tiny kitchen, backyard, rooftop patio. And it's empty.

Our car is filled with most everything we own: a blow-up bed, sheets, towels, Rummikub, miscellaneous kitchen items, and the framed mermaid print Dave gave me for my birthday four years ago. We plan to haunt the stores of Cabo, Todos Santos and La Paz for furniture and appliances. I love the idea of starting from scratch. Lots of color, no clutter.

After seventeen months of nomadic life, it's kind of stunning to think we will be setting up house. Our house. In a foreign country. I'm hoping my dusty Spanish will kick in.

We'd love to have visitors! It's a quick flight to Cabo from many places. A shuttle will take you to town, where we can pick you up and drive you down the dirt road to our place. The resort has many options--from hotel rooms to palapas to casitas--that start at $75 a night.

We aren't sure how long we will be in Baja. On a visitor's visa we can stay up to six months. If we ever decide to live there permanently, we can apply for a long-term visa.

We also aren't sure if and when we will have wifi coverage in our casita. But at the palapa near the pool we can sign in. We will not have international phones, so the best way to contact us while we are south of the border is email and Facebook. If you'd like to call and/or text in real-time, we have Viber and WhatsApp and Skype.

So. Onward. As Stanley Kunitz writes:

I have walked through many lives...
every stone on the road
precious to me. ...
I am not done with my many changes. 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

L.A. Living

Nomadic living is a life of contrasts. After housesitting for two months in a large, custom built house in a Pacific Northwest forest, we are now house- (or I should say apartment-) sitting smack-dab in West Hollywood. Instead of bird sounds and trees swaying in the wind, we hear sirens, car alarms and blaring rap. Instead of running two huge golden retrievers at the beach, we walk a sturdy little pug named Duke down city streets and on canyon hikes.

Runyon Canyon with Duke and L.A. skyline

After the slow life in a small town, we were both a bit rattled by the L.A. traffic and noise. But as usual, a few days in and we--adaptive creatures that we are--were buzzing around town by car and on foot, checking out quirky stores and restaurants, and letting everyone from children to homeless guys pet the adorable Duke, who is a people- and dog-magnet. 

Santa Monica Blvd.

Oh, and then there was Halloween. It just so happened that our stay here corresponded with one of the largest and craziest Halloween gatherings in the world. 500,000 people in elaborate costumes and six stages with bands. It was such a wild scene it felt like another planet. And all we had to do was fashion costumes from our scant suitcase belongings then mosey down the street.

Some of the tamer costumes.

Girls just wanna have fun!


Prior to our housesit, we stayed a weekend with L.A. friends and a week with other friends in Ventura County. We boogied down at two Raw Oyster Cult shows and a Phish show, surrounded by a  love-krewe.

Phish at the Forum

If this wasn't enough, we watched several World Series games with our friends' three boys (twins age 9 and a 7-year-old), all big Giants fans. And we saw the WIN at Barney's Beanery, an L.A. institution, which we walked to from the apartment.

L.A. has turned out to be a haven of connection. One of our friends just happened to be in town from Phoenix with her girlfriend who is Cambodian. We met in Chinatown--my first time there--and ate incredibly delicious and inexpensive Cambodian food, ordered by our resident expert. We then walked the streets and popped into some other food places to get super-cheap pork buns and baked goods to-go.

Five people, and we ate almost all of it!  (photo by Chhoun Chan Rasmey)
One evening we went to Suzanne Rico's house, the daughter of my beloved mentor and other-mother Gabriele Rico. She and her hubby made us a fabulous meal, and we enjoyed hanging out with them and their boys. Suzanne and I both have the wanderlust and writing genes, so we had a lot to talk about.

Suzanne's son Ado checking out the treats from a West Hollywood Russian bakery.

Then this morning my longtime friend and her husband revved up the Maserati (another first for me!) and drove us to Santa Monica for breakfast at Patrick's Roadhouse--a super-charming place where we ate phat food on the balcony overlooking the ocean.

All of this feels like a kind of extended bon voyage since in a week we will be driving down to our new pad in Baja. Every day is the turning of a page. A new chapter awaits.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Have I Been Wasting My Life?

"The world does not want you to fail. The world is forever supplying you with the information you need to do exactly what you want. ...Do not fear the information. It is always friendly." (William Kenower)


Once a therapist told me I needed to get quiet so I could hear my intuition. That's how we know what life is telling us: by getting quiet.

Not I'm-so-pissed-off-I'm-shutting-down quiet.

But I'm-watching-the-clouds-roll-by quiet.

When I shared my memoir manuscript with two writer friends, they suggested big changes of different sorts. I was thrown. Did they hate it? Did they hate me? Was my book a piece of crap? Was I a piece of crap? Had I been wasting my life?


Painful revision? 


I sat back and watched my mind spin fearful worries, justifications and explanations. I got quiet, watched it all like bad weather.

And then one day, in the calm after the storm, I faced my manuscript and it was perfectly clear what needed to be done. I followed the advice of one of my friends and sliced out 1/3 of the manuscript. It was like pulling weeds. What remained blossomed.

The other advice, which had involved structural changes, I now knew not to be true to my vision. Still, I was grateful she spent her living time on my book.

And she had been helpful. Because knowing what I don't want helps me get clearer about what I do want. The trick, though, is to not linger in the unwanted. Instead, I use it to springboard me in the most helpful direction.

"Go only forward; that is the direction of life." (William Kenower)

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Arriving Again and Again





What's it like to think you're dying?
What's it like to radically change your life?

This is how my book opens, with two scenes that touch on these questions.

Arriving Again and Again (an odyssey of love, sex, spirit and travel) is being circulated to agents and editors now. I can feel it's just a matter of time before it's birthed out into the world.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Resist or Embrace




My dad always said, "The only constant is change." Being nomads shoves that reality in our faces a lot.

Yesterday we left our two-month house sit, saying goodbye to Max and Levi, the golden retrievers we cared for, and fell in love with. We also loved the house and the area.

Still, it was great to see Charlie and Jessica. They were thrilled the house was clean, the garden was thriving, and the dogs were happy.

Dave said he felt like our time there was a form of service. I hadn't quite thought about it that way, but I can see how it's true. We supported the home life of people who went to do good work in India. We did it for free--well, in exchange for a wonderful experience. It's all connected.

And now I feel like we have two new friends, people we met through Trusted Housesitters. When they came home, we had dinner waiting. We ate and talked--and did the same the next morning over breakfast. Then it was time to leave. They and the dogs walked us out to our car. I had tears in my eyes as we drove away, thinking about how I wouldn't be on the beach with those two sweet boys that day, and how I might never again hug their sturdy bodies.

There are four things I do that help me when I'm feeling sad:

1. I think about how sweet it is that I feel this way. That means capable of deep feeling, of loving and connecting.

2. I appreciate the hell out of the whole experience (the dogs, the Pacific Northwest, our journey as nomads who get to live so many different lives).

3. I turn my attention what's here (a drive through majestic pines)...

4. ...and what's coming up (Oregon coast! California redwoods! Music and friends in L.A.! Mexico!).

And so, five hours after leaving Port Townsend, Dave and I arrived in Cannon Beach, at the beach house of a friend. A friend so generous he let us use the house even though he's not here.

This morning we took a long bike ride on the beach. The beach is wide and long with packed sand that made for a spectacular ride. It was strange not having Max and Levi at our sides. But it was okay. The next thing comes no matter what. And we have a choice: resist or embrace.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

What I Did when Someone Called Me a F***ing B****






Yesterday I took the dogs to the beach. What a gorgeous day. Everything glimmered.

Max came bounding toward me from the water and dropped a stick at my feet. When I bent down to throw it, Levi galloped down the beach. I wasn’t concerned; he always comes back.

I smiled when I saw from afar that he had approached two people with a dog, knowing how much he enjoys greeting other dogs. But as I got closer I could hear the women yelling. They were pulling on their dog’s leash to try to keep him away from Levi.

Soon I could hear they were swearing, yelling at me. Come and get your f***ing dog! What the f*** are you thinking you f***ing bitch?

Now I could see that Levi’s tail was wagging, and that he was nose-to-nose with their dog, a boxer mix, who was rearing back on his tight leash.

“Come! Levi, come!” I had to call a few times before he came to me. I put on his leash. I didn’t have one for Max because when I’m holding his stick, he won’t leave my side.

As I got closer, the women continued to berate me, calling me a f***ing bitch and an idiot.  Screaming at me to get both dogs on leash. My heart raced. My stomach tightened. I just wanted to get around them, like I would a raging fire.

Their words felt like physical blows. The urge to defend myself welled up. You’re the crazy bitches! The urge to justify: This is an off-leash area! There are dogs all over the place!

Noticing my mind’s machinations calmed me a bit. Was I going to get hooked? Was I going to add fuel to the fire?

As I skirted them—their dog lunging—one of the women screamed: “Get your dogs under control! Just because your dogs are nice doesn’t mean others are!"

To me, this place was a playground for dogs where they congregate and bound around together. I was tempted to say that, but I knew she wouldn’t hear me.

“Get your fucking act together!” she screamed.

I gave into the urge to say something, to lash back: “No wonder your dog isn’t nice,” I said. “You sure aren’t.”

“You’re giving me shit? Are you?” The woman not holding the dog moved toward me, chest out, fists clenched.

I didn’t respond, just passed by. I threw Max’s stick so he’d go running into the water, and picked my pace up to a jog so Levi would be redirected.

I felt bruised. Angry. Victimized. Those feelings moved through my body, like waves.

I thought about not taking it personally.

I felt hate welling up. I hated them. I hated the way they treated me.

I wanted to feel better. I knew that was up to me.

I took a few deep breaths. Watched clouds drift in the sky. I soothed myself: Good job, Kate. You didn’t freak out. You didn’t meet their aggressive energy. You calmly roped in the dogs and walked by, circumnavigating the conflagration.

Another woman with two off-leash dogs approached. My first thought was, Oh good, let them see I’m not the only one with off-leash dogs.

My second thought was, No, revenge might feel good, but it feels better to help someone out.

As our dogs sniffed each other, I warned her that around the bend were two women who were angry about off-leash dogs because theirs was aggressive.

“Why don’t they walk their dog somewhere else?” she said, pulling two leashes out of her pocket. “Well, thanks for the warning.” That felt good because my ego kept saying, I’m right, they’re wrong, I’m right they’re wrong.

Next I saw another woman gathering sea glass. I reached into my pocket and pulled out a light blue piece I’d picked up earlier. I said to her, “Would you like this one?” She looked at me like I was handing over a precious gem.

“Really?” she said.

“Sure,” I said, smiling, reveling in the good feeling of giving something away. My ego said, I’m a nice person. I'm a good person.

As I continued to walk, I thought about the times I’ve gone off on people: road rage, screaming during an argument, temper tantrums. I thought about times I've been blinded by anger.

Years ago I asked my therapist, “If I’m not supposed to repress my feelings or act out impulsively, what am I supposed to do with them?”

“Just watch them like bad weather,” she said. “They will pass.”

Pema Chodron says the root cause of aggression, conflict, cruelty is “getting hooked” by something someone else says or does. It’s a charged and sticky feeling. “And it comes along with a very seductive urge to do something. Somebody says a harsh word and immediately you can feel a shift. There’s a tightening that rapidly spirals into mentally blaming this person, or wanting revenge, or blaming yourself.”

I recalled a dog I had years ago who was snippy with other dogs and, once, bit one of my friends. I loved that dog, but it was nerve-wracking taking her anywhere. I didn’t know how to handle her.

I know what it’s like to be scared, to be angry, to attack, to feel out of control, to call people names. I know what it’s like to lash out, to get hooked. 

Violence can beget violence or it can beget self-awareness. Empathy. Tenderness. It starts right here, with me.

The sky and the sea melted together at the horizon. Max came back to me and dropped his stick at my feet. I wished relief for the two women, for their dog, for me. I wished us ease. Joy. Peace.