Wade's Journal -- 2005
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My return to Mexico begins with a positive omen: the Great Computer in the Sky gives me seat 1A. Since my plane is a small one, I’m not only on the first row, but my seat is also the only one on that row. Much different than the cramped conditions on my flight to Houston.
The flight attendant, a Mexican, greets me with the sincere warmth that is common in Mexico, compared to the false friendliness that I find with many if not most American flight attendants.
And the in-flight magazine informs me that I will be arriving in Guanajuato during the most highly esteemed festival in all of Latin America, the International Festival Cervantino, which is dedicated to Cervantes, the author of Don Quixote. Given my sense of having been tilting at windmills, I find this coincidence highly appropriate and feel that I’m in a groove. And the magazine tells that Guanajuato is the birthplace of Diego Rivera, which makes me anticipate feeling at home even more. (I learn later that Guanajuato is more than a mile high and has 14 museums in a city of 100,000, and that this year’s festival is also dedicated to Zapata and Che.)
I arrive at the Howard Johnson Hotel in Leon with no difficulty. It’s downtown, not among the new luxury hotels, a tasteful old building with a firm bed and scores of channels on the TV. An old Grade C Mickey Rourke movie in English takes me to the edge of sleep.
The next day, I take a taxi to Guanajuato. My driver drops me at the Obradajoras Hotel, my rendezvous point for my homestead. From the front desk, we call the Villanueva home, but there’s no answer. I get a bit worried and grab a bite to eat in the hotel’s charming patio. As soon as I finish, I’m informed that my ride will arrive in a moment. Another good omen.
My hostess, Senora Villanueva, welcomes me and takes me to her large, charming, middle-class home. One of her daughters lives next door with some grandchildren. It seems that several Academia Falcon students at a time live in the two homes. I unpack and join everyone for a bar-b-q in the front yard. When a friend or member of the family sees my hair, he comments to someone, “hippie,” and greets me with a power salute.
One of the grandsons gives us a lesson in Mexican politics. He considers the Mexican War of Independence, which began nearby with the first victory coming in Guanajuato itself, to have been a battle between elites. I comment that it seems similar to the United States. But he considers the Mexican Revolution of 1910 to have been a real revolution: “the first of the 20th century,” he says with pride.
He’s not completely pleased with any of the current candidates for President. He believes that Lopez Obrador, the populist Mayor of Mexico City, will probably win, but he’s concerned about whether Lopez Obrador considers himself above the law since he began as a volatile community activist whose advocacy campaigns involved violence and whose Administration has been riddled with corruption scandals.
I invite everyone to go with me to the Cervantino Festival but only Tammy, a flight attendant who’s half-Japanese from the Vancouver area accepts my invitation. She knows the town well and proves to be a great tour guide. And coincidentally, the band at the large free concert proves to be from Japan! I call their music “global fusion.” Very pop and tightly choreographed. No improvisation. I give them a B. Tammy gives them a C.
The street performances before and after the concert are invigorating. Beforehand we go shopping for a tortilla maker for Tammy’s husband with a friend of Tammy’s, who’s a law student wanting to advance human rights by working in international law, in an enormous indoor market and afterwards we hang out outdoors at The Ear of Van Gogh bar with a friend of Tammy’s friend, who wants to be a clinical psychologist working with prisoners. I tell him he has a big heart. He agrees.
The next day, Monday, I go to the Academia Falcon early, take two classes, get two orientations, and do email at their new Internet center, which has a fast connection. My classmates are interesting. A retired math professor (and his wife) who taught the history of math. A couple in their 30s both of whom are nurses taking a break to travel Latin American for a year with their children.
At the evening orientation, I meet Ann, who’s on her way to Guerrero to serve with Peace Brigades International (PBI) for a year, accompanying the indigenous people and human rights workers there in their advocacy. Only Ann accepts my invitation to go to the Festival, where we hear an enormous Mexican brass orchestra from Guanajuato, apparently the local community band with members of various ages. Very spirited, passionate music. As Ann points out, there was little modulation: it was mostly straight ahead loud. But I tend to suspend my judgment at such events, and prefer to enjoy them as much as I can.
Given her PBI work, I break my silence about my own political history and tell her about Iraq. After the concert, we go to The Ear of Van Gogh for dessert and talk politics. It turns out that she hasn’t been consistently political due to discouragement, and is working with PBI in part to make amends for being an American. A great companion. On the way home, she notices Monday Night Football on a TV in a new upstairs bar and after I convince her that I am also a sports fan, we go up to catch the end. This weekend, we may watch college football and the World Series together. She’s very pleased because when she was in Guanajuato before, she couldn’t find any place to watch American sports.
I go home and import onto my hard drive the music by Laud, a folk singer Tammy and I watched during the Cervantino, whose CDs we purchased. The importing goes smoothly, which is a relief, for I couldn’t do it well on my old computer. So maybe I made the right decision to buy a new laptop the day before I left, even though the stress and the delay in getting packed interfered with my farewell celebration in North Beach. Another good omen that I’m on the right path. And I like the CD!
Please let me know if you enjoy my pictures. So far only one person has said that she has, and another indicated he found them informative. Now that I’ve learned the routine, I can do it rather quickly, but still it takes some time. How much I do it may be influenced by the response.
The next set of pictures are at: http://photobucket.com/albums/a300/wadehudson/Guanajuato%202/
The first one is Senor Alfredo, the man of the house. He was sitting in the front yard as I headed to school.
The second one is of my class for this week and our grammar maestro, Orlando. From the left, Joan is a retired nurse. Frank is a retired math professor, who co-edits Convergence – where mathematics, history, and teaching interact -- an e-magazine of The Mathematical Association of America [http://convergence.mathdl.org]. Eileen and David are nurses from Portland on a yearlong leave traveling in Mexico with their children, the oldest of whom is twelve.
I took the next ten photos on my way to Café Tal, which has a free high-speed wireless Internet connection with no limit on how long I stay at one of their five tables. They reflect some of the architecture and geography.
The next photo captures a Cervantino Festival parade through town at night, followed by a photo of that evening’s free concert, a ballet about Don Quixote and people in his life. At the end, I believe, he drives an aristocrat off the stage.
The next photo is of a typical group of taco stands, followed by two shots of the walls at The Ear of Van Gogh, some street singers, my waitress at The Ear of Van Gogh, a one-woman show (her biggest laugh came from a joke about “hippies”), a performer with painted face off duty, a band playing in the main square, a singer at a nearby restaurant, two women at a karoke bar, and a statute.
I’ve been here less than six days and I feel like I’ve done enough to have been here six weeks and I feel home enough to have been here six years. Classes, homework, got my wonderful new computer configured, learned how to edit photos with Picasa and upload them onto photobucket.com, soaked up the cultural scene in town, had dinner with my classmates and some other folks from Falcon, composed and sent a report to the Strategy Workshop, processed lots of email, read the news online (I really hope that Fitzgerald indicts Cheney as well as Rove and Libby), burned some Mexican CDs onto my laptop, bought excellent external speakers for my laptop ($11), bought two fine shirts ($25) . Quite a week.
Next week should be even better. I asked for and received a class schedule beginning at 12 Noon, so I can sleep in (I hate alarm clocks!) and get into my morning routine of writing in my personal journal for fifteen minutes, eating breakfast, and getting some exercise, before doing my personal work. Then school, the big meal at 3, a siesta, and off to the Internet café, before coming back home to do some more personal work. Once the festival is over, I’ll probably limit most of my cultural explorations to the weekend.
Now if only I can get an Internet connection here at home, which is promising, then I can increase my productivity even more and get back to working on the Catalog consistently. And if I can’t get Internet here, I’ll probably look for another place to live where I can.
The weather here is wonderful, ideal year round. And I still love the Mexican people. John, who’s taught English here for several months, said he’s only encountered two nasty Mexicans. One was a cab driver, of course, who tried to rip him off, and he can’t remember the other. He had some interesting insights about the warmth we experience here, but I’ll wait to share those.
At this rate, I could easily envision spending nine months a year here, especially considering that I can get great room and board for $600 per month, maid service included. I had to pay a little more than $2 to get my clothes washed, however.
Go Sox! Although it would be neat to see Clemens and Pettit stick it to Steinbrenner.
This weekend is the last weekend of the 16-day Cervantino. It may involve a dramatic finale. Regardless, I anticipate drinking a few cervesas and taking a break from most of my studying and project work, once I send off this email during the day Saturday.
Sure would be fun to share this with you guys.
Tami invited me to join her at a wine tasting in an art gallery owned by an architecture professor who’s also an artist. His large three-room gallery was filled with his beautiful, life-affirming work, which was very eclectic, reflecting many different styles. I couldn’t participate in their conversations about wine, however, knowing next to nothing about wine.
Among the very interesting people at the wine tasting I met was a charismatic, sharp 31-year-old fellow Falcon student, Sherry, who was recently laid off as an AFL-CIO union organizer in Chicago. She’s learning Spanish to strengthen her organizing skills and hopes to go hang out with the women organizers in Chiapas to learn from them. Though occasionally stricken with bouts of cynicism, she’s very dedicated to organizing and can’t imagine doing anything else. Her comments about Sweeny and Stern, in response to my questions, struck me as very astute. I look forward to talking with her more and maybe getting her involved with the Strategy Workshop.
After the wine tasting, we went to the free concert, a fantastic 12-person band with 11 Japanese drummers and one Australian digeradoo player. The drummers, mostly women, hit large drums with large sticks and virtually danced while they did so. The leader introduced one song in stilted English, speaking of love and peace. When she introduced it in Spanish, the crowd went wild. I can’t image that band attracting several thousand people in the United States but it seems that Mexicans and the people who come to the Cervantino have a great openness to music from throughout the world.
Afterwards I wandered the streets. Tens of thousands of people. All very mellow. And not one expression of anger, much less violence. I can’t imagine such a large crowd in the States with such a peaceful atmosphere. Walking down the streets was like walking down Bourbon Street in New Orleans with first one kind of music and then another coming from inside, but without all the shouting and obnoxious drunks. Theatre groups performing passionate works on the street. One colorfully clad team on stilts would stop to have their pictures taken with pedestrians. Amazing scenes. The spirit reminded me of a Grateful Dead concert crowd.
Once I approached a mariachi band and soon became the center of attention of a crowd of about 100. Some frivolous kids wanted me to dance. I begged off and backed up to the edge of the circle that had formed. Then one approached me with a large hat asking for money, with everyone laughing. Others started talking pictures. So I approached one with a video camera, rubbing the fingers of one hand with the sign for money and held my other hand open asking for money, laughing. Everyone laughed even louder.
On my way home, walking because there were no taxis, I bumped into James, who just bought some land on the edge of town, Judy from Oregon, and Tami, who’s was flying back to Canada early today. Tami and Judy had gone to a flamenco concert, which prompted Judy to break down weeping. The chance encounter was fortuitous, for Tami and I walked home to our compound together and I was able to tell her goodbye and thank her for her hospitality on my first day in town. It seems the Anglo students have absorbed the nonjudgmental air of the Mexican culture, which does not separate people by age as does the American culture.
Oct 22, 2005 . Saturday night I went to the climax of the Cervantino with my camera, hoping to capture some of the array of the festival street scenes. As suggested by some subscribers, I’ll try to put captions above the photos on photobucket.com so you can first read this and then cruise through the photos.
Though the police and military have generally seemed reasonable, I wasn’t sure how they would react to being photographed. But when I shot a traffic stop, the cop jokingly hid behind the driver.
The poor indigenous woman by herself asked me for money after I photographed her. I complied.
The group of young people in the photo which I will try to caption “they begged to be shot” were part of a group several times louder shouting “foto” when I walked by. I don’t know if it’s a new fascination with digital photography, but the people here are crazy about it. One young man even asked me to shoot his friend apparently just so that his friend would be photographed. I complied, and walked off.
The shots of the “parade through alleys” is a regular event here three nights a week. Apparently it’s one way one can drink in public, for they sell wine for the occasion.
The “street theatre on stilts” was very popular, with 2-300 people watching.
The finale of the Cervantino for me was the Armando Palomas concert. Several hundred people were packed into a small square to hear him. Many of the young people around me were singing along to every word. The passion was intense. The only comparison to the States that comes to mind was a Bruce Springsteen concert, but Palomas was performing alone with an acoustic guitar. He sold tons of CDs afterwards and allowed lots of people to be photographed with him. I bought a CD and like it, but have not yet translated the lyrics. It will be interesting to see, but I suspect it has strong political content.
After Palomas, on the same stage, a man with wild white hair talked affectionately about the Zapatistas and some compatriots handed out a satirical newspaper, prior to another theatre piece, which involved a woman with a military air oppressing a disabled woman laying on the ground.
These experiences and others have made me realize that I need to learn Spanish so I can better understand, directly, what is happening in this and other Spanish speaking cultures.
The techno-dancing scene, on my way home, was sponsored by some company peddling an over the counter drug of some kind. Some folks in the middle had some fire breathing device that they were swinging around, but I couldn’t get a shot of it. It reminded me of the party at People’s Park Annex the night of the big People’s Park Memorial Day demonstration, with people jumping through and across bonfires, sometimes colliding with one another. Very primitive.
The shots of The Ear of Van Gogh #2 were taken at another restaurant owned by the same people. This one is right on the Garden Square, which is similar to Union Square in San Francisco. It is the heart of the tourist district, but is far more tasteful. I ended up in my own private room upstairs. I realized that one reason I am drawn to these restaurants is that the only time I have ever been totally blown away by a museum was the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, which was a profoundly mind altering experience.
The photograph of me with three amigos followed a request by them that I allow myself to be photographed by their amiga. I consented, and then asked her to photograph me with them. (I need a haircut!)
Today is the Day of the Dead and I’m about to head out with my camera, hoping to hook up with John, the English teacher from Nova Scotia, his girl friend, Ann, also from Nova Scotia, and some new students at Falcon whom I invited to join us at last night’s lecture on the indigenous origins of this fascinating tradition. My notes from the two lectures on the Day of the Dead which I attended follow. The photos will come later.
In addition to a wonderful visit to a great hot springs near San Miguel de Allende, I’ve been getting into a fairly good groove working on the Strategy Workshop and the Progressive Resource Catalog, as well as studying Spanish and following the news on the Internet (I still hope they get Cheney, or at least force him to resign).
I’m now looking for an apartment of my own. The situation here at mi casa is fine, but I’ve learned that even at $20 a day for room and board, it’s pricey for the local market. It seems I should be able to get a nice two-bedroom place for $200-$250 per month and cook myself for less than $200 per month. The main issue though is the lack of high-speed Internet at home, which diminishes my productivity with my projects. The Internet cafes are too noisy. In addition, the traffic is loud here and the other students coming through bring too much Anglo-American energy. My current housemates, three very young Norwegian women studying at another school, are downright weird. Unless I say something, when we eat, they make no eye contact and stare at their food throughout the meal.
But now I find myself a bit under the gun. I told Carmen I was looking and thought I had a place to move into this week. Our language barrier may have led to a miscommunication. The next thing I know, she has someone lined up to take my room Saturday, and the place I had in mind may not be available. Thursday or Friday, David and Eileen are taking me to a new place owned by their neighbor (who speaks English), and Saturday, Orlando, a Spanish teacher at Falcon is going with me to visit places listed in the classifieds to help with translation.
At the worst, I’ll have to stay in a hotel for $30 a day or so until I find a place. On my way into town today, I’ll look for hotels with DSL. This situation does make me a bit nervous. Two fellow students last night told me that I was being rather daring. Se la vie.
Who knows. If the Strategy Workshop develops, I may not make a second home here after all. But a place of my own, large enough to have guests from the States and to hold workshops in the living room, would be nice to have as a backup, or as a place to spend half the year. Que sera, sera.
The story of how I got my 2-bedroom house in Guanajuato for $250 per month is a typical Mexican story. Three or four nights ago, Ann, the Peace Brigades International volunteer on her way to Guerrero, and I bumped into each other at Café Tal and later agreed to walk home together. As we were paying our bill, Ann, who knew I needed a place, pointed out some for-rent notices on a bulletin board. While we were discussing them, a voice behind me said, “I have a two bedroom house you can rent.”
I turned around and it was Guillermo from the youth hostel, the Chicago White Sox fan. We talked a bit and he described the house and it sounded perfect. I said to Ann, “I’m beginning to believe in synchronicity.” After talking some more, Guillermo and I agreed to meet the next morning at 10:30 AM. But he never arrived, though I waited until 11:OO AM. Somewhat disappointed, I blew it off and decided there was probably something wrong with it anyway.
The next few days, I explored other options, all of which were indefinite or inadequate. On the way to the cemetery for the Day of the Dead, I stopped by two hotels looking for a room with DSL, with no luck, and planned to stop by two more. But first I dropped by the youth hostel to see if Guillermo was still in town. He had said that he was planning to go to the beach soon. I planned to leave him a note just in case. The clerk said, “Yes, he’s right down there.” And sure enough, Guillermo was still in town because he’s trying to get his deposit back from his landlady and planned to meet with her later in the day to negotiate.
The next thing I know, Katherine, who had persuaded me to go to the bar that night by telling me, “Don’t play that old man card” is standing with us. It turns out that she and Guillermo hooked up that night, as I thought might happen. Elizabeth had said that she had never seen Guillermo so animated. He attributed it to the beer. Someone else said it was the White Sox. I suspected it was Katherine. It seems I was right. Now he’s going to Puerta Vallarta with her.
Anyway, they go with me to meet the landlady and see the place. I love it. Large bathroom. Two small bedrooms and a small kitchen. Large living room with a great view, which is not surprising since it’s about seven minutes up a steep hill (good exercise for me). The roof deck is spectacular. It’s only semi-furnished, but that means I can furnish it to my own taste. I gave her $500 for first and last month’s rent. She signed a receipt, and gave me her phone numbers and the keys. We have an appointment Friday afternoon to meet the phone man and get the DSL installed.
Increible. As I left, I heard Guillermo say, “I sure lucked out.” I hope he got his deposit back by having found me.
I still have my fingers crossed, but feel a great sense of relief. A week from Saturday, I hope to have a house-warming party with my new sound system playing The Wild Tchoupitoulas.
The visit to the cemetery was a trip, with John waxing eloquent about the Mexican attitude toward death. And our dinner afterwards with Nora and Tamzyn was convivial. Nora is a retired English teacher living in Chico down here improving her Spanish and Tamzyn is an English woman who works a few months a year and travels the rest of the time. Almost everyone I’ve met here has been of a very interesting breed. And I’ve liked most of them.
Day of the Dead
Notes from two lectures on the Day of the Dead at Academia Falcon:
Prior to the Day of the Dead, the family creates an altar for one person (or group of persons, like a family or two parents) that is expected to return from the dead to receive offerings. It can be a famous person not known personally but revered.
A photograph in the center of the altar represents that person (or persons). In this case, a famous musician from Guanajuato.
A clean, white cloth is laid on a table (or tables stacked on top of one another).
Objects reflecting that person’s personality are laid around the photo. In this case, a toy sombrero, tequila, guitar, food, glasses to use to drink with, empty plates, cigarettes, food, toys.
Papers with designs cut into them (like skeletons, skulls, crosses) are taped, strung, and placed all around the altar. They are bought in stores. Kids make them in school. These holes in these papers allow the spirits to move through.
Candles, some in glasses bought in stores, are placed all over. The candles are a Spanish influence, The indigenous originally used burning sticks.
Nobody touches any of the food on the altar until two days after the Day of the Dead. Eating the food is a form of communion with the dead. Refusing to eat any of it is believed to lead to a terminal illness. But there’s plenty of other food to go around on the Day of the Dead. Different regions feature different kinds of food. In Guanajuato, it’s a special kind of bread representing the human body.
The tradition is a blend of Catholic and indigenous traditions, mostly indigenous. The Catholics appropriated the tradition to attract followers, while adding some of their own elements. They also used sweets, toys (some macabre), and other objects to attract children, with whom they wanted to connect early on. And they added a special Day of the Dead just for children in the Spring.
The skulls symbolize the universal.
The tradition teaches people to laugh at death. For example, children eat candy skulls with their names written on them. Life and death were not seen as separate but as two aspects of the same reality. How one lives determines where one’s spirit goes after death. Warriors who died during battle and women who died during childbirth went to the Son and helped maintain the balance between light and day. This equilibrium was seen as essential. The purpose of life is to die. The past is more important than the future. Honoring the dead and continuing to commune with them is paramount. So at the cemetery, people will talk with the dead for hours, giving them intimate and more intimate reports on their lives.
A plate of salt, an indigenous element, is used on the altar during the Day of the Dead to symbolize purification and preservation. It’s also been used to preserve mummies.
A plate of grains, also indigenous, is a symbol of the earth.
Root crops, like yams, that grow out of the earth also symbolize the earth.
Petals of marigolds, another indigenous element, are spread on the floor to show the returning dead the path to the altar. They are also spread on the altar. Their strong smell is important.
Incense, or copal, a scented bark, is burned to keep away bad spirits.
The person(s) to be honored is usually decided by the oldest male in the family.
Globalization and economic factors have led to a decline in the tradition. In peasant areas, it is still obligatory for everyone. But in more industrialized areas, it has virtually disappeared. There is a war between Halloween and the Day of the Dead, as with Santa Claus and Christmas.
My Day of the Dead photos are at:http://photobucket.com/albums/a300/wadehudson/Day%20of%20the%20Dead/
Dear Wade's Journal's Subscribers:
I just posted the November issue of FROM WADE at: http://npogroups.org/lists/arc/fromwade/2005-11/msg00000.html and the November issue of the prc-newsletter at: http://npogroups.org/lists/arc/prc_e-newsletter/2005-11/msg00000.html
Since these monthly e-lists will have different content from each other and from Wade's Journal, you might want to subscribe to either or both if you don't already. You can do so by clicking the Subscribe button at: http://npogroups.org/lists/info/fromwade and http://npogroups.org/lists/info/prc_e-newsletter
My house, for $250 per month, may be an even better deal than I had thought. I had a housewarming party last night and everyone was blown away. It's big, cozy, and quiet. The infamous dogs of Guanajuato can be heard barking, of course, but usually not so close as to be bothersome.
We had a nice, small gathering, but the locals I invited didn't come and the conversation was similar to an American cocktail party, mostly gossip and stories. And no one danced to my dance music. But people really loved hanging out on the roof.
Photos of the house, views there from, and the party are at: http://photobucket.com/albums/a300/wadehudson/Mi%20Casa/
I'm cutting back to one hour of Spanish this week, a private class for $70 per week. Next week, I may eliminate that class as well, consolidate what I've been taught, and increase my vocabulary. I probably could find an independent teacher for less, and I'm not finding a close sense of community at Falcon, so I may look around.
Or just concentrate on my projects for a while. Not worry about Spanish.
Hopefully I'll have DSL at home in two weeks or so. In the meantime, Internet cafes work fairly well.
I'm losing weight and my BP is going down. The five-minute walk up the hill to my house is definitely good for me.
The pilot light on the hot water heater keeps going out, and the kitchen sink never has hot water, so I have to boil water to wash dishes properly. But otherwise, the house is great. And once I get DSL, I'll start fixing it up more. I had to get a recliner, though, and love it. That way I can reserve my bed for sleeping, which contributes to better sleep.
There's a local Democratic Party meeting next week. I may make some interesting connections there.
I hope to read Octavia Paz's book on Mexico that won the Nobel Prize soon, if I can find it in English.
Got some good feedback on my "The Need for Vision" article from David, the nurse, who goes to Quaker meetings in Oregon, and at my party, a great shoulder and back rub from his wife, Eileen, who used to do deep tissue massage professionally.
They rented a three-bedroom mansion on a hill behind locked gates for $800 per month. It's part of a compound of dwellings. A gorgeous, spacious summer home for some wealthy Mexicans. Their kids love it. While visiting, I was tempted to move into the compound. But once I got home, I felt more comfortable at my place. For one thing, it's much closer to the center of town.
This week, for the first time, I hope to get into my routine. And take a day off to explore the town more, now that it's not flooded with people for the Cervantino.
Photos from yesterday’s outing to a dinner party at Eileen and David’s new “mansion on the hill” are at: http://photobucket.com/albums/a300/wadehudson/The%20Familys%20Party/?
They pay $600 for their three bedroom house, which as you will see is gorgeous. It includes another unit next door as well as one underneath.
The new faces include Jelena, a teacher at their children’s Waldorf school, Jackie from France who teaches English at Falcon, and a woman from Italy who loves the tango.
Freddie Fredrickson suggested that I take some shots from my roof in different light, which I did on my way, with the sun shining. The colors in the houses around so more clearly, partly because I’ve started using my 6 to 1 zoom lens more.
My blood pressure shot up considerably to 150/95 last week for 3-4 days. Not sure why. The spike may have been coincidental or caused by one or more various factors, including the fact that as the results from my last week’s Strategy Workshop report came in, it seems that the Coordinating Committee will dissolve, which leaves more pressure on me to continue the “vision statement project,” and I recall the formula: stress equals pressure minus support. And so I wondered whether the thought of dissolving the Coordinating Committee was more disturbing unconsciously than I realized consciously. I figure that this lack of energy does not bode well for the future of the “vision statement project,” but I want to stick with it for a while longer anyway.
I figure that if my blood pressure were to stay at that level for two weeks or so, I’d need to take pills, which I’d rather not do.
So I stepped up my exercise regimen, lost the two pounds I had gained, and stopped eating (salt) out at restaurants. And my blood pressure quickly went back down to normal, 137/87. Probably a coincidence, for I doubt that exercise and diet would have such a dramatic effect so quickly, though it’s possible.
On one point I’m confident, however. Coming to Guanajuato was the right move. I can live here on one-fourth or less of what it would cost me in San Francisco, which will enable me to save money for my old age. And my situation here is pretty much perfect for writing. The weather is perfect, my house is quiet, and the town is very simpatico. Now we’ll see how well I can write.
This “Wade’s Journal” entry will be the last one that I send as a group email (at least for a while).
Instead, I’ll send individual emails to correspondents who engage in mutual dialogue by sharing with me some of their own experiences, including heartfelt communications.
So if you want to continue receiving regular communications from me such as this one and others you’ve been receiving with “Wade’s Journal” in the Subject line, please reply to this email and let me know some of what’s happening in your life (at least one paragraph or so).
I’ll probably wait 2-3 days to reply.
Photos from a recent outing to the hot springs near San Miguel are at: http://photobucket.com/albums/a300/wadehudson/Hot%20Springs/
After recently re-reading Part One of Martin Buber’s I and Thou (one of the greatest books ever written), and observing interactions with progressive-minded Americans, Canadians, and Europeans here in Guanajauto (I’m unable to communicate much with Mexicans so I can’t comment on this aspect of their culture), I’m struck even more strongly with the superficiality of most communication in the industrialized world.
Objectification is so endemic it’s not even a word in most people’s vocabulary. The women’s movement highlighted certain problems with sexual objectification. The early Marx discussed alienation. Michael Lerner and others on the margins talk about how we use each other as objects.
But in terms of how progressive-minded people relate to one another, all that theorizing has made little practical difference.
I thought that maybe it was me, my friends, or something about the scene in San Francisco. I thought that maybe people who know me relate to me in certain ways because they know me and know what kind of person I am.
But no, I notice the same patterns here, among progressive-minded strangers who don’t know me, even when I’m like a fly on the wall merely observing. In more than one month here, I’ve had one or two really good encounters.
Most conversations fall into one of three categories: story telling, gossip, or intellectual discourse (like most political discussions).
What these conversations usually have in common is that the speaker uses the audience to be heard. Being heard validates one’s existence. People reassure one another that they are important (and in some cases overcome loneliness) simply by politely listening. So conversations become a series of monologues, often with a competitive undercurrent.
What’s missing is depth, authenticity, and mutuality. These conversations lack: real engagement, genuine concern, curiosity in the other, wanting to learn from the other, deep listening, probing below the surface to understand a little more deeply, asking questions, paying attention, being present, speaking from the heart spontaneously, sharing feelings, responding to what the other says rather than just saying what was on your own mind to start with, not worrying about wanting to be top dog by winning a debate point, getting the most laughs, or giving the wisest advice.
Relating authentically is not difficult. Children do it naturally. But as adults we learn other habits.
I’m not sure why, but it’s not simply a matter of people being too busy. If one cares, one can be fully present and responsive, regardless of the duration of the interaction.
I suspect that a major factor is fear. To paraphrase Dylan, most people don’t ask nothing about nothing because they’re afraid they might hear some truth that will upset them. People get stuck in comfortable ruts, avoid questioning their habits, and avoid deep emotional experiences, aided and abetted by tranquillizers, booze, and television. But like in a David Lynch movie, the fear lies underneath, fed by a mass media that profits from stoking fear.
Another factor is despair. People lack confidence that they can still grow, change, and become healthier or more mature.
But I suspect that the main factor is ego-centeredness, ambition, and being hung up in the analytical mind – with all three factors being inter-related.
America is afflicted with a serious double-bind, or Catch-22, that drives Americans crazy. On the one hand, we are told, “You can be anything that you want to be.” You can have the world and have it now. Heaven on earth is achievable. On the other hand, below the level of consciousness, reality insists otherwise.
Consciously, however, we chase the dragon, looking for the ultimate [fill in the blank] (when the ultimate is right under our feet). We become preoccupied with our careers, our projects, our efforts to prove ourselves (to others and to ourselves).
Other ego-centeredness, however, is simply derived from selfishness, which is another double-bind, for the harder you try to find happiness, the quicker it slips away.
But the primary barrier to authentic encounters is the “rationalization” that emerged with the Industrial Revolution. We’ve developed our analytical skills to the point that the analytical mind has taken over our inner experience. So in pre-industrial cultures, or in countries that haven’t been thoroughly industrialized like Mexico, one sees a much different style of relating that is more open, warm, responsive, and radiant.
This consequence of industrialization points to a weakness in European social democracies. Their social support systems are much more advanced than in America, but they lack soul.
This death of the spirit in the West highlights the importance of art, both in our schools and throughout society. Art can inspire when words fail.
Regardless of how or why it happens, however, the Western epidemic of ego-centeredness undermines dialogue. Egocentric people are too full of themselves to allow others to enter their soul.
Being in Mexico has helped to clarify these matters. Being in Mexico is like backpacking: it illuminates what is important. I’ve learned for example that I can easily do without hot water in the kitchen sink, but being without any water for three days is a pain in the ass.
One thing I don’t miss is television. Television is probably the single most debilitating aspect of modern civilization. It would be interesting to see what studies have been done on the negative physiological impact of television since Jerry Mander wrote Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television. But several points strike me. In addition to the narcoleptic effects, television seems to activate the analytical mind and deactivate more primordial, deeper, more emotional experiences. Unlike the cinema, which expands consciousness, television constricts awareness. By definition, television isolates facts and removes them from their context. But my main problem is with television news, which exploits and inflames fear and conflict, rather than inspire hope, imagination, and unity.
So to all of you back in the civilized world, my main word of unsolicited advice is to unplug your television and leave it unplugged for one month and listen to music (music heals), read a novel, or surf the Web every time you get the urge to turn on the TV. The Web has its limitations, but at least with the Web, one can engage in spontaneous free association, one is active rather than passive, and one can learn more in three minutes scanning the headlines on Google News than by watching PBS for an hour.
Then after one month, see if you feel differently. I bet you will.
On a more personal note, I sent a proposal for a “Vision Statement Project” to the full Strategy Workshop and the response has been very weak, with some opposition. So it seems that we may dissolve the Strategy Workshop as well as the Coordinating Committee. But I’m going to sleep on it for a while, and maybe reformulate the concept and circulate it after the first of the year. I remain convinced of the need for this effort. But my ability to make it happen is limited, and there don’t seem to be others who are willing to work with me on it to the degree that is needed for the project to be successful. Maybe I’ll seek an organization to adopt it.
The silver lining is that dropping that project would leave me more time for other efforts, such as the Catalog, maybe some other writing, and maybe some brief excursions. Once I get my nest set up here, I’ll play it by ear. Just the other night I bought a lamp that will make it much easier for me to read at night. The next day I bought two tray tables for each side of my recliner. And then I bought an electric heater for the chilly nights. And my DSL is due tomorrow, so I hope to finally establish a regular schedule soon.
I feel very blessed. I still have 20-30 years left on this earth, and I’m basically independently wealthy, able to do pretty much whatever I want so long as I stay in Mexico. (I can hire a housekeeper here to work one hundred hours with the money I earn in one hour when I drive taxi in San Francisco). And soon, when I get DSL and an Internet phone, I’ll have all that I really need.
Not that I don’t want more. I want community. I want a lover. I want to participate in a real revolution. I want to experience more authentic encounters with others.
In the meantime, I’m available, actively waiting, doing some online activism, and doing what I can to plant seeds and engage people in a healing way as best as I can, constantly reminding myself, quite apart from the manufactured crises hyped on television, that more than 40,000 people die every day due to American political and economic policies.
They say there’s trouble in Iraq. They say that global warming is a threat. Well, I say that Manhattan and London under water pale in comparison to 40,000 needless deaths every day.
What can we do about that? We must try to do something.
As Stevie Wonder said:
You have to have a place of love just for humanity and that has to stay consistently throughout whatever you do…. The key for us as people of this humankind and obviously of this country is that we must begin to place every single person equal. When every man or woman, boy or girl, matters to you as much as your mother, father, or your son and daughter matters, no matter what color or ethnicity that you are, that we all matter to each other that much, that is when we will really find the true purpose of what commitment is all about. Until then we are just playing with life. When we begin to really feel those things that real and that consistently is when we will ultimately be doing God’s work.
Since coming to Guanajuato I've lost almost 10 pounds and my blood pressure is down to 130/85, which is normal. I sometimes find myself walking around my house laughing out loud as I think about one thing or another. And I sometimes laugh out loud while reading Terra Nostra by Carlos Fuentes, which I've never done before.
In recent years, that proverbial cloud of "depression" has been lifting. In retrospect, it was prompted in large part by the breakup of my last love relationship. Regardless, as I've said before, I feel like it took me 60 years to grow up into a healthy adult. And now I'm enjoying it more than ever, getting into a good groove here in Guanajuato.
I've made a few good friends here, but most of them are Spanish students and will be leaving soon. And I've met some interesting ex-pats and locals.
But I may be falling into the solitary life of a writer. What with the wonders of the Internet, I can stay connected with folks from my quiet abode halfway of the hillside.
It's "winter" now, so it's a bit chillier. In the 40s at night. And the last few days, it's been cloudy. But I suspect that the sun will return soon, and it shouldn't rain until the summer, when I'll probably return to California for a few months. I suspect I'll keep my house here and return next fall.
So if anyone in the Bay Area wants to do a house swap, let me know. Otherwise, I'll probably sublet. Or just pay rent while I'm away. At $250 per month, I could afford to do so.
Once I complete the first collection of resources for the Catalog, more or less, I may travel around Mexico some, if I finish before July. Unless the Vision Statement Project http://progressiveresourcecatalog.org/index.php/VSP/Plan takes off, which I don't expect.
I believe that the concept for that project is eminently reasonable. The arguments in "The Need for Vision" http://progressiveresourcecatalog.org/index.php/VSP/Need are extremely logical. And the Declaration for a New America http://progressiveresourcecatalog.org/index.php/Welcome/Declaration is evolving into a solid document, with the help of input like the following from Wilson Riles:
Your piece on police powers leaves out - I think - a small but important progressive prospective. It is a prospective that Lao Tzu(sp?) speaks of in his The Art of War. Wars like police powers are most "successful" when they are not used. Some would say that that translates into the power of fear and threat in controlling behavior. I would say that the higher and better mechanism is when justice and effective conflict resolution processes are present. Fear and the threat of violence - for me - are not different from the actual use of violence. As you say, the use of violence - and the use of the threat of violence - spreads the understanding that the violence is acceptable and ethical.
In other words, governmental use of police powers - and war - is a clear, unambiguous signal of the failure of government and society. Justice is absent at some critical place in the living and communications process that has resulted in the, hopefully, last ditch use of force. Police powers must be looked at - constantly and continuously - as evidence of societal failures. It should never be accepted as inevitable or acceptable. It should always spur society to resolve the injustice not become comfortable with the use of police powers.
That is my "two bits."
With input like that, who knows, maybe it will eventually be a great document.
I have no idea. I just know that working on those projects seems to be what I need to do.
Along with firing off electronic Action Alerts and signing e-petitions.
Anyway, it seems that the Bush Empire really started crumbling once I left the country. Maybe I should stay away a bit longer and they'll force both Bush and Cheney to resign and make Dennis Hastert President.
Another Day in Mexico Friday, 12/10/05
After completing my morning ritual, I take a taxi to Telmex for the second time to get a wireless modem to replace my regular modem, only to be told that I need written authorization from my landlady, contrary to what I had been told before. More Mexican confusion.
On my way back home, I drop by Alfredo's carpentry workshop and ask him to visit me, in my best Spanish. After drafting the next prc-newsletter, he comes up and I manage to explain to him that I need some way to reinforce the seat in my recliner, which is softening and sinking fast. We devise a plan to attach a cushion to a board and cover it with fabric. On the way out, I don't understand what he's saying. He breaks down and tells me in English, "I'll go buy the materials today." I laugh and say, "Your English is better than my Spanish." He laughs and says, "Yes."
I write some more and Per drops by around 3 to help me with the phone company. Per is the son of the owner of Falcon. His mother is Swedish and shortly after Per was conceived, she returned to Sweden, where Per was born. He suffered learning difficulties in school. The authorities suggested that she quit her well-paying job so she could spend more time with him at home. She did, and the government provided them enough support to get by. They lived in lower income immigrant neighborhoods, however, and she now teaches Swedish as a second language. Five years ago Per moved to Guanajuato. It turns out that he has a gift for languages and is now very fluent in Spanish. He was my best teacher at Falcon. I told his father that Per inherited good language genes. He said, "Yes but I think he got some more from the phosphorous in all that Swedish fish." The first or second day in class, Per asked me if I was familiar with Ingmar Bergman. When I told him yes, definitely, we had a good discussion about Bergman and thereafter Per always laughed at my esoteric, philosophical plays with language. I loaned him Octavio Paz's speech when he received the Nobel Prize, and when he gave it back to me, made some very cogent comments about the content. Anyway, recently he's been my translator with the phone company and my landlady. On occasion, in return, I buy him a comida del dia and we discuss his romantic troubles. Today, he apparently manages to persuade the phone company to increase the velocity on my DSL connection, and I'm happy.
Before he finishes, however, Yelena drops by. Yelena is a teacher at the local Waldorf school. I met her at David and Eileen's housewarming. We had a good connection, talking about the founder of Waldorf, Rudolf Steiner, and Emerson, who greatly inspired Steiner. Because I trusted that we had substantial common ground, when she asked me what I was doing in Guanajuato, I answered, "Trying to save the world." She didn't blink an eye or hesitate, and calmly responded, "Good luck." The other day, she came over for a comida del dia and we had another good conversation. Though, as I told her, "I assume our age difference rules out romance," I would like to have a good solid soulful relationship with her and suggested some options in terms of how we might structure our next encounter. She likes the idea of 20 Questions, which would involve us taking turns asking the other questions, which we will answer as quickly as we can. While Per is on the phone on the front porch, we finalize plans for our next meeting and walk to town together.
I went looking for John the English teacher at his normal dinner spot, wanting to thank him for his hospitality and say goodbye before he leaves town. But he wasn't there, so I eat by myself and then go looking for the sazen meditation group at the community center. Today's session appears to be preempted by a wonderful performance of classical Mexican folk dance. I enjoy the show and watch kids playing in the lobby -- toddlers who push themselves to climb up a ramp and are thrilled when they succeed.
I go outside and bump into John, and Ann, who invite me to join them for an informal staff meeting to play a Christmas play. We go to a bar I've never seen before, on the third floor . It has several rooms. The walls are lined with books, mostly in English. At the bar, a folk singer with her guitar is discussing peyote.
After a while, I leave to go get a good seat at Cafe Zilch for the Friday night jazz show. I enjoy the atmosphere and watching the people come and go, but after a while, I discover that some of the musicians are out of town with the symphony for a concert and will be late arriving. So I leave and as I near the door, out of the corner of my eye, I barely notice Arturo, the psychology student, and Azucena, the law student, who I met through Tami. I join them and we have a good conversations. Azucena asks a number of good questions about my projects, which is unusual, and I tell her that I met another law student who works at Cafe Tal who shares her interest in human rights. Azucena says she'd like to meet her. After a while, Azucena says that she'd like to throw a party at my house after her last exam, 12/21. I say sure, let's make it a dance party, and we make plans to plan it.
They leave and I go sit in the main square listening to the troubadour at La Oreja de Van Gogh for 30 minutes or so. Then I head back to Cafe Zilch to try to catch some jazz. But along the way, I bump into James, another Falcon student. He tells me he was just there, and nothing is happening. So we walk together. I tell him a bit about my projects, but he doesn't seem very interested. We end up exchanging cards and I learn that he was a professional tennis coach, coaching junior Davis Cup teams in countries throughout the world. He's now into real estate and working on a series of spiritual books with a friend, titled "Messages from the Heart." Another interesting ex-pat in Guanajuato.
I go to Cafe Tal and tell Estella about her fellow law student. She strongly says that she also would like to meet her. We discuss the Octavio Paz lecture, which I'd also loaned to her. Since she has a double major in Arts and Literature, she shares Paz's interest in the intersection of art and politics, and makes some cogent comments on how relevant Paz's lecture is today, even though he presented it in 1990. I tell her about the dance party. She seems interested. I tell her, but you wouldn't have to dance. She mimics a wallflower and laughs, and returns me my copy of Paz's lecture.
I go to La Dama, which is like a cross between Hamburger Mary's and Caeser's Palace, to soak up the atmosphere and watch some salsa dancing. Along the way, I drop in at a bar where Jelena said lots of travelers hang out. It's about to close, but the bartender sees my copy of Paz and engages me in an intense discussion. He's studying philosophy as a prelude to political science and sociology. He plans to be an administrator, while collaborating with community-based advocacy organizations. I ask him about next year's Presidential election, and he says he's a strong supporter of Lopez Obrador, whom he considers to be very competent, trustworthy, and less radical than Hugo Chavez. But he also likes Chavez, saying that there's a need for different people to play different roles. He writes down a list of Latin American authors that he recommends for me to read.
At La Dama, I sit by myself for a while and then some people join me. Helena is from Austria. Patty is from France. They teach languages at the University. Armando, who owns a cafe with Patty, is a cab driver, so we discuss our respective businesses.
On the way home, I bump into Estella, and Pablo, her co-worker. I say, "Buenas noches." Estella laughs and says, "Buena dia," for it's almost 2 AM.
My first day in town all week and I see about half the people I know in Guanajuato. Coincidence? Synchronicity? I don't know, but I love it.
I come home and whether it's due to the excitement or the kahlua (since I don't drink coffee anymore) or both, I'm unable to sleep. While I'm reading "In Search of the Present" by Octavio Paz, the sun rises right in front of me.
Reflections from Mexico by Wade Hudson
From a distance, having been in Mexico for two months, the superficiality of most communication in the industrialized world strikes me even more strongly. Observing interactions with progressive-minded Americans, Canadians, and Europeans here, often like a fly on the wall among strangers who don’t know me, I notice the same patterns that have been disturbing me in the States.
Most conversations fall into one of three categories: story telling, gossip, or intellectual discourse (like most political discussions). What these conversations usually have in common is that the speaker uses the audience to be heard. Being heard validates one’s existence. People reassure one another that they are important (and in some cases overcome loneliness) simply by politely listening to one another. Searching, heartfelt, honest dialogue is a rarity. Rather, conversations become a series of monologues, often with a competitive undercurrent.
What’s missing is:
- real engagement;
- genuine concern;
- curiosity in the other;
- wanting to learn from the other;
- asking questions to understand a little more deeply;
- paying close attention;
- being present;
- speaking from the heart spontaneously;
- sharing feelings;
- responding to what the other says rather than just saying what was on your own mind to start with;
- not worrying about wanting to be top dog by winning a debate point, getting the most laughs, or giving the wisest advice.
Relating authentically is not difficult. Children do it naturally. So do people in pre-industrialized countries. As adults in the modern world, however, we learn other habits.
Objectification is so endemic it’s not even a word in most people’s vocabulary. The women’s movement highlighted certain problems with sexual objectification. The early Marx discussed alienation. Michael Lerner and others talk about how we use each other as objects.
But all that theorizing has made little practical difference in terms of how progressive-minded Americans relate to one another. Like everyone else, we use each other until we use each other up.
I’m not sure why, but it’s not simply a matter of people being too busy. If one cares, one can be fully present and responsive, regardless of how long the interaction lasts.
I suspect that a major factor is fear. To paraphrase Dylan, most people don’t ask nothing ‘bout nothing ‘cause they’re afraid they might hear a disturbing truth. People get stuck in comfortable ruts, avoid questioning their habits, and avoid deep emotional experiences, aided and abetted by tranquillizers, booze, and television. But as in a David Lynch movie, the fear lies underneath, fed by a mass media that profits from stoking fear.
Another factor is despair. People lack confidence that they can still grow, change, and become healthier or more mature.
But I suspect that the main factor is ego-centeredness, ambition, and being hung up in the analytical mind – with all three factors being inter-related.
America is afflicted with a serious double bind, or Catch-22, that drives Americans crazy. On the one hand, we are told, “You can be anything that you want to be.” You can have the world, now. You will be rich and famous. But below the level of consciousness, reality insists otherwise.
Still we chase the dragon, looking for the ultimate whatever (when the ultimate is right under our feet). We become preoccupied with our careers, our projects, and our efforts to prove ourselves (to others and to ourselves). Obsessed with the future and being secure and comfortable, we forget to smell the roses.
We become excessively selfish, pleasure-seeking creatures, though the harder one tries to find happiness, the quicker it slips away. We lose the deep joy and peace that comes with simply being present in the moment. We’ve developed our analytical skills to the point that the analytical mind has taken over our inner experience. We’re always calculating, with the future appearing to bear down like a freight train.
In pre-industrial cultures, or in countries that haven’t been thoroughly industrialized like Mexico, one sees a much different style of relating that is more open, warm, responsive, and radiant.
These consequences of industrialization point to a weakness in European social democracies. Their social support systems are much more advanced than in America, but they lack soul.
The Western epidemic of ego-centeredness undermines dialogue. Egocentric people are too full of themselves to allow others to enter their soul.
This death of the spirit highlights the importance of art, both in our schools and throughout society. Art can inspire when words fail. It can awaken us to the present.
Being in Mexico has helped to clarify these matters. Being in Mexico is like backpacking: it illuminates what is important. I’ve learned for example that I can easily do without hot water in the kitchen sink, but being without any water for three days is a pain in the ass.
One thing I don’t miss is television. Television is probably the single most debilitating aspect of modern civilization. It would be interesting to see what studies have been done on the negative physiological impact of television since Jerry Mander wrote Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television. But several points strike me. In addition to the narcoleptic effects, television seems to activate the analytical mind and deactivate more primordial, deeper emotional experiences. Unlike the cinema, which expands consciousness, television constricts awareness. By definition, television isolates facts and removes them from their context. But my main problem is with television news, which exploits and inflames fear and conflict, rather than inspiring hope, imagination, and unity.
So to all of you back in the civilized world, my main word of unsolicited advice is to unplug your television and leave it unplugged for one month and listen to music (music heals), read a novel, or surf the Web whenever you get the urge to turn on the TV. The Web has its limitations, but at least with the Web, one can engage in spontaneous free association, one is active rather than passive, and one can learn more in three minutes scanning the headlines on Google News than by watching PBS for an hour.
Then after one month, see if you feel differently. I bet you will.
When I reflect on difficulties in relationships, I try to remember to consider my own responsibility. Unfortunately, it’s much easier to see faults in others than in myself.
For some time, I’ve felt that I’m usually too aloof, reserved -- cool, calm, and collected. I’d like to be more expressive. Though I disagreed with it on a number of points, I found the book Radical Honesty to be very valuable on this point. And then in “The Way of Man” by Martin Buber, I read last night, “The origin of all conflict between me and my fellow-men is that I do not say what I mean, and that I do not do what I say.”
I’m working on these issues with new people I meet here. I find that it’s sometimes easier to relate differently with people with whom I don’t have patterns established. That’s one advantage of traveling. Also, maybe it helps if one has less to lose. But I feel like I’m only making baby steps forward.
For some time, my rationalization for withholding has been that I don’t want to lay a trip on others if they aren’t interested in hearing what I have to say. So I wait for expressions of interest and since they are rarely forthcoming, I don’t say what’s on my mind. With important stuff, I hope to change this approach, even if only gradually.
A new thought just struck me. I can concentrate on expressing appreciations and giving strokes. Most people don’t mind hearing those, so there’s less risk involved. And I have almost as much trouble expressing those positive feelings as I do negative feelings.
Reading some commentary on I and Thou the other night, I ran across a new angle about the book that I may have missed. The commentator said that the I-Thou attitude is not dependent on how the other responds. I had been thinking of I-Thou as a relationship that is mutual and reciprocal. So, finding others not inclined toward that kind of encounter, I would just feel sorry for myself, which is maybe my greatest flaw. But this writer emphasized the attitude of being fully present, caring, responsive, attentive, curious, etc.
That comment made me think that my focus on the response, or lack thereof, has been too self-centered, for it concerns whether my own (apparent) needs are being met. So when those “needs” aren’t met, I feel sorry for myself. And feeling sorry for myself is somehow rewarding for me. I get something out of it. Exactly what, I’m not sure. Maybe some kind of solace. Maybe that’s why they say people “wallow” in self-pity, like a pig enjoying slop. So the focus on whether the other is responding ends up enabling me to feel sorry for myself.
Regardless, two days ago, in three different encounters, I just tried to adopt the I-Thou attitude without worrying about my own “needs,” and it seemed to work pretty well. I was able to be responsive and helpful, even though only one of them showed much interest in my life, and that person only showed minimal interest. I found that I was able to observe that dynamic without it bothering me and interfering with my ability to be present and aware of the presence in my presence, as it has in the past. I can just be aware of the Great Spirit, and in relationship with the Great Spirit, be ready and available to engage others if and when they are ready.
Reading Simmel and Buber recently has brought home to me that I am not alone, for the alienation I experience is a symptom of the modern world that is getting more so by the day. As Morley Glicken told me in an e-mail, “Some dynamic in America is pushing us further and further away. LA is a place of great aloofness where money rules. I used to take long bus rides and people would open their hearts up in 10 minutes. The worship of money and the religion of being self-centered have created a country I don't recognize anymore.”
Hopefully, knowing that this condition, this style of relating, is widespread and deeply ingrained helps me avoid being more harsh with myself and my friends. Also, I’m realizing more clearly how alienation is necessary in order to cope – especially in the modern world. Even in earlier, traditional societies, being immersed in I-Thou relationships constantly was impossible. It would burn you up like a flame.
Nevertheless, I believe that there are steps that we can take, including designing new formal social structures, that could help inject more soul into our lives from to time. I hope to experiment with developing some of those structures.
One great encounter I had recently was when I gave Eileen a back rub and gave David a foot massage. Eileen, who was a professional massage therapist before becoming a nurse, was in a state of bliss afterwards. I discovered that I need to give massages as much as I need to receive them.
So far, I’ve only tried answering “How are you?” with “Feeling alienated, as usual” once, with John Innes, the actor. He immediately responded, “Feeling alienated? What about are alienated?" And we proceeded to have a good discussion about the issue. I probed his thinking with a number of questions, and he offered interesting insights, some of which echoed with Simmel. But he asked me not one question, so I felt alienated again.
Se la vie.
An advantage offered by traveling is that one can more easily experiment and take chances with strangers. If you make a fool of yourself, no one back home has to know.
In my case, I came here knowing that I wanted to learn how to be more expressive. Being here has clarified that I would like to be warmer, like most Mexicans. Not coincidentally, one of the three books I intuitively brought with me was Buber’s I and Thou. In recent weeks, reading Simmel and Toennes has also increased my understanding of alienation, and how it worsens with urbanization.
These reflections have motivated me to return to my roots and try to engage in the kind of community organizing to which I dedicated my life almost 40 years ago -- namely, organizing “communities of faith, love, and action.” Though deeply flawed, I adopted this approach with the Alternative Futures Community and, to a lesser degree later with the District Eleven Residents Association and the Aarti Cooperative Hotel. Maybe I’ll try again when I return.
One weakness with these efforts is that the “faith” was always only implicit, at best. But the Vision Statement Project could produce an explicit worldview. With that foundation, efforts to build supportive communities that are engaged in the world politically could be more effective.
One need that I see, of course, is to foster communities that help us become better human beings. In my research looking for resources for the Catalog, I’m struck with how few organizations talk about “consciousness raising,” as did the women’s movement in the 60s, or any other form of personal growth.
In the meantime, I can work on my own personal growth while I’m here in Mexico. Maybe I can learn a thing or two from folks down here.
So the other day, when I saw a woman obviously lost struggling with her guidebook, I offered to help her and ended up joining her for dinner and a visit to The Ear of Van Gogh. I tried to adopt an I-Thou attitude throughout, and felt that I did fairly well. We had some good conversations. She’s a German who works as a translator and interpreter in Vancouver. Very interesting woman. We obviously had a lot in common.
As I was saying goodbye in front of her hotel, she finally asked me about my projects, to which I had referred a few times. Though she had said she was getting very tired, we ended up discussing them for about 20 minutes, We talked about the need to counter alienation and we very much seemed to be on the same wavelength, so I told her that while I’m here, I want to work on becoming less “cool, calm, and collected” but rather more present and responsive. And then I asked her what her impressions of me had been in that regard.
She had some positive things to say, such as that I was able to enjoy her lighter moments, and then she said, “But I wouldn’t say that you are warm.”
Ah, a dagger to my heart. But I took it in stride and quickly asked, “How do you think I could become more so?”
She said, “Be more cuddly. Touch people more. Like the Mexicans do.”
Then I asked, “What else?”
She said, “Body language. Use your arms to help express yourself. You aren’t a stick.”
I told her that her suggestions made sense and thanked her for them and shortly thereafter, we said good night.
The next day, after spending a few hours together, I told my friend Jelena, the Waldorf teacher, that story and asked her for feedback on our time together with regard to whether I seemed not to be “present.” She suggested that I sometimes need to be more responsive, less silent, and say what I think. Then I asked her if there were times when she had that impression that day. She immediately said yes and identified two such moments.
Her examples made perfect sense to me. The first one happened when I thought she was making a criticism of me about a recommendation I had given her and I became defensive. Rather than paying attention and responding to what she was saying, my ego took charge and I proceeded to try to defend myself.
The other example involved me not being sure that I understood what she was saying, so I was quiet and rather than admitting my uncertainty and asking questions, I went off on my own tangent talking about my own ideas.
So I found the feedback from those women to be very helpful. Hopefully, I can learn from it and gradually change the way I come across.
Later, I told Jelena that I suspect that I also could smile more and not always have such a serious expression on my face, and told her about a high-powered acquaintance of mine who told me that I was the “most serious person” she had ever met. Jelena agreed that those changes would be beneficial.
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