Living Outside the Box

Where does the time go? Yesterday marked the beginning of our second month in Mexico. My last blog entry was over two weeks ago. Life sometimes carries us like a current that is too strong to swim against,  which is really when I feel that I am living most fully. The last few weeks have been that way. The down side is  that there is less time for reflection, if that IS a down side, for an overthinking person such as me.

One of the benefits of living in a different culture is that it forces you to think outside the box. You quickly learn that your ethnocentric assumptions are not universal law. Sometimes this is large scale, as in the fact that here it is verboten to throw any paper in the toilet, period.  (Just  be thankful you have indoor plumbing!) This requires you to retrain your old brain, to erase an ingrained habit. (This rubs both ways – no pun intended – C’s brother Joe who managed restaurants in the U.S. told us that he had trouble training his Mexican employees to throw the paper IN the toilet!)

Other cultural differences are less all encompassing, but can still be a jolt out of preconceptions. We were astounded when our friend Dede told us that UPS delivers on the island. Charlie wanted to test this, because when you live on a tropical island, sometimes you find yourselves wanting something that you just can’t get. (Go figure.) He ordered a cheap gizmo from Amazon that would allow us to turn a switch on and off remotely. Don’t ask…….long story!

Our parcel arrived about two weeks later, in the hands of an aging gaucho-style Mexican, compete with heavy denim jeans, a cowboy hat, and cowboy boots, nothing of which resembled the standard issue UPS uniform. This was on a sweltering day, by the way. The Señor was walking in a pained gait down our unevenly paved avenida, asking everyone he encountered where our house might be,  never mind the clearly addressed package label. He was delighted to find the elusive gringos (us) and grinned broadly upon receiving the first tip we ever offered a UPS man. It turns out that he travels on the ferry from Cancun with his parcels, then transverses the five mile long island on foot, unless the size of his parcels require him to take a taxi. Go brown.

Our friends from Vermont, Liz and Jerry Sojourner, came to visit for a week. It was fun  to share our beautiful island with them, and we packed a lot into their short stay. One of the things I like best about having guests is seeing things through their eyes. Each time we have friends join us, everything is new. It was lovely, as well, to just spend so much time with our friends, rather than the usual having dinner and going home. I felt that I got to know them more deeply.



To be fair, I have had some down moments. A few days before Liz and Jerry arrived, I started to feel homesick. This is humorous, considering that I do not, technically, have a “home,” as in a permanent dwelling. There is Casa Blanca parked in New Jersey, and Casa Laguna, here. So if I feel homesick, what am I homesick for, exactly? I knew you were wondering, so I am going to do my best to explain.

At times I feel as if my “real” life is on hold. As if here, I am on an extended vacation, and I won’t I get down to business until all this outlandish traveling is behind us and I can live a “normal life.” Adding to that, being on an ‘extended vacation’ seems decadent, even meaningless. I should be suffering more, isn’t that what life is all about? Am I cheating if I don’t carry my share of existential angst?

I’ve given this a great deal of thought. Curious, I have spoken to a few of the long term ex-pat residents here, and they only laughed at my feeling of decadence. This tells me that SOME people are perfectly comfortable being relaxed and happy, and not carrying their share of the angst-load. Hmmmmm.

Here’s what I think upon further reflection: The sense of meaninglessness I feel is a direct result of having leaned on the ‘structure’ of my life to provide me with an identity. My address, my work, and my roles as a mother, a friend, a wife….all serve me with a sense of who I “am.”  But am I those things, really? If not, then this is a great opportunity to feel my way through the lack of identity-providing structure and see who I am outside of those roles. Oh wait, Charlie is here and I’m still a wife. I know, I know…… but the fact is, being in this adopted environment transforms that relationship as well. We are each able to re-create ourselves, more or less, in this different place, and obviously, when we change, the relationship changes. New life is breathed into old corners, which is all good.

Part of this evolving process will include, at least for me, moments or days of wistfulness, nostalgia for the old ways, and even anticipation of the future. We won’t completely know how this experience has influenced us until it is in the past.

Realizing this, I can ride the waves of homesickness rather than succumb to them. So I can give up (for the moment) my fantasies of visiting my friend Donna in Homer, Alaska. I was really considering this. I have always felt that I would prefer to visit her in winter. It occurred to me that flying there from Cancun might be more reasonable than flying from the East Coast. Not by much – I checked. Donna, I would have arrived at your home in tropical clothing…could you have scrounged up some warm hand-me-downs for an old friend? Maybe next year….

Meanwhile, how should I answer the ever-present question, “Where are you guys from?” Every time someone asks me that question, (and it is almost every day), I feel like a bumbling idiot. I would like to claim NOT to be from anywhere. After all, part of the plan for all this loosening was to be truly uprooted before laying down roots again. Though we most recently lived in New Jersey, I do not want that to define me.

The fact is, people ask such questions as “What do you do,” or “Where are you from,” just to pigeonhole you. Since I am trying not to pigeonhole myself, why would I want others to do so? Still, I don’t want to stutter, or dodge the question. Nor do I want to go into a long explanation (when the questioner was just trying to peg me anyway). Maybe I should just lie, make something up, or tell them what they want to hear. I am open to suggestions!

Even though it is freeing to give up previous roles and identities, there are still some aspects of my “previous” self that I cherish. One is NOT being a “Type A” personality. No one would ever confuse me with one of them! (And I have NO intention of turning into one at this late date.) I do not arrive early, I am not career-driven, and my Christmas cards usually arrive at their destination one day before the holiday, or a few days after. Until this year.

This year, I thought it might be fun to send out Christmas cards from Mexico. Only it wasn’t really an option, because everyone here knows not to trust the Mexican post. Thus, I concocted a plan to write out my cards in October before I departed. I had perfect cards with a beach theme, and it was fun to drag out my list and write them in advance. Very out of character for me! My dear mother-in-law agreed to mail them for me at the appropriate time, even asking me on what date I would prefer her to do so. Unfortunately, in true non-type-A style, I did not give her a clear answer. I told her that it would be nice to be early for a change, which, bless her heart, she took literally!  When we called Charlie’s parents for  Thanksgiving, my cards had already been mailed. To date, I have had three recipients thank me for their first card of the season, and I clearly detected raised eyebrows between the lines of their electronic messages. DON’T WORRY! I HAVEN’T CHANGED THAT MUCH!©

Outside the Box All Right!

Outside the Box All Right!



2 thoughts on “Living Outside the Box

  1. Great Piece! For me, I have learned to just stay present with all things, feelings included. Just “sit with them”, observe, no reaction and in time, watch them move on and away.
    PS: “Pain Is Inevitable. Suffering Is Optional.” Hugs! John


  2. Another great blog Arlene! Thanks for the card, I am not quite sure where to send one to you!
    For those asking where you are from, you could reply, “The east coast, you know from here and there” maybe they will think you are a mysterious person or perhaps in the witness protection program!
    Enjoy Christmas with sand between your toes! Merry Merry!


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