It’s been months since I’ve sat at my computer with the intent to write something. I’ve had time to write. Oodles of it, in fact. But I’ve had nothing solid enough to put into words. Even still, as I sit here writing “this” and “that”, I wonder what my brain is going to churn out. What’s in there, Brain? Some things, many things, have changed and I’m not sure if all the parts that were there before are still there. Do I have anything to say? The perimeters I once walked in my mind, over and over again, have dissolved. The landscapes I once gazed at often, no longer exist to me. The rhythms that once defined my day-to-day existence for at least half of the year have completely dissolved. The boundaries between me and others has changed. Life isn’t nearly as quiet or isolated now. But I live in this emotionally arbitrary ‘tween place that lacks landmarks or guideposts. Day-to-day life is less like Mozart and more like Miles Davis. Maybe I’m evolving. Or maybe I’m going insane.
John described the feeling like this: It’s like I’m floating in outer space in a space suit. I’m still attached to the United States by an air-hose and I can’t get out of the suit and walk around yet on this new planet. So I just float. And stretching out ahead of me is impenetrable darkness.
Then, John puts his hand to his mouth like he’s holding a CB radio receiver and makes the sound of static, shhhsssss, are you ready to come in yet John? He asks himself.
I’m not sure when it happened. The Dissolution of Consensus Reality. Is it the result of being immersed in this Other Culture speaking this Other Language all the time? Did that dose of Bufo Alvarius blow my mind (like a fuse)? Is it maybe that I’ve moved 3 times this year, to houses that I could’ve never pictured in my brain before laying eyes on them (since the architecture here is much more creative than the cookie-cutter houses in the states)? Or maybe the fact that I got rid of all but a few small items that I once used to identify myself as a person? I can’t put my finger on what caused The Dissolution exactly. The feeling is heavy and all-encompassing though, like a metallic whirring consciousness that’s embracing but cold. It offers no commentary on itself. It just IS. And I AM. And so, I can’t escape from it. I stare into my own eyes in the mirror, terrified at what I’m going to see if I don’t blink and rub my eyelids regularly and often.
And suddenly, or maybe slowly, I’ve become aware of how much of my life in the U.S. was built around money and things. Last week, I had to edit an eBook for a client about how to build a “brand story” and market the masses with bullshit they don’t need. A rule-of-thumb that he extolled to businesses buying his book was to be sure to create a “brand story” that consumers could use to “build their identity” (since most Westerners rely on the brands they buy as a source of identity). I’ve written brand stories for many clients. You know, that little blip on the back of the “healthy” shampoo bottle that talks about some woman in Zaire who came up with the recipe and then passed it down for generations. Ya, I write that sort of bullshit for people. A part of me revolts against the idea that consumers are duped this easily, but I was duped once by drivel like this too. But how long can we, as humans, run around spewing that kind of shit all over everything before we just can’t do it anymore? Have I identified myself by the brands that I buy? Do I “feel good” about the shampoo that I buy and therefore about mySELF because of the old woman and her multi-generational recipe? (Oh my GOD! Have I DONE THAT?) Without all my American brands and their fake stories surrounding me, am I now lost, perhaps forever? After all, I was raised on brands (lies). My brain is wired to think in terms of brand names and the web of lies that are now completely useless to me in Mexico.
What would happen if your cost of living dropped from $5000/month down to $800/month? Would you feel relief? Or a sense of being completely purposeless and lost on the planet? I expected to feel relief when this happened to me. And relief is there. It is. But more than that—BIGGER than that, is the feeling that I’m living between worlds. That the one thing that I clung to as my primary motivator, the North Star on my dark planet has imploded inward on itself to form a black hole. I was raised in a Western-style bubble, disconnected from nature and other human beings by long tethers of “safety and comfort” that were formulated by marketing agencies to make me feel dependent upon them. And the connections I’ve made with people since childhood (Lydi and John excepting) are fragile and based around “things” or rather, “brands” instead of relational realities like “unconditional love”, “trust”, and “loyalty”. I grew up up knowing brand names instead of knowing the names and medicinal or nutritive qualities of the plants that grew in the pasture in front of my house. I learned the names of the major brands of blue jeans and tennis shoes rather than learning how to find water in the prairie. I learned the social dimensions of these brands and what each brand means to other people and how my relationship with to these other people is governed by these brands. Instead of learning how to identify the birds in the trees that surrounded my house, I learned how to clip coupons and find deals on cereals and cheese. Instead of learning how to make soap, I learned how to drive. And I never thought about these trade-offs and how capitalism was built to feed off my desire for safety and comfort, neither of which are for sale.
For the past few weeks/months, I took a break from writing, on purpose (sort of). The writing industry disgusts me right now. Or maybe, I should say, industry disgusts me. I love writing, but over the years, I’ve been forced to look at it like a game where there are winners and losers. The industry asks me to write in a particular way about particular things, and in order to be a “winner” I have to follow the formula almost like a mathematician. So, when I started realizing that our cost of living was honestly lower here in Guanajuato, Mexico, I wasn’t sure if writing was something I’d keep doing. The math was getting to me. And after leaving the United States, I had to ask myself: If I take up habitation in some other country, who are the people who still care about what I write if I’m not writing to feed the machine? Who are the people who would care about what I write? I’m not sure. I considered taking up writing in Spanish, a BIG undertaking that I’d probably never master. But I decided, at long last, that I guess I WOULD CARE about what I write. That’s all I know for sure, which is a thought I have to practice with careful attention. Facebook (as a brand), has taught me to seek out the attention of others and to measure my value by the number of “Likes” I get on my posts. But I don’t think I actually give a fuck about those kinds of things. I react to the “Likes”, yes, but they don’t Feed My Soul. It’s more like they “Scratch an Annoying Itch”. And the more I scratch it the more it itches. Eventually I stop noticing that my soul hasn’t been fed. But the truth is, I like the act of creation for the sake of creation. Most of the “likes” I get on Facebook have nothing to do with who reads my posts and I know it. But it’s hard to admit that to myself. Facebook (and other brands) has wrapped a noose around my neck. I seek approval from the people who are least likely to give it to me: Friends. I do similarly unproductive things in response to what other brands tell me to do too. And slowly, in small doses, my life eeks away…unless I cut the noose(s).
Another thing that once defined my identity was traveling. For some reason, probably because I broadcasted and marketed my travel experiences more regularly than other things about me, this is what people remember when they think of me. But if I live in Mexico full-time, am I still traveling? What constitutes travel? We’re tentatively planning to go on a Big Trip sometime in 2018 (maybe more than one Big Trip). But does this count as “traveling”? Where does the travel experience begin and end if I live in Mexico as an American full-time? We’re not expats. Most Americans would call us un-American for living abroad. So, what are we? And does it friggin’ matter? If it matters, who the hell does it matter TO?
Once, not that long ago, the world was a big ball to me. It had very distinct destinations all across its surface. These were the places I had to see before I died. But now, I’ve seen them. And travel is about something else now that’s hard to define without going way out on a limb: it’s about finding the people who are a part of my Soul Group. It’s like a scavenger hunt where some of those people need me and I need some of them. But it’s not just about the people, but the process: the magic of running into strangers in far-off places that I feel like I’ve known for eons. Where I go has little-to-nothing-to-do with tourist destinations and everything to do with what I want to do in the world this time around.
And what is that exactly?
I don’t know. I thought I knew, but I don’t know.
False Alarm everyone! I don’t know what the hell I’m doing!
While this feeling of Not Knowing lingers heavy and often I don’t sleep well right now because of it, I don’t regret leaving the states. But I worry about myself. Have I been inundated with the U.S. culture so long that I won’t be able function in the Real World without my brand name jeans and that particular brand of butter that I liked so much? How long does it take for a person’s brain to rewire itself? Is rewiring possible? I mean, it’s not like Mexico is all forests and jungles. There are brands here too, but at the moment, I’m mostly immune to them and impartial about which brand is which. How long will that last? Or will I just fall back into that big pit of owning lots of shit and feeling like I need more and more of it in order to be Whole?
Several months ago, I had a dream that I lived in a city surrounded by high walls and small windows that looked out into an intensely Nature-dominated area. In the dream, Nature was strong and the people were weak. Instead of submitting to domination by humans, the Nature of this strange planet maintained order over its people without government. And the people looked out through the windows with caution and reverence. It was like a version of the Amazon Jungle, with creepers and choruses of insects, but without bulldozers. And it was wonderful because everyone around me still knew that the world was full of magic and mystery. In this place, life hadn’t been drained of all its power and possibility. I WAS the leaves on the trees and the rocks and the mountains, rather than being ONE with the brand of hairspray I buy at the grocery store. This nature-based breed of One-ness made sense. Because I don’t want to be ONE with my fucking hairspray. Do you? Does anyone?