Personally speaking


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I admit, when I first moved to Mexico City, I loved living outside my culture. I loved being surrounded by different people, different ways of thinking, a different language … but most of all, I loved being away from my own culture. I definitely went through a rejection period. When I returned to the US for visits I would proudly walk through the airport thinking I was way better that everyone in the US because I had left the US. I had rejected all things big and materialistic and orderly and sterile. I had rejected English & what I considered at the time to be highly annoying cultural characteristics – like sticking to a schedule. I felt good about it. I was naive.

Now, a few years and many miles of travels later, I have matured a bit, evolved my thinking a bit, and come back around to evaluate my own culture with fresh eyes. I dont think I´m better than people who still live in the US. I dont think my culture is annoying. I am not embarrassed to say I´m from the US. (which might have a little to do with the change in DC … ) Instead, I feel proud of many things American. I feel proud to come from an extremely diverse culture. I feel proud to come from a country full of creativity and inspiration. I feel proud to be a curious, open-minded, friendly person representing the good things (hopefully!) of the US. I listen to all kinds of music – from rap & R&B to jazz and country, I watch movies – from indie films & spots on you-tube to hollywood hits, I love my Mac electronics, I read and laugh and taste and feel, and I am happy to come from a country that fosters invention, innovation and supports the arts. And I am grateful that I was raised to treat everyone equally, no matter what their social status, their skin color, their gender or sexual preference. Because in many parts of the world, people aren´t so open & accepting.

Of course, there are still things about the US that I dont like. For instance, I think people tend to get trapped into thinking there is only one way to live life, which often involves debt, long-term planning, and aversion to risk/adventure. I also think too many Americans are obsessed with happiness (and their general mental/emotional health). And while the US is the birthplace to so much creativity, technology & art, there is an overly proud, “better than you” attitude that often gets exported along with the music, movies and brands.

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So, while I no longer feel embarrassed or reject my country and culture of origin, I also realize it is up to me to decide which cultural traits I will portray … and which I will reject. (Though I am sure many Anthropologists would argue that we cannot choose our cultural traits. I think as adults we can decide who we want to be.) I feel like I have a more clear sighted view of my own culture – for better or for worse. I now realize that one´s outlook on life is not a result of where they choose to live, but rather of who a person is inside, what their values are, what their dreams are, how they like to spend their day. I no longer feel like I am escaping anything by living abroad. But there are things about living abroad that make me want to stay. Maybe it´s easier for me to be more open to life when I am forced to, everyday. Maybe I´m just lazy, and Mexico kicks my butt just enough to make life a little more challenging and interesting. Lord knows it is NOT because I like to be asked everyday where I am from and how long I have been here! At least now I can say “Estados Unidos” with confidence.

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In my Senior year Honors English class our teacher advised us on the importance of being “an intellectual.” Not just a run-of-the-mill, TV-consuming, romance-novel reading, boring, uninformed and uneducated person. I was 17 years old. And I decided, then and there, that I would strive to be An Intellectual. Perhaps I just liked the sound of it; I doubt if I really understood what it meant. So, here I am, a number of years later, wondering if I am really an intellectual or not. My conclusion is that I am an intellectual thinker, in the sense that I think about things, analyze them, observe, question and contemplate the world around me. But I don´t know if I am an intellectual person, as I am not that well read, dont seem to have the motivation to get a masters degree, and have a tendency to not read the news.

An Intellectual Fountain??

An Intellectual Fountain??

I started thinking a bit about this when I read some comments to my last blog entry. And realized that perhaps, just perhaps, I went a little over my head with my own personal ideas and theories. I like pondering these things and discussing them, but to be honest I am not well read on the subject of Mexican history and culture. Nor do I really intend to be. (Perhaps that is why I work in Marketing and not in Anthropology!) Though I do maintain that Mexico lacks a unified vision for the future. And if there is a unified cultural belief, it is a self-reinforced feeling that “we´re not good enough, we´re not worthy, and we´ll never get ahead” … probably reinforced through many years of being told what to do and not learning to think for themselves. In my personal opinion, based solely on my experience here, the thing Mexico most lacks is a huge dose of self-confidence! And an education system that encourages creative, independent thinking. But I digress …

So, I am left with a bit of a question about where to take my blog, what to do with it, what to write … I started the blog as a tool to force myself to create, to think critically, and improve my writing skills. I wanted a forum through which I could explore the world around me, ponder things, and discuss my cultural experience in Mexico. I also was not working at the time. Now I am. And I´m working a lot. So, here are my thoughts and options with the blog:

Orchids or Mushrooms?

Orchids or Mushrooms?

  • I am fortunate to have a job that lets me think, or requires me to think and be creative. So, through my work I´m fulfilling my need to create, analyze and write. I dont need the blog for that.
  • I´m over the “wow, let me tell you about my crazy experience in Mexico!” blog (already did that my first 6 months here). I no longer have a desire to talk about Mexico as a “crazy foreign land.”
  • Since I am spending so much time at work, I am out and about less, observing and thinking about cultural stuff less … which leaves me with a lack of material to blog about if I continue on the Cultural Observation theme.
  • I dont really have a desire to share my private personal life with the world. (sorry!) And I am sure there are plenty of girls blogging about relationships and feminine issues. So no blog material there.

So, I am left wondering what should be the point of CulturVista?? Should I let it die a quiet, peaceful death? Or should I make some necessary changes and keep going? And what sort of change should I make? I have thought and thought about different things to blog about, different angles, different stories … but am stuck. I need something interesting – for me and my readers! – something I can write in shorter entries – easier to read and faster to write – and a unique topic that will let me keep my “Cultural / Mexico” perspective  …. hmmm. Wish me luck, or send ideas!, as I problem-solve.

I´m a bit sad. I think my honeymoon period has ended. (Not with my boyfriend, thank god!) I mean my cultural honeymoon in Mexico has ended. I look around and get annoyed. I have started cussing at Mexicans in my head. They just piss me off all the time now. The country frustrates me. Daily.

I hate the stupid valet parkers. I hate the cleaning people who spend endless hours talking when they should be working. I hate the stupid Telcel dudes in their cheap blue suits who smirk at me when we pass on the sidewalk. I hate the honking horns and drivers who dont let me walk past. I also hate the smarmy men who purposefully let me walk past their cars so they can whistle at me.  I hate rich Mexican men that think they are god´s gift to the world. And I hate rich Mexican women who look at me like they want to smash me with their platform heels and swat me over the head with their humongous LV bags. I hate all the people trying to sell me crap in the street. I dont want your cell phone case nor your gum nor your plants nor your tarot card reading!

Pretty Mexican Street? No, I hate cobblestones.

Pretty Mexican Street? No, I hate cobblestones.

Maybe, just maybe, I hate my neighborhood. How is it possible to live in what most consider to be the “nicest neighborhood” in the city and just feel spite inside? Would I still enjoy Mexico if I lived in a more humilde, more relaxed and quiet neighborhood? Would I like Mexico more if I had to commute to a different neighborhood?

Or, perhaps it is not the neighborhood. Perhaps it is just the country. Am I just ending the blinded-by-joy feeling of first arriving somewhere and discovering all the new, different and lovely secrets of a new culture? Is this normal? Is it possible to find the love again? Or should Mexico and I break up? I cant decide. Please help.

Maybe I should start going to church?

Maybe I should start going to church?

Magritte - Painter of Dreams?

Magritte - Painter of Dreams?

You can call me odd. I am one of those rare breeds who takes their dreams very seriously. I dream every night … usually multiple dreams in a night. And I ALWAYS remember my dreams. I wake up and stay in my dream. My roommates used to laugh at me because if someone woke me up I would tell them to give me 10 minutes to “finish my dream.” And I would literally go back to sleep and finish my dream. While I can sometimes control my dreams, I am usually surprised and thrown off course by the content of them.

In the past week alone I have dreamed the following topics:

  • Falling into a lake infested with Crocodiles after flying around in large circles on a loose vine and dropping at the end of the trajectory
  • Watching someone else´s baby and forgetting to take care of it (oops!)
  • A boxer´s life story revealing his secret life as a dancer
  • A department store that´s really a hospital … with a hidden chamber in the basement with two brothers fighting over stolen, one-of-a-kind classic red sports cars
Fractal Art by Vicky Brago-Mitchell

Fractal Art by Vicky Brago-Mitchell

I sometimes think that if I could just learn to write better, I could write some amazing stories based on the material of my dreams. Or perhaps they would just sound like crazy, doped-out, incongruous randomness … hard to tell.  Some of the dreams are quite scary. More than once I have woken up scared of the creepy creativity possible in my very own mind. And I wonder, do the horror movies come out of whacked-out dreams? Is David Lynch just a dream-writer? Do we have to enter into this dreamy state to harness our true creative powers? Do artists take drugs to try to mimic the effects of natural dreams? And my most important question … how can I make money from this odd, sort of creepy talent of mine to dream and remember it all? Comments dear readers?

Max Ernst ... used nightmares for inspiration?

Max Ernst ... used nightmares for inspiration?

I recently returned from a trip “home.” (though I am never quite sure where home is anymore)  I went back to the US. To small town, Western US. To Wyoming. To the mountains and nature. It’s always nice going there. It reminds me of some of the great things about the US.

Yellowstone

Yellowstone

While we can always complain about government and management of public programs, I have to say that the US system of National Parks, National Forests and Wilderness Areas is pretty awesome. There are so few protected areas around the world, free from human disturbances and housing, and the US has thousands of square miles (or kilometers) of just such land (though it is a bit disturbed by humans, for sure). It is really incredible. We took a drive through Yellowstone National Park and saw elk, deer, antelope, buffalo (with babies), a moose, marmots, fish, a baby black bear, and many other animals. Not to mention the breathtaking views of waterfalls and geysers and other natural phenomenon.

Yellowstone Canyon

Yellowstone Canyon

Living in Mexico City can take a toll on one´s need for clean air, green spaces, and most of all wide open spaces where you don’t see any cars or buildings or people. That´s one thing I love about Wyoming/Montana/Colorado … there is so much vast, open space. Land free of civilization. Even compared to Europe it is a shock to travel to the West of the US and experience the physical difference in size of landscape, and so much without any evidence of people “taming” the land. I guess that´s the magic of the “wild west” of the US. It never has quite been tamed. Too bad there aren´t more places like that left in the world. 

Yellowstone Geyser

Yellowstone Geyser

I have to believe that a country like Mexico has places to go backpacking and hiking and camping, but I must admit that after over 2 years living here I don´t know of them … sure there´s the big forest near the city called “Desierto de los Leones” … that is neither a desert nor has lions. Strange. and my greatest personal discovery of late has been Valle de Bravo — a lovely town perched on the edge of a (man-made) lake – great for hiking, biking, flying :), sailing, water-skiing and more, and I know you can always camp on the miles of Mexico’s Pacific coastline. But I dont know much about hiking/camping in mountainous areas … any advice out there? or hiking/camping guide books?

The Beartooth Mountains

The Beartooth Mountains

On this trip to the US I talked to my mom a bit about her younger years. Turns out she came to Mexico over 30 years ago and climbed several of the volcanoes here with my father. (el “Popo” and “Itze” as she calls them, which by the way, are over 14,000 feet high – yikes!) It’s crazy to think about my parents as a young hippie couple in the 1970´s exploring wild Mexico and mountain climbing here! And now, years later, who would have thought they would have a daughter living abroad in the now much more developed country south of the border?? Perhaps it´s the natural cycle of life. Be careful where you travel or your children just might end up living there years later!

Island Sunset in Thailand

Island Sunset in Thailand

I don’t consider myself to be a very nostalgic person. I generally don’t miss anyone or anything. I know it sounds strange, but I attribute it to the fact that with divorced parents I grew up living apart from one or another family member since a very young age. I must have learned that missing doesn’t help anyone. It doesn’t make the distance shorter or the time between visits go by any faster. It just sort of hurts. So why think about those things when you can live and be in the here and now. Someday you will see the people you love again, someday you will return to the place you loved.

This sentiment has generally been good for someone living far from family. It helps to not miss family and my home country. But I think as I get older I am learning how to miss. And I admit, sometimes I actually like feeling a bit nostalgic … feeling the dull ache of missing people or places. Or remembering times in my life when I was so incredibly happy. It´s a good exercise to remember really happy times. It can help to understand yourself better, I believe. I just happened upon a camera card with photos from just over a year ago when I was traveling alone in China, Hong Kong and Thailand. It was so cool to see the photos and think about that time and my feelings and see the places again. I had such an incredible trip. Yet even on the trip I had the sense that it might be more amazing when remembered afterward. Strange. Perhaps when we are living and in the moment it is hard to really comprehend all that we are experiencing and feeling and living. Maybe remembering and missing and feeling nostalgia are necessary for our complete mental and emotional registration of the events we experience?? 

The other night I learned a fabulous word in Portuguese from some Brazilian friends: Saudade (pronounced with a beautiful Brazilian accent it sounds sort of like “saoudagey” – which roughly translates to “a feeling of nostalgic longing for something or someone that one was fond of and which is gone” or a yearning toward the past or the future. It is one of those words that so nicely captures this complex mix of feelings of happy sadness, an aching of the heart that somehow feels sort of good, like itching a mosquito bite. I suppose I am feeling this right now — a saudade for life and memories and plans for the unknown future. All wrapped into one. Saudade.

A Taco Consultant ??

A Taco Consultant ??

I am currently working as a consultant in Mexico City. (And I work a lot in this profession, leaving me little time for the blog – so sorry dear readers!)  Today I found myself pondering the term and role of consultant as I walked home from work. Here are some of my thoughts.

On the one hand, I love the term “consultant” because it is so incredibly vague and somewhat meaningless. According to the dictionary, it means: “A professional who provides advice in a particular area of expertise … ” and then goes on to list several areas of expertise that consultants typically work in, such as management, accounting, the environment, entertainment, etc.

Sometimes it is nice to have a profession that is not at all well defined. At parties I can talk about whatever aspect of consulting seems the most interesting to people at the time. And if I find myself answering questions from a rather boring and less-than-intelligent person, I can simply say with an air of confidence, “I am a consultant.” (full-stop) And they will usually shut up, having not a clue what that means but thinking it must be something very important.

On the other hand, having an ambiguous profession is often more complicated and difficult. First when explaining to an overly curious type what you do … it can take several sentences and sometimes a couple paragraphs worth of words to clearly describe my job. And secondly, and most importantly, sometimes it is unclear to me and my clients what it is I do. This is by far the hardest part of being a consultant. It seems like a constant battle between dark confusion and a clearly defined list of strategies & objectives. Sometimes I feel a bit lost as to my role as a consultant, and very often the clients demonstrate their lack of understanding through completely out-of-scope requests and very needy behavior.

In trying to navigate this confusing world of being a “consultant,” I have come up with a few conclusions (or hypothesis?) about the profession today in the world (and based on my experiences in the US and Mexico):

  • Part of the role of consultant is to constantly define what type of consultant you are – for one’s own clarity as well as that of your clients.
  • While in an ideal world a consultant would always bring new ideas and insights to their clients, in reality, it does not always happen like that.
  • In fact, what many clients want, expect and need of their consultants is a smart, outside perspective and analysis of the information they already have
  • And many times consultants are really just used for reassurance or confirmation of the beliefs or plans that clients already have made
  • Perhaps the most important role of a consultant is to listen to the clients, in some ways acting as a counsellor to clients who need someone from the outside to listen to them and reassure them so they can manage their fears

I think we often forget just how much our world is filled with fear. We look to friends and family for reassurance, turn to religion to give us faith amid uncertainty, but who can we turn to when we are scared and unsure of our professional (business) decisions? Aahh yes, the consultant.

And that must be my real role.

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