La Vida Mexico

…At The Inn At San Pancho

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What It’s Like Now

Light — at the heart of everything we see and always impossible to describe – is what woke me this morning.  Not just any old morning light. Imagine a light strong enough to wake you up. It was silver and had no edges, cast no shadows. It was just light, there in the room, like a piece of furniture. All three bedroom windows were open and a strong sea breeze, powerful enough to knock over my granddaughter Cassie’s picture on the bureau, swirled through the room and turned waking into spectacle.  I hesitate to use the word nature – so overused, as in “I like nature” – but truly you don’t expect nature to walk in, wake you up and take over your bedroom. At least I don’t.

But there they were the two of them, the splendid light and the swift, cool breeze blowing around the inside of my house. Not a hurricane, you understand, but a damned stiff wind. The white curtains were sailing toward the ceiling and the sheets were rising off the bed, and I tell you this was nature doing a jig. I heard something fall in the kitchen.  

Eventually, the luminous light evaporated and light itself became less of a presence as if a stranger had come and settled down for a brief rest – it being so blustery out – and then faded away.

Meanwhile, I am still in bed with the breeze drifting over me. To my right at the far side of the village I see a sliver of beach and a ravaged surf, white caps, one lone white sail. To the south, at the end of my bed, the Primervera tree — blossoms mostly gone — is swaying like an old gypsy at the end of a party. Beyond it, the mountain climbs crookedly toward a bluing sky.  The east window is a wall of foliage —  dead leaves dark as winter rivers,  others the spring green of five minutes ago. The bully wind is having a bit of fun with two yellow butterflies and the mountains you pass through on the way to Guadalajara are lavender.

Though astonishing, I don’t mean to suggest this blend of wind and light was a miracle in the way of the Lady of Guadalupe or the parting of the seas. My waking was not so much spiritual as it was spirited. I am still here in bed several hours later with the wind and the memory of the light, feeling quiet in a lively sort of way, and trying to describe the light ….and what it’s like now.


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What Happened…Stage Five (Part Two)

What Happened….Stage Five (Part Two)

You memoir is unbalanced.  You do not, as an editor suggested, have a theme. Without a theme — this so called thread that has the heavy work of carrying your entire memoir on its back – your book wanders all over the place like a garden snake, twisting from one cluster of events to another, seemingly at random and without purpose.  The memoir does not have the arc every successful story needs:  What It Was Like, What Happened, What It Is Like Now. But you have no discipline and you are reluctant about paring the memoir down, indecisive of what should go and what should stay (Mom: “You don’t know what you want.”)

 Consider the numbers:

 —   32 jobs loosely spread over nine career paths.

—   24 moves across several states and three countries.

—   Two sons, four grandchildren, the two best daughters-in-law in the world.

—   Four divorces, three broken engagements, a few encounters that need not fit into the memoir of a 70 year old woman who has found her own brand of redemption, and is grateful for these few secured borders.

—  A bit of college – a bit of three colleges, in fact. (Mom: “I warned you.”) and a graduate (1963) of Claremont Secretarial School (Motto: “Hat, Hose, Heels, and Gloves”). Three writing retreats, a couple of weekend workshops. Life.

— 10 years sober since one hell of a nasty Mother’s Day in May 2002



You look at the statistics of your life, the hundreds of people and decisions and events they represent and a memoir seems impossible. You begin reading snatches of it here and there, realizing over a period of months that this is the wrong book. You also admit there may not ever be a book. Last summer at a Natalie Goldberg workshop at Kripalu Center in Lenox, MA, you learned that process is equally, or possibly even more important than the end result. You found great relief in this new perspective: Life as process, writing as process, you as process.


You continued writing and one day, who remembers when, you began thinking about a blog. Thanks to your mother and Natalie and AA, you realized you needed a structure – okay, a discipline – to embrace the process. The framework of the blog offered just such a solution. The blog would nudge you along on busy and challenging and lazy days.  It would allow you to move freely about, writing short to mid-length posts which had their own beginning, middle and end, while not necessarily directly relating to the whole. Your life, your blog, will refresh — reflect — each other.


You think about the fisherman on Lake Patzcuaro hurling his hand woven empty net over the dawn-chilled water; hauling it back in hand over hand at sunset full of wet-squirming, pop-eyed fish. The fisherman will not keep all the fish. He will cull through them with rough hands, choosing which he wants for himself, which he wants to sell and which he will toss back into the dark waters of the lake.  This is how you see your life – your real life, your life as memoir, your life as a disparate whole, cohesive only because you are the container for all the stories whether remembered or forgotten. Like the fisherman you will choose which stories to tell, which stories to sell, and which stories to keep for yourself. 

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What Happened….Stage Five (Part One)

The memoir, having no beginning, middle or end, is a mash up. You could argue that this confusion is not the writer’s fault, but a matter of the memoir taking itself too seriously. Such convolutions! You would think the memoirist a famous politician or actor or artist and not just a 70 year old woman who has occasionally been well known for short periods of time. This “memoir” is more vine than book, winding around itself in complex knots, sprouting a jungle of unnecessary offshoots, and suffocating its root system on the way toward a small patch of sunlight which, after two years of steady work, remains too distant to make any difference.

Sadly, as is so often the case with poorly organized memoirs, the problem is more easily diagnosed than solved. For starters there are too many stories, the majority of them incomplete and vaguely mysterious, while the remaining lot, though able to manage a loose connection with one another, are incapable of becoming part of a greater whole. Where is the team work, the sensitivity necessary for a finely wrought lifework?  Your problem (Mom: “You never finish anything!”) is a lack of discipline. Things get a little tough and off you go. No sticktoittiveness. Your memoir has unsecured borders, unwanted refugees arrive daily and your overburdened infrastructure cannot support them.   

Case in point:  A story you thought you had forgotten.  Here it comes! It is a sad remembrance but it arrives with color and form and clarity.  You marvel at the workings of the human mind, your mind, and how it was able to misplace a story as vivid and pure as the vase of lilies on the kitchen table. Thrilled for this unbidden piece of your life, you record it in one short rush. It is entirely willing, pouring itself onto the page like hot oil over pasta. You can taste this story; others will too. You know this to be true because you know the best stories are universal. The best stories let you cry.

But the story about this story of a little girl’s death ends as sadly as the little girl’s life. There is no home for it in the memoir; no paragraph, no page, will accept it. Already crowded with old friends and neighbors and husbands and family feuds and births and deaths and weddings and court rooms and odd vacations and coincidences which could not possibly have happened unless the world is quite different than anyone has imagined, this memoir cannot squeeze in Karen’s short happy-sad strawberry blonde life. 

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What Happened…Stage Four

You come to believe that Mexico is The Problem and if you are to recover, you must abandon it at once. Realizing you are a loaf of bread too thinly sliced, a dear friend offers to manage the inn while you take some time off.  For the next two years you move in and out of your sons’ lives, falling in love you’re your grandchildren and your daughters in law and the two sons who you come to know in ways you never had before. Your sons and their wives are taking care of you – giving you the space you need to find out… but find out what?  A way forward, is all you can come up with — a way beyond marriage and Mexico and the inn, a way to live out the last third of your life after The Last Great Adventure did not work out as planned.

 You visit friends on Cape Cod and the Berkshires and Boston. You begin writing a memoir and, needing solitude to write, you travel to Cornwall and later Ireland. You pay for inexpensive winter rentals in Taos and Nantucket. In November and April of 2009 and 10, you return to Mexico where your friend and her husband are doing a fine job of taking care of the inn. Wherever you are, you read books on breakdowns and depressions and divorce and co-dependency. Self-help books on how to be a Happy Senior suggest you reinvent yourself by doing things you have always wanted to do but never attempted before. They tell you to take tennis lessons, buy a set of watercolors, learn a second language. At some point, you realize the books are suggesting you do exactly what you have already done– change your life from the outside in.

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What Happened…Stage Three

A year later, Build Mexico proves too much, and the three of you agree it was a brilliant plan but really, were’t we supposed to be retired? Forget the airport runs. Forget holding up handmade signs with your guests’ names on them. The Inn is all you can handle. You are in what your friend Joan calls “The Breakdown Lane”  — a far and unexpected cry from The Last Great Adventure.   Call it a breakdown, call it a bottom, call it whatever you like. You are done. The inn is up and running but you are down and out.

 Once proud of your survivor skills, now all you can do is wonder at your carelessness. What were you thinking when you launched into the this new life full of strangers and seemingly insurmountable challenges.  Your marriage has ended, your coffers are empty, your parents and your beloved Sally The Beagle are dead and you have been diagnosed with “The Disease of Our Times.”    

 Your depression, unlike William Styron’s, does not incapacitate you. You are not that kind of depressed. Not for you the comfort of being glued to your bed in a stained bathrobe with the covers over your head and the TV droning in the background.  Your depression is bolder, more colorful. Your depression is characterized by constant movement. You never sit, you never cry, you never stop being afraid. Your sons and their families visit you in Mexico. You want everything to be perfect. Your biggest worry is that they will suspect you are a red hot mess. You revert to overdrive, whisking plates off before the kids have finished eating — why do they take so long to eat — and refuse all efforts to help. You will prove you are fine, if not to yourself, to your boys, your daughters-in-laws and you grandchildrenl.

“Mom,” your youngest son says one morning, “you’re getting just like grandma.” Nothing this wonderful son can tell you can stop you smack in the middle of spraying for dengue-carrying mosquitoes swirling around your grandchildren’s heads like the threat of becoming like your mother. “What do you mean?” you ask, pausing for a second, but not daring to take your eyes off the mosquitoes. “Frantic,” he says, “You’re acting crazy.” 

It’s Thanksgiving, 2009. You realize he’s right.