I’ve been asked to discuss what has taken me by surprise…well, one fact that never stops surprising me, and indeed, astonishes me almost daily, is that I’m really not as prepared to deal with life as I think I am. I suffer from an incurable and potentially fatal optimism, aggravated by a limited capacity for (or a lack of interest in) evaluating the risks of the situations I get myself into.
As a result my last half century has been quite a bit more, shall we say, “eventful” than it need have been.
This reckless attitude toward life has gotten me into two types of situations. The first would be situations which could have ended disastrously, but from which I miraculously emerged in perfect condition (something which must have required the intervention of all my angels). And the second, situations which frankly I didn’t survive undamaged and which were quite disastrous for me, at least in the short run, with the possible positive aspect of having provided me with opportunities to strengthen my character by means of adversity. I say “possibly”, because my mother reports that from quite a young age, when something went wrong for me, I would go around muttering “I refuse to learn anything from this goddamn experience”.
So it was that I survived without a scratch years of hitchhiking as my preferred mode of transport, in that America of the sixties and seventies, an era slightly less dangerous than the present, when it was politically correct to be a sort of vagabond. I managed to emerge intact from midnight trips through Ohio flanked by libidinous truck drivers, and in spite of being dumped at midnight on a country road in the middle of Vermont, I arrived at my destination unharmed by bulls and farmers.
Something bad should have happened to me in Allende’s Chile, where I ended up in the street after curfew the first day of the coup, but I suffered nothing worse that a good kick in the ass from a policeman. Something should have happened to me the times in the early eighties when I drove from Mexico City to Xalapa, Veracruz, at times after midnight, in my Volkswagen bug with one crooked headlight and my two little kids in the back seat, and nevertheless, I always arrived safely.
Aunque no nos escribas, siempre pensamos en ti/Even though you don't write, we're always thinking of you
But where I always have gotten stuck and have collected a good number of scars in the course of all these years, is in the management (or mismanagement?) of my emotional involvements.
I really can’t get into this subject, partly because it involves people who are still out there, somewhere, and partly because I don’t have quite yet a convincing theory of why most of my relationships turned out so badly. This might be where the “tempestuous experiences” that we’ve been asked to discuss come in, but this is also where I feel a curious, and for me, somewhat unusual, reticence. What I will say is that in my work, my drawings and prints, this is a fundamental theme, and although it often has not been my conscious intention, there the matter has indeed been examined in depth.
Regarding the above, there is one thing I have quite clear. A factor which has caused me to make a lot of mistakes, or a fair number of dubious decisions, is that I’m a foreigner, someone who grew up with expectations and patterns of conduct that could not always be successfully applied in the culture in which I find myself immersed.
Here we enter into another matter: the request of the editor that we write about things that we have always wanted discuss. Well, for a long time I’ve felt the urge to talk about this strange business of living most of one’s life as a foreigner, or an outsider, somebody who’s “not from here”.
La guardiana/The guardian
This is a condition which I often forget about, until I am rudely reminded. And it’s also a condition which has accompanied me since my childhood in the American Midwest, in those small cities cut down the middle first by the railroads and later by Interstate highways, in the prairies of Kansas and Nebraska, where that which prevailed above all things was, and still is, a love for football, beefsteak, and old-fashioned values (for example, voting Republican). In this general environment my parents stuck out as a little too intellectual. My father was a newspaper reporter and photographer, charming, quick-tempered, and a bit restless (my first tempestuous experience?)—so we followed him about in his journey from one small-town newspaper to the next. As a result I was the “new girl” in school for an infinity of occasions and when I turned eighteen, I had already lived in twelve different houses. Moving around had become such a habit that by the time I was thirty-four, I had lived in thirty-four different houses. In my “maturity” I calmed down: I just recently moved for the first time in eleven years.
La escoba/the broom
What I mean to say is, perhaps quite early on I started to feel like “myself” being “different”, “the new girl”, “that weird kid who reads poetry”. Maybe the view from the edge, a real or imaginary marginal place, began to be the only point of view from which I could focus.
I don’t know if the view from the edge is a point of view which distorts or which permits one to see things clearly. I do know that I’ve seen and learned about a lot of things here in Mexico that I never suspected in Nebraska.
Intensidad de sol/intensidad de sombra
In English, for example, there is no one word for “matizar”, which in Spanish is a verb meaning to explore the nuances in something. I might add that there also exist in Spanish one-word versions of “take-advantage-of” and “bureaucratic-procedure”, perhaps indicating the frequent occurrence of these matters in daily life.
But the point is, that perhaps “exploring the nuances of something” is not such a frequent occurrence in American as in Mexican life. I have always thought that living in my country is like living inside a big, fat pillow. It’s comfortable, but one doesn’t hear the outside world very well. I realized very quickly, being in Latin America, that one suddenly perceived more dimensions—I could see the world the way the “gringos” see it, because that version arrived in every broadcast of CNN (well, back then, in ABC, CBS, and NBC, let’s say). But I also had another vision, another version—the one from here, the non-official one, the view from the periphery.
And the idea of visions and versions brings us to another great cultural phenomenon: the lie, and the reasons of its existence.
(to be continued…)
El perrito/The little dog