People, Philosphy, Social, Travel

Measuring a decision one day at a time

flameWe are approaching our one year anniversary of living in Merida. It has been a full and eventful adventure that has had many ups and downs. In the last few months, the downs have exceeded the ups. This has caused us to start to look at things in a slightly different way. What are the downs:

Getting Things Done
An inability to actually be finished. While we have made extraordinary efforts to understand and be patient about the cultural differences here, we are still worn down by the slowness, incompleteness and total lack of urgency. Many of the items we are trying to finish do eventually get finished (late) but in the process, the finishing creates more problems. In other words, fixing can break things. After a while this wears down the spirits. Granted, Lea and I have very high standards–and we should have either lowered our expectations or designed the house differently. Given who we are, it is now clear to me that we were not capable of either. So, it an odd way, it is our fault.

Security has always been a concern wherever we live. In our previous home in Minnesota, we had break-ins near where we lived, received reports from the police on gang activity, etc. But, familiarity, language and coping skills were much higher in Minnesota. Here, we are at the mercy of a system that is essentially broken. We know that local government does the best it can. But it is constrained by lackadaisical attention and lack of basic resources. It is a very low bar. In our neighborhood, we are seeing the negative impacts of a local drug house. Addicts are desperate for quick cash and have assaulted neighbors. This increases our anxiety and is causing us to challenge some of our choices. We are hopeful that some security measures we will be implementing over the next few weeks will help but we are also realistic. We want to spend the last years of our live feeling calm–not constantly vigilant. We shall see how this plays out.

We know that we are guests here in Mexico. We know that it was our choice. We have met many wonderful and genuine local people that we have grown fond of. We have some really delightful and wonderful neighbors who have genuinely accepted us. But, their history is not our history. Living in a dislocated place, ironically, is a profound way to cause one to focus inwards to what is essential to happiness. Living in Minnesota we had routines that, oddly, masked our ability to really look inward. Here it is a matter of fact. Every decision is framed by daily choices surrounding safety, comfort and well-being. While we are not prone to cliches, there is a bit in truth to the cliche “what does not kill you will make you stronger.” We are hopeful it is the latter.

But life is not about continuously focusing on the downs. The ups, for me, are:

The dislocation has enabled me to disconnect from my business in a healthier and quicker way that if I was still living in Minnesota. I doubt very much if I would be able to “let go” of MSR Design and my 33 year involvement in the same way had I stayed home. The distance has let me intensely focus on what is important to me and be very selective. I am thoroughly enjoying the last few library projects and look forward to their successful public referenda next year (Norman, OK and Fayetteville, AR). It was  joy to see the completion of the Ames Public Library a week ago–after nearly 7 years of work. This “circle completion” gives meaning to my work as a library architect – but also heightens my sense of needing to let go so others can experience the same joy I have been blessed with these past 44 years as an architect. Moving as enabled me to finally and definitively decide that I am not the type of architect that wants to practice until I die at the desk. I am the type of human being that enjoys mentoring and seeing others succeed–and if my choice to move to Mexico enables that joy to be fulfilled then it was a very big “up.”

Having my own studio, or a room of my own (I love Virginia Wolf’s book of the same name), has always been a dream. I have that now. But I also have not had the time to be there (see the down list above.). What little I have produced, however, has been fun and insightful. I am looser, less focused on the end and more on the process. I really do not give a damn what people think of the work–nor am I doing it for others. Just doing it is all that I need. So, as we (hopefully) reduce the interferences of the “downs” the “ups” will erupt in the studio.

Being Together
Spending more time with Lea is beyond joy. She is such a talented and insightful person. This past year has placed serious burdens on her as I wind down my time commitments to MSR Design. She has been left alone here to deal with many, if not all, of the downs. I am so grateful she has the will and energy to do this–but acknowledge that we are fast approaching the limit of my being absent. The past few months have highlighted the urgency for us to be together and share the ups and downs of this adventure together. I know that as this unfolds, the ups will start to tip the positive balance.

Loosing the Purse Strings
It should be noted that Lea and I have always been frugal and careful financially. We weigh every decision carefully and rarely “splurge” or buy to solve a bigger problem. Each of us have our parents to thank for this frugality. However, at our age and financial state, we can start to redefine how we spend our time and resources. It will be a “learning curve” but will also be one of the major “ups” as we start to travel more, and enjoy the decades of frugality.

My garden has been a big “up.” It is my very first attempt at gardening. To have success and enjoy the produce has been very fulfilling. It tickles a part of me that has never been tickled. To eat a vegetable 3 weeks after plating the seed–knowing it is pure and unadulterated–is especially gratifying.

olive in MetOlive
Finally, we are looking forward to spending time with our grand daughter Olive. We want to help her live a full and well-eductaed life. We are keenly aware that we are not her parents. But the role of the grand parent, done right, can enhance the role of the parent. She is a major up!

Writing this blog is very therapeutic for me. In fact, it really is written for me to analyze and contemplate the many changes that are churning over in my life. I hope my reflections help the reader in some way–it certainly helps me. Peace.

About Jeffrey Scherer

artist.father.grandfather.leftist.walker.retired architect


4 thoughts on “Measuring a decision one day at a time

  1. my dear jeff, and dearest lea: such a resonant post. having lived abroad—even tho not as long nor as permanently as you—i can empathize w/ your situation. there is pain in what you are doing. but pain is neither ‘right’ nor ‘wrong’. sometimes ‘well-organized’ [and i use the term euphemistically, but with great and ever-increasing insight] people have particularly difficult transitional periods when navigating cultural/political/linguistic changes. for example, i can bore you to sleep w/ a comparative analysis between german and american laundry habits. and don’t get me started on public transportation or religious holidays!

    you have made wonderful efforts to establish a new home that provides for your wants and needs in a hugely new phase of your lives. it is a monumental achievement, and now you are finally able to acclimate. allow me to suggest that when you begin to host visitors from the north—prime among them the lovely miss olive—you will begin to feel more secure in your decision. until your home is filled with family and friends, it can seem so far removed from your ideals.

    of course, you know all this. i just wanted to let you know that other people understand it, too, and that you are in our thoughts. we love you, and admire you, and will always do what we can to support you.

    p.s. that garden. amazing!!!

    Posted by leslie | September 22, 2014, 02:15
  2. Thank you for your thoughts Jeff. My wife and I are planning on building and moving to Mexico within the next couple of years (Guanajuato) and found your thoughts helpful. Having spent quite a bit of time there in the last few years, we have many of the same reactions, but are hoping that the ups will outweigh the downs.

    Steve Kvernstoen

    Posted by Steven Kvernstoen | September 22, 2014, 22:44
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