Hug a Pink Elephant #6

presentThe sixth excerpt from my book – Hug a Pink Elephant

LIVING IN THE PRESENT

 “Our brightest blazes of gladness are commonly kindled by unexpected sparks.” ~ Samuel Johnson

 First, and foremost, you really must learn to live in the present. Oh, I know, you’ve been hearing that phrase for years and years, but have you really HEARD it? Has it taken hold in your life?

Let’s do a little experiment. Remember a drive you took today, maybe to work or the grocery store. What do you remember of that little trip? Were there newly sprouted flowers along the road? Was everything exactly the same as it is every day? Did you look at ANYONE in an adjacent car? The same holds true for walking or taking a morning run – same questions.

I remember once being terribly embarrassed because I was sobbing on the way home from a horrendous day at work. I thought someone would see me crying hard enough to feel a tad faint and be concerned. Then I glanced around me and realized no one was looking.  And I suddenly knew if I had been driving next to myself, I wouldn’t have noticed me either.

That is NOT living in the present.

We often go through the motions of life and zone out. How many times have you driven home and when you arrived couldn’t remember anything about the ride. Didn’t remember doing it at all. This is a very common phenomenon. But who wants to live our lives that way? When we wake up from our zombie-like state we are shocked and feel a bit frightened and well we should.

Getting back to those questions – DID you see anything different along the way? If not, you are zoning out and not really seeing what is in your world. So what if I didn’t notice any flowers, you may be thinking. Or – I really don’t care if the guy in the car next to me is asleep at the light. Don’t be defensive. If you’re reading Hugs you want to be aware. You want to be alive every minute of every day.

So make yourself stop for a few minutes and look around you, right where you’re at right now. What is the mood where you are? The colors and scents? Who is there with you? How are they feeling right now? How are you feeling? Grab your adventure notebook and write a few things down about your surroundings.  Now – try to dig a little deeper. Don’t make this an empty exercise.

Once you’ve written down what you are sensing right now, step back and ask yourself, do I see these things normally? The answer is almost certainly no, because very few people do. But the better you get at seeing what is going on around you throughout your day, the better you will be at finding adventure in each day.

 

POSITIVE SELF-EXPECTANCY

 

“Positive self-expectancy is pure and simple optimism: real enthusiasm for everything you do. And optimism is expecting the most favorable result from your own actions.” ~ Denis Waitley

This one statement, originally from Psychology of Winning, has stuck with me for almost 30 years now. I believe deeply allowing this principle to sink into your very soul will lift you every moment of your life going forward. It must be so engrained that, no matter how awful things are, you truly believe you’ll eventually get to where you want to be.

I had it easy. I am a naturally optimistic person. So much so that I can be annoying at times, especially if someone just wants to wallow in their misery.

I had someone once ask me, “Can’t I just wallow for a while?” My answer was and is, “NO!” Wallowing in it, rolling around in the slop that is unhappiness has absolutely no benefit.  So now, in this moment, I tell you to shake it off if that’s what you’re doing. Because there is no help for you as long as that’s your preference.  You will not get there. You will not have more adventure because you don’t really want it. In fact, I predict if you insist on being a die-hard pessimist, you’ll live a mostly miserable life.

And there is no excuse for it. I’ve shown you people in the direst circumstances who rose above them. You can, too.

All that being said, I doubt very many pessimists will buy my book. You have to have a primarily hopeful personality to even reach for it or anything else. So, now that we’ve all accepted one must be positive and expect good things from the world and ourselves in order to go any further, let’s talk about obsession.

 

FROM MILD CURIOSITY TO OBSESSION

“Your ability to use the principle of autosuggestion will depend, very largely, upon your capacity to concentrate upon a given desire until that desire becomes a burning obsession.” ~ Napoleon Hill

 We tend to think of obsession as a bad thing and it is if poorly applied. However, if you are someone – like me – who has a mild curiosity about most things, then obsession is actually a good thing.

Here’s what I mean. That morning drive, walk or run we talked about earlier goes like this if you’re simply curious – “Oh, look what a pretty tree. I wonder what kind it is.” Seconds later the tree, thought, and experience have left you and you’re on to the newest pretty thing in your line of sight.

If you’re more obsessive, or even selectively so, your thought patterns may lead you this direction, “Pretty tree. Wonder what kind it is. Let me take a picture on my phone so I can look it up when I get home.” And then you do look it up. Maybe you decide it’s the exact tree you’d like to plant in your backyard and lo and behold the next weekend you’re at the local nursery purchasing one, after you’ve carefully researched it online and figured out exactly what spot – sun, shade, soil – in which it will grow best.

The tree, which was a momentary pleasure in your day (and completely worthy of appreciation as just that) has now transformed into a permanent part of your life. This is obsession put to good use.

You’ll need this type of obsession to make things happen for you, not just as a trait in this pursuit of adventure, but also in anything you wish to pursue which isn’t just dumped in your lap. A little obsession can go a long way.

FOLLOWING A SET OF FOOTPRINTS

 One of the things you’ll likely experience is a desire to do something you’ve seen someone else do successfully. Perhaps your father was a great woodsman and you want to be that as well. Or maybe your best friend left for France the day after graduation from college, wandered Europe for a couple of years before she returned to become president of a local bank and you think you need to tour Europe and be more like her.

You may have none of the natural skills of your father the woodsman or a life already complicated by family and job now, rather than being a carefree post-college woman. In both cases, there is nothing wrong with aspiring to the paths others have taken as long as you realize your path is and will be different than theirs.

In other words, do not hold up someone else’s life as what yours should be like. There is no good way this can end. You are you and thank goodness for it. Your path could have way more potential and eventually more richness than the person’s in whose footsteps you seek to walk anyway.

For instance, while the impulse to be just like your dad may be admirable (but without his innate skills also dangerous), you can go beyond your desire to BE him by actually honing your skills with a trainer or mentor. Maybe one-day you’re the Bear Grylls (a very famous British survival adventurist) of Denver. Don’t roll your eyes at me! It’s completely possible.

Maybe, you manage to take your family on a one-year cruise around the world, in the sailboat you and your partner have been restoring for the past five years. You pull the kids out of school, both take a leave of absence, and instead of simply having the time of your life by yourself, you give yourself and those you love most deeply a life-altering experience.

To be inspired by someone is wonderful. It is often the thing which gets you started on your own path. But realize you, yes, little old you, could easily leave a bigger and better set of footprints. And even if they are not bigger and better, they will be your own – completely.

Use others’ footprints as a guide, not a blueprint. Unless you’re searching for buried treasure with a map left to you by a distant relative, then you may want to be exact! Here’s wishing you inherit a treasure map!

Slipping into Spanish

speak-spanishAs a small child, I accompanied my father, who was in the US Navy, and mother to Venezuela for a two-year tour of duty at the American embassy in Caracas. We sailed on a cruise ship to that country when I was about two.

As a result, I spoke Spanish before English. However, when we returned stateside, I was about 4 and apparently didn’t like being “different” and refused to speak Spanish. So, I lost my first language, only to regain a tiny bit with Spanish classes in school.

In my last job as a shuttle driver in the Sacramento area of California, some words would come back to me out of the blue as I struggled to talk to Spanish speakers from around the world: Mexico, Spanish, Argentina, Brazil and Peru, spring to mind. This always surprised and delighted me.

One of my goals in my travels to Central America, and now Mexico, has been to relearn this beautiful language. I barely scratched the surface in Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Guatemala – although I did try. At the end of five months in those countries, I had maybe 30 words at my disposal.

Different story here in Mexico. First, there are much fewer people that speak English here than in Costa Rica and secondly, because I’ve persisted in trying my taxi drivers and the local merchants have kindly tried to help me. Not only are they kind enough to struggle to understand me, but most will make corrections so I don’t continue to make mistakes. And my truly regular peeps will comment on my progress.

The lady who gives me my weekly “treatment” – either a massage, facial or pedicure – was slightly embarrassed when she told me last week that I speak better Spanish now than she does English. I’m pretty sure I glowed after that compliment.

When I struggle with a concept or sentence construction, I jot it down and go back to my computer to do the English to Spanish translator thing and then I write the new word or phrase down in my notebook. I try to use the new “palabra” several times over the next days or whip out my notebook to read the longer things right from the page.

I’ve had some trouble trying to tell people that I’m going home to take care of my mother after her knee surgery but I’ll be back in August to stay in Manzanillo for six months. So, instead of repeatedly saying “mi madre” and pointing at my knee scar from my own surgery accompanied by various forms of Spanglish, I finally wrote down two sentences and whipped out my trusty notepad and rattled off my explanation to a young girl who I’d tried to explain this to before.

She grinned and then hugged me and said she understood – finally.

I recently rode with a cab driver who had gone to college in Vancouver, Canada, and spoke English perfectly. But, oddly enough I couldn’t speak English – I kept slipping back into Spanish. It felt kind of weird – but I know that means I’m getting there and that makes me very happy – mucho feliz!

I Wasn’t Expecting to Love Mexico

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The Monument to Cuauhtémoc , an 1887 statue in Mexico City

In all the years of living in California and Arizona, I was never attracted to Mexico as a travel destination. I couldn’t understand the attraction to Cancun and Cabo, which seemed to me to be nothing more than a southern version of Miami or Fort Lauderdale. Mexico City resided somewhere in the very back of my brain as a hostile city with little to offer except violence. I can’t even say what shaped these impressions except television ads/programs and movies – in a vague way.

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Just a few of the Diego Rivera murals in Mexico City.

Of course, Mexico was so close – how interesting could it be? Same with Canada (of course, I have yet to explore that country except for a long ago trip up a mostly barren Al-Can highway on my way to Alaska in the 70s.)

I picked Mexico for my third excursion into international travel for practical reasons. My mother is turning 85 this June and lives alone after my father passed almost five years ago. She’s full of spunk, but I think it is now wise to stay close enough that I can return in a day if I need to. She’s decided to have a knee replacement surgery in June, so it was a wise decision from that standpoint.

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Mexico is a rich, textured country with nearly constant beauty in everyday life.

The low cost of living projection was also attractive, which turned out to be surprisingly accurate. The Universe conspired to place me in a wonderful beachside apartment and my monthly expenses for living run around $630 a month. Not bad!

But here’s the best part. Turns out, I love Mexico. Everywhere I’ve been has had its own unique charm. Although there are obviously lots of areas of Mexico City I wouldn’t want to wander into (just as in the big cities of the US), its historical and business districts are amazing. Oaxaca has a magical quality with its brightly colored buildings and ethereal cathedral. And Guadalajara kept me enchanted for nearly a month, pursuing the perfect plaza of its dozen or so major ones.

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Beachside in Mexico – Manzanillo.

But in Manzanillo, I found a perfect spot – for me. It is definitely not the party spot many desire. It isn’t that far off from a small town in the US, but it’s just different enough so that I’m learning something new every day. For the foreseeable future, I plan to make it my base for six months out of each year, taking long weekends in other towns. I want to see Merida, Veracruz, Morelia and San Miguel de Allende. The list gets longer the longer I remain in Mexico. It’s a huge country, so it could easily take me several years to exhaust my options.

Unlike Asia, I know I can learn to speak the language and I love being able to talk to the folks who have often been born and lived all their lives in the town I’m visiting. The experience is somehow humbling and touching.

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Sunset in Manzanillo

When I’m not in Mexico, I’ll be visiting family in the States and take an extended trip to another part of the world – El Mundo. I have my fingers crossed for the British Isles in 2018. And the list of other countries is really long – from Madagascar to Peru to Portugal and Italy to an artic country (I don’t know which one as of yet).

In the meantime, I truly do love Mexico and I know I will feel I’m coming home when I return in the late summer.

But I still have five weeks to go, so you’ll likely hear much more about Mexico in that time!

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The beautiful cathedral in Oaxaca.

 

 

Hug a Pink Elephant #5

boredomFIRST TRY CHANGING YOUR ROUTINE

“Boredom is the conviction that you can’t change … the shriek of unused capacities.”  ~ Saul Bellow, The Adventures of Augie March

This is also a good strategy for keeping your brain healthy if you’re worried about things like dementia and Alzheimer’s. But don’t discard it if you’re thinking you’re too young for that. Here are some things to try:

  1. Don’t go home the same way every time. Today, pick another route, whether it’s from the grocery store or work or from picking up the kids at school. Actively choose a way which takes a little longer and has at least one stretch you’ve never driven before. If your kids or spouse are with you, be prepared for a sidelong glance at the minimum and probably a question about your sanity. But persist. A little change-up will be good for them too.
  2. Play a game of blind man’s bluff with yourself. No blindfold required. Simply start in a familiar spot – maybe the front door – close your eyes and try to get to another room with simply your hands to feel the way. This may sound ridiculous to you, but you’ll be surprised how fun it can be. I tried it once when I was trying to knock myself out of a period of writer’s block. It worked!
  3. Explore your closet! Try to find 5 new outfit combinations from the clothes you already have. Then see if you have accessories to match. If not, maybe you give yourself a trip to your local jewelry/accessories source – I have a weakness for TJ Maxx – and add a new piece to your collection. If money is an issue then make it a game to find something for under $10 – even better.
  4. Do something entertaining which you’ve never tried before and engage! Go bowling, or to the opera and maybe a live performance of any kind. Have you ever seen a foreign film in a theatre before? You’d be surprised how quickly you get used to subtitles. If you have cable TV with 1000 channels, click on something you would never normally watch – Project Runway, wrestling, a Spanish language soap opera, C-span. Whatever it is, give it 20 full minutes of your attention and see if you can’t find something interesting in what you are watching.
  5. On a similar vein, if you live in a household with lots of magazines; some for the kids and teens, women, men and maybe some generic – chances are you don’t read a few of them. Pick one you think of as uninteresting and give it a try. Maybe Field and Stream for women or Cosmopolitan for men. Maybe Highlights for either sex. Anyway, see if you can move through it, picking up some new knowledge.
  6. If you are really, truly, desperately bored right this minute, grab your car keys and head for the nearest freeway or busy road. When you are on a safe stretch of the freeway or at the end of a long line of cars at a stop light, let out the biggest, loudest scream you can. Really loud. Pretend you are getting paid by the volume and ferociousness of your scream. You’re auditioning for a part in a slasher film. Let it out! Now another big one. If you don’t feel instantly better – more relaxed and at the same time oddly energized – I’d be amazed. I use this – Primal Scream Therapy – fairly regularly and I have all kinds of reactions. It has moved me to tears in the past. But I never, ever feel bored afterwards. You may feel a bit embarrassed, even though the odds that someone will hear you are extremely small. It’s the fact that you’ve done something so out of the ordinary for an adult. Relish it. Do it whenever it feels like you need a good scream.

 

So these are just a few things you can do to relieve boredom. Google “brain exercises” or “boredom” for more ideas, but do something about it. Boredom is an incredible waste of time. You can always find an organization which needs some volunteer help if it’s a matter of too much time on your hands. But no matter what, do something about it today!

Names, Faces and the Power of a Smile

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Conchita and Alfredo from my local mini-mart – Kiosko.

I’ve written this before, during my time in Asia, but I truly believe the real adventure in traveling is getting to know the people of an area. Temples, pyramids, countrysides are all good, but fade for me next to the cultures and attitudes that shape a difference, even from town to town, let alone country to country. Each presents its own challenge in understanding and getting through whatever barriers there are to reaching connection.

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Don, my only American friend, and a regular at Costenos.

In a tourist destination, like Manzanillo, one of the biggest hurtles is getting past the fact that normally someone from the United States will be leaving in short order. There is no need or desire to get to know you because you’ll be gone soon. Of course, for me, this is an anathema. I just try harder to relate.

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The beautiful Sandy, who makes a mean cookies and cream smoothie.

Wherever I’ve been I’ve used the same tactics. However, that makes me sound strategic, but this all comes very naturally. I don’t pull out the weapons of social exchange, I just seem to glide right into these three things.

NAMES

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Me and Margarita, whose has just given me a head massage in this picture.

People like to hear their names. Whatever my profession or business has been, I’ve strived to learn the names of acquaintances, customers and even customer service personnel on the phone, whom I hope I’ll never have to talk to again. I always ask for names, repeating them back (especially if they are in another language) and using it the next time I see them. At the end of a good phone call with someone I’m hoping will solve some problem of mine, I always ask their name and thank them for helping me. More often than not, they are startled but appreciative, as are the cashiers, servers and managers whose names I’m able to remember. It’s worth the effort, and it humanizes the people you interact with and pulls you into their world.  Well worth the effort.

FACES

It is true that humans tend not to look into the faces of peoples and cultures they’re not familiar with. Big mistake. Not only does this bad habit automatically separate people, but it robs us of so much information and experience.

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Alfredo’s little brother Brian also works at the Kiosko.

Raising your eyes to a new face that passes you on your walk to the plaza or as you explore the surroundings of your temporary home on a pleasant beach, can only enrich your experience. There will be times when the other person doesn’t acknowledge your greeting or even resents it, but those are few. An automatic reaction of “That jerk!” doesn’t do you any good and, in fact, just serves to close down the part inside which has tried to open up. Brush it off and move on, but don’t, under any circumstances, let that send you running back to your old habit of moving through the mass of humanity we daily encounter without making any connections. You will truly be the richer for your effort.

And the next time you recognize a familiar face, try nodding to the person behind it and see if you don’t get a nod in response. That’s a big win!

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The only picture I’ve managed to snap of Rosie, the owner of Costenos and my landlady, with Sandy.

THE POWER OF A SMILE

No matter where you are in the world, whether home or afar, a smile is truly your most powerful possession. With a grin: you’ll be forgiven your lack of language skills in a foreign country, assisted through nearly any problem, make surprising friends and soothe the savage beast in almost any situation. There are, of course, exceptions but you’ll find a sincere smile will get you through almost any travail.

I have acquaintances who instantly put on a grim face when faced with a problem, especially someone who will not instantly bend to their will. Big mistake. Find that place inside you that realizes that “This too shall pass” and try a smile. I’ll bet most of the time it serves you much better than that grimace that lives inside us all. In traveling, it is a much better option as you’ll find most societies don’t regard your troubles (coming from the Western world) as much of a problem. You may just find that they are right.

I have found that smiling at an unknown person I pass on the street not only makes me feel better but helps that person have a better day, too. In much of the world, the older local women often aren’t noticed at all and it almost breaks my heart how happy they are to be acknowledged – with a smile or greeting. If you remember their names, you’ve given them a gift of recognition whether or not you know it.

As I’ve mentioned, these three things are not just good for exploring the world, but also at home. I can’t tell you how many of my dining companions have shown irritation for my penchant for engaging with servers, but it pays me much more dividends than the reserve some many people regard as appropriate.

To hell with appropriate reserve.

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Valentina, who smiled without hesitation. Oh, to be like that again.

Living Above “The Shop”

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My apartment is just behind the red banner.

As an avid reader, movie buff and writer, I’ve always loved the idea of unique living situations. When we lived in San Fernando Valley – California- I would always point to bungalows, often incredibly tiny and part of a former motel complex, and announce to my incredulous husband, “I want to live there someday.” He’d just chuckle and shake his head.

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Not exactly a Murphy bed!

One other recurring attraction was to apartments above businesses, regularly represented in the old black and white movies I watched every day after school. The “shop” below was frequently a jazz bar or a Chinese restaurant and equipped with a bathtub under the kitchen table, fold-down ironing board and sometimes a Murphy bed hidden behind the front room wall.

I now live above the shop, a café specializing in cake and coffees, not quite as glamourous as a jazz club, but don’t worry – I still get lots of music. Manzanillo, Mexico, is not a busy place, but I manage to live right on the busiest – actually the MAIN – street of this berg of about 160,000 people.

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The Good Friday party getting started behind my place.

Although there is a large Canadian presence from November through March, there are very few foreigners in town at the present, but the party scene Thursday through Sunday nights is still very strong. And I managed to situate myself half a block from the party beach. In short, my nights are noisy. But they are also full of “joie de vivre.” There’s loud music, raucous laughter, sporadic shouts at passing friends and all of it accompanied by the sound of crashing waves. I have come to love it all.

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One of the cool little nooks in Costenos.

During the open hours of the café downstairs, Costenos, I am treated to more the subdued laughter of business meetings and friends coming together for a few minutes. I also watch the tending of the gardens from above on my balcony.

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My favorite people-watching perch.

Daytime also affords me the opportunity to watch people, sometimes from my street-side balcony or occasionally I perch on at a table out front for the best view. I have always loved people-watching and find so many characters I spot end up in a story or novel.

During my last taxi ride, the driver told me that there are about 900 taxis in Manzanillo. I immediately felt that must be an exaggeration, yet in my approximately 40 taxi rides I’ve only had the same taxista once. They all seem to know where Costenos in Las Brisas is. Do I live in a famous place? Is this the 21 Club of Manzanillo? Unknown. I’ll have to suss that out during my next stay.

So, now I’ve had another unique living experience, and have come to consider this my home away from home. I plan on living above the shop for six months every year, spending a month or two at home and exploring the world again for about four months out of every year. Where to next? Who knows. I go where the wind (or plane fares) blow me.

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Can’t forget my backyard!

 

Imperfections

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The offending spot!

I was talking to a local taxi driver yesterday, as he drove me to an unexplored section of town, and we began discussing Americans. He’d lived in the States for a few years and was effusive about how nice most Americans were, which I appreciated – especially now.

I mused that we are, as a breed, a bit spoiled and totally intolerant of imperfections. He chuckled and nodded. “Yes, but so nice.” Then I knew he was being very kind himself.

Make no mistake, I count myself among the overindulged and previously intolerant of flaws. I can easily slide back into that frame of mind if I don’t watch myself.

Here’s what I mean. As I traveled around SE Asia, I would become very irritated by the way the painting was done. Brand-new paint jobs on the walls of my rooms and other areas would have drip spots left on the floor and irregular edges along the ceiling. Nothing drove me crazier than spotting these blemishes.

I wondered, “Why can’t they just do a good job?” The attitude continued through Central America, where I traveled next and the “problem” continued.

One day, somewhere in Nicaragua, I suddenly thought, “Why does this bother me so much?” And I realized that I’d been brought up with an expectation of perfection, or at least the striving for it. I was imposing that ideal on cultures that had absolutely no use for it.

Occasionally, this long-held belief seeps into my brain even still. This morning, I nearly rejected one of the very cute little coffee cups provided in my apartment because there was a tiny pimple in the bottom of it where the ceramic hadn’t completely met in the firing.  I’ve done that several times – just put it back in the cupboard. Today, I stopped my reflex reaction and used the “imperfect” cup, chuckling to myself.

Yes, it’s inbred and I suppose I’ll carry strains of it forever but at least I’m progressing!