People who have contacted me from the States often ask ‘what are you doing down there?’ This has not been an easy question for me to answer. There is the obvious answer of working and living amongst a new culture, of meeting new people, seeing new things, and experiencing life in a new way. But as I said, this is the obvious answer. The answer is supposed, in fact it is known, before the question is asked. So why then is it asked? There is obviously something else they want to hear, past the day to day, past the colorful incidents that make living in a different culture a thrill and a terror. They want to hear a story.
Some quick background, I will admit that I am a bookish person, though I will not say by nature. I take much pleasure and solace in reading, it is part of what revitalizes me after long days dealing with the world, and this has always been true, long before I stepped foot in Mexico. This should leave you concluding that with the extra stress and clamor of living in a new place, that I have been reading an inhuman number of books, at least compared to the paltry amount of books that has the indecency to claim the title of ‘average per year per capita in America’. While in some degree it is a refuge from the pell-mell of how I view my new culture, it is also keeping me thinking and wondering about how this experience will inform. It has kept me from sinking too fast into a new world, also known as drowning. In short, I have been reading a lot, not to mention working on a farm, playing soccer and hanging out with my host family. All sorts of books as well, including gardening, aquaculture, permaculture, political systems, philosophy, religion, theories of work, motorcycle how-to’s, and just plain old tales and stories.
Stories are never plain and old. The last I read was Stardust, a short novel by Neil Gaiman, with a wonderful lecture transcript afterward, which is the author speaking of the importance of stories and tales. The gist of the lecture is that there is something very natural about these older forms of story that resonates within us, something that calls us back to them again and again, even though they may be in a different guise. Think of the difference between a Disney Snow White and the older version of Snow White. And then add in countless books, TV shows, plays, movies that have borrowed or adapted the story. Something in the tale wants to be told and is natural for us to tell. This quickly brought to mind another lecture, back in my first year of college, of a Biblical criticism class. The professor spoke of stories and how they shape the actual world around us. One of the oldest stories is one of the most powerful, good versus evil. These stories are older than the advent of the ability to record them. God and the Devil. The Olympians and the children of Mother Earth and Chaos. The Æsir and the frost giants. Of course, these tales were the backdrop to many others, but are still the main part of the telling, the overarching story. Think of the impact that the definitions of good and evil have had on this world. How do we even define them? Often as not, it is through stories, parables, tales, legends, and myth. But there are many “basic” stories, other than good and evil, such as ‘the quest’, ‘the romance’, ‘the trickster’, and a countless variations and mixes. What they all have in common though is that they carry a moral, a meaning, a framework through which to see the world, even though this may change from reader o reader. This is why fiction is often more moving than fact.
So when people ask me ‘what have I been doing’, I really don’t know how to answer. They know that life here is different, but do they really want to hear all the mundane differences, all the changes in etiquette, all the misunderstandings, or do they want to hear a story, that carries weight and meaning and a new view onto the world. I unfortunately did not read Stardust in enough time to have a such a tale ready for this blog post, and it is very possible I won’t have one until the end of my year, or of my life.
My apologies for yet another post that has nearly nothing to do with my time in Mexico (and yet it has to everything to do with my time in Mexico). Comments, critisicms, questions, and suggestions for further entries are always appreciated. Thank you again for anyone who has generously allowed me to spend this year abroad, I hope that it will be worth your support!