Want That Dream Come True? Make Yourself Uncomfortable

todossky

Sky over the Baja Desert near Todos Santos, Mexico, 2018


The cloudy summer sky glows like an iridescent sliver-gray shell arching over the desert near Todos Santos, Mexico. The air is warm, humid, and expectant, waiting on an approaching hurricane that pushes rain ahead to the parched desert south of us, but not one drop of rain falls on the town.

This time of year, tourism dries up as locals with pesos and gringos with passports skip town for cooler climes.  Go walking in the desert late in the morning, and the heat beats the fire out of you with a vision quest of sweat and discomfort.

You start to notice the small things. Odd muses show up.

In the days since we arrived to house and pet sit for some friends, E.B. White, of all people, crosses my mind.

Like pretty much all young American girls who loved books, I reread Charlotte’s Web yearly. As I got older, I hid this guilty pleasure for fear of being judged uncool by my friends who were getting into makeup and boys. Usually in that order.

Later, I discovered EB's 1948 This Is New York essay which he wrote one summer in a cheap, sweltering New York City hotel room. That work is still benchmark inspiration for me in many ways. In fact, I blame this whole Todos Santos adventure on him - house sitting a casa on a dusty corner on the edge of the Mexican side of town, with no A/C, in the hottest part of the year.

When I'm feeling dramatic, I think, "Why does creativity seem to demand its pound of flesh and quart of sweat? To live a more creative life, do we have to go through the artist garret gauntlet? Must we freeze in Paris, sweat in New York, or, in my case, the Baja desert late summer sauna?"

I signed up for this experience, so I work to be open and not fall into the universal trap of kvetching about the weather all time.

I’m at the kitchen table, shifting around on one of the world’s most uncomfortable chairs. The chair is actually what made me think of E.B. White, sweating over his typewriter in what I imagine to be a rickety cheap chair in his hotel room.

My chair is the total opposite of rickety. If Fred Flintstone had a mountain caveman primo who made furniture, this would be the stuff. The table is a single 7-inch thick wedge of wood from a good-sized tree; it must weigh 400 lbs. The legs are literally large branches.

The Cave Man chairs have seats that are also hewn from 6-inch slices of tree trunks. In a passing nod to ergonomics, the seat has indents carved out for your butt cheeks.

The seat indentations are one size fits all, or maybe one size fits most Mexicans. In any case, my one size doesn’t conform, and my gringa butt is super uncomfortable.

I have been stunned at how uncomfortable the chairs are in Mexico, except for those at the beach resorts with $10 Pina Coladas. Even in nice restaurants, the chairs are often awful.

I have a theory that this Spanish Inquisition seating is a practical defense against 2 traditions:

One – restaurant waiters have to wait for you to ask for the check. If you visit from the states and you don’t know that, it will make you crazy until you figure it out.

Two - the “mi casa es tu casa” tradition. Sure! Come on in and have a seat; my house is your house! Make yourself at home in one of our boulder-hard Cave Man chairs, or pull up a rickety plastic folding chair and pray today isn’t the day it decides to finally collapse.

Pretty smart, huh? Both options will have you hopping up to grab your coat in about 20 minutes.

Lucky for me that my younger self also read the story of the Princess and the Pea, so I get up and add a cushion to my caveman chair.

My Mexico City man agreed to come with me and help, even though small pueblos are not his thing. He peers over his glasses at me, and I swoon a bit inside. He looks like a subject from a Velazquez portrait – a 15th-century Iberian philosopher, perhaps.

No, that’s a stretch. In reality, he looks more like a wily royal court official plotting his next move.

Velazquez shakes loose a memory from the magic time I spent as a docent at the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth. I spent many quiet moments in the galleries with the Spanish paintings, knowing they were telling me something but stuck as to how to work it into my life’s frame. The message was something like

Why haven’t you moved to Spain yet, hermana?

That was a dream vibrating way above my hearing range at that time. Instead, I groped for a socially acceptable solution that wouldn’t cause much real disruption, i.e., graduate school.

Compare the happy hour or holiday dinner reactions of family and friends to the following:

“I’m working on my master's degree.”

vs.

“Oh, we’re selling the house and car and saving to pull the kids out of school and move to Spain next year; no, we don’t have any grand plans; we’re going to figure out most of it as we go.”

See how this works?  

Grad school would have been the perfect, albeit costly, cover story for my restless heart.  I wrangled with the idea but never even applied. It seemed like an insurmountable challenge. I used to give up so easily back then. 

I didn’t know that discomfort is usually a green light, a shortcut to dreams come true. Nobody ever tells you that in the movies or around most kitchen tables, either.

I have zero regrets about not going to grad school. It seems to be working out OK now.

Instead of being trapped in the frustrating dynamic of studying handsome Latino men frozen in 400-year-old paintings, I have a much more interesting assignment of learning from the sexy caballero sitting across from me, en vivo, at the CaveMan table, looking like a Spanish conquistador come to life.

My heart has melted, and not just because of the heat.

The fan turned up full bore in the open doorway, blowing in happy inane mayflies and keeping lazy mosquitoes at bay. My hair is up in a Chula bandana, and a bit of sweat runs down my back.

My iPhone hums a Latin soft pop mix in a tinny way that reminds me of the AM radio that used to play in my grandmother’s Iowa kitchen every morning, along with the farm report, but sans the Latin pop. 

I check-in, and I surprise myself.  I’m uncomfortable, but I’m happy.

When I committed to house sit a few months ago, from my cool perch in Mexico City, there were practical reasons for it, yet there was something else that I couldn’t fully articulate.

Does that ever happen to you when you decide on a course of action? It’s like that whisper in the gallery at the Kimbell – you can’t quite catch in the moment –

come closer so you can hear the story

This time I did listen to it. I remind myself of that whisper every day here at about 2:30 pm when the heat really peaks.

Dramatic, I know, but the message was something like – this will be a crucible you need and will make you stronger. Desert clarity, heat, time to write, and also, my favorite part, animals to care for.

Do you ever wonder why we want to travel in the first place? Why is it a gillion dollar industry? I saw an interesting factoid recently from a study – it said that women reported feeling most empowered from saving money and travel, 2 seemingly opposite goals.

I can only speak for myself, and from the comments of many other travelers I have met and seen in Facebook groups for women that travel. It seems to be this:

In a society that makes it very easy to hide from ourselves, travel is our Soul’s shortcut to getting us back on Her path. 

Even the most pre-packaged vacay will get you off the comfy couch and into the unknown.

So as you plan your next getaway, consider checking in with what you really want to be doing. 

And then go do that. 

If they say, "Why would you want to do that?" that's actually a good sign.

You don’t need to explain it. You don't need permission.

In fact, learning to forge ahead and make your plans in the face of resistance from family, friends, and your inner fraidy cat is the first fruit of your journey.

See? You’ve grown a bit, and you haven’t even left town yet!

It may be messy, imperfect, uncomfortably hot, or buggy. Go anyway. Get the selfie and soul time and see how it changes your life. 


— Published on Thrive Global, September 4, 2018

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