Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Case for Living Authentically

I've come to the conclusion that trying to suppress your true nature is like attempting to hold a basketball under water. It takes all your concentration, is truly exhausting, and in the end is futile. 

When I tell people that I’ve bought a house in Pozos, a small ghost town in central Mexico, I’m often faced with a blank stare and after a brief hesitation an “Oh,” or from the bolder, a blunt “Why?” I can read the unspoken, “are you out of your mind!”
It’s okay. I understand. I’ve seen that look and heard that “Oh,” many times in my life; and I welcome them because it's my indication that my life is on track.
The first time was when I was barely turned 19 and announced that I’d saved enough money from sorting letters in the Post Office to buy a one-way ticket on a steam boat from Cape Town to London.

Bright-eyed and bushy tailed on the way to
England at age 19

Many of my high school friends were going to university or getting married. I was ravenous for experiences my Catholic up-bringing, all-girls school, and small town in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) had never afforded me. I arrived in London in the summer of 1967 with the equivalent of about $100 in my pocket and a two-week reservation at a hostel. Music was everywhere; Carnaby Street and Kings Road were the axis of the fashion universe; and barefoot hippies passed out flowers in Piccadilly Circus. I was both in culture shock and delirious with joy.
Within a couple of weeks, I had moved into a Thames-side flat with five other girls. There I made a lifelong friend in Maureen. We shared an Irish heritage and had similar coloring: People always took us for sisters. We also had the same birthday, although she had a couple of years on me. She became the older sister I never had. We made weekend trips around the UK and traveled together to Paris, Austria, and the Greek Islands.

Maureen in Greece 1968

She went back to South Africa and a couple of years later I flew over there to be a bridesmaid at her wedding. By then I had moved into a smaller flat in Notting Hill Gate with one room mate: Liza.

Me, Liza with a monkey, and some odd guy
with a dusbin lid in a London alley in the
(No I have no recollection of what this was about.)

For almost ten years, Liza and I egged each other on in madcap schemes: selling vintage clothes on Portobello Road; operating burger stands at rock festivals; and working in promotion (we were those girls at conventions who demonstrate things): almost all of which earned us both “the look.”

In a formula one race car at the London Auto Show

Liza and I lost touch a few years after I relocated to the States, but thanks to the internet, reconnected again and picked up exactly where we’d left off.
In the late 70s, I got the stare and the “Oh,” when I pretty much ran away and joined the circus. Only it was a recreation of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show that was playing at Wembley Stadium. I got a temp job there and hit it off with cowboys and Indians. They invited me to go touring with them in Japan and Singapore and how could I say “No” to that? Technically, I was the promotion manager but in that type of show, everyone has multiple jobs, so I was also a can-can dancer in the saloon.

Kicking up my heels (second from left)
as a can-can dancer when the
Wild West Show played Japan

After six months in the Far East, the show returned to California where they sponsored me for my green card. I got it on the basis of being a specialist in the American Wild West. (I’m not kidding.) Shortly after, the show went broke and I was left adrift on another new continent, in culture shock again but thrilled to be in Southern California.
I decided to take the opportunity to reinvent myself as the writer I had always secretly wanted to be. God Bless America: you really can be and do anything you want if you work hard enough. And I did. With just a couple of brief periods of employment as a staff writer, for the next 30 years I supported myself as a freelancer. It suits my nature; working on a different story and topic every few weeks. Still, as my 40th birthday approached, I was restless and craving a change.
You should have seen the looks and heard the “Ohs” and “Whys?” when I decided to shake things up by spending four months traveling through Africa from Cairo to Cape Town by myself. I flew to Egypt and used trains and buses to get to Khartoum in the Sudan. I had to abandon my plans for a total overland experience and fly from there to Addis Ababa in Ethiopia because there was a war in the region. But thereafter I stuck to the land going through Tanzania, Kenya, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and arriving in Cape Town, South Africa just in time to celebrate our joint birthday with Maureen.

Wading ashore in Zanzibar 1989

Not long after I got back to California, I garnered a barrage of looks, “Ohs,” and “Whys” when I cast my lot in with a personage of dubious nature. I had the hubris to stand in the path of a human tornado and laugh off the possible consequences. Did I ever get my comeuppance! A few years later after the tornado had passed, leaving my entire life in a catastrophic shambles, I decided it was the Universe telling me it was time to mend my ways. I needed to grow up and be a responsible person. A therapist also told me as much.
I bought a little house in a family suburb. I worked really hard. But I quit writing screenplays (even though I’d sold two) and novels. Instead, I concentrated on magazine articals and eventually started ghost writing books for other people. I did volunteer work and joined groups and served on boards. I took vacations in Europe and stayed in proper hotels and went to museums. (I’m not knocking that, they were wonderful trips, just different for me). I ate healthily and went to the gym three times a week. And slowly and inexorably over the next ten years, I slid into a depression.
For the first time in my life, I became an insomniac. I would be so tired during the day I’d fall into a coma on the sofa in the afternoons. I wasted my life away doing Sudoku puzzles and watching Home and Garden TV. If someone invited me somewhere, I’d go; but I never initiated anything.  I'd lost my joy. Then, in the space of a year, Maureen died from breast cancer and Liza died from a melanoma that spread to her liver. Their deaths affected me deeply. I started to feel like I was squandering my own good health by not living an authentic life.
I finally lost control of the basketball when I was attending a board meeting of a non-profit called APECA that does good work in the Amazon disseminating health information and building rainwater catchment tanks to provide clean drinking water to remote villages. One of the other board members, Christine, said she was thinking of going to Peru to see the operation. Out of nowhere and with no aforethought, I heard my own voice saying, “I’ll come with you.”
Bam! The ball hit me in the face. 
Within about a month, we were flying to Lima then on to Iquitos, one of the most exotic cities I’ve ever been to, and then were on a tiny boat chugging two hours down the Amazon to APECA headquarters deep in the jungle.

Me and Christine sailing down the Amazon

We slogged through the rainforest knee-deep in mud; fought off mosquitoes; met extraordinary people doing remarkable things; learned about natural rainforest remedies; ate weird food and drank vile boiled river water; saw the fabled pink dolphins; and gorged on star fruit right off the tree.

$5 each in Whole Foods.
Free in the jungle!

One experience was particularly memorable. Our guide, Pablo, took us another two hours down the river and along a small tributary of the Amazon called Shatto.
Pablo and me paddling down Shatto

We camped out on platforms under mosquito nets hundreds of miles from the nearest electricity. We had one truly magical night when we glided down the river on the current in a small boat. Being so far from any artificial light, the night sky was absolutely extraordinary. There was a cacophony of jungle creatures and we could see eyes glinting all around us. Pablo, with some kind of uncanny knack, would occasional thrust a spear into the black water and come up with a fish on the end of it.

Pablo speared these fish in the pitch dark

That night, I felt my joy!
Other significant things happened on that trip. For one, while I had lost Maureen and Liza, I found a new soul sister in Christine. Although years apart in age, we bonded instantly and stayed close after returning to Santa Monica where we both lived.
There’s something else: I’ll simply tell the story and let you come to your own conclusions. One night when camping at Shatto, Christine and I awoke simultaneously. We could hear a particularly strange and plaintive noise from what we took to be a bird or other jungle creature. We also could hear Pablo walking around outside. Next day, Pablo quite casually told us that he’d encountered a spirit. It was, he said, someone who had just died and was visiting people and places that they’d known before moving on. We asked him if he was concerned that it was someone he knew, but he said, “No. It could be anyone.” He went on to tell us hair raising stories about the spirits – both good and evil – that populate the jungle. The people who live there are quite matter-of-fact about them.
A week later when I got back to Los Angeles, there were messages waiting for me to say that Tornado Man, with whom I had not had contact for several years, had died from lung cancer that night. In these matters, I prefer to let the mystery be. But you have to admit it was a pretty weird coincidence! In any event, his death was also the end of cycle of my life and my trip to the Amazon was the birth of a new one.
It took another two years for me to pull up stakes and drive to Mexico. And what a lot of looks, “Ohs,” and “Whys” I got in response to that decision. But hey, to me that just an indication that I was me again. It’s interesting to note that the first night I was in Mexico, I slept for eight hours and have slept like a baby ever since.
And so that brings me back to this decision to buy this house in a small ghost town. Right now, I can’t think of anywhere else I’d rather be. I’m deliriously happy. I know it’s not for everyone – or hardly anyone, for that matter. So it’s quite okay for you to be skeptical and give me the look: I'm cool with it.


  1. Thanks A lot and i hope to visit my blogs thanks again samozain ,,,
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    4 Cancer Blog

  2. Thanks A lot and i hope to visit my blogs thanks again samozain ,,,
    French Health Blog
    French Credit Blog