Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Finally - the book is ready!

After much work (if I had known what I was letting myself in for, would I have done it?) my book on life in Mexico - now titled "Living La Vida Loca: When the Dream of a Life in Mexico Becomes Reality" - is now available as a PDF for download at Lulu.com.


I am in the process of publishing a version on Smashwords.com in all the common competing ebook formats (e.g. for Kindle and Sony devices). Unfortunately, their conversion mechanism is currently undergoing “repair”. The limitations of publishing for multiple formats mean that I have had to adjust the formatting in the Smashwords version, so I would suggest that people use Lulu unless they need the different version for their ebook reader. If you are interested in the Smashwords editions, please just drop me a line and I’ll let you know when they are available.The book is illustrated throughout with some of my photographs – another passion that I have been feeding over the last few years.

Both on-line retailers will have a sample of pages from the book. I hope you’ll check it out. And if you decide to buy and download it – thank you, and I hope that you find it an interesting read!

Monday, 21 December 2009

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more

My blog has been “resting”; lying there discarded as a journal of past experiences in Baja. But I have not stopped writing. Instead, I have set myself a more ambitious target. Eschewing the easy route of short, random observations, I decided to write a book, with all its demands of structure, flow and, frankly, commitment of time. The working title is “Living La Vida Loca: When the Dream of Life in Mexico becomes Reality”. What’s it about? Here’s an extract from the introduction:

“When I tell people in the North that I spend winters in Baja, they are, perhaps, a little shocked at first, usually envious, and often curious as to what the life is like. Most have a preconception that life in Baja is just one uninterrupted vacation. They usually ask “So what do you find to do all day, for that length of time?” - a question to which it is hard to give a quick response that reflects the experience of being there. Analytical folk may ask questions about health care, shopping and the mechanics of day-to-day life. But just about everyone lacks the broad context of experience for probing what it is really like living in the Mexican culture in a place that can physically resemble paradise.

This book is for anyone who has ever thought, even fleetingly, of making a life as a “snowbird”, or even as a full-time resident, in the warm climes of Mexico. Just what is it like to make that dramatic step? What is the reality of the dream? What should I know before I take steps to make it real, or decide it’s just not for me?

There are several books around that cover the physical mechanics and issues of living in Mexico in general, and Baja in particular. While this information is useful for anyone who plans to move there, logistics in Mexico, while they may frustrate you, won’t ultimately mean the difference between experiencing life as an exciting adventure or a nightmare. The more interesting and critical issues are those of being able to align yourself psychologically with the demands and opportunities of life in Mexico. So this book is about the internal experience of life as a foreign resident in Mexico. It looks at what drives people to come here, what surprises they found, how they cope with and grow from the experience, how reality compares to their expectations, and what they would do differently knowing what they do now.”

I now have completed a second draft of the book, and am now learning the intricacies (and restrictions) of formatting for distribution as an ebook (the vagaries of differing and competing formats for ebooks is a clear indication that this is an evolving technology!). I will probably publish as a downloadable PDF ebook on Lulu.com in early January, and then perhaps move to other ebook formats and a “published on demand” version later in the year. As soon as it is available for sale, I will publish a link to the order page on this blog.

Friday, 6 March 2009

W(h)ither the blog?

Perhaps it’s the New Year, causing me to reflect (even more than usual!) on my life. Perhaps it is because of friends’ comments, both considered and sloughed off incidentally in passing. Perhaps it is just the unrelenting heat here in Todos Santos that has addled my brain. Whatever the underlying reason, I have been struggling with understanding why I maintain this blog, and whether or not its value justifies continuing.

I first experimented with blogging when I was at the height of my professional business career, and at the forefront of using technology to leverage the work of teams. At that time, creating a blog, and even modifying the look and feel of the blog, required considerable work and arcane technical knowledge. Having mastered the complexities, and finding insufficient of net value to add to the toolkit, I moved on. I came back to try blogging again in late 2007, primarily because, like Everest, “it was there”. Technology had advanced to a point where it was easy to play with a blog, and I wanted to play.

I became mesmerised at first sight. I saw a beauty in the way the layout, attractive typeface and inclusion of pictures could transform even the most banal of content into something pleasing to the eye. And then the question came – ‘What could you use this for?” – rather than the content emerging first and then demanding an outlet.

Whenever a vacuum is created, something moves to fill it. I became interested in seeing whether I had the capacity to write beyond straightjacketed business prose and anguished poetic lamentations (the latter seeming now, to my mind, somewhat akin to Vogon poetry (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vogon ) - infinitely cathartic, but strictly for internal consumption due to its devastating effect on the listener). And I discovered that I had a pent-up reservoir of thoughts on the evolution of my life, and about the places in which I lived, that I needed to dissect and exorcise. Building on these two drivers, the blog took on a life of its own. It demanded life from me. If I did not create an entry for a while, I would feel the pressure building within me that could only be relieved, temporarily, by another post.

Working through issues and practising craft are valuable pursuits. Most blogs, though, including this one, are public. Just why did I feel the need to make my efforts public? I could posture (and I have, at some level in my mind, held this view) that it provides a vehicle for gathering comments; provoking debate. If you look at the blog, however, you will see that there are few comments. There is little real debate or useful critique. I get most of my comments via private e-mail, but many are words of encouragement, rather than building on what I have written. I am not alone in this. If you look at most popular blogs, the comments are usually but a watered down froth to complement and compliment the author’s work. The “blogsphere” acts more like a support group for its inhabitants. I liken it somewhat to the Open Readings in Todos Santos. At each reading (a.k.a. group therapy session), every performance, from the sublime to the senile-adolescent, is applauded, and no meaningful critique is offered. I have often mused indeed as to whether the intensity of the applause reflects the value of the piece, or perhaps relief or sympathy proportional to the extent to which the reader has overrun his or her allotted 5 minutes.

So the ostensible value in publication does not stand up to critical review. What really lies behind my choosing to publish the blog? I think, at heart, it is a desire to address two conflicting needs, drawing from insecurity. To make me stand out from others, and to connect with others. I have used the blog as a form of extended business card; to shout “There’s much more to me than the business consultant that you think you know!” And there is a longing to connect with others, especially as I transition from a work-based life to something else, and live in two new, very strange and warmly isolating communities.

I have been fortunate to have connected, virtually or in person, with a few very interesting people through blogging. It is, however, a very random way to connect, akin to clicking the “next blog” at the top of the page. In addition, while it is true that you can often infer a lot about a person from reading their blog, it is also the case that the content of a blog represents a filtered view of their life, thoughts and feelings. True “connection” involves more than interchange of carefully manicured narrative.

As for promoting “The Real Vic”, as with everything, once strong daylight is shed upon a subject, it loses its potency. The thought now of thrusting this perception upon unsuspecting people seems mildly amusing and ineffectual.

I do have more to say, to explore, to picture. But I doubt that this blog is the appropriate mechanism. Blogs can have value; for example to keep an artist’s followers in touch with new work, or to keep friends aware of a travel adventure. This particular vehicle of mine, however, after 74 postings, has probably run its course.

I thank those who have enjoyed my postings, and especially those who have taken the time to tell me so. The reinforcement kept me going where lethargy would have brought this venture to an untimely end.

The photo I have chosen to accompany this final posting is again of bougainvilleas, a fitting symmetry to my first image on this blog. In some ways I think the omnipresent bougainvillea reflects truths about us and our lives. Continual outbreaks of flowers that are breathtakingly gorgeous and delicate present a longed for illusion of permanent beauty, while the detritus of withered dead flowers under the bush reminds me of the reality of the temporary nature of all things. Hidden behind the showy but ephemeral beauty of the flowers, are superficially uninteresting branches that are, in reality, the true strong core of the plant. Over time, this framework for the plant evolves from innocent sinewy shoots that twist as needed, to become strong, accreted with character, but unexpectedly encrusted with wicked thorns, ready to rend the unsuspecting or unprepared that dares probe beneath the surface illusion.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Virtual Paradise

One jarring paradox about living in Todos Santos lies is the difference between basic and electronic utilities. While indisputably necessary potable water service is unreliable, even in town, and sometimes unavailable in other, more gringo-desired areas, electronic services are pervasive and predictable. Ingenuity, coupled with creative monopoly-driven pricing approaches, has made it possible to stay connected, virtually, everywhere you go, using technology that is probably more advanced than typically used in the Northern, supposedly more evolved world.

Even where water pipes dare not go, entrepreneurs have created long-distance wireless networks to share landline high speed internet service. Just about everyone it seems (except us), local or ex-pat, has a cell phone, the explosive growth of which is aided by low prices fostered by the unique approach of “Quien llama, paga” – he who calls, pays. Our landline bill for calling cellphones is, for example, greater than our line cost! And now, high-speed internet service is available just about everywhere using a cheap cellphone modem service.

It is interesting to recall that, maybe 10 or so years ago, there was no internet service available, and phones were a rarity, with people having to line up at the message centre in town to gain access to a booth to make or receive calls. Thoughts of being disconnected in that way send shivers through my body, for I, like many others, have become essentially addicted to connectivity.

But is this connected paradise a positive thing? True, it enables me to keep in touch with friends, family and colleagues across the world through video calls. But it also means that you never detach from the manic word of “news” where there is a constant cacophony of misery and prognostications of doom, each reporter seeming to want to outdo the others in their depiction of the end of civilization as we know it. Like drivers craning their neck for a look at a car wreck, it’s very hard not to delve into all this gloom.

When I go for a stroll after taking my dose of “reality”, I am shocked by the dissonance of the hopelessness revolving in my head, and the world that my senses encounter. The sun is still shining, indeed lulling its subjects into lassitude in this unseasonably warm season. Fresh colour floods the plants in our garden. A menagerie of birds, from rampant and irrepresible Roosters through caustic Cactus Wrens and percussionist Flickers (who have an unnatural love of my metal chimney) to invisible yet mellifluent Warblers, still roam our yard. Raucous revellers from last night’s party (for Mexicans do indeed know how to party!) stagger along our dusty roads, holding onto each other for support. And so life still continues, much as before, in this sleepy little town.

I have noticed a trend amongst some fellow internet trollers to divest themselves of the habit of reading about the misery, and to surround themselves with more positive experiences. Part of me sees this as ostrich-like behaviour; ignoring tsunami warnings in the hope that it will turn out to be a mirage. But another part of me, the part that listens to the birds and the happily inebriated locals, sees the truth in this approach. The world will continue, no matter what stupidities humans inflict. And, while some will see it as ignoring what we cannot change, I suspect that, actually, the tide of negativity is self-realizing and so by thinking differently, perhaps we can change some small part of our world for the better.

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Familiar numbness

The key reason why we come to the Baja in the winter, as for many people, is the combination of exceptional weather and bounteous seaside. Yes, there are other elements of life in Baja, and Todos Santos in particular, that add flavour to the mix, but it is the idyllic climate and location first and foremost. It is what many people describe as “paradise”.

I almost feel traitorous, therefore, when, about this time in the season, I explain to people back in the land of ice and snow that it is all becoming a bit “blah”. Yes, it is sunny – again. And I can wear shorts all day, without fear of losing appendages. And the garden is bursting with a cacophony of colour. And the whales are cruising around near shore and waving their flukes – as usual. Yawn!

Maybe I have the affliction more than most, but repeated exposure to any experience, no matter how wonderful, breeds a blinding familiarity. It is only when it is a jolt from normal life, or afterwards, when it is gone, that perhaps we truly appreciate what we experience. There are flashes or even longer stretches where the numbing veil is lifted, and I see what is before my eyes without a filter. But before long, the familiar images lull me back to sleep. The magical golden elements, in reverse alchemy, become the new leaden norm.

It is not Baja that causes such reactions. Back in Comox, we have a breathtaking and “in your face” view across the full spectrum blue Georgia Straights to the snow-capped green coastal mountains of BC. When we first arrived, we spent hours just sitting in the living room and watching with amazement. We committed to each other that we should never take this view for granted. And yet, just a few months later, we would catch ourselves carrying on our lives and almost forgetting about what was right in front of our eyes.

Is familiarity-bred numbness inevitable and irreversible? Some have suggested to me that it is our predestined fate but, by understanding this and keeping expectations low, life still remains enjoyable. Others would suggest that the blindness can be overcome. One school proposes living in the moment to connect us to what is really happening, and thus strip the familiarity fog from our eyes and other senses. But few (myself included) can do that for more than short periods of time before falling back into “normal” existence. Living a comparative life, an approach taken by some, where one is thankful for what we have because it is so much better than what others appear to endure, seems to me to be an artifice of rationalisation.

For now, I will just be thankful for those brief periods where the magic takes hold, and, however transiently, lets me experience life clearly.