Sunday, 9 December 2007

Chipping away at Mental Models


We all use mental models to help us slide through life comfortably and easily. Life in Todos Santos, and in Mexico in general, has a habit of breaking the models we’ve built up so carefully in the North.

When we moved to Todos Santos, we bought a house that friends later politely described as “needing a little polishing”. We grew tired of the eclectic collection of iron and cheap aluminum windows, whose humorous attempts at screens only kept out insects that didn’t have the initiative to go to the open edges, or those larger than a bumblebee. Our gardener (the source of all information here) took me down overgrown alleys and tracks on “el Otro Lado” and introduced me to someone in our little town that made passable North American style windows to replace all of ours. Oh glee! I asked about installation. “Was it included?” “Oh yes. You’ll just have to remove the old ones, and your gardener can help with that”.

Now I was perfectly clear about how window replacement worked. I’d had it done several times in Canada. So when the gardener and his contractor friend came up with a huge figure as a quote for removing the windows I was upset. I must be getting the Gringo price, I thought, again applying a familiar mental model. I negotiated the price a little lower, and grudgingly agreed for the work to begin.

We were so glad we listened to the gentle advice (given twice) by the gardener that we might want to move the bed out of the bedroom. Surely, we thought, moving it away from the window will give them enough room to work? But removing windows is not the job I imagined. You have to chip out the concrete and blocks that the window and its heavy metal anchors are set in. Then you have to rebuild the opening with a cement / fine sand mix to be perfectly square. Working at the fastest pace they could, they reached the staggering production capacity of one opening a day. And the mess…

Needless to say, it was very uncomfortable camping in a windowless house for three weeks. I paid the workers what they had asked for originally, and a bonus, admitting my mistake and misconceptions.

It’s very painful to have your mental models destroyed. And, even worse, what is left when they are gone?

Deconstructing in Mexico

Adrift from structured work
I’m smothered by an infinity of neutered opportunities
Passionately uninterested
Seeking escape in creative illusions of construction
That, with painstaking slowness and repetition
Systematically clog any remnants of life
Beneath the debris of stone, cement
and shattered expectations of life.

“Mexico will round your edges” we were told
But I had no clear form before the chiselers started
And now, as a shapeless mass
What once appeared as a birthplace for renewal
Seems as confining as any prison
Binding my soul in a dark, dark place
Invisible to me.

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