Remember the last scene in the first Terminator movie? The one where a pregnant Linda Hamilton sits at a Mexican gas station, presumably five hundred miles from anywhere, and speaks into the now-obsolete contraption known as a tape recorder? She’s recording a message for her currently unborn son, and she looks simultaneously fierce and adorable, all piercing blue eyes and bangs perfectly feathered over her bandana.
At the time most of us probably agreed that her situation warranted a flight away from civilization as we know it and into the wilds of Mexico. Carrying the child who will be the leader of the underground resistance to a cyborg invasion, it seemed like a good time to get the hell outta dodge, so to speak, and where better to hide out and amass weapons and ammo until time to take back the world than the dusty back roads of Old Mexico.
I’m sure for most of my life running away to Mexico seemed an act of desperation warranted only by such world-altering events as an attack by an Austrian-accented cyborg who would one day marry into the Kennedy family and later govern the state of California straight into bankruptcy. But while our plans to move here gradually grew more real in our own minds once our decision was made, we continued to endure the wide-eyed stares of friends and family when we told them of our intentions. One of the more notable predictions was that of an old friend of Wiley’s, who suggested, straight-faced, that I was likely to end up lying dead in a ditch with my head severed courtesy of one of the multitude of Mexican drug lords who roam freely throughout the country, in search of gringos to terrorize.
Like much of life, perception and reality differ, and now that we are here I cannot imagine a better place to be. Like an affectionate and loving amoeba (definitely NOT the dysenteric strain) the community here has enveloped us and made us feel completely at home. I have trouble remembering being involved with a more genuinely friendly and inclusive group of people.
Here in San Miguel I seem to consistently feel like I am the least interesting person in the room. We have met people of many nationalities and all walks of life. Most of them have traveled extensively and have lived in exotic locations. They are just as likely to be financial planners and software executives as artists and musicians. Some of them are only here for six months or a year, some live part time in Mexico and part time in the U.S. or Canada. Lots of them are Mexicans. Many of them aren’t, but they came for a year and never left. With every day it becomes easier to see how that happens. Inevitably when we tell people we are here for a year someone pipes up and says, yeah, we were too, and that was four years ago, or something along those lines.
So I find myself in a small town in Mexico now, with no job except to take care of my family (no small task, mind you, but that’s a topic for another day), and a lot of thoughts caroming around in my head, several of which I think would be worthwhile about which to write. I told a new friend here that I liked to write and before I knew it I had an invitation to join a group of women who take turns hosting dinner and sharing their writings with one another, giving support and criticism. I look forward to attending not only to make new friends, but also to learn from other writers and improve my own writings.
My first writing assignment came to me when I worked for EDS in Atlanta. I was a database administrator and wrote software for a project where we were creating a large system to graphically represent, track, and manage the in-ground equipment owned by the city’s natural gas company. Part of the project involved building a procedure to take the information about the equipment, which was stored on paper records, and computerize it, so that it could be represented in the computer. This was done by a company outside the United States, and it was important that a sufficient amount of representative data be checked to ensure that it was accurate.
So I was on the team that designed the system that drove the quality assurance portion of the project, and part of our job was to write a detailed manual that described how the procedure worked. Sounds fascinating, I know, but technical writing like that is some of the most challenging writing you can do, in my opinion. You have to say what you want to say succinctly. There is no room for flowery prose; it just confuses people and leaves too much open to interpretation. And one of the requirements of the task was that the documentation be written at an eighth grade reading level, because the level of education of our users was high school at best. There are software programs that will analyze your writing and let you know exactly what grade level it’s on. Believe me, it’s not easy writing something that technical that can be understood by fourteen year-olds, so we were constantly editing and re-writing in order to meet this requirement.
Very early on in our work we began to have review sessions where our team would sit down together and review each other’s work. While it was ultimately supportive, it was also brutal. We were as honest with one another as you can possibly be without calling each other names and throwing things. It was one of the hardest assignments I ever had, but there’s no doubt it made me a better writer.
Something unusual happens when you change the scenery of your life, as we have this year. You begin to imagine new possibilities for yourself; you begin to think about reinventing what you have become. If we had not taken a year off in 2000 to travel around the world it would likely never have occurred to me that I should have been a veterinarian; now I can’t imagine being anything else. Well, maybe unless it’s a veterinarian who also writes. I’m hoping that some of this head-clearing will allow me space to pour some of the thoughts in my head out and into something coherent and useful. Something that has value for me and for others.