expat anecdote from a few weeks ago

In May or late April some expat friends and I went to the “magic pueblo” of Tepozlán, where the Vice Mexico Pool Party was being held. We weren’t on the guest list, but unlike when the Vice Pool Party is at swanky city hotels, in Tepozlán no one really cares. So we went, and there were a bunch of other foreigners there, because it’s Vice.

The party was cool. One of the girls I went with was being super sociable, I guess she is always like that apparently, and made some new friends and kind of went off with them. At one point I ran into them at the (open) bar and started talking with the person who was closest to me in their group, this tall blond dude. Stupid stuff. I think I asked him where he was from, and he tells me he is South African. That he is in mining.

Background on me: I am a trade consultant who helps Canadian exporters enter the Mexican market. It may not look like it, but I actually am really interested in, and know quite a bit about, mining.

Imagine that, at the Vice Pool Party of all places. “REALLY? What company do you work for?” So, actually, I am ready to start asking him a million questions. “Is your company South African?”

He kind of is quiet. Then,”I’m actually French. I work for an international trade publication.”

“Okay…” I think, switching gears slightly, and then just throw out there, “Is it Business News Americas?”

Yes, yes it is.

“That’s great! I read you guys a lot for my job.”

Dude is not really into this conversation, I notice. He seems kind of annoyed that we seem to have something in common. Or, I guess, that we have enough in common that I totally caught him in his dumb lie. No matter. He is going through the motions anyway. He asks me about my job, asks me for my card. I give it to him and continue jabbering.

“You know, are you guys ever looking for freelance writers? I write market reports and trade updates and stuff all the time for work.”

Okay now he wants the conversation to end. I get it, I guess I am being schmoozy. French people probably hate that. Whatever, he’s the one that brought up mining at a Vice Party. What does he expect. He gives me “a sure, yeah, great” as he turns away. He doesn’t give me his card.

Fast forward to early June, ExpoHidraulica 2012, Centro Banamex, where I am representing Ontario water process technology exporters. My company and I had been worried that this particular day I would end up working the stand alone, so my boss had told me to go ahead and ask one of my friends along to help out. I had asked a friend who had recently lost her job, an expat, in fact the expat friend who had gone off and made friends at the Vice Pool Party.

She and I are shooting the shit at the Ontario Water Sector stand, and all of a sudden these two dudes come up. One is a Scrappy Doo-ish brown-haired guy and the other is tall and blond. They know my friend, and are kind of blown away to see her at ExpoHidraulica. And she is surprised to see them, but she realizes they are there for work, of course. She then explains why she is there, that she is helping me out, which is kind of my cue to explain what I do. The guys then seem to conclude they ought to ask me for my card, which makes me realize that, being foreign yet also living here, they are probably somehow involved in international trade, too.

I give them each my card, still talking, and then notice that the tall guy has a weird look on his face. Although he clearly has no idea how, he tells me that he already has my card, that we have met before. And then it clicks, of course!

“Yeah, we met at the Vice Party.” The smaller dude, an American, turns in amazement to the tall guy, whom I later learn is the boss. And I continue talking as the memory comes back. “You told me you worked for Gold Corp.”

Not totally accurate, but in my head it was a solid enough connection. The tall guy, who I now remember is French, sort of mumbles about how he had had a bit to drink. His colleague wants to say something but doesn’t. Then they talk briefly about something else before saying they would stop back by before they left. Neither of them gives me their card.

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terms of endearment

So I mentioned Terms of Endearment a few entries back. It wasn’t just so that readers know how white I am. It was actually because my parents always had a copy of that movie on VHS sitting in the video cabinet, that I somehow never watched.

My parents were pretty cool about letting me watch movies. The only movies I couldn’t watch were things they weren’t interested in. i.e., They wouldn’t let me watch crap because that meant they would have to watch it with me. So I never saw any teen 80s movie, for example– why would my mom want to Watch 16 Candles or Ferris Bueller, really? But I did see Thoroughly Modern Millie, Mary Poppins, Steel Magnolias, Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, Beetlejuice, Batman, Secret of My Success (Mom movies), Poltergeist, Indiana Jones, Fantasia, Back to the Future, A Clockwork Orange, Apocalypse Now (Dad movies), etc, etc. The main parameter was bed time, really, but even that was overlooked from 1988 onward on certain nights of the week (Roseanne, Twin Peaks).

Anyway, I am waxing here. I never saw Terms of Endearment. I am pretty sure that I asked about it a couple of times, seeing it there in the cabinet. It seemed to have some kind of forbidden mystique, although I doubt that it was expressly forbidden at any point. If anyone hasn’t seen it, there is no reason it should have been forbidden.

Nor was it ever forbidden. It was probably always more like, “ahhh, How ’bout Romancing the Stone?” But the reason that they wouldn’t let me watch it, I think, is that I was simply too young. I would get bored and start picking on my sister. Or she would get bored and start making cartoon noises. It is a movie for mature audiences.

So I caught a whim to watch it recently. Now that I have turned 31 and, no longer anxious to prove that I am in my 30s, started to have a little fun with the fact that my body, mathematically speaking, is on the decline. Seriously, that is why I got the urge to watch it. “Hey, I am old now. That means I can watch Terms of Endearment! Finally.”

Summary: mother and adult daughter (warning) continue supporting each other through thick and thin, with Jack Nicholson as a washed-up astronaut. Starring Shirley MacLaine, Debra Winger, Jack Nicholson, Jeff Daniels, John Lithgow and SCREENPLAY BY JAMES L. BROOKS. Huh?

Then it hit me, that I remembered this movie from something else, not just my parents’ video cabinet. It seems to me that William Goldman references it extensively in his book Screenplay. Because it’s really good. Simpsons creator does Chick Flick. Before the Simpsons. SO obvious in retrospect.

Writer Juan Villoro on Mexican Elections

From SDP Noticias, article talking with writer Juan Villoro on the 4 candidates for the Mexican election. Basically, “Una aplastante maquinaria ha construido a un candidato ‘inevitable’ y las encuestas repiten como oráculos que Peña Nieto va a ganar,” or, “A crushing machine has constructed an ‘inevitable’ candidate, and the polls repeat like oracles that Peña Nieto is going to win.” Villoro had previously called for the public to vote strategically for López Obrador (PRD) to keep Peña Nieto (PRI) from winning. Okay, but Villoro’s criticism of Vázquez Mota (PAN) as “a woman so ‘different’ that she seems to have testicles” seems pretty oversimplified and stupid. Not that her campaigning so hard around the fact that she is woman hasn’t been equally lame, but still. She DOES have balls– consider the likelihood that she could be shot if it looked like she were going to win. Jerk.

Anyway, even though more than half the country hates them and they are a political machine, not a party, it looks like the PRI is going to win for a combination of reasons, among them: PRI are the ones in the streets every weekend giving out soccer balls, and PRI are the ones who will give you a job with an inflated paycheck if you cooperate with them. Short-term gains. I hope this doesn’t screw up all the progress in recent years that Mexico’s credit-banking system has seen.

“The first black president has made it harder to talk about race in America”

I am chilling out on Saturday night reading the Washington Post and listening to experimental electronic music from Iceland. As soon as I post this I am going to watch the pirated copy I downloaded last week of Terms of Endearment.

Point of this post is to comment on Daniqua Allen’s thoughtful article in the Post from a few months back, expressing disappointment that people in the U.S. haven’t been able to use Barack Obama’s election to help ease us into more water cooler-type conversation regarding race. I have had a bunch of thoughts related to Obama and race over the last four years, so I will include those, too.

A) I am also disappointed by this lack of water-cooler discussion.

B) Just because it hasn’t gotten easier to talk about race on a personal level doesn’t mean we shouldn’t still do it. I have been in several circumstances where I talked about race while stammering and blushing and feeling kind of clumsy. But I still did it, because I believe it is important.

C) Once at a party when I still lived in Richmond, I tried to explain to a bunch of white people from Massachusetts in what way Virginia is a swing state. My line was that Virginia was normally just a swing state in state-level elections, that it has not normally swung in federal elections. I went on to suggest that it had swung in 2008 because of higher black turnout. The white people from Massachusetts might as well have thrown their beers at me. I wish a black person had been there.

D) Daniqua may be a “ghetto-sounding name,” but it’s very pretty. Also, if I were a recruiter, anyone from the ghetto applying for a white-collar job would have my respect.

E) When Obama was elected, the Virginia ballot count officially putting his national numbers over McCain’s, I was in a bar with my friend Daniela watching it because neither of us owns a television. When they announced the Virginia result, the bartender started popping champagne bottles, and as the glasses were being handed around, I remember the person on TV saying something like, “And history is being made, America’s first African-American president.” Right when she said it, the thought really only hit me for the first time, but it hit me hard: “He’s not black, he’s bi-racial!” The word “octaroon” started dancing around my head. The whole idea of separate, distinct racial groups suddenly just seemed so irrelevant.

F) I really want to do one of those racial DNA tests. Parts of my family arrived in Virginia in the 1600s. We have had plenty of time to miscegenate. I want to know if I am part black. Or Chickahominee.

G) My theory about why Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize: they gave it to him because everyone outside the U.S. viewed a man of African descent getting elected as President of the Free World as a much-needed push to restore global faith in the dignity, fairness, and promise of the United States. Which with the current balance of power is something that could be seen as quite a helpful accomplishment towards peace.

Going to watch Terms of Endearment now.

June 16, 1904

“A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals to discovery.”

-Stephen Daedelus, Ulysses, Chapter 9, “Scylla and Charybdis”

Other sweet, funny, arrogant, ironic, and joyful Ulysses quotes here. Happy Bloomsday!

switching up from politics

Today was a really good day for me. I got a raise, FEMSA’s twitter account gave a Follow Friday gave the twitter account that I manage for work (@GAESresearch), and, here’s the biggun, I accepted that I am alcoholic!

I know that sounds grim, but it’s actually really terrific. Some people, namely my mother, have suspected it since I was in college. I don’t drink to escape my problems, more like there have simply been too many times when I haven’t controlled my drinking. I had admitted it (that I am an alcoholic, not just that “sometimes I drink too much”) to a few people, mostly because my boyfriend made me, but I didn’t really feel good about it. That is the difference now: I actually feel good about myself as an alcoholic. I was beaming as I walked home from work, singing a little song… la la la, I’m an alcoholic, and I’m okay…la la la, it’s okay! Two aspects make me particularly happy, other than the pleasant surprise that yes, even after acknowledging this weakness, I actually love myself for it, is the feeling of peace, relief, strength and power that this acknowledgement has given me. It is who I am. The ser form.

I have, since college, wanted to control my drinking better, and so of course deep down I always knew that it wasn’t only that I party too hard. However, for a combination of reasons related to my social environment and a misconception about alcoholism, I hadn’t really leveled with myself. I had tried to, but it turned into me being too hard on myself and then later recognizing that the negative things I had told myself weren’t actually true and sort of setting the situation aside. I hang out with people who drink a lot. I lived in the UK in my early 20s, where binge drinking is normal. And I didn’t understand alcoholism that well, either. I looked at from the classic AA perspective, that if you are an alcoholic that means it is impossible for you to control yourself, that abstinence is the only solution. I used to joke that I needed to cut back because if I became an alcoholic then I would have to quit and that would be annoying for boring social functions. I thought admitting that I am an alcoholic meant admitting that I couldn’t defeat it and had had to give up. I was really uncomfortable with that prospect. It didn’t feel right, because I really do believe that I can learn how to manage it. I have just haven’t yet.

So today, troubled by my boyfriend’s reaction to seeing me trashed last night, I was doing some reading online (summaries of Johns Hopkins-published research, even) that said that “all or nothing” is indeed a misconception, that roughly half of recovered alcoholics quit drinking, but the other half actually learns how to manage drinking responsibly. I realize that a skeptic could say I am just listening to the advice I want to be true– Alcoholics Anonymous, though widely criticized, is also widely respected, has helped millions of people, and definitely adheres to abstinence as the only measure.

However, reading this factoid today really, really inspired me. I can acknowledge an important feature of my physiology without feeling that I don’t really have any choice in how to handle it. Recognizing that I have a medical problem with alcohol abuse doesn’t preclude my being able to manage the problem. In fact it is very possible for me to control my drinking itself, not just controlling (trying to) the situations in which I drink. And what’s more, I feel like, after ten years of wanting to learn how to handle my alcohol, I have finally taken a definitive step forward in doing so. Now instead of being this storm cloud hovering over me, threatening to burst if I let it, every time I go to a party, it just sort of seems like some routines I have to learn and make sure I stick to. Since I am an alcoholic, I have to alternate my drinks with soft drinks. Since I have medical problem, I have to make sure I eat before I go out. Rather than just “try not to get plastered tonight.”

So let’s see if this paradigm shift works. It’s Friday night and I have a despidida to get to.