The Hammer

It’s the hottest January I can remember in California. I’m here to visit my mom, which means I will be working. She always has a list of things for me to do, and this time it’s extra long and daunting. It includes (but isn’t limited to):

  • Get computer printer working
  • “Fix the way skype looks” (her computer settings had everything in black and white, including applications)
  • Get phone answering machine working
  • Remove carpet in the art room
  • Change smoke alarm battery
  • Fix broken blinds
  • Figure out why vacuum works but collects no dirt/cat hair
  • Figure out why Roomba works but collects no dirt/cat hair
  • Move mailbox into barrel, move barrel to edge of property line
  • Trim dead branches off backyard plants

The Hammer's list

As we (i) finish these things for her she crosses them off. I have my own work to do, quite a bit and time sensitive stuff too, so I can’t always immediately jump when she is ready for (wants) a new task to be done. But I try to accommodate which means I end up staying up late working after she has gone to bed so i can work uninterrupted.
Which means I’m sleeping late when I go to bed at 2am. Did I mention I’m also sick?
Mom thinks shes doing me a favor when she knocks on the door at 10am: Bam bam bam bam bam bam “Hellllooooo-ooooo” she exclaims in her singsong voice. “Are we going to start any work this morning?” She is sure that I wouldn’t want to sleep the morning away.

I get up. I make a coffee. I’m 1/4 of the way through with it when she starts hovering. She’ll walk in and look at me at the kitchen table to judge how close to finished I am with my coffee. She walks into her office. 2.5 minutes later she walks in to look at me again. I’m now on my iPad, 2/3 through with my coffee. She walks into the garage. Four minutes later she can’t stand it anymore and paces back into the vicinity of the table, exclaiming in a melodic voice (as to soften the request she knows she is making), “Are we about ready to start?”

“Mom,” I say, “Ian i please finish here?” “Oh OK, i just thought you might be ready to start…”

It continues like this until she is standing next to me, looking over my shoulder to see what is taking me so long. I get up, go outside and start cutting dead branches off her giant palms. I’m sweating within 3 minutes.

Every single list item, and some not even on the list, begin in this manner.

Anti-resolutions for 2014

I haven’t made new year’s resolutions in a long time and that’s not going to change any time soon. I would like to take this opportunity, however, to emphasize some things I will be committing to this year. Some things that I like to call anti-resolutions. This year, I will be:

  1. Spending all my money. Everything I make this year I’m going to spend. But not on buying crap, I’ll spend it on plane tickets, hotels, concerts and events. And on my pets so they will be happy. And probably on some expensive beauty treatments so that I can keep my youthful good looks a little longer.
  2. Sleeping in. I’m not a morning person and never have been. Fuck forcing myself to get up early so that I can be miserable all day. I’m sleeping in my blacked out room until my body’s timer dings “done!”. Or until the cat wakes me up, whichever comes first.
  3. Taking shortcuts. I used to think that a person had to pay their dues before ascending to where they really wanted to be–in a career, sport  job, school, transition–whatever. And maybe that was true for me in college or grad-school, though I enjoyed both and didn’t feel like I was ‘doing time’. But I’ve realized that if ‘paying your dues’ is painful, what you are waiting for is probably not worth the effort. And anyway, at this point in my life, I am far past the paying of any more dues. If I find myself in a situation where I have to waste a bunch of time, kiss ass or flounder around to get what I want, I’m taking a shortcut – either with money, other people, or some kind of work-around. Otherwise I’m saying forget it.
  4. Not working hard. I didn’t work hard last year and I won’t work hard this year. That doesn’t mean I don’t do a good job. My work is always excellent and I often find myself going above and beyond the scope of a project, but that’s because I get so interested in the content or solving a problem that I want to do it for the self-gratification I will get, not because I am trying to look good or manipulate what someone thinks of me. I like my job and I’m better than most at what I do, so I don’t need to work hard. I’m keeping it that way.
  5. Making risky investments. I’ve made risky investments before and won big, and I’ve made what I thought were sound investments and lost a hell of a lot of money. The reality is that without insider knowledge, you don’t know what will happen from one day to the next. But if you really believe in something, your investment will be worthwhile, risky or not. So I am going invest in some things I believe will benefit from my support, with the hope they will gain enough traction to be ‘the next big thing’.  Or not. But at least I’ll be able to say “I invested in that!” 20 years from now when it becomes a mark of this decade, much like Pets.com and Webvan.com were for the 90s.

Where’s Spain?

I didn’t realize it until recently, but Spain is relatively unknown to most Americans as compared with France or Italy, because people don’t know it is a European country.

I am not even kidding. Consider the following occurrences, all within the last 2 months:

A client of mine I’ve been working with for over a year, who knows I am sometimes in the states and sometimes in a place called Spain, responded with “Oh wow, have fun in Europe, what are you doing there?” after I informed her over the phone that I was no longer in the US but was calling from Europe in that moment.

Now remember, she knew I lived in Spain. And yet was asking me what I was doing in Europe, as if it was an exciting new trip.

Confused at first, the question does she not know where Spain is…? creeped into my head, so I tested her with “Well, I live here sometimes, you know that”. Sure enough, the response was “But I thought you lived in Spain?…”

long pause

“OH! Gosh, I thought you were in South America somewhere. I don’t know what I was thinking.”

Another fine example: A woman I worked with last year contacted me the to see about my availability for a project, and asked me to remind her where I live. I said Europe, and she responded, “Oh yes I remember. Brazil, right?”

Yet another: In a peer meeting/interview for a project via Skype, the interviewer asked me (rather haughtily I might add), “So you live in like, Mexico or something?” when she saw that my city of residence is Barcelona.

Sigh

And don’t even get me started on the responses I get from random people in Starbucks and in shopping malls.

It sure stands in stark contrast to the replies of “OOOOH you are sooo LUCKY!” when I lived in Italy. But that is a whole different story.

A little while back, the Huffington Post contacted me…

A little while back, the Huffington Post contacted me and asked if I would like to join a panel of American expats around the world for a live broadcast.

The live interview was to be conducted through Skype and aired online as well as recorded for later viewing. Now, I am not a Huff Post reader in any way shape or form, but I thought: “Why not? I’ll get to blab about where I live and they’ll announce and publish my blog address (spainexpatblog.com), which my advertisers would like very much.” So I replied in the affirmative, provided my phone number and received a call almost immediately.

A young and caffeinated assistant (coordinator? intern?) introduced herself and thanked me for my willingness to participate. I could hear newsroom noise in the near background as she supplied me with the basics of the broadcast–time, theme, number of panel members, length, etc. She was chirpy and cheerful and made small talk between firing off questions that would verify my depth of expatdom.

Satisfying all her initial questions, she moved into some directed questions, beginning with what did I like about Spain, what does a normal day look like for me, and then she asked why I left the US. This was the first tip off as to what this expat panel was to be about. Usually, people don’t ask me why I left the US. The (more logical) question is always why did I move to Spain?

It then continued down a predictable Huffpost path. This hyper fresh journalist (junior editor? screener?) trying to steer me into the answers she was expecting to hear, needing to hear to fit the panel’s agenda. What did I think about public healthcare in Spain? Did I have health insurance in the US before? What about the unemployed here, did they suffer like they do in the US? How about retirees, are they properly looked after? I answered all of her questions, elaborating on ungodly wait times for appointments and procedures through public healthcare–throwing in a few (true) stories of bloodstained sheets and lack of basic provisions like water for patients in hospitals–the reasons for the 50% unemployment rate among under 25s (indefinite welfare from the government and the cultural belief that children and young people should not work), ridiculous pensions, the unproductive and archaic manner most businesses are run (nepotism, zero recognition or reward for performance, the high value given to the appearance of business), in short, all of my usual complaints.

I finished my rant–I wanted to make a point by going against her assumptions–and listened to the chirpiness in her “mm-hmms” fade away and even produced some long pauses, in which the newsroom bluster behind her rose loud and clear through the mouthpiece of her phone. I attempted to then bow out, explaining I’m not the driod (ehrm, representative) they were looking for, but the clever little trainee (apprentice? indentured servant?) saw her angle and dug in her heels.The cadence of her speech quickened and her twittery tone returned as she explained that a variety of experiences would provide a great forum, and that I would give contrast to the panel. I considered it for a moment, and, still with a “what the heck, I like new experiences” attitude and of course thinking of the exposure my blog might receive, said OK. Chirpy was ecstatic. She told me I would be hearing from so-and-so and would receive emails the next day in preparation.

Sometime during the following day, I realized that what I would be getting myself into was not going to be a fun new experience, but an annoying debate against expats who left because, in a nutshell, the US government doesn’t support them and their families enough. I thought about what an asshole I would come across as, and the snarky comments I would receive on my website and have to respond to. I’m not a (total) asshole–I donate a percentage of my income to good causes, I recycle, I pay taxes (in both countries)–but there are certain things I appreciate about my country and don’t take for granted, and get really annoyed dealing with those who do. So I canceled my participation.

While on one hand it might have been satisfying to share my experience and point of view, I realized there is no debating with super liberals (I know, I was one!!!) especially in the form a major media outlet like the Huffpost.

5 years.

I had a dream last month where JM appeared. He appears in my dreams every 6 weeks or so.

The usual scenario is that he is suddenly alive and back in my life. I’m surprised because I know he is dead, so obviously I am rather unprepared for such an event. I always have to choose between my current life and my former life, between our marriage and my current relationship. The dream ends with me feeling trapped.

This last dream, however, ended differently. In it, I was angry at him for something–probably for suddenly returning in my life after being dead–but instead of being rather nonchalant about my anger, he embraced me. It was the most vivid experience I can ever remember dreaming. I could feel exactly how tall he was by where my face fit into his chest, and how long his arms wrapping around me were. I felt safe and calm in this warm hug. I woke up smelling him and still feeling that embrace.

Image

Brain drain in Spain

A friend in the US asked me today “so what have you been up to?” and I immediately panicked because I did not have an exciting answer. I am always conscious of how my life looks to the outside, as if that mattered in any way. And I am reassured that I am living a worthwhile life if I have plenty to report on, and even more reassured if it sounds exciting, though I rarely feel excited about the “exciting” things I do, more often I am bothered by the amount of time and effort it will take to prepare for and to get somewhere. Either that or I am terrified of the task ahead. Doesn’t it sound fun to be me?

So of course, having nothing to report off the top of my head had me reviewing my activities of the last month, which at first depressed me because 1) It’s winter and I’m always depressed when it is cold and dark out, and 2) the majority of my activities have been focused around working (from home), bottomless spending on a property I bought in Rhode Island, locating receipts for taxes…you get the idea. Stuff that make you want to curl into a ball and weep.

But then I had to acknowledge a couple of interesting outings I’ve had thus far this year. First, I’ve been hitting the dirt track every other week at the old Kenny Roberts Ranch at Montmelo. This is adjacent to the Catalunya circuit and is specifically for small displacement dirt tracking. There are races ranging from 4 hour “endurance” team challenges to shorter sprint races most weekends. I hardly qualify as a dirt tracker, but it is pretty good fun and all the pros come out to play too.

KR ranch

GP hand builds pipes, and he made one for my bike. This pipe has saved me a lot of embarrassment on the track because it makes the bike so fast. Of course, the pros took notice and wanted to it for themselves, thus we have Aleix Espargaro preparing to mount my steed:

Espargaro_xr100And then a line up including Ferran Cardus, Ricky Cardus, and Luis Costa (the girl is Costa’s girlfriend and we might ride together for a team challenge).

IMG_6299[1]

Needless to say…GP sold a couple of pipes that day.

The other thing I have been doing is trying to forge some new friendships. Motorcycling helps, of course, but I need other expats and people with similar life experiences I can relate to. In the last year and half  so many of my expat friends–and even native countrymen who have lived outside Spain–have left the country because of the economic situation here. And it seems like every time I meet someone new with whom I can have an intelligent conversation, I learn that they, too, are leaving in the near future.

The economic situation doesn’t affect me because my clients are in North America. I’d like to stay, but I’m feeling ever more isolated because it seems like something familiar is happening. There is a “thing” that happens in Hawaii. The locals call it brain drain. It is a phenomena where all of the intelligent and motivated people leave to find opportunity and education, because, as you can imagine, Hawaii has a dearth of prospects when it comes to careers when compared to other states. So the people who remain are…well, you get the idea. I hate to say it, but it appears that a brain drain is happening in this city.

This isn’t happy news, because it makes living here far less enjoyable. Thus I find myself at a crossroads again. Do I want to stay? Where do I want to go?