Saturday, November 10, 2012

Contentment: Inspired by the Birds


In a recent post I mentioned feeling restless.

It's not unusual that every so often we crave change, a new pace and new stimulation. I saw a study once that identified actual psychological reasons for the famous "seven year itch." I do not remember the specifics, but I know from experience that over time routines can stultify; stuck in a rut we live on automatic. But change stimulates. It keeps us moving and thinking, makes us more creative, and allows us to grow by looking at things in new ways.

In my life the "itch" has been a reality and the source of many of the good things I have experienced. Looking back at the big changes I made over the years, I can see a pattern of major transitions occurring roughly every five to ten years. The average of the intervals between major shifts is startlingly close to the storied seven years.

And here again I find myself, seven years after I moved to Mérida to live full time. It's been seven years and four months to be exact. For a while now I have been having recurring thoughts about making a change.

I am restless, but at the same time I really enjoy the life I've got: a pleasant, well-situated, comfortable house in a great town, close friends, low stress and freedom to do many of the things I want to do. As we age there is a lot to be said for this kind of stability. Although I feel the need to scratch the itch that calls for change, I really don't want to chuck everything and start with a blank slate, as I did on several occasions when I was younger.

So I was contemplating this problem yesterday as I cleaned out a storage area which, because it is partially open, attracts nesting doves, known here as tortolitas. Among the objects stored high on a shelf there is an old bird cage that has proven to be the platform of choice for their nests. After several years of hosting generations of these bird families, I'd decided to do something to encourage them to move elsewhere. I took the cage off the top shelf with the goal of removing the currently-vacant nest, and cleaning up the litter of twigs and grass, broken egg shells and the encrusted droppings that had built up there.

It was then I noticed off to one side the egg, apparently infertile or dead, which was left by the last pair to occupy the nest. I had noticed that instead of the normal two they raised only a single chick, which fledged last week. Apparently this egg was pushed aside when it didn't hatch. I placed the egg back in the nest and hung the cage on a hook outside while I cleaned up the area.

Instantly I noticed the possibilities of a good image, and as I arranged the scene and took photos, realized what an apt solution for my "itch" conundrum the picture suggests. It is natural for birds to escape from and to stay away from cages whenever possible. The tortolitas who built this nest purely by chance created a startling image, and gave me an idea: Instead of abandoning our "cages," we can look at them in new ways and use them for new purposes.

Although I will not leave Mérida, I have been thinking about selling my house and making some serious changes, much as I did in the past. Perhaps that's not the right tactic at this point in the game.

The challenge is to, as the timeworn saying goes, "think outside the box," or as the photo suggests, outside the cage; not to abandon it or toss "the old" out, but to find ways to utilize what we've already got to hatch new, creative perspectives. This is a concept worth consideration.


28 comments:

  1. Marc,

    I do believe that you're right - we do often become restless due to the routine of our everyday lives. This is an amazing blog by the way. May I follow?

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    1. Thanks for your kind compliment. By all means please follow. I took a look at your interesting blog, and look forward to doing the same.

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  2. January looks like the Mosquito Coast for Linda and I. I'm a bit jaded with my farmstead but I cannot bring myself to sell. A winter of clapboard hotels and boat rides to the same thing but different should cure the problem.

    I had the itch in 08 and bought a couple project houses to piddle with, no regrets there but it has revealed the limits that age imposes on one.

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    1. Norm, age is one of the things I consider now. I used to enjoy pulling up stakes and starting new, but I'm not so sure that's the solution any more. I think this idea of creatively re-purposing the life I already have may be the solution.

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  3. I have had the itch for about 1 1/2 years. Due to the family needs that I have here in San Miguel, I haven't been able to make plans for myself, which I found aggravating.

    But, I'm breaking free - homeexchange.com - is one way.

    Or as serendipity can happen, a woman who reads the blog is interested in a home exchange next summer - she and her husband are in the south of France and want to come to San Miguel for 3 months! I'm thrilled and looking forward to the home exchange and the intensity of being in a foreign country trying to make my way. BTW their house is beyond lovely......and near the Spanish border. June can't come fast enough.

    Beautifully written post to put it mildly!

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    1. Well, Babs, the home exchange idea is the sort of thing I am considering. It gives the opportunity to try new arrangements and have new experiences without giving up what we've got. I have browsed some of the home exchange sites online. It looks interesting. I think it presents a lot of possibilities.

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  4. Great image. Great text. And, as you know, very timely for me.

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    1. Steve, we've been on parallel courses lately. In part some of my thoughts on this theme have been fertilized by your recent posts.

      So onward. Only time will tell what we both end up doing. The whole endeavor is interesting, and sharing via blogs enriches the process.

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  5. I love this Marc... I am reminded of a similar image I carry in my heart: At the Meson del Marquez Hotel in Valladolid, there is a wall with colored empty bird cages along its length... and a small sign that reads: "The birds are in their proper place."

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    1. I have seen the cages at El Meson del Marquez and always liked to see them there, empty. I have an empty birdcage hanging in my garden. I have lots of birds around the patio every day...outside the cage. I like it that way.

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  6. I'm awfully glad you are not leaving Mérida and I believe that thinking outside the "box/cage" is a good thing for those in our age group, or anyone for that matter. It keeps life interesting and provides opportunities that can be truly life changing.

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    1. I may be gone a bit more, but Mérida is home and will remain my base. There certainly are plenty of opportunities around Mérida and the Yucatan.

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  7. I believe we all go through these periods of unrest. It's part of the need to create, Husband and I have been here 8 years now. We are happy and content, yet we wonder is there someplace better? However, we haven't found it, yet. Having that part of my life in order has freed me up to do other things. I spent a year learning to paint, discovering that I can indeed paint, but it isn't my calling. Now I am devoting my time to writing, and find that I truly enjoy it.

    Also, I am rearranging our living space. Making slip covers and painting what needs painting ("needs painting" being loosely defined as another color suits the new use of the room). My plan is to create a lovely outdoor dining room and to get rid of unnecessary stuff. I am changing my environment without leaving my neighborhood.

    regards,
    Theresa

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    1. You've got some good ideas. Interestingly, Theresa, I also have become interested again in my house. After several years of not doing anything around here beyond basic cleaning and replacing burned out light bulbs, I have dusted off some old plans to make changes in order to utilize and better enjoy the spaces I have. First item is finishing a roof-top terrace I built but which still does not have stairway access. I think the new view, from up high, will give this old house a whole new outlook on things.

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  8. That is a thoughtful perspective, Marc. Regardless of your ultimate decision, I would agree with the "think it through" effort.

    I'm wondering if the studies you mention had the "extrovert-bias" so prevalent in Western-European type cultures. (I doubt that the results would be replicated in such as Japan.)
    An INtrovert is more likely to take a fresh look at an old house, an old object, or an old cage. It's kind of fun, and a helpful approach as we age, when the stress of scratching the itch becomes more difficult .

    Let me share a recent experience: I frequent the same restaurant several times weekly. Many think I should be bored by this, but I'm not. Last week, the "invasion" of the Harley Davidsons landed outside the Fiesta Americana. (That was the newspaper "Yuca's" term for it.) I was in awe, startled, and even a touch fearful! But had I not been a regular in the area, I'd never have appreciated the "invasion" aspect of the touring cyclists. I might have even thought is normal.

    So, staying put often enables us to open our eyes to things we'd otherwise not have appreciated.

    (I'll leave the bird cage discussion alone--I have one of the truly domesticated types of birds, and when she got lost once upon a time, she knocked on someone's window to be rescued.)

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    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Alinde. As for the study, I do not recall much about it, but I an sure that it was American or European in origin, so I suspect that the bias you mention was present. I would guess that, as you indicate, results would be different in Eastern or indigenous cultures.

      I do agree with you as well that there are many benefits to knowing a place well, and that is something that requires an investment of time.

      As for the cage, I have had caged birds myself in the past. I am not exactly against them, per se, I just now prefer to see birds flying freely.

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  9. I also like the home exchange idea. A colleague's parents used their Mexico home that way - trading for stays in other exotic places. Our Canadian home isn't yet presentable enough to offer for a home exchange, but I think our home in Mérida might finally pass muster.

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    1. Home exchange is one of several possibilities that offer exciting options. Your Mérida home would work out well for that, and so would mine.

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  10. As your readers' many comments suggest, Marc, this is an excellent post. For the brief time that I have known you, I have always pictured you as a vagabond type, nomadic, adventuresome, restless, a sojourner. It's been interesting these past few months in your blog to watch those aspects of who you've been wrestle with your emerging new self's components.

    The seven year itch syndrome is a powerful one for many people. As you shared in your post, it has affected past decisions for you. This past year you also missed out on your annual visit to Alaska and lost your mother. Unsettling for anyone as you learned. And now passing years are trying to mellow you. You are discovering slowing down and planting roots weren't all you feared they would be. New ways of scratching the itch have already presented themselves.

    Enjoy the battle, my friend, You are an impeccable warrior. I would suggest that Merida will prove to be an excellent place for this next transition. There are lots of ways to "travel".

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    1. Yes, I think that Mérida will be the staging ground for what is to come.

      Thank you, Paul, as always, for your thoughtful comments and for traveling with me on this adventure.

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  11. Ha! Did Marcel Duchamp leave this assemblage at your house, Marc? What fun!

    ~eric.
    MeridaGOround.com

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    1. Well this time Duchamp can't take credit. The greatest artist of all, nature, is responsible for this one.

      I always appreciate your sometimes funny, always astute observations. I'm glad you are back in town for the season to share coffee and talk.

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  12. I loved your image of change and freedom wrought by the birds. My first thought though, was that perhaps taking their cue and building your "nest" on the roof was not the best idea. However, I was obviously wrong as you seem to have done just that. I think making home improvements is a great way to stave off the restlessness, by keep things new and interesting.

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    1. Yes, I do have unfinished projects around the house, and it's a good idea to wrap them up, no matter what I decide to do. I have started, and will get going in a more serious way after the start of the new year.

      It's funny, actually, that my biggest unfinished project is the half-done rooftop terrace...much as the birds constructed their nest on top of the cage. I hadn't really gotten that connection until now.

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  13. Beautiful photo... though after seven years in San Miguel we feel we're about settled in, with no great urges to pick up and move. I admire people like you who can act on those instincts...

    al lanier

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    1. I doubt I'll pick up and move, but changes are in the works...fodder for future posts, I am sure. I may visit SMA in a couple of months. Let's get together.

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