At the hotel where the San Miguel Writers Conference took place in February of 2017, I sat by the pool, and enjoyed talking to a friendly older woman who, I soon found out, was Naomi Klein’s Mom.
It was a cool moment.
Ever since the election of Donald Trump, I’ve paid more attention to Naomi Klein — not only because of her writing on climate change (she’s the author of “This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate”), but because every time I heard her talk, I went away with a reason to hope.
I think she talked many of us back from the edge of despair during those difficult, post-election weeks.
I told her Mom, Bonnie Klein, that every time I listened to her daughter, I went away feeling better.
As we watched her four-year-old grandson playing in the water with his grandfather, I asked her about Naomi’s spiritual background, and enjoyed our dialogue about the left-leaning Judaism that influenced her.
When her grandson came out of the pool, cranky, and needing a nap, we laughed about the joys of these golden years, which include sending kids back to the care of their nannies or parents when they get cranky.
I was happy that week, talking with the local people who were glad to help with the Spanish, dining with my friend who came with me to the conference, taking workshops, writing and sharing poetry, and listening to the addresses of the various writers (among them Mary Karr, Judy Collins, and the poet, Billy Collins) who encouraged us to put our stories into the world.
“There is a place in movements for people who know how to tell stories,” Naomi said.
“Your voice wants to make a sound in the world,” the poet, Judyth Hill, told us, “but remember to write about what you’re for, not only about what you’re against.”
Naomi agreed: “Make space for what you want, not only for what you’re resisting,” she said.
In the evenings, we listened to the music in the hotel lobby. There was a good piano player who played the Great American Songbook (Gershwin, and Cole Porter), and a guitar player who played and sang my favourite Mexican song, “Cucurrucucu Paloma.”
Music and art are well integrated into the culture of San Miguel de Allende, and this is part of what drew me to this beautiful, multi-cultural city.
One day my friend and I were shopping at a local organic market, and we were startled to see four men carrying a casket down the street, followed by several guitar and violin players, and about a hundred people.
It was a somber moment, and yet we could feel the sustaining power of the music that is so much a part of the culture, and the life of the Mexican people.
The colours are amazing, too: the green walls with white accents; the oranges and reds of the old buildings that line the narrow cobblestone streets; the roof top gardens where bright pink bougainvilleas topple down over the orange brick walls; and the indoor courtyards with white lilies and red hibiscus that surprise you inside of rustic doors.
It was for the music and the art that I decided to move to San Miguel — but also for the economics: I learned I could live there cheaply, without a car, and the horrendous traffic of L.A..
It was bittersweet saying goodbye to the music students I had for so many years; still, something else called to me.
It was hard to explain.
“What? Why Mexico?” so many people asked me.
(Subtext: “Is she crazy?”)
During the weeks before I moved to Guadalupe, the neighbourhood where I live now, as I sold or gave away most of what I had, a line from a Jack Gilbert poem, “Tear it Down,” kept coming to mind. He wrote:
“…Love is not enough.
We die and are put into the earth forever.
We should insist while there is still time.”
We only have so many years on this earth. Will we spend them merely surviving, or will we take the risk, and answer the call to flourish? Will we live for security, or adventure? Will we follow the guidance of the indwelling spirit within us, that sense of inner knowing, or will we get caught up in what other people think we should do or say? Will we accept the status quo, or will we be like Naomi Klein and Judyth Hill, writers who call humanity to a different way of living?
However, as I sit this morning at my favourite new hang, looking out the window at the colourful mural across the cobblestone street, and listening to the sweet melodies of a spanish guitar, I’m glad that I didn’t listen to the naysayers (including the naysayers within myself).
I am grateful for the poet who told me I should insist — but, shouldn’t we all insist? — while there is still time.