Stranger In a Strange Land


Most of my days are laughing, playing and taking in this wonderful land and genuinely enjoying learning a new language and a new culture. The mornings begin at 5am. Dawn creeps in and makes big, puffy, pink clouds and turns up the vibrancy on the green mountains. The bird songs are rich and varied- warbles and coos, chirps, rooster crows and caws. The smell of dark coffee fills the air with that pungent delicious scent of endless possibilities of a new day. I get up, get dressed in exercise gear and sip coffee as I think about my day. I strap on my iPhone and either go trail running, or do TRX on my deck watching the sunrise, or if I’m especially motivated, both. I feel more and more at home as I greet my new friends along the way, and pass the boys gathering steel cans of milk with their brown-spotted bulldog. My children, along with their new Tico friends, walk to school in their crisp white shirts, dark blue pants and little, black shoes. There’s an earnestness on their faces- a desire to make their families proud and to work diligently. It all feels very Normal Rockwell- home, hearth and nature. Simplicity.

Days sprawl out with therapy clients here and there, some time to make art, playing with my kids and our new baby ducklings, and naps. The ducklings are adorable. They have been living in a basket in the kids’ room while we wait for Roilon, the handyman to build them a coop. If we left them outside, they would surely be snatched up by the coyotes we hear yelping and howling each night. The ducklings now come when you call them.


I haven’t felt the need yet to travel around the country, or join the women’s group, or teach art classes and workshops because I am really enjoying the novel tranquility and slow pace of my life right now. I am being very conscious not to fill my time up with a big list of projects because then I’ll just recreate the crazy, rat-race, merry-go-round that I just worked so hard to jump off.


We did host a life drawing class last week. Our friend was the model and we drew outside near the rocks and the river. It was wonderful to draw outside, chat with friends and get in touch with a talent that I haven’t used in a while.


Along with all this lovely nature and simplicity, I find the interior monkey chatter that was a mere din in my life in the States, has now become a very disruptive raucous in my mind. I wonder sometimes if I feel guilty that life is so good for me right now. That I must find suffering in it somehow to justify my incredible luck at being here.  This sudden awareness of my own neurotic habits, insecurities and oddities, offer an incredible and unique opportunity to notice what’s percolating up from the shadows where it’s usually conveniently hidden. It is a part of my internal landscape that I rarely get to see, and I almost always love opportunities for self-reflection and growth.


One of these feelings of insecurity is the proverbial “Culture Shock”.


It came to a head two days ago on my way walking to yoga. On my way, I fell on the dirt road and skinned both my knees badly. It seemed to have triggered some state-dependant memory of having fallen down as a child and skinning my knees. I felt helpless, alone, a stranger in a strange land. I just sat on a rock by the side of the road and cried my eyes out, blood running down both shins, like a little girl. I felt frustrated at adjusting to this new country, how challenging it seems to be to get the most basic things done. I often feel like Sisyphus- pushing a rock up the hill, almost to the top, just to have it roll down again. Changing a light fixture, getting the car fixed, getting the clothing washed without a washing machine– all these little tasks are big hurdles here for some reason. Hours of my day are suddenly dedicated to getting the most basic necessities accomplished. I dried my eyes, rolled down my torn yoga pants, stood up, brushed myself off, and hobbled my way back home.

The feeling of being an outsider is exacerbated by the fact that we’re also living in a rural farm community which is also very Catholic. People are friendly and smiling, but seem to have a little distance from these new gringos that have showed up. We must seem strange to them- boisterous, dressed in weird clothes, armed with cel phones. Of course, we have many gringo friends, and some liberal, hip Tico friends too. I would like to have more Tico friends and trust these connections will build in time. Especially once I learn Spanish. Every week, we either host or attend parties and get togethers, which helps immensely. Marty isn’t feeling the culture shock at all. Probably because he speaks fluent Spanish and spent many childhood vacations all over Latin America.


I have been reflecting on growing up as a Non-Mormon (as we are called) in Utah. This landscape of my childhood already familiarized me with being an outsider. Marty and I moved to Mount Shasta to find our tribe, and again, we were the outsiders. We were neither loggers nor puritanical hippies. We moved to South Pasadena to take care of Marty’s dying grandmother, and were surrounded by elderly, wealthy Republicans- being poor artists, we felt odd there. We moved to Five Points in Denver, and were the only white people in our neighborhood. Even when I went to school at Pacifica Graduate Institute, which teaches every philosophy my heart holds dear, I was more familiar sitting in the back of the classroom, and finding all the ways I didn’t fit in.

I’ve never felt like I belonged anywhere other than the annual, one week trek to the Holy Land of Black Rock City. This is where the outsiders and orphans came to belong. Like the King Missile song, “I want to be like all the different people, who are different…like me.”


Perhaps it is my dharma to be the outsider, perhaps it is familiar and so I choose it. There have been many times in my life when I lived in Utah; I would go running on Sunday mornings and see  groups of Mormon families strolling to church. I felt jealousy well up inside me, and wondered what it would be like to feel like if I had it all figured out. How would it feel to have everyone around in my social circle affirm that little vantage point of reality? But, I’ve never been able to give myself to group-think…being too inquisitive, and always looking in from the window outside like a lonely orphan.

As they say, Wherever You Go, There You Are

One Comment

  1. Great post. I felt those skinned knees. I too have always felt like an outsider. I’ve not been to Black Rock City, but I feel the same acceptance you describe when I walk in Greta’s door here in SLC. It’s very true, where ever you go, there you are. Many blessings on your inspirational, fierce journey.

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