Saturday, November 3, 2012

My Top Five Triumphs about my USA Experience

5. LIVING AND VISITING ALL OVER

There just isn't a substitute for the introspective questioning that comes associated with travel. Besides the generous pockets of free time to submerge oneself in deep thought, any journey is exposure to something different, something striking that will trigger a multidimensional point of view. What do I mean for this? The human experience is a constant struggle to find a place to belong, a home, happiness. Through constant exposure to various strikingly dissimilar backgrounds, one's natural instincts make choices on our own sense of belonging. Do we agree with the notions of physical closeness in Mexico? How does the Dutch government handle the legality of drugs in Amsterdam? Do I even want to try drugs myself? Why do I find a barren landscape so beautiful, while the streets of New York City revolt my guts? Is a higher rent a higher living? Questions like this are asked everyday, directly and indirectly, to slowly compose a framework of decision-making. It helps set your priorities straight.

No landscape is complete without its people. Everything under the sun is witness to the attention and neglect of mankind, and the connotations that are given to it. It is practically impossible to look down into Monument Valley without remembering the Marlboro man, and the many advertising legends; or to squint in the sheer whiteness of the Utah Salt Flats without remembering the first time you played Frisbee on the immense horizon. We carve our personal legends into the land, and what the suburbs of Petaluma may be to me, the remotest hut in Barbados may be to you! There is beauty, heightened by the meaning we impose on it through our own lenses.

As one travels and fills one's eyes with sunrises, starry domes, glittering windows and majestic shadows in the rock, any reminiscence of fear and doubt disappears. Whatever lies ahead is yet a surprise that hides the excitement of what is new, and the mystery of what is unexpected! Who wouldn't want to wrap his arms around the world with these prospects?

Oh, the places you will go! Oh, the places you will see!

4. FINISHING WHAT I START

Before coming to the US, I was a person overwhelmed by an outrageous number of ideas. I was very sheltered, however, and not very aware of the resources or means to take them to fruition. My entire college experience was plagued by unfinished projects, some due to my overly perfectionist nature, and some due to my emotional weakness. In any case, being in a state of grief so profound that it practically tied me to my bed for two whole years, I cut out many of my stress-inducing responsibilities (mostly after-school activities), manned up and finished school on time. That little confidence I developed by arriving to the end of the race I expanded with my big cross-country road trip, my contract with Burlingame Motors, and many a small job on a vintage Mercedes, executed to the best of my ability. Then, in Wichita, I got to finish one full episode of Open Roads (see the "work" section of the website) and shoot two others. US immigration cut my time short, but I am confident I can edit as I travel, as my equipment is fully portable.

Working on cars has been one of the greatest activities I could practice to develop my self-discipline. In the world of automotive repair there are two options: something is fixed right, or something is not fixed right. With a solid base of truth and error, I learned to balance my possibilities, evaluate my skills with conservative modesty, take a step away and think about how something may be put together. Then, remembering the overall structure of a mechanism –being fascinated in the process–, I could put it back together and get the satisfactory feeling of something well done, something as useful as an automobile shifting right or a Delahaye blower motor push-button restored to like-new condition. Once I became familiar enough with the process, I could actually give estimates on all my work, from a 30-second animation to a window regulator replacement. Which takes me to the next point...

"The Life of Reagan", an animated short in the style of Terry Gilliam that never had an ending.


3. UNDERSTANDING THE VALUE OF MANUAL WORK

Beyond approaching work with a method and an honest knowledge of one's own skills, is the realization that the lessons learned through handwork are the same as the ones in the broader scope of life. Being used to the art of animation, confined to the drafting table and the computer in a permanently enclosed environment, felt like the wrong kind of whereabouts for self-development. Two dimensions on a sheet of paper of a PC screen can't convey the wholeness –and holiness- of the human experience. They just can't.

First lesson: doing is learning. Studies have proven that the degree to which the brain forgets something decreases when learning through action rather than word/writing/reading. By wrenching, cutting, hammering, torquing, splicing and a million other processes, one learns an action with more than one of the 5 senses, making it far more memorable. Mistakes hurt, sometimes literally. The body learns, the mind learns, and they interact in an instinctual dance, waltzing together in the beauty of achievement.

Second lesson: same as traveling, one learns to make choices and make them fast. One learns how much one's body is willing to take within its limits, and maybe push them even further. Using this as a guideline, one's decisions mark the speed and duration of a job. It determines if we quit, if there are alternatives for increased efficiency, or if we demand a higher pay for the work we do, or to simply put the pieces together and guess the missing links in a process.

Third lesson: self reliance –a word that should always be said in Sean Connery's voice–, one of the absolute best skills a person could have. Self reliance means having the intelligence to diagnose and fix your own problems without the need of other people, to really master your own destiny anywhere and anytime, and deal with the consequences as they come to you. Self-reliance means being awake, being ingenious and being strong. By building self-reliance you build self-confidence, as any skill that you invest for yourself will result in trust that is put in yourself, by yourself. Which takes me to the next point...

The shop where miracles happen. Photo taken in the mid-1980's.

2. GROWING THE BALLS TO TAKE INITIATIVE

Sometimes I think I just have a strong grasp on where I want to take my life because of my innate lack of patience. What patience? I do have patience with myself and patience with my work, but do I have patience with others? Do I have patience with Age and Death? Heck no!

Give your hand to the world, and it will take your entire arm. Respecting the rule of others can seem like an act of civic duty, and it is, most of the time. That's the reason we have public highways and an organized mail system. However, when it comes to one's own life, it's time to set limits to the degree of control that others have over choices that should be wholly ours.

The first step is to learn to disengage. Whether it is a pain-in-the-a** girlfriend, a job that does not convince you 100%, a libido out of control or chronic shyness, GET RID OF IT BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY. Your own existence, the tale you will tell before your death, is far more important than these punctual past-times that society taught us were cool and important.

The second step is to set priorities, which is easier said than done.  Many are the people who I have found have absolutely zero sense of prioritization; as a result, they get lost in the clutter of their dreams. This state feels like an ether, it is comfortable and sedating, but it is the strongest immobilizing force. Just as someone can lack motivation, one can have motivation spread too thin. What helped me set my priorities straight was to crave something really bad. For that matter, I had to experience very strong feelings of hatred, sadness, fury, restraint and ecstasy before I got to know what my call was... courtesy of a nervous breakdown. Should I look for a nervous breakdown? Absolutely. Avoid being sheltered and safe, and break down as badly and as close to your teenage years. Tear yourself apart, read, experience, open yourself... and then reconstruct.

The third step is to be courageous. Take the gamble, bet it all and remember that you, as a member of a civilized society, will not starve or end up homeless. You have a network of friends and relatives who believe in you. And if you fail, fail greatly, fail memorably. Who knows? Worst that can happen is that you have found a way not to do things, and maybe publish a freaking two-hundred-page book on the subject. Books on petty failures and petty struggles do not sell; whatever you do, do it on a scale surpassing your own limits of ridiculous etiquette.

In my very own, personal case, I grew the balls to put my promising career in animation into a screeching halt and to concentrate on learning a skill that I find immensely important: auto mechanics. But I would not settle for any mechanical job, so I went ahead and restored 300SL's. As if that wasn't cool enough, I found the schedule did not give me enough freedom and time outside my position –due to US regulations- , so I partnered with my friend Tyler and moved to Kansas to start a TV show with all my lifetime savings. Half a year later, a lawyer tells me I have zero chance to stay in the US legally, so that means having to stop production dry and get out of the US. But by "getting out of the US", I can only understand "getting out of the US greatly", so I decided not to further delay my plans to go on the PanAmerican route and that's what I am doing right now. I take adversity and twist it to my own desire into an opportunity for a fresh start to do something just as interesting.

Screw this, I am going to host my own TV show. And drive the car I WANT.

1. ALL THE PEOPLE WHO I HAVE MET

"When life give you lemons, make lemonade, and when life gives you shit, just air it on television". Coming from a Catholic background, I was always taught that blessings come disguised in the form of curses. Let's start, however, with the many impersonated blessings of my life...

I have been beyond blessed to have so many amazing people in my life. I name most of them on a HUMONGOUS list at the end of my big cross-USA road trip, plus may I add Tyler Hoover, my loyal friend and business partner, RenĂ© Wiegand (plus Al and Peter) at Burlingame Motors and every  charitable soul to give me the strength and encouragement in this new adventure.

The people who have made my life difficult –from my bullies in elementary school, to whiny exes, half of my family, the Mexican Federal Police, many a hipster at RISD and the US Department of Immigration–, those are all individuals placed along my path to make me stronger, to remind me of my skills to fend for what I believe in, to reconstruct myself, to react predictably in stressful situations and to just teach me that life does not cater to anyone, that it is you who has to approach it with your empty plate and hack at it. Tough? Definitely. Worth it? Damn sure.

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