Finding My Place in Mexico
I turned 40 this year, and my position at work was eliminated. To say this has been a soul-searching year is an understatement.
Driftless is perhaps a better word to describe how I’ve felt since last May when the provost told me that my position wouldn’t exist after the 2017-2018 academic year.
When you’re cut from your job, people want to know your plans. “What will you do?” they’d ask. “I don’t know,” I’d respond. Then they’d stare at me, uncertain of what to say next.
I knew I could teach or try my hand at writing full-time. If I wasn’t location dependent, I might even consider international development work, but the only thing I was certain about was the fact that I’m committed to seeing my kids through school here in St. Louis. After they graduate, my options open up a bit.
I was supposed to go to Mexico City for an academic conference but after my position was eliminated, I decided I would use the time to travel and write and think. I planned to spend my entire stay in the city, but then I caught a glimpse of San Miguel de Allende on a travel video that came across my Facebook feed.
I pulled up Google Maps before the video had finished and was thrilled to find that the city was just a short bus ride from Mexico City.
The more I read about San Miguel, the more it seemed like the perfect spot for me. One description I found described the city as a bohemian haven for writers and artists. Sign me up. I had found my place.
I called my mom to share the good news, “I’m going to move to Mexico when Oliver graduates.”
My mom is used to the random epiphanies I have on a somewhat regular basis.
“It makes so much sense,” I told her and began listing off the reasons why moving to a city I haven’t yet visited is a great plan:
- It’s international.
- It’s closer to St. Louis than if I lived on the west coast.
- The cost of living is cheaper.
- It’s warm (I have raynauds so I tend to find winters pretty unbearable.).
“Sounds great, Jen.”
The thing you have to love about my mom is that she’s always supportive. Always. But I could perfectly envision her sarcastic response when my dad asked, “so what did Jen want?”
“Oh, she’s moving to Mexico,” she’d respond, and they’d both shake their head in a continued state of confusion.
“Whatever,” he’d say in response.
My parents weren’t the only ones who found this latest idea absurd. My brother-in-law fell into the habit of asking me questions like, “Will this be before or after you move to a Mexican city you’ve never been to?”
“Shut up, Joe,” I’d laugh back.
It was with this enthusiasm that I decided to divide my time in Mexico City with San Miguel (you know, my future home).
San Miguel de Allende was everything I thought it would be: Beautiful. Perfect weather. Delicious food. Friendly locals. Loads of expats. Easily walkable.
Everything about it was delightful, yet I couldn’t quite picture it as a place I could live (and I was really trying to see it in that lens).
“Could I live here?” I asked myself as I walked the cobbled streets.
“How would I spend my time?”
I even looked at the library with a bit more scrutiny than I normally would. “Could this be my library?”
I just couldn’t see it. It didn’t feel right. I couldn’t quite place it, so I reasoned that I just needed to spend more time there to make a proper decision.
I slept most of the bus ride back to Mexico City and took an Uber to my Airbnb apartment in the Roma Norte neighborhood. Traffic was horrendous. It took us so long to get to the apartment that my host emailed to see if I was still on my way. I checked in and hit the streets looking for coffee. It was past noon, but I still hadn’t had my coffee and few things happen in my life before I am properly caffeinated.
I hadn’t done any research on the city, so every street was a new discovery. Tree-lined paths led to parks with sculptures and fountains. I was so taken by the colorful seating options at Fuente de Cibeles that I sat down to bask in the sun and people watch. I eventually continued my walk and found so many options for coffee that I had several cups before the day was over.
It seemed every direction I looked there was a new cafe, a hip restaurant, or a friendly face smiling at me. There was just so much to take in, and I loved it.
Mexico City has a vibe, and I was hooked.
It’s just my kind of place.
It’s like dating. Sometimes you meet someone who appears perfect on paper, but once you meet them, you’re like, “Nope.” San Miguel was my “nope.” Perfect on paper but not a good match for me.
Mexico City, on the other hand, was perfect.
And I knew it instantly.