The Inner Bottom Line™

by Olive Gallagher

If Thomas Wolfe is right and we can't go home again, then does that mean once we leave our birthplace we're forever destined to remain strangers no matter where we end up hanging our hat?

Well, if that's true, then I arrived a stranger in the foreign Land of Enchantment of New Mexico in July. A stress-worn, dazed refugee from the land of madness and celebrity - California.

Yet I felt neither strange nor foreign. Rather, from the first day, spent wandering around my new home waiting for the truck to arrive, I experienced an almost blissful state of contentment and belonging.

How could that be? How could I feel I belonged, having no clue where I would find a new dry cleaner or grocery, with no close friends to share a glass of wine and lovingly assure me, amidst endless boxes, that I would settle in and find myself, hopefully sooner than later. None of that seemed pressing that first week. I trusted myself enough to know I would find what I needed when I needed it.

I was raised in a beautiful, Christmas-card, small country town in Pennsylvania. So after living in six major cities during the past thirty years - New York, Boston, Cleveland, Chicago, Los Angeles and lastly, San Francisco - somehow Santa Fe felt like coming home.

Could it be that my sense of home travels with me, no matter where the dart on the map temporarily lands?

The first few days were like a dream. I awoke to first light, mesmerized by the beauty of the play of light and shadow on landscapes I could see through every window and door. I stared endlessly at the blue and gray layers of near and distant mountains, hypnotized by the peace surrounding me I'd traveled and searched so far and so long to find. I was constantly distracted by the endless big skies, filled with an ever-changing drama of rain, sun, and clouds. And I ended each day romantically and utterly dazzled by the glorious sunsets which found me rooted to a chair on the patio, watching for hours as day became nightfall and time stood still.

I felt I was staying in some beautiful hotel and half-expected each morning someone would tell me it was time to check out and go home. I was thrilled. And black and blue from pinching myself with reality checks. Because I was home. I remained in a state of absolute joy for two weeks.

But then, in one morning, my bliss went poof like a bubble in the wind. To where had that delicious sense of serenity vanished? How could I go so quickly from up to down? What or who pushed me off my perfect cliff? For several days, I awakened increasingly irritable as I discovered mounting problems in my life.

I had spent so much time setting things up the way I wanted them to be. Yet now they weren't being delivered as promised or were threatening to cost more than originally quoted. The phones were screwed up. As first bills arrived, they were twice what I had expected and filled with changes I'd never authorized. My website and domains were held up in an absurd "who's on first" game with Verisign who refused to give me private information on properties I had paid for and owned!

What happened? Everything seemed to have shifted. I had hoped life would be less stressful after the move. But I was forced to realize that while I left behind Pacific Bell, my ISDN connection and the Half Moon Bay Pumpkin Festival, they'd been frustratingly replaced by Qwest, Network Solutions and Indian Week.

Oh, I'd been warned by caring hearts with good intentions of a strange, mystic culture long before I arrived. Aside from LA - a city focused solely on whether or not you're somebody, which automatically infers that if you're not somebody then you're nobody - I'd never moved any place more prefaced with warnings.

1. For instance, "you'll have to get used to Santa Fe time." Translation: today means mañana.
2. While hiring trades people, "always ask if they can do it and then when they can do it." Translation: if not specific, #1 will apply to #2.
3. On attending Indian Week, "go really early or you'll never find a parking place." Translation: only serious buyers go early, so be prepared to pay up or get caught up in madness.
4. One of my favorites, "Nobody dresses here." Translation: leave your fancy city duds at home or look like a tourist.

At first, I took the admonitions in good humor. But as my stress levels headed upward, I began to question my choice to move here at all. Had I made a mistake? Had my own naiveté fooled me into thinking that life in Santa Fe was different? Was it just another mirage in the desert?

"Qwest?" new neighbors and friends said sardonically upon hearing about my skirmishes. "Don't ask!" And while it comforted me to know I wasn't alone, it didn't make me feel better. No. Helped along by the warnings, I found myself increasingly mired in growing doubts. With my bliss having deserted me, an anxiety grew in its place that threatened to keep those euphoric feelings from ever returning.

But then that voice that never fails to chide me whenever I'm tempted to beat myself up started in loud and strong. "Oh, no, " it said. "You're not going to let that happen now. Not this time. This is a different place and time in your life."

You bet it was. I had choices. I could control this. I had learned how. I didn't come this far to give up this easily. And at that moment, I knew what to do. After all, I've been teaching ethics for nearly twenty years, helping others set boundaries, make decisions, avoid abuse and solve problems.

I took a pad of paper, poured another cup of coffee, and sat down to make a list. First, what was bugging me? What was keeping me awake at night and chewing at my gut all day? Second, and most importantly, what could I no longer live with? What problem had crossed the line and was no longer acceptable, which meant I was willing, if necessary, to give up something, pay something (ouch!), or change something in order to cross it off the list and be done with it for good.

The writing began. Down one side I listed situations and opposite each one, emotions triggered by that situation. Then I put down the list and went to do some chores. Now, I don't know about you, but for me, busy hands equal a busy mind. I weeded a bit, did laundry, walked the puppy, sorted mail, and ironed some handkerchiefs. Now, while this may seem like a mindless waste of time, it's my way to think. As I wandered around the house, accomplishing loads of stuff, a pattern began to emerge from the angry mess until I could see it clearly, like a shape coming out of the fog.

It wasn't the Pumpkin Festival or Indian Week that were the problem. They were wondrous celebrations of art and custom and the land. But while they weren't the problem, they were the source of the problem. They had been so successful through the years that their very essence was now being challenged to not be lost amidst the huge, ever expanding, ever-demanding masses of people and resulting logistics that were required to just get close enough to experience the elemental joy the celebration represented.
It also wasn't just Qwest either. Qwest had just turned out, disappointingly, to be as awful to deal with as Pacific Bell. But they had some things in common: their enormous size, the impersonal control they exercise with such indifference over our lives, the facelessness most of their employees, and the infuriating arrogance of their business practices which allow us no recourse amidst the regulations of their business practices.

Bottom line? All of the situations had two simple things in common. Control. And power.

For me, my own personal values make it uncomfortable, often impossible, to remain in any situation where I feel manipulated, out of control, and unappreciated. And when it costs me more money than originally agreed to, I tend to get cranky. It's unfair and disrespectful to me and that violates two of my four ethical values, making it a situation I won't tolerate.

Different situations might push your buttons. While we share the same four ethical values of honesty, fairness, integrity and respect, we have, in addition, unique values that matter most.

Whenever I feel uncomfortable, I know someone or something just crossed one of my boundaries. And when my Inner Bottom Line gets crossed, by myself or someone else, without my express permission, a little bell in my gut starts to ring, and a sense of going out of control sets in. While control colors every second of our lives, asking two simple questions really cuts through the clutter. "Who's in control?" and " What's at stake?"

I had let feeling out of control chase away my sense of well being. And I'd gotten so caught up in the fight I'd lost my perspective. The battle had even made me question if things could be better here.

My observations to date corroborate one simple fact: people in Santa Fe are some of the most accessible, friendly, and warm people I've ever met.

But why? What makes this place special? Is it the air, the light, the altitude, the sacred land? Is it the way time seems to move slower? Or the beauty of the architecture that places our homes into the land so they don't intrude on the natural beauty, so unlike other cities.

The answer is probably made up of a little from all of these things.

But one thing stands out from all the others: there are just less of us here. The more congested the population, the higher the levels of stress and anger.

And among the people who do live here, the fact that so many of them chose to come here is an insight into the happiness and contentment that seems to radiate from faces I pass each day.

Finally, there is a peace, a stillness to the land and the sky that places Santa Fe beyond the ordinary. This is truly sacred country. And it will envelop you, if you let it. If you listen. For it demands we pay attention and behave accordingly, with courtesy and respect and quiet gentility.

Time does moves slower in Santa Fe, and people move slower, too. That simple fact makes room in the day to say hello, rest in the shade, or gaze at the landscape. Mañana is a good thing, I think.

So while Thomas Wolfe may have been right that we can never go home again, perhaps there are magical moments, if we're blessed and if all the stars are aligned just right, when the place on the map and our state of mind converge and meet. For me, moving to Santa Fe appears to have been that kind of magical moment.

So, Santa Fe, I thank you. For saying good morning to this stranger as you pass me on the road. For offering help when I can't find the lettuce I want or the aisle for spices. For responding with patience and humor when I've taken the wrong turn on Guadaloupe. For just asking the question I hear over and over again, "So what made you decide to move to Santa Fe?"

Just the fact that you want to know says so much about the heart of this place. And to this stranger, who feels more at home than I have in many years, that's everything.

Copyright Olive Gallagher, 2002. All rights reserved.
The Inner Bottom Line and Personal Best® are trademarks of Olive Gallagher.