Inner Bottom Line™
HOME A PLACE ON THE MAP OR A STATE OF MIND?
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.