This morning I was reminded that four years ago today, I walked away from the best job I’d ever had, after nearly 30 years with the same newspaper. Thank you, Facebook “On This Day” feature.
And recently, Facebook reminded me that we moved to Belize exactly two years ago.
Like a cat coughing up fur balls, Facebook now churns up fuzzy memories.
If you are on Facebook, I’m sure you are getting the same thing. I recently relived my 2-12-12 marriage to Rose Alcantara through the many pictures I’d posted to Facebook back then. I recently re-experienced the death of an friend. I’ve seen pictures of my grandson Brody at birth, 1, 2, 3 and 4 years old.
You never know what Facebook’s memories machine will come up with. And frankly, at my age, it is mostly a relief and nearly always surprising.
OK, the job?
It had stopped being “the best” a long time ago and even though I walked, I was also pushed pretty hard.
Still, I miss it. Even the most wretched, frustrating and stressful moments of a life in journalism (though I had fewer of those than many of my colleagues) were better than a good day of fishing. For me, at least.
Four years ago, when I walked away from the Union-Tribune in San Diego the last thing I could have imagined would be living on Ambergris Caye, a tropical island, gazing out the window at the second-longest barrier reef in the world, wondering if the palm trees need trimming.
Life has sure taken some turns.
Here’s my swan song, regurgitated by Facebook this morning. A snapshot in time, I wrote this to my Facebook friends on March 7, 2012 (and I gently edited it today):
In 1975, in Rhode Island, I walked into The Narragansett Times editorial office with a pathetic portfolio of newspaper clippings and a resume so bereft of experience that it was laughable.
But I had one thing going for me: Nobody else had applied for the job.
It was summer and the University of Rhode Island campus was deserted but the late-Wilbur Doctor saw me in the Journalism Department offices (trying to learn how to organize a labor union) and mentioned that the local paper was looking for a part-time reporter.
But I was making good money as a waiter, working my way through school.
Oh, what the hell.
I got the job, graduated in 1976, and was named editor of the newspaper three months later. As with every newspaper assignment I’ve taken since, I felt woefully unqualified.
Today, Wednesday, March 7, 2012, I put an end to a most improbable career. I can finally stop looking over my shoulder, wondering when somebody will catch on that I don’t belong here and kick me out of the greatest club in the world.
This morning I handed a letter of resignation to U-T San Diego editor Jeff Light. Almost simultaneously, my left hand accidentally sent his favorite coffee mug flying off his desk. It shattered on impact.
I felt horrible.
“You know Jeff,” I offered hopefully as I picked up the pieces, “if we’re really cool about this, this could become the stuff of legend …”
After 37 years as a newspaperman, this gig is over.
Wait. That’s ridiculous. Of course there are regrets.
I wish to hell I’d kept all my interview notes — and that they were readable. I wish I had copies of every story I’d written. I wish that I’d stayed an entertainment writer and believed in myself and what I was doing more.
I wish that I had a camera when I stood at the side of the Oscars pressroom podium, gazing on Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Akira Kurosawa — splendid in tuxedos — looking like the Mount Rushmore of movies.
I wish a tape recorder was running when Charlton Heston corrected my quotation of his signature George Taylor line: “No, no, no,” he said, “It’s ‘Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!’ “
I wish that a video camera was running when Bo Diddley and his daughter/bass player Evelyn Kelly and I talked about barbecue backstage in Hollywood. Did you know Bo always burned barbecue?
I wish you’d been with me at the Plaza Hotel in New York, waiting for James Earl Jones as his booming voice arrived several minutes before he did.
I wish you could have seen the look on my then-teenage son Brendan’s face when Carlos Santana started playing his guitar. Brendan spent the entire concert hanging from the lip of the stage, three feet from Santana, and became a fan for life.
I am both relieved and regret that I never met John Lennon. I’m sure I would have pissed him off with some insipid, fawning comment.
I wish I’d asked better questions of everyone I ever interviewed and wish that I’d listened more.
I wish that the party had gone on forever.
But it is over and I know my fondest memories would cause a teenager’s eyes to glaze over today.
In a week or so I start a temporary assignment with a government agency, one that I respect greatly and one that can teach me a lot.
No, it is not journalism but it uses all the skills I’ve picked up over the years, or so I’m told. So I think I can make a difference. And it is a steady five-day-a-week paycheck. Plus I get a free monthly transit pass …
Funny how these things happen. Rose and I had decided that I would move up to Northern California by the end of April if nothing great materialized down here in San Diego.
This new gig should take me right to the end of April.
So, the plan is to still move up north, but now I’ll have fresh skills and maybe some strong political ties.
So, it is all good.
And things just seem to keep working out, when they’re supposed to.
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Things work out “. . . when they’re supposed to.”
I had that same feeling in 1982, when I first moved to California from Rhode Island. Like it was supposed to be happening.
I confess that, to this day, I still don’t know why it was supposed to be happening.
And now, marking our two-year anniversary in Belize, it is like deja vu all over again.
We were destined to move to Belize — why exactly, I don’t know.
Oh, don’t get me wrong. There were lots of practical and romantic and lifestyle reasons to move to a little island off the coast of a tiny Caribbean nation. You could probably list all of them off the top of your head: Sun, sand, sea, rum, fun, palm trees, adventure, pirates, freedom, life, weather, breathing, people, escape, life, discovery, blah, blah, blah.
It is just that “destiny” thing. The same destiny feeling I’ve felt with most big moves in my life. There is a cosmic “why” behind these big moves. I always feel like something big is supposed to happen, as a result. Some chain of events is supposed to be put in motion . . . because I moved to Belize.
Honestly, I have no clue.
For two weeks, Facebook’s Memories feature coughed up old blog posts, among them have been my day-by-day reports on moving here and my reactions to the many amazing things that we discovered.
Painful as they were to read — I find all re-reading of what I write to be painful — I did not encounter a single clue to the Big Why behind moving to Ambergris Caye. Oh, I could feel the rightness of it all, the feeling that Belize is our destiny, that we are supposed to be here at this particular time in our lives.
I do like that, two years ago, everything was fresh. And new. And ripe for discovery. Long-time Belize residents must of thought I was a real pain in the ass.
Me: “I can’t wait to tell you about what I found on Front Street here in San Pedro, our shiny new home!!!!”
Old Timers: “Oh, look, another newcomer has just discovered Front Street …”
Each day through Facebook’s memories feature, I relived the ecstasy and optimism on which we floated into Belize in February 2014, fueled by a heavy dose of naivete.
Love the naivete. It enables you do so many things you might not ever attempt if you knew what was ahead.
Here’s how naivete works:
“Let’s move to Belize.”
I’m not saying that was the whole conversation. It was close.
In two years, I’ve spoken to a lot of people about moving here. Some did it decades ago, some have been in the process for years, some will be moving here in the future, some just got here. Some did it like we did. Some spent years planning. Some moved on impulse.
There are many paths to an expat life. I do think it is what happens after you get here that determines whether you were chasing a chimera or following your destiny. (But that is another whole blog post, isn’t it?)
I desperately want to tell you about all the things I have learned in two years living as an expat but, frankly, I know less now than I did when we first got here. You know the saying: The more you learn, the less you know. Or as Socrates once told me when I was a young boy at his feet: “True knowledge is knowing that you know nothing.”
People succeed here as expats for all the right reasons.
People succeed here as expats for all the wrong reasons.
People run away from stuff. They run to stuff.
They come here to hide.
They come here to make a splash.
They come to do good works.
They come to get rich.
They come for love.
They come to heal.
They come for the most superficial reasons.
They come for rational, well-thought-out reasons.
They come with their lives meticulously planned out.
They come on pure impulse.
They come to fish. They come to dive.
They come to live. They come to die.
Belize is the end of the line. Belize is the gateway to a new life.
Belize is a small country. But big enough to absorb everyone.
Belize is a tough country, but giving (and forgiving) enough.
Sorry, I don’t feel real nuts-and-boltsy today. I could write about The Perfect Blueprint for The Right Way To Move to a Foreign Country — but if you asked me if it is the one I followed to get here, I’d have to say no.
Right now, every reason seems legit to me. As long as you act upon it.
I might feel different tomorrow.
Or as Kurt Vonnegut so wisely put it, “And so it goes.”