So, we are here now. On a wooded hill above the Colorado River, overlooking limestone ridges and green hills to the southern horizon, about 10 miles west of the center of Austin as the crow flies, about 20 miles by road. It is lovely. And we are glad to be here.
That said, it was not an easy transition, returning to Texas after 21 years (excepting one brief period) living abroad as an expat in France, Mexico and the Czech Republic.
First, there was the culture shock. After so many years away, I felt (and often still feel) like a stranger here, a foreigner of sorts, an immigrant. The culture here in the USA seems more ingrained with fear and anxiety than when I left. The politics have become more right-wing and polarized. The political class in Austin and Washington, D.C., are more alienated from the people. The economy is skewed. More people are working but they are working for lower wages. The wealthy have become wealthier and more estranged and separated from the mainstream culture. And the news media seem more manipulative and exploitive—focusing on shallow events or crucial events in shallow ways, and less interested in reporting deeply on the things that truly matter to our lives. Such changes are disappointing to me. Yet my family and friends are all struggling as best they can to cope with these downward trends. It is not easy for them. The stress is high. I see them as brave people. And my heart goes out to them.
Second, the transition back was difficult because of the sheer logistics of the move. I do not recall my move to Paris in 1994 being so complicated. Nor the subsequent moves to Mexico (1996, 2003, 2008, and 2013) and back to Prague (2004, 2009) being so hard. Maybe it’s age, or at least part of it. But it seemed that every transaction Katka and I attempted upon our return to Texas this spring was complicated by manifold screw-ups and hapless mistakes by those with whom we were dealing. Ironically, given the anti-government noise I hear so much, the government agencies were the most efficient and responsive of those organizations we encountered. Whereas the private sector companies all managed (and I do mean all, without exception) to cause us endless rounds of grief. I’m speaking of phone companies, cable companies, retail outlets, property repair businesses, privatized services that once were handled by government agencies, and so on. Dealing with them meant endless phone trees, endless time waiting on hold, repeated mistakes on orders and billing, erroneous information, no-shows on appointments, broken purchases, and… well, enough. All this incompetency surprised me in what’s supposed to be a service economy. One with poor service, it seems, or none at all. In the end, I realized the top people in these companies are scamming the profits and providing little training or support to those who are on the front lines doing the actual work, often for little pay. It’s no wonder our very complex economic and technological systems are breaking down at the bottom—right where most of us experience those systems the most (as what the commercial sector calls “consumers”).
Well now. Here I’d moved to a “first world” country from a “developing country” (Mexico) but the service I encountered was just as good south of the border. And the stress there was considerably less. Also, the folks here in the USA seemed less happy, less satisfied. Naturally, there were moments when I wondered if I’d made a big mistake in returning.
Yet… yes, I am glad to be here, as I said. I am closer to my family. And to dear friends who I so rarely saw for so many years. And our home is comfortable here on the hilly, wooded outskirts of Austin. We have live oaks, cedar, wildflowers. We have deer, armadillos, squirrels, rabbits. And of course countless birds, small and large. From the front porch where I have my coffee each morning I watch a hawk soar high above the trees. Cardinals flit about the bird feeder. Meanwhile, deer filter through the oaks not fifty feet away. It is the natural world that makes me feel at home. And this has been the case no matter where I’ve lived on this planet we call Earth. It has been that way all my life. Mother Nature is profligate, nourishing, giving… everywhere I go.
Well, that’s my latest report here on the blog. Yet I have neglected to mention some other events of import. My TV project—adapting my novel Robbers into a TV series for Sony Studios and the TNT network—is moving forward. I am now writing the pilot script. The singer/actor Tim McGraw has signed to star in it. I met him recently in Los Angeles and can tell you he is a decent, smart, likable man. And Katka has turned our large two-car carport into a workshop for making concrete garden sculptures. She’s just finished five sculptures, and we plan to hold an open house on June 20 for anyone interested to come see them (and buy them, if they wish).
So as I say, life is good. We are happy. The transition is mostly done. My complaining is done, too, for the most part. Sorry you had to hear it. Hope you will forgive me. As I mentioned in a recent post on my Facebook page, the world is also a beautiful place and most humans are mostly kind to one another. And I promise: my next blog entry will be more upbeat from start to finish. Because really, that is how I intend to live my short life on this spinning rock in space. Surrounded by family and friends, surrounded by Mother Nature. With a wry smile on my lips at my own lack of faith.