Help -- I can't seem to leave my Dallas motel room!

I was supposed to be in Mexico days ago, but something is holding me back.

Published February 24, 2005 8:00PM (EST)

Dear Cary,

Right now I write you from Dallas, and this is the third night I have not gotten on the plane from here to Leon, two mere hours. It's actually the third time I have landed in Texas and not made it to San Miguel in five years. I have no idea what my fear is, and it can only be of Mexico.

As an ex-Jungian, I always think of his, Jung's, fear of Italy where he was sure he would die. I have no such concrete, nameable fear of Mexico. I just NEVER get there, where my grandmother lived and painted, where my sister lived and painted. I had friends waiting for me, and now I'm in the worst imaginable place, Dallas. No offense to anyone but it's all that Mexico is not: freezing, lonely, huge distances, not colorful. And so every day I swear I'll go and every day I don't.

I loved doing therapy, what you do here, though I was constrained as you are not. I cooked up a theory, not totally original, of course, that I was a "wounded healer," and as I loved my patients and "took on" however briefly their sometimes bizarre symptoms and dreamt and thought of these 30-plus people every night, I became well known in the field until I got burnt out, not uncommon.

A new woman was visiting me for a consult and she started criticizing everything about me, my home, my office, my hair! -- and suddenly, I forgot why I was taking this punishing "transference" and that session was my swan song. As I said, not uncommon. My brother was also a therapist and a year later, with a "client" he quite disliked, he asked her to wait in the room with him while he finished listening to a radio ballgame. His swan song. The great thing about clinical psychology, though, is that you can change positions.

I became director of a program in archetypal psychology and that worked for six-plus years. Then I had a baby, adopted, and then I had to keep moving as I have a loathing of domestic life, which brings me to my current, as in right now, as in immediate, dilemma.

So I found that the happy solution to my ennui is traveling. Lucky, right? Sure sounds lucky. I can afford to do this, though that too sounds a whole heap better than it feels.

So, I had an idea, one I researched extensively, to move to Mexico, to San Miguel de Allende, an artist's colony rife with writers and painters, a town full of them. And, as I said, this is the third night I have not gotten on the plane.

If this was an isolated incident, well, no big deal. But it happens to me not only with Mexico but with many plans I do not keep, calls I do not return, actions that are the opposite of energetic. My real question is -- since once I was afraid of nothing much, and traveled with ease -- how do I overcome these tedious times of not keeping my word to myself and to others, how to not sink into anomie at the worst possible moments of transition, but keep moving? What am I afraid of? Loneliness? I know that one. Meeting new people, which I do so well? Fear of new situations? I love new situations.

It's being alone, stuck alone, in a dull motel room that drives me to write. I have no clue why I panic, why I think I cannot do this. Trust me here: This is a hurdle that is ruining not just this week, but the last years of my life, which could be great.

Stasis Is a Killer/Can't Move/"Never Get Where I'm Going"

Dear Stasis,

I think your trouble about going to Mexico might be about fear of repetition, loss of boundaries, loss of self. Your grandmother painted there, your sister painted there, and now you are about to go there to be in an artists colony. In repetition there is a threatened loss of self, no? Especially if the self has been built in opposition to that which you fear repeating! And did things go well or poorly for your sister and your grandmother? Were their fates ones that you envy or fear? And if things did not end well in Mexico for your sister or your grandmother, then you may fear going there for that reason as well.

My father, who has been from time to time a psychologist, used to tell a joke when I was a kid. Two psychologists meet each other on the street. One says, "Hello, Fred. Nice to be seen by you. How am I doing?"

"Oh, you're fine," says the other. "How am I?"

I find that joke funny. Maybe it's just me. Maybe it is my fondness for my dad and his love of stupid jokes. Or maybe there's something more to the joke, something sinister beneath the surface, something about the doppelgänger, about the breaching of boundaries between self and other, about not being able to hide anything, not being able to secure the borders between inside and outside. When family members are artists or seers, we sometimes fear following their footsteps, as though to do so makes us utterly transparent and unoriginal.

Such repetition, though, is an abstraction; every experience, in its particulars, is always new. Perhaps that is why it helps, when one is putting things off or is frozen, to break an action down into its components. For instance, if making the telephone call is so difficult, simply begin by dialing the first number. Just dial one number. Then the next. Then the next. Usually there are only seven, or at the most 11. Each number can be a discrete experience; thus the sense that one is doing the same thing over and over can be held at bay.

Similarly with trips: Pack each item one by one. Close each suitcase one by one. Do everything deliberately, piece by piece. Each action is itself unique and unparalleled, and each action contains within it possibilities of new meaning. In fact, this procedure can bring a meditative calm to the most anxious and wrenching of tasks.

Other allied strategies: Can you involve someone else in your trip? Or do you have some secret purpose that you are afraid to share? If so, what is that purpose? Perhaps you are afraid that if you tell someone the power and mystery of your purpose it will be dissipated. But must you do this trip all alone, all at once? Why not ask for some help from someone -- perhaps one of your friends who is waiting for you. Call and say you're trying to leave Dallas but you find you cannot! Make a definite appointment. Agree to call this friend before you leave. Instruct the friend to call you if she does not hear from you.

You also might reframe the trip as a simple matter of taking care of some details related to the possibility of living down there. Does it have to be about the rest of your life? Can you maybe just go down there to check it out, and possibly take care of a few practical details? You don't have to decide to live there right now. Again, you're breaking it down into its constituent parts. That might be much easier than going down there thinking it represents some transformation of your life, some portal through which you are passing.

My grandmother -- my father's mother -- went to Paris in the early 1960s and wrote a column for her local newspaper titled "Travels of a Grandmother." She came back from Paris wearing a beret and saying "Bonjour." She brought back records of African music.

I have never gone anywhere outside the U.S. But I am going to Paris in March. I have never gone anywhere partly because every trip has loomed monumental in my mind! Why have I never gone to Europe? Because I thought of it as an epoch-making event. I thought, if I go to Europe, I must be carried from town to town in a sedan chair!

My family stories, my fear of repeating them, my sense of destiny and pride in repeating them, the dialectic of free will and destiny that takes place within me, all are at the surface now, as I brush up on my university French and we make reservations on the Internet. I am doing each thing one by one. And I rely on people around me. My wife is figuring it all out. I'm just going along. I'm just going to Paris for a few days.

I assume that by the time I have written this, you will have found a way to leave your hotel room in Dallas. If not, call someone now!

p.s. "The cars circle endlessly on the freeways around the blank and glittering slabs. The suburbs stretch out without end; new battalions of towers suddenly shoot up among them. Is it a city or several cities? ... With the landscape, there seems to be no relation at all ... North of Dallas, a gentle, dry, parklike country rolls out, ideal for horses, studded with thin groves of live oak, beautiful in scale. What does the city have to do with that Arcadian landscape? Nothing, though it would like to build a racetrack there ..." (Vincent Scully, "Household Gods")

p.p.s.: "As attentive readers of this report will remember, Saloonkeeper-showman Chicken John is now in Mexico with a bus-load of eager trippers. Off they roared on the Baja run, down the spine of the lower California peninsula, through the Organ Pipe cactus forests, over the blazing desert (115 degrees), home of the highly venomous Mexican Gila Monster (Heloderma horridum), the giant "red-knee" Tarantula, the deadly Centruoides scorpion, the blood-sucking, Chagas Disease-spreading cone-nosed Kissing Bug, the mammoth poisonous Giant (9-12 inch) Desert Centipede (Scolopendra heros) whose very legs, let alone its double pair of venom-injecting jaws, jab the victim with an agonizing neurotoxin, the vicious heat-sensing Diamondback Rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox) and the squeaking Vampire Bat flying overhead. To their left, the lapping Sea of Cortez, where huge gray sharks patiently swim about waiting for skinny-dippers, as do strange fish with teeth that resemble human teeth, the poisonous stonefish and other curious and unique forms of marine life. On they went, despite the recent warning of the U.S. State Department asking American citizens not to go to lawless Mexico, where Bush Administration-fueled anti-gringo hatred and resentment is said to be at an all-time high, and savage banditos lie in wait for foolish Yanquis to plunder, kidnap and ... well, come to think of it, they never ran into Chicken before, on the other hand." -- Dr. Hal, in a recent e-mail concerning his ongoing show at the Odeon Bar in San Francisco.

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