It’s been three weeks since we arrived in Guatemala, and at last I feel settled. The first week, either Pat or I would joke about leaving. “Let’s get out of here!” or “When’s the next flight?” Then we would laugh, but I don’t think we were kidding. Or not exactly.
The disquiet grew worse once we moved from Antigua to the house on Lake Atitlan. Our bedroom is glass on two sides. At night, I lay awake listening to the waves lapping the rocky shoreline, a multitude of crickets chirping, and the most unsettling sound of footsteps nearby. Our home is behind a gate. Who could that be?
When I Googled ‘Guatemala’, I received a list of alarming posts: murder statistics, chicken bus accidents, and remnants of civil war stories. Then, I lay awake and wondered why I moved here.
But as we have settled into the town, I understand that violent crime is extremely rare in this corner of the country.
Here, children play on rope swings tied to enormous tree branches in front of the church or chase hoops with an occasional tap of a stick to keep them rolling along.
Mothers swaddle their babies onto their chests and set off to town with baskets of bananas or avocados balanced on their heads. As we sit in the square, they stop and kneel, remove the basket and place it at their feet, and uncover the contents wrapped in hand woven cloth. “Bananas?” they ask.
Young men sit in tuks tuks on the edge of the road and solicit riders. “No gracias,” we reply, preferring to walk except on the days when we are carrying home two five-gallon jugs of drinking water. On those days, our gardener grabs them and runs down the 120 steps to our house as sure-footed as a mountain goat. He appreciates the dollar tip–after all, he makes seven dollars a day.
Over time, we return to the same vendors and day by day, the prices are reducing. The banana man smiles when we approach, flashing a mouthful of teeth each rimmed in a gold wire frame. For three quetzals, I receive more and bigger and better bananas.
Life here reminds me of the 1960s in America when my friends converged at my house each morning, and we swung on our “Tarzan swing” all day. This was life before little devices chained us to our couches and desks.
Yesterday, I realized the most troubling cacophony of my life isn’t coming from waves or crickets or footsteps in the night. It is my social media streams—a digital screeching where some people, myself included, shout out disparaging comments we would never say aloud at a dinner party.
Last night I cancelled my Twitter and Instagram accounts. I unfollowed the posts of friends on Facebook who talk mostly of politics and religion and other things I have no interest in (and in doing so, I was stunned to learn that I have ‘friends’ I have never met).
When I was done with that, I cancelled most of my magazine subscriptions in an attempt to break the shackle between this silly little device and me.
I grew up in a time when we left the house each morning and never returned until the sun set or the dinner bell clanged. Yet now, when confronted with this level of simplicity and disconnectedness, I lay awake at night terrified.
Today, I plan to take my journal to the square where I will sit and write and watch the day unfold. I love the loopy script rolling across page after page of paper. These are thoughts which I will keep to myself, the way thoughts used to be.
A month ago, I considered applying to a Masters of Fine Arts program to pursue a degree in Creative Writing and exchanged emails with the head of the writing program I attended in Paris to get his advice.
He thoughtfully listed the pros and cons of the MFA for me. He closed the email with an idea which will most likely sway my decision. “Julie, if you want to improve your writing, just write. Each and every day, write something.”
Writing is a craft. And like any craft–be that painting or knitting or photography–the grueling task of daily practice is what advances it. I can’t become locked into the solitary goal that someone cares what I say. SEO scores be damned. If I care about my writing, that has to be enough.
In that same timeframe, I was considering ending this blog. Then I realized, my blog is one of my practice spaces. Here, I can post stories of something which touched me during the week.
If you read them and derive a moment of enjoyment, that’s wonderful. If you decide you need to recapture your life from this digital world which has ensnared us, I understand.
In either event, I’ll be here plugging along. As the old joke goes, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice.”
Categories: Central America