Was what the French man said next to me on my flight from Toronto to Houston. We were talking about cities all over the world, places we had both lived. Germany was almost perfect, he said, clean and orderly and everything running smoothly–but, then he wrinkled his nose. “I don’t really like that,” he stated, “I like a little mess.”
I nodded in agreement, thinking about all the places I’d lived that were closer to perfect, Seattle and Portland, and how miserable I’d been in both places. Order and ideal, oddly, don’t seem to suit me. I also like a little mess. Life, I suppose, is not orderly, nor smooth, and it’s certainly not perfect. I suppose I like my surroundings to reflect that. No city or town is perfect, and I think I prefer any place’s flaws to be easily visible–not something lurking beneath the surface.
His words have been bouncing around in my skull since my arrival here. Part of the reason I came to Guatemala was to clear my head. Everything had been so jumbled and so out-of-order for so long that I couldn’t seem to figure out what I wanted or needed to do. Where should I move? Should I continue full time school-teaching? And if not–then what?
The second question, albeit supposedly harder to answer, was actually the answer I came to first. At the moment, I am planning to not continue teaching full time in a school. I want to continue working creatively with people, but not in the capacity that K-12 education demands. What, then? Or how? You got me there. I don’t know yet.
And where will I move? I am almost ready to make a decision. Really, I think I already have. It’s been difficult because I’m not one of those people who has always wanted to move to _____ city. I think I’d be OK in a lot of places. And my best friend lives in NYC, not a place I have any interest in living in–so I had no one to move for, either. And since I’m unsure of what I’ll be doing for an income, I can’t just apply to jobs and move wherever I get one. I feel like I have to move to a place and network with people in the fields where I have skills/something to offer, and see what happens. The city I am leaning toward has one major flaw that really scares me–a seeming abundance of evangelicals–but it doesn’t feel like enough to stop me. If I hate it, if I can’t find friends who I sync up ideologically with, I don’t have to stay. But I DO have to take the next step. Even if it’s not forever, it means I’m going somewhere, it means I’m trying, instead of staying stuck and directionless.
Guatemala, though, has given me so much more than mere space to think about my job and my future. It gave me the time and quiet to revise a lot of my recent essays and poems. It gave me the opportunity to study the subjunctive in Spanish (with three different teachers who were ALL great), it gave me the chance to learn back-strap weaving, and take a Mayan cooking class. It gave me the opportunity to think about the world we live in, how much I’ve been given, and how much I have to give. It gave me the magic of the rainforest and Tikal and everything I learned there. It gave me little bits of time to explore both Antigua and Guatemala City, as well as different towns around the lake. It gave me people like Samuel, the launch driver who decided to trust me when I promised I’d pay him later when I realized I had no money with me, and told me to find him on the boat Mendez at the docks. It gave me more than one opportunity to face my fears–and it gave me a crazy but kind shuttle driver who served to only challenge my ability to face them (but I did!) on that absolutely terrifying road down to lake. It reminded me to talk to everybody: the richest, the poorest, the most cultured, the least cultured, liberal, conservative, and everyone in between–and really listen to what they have to say, so that I may learn to see the world more completely. Perhaps most significantly, my time here has reminded me how important and beautiful simplicity is–how little I really need, and how life is better when I focus on just a few things and require less of my surroundings.
Every morning I’ve enjoyed perhaps the most beautiful coffees of my life. I will miss this view and I doubt I’ll ever have it again: glossy avocado tree leaves bowing in the breeze, the lake, silver or blue, smooth or rippled, depending on the day, and in the distance, a wall of mountains dotted with tiny homes, patches of farm land, and countless shades of green. Tomorrow will be my last morning with this view, and I’ll be sure to cherish it. I’m so lucky I’ve had the opportunity to be here, to stay in this dreamy tree house, to learn and have adventures, to meet new people, to write and think, and to figure out what’s next in life–it’s a luxury so few of us have. And while I’m sure of so little, I do know this: the gifts I have been given as both an artist and a teacher, I need to keep using them: to not only give to others, but to create for myself. I’m pretty sure I’ll figure it out how, eventually.
After this month of reflection, rest, relaxation, adventure, and learning, I’m ready for a little mess 🙂