Brew a cuppa, this could be a long one. It’s one of those borderless days.
***** A quick note about this post. It is offered here today and also over on my Patreon page to everyone – in full – regardless of patronage or lack there of. As always I appreciate those of you who come to this space to read and I will continue to offer bits and pieces here as I have since the beginning. I have been told my writings brings a smile sometimes, or value of some kind at least. Occasionally.
If this is you, and you would like to buy me a cup of coffee each month, (house brew, with a splash of oatmilk if you please) head on over and make a little pledge to do so. Every little bit helps. And at this point with the help of my new patrons, I have financially covered what it will take to upgrade some of my tech to keep this website alive and kickin. For this I am deeply grateful. Now….. let’s go to Antigua, Guatemala on this cold and snowy gray day……..*****
These are strange times in which we find ourselves. I for one am still feeling a bit twitchy since the January 6th insurrection at our nation’s capitol. While I am, for all intents and purposes, just fine, I also write this post with a heating pad round my neck just after an appointment with an acupuncturist this morning. I think it may take a while to physically remove the stains of vitriolic hatred from our bodies after the past 4+ years. I know in my bones that we aren’t finished with this madness, just getting a little break. Some time to recoup and catch our collective breath.
I find myself quick to cry lately. Perhaps a song in a poignant key, or a tune comes round that I remember playing together with friends in the before times and I well up. I suppose crying acts as a sort of pressure valve release. Affording us a small respite so as not to shatter into a million tiny pieces. I’ve lost count of the number of friends I have who have lost parents and other loved ones. I know friends who’ve sickened and suffered but survived. I also know friends who’ve sickened and not survived. And I know those who are simply surviving in other ways as well – mentally, spiritually, financially. It’s a slog, and we don’t even have each other to lean on. Not really. Though to be honest, as much as I may grow weary of zooming, I cannot deny it’s presence has been a god-send in this era of endless loneliness.
It has been almost a year since I packed my satchel to travel to Guatemala for two back to back travel journal workshop offerings. My heart was heavy at the time with the household loss of my pack of aged animals – one on the heels of another and yet another, but the very soul of the city of Antigua acts as a balm to a weary spirit and the healing begins the moment my plane touches ground in Guatemala City.
There is a woman next to me on the plane in traditional Guatemalan dress. She has no English, only a bit of Spanish and my Spanish languishes hidden behind veils of trauma and time. I have no Maya to speak of either (let alone the dozens of dialects therein) . But the universal language of humanity allows for mild pleasantries to occur during our flight – “excuse me, can I pass through to use the loo?”, “can I pass your cup of tea to you?”, “would you like this last cookie?”. In this way we have traveled companionably.
The sun is up outside our minuscule scratched porthole. We see the smoking tips of volcanoes peeking up through clouds below us. The land in Guatemala is alive, breathing. My companion breaks into a tooth gold grin when our wheels hit the tarmac and I can’t help but join her in this gleeful feeling of homecoming. Anxieties surrounding the years of my childhood spent here are tucked away into what feels like a different lifetime and I’ve developed a deep love for this place as an adult and an artist. This land, these amazing people. In spite of a crushing level of poverty to be found here in many places, people are quick to smile, to correct my woeful grammar or to give assistance in finding my way. From here in wintry Ohio, in the middle of a raging pandemic, I need only close my eyes to see the smiles of my friends in Guatemala.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the work that I do in the normal times. When asked “so what is it that you do?”, my answer is “I teach the art of keeping an illustrated travel journal.” That’s the short answer at least. The truth of the work is much more complicated. Sure I teach a bit of art, I do a lot of cheerleading, and I share words and writing – my own and that of others. But the real heart of the work is that I teach people to notice. I conduct exercises which promote an opening up of the mind to the art of attention.
It is said that we teach what we most need to learn. I suppose in a way, this old adage holds a grain of truth for me. Engaging in a small blank book when traveling is a bit like holding a magical key of a kind. I can slow time, focus in on the most miraculous sights, sounds and memories. Later, when leafing back through old volumes, a drawing or the jotting of a few words’ impression can catapult my mind and heart back to the exact moment I wrote, drew or painted it.
This morning, before dawn, I sit with some coffee and a sleepy melted puppy (aren’t puppies the sweetest when just a bit melty?).
In my mind, for some reason, I go to Antigua. I can smell woodsmoke on the air from cook fires off in the distant hillsides and diesel from cars and motorcycles shuttling local folk to work and school.
For my ears, there is the music of school and church bells ringing through out town. These bells have a tinny clang to them unlike the bells I know back home. I wonder about the families rushing to get to school on time, the grandmothers who light a candle upon entering a hushed and darkened church foyer. There is laughter perhaps downstairs on the main level of our posada where the work day begins for our gracious hosts. Hugo’s laughter is a bright light the world. It is good to conjure on a dreary Ohio morning. The sun shines and warm breezes blow, Fuego’s most recent eruptions drift off into the distance….
As much as being fully present is vital and advisable, I am not beyond a bit of escapism in difficult times. Why else would we have the imaginations we do? My Antigua travel-journaling class won’t be happening this spring, and summer’s trip to Taos is looking more and more doubtful each time I read the covid-related headlines. Perhaps I can squeeze in a trip to Guatemala just to make art and work in my own journal before this calendar year is over. I do not know.
I do know that I dearly miss the other soul-home-spaces I’ve come to know over the years of my nomadic work. I also know that it has been a real gift to work on tending to this home-place here in Ohio for a time, cold and gray as it is just now. I hope that wherever today’s missive finds you, be it sitting with sorrow or gratitude, or perhaps diving into old journals as a means of momentary escape, that you find a way to be gentle with yourself. Have that second cup of coffee or tea. Spend an extra moment holding it close for warmth. Give into a good cry. Trust me, it feels good. Let your friends know you miss them.
We will get through this. Eventually.