Just the right container

Oh Guatemala.

I thank you. My blog thanks you. And my readers, all 63 or 7 – depending on the day - can indulge me or click off.  

Eventually I will move on, but since I’m not forcing you to sit beside me as I describe each of my 942 pictures in excruciating detail (which some love, I just don’t happen to be one of them) I’ll linger under the volcanos as long as I can.

I did sit with a close friend (the only kind one should subject to one’s travelogue, unless people are begging) and found myself saying things like This is Meredith, she’s so great, This is Dede, she’s amazing, This is Becky, This is… I can come up with modifiers like This is Faye, she’s from Alberta, This is Emily, she’s Jewish, This is Lea, she’s a CEO, which are just short of descriptive and border on sensational - in that personal travel pics kind of way.

Like showing people who are not their grandparents endless photos of ones kids. There's not much more to say than “ooh, ahh, and so cute”.

But when I look at these pictures of people I didn’t know existed a month ago, that I now count among those who would run into a burning building after me, or at least run for water, yelling at me to hang in, that I’m braver than I think, I feel optimistic. Seems you just have to spend one warm, ridiculously scenic, intense, over-sharing, steep, gut-wrenching, isolated, colourful week with a group of strangers, to change your world and the way you write about it.

For how long, remains to be seen.

I’m convinced this planet would be a different place if each person was obligated to attend Joyce Maynard’s workshop. If I had a week with Bashar al-Assad or Vlad Putin pouring out their hearts and drinking from others'. (Oh wait, they already do drink from others) Imagine the possibilities?

I’m at gate 10 in the Guatemala airport where I arrived at 4:35 am for an 8:10 flight back to Toronto. (“Take the 4:00 am shuttle, there is much traffic.” said the hotel man who gently knocked on my door at 3:45 to wake me. "4:00 am? But you don’t hit traffic until 6:45 in Toronto.”  Such useful comparisons we travelers make.) A British girl wearing 3 1/2 inch black suede stilletos sits across from me. Her friend totters over in slightly shorter pumps. I marvel at their choice of traveling shoes. I prefer sound footing but Guatemala and Joyce Maynard offer little of that. My flats were not helpful.

Joyce spent the week proffering (gently ramming down our throats) manageable containers into which we might pour our stories. There’s an invisible, bottomless box beside her teaching stool, from which she pulls them, assorted tupperware, mason jars, salt shakers, RVs, each with a lid that fits. She is not a fan of the mess that results from uncontained ramblings, and while we each arrived with our wonderful images, tragic metaphors and clichés which Joyce graciously documented and read out loud – she moved quickly to packaging. No bows, or bells required, just the right receptacle.

Don’t even think about dropping a handful of Smarties, cocktail wieners and a three hole punch into a suitcase and calling that a story.

On the plane home I’m sitting beside a Mennonite couple. He could be an actor playing a Mennonite. She is dressed in a blue floral print like Laura Ingalls Wilder. Her long hair is tucked away in a white cap that looks like a coffee filter. They come to Guatemala every few years to spread the word. He tells me the difference between Manitoba and Pennsylvania Mennonites - some proselytize, others don’t. He does. I understand the difference. Everyone has a story and I try to imagine the one of him spreading his gospel.

This month I am a proselytizer.

To all those whose hearts are remotely open to beholding, mucking about in, and writing bits of your own life, I say, JUMP.

(And this from someone who’s afraid of heights.) 




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