Under the Volcano

I went to Joyce Maynard's memoir writing workshop in Guatemala carrying a lapis stone my friend Jane gave me.

“It’s the writing stone,” she said.

The last thing I did after getting dressed at 3:00 am on the morning I was leaving was to stuff it in my jeans pocket.

When I was 27 a friend gave me a small deco marcosite airplane broche. Long after our friendship ended and the plane fell off its pin, I carried that thing with me whenever I traveled, superstitious we wouldn’t make it if I didn’t have it on me. I lost it years later during a move and was nervous the first time I flew without it.

The week before last I walked to the American Airline counter, my new talisman tucked where I could finger it.

I touched it at least 37 times between Toronto and Guatemala city.


How often can I say I’ve seen a volcano out the window of my bedroom? I see one now.  I’m proud that I’ve given only a handful of seconds thought to whether it might blow.

My brother sent an e-mail the other morning. “It is pretty mind-boggling that someone like you has done as little traveling as you have. Once your first book gets published, (Bless him!) I think it would help your career to get out and see a bit more of the world.” 

“But I’m not a travel writer,” I wanted to respond.

Someone like me. Someone relatively worldly, he means. Someone who is interested in what’s going on in Egypt and Mali. Some chicken who comes off bolder than she is.

I’m here under the Volcano where the clouds hang low and the land reaches high enough to wear them - a costume that teases me into thinking bubbling lava’s below. You’d think I’d have researched the possibility that it might be emitting real puffs of smoke. But when it comes to these matters I prefer my imagination to google. Statistics and odds are do little to appease me. I’ve never been to California.

“Go off and write,” Jane said as she handed over the stone, warm from her hand. She wouldn't have given it to me if she knew it would serve as protection not inspiration.








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