Thursday, April 29, 2010

Quarter-life lessons

As the day of my 25th birthday draws near, I’ve begun to notice a strange and previously unexperienced phenomena: I feel older.

Every other one of my 24 birthdays has passed with a far more familiar sensation of agelessness. I swear I hardly felt different between 17 and 23, or 7 and 12. I always observed this fact with a vague sense of disappointment. What was the big deal about birthdays if I felt no different on May 15th, as a 20-year-old, than on May 16th, as a 21-year-old? Of course I’m aware that I’ve grown and changed through the years, but hitherto, on every birthday, I’ve felt remarkably unchanged from the year before.

Well. This year is different- I feel old.

Okay, older, not old. Some indefinable part of my mind/body/soul has irreversibly changed and the shift has been monumental (while simultaneously being nothing special at all). I’m completely the same and totally different. I hardly recognize the new lens through which I’m viewing the world, yet it is as old and familiar as dirt. I feel like I’ve walked through fire, or fallen down the rabbit hole, only to return with wider eyes, more questions, less certainty, yet increased knowing of all things unknown.

I’m sharing this because this trip to Central America has been hugely important in this personal revamping. The beauty of travel, as many of you know I’m sure, is in the challenges you face, the removal of self from comfort, and the introduction to new and different ways of life. These elements of traveling offered me a perfect mirror to view my mind and habits in, and this is what happened:

"Marisa!" I said to myself, "You’ve forgotten how to think for yourself where it matters most."

I realized that the opinion of others has long been so important to me that I temporarily lost the ability to gauge my worth based on my own, inner sense of value. Part of this discovery has been coming to terms with the fact that I am an artist (something not valued in this society as much as, for example, a journalist), and as an artist I have a responsibility to forge my own path, to be brave and dare. I’m working on believing in myself- but I’m committed to it now.

I realize that my path may never be conventional from here on out. I realize that I may meet my fair share of failure on the way. But I am FINALLY dedicated to pursuing what inspires and excites me most- regardless of whether or not that is valued by society. The world needs more people who are fully alive.

I came to see this all while I was in San Pedro, on the shores of Lake Atitlán. What a curious place, unlike any other I have encountered in my travels. Picturesque, heavily strewn with flowers in constant bloom (Guatemala is called “the land of eternal spring”), and dirt paths that join uneven stone roads weaving through the steep hills of the town.

Strange characters, such as a slew of international ex-pats, enterprising locals, and ragged permanent travelers replete with dreads and patched-up clothes, frequent the streets. Walk up one of the steep hills and you’ll find a traditional market, with Mayan descendants dressed in indigenous woven clothing speaking their native language, Tzutujil, and selling tomatoes, peppers, thread for weaving, live chickens, mangoes, pineapples, and plantains.

My first observation of this hodgepodge town was that the pace of life was unlike any I have experienced. Things moved 372 times slower (I calculated it using precise mathematical formulas) than what I was used to- for example, having to wait 30 minutes for your bill at a small, sparsely patronized outdoor restaurant. Upon asking Indy, an Israeli ex-pat mechanic I befriended who had been living in San Pedro for seven years, what he was going to do on Sunday, he replied, with a grin, “Sit in this chair and play guitar.” I thought he was exaggerating. The next day, I observed as he sat in the sun, beneath a flowering tree, and played guitar for the whole day.

That same attitude of enjoying the present, spending time with family, and enjoying the day to the fullest is shared by all the people I met in San Pedro- what an uncomfortable shock to an American who has had the idea of “productivity,” “success,” and “career” drilled into their head since birth. After a few days of fighting this languid pace, I surrendered my need for constant accomplishment, and let the current take me where- and when- it pleased.

While in San Pedro, we stayed at El Hospedaje Casa de Maria- a place that quickly became one of my favorite locations on planet Earth. Owned by an Israeli man, Joel, and his indigenous wife Maria (my mother’s name- even stranger is that Maria’s oldest daughter was named Maritza- the Guatemalan version of Marisa), the hospedaje consisted of two small houses for guests and the larger house where the family lived. Sephora, age seven, soon became a permanent fixture in our room, drawing pictures with my colored pencils and bringing us presents of stones, shells, and fruit. I have never met a person as full of love as her. It was a delight conversing with her in my broken Spanish and receiving frequent hugs and kisses from her every day. She would stand next to me as I practiced yoga in the verdant, brilliant garden (full of pomegranate and lime trees, lemongrass, bougainvilleas, and fuchsia flowers) and imitate me as I moved from cobra to downward dog.

Her mother, Maria, spent countless hours teaching us to weave using a traditional back strap loom, which I have to admit, I did not excel at. I was hardly more successful when Indy tried to teach me how to weld in his motorcycle repair shop- I was terrified of the flying sparks and white hot flame.

During our time in San Pedro, it felt more like we were doing a home-stay rather than being at a hotel as we became closer to the family. Every day we would hear Spanish, Tzutugil, and Hebrew being spoken, whether during the sweltering heat of the late morning or the thunderous downpours of the afternoon. While we were there, it hailed for the first time in ten years and I experienced my first two earthquakes, one day after the next (the first was of 6.5 magnitude!)

The magic slow-paced pulse of San Pedro continued to re-wire my brain as I wondered about the lingering energy of the ancient Mayans (there are numerous pyramids, ruins and archeological sites around the lake) and what effect that was having on my nubile brain. Each day passed with the liquid assurance of a long-dreamt dream.

(The mountain in the background is called Indian Nose because of its resemblance to a Mayan profile).

1 comment:

  1. I didn't know you're back! Call me! This is Kate, btw. Also, I don't know why I'm posting under this name.