One day I saw a young man crouched by a steel frame shaped like a chair. Only raised a step, and with two stirrups in front. He reached out his hand, bruised in shades of polish. I sat down. He folded the bottoms of my trousers. Then he said something but I couldn't understand.
“Despacio, por favor,” I said, typing into my translator one word at a time. “Oh. Twenty-nine. Cuantos años tienes?”
“Fifteen,” he said.
As we spoke he worked. First with soapy water and a damp cloth, then with alcohol polish, which he set ablaze to clean and dry the leather. Then he pressed in two coats of wax polish with his thumbs.
“De donde eres?” He asked.
“Uh...” I typed. “Australia!”
“Oh, eso es un largo camino!”
“Um. Despacio, por favor?”
Soon we were laughing. Under the presumption of difference we had no reason to be frustrated by miscommunication. I returned the next day with another pair of boots. And the day after. But on the third day, having brought only two pairs, by then all I had were sentiments. He seemed confused about why I’d come. And I could not explain my interest.
I suppose I saw something familiar in him. A piece of something older than anything I can remember. I wanted to speak to it. To reminisce about a time before, when all the world was within walking distance. When we were naked and vulnerable but unafraid and curious. Before we developed a vision of the future. Before a thousand deaths taught us to want more than simple pleasures.
Now I’m in residence at Arquetopia. A beautifully restored property in Puebla’s historic centre. There are six other people here, artists in various disciplines. The purpose of our stay is to focus on the development of our art. For me that means taking steps towards figuring out what I have to offer as an educator.
Years ago I learned to help kids and their families connect with nature. That wasn’t easy, mainly because its unclear what being connected with nature even means. I’ve come to understand it as a feeling of belonging in relationship to the world. Which doesn’t make the task any easier. Building relationships is difficult, and the world is a challenging companion. There aren’t any surefire ways to go about it.
So instead of giving instructions I concentrated on telling stories. I tried to create worlds similar to this one, but simplified, easier to understand. And characters that were similar to people. In the stories the characters learned to live in relationship to the world. They were examples, and they resonated every time I told them.
What I learned in telling that story is that people who are lost require neither answers nor solutions. Because being lost is not a problem so much as a lack of direction.
So I’m wondering what a set of directions might look like that could help anyone find their way home. For now all I have is an early draft, and a team of students willing and able to test it out. Maybe in so doing they'll create maps of something closer to home. I hope so.