FINCA TATIN, Guatemala- Four walls of unpainted planks stacked end on end, a corrugated steel roof, and a cement floor is all I need. I have extravagance: I sit on a beer crate and my computer sits on two, we both have luxury. I hear voices coming from far away.
Far away is the key word. I have found a place to write, I have set up my mobile office — my writing room — in the jungle of Guatemala.
The first thing I look for in a room, in the habitation that will be my next temporary home, is if there is a place that invites me to work. A room that is so cramped that you can not even set an Eee PC upon on small table is no good, a room without windows is worse. Writing in bed is a bad habit, a placement facing an open window is best.
Windows provide the impetus for dreaming, and all writing is the manifestation of daydreams — daydreams played out by talking to yourself. To hear a far away yell, a shout, or the little Maya worker girl giggling by the clothesline is to add inertia to the daydreaming.
They do not know that I am perched up in my second floor room that sits above a giant diesel generator. They think that I am down below with all of the people, working like I have nothing else in the world to be doing. But I have escaped, I have ran away to do my real work — Vagabond Journey. I am on duty at the hotel from 7 to 10 in the mornings and then I take a couple hours off — I run away to my writing room, where I will remain until lunch.
This is how these travelogue entries are born.
After lunch, I return into the fray: there are phones to be answered, uneasy tourists to calm, garbage to be cleaned, stuff to be straightened, fruit to buy, beer to collect, reservations to take, dinner to make, tours to be set up, transportation companies to be called. I do this from 13:00 to 21:00 each day.
Sometimes I am also able to get an hour of computer time in at night, between nine and ten, right before I switch off the generator and the finca goes dark. I sit down in the common room behind the office, as my wife and baby are usually up in the room by this time sleeping. I hide, any question stricken guests will have all of their little questions in the morning — I will not let them sink their teeth into me at 9:30 PM.
When ten o’clock comes around I wrap up another day of writing, turn off the lights, and go down to the river for a swim. Then I return to the room above the generator, to my family, for sleep.
Morning comes again at 7 AM, I wake up and tend to the flocks of tourists, their questions, check ins and check outs. I tend to this flock for three hours, itching for them to leave, go do something, split on their tours, scram — I am anxious to get back to the empty room in the back of the finca, where I can listen to the sounds of conversations coming from afar, where I can sit at my beer crate desk, and write.
“What is a misanthrope,” I quote a line from some poor Australian cowboy movie that I saw once in China.
“It is a fucka who can’t stand any otha fuckas.”
And all misanthropes dream of rooms where nobody knows where they are.
Sometimes life needs parameters to be lived fully. For the first month of working at the Finca Tatin, I would try to write behind the desk in the common room. I would be interrupted constantly. Here and now, I am a father, a husband, a hotel worker, and a traveling webmaster. I found that blending all of these roles into one was enough to drive me to rage. I realized that I was becoming frustrated, aggravated — I wasn’t completing all that I wanted to with the day, I could only work in starts and stops in all of my roles, I needed to stop, look around, and make a change.
The first glimmers of unhappiness are a sign that I need to change strategy. I believe strongly that there is a way to always make myself happy, I just need to plot a new route. I talked to my wife, we came up with a solution:
I now have a block of time in the day for Vagabond Journey, I can run my business as usual while working at the hotel, being a father, being a husband.
As with most people, I have many roles, but in order for all of these aspects to blend together smoothly, I need to give each one my full attention in succession. I need hotel time, writing time, father time, husband time. I have ordered these times into a seamless succession, lent the hand of structure to my days.
If I let things be, if I just rode the wave, did not stop, sit down with my wife, talk, come up with a new way, I am unsure if this start of this entry would seem so joyous.
I restrategized, made a time for this, a time for that, and kept the plot the same.
(Though, of course, a happy husband is often the result of a wife at the crank, turning the wheels)
Writing room in Guatemala