The weather has broken so I go upstairs to write. The shared rooftop patio was a major selling point to our Airbnb here in Cuenca, however it seems our host is in the process of refurbishing many of the building’s other apartments. While the echoes of construction have managed to violate the peace of our afternoon writing sessions with some frequency, the lack of tenants means that the roof is our private domain.
I take a seat in one of the wicker chairs that accompany the bistro table our host has provided. My rear spills over the seat and I am again reminded of my status as an oversized foreigner. It’s my first time encountering this specific type of discomfort. Though my late teens saw me filling out in other areas (I not so fondly remember an older gentleman in line behind me at the bank once “complimenting” me on my good birthing hips), my gluteus has always been a bit more of the minimus variety. I skew just slightly tallish for an American woman and my relative oaf status here amuses me, like when I went to use the restroom at the pre-school where my friend taught and encountered toilets positioned 6″ off the ground.
It’s only 5:30pm, but the sun is setting. The sky is lit in faded, soft creams and pinks like the cones of merengue sold at carts in the market. I grew used to early encroaching evenings while we traveled across the Colorado Plateau. The sun would fall beneath the raised mesa and the air would take on a chill. Cuenca is 3,000ft higher still, a city fenced in by the Andes Mountains rising on all sides. The sun doesn’t have to travel far before it hits a peak, authoritatively blotting out the day and sending it to bed.
With the advent of a new country, a new perspective, and a lot of free time, I decided I wanted to do National Write a Novel Month (NaNoWriMo) in November. NaNoWriMo is a program that encourages writers to complete 50,000 words, or, a novel, in one month or less. Y and I talked about it, and despite the number of times I failed in the attempt, I felt like the stars couldn’t be more aligned. If I can’t manage to pull it off now, I thought, especially with a captive editor, I would never be able to complete anything I started.
We threw ourselves into the process of writing, or at least staring at our laptops. There was a distinct relief in knowing we had months to stay in one place. It was luxury. After weeks of furious brainstorming, scattered internet, and consistent writing, the gates had gone down, the bell had sounded. Rather than explore the streets for a gig, as we may have back home, our fingers were plowing through miles of keyboard strokes.
Approaching the freelance waters, we skirted the edges, just as anyone afraid of cold water would. Dip a toe, consider the angle of the eventual plunge. There’s nothing really much in between. We both felt calm, cool and collected. We had done made it, thus far in any case. It’s hard not to believe in the possibility of exponential growth after such an epic experience. After some investigation, we clambered into the water like the graceless poor swimmers we are, art imitating life.
“People don’t fear change, people like comfort. The status quo is more comfortable than the unknown.” – Simon Sinek
I don’t think anyone expected us to pursue careers in writing less than us. Like many an earnest teenager, passionate hopes of becoming a published writer had invaded my thoughts with some regularity. Tenaciously they wriggled, competing for consciousness with field hockey plays, experiments in schnapps, and an embarrassing amount of crushing on every third boy or so. However idealism is an expense I couldn’t afford to indulge, and so the idea was set aside after high school with my cleats and passed notes.
This new career is a detour, born from an unexpected juncture. It’s one I wouldn’t have had the resolve to pursue without J’s insistence. With age, our mindsets risk becoming fixed and our impulsiveness atrophies. Many people don’t have a choice. They (often gladly) make the necessary sacrifices needed to support the lives they have built. I’m less keen to cede my autonomy, but I am lucky enough to have set my life up in a way that allows me the freedom to sleep well past noon, have visible tattoos, and travel with minimal plan or notice.
Not that I believe quitting the rat race is the answer for everyone. It’s condescending and dismissive to believe that your way is the only right way. Many jobs are necessary training for where someone eventually wants to be, and every position has its drudgery. I am finding writing to be challenging work. J is participating in NaNoWriMo, and the pace is currently well beyond my capabilities. I’m still trudging along in this race, correcting my form and working on my breathing. I’m not expected to finish, let alone place. Right now, it’s all about endurance.
Simon Sinek says, “People don’t fear change, people like comfort. The status quo is more comfortable than the unknown.” Changing course to pursue a passion often means starting from scratch, but I’m not capable of resigning myself to toiling indefinitely at something I find tedious. My time and my life are worth more than a title. I’ve always felt a life well-lived was more like meandering through a sculpture garden than scaling a mountain.
Our days in Cuenca were significantly less glamorous than originally hoped for. Reality is that which persists even when you ignore it, and the finer details of learning a new trade changed our game plan somewhat. Social media work is incredibly grinding. In a perfect world, we would fire off a few emails and get back to writing. Our world, from more angles than not, is replete with flaws. As such, we spent a great deal of time learning the finer points of hashtags from bubbly wanderlusters we’re reasonably sure are generally overstating their status as #influencers. Some of them, to be fair, have in fact inspired and influenced us, but we occasionally drink aggressively at the thought of having to read yet another bizarrely high-trafficked post gushing over the Westin hotels of the Gulf Coast.
Until we can rope a Virtual Assistant into the mix, we’re locked into the dazzling world of social media for the time being. Hopefully we can become stupid famous for a viral video of our cat eating moths, which will help lock in that sought-after Cat Fancy-reading demographic.
I started tearing into my NaNoWriMo project and hit about 1/5 of the way from the get-go. I was hungry for my new purpose, and even though there was an entirely new city right outside my window, I enthusiastically fell to building an entirely fictional one to explore. My progress was steady, and every little change created a ripple felt through the whole work, sending me back to the beginning for quick re-writes in between thousand-word thrusts.
I’m appreciating the slower pace since arriving in Cuenca. Cooking has become both a way to unravel my stress and a creative outlet, a tangible craft I can continue to hone, and I’ve missed the process. Designing and preparing our meals allows for a break when the writing becomes arduous, a mental reset in addition to the obvious reward of the meal itself. And it offers perspective. There was a time when chopping an onion was beyond my talents. I’m reminded proficiency is the result of putting in the work.
The ring of ridges traps the clouds in a canopy above the city, and though the storm has moved past our neighborhood of El Batan, I can still see it hovering further South. The isolated thunderstorms remind me of Pittsburgh. There the confluence of the Monongahela, Allegheny, and Ohio Rivers have carved a valley from a mesa and the encircling “hills” similarly create a pocket that catches the passing storms.
The light alters the landscape with each passing minute and its evolution has distracted me from my writing. The peaks to the South are dusky, periwinkle and lavender. A breeze is blowing across the city. It crashes up against the mountains, creating a whirlwind that whisks the fluffy clouds like fresh spun cotton candy. The fibrous clouds split the last of the sun’s rays into shards of light. The coral beams creep from behind the peak to set the tips of the Eastern mountain range ablaze in a fiery red. Within five minutes the show is over. Lights of rural homes begin to twinkle up along the mountain roads and the city drifts into night.
Our situation is different from so many #influencers and #freelancers in that while we want to be transitory, we still want a home base. To do that, it means we may miss out on a few things the Instagram crowd is focused on. Rather than Insta-perfect shots of us on high adventure trips in the Andes, we chugged away at the basics of writing for money on the internet. All the good things in life always require a bit of digging. When we set off on our adventures together, we did so knowing that this was no mere lark or flash in the pan.
We are here, in this life, for the long haul, and we don’t want to be tourists, wherever we roam. Our goal is to live up to the role of citizens of the world. We don’t want to take shortcuts, we don’t want to disrespect anyone, and we want it to take as long as it needs to take to do things by the numbers. We’re ethical creatures of character, at least on paper. In any case, we opted to treat our temporary neighborhood with respect and deference, rather than a series of photo-ops. Writers in their natural habitats often aren’t the most photogenic of creatures, sporting lank and sideways hair and stale sweatpants, guzzling green tea by the gallon. It’s only every tenth gallon or so that we’ve earned a frosty photo of a cocktail or a scintillating sunset.