I heard about writer Joyce Maynard years ago. After receiving a full writing scholarship to Yale in 1972, her essay, An 18 year old looks back on Life was printed front page of the NY Times Magazine. Her life went in a different direction when J.D. Salinger wrote to her, starting a relationship that ended in less than a year after she moved in with him.
Joyce’s love of writing and books was instilled in her by her mother, an English teacher who was passionate about reading, language and books.
My love of books started in elementary school ordering all kinds of stories from the Scholastic Book Club. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was a book I reread over and over when I was 12 years old. As Charlie slowly peeled back the tiny wrapper of the Willie Wonka chocolate bar and a flash of gold winked at me, I smiled. I wished Charlie would win the trip to Wonka’s Chocolate Factory because he wanted it more than anyone. Charlie showed me if you want something bad enough, dreams come true.
Guatemala was a dream I’ve had since I was very young. My mother was born and raised there so I have a pull to family when I go and I love the gentle people greeting me with open arms on every corner. I also love the food, the language, the culture, the people; la comida, la lengua, la cultura., la gente. Since I first traveled there in 1983, I have been back on six different trips.
I’ve been carrying around my own story for years. I started writing it two years ago after working with writer Hope Edelman but I allowed my busy life for the past year to stop my writing. I knew it was time to go back to Guatemala. Aldous Huxley said that Lake Atitlan was the most beautiful lake in the world. The combination of studying with Joyce Maynard and the beauty of the lake seemed to be the perfect blend to fill myself up, disconnect my i-Phone and breath deeply.
Joyce has created a space at her home with rocks hand carved in the shape of indigenous peoples, textiles of bright green, vibrant reds, bright blues, happy yellows. Her home is nestled in the side of a cliff in the village of San Marcos on Lake Atitlan. Two cooks nurtured us with a daily breakfast of local papaya, mango, banana, pineapple, watermelon, black beans- frijoles negros, hot corn tortillas, homemade raspberry jelly, eggs scrambled with spinach, onion and Guatemalan coffee con leche. For someone who lives alone and is not much for cooking, I loved the home made, comforting meals.
Another reason to travel to Guatemala is the weather. You can go there anytime of year as the average temperature is 75 degrees. Guatemala has earned its nickname, “land of the eternal spring.”
A group of writers who have stories to tell and need help telling them sat in a circle as Joyce stood at a white board, the blue lake behind her, while she laughed, smiled, and shared her love of writing and books. She taught us how to recognize a dead sentence like “the lake is beautiful” and gave us exercises to paint that picture.
As the boat pulls away from Lake Atitlan, and I head back to Antigua, where our voyage began, I turn around to see Joyce, waving and smiling, as I take one more hard look at her home and feel grateful for ten days of fresh papaya & guava in the morning and frijoles negros at almost every meal. I’ll be back next year I think to myself as I wrap the black wool poncho around my shoulders that she gifted me with.