About 5 (or 100) years ago, I was visiting the home of a dear campesino in rural Oaxaca with Katia. We were sleeping in hammocks, cooking by candlelight, entertaining each other with stories and singing since there was no tv or radio, and climbing down the hill to jump in the ocean when temperatures climbed over 90 degrees by 9am. Accompanying us were two of Katia’s friends, Kasha and Jaime, originally from Poland and Spain, respectively. The three of them had been artistic colleagues over a decade prior, and remained dear friends over the years.
Kasha and Jaime first met in India during a workshop. They both spoke enough broken English to navigate the beginnings of falling in love, enough that Kasha soon moved in with Jaime in Spain where she became quickly fluent in Spanish. After some time, they decided that they wanted to live a nomadic life, and took off to Mexico to perform puppet shows and host workshops for children in rural villages. Nine months out of the year they camp and travel by dusty wagon, side by side, traversing vast stretches of earth and space, appearing in towns like a magical, mysterious traveling circus, to the joyful reception of crowds of smiling faces, young and old. When summer comes, making living in a wagon in the desert dangerous and unbearable, they separate and return to their homes in Europe to see their families and work during tourist season.
This is just their life.
Now, my superficial description of Kasha and Jaime could easily be projected onto a whole number of stereotypes that, likely both of us agree, fall into the category of distasteful. In my travels over the years, I have had the displeasure of interacting with all too many of…...those types. You know who I mean.
[deletes long winded rant]
[looks over shoulder to see if love & light police saw it]
But Kasha and Jaime seem to be on another level. They’re brilliantly self-sufficient and live very humbly. They believe in contributing wherever they go, whether it’s buying food to cook a meal for their hosts, or sharing a skill, cleaning, etc. They’re gentle and lively in their engagements, and they laugh a lot. They have a natural curiosity for nature and other people, yet are inviting; not leaning on curiousity or exploration as means to escape themselves or avoid intimacy. They are honest, and neither force small talk nor communicate with an energy of agenda. While it’s not hidden, you also wouldn’t immediately know it unless you ask because they don’t brag-- but both together and independently they have an unfathomable length of unconventional skills and accomplishments. They’re not Free Spirits™, and not necessarily feral because they have a certain grace, yielding and understanding gained from socialization, but something closer to that than not. Wild? Liberated? Unburdened?
Last summer I returned to Mexico to tend to some logistical business for a few days, and had the pleasure of crossing paths with Kasha and Jaime while they were crashing with Katia on their way through town. I observed the three of them talking and sharing stories with so much awe and admiration. They were loud and joyful, but also unafraid to be suddenly serious or concerned when warranted. They asked questions and shared intimate stories with a shamelessness that made me shrink a little, as this is an etiquette reserved for only the most trusted of dear friends back in the U.S. At one point, Kasha and Katia walked into the other room to get something, and I was alone with Jaime. My anxiety prompted me to initiate small talk, which suddenly seemed so trite.
I asked him about his recent travels, remarked on his impressive history, and inquired about whether or not his current lifestyle was “it”; if this was his life plan. The way Jaime responded was honest, and it threw my normalized agenda-mind into deep contrast. In his late 40s, he still didn’t have A Plan. He was just here, now, doing this thing that was fulfilling, and if it stops being fulfilling at some point then he’ll just do something else. He elaborated on this philosophy and outlook, which wasn’t flip or dismissive, but very thoughtful and grounded in what felt more real to me than any other version of what “real” adulthood and living is supposed to look like. This was a bit of a rude awakening for me, and shortly after I ended up walking back to my apartment replaying the conversation over ad nauseum, finding myself faced with a slight identity crisis.
Once Kasha and Jaime went to bed, Katia texted me to come back over and share a bottle of wine with her on the roof. We talked about everything, like we do. She shared outrageous stories from a recent trip, I rambled on about my own bullshit, and we plotted the next body of work we want to create together. This prompted me to ask her advice regarding my angst over the earlier conversation with Jaime:
“Katia, I don’t think I’m free. Like, in my soul. I think I’ve been fooling myself. How do I find that?”
She looked at me with shock, and proceeded to aggressively counter my self-judgement. Because I take compliments about as well as I take criticism, I don’t fully remember the details of what was said. I do remember, however, the perspective she had on how I’ve lived my life, and that whether I believed it or not, my actions were incredibly radical and indicative of someone who is free. But she continued on to propose that being free doesn’t necessarily mean not feeling pain. She asked me if some of my specific decisions placed me in uncomfortable social situations, and then suggested that perhaps the issue is not that I’m not free, but rather that I’m just hurt.
I thought about this for a while. I thought about choices I’ve made, paths I’ve taken, weird philosophies and knowledge I’ve gained from taking random risks, and I concluded that I don’t regret or feel shame for any of that. What keeps me up at night isn’t my lack of a past, present or future plan that holds up to other people’s standards. What keeps me up is sadness over isolation because of it. What keeps me up is frustration that I am unable to make authentic, long-lasting changes that would change any of that. Not unwilling. Seemingly actually unable.
In fact, the willingness in me to play well with others and get it right runs so strongly that it’s become an obsession. The same obsession that caused me to ask Jaime what his “plan” was, even though I thought I believed that things like plans, status and security don’t matter to me. This issue has returned since coming into quarantine, and have been called out twice by people who know me very well for having an Instagram fantasy of who I’m supposed to be, and beating myself up because I’m not achieving it.
Yes-- despite everything, I have a basic bitch living inside of me.
Not a book plug, but I love brunch and lattes, and I literally have these balloons ^^
Being free is subjective. Period. Being free looks completely different if you’re a cis-man or cis-woman, trans, non-binary, queer, gay, white, black, brown, immigrant, refugee, rich, poor, attractive, ugly, adult, child, able-bodied, neurodiverse, and so on. The freedom I need is probably different from the freedom you need. But here’s the one thing I am learning-- freedom and happiness are besties, but they are not the same. They work great as a team, but can be developed, earned, and experienced asynchronously.
Not all rebellion leads to the same liberation (if at all). To be wild and feral are different things. People like Jaime and Kasha are wild: they operate respectfully within some natural order that’s secret to most others, existing in another dimension that just makes more sense to them, engaged with the world without trying to save or destroy it. Someone like me is feral: descended from a domesticated species but broken out of captivity and returned to the wild, reacting stressfully and violently to attempts by the domesticated world to bring me back. I might never be well trained enough to be invited into your home, but I’m unsure if I’d totally survive in the wild. Perhaps I’m free, but I’m not at peace.
Maybe this is why I’m obsessed with revolution.
It’s the only place that feels like home.
Me giving up on a boat in Xochimilco.