Medellín, Colombia

June 2, 2019

Honest Work

This past week, I sat with a friend and fellow writer around a small table near one of the parks here in Medellín. We leaned into green plastic chairs around a small metal table, emptying beers well into the night.

We talked about what life was like growing up here, the world as a whole, being introverts in societies where people always want to talk (but where not as many people want to listen.) And we talked about our work.

Not job-work.

But work-work. What-do-you-want-to-make-with-your-one-precious-life work.

We talked through the novels we're both working on, the process and the hopes and the you-never-know of it all.

But then he said something that rung like a bell: "I think what I really want is to make honest work."

Honest Work.

Authentic work. The best work we know how to make.

It hit me both because it summed up how I feel about the things I'm making - these letters, the novel, the tools for life.

But also because it feels so emblematic of this city, his home, Medellín.

As I've met old friends here on this visit, eventually everyone asks the same question - "Why do you keep coming back? What is it that you love here?"

I always pause too long, search for the right words and never find them, and end up saying something like "the heart" or talking about how the fact that they have a week-long festival for flowers says something important about life here. But none of it quite captures it.

But honest?

Honest does.

Here, it feels like things are what they really are. The food is made of real food. The people connect as real people. There is grace and beauty everywhere, but it's earned, not painted on.

Back in Buenos Aires, I watched for a week as men dangled on ropes, painting the side of a huge building white. The building was falling apart, with huge cracks running its length. But there they hung, dilligent, painting "everything is fine" over the actual state of things.

I never see that here. Things are what they look like. If the look new and fancy, they're new and fancy. If they look worn but solid, they're worn but solid. Falling down looks like falling down.

Honest, everywhere you look, and inescapable.

I'll have to leave Colombia soon, and I'm not sure when I'll get to come back. But now I know, when I'm away, what it is about this place that I miss so dearly from afar.

Honest work.

Have a wonderful week,

-Steven

p.s. The best thing I read this week was (again) from Refinery29. It's a story of North Korea, hair dye, and resistance.

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