For years I have written on graph paper exclusively, pages and pages of notes scrawled across the perfectly perpendicular lines that meet the horizons of the page at points fit for the roots of ideas. It is orderly, predictable, right for the tidy subclauses and side notes that sprinkle a writer’s process. The grid is my blank canvas, an immediate constraint on what a page can be. And within the lines, creativity can prosper without the intimidation of infinity.
Not all of the world needs these guiding lines. Nature is not like the mind — it doesn’t need limits to be limitless in the production of beauty. It only needs to be. And too often the human landscape is treated as the opposite of nature: in need of complete structure, perfect grids, to function seamlessly. Human beings and our creations, we seem to believe, need regulation.
In Sayulita, Mexico, everything is little lawless. Sidewalks are taken over by haphazard food vendors and rickety restaurant seating; horses, motorcycles, trucks and pedestrians share the erratic stone roads; telephone wires streak chaotic patterns across the intermittently cloudy and clear sky; barking dogs, screaming roosters and loud chatter are overcome only by the roar of vehicles with rusty engines and megaphones announcing the sale of fish, propane and anything in between. Even the performers are rough and worn to disorder.
My two sisters and I spent six days in this disarray. A small beach town on the Pacific coast, 45 minutes north of Puerto Vallarta, it is full of artists, makers and surfers, and a combination of the born-and-raised and those who have come from far away places to bask in the laid-back lifestyle. And like its benevolent population, Sayulita has the spontaneous and accidental beauty of nature, as if each dwelling, street and person simply took root and grew by mere chance. And with the chaos of a forest, a town was born.
In this kind of landscape, the movements of people, vehicles, flora and fauna are without rules. When and where we crossed the street, who served us our tacos and where we drank our beer was up to us. There was a sense that people could take care of themselves, a certain trust in humanity, and this made the town feel like a collective: orderly in the ideals of behavior if not in the direction and condition of streets.
For the people of Sayulita, this chaos may be for better or worse. But when viewed through the lens of unrestrained creation and unpatterned beauty, this lawlessness is a form of liberation. When we are without constraint, we are free. And when we are free, we are limitless, if only for a moment.