Taos: it sneaks up on you

So far during this month I’ve had the opportunity to spend a total of seven days in Taos, New Mexico.  First, I attended the University of New Mexico’s Taos Summer Writers’ Conference.  This annual conference will always hold a special place in my heart.  The first time I attended the conference, in 2005, I had my first experience reading and looking at my own writing through the lens of craft in Greg Martin‘s “beginning” memoir class.  The lesson continued with the 2007 Master Class in memoir (also taught by Greg Martin).  In 2009 I took a class with Jesse Lee Kercheval, and in 2010 with Summer Wood.

Just to be clear, I have many others to thank for teaching, and encouraging me– I took classes and workshops in San Diego with some wonderful writers like Jill BadonskyJudy Reeves, Sue Diaz and Candace Toft and I learned a lot from them all…

But this post is about Taos.  Sort of.

This past week, rather than take a more challenging course in memoir, one that would require me to submit pages to my classmates and a teacher, and participate in a read and critique, I opted to take a class that was geared more towards generating new writing.  Taught by Jeffrey Davis, the class “Where It All Begins: Writing, Yoga & Wonder” turned out to be just what I needed.  I wrote some really bad stuff, and some really good stuff, tapping into someplace I hadn’t been in a while–my imagination.  You see, when you write memoir sometimes you forget that it doesn’t all have to be true.  That is one aspect of  the “creative” part of  “creative non fiction.”

In the piece I like,  “The Way It Was Supposed To Be” I imagine a fight with my mother that never happened, a fight that couldn’t have happened because in the scene I wrote I was 15.  In reality, I was 13 when she died….    I’m still working on this as either short memoir piece (under 1000 words) or developing a longer piece, I’m not sure.

I also wrote a piece that I’m not as excited about– its Word document title is  MomDream.doc.  It is based on a dream I had–which is of course tricky because really, who wants to know about your dreams?  In the dream I find out my mother had not died, had in fact been in a mental institution and that the family had decided it would be better if we (my sister and I) didn’t know.  If that is not weird enough, in the dream, my mother comes back–  she’d gotten out of the institution, divorced my dad, married some new guy and was living in Boca.  (Boca?!  yeah, I know)  This writing is not so good, I’m not sure I can make it into an essay or a chapter, but there are some good lines in there that may make their way into something else.

I wanted to be sick, to puke purple words and foggy letters, to crawl back into bed, or run out the door, down the street, over the back fence in Lisa Johnson’s yard, through the woods to Dillon’s horse farm. I wanted to take Trixi, my pinto pony, and gallop along the old abandoned rail road tracks all the way to Richmond.

I wanted to scream in capital letters with exclamation points to make myself heard. WHY?!! WHY?? WHY? ARE YOU TELLING ME THIS NOW?! I wanted to scream WHAT THE FUCK?!

And just like a cartoon, the swirl of words and letters and punctuation marks screeched to a halt in a halo around my head, frozen in mid air, hanging for a full minute before falling to the ground and shattering like old brittle bones. The rest of the day became a blur of words and images, memories, maybe real, maybe imagined, I didn’t know anymore.

 

Or maybe not…  we’ll just have to see what happens.

All this to say, Taos, for whatever reason, stimulates parts of my brain that don’t get stimulated very often, things like imagination and wonder. Plus attending a conference full of like minded people all pursuing creative endeavors is pretty damn encouraging.  It doesn’t hurt that Taos is at least 15 degrees cooler than Albuquerque, and Taos is downright paradise.

Last night I went back to Taos.  My friend and writing coach Jill Badonsky is hosting “Electric Skies and Creative Thunder” a creative retreat at the Mabel Dodge Luhan house.  And since Jill and I missed connecting in Albuquerque before she drove up on Sunday, she invited me to come up for the night, to have dinner there at the Mabel Dodge Luhan house, and participate in the evening’s Salon, a kind of open mic.

Jill is (I hope she won’t get mad if she reads this) less about writing, about the craft of writing and more about tapping into the creativity.  That is to say, a Jill workshop is not going to talk about rising action, or character development or discuss the character’s motivation or if the obstacles are formidable enough.  I would be shocked if she drew a Freytag Triangle on the board.

I’m sure Jill knows about the triangle, the elements of story and all that, but that’s not at all what a Jill Badonsky workshop is all about. She’s about inviting the muse to play (all nine of them, plus a body guard), she’s about tapping into imagination, and exploring your own innate sense of creativity.

It had been a long time since I’d experienced this with Jill, but last night I had the opportunity to not only have a fantastic meal at the Mabel Dodge Luhan house,  but to watch Jill work her magic.  At the Salon, 9 of the 12 participants, all women (except one brave husband),  showcased the sculptures they’d been working on all day–  an assignment that mandated they include a small sheer fabric bag and pipe cleaners in whatever they created.  And each creation was more amazing than the next!  From a dream catcher-like sculpture of wood tied to rock with pipe cleaners and ribbon to the actual embodiment (as in she made herself a piece of art) of a sculpture to a diorama to a talking stick, to a worry tree, to a I don’t know what to call it but it was fabulous sculpture….  To watch these women, from all walks of life, from all parts of the country, some in need of some healing, find a kind of power within themselves was truly amazing.

I was honored to be a part of this celebration, to read two short pieces and for a moment I felt like I was part of it. (so again, Thank You, Jill).

The evening ended with some original music by another Jill and her husband Doug, two very talented musician-singer-songwriters from Dallas who’s last name or band name I did not get, but I just used my mad google skillz to find– check her out here:

 

All this to say, whether I’m hanging out in the garden drinking coffee at Wired Cafe, wallowing in the artistic landscape, enjoying the physical landscape (from high desert to ponderosa pines and green meadows), or sharing good conversation, good food and art with friends, Taos is a special place. It sneaks up on you and gets under your skin.

 

Musing on Silence

How do I write silence, explain the space between words, between thoughts, between moments in time, between the inhale and the exhale? Does silence even really exist?  Is there really no sound in silence?

What about the low pitched buzz of the refrigerator, the water circulating through the swamp cooler, the delicate thump of a cat launching itself from desktop to floor?  And if you listen, really listen, can’t you hear the high pitched digital whine of the computer, the clock radio, the cable box, the printer.

Even in nature there is no silence.  Can’t you hear the air move through the dry branches and leaves of  the elm trees, through the sage brush, the creosote?

Taos Vista

Don’t you know the sound of a purple blossom dropping from a desert willow? And what about the sound of prairie dogs scrambling from hole to hole while the lizard hunts for shade?

Can I paint silence?

What color would it be?Is it black or white or a thousand shades of blue?

Yellow seems too joyful to be silent.

Is silence golden? or is it bronze or silver or slivered into pieces like almonds on a mandarin orange salad?

Is it dark or is it light? Is it big or is it tall or wide or soft and fluffy like a cotton candy cloud? Or is it hard like concrete? Can I stub my toe on silence?

Sometimes I want to wallow in silence, roll around in it as if it were a grassy meadow dotted with purple mountain lilies or a warm ocean bay.  But there is no silence at the shore:  the wind on water, waves lapping onto sandy beach, the crunch of sand between my toes, the hermit crab, the splash of a dolphin.

Sometimes I can’t help myself, I want to break the silence, shatter it with a hammer, watch it spider like windshield glass or crumble like old bones.   Silence is scary.  Too much silence and I could begin to think too much, do too little.  Too much silence could set free the voices locked in a vault in the back of my mind.  Would I be frozen in that space between thoughts?  Or could I grab onto one thought and follow it out my ear or my eye to a place I haven’t yet heard?

Why I Won’t Change My Facebook Status for a Cause

One of my pet peeves about Facebook is the plethora of posts that go something like this:

If you care about [insert your favorite cause here] then change your Facebook status….

 

I care about a lot of things, for a lot of reasons:

  • Children:  They are our future….  plus they’re cute, and defenseless.

 

  • Breast Cancer:  My sister has it–Stage IV; I would love to see it cured. I would love to see her cured.

 

  • Cancer (in general):  My mom, my grandma, my aunt, my friend’s dad, my friend’s mom…  a lot of people get cancer, and I can say with certainty that Cancer Sucks.

 

  • Autism:  A good friend of mine has an autistic child.

 

  • Drug abuse/ Alcohol abuse:  I drive.

 

  • Unemployment:  I am unemployed, I’d like good jobs to be available.  I’d like others to have good jobs to fill up the coffers of the United States so we can continue to offer services to those less fortunate.

 

  • Immigration:  aren’t we all (well most of us anyway) immigrants? plus, I believe that our society is made richer for the many immigrants we have here already.

 

  • Violence against women (or anyone for that matter):  Like cancer, Violence Sucks.  I’ve been lucky.  I know people who have not been so lucky.

 

  • Women’s Reproductive Rights:  I am a woman.  I want to have a say in what happens to my body, and I want others to have that opportunity as well.

 

  • Equal opportunity for EVERYONE:  again, I’ve been lucky, and I would like the same opportunities that I have be available to everyone.

 

  • The War in Iraq, Afghanistan, or anywhere else for that matter.  War is wrong.

 

  • The Environment:  I like breathing clean air, I like having clean water. I like animals and pristine meadows and pine forests…. and I don’t trust the Corporate World to take care of these things for me.  They’ve proven their inability to do so time and time again.

 

  • Health Care for everyone:  see above note about Cancer.  When I finish school and have to go get a job, if I don’t find one with health insurance I’m looking at at LEAST $400 per month for a basic crummy plan that would at best keep me out of bankruptcy should something catastrophic happen…    So do the math on that:  a minimum wage job (in New Mexico it’s $7.50/hour) take home pay is $15,600 annually.  After paying for health insurance, that would leave $10,800 take home to cover rent, utilities, food, transportation, clean underwear…  While I am going to assume that I can bring home more than minimum wage, there are many many people who can’t.  And let’s face it, many of them are doing the jobs we don’t want.

 

I could list even more issues that I care about, but you get the point.

If I change  my Facebook status will you change your mind about anything?   Does anyone with any power read my Facebook status ?  (I will say ‘no’ because my privacy settings only allow Friends to read my status.)   To me, the call to “change your Facebook status” is nothing more than slacktivism at its finest.

This is not to be confused with CALLS TO ACTION, actions that may indeed invoke change:  donate money, sign an official petition, contact your representative, write a letter to the editor, participate in an event, or even get educated about an issue and then share that knowledge.

So I won’t be changing my Facebook status for a cause, and I won’t ask you do to the same, but don’t be surprised if you see me ask for your support on an issue, urge you to vote, or invite you to an event, or remind you to let your city council, your county board, as well as your state and federal representatives know how you feel about an issue.  And if you don’t agree with me on an issue, polite, civil discussion is always welcome, or you can say “no thank you.”

If you like to change your status to reflect your support on issues, by all means continue to do so.  But if you’d like tips on how to parlay your social network into action, check out this article, “How to Turn Slacktivists into Activists with Social Media.”

 

 

Patriotism

You may think I’m not the most patriotic American you’ll ever meet.  I don’t go around saying “God Bless America” or waving the flag.  I don’t fly the flag on holidays, and in fact, I gave away the flag that was my grandfather’s–a retired Admiral in the U.S. Navy, he flew his flag on every holiday, and even had a booklet on how to properly fly the flag.  I gave the flag and the booklet to a friend who likes to fly the flag on holidays.   I don’t think the U.S.A. is the best country ever, though it’s probably right up at the top of the list and for now I’m happy here.  My friend Michelle wrote a nice post on what she likes about the U.S. that I think is a pretty good summary, check it out.

 

Fourth of July 2006. On July 5, 2006 we buried my Dad (Capt. USN ret) at Arlington National Cemetery

If it weren’t for the fireworks ( I LOVE fireworks), I would probably say I hate the 4th of July, much in the same way I hate Christmas–the forced reverie, the compulsion to prove on this ONE day that you love your country (or your family on Christmas), and the pressure to spend money to do it:   presents, food, drink, decorations….

The thing I hate most about the 4th of July is the hypocrisy.  Waving a flag, setting off fireworks, wearing red white and blue, does not make you patriotic. And this year, in the state of New Mexico, lighting fireworks, in my opinion, is exactly the opposite of patriotic, it is idiotic.

Here in New Mexico we’re experiencing extreme drought conditions, and if you’ve watched the news at all in the last week, you’ll know that a massive wildfire has burned several homes, many acres of land sacred to the people of the Santa Clara Pueblo, forced the evacuation of many and threatened our Los Alamos National Labs (and by extension, the rest of the state given the amount of nuclear waste and god-knows-what stored there– but that’s another post altogether).

Now as I said I LOVE fireworks, I have many fond memories of lighting sparklers, and when we lived in states where it was legal (personal fireworks are NOT legal in all states) we’d light all kinds of rockets and roman candles. When we lived in Hawaii the firecracker was de rigeur.  In fact,  in Hawaii it was common to  light strands of a thousand or more firecrackers, and in the morning the streets  would be covered in red paper.  Good times. (except for that one time a still burning piece of paper landed on top of my foot where I still have the burn scar).

For some reason I don’t entirely understand the State on New Mexico cannot implement an outright ban on fireworks.  Instead, the governor, and every other official, has been pleading with people to NOT set off personal fireworks this weekend.  The brush is so dry that even a tiny spark could start the next fire, and our resources are already stretched to their limits.

Many local stores have pulled fireworks from their shelves because it is the right thing to do, the responsible thing to do.  Some have not, and there are still several roadside spots to purchase fireworks.

Watching the news the other day (remind me not to watch the news, it just makes me mad) they interviewed a seller of said fireworks who claimed that folks would just go somewhere else to buy fireworks, and that would be worse.  How I’m not sure.  They also interviewed a dad holding his oh so precious little two-year-old girl who said, “At first I thought it was a good idea to tell people to not light fireworks.  But then when I thought about it I got mad. I have a RIGHT to light fireworks, and I didn’t want to disappoint the kids.  Besides, we always do it responsibly….”

Really?  a RIGHT?  Like it’s there in the Declaration of Independence:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness right to blow stuff up.

Or maybe it’s in The Constitution, or the Bill of Rights?  Yeah. I don’t think so…    I wanted to reach right through the television screen and slap that man.  I seriously doubt his kids would be that upset for very long, it’s not like they’d hold it against him forever…  end up in therapy because Daddy would not light fireworks on the 4th July back in 2011.

How ’bout teaching those kids about RESPONSIBILITIES instead of just about their (imagined) rights?  How ’bout attending the public “Freedom Fourth” event (it’s even free)  sponsored by the city of Albuquerque and already paid for with your tax dollars?  How ’bout reading those kids The Constitution and toss in the Bill of Rights while you’re at it?

If you want to show your kids how to be patriotic, get involved with your community, protect the environment so they’ll have clean water and clean air in their future.  And how ’bout voting…  the United States has an appalling average voter turnout rate of 48% (higher during national election years, lower during off years).  And how about ensuring education is available to ALL our youth so they’ll understand the ramifications of their votes, and can participate in the economy, and make cool things (not blow stuff up on the 4th of July).

So be  patriotic, be responsible, act in a manner befitting a patriot by loving your country and supporting its authority and interests.