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 Badonsky, Judy 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.