When life looked desolate to me a few years ago, I threw out all my writing. Emptied the file folders onto a pile on the floor … dumped in with 1999 tax forms, a window sticker from a car I no longer drove and Explanation of Benefit booklets for insurance that had expired. “That’s over and done with,” said I, “A waste of time and a road going nowhere. Life isn’t all fairy dust and light, so get over it.” But even as I stuffed those pages into the trash, I thought to myself, At least I birthed them–the stories made it out into the Universe, and while I might not have copies any longer, I brought them alive for a short time
When I started writing again (I guess life wasn’t so dismal after all) I had some momentary twinges of regret at tossing out my work, but, surprisingly, I do have a sense that those stories are still alive, swirling in the ether around me–Story Sprites that have a life and a mind of their own.
Last week I went to the land where many Story Sprites live.
New Mexico has long been home to the amazing art of its native peoples. And in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Anglo artists and writers began throwing their words and images into the cauldron that is this land, creating a delicious brew of magic art. Writing in New Mexico–with its elevated plateaus,
mesas, sandstone cliffs, sweeping sky and pulsing silence–is extraordinary. The women who came here at the beginning of the last century, especially, strode in bravely and fiercely, leaving behind the constraints they’d grown up with when they arrived–and Willa and Georgia and Mabel are only the famous ones. Their’s was a time bound even more to you musts and you musn’ts and yet they wrote into this space and carved out lives that fit them just so.
Mabel Dodge Luhan and her husband Tony built a house that was a draw for creatives, and the space they held for those artists and thinkers was a kind of extension of the beauty of the landscape. My retreat to New Mexico this month has given me a glimpse of the sacred space of that sky and land and it has beckoned me on to the Next Chapter. I’ve thought a lot about Willa and Georgia and Mabel. (And, you can be sure I’ve bought some books!) and how they ever had the courage to defy tradition and demand life on their own terms
I spent six. whole. days. in Tony’s room–the room Tony Luhan described to Mabel as he scratched the house’s plan in the dirt on her property nearly one hundred years ago. I’m writing this on the sleeping porch which he envisioned. This is a permission I’ve not ever given myself–take a solid block of time to write and the retreat is a kind of blessing I’m allowing myself. I’m retreating from something–a professional life in teaching–and, I hope, drawing back in order to move forward–to a writing life.
And truly what better place than here on the plateaus, sky wide and open above me, the adobe walls of Mabel’s home holding so many stories. Breathing in the stories of Cather and Lawrence and Huxley that still must spin around this space, blowing in the windows with the wind that stirs the cottonwoods so furiously each afternoon.
Next up: A Jen Louden retreat in Taos–my Transition Trip into retirement. (Go me!)