Sunday, November 25, 2012

The fountain of youth

One of the things that brings people here to Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, is the location along the Rio Grande-- the attraction of naturally occurring Hot Springs. I was excited about this, awesome, a hot tub in nature, but it wasn't the thing that brought me here. I had my first soak days after I arrived, and I have pretty much gone every other day since...

What is it about the hot springs? I'm not sure. They were considered sacred waters, some called them the fountain of youth, they have ultimate healing powers, they are spiritually calming, they reverse the aging process. Whatever it is, it is amazing. There are a number of spas and hotels to choose from, but I choose La Paloma.

They have private rooms with low lights, flute music, the sense of total rest and isolation. Yet once you've gone into your room you climb the wooden steps down into the actual river-- you are in a private pool, yet your feet rest on the natural rocks of the river bottom.

The water is usually around 108 degrees and for half an hour I float in the pool and literally can feel my body unwinding, loosening, relaxing... and the miraculous thing is that my mind does the same.

I am a morning writer. But I like to soak in the hot springs in the evening, walking back through the wide streets at dusk. The stars are blinking alive, people have strung christmas lights along their low fences (everyone has low fences-- with vicious dogs behind them), and the night is quiet. It's cold too, once the sun has set, but my body is still radiating heat from the hot springs as I walk. And the thing is, even though I'm a morning writer, once I've soaked in the fountain of youth, I'm writing at night. Something I'm grateful for as I have just under a week left in this writer's camp. Some days it's the canyons, some days the hot springs, some days it's the cowboy on a bicycle or the artist in town who paints only ducks and horses, but each day something else is climbing into the stories I'm telling.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The middle of nowhere

So this is what it was like… once upon a time that I never really lived.

The internet doesn’t really work at night and so I’m here, in this tiny studio, a big star littered sky outside and near, no really absolute silence, all around me. I woke up early this morning. I ran on this desert road that I can run a little longer on each day. I came back here and made coffee and breakfast and I wrote for a while, the door open because then the sun pours in

And something sort of extraordinary happened. I started crying. Not sobbing, not in a dramatic way, but that tingling in my nose and then the tears that welled up and fell, and I felt so relieved, because I’d been feeling this distance from my story, this separation from my characters, as if they weren’t real or true and suddenly what was happening in their lives felt so true. And it’s freaking SAD and scary and I felt that completely while I was writing and I felt so relieved.

I drove out to Hillsboro and Kingston today, walked through a beautiful old cemetery 

and climbed the ruins of a jail 

and a courthouse 

and toured a straw bale guest house in the middle of nowhere and rode in and out of gorgeous purple and brown canyons… 

and then came back and wrote some more, made dinner… but the thing is, there are so many hours in the day. And at the end of that day, when it’s dark and silent and you’re living alone in a tiny studio and you don’t have t.v. or email, the world is huge and cavernous and empty.

One of the things I wanted to do this year was to do better at being alone. I think we are all too dependent on things-- the company of strangers, the hum of the television, the infinite possibility of the internet... This is, without a doubt, testing that plan, this is one long silent dark night after another. I’m reading Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles. Poor amazing Tess, Tess who is not a product of her time at all but a woman who feels very real, no matter what the decade. Even Tess can’t fill all these nights. She makes me sad and I know there is no happy ending. “Tess had never in her recent life been so happy as she was now, possibly never would be again.” So much stands there, we know that Tess’s anticipation and possibility is only that and that even her certain beauty and the suggestion in this second life she’s been offered, these too will end in disappointment. I’m wrapped up in this story but even in this, I put the book down and the only sound, truly the ONLY sound is coyotes in the mountains behind me and it’s early, just about 10 p.m. and I don’t have any more writing left in me…

At a time, we knew how to be with ourselves, to be in the moment and the place where we are. That’s just what I’m trying to do now and it’s painfully hard. 

Friday, November 16, 2012


Yesterday I spent the day with... with the mother of a very old friend, a woman who is living here in Truth or Consequences, who I've known for so much of my life, but haven't seen in close to two decades, a woman who moved here after her children had grown and began to paint and made the southwest her home. It was a really extraordinary day, not in the least because I love the way our relationships with people change as we grow, I love that I am not a child anymore, or a teenager and yet that I have that memory as a foundation for who I am. It was an extraordinary day because we drove into the canyon towns of Monticello, which look like nowhere I've ever been in the world. The landscape changes with each passing minute, where the shadows fall on the dust, how deep you drive into the canyon, and then the irrigation systems suddenly give way to farmland, its off season now but the crops and feels spread along the valley floor and the trees, with massive spread arms and bright yellow leaves... we visited a friend who has one of the most beautiful homes I've ever seen, old adobe, wood stoves, high beamed ceilings and an orchard of peach and pear and apricot trees... beyond this there are some abandoned homes, rusted cars, and then a small village of cowboys and hippies in these old farming adobe homes... the facade of the schools is still there, just a facade, crumbling, three walls and no roof, cattle peek their heads around its steps. I tried to imagine going to school there...

There are SO MANY worlds. I wake up each day worrying I'm not writing enough, worrying I'm not writing the right things, worrying period... I'm so caught up in writing about what I see, in just being in this strange little town, that my novel seems to be sagging, that other stories are taking shape and fighting for time, that I keep thinking what if I leave here and I don't finish anything?

What if I don't? I think I'll still be okay.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Election Day and a piece of a story

I haven't felt farther from the place I call home in a long time. New York is as much home for me as anywhere else and though I made the decision to leave it, maybe just for a moment or maybe more permanently, it is hard to be away from it now and not to be able to help. It's an amazing thing to see the way people come together in support, in kindness, in ways we lose sight of in our everyday life. I'm proud to call New York a home... but I'm geographically, culturally, emotionally a million miles away in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.

I've spent the last three elections in New York, at the White Horse Tavern in the West Village, at an upstate basement bar, and at the Bell House in Brooklyn and then the streets between St. Mark's and Park Place on Classon Avenue late at night in 2008... before that the canyon facing streets of West Hollywood and before that, well, before that I didn't vote yet and I was a teenager and I admit, in my head maybe the world revolved around my small world, before that I didn't know what was happening. at least not on the grand scope, the scope where I felt impact. Now here I am in New Mexico, not a television in sight; Obama/Biden sides spiking the dusty trailer yards and Hot Springs parking lots give me hope, though.

I've been here just a few days, settling in to what my friend Erin likes to call "Writer's Camp", a tiny retreat, three studios facing a courtyard,

complete with fire pit and herb garden

 and laid open beneath the wide sky. I've written 9,000 words, collected mesquite from the desert to smoke ribs, driven around new mexico's biggest lake,

run a dusty road along the Rio Grande, and wandered ghost town streets.

That's just the beginning, but this story is taking shape. Taking on a life of it's own. Here's a piece of it.


I could tell you, and I guess I will and I am going to tell you, that there was nothing about him, at least at the very first, that matched or came close to anything I had expected. And there never is. I have read enough and watched enough and maybe even, at least now, lived enough, to know that nothing is ever what you expect it to be and most of the time it may even be close to the opposite. But I was still, no, I am still shocked. And feel mostly blurry and underwater and, like they always say, that I am watching someone else’s life unravel on-screen.

He was barefoot when he came to the door. Which is not strange at all, not strange even a little bit, but there was something so human and simple about it. Something about it that made me feel terrible in the beginning, that he had no idea what was coming and there was no reason to think about putting shoes on or anything at all, it was just a Sunday afternoon and someone had come to the door of his house, which probably happened all the time, and of course it would be someone he knew, stopping by for a beer or asking for the skill saw he had borrowed or wanting to drop off mail that had been delivered by accident. There was something so innocent about the barefoot-ness. Somehow he had no defenses to say anything like “But I don’t have a sister. I don’t even have any shoes on.”

He was middle-aged. I guess. I mean, he was the age that most people’s parents seem to be-- the parents of most people my age.  He opened the door and stood there, uncertain maybe, but smiling, noticing that I was too old to be selling girl scout cookies and probably that a Jehovah’s witness would not be wearing a tank-top and cut-off shorts but at least there was nothing particularly threatening about me. He filled the frame of the door. He was tall and broad but I could see behind him the corner of a couch—shades of green, the edge of a coffee table piled high with magazines, a tricycle on its side. His hair was brownish probably but mostly gone, short and spotty as if he’d shaved it and decided to try letting it grow again. His right arm, the arm that held the door open, was painted thick with tattoos. I saw blue fish scales and flames of some kind and dark lines like wrought iron gates. His left arm, descending from the sleeve of a black-faded-grey t-shirt, was pale and white and un-painted.

Hi, he said. Finally. After seconds or minutes. After I’d hade time to notice how paper thin his jeans were and how his broad chest looked exactly like my dad’s—not fat but not exactly muscle bound either, and that he had eyes that were at once grey and green. Like mine. Because I think we always look at the eyes for resemblance first.
Hi, I said.
He raised his eyebrows in anticipation, not unkind, but maybe impatient. 
Can I help you?
Well, I said. Because obviously that was a loaded question. But he had no way of knowing this. And I had rehearsed a million speeches but who can remember those speeches and anyway, they were all inside, sitting down, over coffee, or sometimes a beer, and I realized suddenly that I had never imagined how I would get into the house.
I’m not sure where to start, I said. His eyes pinched together, curiosity maybe. And this is going to sound crazy, I went on. I’m sorry to just show up like this. On a Sunday. When you and your family are probably barbecuing or something and—I stopped suddenly, realizing I had forgotten something very important.
Are you Casper Garrity? I asked.
He nodded very slowly.
So, I said. I’m your sister. My name is Hattie. Garrity. And then I held out my hand.

As I did this, the painted arm that had been holding on to his front door dropped to his side, but neither hand rose to meet mine. He was still looking at me, his eyes still slightly pinched, his face in the same half smile, encouraging and uncertain. And after a moment he brought his hands together and rubbed them back and forth and breathed in and then out very slowly.

Hattie. Garrity.
Now I just nodded.
And then he smiled and almost chuckled a little bit. He looked over my shoulder. 
It’s just you Hattie? he asked, looking towards my car. 
I nodded again. 
I would have guessed she’d name her daughter Hattie. 
And then we stood there. I didn’t think then, but I thought it later that night, how strange it was that he’d say something like that, that he’d have some knowledge of my mom and things like what she’d name her daughter.