New Mexico & the Dusty Spots of the Creative Life

I recently returned from a solo trip through New Mexico, a sort of creative pilgrimage. Every so often, my husband Carl and I go on separate adventures to learn, write, and just be in our own rhythm for a week or two. This time, I made it to Albuquerque, Taos, and Santa Fe, places that have been calling to me for a handful of years.

It seems common these days to go on a trip, especially of the pilgrimage variety, and come home with a suitcase of jewels (stories, ideas, connections) to share. It feels like travel is becoming the statement jewelry of personal/creative/spiritual development. But in this case, I’m still sorting through what I gathered in New Mexico. Something about the solitude of the place made me reconsider when, how, and why to share parts of my journey.

As a writer, I often struggle with the tension of when I’m ready and knowing enough to speak something real and true, versus when I’m still very much a student in the world and in my own life. This is good tension. It reminds me not to exploit my experiences for a story before they are done teaching me.

A space I’d like to hold a little longer is the curious, dusty spot where the jewels aren’t yet jewels. The space where the stones are still being tumbled. There is so much to learn in that space. We don’t even know what might be a jewel. This doesn’t always feel productive… it takes a lot longer to finish an essay or write a poem in this space. But I keep learning (through trial and error) that doing the deep and dusty work, the work that lasts in the world and changes me personally, has never really been about efficiency. Listening is not very efficient, but it’s essential to the creative life. I feel like this teaching is part of what New Mexico sent home with me.

A wise soul in my life uses the word “unfolding” to describe how we can witness and appreciate the way an experience works on us. I love that and think it’s fitting for my New Mexico learning. So as much as I might agree with the statement, “I was changed when I sat under the full moon in Taos,” I’m not prepared to write a think piece about it. (And oh, I can almost feel the moon flinch at the idea.) Here are some insights – rough stones – that feel ready to share with you, fellow creative traveler:

 

Courage is not found in deep breaths and wise books alone.

The Amherst method teaches me this when it comes to facing the empty page—to find the courage to write, you have to write. Solo travel pushes me to practice courage in real, firsthand ways with others. This trip may have been the most I tried to stay open. I talked to people in shops, I went to amazing museums and galleries and let myself be absorbed by them, I accepted dinner invitations when I feared being an outlier in the group.

It left me wondering if courage is as much about receiving as it is about going out and doing. When we start to write, we signal, “I’m open to letting this story come in.” When we engage a stranger, we signal, “I’m open to the possibility of connection.” One small gesture, with a whole universe behind it. I’m startled by how little else is needed… we don’t need to fill the whole river. We just need to unblock a couple dams within ourselves, and the river will show up. It wants to show up.

 

Hummingbird moths are a real thing.

And they will fool you into thinking you have just discovered the world’s tiniest hummingbird. When I got to Taos, I let the universe know I wanted to listen. I said it out loud, in the middle of Georgia O’Keeffe’s room at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House. And it replied with a parade of hummingbird moths, magpies, thunderstorms, a full moon, three hummingbirds, and one small rabbit. I think the earth sings a little louder in Taos, maybe because the air is clearer and the horizons are wider.

 

Travel is a good disorientation.

Waking up in the middle of the night in a strange place is an ideal disorientation for creativity. Which makes me wonder about a whole retreat devoted to creative disorientation… there is something so powerful to being dragged out of your element! It must make the muses laugh.

 

Language, ritual, and tradition came up repeatedly.

I’m reflecting more on this, but I want to acknowledge people who threw open doors for me: Tanaya Winder (whose poetry reading was a highlight of the trip),Mirabai Starr, Tseme (whose pottery now has a home on my writing desk), and Francisco (who was my guide through the Taos Pueblo and is part of the hip hop group Po.10.Cee). Francisco talked about living into an oral tradition and how it calls for active learning and ties between generations. His grandfather said it would make them lazy to write everything down, that the oral tradition creates a deep responsibility for their language and culture… while there’s a lot to think about here, on a simple level, I feel like turning to each of my poems and asking, “Where are you being lazy?”

 

Always write down your dreams.

Always, always, always. I hope to do more posts or even a workshop on this, but for now, I’ll say: write them down. I started writing down my dreams more regularly about two years ago, and it’s like I built a second house for my writing. There were dreams and happenings in New Mexico that echoed dreams I had months before. I may not know what it all means yet, but because I wrote them down, I have more puzzle pieces in hand.


Those are some of my rough, unpolished stones, for now… Let me know if you’d be interested in a post on how to imagine and prepare for a creative trip like this. Or if you’ve been on such a trip, what wisdom did you gather along the way? How did you plan for it and open yourself up to the experience? Feel free to say hello.

This post originally appeared on Voice & Vessel.