The Back Yard Buddha

My landlord put a Buddha on the back deck of the house I’m renting. This statue is about two feet tall at most, a slender Indian Buddha, not the jolly fat Chinese kind, and he has a seam on his right shoulder that shows where he was broken out of a mold. He’s a mass-produced Buddha.

A few weeks ago, I was sitting for meditation after my yoga practice and noticed that his hands were in dhyana mudra, which I was about to use to center my mind. (Imagine the classic thumb-to-first-finger jnana mudra joined by sliding the hands together so the tips of the thumbs and the nails of the first fingers touch.) Dhyana means concentration, the most difficult stage in yoga for many people, myself included.

His eyes are closed and he has an infinitely subtle Buddha smile, an expression that somehow conveys deep and effortless focus, immersion in what Buddhists call “lovingkindness.” As I sat with my eyes open, held the mudra and gazed at him, I felt the peace and stillness of that smile. I’ve never used any kind of spiritual or religious imagery for meditation, so I found this effect intriguing. I’m an extravert by nature, and I wondered if this mirror of true inwardness was what I needed, or if I was just borrowing serenity.

Over time I’ve started to feel my mind fall into quietude from a mere glance at the Buddha, whether he’s glowing in the moonlight or showering in a thunderstorm. I like to think that the artist who made the original put something special in that face, and understood that mudra. It makes me glad this Buddha is mass-produced. Somewhere, someone else is smiling back at him. Hundreds of people, hundreds of smiles, petals of peace in a single flower.

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Embracing Darkness

On an ordinary quiet night, I took a break from writing to make a cup of herbal tea. Suddenly, I was in the dark. Tea freshly brewed, and I couldn’t even see the mug. I had to feel the doorway to get out of the kitchen. Funny how the mind works. I have to find light, I have to find light. In the living room, my laptop had gone to sleep on the coffee table, and I found it by the tiny red dot on its rim. I woke it up and used it to see my way around, searching for things I knew I didn’t have. Matches. Flashlight.

Sudden change and loss are hard to accept. I’ve been reading two books that deal with this topic: Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior and Marc Ian Barasch’s The Healing Path. The first is a novel about both ecological and personal crises; the second is nonfiction, about facing life-threatening illness. My response to the simple lack of electricity confirmed what these writers say about how humans react to an unwelcome shift in circumstances. We want normal. I kept thinking I could go into another room and turn on a light. No. There’s no power. The whole town was dark. Then maybe, I thought, I could sleep through the outage. No. There’s no fan, no air conditioning. What was I going to do in the dark with my laptop battery running low? It was 11:30 p.m. and that’s when I do my best writing.

I shut off the laptop after I’d found my Nook, which had more charge, and took it and the mug of tea outside, using the Nook as kind of dim little flashlight. I thought, I can read.

No. Not once I’d seen the stars. Then, all I wanted was the stars. Even in the desert in a town with little night glare, the removal of all manmade light was … breathtaking? No. Awe-inspiring? Too weak. Sacred.

I didn’t do anything to pass the time in the powerless night. I just lay back and looked at it. Thoughts drifted in. How long will this last? Should I pack up and go to a hotel in another city? I didn’t move. Stars. The lingering craving for electricity grew weaker and weaker.

This is it. The dark still night, afire with diamonds in its endless depths. The ordinary and normal gone. Someday my power will go off, and that will be it. Maybe it will be like the kitchen was, blind nothingness. Maybe it will be like the brilliant, hidden, undiscovered sky. All I know is that I had that sacred moment under the stars, and that I chose not to miss it.

Sparky’s is Real

In my endnotes for my books, I explain few details about settings and research. At the end of Soul Loss, I mention that the other businesses in the story are fictitious, but Sparky’s in Hatch, New Mexico is real. I got an e-mail from a reader who found that fact—quite understandably—hard to believe. Not that she thought I was lying. She was simply marveling that such a place could exist.

For those who have had a similar reaction, or have not yet read the book, here’s an update on that wonderful place from my latest visit to Sparky’s:

In the middle of a 100 degree Sunday afternoon, in a dance hall that serves no alcohol, the Desperadoes played Western swing while couples two-stepped on a dance floor framed by walls full of antique advertising signs and shelves and glass cases crammed with old piggy banks, cookie jars, radios and little robots. High on one wall, a Rajah Motor oil neon sign glowed between a couple of other neon antiques and a mounted deer head with a big hot pink butterfly perched over its right ear. An old metal diving helmet was displayed at the other end of the neon row. The bas-relief of the skeletal rider on a skeletal horse that I mention in the Sparky’s scene in Chapter Two is still there, but there’s always something new or rearranged.

Sparky’s is a living organism of sorts. The interior has expanded to include a third room between the restaurant counter area and the dance hall, and the décor there is Sparky’s best. The skeletons who used to occupy the passage to the restrooms are once again in somewhat piratical garb, and have joined a tableau over the door of the new room along with an old wooden jukebox and a collection of Catrinas, the elegantly clad skeleton ladies of the Day of the Dead.512px-Catrinas_2

You will never run out of “whoa, I didn’t see that!” discoveries at Sparky’s. The giant advertising statues outside have new companions. On top of a monster KFC cup, a green chile wearing lipstick and a bridal veil holds hands with red chile in a top hat as they beam at each other in nuptial devotion—a match made in Hatch. Sparky the robot, his fountain espresso cup ever-flowing, gets new decoration. Sunday he was wearing goggles and some red-white-and-blue stars. Inside, more musicians have autographed the wall behind the stage, where the one thing that never changes is the sign that says, “Do one thing every day that makes you happy.” If you’ve set foot in Sparky’s, you have already done that.

Need pictures? Check out Sparky’s Facebook page.

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Sparkys-BBQ-and-Espresso/74823382942?sk=timeline

Good food and good music in the strangest-best place for both.

*****

Catrina images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Ten Things I Love about Truth or Consequences

Conversations. I’ve never been in a situation where anyone was at a loss for words. The line in Bullock’s grocery store, Art Hop, the pool, a drum circle by the Rio Grande at night … it doesn’t matter. People will talk to you anywhere. I met all my friends here through random conversations with strangers.

Passion Pie Café. The place has art on the walls, art on the tables, great tea and coffee, vegan date bars, a free book shelf, and plenty of the above-mentioned conversation.

Hot springs. Of course. That used to be the town’s name. A soak can restore mind and body and spirit.

A history of healing. Magnolia Elis was an important part of the town’s life as a healing destination in the middle of the twentieth century. Her capacities as a healer were reputed to be extraordinary. Her building is a historic landmark now, with her name glowing on the roof in blue neon at night.

Critters. Bats come out at dusk to hunt insects near the Rio Grande, swooping and dancing over the river and the wetlands. If I go to the right spot at the right time, they surround me. Sometimes I’ve seen them crossing the stars as I lay in a hot spring at night. If there’s been rain late in the day, tarantulas emerge from their burrow to seek mates. Lizards seem to be everywhere—scurrying from one patch of shade to the next by day, occasionally sticking to walls and windows in the evening. They look bland at first, but on closer inspection I’ve found that some are pearlescent gray with a subtle peachy glow and others have a delicate brown-and-white checkered pattern with hints of orange. There are hummingbirds, butterflies, and also few of the most impressively vile bugs I’ve ever met, such as big black ants that can bite through your socks and a few summers ago we had a bizarre inundation of skunk beetles. I don’t want them to visit again, but they were interesting.

Stars. Okay, everyone in the desert gets excited about stars. Anyone who has ever come from the humid East to the dry West has had the same dazzling discovery: there are a lot stars up there, and they are really bright.

Rain. It’s so special when it rains in the desert. A big black cloud is not threatening but promising.

Turtleback Mountain. The serene turtle draped gracefully on its crest really looks like a turtle. (I can’t see the elephant in Elephant Butte, can’t even tell which of those gray buttes is supposed to be the elephant)  The turtle is always relaxed, as if he has just done yoga and is now in an amphibian’s version of savasana. With the recent rain he’s looking a little like a chia pet as the red-brown rock fuzzes up with patches of green.

Color. Much I love adobe-brown-pink-beige Santa Fe, I like the way T or C mingles that esthetic with wilder décor (and a lot of trailers). There is a candy-cane striped law office on Main Street. Homes range from adobe-normal to pink, purple, yellow, turquoise, and covered with murals. A shop on Broadway has Lakota-style ledger art on its stucco walls. The next one is bright green with orange and blue turtles parading over the door. An old van drives around town wearing the word “whatever” on its collage-covered side.

This isn’t a rich town; in fact quite the opposite—it’s always struggling. And yet it never collapses in on itself. It’s vibrant, full of art and originality.

 Do you know and love T or C? What’s one of your favorite things about it?

Out of the Office!

I love putting that “out-of-office” automated response on my college e-mail account every summer after the three-week June session ends. It means I’m only a writer for July and half of August. I do all my fall class preparation in June, so I feel free: no pressure or to-do lists hanging over me. It’s not that I dislike my job—I enjoy my interactions with students—but I do have a tight schedule during the academic year, keeping up with two off-campus yoga teaching jobs as well my faculty job. I spent a few days in Santa Fe to celebrate my freedom, and now it feels great to settle back into in Truth or Consequences, 100 degree weather and all. When it got down in the eighties in the middle of my first night here, I went out for a soak in the hot spring under a full moon. When I woke up blissfully late, the first thing I did was write, working on the fifth Mae Martin book during breakfast. That’s my idea of the perfect start to a day.

As I always do in the summer I went out in the heat yesterday. The sign on the Bank of the Southwest said 102, but I’ve been told it’s right over a very hot spot in the hot aquifer and is usually wrong by a few degrees. Convinced it might it be only ninety-nine degrees, I walked to the river. The Rio Grande was full and broad, its waters gleaming with reflected blue and green. The bright notes of a red-winged blackbird perched in a shrub on the bank, the sweet scent of the sunbaked plants and the yellow flicker of a butterfly in front of a vista of pink-red dirt stopped me in my tracks—and stopped time. Nothing existed but the moment itself.

As I headed home, a friend driving past on his way from the pool stopped to talk in the way of small towns, cutting off his engine and rolling down his window. There was no traffic for us to interfere with, not in July, and I stood in the middle of the street for a one of those unexpectedly soul-baring conversations which are the cherished hallmark of our friendship. Later, while I was doing yoga in the shade on the back deck, watching a promising flock of dark clouds being herded in by the wind, a white butterfly against the thick blue-gray stilled me again. Stopping is good. To talk, to see, to be. At night, soft rain fell, touching my face with its cool fingers while I soaked in the hot spring. Water from above, water from below. Doubly blessed.

While I’m in T or C, my internet connection is limited to our wonderful local coffee shop, Passion Pie Café, which closes at three, or a feeble little mobile hotspot, which is sometimes so slow I’m reluctant to waste time dealing with it. This is making me cut back on my social media interactions, so I’m out of the office to Facebook and Goodreads, checking in rarely and saying little when I do. This results in more time for writing. I have no idea what impact my partial absence will have on my social networks on those sites, but it’s having a great effect on the next book.

My summers in T or  are always healing and productive. Immersion in the living world, from butterflies to old friends, is as important for my creativity as the freedom to write.