Recycling Another Old Calendar

I use a paper calendar, not an electronic device, for planning, and I can flip back through the pages and see the things I had to keep track of before I took early retirement and moved, finally, back to New Mexico. I can see the to-do list of the transition, too, and the schedules and plans in my new life. The year was significant, but the days more significant. Each of those little squares was life lived. Interactions, connections, experiences. Each of those little squares was a day when I kept certain commitments no matter what else was going on: yoga, meditation, and writing. My life has felt more circular than linear, and since I have occasional precognitive dreams, I question the perception of time as a step-by-step passage, with clear lines between past, present and future like those little squares that organized 2017.

There are many New Year’s rituals in which people let go of their past habits or troubles and embrace something new and positive. One such ritual is an interactive art installation in the ladies’ room at the T or C Brewery. The one before it used maps, and invited the women passing through the space to add notes about where they had been and places that affected them. The one for the New Year is a figure with messages accumulating on her, letting-go and turning-toward intentions. She will be burned, like Zozobra, in February.

A small spaceship full of hopes and wishes will go up on New Year’s Eve from Healing Waters Plaza at the time of the Ascent of the Turtle, T or C’s uplifting variation on dropping the ball in Times Square. (I have no idea what this little spaceship is—I’ll find out and report back.)  I like the imagery of both these rituals, and yet I can’t think of anything to add to them, not a message to set afire or one to send out to the universe.

Though I’ve I learned from my past, I seldom think about it. There’s more behind me than in front of me, but what’s ahead is more important. And what’s now is most important of all.

A book I’ve read a few times and no doubt will read again is No Word for Time by Evan Pritchard. The author, of Micmac descent, visits a tribal elder in Canada to study his ancestral culture and language. He asks the words for various things, and of course, asks the word for time. How would you react to the answer, there is no word for time?

 

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Sitting

There’s good sitting and bad sitting. I’ve been working on a post for Ladies of Mystery about the bad-for-you sitting that writers have to do and how to counteract it, but here, I’m talking about the good sitting. Meditators often use the word “sit” to mean meditate.

Sitting slows down the activity of the mind—a problem when you’re trying to be creative, a benefit when you’re practicing awareness. After I cool down and stretch at the end of a run, I sit in vajrasana, lightning bolt pose. I initially started doing it to stretch the muscles on the front of my shins and ankles, and realized that it had an effect on my state of mind. After all that movement, after the ever-changing visual input and the flow of creative thought, after the more active stretches, I sit on the ground in stillness. If I’m alone at the end of the trail, it becomes a moment of pure presence. Breeze on skin. Leaves scuttling on dirt. Blue sky. Buttes and mountains across the lake. The sharp shadows of every pebble and rock in the afternoon’s brilliant light as the sun rides low in the sky for the solstice. Sitting. The drop into inner silence.

If I were to get out of my chair now and sit in that same pose, I would have to work to empty my mind. The inner quiet comes naturally after asana practice as well.  Moving my body is the prelude to quieting my mind.

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Note: The image is an abstract overhead view of a person sitting in meditation. I didn’t see it right away, so I thought I should point it out for anyone else who saw only a blue design.

People My Own Age

When I was a kid, I was close to my older sister and tended to share friends with her, people a year ahead of me in school. In college and when I first started working, I mingled with my own age group, and I also retained a close connection with a couple who were my father’s good friends. These mature people stood as a contrast to the crazy mistakes my peers and I made in our twenties. I would visit their home, leaving the sea of drama that is young adulthood for an island of sanity, culture, and intellectual engagement, and become aware of the difference, enjoying the respite and the chance to be a little more like them.

As I got older, my friends tended to become younger. I didn’t do this on purpose; they were the people I met through work and yoga, and I seldom felt older than them. By the time I retired, I was generally socializing with people twenty years my junior.

At work, I was surrounded by eighteen-year-olds five days a week, teaching primarily first-year courses. Since I taught in health and exercise science, the subject of aging naturally came up in classes. I often heard students say, “I love old people. They’re so cute.” It was good to know they loved their elders, but that adjective made me cringe.

My former backdoor neighbors had a frantic, poorly trained little dog which they let out in the yard to yap nonstop at all passersby. One morning, a stooped, gray-haired woman passed through the alley between my apartment and dog-owners’ trailer, and of course, the little beast barked hysterically. The woman muttered, “Someone ought to kick that f___ing rat in the head.” I wonder if my former students would think she was cute.

I live in a town where, according to one of its younger residents, the average age is “retired.” My friends are in their fifties, sixties and seventies. Vigorously engaged in their work, their creative pursuits, and in community organizations, they defy stereotypes of aging. Many of the poets who gather at Black Cat Books and Coffee are in their silver-haired years, and the vibrancy and originality of their work is impressive—perhaps because of the years behind the words.

At first I thought the predominance of fellow Boomers and creative people in T or C made it too easy to fit in, and I wondered, is this good for me? While I don’t miss the daily hassles of dealing with college freshmen or grading their papers, I realize I benefited from the abrasion. The longer I’m here, the more I see that everyone, in their own way, will challenge me to adapt and grow. People who are superficially and demographically like me are just as different from me in many ways as my eighteen-year-old students were. This is good. People who are not like me help wear the rough edges off my personality and opinions, like the wind sculpting desert rocks. With that softening comes access to the place where we are more alike, the essence, the humanness, the spirit.

Behind the Scenes: Writing Death Omen, the Sixth Mae Martin Mystery

Now that the book has been out a little over a month, and readers have had a chance to get into it, I thought it would be interesting  to share some of the background for the story and the setting.

The idea for the plot first came to me when I was reading a book I reviewed in depth almost two years ago, The Healing Path by Marc Ian Barasch. In it, the author chronicles his search for healing, and the choices he made when he was seriously ill. He also interviews people who took a variety of alternative, conventional or combined paths. Some were healed in body and spirit; some were healed only in spirit. He visited one healer who was so tactless and blaming, her words stunned me. My antagonist character was born, blended with aspects of a director I worked with in my theater days, a gifted young woman with control issues who could be domineering and aggressive in her methods of getting actors to find their feelings.

When I read a book review describing some unusual ideas about reincarnation, it added other ingredients into my mental stew, along with several articles on Tibetan traditional medicine in a medical journal on alternative therapies. It was the healer who made me angry that got the ball rolling, though. I live in a place where alternative healing is popular, and I would hate to see sincere seekers misdirected.

Another component of the story was the stress of being a medical mystery. No one wants to be one, and yet all illnesses and treatments have an element of the unknown. When symptoms show up, some people put off getting the mystery solved. They’re like the people who would call in to Car Talk and say their car was doing something terrifying but they managed to drive it home. Click and Clack always marveled at these callers. “If it could kill you, why do you feel like you have to drive it home?” We can be that way with our bodies, too. There’s such fear of what the symptom means, it’s an incentive to avoid the diagnosis. We go into denial. Or we don’t trust our doctors and go to alternative practitioners—some good and helpful, some not.

Midway through writing the book, I had an injury that an orthopedic doctor assumed was a labral tear in my hip joint—something that would require major surgery and time in a wheelchair for recovery. It was scary, wondering what was coming. However, suspecting he hadn’t listened to me very well, if at all, I postponed the MRI for a suspenseful month, observed my symptoms, then wrote him a letter thoroughly covering all the facts. He gave me a referral for physical therapy, and I’m well now, no surgery. Not all medical mysteries turn out this well, but the experience helped me understand some of my characters who are dealing with frightening prognoses.

Earlier in the writing process, I resided in one of the suites at the Pelican Spa. It was the summer of 2016, my last summer as a part-year resident of T or C before moving here. I got the idea to have the antagonist characters offer their healing retreat at the Pelican, and asked the manager if it would be okay to write a book in which some wacky people from Santa Fe rent the Red Pelican portion of the spa for a weekend program. She said, “That’s really happened.” The staff was incredibly generous, giving me tours of the Red Pelican rooms that summer and again this year, when I wanted to get the finishing touches right. The setting with an Asian flair turned out to be perfect, since a Tibetan traditional doctor plays a role in this mystery. The Pelican Apartment Motel, the section of the spa where I spent that summer, is where Jamie stays during the retreat, and I lived in the in the green-walled room he is given.

The bright laundry line visible from Jamie’s room is one of the features of the setting I couldn’t resist using. The laundry shot was taken by Donna Catterick, who took the picture for the cover, and was originally posted on her blog. I also like this picture of the Red Pelican’s courtyard rock and Buddha that Donna took. My characters often gather on the benches around that rock.

I didn’t tell my cover designer anything about the Pelican. I considered asking her to incorporate something of its color schemes and then decided to trust her judgment. She considered many options but found she kept coming back to the pink lettering. If you look at the cover next to this picture that a friend took of me doing ustrasana, camel pose, for a yoga  studio web site (I teach at a studio attached to the Pelican), you’ll see that the colors match remarkably. The archway where I’m posing is at the back entrance to the Red Pelican Courtyard that my characters often use.

A second real location in Truth or Consequences that I used is The Charles, another classic hot springs spa. When I arrived in T or C in June this year, I asked the owner if she would be willing to fictionally employ Mae Martin as an energy healer at the Charles. This was a healing modality they hadn’t offered in the past, though they’d had massage and reflexology there for years. She told me they’d recently added an energy healing room, and urged me to talk with her manager. I did, and he not only gave me permission to use the space in my book, but encouraged me to take pictures and make sure I got it just right. When I saw the room painted as a healing cave with blue sky in the ceiling, and crystals on the shelves, even lamps made from crystals, I knew Mae was meant to work there. Sometimes reality and fiction line up perfectly.