Water’s Colors

Shortly after I posted about the early spring and the warm dry winds, it finally rained. Cool as well as wet, it was practically our first winter day all winter. The rain smell was so welcome, so magical, I had to go out in it. With a large umbrella, of course. The sound of raindrops on it was the best music I’d heard in months.

There’s a beautiful walking route in Elephant Butte known as “the dirt dam.” It’s a road that’s been closed to traffic and takes you over the dirt dam to the big dam, the one that really makes the lake. It’s not the dams that make it scenic, though—to me, anyway. It’s the subtle colors and dramatic shapes of the desert. On a sunny blue-skied day, I’m drawn to notice the grand-scale sculptures of rocks and mountains. I seldom see this place soaking wet. It was a different world, where fat, silvery raindrops hovered on the tips of pale brown thorns. Many years ago, a friend told me he liked cloudy days because the colors of nature were revealed better, the way they were in classic Japanese watercolors. He was right. The rocks and soil were darker, and the bare thorny bushes looked black. Against this backdrop, dried-out straw-colored flower-stalks surrounded suddenly bright green stems. A red hue streaked up clumps of pale yellow grass, the same coral red as some crystals I’ve collected in the area. The flat, spiky pads of the purple cacti seemed more intensely purple and the green ones more vividly green. One full day of water and winter. I’m grateful.

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Flawed

At first, she didn’t show them to anyone. But she admitted to fellow artists and creative people who would understand, “I’ve been making devils.” An art therapist, she trusted her muse and followed it. The devils finally came out on gallery walls months later, small blue or red ceramic masks with a wild variety of expressions. I especially like a red one with curved horns and a crooked grin full of sharp teeth that remind me of red chiles. It’s so gleefully wicked. The little devils sell, and I can see why. We all have our shadow side, our mischievous side, our tired-of-being-perfect side. Even the weather gets devilish. I’m not talking about the New Mexico’s summer heat and monsoons—we love the storms. I’m talking about the wind. It’s already started, a couple of weeks too early, and it’s going to be blowing for months. To live with it, you learn to wear goggle-type sunglasses, even on a cloudy day, to keep the grit out of your eyes, and the constant blowing sound either gets as normal as an air conditioner in the summer—or drives you crazy. E. Christina Herr, a gifted New Mexico songwriter, sums it up in her song “Devil Wind.”  If you love New Mexico, though, you take it as it is, wind and all. It’s not perfect. Tourist images of our state don’t show visitors chasing their fly-away hats or sneezing with a face full of dust and juniper pollen, but the cowboy’s bandana was, among many other things, a dust mask. Imperfection has its charms.

In my work in progress, I’m developing an antagonist character who’s obsessed with being smarter and more capable than anyone else, which of course, makes her anything but perfect; and the antagonist character in Shaman’s Blues likes to give bizarre advice, with the assurance, “ I’m always right.” My favorite fortune cookie message: The greatest of all faults is to be conscious of none.”

I’ve been pleasantly surprised how many readers love Jamie Ellerbee, the flawed and troubled character I first introduced in Shaman’s Blues four years ago. When I wrote the book, I was experimenting with turning as many conventions of romance around as I could, while still writing about love. He’s a mess, though he struggles not to be. Not exactly a conventional romantic lead. The book’s original title as a work on progress was Samskaras, the Sanskrit word for the residue of our actions and emotions that creates new cycles of karma. One of my spiritual teachers said a good English translation for it was “Some scars.” Jamie has a lot, and he’s not skilled at hiding them. But then, hiding doesn’t bring people closer to each other. Kindness does.

Happy Valentine’s day.

*****

 

Shaman’s Blues is on sale for 99 cents .

Smashing Clichés

Movies featuring things blowing up are popular. People like to watch demolitions, from buildings to demolition derbies. And then there is art-to-be burned, such as Burning Man and Zozobra. When I lived in Virginia, I used to clean the park where I ran and sometimes enlisted the help of several boys who played there. One day, they found a large toy firetruck in the stream and pulled it out—and proceeded to smash it to pieces with rocks. This was obviously more fun than playing with it.

Someone has been making faces on the trail where I run in the desert. Not walking along being silly, but arranging pebbles in smiley-faces on top of the rocks that mark the edge of the trail. The first one didn’t annoy me, but then they multiplied. I don’t mind intriguing, meaningful art made among the desert rocks. A labyrinth. A miniature Stonehenge-like creation. A rounded lava rock that looks like a fertility goddess surrounded by a little maze and an altar. A small rock nestled in a hollow in a large rock just because it fits so perfectly. Such arrangements fall over gradually or get covered with sand, and nature looks natural again. Someone left a small painted rock near the trail, red white and blue with the Texas flag’s star, the name of a soldier who died in combat, and few words of love and honor. It means something. No one moves it. Perhaps he used to love this trail and used to hike it with the person who left the rock. But smiley-faces? Twenty or more of them? That’s nineteen clichés too many.

On a lovely, sunny, seventy-degree winter day, I got tired of them and gave a swipe at one as I passed. No effect. The pebbles had been glued to the trail-marker rock. What the heck? Did the face-maker think this stuff should be permanent? I soon found that a quick kick could dislodge most features of the glued-on smiley-faces, and it felt good. Can I justify it? Maybe not, but to me, gluing all those faces along the trail was arrogant. If they’d been arranged lightly, without attachment, I might have knocked one aside and been content, had my fun like the boys smashing the toy firetruck, and forgotten about it. Nature would have blown them away eventually.

Writers are regularly advised to “kill your darlings,” those scenes we love that weigh down the pace, or those wonderful (to us) witty lines that don’t serve the story. We have to weed out clichés and our favorite over-used words. They can have an effect on readers like seeing twenty-plus smiley faces, an intrusion on the flow of enjoyment. Today I noticed that someone else had destroyed smiley-faces. There were face-pattern glue marks on some rocks with branches laid over them, as if my fellow self-appointed curator of trail art was saying, “Don’t even think about putting that back.”

Sometimes I store my cut scenes and lines for a while, in case I want to put them back, but ninety-percent of those darlings never return. Nothing in the first draft is glued in place. I have to destroy in order to create. Fortunately, I enjoy revision. It’s a lesson in non-attachment, and almost as much fun as smashing a smiley.

Variations on a Theme of Conscious Community

In celebration of the super moon-blue moon-blood moon-eclipse Wednesday, a healing music center in T or C invited a large circle of like-minded souls to dance and drum. The evening was semi-structured, with guided meditation followed by free-form dancing, drumming, singing, and story-telling. The opening meditation encouraged us to share self-expression in a non-judgmental space.

When I’m attending a ceremony like the Apache dances of the Mountain Gods or a Pueblo corn dance, every drummer and dancer seems to merge with the ceremony. Apache Ga’an dancers are painted and masked. The women who circle the dance arena are wrapped in shawls, and all do the same step. At Pueblo corn dances, the entire community filling the plaza becomes one flowing pattern, the men in white leather kilts and red-brown or turquoise-blue body paint, and the women in one-shouldered black dresses and rainbow crowns, subtle individuality showing only in their jewelry and parrot feathers. The clowns are painted, losing their personal faces to the role they fulfill.

In T or C at the full moon event, we danced as our individual selves. Entering a spiritual, ceremonial mind space was more psychologically challenging. My head kept filling with questions. Whose little girl was that, doing happy somersaults in the middle of the circle? Why wasn’t a certain person dancing—was she okay? Was it all right to use a drum I found near my chair? Was I taking up too much space when I danced? A lot like the dance of daily life in a community.

A healer and dancer led the opening breath work and imagery. For those who weren’t aware of it, she mentioned that she has a degenerative condition that affects her muscles, so she depends on chi, and called her illness a gift that helped her truly appreciate and experience this vital force. She guided us to raise our energy and awaken our spines, and she then danced, graceful and expressive. During the drumming portion of the event, she was often the only person moving. She wasn’t performing for an audience; the circle was giving her energy, chi, and sharing the joy of moment, with awareness of the limited time in which she may be able to move this way. As Castaneda’s teacher Don Juan told him, death is your advisor; he walks by your left shoulder. Listen to him. The difference between her and the rest of us is that she is always listening. She opened the evening with the analogy of the body’s web of connective tissue and how it enables one small part to affect another at a distance, saying we were connected in a web of life energy the same way. Briefly, while drumming for her, I felt myself disappear into the rhythm, and there was only the sound and her dance.

I had hesitated to schedule a hot spring soak at the Charles Spa right after this event—it meant leaving before the music was over, and missing the closing meditation—but my legs were sore from the previous night’s yoga class in Albuquerque and I knew I needed the mineral bath. When I arrived at the Charles, the young man at the front desk informed me there were other women in the baths. He knows I like peace and quiet when I soak. No chatting, no loud groans and sighs. Noisy relaxation isn’t relaxing for me. “They’re part of a silent retreat,” he said. I was more than willing to share space with them.

The tubs at the Charles are private, each person behind her own curtain. The knowledge that the other people were observing silence as a spiritual practice put me into the same frame of mind. I’ve done half-days of silence at various retreats and taken college students on silent walking meditation, so it was a familiar zone. A welcome one. No sounds but water. Stillness. Then someone moving in water. I was in a new communal spiritual space with unseen people. Consciously silent. Respectfully present.