Reversals

The obstacle isn’t necessarily in your path; perhaps it is your path. I took a New Year’s yoga class in which the teacher used this theme. We can’t always remove our obstacles. Sometimes we learn to work with them and learn from them.

During my run a few days back, I heard coyotes singing.  Then they started yipping and growling, as if there was some kind of scuffle going on. They weren’t far ahead of me, and I remembered that a friend had once been followed by a pack of coyotes when she was hiking alone. Though coyotes almost never attack humans, running past this pack, whatever they were doing, seemed like a bad idea. Maybe there were just two—it’s coyote mating season—but maybe it was a fight with an outsider to their territory.  The noise stopped, and through the gaps between shrubs, I spied them trotting silently toward the section of the trail I was headed for. When in the presence of predators, I told myself, don’t act like prey. I turned around.

Danger is exciting on the page, but even the smallest danger doesn’t appeal to me in real life. Reversals, however, are interesting in both cases. I saw the landscape from a different perspective, since I usually go up the long hill rather than down. The same place can look quite new from the other side. And I ran further, since I had to retrace my steps.

That evening, my work in progress was so stuck it was putting me to sleep. Not a good sign.  I wasn’t sure how to fix it, but I told myself I was going to push through and not go out dancing that night, though there was a musician I would have enjoyed hearing at the Brewery, and I can walk there in five minutes or less. Still stuck, I gave in and went. My favorite dancing partner was there, and an acquaintance who is a mystery fan. I danced a few songs with one, talked story structure with the other, and then headed home, ready to write.

The problem lay in being too linear, telling the story step by step. I need reversals, a surprise, and something as energizing for the reader as a wild dance with a strong partner.

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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.

Strange Things Happen

I dreamed I was leaving Hatch (the town where the chiles come from) and took a wrong turn onto a winding road with psychedelic pavement and narrow walls alongside it, also in bright pink, purple, blue, and yellow. The road took me to a farm at the end of a dirt road, where I met men who were raising pigs. I petted a piglet, got directions, and left by yet another route, not my usual way in and out of Hatch, but not the trippy pink one either.

While I drank coffee, I tried to interpret the dream symbols, but they made no sense. A friend called and asked if I’d like to go to Sparky’s in Hatch. A favorite blues band was playing. I agreed, and then proceeded to toss my purse into the trunk of my car with my keys in it and closed it. I hadn’t unlocked the car yet, so my phone and both sets of keys were in the trunk. Normally I would have a key in my pocket, but for some reason, I put the key in my purse. I walked to a neighbor’s blue and purple house and called Better World Club and got unlocked. Hm. Wrong turn on the way to Hatch instead of on the way out?

I picked up my friend at the foot of his driveway—more of a road, really—in the very small town of Arrey, and when we arrived at Sparky’s, Guitar Slim was playing a psychedelic pink and yellow electric guitar. As many times as I’ve enjoyed his music, I’d never seen that instrument before. While the band took a break, I looked in the display case behind me—Sparky’s has a mindboggling collection of off-beat antiques—and there was a collection of pig figurines. Two women in motorcycle gear arrived, one wearing a red elf hat and the other a leopard print elf hat. They also wore jingle bells along with their black leggings, turtlenecks, leather vests, and boots. Leopard Elf had the words “Pig savers” on the back of her vest. (I looked it up later. These are rubber nipples for bottle-feeding piglets. I guess she’s a pig farmer?)

The dancing was great—couples, kids, solo dancers, and trios. People from the audience were invited to sing, including Leopard Elf. Afterward, my friend offered me tomatoes, so instead of dropping him at the end of his “driveway,” I went all the way down the dirt road to a sort of farm—he grows tomatoes, mostly, and has a few chickens—and we picked the last viable tomatoes of his outdoor crop before the frost that’s expected tonight.

On my way home, I missed the turn to get on I-25 for T or C and ended up on the back road, winding and in places narrow, as the sky turned pink and purple and deep blue.

You could say this was all coincidence, a series of normal events. But I’d just been dancing in T or C to a different blues band the previous night, and had encountered this same friend in the crowd. The least likely thing was that he’d want to go dancing again right away on Sunday afternoon. I see him in town so much I haven’t been down the dirt road to his place in over a year. The way the night’s dream lined up with the day’s events, though in scrambled fragments, is intriguing. Hatch, wrong turns, a farm, a dirt road, a narrow winding road, psychedelic colors, and small pigs. The biker elves weren’t in the dream, but a lot of other things were. When I have precognitive dreams, they’re almost always about bizarre trivia like this. Only on rare occasions do I pick up significant events, warnings, or omens. This was just a reminder that time leaks, that past, present, and future are all happening at once, and reality is not the version that our linear perception of it creates.

 

Five More Things I Love About Truth or Consequences

Music. The quality and variety here is incredible, all within walking distance of my apartment. I’ve danced to blues and rockabilly at the T or C Brewery; listened to the Southwest Chamber Winds at Grapes Gallery, admiring the art during the concert; attended open mic night at Seba Gallery for original acoustic music by local singer-songwriters—again mingling music and art; was immersed in healing music in a church; and was surrounded by the vibrations of healing music again in an amazing sound-space designed especially for such events. This last concert, Matt Venuti’s, was like nothing I’d ever heard before. He plays a tuned drum, an instrument that is both melodic and percussive. I may have to incorporate that instrument into my books. Jamie would love it.

Full circle sunsets. Even with no clouds, there can be as much or more pink in the east over the Turtle as in the west. In the summer when there are storm clouds, the bowl of color effect is breathtaking and constantly changing. Orange, blue gray, rose pink, salmon pink, yellow-gold—all encircling the town.

Freedom to be yourself. Two of my neighbors happened to paint their houses blue and purple at the same time without consulting each other. (One house was previously pink paisley, the other solid lavender.) One of the purple-and-blue houses has a statue of an alien in saint’s robes on the porch. Self-expression in outdoor art is everywhere, and in the way people dress. I was at a meeting with my fellow yoga teachers, sitting outdoors at one of the downtown establishments, and I kept seeing various colorful folks pass by, such as a stout Santa-Claus-like man in red suspenders riding his bicycle with his dog on a long red leash trotting down the middle of Broadway. One of the other teachers, who was facing in toward the windows rather than out toward the street, would see that look cross my face and ask, “T or C?” And that would sum it up. Yep. T or C.

My outdoor “gym.” I take exercise tubing down to the Rotary Park on the Rio Grande and attach it to a pole of a picnic shelter for resistance training, and use the benches for various bodyweight exercises, while enjoying a view of the river, Turtleback Mountain, and wildlife ranging from ducks and herons to huge orange dragonflies. In keeping with T or C’s freedom to be oneself, no one has ever looked at my funny for doing this.

Too much to do. Especially at this time of year. The weather is perfect for running and hiking, and of course the end of October and early November are festive, too. First there was the costumed dance party at Grapes Gallery, a fundraiser for Friends of the Pool, with live blues music and the creative people of T or C dressing up and competing for the best costume award. (Artists do great Halloween outfits. My Gumby costume was pretty plain compared to the winners.) Then there was Day of the Dead in Mesilla, with all the beautiful shrines to loved ones on display in the old plaza under a classic New Mexico blue sky while musicians played from the bandstand. ( I know, this was not in T or C, but only an hour away.) On Halloween, the children’s costumed safe walk took place on Broadway, and I had to go around and admire everyone. The street was closed, business owners and employees were in costume on the sidewalks handing out treats, and families in Halloween finery were trick or treating. People here love to dress up. A man dressed as a baby doll stood in the doorway of his shop sucking on a lollipop. I even met a tiny dog in a Harley jacket and little black doggy jeans. Later, I went to a showing of Nosferatu, the black-and-white silent vampire movie, at Rio Bravo Fine Art. Three classically-trained musicians improvised an amazing, intense and spooky score live. (Surrounded by great art, once again.) Some of the audience members were masked or painted. One was, of course, entirely black and white. I stopped by another dance and costume event on my way home, but I didn’t stay. A writer has to go home and write. But last night, there was more good music to go out and dance to. I call it research. My protagonist likes to dance, too, after all.

Waltzing to “New Mexico Rain”

In my years of being happily single I’ve never minded going places on my own—in fact, I love the freedom of going alone, and the openness to meeting new people that I have when I do this. Last summer, when Michael Hearne played at Santa Fe Bandstand, I struck up an acquaintance with a fellow Hearne fan. The music was a little late starting and we were early, so we sat together on the base of the monument in the Plaza for quite a while. The funny thing is that for as long as we talked, I couldn’t remember his name or what he did for work, only that he was from Albuquerque and loved music and dancing. We danced together for much of the evening. He switched partners occasionally, dancing with women he knew from Albuquerque, and then coming back to me. He had to catch the Rail Runner before the song, the one everyone wants to hear and dance to most of all, “New Mexico Rain.”* If this were fiction, the Cinderella-esque departure of the dancing partner whose name I’d forgotten would lead to something. It didn’t. I ended up dancing to that song with a stunningly attractive and much younger man who could lead a waltz with energy and grace.

This year, I arrived early again, and found a huge crowd waiting for Bill Hearne and Michael Hearne**. I sat on the base on the monument between two slim, fit, middle-aged women with brilliant (and definitely natural) red hair of the same length and with the same kind of rippling curls. The one on my left was local, and the one on my right was reading a tourist brochure in French, oblivious to her Santa Fe twin—who assured me they were not in any way connected. If this were fiction, the coincidence of their resemblance would go somewhere. It didn’t. I just happened to be between two oddly similar members of that particular one-percent.

I looked up and saw a tall, slender man with a youthful face and gray hair under a faded pink ball cap—the same man from Albuquerque in the same hat. He was saying to the woman with him, “I don’t see any of the regulars.” I spoke up, and he remembered me—though not my name. He introduced me to his friend, and I easily learned her name, and that she was a massage therapist visiting from North Carolina. I forgot his name and occupation again. But I did dance with him. He flowed back and forth between partners. I liked having breaks to watch the sea of dancers before being re-immersed in its waves.

When he left last August, I said, “see you next year.” He told me he’d wondered if “that lady” would be here again. All either of us could remember about each other was how we danced, with a connection that was perfectly of the moment. If this were fiction, there would be more to this story, but there isn’t. He is my Bandstand Michael Hearne concert dance partner. In its own way, that story is magical enough.

This year, we did get a chance to waltz to those lovely lines about waltzing in New Mexico rain. Maybe we’ll dance again next year. If we’re lucky, perhaps it will rain. (If this were fiction, it would.)

*“New Mexico Rain” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=96UkbM6cII4

**New Mexico’s adopted sons—Americana with a touch of Western Swing

http://billhearne.com/wp/

http://www.michaelhearne.com/index.html

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

… flowers, grass, dancing …

I took a turn east while looking for something Irish to share for St. Patrick’s Day. Yeats took an interest in Eastern thought, and in Japanese Noh theater, writing poetic dramas based on Irish myths to be performed in a manner based on the formal, stylized simplicity of Noh. This poem struck me as a kind of awakening.

Imitated from the Japanese

 

A most astonishing thing—

Seventy years have I lived;

 

(Hurrah for the flowers of Spring,

For Spring is here again.)

 

Seventy years have I lived

No ragged beggar man,

Seventy years have I lived,

Seventy years man and boy,

And never have I danced for joy.

 

In Haruki Murakami’s short story collection, After the Quake, a man dances alone on a baseball mound in the middle of the night.

“Yoshiya took off his glasses and slipped them into their case. Dancing, huh? Not a bad idea. Not bad at all. He closed his eyes and, feeling the white light of the moon on his skin, began to dance all by himself … Unable to think of a song to match his mood, he danced in time with the stirring of the grass and the flowing of the clouds. Before long he began to feel that someone, somewhere was watching him. His whole body—his skin, his bones—told him with absolute certainty that he was in someone’s field of vision. So what? He thought. Let them look if they want to. All God’s children can dance.”

The Collected Poems of William Butler Yeats, Macmillan,  New York, 1974

All God’s Children Can Dance, short story in After the Quake, Haruki Murakami, Vintage International, 2003, translation by Jay Rubin