Dropping In

When I was a teenager with divorced parents, one of the many things I loved about living with my father was the spontaneous sociability. People dropped in on him, often in the late mornings on weekends, and on summer evenings we would go for walks and drop in on friends. We were in a small town on the Maine coast where he was informally referred to as “the mayor,” though the town was in fact so small it didn’t have one. He was one of the few year-round residents.

Where I live now, spontaneous socializing happens on the streets, in coffee shops, and at the brewery, but I don’t drop in on friends unless they own shops—dropping in on shop-owners is a social custom here. Otherwise, I’ve developed the habit of calling if I want to make short-notice plans. Then my cell phone provider and I had to part ways, due to a series of annoying technical events. I couldn’t make calls. I was in the middle of I-will-not-tell-you-what kind of hassle trying to set up online with the new provider when I heard a knock on my door.

A friend had dropped by to tell me his phone didn’t work.

Needless to say, the timing was perfect. I invited him in. I’d been meaning to call him during my three days of phone problems and couldn’t. We vented about cell phone service, and he said he’s going to get a landline. “Why do I need a phone with me all the time?”

Good question.

I didn’t go quite so far back in tech time as he decided to, but I still don’t have a smart phone. Why do I need a computer with me all the time? I like talking. If friends want to get in touch, I like it if they call and talk, not text. If it’s after eleven a.m., they can even drop in.

Anniversary Sale

Two years ago today, June 2, I was half-way across the country, moving from Virginia to New Mexico. I’d lived in Santa Fe previously and left for a job in northeastern North Carolina, where I found the setting for The Calling. I always knew I’d be back, and when I discovered Truth or Consequences, I was instantly caught in the vortex. I knew I would live here someday.

In Shaman’s Blues, Mae Martin moves to T or C. Unlike me, she’s never seen it before. Never been to New Mexico. Doesn’t know a soul in town except her father. Join her on the adventure and celebrate my anniversary.

Click here for 99 cent sale

Spring Break

I’m grateful for the ultimate New Mexico April day. It looks nice out the window—warm and sunny, with new green figs on the fig tree. But the wind is blowing at thirty-six miles per hour, the pollen count is eleven point two on a twelve-point scale, and humidity is only nine percent. I think that means there’s more juniper pollen than moisture in the air, and it’s moving faster than a sneeze.  Ten minutes outdoors, and my head felt like it was being squeezed in a vise. Finally, on a day when I have no obligations or appointments, the April-ness of April is so bad I have to stay in.

Why am I grateful for that?

A new acquaintance, recently retired from the Coast Guard, mentioned that she sometimes wished she was working again so she could have vacation time. I understood. When I had an academic job, I had weekends and vacations. I even had snow days once in a great while. Those were intense writing times, and so were my evenings after work. I now live in the place where I used to take my summer and occasional spring and winter vacations. Supposedly, I’m writing full time, but I feel less productive. I used to teach yoga four times a week when I had a regular job. I teach yoga the same number of hours now, and I don’t even have to drive to the studio, but I’m busier than I was before I moved. So what’s taking up all my time?

I thought downsizing to a tiny apartment would save time, but it doesn’t. Everything I do, even cleaning and cooking, is like playing Tetris. I have to move something in order to do anything. There’s no dishwasher. Hand washing takes time. No curbside recycling. Driving it to the recycling center takes time. I don’t live right next to a park anymore, so I drive to one for running. Most medical appointments are in Las Cruces, an hour’s drive each away.

The big factor, though, is that life is so interesting here, far more than it was back east. I’m more engaged in the community, not only with meetings and volunteering, but with social and cultural activities. One thing I love about T or C is how friendly people are. When I was a summer visitor, I had two good friends here. Now I know so many people I feel guilty about not keeping up with them all, and I run into people I know wherever I go, meaning we stop and talk. It can take twenty minutes to get my mail if a neighbor is at his mailbox at the same time. The number of professional artists and musicians residing in such a small town, plus the ones who visit, means there are events I could attend several evenings a week. I’m trying to cut back, but how can I not go to a concert when I know the performers? How can I not support the arts in my community?

Except … I’m part of the arts in my community. A less visible part except in the local authors’ section of a couple of stores, but I’ll be even less visible if I don’t stay home. I know there are people wondering when the next book is coming out. So, blow, winds, blow. I’m in for the day and writing.

The Bats are Back!

On Sunday last week, my eighty-three-year-old neighbor said, “If I was a bat, I’d be thinking about heading north about now.” We walked down to the icehouse, the roofless building with the mural on the back, where the bats reside most of the year. We were a day early. I could tell our little friends arrived Monday. Not because I went to see them that evening, but because there were no gnats falling onto my keyboard or crawling over my laptop screen.

As of today, it’s been a week since the T or C bat colony came home from their winter trip to Mexico, and I’ve watched them three times already. Their delicate wings are translucent as they flutter out in groups of ten or twenty, emerging into the evening sky from the blue sky of the mural, and then dispersing toward Turtleback Mountain and the Rio Grande. The joy that surges in me with each flight of bats is pure and wordless. Transcendent. My neighbor feels the same way. When bats take off, he sounds like a kid in his delight. On a windy night, he was disappointed to see only a few. Tonight, I was thrilled to witness flight after flight, a seeming infinity of bats.

An out-of-state tourist staying at the Riverbend RV park, right behind the mural, saw me standing and staring at the wall, and I explained I was watching bats. He stopped and watched briefly and said it was good the owner of the icehouse let them live there, but I don’t think he shared the mind-clearing flash of happiness these creatures give me. Nor can I explain it. Perhaps their silent sounds are penetrating my consciousness, sonar bouncing off my inner landscape and attuning me to the present moment in which they, my honored relations, always live.

Retreat

As a professor, I welcomed the holidays as time off. After the busyness of the fall the semester, what I wanted and needed most was a chance to go inward. When people would ask me, “What are you doing for Thanksgiving?” I’d answer “As little as possible,” and then explain that I used the day as a retreat. I gave the same answer for Christmas. My family long ago stopped buying gifts and switched to supporting each other’s favorite charities. I love visiting them, but not in the winter. That’s not the time to go to Maine. Spring or summer visits are our tradition, not holidays.

My personal tradition of using the major holidays as retreat days carries on in retirement. I’m normally busy, outgoing, and social, not at all the stereotype of the introverted writer, so I still need such days. Aside from walking to the yoga studio to teach a class on Thursday evening (yes, a couple of people chose to come), I didn’t go out. I did my own yoga and meditation practices, and I finished the first draft of a book. Perfect.

The only hard part of this is explaining it to people who think it’s sad or weird, when I’m actually happy not “doing” the holidays. When I do explain, I find quite a few people who like the idea, but others still seem to think it’s a bit pathological. We have Scrooge and the Grinch, after all, among our seasonal archetypes. One Thanksgiving in Virginia, some well-meaning neighbors anonymously left a huge aluminum pan full of turkey and stuffing on my doorstep, not knowing me well enough to realize I’m a vegetarian. I guess they saw that I didn’t go out and felt sorry for me. I never knew which neighbors did it. I wish they had known my day of inwardness wasn’t lonely or depressing, but liberating. Soul-nourishing.

I have friends who do the big family gatherings, and that nourishes their souls. I heard the community pot luck at the brewery was packed, and I imagine it was fun for everyone who went and gave them what they needed from the day, also.

Black Friday passed, and I didn’t shop. However, I hope my friends in T or C who run stores had good sales, and that those who did shop supported small businesses and found meaningful gifts.

My neighbor across the street put up her Christmas decorations before Thanksgiving. Though she intended to make herself wait, she couldn’t resist. She had creative fun, and the display is quite entertaining. (The pink flamingo is wearing a holiday bow.) I don’t own any ornaments and like it that way.

Today, I walked to the river, hoping to see water birds. The cormorants or coots—I still don’t know for sure what they are—have returned, and they were making their odd noises, peeping and croaking as they fished. On the opposite bank, where I’ve never seen any humans before, a man in a plaid shirt and denim shorts sat in a small, sunny clearing, perfectly still. Fishing or contemplating? I couldn’t tell. The sky was New Mexico Blue over Turtleback Mountain, and a blue heron perched on a for sale sign on a piece of land I hope no one ever buys, even though one of my yoga students is the realtor. The man on the bank moved just enough that I could see his fishing line catch the light as a fish stirred his meditation into new awareness, the present moment tugging on his hook.

His attire on a fifty-five degree day made me suspect he was a snowbird, one of the Mainers and Canadians who escape to T or C and think even our cool days are warm. If so, he has escaped to a town without a mall. What better place to spend the season? It was good bird day. Heron, cormorants (or coots), and snowbird.

 

Outdoor Yoga and Bushy Neurons

I’m still exploring Hare Brain Tortoise Mind at a tortoise pace, and I came across this concept in it: Animals that live in highly stimulating environments grow bushier neurons in their brains. That is, the neurons develop more dendrites, make more connections with their neighbors, and become capable of new and varied patterns of interaction. They can get out of a rut.

I think of T or C as a bushy neuron kind of place. A friend who visited from Virginia tried to explain what she found so remarkable about it. She said I’d described it well in my books, and yet those descriptions hadn’t captured a certain aspect of its vibe, something she struggled name or explain. Then she finally realized what it was. “There’s no pattern.”

While she was here, she mentioned how odd it was to look down an alley and see not only a dirt alley with dumpsters, but also an explosion of murals—not graffiti, but murals. The town kept surprising her. And it can still surprise me.

She’s right; there’s no pattern, unless the two blue-and-purple houses on my block constitute a pattern. But one has a moon goddess on it and the other has a Kokopelli. On the same block are trailers and the stucco-and-stick-fence gated wall of a spa that will never be built. For some reason, someone bought the lot quite a few years back and began construction, although you can’t build anything that size in this location. It’s a nice wall, though.

Doing some volunteer work that takes me all over town, I recently discovered a section of Juniper Street I never knew existed. The street has three disconnected parts, and I’d only known about two of them. This third part is around a hidden curve. From there it suddenly drops down, becoming so steep no one could ever ride bike up it and so narrow you’d hate to meet another car on it. On one side is a great wall of wind-and-water-sculpted red dirt and on the other side, two residential streets, one with little houses, and below that, one with super-bright crayon-colored trailers. When I’ve looked down at the town from the water tower hill, I couldn’t figure out where the street with those trailers was and how one got to it. That third leg of Juniper was hidden by the wall of dirt.

In other neighborhoods, I’ve food an orange-and-blue building, stone buildings, a yellow house with Lady of Guadeloupe murals, little hidden cottages behind other houses, magical gardens, art gardens, hoarder yards, collapsing houses, yards with so much trash in them I worried how people could live that way, serene little adobe apartments with winding paths and desert gardens, and many of these coexist on the same streets. No pattern. The appeal of T or C to artists and musicians makes sense. It’s not neat, cute, or pretty, but it makes your neurons bushy.

The recent exposure to so many new off-beat places seems to have broken my habitual perceptual patterns. I discovered a perfect spot for outdoor yoga in the courtyard outside my apartment that I never noticed as such, though the small square of bricks was always there. Smooth and flat, partly shaded, it faces the autumn-yellow fig tree and a tall purple aster. Yoga feels more spiritual under the open sky with nature around me, even if it’s nature in the courtyard. And the shapes of the fig tree and the flowers reminded me what the novelty was doing for my neurons.

*****

Read more of Amber Foxx’s essays on this blog and in the collection Small Awakenings: Reflections on Mindful Living.

 

Brain Wash

Wednesday was an insanely busy day. I moved back into my place over the Labor Day weekend. The bad neighbor is gone! But I’ve had a lot of catching up on my life to do. The last thing I felt like doing was laundry. It’s the one aspect of retiring and downsizing that’s been unsatisfactory, because I have no room in my otherwise perfect apartment for laundry machines. I’ve adapted to the laundromat as well as I can. I bring books and magazines and read outside, I take walks, or sometimes I bring my exercise tubing and work out, but I still don’t like it. On this super-busy day, the laundromat was also busy, full of people doing noisy things on their phones, and there were noisy activities outside too. I read, but it wasn’t peaceful. I ran an errand while my clothes were in the dryer. More busyness. When I got back, one of the dryers hadn’t started when I thought it had, so I had to restart it and wait longer.

Normally, I do a meditation practice with mudras late at night, to clear the day away and cleanse my energy. I did it there, in the laundromat. The only other remaining customer had gone outdoors. I didn’t care if she came back in and saw the mudras, though. This is T or C, after all. People here talk with strangers freely, and she’d already shared something pretty personal in our short conversation. I was free to be myself.

All the churning and spinning of machines echoed my state of mind. Then, five minutes of mudras in mountain pose in front of that misbehaving dryer changed everything. The washing was done. Inside me.

 

 

*****

Enjoyed this post? You may also like Small Awakenings: Reflections on Mindful Living.

Change

The bats have relocated. It’s an unwelcome change for their fans, but it was inevitable. They couldn’t stay in a man-made structure forever.

The old warehouse where they resided has been sold and cleaned out, and repairs are in progress. The building was crumbling, and the bats, delicate and magical as they are, made it stink. The man working on the place said the bats were welcome to back if they wanted to for now, but of course they don’t want to. He had the doors wide open and daylight was pouring in. The building is going to be converted into several apartments. As one of my neighbors said, even bats have the sense not to like developers.

Years ago, the bats lived in the Methodist church, also known as the pink church. Then, after a fly-out, the church had wire mesh installed over the vents so the bats couldn’t come back in. They moved to the warehouse. Now they’ve moved again. Bat lovers in the T or C hot springs historic district have been watching the sky at sunset. Our little relatives are still around, though in smaller numbers, and we don’t know where they live now. We’ve checked various possible new bat homes. The Baptist Church. No bats. The ice house, an empty building between Rio Bravo Fine Art and the community youth club. No bats. Though I miss the clouds of them in the evening sky, I hope for the bat colony’s sake that they have moved to a nice private cave on protected land where they can stay for generations.

Several evenings ago, I took a sunset walk, and a few bats hunted bugs over the streets. I counted seven bats fluttering over the river and the wetlands, but I couldn’t stand by the water and be immersed in them. And gnats are gathering on my ceiling again, though only by the dozens, not swarming the way they do when the bats are entirely out of town.

A speckled and striped gecko, no more than an inch long, with a rosy patch on its tiny head, was attempting to sneak into my apartment when I got home from running today. I was tempted to allow it to move in. It was cute and it would eat gnats. But I caught it, admired it, and carried it across the courtyard to a rocky area under a tree. Better for all of us, in the long run.

Launch

On June 1st 2017, I left my apartment in Virginia for the last time. With the help of an amazing friend, I had most of my belongings miraculously crammed into my very small car, and had already sold my furniture and excess books. I said my good byes and gave away my bed, my landlord inspected the place, and I hit the road. Bit by bit, plan by plan, I downsized to the minimum and retired early. I’d say more, but why? It was interesting to me, of course, but not because of any adventure or drama that would make a good story, but because it went so smoothly.

On June 1st 2018, I went for a walk to enjoy one of T or C’s amazing full-circle sunsets— pink clouds in the south and in the east, orange and purple mingling in the West—and to commune with the bats that emerge from an old warehouse in the middle of town, next door to the trailer I use as Mae’s house in my books. (I’ve not used the bats in my books yet, but Mae would like them.)

I watched the bats pour from a crack in the brick wall in a flow of perfectly sequenced flights, one bat right after another, and tried to imagine how they organized this exit. One squadron would take off, and then no one came out for a while, but after the pause there was a lot of squeaking high up in the old warehouse. Whenever the squeaking got loud and then stopped,  more bats came out. Sometimes a solo bat popped out of a small hole lower in the wall or shot out of a hole to the right of the main exit, while the main surge of fliers swept out from the big crack and headed for the river. Their orderly formations dispersed into every-which-way flutters, a few independent bats leaving the crowd altogether to stay and hunt bugs around the neighborhood.

One reason this multi-bat take-off is so amazing is they can’t run; they can only take off by dropping and launching like hang gliders. Imagine the launch sequence inside the old warehouse as one bat after another lets go of the ceiling and aims for the exit. Somehow, they organize it, and it works.

A year after my move, I have no regrets. It was the right decision, a successful launch. I can live happily as a writer and yoga teacher in a very small apartment in a wonderfully weird town. I’ve made new friends and no enemies (that I know of) and am still discovering the simple beauties of this place. I ran in the desert on June 1st 2018, aware that a year earlier I was in my car. On my way to the quail, the jackrabbits, the mule deer, and the checkered whiptails that made my run so beautiful. On my way home.

 

Happy Coincidences

Dear Susan,

First, happy birthday. I’m honored that you wanted to treat yourself to my books to celebrate. Second. I want to thank you for telling me why. You said reading The Calling had a positive impact on your life. Writing it had a positive impact on my life, too, as I explored healing and loss, friendship and enmity, and the lessons learned from all of them. When you said the book had an effect as you were making changes in your place, working with its energy, I understood. I’m part-way through book seven in the series, which introduces a character who is a house healer, so this was an intriguing coincidence.

Your call to Black Cat Books to order the rest of the series was another synchronicity. My neighbor and I had gone there for tea and book shopping before the store takes its summer vacation. (The off-season in T or C starts after Memorial Day. It’s already in the upper nineties.) Your birthday happens to fall right before the store closes up for three months. I was just about to head out the door when I heard Rhonda, the store owner, mention my name. So I stayed and had the opportunity to talk with you and then signed the books dedicated to you.

Authors don’t often get to talk with readers. I hugely appreciate those who review or get in touch, but I don’t expect it of the majority. All I want is for them to read, enjoy, and repeat. Hearing how you connected with The Calling at a psychological and spiritual/energetic level meant a lot to me. Your input reminds to keep taking my protagonist on her healing journey, through mysteries that challenge her emotionally and ethically and require her to learn (often the hard way).

Thank you for supporting a small, independent bookstore and for making an author’s day—not only by buying my books, but re-grounding me in the reasons why I write them. Next time you visit T or C, perhaps the book with the house healer will be in Black Cat for you.

Amber