I’ve just returned from 2 weeks as writer-in-residence at Mabel Dodge Luhan House in Taos, northern New Mexico. In 1995 in this very area I was so inspired by landscape that I wrote 11 poems in three days, that turned into a book about Georgia O’Keeffe (Inward to the Bones: Georgia O’Keeffe’s Journey with Emily Carr). So the invitation to stay in my own little casita – in the very place O’Keeffe stayed when she first visited New Mexico – was a gift.
But I’d forgotten that another place is “other.” Another culture. So it took a few days to get used to the differences. Here was a place of heat and daily sun, so unlike my familiar Vancouver, BC climate of rain and fog. Here were adobe and corners rounded by women’s hands and people who easily started a conversation, strange birds and red and green chiles in everything (“Christmas” you say when you can’t make up your mind or want both), and people of Spanish and Pueblo ancestry, not the French I’m used to in Canada. Mostly, here was one of the deepest quiets I’d felt in a very, very long time.
There’s something special about New Mexico. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that any spiritual tradition you can name – Protestant, Catholic, Buddhist, Muslim, New Age, even Shirley MacLaine – all have a retreat here. And artists! Taos – a town of fewer than 6000 people – has 10 public museums, uncounted private galleries and hundreds of artists from all over the world.
It was a bit overwhelming at first. I’d find myself standing at the door of my little adobe dwelling, listening. Just listening. For the song of different birds, the rustle of different trees, for that deep silence that seemed to underlie it all. And then I wrote. I’m not sure if – how – the place affected the writing I did there. I’ll know later. But I do know it shook me up, into fresh places, which is a gift to any writer. Christmas in June!
This was my first writer-in-residency. Now I know what they’re for. For taking a deep breath. For getting a different view. For writing.