Happy New Year, dear friends!
I’m a big believer in the ritual of end-of-year reflection. Though where does one begin to reflect on a such a roller-coaster year as 2021?
It’s been a year of pandemic variations, of masks on, then off, then on again; of Capitol insurrections and stolen inaugurations. (Read my piece published in The Independent on that topic: https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/inauguration-day-2021-online-events-biden-b1789697.html)
Perhaps it was a year of lost innocence, no matter what your age.
But I prefer to focus my reflection on gratitude, the antidote to loss.
I prefer to begin right where I am, where I landed just last night, at the aptly named Casita Home Away from Home, in Santa Fe, New Mexico, on Mountain Time.
From here, at 7,000 feet of altitude, in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo, blood of Christ mountains, I’ve got miles of perspective.
I RE-embarked on my cross-country journey just after Thanksgiving. My original departure had been back in June. I was wary about leaving again. I’d had three false starts already – yanked back home due to house problems and then health problems – and had grounded myself at basecamp in the basement awaiting a divine sign. (https://www.seechangeconsulting.com/post/the-journey-takes-a-sharp-curve)
I got it: my invitation from Dairy Hollow Writers Colony – their motto: write place, write time. “We are looking forward to having you join the talented group of writers who find their muse at Dairy Hollow,” their letter said.
I was ecstatic: finding my muse had such a joyful ring to it. With my messy house projects, thankfully, complete, the only thing stopping me was my congenitally crooked spine I’d named Caroline. These days she was in constant,mindnumbing pain. (https://www.seechangeconsulting.com/post/i-will-not-let-them-fuse-me)
Though the X-rays and orthopedic doctors argued for a radical solution, I harbored a hopeful notion that finishing my book would be the cure I needed as, page by page, the weight of years lifted off my shoulders, and my misaligned spine was allowed to heal.
I packed my bags, including a plethora of pain killers, muscle relaxers, CBD tinctures and lidocaine patches to get me through the rough times. I promised to keep up my daily morning yoga and PT routine.
1,334 miles, two days, and five states later, I arrived.
But when I stepped out of the car into the dim twilight of Dairy Hollow, my legs would not move. Two 10-hour days of driving, hips and knees locked flexion, my sinewy psoas muscles were as taught as piano wire.
My first week at The Colony I shuffled around the residence and the streets of Eureka Springs like C3PO, needles of pain shooting down my legs. (Hey, R2, wait for me!)
Other than the pain, and the lumpy mattress, my first week, as I settled into the Marianne Moore suite, was a dream: writing by day, dinners and critiques with the fellow-residents in the evenings, sipping whisky on the rocks, talking theme and character development, was just how I’d envisioned the residence might be.
The muse had arrived and, out of the misty blue, brought me a ghost story. (https://www.seechangeconsulting.com/post/encounters-with-ghosts-poets-robots-and-gratefully-the-muse)
But then something happened. The following week, a new set to residents arrived, and I no longer fit.
In fact, I got kicked out of The Colony!
I’m still unsure why and how. And I will do my best to explain.
It started one evening, after dinner, as I chatted casually with a new fellow resident in the common kitchen area. Another resident stomped out of her room and came toward us. Her reddened maskless face inches from mine, she screeched: “There’s no talking at The Colony.” She pointed to a paper sign stuck to the paneled hallway wall.
I reared away from her spittle and rage, heart thumping. This hadn’t been an issue the week before. “The sign says Quiet, not Silence,” I frowned, my adrenaline churning, preparing me to fight or flee this woman.
"No, no, no talking, I'll tell the director," she yelled, stabbing her finger in the air in front of my face, then stomped back to her room and slammed the door. The other resident and I, eyes widened, shook our heads and slunk back to our suites.
The attacker, turns out, was a long-time repeat resident of The Colony, a town local, and a friend of the director. I found and read an essay of hers, published in the colony’s online lit mag: it was a heartbreaking account of a dark history of family alcoholism and abuse.
I’d lived a similar story. This woman wasn’t so different from me. I had empathy, and, yet, her outburst scared me, brought me back to the terror of my childhood, living under the same roof with a drunken, manic-depressive father.
I met with the director to discuss the situation; she apologized in a perfunctory manner, intimating that I’d provoked the attack and reminded me of the rules.
At dinner, that night, all eight female residents around the table, everyone was congenial; the attacker was talkative and boisterous; the quiet rule didn't apply to meals. I was silent, uncomfortable, on-guard. I had a zoom call that night with my DC writing group and was contemplating if and where I might take it. As we all finished our meal, I found my opportunity to raise the question to the group. Did I know I would provoke the woman? Perhaps I did. She jumped up to her feet, pounding the table with her fists: "No, no, now, it's not allowed."
I did take my zoom call, in the room of one of the residents in the other house. Everyone was shaken. She was generous to offer. But over the next two days, I stayed away from the residence entirely, wandering the streets of Eureka Springs in pain. I found a cute coffee shop in which to camp-out; but I could hardly write a word. At night, I couldn't sleep. The crazy woman’s room was right above me.
I should have left The Colony, but I was overcome by inertia. 1,300 miles from home, where would I go?
On Friday morning, the director called me into her office. As she sat me down at the chair adjacent to her desk, I knew what was coming and I couldn’t stop it. I am a strong intuitive who ignores the barreling, blaring train of truth.
She asked me to pack my bags and leave. I tried to argue, but it was futile. She picked my bill off her desk blotter and tore it in two. “You won’t pay a penny. But you must go today, now.”
Look, friends, I told you the year had its ups and downs – and they continued.
I cried, quietly, as I packed my belongings, hastily, orderly, disorderly, mixing shirts up with socks, books with toiletries. I closed the door on my Marianne Moore writer’s suite. Corseting my abdomen like the PT taught me, I loaded my car, and slithered off into the sunset.
But my shame turned into anger as I crossed the Ozark Mountain range and rolled into the town of Rogers, Arkansas, where I’d found an Airbnb.
Then, as I settled into my own, personal writer’s retreat, I got my rage on the page.
Over the next ten days, my muse was on fire. I’d discovered a new, more raw narrator voice who spoke truth.
I’d love to have thrown my head back, erupting in ironic laughter when the director asked me, ordered, disordered me, in her oh so Southern kindly manner.
“I want you to go – today.”
I’d love to be that person. But that would be a lie. I am a vulnerable road warrior.
When I packed my bags and left Rogers, I was on a creative roll.
Not only had The Colony refunded my money, they’d gifted me almost 20 new and original pages of writing. What’s more, their invitation got me back on the road and so far from DC it was impossible to turn back.
Gratefully, I was moving forward.
From the Northwest corner of the parallelogram state of Arkansas, my travel trajectory took me south, through the Ouachita Mountains to the historic, stuck in time town of Hot Springs. There, I had a chance to soak my crooked bones in the 104 degree mineral waters of the Quapaw bath house, ahhh. Then I rested for the night at the home of Joye and Jeff, hospitable Arkansian in-law relatives.
I awoke rejuvenated and ready to cross the border into the great state of Texas. But I was bypassing all that lone-star Red, heading 8-hours long I35, the #Nafta Highway, through Dallas, straight to #keepaustinwierd and the home of my brother and family to celebrate Christmas.
Austin is one giant adult amusement park – cideries and breweries and wineries and live music wherever you go – and my brother is the most fun-loving guide. We played tennis and rode bikes and tossed the football at Zilker Park like we’re kids again. In all the playful distraction, I'd forgotten my pain.
Nick took me to the Sagebrush Roadhouse and the Continental Club to get my music on. I ventured onto the dance floor, taking my chances with Omicron, and glided through a few two-steps with friendly cowboy-hatted strangers.
We ate BBQ and Tex-Mex in outdoor eateries warmed with heat lamps. I burned some calories and exercised my spine at the Deep Eddy pool, doing my laps, for the first time ever, in natural warm springs, no chlorine, the water and air both a heavenly 73 degrees.
I coaxed nephew Noel off the computer to help me bake pecan pie bars and, together, we read a chapter book and played four-square in the driveway until he was bored with me and went back to Mindcraft. Throughout my stay, nephew Noel, age 10, asked me when was I moving to Austin and where will I buy my house, as though it was a done thing.
I love this kid; I was touched. I said hmm, may BE, scratching my chin, just maybe.
But first, I had to get back to my dream cross-country adventure. I was barely half-way!
Luckily, this time, I was not kicked out. In fact, we made it through the entire family holiday with almost no flareups; and for this, I was grateful.
I bid a fond farewell to my brother and to Austin, waving out my sunroof. It was a clear day for driving which was good news; because I had to get through the whole western half of this massive state before reaching my next destination, Balmorhea, Texas.
From my veranda at the Lazy Bear Lodge, I marveled at the wide-open space, the endless and ever-changing sky, the squawking and darting birds, as I scribbled my #morningpages and sipped my coffee. A silvery disk of cloud hovered like a space ship over the highway, and I watched for aliens to debark from a hatch in its belly.
That afternoon, once the wind died down, I visited the springs of San Solomon in the State Park just up the road. Yes, it seemed my quest for natural healing springs had become a thing on this journey – definitely in the Ups versus Downs category.
When I paid my park fee and walked in, I stood on the deck startled by the vast turquoise pool. This artesian spring, I'd read, flows at a rate of 15 million gallons a day, filling the gigantic pool, then flowing into the canals and cienegas inside the park and beyond.
Adjusting my goggles on my head,I stepped down the stairs, slippery with algae, into the clear and temperate water. It enveloped me like a blanket; the cement bottom was slick as an ice rink. I inhaled a breath, then dolphin dove in and begin my freestyle stroke, enjoying the stretch of arm bones and their movement in the shoulder sockets.
Pretty soon, little fishies were swimming with me; stroked some more, and I was gazing into a deep, undersea cavern alive with turtles and fluttering seaweed and schools of fish. I gasped at the vastness, so much space it was dizzying.
For a moment, heart palpitating, I craved the limits of the lap pool. But eventually I gave in and, diving deep, hovered and oggled through my goggles at the life below.
The next morning I was ready to push-on. Ahead of me I had 400 miles of road, heading north and west, to Sante Fe, a whole new state, and I place I would ground myself for the next month.
To get there I had to traverse I285, a pencil-drawn line of asphalt through the ugliest place in the world – Northwest Texas’s refinery alley – flat gray land dotted with oil wells and de-marked by reinforced power lines. In gusts of wind, tumbleweeds shot across the road and gathered in clumps against barricades of chain-link fence, as oil tankers barreled at and past me with a shudder, other 18-wheelers slowing from 85 mph to a stop to turn into gravel drives.
It was the longest 40 miles of my life.
Though, soon, I’d crossed the border into the state of enchantment, New Mexico. Once past Roswell, where they built the bomb, the industrial flatlands opened up to natural – stretches of golden needlegrass dotted by sage green mesquite, and puffs of cottony cloud spread against a baby blue canvas of sky.
My eyes could not begin to take in all the beauty; my heart pulsed in my ear with excitement.
The cruise control set at 80, the miles ticked off as the land shifted to sandstone pink and textured, the road curvy, cutting through hills, approaching the Sangre de Cristo mountains, and a tiny white flurry billowed in the wind.
I descended into the town named Holy Faith.
I followed my GPS and pulled into my new abode made of adobe.