When I am an old woman – or even just an almost 40-ish woman – I will live in Santa Fe for five days. I will wear tunics and sandals and consider things like how much turquoise is too much turquoise, will the Navajo Medicine Wheel protect a house far from the desert, and how can I bottle this magic and tuck it close?
My sister and I visited El Santuario de Chimayo, a beautiful adobe church built in 1816, hidden in a valley in the Sangre de Cristo mountains. It is a sanctuary, a shrine. People make pilgrimages to be healed by the tierra bendita, the holy dirt.
We drove north to the town of Abiquiu and just beyond to Ghost Ranch, part of Piedra Lumbre, Shining Rock, a 1766 land grant from the King of Spain which eventually made its way into the hands of a man named Arthur Pack. Pack’s proclamation that thePiedra Lumbre was “the best place in the world” drew the artist Georgia O’Keeffe, and just like that, New Mexico became the new inspiration that O’Keeffe was looking for. She bought a piece of land at Ghost Ranch from Pack, as well as an old hacienda in Abiquiu, which she renovated.
That is what New Mexico taught me. It is not enough to have a computer at my kitchen counter. I must step outside and search for inspiration. I must open myself to new things. I must create space for myself: day-dreaming space, quiet space, exploring space. It is important to see how other artists work and New Mexico is a pure art economy: painting, pottery, weaving, jewelry, photography, metal work, textiles, sculpture.
I talked to my sister about her writing process, her favorite writers, we talked about books, what moves us, what stalls us. I read the first 15 pages of her new novel. She read my first attempts at fiction and listened to and encouraged my idea for a big, deep, complicated endeavor. We listened to lectures by the author Lydia Yuknavitch, whose online writing workshop “Metamorphosis,” we are both taking.
I was inspired by the lovely ochre-colored adobe we rented, the many faces of Janus decorating the wooden front door, the bull snake who glided outside out kitchen window. I was inspired by the giant sky, the thunder storms that rolled in each afternoon, splitting the afternoon heat with a crack. I was inspired by the yoga classes, by finding my breath. I was inspired by the Buddha under the juniper tree, by the Ganesha charm that removes obstacles, by the religious folk art and the Patron Saints. I was inspired by Georgia O’Keeffe’s aesthetic and discipline, by her sculpture of the Buddhist hand that blocked fear, and by her words, “I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life – and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.”
I leave Santa Fe a full balloon. I know how hard it will be to keep the creative air necessary to float, but it is up to me to create an Santuario for myself, to roll in the healing dirt.