I recently spent three days in New Mexico, teaching, and dreaming, and watching the light change.
After we’d finished teaching creative writing at the prison there, we went out for Afro-Caribbean food at Jambo, and sat under twinkling lights in a brightly painted dining room packed with Santa Feans of every stripe.
On Saturday, we slept in.
Later, we wandered for a few hours in the center of Santa Fe, unencumbered by the pressing needs of a schedule, able to just look at trees budding with spring blossoms, to study old churches and adobe buildings, to map out the swirly center of that ancient town.
It was much like I remembered it from my first visit in 1996. Certainly things had changed—especially me—but the bones of the city were still the same. The feeling of open possibility remained.
We dawdled in the Georgia O’ Keeffe museum one block off the main plaza, drinking in huge paintings of flowers, trees, mesas and red mountains. My favorite was Horse’s Skull with White Rose.
I studied it intently for several minutes, looking at the strong brush strokes and the simplicity of its subject. The exhibit also included many photos of O’Keeffe. Some by her husband/muse/lover, Alfred Stieglitz. Others were taken by Ansel Adams and other photographers I hadn’t heard of. What struck me about all the portraits of O’Keeffe was how fully she inhabited herself. She grew more fascinating and resolute as she aged. Aging didn’t render her invisible. Instead, she glowed with a kind of incandescent inner light.
In addition to a selection of her paintings and the photographs, I saw O’Keeffe’s set of partially used pastels, her brushes, and her paintbox, replete with wrinkled tubes of amber and onyx and white paint.
It was like falling through the looking glass, seeing those magical tools belonging to a renown master.
And a woman.
I loved seeing the work of a wildly successful artist, who also happened to be a woman.
A Room With A View
Letter To Sherwood Anderson (a writer), September 1923:
“…Making your unknown known is the important thing; and keeping the unknown always beyond you; catching, crystallizing your simpler, clearer version of life, only to see it turn stale compared to what you vaguely feel ahead, that you must always keep working to grasp…” ~ Georgia O’Keeffe
In the car on the way home, I kept thinking of her paintings, her images, her stark love for the land.
She sat in wild, open land, and painted—without regard for anything other than her particular vision, her art.
I love that about her. I admire it. I aspire to do much the same with my words.
Watching the Watchers.
I felt the clouds watch me as we made our way through Albuquerque and onto the 40.
The red mesas and deep, black volcanic rock reminded me what an old soul that land has.
Just outside Gallup we stopped to see the stars at a dark turn off. Above us were millions and millions of stars, including Orion’s belt, the Big Dipper, the seven sisters.
I felt so small and so vast at the same time.
It still seems—weeks later—that I left a part of myself back there at the side of the road, looking for beauty, looking for respite, looking for answers only open space can provide.
Image: Georgia O’Keeffe