Yesterday morning, as is my ritual when I am in Albuquerque at my father’s house, I set out for a morning walk. Heading out their door to the west, lies the university golf course, which has over the years, for all intents and purposes, established itself as a neighborhood park. In the morning it fills up with dog walkers, runners, young families and couples out for a morning stroll, and seniors getting their daily exercise. The perimeter is a two-mile loop which brings you along the edge of Indian School road and the back alleyways of the campus, then butts up against the medical school and the recently built appellate court building.
In the morning, just at first light, it is stunning. Walking under a row of tall, barren winter cottonwoods and rounding the west corner, the valley of Albuquerque is laid out before me. The layers of color and dimension stretch out down to the river and up again to the mesa on the other side of the city. The hues of this landscape are desert salmons and lighter, creams and dust colors. To anyone who might not know about the subtlety of winter color or if you thought the desert was a flat, barren place, this view provides a solid introduction to the magic that light can do to layers of dry earth. My eyes fill up with its quiet and unassuming grandeur. When I fly in from the east coast, it always feels like this is the moment when I know I’ve arrived home. Sometimes I find myself singing with joy in fact. Other times I just move quietly with my breath, soaking in big gulps of beauty and gratitude.
I haven’t been writing much lately. I think I’ve been afraid. I think I’ve been afraid of what I might have to say or that whatever “it” is, it isn’t worth saying somehow. I know that real writers write anyway, no matter what. And it is this knowledge that has then covered my internal silence with shame. Being in the profession of writing and teaching writing, those who have the discipline to “write anyway” surround me. They work through whatever happens to be going on in their lives. In fact, they cling to their work as the means of staying sane through the ups and downs. Compare and despair as you will have it, has also been a factor in my landscape.
It is interesting and humbling to begin to remember exactly what it feels like for my students when they sit down to write, and stare at the blank page before them. They are afraid of their own lack of vision, of their own failure, before they even begin. They rely on what they have been taught and sometimes are unable to move from that place into the unknown, where the real magic of discovery can happen. I try to teach them to find their beginner’s mind, to go forth into the territory of their own deeper knowing. Now, at 3 in the morning, as I wake from a deep sleep to write these words, I realize I have perhaps failed to find my own beginner’s mind for the last months. Beginner’s mind, in my experience requires the following: willingness and surrender. Willingness to make discoveries and surrender to “what is.” By this I mean, surrender to the truth, whether it be kind or unkind, beautiful, painful or otherwise. Surrender to the moment you are in whether it be uncomfortable, celebratory, or even, worst of all: frozen.
And I have been heartbreakingly frozen. With the darkening of the days in my third New England winter, I too have darkened and slowed. The feelings I have about my life now are that I am diminished, that my spirit is fighting to survive and thriving seems somehow out of the question. It is strange, as I try to look from the outside and see that on the surface of my life, everything looks beautiful. I have a wonderful partner and a relationship that is teaching me more than I could have ever imagined, a job that is steady—and this year peaceful with a manageable workload, good students, supportive colleagues, a nice place to live, a growing group of friends with whom I share a real affection.
And yet, it is as if I am a living thing attempting to grow in the dark. Or perhaps I am like one of the plants in my living room that gets some good sunlight, enough water, and still its leaves, speckled and beautiful, fall to the floor one by one. Soon, it will become bare and I feel helpless to stop it. The well of me bubbles up with feelings of guilt—that my loved one has to watch me be so negative and small, that I have so little positivity to give to the world right now, and that mostly I have been bereft in the ice flow of no writing. I keep thinking: if I am not doing what I most love in this life, what good is a job, a house, and all those things? What good is it all if I remain frozen and small? How do I move forward?
I do know this: the New Year’s time always feels like passing through the eye of the needle, to the darkest, smallest point before I can grow out again into more light and the promise of springtime. Things become single pointed and the larger context of the passage of time and a long-term vision often gets obscured for me. I keep repeating, it will not be winter forever; I will not be frozen forever; I will find that light, somehow. I will not always feel like such a failure in my life. In fact, it is likely inevitable that all this will shift and change beyond my wildest imagining, whether I ever come to understand it or not.
It takes a lot of trust to go so far into the darkness.
A friend reminds me that somewhere behind all of this, there are likely tears. That some way, I will have to cry and grieve. All these things will have to be integrated, or jettisoned. And one thing I also know is this: there’s no better place to do that work of returning to the light than here, in the arms of my New Mexico home. No better time than now.
May this New Year, this new day be ever so fruitful.