Thursday, February 14, 2013

At First, Disappointment, and then Realization and Contentment

My subscription to New Mexico Magazine began today with the arrival of what I thought would be the Valentine's issue, but turned out to be the March issue. I was disappointed because I wanted to read about what's considered romantic in New Mexico. It would be the logical thing to get the next issue after I subscribed in January, but I guess I didn't subscribe early enough. I'll either see if a newsstand around here has it, or I'll order it from the website, as I did with the 90th Anniversary issue I bumped into at the Boulder City Library that introduced me to New Mexico Magazine.

Then I looked at the March issue: "25 Reasons to Love Taos." And it came to me: When I was 11, a confluence of events made me become a writer. It must have been brewing since 1992, when I was 7 years old in Casselberry, Florida, and copied by hand onto a sheet of posterboard an Orlando Sentinel review of the animated movie Bebe's Kids. That also eventually made me a film critic, but seeing those words come alive after each letter was attached had apparently made a deep impression on me.

That 11th year, in South Florida, I found in a thrift shop a huge book called The Most of Andy Rooney, bringing together his previous books A Few Minutes with Andy Rooney, And More by Andy Rooney, and Pieces of My Mind. I had seen him on 60 Minutes, when I knew the show to be a magnet for car commercials. There were a lot of those during the broadcasts. But reading Rooney's commentaries, about restaurants, woodworking, tools, winter, how cold it gets at night, I was amazed. I didn't know writing could involve all this! I thought you simply go to restaurants, you eat, you enjoy whatever of the experience you like, and leave. But to write about it? To dwell in corners, to notice decor, to see whether it's food or atmosphere that's most important? I never thought writing could be like that! I wanted to do it and after reading that book, I tried writing like Rooney did, but learned quickly what writing style is, that his voice isn't my voice, that my voice can be anything that I feel I am.

Then came Natalie Goldberg. I was gradually learning more about writing, and at my local library, I found Wild Mind: Living the Writer's Life. Here was a writer telling me to be playful, be bold, be daring, be free. Remembering some of the books I had read up to that age, including bringing John Grisham novels with me to class to read in 3rd grade (and I could read them, which made my teacher actually call my parents in for a conference, concerned that I was reading on a level far above my classmates, which never made sense to me), I thought writing had to be mostly formal in execution. You had a viewpoint, you pinpointed that one story you wanted to tell, you wrote all you could about it, and that was it.

But here was Goldberg, telling me to write about home, to go back there in my mind, to read my writing aloud to understand the rhythm of words, to write about spiritual experiences. Still surprised at what Andy Rooney wrote about, Goldberg made me want to write about everything on the planet, to discover who I wanted to be, to think, really think, about my life and what made up my life.

I checked out Wild Mind a lot. I wanted to absorb her book in my body and know it without picking it up, always guided by it, always prodded to do my best and my worst in my writing, and make that my best too.

Goldberg wrote about New Mexico, about Santa Fe, about Taos, because she lived there, and in other books of hers, it was noted that she lived, and possibly still lives, in Taos. I didn't think about it much at the time. I only knew she was the spirit I wanted to follow.

And then, in September 2011, came The Secret of Everything by Barbara O'Neal, who wrote How to Bake a Perfect Life, which I had only read because the front cover had a blurb by Erica Bauermeister, author of the deeply felt The School of Essential Ingredients, and that was enough for me. I loved How to Bake a Perfect Life and wanted to read everything else that O'Neal wrote, starting with The Lost Recipe for Happiness which was wonderful, detailed, emotional, vividly realized. But The Secret of Everything was it for me. It cracked New Mexico wide open. It is the reason I want to travel throughout New Mexico. I learned that the fictional Las Ladronas was a combination of Santa Fe and Taos, and I want to visit both. I fell hard for the beauty, the peace of New Mexico through O'Neal's descriptions, and out of everywhere I want to travel, I want to know New Mexico the most. I want to see every inch of it.

Reading it a second time last year, I realized that Natalie Goldberg started me on this path, but I hadn't known it yet. The Secret of Everything sealed my fate.

Walking back to our house from getting the mail, I quickly got over my disappointment of not getting the Valentine's issue when I saw "25 Reasons to Love Taos." As I learned just now from her Wikipedia page, Natalie Goldberg no longer lives in Taos. She lives in Santa Fe. But when I discovered her books, when she made me want to write and write and write and write, she lived in Taos. It's appropriate that "25 Reasons to Love Taos" is one of the stories of this issue. Goldberg gave life to the beginning of my writing life. This issue marks the beginning of my eventual travels to New Mexico, my desire to read the literature of the state, its history, its poetry, its desert, and its other landscapes. This subscription and this first issue is when I get serious about going there, moreso than before. Taos is here again, as it should be, another introduction, another path to begin.

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