I walk several blocks and cross the main road of Taos to go to the grocery store. From the parking lot, I can see the mountains rising up toward sky and a sunset. The sight of them makes me feel safe, in the presence of something large. How great that a grocery store has such a view, I think. On the way back, I meet one of my fellow artists here. We walk down our dirt road, and she stays to have a glass of wine. We sit on my little front porch. The evening is cool, though the day has been hot. We talk about Taos, the characters we’ve met, the friends we’re making, yoga, the art scene in LA and Santa Fe, the economy here, the drugs, the intricate culture of Hispanic, Anglo, and Native. We talk about God. Is there one? We drink wine and eat cheese and crackers, and the evening begins to darken around us. The hummingbirds who have commandeered the feeder buzz us every once in awhile. We hear the sounds of neighbors talking, pulling garbage cans to the curb because sound travels so far here. Night is upon us, and we part, and I walk into my casita feeling rich. I don’t sit on the porch and talk with neighbors in Houston. It’s too hot. We’re all too busy or have to catch the news. I don’t have news here, unless I summon it up on the radio or internet.
Have you ever lived some place slow and easy? That’s how it is here. My other life is on a shelf right now. I know this won’t last, that I’m in a bubble the artist’s residency has created for me. I’ll be picking my other life up soon, but it feels so good to be soothed by a slower pace and caressed by the sweet ending of a day.
Posted in character, creativity, Dark Angels, Houston, Karleen Koen, life, love, Now Face to Face, story and life, story and writing, theme, Through A Glass Darkly
Tagged friendship, getting away for awhile, Hispanic, Houston, mingling of cultures, Native American, slower pace, small towns, Taos, Taos Mountain
I’ve never had any kind of sense of place. I spent early years in a tiny town in Arkansas before we moved several times to end in Pasadena, Texas. The Houston Ship Channel runs along one side of town, and the structures which process oil and gas are miles of intricate metal piping and holding tanks. At night, they look like fairy palaces of lights. In the daylight, they look like some kind of monstrous ugly invention that overwhelms everything around. I never bonded with any of it, never processed it even for bad memories, like writer Mary Karr. My real world was in books: fiction, history books, biographies, historicals. It was in England, which I imagined as green and grand. It was in some old house a Cavalier ancestor built. Now I’m in a place–Taos— where I understand what it means to bond with the ground under my feet, the trees over my head, the sky, the mountains. At twilight, I try to watch the sunset, its entire hour of departure, its drama changing each night, wild and colorful if there are clouds, quietly sensual if there are none. There are grand sweeps of pasture land to the mountains themselves. The air is clear and clean. There are adobes both new and crumbling with age. There are abandoned trucks in some yards. Horses or cattle still matter here. Cottonwoods green any creek bed or the river, even if the water is gone; otherwise there is the desert, with its grays and beiges and tough little turfs of sage and pinion. Off the main drag, main street, main highway, all rolled into one road, paved streets quickly give way to gravel or dirt ones. Today I went to a Pow Wow inside Pueblo land. The sun beat down fiercely on me and dancers from all the nations: Apache, Sioux, Navajo, Tiwas…others. They were feathered and belled and beaded into splendor. I loved their stomping, whirling dance….mirroring the heartbeat of the earth, the announcer said. This isn’t an easy place to make a living any more; small farms are a way of the past, though with all the exposure of the terrible practices of our food industry, that just may change. The sale of art and crafts and the service industry for tourists seem to be the two main props of employment. And yet, what beauty there is. But you can’t feed yourself solely on beauty. Beauty is food for the tourists, like me…..
What place is in your blood? If there isn’t one, do you feel a sense of loss, a sense of being a ghost? Are you always looking for home? Is home ever real?
Posted in creativity, Dark Angels, fiction, Houston, Karleen Koen, life, Now Face to Face, story and life, story and theme, theme, Through A Glass Darkly, writing, writing process
Tagged Mary Karr, Pasadena, place, Pow Wow, sense of place in writing, Taos, Taos Pueblo, Texas, writing about place
Tenderness is an interesting word to me. Affection is part of its definition as is delicate, gentle, sensitive. Once I had a character say, I’ve known love and I’ve known passion, but tenderness is best. There’s someone in our writing group. She comes in quietly. She talks little, but she has distinct presence. She often brings something unexpected. The first time I wrote with the group, afterwards, she gave me a book of poems, and said, Welcome to Taos. Another time she brought cake which she couldn’t eat, but which she wanted to share. She gives thoughtful prompts: am I a man who dreamed he was a butterfly or the butterfly who dreamed he was a man? Several of us wrote off that. As we were listening to others share, she tore a page out of a notebook to give out. It was information about Taos County butterflies. Their names were wonderful: skipper, dustywing, cloudywing. She reads quietly when it’s her turn. Her writing can almost be Zen in its simplicity. Heartbreak has been in her life. Somehow she personifies tenderness, fragile, worn at the edges by life, but there….
What do you know about tenderness? Why is it so unique? Is it its gentleness in our increasingly noisy world?
Posted in character, Dark Angels, Karleen Koen, life, love, Now Face to Face, story and character, Through A Glass Darkly
Tagged butterfly, emotion, love, Taos, tenderness, writing emotion, writing groups
I’ve joined a writing group here in Taos. Everyone brings a saying or quote. We throw them out. We write from the prompt of one or more for 30 minutes. We share, but no critique, just what we liked in each other’s writing. I love this kind of writing, gentle, explorative, safe, and so often, revealing. This last week, the oil spill came up in several people’s writing. There was everything from rage to prayers for us and the earth. Last night, at a dinner party, the spill came up again. Again, rage and blame. What can we do? What if people just met one evening and did a candlelight vigil for the Gulf? One of those same time all over the place vigils? And there are always petitions to sign, and congress people to write. Being here in Taos, where nature is so vibrant and where space has been protected from development because of the Pueblo, I wonder if the Pueblo Indians are still keeping guard over the earth. That’s what I’ve heard; that their religion is the earth and sky and that their life is around loving and celebrating both. But there aren’t very many of them, and modern life is making inroads into their culture.
I wonder what it’s going to take to get people to let the powers-that-be know that enough is enough? We have to begin, no matter how hard, to be more in harmony with the place that sustains us. So what do you say: pick an evening, get a candle, make a sign that says “enough,” call a couple of friends, and stand vigil for just a little while for the Gulf and for the earth…..
Posted in creativity, Karleen Koen, Now Face to Face, story and theme, story and writing, writing, writing process
Tagged British Petroleum, oil spill in the Gulf, Pueblo Indians, Taos, what can we do about the oil spill, writing, writing groups
Something has occurred to me about my creativity as I spend the summer in my meadow in Taos. I’ve been attempting to stuff all of it into some kind of routine, but there are times where a project is burning, and it consumes. Out goes meditation, exercise, regular meals, seeing friends. You’re in it––for me the story––in it deep, and you just want to get through it. And I’ve decided, that’s ok.
So, as I’m working right now, on a last set of revisions, I’m deep, deep inside the story, and all I want to do is work. I make myself eat. I make myself take walks when mental exhaustion sets in. I meditate, but skip it, too. I take a day off sometimes. But I dive back in hard. Nothing else really exists for me. The time is 1661, not 2010.
However, when I’m creating the story from its first little seeds, I need routine to hold me fast. Otherwise, the task before me seems too huge. I’ll fly away like a bird and never come back. So having a routine where I get out of the house (office) and am among people feels good. I need to have lunch with friends. I need to see my grandchildren. I need to go to my exercise class. I need to meditate to keep myself from being too afraid, to stay in trust that the project will have its form. I’m in the new creativity, but it’s too undiscerned yet for me to know where I am or that it will find itself. In that case, a simple showing up and working, but then leaving before I tire myself too much, seems to do the trick. I outlast the fear and have the routine of my days to make my life feel real. The routine rocks the baby of fear to sleep. So I can press on.
So my creativity has two phases: a building phase and a constructing-like-hell phase, and each requires different rythums.
Can you add anything to that? Any insight? Any way you work? A disagreement? An affirmation, though creativity is like a thumbprint, different for each person. What an interesting creature it is and how long it takes to know it.
For writing whines, visit karleenkoen.net.
Posted in books, creativity, Dark Angels, fiction, historical fiction, Karleen Koen, Now Face to Face, story and writing, Through A Glass Darkly, writing, writing process
Tagged exercise and creativity, finding your creative flow, how creativity works, Taos, writing
I’m in Taos on a writer’s residency. I’m called a “fellow.” Somehow that impressed me. But what really impresses me is what surrounds me….such physical beauty. Toas is very different from Paris, but when I was in Paris, in its old heart, I was enchanted with the architecture, with a sense of history everywhere, with the verve every shop exhibited. How can someone not be creative here? I thought during a visit to the corner townhouse of Victor Hugo in an old square in the Marais district. Well, Taos is in the mountains of New Mexico. It has one major street. Population is about 5,000 without tourists and skiers. But its natural beauty is astounding. It sits at the bottom of a mountain owned by the Taos Pueblo. They own a lot of land, and it’s likely a good thing. Because the Anglo way would be to develop it right out of beauty. So there are meadow vistas that lead to the great mountain and its chain of sisters. My little house is set in a meadow a rich woman bought a long time ago. So I see dandelions and hummingbirds and mountain lilac and fairy primrose.…the names are poetry. Yesterday at sunset, I swear I saw some kind of hawk or falcon, not one, but about 20, skimming the wind currents. How can one not be creative here? When I sit and gaze at my meadow, a silence fills me that is so rare and so restful. Taosenos say the mountain picks who’ll stay. They say the veil between the two worlds is thinner here………………
Note: I have a whining blog about being a writer at www.karleenkoen.net. Sort of the daily grind of it when even Taos’s beauty can’t help. Just in case you wanted to know…….
Posted in creativity, Dark Angels, fiction, historical fiction, Karleen Koen, Now Face to Face, story and family, story and writing, Through A Glass Darkly, writing
Tagged hawks, Helene Wurlitzer Foundation, Paris, Taos, Taos Pueblo, the Marais, the veil between the two worlds, the wonder of Paris, Victor Hugo, what feeds creativity, wildflower heaven
I’ve been given the ultimate artist’s date. I’m on a three month writing residency in Taos, New Mexico. All around me is meadow, and yet town is just four or five blocks away. Clover and dandelions march right up to my small front porch. Some kind of wild berry is advancing toward the side window. Towering over me are cottonwoods and Dutch elms. Apple and wild plums are everywhere, and they’re blooming. Soft petals float through the air. Birds dart here and there like they own the place. Today I watched magpies (I think) build a nest. No loose sticks on the ground for them, but a deliberate pulling of twigs from trees all around. I just peeked at the nest. It’s magnificent. The road to my house is dirt. If I look west I see mountains, some peaks still covered with snow. If I go into town, I see gallery after gallery, shop after shop offering the best and finest of crafted things. The first day I arrived I sat outside in a chair and let the crystal clear air fill me up. It felt like cells were filling, too. I have to bring the outside world in. There is no television. No internet. Some of this is frightening. It’s so much easier to distract than it is to feel. An artist’s date is an hour a week you give yourself to fill back up, to feed that within you which creates. Already it’s occurred to me that I don’t take what I do…the writing….seriously enough. By that I don’t mean ego pounding on the chest. I mean more a nurturing and feeding of it. A respecting it. An asking what it needs. There are challenges in this all, the solitude, the inner critic, the making of a day when I am the day…..
Questions I ask….How do you nurture and feed yourself? Or better yet, a question I once read that stopped me in my tracks: what feeds your soul and makes you glad to be alive?
Earlier today as I sat in a chair, deep into the revisions of the novel, a hummingbird came to the window, making that special tweet they do, and hung suspended just long enough for me to look up and see…..that fed my soul…
Posted in creativity, Dark Angels, fiction, historical fiction, Karleen Koen, life, love, Now Face to Face, story, Through A Glass Darkly, writing, writing process
Tagged an artist's date, creativity, Helene Wurlitzer Foundation, how do you feed creativity, how to be creative, Julia Cameron, Taos, The Artist's Way
well….a deep subject that…..I sit in my office. This will be the last day I do so. Tonight I’ll dismantle computer and printer and external drive, pack them away, set them back up mid-week in another spot. It’s very hard for me to leave this office. It’s messy. There’s art everywhere. There’s collage and too many stacks of things I mean to get to and cards from friends and photos of family and so many files to file. I feel safe in here, nested. The clutter comforts me, makes me think I might actually be authenic. I’ve had to really restrain myself not to just pack up everything in here and put it in place in Taos. What will I miss most? The wonderful prayer flags and Tao metal hand and cranes that hang down from the ceiling, my own personal mobile blessings.
There’s an exercise I often give my writing students. It’s about personal space. It’s about what surrounds one’s writing space. It’s about whether you have a writing space. Are you worth it is the essential question. We’re all worth it. It just takes some of us longer to get there.
What about your creativity space? Have you one? What does it look like? If you don’t, why not? And wish me luck in Taos….wish me fortitude with my writing residency…….To quote Mary Oliver, who is resonating with me these days….Tell me, what is it you plan to do/with your one wild and precious life?
I feel almost a little too wild….as I leave all I know to go off and create.
Posted in books, creativity, Dark Angels, fiction, Houston, Karleen Koen, life, Now Face to Face, story and life, Through A Glass Darkly
Tagged being afraid, going off to write, Helene Wurlitzer Foundation, Mary Oliver, Taos, wild and precious life, writing and fear, writing residencies