Every year when the sun climbs into the horizon and sets over the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, a gathering of poets and prophets, writers and artists gather. I have always wanted to go. My browser sits open to their website, and I skim over the details. It claims to be equal parts spiritual retreat, artist workshop, and festival. It is the conference I have most wanted to attend since I started this online journey of sharing my words and baring bits of my soul in this strange world of writing. I look at the price tag on dreams and close my browser.
Time away from my children, the cost involved, my health issues and the travel are all too much. I push dreams aside. Maybe someday, I tell myself, without any real conviction.
New Mexico was home to me from the time I learned to ride a bike down the bend in our road, the heatwaves from the desert baked asphalt heaving breath on my sun-browned knees with every pedal of my legs. Most of my childhood adventures wound along the watermelon-hued switchbacks carved into the Sandia Mountains. A place can hold both cherished memories and corrosive nightmares and when you reminisce the clock’s years spin back as if cranking the handle of a Jack-in-the -box. You brace yourself like an anxious child waiting to see what pops up. You anticipate complicated memories.
I was raised from girlhood in the badlands where the plateaus were as flat as the contours of my face, the same face I was made fun of for. “Did you run into a door? Why is your face like that? Can you even see when you smile, ching-chong?” the kids asked on the playground after pulling their eyes into violent angry slits. At night I pulled the medicine cabinet doors open around me and looked at my profile reflected in the folded mirrors. My cheekbones sat high and wide and I pressed my palm flat against my forehead and nose and mouth. I opened my eyes as wide as they’d go. I learned not to smile back at myself, I learned not to smile at all.
As a teen, I learn how to make up for lost love, the contours of my body work for me even though my eyes no longer smile. Lusty eyes follow me wherever I go. I tuck myself into the cracked vinyl booth at The Village Inn under a halo of smoke. The pots of coffee go stale as I pile the ashtray with lipstick-stained cigarette butts trying to write my way out of the wilderness with my trusted Bic pen, its cap gnawed down to gristle.
Albuquerque is the place ink first found paper and I’d scratch out feral words like fresh scars on virgin skin, like cutting deeper and deeper would release a little more pain. Ease the anguish drop by drop.
I didn’t know I was writing prayers.
Lamentations, Psalms, Revelations.
I made sense of the frantic syllables only when they clawed their way across my page. To see the letters arrange themselves into words and the words into sentences and the sentences into meaning, was medicinal. A salve after the scourge.
Making the words obey was a magic elixir, never knowing which ones would enchant and which ones would be nothing more than snake oil, a placebo, a flick of the wrist in the right light.
New Mexico is called The Land of Enchantment.
As teens, we joked it was the land of entrapment because we were all charlatans and thieves stuck hawking the only goods we had, ourselves. I got out but lost the magic somewhere along the way. I dropped out of high school and got my GED.
I got a job and worked. I moved out. My pen got quieter as my world got busier. I didn’t have time to worry about words, I had bills to pay.
I went from the desert to the deep end.
In the years that passed, I returned to writing the way someone takes to doggy paddling or instinctively rolling to their back when thrown past the shallows.
Writing was a lifeline holding me up from the everlasting abyss. Bobbing my way back up to the surface, arms and legs kicking frantically to stay afloat amid the waves. Sometimes when I write, it feels like one big gulp of air before being tugged back under.
How does a girl raised in the desert train for smooth strokes and all the parts working in tandem to slice through words with barely a ripple?
I write like a woman drowning.
I write with a desperation to know and be known, to understand God, to see glory. I write to breathe. I write hoping to feel the magic again.
Only now I wonder about those college degrees and those fancy words I’m not sure how to pronounce because I’ve only seen them in library books. No one says pedagogy in line in the grocery store, no one says diaspora while you’re folding laundry or mopping the floor.
In writing circles where people have MFA’s and bylines and so much experience cutting through the riptide, I fit and I don’t fit, and fancy words don’t make up the differences but I make my peace with that over and over. But for all my excuses, maybe that’s not what keeps my dreams deferred.
What I worry most is not that I will make a fool of myself, not that I’ll be pathetic and stumble over my words, that I’ll be pitied. That I’ll find the smile I left in the badlands and I’ll laugh wide jawed revealing too few teeth. I’ve survived worse.
What I worry most is that I will pull it off. I will fool them all into thinking I have something to say, that people will listen and only then I’ll realize I only have tricks up my sleeve and a fake deck stacked against me. I’m scared to death that the curtain will open for me and in the limelight I will attempt to saw myself in half for show. That I’ll be tempted to shackle and submerge myself in a tank attempting to unlock my chains for applause, while I slowly drown.
So I wait in the wings mumbling about timing or cost or the inability to make it happen which are convenient and necessary obstacles no matter how true they are. I say, “maybe someday,” in a voice draped in an apology.
But maybe someday, the obstacles will become flimsy as an illusion, and I will make the pilgrimage home, back to the red dust and scorched land. The sequoia will point the way past the plateaus, back to the place where my memories are just as complicated as my words, the Land of Enchantment. And when I recover them, I won’t have a show, I’ll have my story.