Gap Year – Santa Fe
Soon after arriving at the Albuquerque airport to begin my journey home, I dug into my bag for one of three journals specifically packed for the trip. This would be my first diary account of the week. Journaling is not always a customary activity on vacations, but I had just spent the last five days at a writers' retreat, with daily writing prompts to journal, so I decided I should make at least one entry before departure.
I had no excuse. The opportunities for inspiration were endless in Santa Fe as those of us participating had been beamed into an artists’ mecca complete with epic rock formations, historic chapels, and vibrant-colored art at every turn. But possibly – just maybe – I could have been spending the lion’s share of the scheduled free time – time intended to write and explore – conversing with my fellow writers. Before the trip, I had big plans to write – yes, indeed. I was determined to “Discover my Writer’s Voice,” the focus of the workshop. However, my vocal cords, not my pen, consumed most of my activity that week. But now, before I left this awe-inspiring place, I felt compelled to write as I cracked open the stiff pages of my empty journal.
As all artists know, stories may appear anywhere anytime – even in an airport food court. As I glanced around, I was reminded of a retreat lesson: to have the eyes to notice what moves me and, when that happens, to take time to stop to feel its effects and then write it down. As I put my pen to the blank page with patrons and luggage squeezing in around me, I looked up at the massive sculpture just beyond the tables. It depicted a man clinging to an eagle
lifting off to fly – one foot still dragging on the ground behind as if stuck, the other already surrendering to the wind. I saw myself in the object before me – ready to launch, but one foot still cemented to the ground. Artistically inspired, I left my bags momentarily to snap some photos and grab a closer look. The bronze plate read, “Dream of Flight.” As I read that final word, “Flight,” I was reminded of my favorite word, “Soar,” and how I longed to fly. I was ready, almost there – one foot off the ground.
Sitting in wonderment as I finished my latte, and with the first few pages of my journal loaded with notes, I wandered into a nearby gift shop. Memories from the week flashed before me in a “Week in Review” fashion as I perused the merchandise with no intention of buying anything since my carry-on had reached a zipper-popping record. First I noticed a miniature booklet with Aztec-styled sketches and short narratives to match the illustrations. The title, “The Chaos of Menopause … is the only thing I haven’t been able to blame on my mother,” forced me to pull it off the shelf. Sold. I cracked it open and landed immediately on a page labeled “Empty Nest.” Those two words energized me as I remembered a meeting with our retreat leader earlier in the week. We had discussed a plan for my writing and the audience – empty nesters. I smiled with a knowing that can only come from years of prayer and seeking – that those very words will be in the title of a book I will write. Someday.
There were books by the famed Georgia O’Keeffe. We had visited her Ghost Ranch with a breathtaking behind-the-scenes tour that enabled us to stand in the paths where she painted her famous flat-topped mountain, Pedernal. Crosses dotting the store immediately transported me back to Holy Chimaya where I tied a cross and a prayer with hundreds of others on an arched stone structure and later scooped up "holy dirt” into a Ziplock
sandwich bag for my garden. On walls and racks, cards and gifts with images of my favorite saint reminded me of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis in downtown Santa Fe where I lingered, lit candles, and prayed. Then, a painting of a horse stopped me. My skinny jeans’ button nearly popped as I roared remembering a story read aloud by fellow writer, Sally. I’ll never forget her first line, “A horse spit in my mouth.” I laughed out loud again as I remembered the precise imagery she used in her story and the utter absurdity of how it could even be possible to swap spit with a horse – while riding it.
Then thoughts of wine popped into my head. There was none in the gift shop, and it was only 11 a.m., so I have no clue what prompted this unusually timed thought. I’m sure it had nothing to do with Sally and some “titch” – meaning “just a little tiny bit, a taste,” according to her grandmother. I remembered our group’s nights together in the courtyard of our charming B&B where we sipped wine, laughed, and poured out our stories late into the night. We had nightly “wine-ins" – I mean “write-ins.” It’s safe to say that we consumed more than a titch. While not a word was written, we created solid material and formed lasting friendships. All was as it should have been.
At the end of my stroll through the gift shop, I approached the register to pay for my tiny menopause booklet and noticed the counter display with a collection of cream. Not any cream. This one was familiar. Earlier in the week I had purchased a tub of this exact locally crafted lavender concoction to combat the scales dropping in droves from my skin daily from the crusty dry climate. I shared it with the group and plopped it on our table at morning classes and evening write-ins. The soothing smell of lavender was a calming rush as we
pumped and lathered up. Together we sat with our greasy bodies soaking in the lessons and sharing our lives and sorrows: a courageous wife who had lost her husband, a loving mom whose son was terminal, a tender wife caring for her spouse as he recovered from brain surgery, a sweet spirit in the process of divorce. There were also celebrations: an unexpected reunited love, an adoption to expand a loving family, the acceptance of a book for publication after years of attempts. There was a lot going on in this small group of new friends.
The last thing I noticed on my way to the departure gate was a pack of Boy Scouts – 12 to be exact. They were huddled together seeking direction from their leader, headed somewhere with passion and purpose. In a funny way they were not unlike the group I had just left – 12 to be exact. We too were seeking direction from our wise leader, with passion and purpose, but with no khaki couture. I smiled as I realized that just a few days earlier my new friends were complete strangers to me – descending from all corners of the country bringing unique stories, talents, heartaches, and joy. Then as I looked again at the khaki kids, I laughed, knowing that for our next retreat, there would undoubtedly be some type of spirit wear, likely in the form of flared funky pants with dragonfly embroidery. These pants do indeed exist and already have their own story in progress – stay tuned.
I traveled to Santa Fe to hone my skills as a writer, to find my writer’s voice, not knowing that I would also add the voices of many new friends along the way.
And my Gap Year continues …