Winter break road trip episode 5 (the final chapter): Albuquerque and Grants, NM

2019-12-30 11.22.12.jpgWe last left our intrepid blogger in a snowy desert just outside Carrizozo, New Mexico, looking for a post-apocalyptic Denzel Washington. Spoiler alert: we didn’t find him. So we drove on, passing through Albuquerque on our way to Grants. While in Albuquerque, we had to feed the husband’s other cinematic obsession, Breaking Bad, with a stop at Walter White’s house:

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Apparently the owner of the house is not fond of its TV-generated fame. According to various reviews (including on Trip Advisor), she sits on a folding chair in her garage and yells at people who take pictures. The chair in the garage was empty when we visited, and we stayed a respectful distance away while taking pictures, so we managed to avoid any confrontations.

After that brief detour, we decided to drive on to Grants. Grants is a small town on I40 near the Arizona border. There are quite a few things to do in Grants, but even after a good night’s sleep, we were too tired and too ready to go home to do very much. So, we limited ourselves to one attraction: El Malpais National Monument. El Malpais is best known for volcanic features–a lava flow, lava tubes, and a cinder cone–but we spent most of our time on the sandstone bluffs right off the main road through the park. The ranger I chatted with told me it’s usually windy on the bluffs, but the morning we visited was almost perfectly still.

We spent quite a bit of time out on the rocks, taking in the view, the colors, the textures, and the stillness. 2019-12-30 11.30.52.jpg

Pools of ice in the rocks made for an almost eerie effect:

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This is one of my favorites: wind-sculpted rock, ice pools… just so perfect.

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Who let these two weirdos in?

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I have no idea how a tree can grow in nothing more than a crevice in a rock. Junipers are tough!

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And finally: a USGS marker from 1949, hammered into the rock.

US Geological Survey marker, 1949

For me, travel is all about serendipity and surprise: discovering the small town I never knew existed (because a snow storm stranded us there), sitting on a sandstone bluff on a cool, still winter morning, talking with a ranger whose life has taken him all over the Western US, or maybe watching the sun set over a moonscape in a missile range. Whether you travel ten minutes on foot or ten hours on a plane, stop and experience the details and the ambiance. Notice the USGS marker hammered into the rock. Sit on the bluff on a still morning and listen to the sounds of the desert. Smell the smells, touch the textures, taste the food and the air. Let the sense of a place fill you. If you can do those things, even a walk around the block can be magical.

We returned to Flagstaff later that day, December 30, tired but refreshed. 2019 was a hard year for us, and 2020 will have (and has already had) its challenges. Those few days wandering in the desert helped fill the well, helped restore our strength and perspective to face each new challenge and to live each new moment to the fullest.

A very belated Happy New Year! May you find rest and restoration wherever you can.

Winter Break road trip episode 4: Serendipity in Carrizozo

2019-12-29 10.10.13.jpgAt the end of the last episode, Winter Break road trip episode 3: Roswell, NM, your intrepid blogger had spent the day getting her picture taken with little green men and stuffing her face with Mexican food (note: your intrepid blogger spends lots of time stuffing her face with Mexican food).

We left Roswell about an hour before dark, a fact which shall become important momentarily, headed in the general direction of Albuquerque. Let’s drive awhile, we said. We aren’t tired, we don’t have reservations, let’s see how far we get. Note: if someone says this to you when you’re in the middle of the desert at dusk, kill them, take the wheel, and spend the night at the nearest motel. If you don’t, you might just find yourself sliding down a two-lane highway, in the dark, in a freak snowstorm, in a car without snow tires or chains, in a remote section of New Mexico populated by little more than oryx and buzzards. Note: ask not for whom the buzzard circles; it circles for thee.

But I digress.

We slid into Carrizozo–literally–and got the last room in what appeared to be the only motel in town. It was dark and cold and snowy, so we huddled up for warmth and contemplated being stranded in a tiny New Mexican town for who-knew-how-long until the snow melted. I’m pretty sure the phrase, “zombie apocalypse,” entered the conversation at least twice. But–spoiler alert–we were not eaten by zombies. We weren’t even snowed in. Instead, my husband got to experience the wonderful serendipity that sometimes happens when you end up somewhere unexpected.

The aforementioned husband is a big Denzel Washington fan, and one of his favorite Denzel movies is The Book of Eli. In fact, he’d just watched it the night before our impromptu stop in Carrizozo. I, good librarian that I am, decided to read the Wikipedia entry for Carrizozo while we were stuck there. Wanna guess what movie was filmed in Carrizozo? If you said, The Book of Eli… ding ding ding! We have a winner.

So the next morning, we drove just about every street in town, while the husband took pictures and exclaimed over each place that appears in the movie. Not having seen The Book of Eli, I just took pictures:

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Looks like a good setting for a zombie apocalypse, no?

Just outside of town, we got to enjoy the contrast inherent in a snow-covered desert:

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I hope you’ll join me once more for the last leg of our journey, in which the husband gets to visit another entertainment landmark–Walter White’s house–and I sit on a cliffside on a cold winter morning.

Writing as an act of faith

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[Lewis Carroll] understands that the text you create is an object that collides with the mind of the reader–and that some third thing, which is completely unknowable, is made. –Jesse Ball, “The Edge of Sense,” in Light the Dark: Writers on Creativity, Inspiration, and the Artistic Process (Penguin, 2017)

Tomorrow is IWSG Day, and until about 20 minutes ago, I didn’t have a topic or even an idea for this month’s post. Then I read Jesse Ball’s lovely essay on Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky, encountered the quote above, and was reminded yet again of how big a role faith plays in my writing. I don’t mean religious faith, though that too can play a big role in writing, but faith that the ideas will come, the words will come, and the words and ideas together will make something that resonates with a reader in ways I cannot fully imagine.

Like most insecure writers (Digression alert! Are there any secure writers? “Secure writer” sounds like an oxymoron.), I often approach my writing with trepidation. My brain is mush. The well is dry. My muse, the drunken floozie, is hung over yet again and not showing up for work. Ideas? I ain’t got no stinkin’ ideas. And then a movie will start playing in my head, or I’ll see a person walking down the street who practically begs to become a character, or I’ll remember some random event from thirty years ago, and I’m back in the writing groove. Some people call this magic, “inspiration.” Some people insist on waiting for it before they start writing. The rest of us like to get work done, so we get on with it and hope the muse takes a couple of aspirin and graces us with her half-drunk presence. And often enough, she does.

And yet each day, the fear creeps back in. What if, this day, the muse is passed out in some skeezy alley (Digression alert! Have you ever seen an alley that wasn’t skeezy?) instead of delivering her daily dose of inspiration? What makes me able to sit down and start typing anyway is… faith. Faith that the words and ideas will come. Faith that the muse will appear. Sometimes I feel like one of the Israelites, following Moses around in the desert and wondering if my daily dose of manna will fall from heaven. If you read that story (it’s in Exodus, don’t ask me the chapter and verse, and I’m too lazy to look it up), you’ll learn that each morning the manna fell, and if the Israelites tried to save it for the next day, it would spoil. But of course some of them tried anyway, because even though the manna fell each day, they feared that maybe the next day it would not. I’m betting some of those doubters were writers. (Digression alert! Can’t you just picture them lugging their stone tablets and chisels across the desert and grumbling about the lack of coffee to wash down their manna? Just me then? OK.)

Even when the words come, we writers face another form of insecurity: Will we find the right words? Many of us see our stories like movies in our heads, only with full sensory detail. It’s the ultimate in high-def–or maybe smellavision. But how do we communicate what we see and hear and smell and taste and feel so that the reader sees, hears, smells, tastes, and feels it just like we do? How do we get the reader to share our understanding, our insights, our epiphanies? The answer is: We can’t.

We agonize over the perfect word, the perfect detail, to create some sort of Vulcan mind-meld with the reader, but we don’t live in a Star Trek episode (Digression alert! If I did live in a Star Trek episode, I’d be a redshirt.) Instead, as Ball writes, our words will collide with the mind of the reader and create a brand new thing. That new thing will be unique to the single, specific combination of writer and reader, and we don’t get to control it. That beautiful movie playing in my head will never play in a reader’s head in exactly the same way, because the reader’s movie will be shaped by their experiences, their culture, and their identity at least as much as by the words I agonize over. Sucks, yes?

Maybe not.

If I can get over myself, I can find this truth to be liberating. Yes, I should still try for the best words, the most vivid images, the most resonant cadence I can create. But I’m not entirely responsible for the result. So I don’t have to beat my head against my keyboard for three hours, searching for the perfect word, image, or cadence. I can give it my best shot, hope I improve it upon revision, and eventually let it go out into the world, trusting that it will resonate with some reader, somewhere, in ways I can neither imagine nor control. In other words, I must have faith–in my own ability, yes, but also in my readers and what they bring to the page.

And so we come to the end of my February IWSG post, a post that came about because Ball’s words collided with my mind at just the right time and in just the right way to help me think about writing in a new way. And my manna is received, my faith is affirmed, for yet another day.

Want to see some other great IWSG posts? Check out the list of participants here. (Powered by Linky Tools).