Friday, February 17, 2012
Ah, Santa Fe. You sure were a cruel mistress. I mentioned how early on I'd been told that Santa Fe was a place that either accepts you, or spits you out. I just wish I hadn't been chewed on so much first. But were we spat out? Miki and I had remarkable luck the first six months, creating work relatively effortlessly. Then came the plateau.
At the end of each calendar year, the monks at Kyoto's Kiyomizu Temple choose a kanji that best sums up the previous 12 months. I think back on 2011 and wonder what the kanji is for 'struggle' (苦闘). But the struggle served as a fire that tempered many of the things that needed a lot of smithing, things that may never have been worked on had I not left Japan in the first place. And honestly, when I think that our time in Santa Fe was tough, I catch myself and accept that only the money part was challenging. We made some good friendships, had a few fun trips, and created a healthy little girl.
And as important as what we take away with us, is what we leave behind. I think of the whole period as a process of negation, of helping me come to terms with goals and dreams that I've carrying since moving to Japan originally at 27, dreams that no longer fit. There was a lot of pain in this, but I feel leaner, with a greater focus and sense of purpose.
A very important part of this experience was all that I learned about my home state. I was diligent in sticking to my diet of nothing but books about New Mexico, and as a result, I have a greater sense of the place and its people. It took almost a year, but my muse finally caught up, and hopefully I was able to craft words in a way to do justice to this land already painted masterfully by hundreds before me. Also, during the final few months here, I was finally able to 'read' the landscape, signifying a deeper relationship and connection to the land. Just as I was leaving, I had truly arrived.
During my time spent in the aforementioned books, I realized that I most love the writings from the earliest parts of the 20th century, when NM was an exotic place, and to live there meant being an expat in your own land. No wonder it inspired dozens of painters and writers. As if the physical beauty wasn't enough, there was great stimulation in the simple day to day. (A feeling common to all expats.) Sadly, what I read of in those books I see little of these days. It took me awhile to figure out just what exactly felt wrong, what seemed to differ from when I lived here in the '80s. Partly it was the obvious absence of the locals. I knew that in the following decades, it started with the Californians. They brought the money, but at least they brought some culture. And finally I figured out what it was. It was all the Texans, who too brought money, but sadly, they also brought their politics. With a perpetually lousy economy and least-common denominator educational system, this state has always been a sick patient. But the current gubernatorial administration seems determined to turn off the machines. I'm at the point where, as much as I love New Mexico, I don't believe I can ever live here again. To visit, absolutely, but never to live. I don't see much to return to. It reminds me of a great line by John Pen La Farge that says that the Spanish stole the land from the Indians to give to their children; then the Anglos stole it and moved to California...
...While in the Palace of the Governor's Museum, there's a display about Adolphe Bandalier where it states that he lived two years amongst the natives of Cochiti. I think that if I ever need to write an author's bio for myself, I'll paraphrase it: "Ted lived two years amongst the whites of Santa Fe." At Upaya. In the yoga world. Dealing daily with the customers of REI. (Retail is not where you can expect to see the best in human character.) Maybe this is my reaction to being a member of the majority culture again after years as a minority in Japan, but again I cry, "Dude, Where's my Counterculture?"
While those dark years after losing my son were the hardest of my life, these two years in Santa Fe were the most stressful. Yet I leave here without regret. I love the place, despite what one might assume from what I've written above. The place shaped me, changed me, and I'm better for it. I leave the city with words written yet again by 'Pen' La Farge.
"One could not hope to make one's fortune there, only one's reputation."
On the turntable: J. Mascis, "Martin and Me"