About the best I could do was a promise to myself to try to be happy.
I have every reason to be: good heath (my lower back is a little stiff, due to a fall during a Pilates session), the most interesting offspring any woman ever created—with a little help, of course—a career of steady work and more or less steady publication, and, perhaps best of all, the fresh beginning of my twenty-fifth year in Northern New Mexico.
Nowhere else ever suited me, even the supposedly glamorous cities of Paris and New York. Nowhere else ever challenged me so deeply, from the moment I drove my Ford pick-up—a little grey Ranger—loaded with the detritus of all my earlier lives across the border and saw the snowy Sangre de Cristo mountains rearing up on the horizon.
I knew no one in Santa Fe in 1991. I had no connections. My ballast was a novel based on the life of the poet HD—never published—which I spent that first winter, in a rented apartment, meticulously editing. Many days I only spoke to the check-out person in the supermarket.
Since then my life has grown and bloomed with more books published, the arrival of two of my sons to live near me, and the kind of love affair that is tailored to my needs for at times bone-crushing independence.
And romance. I am an old romance hound and can only thrive with a lot of cold fresh air, a lot of laughter, and the indispensable thorn of uncertainty.
In addition, I now have an adorable puppy, Pip, my third pit bull mix and the most charming rascal of them all.
A few weeks ago, I decided to spend this two-day New Year’s vacation in the home of my heart, Taos, comfortably lodged in the Mabel Dodge Luhan house where I have spent so many days and nights—so many that now it feels like MY house and I am not particularly welcoming of all the other souls who come to rest, briefly, here.
The pink geraniums on the tiled windowsill in Mabel’s kitchen (where she never cooked) are covered with bloom. The pinion logs are cracking in the living room fireplace where the other visiting souls are bowed over their iPhones. My bedroom, named for Spud Johnson, Mabel’s long-time secretary and friend, is full of smoke from the little corner fireplace that blazes merrily away and leaks. My little twin bed with its machine-made log cabin quilt, so much more perfect than the handmade kind, waits for an early drop into oblivion. The tiled shower is too cold to encourage bathing, that the desk is too small for serious work, that I subsist while here on bananas, coffee, and cookies—in addition to an enormous breakfast, shared with the chattering throng—are just dimples on the face of perfection.
When I met the owner who keeps all this going, I wanted to cover his face with kisses, which, admittedly, would have been inappropriate. He certainly runs the B&B at a loss and refuses to bow to our demands for television, in-room phones and the like. How he came by his devotion to Mabel’s dream of unfettered hospitality I don’t know, but he is the reason for it all, and, like all truly generous people, refuses thanks and gives all the credit to the women who maintain and run the place—as is, after all, appropriate.
This morning I drove a few miles in the grey freezing morning to Taos pueblo, arriving as the third round of dances was beginning. Two dozen or so pueblo men, stripped to the waist in the twenty degree weather, chanted and stepped to the irregular rhythm of the Turtle Dance, accompanied by a single drummer, crouching over a cottonwood drum. They offer us this dance, as celebration of and hope for the new year—we who belong to a nation that has done everything it can to exterminate them.
Waiting for the next dance nearly undid me, the cold was so penetrating and the wait so long, but I found sanctuary in the pueblo church, where a tiny fresco of a conquistador trampling three Indians under his horse’s hooves reminded me of the price these people paid for our coming. How miraculous that they not only survived, but thrived—gaining wealth finally from their casinos; how miraculous that their churches, standing solidly in the middle of their plazas, represent the consolidation of the old religion with the relatively new. What an example for the rest of the so-called civilized world, where alternate views of that mystery called God, or Goddess, must be ruthlessly stamped out.
I have my small share of disappointments; Farrar, Straus & Giroux has decided to put off publication of my biography of Doris Duke until 2017. And there is yet more editing to be done; I must spread the 370 pages out on the floor, at home, and rearrange the disordered—if highly imaginative!—chronology. But this I will do and eventually the handsome book with its astonishing photographs of one of the great enigmas of our times will be in the hands of my readers.
I am wishing all of you, friends, acquaintances and strangers, who are kind enough to read these thoughts, the most beneficial, peaceful and fruitful new year—a cold winter with lots of snow, a spring full of bloom.