Letter from Taos

Preface: Natalie Goldberg’s latest book is “Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir.” I just attended a workshop with her about writing memoir. It was a new style workshop for her. It was two days in length. She usually holds a week-long workshop. It was in her home town, Taos, where a workshop with so many in attendance (almost 150 people attended) was a first. There were people from everywhere—many states and countries were represented.

Natalie taught writing practice, which she described early in her career in books like “Writing Down the Bones” and “Wild Mind.” Writing practice hasn’t changed. You write for 10 or 20 minutes. You read. You do it again. You don’t edit, cross out, worry about spelling, you just write. You do this every day. You show up and write. In addition to these basics, she helped us sit still, quiet our minds, move mindfully to quiet the mind. It was an inspirational and exciting experience for me and everyone I talked with.

She read us bits of memoirs as examples. One example was Richard Hugo’s “31 Letters and 13 Dreams.” This is the 10 minute writing practice I did after she read from Hugo’s book. It’s unedited. In ten minutes, I wrote more than 50 words. Breaking the rules today.

A Letter from Taos

I’m writing to you from Taos, where the dust from the dirt roads hangs in the air like clouds. Where the pollen on the juniper bushes is bright yellow and deceptively attractive. To the eye—not to the nose.

This is a writing workshop I’m attending here in the mountains. A place where many have come to sit before Natalie Goldberg and hear the rules of writing practice. Keep your hand moving. Find the details. Practice. The rules haven’t changed, but hearing Natalie say them makes them new and powerful. Hearing the way she speaks each word, says “write shit” like it is a blessing—that is the affirmation and the energy we came to receive.

I’ve lived most of my adult life in one place or another in New Mexico, but I haven’t been to Taos very often. It’s one of those soul filled places where real people lived before there were supermarkets and Blockbuster Videos. Where houses are made of earth and straw and a few drops of precious water. It’s a place where a mountain can represent a religion and a way of life, where spirits can dwell and look down on our human attempts at goodness and charity and love.

Modern Taos starts with the Sonic, the McDonalds, and extends to the end of the road where the Pueblo begins. Where the dry, dusty reality of Taos begins and ends. Where the wisdom of knowing how to live in harmony probably still exists, even as dark haired girls in tennis shoes walk down from the pueblo in restaurant uniforms to go to work.

Being here is like touching the vault of the sky. The sky is filled with the writers who are writing stories on the streaks of sunset light and in the stones of the desert.

Note: I’ve completed uploading all the photos I took to Flickr.

Please leave a comment with your first 50 words (or more, today) or the topic “letter from _______.”

Author: Virginia DeBolt

Writer and teacher who writes blogs about web education, writing practice, and pop culture.

3 thoughts on “Letter from Taos”

  1. Thanks for sharing your impressions of Taos and the writing workshop – and your photographs. Both your 10 minute writing and photographs capture the essence of Taos – a place I love!

  2. A letter from the oil company drilling in my neighborhood arrived today. A knot of anger, dread, and hate boiled through my body as I tore open the small envelope. It doesn’t seem fair that such a small envelope, traveling anonymously through the postal system, can unassumingly arrive in my mail box with news that will change my entire life.

  3. Though the postmark read Taos, New Mexico not Ojai, California, the handwriting was a familiar loopy script that I’d fallen in love with many years ago. My insides warmed as they hadn’t in such a long time. I noticed that I held the unopened letter gently in my fingertips, caressing it, as I would her if she were here.

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