Taos Summer Writers Conference

Attending Robert Boswell’s Fiction for Serious Writer’s Workshop at the Taos Summer Writer’s Conference.

Love Boz’s approach, his insistence that writing be art, not merely craft, that craft underpins art, yes, but when well executed stays in the background of the piece, almost unseen, doing it’s multifarious job, like jesso and scraped layers of paint on canvas.

Increasingly I understand writing as analogous to painting. I look at a recent piece of Peggy’s (my wife, Peggy McGivern,) ‘Indian Pony Dream,’ and the blue-gray shadows defining the pony’s dominant-white body are a turn of phrase with multiple meanings, without too definite a line, and the more powerful for it.

My eyes read over a wavy block of color without noticing the technique, the brushstrokes, showing me withers, ribcage, health and wild beauty standing in high grasses, provoking emotion and imagination, a phrase I can dissect in subsequent readings and analysis, an Alice Munro story offering more pleasure the more I look.

Peggy is experimenting with abstraction, and I, too, am learning how to give myself permission, permission to scrape words from my pages, see what stubbornly persists despite the razor’s edge, despite my habits and previous understanding.

My workshop mates and I are like the ponies flying dreamlike in the sky of the painting, our inner world to make manifest on the canvas and pages of experience, the evolution of memories, a new ingrained habit to use and overcome.

Taos Mountain looms in the background of our pony dreams and inspires us with beauty and novelty. I walk out of a spirited session, my mind galloping somewhere between dreams and realities, and I don’t want to drift down from the sky, even though the high desert beckons, its impossible light on the chamisa, sage, adobe, and my mind nourishing and ecstatically real. How can I maintain this ill-equilibrium, this equine existence reduced to its core?

I will not worry with that. Today I can run with my ponies through the high grass, reaching for the sky.

Failure

When we bought our old Victorian house, it was pretty run down; now, it is a showpiece in the neighborhood. I can buy any car I want, but I prefer to restore older models. My business affords me comforts I never imagined. My wife is not only beautiful, but extremely talented. My children and many grandchildren forgive my selfishness, and I am a failure.

We had a plan. In two years my wife quit working to pursue her art career full-time. In four years we saved enough money to last several years so I could pursue my dream. When I was thirteen I promised myself I would be a writer.

So in the middle of the night these words I scribble vie for space in my life. The familiar colors of spring turn to summer greens, the sunlight plays at my feet after navigating yellow leaves of poplars I planted in that season of promise. Their shade is pleasant now, but I hope for a lasting legacy, to arrest life and resist the vagaries of time.

My old friends ask: does someone misinterpreting your thoughts in a hundred years make up for the sleepless nights, the missed holidays, the loneliness? I am afraid to answer that my greatest moments of joy are shared with the page, that I have never experienced meaning that is not also metaphor.

A reader is a secret relation, like being able to pick your relatives instead of blind fate imposing its will. But what if no one is reading?

I have close friends, six brothers whose mother died.  She wrote a beautiful diary spanning forty years, and I am the only person who ever read it. Now I am her seventh son.

So I write, I think, I learn; and I answer the questions: How’s your book coming? When is it going to be published? I’d love to read it. Until no one knows whether to believe me anymore. Maybe all I am doing is watching old movies