Paradise and Panic


For four days, I held my breath. For four days, I stared out windows

at the endless cobalt sky, at the snow crusted mountains, at the two

white buffalo, the black horse.  For four days, I kept expecting a siren,

a knock, handcuffs, a police car!  Surely this would disappear!

What’s that Springsteen line:  “You’re born with nothing, and better off

that way, soon as you got something they send someone to try and take it away.”


But every morning, there were the animals, there was the mountain, there were my two feet on Mexican tile.  From Sunday through Tuesday, I told myself I had to write for 6 to 8 hours every day.  Every day for the next two months. I told myself I could only go into Taos once a week.  I had to keep my nose to the grindstone, fingers on the keyboard.  I could explore the area only once a week.  Other than that…eyes on the screen…ass in the chair.  And when by Tuesday afternoon the 6 and 8 hours weren’t yielding the results I hoped for, panic crept into my bones, shame clawed up my spine, doubt snarled I told you so repeatedly in my ear.  Somewhere not far off, Marley’s chains were clanking!

I knew instantly what I had to do:  Contact Residency Writer Extraordinaire, Laura Didyk.  Lucky for me, I didn’t wait a week or two to do so!!!!  I told Laura my predicament and she instantly informed me that my expectations might be a bit beyond reach!!  She told me that everything I do during my day: hiking, staring, reading, dancing, journaling, watching a movie, will only help me with my writing…will only feed it!  Hallelujiah!!! I didn’t have to be so miserly with myself!!!

When I awoke this morning, I was reminded of my first six months in the Catskills, in the fall of 2000, as I finished my MFA.  I wasn’t working any actual jobs….I was spending all my time reading poetry, writing poetry and critical essays, fashioning a manuscript.  But I wasn’t JUST doing that.  I was exploring the area every day.  I took hikes every day with my dog, Magic.  Not just down the road.  We drove to Hunter Mountain, and Slide Mountain, and  North/South Lake.  And I stared at deer out the kitchen window, three times a day.  I cooked good meals; I sat for hours over topo maps of the Catskills.  I watched all my father’s favorite westerns.  And I finished my work.  It all got done, I was 100% productive, and Magic and I enjoyed everyday.  Everyday I was generous with myself.

As Laura said to me:  Whatever else you do….it is not wasting time….It is medicine for the soul.  Once again, I’m back at my desk, back at the laptop….reading, re-reading, adding notes to early chapters, and generating new stories to include in the memoir.  I’m working…as Jesse advised:  into the doubt….through the doubt…despite the doubt!  I’m doing as Leah and Bev suggested:  I’m eating the elephant one spoon at a time!!!

I don’t want to leave New Mexico with just a finished manuscript….I want to leave, if I must!, with a wealth of new adventures to write about.  I want to leave with a smart phone overflowing with pictures of the area, of people I’ve met, of places to which I will always want to return!  I want to leave here having fallen in love with EVERYTHING…..not simply 400 pieces of paper, of words on the page.

I want to follow Noche’s example: he doesn’t just stand in one spot all day…he peruses the many pastures….visits nearby horses, sniffs out the different meadows, hangs in the shade of the biggest cottonwood.  And if someone tosses him an apple, he’s heads-up ready for it!!!!




Artist Studio at Searsport Shores

Penobscott Bay, Maine

My cabin mice made it clear to me that I had to make a decision.  If I wanted to continue teaching at WSU, I would need to find another living situation that would most likely require a one year lease. But I knew I didn’t want to stay in MA another full year. Or, I could leave teaching and begin my vagabond artist dream at the end of the summer.  But what about money, what about saying goodbye to a life I’d known since 2004, what about family and friends, and a car with over 220K miles on it??!

The panic about what to do attached to my back like barnacles to a fishing vessel. It wouldn’t leave no matter what I did. It gripped me like a soul who hadn’t realized she was dead. I made the proverbial pro/con list; I meditated at the beaver pond; I prayed at the feet of the garden Buddha; I pulled Medicine Cards and Runes at midnight; but a definitive decision did not arrive.

Then it came time for my friend Annette and I to travel to Penobscott Bay to fulfill our one week Artist in Residence at Searsport Shores.  In exchange for a two hour art class every morning, Annette and I were given a huge artist studio (see picture above) to live and work in for one week….right on the beach in Searsport, ME.

We planned our daily art and journal writing exercises, walked on the beach, relaxed at the Hermit Hut, ate delicious vegan food in the local town, and worked daily on our individual projects. I outlined a children’s story I’ve been wanting to write for years, brainstormed and sketched ideas about wolves and the wild woman myth for an upcoming art exhibit, and completed several Ex-voto paintings (to be discussed in future blog entry).  I didn’t focus on the future at all during that week.  I sketched and made notes, I listened to the wind, I laughed and hiked, I stayed in the present moment, remaining open and receptive. I lived in Keats’ realm of “Negative Capability”.

On our ride back to MA, after our residency was over, about two hours outside of Maine, a realization rose in me…like a dolphin coming up for air after a long time underwater.  I knew in every cell of my body that I couldn’t return to academic teaching. As much as I loved and respected and was grateful for the students and colleagues I’d had the pleasure of knowing, I couldn’t grade one more essay, couldn’t draft one more syllabus.

A week away, living the artist’s life everyday, allowed me to see the life I was craving.  My decision had been made clear.  It didn’t take any lists or oracles. All it took was time away from the Ordinary World….and a chance to focus on my creativity.

When facing a difficult decision, a life changing path, I believe it’s best to follow Caroline Myss’ advice:  Choose the unknown.  Choose the unfamiliar.  Choose the path that requires the most Faith!

Make the most of your Crossroads Moments!!  In that way, you will truly grow!