Monday, December 31, 2012

My World Ended and Began in 2012

Perhaps in a way the world did end this year just like the Mayans famously predicted.  My world ended and began again and again in 2012.

This time last year, I was alone in a tiny one-room studio and wondering if I would ever escape the San Francisco Street compound that had trapped me for two years after I had arrived expecting to stay six months.

One thing I want to make sure I do in 2013 is always remember that the world can turn on a dime and things can go either way at any time.  In a way, we are all like engineers on a too-fast train, only barely in control of our direction or destination.

So many ironically happy and tragic things happened.  I got out of that little place when a friend offered to allow me to take his lease at a home in South Capitol.  This is one of my favorite parts of Santa Fe because the neighborhood is charming and old and you can walk nearly any where downtown easily.

I happily moved in.  I started a garden and began again with a fresher and better outlook than I had at the New Year.

But life gets complicated and sometimes the gift of a place that had been such a major part of my life for so many years entangled me emotionally and I went through an experience with another person that deeply affected me in a lot of mostly very bad ways.

I had the chance to come here to Zaguan and took it.  And here I am, again with my world changed.  I'm in love with the most wonderful woman I've met.  Unexpectedly and incredibly.  She has changed everything.

And my best friend in the world decided, and did, move to Brooklyn and I have been touched by that, as well.

My writing is changing, too.  I did my first-ever reading here at the Zaguan earlier this December and woke up the next day to take things in a completely new direction and give up on the characters who had carried me for so long through so much.

I had to say goodbye to them - Paul, Greer, William, T.S., Cameo - all of them are going to have to wait until I can come back to them and write the ending of their lives in Santa Fe.

My life as a writer has to go on.  This is far easier said than done, but after going through a long dry spell enhanced by the high of new love, something new finally started coming.  It's a challenge and it's so different that I am unsure of how to move.  But moving is what the story wants to do and I am going to let it.

There is no predicting 2013.  How can I after 2012?

Sunday, December 30, 2012

A Look Back. A Look Forward. A Look Around.

New Year's eve eve, Sunday, night, Santa Fe.

Was 2012 crazy? That sure felt like a wild ride, what happened? Last year I was planning my night on the town, my cousin swung by, took me out for a drink, I had several parties to attend that night, we sat at the bar, she picks the drinks, tequila coffee, nice, I never take my phone but I did that afternoon. It rings, Max, it's Greg, he may have had a mild heart attack, I need you to take me to the hospital.

That was last New Year's Eve, I sat with him in the emergency room, doctors probing and prodding, he was still telling his stories to the nurses and doctors, he was an entertainer. It was the beginning of the end for him, it would be a hellish trip, I am so honored to have been there for him, sure do miss him. I phoned everyone, I'd be spending the night with him.
Well that is how the year started, a few months later I would find him, lifeless, gone. That night was a fucking trip, whew. Then came the phone calls, his friends from all over the country. Making all of the arrangements, taking care of his what's the word, nuts, brother. The landlady, not ever sure about her, Greg's dog, I am not a dog person, his stuff, I was exhausted!  But I did it and after a week in bed I was back on my feet and dammit I had to find some transforming moment where the dearth of death would make me mature, I shouldn't have looked so hard.
Then it was time for the studio, I'll take the summer off from looking for a job, I'll not worry, I'll paint, paint and how did I. Luckily I was able to keep afloat, to enjoy my summer of no one sick or dying, focus, paint, take pictures, have parties, keep my heart and door open. I felt differently, maybe it was my renewed faith, weird, not in a god like thing, faith in a way that let's you relax, don't worry, don't stress so much, fuck it all, paint.
The summer went that way. It was a very productive and plenty of good times had by all. Then Jeff becomes a resident, a writer, how exciting, at the same time the kids pack up and leave, going the the city. Made me think a lot of what it would be like to be going back there, the excitement, the unknown, that feeling that I had over thirty years ago. I can distinctly recall the sensation of being on the plane as we circled the city, I was going to be a star.  Sure I experienced a tinge of wanderlust after Enrique and Angie left, but then I simply felt at peace here. I am not completely satisfied with Santa Fe, but I am never completely satisfied with anything. Except for a good pizza and the company of the people that I love. 
Summer turned to fall, money was scarce, not the first time, but again that landlord thing, don't stress, been doing this for so long now. Look for work, nada, oh whatever, paint. The parties keep happening, Jeff starts dating Tess, suddenly I am surrounded by couples. What the hell? Aren't I a keeper. Yeah maybe if I got out more I might meet someone. Make it a plan, go out Max, you can do it. My record of being single and horny ain't pretty, I did find love, loves of a lifetime, but there were many bad choices in between, surely I have learned something by now. Fall turns to winter, I am an artist, or something like that, funny how it stills feels awkward wearing that badge. Things work out somehow, that faith thing. Then I go and fuck my knee up, been hobbling since that horrid party at Site. Snow falls, the skiers are pleased.
I had another birthday, 51, meh. Things start to settle down here at El Zaguan. Then the faralito party, Christmas, and news that Brenda is flying from our nest. Somehow I have experienced a sort of contentment after this year, not what I would call a shattering experience, but for me it kind of is. I'm happy, ugh I can't believe I just said that. Today Harrison took me to the art store, I have new brushes, paint and paper. We popped into the grocery store afterwards, food enough for days. There is plenty of booze, I really don't need anything right now, it feels good, the kids are fine, there is peace, there is the light of the moon to guide us, my pain is minimal, the dog needs walking.

Here is to all of the best in 2013!

Saturday, December 15, 2012


It's Saturday afternoon in mid December.   The sky is heavy with clouds and more snow is on the way. Winter is making up for being late this year and it's left most everyone here happy and a little relieved.

For some reason, I have been thinking a lot about a passage in "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" by Hemingway.  In it a writer is dying of gangrene and while he is dying in an African jungle campsite he remembers.  One of the most beautiful memories - and one of the finest bits of writing Hemingway ever did - was about skiing in fresh new Swiss snow.

It was snow too that fell all Christmas week that year up in the Gauertal, that year they lived in the woodcutter's house with the big square porcelain stove that filled half the room, and they slept on mattresses filled with beech leaves, the time the deserter came with his feet bloody in the snow. He said the police were right behind him and they gave him woolen socks and held the gendarmes talking until the tracks had drifted over.

In Schrunz, on Christmas day, the snow was so bright it hurt your eyes when you looked out from the Weinstube and saw every one coming home from church. That was where they walked up the sleigh-smoothed urine-yellowed road along the river with the steep pine hills, skis heavy on the shoulder, and where they ran down the glacier above the Madlenerhaus, the snow as smooth to see as cake frosting and as light as powder and he remembered the noiseless rush the speed made as you dropped down like a bird.

They were snow-bound a week in the Madlenerhaus that time in the blizzard playing cards in the smoke by the lantern light and the stakes were higher all the time as Herr Lent lost more. Finally he lost it all. Everything, the Skischule money and all the season's profit and then his capital. He could see him with his long nose, picking up the cards and then opening, "Sans Voir." There was always gambling then. When there was no snow you gambled and when there was too much you gambled. He thought of all the time in his life he had spent gambling.

Of course, there is far more to this than skiing.  It speaks to me because the writer in the story is dying and realizing there is so much he never wrote that he had been waiting to write because he never felt ready.

Now he would never write the things that he had saved to write until he knew enough to write them well. Well, he would not have to fail at trying to write them either. Maybe you could never write them, and that was why you put them off and delayed the starting. Well he would never know, now.

And I wonder about myself now.  And I realize once again - the sky pregnant and gray with oncoming snow - that everything is fleeting and nothing is on solid ground.  What wind will come and blow me along?  What breeze will come up the great and grand hallway outside my door and point me in a new direction?

I came to Zaguan to write.  But I am not writing.  I came with an empty heart and it was filled and still I cannot write.  I prayed for the snow that's come down like a veil over Santa Fe and got it and I still cannot write.  It's like the beat of a poem is missing in my head.

-Jeff Norris, December, 2012

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The End Is the Beginning

Another Sunday staring at the screen of my laptop and wondering where the words went. Some say you can sit and sit and sit and something will finally come.

Some say this is all about perspiration not inspiration.

Some say writing is something that can be done in any mood on any day.

All true. Maybe. I have never been able to sit down and just do it - just write - and have it come easy. Unless I have the string of a story fully in hand. Then I can do it.

I wonder if the real trick is the story? Of having something actually to say. At what point do you admit to yourself that maybe the story you have been thinking about and semi working on is not the story you should be writing at all.

We had a reading here at El Zaguan a few weeks ago. There was a nice-looking crowd. I read two stories. One was a continuation of a series of stories about the same small group of friends that I have been writing the past four or five years. "The Stream and the Path" had gone through many permutations, the last one being a brutal paring down so it could fit into a five-minute flash fiction idea. It did and it was a good exercise but the cards in this particular game have gone cold.

I read a second story, one from the fall that I had written quickly because it came easily. The emotions that gave birth to it were still raw. The story worked well and was appreciated. It scares me, though, that this might mean I have to write from an emotional point that is unpleasant and basically sentences me to a life of solitude I do not want or at least choose not to want.

The crux of the matter is I know now that it's time to leave that little group of Santa Feans - the made up ones in my story - behind for good or at least a long, long while. They served me well. They got me through my misadventure in New York City and then back in Santa Fe again. They helped me come to terms with the feeling of failure I lived with so long.

I'm going to let them stay frozen where I left them. This decision was not easy. I am haunted by the words of a writer I once dated. She was a real writer - one that made a living off writing and never went to a job and the freedom killing things a job does to the artistic mind. What she said was this: "You can't just not finish writing about these people! You made them up and brought them to life. Not letting them live is like killing them."

She is right, of course, I am killing them. But it's a ritual killing in a way. I need to do this and it's almost religious - they need to die so I can live and move on and find something else to write about.

That particular bridge from there to writing about something else has not been crossed yet. I get older every day. I worry about getting too far away from the impulse to write. Things I need get in the way. Things I wish I did not need do, too.

It's the December the Mayans told us the world was going to end. A few furtive flakes of snow are falling out my window.

Things feel like they are ending and beginning at the same time. I can see the cycle of things and can feel the wheel beneath my hands but I cannot find the beginning or end of it or see where it will turn. I only know it will.  - Jeff Norris, December, 2012.  He may be a writer.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

It Was A Very Good Week For The Residents

 My head has been a little foggy for the past few days, some other allergy or something. The words just ain't pouring from me tonight, I like to write on Sundays. Instead I finally finished the new flower inspired painting, what the hell am I doing? Flowers? These new pieces don't look anything like their subject, they come across as some sort of abstraction. But with the fourth piece completed I think that the small body might make some sense. I want to paint another Indian next. 
 It was my birthday Tuesday, again. Last year was the big 50, you know monumental, this year I was ready to have some bubbly and watch a movie on the computer. Instead the lovelies all showed up, some over-worked and fatigued, some wearing the glow of new love, others with hugs and lastly but not least a delicious fresh homemade cheesecake with a George Washington ornament surrounded by a polite amount of candles. What more could I ask for?
Wednesday I went to the dentist and the new sexy underwear arrived that I ordered online, thanks to one of my delicate patroness. That was on odd day, I didn't get much time in the studio, was also stressed about the rent, but the oral check-up went much better than I had expected, no major problems, knock on George Washington's wood, that and the underwear looks good. 
It seemed like there was a tense dynamic about the show, not only that but during the same weekend we were hosting our first reading as a group of artists who write, and Jeff, our newest co-conspirator calls himself a writer. Well he is a writer and we do all write for the most part, there is only one of us who doesn't do it, but he reads a lot. The boys were telling me to read, Tess was insistent, I had a panic attack, hey why don't I emcee, yeah I've done that plenty of times, the majority agreed after a weird full-moon inspired chain of emailed innuendos. 
Woke up Friday morning with that little dog huffing and puffing, walk me, walk me, walk me, look at me, look at me. I'm dogsitting again for a few days. We walk along the river, it is dry, there has been so little moisture here, weird, warm days, no snow, no tourists. I hear the voices of dead poets along the dusty trail down the street, like the way I used to hear Whitman in Brooklyn. This verse will not get out of my head, returning, repeating, refining. I write it down as the hour approaches, we all expected no one to show up, write refine repeat. Read aloud, over and over. Fine it'll do, ready set go. 
It's showtime, no one is around, we'll just be reading to each other, beer in hand, smile on face, a crowd fills our space, who are all of these people, action. It all turned out nicely, everyone had their fans, the readings done, my role in cement, as per the cowboy. Saturday afternoon we hosted the "opening" for our latest exhibit, again without snow and or maybe this time of year the tourist traffic- pickings were slim, but we all came together as a spirited community, our colony of resident artists, sunny day, an endurance test in self-promotion and all evenly coated with a certain kind of magic.