The Gift of Being Part of this Life

Since turning sixty last month, I’ve been on the road more than I’ve been home. This last trip took me to Santa Fe during a spate of glorious autumn weather, as you can see from the photo above, shot between Ojo Caliente and Española on my way south to the City of Holy Faith (Santa Fe).

I arrived there on Tuesday evening. Wednesday morning, I recorded “Sculpting Your Stories,” a webinar about tools for going from rough draft to a compelling manuscript, for Wordharvest, the parent organization of the Tony Hillerman Writing Conference. “Sculpting Your Stories” will be available in November with a group of other writing webinars. (If you’re not on the Wordharvest mailing list, sign up here.)

After my morning of being videotaped–Wordharvest co-founder Jean Schaumberg and videographer Robert Muller made the experience  almost fun–I had the afternoon off to hang out with my literary agent, Liz Trupin-Pulli of JET Literary Associates.

First thing Thursday morning I dived into the annual conference of Women Writing the West, a professional association of writers and publishers who focus on the voices and stories of women writing about “the Women’s West,” past, present and future.

Touring Ghost Ranch with Lesley Poling-Kempes (far right), author of WILLA-award-winning Ladies of the Canyons.

We’re a varied bunch–some of us write novels, contemporary as well as historical, some of us write mysteries or other genre fiction, some of us write creative nonfiction or scholarly nonfiction about the region; some of us write for kids and young adults. What we share is a love for these wide open landscapes and those who inhabit them, humans and all the other species. 

I’ve been involved with Women Writing the West for more than two decades now, and have been part of the committee involved in planning several of the recent conferences, including this year’s. Now that I’ve survived four days and the usual crises involved with holding a conference full of field trips, workshops, panels, talks, and several different award ceremonies, I can say without a doubt this was the best WWW conference ever.  

From the tour of the famous Ghost Ranch retreat and conference center with award-winning author Lesley Poling-Kempes on Thursday morning, to Saturday night’s gala WILLA Awards Banquet, which I co-MCed with my comadre Dawn Wink, novelist, essayist and teacher, and the sister I never had, the entire weekend was chock-full of mind-expanding information, fun, and inspiration. 

Dawn and me planning our workshop (really!) at Alto Bar in the top floor of the hotel. (Photo by novelist Teddy Jones) 

I got to hear Julia Cameron (author of The Artist’s Way and The Right to Write, among many other books) on creativity and writing.

Me and Julia… (photo by Dawn Wink)

Long-time friend Denise Chávez, American-Book-Award winning author of Face of An Angel among other novels, and also actress and playwright, gave us a rousing, funny, and thought-provoking luncheon talk on being a Latina writer today. 

Dawn, Denise and me after her talk (Denise is trying to look serious and almost succeeding). 

Colorado poet, singer, teacher and TEDx speaker Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer had us singing at the beginning of the WILLA Awards Banquet, and Navajo poet Luci Tapahonso touched our hearts and spirits with her talk and poems. Over the course of the conference, I learned about podcasting–my next venture, I think, about voice in fiction, research techniques, and so many other things.

I hung out with long-time writing friends and made new ones. Dawn and I presented a workshop (Mapping Our Stories) to an enthusiastic group of way more people than we expected, and they plunged right into cluster mapping and pictorial mapping, emerging at the end with a new perspective on their writing. 

I ate great food–oh, those green and red chiles!–laughed a lot, and signed books at the mass signing hosted by Santa Fe’s wonderful bookstore, Collected Works

On my final morning run before leaving Santa Fe yesterday, the full moon–the Hunter’s Moon–rose over the hills. I stopped in my tracks, stunned by its beauty in the gilded dawn sky.

And gave thanks for the blessing of being able to love and laugh and learn, as well as to cry and comfort. To live with my heart open to the world in all its contradictions, its beauty and its pain. To be here, fully part of this life.