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The raving thoughts of a misanthropic academic

October 28, 2006

Reflections on Taos

I glanced out my window earlier just in time to see the gale strength winds blowing leaves and umbrellas alike down my tree-lined street. Most rainy Saturdays give one time for pause and reflection but on this Saturday in particular my thoughts are removed to a much drier, sunnier clime with wide-open spaces. Yesterday's travel memoir of D.H. Lawrence's stay in Taos, NM certainly prompts such reactions.

The essay is titled D.H. Lawrence’s New Mexico: The Ghosts That Grip the Soul of Bohemian Taos. It is a surprise on many levels both for its descriptive narrative and for its intimate look at the rural New Mexico village of my mother's youth.

The essay was also compelling for its very close relation to my own thoughts on this day. The author writes:

What was I doing here in dismal, rainy England, perennially late with my essays? There were other places, with mountains stretching their backs under a cloudless sky, and coyotes and pines and eagles no doubt, and moonshine to be drunk. One day, I told myself.

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While I do not reside in dismal, rainy England, if the New England iteration can be said to be both dismal and rainy, then perhaps I am living in the author's complement in time. These similar feelings, however, hint at Lawrence’s perpetual state of malcontent. What would inevitably make Taos unique to Lawrence was that he felt most contented here despite the fact that he lived only 11 months total in New Mexico. On a greater level, Lawrence’s restlessness would give way to an entire generation of American authors who longed to break the confines of their routine and pursue adventure. It is this modern notion of choice which would most embed itself on the plain of American literature.

What would ultimately make Taos unique in this emergent style was its role as a destination of international intrigue with the American west. Taos, NM is about as cowboy and as exotic by Western standards as one can safely get from the streets of foggy London or the subways of New York. What it lacks in the exotic, Taos more than compensates for in its charm. The town's accessibility, history and romance have all made Taos a beacon for tourism since its settlement by the Pueblo Indians in the year 900. The essay's description of Taos as "Bohemian" was especially apt though a bit curious given that the residents of Taos Pueblo have lived in such fashion for thousands of years. A quick glance at the definition of the word Bohemian, however, as used by the ultra-chic writers of the NYT reads any person who lives an unconventional artistic life, where self-expression is the highest value — that art (acting, poetry, writing, singing, dancing, painting etc) is a serious and main focus of their life.

The real point of Taos is that it allows people a chance to escape and to express. It is as much a state of mind as it is an actual location. But the beauty of the place is that it affords the extra busy with an opportunity to reflect and be creative without any obligations or worries. For people interested in such a life, even as D.H. Lawrence was inspired by its slinking coyotes and moonlit mesa's on a crisp night, there is no finer place in which to live than Taos, NM.

Living now in Boston what I find most promising about Taos conceptually is its construct of time. Time in Taos runs by a different metric. Rarely is there any rush and with each passing hour the very notion of clock and schedule slowly recedes into the dense New Mexico underbrush, tucked away into a mysterious corner at the base of the Rockies. In turn, Taos becomes a notion of promise. Like the author, one day I too will find my own Taos.

One day the restlessness will cease.
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2 comments:

thomas said...

When you write of Western Oklahoma, Cotton County, it seems like that might be for you what Taos was for D.H. Lawrence.

If you mean place that is.

If you mean a frame of mind... that can be challenging in urban life.

Tory said...

In terms of place, I wholeheartedly agree. I definitely feel most at home/rest in Walters. I've been away for too long.

State of mind, however, is a much more difficult route to navigate at this point. I think the situation is partly a function of age and having so many uncertainties. For example, as you get older, more things about life become settled and your priorities change as Paul mentions 1 Corinthians (family, career, spouse, etc...take priority if that's what one chooses).

At least, that's what I hope :)

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