Thoughts about Albuquerque & a place called The Open Gym

As strange as it may sound, I have been avoiding writing about Albuquerque and New Mexico so as to prevent anyone learning more about it. This is very unlike me. When I like or love or find something curious, I share it with the entire world. It matters not if that world consists of one person or one hundred people. In this instance I have been very childlike. You know how a young child can sometimes pretend that if he or she closes his eyes, the object before him would simply go poof and disappear? Of course at the particular age of development a child isn’t aware that this is not plausible. So I have been childish lately, thinking that if I don’t talk much about it, I won’t jinx it by inviting unappreciative energy. That somehow as if I stay quiet, no one will know how great it is here. This is because I am protective. I am protective of this city and state as I was once about my New York that no longer is. I am protective as one might be about a new love. You want to scream at the top of your lungs that you are somehow living a dream you dared never even bother dreaming and yet at the same time you don’t want to invite envy or jealousy. I want to protect it from what is happening to cities all over. I don’t want to draw attention to the city in the fears that it will become the next “cool” or “hip” city. “Cleaning up a city” shouldn’t mean making sure locals can’t afford to live there.

Locals assure me not to fear given the high poverty level and significant small and big gang related crimes (robberies and car break-ins etc.). Locals remind me of the poor job market. Locals assure me that the DWI levels alone will keep people away. Others confidently state that most folks just go to the ritzy Santa Fe or Taos either becoming, or chasing, caricatures of art, missing the spiritual essence of the land despite it being right under their nose, bypassing this quirky, sometimes gritty, city as soon as they land. People in the Hollywood industry know Albuquerque well given so many movies and shows are filmed in New Mexico. Yet this influx never changes things permanently. No one wants to stay. It comes on and off the map like cheap lip gloss. It is and isn’t part of the United Sates’ psyche. Most people hear “New Mexico” and think you mean “northern” Mexico.  People sort of  know about Arizona but there is so much misinformation about New Mexico (if there is any prior knowledge at all) that her identity remains a mystery.

I must disclose the following: I don’t know how I would feel about the city if I were a kid who grew up here. Maybe I would leave and never look back. Maybe I would leave and then come back in my middle years or to retire (many miss the weather and seasons, not to mention the 300 days of sunshine). So, my perspective is based on being married to someone who is from here and proud to be from here and my having lived in many states and continents. I no longer need to be in a city that must entertain me every time I step out. Or perhaps, better put, what entertains me is very different now.  Actually, that’s not entirely correct either. While I lived in NYC I would live off of strangers’ tall tales and true stories but they became harder and harder to hear as the city started resembling more like Ray Bradbury’s nightmare than a cool science-fiction graphic novel. I mention this to assert that even in NYC what entertained me was not the clubs, the shopping, or any “scene”. Very few people truly understand what I loved about the city, especially my neighborhood.

There is one major university here, University of New Mexico, and yet Albuquerque is not a college town like Boulder, Lawrence or Des Moines. I like that about it. Jobs are hard to come by unless you work for the state or local government in some capacity. I had a college friend who lived here some years ago, long before I even met my husband, who said it is hard to meet people if you are not from here. Others have confirmed this; however, it hasn’t deterred me from making stranger-friends. Public schools are not the best (except the ones like mine!) but the private ones are, of course, bar none. Other than Nob Hill and Downtown (the city is trying to clean up Downtown and has done an amazing job to make it more inviting without gentrification) there really aren’t any designated strips like in Berkeley, Austin or the likes. You have to scratch the surface to find gems. In some ways it reminds me of Philly from fifteen years ago. That being said, people are genuinely nice and real. And they are filled with generations of stories and a product of at least three different cultures who have been living side-by-side for 100 years or more, including decades without recorded bloodshed. There are many breweries, coffee shops, several locally owned stores that are able to survive next to the big chains, housing is affordable, and the sky is a lucid dream.

The Indigenous/ Native American communities were here for tens of thousands of years. Then the Spanish were here for a couple of centuries. Then it became Mexican territory for a couple of decades. Thereafter it has been part of the United States ever since. Santa Fe is the oldest state capital city in the United States. The United States didn’t exist when Santa Fe was founded. Perhaps because it has always been a cultural meeting place despite people’s diverse backgrounds, the food is some of the best I have had in the world!

 

My silence has been about protecting this city from a Silicon Valley invasion or even a remote infection (pun intended). I know this sounds silly but the arrogant take over by young people in charge of decisions that impact so many when they don’t fully understand the consequences of their actions is not only dangerous, it is not sustainable. It isn’t that young people haven’t existed before; it’s just that we treated them as inexperienced no matter how brilliant or talented. Somehow we have started equating “page hits”, “likes” and “retweets” with experience, maturity, intelligence, and compassion.

Then I realized that silence could be perceived as permission. I am going to be writing about Albuquerque, starting with this post, in the hopes that my words will attract more people who genuinely appreciate this city and state and less who want to move here and change it into whatever hip place they left. I met one young lad at a local bookstore here who had the audacity to remark, “Yeah, New Mexico would be perfect if there was a beach!” It’s a land-locked state! There is no beach! If you want to be near a beach, live there! Don’t dig a puddle with your money and “try to bring the beach” with you. That’s what I am talking about.

If you love where you live (realizing no place is perfect per se) and enjoy your neighbors and the community, then you know how I feel.

Green Sea

After first freeze. November, 2015. Albuquerque, NM.

 

Today’s Albuquerque local story is about Bill. Bill owns a medium sized gym called The Open Gym. I have only talked to Bill twice. In fact, prior to talking to Bill the second time, which prompted this post, I had only seen Bill around the gym a few times without even knowing he is the owner. Let’s back track as to what in the world could I possibly be doing at a placed called a gym?

I hate gyms. Gyms remind me of hamster cages. Somehow I have never been able to convince myself that being at a gym is fun. In California I tried so many gyms to maintain my functional health and physical condition, that I lost count after four. Everyone was a fitness coach or trainer (once again, young and lacking experience). Apparently being able to walk upright made a person qualified to be a trainer or an instructor. If it hadn’t been for Francine’s yoga classes or the yoga teachers who would come and teach at Yoga Space in Bakersfield, I would have been in an even worse physical and mental health than when I left. When I left my home in NYC in 2012, I was in the best shape of my life. This is saying a lot given I had always been active. After college this became challenging due to multiple factors but in 2007 I found Marco Rojas and his yoga classes were an emotional, mental, and spiritual challenge that relied on physical alignment and strength. In California, this last year, before it was apparent that I was losing my strength, I went on walks, I tried yoga, and I even bought into that cross-fit idiocracy (no offence to anyone—but it is NOT, repeat NOT, good for your joints. Maybe if you are 18 and can jump around, it won’t hurt you right away, but given how it is executed most places, it is a disaster). Anyway, upon moving to Albuquerque we have been literally doing something or other since we settled into our beautiful space.

About four weeks ago I decided although I love both of the yoga studios I attend, I was not getting stronger. Unlike my husband who is a disciplined fitness aficionado and incredibly nutritionally aware (and a phenomenal cook!), I am not. Jamie doesn’t need to go to a gym or take group classes or have a coach. He can do it all by himself right at home. Most gyms are designed as a place for people to feel good about themselves for attending, regardless of any results. They can be isolating yet serve as a pick-up joint both for men and women. People are competitive and rude. I am happy if this has not been your experience. In fact, I have a friend in NYC who is a gym rat and goes to a really big gym and loves it. However, most gyms are trying to be like this absurdity and no thank you.

 

I can’t really recall how I found Bill’s gym. I think I was looking for strength training classes and something in my search led me to information about a trainer named Adelaide Mcmillan. Upon joining the gym (which is so affordable!) I decided to work with her because I wanted to learn more about rock climbing and hiking. I am in New Mexico, after all. In order to be able to join her and others who regularly go rock climbing with her, I needed to become stronger. So, once a week, I train with her and follow her plan on my own four times for the rest of the week. I am continuing with my yoga three times a week. It hasn’t even been four full weeks and I already feel so much stronger.

Adelaide has a wonderful sense of humor and the best part is that she is neither a ditzy Barbie doll nor a woman who feels compelled to be aggressive and macho. She is not trying to be permanently 20; she is beautiful and extremely strong. She also loves to travel and really likes Albuquerque. I hope I can share a photo of her and her story here later.

I love this gym because the people who go there are regulars. I see the same faces even if I haven’t talked to many of them. It feels safe and as a woman I am not disgusted or annoyed by men on a testosterone high. Women actually smile at one another and everyone is so courteous. It doesn’t have a spa bathroom but the changing rooms are always squeaky clean and have showers if one so desires. And this is the most important part for me: most dumbbells and weights are made of this metal which leaves a residue that smells like burnt iron. I have an idiosyncratic disdain for that smell. I can’t stand it. I have to hold things that smell like that with a glove or a towel. None of the weights at The Open Gym have that metallic stench! It’s amazing! I don’t know what material they are made of but it sure isn’t metallic or if it is, it is covered.

This Saturday when I walked into the gym, I was so moved by this image. There was Bill fixing the hardwood floor. This is what local looks like, was my first thought.

Bill

 

 

I introduced my self and thanked him for this space. I told him why it was important to me. It wasn’t just about fitness, it was also about writing. The time I was writing full time in New York, I was also on top of my physical health. If a writer, coach, teacher, artist, poet, is a vessel through which creativity flows, then the vessel needs to be strong enough to process all that comes. I haven’t been able to write since June. Yes, it has been because of settling into a new place and all sorts of relaxing-ness and busy-ness, but it has also been because I have not been able to take care of my joints and muscles. I wanted to express my gratitude to him for this place that I look forward to going.

While I was chatting with him, I learned that Bill is also an attorney! We discussed schools and law and owning one’s own business. Yes, Albuquerque may not have a lot of typical corporate jobs, but it is great if you want to run your own business.

 

My mother always says that wherever one lives, one must literally appreciate the dirt of that land. This means giving back to the community in ways no one may ever notice. This means taking care of the city. This means loving the city with all your mighty heart, unafraid.

I never imagined I would get a chance to call another place home after New York. But then again, I never thought I would actually like a gym. So much for knowing oneself entirely despite the many experiences that reveal to us how and who we really are.

Blue bench + “Keep The Channel Open” 

I came across this lovely blue bench in Nob Hill, Albuquerque. It was outside a dance studio. Inside…I found these words and felt quite inspired. Thought I would pass it on.

 

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that activate you. Keep the channel open.” –Martha Graham

 

Postscript: After sharing this I vaguely recalled that some time ago, ages in digital times I suppose, I had posted something by Martha Graham on my blog before. I couldn’t recall what exactly. So, naturally, I searched for it. And it was the exact same quote. At first I thought of deleting this post or that one from 2011 but then decided to keep both. Words come to us to remind us that which we think we have forgotten. Inspiration is inspiration even if our digital posting mocks it from time to time.

Vallecito

Four hours north of Albuquerque, past Aztec, New Mexico and Durango, Colorado, exists this magical place called Vallecito. Our neighbors have a cabin there and they kept nudging us to go check it out. We didn’t believe them given people have a tendency to say many things to sound generous and this is the Air B&B age where people charge as much money as they can only to have another stay in a closet, so no we didn’t believe them. But they were serious! So we decided to go explore.

It was a beautiful drive–all of New Mexico is just breathtakingly beautiful–and a wonderful stay. We soaked ourselves in stillness. This was much needed. So much has happened, mostly all good but just so fast, since March. Not to mention this September marks my 3 year anniversary away from New York, New York. Of course I have been back in between (which will continue) but still…

What do I miss the most? My yoga practice with Marco Rojas. It wasn’t yoga, it was some kind of dance akin to Bharata Natyam. I miss my friends, naturally, who are like a second family. I miss my neighborhood before it was completely gentrified to the extent it can hardly be recognized.  But there is so much I don’t miss. I don’t miss what it was becoming and has become. I don’t miss not being able to afford it and write too. My sister and her husband are there now for their medical school rotations and I hear their experiences and I am reminded that to every person the New York they know is the New York they are in now. They don’t know about the bodega that doesn’t exist. They don’t know about the barber shop that disappeared. They don’t know about the restaurant that got swallowed to build a new office. And so it goes…

 

Redefining or rather defining what is my relationship with this blog and its generous readers/supporters has been another reflection that I didn’t or rather couldn’t tend to till this weekend away. When I started this, I didn’t have former or current students who were subscribed or who would stop by to read my thoughts. I certainly didn’t have their parents keeping up with it every now and then. Although I have always been very conscious about what I share, this has added another dimension of filtering that I am still navigating my way around. Moreover, social media has morphed into something I can’t really relate to like I once did so what I share here and any links I share on Twitter have begun diverging in ways I didn’t anticipate. I suppose all of this is good in the sense that the writing that needs to happen will happen as drafts that lead to something beyond here.

That being said, I do enjoy sharing whenever I can and I am grateful for those who continue to keep up. Enough said.  Here are some photos to mark the beginning of Fall.

And here is to people like our neighbors who are lighting up the world with their generosity and love despite the world falling apart in so many ways all at once.

 

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Around Albuquerque…

It has been the most full summer in awhile. The Middlebury program ended in July, then I participated in the 48 Hour Film Festival in Albuquerque (which was a lot of fun and a huge learning curve when it comes to writing), immediately thereafter I went to California for my mother’s birthday (an impromptu visit!), then a few weeks later she visited us in Albuquerque.

Not to mention July and August are filled with birthdays which happen on the same days in both of our families.

Here are some photos.

-a.q.s.

 

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Flamingos at the Albuquerque Zoo

 

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Sea Lions at the Albuquerque Zoo

 

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Although I have been to Botanical Gardens before, the one in Albuquerque has an entire section dedicated to healing herbs!

 

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Children’s Fantasy Garden in Albuquerque

 

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Magic Man at the Rail Yards Market in Albuquerque.

 

 

I also took my mother to Los Poblanos lavender farm around Albuquerque where we had lavender water and lavender gelato. You can read more about it here and see other photos here.

 

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All that is possible…

Busy days and nights. Reading more and more each day, wishing I had more time to re-read. Any email updates to anyone are fragments wanting to be poetry.

I was awestruck by this plant (see image below). I found it during a hike in the Bandelier National Monument park. The park is located near Los Alamos, about a 45 minute drive north of Santa Fe. As part of the “Nuclear Southwest: Literature and Film” course, taught by Dr. Jesse Aleman, we took a trip to Los Alamos where we visited the Bradbury Science Museum. There is much to process about the trip, the many nonfiction and fiction readings prior to the trip, the class discussions, and the new readings due next week. Besides, once processed, I actually have to do more than write a post about it so I better save my energy for that! After the trip some of us decided to continue the day and went onto White Rock, from there we took a shuttle to Bandelier. Here you can read about the park’s history etc. Here you can see many more amazing photos taken by professionals who specialize in such photography. I have a few to share and will do so later, perhaps via email update (for those subscribed).

 

Besides all kinds of other professional and academic growth, I am keenly aware of how the landscape here is serving as a suture for the past so as to experience the Stillness that leads to the future. I can’t quite articulate any of that for now but it is certainly happening.

 

Awed by that which grows so beautifully in the harshest of conditions, almost mocking humanity, as if it could be any other way. The desert is rich with life, abundant with contrasts, and reminds us of all the impossible that is quite possible.

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no filter

Sometimes we need a filter to see and feel clearly. Other times, we can only see clearly without one.

I have spent most of the day this Sunday reading the  Winter 2014-15 issue of The Stinging Fly. If you are on Twitter, find them, follow them. Or better yet, check them out and subscribe! I discovered this magazine a few weeks ago and felt it might be something I would have to sit down to really read, Internet browsing wouldn’t suffice.

As most of you already know, there aren’t many magazines out there I have mentioned since the writing doesn’t really move me. It all feels stale. I stopped reading The New Yorker 8 years ago, not as a boycott but because I just gave up. Whenever I could browse online, I did, and sometimes I would find nonfiction gems but fiction didn’t impress. Other magazines that offer new writing by new writers disappointed too. Everyone in these “alternative” magazines trying so hard to be different that they forget the object was to write a story, a good story, not be different.

Not this. The writing in The Stinging Fly is so alive you could feel the stories moving without even opening the first page. The essay, the poetry, the reviews, the fiction, just all of it. I am inspired, I am moved, I feel hopeful. Art is not dead. Honestly, I don’t think I can articulately review any of the pieces in it, I am too stirred with joy upon this discovery. The writing is fresh, the perspectives unique, and it made me realize how it is our obligation to protect what is unique in one another. Moreover, having checked out the website of Deborah Rose Reeves and a few others who are published in this issue, I can toast to what Jamie is always saying, “You can’t encounter the richness of life if you never live it.” And if you never live it, you can’t really write it, create it.

I have never felt this more profoundly than I do today, of all the reasons that exist to create Art, the quintessential is to move us to a deeper understanding about ourselves and the world around us, and if Art can’t achieve that, at the very least it ought to give us a confirmation, more than mere hope, for an alternative. For some of us, those of us, whose standards are not aligned with that of the general public, that hope is not as readily available. But when it comes, it illuminates everything so clearly, that even the shadows become beautiful.

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attention to details: a way of being

September 7, 2014.

 

The article in The New Yorker, “Creativity Creep” by Joshua Rothman, is probably one of the most succinct and apt essays I have read on creativity since the dawn of social media and the rise of “creativity” as a “job”.  Maybe there is hope after all if The New Yorker is willing to publish such an essay. There is always hope, I suppose. 

Mr. Rothman writes:

People like Samuel Taylor Coleridge argued that we don’t just store things in our imaginations; we transform them. Coleridge made a useful distinction, largely lost today, between two kinds of imagining. All of us, he thought, have a workaday imagination, which we use to recall memories, make plans, and solve problems; he called this practical imagination “fancy.” But we also have a nobler kind of imagination, which operates […]  like “a human reflex of God’s creative energy.” The first kind of imagination understands the world; the second kind cares about it and brings it to life. In the “Prelude,” Wordsworth describes this kind of imagination as “an auxiliary light” that changes everything it illuminates.”

This watchful, inner kind of creativity is not about making things but about experiencing life in a creative way; it’s a way of asserting your own presence amidst the much larger world of nature, and of finding significance in that wider world. By contrast, our current sense of creativity is almost entirely bound up with the making of stuff. If you have a creative imagination but don’t make anything, we regard that as a problem—we say that you’re “blocked.”

How did creativity transform from a way of being to a way of doing?

[…]

It sounds bizarre, in some ways, to talk about creativity apart from the creation of a product. But that remoteness and strangeness is actually a measure of how much our sense of creativity has taken on the cast of our market-driven age. We live in a consumer society premised on the idea of self-expression through novelty. We believe that we can find ourselves through the acquisition of new things. Perhaps inevitably, we have reconceived creativity as a kind of meta-consumption: a method of working your way toward the other side of the consumer-producer equation, of swimming, salmon-like, back to the origin of the workflow. Thus the rush, in my pile of creativity books, to reconceive every kind of life style as essentially creative—to argue that you can “unleash your creativity” as an investor, a writer, a chemist, a teacher, an athlete, or a coach. Even as this way of speaking aims to recast work as art, it suggests how much art has been recast as work: it’s now difficult to speak about creativity without also invoking a profession of some kind.

[…]

Among the many things we lost when we abandoned the Romantic idea of creativity, the most valuable may have been the idea of creativity’s stillness. If you’re really creative, really imaginative, you don’t have to make things. You just have to live, observe, think, and feel.

 

This is what I have been doing in this space every Sunday, testing my “human reflex”, sometimes willingly and other times questioning that same reflex. Moreover, my recent work,  has taken me to experience depths of living, observing, breathing, feeling “creativity” in ways I can only hope to one day articulate in some tangible medium. And finally, since the advent of social media, people are of two views when it comes to absence from “blogging” or “sharing”: either one is living such an amazing life that there is no time to share photos or thoughts or alternatively, that an individual’s life must be so distressful that it doesn’t merit sharing. Of course, my point is about when people don’t share as much as they once did or at all, not those who report, the good or the challenging, for a sake of community and sharing, however regularly and openly.

Life is just life, it goes on. Yes, it’s sweeter when shared by those who “get it” but when one is truly original, majority of the people don’t “get it”.   At first.

 

Another article, also about creativity, was featured in ars technica and titled  “Is there a creativity deficit in science? If so, the current funding system shares much of the blame” by Ben McNeil.

Ben McNeil offers a notable quote by John Ioannidis who is head of the Stanford Prevention Research Center in California and links the quote to other sources.

“A truly innovative idea cannot be judged by peers: if it is truly innovative, no peer has any clue about it; if peers already know about it, it is not innovative” said John Ioannidis, head of the Stanford Prevention Research Centre in California. Ioannidis and others published a recent analysis called “Conform and be Funded where they show that safer, established ideas have a much better chance of being funded at the NIH than novel, creative ones.

To be fair, the bias against any risk is not limited to the NIH; it occurs across every governmental science agency globally.

 

I also found the following a bit unsettling:

In the early 1970s, Roger Kornberg, a 27-year-old Stanford PhD, was working at the Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, England. With a modest post-doctoral salary, Kornberg was given freedom to explore untried and risky areas of research. This would ultimately allow him to make a revolutionary discovery about how DNA is copied in cells.

Kornberg would win the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 2006 for that work. Yet he told The Washington Post that he’s convinced his groundbreaking Nobel Prize winning idea would never have been funded today.

 

 

An unrelated short piece by William Childress titled “A Born Writer” in the most recent print issue of Writer’s Digest brought it all together for me in the form of a question that perhaps doesn’t have an answer.  A side note I must mention:  I have never had much interest in that magazine because the online version, with all the links and ads, has always felt manic to stay the least; however, I recently subscribed to print thanks to coming across a print copy at a book store which I found useful. Anyway, in the piece Childress writes, “…comments by Mom, friends or kin were useless. In their eyes, I was a success simply by putting words on paper. But they signed no checks. Editors are a writer’s link to reality. They know when they must tell a writer no–and they will. But sometimes I get lucky and hit the mark, and they say, ‘Thank you. This is exactly what we need.’ Then I try again, and again, and again…”

 

I reflected a lot about this “trying again and again” and the statement from the other article, “a truly innovative idea cannot be judged by peers”.

My primary reason for not having tried again and again (or just barely) is twofold: lack of time and that a part of me is quite  satisfied with the audience I have (not to mention grateful!) and whenever I sit to write my objective is to deliver a valuable story where the words are crafted with hallmark care and whatever happens after that fades into the background. That being said, if I want signed checks, I have to try, at least once, twice, or thrice and do so beyond here.

What I know now without a doubt, thanks to the perfect articulation by Joshua Rothman, is that this space has been and will continue to be about sharing a way of being that is me, a way which also happens to be creative. This is also true for a lot of others who blog and share some phenomenal photos, words, and art. This is also true for many who don’t. Some of the most creative people I know, artists and otherwise, are not available via social media platforms. However, it is my hope, that a new consciousness within social media is emerging, where we are able to distinguish our inherently creative natures from creating meaningful Art “that changes everything it illuminates”.  Stories are more than ideas and art is more than being creative. And while both kinds of creativity have their place, it would serve us all to approach each with more mindfulness. Mindfulness is not a job description or a test of creativity, it is a way of being.

 

 

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