In Taos, late one summer afternoon, my wife Linda and I came upon a festival in the plaza. There were booths selling Indian crafts, candles, and food. We walked slowly around the plaza in a counter clockwise fashion, viewing the exhibits and the people. There was an almost hypnotic movement as the people walked en masse around the plaza, as though we were all part of a wheel than turned. I thought of a mandala with human characters.
Then, I saw an exchange between two people in the plaza. An older woman shared a look with a young man. She was Anglo; he was Indian. The look was one of attraction. I could see that the woman was with another woman. They walked arm in arm. The young man was on his own. Looking at them, I knew they came from different worlds.
But there was something about the way they looked at each other that, to me, revealed a kind of longing, the kind we have all known. Because of the disparity in their ages, and their disparate situations, I knew that there was probably no relationship forthcoming between the woman and the young man. Instead, the look they gave each other was all they would share.
This encounter took only a few seconds, but it made a deep impression on me. I thought of the woman and the young man and knew that their brief exchange was also universal. We have all had such moments. Life is full of these moments. Then we go on, safe inside our own comfortable lives, never to venture beyond them to cross lines or to enter new territory.
As a writer, I long for these moments, but maybe in a different way. Creativity comes in so many ways. A poem about childhood might take decades to write. A story or play might come about instantly because of an image outside the car window. This encounter I observed in the plaza in Taos was something I needed to capture. I knew I would write about it at some point, but the details of the festival might blur in time and memory if I waited.
I knew what I would do. I told Linda that I wanted to write something. She would continue rounding the plaza in the human mandala. I stepped into a pharmacy to buy a pen and a writing tablet. I returned to the plaza and found a bench. I sat down and began writing a story about the woman and the young man. I wrote about the mandala, about the colorful booths, the smells of food and flowers. I wrote about the sun going down, as day was ending. I sat on that bench in the Taos plaza for maybe an hour, until the story was finished. I made up details about their lives, and gave them interior thoughts about their encounter. I wrote about the way their lives connected, if only for a few seconds. All the while the mandala continued. The plaza had a magical feel as the sky darkened and the lights came on in the booths and surrounding buildings. In fact, I felt like my story was writing itself, that I was simply there to take dictation.
Looking back, I am always thankful for this story. It came as an unexpected gift. I titled it “Two Women at Nightfall.” Later, it was published in THE SOUTHERN REVIEW.
As a writer and photographer, I am always aware that creativity can come at any time. It is important to pay attention, to be vigilant, to be aware of the world around us.
D. H. Lawrence said it was important to get out of the glass cages of our own egos. I couldn’t agree more. We do have our personal stories and dramas to investigate, to capture in our chosen art. But the world is wide and I feel that the best stories and images are out there, waiting.