|View of Taos Mountain from the Mabel Dodge Luhan House|
Taos brings out the particularity in people. It is the most individualizing place in the world, I think. As Frank Waters says, it is the last outpost of individualism left!
There is no standardization here, no social structure. People do not live according to a single pattern....Side-by-side, people live their own lives and not the community's life. They do as they please, they say what they think, and nobody cares, for everyone is busy doing likewise. There is only one vague imperative seeming to guide them all. If they come and do not fit into the good spirit of Taos, they do not stay. They cannot. Nobody tells them to go away, they just disappear.
I do not believe I am imagining this. Taos does things to people. So many people came! Sometimes they stayed, others went away but came back; some like Georgia O'Keeffe never altogether went away....Oh, yes! Taos does things to people.
Six decades later, women have their own views, in answer to the attraction of Taos for strong women. Here's what some of the staff at the Mabel Dodge had to say:
One of the legends of Taos is that it is a hard place to live. You have to be strong to survive here. To some this is a shock and to others a challenge. Perhaps one of the secrets of Taos is it calls forth hidden strengths. -- Judi Jordan
Her aunt's stories about Taos in the 1940s and 1950s initially attracted Judi to Taos; the "sheer aching physical beauty" of the people and landscape kept her here.
Marsha Skinner spoke to Judi's "hard place to live" comment in Lyn Bleiler and Robbie Steinbach's forthcoming book, A Precarious Balance: Creative Women in Taos New Mexico: "I've been a desk clerk, a bookseller, an assistant curator, an editor, a gardener, a cleaning person, and am now a desk clerk once again." That's often what it takes to be an artist here. Marsha stated that her life is so rooted in the landscape and cultures of Taos that it is impossible for her to think of living elsewhere. Here's why:
Permission in the air to make art. Income not the measure of value. Spiritual and artistic adventures. Adventures in life-making. -- Marsha Skinner
For Bonnie McManus many of the same attributes that attracted generations of artists also appeal to her: "open acres of sage-studded land, the vast blue sky, the enduring Pueblo." She looks to the strong women who preceded her, women with a sense of adventure, a desire (like Mabel's) to be free of social constraints experienced elsewhere, conditions that allow them the freedom to become individuals, to re-invent themselves. She notes that women often become remarkable in order to survive in Taos. Like many others, to live here sometimes means holding down two or three jobs, something she's willing to do in order to stay.
It's a remarkable place! There is so much creativity here, it's catching. I'm planning to dabble in art, some painting and collage.... -- Bonnie McManus
Over the next months, I will continue to share thoughts from staff and from readers about the influence of time spent in Taos, and the reasons this region attracts so many strong, independent-minded women. Let me know your thoughts and experiences.
Next: an interview with Natalie Goldberg, author of several books, including Writing Down the Bones and Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir.