Under Santa Fe Skies

by Susan Tungate

The Stories You Have To Tell

I am a full blown, get on my soapbox, wave my hands and shout proselytizer for committing to paper your family stories, personal stories and memoirs. For one, if you do not write down the stories you have to tell, they will be lost in a generation. Period. I, for one, know very little about three out of the four of my grandparents and not that much about the fourth. That is pretty sad.

Of equal importance is the benefit of the process of compiling your stories. I promise you that examining the past will change your personal narrative.

And there is a bonus. When you are open to telling your individual stories in the most authentic, truth seeking way, you will touch the universal truths that have the power to transform both you and the reader.

So what to do if you are ready to place fingers on computer keys or take pen in hand? Where to start?  I teach classes on writing your memoir or family stories. I teach classes on editing your stories. I coach clients individually on skype, in person or on the telephone. I even ghost write memoirs for clients. And I offer developmental and line by line editing of your manuscript.

Beginning to accomplished writers are welcome.  The only requirements are a desire to tell your stories and a healthy sense of humor.

Please contact me via Contact Susan or susan@susantungate.com  if you are ready to get started. We’ll make a plan.

Older, Not Old

I teach a writing group at  a retirement community in Santa Fe chock full of retired professors, scientists from Los Alamos Lab, architects, lawyers, artists, entrepreneurs, you name it. The members of the group are picking up a pen later in life, full of rich stories of World War II, life in Dallas before it was a big city, Santa Fe before the roads were paved and  riding across the country in a 1930s car long before the interstates were built.

They are teaching me more than I am teaching them. The biggest lesson I have learned is not to listen to our cultural narrative about aging. For one, these folks, who range in age from their late 70s to 94, are vibrant and curious, attending lectures, the Opera, plays around town, movies, volunteering as a business mentor. And they are out exercising right up to the limit of their abilities. The 94 year old came in with a bandage on his left hand one day. I assumed he had blood work done. “So what’s with the bandage?” I asked. “Ah, I was playing doubles squash and my partner, a retired doctor, hit me with his racket. He smashed my hand, then fixed it up.”

The group was all a buzz last week. A woman had approached one member and asked him about joining our group. After he welcomed her, she said she might be there that week or the next. By way of introducing her, he handed me a blurb from one of her books which reads:  ”Mozelle Richardson is a best selling novelist who received her BA in Journalism in 2004 at the ripe age of 90 from the University of Oklahoma. She raised four children in Oklahoma City with her late husband, W.T. Dub  Richardson. She now lives and writes in Santa Fe, New Mexico.”  You do the math.

We will get older, if we are lucky, but we need not get old voluntarily.



Ten Years, Two Pages, Three Word Sentences

Writer and teacher Abigail Thomas often gives her students the assignment to take any ten years of their life, reduce them to two pages, and each sentence should be only three words long.     Without room to circle the truth or fudge, the writer is forced to reduce each event to its core.  You end up with a haiku of sorts: He was horny. I was smitten. We got married.

In looking back over the now substantial number of years of my own life, I see there were ten year periods when life pretty much flowed in the same pattern with a few minor bumps or high points. No big forks in the road. Perhaps a move or a promotion or interesting assignment. Visited  Rose Garden. Met President Clinton. Tripped on grass. Went to Havana. Faded pink buildings. Gave housekeeper shampoo.  Opened news bureau.

Then again we can all bracket a ten year period when things fell apart or finally came together or both. Often events start with a show stopper. Time AOL merger. Now we downsize. What will happen? But sometimes in the living of an event you have no idea when the seeds were planted. One morning you wake up and there is a big damn tree in your face. In the looking back you may be able to gain clarity on when it all began. A friend might write: Mother lost keys. Found in refrigerator. We all laughed. Mother visits doctor. She has Alzheimer’s. She knows it. We know it. We make plans.

The three word sentence can become addictive. Beware the danger of narrating your life in real time: Drove to Whole Foods. Strawberries on sale. Bought two quarts! Froze one quart! On the other hand, if we live in the moment, there are times in our lives when we know, know for sure in that moment, that something is about to shift. I have a friend whose company is going through a reorganization. She will meet with the powers that be this week to learn her fate. What three word sentences will she write later on?

Company is reorganizing. Met with Sam. Lost my job. Time to network!

Company is reorganizing. Met with Sam. Great new job. Moving to Portland!

Company is reorganizing. Met with Sam. Hate job offer. Take for now. Leap later on.

Regardless, the next sentence is  Onward and upward! It has to be.

Faith and Hope: A Pilgrimage to Chimayo

On Good Friday, the annual Easter pilgrimage to the small adobe chapel in Chimayo, New Mexico will begin. By Sunday, as many as 50,000 people will walk the ninety miles from Albuquerque, the fourteen miles from Chupadero, the forty miles from Taos or the twenty-five miles from Santa Fe pushing baby carriages and wheelchairs, bearing crosses and statues of their patron saints, holding high photographs of loved ones who are ill in a petition for healing. Some will park their cars along the highway and join the others as they walk the last few miles on the winding two lane highway that leads to the Santuario de Chimayo.

People from all over the world and all religions make the pilgrimage. They walk in memory of a loved one or as a prayer for peace. Some walk because their grandmother told them the journey is part of their heritage. They must follow the foot prints of their parents and grandparents and great grandparents  in giving thanks for God’s gifts.

Most walk as a demonstration of their faith, their belief in a God who listens to their prayers. When they arrive at the Santuario, they sit in the pews and pray and then enter the adjacent room to finger the dirt thought to bring forth miracles.

And for those not rooted in faith who walk to be part of a community, to be part of something larger than themselves, they may find a message of hope in the form of a lone peach tree in full bloom, flourishing in the sandy soil.