An artists residency in “Truth or Consequences” New Mexico, the Virgin Galactic and Spaceport, and wise words from Seneca.
I flew to New Mexico during the first week of January to kick off this 2 week artist and writing residency (with my mom!) in this small town called “Truth or Consequences” formerly called “Hot Springs, New Mexico”. I consider myself an “adventure junkie”, and am intrigued by the way others live.
While I’ve directed most of my adventures outside of the United States, I wanted to kick off the new decade with a focus towards exploring the United States and small towns. Truth or Consequences, New Mexico was first on my list.
My first impression of the town was that it smacked of other small towns in the country — but I was very wrong, as the day unfolded. Pictures can be so very deceiving, and there is an arrogance to think one knows about a place just by looking at photographs. And as a writer of fantasy drama, my mind can create stories and narratives with the most epic of ranges.
New Mexico in many ways feels like it possesses the intellectual rigor of San Francisco, New York, and Washington DC, but without the compulsion of materialism and the need to continuously acquire more. There is a physical spaciousness in this town which seems to allow people to feel a spaciousness in their emotional and spiritual realms. In other words, the individuals here seem entirely “woke”. This is a state where the majority of the population considers themselves an artist or an intellectual (or both) and is open to the myriad different ways of conceptualizing the world. New Mexico has more Phd’s per capita than any other state in the country.
It’s a refreshing diversion from the east and west coasts, where I have spent a majority of my adult life. In many cities with social and economic hierarchies, and a level of population that encourages competition, the need to be of status and have a certain level of materialism creates a pull towards being a part of consensus reality and the social construct, which creates borrowed narratives and idealization and romanticizations of a life that is desired based on appearances rather than truly lived and enjoyed. in other words, there is gap between inner and outer satisfaction.
Having spent very little time in the Southwest, besides short visits to Texas and Arizona, and with very little exposure to the area other than from films, I realize that my ignorance about the American Southwest is vast.
The Spanish colonial architecture hosts colors I didn’t think existed in my Crayola box as a kid, and I’m inspired by the level of uniqueness and extreme individuality in the homes and the art. Every piece of art created here feels original, and like it was brought to life without relying on past artists and existing ideas.
Because this town celebrates originality and individuality, does that create the space for artists to BE individual? Or does it attract artists who are original, and seek to be a part of a community that celebrates that level of individuality and originality?
Truth or Consequences, with a population of about 7,500 people [this is questionable as the 2010 census says 2,000 people] feels like it’s been time stamped in another era or state of consciousness. Everyone here knows each other, and has an interesting story about how they came to live in this small town. T or C (as the locals call it), was first popularized because of the geothermal rocks that sit underground which produce hot springs. Whether truth or myth, 60+ years ago, the town’s hot springs attracted visitors from all over the world as soaking in the tub was thought to heal ailments and illnesses.
After soaking in the hot springs last night, I was provided a manual with a list of all of the minerals that exist in the hot springs, and they are vast! I was surprised to see some of the minerals like arsenic and lithium. Arsenic, I learned heals arthritis. Lithium, I learned is used to treat depression. At 110 degrees, I could only last in the hot springs for a short period of time, but I did feel more relaxed and measured as a result of the soak. Perhaps there is a requirement of a number of days of exposure to the minerals in the hot springs which creates a more than subtle change in the physical body.
Now, the town seems to have been largely left behind as a museum of what it once was, although it is, as of this writing, experiencing a mini-revival and renaissance attracting artists and creators from Santa Fe and the surrounding cities, due to its low cost of living and celebrated and growing artists community.
But those seeking a place where they can truly be the humans they were born to be, rather than the ones that they’ve assimilated to be, would appreciate the level of freedom from the collective in this small and charming town, “Truth or Consequences”.
Neil Gaiman, an award winning author, once said that in order to be creative, one has to get really really bored. I was hoping for that experience, but so far, it doesn’t seem likely. More to come later.
After spending a week in Truth or Consequences, my overall first impressions aren’t so far out. The residency is going so well, and because there are not as many options for entertainment, and the town relies heavily on intimate connections and interactions, I’ve met quite an interesting crowd of people. I’ve also been able to participate in a mixture of writing, reflecting, soaking in the hot springs, and checking out the small town and surrounding areas.
I recently found out that Ted Turner actually owns most of this land, which is mostly miles and miles of barren desert. After spending time at the ranch of one of the residents, I realize the appeal of being surrounded by nothing by desertscape. My senses no longer feel assaulted. I can finally take in my surroundings without feeling bombarded by an advertisement or a meme.
Everything is at least an hour away from T or C, so it’s not uncommon for people to drive an hour to get lunch, but there’s no traffic, so it’s not so different than driving across town during rush hour in a big city.
Yesterday, we celebrated the opening of the art studio in T or C, and participated in the monthly “Saturday art hop”, and got a chance to check out the very unique styles and artwork, which brings nearly all of the residents out from their homes and into the streets. It seems like almost every single person I meet is an artist, or a creative, and their knowledge of art history seems to be a requirement for those living here.
While I was hoping to spend more time writing with other artists, I still had some consulting work with companies in the Bay area, which turned out to be harder to manage than I initially expected. With subpar internet, I decided to take some work calls from the lobby of this tiny motel/hotel we were stationed at, and gave anyone a menacing look if they walked into my “personal office” during work calls. That did not go over well with the staff, so I retired to my room, which smacked of 1970’s era appliances and psychedelic themed art. That also didn’t impress my new clients who insisted I meet with them on video calls, and I would start each meeting off with a disclaimer that the art on the wall wasn’t mine.
During my second week, I checked out Virgin Galactic in the middle of the desert, close to Truth or Consequences, and I heard they’re planning to take their very first flight up to space this year. Note: It’s 250K to fly for one person in case you’re interested in joining that flight. I learned that it’s bad for the human body to be up in space as it ages you big time, although I’d love to experience that in my lifetime.
The residents are mostly intellectual and very original for the most part, and diverse as they moved from everywhere: New York, Montana, “”Hell A” as they called LA here and are intergenerational. It’s common to see 65+ year old retired women who worked in a variety of industries become best friends with 20-something artists. There’s also a much poorer group of folks whose families lived here for many generations, and then some vets.
I picked up a book written by a local called The Good Life Lab written by a local, Wendy Jehanara Tremayne, who moved from NYC as a Marketer to Truth or Consequences in order to move away from consumer culture and instead joined the Maker movement with her husband, an ex-i-banker. Together, they produced and created everything from what they’ve called “the waste stream”.
I think this concept that we should be responsible for everything that we eat or need is fascinating. I of course don’t know how far I can take this idea, as I still live in a big city without any personal outdoor space, but it really made an impact on me, and I’m planning to reduce my stuff and consume far less this year and beyond. What would life be like if you stopped buying things and instead just created what you needed?
In the last few days in T or C, New Mexico, I’ve come to the realization that there is a beauty in the contrast of experience — and in order to really understand a place, we must experience something completely unlike it. I am leaving this residency feeling a great appreciation for this small town where almost everyone knows each other, and there is a great interest in fostering community and uniqueness, amidst the backdrop of the scenery of mountains and miles and miles of desertscape.
But I also have a strong appreciation for bigger cities, and admit that while I appreciate the intimacy of smaller towns, I am also grateful for the access to city life which offers so many different types of experiences, people, and opportunities.
It’s amazing how my perception of my current home of San Francisco can seem like a barren city coming from New York, and a bustling city of opportunity coming from a small desert town in New Mexico.
While I had mixed emotions about life in this small artsy town in the desert, I came here to gain perspective, and that mission feels accomplished. I don’t think I’ll ever look at San Francisco, or my life the same way.
I also came to T or C to turn inward and disconnect from a busy life to find answers. And driving through the endless miles and miles of desert without people definitely hit the mark on disconnection. But in this 2 week trip, I realized that the answers were with me regardless of the setting or location.
I do miss my almond milk lattes and the convenience of organic food, and the water. Dry land makes my heart ache for the sandy beaches and the beautiful Bay and ocean water. I’ll take the humidity of San Francisco and it’s affect on my Middle Eastern hair any day over the dry and arid desert heat.
While we often look to the external world to lead us towards an understanding of how we see ourselves in the world, our inner world is filled with such a vastness and depth that makes our external world feel so finite and limited.
Is it the space, or the time away from my familiar surroundings that allowed me to turn inward? The verdict is still out.
Whether you live in a small desert town in New Mexico, or in San Francisco, or in Manhattan, the decision to turn inwards, is one that can only be found whenever you create the space for it.
I think for now, my desire to leave the familiarity of the known has tempered.
In the words of Seneca, in the The Last Days of Socrates:
Travel will give you a knowledge of other countries… But travel won’t make a better or saner man of you. For this we must spend time in study and in the writings of wise men, to learn the truths that have emerged from their researches, and carry on the search ourselves for the answers that have not yet been discovered. This is the way to liberate the spirit that still needs to be rescued from its miserable state of slavery.
I’ve satiated a small part of my desire for endless travel and adventure, and take the words of Marcel Proust to heart who once said that “the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”.