|Dramatic cloud over the gorge on our way out of Taos|
A couple of days ago Mark Gordon the producer of “Awakening in Taos” told PQ and me that he was scheduling another set of interviews for a promotional piece about the film and we were among the interviewees. Although PQ has done this before I haven’t. There was a list of questions to use as a guide I always knew that my personal experience of Taos became somehow woven around Mabel and her Taos Pueblo husband Tony Lujan. Perhaps this was because some of the first people I met in Taos, even before moving here were Joe J. Suazo, the adopted grandson of Tony Lujan and his wife Frances, my husband’s parents.and I found that it caused me to focus on what Mabel Dodge Lujan meant to me personally.
1. Why is this an important story?
Mable turned shit into fertilizer, social lead into gold. Sometimes it was rough unrefined gold but nevertheless she like many influential people took her sorrows and used them to lay a few bricks on the path of social evolution. Not only did she have an influence on history, but changed the way we perceive history. And on that note, I don’t believe her influence is confined to the past. Much of what she was attempting to do is happening now and in the future.
She was a visionary who recognized that indigenous people held something in their way of life that is very important about being human and it’s missing in the dominant culture. One of the things I like about Mabel was the naiveté and freshness in her self-discovery. Some people tend to focus on her personal flaws and emotional weaknesses, and this goes well as a soap opera. This makes her very human, and we can all enjoy gossip, but if it wasn’t for her social influence, we wouldn’t even find her personal life interesting today.
Way before her time, she recognized that Western Culture was out of balance. It wasn’t very good for humans and it gave them a disease that was harmful to themselves and to the earth. On a personal level, she admired the flow of life based on natural rhythms that she found in the culture of Taos Pueblo. She lived in a time when the western world had begun furiously embracing technology and its destructiveness was already beginning to show. She saw the raw beauty of Taos, at that time very backward and it became her Shangri-La.
Of course, she was also a woman at the beginning of the feminist movement and supported women’s rights. However, pure political feminism wasn’t really satisfying to her as it was actually detached from the natural powers of women. Women’s powers can’t be fulfilled by merely adapting a masculine style of militancy. She found social and spiritual sustenance in a world quite different from that world of concrete, steel and hard corners.
|Historic house in Santa Fe. I love this doorway.|
Essentially Mabel came and embraced Taos and its artistic and Indian world because she was starved for soul. Way beyond her time she responded to a basic human craving for all that was missing in the moneyed class structured world into which she was born.
2. Why are you passionate about this film?
Ever since I learned about Mabel and her connection with art, Taos and Tony I recognized that much of what brought Mabel to Taos was what brought me to Taos. In 1992, I had been visiting Taos for three years and yet my fascination with the place had no particular focus. That year I became interested in learning everything I could about Indigenous people and what they lost as a result of their contact with European culture and also what they had to give that European culture needed for a viable life on this planet. Anyway, it was obvious to me that Indians had always valued the qualities that our masculine ruled, competitive, technologically oriented dominant culture had lost. We need to restore the yin/yang balance if we humans were going to survive our own success. I have been a bit sad that no one has carried on with the same vision after Mabel passed, but perhaps now is just the right time to reactivate what her life was. When Mark Gordon began this project, I was very excited and I saw it as a sign that this story’s time had come around again. I knew that I had to contact Mark, and I wanted to do whatever I could to support it.
3. How did you feel and what did you think after seeing Chapter Three: Drawn to Taos, about Mabel Dodge Lujan?
Of course, I enjoyed it, and it reinforced what I already believed about Mabel. The story is finally out from Mabel’s point of view. We get to see the emotional dynamics of her drastic life style change. It was a rebirth, a true transformation. She had been trying to make her New York life work and it was such a big effort. There were parts of it that fit but the core, the heart was missing. Thus, her marriage to Maurice required a lot of effort because it wasn’t from her essence. But, she didn’t know what was missing in her life until she got to Taos.
4. Why do you think that women today would be interested in learning about Mabel and Tony?
It is a story of self-discovery, acquiring independence from a confining background and discovering ones power to represent subjects of genuine personal and social value. Mabel became an advocate for wholeness on her own terms. She was a very courageous person. From the perspective of the present, we can barely conceive of the courage needed in the early 20th century. She wasn’t perfect; she did some self-destructive and foolish things. She tried on trends and political stances that look dangerous and naïve now, but she kept going, and in the process made her own tracks along a path that others could take to the future.
5. As a 21st century woman, how do you feel about the issues that Mabel was dealing with in the
early 20th century?
Some of the words and actions of progressive women of Mabel’s time now seem naively idealistic; as I’m sure, some of ours will in a few years. Many of the slogans of the 60s and 70s affect us that way already. The issue that bothers me is that in many ways we haven’t made much progress. There is a lot of confusion about what women’s rights and freedoms are. In many ways, women have regressed to seeing themselves as sexual objects and defining freedom in terms of how far to take public seduction. Maybe it’s intended to be a declaration of sexual freedom but it seems more like confusion about what a female human should be. Skimpy uncomfortable clothing, stiletto heels on super high platforms are all about image and the image is about someone whose primary power is the ability to seduce. Women have a natural connection to nature and this image isn’t natural. Although women are now elected officials and business owner’s, equal pay for equal work is still unsettled. The issue of sexual balance is still a work in progress.
6. What issues and concerns are you experiencing in your life that is similar to those that Mabel was championing?
First, the more I think about it the more I am in awe of what Mabel did accomplish. Yet she doesn’t intimidate me even though I haven’t made a similar impact on society or even a small community. I think this is because in certain ways I identify with her. Of course, the obvious thing that I have in common with Mabel is that I’m married to a Taos Pueblo man who happens to be Tony Luhan’s great grandson and he knew Tony and Mabel personally. More importantly, the special side of this is that I’m here in New Mexico and specifically Taos for reasons very similar to Mabel’s reason for being here. I also came from a family and social background that was not supportive of who I am and that set me off on a search for a friendlier environment. Women’s place in society has traditionally been to serve men and their offspring. When I was a child it was assumed that for Christmas I would want a doll and that I would grow up to work as a housekeeper, a receptionist in a doctor’s office or something equivalent. My parents somehow got the idea that I would end up even lower on the social scale than they were and I think this was probably because I didn’t act normal for a girl. They also assumed that I would get married and have children and then I wouldn’t have to work outside. I requested a toy dump truck for Christmas one year and it took two more years before they believed that I really meant it. I always got a doll in addition to whatever else I pleaded out of them in hopes that I would get over whatever was wrong with me. I played doctor with the dolls giving them operations and then sewing them up. I also used them as passengers on a wagon pulled by our Cocker Spaniel Willy, who I pretended was a horse. I wanted to be a dancer and later I wanted to raise and train horses. I was a natural artist but art was an indulgent waste of time and I had to be sneaky about drawing or painting. The same went for reading unless I was reading the Bible and I usually wasn’t. I quite naturally identified with anyone who was marginalized. My first school friends were Mexican and Catholic, both categories frowned on by my Baptist parents. When I became aware of indigenous people, the connection was understandable.