I hope you’ll enjoy perusing here the 53 posts I wrote while I was 53.
If you’d like to read more, please join me on my new WordPress blog:
I hope you’ll enjoy perusing here the 53 posts I wrote while I was 53.
If you’d like to read more, please join me on my new WordPress blog:
My flash fiction dream the other morning isn’t the first narrated dream I’ve had, only the first time I’ve woken with it more or less intact, the first time I’ve reached for my notebook upon waking, the first time the act of writing fiction merged with the act of recording my dream. I can’t count the times I’ve heard the narrator’s voice or seen the words on the page, have woken knowing it was good, knowing it was worth preserving, only to have it disperse before my eyes, escape my conscious mind completely. I do have one other narrated dream I can still remember because it was so striking, though the details are confused in me now.
The narrative is a murder mystery, a genre I have no experience in, yet it flows without hesitation through the dream, the words elegant and gripping. The narrator is a governess, maybe fin-de-siècle England. I hear her reading the narrative in an English accent. I have no reason to doubt her. She is typing the narrative as she reads it, telling the story of the disappearance of one of her charges, a young woman. She is worried about the girl’s welfare, disturbed by the rumors she has run off with her lover. But better the scandal, she thinks, than some unwitnessed fall off the cliffs, her body washed out to sea. Better, she thinks, to imagine the dear child is alive somewhere in the world, yes? Her concern is evident. She cared about this woman child. The camera pans from right to left. I remember empty rooms, the sense of being high up in an old stone castle, the sea far below. I see the governess in a room with white walls, typing at a bare wooden table, a tall narrow window flung open in the wall behind her. I hear the sound of the typewriter keys, the carriage returns, the governess’s voice telling the story, how much she wants to know what has become of her young charge, how much she hopes she’s safe, unharmed. The camera continues to pan toward the left through the empty room. Beyond the desk I see a young woman hanging by her neck from a thick, course rope. The governess continues to type.
I remember the shock I felt when the dead body came into view. The chill went all the way through me, sent me seeping back into wakefulness, my body tingling, on its heels my indignant surprise. I felt shocked, even betrayed. I’d had no idea my character had killed her until that last grisly moment when the camera’s lens finds the dead girl dangling from the ceiling.
Today I wake up a writer. The jumble of my morning dreaming ends with a short narrated dream. It has a male narrator, maybe in his late thirties, and the dream is almost whole when I wake. I know if I doze it will be gone, so I run it through my mind again, kiss the black ball of fur beside me, and reach, stretching, for my dreams notebook on the nightstand. I embellish the dream as I write it down. It grows three, maybe four times as long. A surprising thing happens on the page, a thing I didn’t plan, something that wasn’t in the dream. He is on the beach with a woman, and he ends up spelling “cunt” in the sand between them with his big toe. The reader doesn’t hear the whole word but knows it is a four-letter word that begins with “C” and ends with “T.” The reader knows it’s an ugly word. I don’t know how much of what I’ve added I’ll remove again. But I know the arrival of the four-letter word was magic, even though it shocked me a little, even though I am embarrassed to write it here. It isn’t a word I want to use, but I understand what drove him to write it. I don’t know if she sees the word or not because he erases it with his foot. Then he bends down and leaves a small shell in the smooth sand between the two of them, and he walks away.
I was so pleased to get the dream down on paper. It was a funny mix of recording the dream and letting more of the story come. I knew before I was fully awake it was a good candidate for flash fiction, a genre that appeals to me but which I’ve barely brushed against. And I loved waking up a writer, having fiction pour out of my dreams onto the page, propped up in bed with Sable warm and solid against my hip, the morning sunlight angling across the kitchen. There was something so comfortable, so cozy, so reassuring about it. I really am a writer. Today I know it beyond doubt. I have touched so many different things, but this is who I am at my core. And it turns out I love being who I am. Who knew?
I’ve discovered something I do love unequivocally about writing. I love being a writer. I love it when I feel like a writer. I love having lines of prose come to me in odd moments, placing the big cat bowl filled with fresh water on the kitchen floor, waiting at the bus stop, rounding the corner on Camino Real. These days I don’t often race to my notebook or try to engrave the words in my brain until I get home, but they do feel like evidence of the way being clear. And there is an element of being in both worlds. I like that. I like knowing I am alive in both worlds, present in both, connected to both. It’s true, when I’m having a line of prose arrive it may make me a bit distracted, a bit not present in this world, but it feels different from just being in my head, different from trying to figure something out, solve some problem, write my grocery list while I’m on my walk, blind to the mountains before me. When the prose comes, I am still in this world. My attention is different, but I’m not absent in the same way. There may be a kind of veil, perhaps, a dreamy gauzy one-step-removed-ness, but I stay in my body, remain grounded, centered. I love this. I love having ideas about my characters or tiny tweaks to something I’ve been revising fall into place when I’m riding my bike or raking up the bougainvillea blossoms. I love thinking, oh, I should write about that, when the man walks away with the Von’s shopping cart I had planned to use to get my heavy bags of laundry to the other side of the shopping center, when I tell him I’m going to be using it and to please leave it there and he says, “No,” and walks away with it. When my eye is on the story in things, I feel the most engaged, the most grateful, the most like myself. It is in these moments when I know without doubt–I love being a writer.
I need to post three more posts while I’m fifty-three. I have them crafted, just need to polish them a bit. These last three turned into a kind of little series (all by themselves). I’ll be posting them soon.
My plan had been to begin a new blog (as I did last year) once my birthday arrives. But because I now have a little following here, I don’t think I want to take the chance of leaving you behind. So, sometime next week, I plan to change the URL of the blog, and just continue posting here. (I’ll explain it on the “About” page, probably pick a new “theme” each year, and so on.)
I wanted to warn you, just in case my followers won’t remain intact when I change the URL sometime next week. If that happens, please try Googling “no holds barred and riba taylor”—my changed blog should come up.
I’m hoping it won’t come to that, though. I don’t want to lose you. Banish the thought–poof! poof!
I get a late start on the day, and I realize I can’t let even that be okay. I let it ride me all morning like I am wrong, a crow hovering just overhead, scolding me. It nags at me while I do the dishes, pokes at me while I sweep the floor. If I must be so attached to judging, I wonder, shouldn’t I wait to scrutinize until the end of the day? Can’t I allow myself the day’s unfolding before I decide I’ve fallen short? Is it not possible I slept until the exact perfect moment for myself today? Even though now it is already after noon, could I not be having the exact perfect day? Might I not still find myself come evening with enough essays graded, enough blog posts written, a good half hour of qi gong and a second lovely walk to gaze back on? Enough to feel like I did good, like I met the invisible mark, like I’m okay? It makes me sad to think the freight train whir, the nothing I do is ever enough pattern, hard metal on the rails and chung of moving steel plays through every moment of my day, subliminal, echoing, endless.
I lost a class this semester, and even if I didn’t need to find ways to bring in more money to make up for it, I would still think I needed to work harder, do more writing, trim the pyracanthas, practice papier mâché. I would still think I needed to use those extra hours I’d been allotted every week. It never occurred to me until today that maybe after all my long years of working hard it might be okay to take it easier for one semester. It might be okay to just do what needs to be done, to slide into taking longer walks and let myself be seduced into quiet afternoons reading under the umbrella. It never occurred to me until just now that maybe losing this class was the universe telling me to take a bit of a vacation. But I like the idea, even coming late to it as I am. I stretch my legs out on the chair before me and lean back. Where did I leave my reading glasses?
I wake up Friday morning with a sentence in my head. “I’m never going to have a baby.” I always knew I wanted to be pregnant, knew I wanted to carry a baby inside me, grow round and heavy, even when I was afraid of giving birth, even when I waffled about raising a child. I’ve known for years it wasn’t happening, not this lifetime. I don’t know what odd fitful spitting of neurons, what elusive dream has me recognizing it again now before I am fully awake, as I lay belly down in my warm bed, the birds making a lovely racket outside my open door, my two furred ones nestled against my calf and curve of back. I think about how I’d decided to have a child on my own, had begun to do my research. Then I met Joe. The day I first laid eyes on him on the bus, I came home to a message on my answering machine from a potential sperm donor. I turn now on my side, trying not to jostle my felines, remembering the voice on the machine, the bizarre timing. But Joe didn’t want anymore children, and I wanted a life with him more than I wanted a child on my own. I chose Joe. I remember standing in the doorway looking across the bedroom at him, wondering if he had saved my life, if I would have died in childbirth. I stretch and extricate myself with care, kiss my companions, crawl out of bed.
Hours later, my morning walk behind me and my chores almost done, I am mixing oats and tuna juice and medicinal tea together for the cats. I am ready to be done, longing for my own first cup of tea, my dreamy downtime on the courtyard patio. I place their bowls on the kitchen floor. Sable tastes his, then returns to glare at me where I stand beside the stove. He sits there, waiting for rectification. I added a few grains of cayenne to the mix this morning. How could it possibly make that much difference to him? Seven grains between the two of them? I am angry, then, maybe because I am feeling behind in my day, maybe because I am cranky, too long without a proper breakfast, only one tablespoon of almond butter in me yet. I yell at him, maybe because it is so damn frustrating to have him waltz away from his full bowl when I already worry he is too thin. I don’t want him skipping breakfast, am afraid he can’t afford to, so I take out tomorrow’s oat concoction to start over, no cayenne this time. I place the glass bowl on top of the toaster oven to warm it. But I don’t just sigh my helplessness, my worry–I yell at him some more. I say things to make him feel guilty for not liking the food, for making all the work I just did be for nothing.
“I work hard for you,” I yell. I know how ridiculous I am, but I don’t stop. “This food doesn’t just materialize,” I say. He looks at me like I’m crazy, which I am. He walks outside, and I make my tea while the oven takes the chill off the second batch of food. I sit under the little red umbrella and sip the hot, sweet tea. I let things slide off me. I remember my waking thought, and I think about how good it is I don’t have children. I would have yelled at them the same way. It would have been bad, doing that to a child, making them feel wrong. I want to learn not to yell at my cats, but they don’t take it on, don’t take it in the way a child would. They have thicker hides. And they don’t speak English. They avoid me until my sanity returns. I apologize to Sable while he inspects a cluster of rocks beside the small palm. There must be signs of invasion because his sniffing is serious. “I’m sorry, Boo,” I say. I tell him a few times. He blinks at me. All is forgiven. I’m never going to give birth, I think again. This is a good thing. I have my hands full learning how to tend to the little ones I already have.
“Write about five days you would like to do over,” Maureen says. We’ve arrived for our Monday night writing workshop. The room still buzzes, takes time to quiet. (This was the kind of thing I couldn’t tolerate when I was new to teaching and taught face-to-face.) Maureen is patient, though. She sits, quiet, tells us again. My mind begins counting my regrets before my black Pentel touches paper. But she goes on. “You might choose to write about things you’d like to do differently,” she says, “or you might want to write about days you would like to live over again.” I pause, pen poised to begin. Is my mouth hanging open? For a moment, I am incapacitated. I don’t think it would have occurred to me to choose my best days, my sweetest moments. It shocks me, this harsh focus of mine I have lugged around for years. Relive that last exquisite day in Hopland with Joe? No question. That January afternoon in 1989 in the bathhouse at Wilbur when the snow was falling? My heart pounds. Yes, and yes. I decide to choose three regrets and two re-livings for our 15-minute freewrite. I don’t finish, but I go deep, scribble fast. I have to force myself to put down my pen, minutes after Maureen has called the time. I surface enough to know David is reading his work, and I need to listen. I wonder if I would have kept writing if it was someone else reading, ignore my responsibility to deliver feedback, risk being rude. Later, I tell Maureen how much I loved the writing prompt. “I think I could do that one fifty times,” I say.
“Maybe fifty blog posts?” she asks. “Fifty-four?” She smiles, raises her eyebrows, tilts her head. I look back at her, wordless. My mind lurches to catch up.
It feels big. Maybe, I think. Maybe fifty-four posts while I’m fifty-four, or maybe I’ll do this one when I’m fifty-five. I know I want to write about Mexico. I know I want to write my dreams. Now I know I want to write about moments and days I’d like to “do over” if I could. I don’t know what I’ll choose for my next year of posts, and I tense a little at the thought. My birthday is hurtling toward me. I need to decide, need to know. So I pray. I pray to know. I reach for trust. I’m grateful to be faced with the dilemma of choosing. It is a richer debate, a sweeter anguish, to be mired in choices. If I had no ideas, I know their absence would be agony. I should always be plagued by a plethora of possibilities, I think. “You should be so lucky,” I hear, a soft voice, a Yiddish accent. I almost laugh. I wonder what I’ll choose. And then I wonder if it will choose me.
The first time I saw the beach near Todos Santos, I felt like I’d traveled back through millenniums in the thirty minutes it took me to walk through the desert to reach the ocean. I moved across the untouched sand in prehistoric time, the first human to reach that part of the Pacific. I walked by the lagoon, and big clouds of birds rose into the sky. I’d never been among wild birds in those numbers before. I remember watching the brown pelicans glide along the edge of the sea. I’d seen handfuls of them in Loreto, skimming the Sea of Cortez, but the numbers in Todos Santos staggered me. I’d see twenty or more pelicans hugging the water while they flew, their formation ever fluid, ever shifting. I watched in awe, their huge wings, their impressive sturdy beaks, the way they were always in motion, so near the surface of the sea but never touching it, never butting wingtips. I never grew tired of watching them, these huge birds so full of grace and power.
The first time I came upon a flock of pelicans at rest, I laughed out loud. Their height surprised me, like small people standing there on the sand. They seemed human, their big eyes so knowing, fastened on my own. Earthbound, they were less graceful, even gangly. But they seemed wise watching me, like kind old men minding a toddler. It wouldn’t have shocked me to hear them speaking in my mind like denizens of Andre Norton’s Witch World.
But I never did. I’d stand at a respectful distance, greet them out loud, accept their perusal, old ones to young whippersnapper. I’d marvel at their numbers, shake my head over our pristine surroundings, the timeless Pacific, the empty beach ahead. And when I said goodbye to them to head north along the water’s edge, I’d feel their gazes on me, and I’d sense their understanding of what had just passed between us was greater than my own.
[Editor’s note: This bottom picture is a scan of a photo from an old newspaper article on Todos Santos. I think it may have been published in The Desert Sun, but I’m not certain. (My apologies about that, but I only saved the image.)]
All of us here in the room
but not all of us here yet, I think
choosing to be present now as we write
feeling the balls of my feet on the cold floor
grounding myself on the page
hearing other people’s pens scratching, soft hands sliding across paper.
I smile as I write
loving being in a room together writing.
My mind wanders
not easy, this first abecedarian, this moving
on to the next letter with every line
prevents my flow.
Quieter in the room now
stilted but still fun
tongue pressed against the roof of my mouth, concentrating
under my elbows
X marks the spot.
You are here now, too
zero to stillness, to center, in twenty-six lines.
[Editor’s note: I was introduced to the concept of the abecedarian in my Monday night writing workshop. This was my first try during the workshop on February 6th. It was fun to do. It fascinates and intrigues me how something so simple can shake us up, break the lines of the box. I like it. At home I looked up the word, and I see it also means “a person who is just learning; a novice.” Hence, the title for my first abecedarian.]