Five Days (48)

“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.

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Little Old Men (47)

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.

pelicans on the beachmore pelicans on the beachThe 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.)]

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The Abecedarian’s Abecedarian (46)

All of us here in the room
but not all of us here yet, I think
choosing to be present now as we write
dropping down
entering in
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
jubilant
knowing
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
relishing this
stilted but still fun
tongue pressed against the roof of my mouth, concentrating
under my elbows
varnished
warm wood
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.]

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The Gap Between My Selves (45)

I lost a 4-unit class this semester because of low enrollment. Now I have seven units instead of eleven. I found out on a Friday, and that evening I was running errands, meeting Marylou and Richard for dinner. I remember riding my bike across the parking lot of Smoke Tree Commons, heading toward the wheelchair access by the bank that leads out to the sidewalk on Palm Canyon. I realized I felt like I had failed. All of my I’m-a-bad-person stuff was lit up. It broke all logic, brought tears, fifteen seconds of agony. I was tender with myself, the asphalt blurring beneath my feet on the pedals. I knew it wasn’t true. I’d done nothing wrong. I knew I’d be okay. I even knew there was a gift in this, both seen and hidden blessings, more time, more room, an unseen chance waiting, wings not yet unfurled.

But it still hurt, scared me, made me vulnerable. It was a big loss, a slash, the universe mocking me, my perfect semester, my best in ten years of teaching, now in shreds. I cried for a few minutes that night when I got home, and Sable butted his head against my chin again and again, pacing back and forth beside me on the bed. Saturday was easier. Maybe it was the yoga in the park. I felt buoyed by my belief in the rightness of things, my trust in the universe. Then Sunday morning the cats refuse to eat their breakfast, and I want to throw their bowls across the kitchen, purple glass smashing into the wall. I want to shriek at them. I don’t. I write instead, railing at the universe. It feels like being four years old, standing in the hallway, screaming “I hate you!” at my mother. It feels that wrong. Still, I want to kick, scabbing my shins, to scrabble fingernails across wood, shrieking until I am hoarse.

I want to be the kind of person who can say, “Oh my. Look at that.” I want to be the kind of person who can marvel at losing almost 40% of my income for the semester, at what it might mean. “I wonder what the universe has in store for me?” I want to smile when I say that. I want to trust fully, to relish the promise about to unfold. I am not there yet. But maybe I am close. Maybe I am in between who I am becoming and who I was. Maybe the fact that I was not able to work up a good tantrum is a funny sign of progress, only another stride or two to close the gap between my selves. Maybe I am closing it now even as I write. Because I did cry a little more when I railed against the universe on the page, and I feel better now. I can notice the sparrows in the yard, feel the cooling shade on my upper arms, my left foot asleep on the edge of the wooden chair before me. It comes to me that this semester may still be my best ever. Why would I think otherwise only because it isn’t the shape I planned? I smile, sheepish, and wonder what magic might be waiting.

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Moments (44)

photo of a Cooper's Hawk sitting on a branchI was sitting one morning on the patio thinking about how I needed to quit drinking my yerba maté. I know this because I try to take note when birds arrive, try to find a why. I heard a commotion from my House Sparrows and looked around. I found the Cooper’s Hawk sitting on the dead limb of the pine tree in my neighbor’s yard. It’s one of her regular perches, a place she lands when she has swooped past the tray feeder and failed to catch one of my birds. She sat on the branch, looking around, a bit like a cat, I thought, who pretends he wasn’t really trying for that bird he just missed, who doesn’t want to appear foolish or inept in case you are looking. The hawk just seemed above it all. (No pun intended.) She launched herself to a nearby branch, out of my line of sight, and I leaned forward in my chair to bring her back into view. She was alert, scanning her territory. When I leaned forward I saw what I overlooked on my morning walk, what was hidden from my spot on the patio–the waning moon, a big crescent, pale white in a pale blue sky, just visible beneath the arching limb of the pine, poised above the ridge of the mountain. I scrunched forward, looking at the moon, watching the hawk, humbled and grateful for the moment when I became part of it all, that moment when everything goes still, sharp, vibrant. I heard the tell-tale crunch of Sofia stealing Sable’s dry food and went inside to rescue her from it. When I came back out, the hawk was gone.

[This photo of a Cooper’s Hawk is from Wikipedia and has a Creative Commons license. Used with permission. You can find out more about the image here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Accipiter-cooperii-01.jpg.]

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If My Soul Were a City (43)

If my soul were a city it would be called Sueño. Dream. It would sit beside the sea, and the citizens would serve the sea creatures in our bay. The whales would come, and we would stand ankle-deep in the wet sand to scrape barnacles from their backs or tread water beside them to help with difficult births. Cars would not be allowed in our seaside town, and everyone would know three or four languages–everyone would speak both Spanish and English fluidly and each of us would know a third or fourth language, as well. When travelers came, they would park outside our city and walk in or ride the solar-powered monorail. If they didn’t speak English or Spanish, the bells would ring and someone who spoke their language would respond to get them settled, show them their way, make them welcome in our town. We would be a desert city, and we would have a desalination plant to bring fresh water to our splashing fountains and our luscious rooftop gardens. We would gather in our plaza at dusk, our zócolo, and add our voices to the calls of the Great-Tailed Grackles. We would sing our prayers for peace, our agradecimiento, our gratitude, and when the last light began to leave the sky and the grackles settled to sleep in the jacarandas our singing would quiet, and we would walk home in small groups or by ourselves, in silence, only our footfalls in the sandy dirt, on the stone streets, only the whoosh of our skirts, the murmur of the sea in the distance. If I were a city I would be filled with color and texture, fuchsias and granite and woven cloth with soft nubs. I would be filled with birds, with caterpillars, with leopards who licked mango juice off the sticky hands of toddlers. If I were a city I would be between borders, between worlds, sandwiched between the desert wilderness and the vast Pacific. If I were a city I would sleep long hours every night and short hours every afternoon, and everything would be closed on Sundays the way it was when I was a little girl living in Tujunga. If I were a city I would sing to welcome the morning sun and rock our world to sleep each night. If I were a city I would be a home, a light, a cradle, a dream always coming true.

[Editor’s note: I wrote this piece in the 10-week Monday night writing workshop I am blessed to be a part of. The workshop is sponsored by Inlandia and is led with sweetness and grace by Maureen Alsop. The writing prompt was created by Dorothy Randall Gray: If your soul were a city, what would it be called, and what would it be like to live there?]

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Maybe I Do Love Writing (42)

Maybe I do love writing like I’d love a sister who could set my teeth clenching like no other, whose icky tone of voice would mirror mine, who might not speak her judgment out loud but the phone would be alive with it, her pause electric. Maybe I do love writing like an old friend who knows my history, my dark places, my ugliness, who loves me anyway. Maybe I do love writing because it provides this sibling comfort, holds up home to me. Maybe I do love writing because it has so much room in it, because it points me to places I don’t want to go and brings me out on the other side, different. Maybe I do love writing because it tethers me to the planet and sends me marching among the stars. It works my muscles, stretches my cells, makes room inside me like yoga practice opens up my body. It twirls me, spirals me, eats me, spits me out half-chewed, kisses the bruises it caused, makes it all better. Maybe I do love writing because it sings me like the sparrows in the hedge, like the grand piano on the open deck of a slow barge, like the first star in the evening sky who gets our wish.

Maybe I love writing because it carries me, fills me, dumps me upside down in the muddy water, sinks me like a stone, lifts me like a bubble, crashes through me like a sonic boom. Maybe I love writing like I love an earthquake, or like a long, rolling orgasm or sweaty sex, because it is sweet, connected, messy release. Maybe I love writing because it makes me who I am at my core, because it rocks me, because it digs me out from beneath the avalanche unscathed. I love writing because I am a baseball being hit out of the park, or met in a soft well-used leather mitt, cradled, held, honed, happy. I love writing because there is nowhere it can’t take me if I let it, because it lets me speak when my mouth is full of gravel, when the mud sticks to my throat, when grief squeezes me shut. I love writing because I carry it with me wherever I go, breathe it in when I am walking, stroke it with my arm that arches out of the water when I swim, brush it with my broom that sweeps the kitchen tile. I love writing because it is always with me, because I am never alone. I love writing because it is my lifeline to myself, to you, to the universe always in motion. I love writing because it spins me, weaves me, pulls my threads tight, makes me whole cloth, keeps me warm, awake, true. I love writing because it makes me never want to stop moving the pen across the page, makes me never want to stop tasting and touching, breathing sound, drinking air, makes me never want to end.

Maybe I do love writing, after all.

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