Natalie Goldberg says in Writing Down the Bones, “Become big and write with the whole world in your arms.” I love that. I love the way it makes me feel. When I write I am my mother who cleaned the house every Friday when I was little. Daddy brought home Bob’s Big Boy that night for dinner, the combination plates, so she didn’t have to cook. When I write I am my 4th-grade self walking down the hallway in my stepfather’s house in East Granby, Connecticut, when I heard the radio saying Kennedy had been shot. When I write I am big like the San Jacinto mountains that right now are diminished by the smog between us, but I am big like their massive shoulders, big like they are when the air is clean and you think you can reach out and stroke the ridge line like a sleeping bear. When I write I am the African on a crowded raft hoping to reach Italy alive. I am lost treasure at the bottom of the sea beneath him, gold doubloons among the old white bones. When I write I am the breeze that moves across my skin and still cools me in the early summer day. I am the wind that breaks my green umbrella. When I write I hold the field of sunflowers in my arms beside the path to Santiago de Compostela. When I am big I write with Hitler and George Bush (the son) and Glinda from The Wizard of Oz—they are all in my arms. And Toto, too. When I write I am clouds, streetlights, 4711 cologne, Stalin, Ray Bradbury, Natalie Goldberg. I hold rain and starlight, yerba maté with coconut milk and honey, exhaust fumes from the diesel truck my neighbor drives, eggshells in the trash wet with the whites I have syphoned off for the egg yolks I fed the cats. When I write I hold you and Aunt Doris and Huckleberry Finn in my arms. I hold myself in my arms. I learn to be tender with myself. When I write, I hold you, too, and try to be honest and kind.
Going to the dentist makes me vulnerable. When I lived in Sebastopol I endured a long stretch of dental work. After each visit, I walked to Putto and Gargoyle. (It is now P&G Art.) I would breathe the sweetness and whimsy of this airy shop, take home a fat round mug or a big glazed candlestick to comfort me after my ordeal. It became a tradition. So when I had pre-crown work done earlier this month, I went to Crystal Fantasy and bought myself a pendant, an aqua aura, clear quartz infused with gold. They gave me a black cord, so I can wear it around my neck. Today I do my sun salutations in the courtyard. When I hold plank pose, the aqua aura dangles below my face. It has never looked so blue. I wonder if it’s picking up the sky, or if it’s the way the light reaches it when it hangs free like this. I move to downward dog and the crystal comes to rest against the tip of my nose. I want to giggle. I am a little kid with a magic stone glued to my nose. When I surrender to chavasanah I’m in tears. I am crying and laughing at the same time. It comes to me that I am doing good work. I know I am okay, even though I didn’t get up early to weed the tecoma bed beside the road, even though I still haven’t started my fall prep. I am crying and laughing because these things are true and still I know I am okay. I am doing good work. I am finding small ways to be easier with myself, kinder to myself. And maybe all my tiny efforts have added up to this small window of knowing I am enough just as I am. I sit up on my knees, my feet tucked under me, hands together in front of my heart. “Namaste,” I say. I touch my forehead to the mat, bowing to the light in each and every one of us. After, I roll up my yoga mats, and I am singing. “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine,” I sing. My voice is quiet, tender, dear to me. I am enough just as I am. I keep singing. “Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.”
I like to wake up slow. When Sable is beside me, I turn over for morning kisses, pettings and rubbings of his soft furry face against mine. Today he takes off before kisses. Sofia comes instead. She never used to want to be touched, but now the cat she has become will present herself for affection in rare moments. (These times tend to be when I’ve just begun to work on the computer or have just sat down to dinner, and she’s pushy about it. I remind myself I don’t know how long she’ll be here because there is something about the way she invades I don’t find at all endearing.) This morning she is quiet. She gets in my face but then sits down. She lets me kiss the top of her head, stroke her cheeks. She stays for a long time. I talk to her about not hanging on for my sake, remind her to let me know when she’s ready to go. “I’ll help you go night-night,” I say. It makes me cry, good tears. I’m not open to her as often as I’d like to be, so this feels right. Then she decides to run off the bed, quick, jerky movements. She knocks my mini iPad to the floor. I yell at her. I remember I don’t want to yell at her. “Arrrgggghhhhhhhh,” I say, sotto voce, like the whisper of cheering baseball fans on the radio. But then I tell her she’s a creep. If I remembered to stop yelling, couldn’t I not call her names? Still, maybe it’s progress of a sort. I will add name-calling to the list, I think, as I walk to the door. I let the cats outside, step out into the courtyard with them. I say my little morning prayers. I try to forgive myself for yelling at Sofia (yet again). When I “come to,” when my eyes focus, I’m staring at the big waning moon just setting behind the San Jacintos. It is framed, postcard perfect, between the smooth green limbs of our Palo Verde. It makes me stop, this miracle, this affirmation of life, of magic in the world—this big gift. I stand there, grateful, and everything else seeps out of me. I watch, not moving, until she disappears behind the ridge. Goodbye, moon.
I read Natalie Goldberg’s chapter “Be an Animal” (from Writing Down the Bones). Her words surprise me. I’ve read it I don’t know how many times before, and yet it’s all new to me tonight, each image glistening and precise. She talks about how we are writers even when we are not writing. She tells us to be like the cat, all senses focused on our prey, ready to pounce. She urges us out into the world like this. It’s the way we are when we travel, I think, all the more so in a foreign country. But we can do it here, too, on our own block, across our own town. I discovered this on a Thursday when I left my car with my mechanic in Ukiah, half the day until it would be ready. I shouldered my day pack, walked across town. I came upon a small, deserted cafe, sat by the window, drank tea with half-and-half and honey. I explored the residential neighborhoods west of State Street. I stopped for giant zinnias, hummingbirds, a red front door. I stood for a long time listening to a mockingbird singing in a tall tree on a corner. I let myself move from street to street, changing directions on impulse the way I do in a strange city even though I knew Ukiah, even though it wasn’t new to me. I let it feel new. Without trying, I met it with Zen’s “beginner’s mind.” I remember coming upon a row of small businesses. The flower shop had buckets of red dahlias and yellow sunflowers sitting out on the sidewalk in the early morning shade. It woke up in me my old dream of having my own place for flowers, soup, books, the day’s used newspapers and a messy pile of paperbacks on the window seat. I used to picture myself sweeping the sidewalk in the mornings, setting up shop for the day. I loved the quiet satisfaction of the dream. That morning in my wandering I went across the street to a little park, put my pack on a bench, did my qi gong facing southwest under a big redwood. Later, I walked to the county library, went online, checked in with my students, did some grading. Ordinary things, but because I was in a strange chair breathing different air, I stayed more awake. In the heat of the summer afternoon I walked from the library to pick up my old red Jetta, my beloved Lolita Roja. I could still feel it, the mountain lion pace in me, watching, smelling, tasting the air as I walked through the streets of Ukiah.