Off and on since the fall, in fits and starts, I return to working on the novel I began a decade ago. I am determined to finish it, still convinced I need to complete it before I can move on to embrace a new big writing project. Like pulling teeth, I revise and edit the existing typed pages. It seems important to bring the writing current. During November’s National Novel Writing Month I write new pages by hand and type them up then promptly lose them. I found them last week—they sit beside me now, await revising and editing. I cull three notebooks full of scribbles and scraps, recycling most of it. Two ancient loose sheets, folded, and two notebooks each open to a page I may want to save sit here, too, a worn red ribbon that held things together resting on top of the pile. I will type these last bits up next week. I want everything clean, no more mess for this next stretch, not knowing what I have, everything in one word document. The manuscript itself will be unwieldy enough, I think. I’m pretty sure I’m writing scenes that will never make it to the book itself. But that part I don’t worry about. I have faith in that part, certain there can be no wasted effort in this, only added depth if I am lucky. And it’s how I find out what’s going to happen—in the writing itself. Lately, I find myself daydreaming about the story. There is a sweetness in that, too. I stare at the pile and pray away my ambivalence, that my resistance might melt and undivided I immerse myself in the writing. And even as I send off that wisp of prayer I feel a gentle tug, a tiny, eager spark. I wonder what my characters are up to now.
One-day retreat at the meditation center. First two surprises: a silent retreat and “custody of the eyes.” I keep my eyes down except for three accidental glances, feel like a mouse scurrying by in the long grass. It amuses me. In the parking lot, looking at the southern mountains and eating my soup, it comes to me that I could break into wild winged dancing and waving of clothing, unseen (like the mouse). Our teacher breaks the silence now and then. She is calm, open, funny. Once she speaks of our soft animal bodies, and I think of the poem. She is like that to me, a soft animal, a big, peaceful bird, maybe, a brown pelican, part big cat, too, sleeping in the sun. While we sit I feel again the hard weight in my chest. I am reading Andre Norton now, and I think of quan iron, blue-green, touched by magic. A blade of quan iron inside my ribcage. I am fascinated by it, cultivating curiosity. I want to know it, sidestep the urge to be rid of it. I am certain it has worked long and hard on my behalf. I want to honor it. The fourth time we sit I feel so strong it surprises me, and when I check on the quan iron it’s as though my chest is in a different place than it was in the morning. When I come home I can tell there is much more room inside me. The next day, it is gone, but I remember how I felt larger. And I remember how strong I felt in that one sitting, like I was a big oak, or that tree whose name I don’t yet know with the gnarled bark who makes those big blossoms in the fall that litter the ground like starfish.
I hear dove wings through the window, afternoon feeding. Earlier today they scattered, and the Cooper’s Hawk sat on the top of the front gate. I watched him through the branches of the guayaba tree from my cozy perch inside. Today is my last day off, the last in a long, luxurious chain of days. I treated most of them the way I used to treat my Sundays, only doing what I felt like doing, letting the day unfold. I wrote twice, did yoga four times, once yesterday before the sun sank behind our mountains, rare sun salutes, my eyes closed, rich deep orange behind my lids. I baked cookies, ate cheddar cheese, made soup on New Year’s Day. One day I even did the crossword puzzle. Mostly I have read, tucked up in the down blankets, first my worn copy of Tigana and then two books from the library. In between, I let the book close and gaze at the mountains. I relish the quiet and the gift of being able to let my mind wander, to drift in happy, lazy spirals wherever it will. I idly wonder how many students have enrolled in my classes, how many login help requests we’ll have tomorrow. I dream seven ways I might have money come to make up for the upcoming loss of one of my jobs. I remember Sable purring and rubbing his face against the corner of the open carrier in the vet’s office on the day he died. Sometimes I cry. But mostly I am just present, sitting in this glorious sun-filled room, the mountains spread before me. I listen to the cheaps of the house finch at their sunflower seed feeders, and I am so glad for their company and for the sleek dove sitting on the wooden fence right now, and I give thanks for this beauty and this peace and the rich fullness of my heart.
I wake up this morning to an earthquake. It is a long, gentle trembling of our world, the first one in my trailer home. It feels familiar, like I dreamed it or slept through another unknowing during the night. I wait in bed, poised to spring up, grab my clothes and sprint for the door if it becomes violent. After, I sit up to see fresh snow on the mountain, wisps of clouds, all tinted pink by the rising sun. My heart thuds, my own aftershock, but it calms soon, looking out the window. Later, the birds come and the sunlight touches the courtyard, slants through the clerestory windows, gift of the winter sun. I hear the heater, smell my walnuts toasting in the oven, appreciate warmth, electricity, running water, all still here after the earth shakes. I remember the quick leap of terror and am soothed again by the memory of that quiet pink mountain, the exquisite clear air and the truth that all is well.