Being a writer can be kind of weird. And writing a blog or a newspaper column can be even weirder. I once had an email exchange with one of my favorite columnists for the L.A. Times who pointed out to me we are dependent on what happens. It sounds crazy obvious now, but I’d never put it together before. There’s always the interior world, too, of course. But when we can “hang” that inner world on a scaffolding of outer events, when there’s enough happening both within and without to make connections between them, the possibilities seem endless. This is my eighth year for writing a blog, and I seem to either have endless “Blog?” markings on the pages of my notebook, or I have a dearth of ideas. It feels like a long time since the floodgates were open. Yesterday, I was so glad to have something happen I could write about. But then the weirdness peeked around the corner. I meant to show my ugly bias arising even in the midst of it all. But a sneaky voice hisses at me after I post. “It sounds like you’re trying to pump yourself up, like you’re trying to make yourself look good.” Does it? Really? I only wanted to tell the story the way it happened, so glad there was a story to tell. Maybe, I think, I should’ve explained more about the connection I was making to the day I found out my father was dead, how this time I got to be the stranger who wanted to help. That day all those years ago I let the policemen inside my father’s apartment and wait outside on the concrete landing. One of the women from the place next door comes out and asks me if there’s anything they can do, anything I need. “Do you have any beer?” I ask. (I remember feeling foolish asking.) I’d already found out he was dead. I’d already asked the policemen if there was any beer in his fridge. (That would remain a lingering regret, that he died without any beer in the fridge, without any cigarettes. What was I thinking?) Instead of bringing me a beer on the porch, the woman brings me inside, sits me at their dining room table, hands me an icy bottle of St. Pauli Girl. She and her two roommates gather round. They tend to me through that long afternoon, the lazy Memorial Day holiday, 1985. And then in the fall of that year I dream about my father. “What are you doing here?” I say. “You’re supposed to be dead.” I remember the shock of that first dream. I must not have learned yet how the dead can return to us, living again and again in our sleeping dreams.
I’ve resisted getting a Facebook account for years. I’ve been steadfast in my refusal. But now I think I may be about to give in. Take the plunge. Bite the bullet. Only clichés arise. I picture big families sprawled across the country or living in different parts of the world, grandparents watching videos of their kids’ kids, feeling connected. I get that. But I never wanted it for myself. I still don’t. I don’t want yet another thing I need to do online. I cringe when people talk about “unfriending” someone. I hate the whole tailored commercial aspect of it. The one time I watched a friend log into their Facebook account, the chaotic layout and incredibly busy and badly designed screen made my skin crawl. (This may have changed since then.) I hate the idea of keeping track of people I know like this, monitoring their lives but never talking to them, never even wanting to visit in “real life.” I don’t think I understand that part. And I always imagined having a blog would be enough of an online presence for me as a writer. But I attended a meeting in June for the local writer’s guild, and all three publishers on the panel insisted their authors be on both Facebook and Twitter. So, I’m pretty sure I’m going to do it. Any day now. Maybe even tomorrow. Jump into the deep end of the pool. Sink or swim. No pain, no gain. Unless someone can give me a reason not to succumb? Pretty please?
Today feels like my first day in a long time without any commitments out in the world. I bask in the luxury of it. I go out early, trim the big yellow tecoma. I sit writing in the courtyard, sip fenugreek tea, my left arm getting wet, the hairs on my forearm dusted with mist. (It reminds me of the way the squirrel’s tail was misted in the early morning when I found him dead on the side of Tilton Road in Sebastopol, all those long fine hairs surprising and beautiful. His little form was lying in the crook of “Scary Corner” where the vultures liked to gather. The next day I found a pellet of his tiny bones. I put the collection in a matchbox. I still have them.) My right arm faces away from the misters. It’s wet, too, but just from sweat. It’s muggy and hot. I eat cold watermelon. I do my sitting practice. I have to fight to stay awake. A mourning dove coos from his perch above the tray feeders, and a goldfinch comes to nibble a big leaf on the new batch of sunflowers, that sweet fleeting time, all fresh blooms or buds just about to open, the new bursting energy of them. In between there is work and errands, in and out of the heat in the middle of the day. Later when the sun sinks behind the mountains I sit on the front step to cut my toenails. A bird I don’t know lands on the wooden fence and sings a little song. I’m pretty sure he’s talking to the house finch who are enjoying their evening meal, but I don’t know what he’s saying. He has a graceful curving arc in his throat and beak. When he leaves he flies in a loop above me, as if he wants me to know he knew I was there all along. I write my blog post for this week. I have a story to tell about a gem I uncovered during sitting practice last Saturday, but I am not ready to write it yet. Maybe I am not ready to reveal it. I take warm clothes from the dryer in the dark. I stop to look at the stars. This was a pretty good day.
Yesterday’s blog post seems sour to me. I feel like I want to apologize for it. I want to be able to be frank, to tell my own truths even when they’re dark. But I don’t want to practice that ugliness itself in my posts. Even as I write I realize there is no real way to avoid this (not being a saint). I’m not always going to know when ugliness decides to sneak in without my consent. I don’t blame myself for bristling at what the teachers say or for feeling left out. That’s just human, and I want to be able to be human even when it makes me look petty or ungracious. But I should have said I know the teachers don’t mean any harm. They’re not trying to put themselves above the rest of us, even though that’s how it strikes me when it happens. I know this is true because of how they feel to me as people. Because they wouldn’t do that. This was just their lead-in to talk about their truths, to tell us what they have come to know over time through their regular meditation practice. One of our teachers reminds us often not to take her word for things. The Buddha tells us to experiment for ourselves, to not take anything he claims on faith. But for me, neglecting to acknowledge the teachers’ intentions are not to set themselves above us, are not to exclude anyone—this is not to me the worst part of my last blog post. The worst part is the way I put myself above them at the end. How hopefully I would do better. I would be more inclusive. What crazy hubris was this, and right in the wake of accusing them of the very same thing? I knew I wasn’t comfortable with the post at the time, but I was tired, and I was determined to make my Friday deadline. I didn’t look close, didn’t recognize why it made me squirm. Now I am embarrassed, but I think, too, I’ll just be glad for the humbling in all this. I don’t want to put ugly things out in the world if I can help it, to have them sour the overall flavor of my posts. Even if I end up having to return the next day, belated recognition of what I did without knowing. Please accept my apologies.
On and off all day today I feel like I want to cry. Each time, the small rush of feeling wells up, pushes behind my eyes and stops. No tears. And no real reason, either, for wanting to cry. Unless it is because I am being mean to myself, some subtle, silent conversation going on inside me. I have tried so hard this week to stay grounded in the wake of hectic work. By Tuesday I had already failed. Even Sable’s endless moanings at me weren’t enough to pierce my intense distraction, my other-where-ness. (He is such a good barometer for me. How did I miss that?) Today I lose most of the morning and part of the afternoon. At 2:22 I get to a stopping point with work, and inspired by the numbers I vow to not return to it until 4:44. It is my newest “plan,” to try to fully step away long enough to recover myself. I practice my yoga in the courtyard. After, lying in chavasana, I do cry for a moment, knowing I am being unkind. Real change takes time. I need to be patient, find my way in this. But I don’t want to sacrifice being present with my life for my work. And there are other things. I want to recognize and trust my intuition. I want to know when my tree needs water. I want more red blood cells, a happy thyroid. Lying on my yoga mat beneath the tree, I tell myself I am making good effort. I am growing and healing. But I want it all now, even though I know it all takes time. When I stand up again, I am okay. I am back. Now it’s 3:22. I still have an hour and 22 minutes that are my own. I make watermelon juice and drink it on the patio. I eat a handful of roasted walnuts, read another chapter of Natalie Goldberg’s book. (I am back to Thunder and Lightening.) When she feels “broken or splintered,” she tells us, she returns again and again to Silko’s Ceremony. “I let the ritual of the book,” she says, “make me feel whole again. I’m never ashamed to read a book twice or as many times as I want. We never expect to drink a glass of water just once in our lives. A book can be that essential, too.” It is this last sentence that makes me cry again. I have books like this, books that feed me, mend me, make me whole. But I think I cry because it is such a gift to have this, to know how essential a book can be. Like water. Like air. And I think I cry because of how it speaks to me, the intimacy, the sense of being seen, and a secret longing to be part of offering that, too. Now I am all the way back. I write the first draft of this week’s blog post. I drink more watermelon juice and sit in the courtyard breathing.
I am determined to stay current with my blog this year, so I will post today no matter what. Even if what I post is terrible. Natalie Goldberg does tell us we need to be willing to write the worst crap in the United States, yes? Or in the universe. Though I don’t believe she means we need to be willing to publish the worst crap in the world. Only that we need to not be afraid to write badly. We need to not be afraid of our thoughts, afraid of ourselves. We need to be willing to put everything down on the page—no holds barred. Still, after the act of writing we get to choose. Do I really want Uncle Horace to know this about me? What about the people I work with? Do I really want to publish this even though it seems clunky and unpolished? Am I really willing to be that honest, show that much of myself to the world? It is a choice we face again and again, like deciding not to light that cigarette, not to cheat on our husbands. But unlike failing at quitting smoking, unlike making that decision to light up, choosing to edit out parts of our story doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Right? Each time we send something we’ve written out into the world, we decide how much we want to risk, how vulnerable we want to make ourselves. We get to keep ourselves safe. And I think that’s a good thing. (I can hear the clamor of this controversy even as I write.) Is it without its own dangers? No. We might end up not being willing to take risks in our writing. We might keep ourselves too safe. But knowing it is our choice what to reveal, when to reveal it—that’s a comfort to me (if also a conundrum). Thank you, writing gods. Thank you for that. And here’s to being willing to risk. Here’s to trusting we can still be safe.
I am inclined to ask for your forgiveness in advance for this flurry of posts as I work toward 56 posts while I’m still 56. I have a handful of days left, and two handfuls of posts remaining. But even as I want to apologize for flooding your email with new posts, a different voice tells me its okay. I think maybe even if you don’t have time to read them, you won’t mind seeing them in your inbox. Does that mean I don’t need to assure you that once I’m 57 things will slow down again? But I do want to keep them coming, one each week, five weeks with two posts. Every year I wonder how long I might keep this up. If I am still doing this when I’m 88, then 36 weeks of the year will need to have two posts. When I started I was 52, so it was the perfect fit. I don’t aspire to being 104 and still blogging, but you never know. I let go of this blog so completely last summer, I wasn’t sure I’d ever reach 56 posts. But I didn’t like giving up on it, so here I am. Tonight I am sick but still typing. I am debating what to name next year’s blog. I’m pretty sure the 57 will rhyme with heaven. What photo will I choose? A shot of clouds on our mountains might work, but I don’t have a good one. I have to make that always wrenching decision, too, about whether or not to pick a theme this year or leave things open again. But tonight I just need to finish this one post and trust the rest will unfold as it may. And tonight, too, I feel glad for you, my readers, and for knowing you will not only forgive me for this flurry of posts—you may even embrace them. So, thank you for that. I can’t tell you how good it feels to think that may be true.