Palm Springs, My Love (17)

Hot air, brace against it. Remember to breathe, let it embrace you instead. Clear air today, the San Jacinto mountains so close you are sure you could stretch out your arm and pluck a jagged rock from the nearby ridge. More room on the sidewalks in summer. The city leans back, like vacation in a small seaside town. Palm Springs, I love you. I kiss you—you kiss me back, warm breath against my arms, my legs. I close my eyes and lift my face, inhaling you.

[Editor’s note: One of my ideas for earning money in a joyful, heartfelt way now that my income has shifted is to write spontaneous prose poems downtown for donations. This is my first effort for one of the business owners there. I told her she could pick a topic or I would just write what comes to me. She chose Palm Springs. The way she said the name it could have been a lover. I didn’t do it consciously, but I see now I have used her voice here. It was quick and fun, and by the last line I was fully “in it.” After, I took a picture of it with my iPad. I am torn about that part. Is it okay to want to keep them for myself, too? Or do I need to let them be gifts going out into the world without me? I look forward with good hope to writing more. Maybe I can find a way to do them one afternoon or evening a week? Two?]

A Pile and a Prayer (46)

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.

I Won the Lorian Hemingway Short Story Competition

newsclip of my contest win (Lorian Hemmingway Short Story Competition)

Here is the little Associated Press newsclip that got picked up in newspapers and posted on their websites. I also have a couple of pieces started about how it has all felt, but they still need to sit for a while. I have not yet fully digested the experience. But I didn’t want to wait any longer to tell you, my dear readers. I will say when I see the 857 entries it makes me gulp. And when I read about the community college professor who won the contest, I get a little thrill. It’s me, I think. It’s me.

[Here is the link to an online version in case you are relying on a screen reader: http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2015/07/25/us/ap-us-hemingway-days.html?_r=0]

Become Big, or When I Write (13)

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.

A Jolt from the Universe (47)

When I am posting the little flyers I’d made for the drop-in writing circle, I send off little hopes and prayers with them. May it be sweet and safe, I ask. When Laurie tells me she felt safe in our first circle, I hear that echo, send my thanks. And before we begin yesterday, the universe gives me a bit of a jolt I am pretty sure is tied to that same prayer, that same hope: sweet and safe. We’d opened the back doors of the hall, moved the big round table in front of them, sun and air beside us. It is just before eleven. I light a candle in the center of the circle. Laurie and Sharon are sitting at the table, and I’m standing beside it. A woman marches across the long hall, plants herself near Laurie’s elbow.

“Are you coming to join us?” I ask her.

“No,” she says. She stands where she is, a soldier at attention.

“Well, did you think you wanted to watch us?” I ask.

“Maybe,” she says.

“Well,” I say, “I’m not sure I’m comfortable with that.” I’d thought about this earlier. We were not looking for an audience.

I haven’t finished my sentence when she does an abrupt about-face and marches back across the hall. She has her arms at her sides, and she is flapping her hands back toward me as she walks, as though she can swat away my words, keep them from following her.

“Um, what is the flapping of the hands?” I ask. And, “Are you really not going to talk to me?” She keeps walking away, keeps flapping her hands in my direction. “I’d be happy to have a conversation with you about this,” I say.

She reaches the door at the other end. “Maybe,” I think I hear her say as she walks out again.

We are all a little stunned. I have to check. “Was I inappropriate in my response?” I ask. They say I wasn’t. I have to shake it out of me then, a kind of invasion I feel in my body. I wave my arms around in the air above the table. “Whoosh whoosh whoosh,” I say. A different flapping of hands, I think now. As best I can figure, this odd jolt is a message. I take it as encouragement and a reason to trust. Maybe it says we can keep our space safe no matter who comes along. And maybe it says, “Certain beings will be led away.”

Our First Circle (46)

Our first writing circle was sweet sweet sweet. There were four of us, and we did two eleven-minute writing sessions. I loved what everyone wrote. They were vivid and filled with marvelous details. My critic was up, though, and grumbled in my ear when I was writing. It was hard to keep the pen moving, to resist crossing out words as I wrote. I think I never really “dropped down,” wasn’t able to let it come through me with any sense of ease. Was that because even though I said I didn’t want to be a leader here, even though I want to be only a participant, by virtue of instigating it, of bringing the prompts, of explaining the mechanics, I felt like I needed to “perform” at some acceptable level? Or was it the cup of green tea I couldn’t resist drinking before I arrived? Or could it have been only because I haven’t done this in a long time, because I had hopes, had expectations? I wanted to feel the magic that can happen on the page. It makes me sad I wasn’t able to surrender to it. I used to find my way there more often. It used to be easy, like walking through an open doorway, like being invited in to sip tea by the big window overlooking the lake. I told Laurie later how critical I felt about my own writing, how strong and beautiful I found the pieces they each read. “Beginners luck,” she said. She wrote a prose poem I hope she’ll work with more. She told me she’d felt safe there, and that was a boon for me, balm to disconcerted ears. It made me glad and grateful. I helped make that happen.

More Musings from the Kitchen Sink (42)

Sunday night I made a bold move. I retired my old scrubbie and Trader Joe’s kitchen cloth to a home beneath the sink, relegated now to dirtier tasks. Monday I am washing dishes with the new pristine scrubbie. I feel exuberant with morning energy, new day joy. The perfect aqua kitchen cloth sitting wet at the edge of the sink makes me happy, too. Should I take a picture of this one, like the yellow one? I imagine a series of photographs of kitchen cloths lined up at eye level across a white gallery wall. I don’t know how many have come between this delicious aqua and the famed yellow one. I know the last one was orange, probably the last two since I cut them in half. When I decided to splurge and spring the new ones from the drawer, I actually had to think about it first. The old ones weren’t terrible yet. As I run the new soapy scrubbie inside one of the cats’ dinner bowls I think about how this level of frugality came from having an immigrant mother. I am so white, so middle class, I forget I am the daughter of an immigrant. It shapes you, makes you different. Today my mother probably wouldn’t think twice about switching out her kitchen cloths, but it came to me when she was young, when she was new to this country. I think about how frugality is good, how not being wasteful is important for the environment, too, the right thing. I even picture my old scrubbie and cloth in the landfill. Then I tell myself these are small things. I try to be careful. I’m not dumping a television set. I finish washing the dishes, run a dry cloth along the edge of the counter. I think about how the sight of the aqua cloth beside the sink makes me happy. People will think I’m crazy. There she goes again, that odd, twisty woman and her kitchen cloths. But I’m glad I liberated the new ones. It seems like a small indulgence for all that goofy pleasure. I decide to be reckless and retire this new pair at an even earlier age.