I spend a lot of time being angry right now. In between bits of grace are wedged, brief moments when I feel like myself, foreign to me for decades in this childhood home. Quick, unlooked for seconds in an afternoon when joy arises, five minutes before we have to leave for the vet when I stand beside the kitchen sink sipping my first hot tea of the day, and I am fully me as the hot spearmint goes down my throat. I sidestep three times, cup cradled at my chest, to stop and drink in the view, as well, the western sprawl of valley and foothills. Or awake in the middle of the night after checking to be sure my mom has not removed her splint, when I lie in bed and hear the owls talking outside the open window. Or right now, typing standing at the kitchen counter to ease my sore hip, while Frank Sinatra sings Christmas songs. “It’s that time of year when the world falls in love,” he sings, and I want to believe it, this year more than ever. Maybe tonight we’ll watch Love Actually. And may all our new year’s dreams come true.
Two weeks ago I did a little ritual just before I left town. I asked for help with my writing, with my resistance to writing. I asked to have fun, to be pulled toward my writing instead of away. It was quick but heartfelt. Now I am in my second week of a 4-week writing class about voices, a teacherless class from Creative Nonfiction. And I’m getting a big kick out of it. The assignment I talked about in yesterday’s poem is from that class. I’ve been doing all the work, eager to complete the lessons, the exercises, to play, to practice. (Often in the past when I signed up for a self-paced class like this I ended up not carving out the time to do the work. But this time it’s different.) Reading Gertrude Stein’s letters for the assignment was entrancing, falling into her familiar cadence, so easy, feeling her voice like an old friend, one I knew well decades ago, the way that carries over, even if you visit seldom in all the years between. After, I became engrossed in the writing. I began at dusk, and then it was 8:30 when I surfaced. Such a sweetness, that sense of getting lost in the writing even when each moment feels so engaging, carried away by the act but very much present. A delicious paradox, a big gift. Thank you. Thank you.
Late in the mid-January week when I begin to make a kind of comeback, return to myself a bit, I get sick. I think it is minor, but it gets worse every day for five days. My fever lasts for two weeks. When it begins, I have a hunch about why it happened (aside from the woman sitting in front of me on the bus who didn’t cover her mouth when she coughed). I think maybe it’s because I started to come back. I scheduled my Valentine’s Day retreat that was prompted by a sleeping dream in early December. I wrote two blog posts, the first ones since November. I was engaged, moving forward, wobbly baby steps. It happened to me once during a weeklong writing workshop. I got sick after days of writing hard stuff, making a start with difficult material. I don’t claim to completely understand it. It’s as if the psyche and the soul are freed up when we make even small forward movement through things that have been piling up or dammed. Then because the blockages disperse on those levels, they crumble in the body, too, and the body washes away the remnants, piles of tree limbs tumbling free. Weeks later, when I am all but well, I wake to this thought again, wry half-grin on my face. (I have a tendency to be wry.) It comes to me then that getting sick and feeling miserable doesn’t strike me as the greatest reward for a breakthrough.
Today I find my way back toward normalcy. I mix two big bags of bird seed, fill the feeders, replenish the hummingbird nectar. I make yesterday’s handwritten revisions to my memoir in the word document, remove pieces that don’t sing, clearing deadwood. Now I am fresh from the shower, renewed, the sliding glass door wide open, my white-crowned sparrows still rustling in the dried blossoms beneath the bougainvillea. The solar Christmas lights have come on, and my two strings of crystals and my magic ring, washed in honeysuckle soap, are hanging in the courtyard, awaiting the moon’s blessings on this new year’s eve. I have miso stock simmering, sending the scent of ginger into the air, and broccoli and cauliflower ready to roast. I submitted my manuscript to the Many Voices Project an hour ago. I have the night ahead of me, good food, a favorite book. Tonight I feel more like myself, quiet inside, even sweetness this morning when I wondered how I might make my way now back to joy. It comes to me I could feel lonely, but I like being here alone, awake to each moment, feeling the year come to a close. I can hear Ted banging pots in the kitchen next door and Rae and Kirk laughing from his trailer on the other side, car sounds one street over, people heading out to celebrate, the noises all muted and homey. I hold still, relishing the sounds of the sparrows, the colored lights in the late dusk, the crickets chirping, the caw of a raven in the distance. Quiet, peaceful, easy. Right.
First, in December there is a three-week stretch where all I can do is what must be done. (It feels like six months.) Even firm commitments, looked forward to, fall away beside the path, grieved for, lost in the tangled weeds. Then there are eight days of no work when I withdraw, retreat to my warm bed on cold winter days. I let myself reread my old favorite books, dear companions. I let myself write, cry a little as fear seeps out of me, let my mind wander, allow ahas to surface. Then big work resumes, both colleges, warmer days, bird sounds through the open windows. I begin to scribble blog posts in my notebook, or things I hope might be blog posts. (I am now terribly behind.) I am not quite back in high gear yet, but I am working and writing. And I begin to dream about truly returning here, to see if little by little I might be able to get current with you, my dear readers. Always dear. Always.
In sleep, one of my narrated dreams, a man’s voice. “It is only in madness our tribe is made whole.” Awake, I wonder. Our artists, our dreamers, leading us home? Or in moving through our darker madness, white supremacy, racism, misogyny, hate crimes, global disaster?
[I plan to post one tweet each day in November @tryingmywings. I thought I’d re-post them here, too. I wanted to do one tiny thing to speak to what is happening in the world, so this is what I’m trying. My weekly-ish blog posts will be interspersed. There may be a bit of overlap if I expand a tweet or shrink a blog post. Do please let me know if it becomes annoying. ;-)
As always, my readers, thank you.]
Chris Erskine, one of my favorite columnists at the L.A. Times, was kind enough to reply to my email years ago. I remember he talked about how writing a column or a blog can be hard because we’re dependent on what happens in our lives. It was the first time I understood the contrast for me, how it moves between plethora and dearth. Because today I want to come back to those two hummingbirds in my living room whose visit I completely missed when I was having a difficult conversation on the phone the other day. And the last time I was on my bird walk, how I was focused on a woodpecker in a nearby oak, when the man beside me said, “Oh, look, a deer.” I glanced up only long enough to see him, to note his short antlers, and went back to looking at the woodpecker. After, I felt terrible. I went looking for the young buck but couldn’t find him. “I’m sorry,” I told the man later when I’d caught back up to the group. “I shouldn’t have let bird trump buck.” But two weeks later, I still feel sad about it, lying on my back in the courtyard after my yoga. I feel sad I was unable to transfer my attention in that moment. I adore deer. If I’d made a real choice, I would have stopped, breath caught in my chest, and watched the deer in wonder. It is still a grief in me, no ease in forgiving myself, in letting even small things like this go. It comes to me I may need to allow the sadness in more when it first arises. Maybe even one brief full moment would do the trick. Maybe an apology to the buck? I coax myself in letting go. I am only human. I’ll miss moments. I’ll mess up others. I’ll get good at forgiving myself. May I rejoice in the times I remember to stop.