I stand at the kitchen sink washing and cutting vegetables for soup. It is late dusk. I work in a small circle of light from the stove. I smell garlic, dandelion greens, leeks, green onions, olive oil. “You can close your eyes,” James Taylor sings. “It’s all right.” A white crowned sparrow’s melodic call comes through the open window, pure, piercing. A fullness wells up in me, that blend of sweetness and sadness, this fleeting life. I slice mushrooms with slow, even strokes of the knife, tears in my eyes.
My day off, I eat soup in bed, devour H Is for Hawk
Open windows, goldfinch sparrow house finch voices loud, happy
Together we savor this still-young year.
I am away from home for a week over Christmas. I send good wishes from afar. May the birds have plenty of seeds. May their water bowls be refilled each day. May all the crickets and daddy long legs and lizards and birds and the trees and plants be safe in my absence. I come back to Palm Springs on Amtrak, take the city bus, walk three blocks with the big rolling suitcase I took with me when I left to carry my presents to my mother’s. I see my bougainvillea, my wooden fence. Doves scatter as I approach. I glimpse a hawk gliding after them across the courtyard. I stop in the middle of the road. The hawk comes, settles on the gate before me. I don’t breathe. Maybe I can’t. The timing is too precise not to feel greeted, welcomed, awed, grateful. I stand still long moments while he watches me. When he flies off, I open the gate. I breathe again. I’m home.
My short story “Between My Ribs” is a finalist for the 2018 American Fiction Short Story Award from New Rivers Press. The 19 stories selected for their anthology are now with the final judge who will choose the first, second and third place winners in the next few weeks. I’ve been eager to tell you, my readers, wanting to share this sweet news, knowing you’ll feel glad for me and wish me well in this. But I’ve been shy about it, too. As I write, I feel big gratitude and quiet glee. But I’m not sure I can do justice to all the feelings this evokes in me. I feel thrilled and grateful and lucky. Of course. And I’m delighted my first publication will be with this university press who I’ve been so fond of for years now. But I feel afraid and sad and uncomfortable, too, and I can’t really point to why. I know I’ve been grappling with my discomfort over wanting to win. I feel honored to be chosen for the anthology, but I would very much like to win the contest, too. I worry about being greedy, so I wrestle with it. “Of course you want to win,” I say. “That’s only natural.” But it sits awkward in me, this wanting it to be more. But maybe I am only afraid of being disappointed if my story isn’t chosen for first place. Maybe it’s as simple as that.
But there is a deep desire in me to win. I want that recognition. I’ve held myself back in so many ways for most of my life, I think. I want to just step forward here. I want to lead this collection. So I’ll ask for your good wishes in this now while the judge is still reading our stories, still weighing his responses to each of them, still sorting through them for himself. I whisper my own prayers into the palms of my cupped hands. I can hear the house finch in the courtyard, and the mountains are clear this morning for the first time in months, keeping vigil with me. I kiss the center of my palms, fold them around each other, bring them to my heart. I sit very still, holding my hope. And then I open my hands, slow movements, the bird released to take to the sky. I grin, lightened, filled with the honor of this gift, at peace in this moment with whatever is meant to unfold next.
And thank you, too, for holding this in your own hearts with me. Just the thought of it makes me want to cry.
[Editor’s note: I don’t know much about Facebook, so this is clunky. But below is both their announcement of the finalists and my own section of that post when you scroll through all the photos. Here I am in my goofy head covering—I got the news when I was staying at the hostel and had to get a photo to them right away, so I took this with my iPad in my favorite chair outside. You can also access the post in their Facebook page here.]
Every day in June I worry the summer will rush past me. I am afraid I won’t do the writing work I want to do, that I will blink and stand at the end of the summer with nothing to show for it. But today I discover a cucumber in my garden. I pause in the courtyard, the cucumber heavy in my palm, my other hand on the door, one foot on the step, about to abandon the hot outside world for the day. I take in the sprawling cucumber vines, the sturdy volunteer sunflowers, the tamarisk that insists on living in one of my pots. I love every blossom and every leaf in this garden. Every cricket, every lizard, every bird. Inside, I peel my cucumber, eat fat slices with pink salt. I relish every juicy bite. After, I sit on the couch and dissolve all my fears about the summer. Instead, I picture myself writing like mad, immersing myself like never before. I close my eyes and feel the next eight weeks, a long expanse stretched out before me, like summer vacations used to feel on the last day of school. I dream each day stretching, too, the time from morning to summer night endless like when I was a kid, moving from one imaginary world to another, never rushing. I dream the days ahead in flashes. Writing in my notebook in the courtyard in the early morning. Laughing on the phone, napping in the worst heat of the day, dreaming, loving every minute. Typing on the couch in the early evening, laptop on my thighs, delicious sips of cold oatstraw tea, mockingbird song through the open windows late at night. I dream a big pile of work at the end of the 59 days, and me—happy.
I didn’t know if I was going to manage my 59 posts this year while I am 59. I lost so many large chunks of the year. For long weeks now, I was still hoping to pull it off, but I knew I might get here and find out I’d have to let go of it, have to let myself not meet my goal for the first time in eight years of this. And I know cranking them out doesn’t allow for as many “gems” as might otherwise occur. I even worry that this crazed flurry of posts might be annoying for some folks. But I feel pretty good about getting them done. And if they aren’t what they might have been given more time to grow on their own, they still tell my stories, yes? (Or that’s what I am telling myself.) I hope to return to one post each week while I’m sixty (and two posts for eight weeks in the year). So I won’t inundate you like this again, and I won’t desert you like I did this past year. I can’t promise, but I think I have a good shot at it. Thank you, my dear readers, for hanging in here with me this year. I didn’t expect to fall so crazily behind. But I’m glad I got caught up. I feel tired but satisfied. Now, if only the recordings I’ve been trying to make of my white crowned sparrows had turned out, so I could share that delight with you, too. Then I’d be tired and gleeful. Here’s to another year of blogging. And thank you all again, for coming, for visiting, for reading. It means a lot to me. You matter.
I am tucked up in the blankets, my three latest “morning” books stacked beside me on the bed. It is new for me to read nonfiction like this and more than one at a time. It takes a kind of effort I don’t want to make when I want to read for pleasure, but now these books have found their way to my mornings, and it feels right. I have three days stretched before me with no out-in-the-world commitments after too hectic weeks. They are busy with work and training but knowing I don’t have to be anywhere is a luxury I revel in. I have bottles of tea wrapped in the corners of my blankets. I pour half a cup, sip it hot, look at the mountains with their tiny bit of new snow. I write this blog post and another. I’m going to work on my manuscript today, too. Grading papers will likely get pushed to later. I drink more tea. I can hear the white crowned sparrows speaking quietly in the bougainvillea through the open door. Sitting practice is next. I pour out another measure of hot tea and grin. I feel like a little kid, delight pushing against my skin.