I eat my Jumbo Jack cheeseburger in the driver’s seat of my mother’s red Kia. I am in the Descanso Gardens parking lot in the shade of a small big-leafead tree. I have no real illusions about going for a walk (much less a hike), but later I will be very glad I chose to park here. There are three glossy ravens poking around. I wonder if they are hoping for leftovers. I toss french fries out the open window. They surprise me—timid, wary. As I watch a braver gray squirrel shows them up, makes off with the first few fries, her warm brown eyes on me the whole time. When I finish eating, I read the latest book by my favorite author, All the Seas of the World. My exhaustion settles on me like a blanket, but there is ease in being used up, too, a kind of quiet by default inside me. The ravens grow a little bolder, make away with the rest of the french fries, one of them taking five of them at once in sharp, dramatic thrusts of his strong, curved beak. (I think greed in the moment, but later I wonder if it was really a desperate hunger.) I toss more fries, look up from my book now and then to watch them, see the squirrel bury hers a time or two (off in the distance). I do this for hours. There is a peace in me now I have been missing (desperate, too?). My book transports and feeds me, lulls me. There is a deep comfort in my connection to these wild creatures. And there is a deep sweetness in me and a surprising sorrow when I have to drive away and leave them behind.
I have two paper bags and a USPS bin of mail sitting untouched in the spare room. Seven empty bags of yerba maté scattered across the big wooden table in my room. Eight long lists of things I need to do littering the floor, herb books, my scribbled up calendar folded open to April. But when I have a free hour I do not clean my room or sort my months-old mail. I do not spend hours on the phone lining up appointments or checking tasks off my lists. Instead when it’s quiet I read in the afternoon. In the morning I sit in the sun with a cup of hot yerba maté and let my mind drift. When I make effort beyond the basics or the unexpected, they are small moments, small things, planting cat grass seeds in the patch of dirt where the cherry tree used to be, watering the pots of succulents beside the pool. Three days ago, I cut a window in the big ball of ficus tree and hung the bird feeder in the hole. You can see the trunk, the branches, the feeder like a little house in a cavern of leaves. It feels like a real tree now, and birds are coming. House finch, white crowned sparrows, towhees. When I watch them I think the veil between me and the world might be thinning. Nothing is easy in me, but I think it might be easing.
I am grinning, my spirits lifted a bit by the lightness of humor, by just being together, and maybe because we are such funny creatures, we humans. We have a history, of course, and a present, both far from funny. You do not need to hunt for atrocity in our world. It lives large on every page, large print as we grow older, maybe even the books we love to hunker down with, embrace the horror with the unlikely heroines, or dream of the day when the U.S. Congress is finally, forever and ever, no longer so hideously white and male, but dark skinned and female and queer all rising to the fore.
[Spontaneous writing session with the words humor, hunker, hunt and history.]
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.
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.
The anthology with my short story, “Between My Ribs,” was released on November 1st. It felt like an auspicious date, part of the Halloween, pagan new year, día de los muertos set of days when the veil between the worlds is at its thinnest. A magic time, a good day for the book to be born. As I write, I see another layer. In my short story, the veil is thin, too. I grin, loving this connection I am drawing now. But I don’t know why I didn’t announce it, didn’t tell you all about it right away. I think maybe it’s a little bit because I am not one for tooting my own horn, as they say. It makes me self-conscious. And maybe, too, because there is a part of me who feels silly to be promoting the release of my first short story. But I bought extra copies, and one of my favorite people in our writing group at the library bought one. I got to inscribe it for her, and it was such a delight. My first signing. And I am bringing copies to the writing retreat, even if it may be a little goofy, even though it is not my first book but my first story. I am bringing them because I love the idea of them sitting there. It makes me almost teary with a kind of tender gratitude. And now, finally, here I am telling you about it, my dear readers. I wanted to tell you right away, but I didn’t. I hope you’ll forgive me.
I read the last page of Starhawk’s The Fifth Sacred Thing, brimming with hope. I cradle the book, both arms against my chest, kiss the cover, cry grateful tears. Nonviolent resistance wins. Bird, Maya, Madrone—all safe. I’m awake with longing. Oh, to move people!
[15 of 30 in November, re-posted from today’s tweet @tryingmywings]