I don’t know how to stop. When I’m alone, I’m better. When I bump my head on the kitchen cabinet or the third time I try to send an email and it still doesn’t work, often I stop long enough to recognize the universe is trying to tell me something. Sometimes I can really stop and redirect myself. But with people it can feel impossible. It is a hot, humid afternoon. I am siting on the couch in the living room talking on the phone. I’m frustrated, impatient, and it’s coming through the sound of my voice. I’m trying to resolve something, unwilling to step back and let it go for now. Two hummingbirds fly in through the open louvers, but I am so wrapped up in my own disturbance, I don’t even look at them. Only a small, distant part of me even knows they have come inside. They spiral together, one glimpse from the corner of my eye. I moderate the tone of my voice on the phone, drop back to a kinder delivery, but I do not drop all the way back down to myself. Later, it makes me sad. The universe sent these amazing creatures on my behalf, tiny luminescent messengers meant to help me, and I missed the whole thing. I did recalibrate, and I’m glad for that. But I was so closed up in my limited experience I missed the magnificence of the moment. I didn’t drop down to bedrock, didn’t welcome those two little beings, didn’t touch awe or gratitude. But tonight I don’t berate myself. I touch the sadness, yes, the disappointment. But I remind myself we live in a generous universe. We get lots of chances. I’m just going to keep trying to pay better attention. I’m going to believe I can learn to stop even in the heart of my disturbance. I’m going to keep aiming myself for the next time, or the next. Or maybe the time after that.
I’m lucky. I get the Los Angeles Times. I remember how I felt when I first subscribed, the relief and pleasure to be reading beautiful writing and “real” journalism. Years later, I still feel the same way. And in our political climate, I’m so glad I get the latest from the White House by reading it. I have the luxury of monitoring myself, stopping at my tipping point, first glimmers of nausea or fury. But my luck in this, my gratitude, blooms beyond this gift. When I allow myself to meander, I am fed the antidotes. I get to read about the good things like the two men, a gay couple in Berkeley, who’ve begun Café Ohlone. They are “reviving both food and language” and “preserving the deepest parts of Ohlone culture.” Or the two young women in high school, both immigrants (one from El Salvador, one from Egypt) who’ve been best friends since eighth grade. I get to read about the biologist Peter Sharpe who has dedicated his career “to reviving the once-endangered bald eagle,” one of the “great American wildlife comeback stories,” who climbs up into their nests to examine and tag the eaglets. And I get to read about the “New Arrivals Supper Club” where “recently settled refugees bond over the food and memories of the lives they left behind.” Wages are provided for the immigrant chef and the proceeds go to the family and to Miry’s List. Each time I let myself sink into one of these stories, I feel my heart soften. Hope strikes, warms. Gratitude spills over for all these human beings doing good, important work, for being the light against the dark, and for the paper who honors them. Thank you all.
My new piece doesn’t win the Fish Flash Fiction contest. I am stunned. I thought I was going to win. I thought “The Second Flood” was that good. (Did I know I thought I would win? Have I ever thought I would win before?) I scan the short list and then the long list. My piece is not on either one. If I needed to right now, I would be unable to speak, to push out words that make sense. I scan the short list and the long list two more times in case I missed my name. It is not there. There were more than 900 entries, but I can’t believe my story wasn’t even in the top ten percent. I plunge. I wonder how I could have been so delusional. How could I think my piece was any good at all? I know I am a terrible writer. I am underwater, deep in the cold sea where no light lives. I don’t know how long I stay submerged. Maybe work drags me back up, makes be break the surface, breathe air, answer helpdesk questions, grade summaries. Days pass. I am lying on my back in the courtyard in chavasanah. I dream up ways my livelihood might move even more toward my writing. I picture percussive instruments at my writing retreat, and my feet bounce on the yoga mat. I think of a new way of structuring, “When I Was a Dog.” My fingers itch for the pen. “Commit more deeply to your No. 1 focus,” this week’s horoscope says, “and throw yourself into the daring adventure of it.” I leap. This water is warm, strewn with sunlight. I roll over and float on my back, let the tide take me. I remember I can swim.
My book manuscript sits on the stool, clean new printout, spiral bound. Now and then I pick it up, rub the clear plastic cover with one hand the way I used to stroke my cats. I cradle it against my chest with both arms, rocking side to side. I am in love with its fresh newness. I am in love with its story. I am in love with its existence after all these years. I am eager to make my final pass or two through its pages. But I am not doing it. I think that’s okay. I trust I’ll pick it up at the right time. I wonder if I’m avoiding, resisting, afraid to finish. And if I am, is it because I don’t want it to be over? Because I don’t want to have to grieve? Or is it because I am afraid of what comes next? Maybe all of it is true. But I am comforted to see it waiting for me on the stool. That feels like a good sign. “Soon,” I murmur. “Soon.”
Home from a trip, evidence of visitors in my courtyard. First sight through the gate, swinging open, two big bags of bird seed, one big bag of Meyer lemons. My friend Bob, kind and generous. I phone. “My birthday isn’t until April,” I tell him. Teasing, trying to be witty. Grateful. The other visitor is loved, too, but the evidence less welcome. Feathers carpet the cement. A whole mourning dove, at least. My hawk was here, successful, maybe more than once. I grieve for who died. But I can’t be sorry the hawk didn’t go hungry. It lingers in me when he visits again. I shouldn’t want him here. But he is exquisite. There are fewer white crowned sparrows, fewer house finch since I’ve been home again. Little by little it sinks in, why they are scarce. But how can I wish the hawk away? I say metta instead. May my little ones be safe. May my hawk fill his belly somewhere else.
The morning after the election The Los Angeles Times ran a banner headline: Democrats Take Back the House. I grinned reading it, standing in the gateway of my courtyard. Something flickered in me, seeing the words spread across the page, a taste of older headlines, bigger news, maybe, not always good (Milk and Moscone?). Whatever it was, the headline caught me in the chest. I never got a chance to read the front page story, but it sat on the floor of my living room for days, proclaiming our good news each time I walked by. I listened to KPFA the morning after the election and learned in the act of taking back the house our country elected a twenty-nine-year-old woman, two Native American women and two Muslim women. It was just before the new moon, and I remember standing in my living room during the Cazimi window talking to the universe about how I want to be more in touch with magic in my life. And the news about these five women we elected to the house made me cry big happy grateful tears. It reached deep in me, this reassurance from the world that we are going to move in the right direction, despite all evidence to the contrary. And it felt like we were sending a message, too. We don’t want to do things your way. Yesterday there seems to have been a surprising level of civility between Governor Brown and Governor-Elect Newsom and President Trump on his visit to California in the wake of the fires. President Trump didn’t threaten again to deny us federal funds but instead promised 100% support. Reading that, I softened toward him for a moment. But I still get all shiny inside when I think of those five women we elected to the house and the message it sends. I still dream of the day when I’ll get a glimpse of the house or the senate on TV, and there will be all these young people in the mix, and black and brown faces everywhere, graceful hijabs, women of all colors, white men scattered about among the rest.
[The Cazimi window, as I understand it, is 30 minutes before and after the exact moment of the new moon when we can take action both practically and symbolically for things we want to manifest in this lunar cycle. I’ve come across it here.]
I feel my faith in humankind wobble for the first time in my sixty years. It’s a smaller thought that sparks it. Not the massacre of eleven Jewish people in their temple. Not the white supremacist in Kentucky who’s unable to force open the doors of a largely black church so he goes to Kroger and shoots two black people there. Not the caravan of mostly Hondurans heading to our border, fleeing violence and poverty the U.S. has a hand in making, our president bringing in the military, treating the Hondurans like terrorists instead of finding a way to simply process their requests for asylum. Not the 15 pipe bombs mailed to people who visibly oppose him. I know these things and more—the 189 who died in the plane near Jakarta—have layered themselves inside me, have brought me to this moment, this possible tipping point, sitting in my courtyard in the morning warmth. But it’s two disparate things I hear on NPR that come together in my head. Some crazy high number of children in Europe with respiratory ailments linked to air pollution, and our president’s intention to drill for oil in Alaska (and everywhere he can). Compared to the endless string of recent horrors, these two seem almost mild. But what if we get past the fear and hate, and it’s too late to save our planet? I sip my tea, fenugreek with coconut milk and honey, third day without caffeine. I’ve always believed we can turn this around. I hold the warm cup in the bowl of my hands, savor the bitter and the sweet on my tongue. And I feel my belief in us wobble for the first time in my life. I don’t land there, don’t let doubt all the way in. But the wobbling alone scares me, and I cry. I make anxious circles with my fingers, purse my lips, swallow the last of my tea. I take a breath, grateful I didn’t topple. I refuse to believe it’s too late for us to restore our planet, too late to turn this around. Not just global warming, not only the condors and the wolves, but finding our way all the way clear, to a world where everyone can thrive, be safe, have dignity, know peace. Que nunca tengas hambre. Que nunca tengas sed. May you never hunger. May you never thirst.