I indulge in my first real day off in weeks. I relish the steady, sumptuous rain. I savor each bite of my stuffing and gravy. I read my novel, cozy in bed. Instead of my Thanksgiving hours-long walk, I nap to the sound of the rain. My quiet glee and gratitude are great.
[28 of 30 in November, re-posted from today’s tweet @tryingmywings]
Yes, I goofed, so I am posting my last three on this last day of November!
We lost 2.9 billion birds across the U.S. and Canada since 1970. But did the Cooper’s hawk scare off my white-crowned sparrows? Or is it even worse? Will they still return in droves? Today at dusk, one sings in the courtyard. I stand beside the kitchen window, savoring.
Today I see a photo in the L.A. Times, 70,000 people protesting the anti-immigrant Prop 187. A sea of color surrounds city hall, young Latino Americans taking to the streets in 1994. I cry, big pride in them. Good chills thrum down my thighs, big belief in Californians.
[I plan to post one tweet each day in November @tryingmywings. I am re-posting them here.]
I wake up weird. A deep sadness I can’t touch with my finger, my fist. Did I dream? I remember Iola. I didn’t know she was dying, but I was sad all morning the day she died, this same inexplicable sadness. I ride my bike to get my hair cut. There’s another woman there waiting. We talk about el día de los muertos. I describe a piece I read once, this endearing dialog. Two spirits, excited, visiting the day of the dead altar their family created. Oh, look, she remembered the pozole. And, I wonder where Isabel is? She always makes the best calaveras. We marvel over the sense of affection, how dear it is to celebrate our loved ones who’ve died, this connection between the worlds. I wave at the woman on my way out, wild hands, happy like a kid. I am buoyed, so sure we’ve both liked each other so much. I ride home, work, do laundry, cook broccoli. I am still sad, tender, wobbly. While I eat, a hummingbird flies in. He whirs back and forth across the length of the room four times. For a moment I worry he’s lost track of how to leave, but then he flies straight out the opened louvers, and I know he must only have wanted to make sure I was paying attention. I wake up in the act of loving him, and I decide he’s telling me to care about others. So I put my bowl down to go check on my neighbor, find out what the doctor said about his one eye that isn’t doing well after cataract surgery. Later, my heart savors the two small, pale squash sitting in sunlight on the arm of the couch. I take a picture with my phone. The sun sinks behind the mountains. I read Lab Girl, do more work. The vulnerability is still with me. I watch a house finch crack open sunflower seeds on the wooden fence. I breathe in the scent of tecoma blossoms. Sadness is still here, but so is stillness. So is peace.
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.