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.
No unsolicited feedback. No cross talk. Patience. Listening. “Respect,” I say. Then I realize it is inherent in most of the items already on our list. What kind of culture do we want to create for our class? By the time everything is written on the white board my spirits have sunk. I think I am just tired. The first night of this self-compassion class there is a lot of material to cover. When we take a short break, I go outside into the warm wind. I lean over from my hips, stretch my spine. I stand and swing my arms, turn from side to side, loosen my neck, my shoulders. I understand I am not just tired. I am discouraged by the list of guidelines for our behavior because I am afraid I won’t be able to honor them. I am afraid I will blurt things out, hurt people’s feelings, break the rules. I am afraid my bad behavior will make the space unsafe. I am ashamed in advance. The teacher said we’ll make mistakes, I tell myself. But her voice was casual, and I know for me it is not casual. It is a big deal. I move near the edge of the balcony and face northwest. I stand still and take in the long stretch of desert before me, the mountains in the distance, the smog. I feel the warm wind on my face, my arms. I let the fear and the shame seep out of me, be swept away in a warm gust of air. Later, I walk home in the dark. I stop on the sidewalk beside a small square block of undeveloped desert. I look up at the moon and Venus in the sky. I hear traffic in the distance. The half moon shows the contrast between the sand and dark lumps of brush. I scan for coyotes. I stand for a long time looking out at the quiet, moonlit field. I feel safe, satiated, washed clean.
I started walking again last Tuesday. I go early in the morning, walk along the creek path. I’m trying to train myself into summer mode, but I’m behind on my sleep. I’m proud of myself, though, and hopeful. I walked almost every day for years before it fell away, and I’ve been wanting to return to it for a long time now. I’m hoping to get up even earlier, be out by the creek bed closer to the first real light. But I want to be kind to myself in this, too, so I am not pushing, and I’m going to play it by ear, let myself go back to sleep when I need to, trust I can ease into this. This morning I wake to the waning moon calling to me in the lightening western sky, birds alive in distant trees. I roll over and go back to sleep. When I walk later, I stop on the footbridge, taking it all in, grateful for this swathe of wildness in the middle of town. I close my eyes, and when I open them I see an animal in the gully. At first I think it might be a deer. I know it must be a coyote, but it seems impossibly thin, and its walk is odd, choppy, un-canine-like. I watch it ramble, climb to the dirt path, slip off into the side streets when a person approaches. I say metta for her without thinking. May you be safe and free from harm. My chest aches. I keep watching for her on my way home. As I walk, I stop worrying. Instead, I dream up the world I want us to live in. I picture a world where we are all safe, where we all have everything we need to thrive. I picture a world where there are systems in place to help. I can make a call. A group of people fan out to find the coyote. They clean her up, feed her. (She was shaking her ears, itchy all over, so skinny it hurts.) I imagine food drops up the canyon for them, once a day, picture animal psychics explaining they can come to eat, to have their wounds looked after. I dream I am one of them. I look into the eyes of “my” coyote. You’re not alone anymore, I say. I outline the routine in my mind, the daily food drops, the tending of wounds. She twitches one ear, stares back at me for a long moment, wary. She wriggles once, all tender hope. Then she settles in to eat.
[Editor’s note: I can’t be certain, but I think I owe this interlude to how The Secret has affected me, to becoming even more aware of when I can just build good pictures, can reach for hope, dream up sweetness in the world.]