When I lie down on my back for chavasana at the end of yoga, the crescent moon is above me in the sky, tender and dear in the blue of late morning. I swim the breast stroke in my mother’s pool and watch the ridge when I swim north. It is the same ridge I gazed at from the living room when she was sick. I count my row of yuccas while I swim, though they are no longer in bloom. When I get to the bird walk the leader is speaking in his warm, relaxed voice. It is a big group today. I look around for my two other favorite people, but they are not here. I struggle with my disappointment, reach for the treetops, the sound of the leader’s voice, splashing water in the distance. I can still be here, I tell myself, still tap the deep peace of this place. I can still have a sweet time. In moments, I steady. Then as if conjured the woman I like so much from before is beside me, and I hear the man I like up ahead of us making jokes in his resonant voice. Later, I think about how the leader draws us together, about what a gift he is offering, maybe without knowing. I think about his warmth, his charming lack of ego, his quiet, cheerful knowledge. I think about what a rare bird he is. (Pun intended.) We walk together, rearranging ourselves, clusters and strings of us along the trails, a small, fluid river, California towhees, an ash-throated flycather, a black-headed grossbeak in flight, a green heron across the lake, the old oaks speaking acorn woodpecker. After the bird walk I sit on a wooden bench, a black phoebe sitting nearby, and then I walk by myself through the rose garden. I take slow steps, reluctant to leave. I can feel how even in such a short time, the place has changed me, helped me ground, settle, rest inside. This extraordinary world has worked its magic.
In my arms
old square woven basket
full of dirty clothes
I walk up the small road
and feel a rush of tenderness
On my way back home
dried cactus fruit lie in the road
and I look up to see
a house finch devouring a fresh one
at the top of the tall cactus.
She is almost inside the fruit itself.
I watch her for a long time
and her big delight
washes through me.
This is the letter I’ve sent out to let people know about these two upcoming writing opportunities I’ll be leading. I thought I would post it here for all of you, too, just in case one of you might be interested (my dear readers!). ;-)
1) Online creative writing class
This is a 3-unit full-semester online class offered at Mendocino College. We’ll cover key aspects of creative writing—including image detail, slow motion, point of view, dialogue, plot, narrative presence and character—and you’ll have lots of chances to try your hand with each element. Each two weeks will include a spontaneous writing exercise, workshopping a more “polished” piece, and a discussion about process or craft. This is a great way for new writers to get their feet wet and experienced writers to stretch or refresh their skills, as well as a lovely opportunity to interact with other writers and get some good feedback on your work.
Steps for enrolling
(You will only need to apply, complete the placement questionnaire and enroll.)
2) Spontaneous creative nonfiction writing retreat
November 22nd through 24th
Joshua Tree Retreat Center
This will be three days spent writing spontaneous creative nonfiction, telling our own stories. Because the writing is impromptu, the feedback will focus on specific positive aspects of the work. Great food and glorious desert setting included. Participation is limited, so please reserve your spot early. ($100 discount when you register by August 31st.)
Please email or call if you have any questions. I hope to have the chance to work together soon!
You buzz my face three times
while I lie in the courtyard
on my purple yoga mat
I wave you away
all soft furriness
I wish you well, I say
but I am allergic
so please don’t bee
I fall asleep when the afternoon is yellow with daylight and wake in the gray world of early dusk. I let the thin salmon blanket fall away to the couch, the one my yoga teacher brought back from Mexico more than 20 years ago for those of us who ordered one, real cotton, beloved, perfect for a nap in the early desert spring with the swamp cooler on low. I check the thermostat and my sleep-muted mind decides the 69 degrees means it is almost seven o’clock. It is the end of my first day home again after being gone. So the sound of the traffic is familiar but strange, the trailer more silent than I remember, the courtyard still quiet and magic in the almost-dark while I type, the solar lights coming on one at a time. Here with me, too, are the great horned owls from yesterday at the preserve, the three young ones beside the adult high in the fan palm, alert and still, almost ghost-like in their big tree cavern. I savor the memory of them, savor the ending of the day. I’ll eat Jerusalem artichokes tonight with flax seed oil and salt, finish the Annie Dillard book I’ve been reading, maybe go to sleep early. Tomorrow, Tuesday, is my Monday this week, and grading waits. I relish my solitude, and I miss the camaraderie. I can still hear Barney’s voice reading science questions from the little box of worn cards, still feel the easy warmth of the cabin, Corina beside me on the couch, Lila’s soft furry head against my leg, Angelika puttering in the kitchen. I can still feel my pleasure in being a part of the whole, in knowing I still remember how to join in, laughing.
I miss the bus, too weighed down by frozen broccoli and figs from Trader Joe’s to run when I see it pass. (I try, but I can only waddle.) I’m disappointed, but I don’t get stuck there. Instead, I dig out my mini iPad, go back to reading my homework. An Amtrak bus pulls up, the one I catch downtown when I go to L.A., and my favorite driver steps off. We’re both surprised and glad to find each other in this odd, unexpected place. He shakes my hand, and we stand there grinning at each other. When my city bus comes, it’s my favorite Sunline bus driver. “I haven’t seen you in ages,” I say. I’m delighted to see him. It’d been so long, I wondered if he found another job. When we get to my transfer stop, the bus is waiting, so I can’t linger, but he jostles my shoulder, all glad to see me, too. We can’t stop grinning. I’m moved by the two connections, these warm, kind, generous men who I’ve grown so fond of over the years. I’m struck by these unlooked for gifts. And there is a third boon, too, in between. I’d been watching the sky all day, hoping it would rain on me. While I’m waiting for my bus, the rain starts to fall. I straddle my two bags on the sidewalk to keep them from getting wet and read my homework under my umbrella. I stand there in the wet dark, breathing it all in, listening to the raindrops falling on my little canopy. I’m happy as a clam, only drier.
I see clusters of butterflies flying past me in Palm Springs. I hear people talking about it on the bus. They think they’re coming from Mexico. Walking home from the bus stop, they are a river flying by. They travel from southeast to northwest. My friend Carolyn and I see them on the 210 on the way to Pasadena. They come over the roof of her neighbor’s house in Indio. Only once do I see them holding still, two who alight on a lavender lantana bush near my home. They are mottled orange and shades of brown. All I know is they are not monarchs. The one I see closely looks dusted with bronze powder. I think again and again I should Google them, but I don’t. I am loving the mystery. I watch them pass above me when I lie on my yoga mat in the courtyard, always flying northwest. I hope they are finding good spots to congregate, to replenish. I picture our rain-soaked desert alive in blossoms for them, wish them joy in that, safe flight. I see their shadows against the yellow curtains while I work in the afternoon. It’s magic, their big endeavor. This momentous happening, silent and sumptuous, going on without us, happening while we sleep, while we go on with our ordinary lives, the extraordinary, quiet and secret beneath it all.