I dream I am on the phone talking to Mami. “Thank you for going underwater with me,” she says. I have a dim memory of holding hands at the edge of a lake, bending our knees, submerging ourselves in the cool, shallow water. It makes me want to do it now as I write, remembering the dream. To come up together sputtering, scattering drops of water across the quiet laketop, our laughter loud across that stillness. Her voice on the phone comes out choppy and odd, like the words are hard to grasp, then hard to push out. “I’m going to miss you,” she says later in a small voice. I am incredulous. What, when you go? When you die? I can’t believe I am scoffing her even in the dream. Because I am shielding myself? Because I am not being present? In my mind I am thinking, I will miss you. I wish I had dropped down, met her where she was. I wish I’d told her how much I would miss her, how terribly so. I wish I’d told her I won’t know how to be in this world without her.
If I were told to create a scrapbook of our springtime in Palm Springs I would include a photograph of the full moon setting in the west this morning, its newly-waning glow poised above the mountains just as the light began to find the day. I’d bottle the air I woke up to last night, how it felt to sit in the center of my bed breathing in the scent of lemon blossoms. Wow, I thought. Inside my home! In the middle of the night! What a gift, I thought. I’d add an audio file to the scrapbook of the grackle who’s calling out this morning from the telephone pole. I’m in the courtyard filling the tray feeders, seeds sliding through my fingers as I listen. It’s his second morning here. I’ve never had a grackle near my home before. It feels like wishes coming true. It makes me want to drive down the western coast of mainland Mexico again, south from Topolobampo on a morning in early April, watching the world begin to show itself around me as I drive along the carretera in the last of the dark. I will park my car off the highway beside the tiendita after the toll booth. I will buy warm tortillas and beans and salsa for breakfast. Even before I get out of the car I can hear them, like nothing else I’ve ever heard before. I stand beside the road turning in a long, slow circle. I see big black birds in every tree, lines of trees that stretch along both sides of the carretera, no cars at this hour. I can see the sea off to the right. The air is wet with it, but the morning sun is warm. Sunlight glints off black feathers, making the birds shine between the leaves of the trees. It takes a little time for it to sink in as I stand there, even though I’ve been here before, even though I’ve sought this out. Every tree is filled with grackles, hundreds and hundreds of them as far as I can see along the road. The air is a cacophony of their calls, these wild, wacky, exotic, zany, happy bird noises. They fill me with their exuberance, their vibrant, lusty liveliness. I am in love with these great-tailed grackles. I am in love with Mexico on an April morning by the sea. I could stand here forever.
[Editor’s note: This piece was written in response to a writing prompt from Bryan Chohen’s book Four Seasons of Creative Writing.]
I’ve been going through a rough patch. I notice I want myself to be “better” before I am. Now I’m wanting to trust myself more. I do always turn the corner, always come back to being whole and well again. It’s happening already. But I tend to try to make it happen before its time. I try to rush myself. Maybe now I’m learning to let myself be, to have more faith. I remind myself it will pass. I’ll “return” when I am ready. For three weeks I dream busy dreams where I’m working with a repetitive task throughout the night. I don’t remember them in the morning, only the feeling of them. At first I think they are stress dreams, the kind I get when I work too hard. Years ago when I worked in catering in Los Angeles, there would be long stretches of prep for big parties. When I slept I’d dream about 12-gallon stainless steel stock pots at the foot of my bed. All night I would stir them with big wooden spoons. But then I remember two of my current dreams, and I know I’ve been doing healing work. In one dream there’s a kind of mind map I am building. I have a memory of rows of dark shapes and small bits of text with straight lines leading from one to the other. On the top layer are drawings of envelopes. They’re lit up like neon signs, green envelopes with pink hearts at their centers like seals. I check on them during the night. Sometimes there are two envelopes waiting, sometimes three. Their lights wink off and on. I think I am sending myself love letters. In the second dream, the moon is hanging in the western sky above the mountains. I wake up to it sometimes like this in the night, a beacon shining through the sliding glass door. On this night I drift in and out of sleep, the moon waning but still almost full. In the dream it’s almost dawn, and I’m taking sips of this luminous disc, again and again at regular intervals, like medicine.
It rains off and on, steady and quiet in the night. When I prop myself up on my elbows to peer over the windowsill in the early morning, I see a swathe of pale orange across the southern sky. Half awake and planning to go back to sleep again, I look west and see a rainbow. I grab my lime green umbrella and my mini iPad and juggle them in the rain to take a picture, goofy and awkward, but it’s no use. The image doesn’t begin to capture the light in it, the magic. I make oatstraw and alfalfa tea and climb back under the covers, my feet cold from my foray. I sip my hot tea and watch the mountains, shrouded in mist. I listen to my birds. My thoughts drift to a colleague. My belly clenches, a messy swirl inside me at the memory, feeling not heard, dismissed, angry, hurt. I wake up to the moment and remember. “May I hold you with kindness,” I say out loud to the feelings. I missed this part of the vipassana practice until two weeks ago when I was listening to a recording of Sylvia Boorstein, and it just came into me. I wonder how I missed it. I see it, after, in my beginner’s book I am rereading, right there in the first pages. It is Boorstein’s phrase, too, that Ian invokes each time we begin sitting practice. “May I meet this moment fully. May I meet it as a friend.” I’ve always loved it, but I didn’t make the connection until now. It has holding our feelings with kindness at the heart of it. Just like Thich Nhat Hanh’s, “Hello anger, my old friend.” But I didn’t get it until now, that direct turning toward our feelings each time they arise, welcoming them. I wonder if maybe I needed to foster enough self-kindness in more general terms before this practice of receiving uncomfortable feelings like old friends was even practical for me. I knew we needed to accept what comes, knew we needed to be kind to ourselves, but it didn’t click. What comes to me this morning is my colleague’s behavior is not a reflection of her regard for me. It’s only what she does, and I take it personally. I cry quick, sweet tears. I return to my big cup of golden tea resting on the covers in my lap, warm my hands against its sides. My toes are warm now, too. And my heart.
Did you think you’d be only a footnote for me when you were gone? It makes me sad all these years later, even though you didn’t choose me, even when the details of your face, your head, your ears begin to dim. But maybe we both believed the other could only love us a fraction of how much we loved them. Heartbreaking at first thought, neither of us believing we were worthy of that much love. But maybe instead what it points to is the enormity of the love we felt. If it was so huge, so surprising, even unfathomable how much I loved you or how much you loved me, then maybe it makes sense. Because even a fraction of that love would be immense. And ours was never a typical relationship, at any rate. We were never a couple. We didn’t celebrate our romance. We weren’t the kind to name an asteroid after ourselves or write I love you across the sky. But if I could go back now and name an asteroid for you, I’d do it. I’d want you to know you could never be a footnote. I didn’t think for one second you were a saint, though I know you thought I didn’t really see you with all your human flaws and ugliness. (Later, I think you knew I did, knew I saw you and still loved you.) But I would gladly name an asteroid for you, so you’d know where you fell on the wheel of my life. I’d spend hours poring over the sky chart to choose the best one, maybe somewhere in the top left corner. I’d make this grand-ish gesture so you’d know I never felt anything close to what I felt with you, drifting at the edge of sleep, warm skin to warm skin, the place it took me, that deep peace. So you would know I still think about you in odd moments, like Sunday mornings when I linger over the newspaper and wonder what it would be like to do that with you, to decide together what our next move would be. Pancakes or a nap? I’d gladly name an asteroid for you so you could know you are not a footnote. You are a bonfire.
[Editor’s note: This was written per the Day 4 prompt in the Two Sylvia’s Press advent calendar. “Write a poem in which you name an asteroid for someone you know. Use several or all of the following words: chart, fraction, saint, skin, bonfire, wheel, breakfast, dim, footnote.”]
Today’s my father’s birthday. He’d be 83. (Funny, isn’t it, how we do that with our dead?) When I was young, I always spent Thanksgiving with him. Maybe he somehow got that in the divorce. I remember his wife Jeannie and I laughing in the kitchen of their Sylmar home, black olives on the tips of all my fingers. Later, I brought my braided garlic French bread and tomato pesto soup to a Thanksgiving celebration at Colleen’s house in Sunland when we were young adults, and once in Sacramento, just the two of us that day, giddy on our pretend wine. And even later, Thanksgivings with Meri and her first husband, six or eight of us at the kitchen table playing Pictionary and rolling in the aisles. But decades ago it became a day I looked forward to spending alone. I like to let the day unfold, knowing there are three more days that follow, all without work, without plans. For years this was often my first day off in the fall semester, and even now these four days stand like a beacon, the blessing of a real break. I love knowing I can do what I feel like in each moment, the hours stretching like magic, like summer days in childhood, knowing I have no deadlines, no need to be ready to leave the house at a particular time. People often don’t understand my choice, and even now there’s a small voice in me who asks, “Is there something wrong with me?” For seeking solitude on a day when most people want to gather? So I’m making peace with this now, trying to trust it’s okay for me to make this choice. I turned down a chance to be with people I love today, nearby at Chimney Ranch. When I think of them together, part of me longs to be in their midst. Maybe it’s because I’m an only child, but today being alone calls me. It’s how I am able to have a sustained connection with myself, with this earth. I want to keep moving through the quiet of my day, the happy bird sounds in the courtyard, the soft sweater against my skin, the persimmons ripening on the blue plate my mother made, the changing slant of the sunlight as it moves with the day. I want to relish the bougainvillea blossoms, expand at the sight of the San Jacintos before me. And later in the afternoon I want to walk for hours in the stillness of this day, returning again and again to my glad and grateful heart. May those same moments of remembering to return come to you, too, to each of us over and again, today and always.
I’ve decided to rewrite my book. This will be the third time I’ve begun again from scratch, or almost scratch. (Might it be a charm?) This is the manuscript that was one of nine finalists for the New Rivers Press Many Voices Project award a couple of years ago. (The winner receives $1000 and publication by their university press.) I submitted it earlier this summer to New Rivers, as well, for their general submissions, and I’m still hopeful to hear good news. But I always come back to feeling like it isn’t quite right. A fellow writer read the manuscript, and he thought it may be “droning.” (Eee gads. How do you not cringe to hear that?) Because I wrote it over such a long period of time, I’ve always wondered if the voice was not consistent (in spite of all revising). And I’ve always wanted there to be more lightness in the book. I think it leans toward the hopeful and the healed, but maybe not enough to satisfy me? This is the story of my lost love. My big love. I began writing it much too soon—I know that now. I wanted it to be a book when it needed to be only one of the ways I moved through my grief, came back from despair, put my heart together again, just pages shoved in a drawer somewhere until a later time. I know now to write like mad through something like this but not try to shape it into anything when it’s still raw, has not had time to sift through me, time to drift down to bedrock.
On Tuesday I closed my laptop from a round of work and set it aside. I sat on the edge of my bed spacing out before I got up to take a shower, to toss the cabbage salad I made for lunch. And I fell into a newer, deeper sense of how to approach rewriting the book. It isn’t new for me to envision including more in the story about my life today, but sitting on the bed I felt it more fully in my body. I saw into it, felt into it more fully than I have before. The book is written in second person, me talking to him. Even though I wonder if I need to just let this manuscript go, to finish my now ancient novel and let myself finally move on to new projects, I still resist. This pile of pages has some of my best “material” in it, so I become stubborn. And enough time has passed that I can return to that material without reliving it, can picture the new retelling from a place of joy. It seems the perfect thing to “use” this framework of me talking to him as a kind of scaffolding for writing what might become a “real” memoir, one that goes beyond my story of having loved and lost. The timing couldn’t be better, too, because I’ve been flailing about a bit, not sure what I wanted to focus on at the August writing workshop I get to go to. I’m pretty excited about it now (both the book and the workshop), so I wanted to let you know. I can feel you wishing me well even as I write. Thank you for that, now and always.