To be a healthcare worker, or any first responder, unimaginable today. Honor to you, always. Postal workers, trash collectors, plumbers and tradesmen who come into our homes, day care workers, caregivers, veterinary staff and more, all plunged into the line of fire now—I am grateful to you all. And my own heroes since we began to shelter in place, the people at my Ralph’s, at my mother’s Trader Joe’s, from the beginning, so impressive. How quick they were to rally, to organize our lines outside the store, to let in seniors and people with disabilities early. They developed systems for sanitizing our grocery carts. They tell us what is out of stock, what is being rationed. Every day they show up, put themselves at risk so we can buy lentil soup, wild bird seed, garlic, beets. And they do it all with such good cheer in the midst of the chaos. The people at my own Ralph’s have long been some of my favorite humans, people I rely on for their kindness, for open-hearted connection, people who matter to me a great deal. But now they all amaze me. Genaro. Mark. Lee. Anita. Nathan. And all the rest of you whose names I never mastered. You awe me, so gallant your efforts. You bring me to tears. Hats off to each of you, palms across my chest. Thank you. Stay well.
My neighbors talking in the dark
warm silky air
both comfort and longing.
Before the election, I turn from my mailbox to see my neighbor Ted and his dog Buster walking toward me. They look happy. “I just got a letter from Mike Bloomberg,” I say. Ted teases me about how Mike and I can’t keep our relationship secret much longer, and I fall in step with them on their slow walk home. We talk politics, about who we are voting for in the primaries, about how much we both like Elizabeth Warren. We fix the world, talk about the environment. That gets me going about banning Roundup, and we talk about how people would have to be willing to tolerate some weeds or actually pull some weeds, give up a little on the pristine. We talk about edible weeds, my fondness for dandelions and their greens. (Right now another neighbor has some nice big ones behind his trailer I am quietly harvesting.) At my gate we stop. “Well, I have to get going,” I say.
“Oh, sorry,” Ted says. “I’ll get off my soapbox.”
“No,” I say. “It’s always a pleasure.” But I am instantly sorry I said I had to go. Something under my skin bubbling up, the need to finish prepping my class before I leave. But I could have been happy standing there a few more minutes, fixing the world together. I wish I had.
My grief surprises me. First, I am disappointed in the very act of voting for Elizabeth Warren because overnight they have decided she’s already lost. Later, I walk down the narrow hallway of my trailer home, my being pulled inward, heavy, weighed down by decades of elections behind me, only the rare win, 44 years of voting for people and causes I believe in and seeing them lose. I watch Elizabeth Warren announce her withdrawal, hear her voice break again and again, admire her ability to be poised and honest and vulnerable at the same time. I honor her grace and authenticity. I cry unexpected tears, the ones she fights back on camera. It comes to me that I am now more fond of her than ever. I am crying for her, for her monumental effort, grappling to accept this ending, as much as I am crying for my own loss, and for all the women like me who were so full of hope we might finally have a woman lead us. She’s not wrong. Her efforts moved things forward in a big way. And I love that those pinkie swears count, that disappointing all those little girls she met during the campaign is one of the things breaking her heart. The next day, the L.A. Times writes that surely those little girls will see a woman president elected here in their lifetime. It stops me. I do the math. They’re predicting within the next 60 or 70 years? Surely, you jest. How about before those little girls reach their teens? How about 2024? How about we elect a brave, bright, talented, experienced woman of color with grace and a big, big heart?
I cry brief tears in bed this morning, grateful for our home, the people who love me, my birds, trees, crickets, daddy long legs, squirrels, yard, the exquisite beauty and safe haven here. And I cry because I have lost touch with this, my deep gratitude, since I’ve been sick. It seems sometimes as though I am always recovering, or trying to, from grief or trauma, from illness or too much work. As though I am always trying to come back to myself in some way, to my life, to my dreams of writing and thriving. Being sick seems a little different, but in truth each kind of becoming well, or returning, comes in its own time. We can try to help the process, but we can’t orchestrate an end date. Still, I wonder how many people feel the way I do, so often trying to come home to myself. Do other people have some steady, solid, open-hearted, even-keeled way of moving through their lives? This morning, I suspect they do.
Today I find my way back toward normalcy. I mix two big bags of bird seed, fill the feeders, replenish the hummingbird nectar. I make yesterday’s handwritten revisions to my memoir in the word document, remove pieces that don’t sing, clearing deadwood. Now I am fresh from the shower, renewed, the sliding glass door wide open, my white-crowned sparrows still rustling in the dried blossoms beneath the bougainvillea. The solar Christmas lights have come on, and my two strings of crystals and my magic ring, washed in honeysuckle soap, are hanging in the courtyard, awaiting the moon’s blessings on this new year’s eve. I have miso stock simmering, sending the scent of ginger into the air, and broccoli and cauliflower ready to roast. I submitted my manuscript to the Many Voices Project an hour ago. I have the night ahead of me, good food, a favorite book. Tonight I feel more like myself, quiet inside, even sweetness this morning when I wondered how I might make my way now back to joy. It comes to me I could feel lonely, but I like being here alone, awake to each moment, feeling the year come to a close. I can hear Ted banging pots in the kitchen next door and Rae and Kirk laughing from his trailer on the other side, car sounds one street over, people heading out to celebrate, the noises all muted and homey. I hold still, relishing the sounds of the sparrows, the colored lights in the late dusk, the crickets chirping, the caw of a raven in the distance. Quiet, peaceful, easy. Right.
Friday Feb. 14th (and the 15th and 16th?)
Okay, this is kind of goofy. I want to offer a writing day on February 14th (and maybe the 15th and the 16th, too). But I’m not sure where it might be or if it might need to just be online.
I told you it was a bit goofy. But after our extraordinary experience at the Joshua Tree retreat in November, I had a dream telling me to do the next one on Valentine’s Day. I let myself get swept up in life, and I didn’t pursue this, but I still want to honor the dream even if it’s much belated.
So. Please save the date(s) if you’d like to do a nice long chunk of writing together (true stories, creative nonfiction prompts, lovely camaraderie, laughter).
Stay tuned. I will let you know if I find a space for us, or if this will be something we can do online together. Oh, and maybe let me know if you are interested. Not sure what we might be able to pull together at such short notice, but you never know. And it’s a holiday weekend, too!
Sending good wishes to each of you for this and for 2020!