Two weeks ago I did a little ritual just before I left town. I asked for help with my writing, with my resistance to writing. I asked to have fun, to be pulled toward my writing instead of away. It was quick but heartfelt. Now I am in my second week of a 4-week writing class about voices, a teacherless class from Creative Nonfiction. And I’m getting a big kick out of it. The assignment I talked about in yesterday’s poem is from that class. I’ve been doing all the work, eager to complete the lessons, the exercises, to play, to practice. (Often in the past when I signed up for a self-paced class like this I ended up not carving out the time to do the work. But this time it’s different.) Reading Gertrude Stein’s letters for the assignment was entrancing, falling into her familiar cadence, so easy, feeling her voice like an old friend, one I knew well decades ago, the way that carries over, even if you visit seldom in all the years between. After, I became engrossed in the writing. I began at dusk, and then it was 8:30 when I surfaced. Such a sweetness, that sense of getting lost in the writing even when each moment feels so engaging, carried away by the act but very much present. A delicious paradox, a big gift. Thank you. Thank you.
The mystery black birds appear in the guayaba tree in the late afternoon. They perch and poke for seeds, awkward at the three tube feeders I’ve hung for my house finch. I watch through the open louvers in the back room. I thought they sounded familiar when I heard them in the morning on the telephone pole, but now I have a front row seat. They are red-winged blackbirds! I am in love with them, the females especially, so subtle and intricate—light, bright brushstrokes of paint across their blackness. Watching them in all their quiet glory takes me back to when I lived in Cotati, and I would walk out behind one of the old Hewlett Packard campuses at the end of the day. (It was a walk my friend Meri introduced me to.) Red-winged blackbirds perched on every bush and thrust of stem in an open field. I stood on the edge of the road and listened to the magic, lilting songs, waves of music echoing around me in the late dusk.
Two white-crowned sparrows peck at the seeds in the small tray feeder I have tucked inside the bougainvillea for them. I watch them from my spot on the couch, the sliding glass door open to the courtyard, mountains and wispy clouds in the background. I savor the quiet in my neighborhood. It seems extraordinary today, and then I understand. Mild desert winter day, no loud heater, no A/C running, rare, unexpected quiet. I woke to unusual bird calls, black birds gathered on the telephone pole outside my window. I craned to see them through the open louvers, then banged the pot I used to boil my water for tea against the sink, loud, inadvertent, and the birds scattered. Off and on all morning in between my work I relish the calls of the ravens in the distance. Once, I close my eyes to listen to one raven’s wingbeats, loud and slow and sure, as she flies past outside my window.
In sleep, one of my narrated dreams, a man’s voice. “It is only in madness our tribe is made whole.” Awake, I wonder. Our artists, our dreamers, leading us home? Or in moving through our darker madness, white supremacy, racism, misogyny, hate crimes, global disaster?
[I plan to post one tweet each day in November @tryingmywings. I thought I’d re-post them here, too. I wanted to do one tiny thing to speak to what is happening in the world, so this is what I’m trying. My weekly-ish blog posts will be interspersed. There may be a bit of overlap if I expand a tweet or shrink a blog post. Do please let me know if it becomes annoying. ;-)
I turn off the ringer on the phone, curl up on my side for a late nap, driven by desire and need. I send up a small prayer, to wake before the moon sets behind our mountains, before the last of the light leaves the sky. Anxiety has my fingers moving against the pillowcase. I hear their noise and stop. I let my angst sink back into the earth. The scritchery noise again, callouses against cotton. Again I let my anxiety seep out of me. I do this over and over, and then I sink into sleep. I go deep. I’m surprised when I wake in only half an hour, already this swift shortening of our days. But, oh, when I wake. The ridge of our mountains a clear silhouette against the last light of the sky, palest amber tint. The fat waxing crescent moon hanging just above the ridge, the first thing I see when I open my eyes, bright greeting, dear companion, answer to prayer.
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.