The desert is funny, you know, the way it is summer in late winter, not desert summer thank goodness but ordinary summer like in normal places, so we can leave the doors open and feel the warm air in the early dark and really what can be better than warm nights, completely delightful, not hot nights of course, not like summer nights here which are dreadful, awful, so sometimes even on these silky nights in late winter it is a bit troubling really, thinking of the summer nights when it can be 111 degrees at 10:30 at night and so then it can be hard to truly relish these early warm nights because I just want it to be cool as long as it can be knowing what is coming and staying and living here those six brutal months of summer.
[This is a bit of the piece I wrote for my class. I’m imitating Gertrude Stein from a selection of her letters in The Letters of Gertrude Stein and Thorton Wilder.]
Ever since the friend who agreed to watch my cat Trair when I was away never went to feed her in my Oakland flat in 1987, I have set out a bowl or two of extra water for my cats when I’m out of town, my “talisman” water. I’ve kept this ritual up over the years since my last two cats died. I have a big round mug now, red crayon colors, wild yellow flowers, black rim. It lives beside the fridge. This morning I replenish the water. I rinse the mug, fill it close to the brim. I wipe the water from the bottom, the sides, and lower it with care to the floor in its exact spot, silent prayers for protection. Crouching beside the fresh talisman water, I catch myself in the mirror on the wall above it. I am struck by something in my face I haven’t seen of late. “Oh, there you are,” I say to my mirror self. “You’re coming back.” And with this pleased glimpse, this relief and welcome, comes grief, too, almost as if I had abandoned myself, and loneliness, as if I’d been alone all this time since I’d become sick, as if I’d left myself for lost.
I wake to a feeling in the air, an almost smell, a difference. Then I hear it through the open windows, quiet patters on my neighbor’s awning, soft rain falling. I lie on my back, early morning light, cloud light, tasting the rain, savoring, thanking. Then comes the voice in me who always wants more, who wants to hold things longer than their time. “If only it could rain all day,” it says, sotto voce. “If only I could stay home and enjoy it instead of being stuck inside the library all day, missing it.” But today I have more sense. “Shush,” I whisper back. “Hush, now,” I say. And I return to savoring, to thanking, to dancing inside to the song of this morning rain, this unlooked for gift, this happy surprise.
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.
Late in the mid-January week when I begin to make a kind of comeback, return to myself a bit, I get sick. I think it is minor, but it gets worse every day for five days. My fever lasts for two weeks. When it begins, I have a hunch about why it happened (aside from the woman sitting in front of me on the bus who didn’t cover her mouth when she coughed). I think maybe it’s because I started to come back. I scheduled my Valentine’s Day retreat that was prompted by a sleeping dream in early December. I wrote two blog posts, the first ones since November. I was engaged, moving forward, wobbly baby steps. It happened to me once during a weeklong writing workshop. I got sick after days of writing hard stuff, making a start with difficult material. I don’t claim to completely understand it. It’s as if the psyche and the soul are freed up when we make even small forward movement through things that have been piling up or dammed. Then because the blockages disperse on those levels, they crumble in the body, too, and the body washes away the remnants, piles of tree limbs tumbling free. Weeks later, when I am all but well, I wake to this thought again, wry half-grin on my face. (I have a tendency to be wry.) It comes to me then that getting sick and feeling miserable doesn’t strike me as the greatest reward for a breakthrough.
Early on in discussions about immigrants from Africa and Haiti President Trump asks why we’d want people from “all these shithole countries.” Forget Ukraine. (Not really.) The “shithole” countries and his remarks about “grabbing pussy” should’ve been enough to sink him.