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.
Sweep. Sweep the courtyard. Yell at the big red ants. They are everywhere, traveling again and again into the path of my broom. The mess from the birds, black oil sunflower seed shells, kernel-less now. Bird shit, too, accumulates until the next good rain. Love the birds, I tell myself, accept the mess. But sometimes I yell. “Too many,” I call to the sky after them, when 40 mourning doves take wing, startled. Their wingbeats fan more mess onto the cement, and the ants roam, searching for treasure. I yell at them, too, some days. But other days I just move from spot to spot with the broom, avoiding their pathways. When I’m able to do this, to move again and again in order to sweep an ant-free space, letting go of wanting an unencumbered trajectory and my desire to finish, I can circle back again, and it just works, easy. Today, the ants are fewer, slower, maybe because last night was cooler, our first real touch of desert autumn. Today, I feel tender toward each one. I circle, calm. I even wait more than once toward the end for one ant and then another to move away, patient. When I finish, I’m struck by the beauty of this messy pile. Today, a handful of bright yellow tecoma blossoms amid the shell casings, the feathers, the papery dried bougainvillea blooms, the mound of fine, dark desert dust. And one lone purple Mexican petunia blossom still stuck to the bristles of the broom.
I set two small pots of water on the stove to boil for tea, so I can put them in the fridge tonight before I go to bed, tending to tomorrow. I crank closed the back louvered windows, turn the swamp cooler down to low for the night, ordinary tasks. I try the door, surprised to find it unlocked. I walk out into the warm dark, no moon, but there are stars and crickets. I stand in the small, open courtyard for a long time, then linger on my way back in, hand on the doorknob, not ready to relinquish being outside. There is a richness to it all, soft, silky layers, in part the almost-ending of our desert summer, I think. And I am still awash in my first foray into leading spontaneous writing online with Zoom, still bathed in the feeling of being with my three guinea pigs who came to help me do this test run, the feeling of the four of us together, our faces on my laptop screen, the unexpected warmth of it. I am certain they were sent by the gods. Our first writing prompt was about finding something extraordinary or nourishing in ordinary acts, and now my time with them imbues my everyday tasks tonight, awash in the extraordinariness of how we were together. Intimate, connected, easy, this collection of strangers, four women. We wrote together and then read our work, wonderful writing, thoughtful comments on each piece, laughing together, heartfelt, delighted. I can’t stop grinning. A remarkable evening, one of those unlooked for gifts, that easy balance between us, the give and take. Charmed, impromptu, dear.
I’m launching online spontaneous writing meetings beginning next week! (Our test session was wonderful.) We will write together, read our work and share positive feedback. These will be through Meetup and use the Zoom videoconferencing software. They are fee-based events. RSVP at Desert Writing Group (Meetup site).
I’ve scheduled some upcoming meetings on Wednesdays (7 to 9pm) and Thursdays (11am to 1pm). I’m not sure yet if these will become permanent meeting times or if we’ll meet on a more regular schedule in the future. (For now, I am just building them around my existing commitments.)
I plan to offer “Process and Craft” sessions online, too. I’ll be sending out a survey for feedback on desired topics and time slots (as well as feedback on alternate time slots and frequency for the spontaneous writing sessions).
Thanks for reading, as always! :)
P.S. Spots are still available for the November writing retreat in Joshua Tree:
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.
How can I describe it? We have a short stretch of hot days. It tops out at 122 degrees. One afternoon I hear birdsong. I follow it to the bathroom, peek around the green towel hanging on the shower rod. There is an old, weathered female house finch singing on the open louvers in the little window above the bathtub. I am charmed but baffled until I realize she is coming for the air, both the swamp cooler and the A/C on, all the windows wide open because I can’t live with them closed. I am used to the hummingbirds coming to rest on the one set of louvers without a screen, but this is new. The next day there are four house finch in the bathroom window. One is eating sunflower seeds. Later, I am working on my laptop in the living room, and I hear them on the louvers not two feet from where I sit typing. They are hidden behind the purple curtains, maybe seven of them. How do I say what it’s like to have them so near? They are almost inside my home, a magical visitation, but practical and smart of them, too. It is a dearness to know they are so close to me on the couch, their songs, chirps, their tender small selves, all feathers and air, all sweetness and light, like tiny angels calling, like crossings from another world, like family. It is like nothing I’ve ever known before. When they leave, I wonder if they were a dream.
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.