Busy summer: travel, work, love, new baby niece. Biting through writing and growth, sleeping full nights for early mornings. Cooking for love and friends. Self-care practice. Focusing on process, presence.
Heading back on to the road in a week and a half, will post my notes, images and thoughts here:
Often my life is extraordinary. Last week I went to New Mexico for work. I have a high-end interior designer I work with, sometimes she sends me around the West for work. I knew I was going out to New Mexico for work but didn't think much beyond that.
I arrived at the house where I was going to work and it was a stunner. The biggest house I've ever seen, on 200 acres of high desert mesa and valley. I was given a guest house to myself and told that I would be staying on the property alone, since the owner was out of the country. Yep, I had a 200 acre ranch and mansion all to myself. Yes, the house was stunning, exquisitely detailed and magnificent in scale but I didn't really care. I was elated (and a little scared) that I had the desert to myself.
The first couple of nights were scary. I love solitude but this was a whole other type of solitude. I would step out of the cabin at night to stare at the sky, and rush back in at the finest noise, usually rabbits or big fat beetles. I set up booby traps by the doors to my cabin, balancing empty wine bottles and cans in pyramids in case anyone tried to break in. I had no internet or cell phone reception so even if anyone had broken in all I could have done was scream and attack them with the serving fork I slept with. After a couple of nights I chilled out. I was able to spend my nights outside, with a glass of wine and my thoughts. By the last night I was dancing by myself in the desert, spinning around, singing in gratitude and that freedom that comes from knowing absolutely no one is watching.
I did a ton of work on my fantasy novel, that was the true gift. I rearranged chapters, worked on plot holes and edited. It still has a long way to go but wow, it felt good to spend dedicated time in that world.
I featured at the Speak Poet poetry reading in Albuquerque on Thursday night, hosted by my awesome friend Andrea Serrano. I love visiting New Mexico for many reasons but Andrea is one of my favorite reasons, we laugh and have the best conversations whenever we're together. It was lovely to feature, I haven't had a poetry feature in a long time. Funny to read all this poems, so many of them are a testament to my twenties and I could never write them now.
I'm reading next Thursday at So Say We All's monthly storytelling event VAMP. I have a funny piece based on the theme "Coming to America." My piece features Laura Ingalls, self-hate and fantasies about scurvy.
H comes back this weekend and I'm thrilled out of my mind. A month apart was a lot. I miss our life together, our little details and rituals of day to day living. I miss our balcony chats and morning silences. All of it. We're supposed to meet up in the Bay Area this weekend but I may stay in town since my sister is 37 weeks pregnant and ready to go into her birthing time any minute. H and I have a super busy summer ahead of us. I can't wait to have him home.
H is out of town for a month, back up in Canada visiting family, friends and working. We talked about his solo trip of his in the beginning of the year and planned accordingly. I miss him. I miss him making coffee in the morning, our late night ritual of sitting on the balcony and talking about writing and life. I miss the weight of his body in the bed, all of our little practices, that relationship dance of coming, going, weaving.
I lived alone for years before H. These past couple of days have been an interesting experiment in landing back into solitude, even if temporarily. I've slept like a starfish, sprawled over the bed. I took a night of complete aloneness last night, drinking tea, reading trashy novels and slept in this morning. The apartment is quiet. No footsteps on the wood floor during my meditation, the music of cohabitation has ceased. A part of me is trying to resist the sweetness of solitude. I love my solitude and don't want to fall so deep into it that when he is back at home I have a hard period of readjusting to company. Another part of me says to surrender to it, relish it, to take these moments and days and weeks of quiet and sink into the space.
Crazy how life changes. This Saturday two years ago I was in a hotel room filled with women. We were helping my sister prepare for her wedding. I was at the end of a bout of bronchitis, my ears were plugged, I had a hard time breathing and my head ached, even as we moved in celebration. I didn't have a date to my sister's wedding and it didn't bother me. What bothered me was the older generation, clucking over me, asking if I had anyone special in my life, the pitying attempt to console me with It'll happen. Ugh. I hated that consistent dialogue, that assumption that if I wasn't in a relationship that somehow my life was a desolate place, that my happiness was tied up in partnership. Two days after the wedding I got into my truck and drove off for an adventure that changed my life. I met H at Ghost Ranch one week after my sister's wedding. Now my sister and her husband have a baby coming. Now H and I live together and are planning/living our lives. As grains of sand through the hourglass. . .
So, a month alone. Meditation, work, and writing are my priorities. Green juice and bone broth. Dancing alone in the living room.
When the San Diego wildfires burned in 2003 I was traveling in Mexico. I remember waking up at a hostel, going downstairs to the free breakfast with my dog-eared copy of Rilke's "Duino Elegies" in hand. There was a new batch of guests at the hostel, we introduced ourselves, idle chit-chat and talked about where we were from. When I mentioned San Diego someone said "Is your family okay?" I thought it was an exceptionally odd question and said I was sure they were. It was then I first heard my city was burning. I ran out to buy a phone card and find a pay phone to call home. My parents assured me they were fine, though several relatives had evacuated and were staying at their house. The fires didn't cross my mind again until I passed a bar that had a television showing the fires. But still, it was a distant thing, an impossibility.
In 2007 when the wildfires started I was hanging with my friend S. She and I were sprawled out on my small blue sofa, spraying cold water into a fan to try to keep cool. The Santa Ana winds were blowing hard. We were watching news of a wildfire burning in East County but weren't concerned. We fell asleep in front of the sofa and I eventually got up and went to bed, leaving S on the sofa. At 5 in the morning my phone rang. It was my dad, telling me the fires were worse and I wasn't to leave my house, the mayor had essentially shut down the city. S and I watched the television all day. Outside ashes fell like snow and the air smelled of burning garbage, a smell that reminded me of Mexico. Later that day we received a call a friend had lost her home. Still, it was distant.
Tuesday a few days ago I was at work in North County. I was standing by the back of my truck, trying to mix together reds and blues to achieve a wine grape purple for cellar door I was painting. It was hot, stupid hot and windy. Crazy how our bodies respond. My body knew there was a fire burning before I even registered the smell. A blitz of adrenaline spiked through me and I broke out into a cold sweat and my nose automatically started sniffing. Fire. Smoke. The acrid smell of plants burning, the wind carrying a few scant ashes. I immediately threw my paints back into the truck and ran up a hill to see where the fires were. I saw smoke billowing in the east, a white-gray cloud rising. I called B, who said there were no fires on the news. I searched twitter and saw a wildfire was burning six miles east of me. Too close. Way too close.
I went to the backyard of the house where I was working and there, gathered in a line by the fence, all the Mexican workers--landscapers, painters, stone masons--were staring at the smoke rising. A few were on the phone, their employers calling to ask them to go get animals, rescue housekeepers without cars, or to stay behind to hose down the dried hills abutting their homes. Later, while watching the news footage, there were shots from helicopters circling over the multi-million dollar homes. In the shots I could see landscapers with hoses, doing as they'd been asked, hosing down yards and roofs of homes that weren't their homes. It ached in me, these men in the line of fire, vulnerable but eager to do the work of community for a community that doesn't see them as a part of it. Even the coyotes and deer and snakes fled. The men stayed.
I'd made the choice to leave, beat any evacuations and evacuation traffic. Two hours after I left, the neighborhood where I'd been working was evacuated. There was a cry of concern about the horses and other animals threatened. People offered trailers, crates, transport for animals. I thought again of those who stayed behind; many of them live in fear, undocumented, too frightened to call for help. It ached in me. Something to explore, the human response to disaster, what (and who) is a priority for rescue. What (and who) gets left behind. I know that these same men who stayed behind are the the ones who will rebuild. They will clear the debris, shovel ashes, tear down the charred structures and haul it all away to start rebuilding homes that aren't theirs.
It never hit home before how fast and close these fires burn and what they reveal. H and I live surrounded by finger canyons, there is one at the end of our block. The canyons are deep, filled with dried brush and trees from the hard drought. We made the decision to pack emergency bags, just in case.
I've though about what to take with me in case of emergency for years but I've never packed it all up. I emptied a storage box in our office closet. A lifetime of journals and diaries, completely irreplaceable, my emotional growth map, from the very first journals I had in seconds grade, my cursive bubble-lettered, the pages indented with the weight of my pen. The high school journals full of poetry and discovery. The later journals, the first loves, the travels, the questions that plagued and carried me through my self-discovery years. All my writing, my writing about writing, my life in paper and ink. I packed one box of photographs. A few irreplaceable heirlooms. My collection of earrings. My passport. Our little jar of savings. I went to bed realizing I hadn't packed any clothing, not even one bra or pair of shoes. My priorities packed up in a green suitcase, a purple bag and laptop case. H had his bags packed, his Visa, passport and journals, a few articles of clothing. We know what we want to carry.
Abut an hour ago I unpacked a few things, but not everything. The journals are still in a suitcase. This fire season will be hard, no doubt, and I want to be ready in case of emergency. B moved in to our apartment complex a couple of months ago and lives 40 feet away. He knows and has leave to enter our house to grab our emergency bags if we're not home and disaster strikes.
An odd week of living. I had no work, everything was one hold as we monitored the fires and their paths. There was a brief moment of panic yesterday when we got news there was a brushfire burning five miles south of us but it was stomped out quickly. This morning we woke up to cooler air, a few clouds finally stretching out though the horizon to the North is still smoke gray. My body has relaxed out of alertness. Back to living normal.
Busy summer coming up. H is heading back home for a month to work. We have a bit of travel planned, a trip to the Bay Area for a baptism, back to Vancouver for a wedding and at the end of summer, a trip abroad with H's family. Busy busy. And my sister's any is due this summer. We're overjoyed and eager. H is out of school for the summer and excited to work on his new book as I trudge along in mine. The contemporary novel is pulling but the fantasy novel is asking harder. I love both and look forward to seeing what unfolds.
I was going through albums the other day at my childhood home. I laughed a lot at the old pictures, my parents young and super skinny in New York in the seventies. Their bad clothing. The yellowed photographs of my baby years, all those pigtails and shots of me stuffing my face with sweets. I love that old album smell, a slightly chemical funk of photo paper and whatever they used to set photos back them. I dig how instant photos are now, our phones always in our hands at the ready, to capture any and every moment, but I miss the mechanics of cameras, rolling the film into a camera in a dark place, making sure the flash was up and that joy of going to get photos developed. It was such a great anticipation, driving to the drugstore or Kmart to pick up photos, open the envelope and peruse the pictures, throwing out the blurs and wasted shots.
I had this jolt of sadness at one point comparing pictures of myself in my childhood. I found a picture of me at about three years old. I'm sitting in my Big Bird chair (I was obsessed with Big Bird) and holding a baby doll, singing to it. I was a singing kid and joyful in general. I was super loved and supported and lived in house full of laughter and yard full of insects and plants to keep me exploring. I found another picture of me on the next page. I'm ten years old. The picture is from the annual speech contest. My mom pushed me to enter every year and every year I won. I look so fucking lost in the picture. Awkward and scared. School was not easy for me. Academically I did great but socially I was hurt, ached, stung. I was so incredibly insecure. I remember hating walking from the car to the my classroom, feeling judged and ugly and jeered at with every step.
Seven years between those photographs. A mini lifetime of emotion and hardening, letting go of that joy. And 24 years after that second shot I'm working to get back to the little girl in the first picture, singer of songs, toes splayed, natural hair and joy. I know, I know. Life. It isn't always easy and the challenges are what sculpt us into who we are. I wouldn't change what I've gone through. I'm happy, loved, creative and have made a life for myself that is good and true to who I am. Now to reclaim that joy, that deep joy. I grasp it at moments, but I'm hungry for it and want more.
I think one of the reasons I was hit hard by the pictures is that I have a niece or nephew arriving soon. One of my sisters is having a baby. I love watching her grow, the shifts in her body; pressing my hands to her belly, feeling the creature inside swim, retreat and come back with elbows and kicks.
So life. Everything is good. The last couple of months have been busy, almost frantic with work. I was exhausted but then had a great moment with an acquaintance who suggested I take a four day work week. I was kind of stunned when she mentioned it. Four days? I thought, What about all my work? Then I remembered I'm self-employed so that I have time for my passions and pursuits. Duh. I got caught up in the frenzy of others, the whirlpool. And here I am, in my second for day work week. It feels wonderful
H and I went to AWP last week. We're still recovering. I'm still recovering, hard. I'm not used to being around that many people, 14,000 attendees to be specific and my energy reserves were almost completely depleted. H came up with another interesting idea: there were certain people, no matter how we do our best to keep our emotional and physical distance, who pollute our energetic resources. Something to be looked at deeper with more consideration once we're fully recovered. Poor H had to go right back to school. I've been in half-assed self-care mode, making soup and editing work. I should go for a walk.
It was at times a cluster-fuck. A friend pointed out to me that tons of the people in attendance were in or graduates of writing programs. They were looking for jobs, or looking to make connections with people who could one day offer them jobs or publish them. That explained a lot. There was an atmosphere of hunger, though it was masked with an air of insouciance, a too-cool-to-care posture that dissolved whenever a well-known author or publisher appeared in the fray. There was leg-humping, a lot of it. Not literal leg-humping but emotional leg-humping, if that makes any sense. I witnessed it first-hand a few times and it made me anxious, I stood in emotional awkwardness, watching and cringing. Hero worship is no thing for me, I've met many of my heroes and I was often disappointed. Now my heroes are people I know and appreciate.
Since I have a job I love and am not too worried about details like WHO WILL EVER KNOW ME I was able to navigate the melee comfortably. I was there to see friends, and a few panels. I wasn't overly concerned with networking or connections, though those did come, organically,as they should. I spent time with people I love, bad-asses of the no-fucks-given school of life, chaos and laughter. I met and thrived around people of the same soul and mindset; mostly emotionally sharp and intelligent women of color. I met up with an old love for the first time since our heartbreak-up. It was calm, mellow and easy. We laughed at how we were still the same people, in older/wiser bodies, with newer, healthier loves.
I know myself well so each afternoon I'd leave the conference to return to our hotel for an hour or two of silence, meditation, hot hot baths and naps. Little self-care breaks I needed. My feet were covered in blisters. I wasn't used to walking everywhere, in boots. I had to keep reapplying special bandages to the tender spots, hoping they would harden into callouses. (hello metaphor, you asshole, way to show up and distract me. . . )
I stayed up late most nights, running around with girlfriends, ending up at small, private parties where writers whose work I worship on the page were hanging out, with holes in their socks. H and I were moving in slightly different circles but we kept checking in through the days and nights, meeting up briefly then moving independently on to events. We met up each night, spent time debriefing then slept heavy sleeps. I love him.
My AWP highs: VONA love: hanging with the loves and lights from VONA, especially spending time with Elmaz Abinader outside of VONA. The Dismantle Table. Hanging with Sharline and Patricia, my beautiful Pan Dulce sisters from VONA. Getting wild and laughing my ass off with Christine, then pausing to have deeper conversation before diving back into the hilarity/joy. The memorial (heart.wrenching.) reading for Kofi Awooner. The parties, the small lovely private parties. Showing up in a poem in David Mura's fucking brilliant new book, The Last Incantations. Meeting a few new people I hope become friends.
My AWP lows: Blisters. Blisters. Blisters. Watching the leg-humping. Wanting to save people from bad decisions I was watching them make. Having stayed so far (really, only ten minutes) from the conference.
Thanks to Chris for the awesome shirt I'm wearing in the picture above. And here are a few pics with my loves.
This morning I sat on the balcony enjoying the quiet. The bamboo off the balcony was half in buildings shadow, the leaves still in shade holding the dew while light steam rose from the parts of the plant in the sun, the water returning to the air. Small birds played in the stalks, singing and scolding each other. I sat back in my chair, leaned back, and put my feet against the sliding glass door for a few minutes. When I took my feet down the imprint of my feet stayed on the glass and I had a moment of wonder. It was brief but I marveled at the symmetry of the outline left on the cold glass. It was a small wonder, but still a wonder, a gratitude.
I want to leave my imprint on this world and I work towards that daily. Not just in my endeavors to write stories and poems but in my daily interactions with others. Yesterday I taught a creative writing class in the morning and I struggled. My heart was all in, giving, but sometimes there are those who don't want to receive. It had nothing to do with me but I still was blue after. I forget what it is like to be a teenager, and I have been blessed never to have had many of the struggles my students face, but I ached anyway. There was an edge of cruelty in some of what happened, words that were thrown about in jest but those words were the kind that wound for a long time, the kind that leave scars and disempowerment. They tinged the rest of my day with a disquiet that left me with a headache and sadness in my body.
Going deeper into the work and that doesn't always involve writing. Working on the book I have to go back into my own memories of high school. Working within the confines of a character who is unlike me in many ways but is still a secret-keeper. When I try to decipher the secret, inner world I spent so many years of my youth lost in, I see all these crazy patterns that followed me into my twenties. I came of age in the strangest of ways, right at adolescence leaving the cult I was raised in, the fucked up apocalyptic consciousness that had me constantly waiting for the world to end. It was a religious religion steeped in shame and blame and secrets. Being a whole human with all the emotions and inconsistencies of just existing was not allowed. My protagonist has to keep secrets that are too big for her and in doing so she gets into the secret-keeping pattern and finds her own secrets, and they are wrapped in shame. Hard work, for her, and for me as a writer trying to hold all that on the page.
I'm turning 35 in a few days. It was me thinking about this Sandra Cisneros poem I read in high school, I'm So Depressed I Feel Like Jumping into the River Behind My House But I Won't Because I'm Thirty-Eight Not Eighteen. When I read the poem I was sixteen and being eighteen seemed like a big deal, thirty-eight was unimaginable. I'm closer to thirty-eight than eighteen. I'm not depressed, thank everything, though I did have my bout with that ugly monster a few years ago, which is entirely another beast to write about eventually. Talk about shame. Anyway, the character in my book is a reader of poetry the way I was. I used poetry as an emotional map to figure out my place in the world. I am grateful that I found poetry and that I dove into it, as a reader and writer. Poets became my heroes. My obsession. So the book is an homage in many ways to younger me, and to hero worship, worship of those in our immediate world and those who affect us across time and distance. And on the other end, the adult end of the work, to the imprints we leave long after we leave the scene of emotion.
H and I talked long about it and have decided not to apply for VONA this year. We both love VONA but we know there are other writers out there who deserve and need the seats we'd be taking up if accepted. It wasn't a easy decision. VONA is home to us, even though we didn't attend at the same time, we both feel a powerful connection to the workshop. I met a woman last night who was considering applying and I couldn't say enough positive things about the workshop, the safety and embrace of the community. I look at the friends in my life and most of the ones I hold closest are friends I made. H and I are both writing, publishing more, and are more rooted in our writing lives than we were when we attended VONA. Still, I want to go back. Not even for the workshops, though I'd love to take one, but I love the community. That is what truly changed my world.