Saturday, May 24, 2014

home alone

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.

Friday, May 16, 2014

when the fires come

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.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

seven years

Been a while, been busy.

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