inner pukings

A first…

It’s a funny thing, to lose yourself, even while with yourself always… Where did I go wrong? How long has it been since I have been lost? I’m sometimes surprised at how I can be so gone, yet so aware of how screwed up my life has become.

The change has been nice, exhilarating if you will. Going from “girl on the move”, to, “girl is now a mama”. I have to admit, I’m not who I want to be, nor who I’d pictured myself to portray.

A lot of me is hidden to the outside world. And, honestly, I’d like to keep it that way. Other parts of me yearn for more connection to that world. This is where turmoil begins.

On the inside I think marvelous things about my existence… On the outside I see my reality. Why have I become so stagnant? What is the purpose of this? How is all so lost? I’m lost. I hear me in the distance. I will be found, some day… I need a push.. a friend. I need different. I need to get out of this pile of life-stuff that suffocates me. Find the LIFE-STUFF that exhilarates me. Yeah. This is what I need.

Bandon, Oregon

One winter morning, I had crab in Bandon, Oregon.

I went up the coast and went out one morning and bought crab in Bandon, Oregon.

I drove up along the rugged coast of Oregon and went out one morning and got crab in Bandon, Oregon.

I rode up the coast on my motorcycle just as my marriage was ending and stayed at a hostel. I was lonely and so I woke before dawn one morning and walked out to the docks and talked to the fishermen. I bought a crab and went back to the hostel and cooked it and ate it for breakfast in Bandon, Oregon.

I rode up the coast of Oregon looking for solitude and some measure of inner peace, and stayed in a youth hostel right along the beach. I read the Tao Te Ching and meditated in the cool morning air before walking down to the beach and watching the early fishermen catching crabs in pots that they lowered from the dock. I bought and cooked a brilliant pink King Crab nearly eight inches across and ate it before getting ready to go back south in Bandon, Oregon.

I rode into town looking for something, not knowing what it was, but found it in a funny, unexpected way one morning when I rose early and watched the seagulls and the fishermen fishing off the docks, and bought a big crab and ate it sitting outside on a wall in the cold air burning my fingers on the bright pink shell and letting the soft white flesh melt in my mouth in Bandon, Oregon.

And that was in Bandon, Oregon, where I stopped on a roadtrip one morning, partly just because I liked the sound of the name at a moment when its coded meanings and infinite possibilities spoke to me most.

People often fail on the verge of success; take care at the end as at the beginning

Some summer afternoons we would go out to dinner in a neighboring town. We’d take the backroads and meander through dust and meadows and pepper trees. On these drives, talk would turn lazy and philosophical.  They were our best moments by far.

Now, I’m just tired. When I regain balance, she knocks me off my feet again. This is breaking my heart little by little.

Regarding life after 50: I asked, “Do you ever do something and think this will be the last time I’ll do this?”

And her answer: “Absolutely.”

She asks me if I know this group or that group, have seen this film or that film.  When I say no, she laughs and says, “Oh, of course,” as if just remembering.

I believe problems of imbalance don’t work out. In my experience, they just don’t. On the other hand, I want them to.  So I continue to try.

She was eighteen years my senior. She didn’t know I kept a shrine with everything she’d ever given me in it. I began a passionate interest in female jazz singers solely because of her interest. I see hints and omens everywhere.

She hit a squirrel on one of our drives. She looked back in the mirror and dismissed it as Darwinism. “Slow one,” she laughed.

Here’s what I was trying to say. I found it: That which goes against the Tao comes to an early end.

“Don’t work so hard. Don’t worry so much,” said she. But what do you do when doing what comes naturally is too much? And sometimes there are things to worry about. I worry that she thinks I worry too much.

She bought me a book of comics from two cities away and reads it with me in bed.  I think for a moment that this is perfect.  We make love and the energy is slightly off but I push down the feeling.

She is a singer.  At cafes at bars at parties.  A torch singer by preference.  Reluctant rock singer by circumstance.  Husky-voiced smoker.  Not the worst, nor the best.  I didn’t meet her in a club.  I was slightly embarrassed when I first saw her perform, but I can’t exactly explain why.

We met in Mexico.  She was sunny, sexy, mysterious.  She laughed easily.  I loved to watch the curve of her hips as she laid in the bed in the southern sun.  An example of a vacation fling taken too far too long.

She may or may not have broken up with her ex-boyfriend.  I remember her telling me that she needed to get away, that she was relieved, that she didn’t want to see him again.  Later, they are friends.  Or maybe something else.  Do I want to know this?

Asked in a café: “Do you have a tea that will keep me from crying?” Action is the antidote to despair.

We get high and I look at her face which looks unfamiliar and vaguely sinister.  I wonder, is it the hard-lived life, or just years?  I want to roll with this, but it is never the same again.  A djinn out of the bottle.

We travel half a state away to go to a party.  Her old friends.  People she used to party with.  I guess still does.  Everyone is high.  I pass.  I need a break from the madness.  I drink a beer and then another.  She is giving a hazy lapdance to a man I’ve known as long as I’ve known her.  He is handsome in a generic California surfer bro sort of way.  I always suspected they had been or would end up being lovers.

I wander into the kitchen and inexplicably pocket a bottle of fancy hot sauce. I make the rounds, am friendly and amiable, the hot sauce a secret that bumps against my side.  Then I quietly slip away, telling no one.

I walk all night in the Hollywood hills. Near sunrise, I hear a train whistle and know I have to ride that train home.  The train yard is quiet and empty, awash in the yellow billion killowatt glare of sodium vapor lamps.  My train sits waiting for me like an old and familiar lover.

The enduring lure of solitude has always had an undeniable grip on me.

Let it go. Let it go. Let it go. A mantra. I am learning slowly. Still learning. Oh, so slowly.

Meanwhile, she is still driving.   A dust plume in the distance settles into a low haze.

Awareness

I have a feeling in my diaphragm, like an empty hole.  A void I’m aware of when I stop to listen.   Its the space that at other times has  filled with fluttering leaves that I can’t ignore, the wandering, spreading flutter that radiates down my stomach, up my back to tickle and scratch at the top of my neck, distracting my attention and whirling around my thoughts.

The emptiness I’m noticing now is pulling down on my heart, sapping my motivation.   The more I listen, the more I notice, sadness, longing, loneliness. I’m wanting a connection.  Someone to look in my eyes and hear me. The intimacy of shared experience and understanding.

I find myself reaching out to folks, grasping for that understanding. Feeling disappointment and frustration at the distraction in their eyes, or the wall my fingers can’t penitrate.  What am I missing? What is this hole? I ask Kiyana, “When you feel homesick what do you think is the source of that feeling?” She says, “It’s not home, it’s the people I’m missing.”

Ah. I’m missing you, so simple.

Ugly Intersection Drawing of a Scrub Jay

washington street by n.elle

Had unusual dreams last night under a foot of blankets.  Elaine told me she’s never had an orgasm.  I said, “Never?” And she said, “Never,” in that way she has that is sardonically accepting of every situation. And I wake up thinking of Sophie.  Just that thought in my head.  That’s all.

I’m chafing in my life right now.  I need adventure and freedom and release from some of the responsibilities that feel like a heavy weight.

I want to learn to draw.  Gestures, shading, faces, bodies.  I’d love to know so much more about how to draw these. I’d love to know so much more about everything.  I know next to nothing.

I relish the exercise of just quietly seeing. I found an inexplicable list in my bag:

  • leverage
  • failing economy
  • south pacific plan
  • empty space
  • ugly intersection
  • drawing of a scrub jay
  • a kiss

Where am I?  A longing for space and time.  I want to just sit and sit, read and write, smoke a cigar, watch the snow fall, clouds pass, deer nibble on the lower branches of the trees.

It begins to thaw my heart, this idea of getting away.  The renewal of possibility.  And I look at the date and realize it is the solstice, the rebirth of the sun.  Renewal of the seasons.  From here on out, more light, more day.

There’s a glimmer in the air of possibility.  Everything seems possible right now.  Or almost possible.  Like the veil between what is and what could be is thinner, gauzier.

Or perhaps it seems like life is so absurd that any old absurd thing is full of possibility.  For instance, is it really all that crazy to rent out our house and go to Spain for a year?  Or to learn to draw?  Or to start a soul group?

The server at this cafe is charming.  She looks at me with so much sparkle, like she is secretly in love with me.  I never allow myself to believe such things.

Maybe I will go to Idaho.  My own private Idaho.  Where does that phrase come from?

I liked the contra dance last night.  It felt nice to have some attention from strangers.  I remember a dance with a woman named Natalie.  After the dance we were both flushed and breathing hard, looking at each other a little amazed.  I think I needed that.

Hop in a car, pick only blue roads, selecting at each intersection the road that takes you further from what is into what could be, stop at some nowhere little town and rent a cheap motel room.

Or motorcycle around, staying in hostels, drinking cheep wine with travelers and talking to retired ranchers in nearly empty bars?

Hop trains to wherever? Get on a greyhound to anywhere? Should I throw a dart at a map?  Flip a coin?  Roll dice?

I’m not sure it even matters.

I thought of going to Salmon, Idaho or Bandon, Oregon or San Diego.  Idaho was snowed in. And anything off the major routes were expensive via Greyhound.  San Diego was too I don’t know.

When I’m traveling, I can just be.  The worries and concerns are immediate, real.  Hunger, thirst, desire, all now.

Traveling on Christmas eve.  So strange.  Such a relief.  Such a sense of unreality still.

Everyone on the bus is holiday antsy, up down up down.  Every stop trying to get off the bus to smoke, then chased back on by the driver.

Strangely, the Greyhound seats, so molded and plush and padded are remarkably uncomfortable.  A small ache between my shoulder blades.  I don’t remember that.

Sitting here endlessly in a station in Sacramento.  No explanation.  No new schedule.  No anything really.  Just waiting.  There’s no information about when and if we might depart, or why we haven’t already.  Storm closed all the roads?  Cascadian independence movement cut off the border?  Classified alien activity site on Mt. Shasta?  My Sacramento friends are are out of state.

A combination of untruths and gentle pestering gets me on to a bus as far as Medford.  I promised the bus driver to have my friends in Medford pick me up.  I’d rather be stuck in Medford than Sacramento.  Plus when the road clears I can continue my journey.  What will I find in Medford?

I’m headed to Portland chosen more or less arbitrarily, seeded perhaps by my friend Bay there. Maybe I just wanted to see her all along.

A high school girl gets excited at the prospect of seeing snow for the first time.  Snow beings to appear alongside the road.  “Is it snowing?  Is it snowing?” she asks, craning her neck to see out the front window.  Her companion asks if she’s ever seen Star Wars when the Millennium Falcon goes into hyperspace.  She hasn’t.  Has she seen a computer screensaver with stars coming at you?  Yes, she’s seen that.  “That’s what it looks like when you are driving at night and it’s snowing.  That’s what it looks like,” her companion explains.

When we stop, the snow is falling so thickly it looks like a sloppy special effect.  Less like falling flakes, than someone is disemboweling a couch from a high building.  There are white sheep in a white field covered in white snow.  They are nearly invisible.  Will their wool coats keep them warm enough?  I assume so.

The bus gets stuck at several stops, backing up, going forward, backing up, going forward.  The driver puts on chains over the high passes.

At Medford, we switch drivers.  My Medford-bound bus is going to try to shoot through to Portland.  Someone asks if we’ll make it to Eugene.  Bus driver says “Gotta have a positive attitude.” She asks again.  He says again, “You gotta have a positive attitude.” And so we proceed down the road with a bus full of positive attitude.

Duke Ellington And The Obsession Of Collection

I collect records. Ever since I was a kid. My first record was not a collector’s item. It was Shaun Cassidy. An album called Born Late. I still have it. I haven’t listened to it in twenty years. But I can’t bear to get rid of it. It was my first album. I’m a collector. Even that may be worth something someday.

I’ve collected stamps, glass insulators, road reflectors, old lanterns, furniture, license plates, books, turn of the century cooking utensils, Schwinn Stingrays, marbles, comic books, Hot Wheels, and Star Wars action figures. I’ve flirted with a thousand different collections. Sewing machines, 50’s cars, lawn ornaments. I’ve collected millions of individual items. The fads have come and gone, but through it all, I’ve collected records.

I have over ten thousand records in my collection now, in three storage lockers. I estimate I’ve spent nearly a 100 thousand dollars over a lifetime of record collecting.

Here are the top 5 most valuable records in history:

  1. John Lennon & Yoko Ono – Double Fantasy (1980) – $525,000 – Autographed by Lennon five hours before Mark David Chapman assassinated him.
  2. The Quarrymen – “That’ll Be the Day”/”In Spite Of All The Danger” (1958) – $180,000 – Only one copy made.
  3. The Beatles – Yesterday and Today (1966) — $85,000 – with rare cover of Beatles in butcher smocks, covered in baby parts and raw meat
  4. Bob Dylan – The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (1963) – $35,000 – Featuring 4 tracks deleted from subsequent releases.
  5. Long Cleve Reed & Little Harvey Hull – “Original Stack O’Lee Blues” (1927) –$30,000 – 78 RPM in plain sleeve.

My collection isn’t worth near that, but any day one of the gems of my collection may reach maturity and make me a million. That is, if I could bear to sell it. I was once offered four thousand dollars for the pride of my collection: A very rare 1930 recording of Duke Ellington.

My crowning achievement as a collector was so easy it was almost criminal. My Great Aunt Ethel lived in Portland, Oregon. I joined my grandparents on what we thought might be our last visit before her death. Whenever I go over to an old person’s house, I thumb through their music collection. Just in case. You never know what you might find. And this visit to Aunt Ethel paid off. I found a collection of 78s in a box beside an old Victrola in an upstairs room. It was her sewing room. She hadn’t sewed in twenty years since the arthritis. The room was thick with dust. The box of records was underneath piles and piles of scrap cloth and half finished quilts.

I found the box by the Victrola, and my heart raced. I always begin to sweat with anticipation when I know I’ve found undiscovered treasure. An entire box of old 78s. I thumbed through the records one by one. Most of the records were commonplace in the collector’s market and were nearly worthless. Furthermore, most had been played out or scratched beyond repair.

But, near the back, there was a box set. It was a Duke Ellington collection. This was a very old set of records. Each of the records except one were marked with deep scratches. Daggers pierced my heart as I slid each one out of its sleeve and saw its condition. My life’s find seemed to be slipping away. But the last record was in a sealed envelope of translucent cellophane. I could read the label. It was a Victor recording of Duke Ellington and his Orchestra. Ring Dem Bells was on the A-side. Mood Indigo was the B-side. It looked like it had never been played! It was the find of the century!

I cradled the entire set in my arms as I descended the stairs. I panicked when I began to wonder if the old bat would give me the record. Would I have to buy it from her? Mightn’t she guess its great value if I was willing to buy such an old record? I decided to try to keep it casual. I had to stop and calm down. I sat at the bottom of the stairs with the Duke and breathed deep breaths.

“Hi, Aunty,” I said to the old woman in her wheelchair.

“What you been up to, boy? Mischief?” she asked.

“I was admiring all your great old stuff upstairs,” I positioned.

“What great old stuff?” she asked suspiciously.

“The old furniture, the grandfather clock in the hall,” I said casually.

“Are you waiting for me to die, Son?” she squinted at me.

“All those memories,” I said trying to work my way around to my casual question. “You use all that stuff? The sewing machine? The old Victrola?”

“No, I don’t use it anymore, boy. The arthritis keeps me from sewing, you know. And why would I want to use the old Victrola? I have me a cassette deck radio right here that I don’t have to keep winding,” she smiled and patted the cassette radio my dad had bought her.

“I love that old Victrola. It puts me in touch with another era,” I dropped.

“Hmmm,” she muttered, lost in another era herself.

“Is there any way I could borrow it?” I asked.

“The Victrola? Sure. Take it away. And any other trash you find up in that sewing room.”

“Can I have the records that go with it?” I asked, almost beside myself with excitement.

Suddenly she got very grave. “No,” she said sternly. “Those were Bob’s records. You can borrow them if you like, but you can’t have them.”

“Aunty, can I ask you a question? I was curious about this record,” I said, holding up my treasure. She extended her hands and I got fearful to turn it over to the old woman. I reluctantly gave it to her and sent up a little prayer that she wouldn’t open it.

She looked at it a moment and made a frowny face. “Do you know the record, Aunty?” I said.

“Yes,” she said. “Bobby listened to those Negro composers, the Jazz men, back then.”

I gently snatched the record back as her focus shifted inward. “But it’s never been opened,” I said. “How come?”

“Well, that came in that box of records, right?” she was sharp as tacks. “That song on that record was playing everywhere you went. You went to a party or a dance and it was playing. You went to a store and someone had it on the record player. You couldn’t get away from it. And so I told Bobby that if I ever heard it played on our Victrola, I would pick it up and break it. So it was never even taken out of the paper.”

I took the record home, almost forgetting to take the Victrola as well. And I lived in fear for the next several years that Aunt Ethel would ask for it back. When she called I felt awash with guilt.  When my parents or grandparents went to visit, I found an excuse not to go. I didn’t know if she remembered my loan, but I took no chances. She finally died and I heaved a sigh of relief. The record was mine.

I kept it in the envelope, unopened, in mint condition. It’s the pride of my collection.

That record, that wax testimony to the genius of Duke Ellington, has been heard only one time. It was broken out of its cellophane envelope, and the mystery that was a sixty year-old never-played 78rpm recording of a rare studio session dissolved in seven minutes. The record itself dropped several hundred dollars in value that day, I thought.

I dated a woman named Jacqueline well after college. We were to be married. She was a collector too. We would spend summer weekends driving around to garage sales looking for the Big Find. Once a month we would go all day Saturday to the City to several of the big auctions. We were going to open an antique and collectibles shop together.

The shop was going to sell “antique” furniture and knickknacks to the old women who come here as tourists. The stuff would be old, but none of it antique. It would be a place where we could get rid of all of the stuff that we no longer wanted to collect. Or stuff that had fallen so far in value that it was no longer worth storing. The general public has no good sense when it comes to old things. People would rather buy a beat up old dresser than a perfectly preserved one decades older. The reason, you see, is because it looks older. And what good is it, they figure, to spend the money on antiques if they don’t look their age?  Don’t even talk to me about “distressed” furniture.  Makes me a little sick.

Jacqueline and I were fiends. She was a master bargainer. She could talk the tusks off an elephant. Also, she was a great salesman. She could sell water to a fish. With her as my partner, I couldn’t loose in the business. We’d secured loans from our parents and several friends and were hoping to set ourselves up in business the following year.

We were great in business and great in bed. We made love in an 19th century King Louis bed in a dark recess of a museum in Amsterdam. We collected King Louis furniture for the next six months and refurnished our bedroom. We would both meet in period costume in the garden. We would greet cordially and talk pleasantly. Then when we were both flushed and breathing hard with anticipation, I would grab her, take her back to our bedroom and ravish her.

But Jacqueline was a jealous lover. She was competitive as well. Though we bought many items for our collection with our combined money, we both collected and kept things that we understood were part of our private stashes. Whenever I found a new treasure, Jacqueline had to best me with a find for one of her collections. If I found a rare old record, Jacqueline had to find a rare porcelain doll. If I found a like-new Schwinn Stingray, Jacqueline would look for a Fiestaware place setting in radioactive red.

She was crazy about my record collection. I’d started the collection fifteen years before I met her, and I didn’t see any reason why I should share it. It was mine. I wanted to keep something for myself, something that was just mine and no one else’s. Is that so wrong?

When we first met, she bought me several records for the collection. Her first attempts were lame because she didn’t know the field. But after a while she got better at sizing up a valuable recording, and before we were living together, would often bring me fantastic finds from hours of combing used record stores. She started collecting records of interest to her, old 70s albums that could be found by the dozen in thrift stores, but would be rare in another twenty years. We were courting and collecting together.

First she asked me to share my collection. Sometime after we moved in together, she referred to the records as “our collection.” I gently, but firmly told her it was mine. I don’t regret keeping it to myself, but probably the seeds were planted in that moment for the beginning of the end.

Later, she asked me to sell the collection to fund our business. Then when I refused, she got angry and accused me of loving my records more than her. It was the worst argument of our romance.

“How could you even ask me to sell the collection?” I screamed. “Its always brought me so much joy,” I said.

“If you are so happy with it, why don’t you marry it?” she yelled.

We patched up the fight and made things right again. But there was always a glimmer of accusation and distrust around the subject of my records. We tacitly agreed never to talk about it. I no longer told her when I’d made a great find. I no longer joyously played old records for her. I had a very brief affair with a new record collector upstate.  But Jacqueline and I had other fish to fry and we moved on, planning the business and acquiring salable items.

One day I home and surprised Jacqueline in the bedroom.  She looked up guiltily and little bit defiant.  She was holding my Duke Ellington record. I stood there a little stunned, wondering what she was planning to do. It was kept in a special case inside a fireproof filing cabinet in our bedroom. The record had still never been played. It was sealed in its cellophane envelope like the day it had left the Victor factory.

“You’ve never listened to this thing,” Jacqueline said, looking up at me.

“No. It’s never been played,” I said. “It’s very rare. Over seventy years-old now.”

“Never? Why not?” she asked.

I told her the story Aunt Ethel had told me, though I knew I must have told her before.

“And you’ve never gotten curious?” she asked.

“Oh sure,” I said, “But I know its worth so much more–”

“Yeah, yeah,” she said cutting me off. “I know about your offer. Three thousand dollars, but you wouldn’t sell.”

“Four,” I said.

“Four thousand,” she said. “Wanna put it on now? Wanna hear it? We could make love while Duke Ellington plays for us, straight out of the past.”  I’d found that Aunt Ethel’s old Victrola was actually worth something
after all, and it sat on an antique table in the bedroom. Jacqueline started to walk over to it.

“No!” I shouted.

She stopped and looked alarmed. “I was kidding. Kidding.” She shook her head. “Geez, Louise,” she said and carelessly tossed Duke Ellington to me and strutted out of the room. I hated her for that one moment. And then it passed.

Three months later. We were weeks away from opening the business. The location was secured. We had a deposit down on the lease. We had crews lined up to renovate the place and move the fixtures and antiques into the shop on the first of the month. The pressure was enormous. We were getting no sleep. We hadn’t made love in weeks, months maybe. We didn’t argue, but we didn’t talk either. We grunted orders at each other.

“Uh, get the door.”

“Hmmm, grab some burgers while you’re out.”

“Hey, don’t forget the tax forms.”

“Pick up that chair you bought last weekend.”

Jacqueline had gone home early to throw together some dinner before we had to go back down to the shop and work the rest of the evening. I was going to stay assembling fixtures until she called me for dinner.

I gouged my thumb with a screwdriver and found that we didn’t have any Band-Aids down at the shop. I was getting hungry and decided it was time to pack up for now.

When I opened the door, my heart sank into the pit of my stomach. I heard the first few piano bars of Mood Indigo. I knew.  Immediately.  I ran, though it was already too late.  When I reached the bedroom door, the clarinet began its sad solo. I stood with my mouth open and looked at Jacqueline. She was standing over my Aunt Ethel’s old Victrola staring down at Duke Ellington spinning on the turntable. She was smiling. I was in shock. I wondered what she was smiling at.

Then I began to hear the music.

It was so finely textured I couldn’t tell where one sound started and another began. It was a synthetic whole. It was one piece of finely woven cloth with clever variations of texture and mood. It was lonely and exultant. Somehow happy and sad. I saw in it reflected the entire Black experience in America, the hope and the heartbreak.

The quality was like a punch in the ears. A never before played 78rpm recording of a musical genius with almost no hiss. It was like a voice across the years. The trombone tripped up and down the scales, rising to meet the clarinet which took the lead. With the bass clarinet providing undertones, the clarinet made impossibly complex rich music. Then the whole orchestration fell into a more somber groove, with now-and-then flashes of improvisation from the clarinet. I’d heard the words to the song in later recordings and couldn’t help hearing them now in my head.

You ain’t been blue… no, no, no…
You ain’t been blue, till you had that mood indigo…

Then as the clarinet and trombone took it home slow and sad, Duke finished with a flare, those staccato blasts from those great horns! Chills ran up and down my spine. Jacqueline was still staring at the record, smiling.

The record ended with the distinctive hiss-hiss-hiss-hiss-hiss of the 78. I was still anchored to my spot. My mouth was still open. My record was still going around and around and around.

Jacqueline looked up, and we looked at each other’s soul for the last time.

-o-

Prologue

She left the next day. I wanted her to leave and so did she.

I found out later in correspondence with one of the most esteemed vintage record collector in the country, that being in the factory packaging seldom affects the price of a high-end vintage record sale. They look exclusively at its rarity and its condition, he said. The experts would have had to take it out of its wrapper to grade it anyway.

I’m hopping to open up a shop here sometime soon. I don’t have the business sense that Jacqueline did, but I’ll try. We’ll be competitors in fact, for she opened up her own shop across town. I hear she’s doing very well, selling eBay and mail-order all over the country.

The words of the song still come back to me sometimes. I wish I could reach back seventy years and thank the Duke for expressing it so well.

That feelin goes stealin down to my shoes, and
I sit and cry “Go ‘long Blues.”
Always get that Mood Indigo,
Since my baby said good bye…
I’m just a soul bluer than blue can be
When I get that Mood Indigo

Revolutions

Feeling guilty about it is no good at all. He can’t win this one. She can’t win this one. It isn’t that he wants to tell her how to behave, and he’s not willing to tell her how to feel. But if he would, if he could. In a secret place. A secret safe place. That’s exactly what he really wishes. He wishes he could change how she feels.

Guilty doesn’t help. Guilty doesn’t make her want him. Its a maelstrom of transmuted feelings. Desire to pressure. Honesty to rejection. Inadequacy to guilt. That’s where she’s at — she wants to want him. She wishes she loved him the way she did. It would be so much easier to live with, to love with. Easier to understand.

And where does that leave them? He feels desire. She feels only that she should desire him. A duty (though she doesn’t think that way). A part of the bargain of love. If they love each other, he for her and her for him, there a trade of mutual desire. Anything less, an unpaid balance, is debt in the finance of love. And from there comes guilt. Because the currency of love is desire. It it isn’t there, it isn’t there. An unbalanced account. A debt unpaid.

He wants to tell her without words that there’s no use her feeling guilty about it. He wants to tell her so much more. He can’t. He has no idea how. Language doesn’t work anymore.

He lays down beside her. She sleeps with her back to him. He pulls the blankets up. He eases his arm around her and snuggles in close. She grunts from someplace deep in her sleep. Neither pleasure nor displeasure. An only semi-conscious grunt of acknowledgment. This is it. Here we are.

He’s holding his breath. He remembers to breathe. He waits a very long moment. Breath in. Breath out. Slowly. He moves his hand to her stomach. Her nightshirt has come up and her stomach is bare. He places his hand flat against her smooth skin, against the slight swell of her stomach. Something turns over in him. Another sound bubbles up from the depths of her sleep.

A swirl of feelings. Confusion. Was that irritation? Was it the stirrings of excitement? If she responds to his touch, what does he do? How far does he take it? For him, this is enough. Almost enough. If he knew that she liked, even wanted his touch, this gentle intimacy, it would be enough. If only she would push against him, nuzzle into him, then it’d be enough. Then he’d know.

Even in her semi-consciousness, she’s afraid. This is enough. This is safe. A soft hand resting on her, an arm around her, the possibility of more. Only the possibility. Right here. Right now. She doesn’t have to plow up the barren fields of her missing desire. But if she gives a Sign, a low moan of contentment, a smile, pushing against him (she can already feel him hard against her), it begs the question: how far do we take this? Above all, she wants the answer to be, this. This is enough. So she lies perfectly still. Afraid to reject him, afraid to encourage him.

She feels guilty and pressured and confused, and in this swirl of feelings, and out of this not-so-contented, not-so-peaceful, not-so-satisfied, utterly unbalanced moment comes a very real sleepthought. This isn’t enough. No, not nearly enough for her. She can’t put her finger on the why of it, on the what of it, and so we’re back around to guilt.

She doesn’t know that she simply wants peace.

In her circles she feels trapped. Hot. She moves to throw the blankets off. With her movement, he springs away from her, tensing at the vague subtle edge of frustration.

He’s rejected, confused, angry. Hurt. She senses it (and feels guilty). He turns his back to her (but moves his backturned body close enough that she could move against him if she chose). She wants to comfort him. She wants to explain without explaining. This hurt child pulls out a mothering urge in her. But how does she hold him without giving the Wrong Signals, without putting out a Sign. How does she show that sometimes this can be enough.

She can’t. She has no idea how.

And round and round they go through the half sleepless, half wakeless night. And all he knows is that guilt doesn’t help.

We will not be the last

You’re a dark spec on the horizon while I’m floating away.  Walking the streets of London. Curling up close to musical voices more embracing than the California air outside.  I am everywhere and simply nowhere.  Do my eyes betray me? I’m sure the blank stare is confusing, but I’m too impressionable to resist the lure of simple imagination.

How long is too long?  When is never long enough?

My steps are wet and vibrant on the street at dusk.  Damp boots carrying the dust of a thousand miles crossed in an instant.  My cold breath makes wispy clouds in the air, circling my head in a gentle parade of vapor mixed with warmth.  I reach the steel door and slide in the ancient key.   There is hot tea and bread waiting inside.  I sit down across from your ethereal presence.  We celebrate the magic of never knowing each other.  Aren’t we so lucky to live as this?  Lovers that never were.  For a moment I would give everything to just be here, in this place within my mind, forever.  In love with your voice as it cracks while you’re singing.  Your breath is as warm as a blanket covering my soul, as it draws in to issue another round.

4254 0050 1006 2552

When first I lost you I was unconcerned
I knew you’d come back
Maybe not today or the next
But eventually and inevitably
Like that time I lost my wallet
And it turned up in a park
Full of cash and cards
Two states away.

I figured you dropped out of my pocket
As I rode back from the Farmer’s Market
With peaches and strawberries
And five avocados
(I’d eaten the sixth)
The drunk Mexican guys
Outside the taqueria yelled
Hey, you dropped something.

I thought you’d turn up.
I thought you’d come back.
I want you, I miss you, I need you.
Without you, there’s an empty space.

I miss the way you sparkled.
I miss your bright colors.
I miss running my hands over you
And feeling my own name
Embossed on your surface.

You have ten days
Before your replacement
Arrives in the mail.

Greyhound

I rode a shuttle bus last night up on campus and after everyone boarded and the driver turned off the bright overhead lights leaving a series of moody pools of warm reading light, I was flooded with longing.

Cross-country bus trips of my youth.  Stopping for minutes at a time in little towns whose name I never knew.  Longer stops, blurry-eyed at five in the morning, looking for warm coffee to wrap my hands around in the boring spaces between drivers, here in these bigger towns.  Flagstaff, Oklahoma City, KC, St. Louis.  Or the run-down, industrial outskirts of these towns at least.

I was just out of high school desperately in love with a girl who, though only a couple of years younger than I, was a million miles away from where I wanted to go.   Holding hands was her limit.  I, who’d been sexually aware since I was ten and deflowered at fourteen, felt constantly hopeful and horny and guilty and ashamed.

Her mom and Nana were deeply enmeshed in every aspect of each others lives, forming a creepy three-headed, cross-generational triumvirate.  I’ve wondered over the years if they were deliberately conscious of how effective this doling out and withholding affection was at keeping me around. Unconscious or Machiavellian  or a young girl just not ready, I remained doting and obsessive and sexually frustrated for nearly two years.

I am mercilessly unforgiving with myself about this now.  The less she gave, the harder I tried.  This has been a central lesson in my romantic life in the last few decades.  One cannot will a relationship into existence.  I am willing to meet you half way.  Or maybe more than half way, but I want to feel like partners in this.  I’m not going to woo you, seduce you, convince you, pressure you.   If you already think I’m funny and sexy and smart like I feel about you, maybe then, we’ll see.  What will happen will happen.

In her senior year, her mom, her Nana, sent her to a boarding school in Saint Louis.  I wonder what part my ardor played in that decision.  A Christian Science school in a treeless stretch of prairie as big as a university.

I wrote to her daily, or very close.  She was at a new school, meeting new people and here was a boyfriend back home who she’d given maybe a chaste kiss once or twice flooding her mailbox with letters.  Who knows whether she read all of them.  She wrote me maybe once a week, answering only some of my jealous questions about who she was hanging out with and what she was doing.

During the winter holidays, I decided I would have an absurd adventure.  I would travel across the country for a week to spend a few days with her.  It was that kind of irritating and nauseous romance.  A bus trip with money saved from working in her family’s shop.  Two thirds of the way across the continent by Greyhound bus.

The sense of expectation first.  This sense of purpose and reason.  Riding a bus across the country to get somewhere.  Of course, anywhere, is nice too.  But somewhere, a specific goal, has a nice feeling.

But being on the road that long, that far from home, there’s a sense that anything can happen.   Might happen.  Maybe should happen.  What if I got off in this town, what is it called?  Greensburg.  What if I got off here in Greensburg, what would my life be like?  Who are these people?  How did they get here?  Why are they here and not somewhere else?  Why are they them, and me me, and not the other way around?  Could I live here?  What kind of connections would I have with these people?  All thoughts that come in the night as the long highway detours through little towns.

In towns through Missouri and Kansas I spotted butchers that specialized in wild-killed meat.  Their customers were primarily hunters.  Indeed, in a coffee shop serving as a small town bus stop, in the middle of the night, we came upon a herd of hunters in camouflage drinking coffee ready to begin the hunt.  I developed an inexplicable craving for deer jerky.

A jealous love.  A starving man.  An obsession.  A manipulation.  A lonely romance.  A young young girl with the usual ambivalence.  A scarcity economy.  A long, slow panic.  Shame.  Guilt.  A feeling of unloveability.  A rationed affection.  Still after twenty years I don’t know how to think of it.

The pools of light made by reading lights.  On this crowded bus, each passenger gets her or his own intimate bubble.  An entire universe, wedged in between other universes, in which to read, snack, or think.  A moment alone to dream, followed by another uninterrupted moment, followed by another.

In one town bathed in washed-out winter sun, a row developed at the front of the bus which quickly moved outside.  A red blotchy-faced woman was having an argument with the driver.  I watched distantly, dispassionately until the woman walked away from the bus cursing.

In the space of the bus, another space was created.  A mental space, a separation between strangers, that was as wide and open as a desert valley.  In two thousand miles maybe two or three people broke through that bubble.

One was a young blond girl curious about my travels.  What was I doing on the road?  Where was I going?  Where was I going to sleep?  She was from another town in California and was traveling much much further than me all the way to the other coast for reasons I couldn’t quite discern from what she said.  A man?  A job?  Both?

The other strangers I talked to were concerned middle-aged women.  Motherly types, concerned about my welfare, full of advice and suggestions.  Their smiles all looked the same.  In my memory, they meld into a road trip archetype of all the concerned mothers I’ve met on the road who have a young wayward son in the military.

I’ll leave the part about the girlfriend behind in these reminiscences, because every moment of the journey stuck with me deep down in this way that’s hard to describe, except for the part of the journey, the three days I actually spent with her.   In the future of this young man, in the summer, several months hence,  a great weariness overtakes him.  The weariness of trying too hard overcomes him and he gives up on this quixotic romance.  But this bus trip in the winter in an attempt to demonstrate the depth of his love.

Two days across the nation, and two days back.  Three thousand nine hundred sixty two miles.  Three days, twenty-three hours, and fifty minutes of bus travel over a long long week of an eighteen-year old young man.

And in the day, the unending vision of road and town and landscape scrolling by. The endless, boundless, constant, continual, eternal, everlasting, immeasurable, infinite, interminable, limitless, monotonous, never-ending, perpetual, unbounded, unbroken, unending road.

Midnight, Oakland

I am a white woman living in an affluent country, in a liberal state, with an education and a good job.  I am not oppressed like women in Darfur or Afghanistan.  I have never been attacked… at least not by a stranger.  Even with the most basic credentials of a first world country, I am minority citizen. I did not gain these freedoms by basic right of privilege.

Friday night, I went out in Oakland, alone, to see some local art openings.   Walking to my auto around 11pm, two men slowed up in a car and began to trail me, speaking to me out of the passenger window.  I knew my footfalls on the street, at night, alone, could beckon danger. I am after all, a woman.  I had worked myself up into a fit of rage over this before the men approached behind in their car.   They continued speaking to me, but I couldn’t hear them beyond the blood rushing in my ears.  I’ve lived in the Bay Area most of my life.  I have worked, lived, loved, and gone to school in the seediest neighborhoods for many years.  I have been approached by strange men in cars too many times to count….San Jose, San Francisco, Berkeley.   It doesn’t matter what I’m wearing, where I’m going or the time of day.  It just doesn’t matter.  They want sex? They’ll hope I’ll get in?   The preposterousness of the situation makes me simultaneously laugh and cringe.  What would a 13 year-old girl do?

From the far corner of my mind, I watched myself slowly turn to these two men, issuing elicit invitations to me in the dead of night, and heard a voice speaking to them.   Not unlike a ghost from the grave, speaking in slow motion, I said to them in low voice: “You need to fuck off now.  Good bye.”

Blink. The driver’s foot hitting the gas.  The car speeding off.  Me, in shock at the carnal rage within.  Feet hitting the pavement, running to my own auto.  I hope I frightened them more than they to me. Just like all the others, intimidating women caught off-guard and alone.  One thing city living has taught me, you never let that guard down.

The last time I was a victim, I was sixteen years old.  I learned that the word “no” itself does not execute intention upon your assailant.  Nor does hiding your face in shame.  The world still carries on after you close your eyes.

So I find myself in the dead of the night speaking in an other worldly voice to strangers and actually scaring them away.  I do not communicate my intentions with physics, but the will of sheer hatred.

How do I teach my daughter to be fierce, but kind; to walk with grace and strength, but without bitterness; to carry all the best parts of male and female within?  Or, do I just show her how to survive?

Homework and social activism (hippie antics…)

I told my son he needed to get started on his homework, he refused and began complaining, so I started listing the consequences(no playing outside, favorite items being taken away) and I explained to him he had to do his homework because this is part of creating good study habits and reinforcing what you are learning. He then ran off and became quiet fumbling around in his room. I told him he had a 20 minutes to get his homework out. he came back with a loaf of bread and a few other little bottles tucked under his belt and holding a sign up that said “no homework…save the trees” and he was chanting “i protest homework”.

he then went and hid under the stairs and said he was “protesting the use homework in the lives of children” and would not come out. i told him he would get hungry and thirsty and he said “I have bread and water” as flipped the bottle of water and loaf bread around his little 9 year old body. Then I told him “you will have to pee”… He took an empty juice bottle and looked me straight in the eyes and said “I can aim”.

The social change/resisting authority model at its best…

Dispatch from the Cab of an Old Truck in the RC&BT Railyard at the End of Autumn

Sitting in the twilight in the old truck at the railyard.  The last of the Saturday light fading from the sky.  An unseasonably warm November evening, maybe the last warm night of the year.  Car wheels crunching on gravel in the distance.

Someone asked if this was part of a larger story.  Trite, but yes.  Part of the story of my days and nights.

I’m told that some people recharge their energy by being with people.  Others recharge by being alone.  I’m alone for the first time in what feels like weeks.  I can no longer tell in the blur of motion that stretches each day into an eternity.

I’ve lived lifetimes.  I’ve lived many lives.  And for the moment, this twilight evening, I’m taking a breather.

This evening.  This cigar.  This old truck.  This body.  This world.

I’m fortunate to be me and no one else.  I’m glad to have this life to live.  I’m not sure at all if I’ve done this before or if this is my first time around.  And when I’m gone, I’m not sure if I get another chance, or if this is the only one I get.  I’d be wholly content with that.  I don’t need another go at it, and I don’t need an afterlife.

These moments.  So human.  So animal.  So Earthbound.  All of it.  When I die, don’t mourn.  Celebrate.

Hard Time Killin’ Floor Blues


A freight train out of town.  Cold hands.  Head stuffed up with sleep and lack of sleep and why am I up so early with the morning fog along the tracks.  Skip James tune in my head, just a few lines obsessively repeating in my head. There’s a girl that I left behind and we’re in a state where things are not exactly clear.  But that’s far away and I shove it aside.

There’s a guy who walks around downtown with his chest out, a white guy, sauntering, no, swaggering, who barks at people.  Literally, like a dog.  The other day he walked around with a ski mask, gruff voice growling “Give me yer change.”

I feel like that now, fuzzy headed.  I thought my coffee cup had reached the bottom, but when I looked I’d apparently already filled it up again.  Where was I?  Am I living my life that way?  I’ll hear rumors of things I’ve done, places I’ve been?

“If I can ever get up off of this hard killin’ floor, I’ll never get down this low no mo’.”

If you ask me how I am, I’ll say, “Really fucking well.”  And I’ll mean it.  But when I have a free moment, I can’t remember what I am supposed to do.  When I’m still, I’m lost.

This trainyard is full of the haziness of the unknown, the unanswered question.  But on a rolling freight, a boxcar empties of all that as it reaches speed.  The clang of metal on metal.  The clack of wheels on ribbon rail.  The rolling smack of slack action.  The sun shines even if it’s night.  Even if it is raining.  Even if it’s cold as shit.  My memories look like that.  The trainyard always full of morning mist, my hands cold.  The rolling stock flooded with brilliant sunshine.  In motion, I’m found.

There are things that can only exist in empty spaces.  In the widest desert vistas.  The mountain valley above the treeline.  The rundown abandoned part of town.  Space to create.  Space to think.

Meanwhile, I hear I do stuff.  Rumors.  Stories.  Interesting things.  I read old letters that talk of things I no longer remember.  Yesterday, I overheard a conversation referring to what I did the day before.  I had no recollection.    I heard I fell in love.  What became of that?

Caspian had the words wrong, but I like his version better.  Bleak, but maybe real.  And is that the way it is?  Is that the way it’ll be?  But there’s no exercise in philosophy like looking for hope in the blues.  His version: If I ever get off of this killin’ floor, I’ll never get off of this killin’ floor.

For my friends: If I go and you remain

[cue lights]

There’s a planet to the left of the moon and on some nights, like all the stars, it seems almost close enough to touch.

There are other worlds, but that is all so far away and really I only have this one to live in and to hold.  And while sometimes I think it is too late for us, sometimes I am so filled with the life of this place that it threatens to shatter me into pieces.

And that is how I love you, my friends, in such a way that my body can’t contain it.  I can feel every cell, every molecule and there isn’t enough space for all of them in this world and no one has yet written a song that can hold those vibrations.  But when they do, I will sing at the top of my lungs while we dance together.

[cue music]

There’s a sense of urgency in the room, a feeling that life is fragile, that sometimes friends leave when least expected.  I want to spend time with you in a world where there is so little time left.  We clasp hands, we stare into eyes, we hope there will be a next time.  We try not to take life for granted.

But the world seems like it spins faster and faster, days passing in a blink, shorter the more of them you live.  And we live full lives that cannot be contained by calendars.  Will you still be around when I make room for you in my life?

If I go before you, read a poem for me and return me to the sea that has called me for so long.

In the meantime, let me read a poem to you and then let’s jump in the sea that has called us for so long.

Sleep Strike

sleeping in venice by JT

I’m not going to sleep until you sleep with me.  Not.  Won’t.  Can’t make me.  It’s a sleep strike.

I’ll negotiate.  I can be reasoned with.  I’ll cut a deal.  I’ll give in, but only if you’re willing to bargain.  I’m not asking for much, only for your love and passion.  All you need to do is be reasonable.

Here are my demands:  Sleep with me.

I want you in my bed.  I want you beside me.  I want your naked body pressed against mine.  I want to run my hands over your– uh-uh-uh.  I won’t give away everything.  I still have aces up my sleeve.

Are you ready to talk about this?  Are we ready to put our cards on the table?

I’m not sleeping, until I have your word.  I mean it.

Day 1:  No sleep.  No problem.  No you… yet.

Day 2,3 and 4:  It’s a breeze.  I’m starting to get a sleep deprivation-induced high.  I’m fantasizing about you every other minute.

Day 5: I’m starting to hallucinate.  I’m imagining you in my bed, wanting me. My desire is out of control.  I have never felt better, more awake, more alive, more alert.  This is beginning to give me a splitting headache.

Day 10: Friends are concerned.  Doctors are called in.  Will I die, they wonder?  How long can this go on?  The authorities arrive, but dismiss it as unbridled passion and outside the interest of the law.  The press run with it though, and your face appears beside mine in newspapers nationwide.  The Headlines say simply, “Enough Already — Sleep With Him”.

Day 25: I’ve made the Record Books, but so have you.  No one can believe you’re still holding out.  U.S.A Today features a daily line graph of passion.  “Wide Awake: Day 25.”  They are charting several indices of my health and your crumbling resistance.  Are you trying to postpone the inevitable, to sweeten the culmination of our passion?  Are you teasing me as a game?  The headache has been replaced by a feeling of euphoria.

I haven’t taken your almost daily rejection letters to heart.  I took them in the spirit I know they were meant.  When you said, “I am not ready to do this, please leave me alone” I knew you meant, “Its only a matter of time before I’m in your bed.”

What you said to the New York Times confused me at first.  “He’s a crazy man and I want nothing to do with him,” they quoted you.  After a second reading, I realized you meant, “I can see how crazy in love he is with me.”

I really am.  I’ll wait forever.  I’m already getting used to not sleeping.  I’ve learned to live with the visions.  Elvis told me just yesterday, “Come on man, I’m with ya.  All the way, Baby.  You just wait for her.  She’ll come aroun’.  Take it from the King.”

I don’t want to pressure you.  You should make your own decisions.  I want you to do what you want, when you want.  It’s all about free will.  I want you to have absolute freedom to make your own choices.  And I want you to sleep with me.  Tonight isn’t too soon.

Day 30: A month now.  Am I getting through to you?  Have I made my point here?  I’m not doing this for attention.  I mean, I’m not doing this for anyone’s attention, except yours.  I want to show you what you mean to me.  This is serious, this strike.  My demands still hold.

One month of no sleep.  I don’t really need it anymore.  This increases the hours in my waking day by 50 percent.  I’ve gotten a lot done.  Did you get the flowers I grew?  And the beaded moccasins?  And the watercolors?  The photographs of Rome from my bike tour?  (I’d like to take you there sometime.)  The books I sent?  The cookies?

Thank you for your note yesterday.  It was kind.  I noticed this time that you didn’t tell me to get lost and drop dead.  I think we’ve entered a new phase of our relationship.

I was surprised by your phone call.  I was so used to hearing you hang up on me.  You sounded almost worried about me.  I must have sounded loopy, I was so giddy with excitement.  I can’t believe you agreed to meet.

When you come over, I’ll meet you at the door.  I’ll dress neatly, but casually, in a white cotton shirt and jeans.  I’ll effect an attitude of casual surprise, of rumpled and eccentric good-health.  We can talk for a while.  I can get you to laugh.  Then maybe I’ll invite you to stay for a simple gourmet dinner I just threw together.

I want you to know that nothing is too much trouble for you.  I want to suggest that I’ll walk to the end of the Earth for you, without freaking you out completely.  I’ll fix something elegant, yet deceptively simple.  Served with a fine French Burgundy of an old vintage.

After dinner, I’ll ask if I can read to you.  I’ll ask if I can rub your hands.  I’ll ask if I can brush your hair.  Buy you the moon.  Write you a poem.  Balance your checkbook.  I’ll do anything for you.  Big or little.  Extravagant or mundane.  Would you care to lie down, just for a minute, and let me hold you safely in my arms?

I’ll be crazy.  You’ll know right away.  I’ll be turned on like a light bulb.  No, like a halogen lamp.  More like a 5000-watt sodium vapor arc lamp.  I’ll be radiating desire.  Even through a haze of passion, I’ll understand that I only want you if you want me too.  I’ll ask if you’d like to go home or stay.

And in the back of my mind, of course, I’ll be vibing you at full volume “STAY!  STAY!  STAY!  STAY!”

I’ll only make you promises I can keep.  But I can offer you everything I can give.  I’ll listen.  I’ll cook for you.  I’ll do your laundry and your ironing.  I’ll clean the toilets before you have to ask.  Want to have kids?  I’ll arrange to carry the baby.  Or babies.  Midnight feedings?  Messy diaper changes?  No problem.  I don’t want you kept.  I don’t want you helpless.  And if actions speak louder than words, I want mine to shout how much I love you.

And if you lay down with me.  If.  If.  If.  If you just lay your body, your smooth beautiful body, your soul, your heart, your mind beside me–  If you let me put an arm around you.  Both arms.  Let me hold you tight.  If you lay down beside me, I’ll be in heaven.

Maybe then, I’ll find a little peace.  You’ll calm the fluttering in my stomach I get when I think of you.  Maybe then, with you in my arms, I’ll relax for the first time in a month.  Maybe then, I’ll close my eyes.  And with you beside me, home at last, I’ll lay my head down and

Paris ’03

A stretch of cobble accents the maze-like streets though Le Marais district in Paris.  Stifled by heat wave, but enamored by presence, I transcend the physical discomfort to seek out just one more perfect café . The red wine is served chilled and the cheese sweats when brought to your table, but I don’t mind.    I migrate through the shocking warmth at a sluggish pace, but can still really move. The most glamorous city on earth is merely made more exotic by the heightened temperature.  Smells and sounds become more viscous with every step.  I am alive with anonymity and an outsider’s grace.  I could live and die in this state of exploration.

renaissance woman or feminist reject

Here’s a thing I love to do: hang clothes on the clothesline. In fact, I just ran another hundred feet around my backyard, randomly stringing line from tree to tree, so I can now dry all of the laundry instead of just the easy stuff like sheets and towels. In Indiana, we often have wicked humidity that keeps anything from drying, and in fact actually moistens things that are already dry. But I am more determined than ever to have a smaller carbon footprint, and now we are in the Vatta season, the dry time, the days of clear, blue, hazeless skies. I am out in the yard on a beautiful Saturday, hanging out the week’s laundry, a fly buzzing my head and the sun in my eyes, when I am struck by the fact that I am very, very happy. I am right where I want to be, doing what I want to be doing in this moment. It’s a feeling that comes over me more often these days–when I’m puttering in my garden, baking bread, sauteing onions and garlic in an a decades old, well seasoned iron skillet, fluting the edges of a perfect pie dough. And I wonder at this core of domesticity in myself that makes me so, damned, happy.

Sometimes I think, possibly, I am a reject of the women’s movement that dominated my early life. My mom is of a generation of women who were much more limited in their life choices. But I read widely at a young age, I knew things were changing out there in the big world, and I was having none of that teacher-nurse-homemaker bullshit. I studied math and computer science in college when 95% of the science types were male, and all of the teachers were. The women were administrative assistants, and a few brave souls looking for something beyond what we’d been led to believe we were suited for. But I think we also bought into an idea of what women should no longer be doing, the kinds of things that were considered demeaning to women who had better things to do with their lives. Many of my friends defiantly and quite proudly don’t cook or sew. They don’t sit on the porch snapping fresh beans into a bowl or “put up” produce in cans or in the freezer. It was as if we couldn’t be modern women if we did those things or even claimed knowledge of them. My mom didn’t even do all those things past the 70’s. It was retrograde to the women’s movement. I, instead, had a career, a 401K, a nice car, a pizza place on speed dial, a hundred distracting activities and travels to keep me away from home and out of the kitchen. I put kids on hold until I was more than a decade older than when my mom had them. I had a thoroughly modern woman’s life, 180 degrees off course from my grandmother’s, but somewhere along the way I forgot how to be happy. I forgot what even made me happy. I wondered why my grandmother had always seemed so happy, ironing her stupid pillowcases with light starch and canning her stupid peaches. Over the next ten years, I searched every nook and cranny of myself and my life for Happy, and I found it in the damndest places.

Although it is still an ever-changing and, in certain moments, a still-elusive thing, (and that was, afterall, the “gift” of the women’s movement–a vastly more unlimited, and sometimes more confusing, vision of ourselves and our choices) I now know this truth about myself–that Happiness can dress itself up but it still has the face and hands of my grandmother. It smells of carmelized onions and of sun-dried laundry, of basil and bubbling yeast and the earthy tang of pulled weeds. It has dirt under it’s nails and paint on it’s clothes. It makes popcorn and listens to the radio. Happiness digs for garlic like it’s looking for gold and picks wormy apples when it finds forgotten apples trees. It warms itself by the woodstove after hauling logs through the snow in big boots. It crochets, for chrissake. It takes up every corner of the house with it’s half finished art projects, collected pine cones, coffee cups, and last weeks zinnias going dead in a jar. It dances to almost anything. It toasts an even number of matching socks with red wine in a scratched glass. It smiles broadly at the end of a simply-lived day.

Letter to a Friend

Dear Wes,

Being in LA always makes me want to write, and since the last thing you said to me as I walked out the door was “write me a letter” I am addressing these scattered thoughts to you.

Riding a bus over a long distance is always interesting to me, even if I spend most of it half-asleep as I did on this trip. I awoke, bleary-eyed and crooked-necked, to a landscape that seemed wholly unfamiliar to me, though I have made this same trip hundreds of times before. “Where am I?” I kept thinking in my incoherence. I was near the end of the grapevine on the 5, why was it so unfamiliar? I began to recognize the scrubby vegetation off to my left, but the sparkling body of water on my right I could swear I’ve never seen before. Which is strange because I was in this same spot only a week and a half ago — I remember having a conversation with N about it — Pyramid Lake, same as in Nevada. To my blurry eyes, it was so bright and fresh a sight that I could feel it in the center of my chest, and I mapped the rest of my journey around that feeling: the familiar hills in gold, the descent into the valley, the surprise of plants I could recognize from the road, even a line of Catalpa trees in North Hollywood.

As the bus rolled down the freeway offramp in San Fernando, it stopped working. And there we were, all thirty-five of us, stuck on the offramp in a hot stuffy bus. The lack of airflow and the poison smell of cheap perfume was making it hard for me to breathe, so the bus driver escorted me across the offramp, where I realized that it wasn’t the air in the bus that was stuffy, it was the air in the valley.

I stood on the side of the offramp with a group of men from the bus (I was the only woman who had decided to get off). They stood in one group and I stood alone, staring at the oleanders that grow next to every freeway in southern California. Cars drove by, sometimes stopping for the light, and stared at me. I met the challenge of their gaze every time, though I noticed the group of men weren’t getting stares. And I wasn’t even wearing a short skirt.

Finally, another bus came and we all crammed on, most people confused about what, exactly, was going to happen to their luggage. I love seeing the people on the bus, such a different scene than an airplane. All the maternal-looking Mexican women squeezing down the aisle carrying two bags in each hand, obliviously hitting their already-seated fellow passengers, or all the Korean women talking to each other in the back, or the men on their cellphones. I heard the man seated behind me get a booty call — you were right, I just am completely unfamiliar with the mating habits of people in this society. The woman called him from his hometown, he was in Pomona on business and had taken the bus to see the sights of Hollywood for the day. They chatted for a bit, gossiping about other people, and then he said “That’s personal, that’s none of your business… That’s like asking someone if they had sex because they went on a date….”So you wanna go on a date? … Well, that depends on how horny you are… Now you’re talking about something I’m interested in…. Yeah, well, I’ll call you when I get back to town.” It went on like that for a while. They do not seem to like each other that much, but they are definitely going to have sex. Oh, and she is going to work out at his gym.

I know you might have heard this already, but let me confirm that it is true: there is a financial crisis. We live in such a bubble in Santa Cruz, and even the news reports don’t make something real to me. But walking through a store and hearing conversation after conversation about how it is actually affecting people’s lives — now that is real. I heard a woman on a cellphone find out that her company was merging with some larger company, and she was frantically making phone calls to find out more information, to find out if her job was safe. I overheard things like this all over the place — people losing their houses, people losing their jobs, people not having the money that they had last year, people hoping it will all work out, but finding it hard to see how giving 700 billion dollars to Wall Street banks is going to help them.

But you probably want to know how I am doing. That is what everyone wants to know, it seems. I’m fine, of course, I’m always fine, I always weather every disaster that comes my way in what is seeming like the hundred-car-pile-up of my life. “This state of emergency is not the exception but the rule.” That has always been one of my favorite quotes from Walter Benjamin. It describes so aptly the sense of crisis that the news is always telling us were are in, as if it is new. But sometimes it feels more personal than that, it feels like it applies to my life.

I’ve been prepared for my dad’s death for so long, that I thought it would be easy. It turns out it’s not. My dad has been sick for twenty years, and now I find myself mourning for the dad that I lost when I was ten, as if the past two decades had never happened. Except that I am an adult, I am making all of these funeral decisions as an adult, contacting long lost friends of my dad, people who never knew how sick he was.

I feel surrounded by death right now, and that is hard. I want to be surrounded by life, by trees, by music, by babies, by friends. Death is part of life, but there is no place for it in this culture. We lock it away, we put it off, we ignore it. I don’t even know where my dad’s body is right now, some central holding location in some other part of town, I suppose. I haven’t even seen it. How can it be real if I haven’t seen it? It was so different when my grandma died. I was right there. I hugged her goodbye after her last breath. I wish I’d been able to do that for my dad.

Looking through old pictures, contacting people who knew my dad before he was sick, helps me remember my dad as he was when I was a kid: the man who taught me to ride a bike, hit a baseball, shoot a free-throw; the man who brought me a doll from every country he visited; the man who cared deeply about the condition of life in countries far away; the man who sat at a desk surrounded by books; the way he smelled when he got off plane, holding hands with me as we walked through the airport; tickling me, taking me out to dinner, teaching me to play chess. That man has been gone for so many years, but right now it feels like he just left.

Saint Louis

I was walking St. Louis alone late one night. All the bars had closed and even the last hearty hopefuls had found their way to the door. There was no one on the street, but there were lights in many windows. The blue flicker of television leaked out from behind a few curtains. An icy December wind blew through the streets.

I walked down to the river and watched the swirling blackness and meditated on loneliness. I walked back toward the motel where I was staying.

As I walked past, a young woman sitting in a doorway said, “Hey.” She was young, about my age, smooth face, dark hair pulled back, dark bushy eyebrows and red lipstick. It was shocking seeing her there at that time of night. Like finding a bright red rose on an grey city sidewalk. Her eyes were intensely blue.

“Hey,” I stopped.  She stood up and dusted off her short skirt.

“Are you lonely?” she asked me. In my world, the magic of finding a beautiful girl in a doorway late at night is a perfectly natural surprise. It hit me, perhaps a little slowly, that she was a hooker. “You want company?” she asked into my silence.

“Yes,” I said, “but I’m looking for something special.”

“Sure, honey.  We all are.  But what do you want?” she asked, taking a small step toward me.

“I don’t want sex, or I mean, I don’t just want sex. I want you to be quite taken with me and bring me home to your warm apartment for a cup of tea in bed. I want you to tell me what you were like when you were nine. I want you to laugh with me and wrestle and then maybe collapse into lovemaking where we both take it tremendously slow with building intensity. I don’t want you for an hour. I want to have you all night long and wake up tomorrow with you over coffee. I want you to remember tonight with fondness and some longing years from now.

I reached out and brushed her hand lightly, and she warmed to me with a smile.

“You see, I don’t just want your body. I want your heart too. And your mind and all the things that make you laugh suddenly for no reason at all.

“Now, how much is that? How much would that cost me?”

She stood for a minute. Sizing me up, looking me up and down, wondering maybe, if she could fall for a man like me.

“Three hundred dollars,” she said finally. “For all that.”

I only had about two hundred dollars total, and that was set aside for the expenses of my trip.  I told her so.

“Sorry,” she said with a wistful smile and turned away.