The art of being Californian, it seems, is to cultivate a loose-limbed insouciance while secretly working away like a frantic ant.

--Richard Fortey The Earth: An Intimate History

Monday, January 24, 2011

Anything Better?

Than an unexpected afternoon to yourself. No fussing about homework or folding laundry or getting dinner done exactly by 6pm.


There is only the reward of sun and wine and books and written-by-hand correspondences after a long morning of writing about microbes and metabolism with maybe a little immune maturity thrown in for good measure.


Then a sudden flurry of effort to quickly organize and evaluate a friend's poetry, reveling in her sheer talent at putting the words in such a way that they snap into focus. Into an image that you have never seen or envisioned before but still seems so completely familiar.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Hope, Feels Like

The other day, as I was finishing up my run, I had the fortuitous moment of having Tiesto's "Adagio for Strings" reach the point of heartbreaking strings just as I was cresting my last hill.

Below, where the bay usually glistens grey and blue, lay a shining silver lake of clouds. A giant tsunami wave of molten white cumuli rose from this lake as if it were going to crash against my hill, sweeping me away in its glory.

It was the perfect moment of music, light, and release from the physical exertion of running up hill. It stole my breath.

It was hope embodied.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Oh My, Oh Bounty

Bird by Bird

I have entered a very painful time in my relationship with my son. I knew it would happen someday, but I thought I had until he was at least 13 before I was totally annoyed with him and he hated me. Apparently, with the right impetus, the schism can happen when your child is as young as six. And that impetus for us is writing stories together.

It's not like we are sitting down and engaging in fun and free writing where anything is possible and the entire English language is at our service (or not if we don't want it). Rather, every week, he has ten disparate spelling words that he must weave into a coherent narrative. Couple that task with shaky handwriting skills at best and a patchy knowledge of English conventions and you have a definite challenge for any six-year-old.

The challenge for me is not letting him know just how thin my patience gets when we are doing this part of his homework. That's not easy: he's freaking annoying as hell.

Composing a narrative should be easy for him. He can tell stories like no one's business--most beginning with "When I was three"--yet when it comes to actually writing these stories down, he's suddenly pen-tied (oh no, not tongue-tied because even as he whines that he has nothing to say, he manages to keep up a nearly constant patter of talk that in no way uses a single spelling word) and completely unable to just. sit. still.

(Like Moby) I try. I bribe. I yell. I threaten. I look at each spelling word and find connections to our life ("Look honey, 'whale' is one of your words. We live on a bay that is full of whales. Would you like to write about that?" "Nah." "Okay. Here are some pictures of whales on the Internet. Oh look, the blue whale is the biggest animal ever. Even bigger than dinosaurs. Would you like to write about that?" "Nah."). I even (gulp) make connections to his video games ("We can write a story about Sonic and a whale." "Nah, I want to write about Mario and a whale" "[Ecstatic that we are getting somewhere] Okay, let's do that!" "Nah.").

Nothing works. In fact, the more I try to engage his writerly self, the more active his body becomes in a Tourette's-like litany of wiggles and twitches and rolling and pencil tossing and exorcist-like head rotations, searching for any distraction at all ("Mom, why is there a turtle in that picture? Mom, look at that bird out there on the house. Mom, check out how my pencil rolls farther than this cookie."). One second he writes a single letter (poorly) and the next he is doing a three-legged down dog.

Nothing. Works. And then I lose it. I leave the room (instantly he drops to the floor and starts playing with the cat, singing his spelling words instead of writing them down), and I start screaming in my head:
Why doesn't he love writing like I do?
Is he even my son?
He hates salsa too, maybe there was a switch at the hospital.
Why won't he stop moving?
Is he going to be a dumb jock?
I am so just going to give up.
It's not worth it.
Let him be a math nerd.
I don't care.
I won't share my books anymore with him, see how he feels then.
How is his writing process different from mine?

I stop there.

How is his writing process different from mine?

I get ready to write every morning. Then I wander the house, call a friend, write a sentence or two, fold laundry, do dishes, make tea, put on some music, check to see if the chickens have laid any eggs, write another sentence or so, delete it all, dance a little to a really good song, check Twitter, etc . . . I may fake a bit more purpose than holding a pencil in my mouth and barking like a dog, but my writing process isn't really all that different from my son's six-year-old version.

Ultimately, we are both trying to accomplish the same thing: we are seeking order in the colorful, butterfly-winged words that skitter and flit and zoom and swoop constantly in our heads. All our movement and procrastination is an attempt to shake these words into a semblance of form without being overwhelmed by their sheer power--to pin them down in a way that makes sense on the confines of 70% recycled, brown, lined paper.

I loosened up. The story about Mario feeding a singing whale a cube of chopped old and new fish got written. Peace reigned again in our house.

Until next week at least.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Breathing Through Tomorrow

The vibration of the seven-forty-seven moves
my body like the shaking apart of the tangles
in marionette strings. The film of no time falls over me,
creating a greasy layer of plastic skin. The gray

Pacific's glazed surface below gives no indication
of the International Dateline. I know that tonight,
it will be tomorrow morning. And after I meet you,
stiff unable to embrace properly because 28 hours

of flight has frozen my joints and slimed my limbs,
I will drop dead--pass out cold at eight p.m.. You'll have
to carry me up the spiral staircase, careful not to lean
too hard on the PVC pipe banister or bang my head

against the hard iron, cylindrical center or my foot
against the cinderblock door jamb. I'll wake up
at four thirty the next morning, ready to play
and won't understand for a few moments why

it's so dark when my body says the sun is high
and I have over-slept my morning class. Even
when I am finally able to stay up until midnight
and wake to the island morning, a tiny lump at the base

of my diaphragm, right where it meets the spine,
will remind me that something isn't right. That little
lump will keep me from taking full, deep, purging
breaths of the trade wind tossed tropical air as a wet,

impossibly green banana leaf slicks across my face
while I struggle through the jungle to summit Nimitz Hill,
dripping red blood from a delicate tracery of paper-fine
cuts of saw grass. I'll feel it when I gasp under

the hammering cold of Cetti waterfall and writhe
internally as tiny, pearly pink, freshwater shrimp
climb between my bare toes. It'll still be there when I
simultaneously fall into and fly over the Marianas

Trench while still sweating in the tepid salt water
off Apra Harbor. That lump will remain until three
months, four days, and 28 hours later when I--bound
for San Diego--arrive at LAX, where the smog layer

makes the multicolored pillars of light look like glow sticks
through fake fog at a warehouse party. Then as I breathe
in that unbelievably salty, dry, chilled air, the lump will
finally dissolve and my lungs will expand in satiation.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

This is My Future

Except I probably won't have such a nice, quirky house. And, if the past is any indicator, I'll be reading while doing something dangerous like straightening my hair, and then I will accidentally burn my face. True story.