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

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Feeling Angsty

So, I just got back from a long weekend that filled me so full of creative spark and excitement, I thought I was going to burst when I got back to Monterey. I was so full of all the creative ideas and projects I wanted to finishing/revisit/start. I felt I would set the world ablaze (oh yes, I am a firestarter) with the sheer magnitude and volume of what I have to express.

Then I got back.

And now I have just undirected angst and the itch to do something but what? What? WHAT?

Part of it is that I am trying my hardest to back out of a commitment I made, and I can't seem to do it. At the weekly meeting I have with those involved with the project, I quietly mumbled things like "I don't think this is right for me" or "I may not be the kind of writer you are looking for" or "We need to have better focus before I continue." And no one heard me.

It may be that I am so awesome and valuable to their project that they just don't want to acknowledge that I want to leave and so hope that by ignoring it, I'll stop talking and just stay.

But more likely it is that I am an inveterate conflict avoider, so my quiet mumbles are probably more like inaudible whines.

Seriously, this is a huge character flaw I have. I either lay down and let everyone move me around however they see fit or I get blindingly full of rage and then destroy everything that is dear to me in my attempt to be heard. There has to be a happy medium where I am heard yet I don't hurt (myself and others).

Still looking for it. And so in the meantime, I'm left with angsty rainy Wednesdays and have no one to blame but myself.

[And to top it all off: I can't speak French!]

Henry Miller (who could speak French) gets the last word:
What I secretly longed for was to disentangle myself of all those lives which had woven themselves into the pattern of my own life and were making my destiny a part of theirs. To shake myself free of these accumulating experiences which were mine only by foce of inertia required a violent effort. Now and then I lunged and tore at the net, but only to become more enmeshed. My liberation seemed to involve pain and suffering to those near and dear to me. Every move I made for my own private good brought about reproach and condemnation. I was a traitor a thousand times over. [...] because "they" needed me, I wasn't allowed to remain inactive. Had I died I think they would have galvanized my corpse into a semblance of life.

(Actually, he doesn't) How do you say no to good things when all you have to go on is that there is a slight possibility of a better thing in the future if you are available and ready?

Friday, March 11, 2011

Long Way Home

You can end up with a day of blessings in ways that would never make it on the "blessings I expect" list. Certainly, I wasn't looking for any blessings on my first-long-drive-post-stupid-freeway-accident-while-leaving-the-city-I-love-to-return-to-a-town-I-am-ambivalent-about-potentially-driving-in-a-brutal-storm (snow! at 500ft in Southern California. That's just crazy, ya'll.).

But blessings come, whether we expect them or not. We just need to live (and drive) with our eyes open.

Here are a few of the wondrous things I saw on my way from San Diego to Monterey:

  • The brutal storm of the night before had scrubbed the air clean. Even LA, with its perpetually made-up and grimy face, was fresh and bright. For the first time, I could see its natural beauty--a white city nestled against stark hills and opened to a wide ocean. Towering clouds caressed the hills as they paraded across a gun metal blue sky. Even the sprawl almost looked beautiful.
  • Snow-covered hills, frost frozen, looked filigreed from fragile crystal. The lower hills, dusted with snow, were muscled and sinewy like the flanks of a silver stallion. The rocky crust looked like the hide of a great and powerful and vibrant beast. These hills transitioned to impossibly green (for Southern California) slopes, laced with shadow and light as the clouds danced around the sun on their cobalt dance floor. The fruit trees on either side of the highway added whimsy and sheer joy as their delicate blossoms responded to the sun or cowered from the passing rain.
  • Layers of rain curtains awaited me near Paso Robles. Once I passed through the first, it was like pushing through a room strung with grey gauze. The sun back lit the rain so that some of the curtains were opaque, hiding the world from view, while others gleamed silver and overlaid the green hills, still an improbable emerald.
  • Snow! Snow! In Paso. The whirling wisps streaked into my headlights in complex patterns like a throng of moths trained in military formation mobbing a flame.
  • Beyond Paso, I became transported to Ireland. So much green in the dying light. Ghost layers of hills tried on every variation of the color, only outshone by the silver clouds that seemed to possess a light source separate from that of the sun sinking behind them.
  • From Salinas to Monterey, the setting sun transformed the clouds from silver to purple-pink, lined with a fierce orange. Closer to Monterey, the cypress trees began to appear, clawing at the remaining light.

Sheer pleasure in the beauty of it all.

Don't forget to breathe.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Walk in the Park

When I was in San Diego last week, my favorite moments were the ones when I walked/ran with my friend C and her 3yo daughter around Balboa Park. We'd meet in the morning and take turns pushing the red Baby Jogger down the arched corridors, across the light-strung El Prado bridge, through gardens, and around fountains and museums. Being fairly flat, the park is the perfect place to run while burdened with a 50lb stroller. C and I would traverse the outdoor space, moving through sun and shadow, making easy conversation about things like our kids or delving into deeper topics about things like vocation and community. Often we'd run for stretches in silence, our feet marking a tandem rhythm.

On our last walk, we decided to eschew the level and paved terrain of the park proper and headed down into the canyon trails that run along the 163. These trails are magical. In an instant, you can leave behind an entire city, becoming sequestered under tall oaks and rust-colored hills, before unexpectedly popping out in the middle of Hillcrest right next to a coffee shop. The trails are steep, rocky, and full of ruts and runnels from the recent rain, with the surrounding foliage glowing an impossibly vivid green. Our route took us up and down and around hills, under boughs and bridges, over the 163, and up to Hillcrest city streets and a well-deserved cup of coffee.

Because the trails were so steep at times, C and I took turns pushing the stroller, laughing at the burning in our legs, encouraging each other to push just a little further, then taking the burdensome stroller from the exhausted pusher just at the right time. In at least two places on the trail, neither of us could push the stroller alone, and so both of us grabbed a side of the handle and used our combined force to get the stroller over or down the current obstacle. At one point, we jointly reached the summit a particularly steep incline before realizing that we needed to take a different trail. Instead of lamenting the energy we'd just expended as wasted, we grinned at each other--acknowledging the duo accomplishment we'd made in getting up the hill in the first place. Then we each took a firm grip on a side of the stroller handle and, with bent knees, our torsos arching back to offset the pull of gravity, we eased the stroller back down the hill and to the correct trail.

This trek embodied community: together, C and I shared a burden without judgement and with joy and grace and love, helping and encouraging the other as needed. We didn't keep score of who pushed the stroller more--it didn't matter that her daughter was in the stroller; we both knew it could just as easily be my son.

And more importantly, we knew that ultimately the exact nature of the burden didn't matter.

What mattered was that we were in it together. That we set out committed to walking a certain path and to help each other finish it. The point wasn't to be done--or even to always be on the right trail so that we wouldn't waste any energy or time. The point was to do it together. There was no need to get resentful while pushing the stroller up a steep hill when C was four feet ahead and stroller-free because the whole time, she was looking back with encouragement and love. Further, she would--when I needed it most--meet me and take the burden on herself so that I could rest. There was no need to be frustrated if after a difficult part, we found we had gone the wrong way because, as long as we stayed in community, there was no wrong way.

At the end of our walk, scalding coffee in our left hands and both our rights directing the stroller through the side streets of Hillcrest, C walked me by some of the places she'd lived in San Diego. It was a moment of such familial and familiar friendship. Sharing with her the joy of her past, the control and direction of the present embodied in her daughter in the stroller, and the infinite possibilities of the future together in community.

Thank you, C. Love you.