I begin to feel a shift in me. It seems new, like something I may have never known before. Or if I did, it was too long ago to remember. I am sure it’s connected to the healing work Elana has been doing with me. For a long time now, I’ve been waiting for my joy to come back, the way most mornings my heart would lift again and again over small pleasures. I don’t have that, those leaps of joy over a glimpse of the mountains or a visit from a hummingbird. But when I wake up I feel this subtle sense of well-being. Each morning I stay in bed to see if it’s still there and to savor it. I lie on my back and stretch out my arms to accept it even more, grateful to be healing, eager to flourish and prosper in all ways. I believe receiving in this way is tied, too, to my wish, my prayer, for reassurance. Ever since I understood being reassured is my path toward becoming self-assured, the universe keeps meeting me in this. I walk home from the bus through the trailer park, olive oil and popcorn kernels from Trader Joe’s weighing on my shoulders. I am content, unhurried. I look up and the big waxing moon hangs low in the southern sky before me, both beacon and greeting. The Cooper’s hawk comes when I sit in the courtyard and dream my writing dreams, her arrival, the great beating of her wings, both validation and promise. I cross the big empty parking lot during walking meditation. I am companioned by the growing moon rising in the east, the presence of the palo verdes. I stop walking and stare at a shape beside a tree in the distance. It looks like a giant rabbit. It must be a cactus, I think. And then the cactus turns and lopes across the desert. I feel like I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole. He is so huge. He stops and stands upright again. We watch each other in the silence. When the bell rings, I bow to him before I turn to go, certain he is magic, both unexpected gift and delicious awe.
On the first day of the Joshua Tree retreat in July, Beth asks us why we are here. Then she asks us why we are really here. “Now,” she says, “why are you really, really here?” Each time to my surprise a deeper answer comes. Later in my courtyard this same kind of layered knowing unfolds for me. I am writing in my notebook about my new idea to begin a second memoir, one that is just about me and not about my big lost love. I dream of committing to writing one piece for this new project each week in addition to my blog post, how making choices about what goes into the book and what goes on the blog might be confusing. (This is already happening to me with the book I’m working on now.) Without knowing, I forget to keep the pen moving across the page. I think about how I have aimed myself at this book contest deadline against all logic. And since the winner won’t be chosen until next summer, how maybe I’ll send the manuscript to Graywolf Press, how I’d like to send it to whoever published All We Know of Love, as well. So maybe I won’t wait for the contest results, only send up a prayer for the best right thing to happen. I drift on to the idea of entering contests again more often, writing new short pieces, too, while I work on my novel. And in the middle of my daydreams a Cooper’s Hawk swoops in. The doves scatter in forty directions. I duck in my chair, shoulders hunched to my ears. The hawk tries to land on the bottom ledge of the wooden fence beside the gate, but she can’t find purchase. So she launches herself back into the air, fanned tail almost close enough to touch, and sails over the roof of my neighbors’ trailer. Everything goes silent in the courtyard. But inside I am whooping. This dramatic whooshing in big strong wings feels like a sign from the universe telling me to keep writing, keep entering contests, begin pursuing publication. And I hear even more than this big “Yes!” beneath the wingbeats. Under them I hear another yes that says this is where your heart leads. This is your passion, your path. Follow. Follow. I am incandescent for a day, this validation shiny and new inside me. And then if I am honest this message feels like a promise. Keep writing. Keep trusting. Everything will be okay. More than okay. This is the right direction to aim yourself. We will help. It makes me want to cry.
This morning I wake up thinking about my novel. I lie there drifting in that delicious in between, fuzzy with sleep, still soft around the edges. I realize Seph always dreamed of moving his wife and daughter to California, how he imagined they would stay in the cottage at the ranch when they came back to visit his family, but he never wanted to spend his life there. I wander about in Seph’s thoughts, still not fully awake. I haven’t touched my novel in long months, but I’m working on the third round of my book manuscript almost every day now. Not long hours immersed in it, as I always hope for, but good steady effort, writing in my notebook or typing up the pages, not letting myself linger much in judgment, just building page after quiet page. I think this work has woken up the characters of my novel, has them wanting my attention, too. It makes my heart happy, makes me believe in the depths of my writer self, how much this work means to me in spite of all my resistance. I let myself float where this new information about Seph leads me, and I know what happens to Molly before she dies. The knowledge just comes, all of a piece, like mist parting to reveal a mountain you didn’t know was there. And I revel in it, reassured at my core, grateful and glad. My characters are alive in me again and busy making magic.
I look up when I open the gate, and the small sliver of our waning moon hangs in the rich autumn-blue sky. At the sight I feel met, reassured, lightened. I ride my bike, my pretty new Carrot Girl, to Marylou and Richard’s. This morning I am playing elf. I leave violets and a Ziploc full of bird seed on the back porch to welcome them home. After, I buy bags of Nyger at True Value, pack them on my bike and ride off. I’m glad I didn’t leave things for later in the day because it’s already hot even though we’ve finally touched the relief of fall. I see someone on the sidewalk ahead of me, so I move to the street. There are no cars, no other people, just the two of us heading north. I hear mockingbirds in the cottonwoods to the right. It’s the first time I’ve heard them in months. “The mockingbirds begin,” I breathe, thrilled. It sounds like they’re tuning up, tapping into snatches of their repertoire, not quite breaking into song. I can see now it’s a man ahead of me, short, brown-skinned, something tied to his back, his stride easy. I pull even, and he looks over, surprised but not startled. When I turn toward him I’m already smiling, content on my bike, on this morning, on this quiet street. He grins, nods, his whole face open. I grin back and ride past, infused with joy, with the warmth of our rare, brief intimacy, so easy and glad. I ride home beside the jacarandas, weaving in and out of their shade, and hope that quick moment of connection made him feel good, too.
I lie on my back, diagonal across the bed, fear tingling through my body. It reminds me I’ve had two scary dreams in the past few nights. In the most recent, I crouch in the courtyard in the dark and watch a faded blue hatchback park outside the fence. The rear window is covered with stickers like the ones Colleen and I collected when we drove around the country in my yellow Pinto just after high school. In the dream a man gets out and tries to open the gate. I think, having someone try to get inside at four o’clock in the morning isn’t a good sign. I try to speak, to say, “Can I help you?” in the sharp, condescending voice I use for phone solicitors and strangers like this who don’t identify themselves. But the words never form, and I wake up with a jolt, fear coursing through me. Nightmares are rare for me these days. But this morning I didn’t wake from a bad dream. This amorphous fear is just alive in me. There are plenty of possible fronts: loss of income, Mami, Trie, my writing, the future. At one point, I notice the refrigerator is silent, and I worry it has died in the night. Even for me, this is such a stretch I have to laugh. After, I lie still and do a little metta practice, a little tonglen. I breathe in the fear from my body, breathe out trust and ease and well being. It quiets, becomes more subtle. I lie there for a long time and let my mind roam. I wonder if this awakening of fear is tied to the healing work I’m doing with Elana. Could it be only a sharper awareness of the fear that always lives in me? And then for one moment I sense excitement in there, too. That changes it for me, points me toward something maybe I can accept. The thought of living with this kind of fear all lit up in me, maybe for years, seems unbearable, but fear tinged with excitement feels more livable, maybe poised on the brink of the next thing. It softens it, adds hope, promise. I breathe in, breathe out. The refrigerator turns on. I hear morning traffic, building already as our snowbirds trickle back in. The finch begin to chatter in the courtyard. They’re late, sleeping in on this gray, cloudy day. I stretch, yawn, grab clothes. I open the louvered window, reach my hand through to touch the morning air. I relish the sight of the bright orange Mexican birds of paradise, taller than I am now, the blooms showing their wear on this autumn morning. I slip into my worn-soft sandals, ready to greet the day.
Tuesday gray skies open, and we have long hours of that steady, quiet rain that tastes like peace. I take my lime green umbrella and walk in the late dusk, the soft pattering of raindrops balm, honey, music, salve. Wednesday is Mami’s birthday, and she and Auntie Gardi come to celebrate. The rain stops just before they get here. I bring dry cushions out to wet chairs, and we sit together in the courtyard. They drink coffee and smoke cigarettes, fascinated by the birds thronging the feeders after the rain. It makes me glad to watch them watching, feel their pleasure. I don’t often get to share my courtyard birds with anyone. Today the sun is poised to sink behind the mountains as I write. I have a small glass bowl of water beside my bed with one dark orange Mexican birds of paradise blossom, two yellow tecoma trumpet-like blooms and a sprig of scarlet bougainvillea. They broke off from the small bouquet I picked for Mami’s birthday. This little bowl of color and the candle I light are the only outer ways I mark the equinox, but I feel it with me all day long, the perfect balance between night and day, between darkness and light. Maybe that’s why the funny longing that springs up in me, my crazy dream about going to Arizona on Saturday for a daylong retreat Amma is offering there stays alive so long in me today. Maybe this gateway in the turning of our world makes everything feel possible. The birds are quiet now, yesterday’s celebration a memory. But on this magic day when light and dark lie balanced just before the tipping point, Tuesday’s rain and the sweetness of our time in the courtyard yesterday feel like they are all of a piece, rich threads woven into soft, supple cloth. I feel lucky and content, writing now in the last light of the sun. Happy autumnal equinox, everyone.
When I think about my summer, my time without students is bookmarked by my meditation retreat and my writing workshop camping trip. They were both intensive, designed for breaking through, and I did. But each time I do I slump back again, go dormant. I eat too much, read too much, do too little. And summer itself feels like too much, sapping me. Then I get caught up in the semester start, all that needing to step up, all the patience and kindness it takes to welcome all those people, help them all get settled. Amid the flurry of it I return to my daily yoga practice, moving my mat to follow the shade of the umbrella, misters wetting the cement. One day I lie on my back and see the deep impossible blue of the sky against the edge of the orange umbrella. It takes me by surprise. I can’t remember the last time we had that color in the sky here. The days shorten, and the nights drop into the sixties. I return to writing again first thing because I can afford to sweep the courtyard and feed the birds a little bit later in the morning now. I write propped up in bed, a jar of cold herb tea beside me, my house finch loud and cheerful in the corner of the courtyard. I can see them through the kitchen window. I do my sitting practice next, listen to my finch, to the pwitter of dove wings, to the sound of cars along the road, the hum of the fridge. I hear a big frenzy of flapping, likely a hawk circling. And in the sudden quiet after all the birds take flight, I hear the soft sound of the second hand moving on the small green clock beside my bed. I can feel the promise of fall, of winter here when we can all burst out into the world again, take a walk in the middle of the day. This easing now of life in the desert becomes certain. I wonder, too, if my slumps weren’t also part of the natural cycle of things, the moving forward and moving back. I wonder if I might even find a way to honor that dormancy, to trust in the need to lie fallow. Might I stop resisting it, allow it to be, not make it wrong? Because now I am somewhere in the middle, I think, like the season. I am not quite one place or another, trusting in the transition.