Book Company (24)

I must have been in a weird place when I read Natalie Goldberg’s Thunder and Lightning the first time. Because I remember being disappointed, and I’m loving it this second time through. I am using it the way I’ve been rereading her other books, a chapter or sometimes two before I do my daily writing. I’ve described this before, I think. Letting myself read about writing carves out time and space for me to be a writer. It makes me feel like I am part of the conversation, one writer among many. Now that I feel good about Thunder and Lightening, too, it means I have four books of hers to reread. But I will need to take a break from them when I’m done with this one. I need to read the other books I have on writing, the small collection I bought before I moved to Mexico. I don’t know what possessed me. At that time before I left the country I must have still been reading a chapter every morning, Natalie Goldberg or Ray Bradbury or even Dorothea Brande or Brenda Ueland, four of my favorites. So I combed bibliographies and bought more books about writing, consumed with preserving this ritual in foreign lands. In Hopland, where it began for me, I would sit outside on my stone porch that looked across a big field, a craggy rock embedded in the hillside. I would read first, and then I’d write a page of my novel, my answer to unearthing time for my writing even though I was still in my first years of teaching when there was no time. I promised myself I would write for eleven minutes each day. And the time before the writing, immersing myself in the world of the writer, was sheer joy.

When I’m finished reading Thunder and Lightning, I tell myself now, I will tackle one of the new books. I tried reading a few of them before, but I never made it very far. Now I am determined to read them all. Maybe there will be another gem or two I can add to my “real” collection. If I can grow it a bit larger, if I find enough of them that feed me the way my favorites do, then by the time I finish the last one in my set I can just begin again with the first, Writing Down the Bones. The thought delights me, even if it makes me sound insane. Because no matter how many times I reread them, I’m always reminded of something I’ve forgotten, something timely to my life right now. I see things I missed before, too, or I understand them in a new way. And always in returning to one of these books there is that joining in, that sharing of the writer’s life, the comfort of the writer’s voice like reuniting with an old friend, like sliding into my old, worn sweater, the color of wine, the one with the holes in it I love to dig out at the first hint of chill in the fall air. So, I’m going to read the books I haven’t read but carried with me for eight years, go looking for new old friends. But maybe, before I begin, I’ll first let myself return to Ray Bradbury’s Zen and the Art of Writing. Because it’s been a long, long time, and the thought of his sweet, kind, vibrant being draws me back again.

Away and Back Again (23)

On and off all day today I feel like I want to cry. Each time, the small rush of feeling wells up, pushes behind my eyes and stops. No tears. And no real reason, either, for wanting to cry. Unless it is because I am being mean to myself, some subtle, silent conversation going on inside me. I have tried so hard this week to stay grounded in the wake of hectic work. By Tuesday I had already failed. Even Sable’s endless moanings at me weren’t enough to pierce my intense distraction, my other-where-ness. (He is such a good barometer for me. How did I miss that?) Today I lose most of the morning and part of the afternoon. At 2:22 I get to a stopping point with work, and inspired by the numbers I vow to not return to it until 4:44. It is my newest “plan,” to try to fully step away long enough to recover myself. I practice my yoga in the courtyard. After, lying in chavasana, I do cry for a moment, knowing I am being unkind. Real change takes time. I need to be patient, find my way in this. But I don’t want to sacrifice being present with my life for my work. And there are other things. I want to recognize and trust my intuition. I want to know when my tree needs water. I want more red blood cells, a happy thyroid. Lying on my yoga mat beneath the tree, I tell myself I am making good effort. I am growing and healing. But I want it all now, even though I know it all takes time. When I stand up again, I am okay. I am back. Now it’s 3:22. I still have an hour and 22 minutes that are my own. I make watermelon juice and drink it on the patio. I eat a handful of roasted walnuts, read another chapter of Natalie Goldberg’s book. (I am back to Thunder and Lightening.) When she feels “broken or splintered,” she tells us, she returns again and again to Silko’s Ceremony. “I let the ritual of the book,” she says, “make me feel whole again. I’m never ashamed to read a book twice or as many times as I want. We never expect to drink a glass of water just once in our lives. A book can be that essential, too.” It is this last sentence that makes me cry again. I have books like this, books that feed me, mend me, make me whole. But I think I cry because it is such a gift to have this, to know how essential a book can be. Like water. Like air. And I think I cry because of how it speaks to me, the intimacy, the sense of being seen, and a secret longing to be part of offering that, too. Now I am all the way back. I write the first draft of this week’s blog post. I drink more watermelon juice and sit in the courtyard breathing.

Two Hemingways (22)

I just read the chapter in Natalie Goldberg’s book where she visits Ernest Hemingway’s house in Key West. She describes his attic studio with big windows and a “palpable presence.” She hears tourists gasp behind her. They feel it, too. Now that my short story has won his granddaughter’s contest, I feel connected to Hemingway, as well. I didn’t remember this chapter, but now it lights me up. Natalie talks about how he “cared about the sun and the gradation of light,” and I think: me, too. Me, too. I’ve bought his granddaughter’s memoir, Walk on Water. It’s sitting by the window on my kitchen table. And I will need to read the grandfather’s work now, as well. It is his name, his blood, that is my entrance into the literary world. I want to honor it. I want to know them both, fellow writers. I didn’t know he killed himself, or I’d forgotten. I only know I’ve had a great fondness for him for almost 40 years, ever since I fell in love with Gertrude Stein. I adopted her love for Hemingway. Now I take on Natalie Goldberg’s, too. I want direct knowledge. I want to stand in that attic studio with the Florida light falling through the windows. Maybe I will go to Idaho and stand beside his grave. Or maybe I will read The Sun Also Rises when I am walking the camino de Santiago across northern Spain, and I will visit Pamplona and stand in the room where he wrote and feel him there, this century later. And I will whisper to him that I used to think I was Gertrude Stein in another life. I will tell him about the uncanny light I fell in love with in the mountains of Jalisco. And I will thank him again and again for Lorian, for this granddaughter who loves my work.

I Won the Lorian Hemingway Short Story Competition

newsclip of my contest win (Lorian Hemmingway Short Story Competition)

Here is the little Associated Press newsclip that got picked up in newspapers and posted on their websites. I also have a couple of pieces started about how it has all felt, but they still need to sit for a while. I have not yet fully digested the experience. But I didn’t want to wait any longer to tell you, my dear readers. I will say when I see the 857 entries it makes me gulp. And when I read about the community college professor who won the contest, I get a little thrill. It’s me, I think. It’s me.

[Here is the link to an online version in case you are relying on a screen reader: http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2015/07/25/us/ap-us-hemingway-days.html?_r=0]

July 31st (21)

book, notebook, binoculars, candles, altar things on patio table

It’s July 31st. I hear Carole King singing in my head and dream of waking up beside the man I love on the first day of August. Hers is a love song to summer. It’s not yet noon, over 100 degrees, muggy. Clouds piled against the mountains move toward us. One good thing: this weather gives us cleaner air. Second good thing: cicadas loud in the two trees. They change pitch, volume, breath, weave sound in and out, insect orchestra. I have just read the chapter of Natalie’s book where she talks about teachers, about Wendy. She is right. Wendy’s rich prose makes me envious. But right before, she tells us to copy Hemingway, to write a piece in one or two syllable words. I think: I do that. I don’t need to practice that. It’s organic, what comes to me. Today is the eve of the halfway point between midsummer and the fall equinox, the veil between the worlds thin. I make a small altar on the courtyard table: two tomatoes grown in the big terra cotta pot, bougainvillea, tecoma and Mexican birds of paradise from our garden, orange calcite, yellow citrine. I light one candle for this harvest time, for this turning of our world, and a second candle for all the beings I know who’ve died in recent months, feline, human, canine: Sunny, Auntie Christel’s brother in Germany, Bob, Colleen’s father, Annie. I ask for blessings on their spirits, on the ones left behind, still in bodies. May we honor both sides of this thinning veil. I take a deep breath, hear small chirpings in our tree. A verdin, I think. One lone dove sits on the wooden fence, Boo sprawled beneath the apricot mallow. Sofia comes outside, drinks water. Everything goes still. And then the cicadas begin to buzz again, and I draw another breath, keep my pen moving across the page. Sweat rolls down my right temple. My stomach growls. I twitch a fly off my forearm. I am in love with the last day of July.

Summer Rain (20)

I sit in the courtyard watching a raven in the rain. He is sitting in a palm tree in the distance, moving up and down in the light wind, but he seems to be enjoying himself. I count the seconds between the lightening and the thunder. Sable goes inside, hides under the bed, the only marring of my delight. In the kitchen I hear a loud popping sound and look out the window half expecting to see a palm tree in flames. Outside again, the birds take flight in unison, and I crane my neck looking for a hawk. He lands in my neighbor’s tree, and I move the binoculars to my eyes in slow motion. He’s all wet, his neck feathers slick and clumping like the wet fur of a cat. He is gorgeous, regal, his golden eyes fiercely alive. Later, I eat popcorn in bed, my eyes closing on my book, and let sleep claim me. I drift from dozing to deep sleep and back again, the steady rain soaking through all my layers. It is this long nap in the rain on a summer afternoon, so rare here, that is most alive in me now as I write, embedded in my flesh, touched by the divine. Did I remember to thank you? After, I go for a walk in the late dusk. I place each foot with care, small frogs hopping out of my way with every step I take.

Mango Moment (19)

I eat the best mango I have ever tasted. It wasn’t much to look at when it was still whole. It never got that lovely red blush. There was a small patch of yellow on the skin. I even put it in the refrigerator because I’d bought too much fruit. I didn’t want it to spoil. When I peel it, inside it is a rich orange, the flesh wet and firm. I cut it up in big, messy chunks, the mango slipping out of my hands. I gnaw on the big white pit. (I always want to save the pits, make art with them, but I resist.) I eat it in the courtyard with a small pile of Brazil nuts. I eat with my fingers, savor each bite. The cicadas—two of them, I think—begin buzzing in the Palo Verde when I am chewing the last piece. I don’t know how long I sit there, mesmerized by the lingering taste of sweet, delicious mango and the exotic summer song of the cicadas, the bowl propped against my belly. I come to with my hand still poised over the empty bowl, my fingers slick with mango juice.