But I'm not going away. And I don't want to lose you.
Please click here: STILL AMAZED to read the blog from now on.
But I'm not going away. And I don't want to lose you.
Please click here: STILL AMAZED to read the blog from now on.
Here's one by Billy Collins that I mentioned yesterday. It's all too familiar...
FORGETFULNESS by Billy Collins
The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
never even heard of,
as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.
Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,
something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.
Whatever it is you are struggling to remember,
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,
not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.
It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,
well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.
No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.
The wind has been howling so hard that all intelligent thoughts have been blown from my head. But it suddenly feels like summer, and I have a lazy feeling right down to my bones that (alas!) is inconsistent with all my resolve to get lean and fit and challenge myself both physically and intellectually. It doesn’t matter: I have a long history of resolutions and new beginnings that fade away only to be revived again with the start of the next new month, or week, or morning. When will I finally ease up on myself? Or as Monte puts it, when will I stop acting like an adolescent girl? Possibly never. These deulusions keep me going.
In the meantime, I’ve been reading more…the perfect excuse to
remain indoors on the couch. Currently I am revisiting a wonderful book by
Michael Chabon, The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. My
daughter tells me that I read it a few years ago. (“You passed it along to me,
Mom.”) But as Billy Collins wrote in his poem, Forgetfulness:
The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
never even heard of…
(Come to think of it, I like that poem so much I think I’ll feature it tomorrow as the Saturday special.)
Anyway, this particular book is bringing up memories of my childhood in Brooklyn -- it is set a couple of decades earlier, but the Brooklyn I knew was still distinctly colored by the events of the era it encompasses -- and the start of July has me thinking about the way it was in summer. I remember my father taking all of us kids for a drive and parking in a neighborhood nearby where standing at the curb and looking up we could see the fireworks in the sky above Coney Island. More poignantly, I remember a hot day when I placed a towel down on the sidewalk, propped up a small umbrella, and sat there with my sister Marlene, pretending we were at the beach. A kettle of water was our ocean. People passed by and looked at us with pity and amusement, but days like that with my sister, with our small non-adventures and forays into make-believe, are among the sweetest I can recall.
Now, back to the present: I have to gather my things for trip to Lompoc. It doesn’t sound very glamorous, but it will be pleasant enough. I have been volunteering as a tutor; I meet with a woman in the library each week to help her with her English. (She’s a very conscientious young mother with a good sense of humor, and I respect her efforts to improve herself.) Afterwards, Monte and I will go to the dunes with a friend -- unless it’s blowing so hard that the sand stings.
Speaking of trips, I am trying to decide whether to go to Turkey. (I never imagined that I would type a sentence like that and it would be the truth.) Seriously – it’s an easy walking tour (with some short drives) that starts out in Istanbul and culminates in the southern port town of Bodrum on the Aegean Sea. Afterwards I thought I’d fly to London and see my daughter. (She doesn’t know that yet. Well, maybe now she does.) Anyway, I am provisionally booked but need to decide for sure within days. Should I do it? Will I? Stay tuned…
The photo above is "Sad Dreams on Cold Mornings" by Joanne Leonard, 1971. It was part of an exhibit I saw at the S.F. Museum of Modern Art. To me, it evokes restless nights not just of sad dreams but wakeful anxieties also. I've had more than a few lately.
Before I get started, I want to tell you that the day smells like moist hay, the hills are yellow and the sky pale gray, and it’s gentle and comforting in a way. (Don’t worry: the rhyming is unintentional.)
And now I’m going to backtrack briefly to last week’s San Francisco trip. Since Monte does all the driving when we travel, sometimes I read to him. The book this time was Ill Fares the Land by Tony Judt. Judt is a brilliant historian who is currently suspended in the hell of the fatal neurological disorder commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. He describes himself as “a bunch of dead muscles, thinking” but his thoughts are incisive, the breadth of his knowledge vast, and he certainly has a lot to say. I had been reading his memoirs in the NY Review of Books and decided to buy this new book of his, which I believe he wrote as a parting message for his own two sons and for other young people who have to navigate into a future that at the moment seems ominous.
"Something is profoundly wrong with the way we live today," says Judt."For 30 years we have made a virtue out of the pursuit of material self-interest...The materialistic and selfish quality of contemporary life is not inherent in the human condition. Much of what appears 'natural' today dates from the 1980s: the obsession with wealth creation, the cult of privatization and the private sector, the growing disparities of rich and poor. And above all, the rhetoric which accompanies these: uncritical admiration for unfettered markets, disdain for the public sector, the delusion of endless growth." In this book he seeks to give the next generation a different way to think about values, politics and the state.
So Tony Judt was our companion as we drove up to the Bay area, and we found ourselves immersed in the events of world history since World War I, acknowledging the folly of making economics the ultimate basis for policy and politics, and mostly pondering the idea that western democracies seem to have lost sight of the positive virtues of collective action. Judt writes about the growing inequalities within and between societies, our increased difficulty in comprehending what we have in common with each other, and the ways in which fear and uncertainty are used to manipulate people. Not a very cheerful book, but thought provoking. It's a call for a new conversation about social democracy and political involvement; I'm sending it to my daughter and her boyfriend. (Sort of like passing along a hot potato. Here. You're up next.) But it’s a worthwhile read.
I’m looking for answers, you see, as I drift ashore without shelter of sure. My searching leads mostly to confirmation that there is reason to be worried, but no big answers yet, only vague thoughts about small acts and long-term possibilities, and it is quite evident that the effort of the individual has to be projected onto a larger screen and linked together with others for the collective good. That's why I liked Tony Judt's book -- it reminds us that we're all in this together and there are institutions and processes already in place that urgently need to be rethought and reinvigorated but at least there's something to start out with. (I envy those who have unshakeable religious faith, but even in my church-going days I somehow got the message that we were responsible for most of our own messes.)
Anyway, I told you already about the garage sale we went to in San Francisco, a peculiar assortment of things being sold by a woman named Diane who claimed to be a maker and finder of charms and was indeed quite charming. She also explained that she had the ability to recognize the magic or sacredness of certain objects, although those are not the words she used. It was that some objects were capable of bringing blessings, sort of like a cross between a lucky charm and a religious artifact. Case in point: Henry, the paper-maché (or maybe wood and plastic) rooster, complete with feathers. That's him on the left, in her kitchen, where she was gracious enough to invite us in to show us more wares that we didn't buy. With a ceremonial flourish of her hand, our charm-maker uttered her wishes for our well-being, and the rooster crowed. Who knows what unpleasant twists of fate we may have thus warded off?
I couldn't help but wonder if she really believed this. Elsewhere on a table I noticed a framed black and white photograph of a tall, elegant African-American woman dressed as though for church or high tea. She was marching for civil rights, and a caption at the bottom said the date was 1962. “That’s my mother,” said Diane. “I just lost her last year.”
It all got me to thinking about what we will stand for, fight for, live for. And about the things that we believe in, the things that elevate us, motivate us, that somehow keep us going.
I'm thinking about it still. Especially in the middle of the night when I should be asleep...
There was a red typewriter in the window of a gallery in the North Beach area of San Francisco, and a sign on the door that said, Poetry on Demand. A young woman, presumably the poet, was getting set up to position herself there and produce poems on the spot by request. According to the sign, all you had to do was tell her who the poem was for, and what that person “liked,” whatever that means, and then, in a moment or two, she would begin to type a poem. Her secret? “My poems emerge from the dark of you meeting I," she is quoted as saying. "Then there is something more than light. There is life."
I hope her poetry is better than this explanation. Still, I admire the confidence that would allow someone to sit there in full view of the street not merely proclaiming oneself a poet but promising customized poems on demand. As Naomi Shihab Nye wrote,
You can't order a poem like you order a taco. Walk up to the counter, say, "I'll take two"
and expect it to be handed back to you
on a shiny plate.
But maybe you can, in San Francisco.
I was so intrigued by the scenario that I mentioned it to a friend of mine who is also a poet. A real one. He found it to be an alien and slightly comical concept. “If it were that easy,” he said, “I probably wouldn’t pursue poems. In fact, when I try to pursue them, I chase them away. Only when I pay attention and let myself be susceptible, is there a chance the muse may try to seduce me. But I do I like the image of the red typewriter.”
I like the red typewriter also, and as much as I love my computer, I have a fondness for typewriters in general. The miserable Long Island summer I spent taking typing classes at my high school turned out to be one of the best investments in the future I ever made. Knowing my way around a keyboard got me through essays in college and dozens of office jobs after I dropped out. More important, my agile fingers made it a lot easier to get my thoughts on the page when I began to "write" more seriously. The first typewriter that was truly my own was one similar in size to that poetry machine, but the typewriter I loved the most was a fancy IBM Selectric that I used while front desk-receptionist at an office in downtown Chicago in the early 1970s.
In one of those random moments that achieves a kind of immortality, a gentleman in the office named Richard Sandberg, long since deceased, walked by one day and took my picture in front of that typewriter. (What I also remember about Mr. Sandberg is that he thought I should learn transcendental meditation; he was so convinced it would change my life for the better that he offered to pay the registration fee, and I could pay him back someday when it was easier to come up with the dollars, but if I did not think that it had been incredibly worthwhile, I would owe him nothing. I never took him up on his offer but years later found a beautifully typed up memorandum of understanding to this effect that he had signed and given to me.)
Anyway, back to me and that handsome IBM typewriter with its silver ball cartridge…it was a fine machine, sturdy and robust, and with it I became quite a competent typist, which would open many doors to "temp" jobs, the extent of my career plans in that unstable period of my life. And here, for memory’s sake, is me in 1971, as photographed by Mr. Sandberg, with my can of Tab and the typewriter.
No poetry ever came out of it.
Recently, I saw an IBM Selectric at a thrift shop that for twenty bucks could have been mine. (I can hear Monte: “Are you nuts?”) A hulking electric typewriter would be incompatible with our current lifestyle anyway; we don’t need to own a big consumer of table space and electricity. This in fact is why I have become so intrigued with the old-fashioned manual typewriters that run entirely on finger tapping and their own clever design, despite the now and then entanglement of typebars or ribbon. The very sight of them evokes nostalgia…writers in attics producing thin-skinned manuscripts of novels and screenplays, reporters in newsrooms rat-tat-tatting out the stories.Interesting enough, I saw a beautiful specimen of this type at the backyard garage sale that I mentioned in a previous post. Again, I looked at it longingly, wondering what the garage sale woman would ask for it, and again imagining Monte’s response. (“Are you nuts?”) It would have been awkward anyway, considering that we were using bicycles as our primary mode of transportation that weekend. And the truth is I don’t need to own a typewriter; wistfully admiring one is quite enough.
Unless, of course I could get poetry out of it. On demand.
But the other day I did acquire something new, a sort of great-great-grandchild to the typewriter, twice removed and many times mutated. In fact, its typing capabilities are its least evolved characteristic, its keyboard somewhat vestigial and still a bit awkward for me to use. But it is sublimely light and portable, can hold hundreds of weightless books I can travel with or read into the night, and beyond mere processing of words, it offers an instant portal out into the world. Yep, it’s an iPad. Brand new.
Blame Chris . When I saw how easily she carried hers in her bag, on her bike, everywhere she went, and how casually she treated it, I began to wonder...and when she let me play around with it, I began to covet. I mean it when I say that at this point in my life I am more into getting rid of things than acquiring them, and my focus is on experience rather than possession. The iPad, though, is a perfect tool for me, and I intend to take it places, and I’ll keep in touch while I do.
Soon enough I’ll be writing about the places I am going, and sooner still, I want to tell you more about that last trip to San Francisco -- the garage sale lady, some amazing friends, a book I read as Monte drove, lingering thoughts on faith, its limits, and the lack of it. Meanwhile, I am acutely aware that oil is hemorrhaging in the Gulf, that there is strife and turmoil everywhere and plenty of cause for sadness and concern; I won't always dwell on this sort of thing, but I need to think about what it means to be navigating through these troubled times. I can’t quite go over to the lite side entirely.
I remain open to poetry, and close with an old Ray Bradbury quote:
We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.
Not on demand or by request, but without ever being asked...
The problem with blogging – or writing in general - is that the less you do of it the harder it is to get back into it. That isn’t for lack of material. It’s because so much has cumulatively happened and so many thoughts have raced, uncaught, across your mind that just knowing how to begin becomes overwhelming. My oft-quoted hero, William Stafford, is helpful to me here. He said, “I don’t experience those times when I don’t have anything to write because I write whatever it is that occurs to me. Some writers experience difficulty that may be because their standards are too high. They feel they can’t write well enough. But I write anyway. I think that activity is important.” I appreciate the reminder, Bill, and I am going to resume the activity more consistently, even if it means lowering my standards. Rather than fret about subject matter or skill, and rather than brood about all the things I would have wanted to mention but which have since fled from memory, I am going to dive right in here and write.
I get discouraged about this blog sometimes. I know I have a faithful group of discerning readers, but I am aware that they are relatively small in number; this is not one of those blogs that generate thousands of daily hits, garner strings of comments, get linked and circulated throughout the blogosphere. It's not hip, newsy, or even particularly entertaining most of the time. Do I care? Not really. Well, sometimes maybe a little, but only when I compare myself to others. I don't even know why: I’m not writing this blog for attention or publicity, and I assure you I have nothing at all to sell. My little book of essays – anyone remember that? – is gone, all 200 of them sold or given away, and I’m done with that. The book I wrote for teachers, which was published by a prestigious academic press five years ago, sold about 9 copies last year, and I know that’s not a very good number, although I still believe it is a very good book. So I am not exactly a "successful" author, and I guess now and then I have to remind myself why I write, or simply observe how blank and flat and un-alive I feel when I am not writing. As has lately been the case…
I need to write because…writing helps me sort out the things that happen (or don’t happen); because it allows me to articulate my pain or my joy; because it gives me a way to communicate something of myself to others, even if they are few, who care to read the words; and because it enables me to eke out more from the experience of being here. Well-meaning friends often ask me, “What are you working on now?” fully expecting that I have a book or at least a substantial article in progress. If I do not, which is certainly the case right now, and may forevermore be the case for all I know, I feel as though I have no credibility as a writer, and I am embarrassed to say, “Only the occasional blog post.” Or emails to friends. Or journal entries and notes to myself. I just happen to enjoy and understand experience more fully if I am concurrently documenting it in some way; this seems counter-intuitive to enlightenment, but so be it.
In any case, I think it’s time for me to stop being apologetic and embarrassed about it, and just continue to do it, and with less restraint, less searching for justification, less yearning for external validation. My friend Jacquie Phelan recently sent me this quote from the brilliant Kay Ryan, current Poet Laureate of the U.S, and it is going to be my new mantra: “You really shouldn’t be living for a reaction all the time.”
Right on, Kay Ryan. Good advice for me. And I think it is equally important to stop comparing myself to others. I tend to choose geniuses and inevitably walk away immobilized by the awareness of my own mediocrity. But please allow me to quote one more literary giant, Orhan Pamuk, because this is a sentiment I share: “I write because I have never managed to be happy. I write to be happy.”
It’s as simple as that. I am happier when I am writing, and if that writing takes the form of a scribble of words that amount to naught, or a small blog post that might connect to a few hearts or heads out there, well, then, no need to apologize anymore.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot because my dear friend Vickie Gill and I are planning a class we will be co-teaching this summer. It’s called “The Teacher As A Writer and the Teaching of Writing” and we were brainstorming about what we hoped the teachers who enroll in this class would take away from it. One of the most important things, we decided, would be that they would understand the importance, or even the necessity, of writing in their own lives. Certainly the course, as is the South Coast Writing Project with which we are affiliated, is predicated on the premise that you cannot effectively teach writing if you never write. But for so many people, writing is painfully difficult and as appealing as medicine. I am hoping to help others see that writing in a personal way can be healing, surprising, satisfying. But I’d be a hypocrite if I tried to teach this class when I consistently devalue my own writing.
I need to go outside right now. But I’m coming back. And that’s a dangerous thing to declare out in the open.
The grasshopper appeared on our window screen several days ago. I admired its lovely greenness, and marveled at how closely its body resembled a delicate leaf. More than once I left and returned to check on it, and it was still there. It lingered on the screen all day, a silent and unmoving visitor. I began to feel honored that it had chosen to call on us, and pleased that it felt so safe and comfortable lodged there on the outside of our kitchen window. I read someplace that in Chinese culture a grasshopper is a sign of good luck, and in Native American lore it is a harbinger of joyful news, but the feeling it conveyed to me was one of peace. I found an online article on animal totems and symbolism that states (with conviction) that the grasshopper can serve as a grounding totem that teaches stability and patience, but also, for obvious reasons, represents a leap of faith. We are advised, further, to call upon the grasshopper when we need creative inspiration or a sense of adventure in our lives. All this may be true, and for me it would certainly be helpful, but there is only one thing I knew intuitively and for sure: we had been blessed. Finally, when dusk and dark were drawing near, we checked the window and the grasshopper was gone. I still feel inexplicably blessed.
Because Sunday was Father's Day and yesterday marked the first day of summer, and also because I have just returned home and haven't sorted out any new thoughts yet, I am posting a piece I wrote ten years or so ago. It was published in the Santa Barbara Independent, included in my book of essays, and might even be up on my website someplace, so forgive me if it sounds familiar. It speaks of a summer morning that is forever engraved upon my heart, a morning of awakening to my own life beginning and the recognition of my father's life of sacrifice. I knew even then that it was a gift to have had this small, unexpected moment with him, and the love I felt has never faded. The thermos that he carried, by the way, is still in my possession. I'm looking at it right now, with its red stripes, chipped places, and a few dried paint drips from some long ago job; I hold it and picture it in my father's hands, filled with the bitter coffee he would have brewed hastily in the dark. Having revisited the essay, I see it could use a little editing, but I think its essence still resonates, and I am happy to share it (again):
Central Islip was a working class Long Island town of cheap lumber houses and small vistas. It seems we were always in search of a place to hide, to render ourselves separate from its oppressive dullness. One memorable day we we found a hidden creek beneath an overpass of Veteran’s Highway, clambered down with candy bars in our hands, and sat there for hours, pretending to be someplace else. When we were lucky, we would manage a ride to a nearby beach, loving the fact that there was indeed an end to the grim crisscross of empty streets, a physical edge to look beyond. Once we went to a road with the enchanting name of Crystal Brook Hollow; it led us to the Long Island Sound, and there we listened to the lull of water lapping onto pebbled shore.
And at Robert Moses State Park on Fire Island, anyone who was willing to walk a hundred yards in those days could still find solitude. People clustered near the parking lots and restrooms, renting umbrellas, placing coolers and blankets on the white sand, building noisy communities that somehow replicated the clamor of daily life. But I was willing to walk. I knew there was an old lighthouse further west at Point Democrat, as well as the remains of a shambling dwelling built of planks and driftwood – a place where one could live for a summer. I fantasized about that. I would be a cross between Huck Finn and Pippi Longstocking, clever and autonomous. I would write songs and wear my hair in braids. I would watch the storms gather over the sea, endure their pounding rains, and never be afraid.
Lilacs were more fragrant then. All rain was hard, every star shimmered, the wind through the treetops was a voice in my ear, and each path through the sparse scrub woods might yet lead to someplace undiscovered. I yearned to see the sun rise over the sea, and one day my boyfriend Richie agreed to drive me to Robert Moses Park the following morning at dawn. I knew my father would never understand, so I tiptoed out of the house in the dark of four a.m and met Richie a little further down the street. It was the morning of the solstice. We drove across the Causeway just as the first sun of summer began to rise like a great flat coin above the water.
And that was it. We watched the sunrise, vowed never to forget this particular June morning, and Richie drove me back home. The sky had lost its blush by now, but still possessed its early morning shyness. I stood for a long while in the backyard, fully awake and unwilling to return to my bed. A single rose had emerged from a small thorny bush I had inexpertly planted myself. I examined it like a proud mother, then sat on our brick steps and stroked the fur of an old cat named Duke who belonged to nobody but frequented our yard. I enjoyed the way Duke unquestioningly accepted my unlikely presence in the morning’s narrow seam, pushing his thick head against me, purring at my unexpected companionship.
Suddenly the door opened and my father appeared. He wore a green plaid flannel shirt and old paint-splattered trousers, and he carried a thermos of coffee. A single shank of his black hair fell across his forehead, and he looked at me with a bemused, tired expression. For an instant I braced myself for defense, but he knew nothing of my foray to the beach, and I could tell he was happy to see me. He smiled as though my being there was nothing more than a pleasant surprise that did not require explanation. I realized only then how bleak and lonely were his mornings. No one rose to make him breakfast or see him off, even in the dark of winter. Sometimes I would wake and hear him getting ready downstairs. There would be a small clatter of keys and kitchen things, then the door would shut, and he would drive away, and I would lie there as the sky grew light and blank, feeling utterly bereft until my trifling dreams reclaimed me.
Now he smiled and reached for me, and I nestled my head into his shirt the way I did when I was a little girl. He smelled vaguely of coffee and casein paint, and his shirt was soft and achingly familiar, and he had about him a residue of sleep and weariness that made him gentle. I felt protective of him suddenly, and it occurred to me on some guttural level that he would not be with me forever, and my heart chilled with a fleeting foreknowledge that I was not capable of grasping.
“It’s the first day of summer, Daddy.”
“No kidding,” he said distractedly, as though all days were one smudged procession.
“I couldn’t sleep,” I added, “so I thought I’d get up and greet the day.”
This sounded silly, and I wished I hadn’t said it, but my father didn’t patronize me. I wondered if he ever felt the restlessness that stirred in me, the romantic tug of wanderlust and yearning. It would be many years and much too late before I found the letters and poems he had penned in his youth. If I could but scale tonight the vault of sky, one poem began, the stars as stepping stones to reach on high…
But I suppose I thought I’d invented yearning. I somehow assumed that my father had been programmed differently to choose this life.
“Well, kid,” he said, beginning to shift, “you got to greet an old man, too.” He pronounced it keed, as he always did when he called me this. It was an affectionate nickname, slightly droll, and it pleased me.
He approached the car and turned to me once more. “Help out today, and take care of the baby,” he said, referring to my two-year old brother, who was already beginning to dislike the label.
I don’t know what it was that pressed upon my heart. I did not yet know the names for love and had never felt this weight, this vast presence at the core of me, so elemental I might dissolve within it or die without it. I was frightened and grateful, immobilized by the enormity of what seemed both burden and gift. In time, I would get used to this, for my heart would fold over it, and my soul would take its shape, but for now, I was suspended precariously in the stilled breath of morning. It was the start of summer, and I was sixteen.
I love finding myself in unlikely places, as I am right now, relaxing in the living room of an apartment on Telegraph Hill, listening to jazz, eating a piece of chocolate, and surrounded by pictures of someone else’s family and someone else’s idea of art. In particular there is a startlingly hideous painting on the wall behind the dining room table that we have been explicitly instructed to avoid leaning into when we sit here (not that we are likely to ever be so tipsy) because it is an extremely valuable work of art. Well, there’s not much about art that is objective, I guess. I sort of “get” that this one has something to do with irony, but trust me: it’s not something that many of us would care to look at while we eat. (In fact, I would post a picture of this painting and let you judge for yourself, but that seems unwise as well as insensitive.)
Anyway, being here is not about the quirky décor. It’s about being here...and being here. This is a city that I think could be mistaken for no other. Even the view through the window right now of its steep hilly streets, its pastel buildings -- white, pink, pale green -- and the blustery blue sky fringed by fog conveys something to me that is uniquely San Francisco. Many years ago I worked for an old Irish guy named Tom Dolan who had grown up here –his grandmother had firsthand memories of the 1906 earthquake, and he himself had worked for years as a conductor on the cable cars. “My city,” is how he lovingly referred to it. Or “The City” as if it were the only city in existence. Good old Tom, he would have loved this day. His city is sparkling.
We wandered through a street fair in North Beach this morning. It was mostly the usual street fair fare: necklaces, leather goods, tee shirts with messages and hippie-esque blouses, and even at 10 a.m. there were the smells of garlic and meat grilling. We went into a coffee shop for more traditional breakfast choices. I asked for salsa with my eggs, much to the waiter’s bewilderment. “Salsa? We don’t have salsa,” he said in an Italian accent. “We have tomato sauce.”
Fortified by good coffee, we wandered some more, climbing up hills and steps to Coit Tower; then Chris and I spotted a sign for a garage sale, so Monte went back to the apartment and Chris and I sauntered through a back alley to the sale. It was run by an African-American woman wearing a yellow shawl and dangling orange earrings who said she was a charm-maker, though I don’t know what that means. She had lived in the neighborhood for forty years and had a story to tell about every odd object there. I dawdled wistfully at the old typewriter (I have a fondness for those) but mostly it was peculiar junk and nothing at all we needed to own.
Shopping might have been problematic anyway, since we will be getting back to the ferry tomorrow via bicycle. If you knew my friend Chris -- a bike advocate (some might say fanatic) right down to her bones – you’d quickly understand how this came about. I’m not much into urban cycling and would have rather walked even if it meant walking for hours, but Chris believes two-wheeled transit is the only way to go. I sat on the back of her tandem and tried to stoke, but mostly I just held on for dear life and closed my eyes when the traffic seemed too near. My daughter travels by bicycle all over the place in Oxford, and I respect that, but I think it is a skill that takes some practice. Me, I’m a timid sort; I mostly felt vulnerable.
This timidity, by the way, is something I am hoping to overcome, and it amuses me that I still think I'm going to change, but I do. Unfortunately, there are a great many doors in the attic of my head behind which sad things happen and worries loom. I keep them snugly shut and seek to focus instead on the bright clear now, but I know what’s in there, and out there.
So I am striving to be a little bit Buddhist. (“Stop striving!” says Monte.) And I am trying to be braver, more spontaneous, more fun and more “game”. (“Stop trying so hard,” says Monte.)
I am trying to stop trying so hard.
Meanwhile, I am listening to jazz and the sounds of music drifting in from the street fair below, nodding to a carved wooden Buddha sitting by the door, lapping up the summer light that is filling this apartment, and being in San Francisco.