Sunday, July 30, 2023

Early mornings and I have been writing

a book that, for now, is only for me. 

I used to have rules for writing. I gave talks at libraries and schools about this. How to Break through Writer's Block. How to Beat Back Resistance. I shared tips and tricks. Set a word count goal or text an accountability partner. But really, all of the rules and tricks boil down to one.

Do the work.   

When you're writing, you're alone. There is no boss looking over your shoulder. No drill sergeant barking orders in your face. You’re the boss. You’re the drill sergeant. I was merciless with myself. 

I did my work. 

Sometimes I confessed to my students that most of the time I hated what I wrote. Something I never confessed: I hated myself. 

Writing and me, it turns out, had a terribly dysfunctional relationship. It was born out of trauma, so maybe I was expecting too much to think it could've turned into anything healthy or fun. 

As messed up as the relationship was though, I did manage to hold onto it for a very long time. I wrote and revised multiple books from that toxic headspace. The voice that says If you don't get your words today, you're a failure. Or, If you sleep in or take a day off, you're a loser.  

Friday, I slept in, and I did not work one bit on the book that I am writing only for me.  

In the afternoon, spur of the moment, my husband and I went to see a movie. We hadn't seen a movie since the pre-pandemic times, February 2020, when we saw the big epic drama about World War I 1917. We thought about seeing the movie Oppenheimer, which seemed like an appropriately weighty picture to end our three-and-half-years-long no-movie-in-a-theater streak. 

Instead, we saw Barbie. 

We both loved it. A few days later we are still talking about it. How silly it was and how achingly sad. How thought-provoking and how... pink. I had barbies when I was a little girl, and I loved playing with them. Maybe not for the reason other little girls do--the dressing them up, the combing of the hair--but because I could put them into stories. 

Playing with dolls was one of the ways I found to escape my terrifying chaotic little life. When I made up stories about them, the stories were for me. (Okay, I also loved dressing them up and combing their hair. It was fun!)   

I am not breaking up with writing, but I am amending the rules. The rules are there are no rules. No bosses and no drill sergeants. No barking voices. Just a quiet morning (or maybe it is afternoon or maybe it is evening or maybe I've slept in) 

but I am alone and having fun, writing a book that, for now, is only for me. 

Sunday, July 23, 2023

The sky is so blue and I am not a coastal grandmother

Let me tell you about the sky first. How amazingly blue it is after several days of smoky white. I take a picture so I will remember to never again take the air for granted. But here I am, already forgetting,

preoccupied with trip-planning, the wedding of my son and his lovely fiancĂ© and who will watch the anxious dog and how many days should I take off from work and what should I wear. The wedding will be held in a beach-y location, so I am thinking, something... beachy? 

I discuss this at length with my way more fashion-aware daughter, joking when I ask her if there is such a look as "Diane Keaton in the movie Something's Gotta Give." I am picturing crisp linen or flowy flowery fabric. Or maybe this is more like "Meryl Streep in the movie It's Complicated"?  

Funnily enough, my daughter knows exactly what I mean. It turns out I have stumbled upon a style called "Coastal Grandmother." I am embarrassed to tell you how much time I spend scrolling around online researching this new-to-me aesthetic, wondering if I can pull it off, considering that I am neither coastal nor grandmother. 

But back to the hazy sky,

and how our phones ping us now when there's an air quality alert. "Poor," it announces one day. The next, "Unhealthy." As routine as checking to see if rain's on the way and should we grab an umbrella. Look at us, adapting, 

and aren't we the frogs sitting in the slowly warming warming water. In a book I just read about climate change, The Parrot and the Igloo, the author David Lipsky talks about the frog-sitting-in-water analogy. If you don't remember this story, it goes like this: Throw a frog into boiling water and it will immediately jump out. 

But turn up the heat slowly, and the frog will stay there and cook to death.  

The story, the author points out, gets it wrong. If you throw a frog into boiling water, it dies. A frog in warming water hops out, because frogs do that. They move. Humans are the ones who sit around, blink their irritated eyes against the murky white sky, and go on about their business. 

In our defense, what are we supposed to do? The author has no answers. I finished reading the book on a "Very Unhealthy" air quality day, and thought, Welp, we're screwed. 

My son calls and I forget to run my coastal grandmother wedding attire idea by him. I suspect that he will be fine with whatever I decide to wear. Instead, we talk about a meal he and his fiancĂ© had recently, a visit to a farm in the area where they live, an invitation to anyone who is "hungry for any reason." 

The owner doesn't charge for the food. Anyone can show up to pick, to eat. The farmer's mission is to practice radical generosity, to share what he has with his neighbors in our climate tipping world. It occurs to me that I am hungry for that. 

Today the air quality is "Fair," and I wish you could see how blue the sky is and how beautiful. I promise I won't forget. I won't. 


Sunday, July 16, 2023

I mow the lawn

like a person who has never mowed the lawn before. I'm using our new push mower, the one I pestered my husband to get when our gas-powered mower broke. With this one there is no gas tank to fill. No cord, string? to pull (I don't know the proper lawnmower terminology). Just grip the handle and go. 

I have no strategy. No system. Instead of mowing in straight lines like my husband does, starting at one section of the lawn and making my way carefully, strip by strip, to the other side, or going diagonally, how I've seen our neighbor do, I shuffle around all over the place, easily distracted

by my own thoughts--about our son who is getting married this year and how happy I am for him, about time passing, and loved ones passing, how I don't like the word passing and I'm not sure I believe anymore that any of us go anywhere, except in the here and now,

and what do we do when the here and now is so scary, with smoke settling over us and atmospheric rivers flowing, the ocean roiling like a hot tub? All I can think to do is finish mowing, 

around the flower beds (where I mow triangles), the trees (figure eights), our Little Free Library (quick, jerky back-and-forths so as to avoid disturbing the plants). I planted these a year ago and this season they have come alive, the branches dipping and bending ingeniously around the library frame,

small bees whirring around the flowers. I’ve never seen this kind of bee before. I forget the name of the plant. And how does the branch do that, grow at such an angle, 

its reach tapped out and blocked from the sun, before finding another way?

Sunday, July 9, 2023

Sleep Creep Leap

There’s an old saying about perennial flowers. (These are the plants that come back every year and usually with very little work involved for the gardener.) The saying is: 

The first year they sleep. The second year they creep. The third year they leap. 

I have found this to be true, and not only with my flowers. The book I have been working on, for example. It's a full blown first draft that my beginner writer self would've proudly pronounced finished. But I know better now.

What I know is that I have the seeds of a potential something. The roots. A few clusters of leaves. A small lovely bud here and there. But the story itself is not quite awake. This is a draft I wrote during the pandemic, and most of the time, it was a daily struggle.  

Difficult to sit down and open my file. Difficult to concentrate on a paragraph, never mind on a plot and subplots, characterization and conflict. Reaching the end of it took monumental effort. But I was like the guy in the novel The Plague. I kept writing. 

Do you know that story by Camus? A plague descends on the world. A city is locked down, the fearful inhabitants trapped together inside the walls. Each person reacts to the situation in their own way. The doctor treats the sick. The minister provides comfort. The mayor attempts to navigate the day-to-day practical needs of the people. 

There's a writer character who's the comic relief, popping up in the story every now and then to give an update on the book he's writing. The joke is that he never makes it past the first sentence.

Anyway, that was what I felt like, writing a book during a pandemic. I mean, what was even the point? 

Except that sitting down and writing each day seemed to be the point. And that guy in The Plague loved his one sentence. Every time he gave his update, he was excited about his progress and itching to delve back in.   

I put my draft away for a season. While it snoozed, I worked in my garden. The grubs had killed the grass and I tore up the dead patches and transplanted perennials. Another season of playing with the draft and nourishing the soil with compost. A third season of letting go, allowing what I planted to creep.  

Bear with me as I keep this metaphor going, but

today as I write, I'm sitting on my front porch, computer on my lap, looking out at the flowers in my front yard, spreading, bobbing, blooming. My story wakes up on my screen

and leaps. 

Sunday, July 2, 2023

What's if it's the end of the world and we don't know it

We walk the dog on a gray, hazy day and don't realize until later, it's not clouds, but smoke. Half the world is on fire but we feel fine. That scratch in our throat, it's allergies. 

What's nice is the raspberries eaten right off the bush in the backyard. A gift during the lockdown. Was that only three years ago? Now the plant's taken over a corner of the yard. A fresh crop of berries every morning, every night. 

Before the smoke rolled in, we went on a garden tour in our neighborhood. Nine houses and every yard is a surprise. Some of these houses I walk by every day with the dog, and who knew what they had growing behind the backyard fences. 

There's a brochure with a description of each garden. One of the entries says: “A special treat this year— the giant fennel (Ferula communis glauca) is preparing to bloom, a rare occurrence three years in the making." 


Of course, we cannot miss this! But when we shuffle into the yard, we find that we have missed it.  Apparently the Ferula communis glauca bloomed a few weeks ago. The resident gardener excitedly shows me a picture on his phone. It's lovely. All of the gardens on the tour are. 

I want to rush home and do something with my plants. It's hot, though, and I'm not quite recovered from my surgery. I'll get to it later in the week, I tell myself. But then the smoke settles in. When does life go back to normal? What if this is normal now?

Back to work at the library, and just to be on the safe side, the Blowing Bubbles in the Park program has been moved indoors. In no time the youth department is overflowing with bubbles and children, and I am surprised by joy. We humans can adapt to anything.  

Today the smoke is gone. The thick haze means what it has always meant: a thunderstorm. When it's over, I take a quick walk with the dog, gulping big breaths of fresh air. We sidestep puddles into the backyard so I can doublecheck the progress of my own garden. 

It’s so much greener and lusher than a week ago. The raspberries, sweet and cool and tasting of rain.