Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Fall of the Wall

The wall isn't going anywhere. It's far too new for that.

I went to visit my friends Jon and Miguel in their new home. It's a very new home and it looks very much like the other homes in this development. Miguel is despondent about this.

"But look at that view of the Mountain!"

He shows me the view from their bedroom, the breakfast nook and the top of the garage. It is always the same Mountain, but I don't tell him that. I sympathize that they must commute a long ways for this house and this view.

Jon has a longer view of things. "In forty years, if a lahar hasn't taken this all out, these homes will all look different, and we'll probably be in Yucca Valley."

Jon is an architect and knows that buildings grow and age just like people.

This wall isn't going anywhere. It will wait here for the seasons to change it and make it something people find attractive in the patina of mutability. But it works fine for me now. I can lean here and smell Jon cooking the bratwursts I brought. I think of gold beer and red leaves.

"Welcome to your first Fall, Wall."

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

30-30 Writing Challenge 2016

Dear friends,

It's that time of year again. The leaves are beginning to fall and the day and night are equitably sharing the sky right now.

That means it's time for the 30-30 Writing Challenge! Throughout the month of October I will be writing at least thirty minutes for thirty days. And I'm getting started a little early this year!

You can encourage me and help support a truly wonderful organization:

Richard Hugo House

Donating is easy and tax deductible. All you have to do is go to my giving page and drop some lucre in the digital jar. 

Through its classes, events and specialized programs, Hugo House helps writers of all stripes. From Teen Scribes learning to find their voices, to seasoned authors, and everyone in between. Playwrights, novelists, memoirists, poets, screenwriters, non-fiction authors: if there are words involved, Hugo House is a place to read words, hear words, and make your own words better.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Sunset of an Only Child

I didn't spend the night talking to a troll, save in a metaphorical sense. But metaphor operates within the same world of dreams. I am certain there is a brain scan that shows "where" this is, and perhaps I am supposed to "understand it all."

It does nothing of the sort. I am only more certain that I cannot know anything because while the impressive array of data presented to me by a non-threatening yet authorial scientist on television explains, it does nothing to mean—even if the scientist possesses a smoky deep voice like Leonard Cohen. Anton is someone deep inside of me who speaks truths I don't like to hear.

And some dreams are just wishes. The sister I mentioned in that book was that sort of wish. Most only children want siblings, and as with many desires, it may no longer dominate your thoughts. They all have them and that is normalcy. Can you imagine normalcy? No, it's actually a fairly ridiculously request to make because there is no such thing.

But I stand here at sunset trying to imagine what it would be like to have a sister. What would her husband, or even wife have to say? Would that person even be here? Maybe we went to the Balearic Islands to get away. To bitch about our mother. To have that deeply shared story that no longer even needs dialogue, though doubtless there would be some after the second bottle of wine.

I have tried to meet my brother: he is a firefighter and very down-to-earth. But that's as far as I can get. My sister and brother are less real in my imagination than Anton: a troll with a horse's head and prehensile hair.

I read this recently:
"You prefer to think things over all by yourself, and you don't like people peeking inside your head. Maybe that's because you're an only child. You're used to thinking and acting alone.  You figure that as long as *you* understand something, that's enough." She shook her head. "And that makes me afraid. I feel abandoned."*
We Only Children are famous for our walls. One of my favorite writers climbs down inside a circular wall called a well. But did I build this wall? The problem lies with confusing metaphor in language. If you have never built a wall, it's not as simple as a few bricks. It requires some conscious thought and understanding.

Hiding behind one that your soul somehow stumbles across in its travels? That is much easier to do. We Only Children just find well-made ones. And then in the magical inverse of this world, it's easier to improve it by doing nothing. You can see quite clearly into that world because every Only Child's wall has a nice mirror: permanently mounted there to reflect that shadowy mass of ego.

Still, as I grow older, I find there is no great danger in looking over the wall. I'll never quite fit in. You all may watch the sun set, but I like to see it cast those purple shadows of night on the East. That too is part of a sunset.

Monday, September 5, 2016


The days began, like all vacations, with the saffron yellow of novelty. I slept at odd hours and made a list of things that I would never get to. Discoveries—beautiful, banal, and disappointing—came into the sphere of my experience. I read the novel I had bought for this trip. I saw a museum or two and wondered at the lives of those who created such things.

Prayer consisted of breakfast in a cafĂ© where the language was not that of home. I was grateful for that and a loaf of bread and marmalade—a communion that made me stop and consider the bitterness pervading the sugar of the world. Each afternoon I came here to watch the sea. At times, the rhythm of the world found some silence in my mind to allow the counterpoint of unique moments to rise in careful notes. I felt each wave was different and the gulls never flew in exactly the same courses.

The sun today and paella tonight are framed by tomorrow.

Tomorrow I return home by several means: a taxi, an airplane, the knowledge of what I must do when I have returned and the real uncertainty of everything.

The burdensome blessings of space and time are a framework that I possess and possess me, but in the sun—whose light I have never altogether trusted—I notice shadows once again. Some are sharp and dark, while others reveal the continuum of tonalities that provide the bulk of our lives. Home is a symphony of diffuse gray made up of I don't what is going to happen. It is, for better or worse, inescapable save for a few moments of nothing. But that is why I am here for one more day.

“Doing nothing is hard work.” How strange it seems that language, which appears as orderly as the cut stones I sit on is really as arbitrary as the raw rocks waiting in the earth. Does language help in such a place?

No: if you are looking for meaning.

Yes: if you simply want to enjoy the permutations of its craft and architecture.

And so the summer slips away on this last day—a day where reason and feeling take one last drink of wine together and remain silent while the afternoon races by the sun.

Saturday, August 13, 2016


There is a plum tree out in my landlady's garden full of fruit and she lets me pick as much as I want, as long as I give her some of the canned plums afterward. I realize this an ancient, albeit much watered-down version of agricultural servitude. Yet it is a benevolent one.

And the days are pleasant and warm so I can stand here in a thin old muslin dress that is too ratty and threadbare for public but perfect for preservation.

I eat them too, but there are too many of them to binge on. I think of them in crostatas around Yule—my friend Celeste is a professional baker and has the best recipe for plum crostata. Maybe there will even be a lonely day in February where I can curl up with Kafka on the Shore and a bowl of pearl tapioca… and plums.

Stone fruits of all kind remind me of process better than any other. I'm not sure why. Apples blossom as well. So do raspberries. There is something singular about the drupes that makes them easier to understand and extend the metaphoric bridge. One blossom, one fruit, one seed, one seedling, one tree and I stop there because of course I am literally processing an entire orchard's worth of trees.

But they will never grow into trees. Celeste says that to make the plums taste better that you should either leave the pits in, or put them in the simple syrup. I remember something about amygdalin and cyanide being destroyed by heat. Perhaps that sweet, avoided death is what she is talking about.

But I keep a few pits. My old dress has a pocket and I put a few in there to keep for the year when either I no longer live here or Mrs. Wong dies and they rip down her house and garden to make apartments. The tree will be gone and so will I. I used to fantasize about being wealthy enough and important enough to actually transplant this tree. I could own a home and garden of my own and something as impractical as transplanting a living tree would be within my means.

It still crosses my mind, like other fantasies, but as I grow older I marvel at how quickly it disappears. Perhaps this is the first outrider of the acceleration in time I understand occurs in age. An impractical plot like a plum-tree-transplant could last for weeks in my 22 year old soul, but it only stays around for a minute now that I'm 46.

So I can, and put a few pits in my pocket. I still think of some place I can walk that is mine, more or less. The ratty dress will have a hole in the pocket big enough for me to leave plum trees everywhere.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Without You

I don't know why I come here. I guess it's habit. I went for a walk because it's summer and the weather is beautiful. And this is a park. You're supposed to go to a park with weather like this.

All the places we used to go remain the same even though they're changing every day. The people who knew us when we were together are polite enough to not ask me why I am alone. It's written on my face.

But you know the worst place was our home. You were always there when I came back. I was beautiful and you loved me, no matter whether I was cross, sick, soaking wet, or simply sad. In the kitchen, or on the couch, the sight of you would not leave the corner of my eye. I moved to an apartment with carpet because I could not bear the silence of hardwood floors.

I won't ever forget you. Enough that my body carries me here even when you aren't with me anymore.

I don't know why I bring memories of you with me. I must look strange—as though I've lost you. But I'm the one who is lost.

Monday, July 18, 2016


Oh, you're here. Can you hear the glass? The itching fault-lines, grinding, popping in that way glass does as it fractures? It's different than ice. Broken glass cuts. But I'll shift metaphors slightly: let's break the ice…

…that's cooled everything because I wasn't supposed to be here. But I didn't conceal the truth. I didn't alter my description of this world we share. I just didn't want to see you. Not now.

Please don't be upset. I'm not going to lie. I'm an only child and we don't lie very well. You'd see through it and be insulted.

I could have written something, but correspondence is one-sided. It requires love to be meaningful. Not just romantic love. You know I don't limit it to just that. Unless pure, unabridged emotion is offered as an insult or gush, then sentences are omitted, revised. The text is considered carefully as the writer turns in front of her three panel mirror of past, present and future tense. Does this fit right? Will she understand me? Will he get this? Will they even care?

I like to use words. When I was younger I could gush. Sometimes just for the sound. Sometimes for the complex stew of ideas I hoped would be measured in the depth of feeling. Or brightness of detail. But I learned that no one really wanted to listen to all that. Compression seemed better, at parties or work. Or here.

Have you heard this one?
I sat on the edge of the pond and marveled at the water-striders.
The wind scattered them like leaves and they remained dry.
I knew that I would sink and drown.
I learned it was even better to abridge my words. Elide the Latin and repeat what powerful men say. The silence of the smallest words came naturally then.

You think I've been avoiding you. You are right. Not all days. Just now I wanted to be alone. To have this coffee and air to myself and my thoughts. But now you know. I have been apprehended. Why?

After a life whereof I cannot speak, sometimes I want to be silent.

*(Schweigen is the German verb meaning 'to remain silent.' It's the last word of this book. A favorite of mine.)