Tuesday, January 31, 2012

•trust your feelings•

I'm watching Star Wars for the first time with Penn.  After the usual stalls--popcorn, dishes, drinks, cat shoo'd away from my spot on the couch--we finally started the movie.  10 minutes in, I took him in my lap.  He was trembling, he was so excited.  Teeth literally chattering.

We skipped some scary parts (aunt beru-bq, trash compactor), but now it's full speed ahead to the Thai fighters and that two-meter sweet-spot Luke has to hit to 'splode the Death Star.  Penn is now on his feet and blasting the screen with his EZ-squeeze toothpaste tube squeezer.

The whole reason I've been putting this off, I realize, is me.  I'm the precious one, not my four-year-old.  Somewhere, it became important to me that he feel the sanctity of these movies... so I kept falling back on "he's too young."  Today was one of those I-can't-believe-I'm-that-Mom days.  Wherein I finally realized what a dork I've been.  It's nice, sitting here and watching this clunky old movie with my kid.  I'd forgotten how awesome, Alec Guinness.

Just now, from the couch--
Me: He shut off his computer, because he's using The Force!  He's just using his feelings!
Penn:  (holds up toothpaste thing) Did I break this?


Friday, January 27, 2012

Where I Lay My Head Down

It seems as if one should more easily fall into a river than out of one, doesn't it? But I've definitely been out of the River the last few days. I've had a lot of moments of noticing, and even of composing those moments into small stones in my head, but not so many moments of actually typing them out. Or of visiting other people, which I actually kind of feel worse about--I like the visiting in this project an awful lot.

For now, though, I'm actually not writing a small stone. Today I took pictures of my bedroom for the prompt over at Bella's 52 Photos Project. My bedroom has been slowly becoming a real room--that is, one with a coherent sort of feeling to it and a sense that someone might actually spend some time living in it. I've rarely had such a bedroom, actually, and it feels really nice to see this tiny room develop into a space with a spirit. I started out this morning trying to get just one good shot, but I ended up wandering in and out of the room through the day, taking pictures as I came and went from the house and noticed the light changing and moving across the room. (I'll spare you from looking at all of the 40 or 50 pictures I took, and even from looking at the 14 or so I actually edited.)

(And then poof! As if by magic, a curtain-y thing appears!)

The beautiful oak bed is with me on a long-term loan from my friend Jenny. It's her bed from childhood, and several years ago her dad shipped it out to her here in California from Philadelphia, our hometown. I remember sleeping in this bed in high school, when I would stay at her house, and I love that it's come to live with me. The mattress is high off the ground--higher than in a normal bed, since this one wasn't necessarily meant for a modern box spring--and even when I sit up, the headboard towers over me. The net effect is of being in a safe little boat, with some enormous, protective shield at my back. The other night, it was raining hard, and the wind was blowing all around my little house, and I lay in my warm bed reading and feeling as if nothing in the world could touch me.

What you can't see clearly in the above picture is that the horizon line is not actually flat--in better light, you can see the serrations of the Pacific Coast Range, west across the Central Valley. I love all the variation in that view, the way the weather comes over the hills from the coast; the way the sunset looks different every single night of the year. I've always loved driving north on the very road I now live on--the road just out this window and over the fence--because the light and the mountains are always so dynamic. And now I can sit right in the middle of my own bed and watch it all.

(Okay, maybe the pictures are a sort of stone for today.)

Thursday, January 26, 2012

•window house•

My boss gave me a set of sparkly watercolors.  Eyeshadow for paper.  Penn is just as fascinated by them as I am.   xox

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

•what I really meant to say•

...is rarely what tumbles out.  What did you try to say today?

Saturday, January 21, 2012

•one of those days•

When the world shows up and you meet it with open arms.

I let the tub go, unscrubbed.  I let the vegetables, the mud in the crisper, the holes in our front door where the wind blows through, all go.  The sun came back today, and though it had only been gone for twenty-four hours, Davis seemed to jump for joy.  It was like we were given back our Saturday, the farmer's market, our weekend run.  Though the wind blew, and sometimes wisps of mysterious rain dusted the blue, I stayed outside with Penn and our neighbors.  A ship was built and flown, old boards became shields and swords, oranges and broccoli were shared as equals, and adults chatted and laughed.  Someone did a face-plant.  Impromptu food and drinks were made.  The stove caught on fire.  (A paper bag, too close to the pilot.)  A baby cat-napped, a friend spent the morning "sweating copper."  I learned that phrase is actual shop-talk, not just verbal swagger.

It was a perfect day.  It was a perfect illustration of how a day can be, when something opens us up and nudges us out.

I still managed to get stuff done: dinner, snacks for the looming week, nap, chicken chores.  But it was really a day about slagging off--sunglasses and kicking a ball.  When I let go, it seems, a little time wells up from the spot where I'd kept my stick in the mud.  Elastic, that time is.  And all mine.  xox

Friday, January 20, 2012

Wild Nights Are My Glory*

Close to the house, the steady, wet sound of rain on pavement, slapping in puddles. Farther off, the wind gusts and swirls; you can hear the trees bending at wild angles in the dark.

*Okay, readers, just for fun: Who can tell me where the title comes from? :-)

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Winter View

The sky a wash of cold white and grey; the trees all brown, spindly branches or the most subdued shades of grey-green; and the swimming pool, an unlikely splash of the brightest color, like a giant aqua kidney bean outlined in rosy red brick.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


Besides my breath, it has been the most constant feature of my life.  Like my breath, elastic.  Like breath, too, unfathomable.  Magic.  After all these years, during which I have (we all have) steeped in time, I still don't understand it.  I still underestimate its power, its scope.  I am still looking, with crazy eyes, on the next two hours, as though they will billow and stretch and draw in all my hopes and dreams.  I am still looking to sail on through, on the strength of minutes.  Improbably.  Clinging to seconds, those thirty tiny ticks that sometimes go on and on.   xox

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


The day is chilly, but the sun is bright, and just above the roof of the black car, the air shimmers with heat, distorting the look of the bricks right behind. Above the white car next to it, all is still.

Monday, January 16, 2012


(This piece was written after hearing Dr. Martin Luther King on the radio a few years ago. I cry pretty much every time I hear his voice.)

In the Sierra Nevada mountains (in the
El Dorado National Forest), August, 2011

Driving east from Sacramento, the change from valley to mountains happens so suddenly it’s a little disorienting, and it would be beautiful if it weren’t for the development that’s taking over—clumps of ugly, thoughtless houses advancing on the wilderness, shrinking its vastness, taming something wild and exciting into nothingness.

And yet, even now, there’s something so intense, so fiercely romantic about the way these mountains rise out of the valley. Each time I drive this way, my heart opens. Because there’s something about the way this vast wildness leads east, further into the rest of the vast wildness that makes up this country. There’s something about driving across such a magnificent expanse of land that makes you aware of what it means to be from somewhere—to be born into a place that will always be a part of you.

America is boring and exhilarating. It’s covered in bad politics; problematic history; ugly, cheaply made houses; cloned shopping malls; racism and other brands of small mindedness. But underneath all those ugly houses is the land. And inside the ugly houses are people. And those people, all of us Americans, are capable of so much more beauty and kindness and love for one another and for the land than we remember to practice on a regular basis.

Every time I hear a Woody Guthrie song, or Martin Luther King’s voice on the radio; every time I think about riding through Indiana, trying to capture in scribbled words the purples and greens and pinks and grays of a Midwestern June landscape; every time I reread the Little House books; every time I sit on a cliff over the Atlantic Ocean, the honeyed scent of pine trees at my back; every time I hear a guitar played or a voice raised in song a certain way; every time I remember hitting the eastern edge of the Rockies for the first time, feeling the cool, dry, clear mountain air on my skin; every time I ride a train north along the Hudson River; and every time I drive out of the Central Valley and into the Sierras I remember that the sights and smells and sounds of this land are part of me in a way I can’t escape. I can leave it, but it will always affect the way I feel about everything, all the ideas I have about the world.

Because how can you see the Rockies, how can you listen to Dr. King’s voice, how can you laugh with a perfect stranger over breakfast in a diner in Wyoming and not believe in freedom, and democracy, and love, and the beauty and resilient strength of the human heart?

American Scone*

This scone is pale to the point of being only par-baked, pasty in texture and flavor, bloated, sickly sweet. It's a chocolate chip scone, but all through it are fibrous bits of...what, exactly?

*Years ago, an Australian friend and I were in the train station in Philadelphia, and we stopped for coffee at a stall. Somehow, the subject of the scones at the stall came up--possibly the barista asked if we wanted one with our coffee? Anyway, my friend sniffed disdainfully, and I believe her lip may actually have curled as she spat out, "American scones."

In defense of Americans, most of our scones are nowhere close to as bad as the one described above, and some of us even know how to make actual, real, proper cream scones from scratch. With no chocolate chips, even. Because some of us suspect that putting chocolate chips in a scone is kind of along the lines of putting blueberries in a bagel. You can do it, sure, but then you're no longer dealing with a serious scone/bagel.

Saturday, January 14, 2012


Driving east in the semidarkness, I crest a hill to find the sky floating over the Sierras in wide ribbons of rose, gold, teal. Morning is heading west to meet me.

Full Stop

The way things build up around you when you're sick: bottles of pills, of herbs, of juice, of sparkling water. Piles of used tissue. Mugs of once hot tea. Sheets and blankets you're too tired to change, and mostly want to burn once your fever has broken in a clammy sweat.

(Note for the concerned [well, hi there Mom!]: I did actually manage to change the sheets today. And shower. And take out the garbage. It was a big day.)

Friday, January 13, 2012


Somewhere between fevered sleep and waking, I can't tell at first where the curves of my body leave off and the soft hollows of the bed begin.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


The wall in my living room is roughly textured, like a real plaster wall. As if someone's hand actually cared about this wall.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Annie Dog

Before the gray

Annie's muzzle has been going gray. She's nine now, and I looked at her this afternoon, as we sat at a coffee shop, and noticed that her paws are graying too--her two front paws, one of which is shaped like a lobster claw at the end of her short leg. Her funky paw, as we call it, with its "opposable thumb," is gray where it used to be a deep, reddish tan.

But her eyes are bright and clear, and she looks at me with the same eager smile as ever. And in the yard when we got home, she held a stick in her mouth and batted a tennis ball around with that funky paw, playing the game she invented for herself when she was just a puppy, and bubbling with doggie joy.


Someone else’s pain has no place here, in the space where my breath catches. Most people’s pain doesn’t make it that far—I’m good at leaving it with its owner.

Yours, though.

Each time I see it, I draw that frozen knot into me for the smallest moment, even knowing there’s nothing I can do for it. I hold it close, hoping one heartbeat, the warmth of one indrawn breath might melt it.

But it’s full enough in here already, I know that, and there’s no room. I let it go on the out breath.

Still, if you’ll let me, I’ll touch it softly each time it comes up, in the only way a friend can: I’ll place my hand quietly on your heart and witness from the outside. I won’t expect to be the one to transform anything. I’ll sit with you for as long as it takes, listening patiently for the sharp cracks and gentle dripping of the thaw.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

•ghost time•

Frustration will fall away. There will only be the palm of his hand. The white of his beard. The softness of a belly that can tolerate cheese and peanut butter heaped on an English muffin and washed down the gullet with milk, aahhh. Won’t I miss him? Won’t my heart ache like a frost heave on new pavement? In my twenties, I worried about his health. I threatened that peanut butter--I would hide it! How ridiculous—and how telling of how it will be. How the moment it all snaps away, when I’ll crave only the company of that person I once knew, and in the black of winter, how it will feel I only have myself to blame.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Winter Trees

On the bike path, dried husks of seed pods cling to the tree, lit from within and hissing against each other in the breeze.

Friday, January 6, 2012


Crows and mistletoe are hanging like ornaments on the old, gnarled trees.


My child is four. He's been stealing the new rolls of toilet paper from our bathroom and stashing them in his bedroom. Yesterday, we happened (together) upon a slightly opened and licked candy cane in his room. "Oh. I accidentally opened this, Mom." The other week, I found wadded up teabags, their little sacks torn open, and some of them still damp and minty. Inside a paper suitcase. I have no idea how long they were there, or how long they'd have remained, had I not chanced upon a free moment without him.

I think of my dumpster-ogling, craigslist-scouring, freecyclin' ways. "The free corner" is a place I regularly visit with my child. He gets excited about visiting the "free box" at our community center. I might have created a situation for myself. xox

Thursday, January 5, 2012

A Mile From Town

The cold night air smells of manure--surprisingly clean, rural; notes of sweet green grass transformed into something deeper and earthier.

Force Nothing

2011 was not the year I thought I’d have when it began. Funny how that happens, although, to be honest, I’m not sure I could tell you exactly what I thought it would look like. Despite that, it was undeniably a year I needed to have, and it has been, perhaps, the most complicated and nuanced year I’ve experienced. It was horrible, and it was very, very wonderful, and it was everything in between, and it certainly changed the course of my life.

A year is long, and a year is no time at all—just a series of weeks, really, and those are just a series of days when it comes right down to it. And in the blink of an eye, the utterance of one sentence, the course of a day, a moment of insight, everything can change. The year and our lives turn on the smallest moments, singular points in time that may or may not be visible to us after the fact. They’re little cliffs, and we’re constantly leaping.

Leaping off of cliffs this year left me, as it always does, with work to do. There are always cliffs, and there’s always work to be done—but this year, the work in front of me is clearer than usual.

You know how some people choose a word for their year? Something they’d like to focus on, a concept or attitude they’d like to incorporate more fully into their lives. I imagine that when you make such a choice, you see your word everywhere, in everything; every moment becomes an opportunity to practice your word in some way, to draw your focus gently back to the growth you’d like to see in yourself, the work you’d like to be doing.

I’ve never done this. There are so many possible words to work with—which one to choose? Do I have to choose just one? The trick, of course, is to find the word that best works as an umbrella for all the things I’m feeling and thinking about.

There’s an Adrienne Rich poem called “This is My Third and Last Address to You,” and it’s quite long, but really, what I’ve always loved most in it are five stanzas somewhere in the middle. And if you are facing any sort of change or growth—especially if it’s the kind that makes you uncomfortable or impatient, this particular stanza may speak to you as it always does to me:

force nothing, be unforced
accept no giant miracles of growth
by counterfeit light

Is there a word that will stand in for that stanza, that will serve as the umbrella word for my year? Patience is part of it, but I’m reaching for something deeper. A sort of quiet understanding and compassion for myself and others: We all take the time we take to get where we’re going, and we can’t be hurried along. Nor can we be stopped or slowed when movement and growth are really happening—and movement and growth are usually happening, right under the surface, even when we feel as if we’re slow as molasses. Slow is not stagnant.

There’s never any time to waste, and simultaneously, there’s always all the time in the world. A new year comes, just as they always do, right when it’s meant to. We may think we’re not ready, but we are. We may think we know what this new year will hold, but we never do. All we can do is adjust our focus once again, resolve to force nothing, and know that as long as we aren’t letting ourselves stagnate in fear or resistance, then we’re growing, moving forward, making progress. The work we each have to do, when we take the time to know what it is and learn how we might go about it, can be joyful and fulfilling—even in the moments when it’s hard or painful. Because deep work, the work of growth and change, is always as complicated and nuanced as an entire year.

And somewhere in this year, as in every other year, there will be those moments when the world shifts, and everything changes, and we leap off our little cliffs, and that joyful, painful work we’ve been doing (slowly, so slowly) lands us somewhere we really never expected.


(Not a small stone. [Uh, clearly.] This is actually the column I wrote for this month's issue of the newsletter I edit. I felt the need to put it here too, but I needed to wait for the newsletter to be published and distributed. It's been a week, so I've decided the rights revert to me...now! And as careful readers will already know, the lovely Peaceful Peacock, Julie, read this a few weeks back and basically said, "Your word is right there: Miracles." And so it was.)

Wednesday, January 4, 2012


Pain receding is like background noise ending--in an instant, stress disappears; my self floods back in. The silence, my own presence, is almost otherworldly.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


Under a drift of long pine needles, a burst pod of sticky red seeds. They looked fake, all glittery in the sunshine, like tiny plastic jewels.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Moon, Tree

The moon is shimmering through bare, black winter branches on a dusk-blue sky; I hesitate to write it, how a cliche can so reliably swell your heart.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Muppet Love

The electric throw is crimson red silky fake fur; the warmth is deep, healing--imagine being held lovingly by a Muppet.

•might as well•

The phrase "might as well be" is on the block.  What a funny group of words.  To mean nearly.  Not, but almost.  I peer closer.  I prod with my knife's tip.  This might as well be champagne.  There might as well be stars encircling my head.  She might as well be a ghost.  I'm not in an eviscerating mood, but if I do a small dice, I get "might" and "as well."  A further mincing makes ownership-- "my" from "might."  I like to take things for my own.  The size of the cut does matter; tone changes taste.  Well.  Let's pair these words, then, with a thick slice of choice.  Flip!  Sizzle, sizzle.  What might as well be, now, is.  This, first day of 2012, is perfect.  
(Tahoe National Forest, December 30.  Might as well have been January.)