good mornings

If you need more magic, go to the mountains. Drive too fast and get to 9,000 feet. At midnight, bundle yourself in everything you own, or at least the part of it that you were able to hastily throw into a bag at 8am on a Saturday morning. Lie on the rocks near the river and make a wish on every shooting star you see, there will be a lot. Drink from a glass bottle and pass it around the circle like the cowboy you’re pretending to be. It will be dark, try not to lose the cap. Say whatever you want to say, especially “I’m so happy to be here” and “This might be my favorite place ever.” Hope for bears, friendly bears. Remember that book on Yosemite that you thumbed through in the children’s section of your hometown library and think about how impossibly wonderful it all ends up when you just let it. 

 

 

Origami Post-It Notes

We stay up late and play charades. You pretend not to notice how your knees touch mine beneath the kitchen table and I pretend not to hear your girlfriend come in and out late at night. We have good lives. You bring me carrots from our garden while I read in bed and we smile at each other and miss the fact that we’re the luckiest people in the world.

The first day I met you, I knew. You opened the door and I knew. I knew I knew I knew. I knew because I was expecting nothing. I knew because it was a surprise. I knew because it felt like the most natural thing in the world, the only logical conclusion. I walked down the street and arrived at your door and I knew it would be mine, too.

Later, we’d sit on the couch and get to know each other. You showed me how your bones grew in broken ways, how you were clumsy and athletic. You peeled your lip back and leaned in to show me your chipped tooth and I knew. I knew I knew I knew.

But we are the story of missed beginnings and obvious endings. We take up temporary space and only remember names until we forget. And you’re everywhere and I’m always looking. On the train past West Oakland, I look out at the crates and read the graffiti. I search for your name or my face. I want to write to you and tell you that you’re my muse. I want to ask how many girls have told you that. I want to ask if you’ve caught your breath yet, because I still lose mine.

And I remember one of our last nights in that house, in that kitchen. You picked blackberries from our backyard and you made that tart. I remember you told me you weren’t a fan of sweets, so you cut me a slice and we shared.

Has anyone ever loved us the way we loved each other? I wanted to wrap my arms around you and pull you closer, I wanted to listen to you and talk to you, wanted to cement the two of us together, wrap myself up in you like Klimt’s lovers. That night we walked back to our bedrooms and said goodnight. I shut my door and kept my thoughts to myself. But I knew. I knew I knew I knew.

Now I write notes to you. Long notes, short notes, notes on “While You Were Out…” stationary at work. I fold them into impossibly small squares and put them in pockets, purses, sometimes even the trashcan. I release them like messages in bottles to the future me that will search for them. I write reminders that I had art and hardwood floors and chickens and blackberries and sunflowers so large they couldn’t help but bow their heads.

“But still, in general, I know what I’m doing. I did something to make your eyes open up, right? So why is you talkin’ ‘bout it for?”

Strong enough to hold a ship, able to slip through fingers; Happy Birthday, Langston Hughes

There’s this Langston Hughes poem, “Brand New Clothes,” that we recited at Holy Savior Academy. I was in preschool, it was my first school and it was filled with girls and boys who looked like me. We were in an auditorium for a recital or performance of some sort. In unison, we recited the name of the poem and author, dragging out the vowels in each word of “by Langston Hughes” in that sing-songy voice particular to young children on stage. Our teacher, or the older children – I can’t really remember, my memory’s never been that good – recited the lines and we repeated them.

My mama told me

You better get off your knees with those

brand new clothes on

Last year at this time, I was having the best day and drove to downtown Lawrence to listen to some prose and poetry and eat cake. On that day, it only just crossed my mind how serendipitous it was that Langston Hughes’s birthday ushers us into February. The Singer of America, The Speaker of Rivers. Who else could do it so well?

In the children’s section of a used bookstore at the border of Berkeley and Oakland I saw a book of Langston Hughes’s poetry and I picked it up and scanned each page. I tried to find the words I know from back then, but I didn’t find them. I never do. It always makes me doubt my memory, what’s real and what really happened. Have I known rivers? Rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins? Has my soul grown deep like the rivers?

We said the next part of the poem in unison:

But mama, I’m already down

May I stay down?

She said no. And she had her way.

That’s why I’m so clean today.

The answer is yes, I have. The answer is of course. The answer is to emphasize the “too” in “I, Too, Sing America.” The answer is that this month and this history belong to all of us in the same way that America does. The answer is that I hope the girls and boys who read that book of Langston Hughes poetry will get something lodged into that space of memory between interpretation and understanding and sing of rivers, or America, too.

Aren’t birthdays the best?

Langston Hughes

the fate of objects

Nothing is more improbable or subject to chance than the fate of objects

Billie Dyer and Other Stories – William Maxwell

 

Downton Abbey does not sound like a show I would like. I am not a fan of period dramas; I’ve had enough of icy brunettes with mean streaks. I just finished reading Kazuo Ishiguro’s “The Remains of the Day” and it turns out, I am also not a fan of Great Britain in the early 20th century. Or, to be honest, I am just not interested in it.

But there’s a particular escapism in Downton Abbey that I enjoy. I enjoy escaping into a life in which the stakes seem low, but are actually impossibly high. I enjoy seeing the drama of gigantic problems and quiet solutions played out in soft, measured tones. I enjoy the calculations and the hard-hearted stoicism with which they face the unaccounted for incidents of life.

How do you ever know?

Preparation is just pretend. Nothing is more improbable than anything at all.

Billie Dyer kept a notebook. Billie Dyer, the African-American doctor from Kansas City by way of Lincoln, Illinois, kept a notebook that ended up in the hands of a curious Texan.

William Maxwell wrote a story. William Maxwell actually wrote a lot of stories. I read them and thought about aphorisms and why we write and who we hope will read.

I think we hope we’ll read it again someday. That we’ll pick it up and it will have a purpose outside of what it was. I think we hope for eternal life by way of notebooks and notes and write like a motherfucker aphorisms and quotes. I think we hope.

Nothing is more improbable or subject to chance than the whims of a nineteen-year-old carried out by a twenty-something-year old.

Will the object be gone tomorrow? Or venerated later today? I am almost always sure that there is a better course of action than the one I am on, or I’m almost always sure that I’m doing the right thing for me.

Who knows? Who could’ve guessed a Victorian mansion in the English countryside would experience it’s second wind by way of an ITV/Masterpiece Theater drama featuring English ladies in compromising positions with foreign dignitaries, blackmail, revolution, war, Dame Maggie Smith and Shirley Maclaine?

But then again, when I write it like that…

I’m full of anecdotes; invite me to your dinner party

Craigslist Ad #1: The One Where Some Lady Made Me Feel Like a Jezebel

The first house I toured was blocks away from the Berkeley campus. A Chinese national going by the name of “Susan Smith” opened the door and asked me to take off my shoes. She showed me a room with a free-standing wardrobe, a barely-there window, a twin size bed and an Ikea desk.

She spoke very quietly and asked me every question at least twice. She told me that she didn’t like anyone to use the dryer late at night because it kept her up.

I said I’d take it and she told me I couldn’t have any male visitors then repeatedly asked if that would be a problem. I repeatedly told her it wouldn’t be a problem. Then I never heard from her again.

Craigslist Ad #2: The One Where I Gave a Crackhead Suggestions for her Skin

The second place I visited was, almost literally, a shithole. It called itself a hotel but it was really just a short-term apartment complex. The landlord didn’t answer the door when I arrived, but his right-hand woman did. She walked with a limp and took three full minutes to get to the bottom of the stairs where I was waiting. I expected her to be old and infirm, but she was barely middle-aged. She asked where I worked and what I put on my skin. I told her Burt’s Bees radiance cream and made sure to mention that I used it every morning. I walked with her through the hallways of the complex and she showed me the communal bathroom where a rusty sink was installed underneath a funhouse mirror and where black bile sat, unflushed, in the toilet. A woman who looked like Stevie Nicks if Stevie Nicks had never been famous yelled for the woman giving me the tour. My tour guide yelled back something unrelated and gave me a housing application to fill out. She told me to return it with a deposit and the room I viewed that day could be mine.

I said thank you and ran.

Craigslist Ad #3: The One With the Marijuana in the Backyard

Next I visited a bus in the backyard of a landscaper who grew marijuana in her garden. “I love fucking you” was written on the ceiling above the makeshift bed where I would have been sleeping.

Craigslist Ad #4: The One With the Certifiable Michael Jackson Superfan

Soon after that, I visited a house in East Oakland owned by a woman whose main interest was “prison justice.” Her house was a “fragrance free zone” and reeked of dirty hair. She let stray cats stay in her yard and wore screen printed tees decorated with the faces of little black boys. A replica of Michael Jackson’s white sparkly gloves were encased in a glass box above her non working fireplace and phrases like “make that change” were scribbled all over the bricks that sealed the fireplace. I thought she was an asshole.

Other good ones:

Craigslist Ad #5: The One Where the French Professor Studying Stem Cells Held My Purse and Almost Accepted a Handshake as Payment for a Bike

Craigslist Ad #6: The One With the Girls Living off Food Stamps in a Beautiful Victorian House Near the Lake

(And somehow, it makes me like everything here a little more, makes me want to grab the city’s hand and smile and point and say “look what I went through to get to you”)

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All I Need (is the air that I breathe)

I like the air here.

It’s still, doesn’t impose in the morning with a fierce coldness or envelope with a sweat inducing heat at midday. It simply exists. At night, I leave my window open and it provides such a negligible temperature change in my room that I forget to shut it for days, only remembering when the fog rolls in on a random Tuesday morning and I wake up with a cold nose and cold toes. I’m writing about it in terms of what it is not because I still can’t believe what it is. I’ve only just gotten used to not feeling cold in 70 degree weather at the peak of summer.

When I first moved, I looked into apartments on the west side of the city. The west side was, allegedly, hip. It was growing, opening up to a younger, cooler population and the houses were getting nicer, or if they were shit, they were gritty, real—and really fucking cool.

But I need outdoor spaces more than I need cool and I kept finding myself on environmental websites that gave me facts on the port’s pollution and the shockingly high cases of asthma in the kids out there and so, because I had the option, I headed for the hills, or as close as I could get.

Yesterday, my entire county was covered with that red outline reserved for severe situations on The Weather Channel. And so was the county above me, the one where Richmond and the Chevron refinery are located. And their red was bolder. And their warnings only issued after the fact. These warnings were instructions, they said things like: “Don’t breathe the air,” and “keep your fireplaces closed.” And, to me, it sounded like a strange game of dissociation because what the fuck could one have to do with the other? And then I remembered that I live in a city with a port. And then I tracked that dirty air from my computer at my desk beside my open window. And then I shut my window.

What makes people want to protect and change their environment?

This was a question I wrote down on my first weekend in the city—the other one, the city by the bay. I was at a lecture on “Our Better Nature,” which is a concept as well as the title of a book written by an environmental history professor at SFSU. I was at the Golden Gate Library, a tiny, beautiful library so close to the marina and it’s perfectly blue water, that after the talk was done I took a walk down the hill to get a better view of it. It was so beautiful, so irresistible that I could have watched it for hours. That’s one of my favorite things about nature, how it can convince you that you’re not close enough to it, how it can make you forget that it’s all around you.

Environmental history is how a group rearranges nature in order to live in it. It’s the roads and buildings we’ve built as well as the trees and gardens we’ve curated in the middle of it. At its simplest, we all play a part in environmental change because we are constant rearrangers of nature. We rearrange nature by deciding the things we can’t live without: fresh fruit, grain, herbs, beef, milk, eggs, gasoline, automobiles or mass-produced clothes from Taiwan. Someone has to find the space to grow those things, care for those things, build and sustain them and then ship them. They all have their effects and because nature is not better in one form or another (for instance, a dry region is not better than a humid one is not better than a mild and temperate one, etc…), our better nature can only refer to what we the people are demanding and what we’re deciding we can’t live without.

And I can’t tell you what you can and cannot live without—and who the fuck am I to try to do that?—but, I choose air.

“Our Better Nature” is a book written by Phillip J. Dreyfus, Associate Professor of History at San Francisco State University. My personal notes taken at his June 23rd lecture at the Golden Gate Branch San Francisco Public Library informed certain segments of this post (betcha can’t guess which ones!)

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38.8403° N, 97.6111° W, or Salina

Everything is the same.

The girls’ locker room with the automatic light that only comes on seconds after waving your arm in front of it.

My name, written in shitty cursive, calling out to the Class of 2008 from the underside of a bright blue support beam. Other names etched into decade old dust. Tara from the Class of 2002. Kendra from the Class of 2007. We were all that young once. I want to write a thank you note to the janitors that never visit here. I want to write it in the dust and see how long it lasts.

Posters defining courage and integrity and excellence still decorate the hallway. Touchdown Jesus still has his arms raised and our senior pictures still hang in thick plastic sheets across the hall from him and the storage space and development office.

Everything is the same.

It’s strange–strange enough to force us into classrooms to try to find our names in books older than we are. It’s strange enough to make us lose track of time as we scan their histories, dating from 1988 to 2011. It’s strange enough to make it a little more believable when we find our siblings, but never ourselves. But we look and we look and we look.

We look through stacks of Physics books, Grammar and Composition books. We don’t bother checking the Bibles but we check the weight room and then we realize that it’s all so perfectly familiar because it is the place. The place where, if not all, at least most of it happened. I want to sing “Oh, you are the roots that sleep beneath my feet” to the hallways and the classrooms and to that one teacher who kept her closet light on and her room covered in butterflies.

I want to say thank you, but mostly I want to say goodbye.

“There was this book I read and loved, the story of a ship

That sailed around the world and found that nothing else exists

Beyond his own two sails”

And mostly, I want to let go and move on and find a way to make a life that dares me to act, then asks me for my truth.

And what did you learn today, it will ask. And I will tell it all.

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notes from somewhere in the back row

I’m moving and rifling through four years’ worth of notes and books and clothes. Here are a few fragments from notebooks that didn’t make the storage cut.

Summer 2011, Fiction Writing II:

I’m kind of in love with my professor for only calling me Beatrice.

How to be an asshole:

1. Mention your typewriter

2. Humblebrag about how post-modern your work/question is

3. Say these things:

3a.“I think, for all of us, youth might be our greatest fault,” and

3b. “I read a lot of Native American poetry,” and

3c. “You all know who Kerouac is, right?” and

3d. (on Indians) “Not Columbus’ misconception(????), the Asian ones”

Spring 2010, Earthquakes and Natural Disasters:

We lose dollars; we tend not to lose people

Unknown Class, Unknown Time:

New Mexico is for introspective writers/actors and geologists. Give it back to the Native Americans (96)

Summer 2011, Fiction Writing II:

“cousins”

Golf ball through the kitchen window

shortshorts

This guy did not. Get. It.

Every (f) Good (a) Boy (c) Does (e) Fine (accompanied by a picture of a treble clef and scale)

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Don’t Fear the Reaper

The souvenir cowbells in my trashcan rattle every time I hopscotch across my floor to get to my bed or my closet or my bathroom. They are marketing tools from an event I volunteered at in April. I grabbed two because my friend didn’t want hers – “They’re just going to end up being something else I have to throw away,” she said. I knew she was right, but I pretended like I had space.

Now, my desk is covered in lesson plans and notes crisscrossing from 2008 to 2012. I’ve packed them in boxes labeled with KEEP because they’re worth something, whereas the cowbells are worth nothing. I can’t keep the cowbells. There’s no space or point to them. When has anyone ever needed less cowbell? When did I rewrite that script?

The soles of my shoes are covered in berries that the overzealous sun has forced to ripen before their time. I want to remind them that it’s still May, that for everything there is a season –to ripen, to rot, to start all over. But, even nature has rewritten her script, so I shrug and learn to trust the process.

Seasons don’t fear the reaper

Nor do the wind, the sun or the rain

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