Saturday, May 29, 2010

Feeling Fine

On this lazy Saturday morning, here's why:

1. Only one more week of teaching. Endings come so fast, and by my very nature I do not like them. But I do like summer. Last night as M and I strolled downtown for some Puerto Rican cuisine, we were surrounded by adolescent merrymaking (beeping horns, deep-throated yells) and realized that Santa Rosa high school had just celebrated their graduation. Youth glowed all around us.

I remembered singing Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" with my best friend Lauren as we cruised out of our own graduation, 13 years ago, giddy with freedom and possibility. Bittersweet joy welled up inside of me. I confronted my own impending ending, my fifth graduation as a Nonesuch teacher, letting go another crop of kids I've come to love. And just as that reality hit, I saw a graduate lingering in a parking lot with his mom, looking bored and friendless. It just broke my heart. But who knows what life will bring him?

2. After days and days of being betrayed by the sky, dumping out-of-season rain from thick gloomy clouds, the sun is finally shining.

3. Free Mind Media, the anarchist info center/lending library is closing its doors because they can't pay their rent. There is nothing happy about this, especially since more than ever people need access to alternative ideas. The bright side? I got to prowl through shelves and boxes plucking books, zines, and all manner of inspiring reading material. Nothing feeds me like reading, not even that warm nutmeg French toast digesting in my belly.

4. I feel so loved. My fiancé spontaneously cooked dinner for me and my girlfriends the other night. He served us champagne and picked a garden-fresh salad, then whisked the plates away and gave us space to chatter and laugh and have our sweet girl time.

5. There is nothing that I absolutely have to do today. And a long weekend unfurls...

Thursday, May 27, 2010

I Like Anything

Imagine if everyone, every day, looked in the mirror and said I can do anything good.

Seriously, I am not a you tube boob, but I cannot stop watching this video!

It makes me feel joy all over. You won't regret it, I promise.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

No Writer Is An Island (In Praise of the Archipelago)

Writing is necessarily a solitary activity, since only the communication from your brain to your fingers can result in the magical string of words you bead together on the page. I've always viewed my writing as something I suffer through alone, triumph in alone, read aloud to cringe at the corniness, alone.

But increasingly I realize that any form of expression--be it basketball or baking--naturally unites people in an inescapable hive of sorts. All these bees, buzzing about the same thing. Honey potential.

For three years now I've been part of a monthly writer's salon with two dear writer friends. We spill our writing guts to each other and we listen. I never finish things, except blogs that nobody reads, I moan, and they nod, they validate and empathize and suggest.

We much on corn chips and spit salsa when we laugh. They read my latest essay about Jesus, the one I've been hanging my head over, and they say, Jess, I love this opening description, I sunk into the story like teeth into cake. And I give myself some credit for creating something that someone else enjoyed. They suggest that I thread one storyline into another, and something clicks, the insight I've been searching for, and that night I confront the keyboard without fear. Thanks to them, I've progressed from someone who wants to write, to someone who actually does it.

Last Saturday I went to a workshop run by two talented writers (Petals and Bones, look into it) that brought together eight people so excited about writing that we ran feverishly over time. We responded to prompts on the fly, my hand awkwardly clutching the pen, no time to wonder how silly my sentences, how raw my emotion. When I read it aloud, people listened and made comments. I thrilled at hearing other people recite their lovely sentences, so different from my own. After three hours of this, we were all glowing.

As I read Ariel Gore's "How to become a famous writer before you're dead" I realize, too, that I am part of a larger community of writers who do not know me and who I may never meet. But so what? I just found out that Ariel Gore starting publishing in Sonoma County Women's Voices, which is the local newspaper I co-edited when I first moved out here, nearly seven years ago! It's also the place I first published my writing. Just like that, I feel a kinship, a sense of hope. Maybe all of our lives are sewn with similar thread; its all about how we weave them.

Thanks to the wonders of the internet, I can probe into many writers' lives. I can admire their work, draw inspiration from them, and smile with pride when they suggest that I start a blog. Check, I've already got one. (Now how do I get folks--other than my writers' salon--to read it?)

I'm a writer, I think, just like them. For don't I, too, offer up the words, and then let them go?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Blues on the Rez

I cried when it was time to leave. I didn't want to go. It felt tragic, like a broken promise, like a birthday cake smashed on the kitchen floor.

For the past four days I'd been here, on this plot of dry red land, and I'd come to know it intimately. The forgotten tricycle underneath the only tree, the modest home whose walls I'd helped to pound into dust, the shed I'd helped to nail into life, the trash-strewn desert wash, the cars parked for eternity. It was my first time on reservation land, here in the Navajo nation of northwestern New Mexico.

At first it appeared sparse and quiet, the workmen shy and unorganized. I'd looked at my students (four girls, four boys) and at M (fiancé, co-teacher, co-chaperone) and sighed: this is going to be one of those community service project trips that benefits us more than them, I'd thought. We're the white burden. They don't even want us here, there doesn't seem to be enough to do, and if there is one thing I really can't stand, it's not having enough to do.

Shows what I know. The spirit of a place takes time to emerge. When I silence my mind is when the life around me has the chance to wiggle into being.

Our second day on the rez threw things into sharp relief. I saw the shy workmen smiling, appreciating our eager teenage boys doing the man dance. I looked into the great grandmother's eyes (the owner of the house that we were helping to remodel) and saw the fear of her home being torn apart, her vital energy as she instructed me with hand gestures how to box her numerous nonstick pans. I couldn't understand why she had me sweeping the dirt outside until her sister explained, we are cleaning it, getting rid of the old dirt. I smelled the wood-stove and felt the wind nag at my sunburn. I dug and smashed and hauled and packed and nailed and devoured a turkey and cheese sandwich at lunchtime. I spotted a giant black beetle crawling through the wash.

On the third day we met Kaylee, great granddaughter, infused with the playful exuberance of a three year-old life. Her cheeks were soft and spongy, black curls and sporadic teeth and fierce eyes and her whole being sent a postcard straight to my heart. When she saw what we had done to the house, she exclaimed, Grandma's house is broken! She hated the sound of the saw cutting up wood, loved the stray puppy tied to an old truck-bed.

On our final day I sat inside with her, munching fresh hot fry-bread dusted with salt. She peacefully nursed her bottle of milk and I took stock of the house I'd been sweating in, the house I'd never see again: magazine cut-outs of Twilight on the wall, buckets of lard on the counter, an old metal school locker tucked into the corner.

Some weeks roll by with nothing much to distinguish them from the next. Our week in New Mexico caught sparks that cling to me like tumbleweeds:

There were the trains, graffiti-bitten and noiseless, dutiful veins pumping America's consumerist blood.

There was the sun-bleached Cafe sign on the side of the highway, eerily familiar.

There was the sage-sprinkled desert floor.

There was Pancho, aka "the stare master," always laughing, always looking, hardly working.

There was the broken pottery (probably from Wal-Mart, we joked), sole survivor of the charred remnants of a night bruised with alcohol.

There was Sylvia, who hid beer in her jacket and said I love you guys, I love you, as M and I dropped her off halfway to town.

There was the sound of nothing.

There was the night we all stayed up talking, about everything, opinions bumping elbows with emotions, tiredness forgotten.

There were the Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic charity, housing us in their cottages, stocked with plenty of soda and butterscotch pudding.

There was Sister Andrea with the small body and big eyes, who took her vows 55 years ago, a reminder to the kids that religion isn't all bad.

There were the prairie dogs sniffing the air and guarding their holes.

There was the pool in Needles, perfectly cool after a nine hour car ride (that included a dash into the Grand Canyon).

There was reality TV in the hotel room to remind me why TV makes us dumb, and why I still crave its absurdity.

And there was Kaylee, who clung to me and said you stay here, as I hugged her good-bye, not sad for her but sad for me, for my own return to life as I know it.