Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Texas is a big state

So, I've spent a lot of my time today reading other writer's blogs and feeling a bit more normalized. I had to go into a meeting at work on Monday, which has got me back in the syllabi-writing, class-planning mode, which I was hoping not to get back into until next week. Students don't return until January 23. All this to say, I am still distracted and I feel deeply sad and empty. I'm not sure this is a bad thing at all. I am just feeling it and trying to let that be enough.

Today I managed to write 500 words on Unbearable Compassion, but they pretty much suck. I'm waiting to hear back from my editor at Shambhala about Between Skins (and nothing, I mean nothing, can stall a project's progress more than waiting to hear what an editor has to say!) :-) I came completely undone yesterday after reading a Naomi Shihab Nye poem on line. I'll post it here for you. I can't find any copyright information or source text for it.

Wandering Around an Albuquerque Airport Terminal
by Naomi Shihab Nye

After learning my flight was detained 4 hours,
I heard the announcement:
If anyone in the vicinity of gate 4-A understands any Arabic,
Please come to the gate immediately.

Well—one pauses these days. Gate 4-A was my own gate.

I went there.
An older woman in full traditional Palestinian dress,
just like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing loudly.
Help, said the flight service person. Talk to her. What is her
Problem? We told her the flight was going to be four hours late and she
did this.

I put my arm around her and spoke to her haltingly.
Shu dow-a, shu- biduck habibti, stani stani schway, min fadlick,
Sho bit se-wee?

The minute she heard any words she knew -- however poorly used -
she stopped crying.

She thought our flight had been cancelled entirely.
She needed to be in El Paso for some major medical treatment the
following day. I said no, no, we're fine, you'll get there, just late,

Who is picking you up? Let's call him and tell him.
We called her son and I spoke with him in English.

I told him I would stay with his mother till we got on the plane and
would ride next to her -- Southwest.

She talked to him. Then we called her other sons just for the fun of it.
Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while in Arabic and
found out of course they had ten shared friends.

Then I thought just for the heck of it why not call some Palestinian
poets I know and let them chat with her. This all took up about 2 hours.

She was laughing a lot by then. Telling about her life. Answering

She had pulled a sack of homemade mamool cookies -- little powdered
sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and nuts -- out of her bag --
and was offering them to all the women at the gate.

To my amazement, not a single woman declined one. It was like a
Sacrament. The traveler from Argentina, the traveler from California,
the lovely woman from Laredo -- we were all covered with the same
powdered sugar. And smiling. There is no better cookies.

And then the airline broke out the free beverages from huge coolers --
non-alcoholic -- and the two little girls for our flight, one African
American, one Mexican American -- ran around serving us all apple juice
and lemonade and they were covered with powdered sugar too.

And I noticed my new best friend -- by now we were holding hands --
Had a potted plant poking out of her bag, some medicinal thing,

With green furry leaves. Such an old country traveling tradition. Always
carry a plant. Always stay rooted to somewhere.

And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and thought,
This is the world I want to live in. The shared world.

Not a single person in this gate -- once the crying of confusion stopped
-- has seemed apprehensive about any other person.

They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other women too.
This can still happen anywhere.

Not everything is lost.

The part that got me was the plant. Always carry a plant. Always stay rooted to somewhere. I got to thinking about our move from North Carolina to Arizona again. How unrooted that was for me, and how I spent the greater part of my adolescence (and I had a LONG adolescence) longing for the land we left -- the literal land, not necessarily even the life we left, but the red clay mud. I never ever felt rooted in Phoenix. Living in Phoenix felt, for me, like I imagine my poor houseplants feel (I'm definitely going to plant-hell). I have never been in Texas on two projects before. Never been so unable to find a way in to my work. I hear them -- the characters in both books -- sometimes I see them -- but I can't embody them now. Maybe I'm working too hard on embodying my own body with the yoga teacher training I'm doing. Maybe I just haven't figured out all the work I need to do yet before the books begin to come.

I've been getting some wonderful reviews of Writing Begins with the Breath, and one of them said -- (summarizing) -- if you want to write the great American novel, read this book first. Whereas that's great for ego-boosting, it's kind of hilarious when one is in a block (which I don't believe in) of monumental proportions. Ha. What can I say about writing the great American novel? I can talk about checking e-mails constantly. I can talk about on-line shopping and how to find great coupons. I can talk about prepping the next semester's classes in an effort to avoid the few precious days left for immersion in my own work.

I don't think I know how to play at this being a writer thing. It's easier to be a teacher. I don't know how to move into "Writer" gracefully. It's like there's always a little edge of self-sabotage around everything I want to do. I've got one of my characters, Claire, holed up in a vacation rental in Manzanita, Oregon. She just fled San Francisco. Her father, Frank, just walked off his job and is wandering around Chinatown looking for the ghost of his dead brother, Benjamin. Her mother, Helen, is stuck in the whiskey bottle she's been stuck in since 1968 when her infant daughter, Ellie, drowned at her breast. The family has unraveled. The "raveling" was never authentic. The family stuck together because of atrophy. All the ghosts are coming out, and I, who ADORE ghosts and put them in everything, can't find the ghosts' voices. I can't find the places that cut and bleed. Everything is flatline for all of them. Not a terribly dramatic situation. Not much tension. Just a lot of very deep sadness. Anger masking sadness. Apathy masking sadness. But sadness. That's the theme. That's the core of them all -- this dark, edgy, infinitely complicated sadness.

Sadness is the emotion I don't know how to touch.

Humph. So there's the root issue.


1 comment:

Belle Starr said...

Mamool go to nectar in the mouth. Complex. You hesitate to swallow and have the moment gone. You eat the cookie in tiny bites.

Then there is only that perfume in your mouth.

Outlaw perfume.