Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Mandatory End-of-the-Year Blog Post

According to the gazillion blog feeds I check every day, I should be doing a year-end post -- a top ten best books, worst books, best films, best moments, worst moments -- pick the list. I should be listing it. I'm not gonna make a list, though. Just like I'm not gonna use Twitter (see earlier blog post!)

I'll say this:

Thank you to those of you who read this blog, whether you comment or not, lurk or linger. I am grateful for a readership.

Tomorrow is a new opportunity, but not because it is January 1, a randomly assigned, illusory "fixed" moment in the constantly moving river of time. Each moment presents you with an opportunity to let go of something you don't need. See something you haven't noticed. Love someone all over again. Turn your soft gazes inward and say, wow, small intestines -- you've been rocking the house for 40 years! Keep up the good work! Take a picture of the first quarter moon. Wiggle your right pinky toe. Click your heels together and go somewhere. Enjoy a cup of real hot chocolate. Don't stack yourselves up against the weight of resolutions that are destined to crush you. Instead, open your eyes. Hold your gaze on what is beloved to you. Hold your gifts in your hands and find ways to use them to help others.

Open your eyes and just say, wow. That is more than enough for a life.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

I'm Listening

Twas the night after Solstice
And all through the townhouse
Not a creature was stirring
Not even a mouse.

The notebooks were hung
By the chimney with care
In hopes that Big Mama Muse
Soon would be there.

The kitties were nestled
All snug in my bed
While visions of novels
Salsa-danced in their heads.


Not to worry. I won't continue turning a bad poem into an even worse one, even in the winter darkness. Snow is everywhere. It's in places where it shouldn't be and places where it should. In Prescott, snow is still on the ground from last week's storm. The heavy gray clouds are dropping lower over Thumb Butte as I write this. More snow tonight.

One of my favorite things about teaching is the time off. :-) Seriously. But if I had my way, I'd teach in the spring and summer, and take off during the fall and winter. I love the darkness, the yin time, the shedding of the old so the new can burst forth. I'd just as soon be inside when the sun shines brightest.

Solstice is a time of change. It's a time to listen. To let the distractions fall away. To be quiet, still, and connect with what is important inside of you. The winter is my time for listening. I try to stay open for the characters to come and visit. I try to leave milk and cookies by the metaphoric fireplace so they'll stay awhile and sustain me during the semester. I look for the ghosts in the bare tree branches. Who's still here from another time? Who just showed up, looking for a voice? Who is stuck, scared, and waiting?

Beginning a new novel is kind of like e-harmony for the spirit-world. Who's a perfect match for me? Who can help me mine my own darkness? Who can I help to release? Who can help release me? Sometimes I get a match the first time out. Sometimes there are bad dates, false starts, a hundred pages going nowhere. I get frantic sometimes. Panicked when I can't hear the voices. Fearful there will come a day when I can't hear them. When I get frantic, my head gets loud, and I try to quiet it down with distractions -- e-mail, internet shopping, telephone conversations. Of course, that only feeds the chaos. I am intensely lonely when I don't have the ghosts with me. No matter what is going on in my life, if I have a gaggle of ghosts following me around, I feel connected. I know I'm part of something I don't yet understand. I know that once again, I have shown up and the characters have shown up. But it's hard to remember that during the waiting phase.

Anybody out there hanging onto the alligator juniper outside my door want to come inside? I've got a Newman's Own oreo cookie and a glass of organic milk. Hunker down and stay awhile with me.

Please. I'm listening.

Friday, December 12, 2008

A Night at the Roman Forum

for Jeffrey

My friend has lost his bones.

First, they collapsed out from under him,
the marrow pulled from their centers with needles.
Next, they compressed.
His spine, once a stretched slinky,
became a huddled mass of vertebrae
rubbing against each other for heat.

We love bones, my friend and I.
We love all things skeletal.
We hold Day of the Dead celebrations together.
We dance costumed down Market Street in San Francisco
on a full-moon-Halloween.
We love ghosts, and on my fourth-to-last visit
with him before he lost his bones
we pressed against each other on the sofa,
watching the armoire which bumped and opened
by itself.
Of course, what else?
A ghost.

The package arrived this week from San Francisco,
not even three months
since he died,
my name written in his handwriting,
a combination of lower and upper case letters
on a tiny white label
on the back of framed artwork of the Roman Forum at night,
a place where our bones had held each other.

We visited the Capuchin crypt off the Piazza Barberini where monks
made sculpture
from the bones of one another.
We stood in darkness looking at the insides of our own bodies,
absorbing the inscription at the last crypt:

Quello che voi siete noi eravamo,
quello che noi siamo voi sarete.

My friend has lost his bones.

The cancer ate them from the
inside out, leaving
only a piece of artwork
of a shared memory
to haunt my spine.

As I am now,
he once was.
As he is now,
I soon will be.

My friend has lost his bones.

Today, I use my fingers to squeeze
My femur.
My shin.
My wrist.
My skull.

Today, my bones still dance, and next year,
on the Day of the Dead,
I hope my friend's bones will find me.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Cat Wants OUT

I am a wanderer. I want to gnaw my own leg out of the steel trap of my life every six weeks or so and go somewhere else. I have fantasies of having enough money to just pile the cats and the laptop into the car and take off, letting road turn into road until the routine I've carved out for myself dissolves.

My mother, in true Lutheran fashion, raised me to be responsible. To be worried about having enough money, enough food, enough to do. She raised me to be self-reliant. Her voice doesn't allow me to call into work when I'm sick (really sick, not faking sick). Her voice gets me up in the dark to grade papers (stacks upon stacks of them) so I can return them quickly. Her voice would be impossible to outrun on a road trip.

I am aware enough, also because of her voice, to know that I will not quit my job and take off for the hinterlands. I will not cash out my bank account and take a whirlwind road trip. I will not forgo the illusion of stability for the illusion of freedom. I know freedom needs a structure. I know, frankly, that freedom needs money. But I have to go somewhere, and if I don't go somewhere soon I'll be in the leg-gnawing stage.

I love Prescott, the tiny mountain town where I live. But it is not home, and it is not a place where I can stay day in and day out, year in and year out, without atrophying. Best I can tell, I have two homes -- North Carolina and San Francisco. Not surprising -- a rural home and an urban home. My dad was the product of rural North Carolina, my mother of Brooklyn, NY. Both factions duke it out inside my body, especially after a few months of being in Prescott.

I am beginning to dream of San Francisco nightly. I can see the cracks on the sidewalks on Geary Street. I hear the clanging of the trolleys on Market, the percussion of trash cans in Union Square. I physically need the anonymity of getting on the train and hurtling under ground to a different place. I need to be crushed up against overcoats and ipods and messenger bags during rush hour. I need to see the steel landscape of a city press its fingers to the clouds. I need the self-reliance of the urban environment. The spontaneous art on convenience store walls. The needled men curled into themselves in parks. The stimulation of the voices, the neon, the loneliness, and the humanity. These things are like water to me, and right now, I am dehydrated.

Conversely, the rolling green hills of North Carolina make me cry. The dogwoods and the azaleas and the dotting of crosses, even though I don't believe in them, live inside me. The brick houses with wooden shutters. The tiny creeks that meander throughout the state. The cardinals. The orange birds. The green snakes. This land pulls the fleshy landscape of my body back, ever and always back. North Carolina has claimed my body. San Francisco my heart.

I live most days on this edge -- half of me pulled west and half of me pulled east. I joke about driving up I-17 to I-40 and turning left (or possibly turning right) and following it to the end of the road. Most of the time, this tension is OK. I have a good life here, an easier life than I would likely have in either San Francisco or North Carolina, and besides, what good is a writer if she's not feeling exiled?

But today, this week, the end of the semester blessedly in sight, I feel the howling growing stronger. My Lutheran obligations of work will be gone for a few weeks. I can disappear. Get moving. Get out. Get going while you can. See everything you can see before you can't. Experience everything -- sunrise on the east coast to sunset on the west coast.

Go, Laraine. Go.