- All alone in San Francisco. In the early morning, the line for the cable cars is much shorter. A family from Ohio sits next to me on the wooden step. I don’t take pictures. I look. At each intersection, the cable car stops for a moment, hovering there on the side of a hill, and you see down a long avenue, past buildings and cars and streets and people. At the end of the street, there’s the bay, and the bridge arcing gracefully between buildings, and little puffy clouds scooting across the sky.
- After wandering through Chinatown I return to my hotel room for a nap and wake up at midnight. The cool moist air of the city surrounds me. I roll over and go back to sleep.
- In Petaluma we stay at a Sheraton at the edge of a marsh. I walk the path that skirts the dense, low vegetation and the mudflats. Highway 101 roars nearby and the marsh is ringed with litter and office buildings. It’s a long, long walk, and my muscles, complaining after three days of San Francisco hills, soften and then tighten again. At the farthest point, I see three egrets and two herons. This is one of the last wetlands on the California coast.
- The Cathedral Grove at Muir Woods has been designated a “quiet zone.” The redwoods stretch up forever, a thousand, two thousand years old. Determined to make it to the grove, I push on ahead of the rest of my family. My six-year-old niece walks with me, and she is so very good about remaining silent in this silent, sacred place. Other tourists blather on, take photos. She shushes them. In spite of the chatter here and there, I can hear and feel the silence, the weight of these old, old beings, here long before the cars and chips and subdivisions.
- On the way to Petaluma, we stopped and took in the perfect view of the bay, the city, Oakland, the hills, and the graceful orange curves of the Golden Gate. On the way back, fog envelops the bridge, the thick suspension cables fading into the mist.
- The eucalyptus trees, heavy and shaggy and fragrant. Lining the highway, brought here by missionaries one hundred and fifty years ago.
- My brother’s house is an Eickler. The facade is a blank wall, softened by native plants artfully placed. Inside, glass walls and the high, sloped ceiling, draw in the greenery of the atrium and the back garden. It’s like being inside a work of art.
- At night in Santa Cruz I cross the boardwalk with my family, then leave them behind and greet the ocean. In the dark, seals bark to each other and the sea practices her endless rush. On the boardwalk, roller coasters and ferris wheels sparkle in the darkness, and people scream on the rides. I walk the strand between the two worlds.
- The next afternoon I hike from the boardwalk to West Cliff. Signs remind me to keep right. From time to time I stop and listen to the pounding of the surf, a whump I’ve never heard from the Atlantic. Surfers lay atop their boards, and from time to time one pops up and rides the curving white head of a wave to the edge of the rocks.
- At the beach below the Surfer’s Museum, I sit on the sand and watch four teenagers talk about their summer jobs. From the cadence of their speech I can tell they are from Northern California. The sun, the blue oceans, the waves, lull me. I roll over on my side. My niece calls to me across the sand. I sit up and she runs to me. I pick her up and swing her around. Her father and my mother trail behind. Her father, my brother, has lived on this coast for 20 years. He’s a different man now than the boy I grew up with on the opposite side of the continent. And still my brother. Still family.
Arrived after 1:00 am on Friday night (Saturday morning, I suppose) and stayed at the Mosser Hotel in downtown San Francisco. It’s located in SoMa (South of Market), an area where a lot of multimedia companies set up shop during the heady days of the 1990s dot-com boom.
I’ve come to realize something about Northern California. It’s a very unsettled place. It’s like the hills of San Francisco: sudden upturns and downturns. Nothing seems quite solid here. The excesses of the 1848 Gold Rush still echo in this place. Fortunes made and lost overnight, glittering towers built and then ruined when the earth turns over in her sleep.
It is my homeland; at some deep level, I will always be a California girl. Not the easygoing, bubble-headed beach bunny that most people think of when you say “California girl.” But a California girl nevertheless. The dry, brown hills that bloom emerald in the winter, the live oaks that dot the crevices of those hills, the eucalyptus that towers and sheds its minty bark, the fog that rolls in and out. My heart swells to think of these things. It feels right to me.
But I’ve come to realize I cannot live here. The sun is too hot. The asphalt stretches on for miles. All the evils of the big box sprawl seem that much more apparent to me. The pockets of old California, the marshes and the forested hills, they call to me, but in the same way that the Cape calls to me. I love the fantasy of living in these places, but if I moved to either place, I’d probably go mad.
I am an Easterner, a Yankee, with Yankee sensibilities. I love the crisp air of September, the golden light that fades against the tops of trees in October. I love the smell of apples and the calmer waters of the Atlantic. The sea belongs in the east, not the west.
Besides, I wasn’t born in San Francisco. I was born in the South Bay, in a valley ringed by mountains and filled with asphalt. Back when I was 12 years old, I came to stay with my grandparents for a month. And I hated it, the flatness of the land and the one-story houses, the claustrophobic privacy fences that portioned off one tiny yard from another. The miles and miles of streets and cars. The valley is one big suburb that stretches on for miles and miles, a wasteland of cars and strip malls. Not that we don’t have these things in the East, but they’re tucked away among hills and rivers and trees. I long for the wide vistas of California, but once I’m here I tire of them quickly.
This land is lovely but it is not, in the long run, home. It is the homeland. I visit the homeland. And then I return to my home, in the East.
“Do you love me?” I asked him. In the dark. Fearful.
“Yes, I love you,” he said, surprised. “Why would you think I didn’t love you?”
I rose up and kissed him. “I just like to hear it,” I said.
If you spend your whole life dealing with mysterious man-disappearances, with a sudden slippage when you least expect it, perhaps it’s logical to expect it to keep happening.
In finance, past performance is no guarantee of future results.
In psychology, past behavior is the most reliable indicator of future response.
Of course, I’ve never invested in Army Guy before. Nor was he one of those other men who mysteriously disappeared.
I met up with some of my circle sisters last Thursday night at the Forest Hills Lantern Festival. There are actually about three different events of this type in Jamaica Plain every year. It’s inspired by a Japanese Buddhist tradition that honors the spirits of the ancestors and is very well-attended. The image of hundreds of hand-decorated lanterns floating across the waters of the pond as the light leaves the sky is really magical. Lots of people bring cameras on tripods to capture the event. My friend Butterfly took a photo on her camera phone and emailed it to me, but I refrained from taking any myself, partly because I knew I wouldn’t be able to get a good shot with my camera phone, and partly because I wanted to experience the event myself without the intervention of technology. There are tons of photos of the lantern festival on the web. I found Innusa‘s and ReallyStrangeGirl‘s flickr sets to be particularly beautiful. Still, nothing captures the experience like being in the middle of it.
I took the Orange Line from Green Street to Forest Hills and followed the stream of people heading toward the festival. It was one of those hot, heavy, dreamlike evenings we get in July, and the grounds around the pond were filled with people on blankets. My circle sisters had camped out right in front of the performance space, and it was such a wonderful feeling to arrive to see a group of women holding a space for me. By the time I arrived, the festival had been going on for about an hour and a half. I attempted to get a lantern for myself, but by the time I got to the tent where you could purchase a lantern and have a calligrapher paint a word on the rice paper, there was a huge crowd. I didn’t feel like waiting in line, so I returned to the blanket to watch the tail end of the Taiko Drummers’ performance. I wish I’d gotten there earlier so I could have watched the entire thing; Japanese culture fascinates me, especially the traditional forms.
My circle sisters made beautiful drawings on their lanterns. Although this tradition is meant to honor the ancestors, people at this festival seem to use it as a way of sending out all kinds of energy and prayers. Each of my sisters has something fairly major to release right now: one of them is going through a divorce, the other just split up with her long-term fiance, one is embarking on a new romance, and the last has been recovering from cancer surgery. But for the first time in a couple of years, I have really nothing to release. I have good news. I am in love, my job is going well, and I am overall very happy. I was nice to have some good news to share with the circle and to be able to listen and give my support about my sisters’ own tragedies. The Wheel keeps turning.
When everyone walked down to the water’s edge to place their lanterns in the water, I stayed on the blanket. I watched the many kinds of people milling around and soaked in the atmosphere of Jamaica Plain. Each neighborhood and community in the Boston Metro Area has its own unique flavor. The prevailing wisdom among people who do not live in Jamaica Plain is that it’s geographically isolated and difficult to get to. There is definitely a truth to that, but in the past few months I’ve found that getting there is not nearly as difficult as people make it out to be. And the neighborhood itself is quite wonderful. I’ve been considering moving there at some point. Of course, I’d hate to give up my lovely and affordable apartment in Cambervilleton (Cambridge/Somerville/Arlington), but I find the atmosphere of the neighborhood much more appealing.
I lay back and looked up at the sky as people milled around me. It was a blue-green, tinged at the edges with the burnt orange of approaching sunset. Trees ringed the edges of my vision.
Once the sun was down completely, the crowds dissipated. The five of us made a circuit of the pond, watching the slowly changing spectacle of the lanterns on the water. They followed the invisible lines of current and wind, and as the daylight faded away they looked like a line of souls marching into the other world.
It would have been nice to paint “forgiveness” on a lantern and send that message off to my father’s spirit beyond the veil. But there will be other opportunities to do so. That night was meant for other people’s releases.
Sadness comes apart in the water. Over the course of the last two years, though, my sadness has come apart on dry land. I have no grieving left to do, and nothing to share but joy.
The blogosphere’s full of tributes to George Carlin, who died yesterday at age 71. When I see a ton of posts on the same subject, I tend to freeze up, thinking it’s all been said before. This is probably why I was never particularly motivated to stay in the world of new media content provision. I do have something unique to say about George Carlin, though.
When I was a teenager, one of my first paying jobs was as an usher for the Palace Theater in Stamford, CT. It was a great job: I saw the symphony, the ballet, the opera, some rather good plays, great jazz musicians, and George Carlin. Since I was a sullen teenager, I appreciate most of the performers more in retrospect than I did at the time. Except for George Carlin. He was one of the few acts to do two shows in one night, and each time his delivery was spot-on.
This was in the mid-80s, and while I wasn’t aware of it, it must have been after the famous Seven Words You Can’t Say on Television routine. He started the show talking about the words he wouldn’t be saying that evening — words like “shaaaaare.” He also did the “home is just a place to put your stuff” routine.
I suppose what made Carlin’s humor unique was that it was so very focused on words and the way we use words. His New York-style snark also amused me. Ultimately, I don’t necessarily agree with his conclusions, but his eloquence and humor can be very convincing in the moment.
And via Nex0s, some material about saving the planet. It’s true; it’s not the planet we’re saving, it’s ourselves:
Army Guy called me from the road to tell me about a show playing right now on WBUR: an interview of an ecologist and pagan on the public radio show Speaking of Faith. It focuses on paganism, with an interview of Adrian Ivakhiv, an assistant professor of Environmental Studies at the University of Vermont and author of Claiming Sacred Ground: Pilgrims and Politics at Glastonbury and Sedona. I’m listening to it now and I’m impressed with Ivakhiv’s historically grounded view of paganism — what we know of the old folk traditions, what has survived, and what the neopagan movement is about today.
You can read about and listen to the show here:
I’m also glad that this interview underscores the deep respect for the earth, a desire to preserve the earth’s beauty, that is central to pagan spirituality. Not all pagans are environmentalists, and not all environmentalists are pagans, but in terms of my own deeply held, spiritual values, one flows naturally from the other.
Laying in the grass
High summer breezes, tall trees
Rustle in the wind
I haven’t been writing as much poetry. In January, I had a flood of it. And then, gone.
The work, the meaningful work. When I am not writing, I worry. It feels as though a part of me is missing. I know that the idea of the muse–well, it’s true. The muse is there. Especially with poetry. With other kinds of writing, other kinds of writing, you can force yourself, you can sit yourself down in small increments, sweat it out, give yourself small rewards for small steps forward.
But poetry isn’t like that for me. It comes or it doesn’t.
There is more, of course, to the meaningful work than simply the generative act. There is the revision. The compilation. The submission. Hah. Submission is not something I am good at. But it must be done. Dancing Girl Press is taking submissions through the summer. I should submit. To some women in Chicago whom I’ve never met, but whose work I admire.
I am afraid of being told no, of course.
I’d rather wallow in my fantasies of the perfect collection of my work than do the real work, the meaningful work, of tightening it, revising it.
Writing is hard work. And not rewarded as lavishly as some other kinds of work.
But you don’t write for the rewards. Or, rather, I can’t. I write because there is a thing inside of me that needs to get free. I write because the gift goes sour if I don’t pass it on.
“I care a lot about you,” he said. “And I have a deep affection for you.”
Later, he said, “I like what we have. And maybe it will develop into something stronger. Or maybe it won’t.”
He also said, “It seems that we have different long-term goals.”
I hate this, even though it’s probably true.
Maybe there’s a way to reconcile that, or maybe there isn’t. But even if we had exactly the same long-term goals, I’d still be scared. Skeared.
Because even if he’d said, “I love you madly and want to take care of you for the rest of your life,” I wouldn’t really have been happy.
I just don’t like not knowing what’s going to happen next. Especially with this stuff. The more of them I have, the more the painful ends of relationships haunt me. And it’s trust, trust. It’s stepping out onto ice and hoping it doesn’t break. What happens when I stop noticing it’s ice I’m walking on?