Archive for November, 2013

A little taste of Eden to help us cope here in the insane asylum

November 25, 2013
Sunday night, November 24, 2013
Now the mountains are pitch black–the last reflection from the setting sun all gone. Even the shapes of trees look solid, almost human, like black giants lumbering toward me.Looking toward Matilija Canyon, the sky is a pale blue-white light; toward Lake Casitas the horizon is a polluted orange-gold. I stand stone still, holding the quivering Chico against my chest, and wait for the evening stillness to descend. The bigger dogs know my habits; they don’t worry about why we don’t hurry home, but lie still in the weeds.

I turn around and lean back over a boulder whose shape is perfect for looking up at the sky. At first the barely light sky looks empty, but then I notice the black shapes of formations of birds speeding overhead–perfectly aligned groups of five or more, sometimes a row of three . . . and a few lone birds aiming to catch up. I can see the white flecks on their wings, and they keep coming and coming . . . I sit up and try to see if they land nearby, but they vanish in the air.

420152_10150741781489703_1319035889_nFor a moment the evening silence is broken by an airplane, buzzing like a foreign monster overhead. This triggers a deep-time  memory . . . my ancient, primitive brain remembers the past–the long-ago past beyond this brief flicker of a lifetime . . . and something in me also has an imaginary inkling of the future. 

But, here in the present, lights are going on in nearby houses, and poor little shivering Chico wonders why we don’t get moving and go inside. I tell myself that if it were not for the dogs I might still be meditating on that rock, but, truth be told, I’m hungry and my mortal stomach calls.As we walk the few steps home, my noisy modern brain hears the first crickets. If you’ve heard that amazing recording of the chorus of crickets slowed down, then you know their song is a celestial sound . . . a little taste of Eden to help us cope here in the insane asylum.


Good dog!

November 25, 2013

Saturday night, November 23, 2013

I was in my nice warm bed, burrowing deep under the covers, my weary head sinking into the pillow, cats sacked out on top of the comforter, dogs crashed out on the floor–every body settled in for the night and accounted for. Just as I was fading away, in the stillness of the house, I distinctly heard running water, like a faucet trickling, followed by the sound of water splashing. It lasted only a few seconds, but long enough that I wondered, “What could that be?”

I couldn’t fall asleep, and, since I knew I’d have to fly out of the house at dawn, I thought I’d get up and do my ablutions early. As I was about to step into the shower, I noticed that the cat’s water bowl that sits near the shower was all yellow and filled to the brim. And then I remembered that odd running water sound I’d heard.  Chico, out of consideration for his mistress, had thoughtfully peed into the water bowl instead of on the floor, where I might have stepped in it. I had to hand it to him–his aim was perfect!

Embracing my inner Pippi Longstocking

November 15, 2013

My big treat two or three times a week is slinking into Farmer and the Cook and filling my African grass basket with avocados, oranges, bananas, soy creamer, cucumbers, hummus, soup (if it’s ready), chocolate chip muffins (I’m eating one right now), and whatever other goodies from their bakery case that I have cash for.

As I stood filling up a cup of coffee, I noticed an exceptionally slim, beautiful young woman talking to an older woman friend. The writer in me caught parts of their conversation: “Be sure to smudge the house with sage . . .” I had the impression the older woman was advising and consoling the younger one on matters of the heart, and I was close enough so that when I reached for the soy creamer and looked up I saw tears flowing down the younger woman’s flawless face.

I wish it were as easy as lighting candles and smudging the house with sage. Seeing the two of them talking and then hugging, I remembered how, for years and years, back when I was young and skinny, I’d pour my heart out to my older women friends. They were so patient with me, even as they rolled their eyes and tried to talk sense into me. But I had to learn the hard way–through experience.

Seeing this woman’s tears reminded me of the worst-ever breakup, with a sweet man I was hopelessly addicted to. I should have figured it out on our first date when he snorted “nose candy,” and those times when he snuck Ecstasy (still legal back then) into my orange juice, but it took a good long decade before I emerged from that river of denial. When he finally left, I didn’t think to smudge our house with sage. But, after sobbing for three days, comforted by my black potbellied pig, Rosie (who slept beside me on a blanket), and my dear white miniature poodle, Muffy, I had the sense to open all the doors and windows and let the fresh air and sunlight in.

To help me recover from the shock and disappointment of the breakup, my pre-teen daughter surprised me with a gift of two tame rabbits. They made me laugh through my tears. After playing with them outside on the grass, and not wanting to confine them to a cage, I had the brilliant idea to convert my bedroom into a rabbit room. This was something I could probably never have done if I still had a husband!

So I got rid of his dresser, our giant marital bed, the romantic lights, the decorations from India–all the stuff we had bought together through the years–and schlepped a bale of sweet smelling alfalfa hay into the house, a few sections at a time, until the entire hardwood floor looked like barn flooring, covered in hay. The energy of maleness, sex, and painful breakups flew out the window, and was replaced by two same-sex rabbits cavorting innocently about.

My daughter, her friends, and the kids next door quickly discovered that rabbits, like kittens, love to run through tunnels, play hide-and-seek, and hop over boxes and other obstacles. Soon the bedroom became a bona fide rabbit playground. With no man in the house to manage me, I embraced my inner Pippy Longstocking–my favorite childhood heroine who lived carefree, independent with no parents and kept her horse, monkey, and other animals in the house. In the weeks after that painful breakup, I no longer cared what the house looked like. Hay spilled from the bedroom into the hallway, and the rabbits nibbled at my toes . . .


The wild wind sweeps through the river bottom

November 14, 2013

The wild wind sweeps through the river bottom . . . Honey is crazy with joy, and her canine exuberance is contagious! She runs with the wind like a whirling dog-dervish. She dances and prances and follows a thousand invisible scents. Little Chico scrambles to keep up. His whole Chihuahua being trembles with excitement! For a moment the wind is so intense that it kicks up the dry dirt and we pass through a cloud of dust. I’m aware that wind can blind us, can destroy all in its path. But here, so far, it’s a joyous, cleansing, healing wind that just blows the past right out of you and lifts you into the present . . .


One Thing I Do Regret

November 7, 2013

Scan_Pic0018What advice would you give to an aspiring author?

Read. Read everything you can get your hands on. Read it intelligently. Break it down. Try to figure out how the writer has made you feel the way you feel. Anyone who doesn’t read doesn’t have any business writing. –Ann Patchett

I’m so relieved to hear Ann Patchett say this, even though I’ve heard it many times before, because I’ve probably read more than a hundred memoirs in the years since I’ve started scheming my own. And lately I’m reading books pilfered from my son-in-law’s bookshelf, books I would normally snub my nose at, because all this reading of books I gravitate toward has only brought home how much I need to expand my horizons.
I know it’s popular to say “No regrets,” but I do regret not going to college and majoring in English or journalism. I’m a self-taught writer with hundreds of published newspaper columns and magazine articles, most of which were badly in need of another round of editing, and five published books (with more waiting in the wings, of course) that were saved by a team of patient editors who put up with my ignorance as to how badly I needed an editor. And that’s no lie!

Ann Patchett Interview: How I write

Reading Like a Writer

%d bloggers like this: