This Little Fish Story

This Little Fish Story

It started as a simple question, “Do you like salmon?” My friend Steve texted before my trip up to Ashland, Oregon. I’d be staying with Steve and his wife Kate, who were hosting a half-day Wild Writing workshop for their friends, and in honor of Steve’s 70th birthday. “Do you like salmon?” Steve texted a few days before I arrived. He’d be making dinner that Saturday night, and I know he was trying to make it nice for me. I froze, holding the phone in my hand, not sure how to answer. The simple answer was no, I don’t like salmon unless it’s completely disguised by sauces and doesn’t taste anything like salmon, but I didn’t think I could tell Steve that, though I tried. “Um,” my text began, “I don’t really like salmon…” but that felt unkind like I wasn’t being gracious. Here I was, headed to Ashland to spend two nights with these generous students who would be giving me the actual bed they slept in, feeding me for a few days, and gathering their trusted friends to work with me for four hours on a weekend, even though they’d never met in person before. Delete, delete, delete. “You know, I’m more of a chicken girl…” Delete, delete, delete. “Dinner? Who needs dinner?” Delete, delete, delete. I imagined myself eating the salmon quickly so I couldn’t taste it. I’d camouflage it with bites of rice, taking a slug of wine so the fishy-ness would get washed out – so all those flavors would blend and I could sit back at Steve and Kate’s table smiling, appreciating, ever...
Instead of trying to make sense of everything …

Instead of trying to make sense of everything …

Instead of trying to make sense of everything, I want to say… That there’s a fine yellow filament falling from the trees in my yard. I’ve been on this property for 27 years and it only started happening a few years ago. The trees are telling us something. And when Mark’s dog, Karma, ran away a week ago, Mark didn’t worry much until two hours passed. She’d been on a leash for the last year and a half because of a couple of surgeries that meant she couldn’t run. Two weeks off the leash and she took off like a teenager who finally got the keys to the car. Mark has been emptied. Karma was his night time spoon, his morning snuggle, his co-pilot sitting shot gun in the truck. His girlfriend. That’s what he called her. Karma was his person. One psychic told Mark that Karma had been bitten by a scorpion. Another said she was with a good family. One seer said Karma had gone north, another said she’d gone south. One said she saw a barn with a vertical roof and tall windows, and the next day Mark found that very barn, but no Karma. One day Mark covered 600 acres of New Mexican sage brush in the middle of nowhere, calling her name until he was hoarse. He put up flyers, flew a drone over the high desert. The thing that made the most sense to me was the animal tracker who told Mark to hang his dirty socks and underwear on the line so Karma could catch Mark’s scent and follow it home. Sometimes...
Today’s Sermon

Today’s Sermon

Today’s sermon is a friend writing from her Parisian vacation that she’s come down with Covid. It’s the fourth date I didn’t have with the former rock star on account of all his coughing. It’s my sneeze that might be something, but doesn’t go anywhere, and packing a covid test in my bag just in case. It’s the half and half I forgot to buy two days in a row, and wondering whether I can eat the two plums and the head of broccoli in my refrigerator before I head out of town. And that moment this morning when I saw the four brown bananas that were going bad. I moved to throw them out, then felt wrong – like, what a waste. And I think about that a lot; all the clothes stuffed in my drawers and hanging in my closet, and how so often it’s not the shirt, or the boots, or the bananas that I want – but something more primal, something deeper that I don’t know how to name. Today’s sermon is the way the man on the phone asked me if I was lonely, and how quickly I said no, like he’d asked me if I’d tracked dog shit on my shoe from the yard. “No,” I said, without considering the question, and the way I tried to explain it to him, but how my words got mangled and didn’t make sense. It was the way he got quiet as he listened to me. Today’s sermon is that moment a few years ago at the kitchen sink when my younger brother asked me if...
How to Write About the World

How to Write About the World

Start with the mismatched boots you discovered you were wearing last week as you boarded your flight to Mexico. You’d be teaching for five days, and here you were in the Oakland Airport looking down at one brown boot, and one black boot – both put on hastily that morning in the dark. Remember how you stared at your feet, thinking if these boots were tarot cards they would tell me to… Drop perfection, trust self, write wildly. Notice that you’re constantly being asked to live what you teach. How even though you know the lesson, there’s always a little part of you that angles for the love and the approval. Forgive yourself for that achey longing, and for how shiny and special you thought you needed to be to teach alongside the stunning poet, Marie Howe. Remember you’re just two women trying to bring more beauty into the world … which now feels more important than ever. And how you mean to name that beauty… The way my daughter spoke to her new boyfriend on the phone while we sat at the kitchen table, totally unselfconscious, not noticing me at all, lost in the newness of love. The salmon-colored roses that awaited me when I got home, sent by Kirsten and John for no reason except they were thinking of me. And the harder things too, even if I don’t what to say about… The Supreme Court. Highland Park. January 6th. Rioters entering the capitol with baseball bats and flagpoles turned into spears. The quote I read from someone who was at the 4th of July parade in...
Letter to Michael

Letter to Michael

Michael, it looks like you’re having a nice time in Spain – thanks for the photos of you and your friends on the Camino. Life is much the same here. It’s Saturday and I’m drinking coffee in bed, my cat is at my feet. I’m shaking my head at the saddest news, wondering how it feels to be the police sergeant who held his people back from entering the elementary school in Uvalde. How it feels to be the teacher who was accused of leaving the back door of the school open, the cop who sped by the shooter, the 911 operators who took those calls from the kids. The mothers and fathers, the sisters and brothers, aunts, uncles, the grandparents. Everyone. Things are the same here. People at the farmer’s market were cheery. The weather was bright and warm, and there were 17 kinds of salts lined up at the spice man’s shop. The mango lassi maker told us the cardamon he used came from India, and as I left his booth, he reminded me to say hello to a mutual friend. Some people aren’t looking at the news, “because what can we do?” one friend says of Ukraine, Buffalo and Uvalde, but I leaned in hard to the weather beaten face of Steven McCraw, head of the department of public safety, who spoke for 43 minutes during a press conference, going over the timeline of the shooting. When he got to the 911 calls, his face cracked, he began to speak and then stopped, cleared his throat and stated the facts; what time the calls came in...
What I Came For

What I Came For

It was like this, you were in Mexico, and the moment you got there you wondered why you’d come. You tried to remember the plans you’d made months ago, why you thought five weeks south of the border was a good idea. Your story was this: you liked San Miguel, a big city that felt like a small town. You liked stepping out of your rented house on Animas St., how you literally fell into the flow of people heading into the day; the rag-tag group of kids with backpacks, mothers strolling babies, the bakery owner pushing open her doors, a man throwing a bucket of water onto the cobblestones. You liked cobblestones, how they huddled together like thousands of baby hippos, the short walk to the town square that took you past the school where Mexican teenagers in uniforms and pink hair lounged alongside grandmothers on benches. The churro man would be there, sitting in front of his pyramid of sweets. He’d be asleep in front of the pile by noon. And the balloon lady, she’d be there too, minding her toddlers, as she tied strings to balloons so they didn’t fly away. You knew that Pamela’s house would be perfect with its shady living room – a respite from the 93-degree heat – the big wall of bougainvillea in the courtyard that you could stare at from the couch. On the roof was a stand-alone bathtub where you imagined yourself floating in warm water, watching hot air balloons rise from the hills. You’d tuck into yourself a little more, get a little quieter. “This time you’ll fall...