I Don’t Know How to Write About War

I Don’t Know How to Write About War

I don’t know how to write about war. But I do know how to get up in the morning, after an election, a pandemic and an invasion in Ukraine, wipe the sleep from my eyes, and stumble into the day, angling myself to the promise of hot coffee, music and poetry. I don’t know how to write about war, but I can tell you about the picture I saw of a row of strollers that Polish mothers had left at a train station for the arriving Ukrainian mothers and their babies. And while I can’t tell you where the human corridors were supposed to be in Kiev, I do know how to cross a busy street in Oakland with my 26-year-old daughter, our elbows interlocked, me looking left and right, protecting my child as we head toward an outdoor cafe for a meal. I don’t know how to write about war, or how to pack a bag in ten minutes, or what to do the night before a war, how one young man in Kiev said he had planned on making a banana chocolate pie to bring to his work mates, how that same night he was online looking to buy a new game for his PlayStation, but how the next day there was no work, and no pie and he was researching Molotov cocktails instead. He is the same age as my daughter, who told me that she realized that for two years she has been working for 9 hours a day in her apartment for a large company that she is making rich, and that she is...
Things I Didn’t Know I Loved …

Things I Didn’t Know I Loved …

How when I let my cat inside in the morning, he skims his body alongside my ankle, practically the only time he’ll make physical contact with me all day because he knows I’m about to feed him. I know I loved the morning coffee, but I didn’t know there would be a desire for more in the afternoon, and that sometimes I’d give in to that the way I’d give in to another game of solitaire on my phone, which I thought was me wasting time, but which my friend Catherine says is me simply finding another way to rest. I love all the green leaves from the trees outside my living room – a wall of green that enters my house – and how today I fantasized that if I were dying I’d want to bring my bed into the living room so I could watch the trees and take all that green inside of me. And at night, how, when I finally turn out the lights, I make my body into a comma, bringing my legs into my belly and pulling the pillow under my head. Or the way my hand moves instantly to my chest in the morning, a silent prayer to move slowly, to not tumble toward the list or check email too early – an attempt at keeping things fuzzy and unassembled and a little closer to the dream. I loved the idea of moving the woodpile. And I loved the idea of starting the mosaic project, as well as the collage project, but I didn’t move toward any of it. Instead I took...
Twenty Four Tamales For Christmas and a Few Things You Learn Along the Way

Twenty Four Tamales For Christmas and a Few Things You Learn Along the Way

You feel pretty buttoned up. Your writing workshop is coming together like a dream. Twenty-two people. A small city tucked into the mountains of Mexico. You spend months organizing the hotel, the shuttles, sending emails back and forth with participants, extolling the virtues of the magical town; the giant puppets parading the streets, the churches lit up all baby pink at night, bougainvillea crawling the city walls. You bring in a bad ass teacher from New York, one of your mentors, one of the most inspiring writers you know, and someone you’re grateful to teach alongside. Weeks before people fly in, you write your opening notes, talking about what it might be like to write in this ancient city, saying things like, “You’ll wake up, you’ll let go. You’ll be asked to step into the mystery.” You love what you write. It’ll be a great beginning to the workshop. Some people might even take notes as you speak. And to sweeten the deal, your family is coming to town for Christmas, a week before the workshop. You imagine yourself strolling the square at night with your niece and nephew, your sister, your mother and your oldest daughter. Churches from the 1500’s line the path, violinists spring up behind park benches for impromptu concerts, churros ooze caramel, everyone walks the cobblestone streets in the moonlight with their arms around each other. You know how to make things nice, so you head to the Church of Immaculate Conception early one foggy morning, weeks before everyone’s arrival, to place an order for Christmas tamales because you’ve heard that the nuns make the...
Reasons Why I Left

Reasons Why I Left

Because if I hadn’t I wouldn’t have met the woman with the large telescope in the street one night, selling us a glance at the moon for 50 pesos. And how far 50 pesos can take you in this town – all the way to the moon, or just a taxi ride up the hill to where my mother used to watch the bullfight. If I’d stayed home, I wouldn’t have understood why the man in the neon green vest was walking up and down the street banging a pot the other morning, reminding everyone that it was trash day. Or how when you enter a store, you place your feet in a shallow pan of water before you go in. You’ll be wet, but you’ll be clean. I wouldn’t have met the hippie dude with the handle bar mustache who makes a huge vat of soup every week – something he started doing during the pandemic when people couldn’t leave their homes because of the three month lock down. If you’re on his WhatsApp list you can tell him how many pints you want, and he’ll deliver it to you if you can’t pick it up. This week its corn chowder. If I hadn’t said “I’ll do it!” when my friends, Dan and Jenny, asked who wanted to sublet their house here in San Miguel de Allende for 11-weeks, I wouldn’t be waking up to church bells, which wake the roosters, which wake the dogs, which wake up Max, the cat I’m taking care of, and the way she takes a soft paw to my nose every morning...
I Forgive You, For Everything

I Forgive You, For Everything

It started with the young man working in the post office who, when I asked him how he was, looked up at me with bright eyes and said, “I”m evolving.” And how I cocked my head and wondered if he were speaking to me directly, like some bodhisattva planted in the post office to jar me, to get me thinking about my life. Or maybe it was random, something he said to everyone, which, as it turns out might be true, because one of my students who lives in town, told me he said the same thing to her. And why not? Our own little Yoda getting a whole town of people to go home and have a little think. I’m evolving, he told me, as he stamped my packages, and sent me out the door. And maybe I am evolving too, since evolving means change. Maybe we’re all evolving, whether we’re ready for it or not. Like that moment last week – I have no idea what prompted it – as I walked through the kitchen, then stopped mid-stride, frozen, my hands flying up to my chest and to my belly, and how the words, “My god, my god,” flew out of my mouth involuntarily. How in that moment, I was instantly aware of 61-years of body trauma, self-consciousness, and shame erupting out of me like some pent up geyser that had nowhere else to go, finally. “My god,” I gasped, as this visceral awareness sprung up inside of me, in the middle of the day, in the middle of my life. Out of nowhere, this whoosh of...
Suzy Gets Her Game Back

Suzy Gets Her Game Back

My 84-year-old mother, Suzy, is getting a basketball hoop put in her driveway. Not for the grandkids, not for her neighbors, but for herself. She came to this decision in therapy last week when she figured out why she’d been so blue this past year. “I need to find my spirit,” she wrote in an email to me and my sibs. If you’re a reader of this blog, you’ve heard me talk about Suzy, before. She’s a badass, a notorious Dodger fan who brings her mitt to the game in the hopes of catching a ball. She’s broken her nose three times, once when she was playing catcher at a temple picnic, another when she was climbing a tree to pick an apple which fell directly onto her nose. At the gym, she rents the batting cage, getting ball after ball thrown at her. “Come on, gal,” she yells when she misses. We were able to talk her out of getting a motorcycle at 70, after she took that fall in the motorcycle training class, but the basketball hoop may work out. Apparently, my younger brother, who is mostly full of good ideas, tried to talk her out of it, telling her to get in her car and drive to the park if she wants to shoot some hoops. But I disagree. I think she needs to keep the ball right by the front door so she can pick it up and walk outside when inspiration hits. The feel of the ball in her hand, the sound of the bounce in the driveway, and then the crouch and the...