Sunday, May 15, 2016

Trapped by Commitment



Finally, after 17 straight days of rain, the sun has broken through. I feel the pull to go into my garden and dig in the wet dirt, plant my roses and arugula, while the window of opportunity is open. But what I really have on my agenda is to write – write through and finish Shadow and Light.

And I’m going to. I feel the breeze blow through the open window and catch the slant of morning rays through the trees. Mottled light dances on the hostas. My lady slipper orchid basks in a patch of sun that brightens the corner of the dining room. Isn’t it enough notice?

But a bigger question dogs me this morning, my lens pulled back to wide angle: What are you up to, Annie?  What really matters in this world? 

On the cushion for a brief, fidgety moment, it occurs to me:  I’m fluttering around, like I’ve throughout my life, the quintessential floater, from flower to flower. I get confused. I’m not sending a clear message to the universe about what I want.  So it’s confused too.

I do this to hedge my bets.  Of course I do.  It was a habit learned so early, or ingrained in my genetic code, or both.  And in all that brilliant coping…I end up with nothing. Or what feels like nothing. Though I know that’s what the Dark Force calls it to keep me running scared.

It doesn’t help that one of the things I’ve chosen to do with my life is one of the hardest, most unrewarding endeavors in the world:  This writing. No wonder I chose it.  The rejection is endless and the moments of triumph so rare, it adds more fuel to my fire that I’m worthless. And the Dark Force grins with sinister glee.

I feel trapped in the commitment I made to myself to write this Mexico book.  There’s no way I’m giving up!

Didn’t this happen in the Peace Corp too?  Didn’t this happen in my marriage? Didn’t this happen in my adolescence? Imprisoned in my parents’ drama, I’d do anything to escape, and yet was compelled to stay, protect, fix the un-fixable. Confined by my own commitment, I would not let the bastards take me down. So I persevered. And when it didn’t work out how I’d envisioned, again and again, I got the point where I couldn't trust my own commitment.  

Do something.  Help yourself.  Recognize this. You’re caught in a double-bind. You can’t WIN this game, sucker!

It’s almost comical. I can feel a tiny bubble of laughter rise out of my throat.  Ha ha ha. That giddy acknowledgement leads to a question: What matters?  The meditation practice matters, because it allows me to step back, not be the situation but the observer and, for a brief moment, laugh at it. That, and the writing, will save my lonely life, if the writing, ironically, doesn’t kill me.

Does anyone else feel this way?  Or only the childless mothers out there whose commitment to their own freedom has left them with way too much time to ponder?

Back to birthing the book, pushing through the pain. I’m long overdue. 

But first I take a moment to gaze at my happy lady slipper.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Breakwater



Bundled in my layers, slicker on top, cap pulled over my ears and boots zipped up, I’m headed to the Breakwater with Mom in my pocket.

When you first start out on this bridge of boulders traversing the bay your steps are tentative, the spaces between puzzle pieces of rock are chasms. You must watch for every foot fall, sure you don’t miss. But after a while, concentration fixed, the wide gait becomes natural, the pace picks up, and by halfway, the speck of Long Point lighthouse grown to the size of a pencil tip, you have your rhythm. 



Far enough from both shores, smack in the middle of the harbor and not a human in sight, that’s when I start looking for a put-in place.

The tide is coming up gradually, filling the marsh. The gulls soar low, eyeing their pray. I spot a calm tide pool not too far below the elevated walk. But I must crouch down and lower myself on my rear, watchful of my footing on the slick, mossy rock. 

‘Careful, daughter,’ Mama tells me. ‘That’s close enough.’  

She is right. On the cusp of spring that water’s at its icy coldest. I secure my boots on some rocky nubs, release my grip to unzip my jacket pocket, and carefully pull out the zip lock baggie.

It’s a good day for dispersing ashes. The wind is calm, barely perceptible. Strings of hair lightly brush my face. Yesterday I made it only half-way across the jetty and kept Mom safe in my pocket. The gusts so strong, I felt like they might just rip the nose from my face, and would surely have swirled her powdery remains in all directions. 

I inch a little closer to the dark pool and see that it’s alive with mollusks, minnows and ribbons of undulating seaweed.  I cock my arm back and teeter for a moment.

Mom yelps a high-pitched ‘Ohhh.’  She was always such a scardy-cat.  

‘I’m fine,’ I assure her, as I always had to about anything remotely risky. I’ve mastered this ritual by now, taking Mom on my travels and setting her free in some way-out places, both sides of the Atlantic:  in Portugal, at the majestic rose garden of Bom Jesus, into the roiling surf at Assateague Island, off a precipitous rock face La Coruna, Spain, outside my own front door, into the frothy currents of Rock Creek. And now here, on this tiny fingertip of land that juts into Cape Cod Bay. 

I inhale, steadying myself, and on the exhale swing my arm underhanded like a pendulum, letting Mom go at the top of my pitch. Her snow white bits of bone and dust fly through the air. The finer particles blow back and land on the rock, but most of her rains down onto the surface of the water then drifts like silt to the sandy bottom.

It’s quiet and calm down there, a place my mother, the cerebral introvert, will like as she awaits the tide to take her out sea. She’ll summer with the Provincetown fishermen and the ferries (both kinds).

I release two more pinches as I recite my prayer to Imanja, Condoble goddess of the sea: May you flow with the currents, into the Vs, out to the sea, where one day you’ll meet me and we’ll live forever hap-pi-ly. 

I realize it’s corny, with its rhymes and iambic pentameter rhythm. But it’s become part of the ritual and no one needs to know about it but Mom and me. I stuff the empty baggie back in my pocket, brush my dusty fingers against my leggings, and crawl backwards like a crab up the rock. 

Regaining my footing on the jetty I stand tall, watch the water lap against the rock below. Above me, the sun tries to push through a bank of clouds, its rays casting patterns of shadow and light across the moor. I feel myself smile as the sky opens up, and the lines become defined. It’s turning into the perfect day for our ritual.


It’s my turn now. Once I’ve released Mom, I feel I’m entitled to some requests.

I ask for love – I always ask for that.  I need it more than ever now that she’s gone. And now that she’s gone, it’s easier for me to receive it.

‘All that I have,’ she says, and I already know, but it’s nice to hear.

Getting closer to where stone meets sand, my steps in a mesmerizing rhythm now, I try to push away the presence of my brother and sister, there on the rock with me, behind my shoulder. They’ve been gone from my life since Mom died, maybe long before that, and I miss them, or some idea of them. I feel the pinpricks of tears tickle my nose.

‘I’m sorry, daughter,’ says Mom.

This hurts her as much as it hurts me, that she couldn't hold us together. So I try not to bother her too much about it.  ‘Just tell them I’m really not all that bad.’

‘Of course, but you know they don’t listen to me,’ she laments. 

‘I didn’t either, for the longest time.’ 

The lighthouse is near, its image transformed from a flat white cutout to three dimensions. It rises tall and majestic out of the yellow dunes. I’ve made it to the other side, but I can’t linger. Darkness is falling. As I turn back to the mainland, and see the distance I have to go, I feel a flash of adrenaline. The jetty’s arrow points home. I resume my steps, running now, and I ask for one more wish, as though three is all I get when I really know it’s endless. I ask my mom for the Muse.  

‘Ah, that one’s easy,’ Mom says through me.  ‘She is you, daughter.’

And so today, maybe she is. 

Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas Muse ~ Naughty & Nice



It’s a soggy, warm one, a climate change Christmas in Washington, gray and misty and oh so quiet. No racing cars on Park Road today, no noisy neighbors or clamoring renovation projects; only the sound of a few birds tweeting and crows cawing.
If I pretended, I could convince myself I was in a cabin in the woods, a perfect place to write. Santa’s gift to me is this peace. 

I have a goal, dear supporters, to get this Mexico manuscript sample to you by the end of the year. Just around the corner, eek!
I’ve had a few distractions, but good ones. Your encouragement has fueled a writing habit that’s branched into other territory. I’ve re-discovered a book I started writing back in 1998, and I’ve taken some spare time to breathe new life into it. I’ve been playing with short-form too, some opinion pieces and personal essays, submitting them to publications and inviting the rejections, which often come in the form of silence. But this is part of the writing game I’m playing, down on the field, getting banged around. And I’ve never been happier.
As Steven Pressfield (http://www.stevenpressfield.com), author of The War of Art, says, when you beat Resistance and do The Work, even the blemishes on your face clear-up. (Or did I say that?)
To get to The Work each day, I warm-up with a little free-writing. I got zinging one morning in Ptwon about a holiday event I’d attended the night before.Then, that evening at the public library, after I’d shut-down and packed-up to go home, I discovered a gathering in the periodical room. A monthly meeting of the Writer’s Voice Café, folks were sharing stories of their holidays. I had no holiday stories, so I sat in the back and listened, until they’d run out of readers. I signed their register and slipped out. But half-way down the block I remembered: I did have something.
I ran back, and they welcomed me eagerly, someone to fill the dead air. They helped me plugged-in my computer so I could read from my screen, and they adjusted the goose-neck microphone so I could reach.
Here is what I shared (for adults only), this version a little prettied-up for submission.
Naughty and Nice: The Cup of Generosity Runneth Over in Provincetown

On a recent off-season sojourn in Provincetown, a fingertip of land at the end of the hand at the end of the arm of Cape Cod, after weeks of solitary writing, I happened upon The Kook, a gathering of the townies at Grotto Bar. Underground, with special guests Penny Champayne and Whitney Houston (aka Qya Cristal), sprightly elves danced, baring cheeky cheeks, the club mix thumped, and Santa’s Helpers offered-up tits-for-tots shooters between bountiful bosoms.



I felt like a voyeur on the fringe, DC product that I am, sipping my Dark and Stormy, too timid to dive in to the marshmallow folds. I saw that it took some skill, a team effort, the receiver bending on one knee as the titty teapot tipped forward. Good to the last drop, and sugary sweet, one imbiber reported. All for a good cause.

That’s what kept me out past my bedtime, gave me the excuse to partake in the first place: the cause. Sure, you say. No, honestly, I insist. Though I didn’t realize exactly what I was getting myself into when I got there, that the entire contents of my wallet would be empty by the time I left.

In a place know for the first Pilgrims’ landing, lighthouses and lobster, and fun in the sun with the queens, queers and bears, I saw another side of Ptown. It was the workers in the house, after their shifts, waiters and bartenders, performers and artists, dropping fivers in the collection trough for a pink tit shot, funding Santa wishes taped to the wall, ice skates for 10-year-old Vicky and a Star Wars Lego set for 8-year-old Dan. These children of working class families live in a place where locals have been priced right out of their own market. Amidst a sea of posh seaside DINK retiree cottages, so called ‘tiny houses’ selling for a mil, there’s just one low income housing project; and the waiting list is reportedly a mile long.

The event organizers, a gay couple in this for the 17th ‘straight’ year, were vibrant at the helm. Scott Martino played the potty-mouthed elfin MC; and his partner, a drag performer out of costume in blue jeans and Hawaiian shirt, sang twisted Christmas tunes, thanking Ptown for supporting him through his career, and matching the contents of the collection trough after each round. Their generosity and resourcefulness was like something out of the Peace Corps play book: 'Do what you can with what got where you are.'

These people were doing plenty. As a returned Peace Corps volunteer (Mexico 2010-12), I know how hard it can be to rally the community. As an out-of-towner, I was delighted to participate, stuffing my bills in the till, and a big one after Streisand’s lip-sync of jah-jah-jah-jah-jingle bells. 

Oh what fun! Generosity is alive and well in Provincetown. And those lucky kids will have presents under the tree this Christmas.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Provincetown Retreat - Chasing the Muse

I’ve stolen myself away to the Cape tip for a month of writing. My good friends (and supporters), John and Peter, have lent me their cottage in Provincetown, Mass, deserted at this time of year and, thus, a perfect place to indulge the muse.

What a luxury, a gift.

And what a grind.

First thing each morning I’m awakened by the workers, the buzz of saws and bang of hammers, undertaking their off-season renovations, replacing the roof and windows and doors. I get dressed, load-up my backpack and hike the mile up Commercial Street to the Ptown Library. There, I take out my tools and begin my own hammering away. I glance up from time to time to notice the light shifting on the harbor.

 
I’m there ‘til the fluorescent lights begin to flicker off and on at 4:45. I’m plotting, cutting, pasting, leaving darlings on the cutting room floor, a mess about my feet (and in my head). They say the memoirist is a sculptor, removing clay from a block to reveal the form, as opposed to a novelist who paints upon a blank canvas. But today I feel like a five year old with safety scissors and LePages. 

Let’s see. I hold it up, rotate it around. Hmm, what have I got here? A piece about Rita. She’s finally entering my story.

     Another Friday night in Rio, and I was stuck in a traffic jam in the main aisle of the Mexican Walmart. Extended families fore and aft of me, crying ninos, shuffling abuelos, and carts piled with provisions: kilos of tomatoes, racks of banana and burlap sacks of rice and beans, pallets of pampers, and liter bottles of neon soda.

     The smell of roast chickens filled the air, the announcer called out promotions over the loud-speaker. I had to get out of there. I had a Mexi-fusion variation on carabonara to cook-up, chopped jalepeno added for kick, and a date with Marc Coleman. As the water boiled I’d start-up iTunes and listen to his latest Dharmaseed download. He had a silky, sexy British accent and talked about love in a way that made me feel hopeful. But I definitely wasn’t finding it inside the Walmart.

     Just beyond a caged tower of bouncy balls, there was an opening. With my measly hand-basket on wheels, I was agile. I took a hard left, zipping through sporting goods, then doubled-back to produce where I edged out a Mexican mama for the last two broccoli florets. The deli counter was jammed, so I chose a package of Plumrose ham from the refrigerated section.

     The alcohol aisle was calm; so I took my time to peruse the labels, selecting a Cabernet from Baja California. The least I could do while patronizing this monopolistic chain of culture-killing consumerism is buy local. I swear, I never stepped foot into one of these stores in the states; but here in Rio, the so called Bodega Aurerra was practically the only game in town. And they made sure of that.

     I got through the snaking check-out line, retrieved my backpack from the bag check, and exhaled as I exited into the pink and gray glow of a desert sunset over the exhaust-filled parking lot. I fished-out my key, and came across the folded paper Bibiano had given me.

     ‘She’s moved locations. Nice place. Near the Bodega,’ he’d told me. ‘She’s been asking about you.’ Still, I’d had to pry the address out of him, like he was protecting it for himself.

     ‘El Fenix, 124 Gama.’ I unlocked my bike and wound the lock back around my seat post, hung my grocery bags one on each handle-bar, and straddled my seat. Maybe I’d see if I could find the place, just ride by and have a peak in.

     I peddled through the busy parking lot and hung a wobbly left onto Gama. Less than a block down, there it was, sandwiched between a rotisserie chicken stand and a carpenter’s workshop. A hand-painted sign in black and red and gold of a phoenix in flight hung above the door.

     I kept going right past, changing my mind. I was tired after a long week. I seemed so often so tired. The heat, the travel, the heavy food, something hormonal. Besides, what would we have in common? She was a beautiful, young woman, a female entrepreneur in this godforsaken machismo town. She had to be interesting, and she did speak English pretty well, I recalled, from our first meeting months ago. But I was the disheveled middle-aged Peace Corps volunteer doing my white savoir thing while this gal was living a real life. I looked down at my Teva feet, a mess. What would she want to do with a gringa? And wasn’t I just a little bit jealous of her? Or maybe I was scared I might actually start to like her and would have to stop complaining about my lonely plight. I would like her too much and become one of those clingy friends that expected to spend all our free time, of which I had a LOT, together. Though I’d never been a friend like that, here she’d been my one and only, so the pressure would be on. And although she wasn’t married, surely she had novios in every corner of town, plus a boatload of family, being that she was a Rioverde native. So when she wasn’t running the bar she’d be busy with all of them.

     I had reached a point of desperation.

     I doubled back, pulling-up to the curb and leaning across the sidewalk. It was hard to see a thing through the tinted glass, the evils of alcohol safely out of sight and mind. The mariachi music whined. Maybe it was seedy. Maybe women weren’t allowed, as was the case with all the cantinas around town. If you were there you were a hooker.

    I straightened my front wheel; but before I could peddle away I heard a voice.

   ‘Anna, bienvenidos.’ The door swung open and there was Rita, smiling, with hands on her hips, as if she’d been expecting me and I was late.

On weekends in Ptown, I work from the bungalow. All is quiet today and the sky is piercing blue. The sea grass sways out my window. I type away. I’d promised myself a break for a run and, by 3, the light has already left the living room. It sinks fast this far north, this time of year.

I save my document, then pull on my tights, lace up my shoes, zip-up my jacket, and bolt. My body is stiff from sitting in a chair all week. I plod along the shore road toward the jetty. My mind keeps writing; so I hardly notice the halcyon maritime scene before me: expansive water, sky, dunes of windswept sand.

Not until I cut back do I really see it, over my right shoulder: the orange ball of sun hangs over the velvet blue sea, and for the first time all day, determination gives way to a smile. Over my left shoulder, a swatch of cloud like a fat rat’s tail streaks the pale blue sky and a three-quarter moon grins at me. 

I have an idea: that thing-finder day with Rita at Los Ojitos, I pick up my pace and the muse chases me the last mile home.

I’ve had my break. The bell is sounding and it’s time to get back to the factory.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Dia dos Muertos Moments - November 2, 2011


In the public cemetery, in Santiago de Queretaro, I hide behind mausoleums, snapping private moments. A woman bends over a grave, clipping the grass that’s grown wild over her father’s head; a man digs into the earth planting marigolds, bursts of orange  
bright enough to attract 
the spirits back.



A baby girl, the next generation, plays peek-a-boo between marble urns. Young men carry buckets of water from the well to the gravesites, 10 pesos to cleanse your tomb, honor your dead.


It’s a big day for the mariachis. 50, 100, 200 pesos a canción. Families are happy to pay a hefty price to conjure the ghosts of their loved-ones. Duos, trios, quartets cluster around the grave-sites playing happy songs with somber faces, as family members sing along, tears filling their eyes, remembering the time their mama danced to that tune.


I’m a voyeur; but I come out from the shadows to buy my own songs. I have dead loved ones too. I choose a trio: accordion, guitar, and upright base. I request Cielito Lindo, little beautiful sky, for my cousin, Jonny Copp, who died the summer before getting too close to the clouds. At age 35, climbing virgin peaks on the border between China and Tibet, he was buried alive in an avalanche.




Ay, yai yai yai, can-ta, no llores. Sing, don’t cry.

A couple lays a picnic upon a freshly washed marble grave: an embroidered cloth, plates of warm tamales wrapped in corn husks, and cabritos of tequila, little tiny shots of fire that take their sorrow away.