Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Traveling home

I often look at travel as a way out of my head, a chance to escape my own reality and be immersed elsewhere. I often look to be confused, get lost in the unfamiliar, not know the plan because there is no need for one. This time, though, I needed to travel to find a way back to myself.

I've been teaching for over two decades, and each spring, I find myself surprised at my exhaustion, at my desire to simply stare into the sky for hours, scanning for glimpses. Inspiration and motivation mere wisps. Each spring, towards the end of the semester, I swear I should video myself so I could replay it the following year--evidence that this occurs and passes. But that would take time. Effort. These fall away gradually until early May.

Escape. This time Italy. The nature I'd been missing, the breathing of expanse. Hills of Montepulciano held my stare, helped me remember to pause. Be present.

I stopped listing all the things that hadn't happened--the declines from submissions, trips canceled due to health issues. Instead, I chose grateful--publications, trips, friends, a good life.

When I stood, early morning, watching the sun rise over the canal in Venice, I breathed in summer, early morning rising into a day filled with time, the unknown, moments to capture as they emerge. A noticing.

And when I forget, get caught in the busyness of life, I have this, carried back from the streets of Lucca. Instead of a quick button push on my fancy coffee maker, I sip one cup at a time, carefully made, cleaned in between. I listen for the hum of the perk. Wait for the heat to cool a bit.

Sunday, January 1, 2017


I've been reading lots of end of 2016 Facebook posts, most with the sentiment of a big fuck you to the year. The election debacle spiraled me, and many friends, into a permanent discoloring of life. Everything read in the lens of impending doom. Despair. Fear. These held me, unsteady, throughout the fall into the shortened days.

Music tinged with loss. Bowie. Prince. Keith Emerson. A list that kept growing. The familiar and unfamiliar soundtracks of my youth, reminders, marked memories.

I needed a break. Not because the year felt like some big dismal castaway. I can trace good. Reorient and be grateful. But that doesn't diminish the ease with which I fell into bleakness. Panic.

Travel cures all, at least for me, and Nan. When we planned our annual holiday escape in June, we must have known that by December 18th, we would need little distraction, a nothingness that stills and erases. Presence could be found in Mexico, in Valladolid, on Isla Holbox.

Time erased for hours and hours. Disconnected from steady emails, mindless scrolling, information overloads. We ambled to breakfast around 9am each day--fresh fruit juices, eggs, beans, sauces. Walked back along the beach to our cute tiny place off the main stretch, a hidden small oasis, our private retreat. Time to linger on the beach, wade into bathtub temperature water, smell the sky, lose thoughts, be there.

I read out of 2016 and into 2017 journeying with Patti Smith's M Train. Words carry me back, always, if I sit long enough, and linger.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Another Night

I write you this evening, wondering if you are thinking what I'm thinking, how this world, sometimes our world, once my world, just seems to be some bad bad news channel that keeps clicking out death. More gone. Senseless. A truck rams through a crowd. 77 dead. At this moment, which will change by the hour, until this night fades into memory before the next night becomes our present.

I write you this evening because I know you too try to find light in all this horror, try not to fall every moment, deeper and deeper. Sadness. Videos replaying events. Shouts. Sobbing. Sounds. But this is not all. It is music that rescues, even if temporary, voices. Rufus Wainwright and harmony, a chorus of Hallelujahs that cut beneath my anger, tears, hope.

Do you try to remember names? Make lists in your head. Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Pulse, Istanbul, Dallas, Nice, and lots in between, forgotten, unnamed, never forgotten.

I write you this evening because I cannot be silent, even though I don't quite know what that means, but I know that no words cannot be an option, in these times that have no name since they are not yet history. They are alive.

And why this evening, and not last evening, or the evening before, or even last week. It could have been then.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Orlando Shooting

It's been more than 24 hours, and for the first number of hours, I stayed away, not wanting to fall into the reality of hate, not wanting to dig below my tears. But then, I had to dive in, to listen to others first, find my words in their words, because again, I found myself mute, unable to find words for another lost count of death at the hands of guns, our weapons of mass destruction. I can no longer name all the mass shootings, because their names pile on top of each other, and when I can remember some of the names, I cannot always remember the details, because there have been too many. One is too many.

Today, I listened to the names of the dead, a paced reading,  photos to give face to the words, to the names. I read bios of some of the dead, tearing up at unfinished promises stolen by one man, hate, hate.

Gay bars are refuges, places we go when we want safety, want a dark corner to kiss, to hold hands, to lean in tight like lovers, without fear. Nan and I seek out gay bars when we travel. It's somewhere we know we can sit for a bit, hold hands, feel a bit of normal far from home.

Today, I need my own words to make this loss palpable. There is no sense to be found. No solace. Just a reminder of the ugliness one person can create. I am not hopeless. I am angry, heart heavy, mourning.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Circling into the year

I like when years don't have defined edges, places where you can mark clear beginnings, endings, a specific indication of time lapses, lapsing. Years are measure, ways to see an aging in ourselves, in others. But at that edge between what was and what is to be, I often sit grateful, reminded of what is rather than what isn't, might not be. When the calendar announces the end of a year moving into the start of another, I can't help but reflect a bit, look forward, wonder as if it is a reset, a tabula rasa.

Perhaps it's because of travel--most years Nan and I are fortunate enough to disappear a bit, closing out the year somewhere away or usher in the year somewhere away. Last year we leapt from 2014 into 2015 on the beach in Isla Mujeres, a quiet escape into recovery, a needed rest, stillness. 2015 began there, eating while our feet played with sand, fish pulled from the water before us, grilled while I remembered patience, how to sit, sky staring.

And then life whirls, a slow steady at times, quickening its pace, clouding intentions. I set intentions and forge successfully. I set intentions and forget to follow, get lazy, tired, forgetful.

This year, we finished in Mexico, but this time in Mexico City and Oaxaca, the latter a new place, a discovery. Instead of the sky, I stared all around, lost in the unknown, enthralled by celebrations and foods. Days filled with ancient cultures, conversations with people that still resonate and make me consider as I move slowly and firmly into 2016, ready to work, even when the work is difficult, even when it's easier to coast in boredom.

Early in the trip we ventured for a day with Enrique, an engineer turned tour guide after losing his job, a man who is grateful for the work, despite long days and only 10 days off in a year. We spent hours with Victor and Bulmaro, artisans proud of their lineage, devoted to their craft. Each day left me alert, engaged, noticing the everything I sometimes forget to see.

When the year starts to speed, I might forget a bit, fall back. But for now, this moment, I am in it.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Learning the mornings

I have seen the morning. It's unavoidable these days. Long gone are the lingering hours in bed, sipping cup after cup of coffee delivered by Nan, reading and slowly waking to the world. Long gone are days and evenings wandering to the movies. My schedule is no longer directed by me.

This happened five weeks ago. Whitman. Now almost 40 pounds of puppy energy, puppy determination, and puppy love. He's intense, in that intense kind of way that says, "I'm trying so hard to get what you want me to do. Really."

He picked us, in a way. We were looking for a dog more Sasha's size (20-40 pounds), somewhat mellow, maybe 1-2 years old. But a visit to the farmer's market and Life is Better Rescue brought him to us.

And from that moment, he has been teaching me that the morning has possibility. Nowadays, Nan's alarm doesn't quite reach its ring at 5:30am (occasionally we get lucky). Instead, Whitman nudges our hands, a sweet good morning, and I can't get angry. He is ready for the day. He's slept seven hours.

So I rise, open the back door and watch him run out to pee, and press the coffee maker. It's a tag team in the house, with Nan rising and preparing the cat's breakfast (they are enjoying their current separate apartment downstairs) while I ready Whitman's breakfast. Whitman is quick back to the door, hungry, politely waiting for his food.

We have a deal. If I get up and feed him, then he has to hang out for a bit, a quick morning snooze while I watch the sun rise from the corners of the front door, steady with my coffee, sipping and slowly waking. It's still and quiet, so I read a bit, treating myself to other's words before I slip into the rhythm of the day. By 7 or 7:15am, Whitman and I are out the door, into the cool wisps of almost fall, traveling into the day. He smells and smells and smells, ducks to the ground in his playful pose when he spots a dog, and then pulls me into a quick pace. I worried that after returning from Paris I wouldn't be able to keep up a steady walking habit. Whitman ensures plenty of miles a day, usually beginning with a 2.5 mile walk.

And I like it. I like the quiet. I like watching the world wake up, passing the familiar walkers with their dogs, watching Whitman watch the world and learn what the night released to the day. I catch moments I might miss, like this tonight--a slight blur as Whitman tired of sitting waiting for my shot.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

It's a Wrap

I could bemoan the end of summer. Curse its quick close. Yup, it's that final moment, the night before I return to work after three solid months of summer vacay. Most summers tend to have a central moment/theme, something that stands out. The Waterworld summer where I hung on the lazy river with a friend. The four days alone in Ireland unexpectedly summer, walking my way along the sea. The I do summer, Nan and I married, road tripping out to Oregon. This summer yet unnamed. So on this eve, I am thankful and in denial of what tomorrow brings. For now, I am still in this summer.

  • Paris. Ever since high school French I've always wanted to go to France, see the quicksands of Mont St. Michel, eat and eat and eat and drink wine, wander amongst Rodin, stroll by the Bouquinistes, and walk and walk and walk miles through neighborhoods unfamiliar.
  • Kansas City, MO. Who knew. It has some charm, sort of. AP English Lang reading moved this year to this city with an awesome train station, good barbeque, and a hipster mix of bars. Instead of my usual bourbon trail, Boulevard Tank 7 served to take the edge off the day of endless essay reading.
  • Pacific Northwest. I love it. The way the trees tower. Water. Hanging out at Reed College for a diversity based training and discovering that simultaneously Tin House's Writing Workshop shared the campus which meant free author readings every evening, watching a river otter nightly swim into Reed Canyon. Hanging time in Portland, twice. Beauty and good friends in Tacoma.
  • Celebrating George. A quick trip back east, to see family and go to NYC to celebrate George Braziller's book signing for his memoir. Such joy. A moment. Inspiration.
  • Reading. Lots of it. Long books. Sinking into good writing. Essays. Stories. Memoirs. Novels.
  • Writing. Not so much. But a start. Some revision. Generating. Hopeful.
  • Naps. Always naps.
  • But in this moment, it is this final week of summer that stands sharpest, because its close, fresh. Two brilliant concerts at Red Rocks Amphitheater, reminding me that I live where the greatest music venue sends sounds into the night. Damien Rice putting on a stadium style show set against his haunting voice and solo presence. Brandi Carlile rocking out. Joy.
  • Whitman. Our new dog. One week to get him settled or starting to settle. Long walks. Belly rubs. Early rising. Household adjustments.
It's been full. Happy. Eclectic. Until next year summer, I bid thee adieu.