Between the Storms

For two days, the rain was relentless. Not the kind of rain that’s nice to walk in. The kind of wind-driven rain that makes you want to take cover, stay inside, drenches you to the bone when you venture outside even to cross the street.

Huge swells brought waves crashing ashore. You get it that you are at the ocean – the edge of your world and out there could be dragons or such.

It just kept raining. All Sunday and all Monday.

Then this morning – spectacular California coast blue skies with occasional puffs of clouds.

The next storm is expected on Thursday.

First. Thanks be to the storms. We need the rain. We’ve been in a drought for three years now. We might even be able to catch up – depending on how much El Nino has to bring us.

But right now, we are between storms.

“I can see clearly now the rain is gone. I can see all the obstacles in my way.”

I love those lyrics. The clarity storms bring. Not clear sailing, but what we have to pay attention to. What is in our path that we need to confront or go around.

Getting away always does this for me. Especially when I am near the ocean. It helps me put myself in perspective

I think the thing that has been the most difficult for me with moving back to my hometown is that it is landlocked. I was 15 minutes away from Muir Beach when I lived in Mill Valley. I could go there after a long day at work.

A woman I met at an Iowa Summer Writing Festival class who lives in Iowa said she liked the extremes of weather they have in Iowa (it got down to 15 degrees below zero this year and there was a tornado warning this past summer when I was there).

I think the extremes here on the left coast are best seen on the coastline. “Stay away from the beaches,” the woman who served us breakfast at our B&B told us yesterday. Rogue waves, sneaker waves yank people off the beach and carry them away – perhaps never to be seen again.

One has to respect the grandeur of Nature.

So here I am between storms – and maybe between stories; the one that used to be and the one I’ve been rewriting. The story I want to live.

The obstacles I see have to do with fear and anger. How do I mobilize my anger to effect change, and how do I confront fears so I can move forward fearlessly. I read lately that being fearless does not mean being without fear – rather it means feeling fear and acting in spite of it. Not letting it stop you.

My anger right now is mostly about how politicians are using fear to secure their power. It makes me insane. I don’t have a clue as to how to mobilize that anger so that we can be a fearless nation.

Those are my obstacles: fear and anger.

Between the storms.

I’d say it’s a beautiful day today, but I thought yesterday was beautiful, too. The storm brought new sculptures of driftwood to the beaches. And waves are still crashing against the rocks.

Prepare the Soul, Make it Ready, Move it to Tenderness

“That’s all we have, finally, the words, and they had better be the right ones, with the punctuation in the right places so that they can best say what they are meant to say.”
From “On Writing” by Raymond Carver

“Words lead to deeds . . . They prepare the soul, make it ready, and move it to tenderness.”
St. Teresa

I walked in the arroyo last week. It’s about two blocks from my house —a little bit of wildness that has endured as suburban neighborhoods developed around it.

I came back from my walk and grabbed the first book that caught my eye as I sat down to write in my writingshed: Call if You Need Me – the Uncollected Fiction and Other Prose, by Raymond Carver.

One of the reasons I am captivated by him is that he is of and from the West Coast. He went to Chico State — I lived in Chico around the same time (he started in 1958, I moved there in 1961). When he wrote about John Gardner, his mentor, taking them to sit on the lawn I could see the town and the campus. I was in junior high at the time and the college always seemed — well so college-like to me. Neither of my parents went to college, so it was an exotic setting to me.

He taught at the Iowa Writing Workshop in Iowa City — I attend the Iowa Summer Writing Festival and absolutely love Iowa City.

He got married at 19 and had two children by the age of 20. He became a raging alcoholic, relied on his wife to support the family, and treated her like shit – as alcoholics have a tendency to do. He had affairs himself, but nearly killed her by hitting her on the side of the head with a bottle when she dared to stray. They eventually separated and divorced.

He stopped drinking in 1977 and confronted the wildfire of his alcoholism, met the poet Tess Gallagher, who, I suspect was his soul mate, and went about his writing.

His early publication history is a bit of a horror story; his editor, Gordon Lish, edited his short stories without consent and then published them.

Carver wrote “Errand,” the short story about Chekov’s death from tuberculosis, in 1987. Shortly after it was published, Carver began coughing up blood. He was diagnosed with metastatic lung cancer and died in 1988 at the age of 50.

So even I am wondering what Raymond Carver has to do with my walk in the arroyo.

I think it has to do with the distant sound of a train.

One of my favorite things when I walk through the Arroyo is hearing a train pass through — a distant sound. I feel life simultaneously passing by and standing still.

I start to wonder who is on it, where they came from, where they are going. Are they running away from something? On the way to visit a relative? Maybe there’s a hobo or two riding the rails to wherever.

Of course, mostly now, the trains are carrying containers that get filled in far away ports and then placed on a train at the port of entry. Carrying things.

Yet that sound makes memory present tense for me — untethers it from time — while also giving it the context of reflection.

I think that turning those memories into words is what writing is to me. My voice.

All writers benefit from good editors. They help us identify where our voice is not clear.

But for an editor to do otherwise — as Lish did with Carver — is to wipe clear the sensory memory of the writer. For writers to relinquish those memories, that voice, as the price for acceptance, is to participate in their own oppression.

Even when the editor making the changes is the one inside the writer’s head.

I wonder if our voice is the hobo and the Arroyo: both a bit of wildness in the mundane world that is part and parcel of our everyday life.

Carver nearly lost his life to alcoholism. When he stopped drinking he began to stand up for his voice.

I found St. Teresa’ quote in “Meditations on a Line from Saint Teresa” — I think it is a talk Carver gave about writing —which is in Call if You Need Me – the Uncollected Fiction and Other Prose.

He concludes the piece with this:

“Long after what I’ve said has passed from your mind, whether it be weeks or months, and all that remains is the sensation of having attended a large public occasion, marking the end of one significant period in your lives and the beginning of another, try then, as you work out your individual destinies, to remember that words, the right and true words, can have the power of deeds.

“Remember, too, that little-used word that has just about dropped out of public and private usage: tenderness. It can’t hurt. And that other word: soul — call it spirit if you want, if it makes it any easier to claim the territory. Don’t forget that either. Pay attention to the spirit of your words, your deeds. That’s preparation enough. No more words.”

In the end what we have is our words. They should be the right words. They should be punctuated so they say what we mean them to say, so they have the power of deeds, so they can prepare our own souls and move them to tenderness.

Two things. I wondered if hobos still exist. They do. They have a convention each year in Britt, Iowa. I want to go to it.

And . . . checkout the lyrics to Woody Guthrie’s “Hobo’s Lullaby.”

Once Upon a Blue Moon

“Once in a blue moon” either means two full moons in the same month or thirteen full moons in the same year.

At one point in history, the moon did appear to be blue, but that was a result of the ash and gases released when Krakatau erupted. Didn’t have anything to do with the moon being made of blue cheese and ever since I saw a rabbit in the moon, I haven’t been able to see the man in the moon.

I don’t know what any of this has to do with my silence, but I haven’t written a blog for close to a month – since my friend George died. After writing about that, I didn’t know what to say. And then I learned that my friend’s eight-year old granddaughter died – killed in a crosswalk in Prague by a truck driver who was distracted by the weight of his own life.

I really didn’t know what to say after that.

The past decade has been top heavy with loss. I’m sure enduring it has made me stronger. But it’s also made me more fragile – leaving me with the skin of a snake that has just slithered out of its old skin.

I’ve been looking at that old skin, wondering what to do now that I’ve shed it. I’m a little scared to see that it is no longer a part of me. I’ve even tried putting it back on, but that’s like pushing string. It just doesn’t work.

So I have to deal with where I am right now. It’s a little bit scary.

My biggest epiphany as I wrote my way into the New Year in my morning pages was that my rage seems to have burned itself out. I just kind of noticed it was gone – the way the lighthouse keeper wakes up at two in the morning and asks “What’s that?” when the fog horn that goes off every hour on the hour doesn’t go off.

I think that for years my rage was my lighthouse, the homing beacon that showed me the way back to myself when the Greek chorus chanted, “You’re too big for your britches, you’re too big for you’re britches, who do you think you are?” over and over ad infinitum.

I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve sought out that chorus recently, hoping to find some comfort in the familiar. Like a horse running into the burning barn.

But there is no comfort in what was familiar.

Life is more fragile than I ever imagined. I see the photographs and videos of my friend’s eight-year-old granddaughter and wonder how can this be? How can a life force so strong be snuffed out with so little regard for rhyme and reason?

For some reason, it makes seeking the familiar to keep fear at bay a fool’s errand for me. My choice is to accept change as the only thing that is certain.

So here I am with a new chorus waiting for me to cue them up with a new refrain. And I wonder, what will I write?

Once in a blue moon, something rare happens. Life is fragile. I think it’s important to seize those moments.