And, Yet, Here I Am: Writing Shed 3.0

“You need to try to master the ability to feel sad without actually being sad.” — Mingyur Rinpoche

I have never liked the word happy. I have always felt it did not leave room for sad, that happy was somehow superior to sad. I got the subtle message that happy girls were preferable to sad girls. Happy, smiling girls made people feel good. Sad girls brought the room down.

So, when asked if I was happy, I felt obliged to go into a long dissertation about the transitory nature of happy.

And, yet, here I am in Happy Valley.

Happy Valley on a foggy morning . . . sunny morning photo to follow

Happy Valley on a foggy morning . . . sunny morning photo to follow

Our first morning in our new home on Happy Valley Road, as Tessa and I crunched our way across the frost covered front yard to get the New York Times from the mailbox, I heard the soft mooing of a cow and cocky crow of a rooster drifting our way from the farm across the road. The early morning sky was brilliant blue, the way blue shows up when the air is crisp and cold. The snow-dusted mountains, creators of the valley, were sentinels in the background.

Happy Valley.

I don’t think I have ever regretted my life. Or wished I had another. Or envied the life someone else had or has. I have felt imperfect that I was not the happy ray of sunshine that banished sorrow and pain from the world. Along with that was my warrior-like insistence that I was entitled to my happy-impaired moments.

I happened upon Laurie Anderson’s Farewell to Lou Reed in Rolling Stone this morning. “I believe that the purpose of death,” she writes, “is the release of love.”

I think she mastered feeling sad, without being sad.

So, maybe, the same can be said about happy.

After he loses a daughter to drugs, a recovering country singer played by Robert Duvall in the movie Tender Mercies says he doesn’t trust happiness, never has.

Perhaps we, I, need to master the ability to feel happy without being happy. It’s a state of being, not a stasis of being.

So, here I am in Happy Valley. It feels like home. It embraces the life sounds of a mooing cow and the cocky crow of a rooster as well as The New York Times.

It is life.

I can say that I feel happy with life. I feel happy with my life.

I live in Happy Valley.

Let Go Before You Think You Should

Those were the words of instruction on the Chucker package. A chucker is a long, bent piece of plastic with a claw on the end. It is designed for people like me who throw like a—well who can’t throw a ball more than 3 feet, but have a dog who’s fast and likes to run after the ball.

The first time I used it, the ball, instead of sailing gracefully down the dog park, landed one foot in front of me. Tessa (our dog) was not amused.

So I read the instructions. Something about winding up, lifting your arm straight, and then with a flick of the wrist the ball will sail down the dog park. The hint was: Let go before you think you should.

Well, of course. Let go before you think you should.

Letting go is actually pretty easy, I’ve learned. The difficulty is in discovering what it is I need to let go of.

Today, it has something to do with my Writing Shed. The actual shed. The place that became a place of refuge for me. A place where I wrote.

In about five weeks, I will be leaving it behind, turning it over to the new owners to do with it what they want.

I’m afraid I won’t be able to write without my Writing Shed.

It’s early in the morning. The birds have just started awakening, calling out to each other, perhaps battle cries as much as joyous greetings to the new day. A chicken bluck, bluck, blucks.

The arms of the butterfly bush flutter in the soft breeze at the edge of my Writing Shed. butterfly bushI planted the bush in honor of Ed, my high school teacher and mentor, who died nine months after we moved to Livermore. To the right of my Shed, a cat plays next to a pond—a fountain I bought shortly after Rug died. cat fountainRug, our bunny-soft-furred cat who was killed by a car three weeks before Ed died. And, of course, this is the shed that Gene built—Gene, my father-in-law. The man who called Tom Sweet Man when he was a little boy. Gene died three months after Rug and Ed.

My Writing Shed is a big part of the tapestry I wove while I was here in Livermore—the hometown I returned to.

As we prepare to leave, friends around us are experiencing major life events. One friend lost his brother to a grueling struggle with Parkinsons. Another learned he was going to be a father. This last weekend we attended the wedding of a friend who was widowed ten years ago, his heart mended by the grace of love.

We also learned that a writer who attended our salons had died suddenly of a massive heart attack. His widow thanked us all for listening to his words. I was grateful for the salons. Grateful that a writer had the opportunity to be heard.

I guess life really is a series of letting go, of knowing when a piece of the tapestry is complete—imperfection and all.

Writing this, I realize that I take my Writing Shed with me. It is a part of my tapestry. But, I don’t know what’s next, other than that we are moving to the North West in a few weeks. That is both exhilarating and scary.

Let go before you think you should.


The Celtic Warrior is Strong in Me

By the time I arrived in Iowa City and settled into the Iowa House early in the morning of July 20th, a crazy, loaded-to-the teeth gunman was already in the news. I had changed planes in Denver. Chaos was still a few hours away as I waited for my connecting flight.

I wondered what it felt like at the Denver airport now.

I tried to write a reasoned, contained blog about this. But reasoned words failed me.

On Monday, I started my Monologue class. An assignment: take an article from the New York Times and respond to it.

And thus was unleashed my Celtic Warrior. He appeared earlier in my blog career. I have decided I should pull him out whenever reasoned worlds fail me – fail me because there is no reason to what happened.

 The Rant of the Celtic Warrior

The residents of Krymsk, Russia are angry and three of its officials are in trouble. They did not warn the citizens of Krymsk that a 20-foot wall of water would sweep through their town in three hours.

No on was evacuated. One hundred seventy-one of them died.

The officials are charged with negligence. They could face jail time. The swiftness and seriousness of the charges against the officials reflect, according to the NY Times, the Kremlin’s anxiety about the popular anger.

Two things.

One: My anger has created anxiety.

Two: It has never made me popular.

So popular anger intrigues me.

If I were a Krymskian would I be angry?

Fuck yes.

Especially after the governor called me dear and asked — what would you have done, left your house?

Fuck yes. Or at least fuck maybe.

If I knew and didn’t leave, then fuck me. But, since you knew and didn’t warn me, fuck you.

I am on occasion very zen-like. But my Celtic warrior, painted blue with the head of an enemy dangling from my horse overrides that quite easily.

Nice girls aren’t like that.

I had to work on that. Feeling okay about not being a nice girl. Whenever that niggling voice arises, “Now, that’s not nice—it upsets people,” I think of the end of Psycho, where Norman Bates, as a fly crawls across his face, says, in the voice of his mother, “I’ll, show them. I’ll show them I’m so nice, I wouldn’t hurt a fly.”

That would be nice old serial-killer-stab-them-‘til-they’re-screaming-while-their-life-blood-flows-down-the-drain Mrs. Bates talking.

Look, it’s not as if I’m looking for a fight. They’re just there—disguised as polite rudeness. Or polite condescension.

“What would you do Dear, leave your house if a 20-foot wall of water was coming your way?”

Fuck, yes! And don’t call me dear unless you want your head dangling from my horse.

You know, when 70 people get shot at a midnight movie, twelve of them die, and one of them is a six year old, and it happens in three minutes, and the NfuckingRA claims the Constitution as its own because our forefathers guaranteed the right to bear nine-pound, five-foot long, one-shot, Flintlock, muskets that you have to load with gun powder after each shot, and numbnut commentators claim we shouldn’t talk about gun control out of respect for the 70 people—including the twelve who died, one of whom was a six year old, whose lives—not to mention the lives of anyone who loved them—changed forever within the space of three minutes while they were watching a movie — a fucking movie for god’s sake —

I get pissed.

I get Celtic warrior, painted blue with the head of my enemy dangling from my horse pissed.

Look, I don’t even have a horse, I don’t know how to ride a horse. And even if I did, I don’t have the heads of enemies lying around my house, waiting for me to dangle them from my horse.

But if that image scares the polite rudeness out of someone, so be it. That’s their problem, not mine.

It is the absolutely right thing to do when you come fact to face with that sweet old Mrs. Bates-in-her-lace-collar-and-grandmother-dress politeness. She has an enormous butcher’s knife behind her back. And she’s ready to use it. On the six-year old girl over there. She just doesn’t want you to notice it because then she can’t stab her.

Pointing out that something or someone is psychotic — is not psychotic.

You know, they talk about manning up.

Well, I think it’s time to woman up. When you see that knife behind her back, point it out. Say, “Hey! That sweet little old lady has a knife behind her back and she wants to stab that little girl.”

Or, “Hey! You know a sign that someone is about to have a psychotic break? When they buy four automatic weapons and 6000 rounds of ammunition. They’re not going out to hunt deer. And even if they are, don’t let them. It’s not fair to the deer. And, it’s psychotic. And, it means that shooting humans isn’t too far down the road. It’s a 20-foot wall of water barreling down on our humanity.”

And, don’t call me dear. Unless you want your head dangling from my horse.


I ranted.

I tried not to.

But the Celtic Warrior is too strong in me.

I feel better now.

I think I’ll go shower and wash away the blue.