Clarity

Tonight I heard Neko Case, that fierce songbird, and can't stop marveling that the words and the voice could both spring from one person.  Such a surfeit of gifts. The line that made me laugh was:

I'm not even wearing underwear
It's not exotic
I just forgot

But the line that makes me wish I'd thought of it myself is always:  

It was so clear to me
That it was almost invisible

 

Home now, breathless from climb from the BART station, nearly four months removed from a summer of walking and no longer any match whatsoever for San Francisco's topography, my ears aching with a brand new chill, as if the weather had only just gotten hold of a calendar.  I go to the window to close the blinds and see, just outside, directly across from the house, a stout raccoon.  He jaywalks toward me like a portly gentleman, hurrying but with dignity. He turns left in the driveway and ambles out of sight.

I have never seen a raccoon in this neighborhood.
Some concerts leave everything feeling like a poem.

Dogs

Well, drat.

It's only the middle of the month and I've already missed two days.  I have no excuse for Saturday, but yesterday I came over all flushed and dizzy and left work at 2pm to come home and fall asleep instantly for two hours. That was followed by grogginess and general blech and then still more sleep, only this time interrupted by a dog arriving at 11:30pm and then running amok upstairs.  Pets are not allowed in this building, but there is a dog that pays calls to my neighbors nearly every day. He comes with a man, but the man is quieter than the dog.  Nevertheless, nearing midnight on a Monday is rather late to pay a call. I don't love these visits, but I am informed that he keeps a check on the rat population in the back yard, so I suppose I owe him a debt of gratitude. The dog, that is, not the man. I'd like to pretend that there was no rat population in the back yard to begin with, but it happens that I saw one once, strolling along the retaining wall across from my kitchen window, so the bliss engendered by my former ignorance has gone all to hell.  I suppose someone had to keep the spiders company.  The rats, not the dog.

Mostly what I've been feeling is that is totally ridiculous to be talking about--oh--my back yard and my summer vacation and all, when everyone else is writing these passionate political essays about the downfall of America.  I really don't feel qualified to write about the downfall of America, despite being thoroughly sickened by a the recent appointment of a white supremacist to the White House, which, incidentally, is not meant to imply that it is a house meant only for white people. Egads. Whatever have we come to?  In this moment of national catastrophe is it not actually disrespectful to write about my very small life?

But then, I said I would.

 Talya is in Barcelona and writing a play every day.  I've been envious because she is provided with writing prompts so doesn't have to talk about her garden or the downfall of democracy.  But she has informed me that more than once her prompt has involved drunk dogs. To wit, "Write a scene where two drunk dogs are having an argument and a lion and a zebra come in."  Thanks, but I'll pass.  I'm already having enough trouble with writing.  And with dogs.

Sunday

It's like this. I know without question that I'll feel instantly better if I go out, but the effort to actually leave the house seems overwhelming.  Generally, I don't overcome it. Generally, I stay inside in my freezing apartment wearing whatever I slept in, mired in loneliness, watching as carefree groups of people walk by, coatless, on what is literally the sunny side of the street. The side I don't live on.  I am always more cheerful when it gets dark, but by then the weekend is wasted. 

Sundays are my nemesis.

Today, I triumphed. After several hours of internal negotiation, to wit:
          Go buy the pears.
          I'll do it later.
          Go buy the pears.
          It doesn't matter. I don't even want to go to the potluck.
          Seriously. Go buy the pears.

I actually do.  
I take a shower. I put on clothes with identifiable structure. I walk to the store on the sunny side of the street.  It is at least 75 degrees out, but it takes me two blocks to be warm enough to take off my down jacket.  I am a lizard person; the north-facing apartment was an error in judgement. By the time I reach Whole Foods, only four blocks from home, I feel like a normal person.  It is that easy.  It is also that difficult.

I stand in the arctic chill of the produce section, happy again to have the jacket, and cautiously sample a sliver of a bright yellow apple. I distrust yellow apples, associating them with the mealy disappointment of the inaccurately named Golden Delicious, but this one, fresh from some new genetic experiment, it is better than I expected, cold and crisp and sweet. I put four in my basket. 80s nostalgia music is playing over the speakers. It is designed to appeal to my exact demographic, white, middle-aged mother of two doing the week's shopping, though I am single and buying only fruit, had I made other choices that would, perhaps, be me. Which is to say, at least they got the age right.

On the other side of the apple tower, adjacent to the bundled herbs, two boys wait for their father in a shopping cart.  One of them is in the seat, the other in the cart itself. They are school-aged, very nearly too big to fit at all. There will be very little room for groceries. The older one in the cart already has a lapful of vegetables.  The younger one, legs dangling from the seat, is singing along.  "Our house. In the middle of our street..." He is inaudible to me, but his mouth is forming the words unmistakably. He is about five years old. And though there are many obvious and banal reasons for him to know this song, it strikes me in that moment as astonishing that a boy born in 2011 would casually join in on the chorus of a song written when I was twelve. I am entirely delighted.

The Comice pears I came to buy are on sale for just a dollar a pound. I need two. I choose five. 

Just leave the house.
You need only leave the house.

 

 

 

When do we want it? Now!

I sat in on a colleague's Creative Nonfiction class today (a thing, incidentally, I wish I could do every day). She was hosting a visit by Maggie Nelson, recent MacArthur award winner, and an alumna of our school. [The alumni here are often a bit awe inspiring.]

I have never read any of her work, but the students had and they asked her good questions. She talked about how her work had never been driven by a desire to achieve certain hallmarks of literary success; in her twenties she hadn't yearned to be published in The New Yorker nor get a Simon and Schuster contract.  Her much beloved book, Bluets, was rejected by every publisher, and was eventually produced by bookmakers she knew, bookmakers she knew would make it beautiful. It was passed around from one enchanted reader to another. Punk rock, do-it-yourself art. She said, of her recent award, "if I had been trying to get it, I never would have gotten it."  

She read a bit from Bluets about the male bowerbird constructing a bower all in blue. She talked about grappling with the dignity of solitude. "Loneliness," she said, "is solitude with a problem." She read the last two pages of Red Parts, a book about her aunt's murder and the subsequent trial. She read of sitting with her mother on a screened porch in a thunderstorm, discussing autopsy photos, smoking in the dark.  It made me cry more because it was beautiful than because it was sad. 

Sitting there, overtired, deeply moved, I was startled to hear what sounded like a march on the street below. Lots of feet, lots of voices, a jumble of sound.  I lost the thread of the author's conversation and began to identify the sounds outside. The voices were shrill.  Loud, but not angry.  Familiar.  Not politicized marchers, after all, but a field trip from the preschool next door. Many very small citizens making their way down the block, no doubt with the buddy system firmly in place, as I have seen countless times before.  The chanting, however, was unprecedented. What common purpose had united them?  I strained to make out the words:

"Piz-ZAH! Piz-ZAH! Piz-ZAH!"

At last, a cause that could unify the nation.
I hope The Man met their demands.

Rule Britannia

british-flag-in-the-sky-1443282351DLv.jpg

Eventually, and more than three months behind schedule, I will write a little series called Forgotten Cities, in which I will try to remember things I meant to say about places I visited this summer that I foolishly never wrote a single word about (I'm looking at you, Copenhagen). Among those places was London, where I saw plays and visited museums and drank tea and only had one significant escalator-related setback. A great success, in other words.

I had come from Scotland where last-minute anti-Brexit campaigning was in full swing. The day of the vote, I didn't think much about it. I was busy seeing Kensington Palace and finding my way to the theatre in a downpour. The next morning, though, seeing as how I was actually in the UK, it seemed only polite to look up the result. I did it for form's sake, really; I assumed I already knew the answer. First, I saw the polling numbers, which I thought must not be THE polling numbers, but were perhaps from some old telephone survey. Then I saw in the Times that David Cameron had resigned.  What?  WHAT?  I had only been asleep eight hours and in the meantime it seemed the whole world had gone topsy turvy.

When I went downstairs, my hostess was literally pale with shock. No one she knew had voted to leave.  It seemed that no one who anyone knew had voted to leave. 

Later that evening, I was bound for the Netherlands.  I got a train from Liverpool Street and made my way to the port at Harwich where I boarded an overnight ferry. The train journey was about and hour and a half long.  Well outside the city, perhaps twenty minutes from the coast, a white-haired couple boarded.  She was in a decidedly British melange of mismatched floral prints, he in a sports jacket. I was relieved to see them. I had been quite nervous that I was in the wrong half of the train that was soon destined to split and go in two different directions (splitting trains always cause me a great deal of anxiety, even, it seems, in countries where instructions are given in my native tongue). This couple looked like they probably knew a thing or two about splitting trains. I asked; they reassured.  We chatted a little. It seemed that they had a house in the Netherlands and made the journey back and forth across the sea with some frequency.

As we drew nearer to our destination, the lady said, jokingly, half to her husband, half to me, "We'll have to see how they treat us now that we're not European anymore."   "Isn't is strange?" I said. I had been having conversations such as this with astonished people all day, so I thought I knew my lines.  "We are British," she said.  "We always were. We always will be."  She went on to say that a truck had driven down the main street of their town that afternoon, blaring "Rule Britannia."  Just as I was formulating a remark on how these moments of nationalistic fervor can be troubling, she continued, "It was lovely." Oh, I thought.  Oh. We are not having the conversation I thought we were  having. 

She sang the opening line, "Rule, Britannia!  Britannia rule the waves!" then paused. "And we will be there again," she said. "This is the first step."

I said nothing, but it was a moment of revelation for me.  OH. This is what is happening at home, I thought. I get it. Everyone I know thinks Donald Trump could never be president that, in fact, he is somewhere on the spectrum from incoherent buffoon to dangerous lunatic.  But, somewhere, in a tidy house in the countryside is a pleasant woman I've never met, wearing a clashing outfit, and dreaming of a Golden Age of America that will never come again and that, indeed, never really existed. It was a time when men were men and women knew their place and white supremacy was unquestioned. To that lady, 2016 is a bewildering, disordered nightmare.  That is the lady who votes for Trump. 

I felt sorry for her, actually, that lady who'd lost pace with history.

That was June.