The One Thing

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Last month I found myself in Chicago attending a writer’s conference. The event was sponsored by a large publishing house and I went to learn more about the publishing industry. Boy did I.

Part of the weekend also had us working on some writing exercises. We were given a topic and told to write about it for ten minutes.

I’m pretty good at these off the cuff wind sprints, so I was sailing along nicely creating the words and feeling all of those blocks melt away.

That was until we got to the prompt: “What’s the one thing you won’t write about?”

Ugh. Well. The snarky voice in my head kicked in, saying things like “well if it’s something I won’t write about, why would I write about it here? In this uncomfortable chair. With 500 of my closest friends in attendance?”

Bah.

Then I started thinking, what really IS the one thing I won’t write about?

I know what it is, but I’m still not ready to write about it.

It’s grief. My overwhelming grief is the one thing I just can’t write about. Not yet.

Both December and January ushered in tremendous losses for me, one after the other, and though I’m told I have to “just grieve” and “get it out” and “go through the stages” I find myself a bit at sea. There are times it shows up inappropriately and I cry so hard I wonder how I will ever stop crying.

When I do finally stop, I become near catatonic for the rest of the day.

There are times I know it’s sneaking up on me and instead of trying to head it off, I am able to find a way to hide in the bathroom or outside or in my car and let it happen. A little.

And sometimes I simply have to tell the freight train that no, it doesn’t get to run me over today. When I head it off, push it down, it only means the grief builds up a bigger head of steam for the next time.

It is a demon and I am wrestling with it. And no, I’m not ready to write about the details. It’s too tender, too fresh, too painful.

One might argue that since writing is my thing, I should be writing about it. I should be writing it all out furiously and fast and working through all of those darn steps, up and down the ladder until I’m free.

As if one can ever really be free of grief. Actually, that’s part of the problem. This fresh and overpowering grief has ripped the lids off of the many other losses I have experienced so I get to go through all of that again. As if it’s new and present and today.

So yeah, letting it all out, that’s probably what I should be doing.

But I can’t. Not yet.

And it remains the one thing I won’t write about.

But I will write about it. Someday.

Maybe this post is just one small step in the right direction.









Image found here.




An Unlikely Icon

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After what now amounts to almost seventeen years, I realize that I have lived in California a lot longer than I ever thought I would. Totaled up it’s still a lot less time than I lived in New Mexico, so I still have that going for me.

But here I am. After putting in this many years I guess I have the right to look at a building in San Francisco and say, “hey, I remember when that used to be…”

In my time in the Bay Area, I’ve seen a lot of things change. Like many people in San Francisco, I also have a deep sense of nostalgia for a lot of the quirky things the City brings to the world.

I cried when the last working street clock in North Beach was hit by a delivery truck, rendering it busted forever.

I beam with pride when I see the restored doggy head smirking atop a pole overlooking the Doggy Diner (over by the zoo).

And today. Today my heart is heavy for the loss of yet another San Francisco quirky institution.

Sadly, it was reported this morning that the Bushman from the Wharf has passed away.

If you haven’t had the pleasure of spending a touristy day down on Fisherman’s Wharf, then you don’t know about the Bushman.

He would take several leafy eucalyptus branches in hand and then he’d get real low, usually squatting on a milk crate, and he’d hold the branches out in front of him. He would usually position himself by other shrubbery so any passerby might think it was simply another bit of brush.

Then he’d pick out a person walking the sidewalk and as they walked past him he’d shake the leaves and let out a low rumbling growl.

At the noise, pretty much every victim would leap a foot off the ground. That was when the Bushman would laugh with the best, most expansive laugh you’ve ever heard. This would get the victim laughing too.

People would gather around and watch it happen, and they would laugh too, everyone brimming with anticipation for the next victim. After a good laugh, folks would throw a couple dollars his way and move on.

This whole thing was always done in good fun, the Bushman was never mean about it.

In the early years in my California tenure, I spent a lot of time in the company of blues musicians who worked a lot of Saturday afternoons at Lou’s Pier 47. Back when Lou still owned the place, she paid well and booked the top guys in all the prime spots.

A good sunny Saturday would pull in a room full of tourists who would happily unload their pockets for food and drinks and tip jars.

I would often go to the club on my own and as the afternoon went on and the patrons consumed more and more booze, things could sometimes get a bit weird. If things were too funky in the club and if it was still sunny out, I’d head out to the Wharf to wander the shops, eat some Ghirardelli or just sit by the water, stare at the Golden Gate and ponder my life.

I was my own version of a wharf rat and I loved it.

With all that time spent prowling around, I encountered the Bushman on several occasions.

He only got me once, but he got me good.

I learned to keep a sharp eye out for him so I could be in on the joke and not the punchline.

I liked to catch him, too. I’d say, “I see you!” and he’d growl at me and I’d go “uh-huh” and walk on.

I haven’t spent that much time on the Wharf in years, but when I was there a few months ago I saw him and was happy to know he was still there.

And now he’s not.

The article says that his sometime partner (who helped the ruse by distracting potential victims) will keep up the routine, but I suspect it won’t be quite the same.

San Francisco, so nostalgic, so prone to change.

The original Bushman will be missed.







Image found here. That blog owner is super duper cranky about the Bushman, but c’est la vie. To each their own. The Tumblr is named “I Hate Stuff” and provides content as advertised.




I Miss Christmas

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It may seem kind of funny to say it on December 19th, but I miss Christmas.

It’s just six days away and there is time yet to feel the entire joy and ho-ho-ho of the season, but honestly, I just don’t think it’s going to happen.

It is the nature of the work I do that December is an incredibly busy month. This is not just at my current employer but has been true across the entire span of my career.

Ramped up work and steep deadlines mean it becomes awful hard to plan and decorate and celebrate and feel the joy that is the holiday season.

It’s hard to feel much more than incredibly damn cranky, to be honest. The kind of tired and cranky that not even a Captain Morgan spiked egg nog can fix.

When I was a kid, I used to love Christmas. Ok, sure, every kid loves Christmas, but for me it wasn’t about the presents. It was about the magic.

I loved the ritual of pulling out the box packed with ornaments and greeting each one like an old friend before hanging it on the tree. (This is still one of my favorite parts of the holiday, by the way.)

I got into the prep and planning for the baking that my mom and I would do. Sugar cookies with colorful frosting. Biscochitos. Mom’s divinity fudge. Cinnamon rolls. Tortillas to go with posole. The windows would steam and the house would smell heavenly.

As it got closer to Christmas, I’d begin the prep work for luminarias. The dirt, folding the bags, making sure my mom got the right kind of candles.

Sometimes we’d pile in the car to go see the lights. We’d drive slow down good blocks so we could take in all the lights, the crisp air outside tinged with the unmistakable scent of burning piñon logs.

Then home for some nog, mom might light a bunch of candles and put on soft Christmas music and I’d look out our big picture window to the world outside and dream.

My mom had this funny little candle, something she had bought from Avon and it only came out at Christmas. It was very fancy, gilt gold on the outside and red on the inside and some holly berry spice something fragrance to the candle. If I close my eyes I can still place the scent because that smell was so very Christmas to me. That along with our advent wreath and a few other candles put a soft flickering glow to my world and made me calm and peaceful.

As the years passed by and I became an adult, I tried to keep my own Christmas traditions alive including baking, having a real tree on which to hang all of those ornaments from my childhood, and lighting a bunch of candles on Christmas Eve.

New traditions came along as well, like looking for a fun white elephant gift for the office party and finding a pretty dress or two to wear to friend’s parties.

But over time even this has changed. Very few companies do holiday parties anymore. My current employer is so uptight about the various cultures and religions of the people who work here that they barely acknowledge that a holiday is forthcoming. And even if they did, there wouldn’t be any holiday party during these times of budget austerity.

Most of my friends now have kids and they are focused on family things, which is fine. It just means no more grown up parties to attend.

Then there was that fun holiday break in which to rest, recoup and get ready for the new year. That’s also a thing of the past. We don’t get any time off next week other than Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. I could take vacation, but I blew what I had in my vacation balance on my trip to New York (and it was totally worth it).

This year the twelve days of Christmas will entail no partridges or pear trees, but a lot of Karen a leapin’ to get work out the door before the 31st.

I wanted to make cookies and bought the ingredients only to remember that my mixer is in a box in our storage room and I don’t even know which box. The Good Man said he would disassemble the storage room to help me find it, but I decided no. Too much work.

It should be said here that we’ve lived in our place for a year, but I work so many damn hours that unpacking boxes on the weekends just feels like more work. And so it goes…

It seemed like I felt the happy holiday feeling, really and truly, for a little while during our trip to New York. It’s awful hard to look up at the tree in Rockefeller Center and not feel the holiday spirit. But that time in New York is like a little bit of encapsulated perfection, not just about the holiday joy, but in many ways.

And then we came home and my nose went back to the grindstone and the willingness and want to and give a damn just sort of frittered away.

We have a real branch wreath on our door and a real tree in our house and somehow I just can’t summon up the joy and peace and magic of the holiday season.

This makes me sad.

I know that I’m the one that has to make the holidays bright. The spirit of Christmas lives inside of me, and it’s on me to bring it into reality.

But somehow this year I just can’t find it. Maybe next year.
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(I just reread this post from last year. Evidently a holiday lament is my new holiday tradition. LOL on me.)





Memories of Christmases past. I made these mints, a family tradition, just last year.




Ray Bradbury, 1920-2012

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The news this morning felt heavy on my heart. Via Twitter, I learned that author Ray Bradbury had passed away at the age of 91.

91 very productive years is one hell of a good life.

Even though I never met Mr. Bradbury in person (The Good Man did) I consider him to be an essential part of my own writing life.

Fifteen years ago I took my first few fitful steps into writing a full length novel. It was an effort that far transcended any type of writing or story crafting I’d ever done. I was tortured by demons, a flighty muse and painful, quavering self doubt. About halfway through the work, just attempting to put words on a page became massively frustrating.

Looking for inspiration, I went to my local library to see what was what. While prowling the aisles, my eyes traveled across a book title, “Zen in the Art of Writing.”

I read Mr. Bradbury’s essays on the art and magic of writing cover to cover and quite literally cried my eyes out the whole way.

Because his book unlocked something inside of me.

Something that will never be locked away again.

For that, I owe Ray Bradbury a deep debt of gratitude. He saved my (writing) life.

A few favorite quotes:

Every morning I jump out of bed and step on a landmine. The landmine is me. After the explosion, I spend the rest of the day putting the pieces together.

**
My stories run up and bite me on the leg – I respond by writing down everything that goes on during the bite. When I finish, the idea lets go and runs off.

**
I wish you a wrestling match with your Creative Muse that will last a lifetime. I wish craziness and foolishness and madness upon you. May you live with hysteria, and out of it make fine stories — science fiction or otherwise. Which finally means, may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love remake a world.




Ray Bradbury in 1984. Photograph: Sophie Bassouls/Sygma/Corbis




Image from The Guardian and used here under Fair Use.



Silence

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I’m heartbroken over the news of the passing of Etta James.

Forget “I Will Survive”, that’s for amateurs.

Her music is the ultimate “helps me feel strong when I feel weak.” I have both sat and cried and stood and danced listening to her music.

She will be missed. Through her incredible library, never forgotten.




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