Rain! and Realization.

Like a miracle, we were wakened by wet stuff beating down on the metal clad air conditioner so thoughtfully  placed in the wall next to our bed in Faculty housing.  As most everyone knows, California is in the midst of an historic 4-year drought…parched yellow grasses, trees shedding autumn leaves in August, exhortations to Conserve! Re-use Grey Water! Turn in your water-wasting neighbor! (just kidding, sort of.)  

Hooray, awesome timing that we now call CA home, today is but a tiny taste of the winter to come:  El Nino and driving, drenching, floodwaters are expected in the Bay area.  For whatever reason, the serious-faced newscasters intone that this won’t be the magic solution, no, the water will roll off the sun-hardened clay earth instead of penetrating to the roots and reek havoc on the traffic and hill-dwellers (Megan up in La Honda is in full-on prep mode for the closed roads and mudslides.)  For such an incredibly optimistic place, it’s hard to reconcile the good news is bad news interpretation going on.

We marked 90 days in California this week. I also finished another revision draft on the novelistic sister saga—Polly and Jenn are now resting a bit.  We’re all talked-out.  The moving tasks done, markets and new doctors located, David’s new job ramping up, and the driving structure of the work on the novel put aside for a week or more, these gray skies coincide with a rising inner gray wall to contend with.  How does a good place turn so quickly to bad, in such an optimistic time in my life?

Well, well, well, for crying out loud. This is the stuff courage calls for:  physical distractions waning, I’m alone with myself and the choices we’ve made. Everyone says to me, it’s so amazing what you’ve done, given up a carefully constructed life, decades-long friendships, business, home, things, and then started anew, how gratifying to have found love in telling stories. To which I think, nah, the decisions were taken one step at a time, an accumulation of left fork, right fork, new paths and wanting to know what’s just beyond the bend.  The scary part is now.

The rain is here.  More is on the way.  Time to invest in a raincoat, right?! 

We saw Anna Deveare Smith at a talk last week and I was struck by her down-to-earthness, her sheer presence.  When she mentioned Studs Turkel, one of the great storytellers of our time, I thought how apropos, because she is surely in that class.  What a powerhouse. She interviews people at or just after a moment of crisis, partly because (sorry, paraphasing badly here) “People talk themselves into realization…” and she just brilliantly captures that elusive essence, those fleeting moments of our lives when we are fully present.  Working it out. Not yet understanding what has just gone on—a doctor at Charity Hospital abandoned by FEMA during Katrina, just one example—but telling Anna the story brings “realization.”  Her resulting performances bear witness, raise up the voices we wouldn’t otherwise hear.  And the thing of it is, she’s incredibly grateful, she knows the gift people offer her (and us) to allow her in.

So, aha! Outside, the rain has ended.  Blue skies are off in the distance. The sun may yet shine.  

Writing is realization, too.  The stories clamor to be told, little sparks waiting for elucidation. Is it too much of a stretch to say that artists that capture those fleeting moments, the essence of human experience, are the ones that I should be reaching for when the gray wall descends? A reminder that it’s just an accumulation of left fork, right fork and realization could be right around the next bend. No, not could be there, surely and most assuredly will be there, waiting.

xxxooo

gail 

 
   
 

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OWC Endings and Beginnings, Happy and Sad…

I graduated!

As thrilled as I am to say that I’m now the proud owner of a Certificate in Novel Writing from the Stanford online writing program, more than any other graduation in my life I’ve much sadness, too.

My fellow cohort members are remarkable artists, friends, supporters.  These few dozen women (and Roy!) cheered my move across country, gave impeccable critical feedback, understood like no one else the tribulations of being “writer.”

Our teacher/mentors created a rigorous yet warm environment, full of craft and aha’s! and intellectual stimulation and holy cow’s.  I’m still drop-dead amazed.  How do you do that online (with a few in person meetups?)  The whole of academia needs to take a lesson from this program.

So, that leaves me a bit bereft.  Done.  A year of saying goodbyes, I guess:  home, work, friends, now OWC.

But…all is not lost!!

We’ve formed at least two writing groups (the Happy Quartet below–online video chatting weekly; and the Bay Area Meetup—in person monthly.) And, Stanford has provided us a chat room to continue on for another while.

And that will be the legacy of OWC, that life goes on, that writing community once found is worth nuturing, that we are all writers, ass-in-the-chair artists with something to say worth saying.  What a friggin’ transformation (as my main novel character, Polly, would say!)

Yip, yip, yip, hoorah. Choice and such.

The downstairs neighbor quit her law practice because the two little ones couldn’t be without her (her words), over-coddled into an anxiety disorder (my diagnosis), so now I walk up the stairs past them when she dare go out and hear Yip!YIP!YIP!, close my door YIP!YIP!, cough YIP!YIP!, car drives by YIP!YIP!, any tiny noise or movement, you got it: YIP!YIP!YIIP!YIIIIIP!

Did I mention I work from home? Writing? Love quiet and silence and…quiet? 

I love Kim-Kim, Pauline’s exuberant and happy-to-be-alive, delighted-it’s-you Peke, but not many other d.o.g.s.  Especially not chiwowhays (sp intentional) whose every little yip says: no one else should exist but mom. 

grrrrrrr. Ruff.

But, these small irritations probably blown out of proportion by Sharon’s wise observation that I have my own wish to be blissfully alone on this planet for some hours of the day and my own resentment that I’ve not yet settled into a permanent place.  Why not take it out on what anyone (even dog luvahs) would find exquisitely over the top annoying. YIP, indeed. Distract myself from the real discomfort.

BUT!  David and I have narrowed the search.  Stanford West was never going to be the landing spot, despite it’s awesome proximity to his work.  We want Ocean.  It’ll be a commute for him, but we think the tradeoffs worth it.  Another Cliff Dive in the works! Relief on the horizon.

Meanwhile, Jenn and Polly, my novelistic sisters, live alongside me in the crisises of an unwanted pregnancy from rape, in all their flawed complexity.  All everything fades when I open that laptop.  I’m too superstitious to say too much more about how it’s going (because then it won’t.)  Thanks to Rachel from my Stanford writing group, I’ve clued into the social media stuff around abortion and Planned Parenthood, which confirms one of the several major motivations for writing this particular book. 

While I have a mad, driving desire to  introduce Respect for opposite passionate beliefs into the mix, I have an equally mad desire to represent our common belief in the very core of our existence as a culture, a country, a democracy, a human race:  individual determination.  Choice, man.

Which brings me back to yip! yip!  I’ll not call the Management office, not bang angrily on her door, not slyly offer dog treats filled with Xanax, not make any (more) secretly snide remarks to their mom (“Oh! they don’t bother me, I just feel bad for them!” ha, ha.)  Those little guys don’t act the way I want them to.  If it were my choice, they’d be in dog therapy, on dog anti-depressants and my neighbor would be in mom-dog training school.  But it’s not MY choice!  My choices are many (headphones, um, moving…hey, let’s move to the beach!) but key among them is not to tell her what or how to do it.  Unless she asks.  Which she won’t.

It’s a flawed argument on both sides, I suppose.  Where do we draw the line? How can I believe in a woman’s right to choose, but not believe in a person’s right to choose to own a gun?  How can they believe in carrying a gun and/or capital punishment and the “sanctity of life?”  

It’s a conversation worth having, but I’ll acknowlege right up front that my particular baggage comes along with me, if you’ll do the same.  And that’s the extremely cool thing about writing a novel, the discovery of the complexities of two women with opposing viewpoints on the world and what’s underneath the surface, and then below that layer, and the next and the next.  

The fun stuff, now!  Drop dead amazing, right?! I want to live there!  Pillar Point, Half Moon Bay, CA.

    
    
    
    
 

Rebound Relationship!

Here I am, emerging from the frenzy of a new love affair, trying to catch my breath.  

Immersed in the new relationship—swept off my feet by stimulating conversation, by surprising introductions to new pals, by soul-satisfying food and drink and scary-but-exciting forays—I can’t help but think now and again of my former love(s), our old life.

In fact, this last week almost everything new has a reminder of the old.  

Even though you all know the last time I was actually in a real “rebound” was, eh-em, the late 70’s when David and I had that year long breakup senior year, and you might be rolling your eyes at my tortured metaphor (what do I remember of such things, right?), the parallels are striking.

Oddly, the intensity required to make a new life:  remembering how to get to the market on unfamiliar-slowly-becoming-familiar roads, reciting to myself the new neighbor’s name and occupation for recall next meeting, glancing around carefully every time I walk through the door—here’s where the keys go, the shoes, the empty grocery bags—this requirement to be “on”, to be present and vigilant and “in the moment” is quite exciting.  Like a new relationship.  Especially when almost every day there’s something new.

The new life crowds out the necessary mourning for what’s now gone.  (And that old guy, he’s not goin’ away. He might have hooked up with a new girl, but he’s still there. My old house, my old business, Massachusetts, yep, all still there.)  I can soothe myself with the thought that I’ve moved on, too, look at this great life, this beautifully perfect 70’s sunny Northern Cali day, our dinner at the Peruvian place to watch the sunset over the Pacific, the bike ride tomorrow through un-discovered parts of campus, next week’s Writer’s group meet-up.

But, I’m a bit bereft,  and can’t help uttering “it’s not the same…”  Just like last time, when I was 17. 

(Here’s David trying to make it better for me, the porch before and after:)

   
   
  Hey, at least we don’t have snow!  Here’s the “old” guy:

 

On an Explore…

So, here we are.  What an extraordinarily beautiful place, almost an assault on my sensibility. I seem to be in a constant state of awe, especially on our weekends road trips; the week days are for grounding-time, or at least an attempt at some kind of regularity and routine.  If there could be such a thing at this point in the Cliff dive!

(A cloudy day or two, but mostly I’m on the upswing of a big draft, caught the wind, amazed I’m still flying.)

After 25 years of routine…a comfort in so many ways, that email routine, the downloading of banking transactions routine, the working ridiculous hours at the business-I-founded routine, you know, we all do it, settled and stifled all at the same time…I still relish a good daily habit.

So, every morning, coffee, goodbye to David, my relocated desk facing the Stanford West greenbelt, astride (well, okay, that’s a bit horsey) settled into my awesome too-expensive desk chair that David gifted me, writing computer opened, I write.  

The current project is Revision of the novel (as yet, unnamed, I’m waiting for the inspiration, the exact turn of phrase to leap out of the depths of the book) and this phase, the phase I truly dreaded with a soul-deep sigh, oh, ugh, those words again, that story again, so sick of Jenn and Polly, sisters and their poor choice of men and unwanted pregnancy, all that drama, turns out to be PERFECT!  After my two-month mentoring with Joshua Mohr, the final phase of the Stanford OWC two year journey-finished in June, this book has a structure!  Holy Cow!  Everyday, the book leads me, everyday I have a place to start.  And then a place to go to.

And if that isn’t the biggest awe-inducing thing of my life, even bigger than that amazing view of the Bay atop Portola road, the wide expanse of the Bay from the Bridge across it, that fog tinged sunset rolling in across a sudden break in the redwoods, or even (really) the fact of my being in California (!!), then surely the idea that it’s my story that leads me, me leading me, instead of me following, well.  

I’m speechless grateful.

And the pics? I know, right?  All you MA and FL and across-the-country family and friends, you just gotta come out and visit, they just doesn’t do it justice.

First weekend, over the Bay bridge to meetup with David’s brother Daryl for a native-tour of Berkeley. Then, over the hills in the opposite direction to Half-moon Bay. Second weekend, down to the Santa Cruz area (yikes, sorry no pictures but really amazing…next time) and back over the mountains at sunset to Palo Alto.

   
    
    
    
    
    
 
So, you’d think, after 5,000 miles in the friggin’ car, I’d be like, “no, nope, nada” but actually….this is me hell-bent determined to avoid the insularity of the routine world, to embrace the Northern Cal “sure, why not?!”  At least for the moment…

xxxooo

g

But what is it REALLY like to live here? The Stanford Cult

For weeks and months I lay in bed at night trying to imagine what Life would be like in Cali (oh! see how I’ve picked up the local lingo?!)  

I pictured hours at my writing desk alone—David working long days at his first new job apart from each other in 25 years—with a mixture of trepidation and pure joy.  I remembered quite well the astonishing cornucopia of fresh veggies and fruit when we arrived in LA in 1980 (um…remember cellophane tomatoes and enormous heads of tasteless iceberg lettuce at the Purity Supreme in Bedford circa 1970’s? Ugh!) I resolved to break my tendency-t0-isolation and reach out to my Stanford Writing friends, and friend from High School Laura and her Mom, Ruth. And, I bookmarked writing workshops and classes in San Francisco for the Fall.

K?  All set!

Except…

There’s all manner of time-sucking stuff, still, that doesn’t just magically disappear.  I know full well from our too-close acquaintance with 12 steps and such that there’s never a “geographic solution” to life’s stucked-ness, that to really really move yourself from point A to off-the-alphabet grid you have to open up your veins and be willing to actually live dangerously.  Do new things.  Be willing.

But we need a couch, and have to sign up for Health Insurance, and I’m not seeing through my left lens well so I gotta find a new glasses place that takes our new insurance (Yes! Benefits! Joys of leaving self-employment behind!) and what about a dentist and didn’t someone say there was a Farmer’s Market and how come the Whole Foods here kinda sucks and another email from Stanford via David (“will you deal with this for me, honey?)

OH! The ultimate time-sucker:  Stanford “sweetners”.  What’s that, you wonder?

So, in addition to Life/Health/vision/dental, free gym, 36-lane pool (52? 70? it’s huge) on the biggest college campus in the western hemisphere in a bucolic setting with the smells of Euctalyptus drifting heavenward as smiling happy bikers whizz by, the high-priestesses of Benefits gotta hook us in.  Sweet!

There’s classess and personal fitness coaches and cell-phone discounts and hi-speed internet with free HBO, SHO, Encore…not to mention museums and meditation spaces and a meditation walking maze/circle (an outdoor one and an indoor one)…free breakfast at the Faculty Club…tuition for children to age 40—yeah, that’s FOURTY at any accrediated university…cash for completing a Health Survey…talks and concerts and football games…

Seriously.

(I just signed up for a CSA…they’ll deliver veggies and fruit TO MY DOOR from their organic Farm every Tues night for $33.  And eggs and honey and other stuff.)

Why would anyone ever leave this place?

And this is how they get you.  Is every cult member a skeptic at first, like me? Even while I exclaim about another new “sweet” I’m bemused by my own rapturous response (organic farm to table, oh my!) whilst the love grows…

And David’s not immune, either.  Two nights ago he dragged me back across the street to campus to his afternoon find—next to the Masoleum:

   
    
    
    
    
 
I know, right?  It’s a volunteer-run cactus garden behind the Child Psychiatry building (irony intended?)

xxxooo

g

Can I go home now?

You know when you’re on Day 7 or 10 of vacation, the thrill of the hotel room worn off, a little too much sun and fun, just wanting your morning bowl of cheerios with a banana (instead of yet another buffet) and yearning for your bed, your pillow, your stuff, instead of the rabbit hutch maze of room after room?  

That’s renting instead of owning.

Last night as I bent to the fridge (haven’t had one of those freezer topped models since…) to stuff the food shopping into the smaller-than-I’m-used-to-interior, I had the distinct deja vu imperative run through my mind:  “okay, done with this now.  Time to go home!”

It’s not that Stanford West isn’t really great, for what it is, and the location across from the hospital where David works amazing, it’s the generic-ness of the four neutral-beige walls and the neutral-tannish carpeting and then to top it all off: the Pleasantville community.  Just like at a Four Seasons, the relentless cheery “Good Morning!” greeting absolutely everywhere.  This place is custom built for getting to know your neighbor(s) (“would you be mine? would you be be mine? won’t you be…my neighbor?!” Fred Rogers.)

Bah, humbug, New Englander soul of mine! 

This too, shall pass, it’s really just a fleeting thing.  As soon as we hang more pictures, obtain the elusive couch (6 stores, no couple compromise in sight) and start the real estate search, reality of the Silicon Valley/SF/CA coast market will hit home and we’ll thank god we’re so lucky to have such a great place to live.  Smile!  “Nice to meet you!”

   
    
    
   

Oh, yeah, and also:  my very first finalist in a writing contest, an old short story from when I first starting writing.