February 4, 2010 Thursday
I have not been able to mind-stick even the first seven words of the new poem into my brain. WHY?
The city through her back-bedroom window:
Words elude me and it seems as if in the last 48 hours my small family has been rocked with disappointment and as my husband described it, “ we are taking a hit.” There are disappointments over work, fear over a college thesis, a much-needed vacation in the sun, which materialized as cold, and rain in Mexico. On a personal level, my constant inability to find work which remunerates me in a way that might make me feel valuable, has left me bereft. And when the disappoint rains, it seems to gather as a storm over the family and I am the hub.
I love that they all come to me, but I know that I internalize the fear and disjointed malaise evinced by each of them. I worry that as we connect, we create a concatenation of discontent amounting to the antithesis of synergy. And so I attempt aggressively to remain a calm, positive center of contentment. I feel I fail at that too.
This morning I see that all of our disjuncture stems from mismanaged expectations. My husband expected the consulting offer to be more far reaching and lucrative, my son saw his final semester in college as one where he partied and floated, reveling in all his hard work, my daughter expected a vacation to escape a job she finds grinding. When they beamed in to me yesterday here is what we found: a much reduced work scope and thus lower fees for my man; my son spinning at the amount of work he will have to do in order to write a thesis; and my daughter cold and distraught that she wasted her vacation in a freezing cold Mexican winter. I had a day where I spent hours talking with a colleague and friend with whom I thought there might be some immediate work and alas there was a lunch and more potential.
When I review our problems played against the devastation and destruction on parade in the nightly news or blasting in a constant barrage across my computer, I remember how lucky, how blessed, how beyond transplendent our lives are.
This is the undeniable truth, and yet how do we manage expectations.
Later this same day and a miracle happened, all the people I wanted to see when I go West to San Francisco, are aligning themselves for meetings. There are no over laps, no missed calls, the emails are seamless and with two hours to go I have rendez vous with an agent, friends, an editor I have been attempting to find for ages and rides to and from all the assignations. There are dinners planned and dates proffered and I feel it will all work out.
Why? I have to believe it is coming to fruition because I let go, I stopped squeezing so tightly and opened up my hand and heart to the possibility, rather than what I have contrived.
I just returned from taking a brisk 40-minute walk along the Hudson River hugging my new poem in my sticky paws. Glasses frost on the top of my head and my keys are stashed in my pocket. I took off without phone or money and headed north. I am slow on this poem; I found the beginning slow going with the Donne poem as well. But I blamed it on the archaic rhythm and language, however now I see that modern parlance is maybe even tougher. You see I think I know where this poet is headed with her words and then she veers, as she should, to some place so much better. But I am afraid my memory follows the mundane
I have captured loosely the first 18 words. They describe a New York City world in winter terms, funny as the author is named Winter. But as I walk up the Hudson, which is heaved with ice; I attempt to see this world outside the author’s window. She says there is a sound snow-crunch of galvanized steel and I hear the ice breaking and crashing against itself as I walk. Not the sharp sound of metal trash cans, but a scarier sounds of a deluge, a massive melting.
I walk along the curve of the river; I try to hug as close as possible to the shore, now built up with a beautiful park. But if I look out into the middle of the watery ribbon I can imagine I am here alone with the ancient river. The center it is not frozen, the freeze is a trim at the edge. When a boat roars up the river’s spine is causes ripples to lunge out to us on the shore. The water echo causes the ice to rise and fall, the crunch and crash of ice conspires to create terra firma vertigo. I have to grip the railing and steady myself the imagery is so dislocating.
Finally the river calms and the boats heads south and I turn to follow it home. I am clinging to my words clumsily, but I am overjoyed to have ventured forth in the cold to move before hunkering into the horror that is modern air travel.
I wonder, what would it be like, if all the people traveling were carrying poems to memorize? What world would materialize if all the commuters on trains and buses were intoning poetry, if those waiting to switch their cars to the other side of the street were taking in sonnets, how would the world be different?
Friday February 5, 2010
It is spring in Berkley California and I am in the midst of it. I hear it had been raining here for ages, but the sun came with me and today I walked between meetings ogling the daffodils in full bloom. What an unexpected treat to vacation in spring while we wait for a snowstorm back east. A long weekend of soft air and colors, a weekend to make me feel lucky in the midst of the ongoing fear about value and finance.
I am staying with new friends who have a big old Victorian house on Bonita Street. All color and charm. I brought a beautiful bowl I made for them as a house gift. When I took it out of my bag it jumped and smashed onto the floor. Many pieces and I gathered them carefully and looked out the window at the ceramic mosaics surrounding the house. Flagstones, sculpture, there is broken pottery everywhere turned into garden art. I suppose the bowl wanted a bigger life than cereal or soup and now it does.
I volunteered to cook dinner for the couple here in Berkeley. Do people not do that I was told. What else could I do after all they opened their home, to a woman who just started working with them, and they both are working until nearly 8 o’clock? So dinner it was. I marched to the market watching and marking well my route. I picked up scallops and shrimp for pasta and after enlisting the help of another middle-aged gal, who seemed as if she could cook, I found the crème fraiche. I bundled all my goodies into my canvas bag, given to me by the host. They are quick on the uptake of the good ecological things here in the epi-center of liberalism. I began to wend my way home to Bonita Street reciting my poem.
But by the time I got out onto the street it was dark and the world looked different so I walked a block to two, gave lackluster attention to the poem and asked for directions. It is strange to recite a poem about NYC as your most cherished home while wending along the streets of Berkeley. It is quiet and nearly suburban here; there are no noises of trash cans, no horn lifting in a cacophony, which rings beauty to, my poet, a native daughter returning to these melodies.
But I felt how much I love my home, my street as I walked back to the Victorian house. The poem I would write would begin with this sound: hollow hoofs clacking, made by the police horse returning after their workday. They mark cocktail hour, they mark dark, or a rush to finish a project. Their feet or lively at dusk as they know the oats await, while at day’s start they plod away from the stable as sodden as any wet commuter at the prospect of a day at the office uninspired.
I know the sounds of the hawks who nest in the trellis atop the neighboring building, I do not see them, but I hear their shrill whistle and marvel that they are here sharing the street with the ponies, my children and me. My cityscape has sounds of escape for me, which hearken to a childhood of country escape and longing to ride, horse or bikes in any spare moment.
I wonder if my neighbors hear the same sounds I hear. Or is auditory memory as selective as what face we recall, the movies we blot out and those we hold dear.
February 8 Monday On flight home
I didn’t walk as much as I wanted to on this trip as I was in meetings thinking, problem solving and having my brain reignited in a delicious way.
What is it about another city? The horizons are changed, the coffee is different, the neighborhoods are closer or further apart and it all lights a fire in my sprit, which was sodden with the stink of the usual. An affair of geography is a guilty pleasure acceptable to all and oh so necessary.
So as I attempted to learn a poem about a woman’s NYC homecoming I was agog in the virtue of another city. As my poet, named Winter, this month talked about snow crunch, I stopped on every walk to smell the aroma of the fully sprouted narcissus or the bowers of miniscule purple posies hanging in the yard where we met to talk internet writng possibilities.
The mimosas was pouring into the street high above the University of Berkeley when we drove switchbacks making our way to the aerie of my friend’s sister, who bestowed the perfect little house to us for my final night. The aroma and fecund moistness of spring was all around me and instead of learning my poem, I blew off studying in favor of drinking in the deliciousness of having two springs in one year. My favorite season come round twice.
I did recite John Donne every night until I fell asleep, pushing my brain to relax into slumber by tricking it to leave the land of problem solving and idea generating and lull into the beautify of a known world. It worked. Every time I began spinning, running on over-drive I applied the balm of poetry and I was soothed to sleep. In my relaxed state I could hear the chug and whine of the train whistles as they wafted up the steep hillside, and I enjoyed the lullaby of a far off church bells or clock tower plinking out clear high notes on the quarter hour. Change of place, and aroma, ambient sound, food and landscape is a powerful tune-up for my imagination, even if it slowed my poetry learning capabilities. I am going to have shake up the speed if I a going to finish this shortest month with a completed poem.