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beginnerdom

Make a start. See what happens.

Body scan, then write

Foot on the gas, the brake, gas brake gas brake. The echo of it in my right shin.

“Uh-oh!” I said out loud when the truck in front of me didn’t begin moving the instant the light turned green. The old Boston driver coming back. The only place I’ve ever been aggressive: behind the wheel.

“Uh-oh!” The most passive-aggressive phrase I could have mustered. Northern California has fully infiltrated the psyche but not the body. Another four seconds and I would have driven under that truck. As it was, I maneuvered a dangerous swerve around its right flank it as it made its perfectly timely, perfectly safe, perfectly unrushed left.

Me, though: gas brake, gas brake. Rev rev stop. Rev. Stop. Go go go. We’re supposed to be going now. Drumming my fingers at every red light. Every meal. Every episode of Jeopardy that counts as quality time with my husband. Every moment of lying in bed, not asleep but too tired to accomplish anything of note. Scroll, then. Shop. Hypnotize self with a reality show in miniature. No use reading: my eyes simply scan the words while my mind whirls. The flywheel again. It doesn’t stop. Too much momentum. Too much to do. Too much.

Gas brake. Gas gas gas, rev, rev, motor uphill, careen down. Brake for the turn, or not. List sideways and nearly tumble off the cliff. Careful!

A few days ago I heard a silence so silent I knew it was the earth speaking. No other voice could be that deafening. My shin bones become the stalks of the redwoods, the columns of the cathedral, the ode to the everything. Equal weight, gravity. They know no brake, no rev, only reverence. They stand in holy stillness.

I always felt I must

By Tess Bradley

I always felt I must change.And I reason that this is not only a function of my family conditioning, or A-meritocracy or some larger socially constructed system where internal pressure is spawned by the outside. I am somehow convinced that I must change because I am evolving.

I want to pull off the velcro of my past. I want to pull the past off of me with a loud, satisfying noise that rips open like a rain rattle, like the single most satisfying belch ever to light up the inner esophageal and intestinal universe. Bbbbbrrrrrrraaahhh!

I’d become an air plant. I’d be one of those seedlings that can fly! A dandelion daughter protégé. Set up a second life as an expatriate to this continent, this island, this Earth.

I always felt I must change.

Memorize the capitols, start each day with reading the news, breathe through my diaphragm, and get married. Knowing I’ll do none of these things, and the tension building.

Completion is a point on an arc. I must follow that arc. First, I must build the Arc. I must believe that two by two I will be saved by God through following his explicit diagrams.

Let me fill in some of these holes! I see my mother bracing and astounded as I speak at the table to her friends.

This desire to change and the pressure to be-someone-who-is-complete shoot me out of a canyon again and again.So how can I blame myself for flying over your head?

When I Get Home

By Jan Martinez

What is the feeling of home? That quality that confirms we’ve landed safely and gently into some sacred, familiar ground? It’s a worthy question and one I ask because how else will we know? It isn’t just the shape of the door through which out bodies and hearts can pass so easily. It’s much more than that.

I recall my second, or was it my third, trip to Ireland, landing to familiar air and moisture, landing into an abundance of greenery. Then falling into that soft bed in that chilled room, the radiator oh so slowly pumping out heat to penetrate the cold. But in that space I felt the lyrical hug of the entire island envelop me. Home, I felt.

Or the second time I visited Bali, leaving Denpasar, driver circling statues of Gods I didn’t know, but who maybe did know me. That mixture of smells—exhaust fumes, incense, smoky champaca filling the air, the regular offerings of reverence. And even as we’d landed physically after 36 hours of travel, I felt home.

Here, surrounded by my 100-year-old lady of a house, I feel it most intensely. The way her creaks and quirks have settled into my bones. The way her corners have softened to allow me to slip easily from one place to another, as if swimming. She trips my husband up every now and then, just for fun. She has that sort of sense of humor. 

Here I feel safe; I feel free. Expansiveness and coziness coexisting. One day I may have to leave. So I have to know, have to believe, that whoever Home is, I’ll be able to carry her with me.

Splendid Imperfections

By Rosslyn Chay

The clouds—
ever changing—shape-shifters
gaining bulk then losing weight, then drifting high
above the atmosphere into the ether.
Imperfect beings made to perfection.
Imperfect
to any minds with no space
for fluff. It’s bound
to bump into someone
who sees it as imperfect,
deems it as imperfect.
But imperfect
belongs not to it—
a title, a label, put on it by another
who’s clouded in the mind.
A puff without integrity
or a billow of full potential?
As it glides across the sky—my pocket
of sky framed by the window—it boasts
its full glory, baring its shadows,
taking up space, un-
reservedly, un-
hurriedly, un-
apologetically filling
the sky, blanketing it.
How splendid this perfect being dons its imperfections.

Go on, announce your presence:
Roar and rain.

The moment I knew

By Jan Martinez

The moment I knew the story of prune juice was in some ways tragic, came after my father died.  When I realized perhaps that I would never hear this story again, as I had every year for most of my adult life – every Thanksgiving.

Dinner finished, we would all clear our plates, banishing the carcass of the turkey, the dried remnants of green bean casserole, and the white dish, now empty, of sweet potato soufflé, scraped so clean that if put on the wrong side of the sink, it might not get washed at all.  Then we’d regather for pie – pumpkin and pecan – homemade, with Cool Whip straight from the tub.  We’d bring our decaf coffee, tea, port, or wine and sit again to listen to my father tell the story of prune juice.

It happened when my dad was at school in Texas, recently from Mexico.  Thirsty at the bus stop, he’d been given enough change to buy the only beverage available.  A 12-ounce can of prune juice.  He was still thirsty and by some miracle, enough change appeared for him to buy another can.  And another.  And another.  Yes, 48 ounces of prune juice, while waiting for a bus that would never come.

By now, halfway through our pie and coffee, everyone including my dad would be laughing and cringing, as one of us would ask, “what comes next?”  What does come next, on a three-mile walk back to school with 48 ounces of prune juice along for the journey?  What indeed.

My dad would describe the in-town hotel washroom, the abandoned derelict house, and even a dormitory bathroom that would never be the same.  

It’s a funny thing… If this had happened to me, I’d probably never touch the stuff again.  Yet as I look back on the many years of this story, abdominals cramped from laughing (not prune juice) I recall that as long as I can remember, there was always a giant bottle of prune juice in our fridge.

For reasons known only to them …

by Laura Hughes

For reasons known only to them, some people have endless energy. Not me. For reasons known only to them, some people think COVID’s not a thing. Not me. For reasons known only to them, some people think COVID is a thing, but are still willing to travel freely. Not me. And, frankly, I am pissed off with all of them.

I have two weeks off. Well, it was three – but one has already gone.

I’m not vaccinated – well – I half am – but not enough to count for anything, despite an ouchie arm.

And, none of my plans are penciling out.

Can’t get on a plane yet… at least – choose not to. Certainly can’t go home – not allowed. Not sure I feel safe road tripping to places where governors that I consider mildly insane, or just fucking irresponsible, or stupid – take your pick? – have removed mask mandates, or are about to. Not sure I feel safe visiting friends who work with other humans, even if masked. Can’t spend some ungodly amount on a rich person’s over priced airbnb, or at least I’m not willing to. Not excited by the pacific northwest. Not excited to drive 3 days. Wanting warmth. And stuck. Out of options.

But, most desperately, don’t want to stay here – stuck in the same damned rooms, the same damned walls, with the same damned books, the same damned everything as the last 13 months and 2 days. Not even with a weather forecast that might be sunny, that might hit – oooh – 70.

And all I hear is the timer ticking in my head. Make a damned decision Laura. Just do something. Anything. Because this time in 2 weeks you’ll be staring down the barrel of infinite days, weeks, back at this desk. Back at this screen. Just do something. Anything. Get outside. Go explore. Be free.

In the last week or so, all my patterns have come to the fore, in sharp focus. The abject terror of my freedom being constrained. My hatred of grey. My idealistic daydreams and my deep disappointment that the fantasies I construct in my head are not reality. The fear of boredom and mundanity. The narrowing feeling of having others place constraints. The envy of what others do, what others have, what others create. The desire to be adventurous. The desire to stay safe. The question of whether I’m overly cautious. The curiosity about whether I’ll ever have energy again, whether I’ll ever leave the house, whether I’ll ever feel comfortable. The fear that this is all I am now – my world stuck in small.

The Secret Path

by Anna Rich

The secret path.
The one obscured.
The one I’ve been silently treading around my own heart.
Silent footfalls on moss that double back over themselves again and again.
What am I looking for, walking all around and around my heart?
A secret door?
To climb some crest and finally understand it all?
To see the way in?

Maybe it’s time to just sit down on the soft earth of my heart.
Take off my shoes and spread out my toes in the moss.
Lie back and roll around a bit to get comfortable.
Smell the fresh dirt and plants.
And wait until I’m subsumed, grown over,
and I slowly sink down and become one with my own heart.

What I Thought I Heard

What I thought I heard him say was, “Don’t worry.” So I didn’t. I haven’t. “Don’t take the wheel,” said the voice. “Don’t steer. Don’t figure it out. Don’t navigate. Don’t aim. Don’t want. Don’t plan. Don’t worry.”

What I thought I heard her say was, “Rest. Stay here. Plant yourself beneath the ground. Don’t sprout. Don’t reach. Be at ease. Don’t appear. There’s nothing for you to do here anyway. Stay warm. Relax.”

What I thought I heard was “You needn’t bother. It’s plenty enough that you beat somehow beat the odds, broke through, landed. Now stay where you are. We will do the rest.”

What I thought I heard was a faint bell off in the distance. I thought it might be ringing for me. Inviting me home to the cathedral of all I was ever meant to know.

But I passed it off as a hallucination. Even as it rang again, and again. Ringing in my dreams, chiming me awake each day.

What I thought I heard was a whisper that said, “Come. Get up. Move. Trip over what’s in the way. Make a mess. Break a heart. Know yourself. Love another. Spread out. Get comfy. Stay.”

What I thought I heard was the brush of a felt tip across the pulp of a long-dead tree—the voices of those who, with regret in their hearts, felled the plants and brewed the chemicals and made it possible for me to write these words. To transcribe the whisper so that it is real. So that it is no longer a hallucination.

What I thought I heard was a gentle alarm: There’s only so much time left. A caring challenge: So what’s it going to be?

What I thought I heard was the pop and crack of my long-hunched spine as I finally pressed my feet into the warm grass and stood upright. The bells were clear now. Constant. Beckoning.

It’s no thought: I hear them.

I begin to walk.

What I thought I heard

by Jan Martinez

What I thought I heard him say was, “I don’t eat bees.”  I was on the phone with my dad several years ago, when cell signals weren’t as reliable as they are now, inching my way eastward on Walton Blvd toward the Livernois intersection where Rochester Hills became Rochester and home.  

I’d had a particularly tough day of negotiating with Purchasing at one of the Big Three automakers.  My buyer, whose initials were M.D., aka Doctor, had accused me of falsifying information, insulted my intelligence, and thrown me out of his office.  My father, the only other family member who’d worked in “industry,” immediately understood and informed me cheerfully that all Purchasing agents were going to Hell.  I laughed, delighted that Doc, who gave me such Hell, might one day figuratively go there, at least for a visit.  

We’d moved on to produce, groceries, and my stop at Whole Foods, always a mood lifter, when my father had announced, “I don’t eat bees.”  

“Bees?”  I asked.  Of course you don’t eat bees, I thought.  No one eats bees on purpose.  Maybe bears when foraging for honey, but they’re after the honey, not the bees.  

“Fleas!” he insisted. “I don’t eat flees.”  Of course.  No one eats fleas on purpose either.  Maybe dogs, accidentally.  
I had eaten a termite once, on purpose. But it was offered to me, and so it seemed the honorable thing to do.   I was visiting a camp along the Tambopata River, a tributary to the Amazon.  We were about an hour out from Puerto Maldonado, Peru, when we stopped at a small jungle farm.  We met the farmer, his wife, and two small children in their shorts and once-white t-shirts.  After a tour, we’d been offered a fresh cacao bean, the white pulp tasting like a delicate, floral chocolate grape, a slice of papaya, cut with a machete used to cut everything, and a termite.  A tiny wriggling creature, not at all like the winged house-devouring giants of the Midwest.  I was the only one in our group to eat the proffered termite.  There was such warm sincerity in the offer of this humble household staple.  It tasted both dusty and minty — ochre brown, somehow, the way tannins of the river wash everything brown over time.

“Fleas?” I asked my dad.  “Peas,” he insisted, or “beans.” By now I was crawling past the high school, where a friend of mine said she’d taught theater arts to Madonna in the ‘70s.  Yes, that Madonna.  I once saw a newspaper headline that proclaimed, “Madonna, Live from New York City!”  I bet that pissed off Kid Rock, Ted Nugent, and the whole mitten-shaped state.

“Beans, Dad?  I see you eat beans all the time.”

“Seeds!” he shouted through some miraculous shift in cell towers.  Like my commute, it seemed the world wound down to stillness and in that stillness came focus.  And something else like sadness, regret, or humility.  I’d been chatting happily about bread, Seeduction bread, which was full of seeds:  pumpkin seeds, poppy seeds (earthy and a little dusty – a bit like termites without the mint), sunflower seeds, whole millet, tricolor quinoa…  and this bread had seeduced me from day one.  This had been the item I was most looking forward to if my commute ever ended.

Here’s the thing, my father had given up nuts and seeds many years ago after recurring bouts of diverticulitis – excruciating and sometimes requiring long courses of antibiotics or hospitalization.  We all knew.  Even so, he’d started introducing himself to friends and strangers as, “Hello, my name is Inocencio Martinez, and I do not eat seeds,” something like, Mandy Patinkin in the Princess Bride:  Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die. It had all become a family legend, and here I was babbling about a bread that was chock-full of seeds.

I’d finally cruised through the Livernois intersection and was nearing the hospital, walking distance from home, as another family legend surface, far older than the diverticulitis that had stricken somewhere in my dad’s 60’s.  This was the one about all the epic ways my father had experienced being misunderstood since coming to this country in his late teens.  There was the airport van driver who asked my father “what airline?” to which my father answered “Delta.”  Repeatedly.  Somehow this mono-tongued, mono-eared, driver managed to hear and respond with:  Malta? Northwest? TWA? Air Lingus? before finally conceding that my father had said, “Delta.”  In Atlanta, Delta’s hub, no less.

Personally, I only speak English fluently, but I do speak some Spanish and some German, but moreover, I have a curiosity about languages and an uncharacteristically high level of patience when it comes to listening to people whose first language isn’t English.  At the time of said commute, I didn’t think in terms of “being seen” or “being heard,” but I knew its presence as a felt sense of safety, warmth, belonging.  And I knew its absence as a queasy, off-kilter quality of misalignment.  So empathy bloomed in my chest whenever I encountered immigrants or visitors struggling to be understood in the face of the American Linguistic Cyclops.  It still does.

“Seeds, he said again, “I don’t eat seeds.”

“Oh!  Seeds…” I laughed a little sheepishly.  In the space between strong cell signals I had become a Linguistic Cyclops.  “Yes, Dad,” I backpedaled, “of course, I know you don’t eat seeds.  I also bought some great pumpernickel – caraway all ground up – and the biggest jicama you’ve ever seen.”  I paused for a moment, by now turning into the haven of our neighborhood, and went for the save, “Hey, how’s Mom anyway?”

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