“Everyone deserves a chance to walk with everyone else.” — “Hero,” Family of the Year
I spend my third day wandering and remembering how wandering connects me to my creativity. Seven miles in and around the city, past the crowds and down quiet pathways. Out the boardwalk and into the city center, onto a stool at the counter of a loud diner where I read The Sun and drink coffee. Into a store or two and back out, down past the construction cranes. Then I sit with a watermelon agua fresca at the cafe of the disgraced cycling star and the story begins to come. It’s like it was when I was a graduate student, me and my notebook and a table somewhere with the music I didn’t choose piped in above. Words on paper that might become something. On a Sunday afternoon in almost-summer Austin, I am one of many women in a tank top and skirt, cap on my head, women on bikes and on foot and walking with daughters wearing the same outfits. We have somewhere to go, or nowhere to go. Later, on the Congress bridge, I help two older tourists find their way to a CVS. I walk past so much of my history up on the hill and through the streets of Travis Heights. Back home I lie on my bed, cats at my feet, looking for the first time at the paper. I’m not ready for the book review, for all the novels I may or may not read this summer.
May 31, 2015
It’s a romantic idea, the writer at her desk behind the house all day, hammering out the work while the rest of the world keeps throttling forward. But here at my own private Yaddo, day two, it doesn’t feel romantic. I am fighting the urge to straighten the papers, vacuum the rug, spray cleaner over the whiteboard to make it pristine. Instead, I sent submissions into the ether to readers who may or may not want to read them. I ran the cranky air conditioner and waited out an afternoon rainstorm. A mosquito snuck through the door after me and buzzed my ears. My backyard studio isn’t Yaddo, even if I will it to be. But it’s where I spent the day, engaged in this thing that is sibling to the thing the real Yaddo-ians are engaged in at their cabins in the woods, romantic cabins where they surely feel nothing but productive and alive. So I finished the day streaming back-to-back episodes of Girls to see how they handled the writing workshops at Iowa. Like my day, it was way off and reassuringly familiar all at once.
May 30, 2015
My friend has gone to her cabin in the woods and I am cheering her all the way. My husband wanders the early morning streets of Culver City, unable to sleep in a new time zone. Another friend carries my backpack for a hike in Yosemite. Next year my mother will cruise to Bora Bora with her own room on a ship that serves afternoon tea. And this weekend I am home alone with cats and mosquitoes and the studio I love best and not a plan in the world besides having My Own Private Yaddo, right here. I make my list early, these things I shall do:
In Day 1, I manage the first four, and while I walk, the city keeps being a city and a shopping cart tilts in the river.
May 29, 2015
It was a week of waters coming in, homes floating away, mud washing across the streets. We are woken in the middle of the night by thunder, then the human responses to thunder – cell phones sounding alarms, blaring messages of flood warnings. It could have been me. It could have been any of us off in those houses in Wimberley. I was shopping cabins on Airbnb only days early. And all of this writ small on my kitchen table: CSA tomatoes and a ladybug. (Earlier this week Julie announced a centipede in the radicchio, the sentence like a secret code.) The earth asserting itself, reminding us we are not separate, we cannot be separate. By morning the bug had crawled to Chris’s side of the table. He picked it up and carried it outside again.
May 28, 2015
Came home to music from the brown room, Chris with a guitar and microphone. Cats as his audience. Cats climbing, entering, inserting themselves. Cats, we imagine, dancing inside.
May 27, 2015
Before they unlock the doors, I loiter outside the tea house. It’s a new feeling, this arriving early, beating the traffic instead of sitting frantic in the middle of it. Inside, every table is set with white napkins. Plates are stacked, teapots in their shiny stainless steel lined up and waiting. Scones, so many scones. And spoons, and ramekins of jam, and rice paper soaking for spring rolls. The diners will come. The time will come for me to head to a doctor’s appointment then meetings then emails I don’t feel like sending. The week will begin. And my omelet—mushroom, tarragon, goat cheese—will be the first they make for the day.
May 26, 2015
It was roads becoming rivers, homes becoming boats, sky becoming midnight dark in the mid afternoon. It was the whole city in front of the tv watching Jim Spencer cover the weather. Tornados to the west, to the north, to the east. Cropping up. On the ground. Sweeping through. It was alarms going off in the studio and in the house. Johnson City, get in your safe place. Marble Falls, get in your safe place. Cedar Creek. Bastrop. LaGrange. Never before. And the rivers overflowed and downtown became a flood and dumpsters floated on Lamar. And one young guy in cowboy boots clung to a fence outside the football stadium and the whole city watched him being rescued in a boat. And Jim Spencer led us through. Don’t worry, he said. Put as many walls between you and the outside. Turn up your tv. You will be okay.
May 25, 2015
Marie, Jennie, Norma, and Pauline (squatting) at the Grand Canyon, 1946
Those years I worked on the book about my grandmother’s cross-country road trip, I thought I knew what I was doing. I had found the story my writer self had been waiting for, the story of women and travel and legacy, of America in two different generations, of the pull between home and away. I researched and planned and dragged myself and some friends over 7,500 miles of the country because I thought I knew what I was doing. I was writing a book. Almost a decade later, there is no book. But there is today’s phone call with Marie Spino’s grandniece, who discovered something of her aunt in the blog I kept about the trip. A few years ago it was Norma Fontanella’s grandniece I was talking to. These women who didn’t have children are still fascinating to the women who came after them, just as my grandmother is still fascinating to me. And after the phone call in which I found out about Marie’s impeccable home, her frankness, her years at the Fairfield Dress Company and ultimate return home with just a suitcase, I realized I may not have been writing a book after all. I may have been creating the space for women today to connect to women then, women who were ahead of their time. Maybe that is all, and maybe enough.
May 22, 2015
So I find myself on the other side. Weeks of work and travel and endings and goodbyes and then that long day that culminated in a standing ovation for our students who had finally finished, who had done it all and wore caps and gowns and red medals I placed around their necks. It was over. The hugging and the racing and the planning and the doing. At my desk in the next morning I was bleary, puttering through simple tasks, talking nonsense with Amelia as we struggled to stay in the office long enough to look respectable. And then I headed home. By the mailbox, gulf fritillaries hovered near the Gregg’s mist. The air was thick, the winds gusty with another storm blowing in. And yet this butterfly landed on the lavender flower and stayed. And then, when it had its fill, it fluttered away.
May 19, 2015