Watching a friend’s cat, I let myself in, find the pans hung in their same places, the lights of the wi-fi still twinkling. There is something in the smooth surfaces of someone else’s table, the soft fluff of someone else’s cat with her petite head nudging my hand. Her neediness is not the neediness of my own pets, this mail not my mail to be sorted and dealt with. Nothing new gets added to my lists between these walls. I could sit all night reading a magazine in the brown chair, cat brushing again past my legs. Then later, at another house, a pile of shredded manchego waits, a wooden spoon we take turns using to stir the risotto. The sausage a gift from a friend I don’t know, have no need to thank. I could take a week off just to sort through my home, its piles, its unclipped price tags. But in other people’s homes, nothing is left undone. Over time the rice plumps perfectly. And if the lock sticks as I’m leaving, I don’t mind. Just jiggle it closed and move on.
December 28, 2015
Some days are noteworthy only in their lack of noteworthiness. Granola in the morning. Old pajamas, the cotton worn soft. The computer monitor on the dining room table you know you should move. At the office, there is a spot open in the parking lot. At your desk, nothing pressing. The whole day, nothing pressing. Scratch a line through an item on the to do list. Scratch off another. Drive home through the neighborhoods and rest on the carpet while your husband sautés broccoli. Notice how fat the cat has gotten. Writing circle. Words on a page, written in marker, take you back to the french-fryer at Wendy’s when you were 15. Close the notebook. Listen. At the end of the day, nothing much happened. Exactly as you had hoped.
August 25, 2015
It’s been a decade or more since the house next door was sold, then demolished. The lot was left fallow and empty, then a gigantic new duplex framed and built and landscaped and polished. This cat belonged to the old house, a blue ranch we’ve mostly forgotten. We didn’t know the neighbors, but their dog would climb stairs to the roof and bark at us from on high. The cat, though, the cat stayed behind and began prowling the neighborhood. It grew wild and mangey. It grew skinny and fierce. For years it showed up on our back porch and Chris put out food, water. It wouldn’t come close. One time Chris thought he saw it dead on the side of the road. He picked it up, put it amid the wild plants, grieved. A few weeks later it was back on the porch, peering at us through the window. This cat keeps going, through ice storms and flood warnings and the hottest summer in Texas history. Through construction projects and police helicopters and the dense traffic of Riverside Drive. It hasn’t come around our house for years, but we still see it down by the Bazaar, another place that has survived despite its unlikelihood. Here it is again, with its off-kilter gait and tuft of white and fur growing back in patches. This cat, so long a source of sadness, has now earned our respect. In fact, you might even call it awe.
June 4, 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
I call it the chute, these last few weeks of the semester with final classes and faculty meetings and graduation to plan and a four-day trip to Bard amid it all. I enter the chute and it spits me out on the other side. Truth is, there’s no time in the Free Minds year that I love more. Everything we work for culminates here. And I became fierce about quiet. Greedy. So Tuesday night, no place to be, I gather to myself cat, book, couch, silence. I hold on selfishly. Just for this moment, mine.
May 5, 2015
Some days deny my ambitions to praise. Say, Saturday. The endless headache. The event we planned and few attended. The hovering threat of rain. The kitchen needing cleaning again. It’s when I know I must praise what’s so easy to forget, the house I get to live in or the legs strong enough to carry me through the exhibit. There are daisies blooming in the yard. Remember, there are daisies blooming in the yard. Except that I am thinking of my headache, the poor turnout, how I am again on the couch watching back-to-back episodes of Chopped. And then come the cats. Praise their oblivion to expectations and existential angst. Praise how they know an afternoon on the couch is no great disappointment. Praise the simple satisfaction we feel when Cosmo, aloof prowler of closets, leans his body in and naps. Praise his curled form, his quiet purr, the weight of him leaning against my legs.
April 11, 2015
Saying goodbye to the blue Mixie dress I wore so often, so classic. To the tan wedges I don’t love as much as the other wedges I bought later. To the plaid wool pants i bought at Goodwill and to the Jackie O style blazer I always thought I’d wear and didn’t. Goodbye to those trouser jeans, to lace thongs, to the nightgown I wore after surgery. To the mauve cashmere sweater my mom gave me and the gray sheath dress and the long silk sweater in a bright blue that was never me. It is a luxury to ask, “Does it spark joy?” The virtue, I think, is in making do, making the best of what you have. My friend L and I discussed this when she came over to peruse what I was giving away. She walked out with some goodies — the green cross-body bag, the red one I carried when I drove across the country, a black cardigan with a shawl collar. I’ve set aside a few other piles for others. I can’t go back and un-buy the things I bought, un-accept the gifts I accepted, un-do the accumulation that accumulated. But it sparked joy to see L grab a few fine things, and it sparks joy to imagine the Jackie O blazer being enjoyed by someone else who will find it just the thing. From here on out I will ask “Does it spark joy?” before bringing something new in. And I’ll carry these six bags to the car, then to Goodwill, and send them off to find new homes. Then I’ll pause to appreciate the space I have made, space the cat has claimed already for himself.
March 22, 2015
How thin the line, sometimes, between happy and sad, healthy and ill, charging forth and staying in retreat. I was bullish on 2015. Last year was one of the best of my life, rich in writing, travel, meaningful work, family and relationship. I entered this year the way I’d been entering my boardwalk walks after the Camino — on strong legs, ready to climb. But ten days after being felled by the flu, it wasn’t just my health that was flagging. My spirit flagged too. All those imagined walks and poetry submissions and major milestones at the office slipped into the distance. What was I doing with my life? How had I gotten here? All of it seemed like too much. And so a day in bed–cats sitting in the open windows–resting and recovering my strength. It’s a phase, the lowness, just as the highness is a phase too. But I am back to what Sting told us in the 1980s, How fragile we are. How fragile we are.
March 18, 2015
In Jerry Maguire, she is so fresh-faced and quivery there’s nothing to do but fall in love with her. Who is that actress? I remember wondering when I first saw the movie. She came out of nowhere (like the flu, but not like the flu) and soon she was everywhere. And, confessions, I love that movie, all its questions about love and money and kwan, all its tenderness and rambunctiousness and underlying messages about how hard it is to live with heart and integrity. Go, Cameron Crowe. Go, Renée Zellweger. Bust my heart again, almost twenty years later, on a couch in a city a few thousand miles away (a couch I have spent too much time on this week). As for Bridget Jones (yes, as for Bridget Jones) from the distance of years and fever, I say quit it with the miniskirt. And anyone can see that Colin Firth is not just the nicer guy. He’s going to look way better in middle age.
March 11, 2015