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
Sixteen years ago this week I was unpacking boxes in my first Austin apartment after U-Hauling it from Ohio with my friend Cynthia. There was a Nissan Sentra hitched to the back and the man who hooked it up said, “From here out out, there is no backing up.” I drove away from Cincinnati in a Rosie the Riveter t-shirt and with no idea what I was heading toward. We crossed into Kentucky and Tennessee, saw the Mississippi running below the bridge and commented on the bad roads in Arkansas. And then I was in the state I’d call home for decades to come. On August 12 I wrote in my journal, “My mind of late is on setting up house, and on bugs. Things flying and buzzing and crawling in this house. Welcome to Texas.” I’m amazed I made it this far.
The photo is from my Cincinnati going-away party, where I was given a cake in the shape of Texas. Really and truly, I’d never felt so special.
August 13, 2015
Make yourself into a tree, into branches and wind and leaves, into safety and sturdiness. If I am ever less than a mountain, writes Lucille Clifton, a phrase I hear again and again when I ask applicants to read aloud. Make yourself into a mountain, into forest, into something that carries on after yourself. My tree, says the girl in the play, my tree that was here before me. Spread your fingers wide. Clamor and call. Sway in the wind. Howl. When you walk across the floor, the pottery on the shelf rattles. Floors made of trees here before you were, pottery made with hands here before you were. Make yourself into a tree. Leaf. Rings. Spotlight. Applause.
August 6, 2015
How you return to it and find the life you were living then — two weeks, two months, two years ago. A time between losses, you said, and within minutes your family erupted and loss of a different kind came at you. And here you are. It is 6am. The week is beginning, a week in which you have so much to do. Then pen you use is the same, the notebook peeled back to reveal more blank pages to fill. What was it you intended to say?
July 6, 2015
Which is not Papa Germano’s in a three-bed room, or her dorm in Brighton where I showed up basically unannounced and stayed for days. Which is not a visit in Evanston or London or San Francisco. Which is not hiking through Muir Woods in her big plaid fleece and rolling my jeans at Stinson Beach to walk through tide pools. Neither is it New Year’s Eve 2000 in her Noe Valley apartment or the weeks before her wedding when we painted metal buckets at my tiny Austin house then planted them with flowers. The deck tonight was not the Ojai hillside where she and Pat married and I read a poem, nor is it a rainy hike in Estes Park. It’s not filling compost bags at the Natural Gardener and then hauling back to my house, not rolling in the grass at Zilker, not tucking petunias into a few final pots for the tables at my wedding. It’s not Florence on the Ponte Vecchio. It’s not an Osteria in Denver. It’s not an Austin coffeehouse sipping cafe au lait under the oaks. It’s this one night in a long friendship, a night in which we pulled steak from skewers and I blew out candles on a birthday cake and we all talked a long time and then L climbed into her lap and said, “I’m tired.”
June 26. 2015
On Monday we smashed potatoes and then roasted them in duck fat until they were browned and crisp. On Wednesday the squash blossoms were so beautiful I had to lay them out for a picture. The frittata sang of yellow. On Friday I sliced cucumbers thin and laid them beside French beans, sliced tomatoes, and purple potatoes. At all there were olives, manchego on a bamboo board, the pickles I made from last week’s cornichons. At all there was conversation around the yellow table with friends I was happy to see. It must be summer break, with dinner at the house and no place else I am supposed to be.
June 12, 2015
It should still be my month of praise songs, so I could tell you about the lamb, charred on the outside into a perfect crust. The crumbly cheese we chipped off into pieces and ate with olives and salami. The bright white walls of the house, and the photos of Turkey, and the inky wine I had to go out and buy myself as soon as I could. If it were still my month of praise songs, I would sing to friendship and conversation, to shared meals at wood tables. I would not stop until I praised the dog circling our feet seeking scraps, the radicchio made tender and sweet from grilling. And the deck, how I would sing to that deck. Downtown bright through the trees, jasmine thick in the air, sitting together sharing old stories until it was late, later than we realized. Oh, the song that I would have sung.
May 2, 2015
At City Hall, Tibetan monks start building a sand mandala that four days later they will dissolve and distribute, pouring their art into palms to be released to the wind. It is like that with live music–drinks on the table, lights focused, picks moving across strings, and the sound gone at the second it is most realized. Praise the moment of creation, and praise the moment after, when all that remains is the memory. Praise Peter Mulvey bringing his full heart to a small stage on Friday night. Praise how he once was a 19-year-old busking on the streets of Dublin with my friend and how he chose, after that, to go all in. No bets hedged. No alternate plan tucked in his back pocket. Nearly 30 years later he is driving from gig to gig–two guys, two guitars, a new song every Tuesday. Praise the tenderness of his lyrics. Praise the high notes, and the low. Praise the Cactus Cafe, which almost didn’t make it yet still remains, every seat a good seat. Praise the synchronicities that brought us to sit with old friends at a round table. Praise chords, words, rapport, all offered up. Praise how we follow them into the moment, into the song.
April 10, 2015
Praise how we keep showing up, all of us, the unschooled and the hopeful in our stiff new dance shoes. Praise those first triple steps, the articulation of the feet, the reminder to glide and not bounce. Keep some energy in your arms. Keep the crown of your head toward the sky. Relax. What looks so easy when others do it becomes a confusion of moves — cross over, off the track, a chest spotlighting a partner. Before we began lessons, we thought we were good dancers. A few weeks in, we discovered it untrue. And then we began again. Leverage, compression, a slight give in the knees. Praise the fresh start, the five, six, seven, eight. Praise how hard it is to keep doing something we don’t do well, and how we show up anyway.
April 6, 2015