Thursday, September 25, 2008
during my poetry lit class today - discussing the nuances of another of Frost's poems, I realized my wrinkled white linen shirt was popping open around the stomach region. The students realized it too, and those in the front row were visibly embarrassed for me, because I wasn't, so I moved behind the podium and stayed there for the rest of class, not missing a line of iambic verse. Poetry excuses me from formality, but keeps me focused.
The buttons, a soft matting of lace, inefficient for spidering my morning together. And so I used a bit paper clip, the black ones that clamp down on big stacks of papers. Then the class got talking about MRSA, how to avoid it - shower and be clean in locker rooms - and then, I bumbled off to get my picture taken along with other COD faculty/staff for the college's big 50 year anniversary hooplas - and there was the college president, standing next to me in line. I didn't realize that these would be full body shots - I was a natural for the camera, the photog said, well, hell I read enough of those damn gossip magazines every week and have picked up he knack for how to pose. I think the leopard-framed glasses made the shoot for me. Those, and the big fat clip on my shirt.
Here is your poetry lit, creative writing, literary magazine professor. Getting ready to write a narrative of Joshua Tree Park vintage B & W film footage - cinematographer unknown - hoorah! I feel like I get to be on MTV. If in word, thought and sound. She's prone to parking in the 15 minute only loading zone, just to see if she can get away without getting a ticket (she always manages this trick!) Who knows that I buy most of my cool, long India sparkle blouses at the CVS pharmacy for $10 a pop? That I favor leopard-print bras?
It's not a far stretch between autistic and artistic. Not a far stretch between low desert and high. The two blend subtlely enough, Joshua Tree high-fiving it with the top lips of washingtonian fan plams in the so called transition zone. That's where I live. Mingling with all of the homies, I claim no one 'hood. The moveable feast, though now it's desert.
So it's okay to wear a marshmallow shoe and eat red hot candies from the $1 store, not to mention that I bought emergency laundry detergent there, too, and (smile) a new toothbrush.
Tell them Willie Boy was here.
I am leading two lives. The duality's as sharp as the appearances of wealth ( Palm Desert, designer grocery stores, golf 'fits and jaguars combing the streets and aisles) and the dry-rot soul of poverty crumbling beneath/within, as the beneath ground here undoubtedly, already, actually is caving in at various locations due to too much deep aquifer tapping....whoops! There it goes, into the bottom of the old ocean floor, caving in. Payback for filling in the slow-built, expedient "Indian Wells" used by the Cahuilla Indians - very close to my house, actually, though no one knows quite where. Hence, the name of the town next door (across the wall.)
One life is the old weird school teacher. Not old, but faded and outdated. Not weird as much as out of synch with the role, the expectations. I'm a freestyling performance professor. I have lost the ability to care beyond the moment of achieving poetic moments - in the class with my students. Great discussions and insights as we discuss Frost- Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening - one girl says, "I think the narrator is going to dump a body." Another student tells of how she narrowly averted dying in the twin towers, 9.11, before she impulsively jumped on a Greyhound for California, days later. We're getting good original poems out of these frank thoughts and ideas. Students are volunteering each class session to get up in front of others, in the chemistry lecture hall, under the chart of elements and isotopes, the crazy cacophony and crystallized poetic understandings - that's where I've got it going on. I'm not about meetings and committees and annoying secretaries by sending students to check my mailbox or make copies. I'm not about failing to find parking because I was assigned morning classes at prime time, not my choice. I'd rather be online and in the slow afternoon hours.
And the other life is the real me. The writer and editor and sitting at computer fantasizer. I work on the desert anthology, I aspire to the high-wiring of my new lit mag, Phantom Seed, pulling it together, working in tandem with Jeff, my editing/publishing work partner - we're putting a 150 page book together in a few scant days, digging up bios, and preparing for our release reading at Riverside Library! Talk about down to the wire - and we have a few authors reading whose biographies have me nervous - they are really accomplished and I feel like small peanuts next to them! The real me prefers the same stretchy workout tights (two favored pairs,) and to go into stream of consciousness eyeballing of words, metaphor, and language-work. The real me is a movie, is dreaming of how I'll write a narration for the Joshua Tree Park movie I've been invited to script for the UCR-California Museum of Photography! How I'll sculpt and write my Joshua Tree Park book for the affiliate writers residency I just won there. How I'll run the panel discussion on "desert noir" for the Riverside event; how I'll put together the biographies and introductions for the diverse authors of the desert anthology. Speaking and reading engagements left and right, I have a whole new writers life!
A weird time, and like many people, I try not to tumble in the stock market crash. Can I save my home? It's a national forest fire, and the flames are jumping fast without rationale. I'm locked in at a 6% fixed rate, but it's still scary. I am having a hard time enforcing having my 20 year old pay rent - ideally, I should be getting a boarder who is willing to pay $400 or $500 month. I might have to let the pool guy go. I am a single woman who owns her own house, and we're not getting our COLA adjustment at work this year. Makes it especially hard to care about all the extra gizmos they want us to do. I'm just trying to stay clear. Or else I might not see the moon. Light pollution sucks us all blind.
Claremont Library - Sunday, Sept 28th. I'm the featured poet, 2 p.m. I am looking forward to reading, stretching out into some of the newer poems I've written and have not yet read. Things like Mary Jane Cemetery and Dream of the Blue Frog.
California Indian Conference, 2008 - Friday, October 3rd, I'm part of a panel of professors and a Native elder to talk about Indian women's autobiographies. What an honor. UCR-Palm Desert campus.
Hope to see some of you there. Hold onto your houses, and let go, with your dreams. I have stories and poems flooding me, like when I'm sleeping and dreaming, oddly, it's something I can't help - neurosis or genius or both? All I can do is dream it along. It's an honor and it's ruining my professional life. I know colleagues at work look disdainfully, or at best, with a twist of invisibility or even pity - not able to see the priceless and long-coveted, finally-appearing stories I'm fomenting inside. I feel so excited and honored that this is all channeled to me, and yet I pay a price by being a marginalized outcast at the place where I work. I feel like a cripple of sorts, because I am not in the scantron game. If my psyche were limping, it would show. As it is, I'm diving inward. To where the water has seeped, far beneath the holes and inevitable cave-ins.
My characters and stories are old things, older than salt, and younger than me. I knew I'd pay a price to keep it and be real. Writers ARE weird. I'm finally accepting that, in me.
As the poet Galway Kinnell advised- a few years ago, when I met and chatted him up at the Idyllwild Writers workshop: "be slightly cracked in your vision and poetry - not all the way cracked up, but slightly cracked."
This was years after he led a group of my high school students through a "guest poet" workshop at the Scottsdale, Arizona Center of the Arts Young Writers Voice Project- circa 1992, through a poem activity called, "My Mother's Breast."
And upon that pillowed thought, good night.
Monday, September 22, 2008
The 18th annual Thunder and Lightning Pow Wow
Morongo Indian casino fairgrounds
The drum call of the opening ceremonies is amazing! I saw it last year and it was/is a memorable event, with hundreds of dancers from tribes nationwide and beyond participating - all in their awesome costumes and dancing pieces from their respective to-be performances.
It doesn't seem that a year has passed, since I was there. But so it is. It seems we've switched in a week from one season to the next - blessedly. Those last few weeks, the first part of September, were a bitch and a bastard combined. Something about Labor Day - ugh - summer laboring on and on....and suddenly, the first of the San Gorgonio Pass and Coachella Valley pow wows is set to begin.
If anyone wants to go with me Friday night...let me know. I believe it's free.
Sunday, September 21, 2008
Better, all of it. I arch past the arc in the road where, early last October, in another dimension but on the same road and at the same trailhead (where I won't stop today,) I parked my convertible 1989 nissan pulsar (252,000 miles) and departed for a long walk (3 miles or so) to Pushwalla Palms, one of my all time favorite places (think: mud flow canyon walls, dried now, and a mush and tangle of ancient palm trees, coyote scat enough for a canine party, and the rustle of wind in sharp things.) I was with Philip and George. They are both far away now. We had a fun homie triage last fall, getting out every week or more, exploring all of the desert getaways near my home - I was on fall sabbatical, and I learned that the self-working life is the way to go. Primarily meaning, being outdoors as much as possible, losing oneself into the bigger, wider earth, and staying out of small office spaces and primitive, unhealthy air-conditioned buildings - does evil things to one's creative mind. The indoors thing, that is. Outside, and then writing about it.
I knew it was a special time. Even when we had to trail guess when we didn't make it to the car by dark - and when we reached the car, the battery was gone. Had fun with the ensuing fiasco - a desert rat-guy in a small white pickup stopped to help us out - after we flagged him down, that is, risking lives by jumping in front of headlights - he even pushed my dark, headlight-less car from behind with his truck, until I panicked and yelled at him to stop - nothing like getting up towards 30 mph or so on an ink black night in the desert and not being able to see an inch in front of you! Thankfully, wisely, a call was made to Triple A. And Johnny Desert Rat kept on talking, offering to do odd jobs for us at less than $20, bless his heart, and I sent him off, with a $20 for his time.
Just one of many fun outings with my friends Phil and George, fall of 2007. We combed Indian Canyons, hung out in Palm Springs afterwards, hiked Ryan Mountain in Joshua Tree and got pretty blitzed on some good imported beer while parked in the open spaces outside of Yucca Valley, laughing and having way too much fun - Whitewater Preserve - and more. Finally it edged down to me and Phil, and next thing you know we were on a road trip to Sedona and then we were really good friends.
Today is one year from there. The exact duplication of the landscape. Seems not a palm has moved. The pullout is bypassed - not safe to park - but still there. It's hard to reconcile this "changing so slow landscape that I can't believe everything that's changed so drastically in my life this year" - of course it's changing, the palms and weird flow and trickle sound of water and ancient pupfish and cottonwood and desert willow trees near the huge 1,000 Palms Oasis proper - home of the two-room, palm-trunk-hewn former home of pioneer Paul Wilhelm and doubtless, before that, an indigenous peoples encampment - now the visitor center - we're at ground BIG Zero here, the mother of all earth-shifters, the San Andreas fault!
What else could press these dinosaur wet-earth relics to the ground surface, in odd defiance and complete contrast to the extremely harsh land that cradles them? They are so anomalous they resemble smudges of dirt, when viewed from across the valley - these clumps of ancient Washington Fan Palm Trees - so weird that the ones with missing heads look like lost telephone poles - until you realize there is no perspective for phone lines out here - they're just giant, straight-sticking-up logs. Reminders of entirely different epoch in geologic time and history, long before us people set our sorry, emotion and pathos riddled lives here.
Reflecting the ironic, human story - here we are, another election year, and there are no real solutions - seems we're pantomiming all intentions again. The stock market is a disaster, people losing their homes left and right. Gas prices have doubled since this time last year. I have ended one love relationship, entered another, and hang on a cliff-edge with the most recent one, I slammed on my car brakes before I went off the dark road and hit the bottom of a cliff on a twist of the asphalt, or maybe, I am teetering over the edge, like the old 1930's roadster that is in a heap of giant boulders at the bottom of one of the canyons in the preserve must have done on the ill-fated day when it went across the lip of edge. How long did it preside there? Was it a quick drive, or did its' front tires linger for moments, days, until a subtle shake of earth enticed it down to a loud and disintegrating demise?
I park the car in the parking lot. I forgot to mention that, of course, when thieves stole my car battery last year at the trailhead near this main parking area for the big oasis, they also took things out of the back of the nissan - well, the top was off. But a 12 pack of diet coke? Ha ha. There's a big sign here in the main area - a dirt lot - "do not leave valuables in your car." Sad, with the campground hosts' big fat RV parked right here. This is a big break-in area, apparently. Nothing like getting robbed while out trying to decompress from life's mind-frying difficulties. Good thing I'm driving the Toyota; I have a nice car alarm.
I stumble around in the oasis. Two years ago, I was doing research for a collaborative book project on nature and birds, and having so much fun. The place looks exactly the same. There's the bathroom I used. I rebel and vow to find a piece of dirt hidden from view- not that there is anyone around here on Sunday at 6 pm, and summer is still hovering. A dry and warm wind edits thoughts from the north - the first Santa Ana we're getting; fires are now inevitable. And to think that Philip and I made our first real love connection, when we opened our hearts to each other in the late night at ZZYZX Springs on a camping trip, almost a year ago to the day, and that when we stumbled outside in the star sharp night, the fiercest, coldest, driest Santa Ana I've ever felt in the Mojave Desert was shrilling at both our backs, and so, we huddled beneath a blanket to stay warm, and to embrace that sense of safe and calm and desert isolation inside the frightening wind-storm sounds. And next morning, word was out - Malibu was burning, and southern California went into torch-melt from there for the following weeks.
Santa Ana, hold me now. I am lost in a place that is so familiar. The bench to the left, where I brought a desert literature class on a field trip hike, some years ago. The trail where my embittered bird book colleague (long story, but we did produce a map,) set out with good intentions, minds set on research and a relaxing time working together. The side route where I brought my friend Mark from Tucson, against his protestations, telling him, "you have never seen, and never will again see, a place like this," a few years ago when he last came to stay.
That Philip stayed through the brute summer on lockdown in my house with me says a lot. I listen for the sound of birds whose names I should know, but don't. I collapse onto a boulder and stare across the ground: a huge lizard, colors, at first I think it's a snake. When I edge a little closer, he is gone. The big fans on the palms rustle a little more, and the view from between their fingers is a long one, and tan and frosty pink: nothing quite like seeing the little San Bernardino Mountains meet the evening sky. And I see a trail leading to a side grove, one I've never taken before. Even in this place I thought I knew so well. The palms lead me on to a new surprise, and it's one small blink of relief, that something different might be offered me at this close of day. Turn my head the other way, and it looks the same. It's me that has changed, so drastically I don't know if I can blend in with the scenery here as I once so smoothly did.
On to the car, and Ralph's Market near the Marriott in swanky Palm Desert. I'll buy a few frozen pizzas (health food ones,) pick up olives and hummus and roasted red peppers from the antipasto bar ($7.99 lb,) and pick out only a few bananas (77 cents/pound at this location!) My daughter wants fresh-made soup, and the fresh bread looks good. I've already bought my allocation of junk magazines for the week, and read them all. The bars on the cell phone are back on. It's time to make a call.
Saturday, September 20, 2008
A dog starved at his master's gate
Predicts the ruin of the state.
There is no innocent green, golf has puttered your lawns,
spray-washed smoketrees and tan tracts of land
spilling from your wasted hills
but these aren't smoothed, they're harsh and sharp,
good old Santa Rosas, steep enough for bighorn sheet,
toe hoof stones, lightning cut ice face,
our hearts are divided similarly,
into layers of geologic time, one sediment bed of mind,
pressured forever into the memory of logic, religion has lost its toehold in a slivered chink of talk.
There is no formula to crack these rocks,
still water from my topography, the season has gone flat,
lizards scuttling from the sun, and you might ask
why does the moth
love the flame, why does the delicate wing enjoy
the first singe of wing, and then, the opening of
narrow parts, unfolding and expanding, accordion children
of desert blood, a color pale as your skin,
the ridiculous insects in their morning songs,
flying straight towards the sun,
like me to you and a boomerang knocks us from behind
or it might be a bad day on the links, shadow bite of golf
gravity defines us all, the sky will make us burn
but we lie, and lie again,
pantomiming the rituals of the seasonal hunt, and
hoping to see the sheep in their fleets
eclipse a thin line between cool canyon wall and heat
from our position in the danger zone
within each others’ arms, the endless night, the endless nights,
when calves will be born,
then emerge skinless, with your name, no tongue necessary to guide them through the maze
c. 2008 Ruth Nolan
Thursday, September 18, 2008
After a sad separation last night, today brought that first odd sensation, barely believable, but undeniable: that I could turn off my house air conditioner, that the air felt softer and less invasive. The heaviness has lifted. After a hot as boiling molasses, humid (and rainless) day yesterday - felt like August again -, it's clear that the fall equinox is hovering near, and ready to give its transition towards the beautiful, and much-needed, fall and winter here in the low desert of southern California. We don't really have winter. Maybe I shouldn't worry too hard about a pending season that will freeze the oranges (still struggling for hydration - I watered them deeply today) or make me feel iced out and alone, isolated as in summer's heat-wrench, in my house.
I have a career. A house to take care of. Pets. My 20 year old daughter wants to talk to me and is chastising me for what she perceives to be the end result of my poor judgement with people. I am a professional. Important student learning outcome meeting to attend tomorrow morning. Must maintain. And so I try to keep it normal. Check in with my online classes, work on my various literary magazines. Read. Eat. After dinner, ride my bike into the dusk, a nice 10-mile-clip that takes me an hour to complete and guides me through the transition of another twilight into deep night. But I'd rather have gone to play tennis at one of the many public Palm Desert courts I've been visiting at this time of night lately.
I have just picked up my tennis racket and the ball basket that's been in my former tennis-playing family for years and years, since the 70's, the days when we would spend family weekends at Spring Valley Lake Country Club, and where I won the club women's singles champion tournament at the age of 15. I went on to be the #1 varsity player on the CIF-league champion, undefeated team (two years in a row) for Apple Valley High School. But, as things go, life led me into other things. I've played a bit on and off, and admit I have a preference for hitting in poetic meditation against a big, concrete wall - I miss the one at Victor Valley College, where I used to play for hours, in some kind of childlike absorption, and enjoy the breezes that ruffled the feathers of the big cottonwood trees near the track (since, painfully and violently cut down for reasons unknown - the poor, nesting owls!)
But I've lost my tennis partner. I have a very hard time finding someone who is a good match for me on the court. I don't like competitive playing anymore. I want the zen, the poetry, the rhythm, and I have just, after a few weeks of evening netting, been regaining my pulse and swing. I wanted to play tonight, but my room-mate is gone. He left a lot of things, and took others, including a costly video camera I'd purchased from him for $500- out of spite. I didn't know last night, as he left, if I should hug him and try to heal the pain we both felt or to step back and let him go. He is just 23, and we are both baffled and confused about our relationship.
It's my house, "BFD," I say: I'd sign it all away in a minute for the right reasons, because he and I found a perfect match in our desert hikes, in camping trips, going to Deep Creek Hot Springs, Anza Borrego Desert, ZZYZX Springs, poetry readings, even the White Mountains this summer. I am not saying I'd sign the house to him, but I have no reason to want to be in a position, to have wanted to be in a position, of being older, of being the one with more natural incentive to take control, for him to feel humiliated because he hasn't lived those 22 years in between and gone through the extra two decades of developing what we might call a life: a child, a house, a career, lots of pictures of people and places and things he'll never know. And I could erase it all, because it's my life already spent, and today's a new bank balance - the desert is clean, and I'm ready for new adventures and hikes. And desert outings remain cheap, they are the most priceless things.
What brings us together? What drove us apart? I've never experienced a lost star like this - on my solitary bike ride, wishing I was playing tennis, my tall friend opposite me, and so perfectly matched. Hitting just the right way, the right strength, the right shots, and this from our very first time on the court a few weeks ago. Uncanny but so tuned in. The way his chin rested on the top of my head, perfectly, when I put my cheek against his chest. A perfect match. Moments transcending fear, and resentments, a lost tennis ball, a missed shot. Sometimes, though, and often, the ball goes back and forth, over a perfect net, and connects with racket and then racket, passing back and forth gracefully. I circle in again, displaced nesting owl that I am, on something precious, recognizable, instinctive, from my past. As retrievable as the pattern of sunrise to sunset, and again the break of day after the quiet holding of moon and stars. Even in the falling, things fading back into perfect place, my life the dark ocean again, and tennis balls like glowing comets! If only they had tails.
We've both endured so much public scrutiny, in our past 8 or 9 months of what you might call dating or being in a relationship (preceded by about a 6 month friendship) when out and about - am I his mother? I have such a nice son. What is HE doing at a photographic exhibit for UCR-Palm Desert (is he old enough to drink wine, snipes a friend.) Why am I at a hip hop spoken word performance (partially cuz of him, homie, but also because two of my beloved student-performers are on tonight and have invited me and in fact smother me with hugs - showin' me the love in this their thug life!) It's taken a toll. That, and our longing to match up in perfect planetary alignment with: life experience, career, income, and so many other things that fuck up the kind of extra-special something we both think we've shared. I want to be 23 again. He wishes he had the standing and social respect and financial acumen of being 45.
The star winked at me, it was the only one in the half dark and half light sky as I headed west, and a giant bulbous thunderhead reflected the last of the waning sun. It's quickening September and I haven't been this alone in my house since January, when he came to stay. And now he is gone, and his drum is on my room, and his "love and peace" bumper sticker is still on my bedroom door, and I can pretend the angry things he said to me as he packed books and clothes were never spoken, I can close my eyes and, I guess, for no other reason than to try to say something that makes it seem like I can use a cliche to fill in the gaps he left, the odd sky color before the milky way pulses from rim to rim, I can always wish upon a star, and watch the night yield to its many twins. And I did, and I winked back, and then I felt the tears. For the first time since he drove away. And tennis balls go flat, when they get wet.
I say thank you....
to the police for their patience with me in filing their report on Shasta....to Dr. Murphy and his wife, of la Quinta, who took such good care of my dear dog before I located her.....to the several people who called this past week trying to help me find her - who'd seen my poster on my mailbox (I live on a busy street); to Coachella Valley Animal Shelter in Thousand Palms for keeping up their terrific lost and found website; to all the good vibes and good spirits in and surrounding our planet, giving this story a happy ending. Shasta, the healing dog - her spiritual name is "Shanti," which means peace. She's healed me so many times in my life when I've felt and been alone. She kept me going a few years ago when I got really heat exhausted on a long hike out of Horsethief Creek, near Pinyon/Santa Rosa Mountains, and had to gather the courage, in my panic, fear and nausea, to hike up that last, steep hill to the car. She provided Tarah a loving and patient companion whilst T was growing up - even enduring being dressed up in teenybopper clothes! She's a very special dog, and deserves the best.
with love....from me and Shasta
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
I'm the stick of Spanish galleon, hinted at
limb sticking out of phantom canyon,
it might have been anza borrego desert, or perhaps
a bone of bighorn tantrum. and the pool is turning green,
we swim Indians to the white-halled language wards.
carrot cake at work, I finger my way through a white rose,
hovering next to the old scantron machine
it's someone's birthday, sign of the cross
on the genius of fill in the blank
I'm ignoring the bookseller who wants to buy back old books
ghost sleeves every one of them.
we don't need a coat in the desert, arms technique me
with broken glass of the old miner's shack,
derelicts one and all. The jackrabbit,
homesteader of chapparal, my dog in the desert,
tied to a pole
bungee cord on her throat
rescued by a heart doctor who was on his way to shoot skeet
and doubtless break a few hundred thousand intelligences of rock.
What murder do I live
what kindergarten of coffee do I spill before
lurching off to teach another bonehead english class,
while the broken coyote poets vowel their languages
they rummage through the garbage, the ruins of Indian villages in the wash.
imagining they alone taste ancient wisdom,
Custer himself said he knew the game, old body bloat.
Sitting Bull and the white horse. We are related by opposite wings,
and the tension in tentacle and tendon is a difficult thing. Weigh the garden
of the shoulder, lean against the wind
sail inland, the water's warm and not too deep
an easy thing to open basket of wine
let the dark red join the sea, salt your deserts.
c. 2008 Ruth Nolan
Monday, September 15, 2008
The sad and tragic news is that she was found Saturday morning, 24 hours after disappearing from my front yard while I was at work, in the desert, miles from the paved road, way out at the base of the little San Bernardino Mountains, tied to a pole in the middle of nowhere, without shade, and daytime temps nearing 110 degrees. She survived, and I wish she could speak to tell me who abducted her, took the time to buy a new collar, and leave her there without water or shelter to spend Friday night and part of Saturday, tied up to a pole with a bungee cord.
I can only convey that a very good hearted cardiologist, who was out with friends to go shooting that morning, by a fluke discovered Shasta on a side road, already dehydrated and digging frantically in the soil to stay cool. I can't imagine what went through her mind on Friday night, alone out there, with coyotes and wild dogs lurking. My heart breaks for her, and I can only say that the goodhearted doctor saved her life and a piece of my spirit with that.
I can't imagine who would abduct my dog, or why: sweet, lovable-faced Shasta, who is full of god-spirit and sweetness, and leave her to die like that in the dismal heat, alone, and suffering. That a good person found her, rescued her, took her home, took her for a checkup at the vet - as it turns out, the same vet center I always take Shasta and Brindle to see - and had her groomed. He and his wife also generously put a "found dog" ad on the Coachella Valley lost and found page. I'd also put an ad listing her as lost.
This afternoon, I drove to the exquisite gated community of Lake La Quinta towards dusk, when I finally was able to connect with Ann and her husband Dr. Murphy. Into their beautiful home I was whisked, and Shasta emerged from a side room, flanked by their two equally sweet and child-like dogs. Clean, beautiful, and happy, with many kisses for me. I spoke at length with her rescuers, who said they'd planned to give her to a friend who had already fallen in love with her and had recently lost his own beloved golden retriever, were her owner not found.
Shasta came to us as a puppy just about exactly 7 years ago, in September of 2001. She beat a dismal fate before, when she escaped from the arms of a neighbor of hers who was taking her to the pound; Tarah had called me on a vacation I was on and begged and begged to take this special dog - I'd already said no so many times before, to other dogs, but she swore this one was special. And she was right. Shasta was a pup and she was so quiet at first. Tarah had just turned 13. And so Shasta became a member of the family, hiking and traveling with us everywhere. She's been a good companion and best friend to us in times good and bad. She "raised" and "schooled" Brindle in all facets of behavior and hiking from the time we adopted him when he was an adorable, clumsy, big-pawed three months old, and stayed firm with him even as he came to tower over her. In fact, she even has a spiritual name, given by my friend Swami Ramananda, who was touched to tears and the love she showed him (and everyone): Shanti, which means peace.
She's home tonight, very quiet and still in a little bit of shock. She has a cough, although cleared of kennel cough by the vet, no doubt from the tight collar whoever abducted her put around her neck. I hope she knows how loved she is. That I didn't abandon her, that she wasn't nor will she ever be exiled from our family. Brindle is happy, and a little surprised, too. He didn't leave my bed for most of the time she was gone - either on top of underneath. An anguished 72 hours.
Tears in my eyes, and heart-weepyfor the cruelty this world seems to spring at us so randomly sometimes. This is beyond my wildest imaginings. Shasta is one lucky dog, and maybe she'll be able to forget. I extend a big heart-hug to the good heart doctor and his wife for taking such good care of my "little girl" so lovingly, and helping me bring her home.
Sunday, September 14, 2008
21+ directions: www.trapdoorpoetry.com
or call Ruth! 760-964-9767
It's been a tough week for poetry. How about - a tough week without poetry. Worse than a week without pay. My dog Shasta went missing on Friday; Edison company refrigerator pick up people left the gate open and she disappeared. I'm heartbroken. Luckily Brindle was tucked away in bedroom. And to think I was at a beyond-stupid blackboard online learning system training at work when this happened....my poor puppy-girl. I'm heading to the pound right now in Thousand Palms en route to Palm Springs to see if she's there. And....Phil Phonics walks in the door looking cute and nice. Job searching. I just made iced green tea, it's 108 degrees outside, mid-September is a quirky time of year, summer-light, sort of, and always exhaustion for me but I'm sure poetry tonight will be that lift of parachute puffing in the wind, so slightly, from the ground, and I'm wearing a sort of parachute-lift shirt, sleeveless, the hell with cellulite beginnings, it's hot!
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
Here is a link to a recent writeup in the Riverside, CA Press Enterprise, showcasing a summer writers workshop I taught this past few months at the Riverside Library. The workshop is connected with the fledgling Inlandia Center. We're having a public reading and release party for a workshop-spawned chapbook of participants' writing, titled, "Slouching Towards Mt. Rubidoux Manor," designed, edited and produced by me and Jeff Green.
Enjoy the story!
Monday, September 8, 2008
I feel like I've just handed my freedom over to the coast guard and I'm on a loppy ride to south Texas during hurricane season. Where's the mop and bucket? How can a job suck so much life out of me without even trying? I'm damped down in pressure-cured crunch of desert pavement - stuck in clay, natural roadway and parking lot - but rocks move across its surface, unseen and unbidden, but they do, I swear! Sometimes the desert really does provide its own zoo. If you only look at the right times, and don't anticipate too much. Like waiting for your baby to finally - suddenly - crawl - then walk!
I guess I have to have some faith here - faith being that small thing, that narrow slant of light, and find my little bottom water clinging. I'm teaching creative writing and poetry/lit, and that should suffice in itself. It's the other things that nag and rag my concentration - sabbatical presentation and report are due; three online classes that need vigilance; piles of little things to tend to that can't even fit onto a stack of sticky notes for remembering, can I really be ready to retire in my mid-40's? The bottom looks pretty good about now, and the good bits and bones of poems and prose live down there.
My daughter Tarah Jo is 20 and I'm bickering with her to make sure she pays her auto payment - the loan is in my name - and realizing that for every bill I stare at and wonder how to pay, she's got it a lot harder at her age than I did. I was able to rent a small adobe cabin with my long-ago boyfriend for $100/month. We had time to spend with other friends in our age group, figuring out how adult life was to be run. Plenty of space to get crazy in the desert. Parties and cheap living. Plenty of financial aid money, medical help even for those without insurance, food stamps for gettin' through college - which was, by the way, less than $100 a semester when I went went to Cal State...hers is a world of pressured staying-in, too costly to really go anywhere, and the spaces I inhabited are closed in. Hers is a world of kids having to live at home into their 20's, simply because apartments are way too costly. What 20 year old can even afford security deposits on utilities?
I have a master's degree and a tenured teaching job and I can barely pay my $400, summer desert heated electric bill (not to mention the $2,000 for a new air conditioner compressor when the old one decided to go out on August 1st.) Of course you could argue that many people have survived desert summers without cooling systems, back in the old days. But - from what I'm reading - a majority of them, from the Indian inhabitants to, particularly, homesteading women, got the heck out during the summer months, as often and as much as they could. So, there goes that "people used to be tougher" theory! Good thing we have lots of oatmeal and canned foods in the cupboard while I pull the usual struggle to get back on the financial toe-hold after a long, unpaid "teachers really DON'T have it easier" summer! And you NEVER get used to extreme heat! Or oatmeal or rosarita refried beans, even the ones that are lard-free.
Conflictingly, in a hot and cold tug of war with my "instant whale of a job," I'm in the middle of editing a desert anthology for a major publisher, and I am wondering if my assistant, who I've been paying to help me with the technical and time consuming permissions-getting, will walk off the job since I've told him today I can't pay him this month - work I simply have zero time to do, and work that makes me resent the energy allotted in community college teacher housekeeping chores, and course and student overloads. The quota for English 1B, for example, somehow mysteriously jumped, while I was on sabbatical, from 29 to 35, and yes folks, I teach five classes total, and I have a great schedule compared to those who have developmental English classes....of course, I've been here for 10 years and have taught a vast share of tough classes here, not to mention the four years I taught alternative high school - still, so many people are jobless and homeless right now and I know that, somewhat shamefully, I have no room to complain!
Still, "I want to be a writer," and I'm tired of putting that off. Something in my stubborn 40 somethin' self, now with daughter "sort of" grown, has cracked, in fact, shattered, and the rock face has peeled off - revealing a stubborn stare of craggy metamorphic edges, not the smooth granite facade of once what was (think: Joshua Tree rock climber boulders) of what once allowed me to stay even throughout yet another day of putting my dreams, and story-urgings, on hold. I'm raw to the touch and uneven - but this is exactly the stuff of my inner world, now on display for all to see, and ready to be given the words their powerful girth deserves!
And all the while, the desert stares at me, daring me to come on out to see how much more space has been gobbled up by suburban crush, by smog, by tourist overload. Somehow, I can't help but feel that the completion of the desert anthology will be, in fact, my final steps in obtaining an odd and middle-age-crisis type of divorce from the desert - from my "clothes are way too tight" job at C.O.D. -- it's become, my once-familiar homeland, a place to escape - ironic, because I live in one of the #1 "escape" factories on the planet, but it's become a trap for me. I have one book left in me after the anthology, and that's my Joshua Tree story; well, another one, I think, but how to pull that off while I'm being Teacher Me?
I love my students! I hate what's happening/happened to the college system: student learning outcomes galore, mainstreaming of everything and everyone, monotony, number crunching, who CARES about a new desert book? We're just trying to herd students through registration. We don't need writers on our faculty. We just want people who can step in line, teach what they're told, attend myriad meetings to rehash the same old things and same old things and give them a different name (well, that's what writers do, but at least for me, that's much more fun and cosmic, private and individual, and on-my-own-fucking-terms) - Ward Churchill, I channel you - unwittingly but in solidarity!~
Joshua Tree, will your trees survive with gas $4.50/gallon, with a possible vice president who poses for pictures of a dead elk she's just slain with her young daughter and says her church prays away the gays, with your topsoil filled with alien nutrients and odd grasses that limit the odd yuccas chances of survival? Transplants rarely work. Imagine a monument without it's namesake plant. What will they rename it: Joshua Rock or Joshua the Prophet? Build statues in place of the living thing, and hope for eternity. And that's what I want my word-language to be, if I can swim my way to the hidden stones that have been sculpted through some long beauty regime in something that outlives me. I can live minimally off of my canoe, and I have a vintage 1973 Jayco Tent Trailer in the yard, and the hummingbirds seem extra thirsty this week, and I've yet to fill the backyard sugar water, my pool man has had to rig an odd spare pump of his to keep my water circulating because I need a motor I can't now afford, and the shortening days of September aren't doing enough to keep the temperatures down, will summer ever end and bring some type of granite cooling down? Enough to the touch.
Back underwater, 'tis, if only in the imagination. My writing life has not suddenly ended, as I might feel it has, this past week. It only feels like drowning, my face it turned to the sky and I can still breathe, I can still breathe. And maybe, if I'm lucky, go for a swim, baptize myself in the memories of when our desert was underwater, we will be there soon again, maybe freezing a little, and I hope I see a polar bear down there, happy like a zoo, swimming with its joyful and bizarre complexity of white fur and snout, of water-web and deep sea tail paddle, smiling at the universe, or at least seeming to.