Thursday, March 12, 2015

on the phone with my mom

There's my mom, now with an iPhone. 

I have a confession: I hate talking on the phone. This becomes a problem when you move 3,000 miles across the country. And it's even more of a problem when your mom doesn't know how to use email.* I guess college helped me to get into the habit of calling her. I was two hours away, which was close enough to come home just for the weekend, but far enough that I didn't make that a habit. I don't remember now what we talked about in those early days of my living away from home. I probably told her about my classes, she probably told me about the flowers in her garden. I'm sure we talked about my sisters (and that they talked with her about me).

I went through a stage soon after I moved to Los Angeles in which I blamed my parents for all that was wrong with my world. I was 25 years old, and at the time I thought my feelings were completely unique to me - and I guess in some ways they were. But I came to realize that that's a stage that most of us need to go through to separate from our parents, to deal with disappointment, and then to move on. I didn't call my mom as much during this time. What used to be a weekly Sunday phone call stretched to every other week, or more, sometimes just once a month. I asked my mother at least once why she didn't call me in the interim. "I figured you were busy," she replied. I couldn't tell if the hurt I detected just on the edge of her voice was really there or if it was just that I wanted to hear it.

More than once I talked to her about love. That was when I was younger and more reckless about the whole venture. The time I broke up with my boyfriend two days before Christmas, and he was supposed to come home with me for the holiday, I called her before my trip to tell her. "Oh, Betsy," she said. Later, desperate to connect despite the 3,000 miles and young-adult blame that spanned between us, I told her about boys I liked and wish would like me. She responded mostly with non-verbal affirmations so that I could tell she was listening, but little else. I wonder if she knew how lost I felt trying to navigate those friendships and feelings, and if she felt just as lost trying to keep her ever-leaving daughter close to her.

At some point, showing up for our phone calls seemed to get easier for me. They started to not feel as much like an obligation as a healthy discipline. And as I get a little older and less self-absorbed, I realize our conversations are really so valuable. A few months ago we started talking about my aunt, who at age 67 is living in a nursing home with advancing Alzheimer's disease. My mom and I didn't talk much about this when it first happened - when my aunt and her husband sold her home a few years ago and moved into assisted living. My mom told me about her visits with her older sister, and why sometimes she avoids visiting. She told me how my aunt likes to look at old photo albums but stays mostly quiet, while my mom makes small talk with her sister's husband. My mom told me how she started to see the unraveling of her sister's memory as long as 7 years ago, around the time my Pop-pop died. Now I can't imagine what that must have been like for my mother - to lose her last living parent, and then see that her sister was leaving her, too.

It was February then, the ground all around my mom still frozen by the long, cold winter nights. A few days after the funeral, I hopped on a plane back to Los Angeles, to my life in the sunny distant horizon, where she reached me every couple of Sundays on our weekly phone call.

*My mom still doesn't use email, but she does text. With emojis.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

morning run

My morning runs are dark again, thanks to the time change. I used to hate running in the dark - it just made everything feel a little more tricky and a lot more lonely. But now I like how still the darkness feels. Only a few cars are on the streets and only a few people walk the mostly-empty sidewalks.

This morning, I chose a route that took me into a nice neighborhood, then down a hill that's lined with dirt and trees. That's the closest to nature I can get in a 5 mile loop in my neighborhood. A bunny rabbit hopped out of the trees just ahead of me, then made a mad dash across the street and back into the woods.

At an intersection a mile away from my apartment - closer to city blocks and traffic lights - I stopped and hit the walk button, then waited, hands on waist, breathing heavy. A man I had just passed as he walked by the trash can and bench at the corner came up behind me and said, "I thought you'd stopped running, I never see you out here any more!" His face was all smile. I explained that I moved a while back and don't run over this way as much as I used to. He laughed and said he was glad to know I'm still running as he turned the corner to keep walking up the street. Then he turned around and said, "I'm Jerry, by the way."

I told him my name and smiled back. A few seconds later, my light turned green and I ran across the street. It was still dark and quiet for my last mile, but also a little brighter after meeting Jerry.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

the one guest

She who reconciles the ill-matched threads
of her life, and weaves them gratefully
into a single cloth -
it's she who drives the loudmouths from the hall
and clears it for a different celebration

where the one guest is you.
In the softness of evening
it's you she receives.

You are the partner of her loneliness,
the unspeaking center of her monologues.
With each disclosure you encompass more
and she stretches beyond what limits her,
to hold you.

-The Book of Hours: Love Poems to God by Ranier Maria Rilke

Thursday, January 22, 2015

stay in the light

I've been paying lots of attention to the light recently. During the day, I'm stuck in a my new office that doesn't really have windows, so all of the light we see is artificial. Then I walk to my car and see how the setting sun gives the sky its gold hues, reflects pinks of the clouds, and turns the mountains to purple and deep reds in the distance. The whole ride home the sky gives me a show.

Today, I was going to escape my cube and eat lunch outside, but the temperature wasn't reliable, and I'm already cold. So I found a new nook by the large windows in the lobby. The seat was warmed from the light. I ate salad and read some assigned stories for a class I'm taking - fiction and poetry, which is a relief after some of the technical science I read for work. It might have been the words, but I think it was also the light that helped me feel something different. I had some new ideas, whereas recently I've felt a bit stuck and uninspired creatively. Even these words now are coming slowly and a bit stilted. But today was a direction: stay in the light.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

waiting for seeds to be dropped

The year has started off a bit stark for me. I sat pen in hand, prayer on tongue, eyes on the sky, but not much came in the way of lists or brainstorms or hopes for the new year. So I'm taking a cue from the earth: just let it sit fallow for a while. I think I've written about that here before -- how in some parts of the country, the empty branches and snow-blanketed grass feel like perfect company for this time of year. Because somewhere under there, the ground is turning, preparing to nurture all those seeds to be dropped in the upcoming months.

2014 held some big (dare I say life-changing?) moments for me: attending a writer's conference, traveling to Kenya, finishing a marathon, and another big one I can't quite announce here yet. And there were also some important commitments that I made -- like writing every day in May, like running every day between Thanksgiving and New Years Day, like refusing to tiptoe away quietly from every scary conflict that arises in me or with friends. These were daily decisions to stay the course, decisions that are still driving me forward today. 2014 was a field full of harvest. So my instinct was to quickly plant 2015 with the same. And yet every single gift of 2014 grew and appeared in its time.

And so an empty field is before me, and soon I will turn it over and let the planting begin.

Monday, December 22, 2014

i have some reading to do

The other day Goodreads sent me my own personal 2014 review in books. Right there in the introduction was the number of books I've read all year: 13. Thirteen? That's just one a month, plus another. Wow. That means I marked only one book as read each month, and I'm sure I put a average of 3 or 4 on my "to read" list in the same time. In other words, I have some work to do.

Making me feel especially behind are all these best books of 2014 lists. And even though I feel overwhelmed when I read them, it's the good kind - the kind that makes you fill up that to-read list and hope that the new year will be full of Saturday afternoons in stretchy pants with a mug of something hot and a good book, half-read (that's the best place to be in a book) in hand.

Here are some of my favorites:

The Definitive Reading List of the 14 Best Books of 2014 on the Brain Pickings Blog

Writers share what they read this year on The Millions

NPR's Book Concierge (I could get lost...)

A round-up from Huffington Post

Happy reading!

PS If you have a list of your own, or find a favorite list, link in comments.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

before they move away

When you live in Southern California, you get accustomed to certain parts of life: June gloom, celebrity sightings, incredibly un-functional fashion. And people moving in, and then moving away.

Another of my good friends is moving, and the decision came quickly (though the option was simmering for longer than I knew). It's not just one friend who's moving, actually, but a family - a woman, her husband and their dear nearly-one-year old son. I've been rooting for them to stay, but even more I've been rooting for their joy and nurturing. For now, moving to a place with some better job options and more family is that.

So I'm doing what I've learned to do in my ten years of living in a transient city: helping them wrap up their time with us as best I can.

Last night, that meant watching their son as they packed. I was really looking forward to this because, have you ever been around a one-year-old? I mean, getting them to eat or take a nap can be tricky, but all I was tasked with was being with him so his parents could get some things done. I was told this might include some snuggles, and I knew there would be some giggles, so I was all in. After arriving and catching up with my friend, I was led to the little guy's bedroom where we'd hang out for an hour or two. And then my friend closed the door and I was like, what the heck am I doing?

I mean, we read two books, played with his basket of shoes, found a few blocks. I found some tickly spots on him. I tried to talk to him because I heard that's a good thing, and tried to help him clap. But for that first stretch of time I felt a little bored, and then felt bad for being bored when I was with this incredible little guy. The thing about a one-year-old is that most activities don't last too long, so I felt like I was constantly looking for something new to entertain him with. And then I was trying to entertain myself. I reached for my phone but remembered I'd left it in the other room (and was then grateful for that).

Eventually we settled in. We played alongside each other, and I tracked him as he crawled to see what it was that he saw, what he was crawling toward. He made a few grunts and I imitated. We danced around a little bit. I treasured the moments he wanted to touch my face or be held or laughed. Soon I was done trying to distract him and myself. I was close to just being with him.

And then his mom came in and like that it was time for bed. He and I, we gave each other a snuggle-hug and I said goodbye (though not for the final time, that's not until next week). The good thing about living here is definitely not the seeing people move away. But the gift of having them move in, even if it's not forever, is something that can last.