Friday, February 27, 2009

Metamorphosing in My San Pedro

Yes, we are. How can I not be at least a little bit in love with a place that advertises itself this way? This is at the grandly named "Galerie d'Arte" near the foot of Gaffey Street, across from the Korean Bell. it makes me smile.

And the sign suits the flavor of this visit, during which I've attempted to seal the deal with my recovery, taking long daily walks, getting lots of work done, eating right, breathing the therapeutic sea air, preparing for the next set of adventures, whatever they are.

Today, I sent out a packet of poems -- the first time I've done that in ages -- to a magazine that still won't accept electronic submissions. There was something nostalgic and comforting about printing off the poems, enclosing a simple little cover letter, and enclosing an SASE. Just like the old days. It's nice to retreat to something that hasn't changed: the mechanism for sharing an old, enduring act of hope.

Here, then, is a salute to the restorative effects of my spring break in San Pedro and, for all of us, a life of robust and creative transformation.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Latitude Loyalty and my Grandma In Compton, 1960

Up in the middle of the night, even by Michigan time, I check the Flint weather on and see that it is 7 degrees there and "feels like 7 degrees," a distinction that escapes me, except that it's damn cold. Looking ahead to the seven-day forecast, including the day I'll be back in Michigan, things don't get much better: partly cloudy most days, the temps in the twenties and low thirties. I wonder: why do any of us live there, under that continual winter carapace of gloom? it is a hard life in Flint in winter in 2009. I look at the accompanying map, staring at the dot marked "Flint" and wonder -- if I ever walk away from this town that has dug itself into my body and psyche for the past 28 years, would I miss it?

Today -- well, yesterday -- I walked to the Korean Bell and sat soaking in the "energy of the Pacific rim" as one of my friends calls it, calmly receiving the Vitamin D infusion and breathing in the therapeutic salt air. After ten or fifteen minutes of gazing serenely out at the ocean -- a vista that still never fails to awe, even when I'm tempted to slip into worry about it (are we ruining even that?) -- I walked slowly home, snuggling up in my Interlochen sweatshirt in a slightly cool, 68-degree breeze. Back in the apartment I felt relaxed and sleepy, stretching out for a luxurious mid-day spring break nap in the Lazyboy, a predictable burble of CNN on in the background.

I've often been stubbornly geographically loyal, needing it seems to keep my feet down solidly someplace...I have kept myself planted in Flint, that surprising lovely and often infuriating town, longer than anyplace else in my life, driven to stay put by early life experiences that are not worth repeating. My world view is an artifact of the lives of people who are long dead: my father's grief for his childhood Indiana farm, taken away in Depression trauma -- my loyalty to one spot that I won't give up informed by not just my own experiences, but by the trauma of "my people" who suffered way before I was born: their myths of loss have power over me even now. It's astonishing how trauma can be passed along from grandmother to father to daughter, and continue to carry clout deep into that woman's life. But these days I sometimes wonder: is it possible to be too loyal to a place? Is it possible to say, "enough," even in these fraught and chaotic times, and begin again?

My grandmother -- the selfsame woman who almost died of TB in her fifties and then, apparently galvanized by her survival, lived to be almost 90, up and moved from Beach City, Indiana to a trailer in LA when she was 80. Startling to think of now: the town she moved to was the notorious Compton -- where was that trailer, that we saw photos of so many times, my grandmother blinking in the foreign sun, pink flowers -- I think they might have been hydrangeas -- blooming up around her in the little patch of rectangular dirt? Compton now is not exactly a place for Indiana grandmas, but then, apparently it was. That she did it floors me. And now here I am, making my own deals with California twenty years younger than she when she made her big leap west. How did she manage that? Other than those photos, Grandma with her long white hair braided and twined like a tidy clay bowl on her head, squinting into that sun, I remember only one other detail: she wrote to my father, discouraged, that she "didn't think her prayers were getting through." I was in junior high at the time and the failure of this devout and distant woman's faith deeply struck me and worried me. She should have been happy, I told myself -- she was in California. In all the photos, she was smiling.

I have not made spiritual peace with California, either, resisting its claustrophobic excesses -- the too-muchness of everything. But in the quiet on the hilltop yesterday, the wide vista of sea and cliff and harbor surrounding me, I wondered if I could make this my late-life home. My Midwest blood pulses strongly -- the rhythms and smells of seasons and struggle are deeply embedded. But peace of mind, it occurs to me now, in this harbor night, when I pick up the whiff of a skunk somewhere out in the concrete hillside, might not be particularly tied to latitude. It's funny that the skunk decided to spray its pungent message, making my nose water in the middle of the night in LA, just as I was getting around to my possible epiphany. So it goes.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Okay, back to the sun. Sigh...

Yes, we made it back, and yes, coming into the yellow California light and 68 degrees and the sun setting big and orange over the water as we watched along Paseo del Mar -- it's all a huge relief. I am emotional in these comings and goings, especially this one, which is the first return since my recent illnesses, and I see as one big agenda a reprogramming of my expectations -- this is a benign and lovely place, and this time I will not be sick.

Had the geezer dinner (the special that ends at 6 p.m.) at Chicago Ribs and talked about giving up dreams. I know that sounds gloomy indeed, but it's a reality of my age, a new element to how I look at life. How will the rest of my life be? What do I want to do? What do I have to do? This is the first year that my denial about aging cracked a little, when a certain weariness and impatience with professional commitments requiring the adrenalin of ambition kicked in. We held hands across the table and reaffirmed our love. Whoever we are, looking at each other -- that's who we love. There is liberation in these gentle evolutions.

And now back in time to snuggle into the loveseat with my favorite blanket in the San Pedro living room, Ted in his LazYBoy, to watch Lehrer News Hour and peacefully contemplate the quiet pleasures of the next 10 days. Maybe it was the reassuring sunset on a familiar stretch of Paseo del Mar that did it -- I feel a little salute, a hug from the world. Reason for hope is not absurd. There is reason to hope.

Bicoastal Blues

What does it mean, really, to have the kind of life that shuttles me back and forth with regularity from one latitude -- the one with not enough sun, Vit. D or youth, the one just a few miles south of the halfway point between the equator and the n. pole -- and another -- the one with sea and cliff and rainbows of color and too damn many people and cars and overstimulation?

Here I go again, embedded in the airport part of my life, competing in the NWA World Club for one of the chairs near a three-pronged plug, the chairs with black faux marble ovals that can be pulled out to support the computer. We all make a beeline (interesting metaphor -- will it become archaic if the bees die off, or, if the bees die off will we too, making it a moot metaphor?-- for these chairs which work very well, something like the desks with pull out armrests in college classrooms. Only for grownups who need and want extra padding for our derrieres. People graze the ever diminishing choices of snacks up here in the "club" you have to pay for, where the frosted glass doors swing open at your approach and you have to show a card and drivers' license. It's a luxury to be up here, maybe shameful in these times, but I don't feel apologetic. I paid for my membership and Ted's with the honest work of my "pen," my cursor, my Puritanical drive. Didn't charge it. Didn't get a bailout from the U.S. Government for it. Don't fly my private jet anyplace for any reason.

And we upgraded, using precious miles accumulated from our air peripatetic life, to first class. Another luxury I crave and want and want and want -- more space, more privacy, select access to the tiny bathroom (only 20 people or so use the lst class loo) and a flight attendant for only us..."would you like the croissant or the pasta?" "Would you like some more hot tea?" Sometimes they call you by name, from their little lst class chart. "Ms. Worth, would you like a blanket?"

We arrange these comforts, at some cost to ourselves and with the more-than-a-twinge of moral upbraiding that accompanies our mutually guilt-freighted upbringings -- Ted's Catholic childhood in Brunswick, Maine, my Protestant rectitudes of mid-Ohio -- out of a kind of desperate need for safety, space -- the distances we have to traverse to sustain our chosen unusual life large and long. It is sometimes confusing but we do it out of love and commitment -- and a dogged primal drive to protect ourselves and cosset ourselves in the unnatural realm of planes and flying at 38,000 feet -- for love.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

5 a.m. is getting better

A dear friend with expertise about sleeping explained to me lately that there's such a thing -- natural for people my age, and in winter -- called "second sleep." The idea is that you sleep deeply for a few hours of the night, then naturally wake up, get up and do some chores, and then go back to sleep when you're sleepy and enjoy a few more hours. Lately this seems to be working for me as I slowly recuperate from my long fall and winter when my body's immune system got so discombobulated and off balance. I am training myself in new habits, among them reframing the nature of my sleep routines.

There's a trick to it -- the creepiness of lying awake in some of the darkest hours, listening to the inventory of ghastly news on the BBC, and wondering endlessly "why I can't sleep" is replaced by something pleasant and, one could say, "normal." When I get up at 4 or 4:30 or 5 I microwave a glass of soy milk and sip it slowly, enjoying its calming warmth. I listen to the furnace. I sometimes check my email. I've written poems (perhaps this is how my friend Greg Rappleye came to call his wonderful blog "Sonnets at 4 a.m.") and worked away in little leisurely bursts at various projects.

And I've returned to bed when I'm ready, grateful for Ted's warm body. I'm lucky that my schedule allows me to sleep until 8:30 or so in the morning, so it's quite possible to get several solid hours of "second sleep."

I like this new routine, which takes the fear and angst out of not being able to sleep. Perhaps, in other words, there is a natural rhythm to it, and not simply an endless cycle of angst and despair. Looked at this way, 5 a.m. is not so bad. In fact, I am beginning to look forward to these quiet hours. Why should 5 a.m. have such a bad reputation?