Saturday, October 31, 2015

365 True Things: 216/Frivolity

I am not especially into Halloween, but this Halloween I had a mission: to hunt down a night cache—a geocache that requires darkness and illumination (headlamps were our weapon of choice) to locate. It's called "Shivers in the Dark!!! 'A Night Hike' Returns..." Our friend Alistair told us about it, said it's one of the best caching experiences hereabouts.

So this evening, after a late-afternoon viewing of the movie Sicario (timed to avoid any early-evening trick-or-treaters—yes, I'm no fun, but honestly: I don't think we get trick-or-treaters in our neighborhood, and I'd rather just avoid the possibility that a few might show up on our doorstep and expect candy), a stop at the market to pick up dinner fixings, and dropping by the house to feed the animals, we were off on an adventure! The hunt started on a dirt path in the former Fort Ord, an oak savannah wonderland—which at night becomes veritably spooky, what with long skeins of lovely lace lichen dangling from the tree branches, and spiky clumps of leafless poison oak dotting the landscape, but also plenty of open meadowland (the "savannah" part of oak savannah) to lure you ever deeper into the dark woods.

We were following little reflectors (I mean, "glowing orbs"), very bright, along the trail. "There's one!" I'd exclaim, and off we'd head in its direction. "There's another! and another!" The haunted forest had us in its thrall. (Occasionally we'd see glowing orbs down on the ground, in the grass—turned out those were spider eyes. Very reflective at night.)

We knew we were on the right track when we found the Shrunken Skull of Doom, followed by the Mask of Death. Soon a large hairy spider danced into our view. A raven, cawing "Nevermore," beckoned us onward. And then . . . we lost our way. We were still following the glowing orbs, but they brought us back to near where we'd started! What?

We wandered around scratching our heads for quite some time, then—not being quitters— decided to start over! When in doubt, do it again! The spiders may have been our cue on that count.

And so we did, and this time we noticed some glowing orbs off in a direction we hadn't followed before. When we bumped into the Bloodless Bat, we knew we were on the right path.

And yes: soon we spotted a telltale row of glowing orbs and the Cache Guardian, doing a serious job of guarding the sought-after ammo can, which was full of loot. Very fun, very imaginative, and a great way to spend a Halloween evening.









Friday, October 30, 2015

365 True Things: 215/Stretching

Two years ago right about now, I spent an inspiring week on the island of Molokai with a bunch of photographers, learning iPhone app- ography, visiting some glorious places, and . . . stretching my boundaries a bit.

Two weeks ago, I asked on Facebook for some ideas for possible blog posts. Because hey, I don't know what people what to know about me! And it's not always easy to come up with something interesting. Day after day after stinking day.

Cherrie was at the Hui with me on Molokai. She is not a friend (except on FB), though I certainly enjoyed her energy and enthusiasm during that week and I wouldn't mind having her as a friend. But we're not social—not even on FB, not really.

But she responded to my query, with the suggestion that I post some pictures that she took of me that week.

The project: underwater nude photography.


As soon as Cherrie explained the project and asked for (female) participants, I told myself NO. But then, during long walks on the property, or while yelling THANK YOU at the ocean, or while enjoying craft and creativity conversations at dinner, I gently nudged myself to, maybe, consider . . . stretching a bit. My roommate, Aimée, participated, as did other women in the group, and all said it was super enjoyable. Just swimming in the warm pool, making like a river otter and playing with luxurious fabrics. The circumstances were absolutely safe: Cherrie was super considerate about restricting the session to just her and her subjects.

I finally told her, sure.

So here are a few of the shots she made (ones without nipples showing).

Cherrie does this sort of photography professionally (she calls it AquaDance Art)—in addition to creating beautiful surfboards and other objects out of fused glass.

I thoroughly enjoyed the session: it was lazy and rolling and uninhibited. And the results are beautiful. I'd do it again.

Thanks, Cherrie, for both the shoot and the nudge to post the shots!









Thursday, October 29, 2015

365 True Things: 214/Questing

Today was our monthly questing meeting. I have written about our lovely little group of three before. This time it was my turn to host, and as usual I had zero luck finding an inspiring reading. I leafed through several volumes of poetry, scanned the web using various keywords, even tried to find a decent Bible passage, but to no avail. So finally, in desperation, I turned to my archives—and found a poem that I used back in 2011. I didn't remember it, so I figured my fellow questers wouldn't either. (Wendy said she sort of did.) I'm not sure it was an especially effective selection, but oh well. You can't win 'em all. It's a nice poem, though, and it was, as always, wonderful to spend time with Annie and Wendy. And eat cookies.


All the Hemispheres

Leave the familiar for a while.
Let your senses and bodies stretch out

Like a welcomed season
Onto the meadows and shores and hills.

Open up to the Roof.
Make a new water-mark on your excitement
And love.

Like a blooming night flower,
Bestow your vital fragrance of happiness
And giving
Upon our intimate assembly.

Change rooms in your mind for a day.

All the hemispheres in existence
Lie beside an equator
In your heart.

Greet Yourself
In your thousand other forms
As you mount the hidden tide and travel
Back home.

All the hemispheres in heaven
Are sitting around a fire
Chatting

While stitching themselves together
Into the Great Circle inside of
You.

—Hafiz (ca. 1320–1388); translated by Daniel Ladinsky



Wednesday, October 28, 2015

365 True Things: 213/Cooking

When I cook dinner—which I don't do with any regularity—I've learned that listening to a podcast can be fun, informative, and time-erasing. For a while I listened to the NPR series Serial, which I found quite riveting. But then several weeks went by that I did not cook a meal, or if I did, I did so with David, and when I cook with David, we generally listen to music. In the process, I pretty much forgot all the details in the case being investigated, so when I picked it up again, I was lost. Maybe come winter, with earlier nightfall, I'll cook more and start over again.

The other day, though, my friend Kim mentioned the revived Rumpus Dear Sugar "advice column," now presented as a series of podcasts featuring the originators, writers Steve Almond (Against Football) and Cheryl Strayed (Wild). I recently had the distinct pleasure of being trapped in a car (my car) with Steve for a couple of hours. What a nice, smart, generous, funny, exuberant guy! I certainly won't turn down spending more time with him, even if it is only via radio.


So today while I cooked stuffed peppers, I listened to episode #15, "How do I stop lying?" Cheryl and Steve had (as is their practice) a guest commentator, Leslie Jamison, author of the essay collection The Empathy Exams. The three of them discussed the motivations for lying—not to cover something up, but to make oneself seem bigger, better, maybe more "normal" to others—and how to turn the behavior around. Self-compassion is key, as is understanding that lying is a cry for help. It was interesting. I will definitely listen to more episodes.

As for Cheryl Strayed's reign as Sugar, treat yourself to this classic installment, #48: Write Like a Motherfucker. (The comments are worth reading also.)

And here, because I know you want to make yummy stuffed peppers, is the recipe I prepared:

prep time: 20 minutes
cooking time: 30 minutes
total time: 50 minutes
  • 4 red, yellow, or orange bell peppers (preferably round in shape)
  • 3 Tb cooking fat (I used olive oil)
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 kale leaves, stems removed, leaves finely chopped
  • 1 pound ground meat (beef, lamb, bison)
  • 2 Tb tomato paste
  • 1/4 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 tsp chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1 cup finely chopped peeled winter squash (butternut, acorn, etc.)
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a deep baking dish with parchment paper.

With a paring knife, slice around the top of each bell pepper and gently pull up on the stem. Discard the seeded core. Place the peppers in the prepared dish. Bake for 10 minutes, until softened. Set aside.

Meanwhile, melt the cooking fat in a large skillet over medium heat and swirl to coat the bottom. When the fat is hot, add the onion and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, until translucent, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the garlic and continue to cook until aromatic, about 1 minute. Add the kale and cook for 1 minute, stirring. Add the ground meat and cook, breaking up the meat and stirring it into the vegetables, for 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste, cumin, chili powder, salt, and pepper. Cook until the meat is mostly browned, 7 to 9 minutes. Stir in the squash and cook until the squash is slightly softened, 2 to 3 minutes.

Divide the meat and squash mixture evenly among the softened bell peppers. Return to the oven and bake for 10 minutes, until the peppers look wrinkly and the meat is slightly browned on top.

[Any vegetables will do. You can add more veggies, but in that case, you might need more than four peppers. I went with a little more onion, kale, and squash and filled five peppers.]


Tuesday, October 27, 2015

365 True Things: 212/Movies

We went to see The Martian this afternoon, in 3D. Enjoyed it very much. I did not use to like Matt Damon. Or maybe I just didn't like (him in) Good Will Hunting. I don't really know. When I look at his filmography—sixty-four films he's been in!—I realize I haven't seen him in all that many movies, and actually, most of those I have seen I enjoyed very much. The Bourne films; Ocean's 11, 12, 13; Rounders; The Talented Mr. Ripley; The Departed; Syriana; Invictus; Interstellar. Maybe I should watch GWH again (not to mention a few of the other sixty-four I've missed or not seen in a long while, starting with Mystic Pizza in 1988); perhaps my attitude will be different. I know I liked Robin Williams in that film . . . Though now it makes me sad to see him . . .

Matt Damon aside, my general feeling after seeing The Martian is that it's a good thing I did not become an astronaut, because I would surely have died. I can't even get vegetables to grow on Earth, never mind Mars. Make water? Create heat? Do self-surgery? Think on my feet? Though I am pretty good with duct tape, and that seems to be an important astronaut skill.


Monday, October 26, 2015

365 True Things: 211/Motivation

Nothing like a great conference to get me up and running. Not just that, but actually committing to a few new things that I hope to incorporate into my days.

I don't have many daily routines. This blog is one.

Um, this blog is one.

Yeah, okay, this blog may be the only one—and the only thing "routine" about it is that I get it done each day before midnight.

And then there's walking the dog, which is more a necessity than a choice. But still: I do do it every afternoon, so okay—I have two daily routines.

But I'm about to insert a few more into my day.

The first is daily writing practice, the lack of which in my life I've been bellyaching about for a while now. Having, however, begun a new essay—and so easily, thanks to the inspiring guidance of Mark Doty—that I'd like to continue to develop, I am well aware of the imperative for continuity. I also appreciate the beauty of community, which I was able to share in so productively this last week.

So: I'm joining a very small circle (of two) writer friends who already have a practice that they refer to as "howling." So called because the timer app they use is called the Howler Timer: when time's up, a wolf howls—it's pretty cheesy, which is what makes it so good.

Doing a "howler" essentially means writing for an hour and a half every day at a set time, 7:30 a.m. HST/10:30 a.m. PDT (the latter soon to become 9:30 a.m. PST—which is better for me, so for perhaps the first time in my life I'm looking forward to daylight savings time ending). We will check in shortly before the appointed time to announce our presence, and again at the end of the writing period, when we'll share what worked, what didn't, what's catching our mind's eye.

For this hour and a half a day I intend to read a poem, then get down to either writing or researching my short story project (working title: Amber Moon), or possibly both. The writing may be development of the essay I just mentioned; responding to a prompt in Brian Kitely's
3 A.M. Epiphany: Uncommon Writing Exercises That Transform Your Fiction
and the subsequent 4 A.M. Breakthrough, or some similar aid; freewriting my way into a character or scene; going to a coffeehouse and observing the people and conversations and writing them down; etc. The possibilities, indeed, are endless.

I will jump in with Kim and Sherilyn tomorrow morning.

Second, I want to read a short story every day. I started that new practice today with Karen Bender's "Reunion," the first piece in her new collection, Refund. 

And third, I want to watch a TED talk every day: to learn something new, to cultivate engagement in issues that matter, to get inspiration. I started that today as well, watching Jackson Katz, an anti-sexism educator who does leadership training with the Marine Corps, among other groups, talk about gender violence as a men's issue. Powerful stuff.

That doesn't sound like too much. Though considering I'm going from one thing—wait, no, two—to five, I will need to keep my wits about me. Maybe a checklist on my whiteboard would help. I'll go do that now.

Wish me luck!


Sunday, October 25, 2015

365 True Things: 210/Goodbyes

Over the years, I've often been caught up with full heart, mind, body, and spirit in a trip, or conference, or some other adventure with virtual strangers who, by the end of our time together, feel like—even are—good friends.

The experience is frequently intense, completely removed from the day-to-day (any of ours), infinitesimally life-altering.

And then: it's time to say goodbye.

In the past, when I was younger and more naive, unworldly, we exchanged addresses and phone numbers (before the days of cell phones and computers) and promised to stay in touch.

But of course we didn't. We went on with our lives. And carried the fond, fine memories with us.

As it should be.

Though there's a bittersweetness in the severing of such a connection, however tenuous. Wouldn't it be nice if all those sweet, temporary ties that we make in this life could continue to resonate, like ever- multiplying strings of a sitar. Each coming together another pluck of the plectrum; each a further note in the melody of our individual lives, with infinitely ringing harmonics. By the end of our lives we might be living in an all-encompassing ooooom of pure harmony.

And maybe we are. Maybe that's what we find at the end, if we stay attuned.

Today I said goodbye to some eighty other writers—most of whom I had little contact with, although there were many opportunities for sharing, so I did meet quite a few lovely people in passing, and had some great conversations with a few whose names I never quite caught. I did eventually learn the names of all thirteen others in my own workshop, with Mark Doty (fourteen including my sister-in-law Patty, whose name I of course already knew): Margie, Lainie, Michelle, Heather, Nancy, Jacqueline, Lauren, Marie, Sal, Jamie, Kate, Jan, Shana.

This morning fourteen of us shared our own work for the first time in this session, and it was revelatory and inspiring. So many different voices, so many different stories, so much talent.

All through the last few days, there have been readings, and panel discussions, and in-class sharing and interpretation, and deep lunch- and dinnertime talks. A lot of connection.

Me, I'm not very good at connecting. So I didn't forge many bonds these last few days. But there were a few people who, when I said goodbye, I did wish I could know better.

But I didn't offer my phone number or any promise to stay in touch. Maybe, though, I'll see them around. At another writing conference. Because we're all floating in this soup of words together. And that right there is consoling and energizing.



Saturday, October 24, 2015

365 True Things: 209/Gophers

At dinner this evening, four of us were talking about Terry Tempest Williams. I've only read one book of hers, Refuge, which I loved—despite its earnestness, but then, I can be pretty earnest myself. Today in workshop we read the first two chapters of her book When Women Were Birds, and I'm intrigued to buy it and read the whole of it. I quite liked the bit we read. The writing is incantatory—oratorical, sermonlike, exhorting you to heed something higher, airy, spiritual perhaps.

Opinions about Williams were mixed. Except Eileen did mention one book that we should just stay away from—mainly because of a hundred-page section on gophers.

Gophers? I thought. What an odd thing for Williams to write about.

But yes, Eileen insisted, and Kim threw in that she'd heard from another friend that yeah, the book in question, Finding Beauty in a Broken World, is not one of Williams's best. Precisely because of the gophers.

Somehow as the discussion ensued, it became clear that what Eileen meant was not gophers but prairie dogs.

Apparently when the clarification was made, the expression on my face was . . . well, I'd have to let them describe it. Disbelief mixed with shock mixed with horror mixed with disgust is the impression I get.

Because, hey: gophers are NOT the same as prairie dogs! (I wish I could say they're not anything alike, but I will give you the fact that they are both burrowing rodents. That, however, is where the similarities end. Honestly.)

So here is a brief (not a hundred pages) comparative natural history of these two animals. In defense basically of prairie dogs, who are happy benign little creatures, whereas gophers, evil gophers, eat my vegetables, they killed my fig tree, they pull almost-flowering poppies slowly down into the ground, they make my yard look like a miniature bombing range, and . . . well, let's just say, I am hoping our new cats have serious gopher-hunting superpowers (and leave the birds alone).

(That said, for an excellent literary tale of one ultimately very sad gopher, check out Steinbeck's Cannery Row, chapter 31. It almost makes me feel sorry for the despicable varmints.)

Okay, as I said, the similarities between gophers and prairie dogs are that they are both rodents, and they both burrow. The gopher family, Geomyidae, contains thirty-five species in five genera. The five species of prairie dogs occupy a single genus, Cynomys, within the squirrel family. (See, right there: prairie dogs are squirrels! Gophers are just gophers.)

The main differences:

Size and appearance: Gophers are much smaller than prairie dogs—about 3–5 ounces vs 32–64 ounces, and 6 inches long vs. 12&15 inches. Unlike prairie dogs, gophers have no distinct neck and have pouches in their cheeks used to store and transport food. A gopher’s tail is hairless, while a prairie dog's is bushy.

This animator did not know
from a gopher, clearly.
Range and habitat: Gophers live pretty much wherever there’s enough vegetation to feed them and they’re able to dig in the soil. Prairie dogs are more specialized, living in prairie and open grasslands in North America. Gophers carefully plug the entrances to their burrows to control the temperature and moisture level inside and to keep out light and other animals. Prairie dogs leave the entrances to their burrows open so they can come and go.

Diet and feeding habits: Gophers eat mostly tubers and the roots of other plants [and they especially love vegetable and flower gardens! —ed.]. Prairie dogs eat these as well, but they also feed on grasses, weeds, blossoms and seeds above ground. Gophers eat from inside their burrows, pulling their food down from below. In contrast, prairie dogs emerge from their burrows each morning and spend most of their day foraging for food on the surface.

Behavior: The social prairie dog lives in family groups that cooperate: they share food, and groom and protect each other from predators. The black-tailed prairie dog, for example, lives in large networks of burrows called “towns” that can cover hundreds of square miles. Gophers, in contrast, are solitary creatures and come together only to mate. They reproduce year-round, unlike prairie dogs, which have a single annual mating season each spring. Gophers spend nearly their entire lives below ground, coming to the surface only rarely [oh, they definitely come out to survey the pickings in my garden, considering there's serious gopher wire underneath my raised beds, yet somehow my vegetables get spirited away —ed.], whereas prairie dogs spend most of their waking hours outside their burrows, retreating to their dens only to rest or when threatened by a predator.

Finally, gophers are FAR from endangered. Prairie dogs, however, are under some threat of extinction. The main culprits include plague and poisoning—since prairie dogs compete with cows for that succulent prairie grass. (And who got there first? It's really the cows that are doing the competing.) Currently, two of the five species are listed as either threatened (the Utah, Cynomys parvidens) or endangered (the Mexican, C. mexicanus). Thanks to activists (like Terry Tempest Williams) and environmental groups, programs to save the various species of prairie dog are having some success. One example is in Thunder Basin National Grassland.

This was hastily put together because I'm tired (and because I'm tired I stole liberally from a website titled, yes, "What's the Difference between Gophers & Prairie Dogs"). It's been a long day. And I certainly didn't mean to go on nearly this long. But for now, here's way more about gophers and prairie dogs than even I wanted to know . . .

What was I saying about earnestness?



Friday, October 23, 2015

365 True Things: 208/Writing (again)


Yesterday and today at this conference, there has been a panel discussion with three of the faculty pondering questions both somewhat flip (but no less serious for all that)—"How Hard Should We Be Trying to Piss People Off?" (Dorothy Allison, Steve Almond, Pam Houston)—and ponderous—"Spirit, Sex, Beauty, (Death) and the Ineffable, and How the Mind Makes Language of Them" (Mark Doty, Lidia Yuknavitch, Greg Glazner).

The first included such threads as telling the truth, breaking codes of silence, anger as a form of self-assertion, moral rage (Vonnegut), telling a story versus standing in a place and saying what you think, self-implication, complicity, "becoming the person I'm supposed to be—a long process," the use of irony, demagoguery.

Mark, Lidia, Greg
The second: the intertangledness of the ineffable with the mundane and messy and contradictory; our multiplicity, multiple awarenesses, multiple levels as humans (some of which are earned, some consciously striven for); spirit, sex, beauty etc. as thresholds where we experience dissolution of being; resistance narratives and cultural agitation; the need to liberate ourselves form the old ways of telling stories; "singing into the future" (Rilke, "On the Vocation of the Poet"); the commodification of beauty, sex, art, nature, etc.; aesthetics as a communal creation; disclosure, revelation, discovery; letting go of comprehensiveness and mastery. Trust.

I know this won't make much sense to many of you readers (or to me next week, most likely), but each of these points fits in to what I sense the serious writers around me are trying to do. Question patriarchy, undermine demagoguery, steer in a new direction, tip the boat, open people's eyes, question assumptions, get people thinking at the very least. 

My own project has plenty of potential for the "political," which I don't know that I'm smart enough to tackle; but it also has room for the ineffable, and differential powers, and exploring culpability. And lots of other stuff, like character, wants, needs, love, disappointment, plot. We'll see if I can weave any of that into Amber Moon. Once I get back to it. Which should be pretty soon, after I've finished off my last job.

In this afternoon's panel, Mark read and parsed a poem by Walt Whitman from Leaves of Grass, "The Sleeper." I'll end with that, simply because it's glorious. And if you'd like his commentary (not from today, but from a similar seminar, go here).
A child said, What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands;
How could I answer the child? . . . I do not know what it is any more than he.

I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful green stuff woven.

Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord,
A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropped,
Bearing the owner’s name someway in the corners, that we may see and remark, and say Whose?

Or I guess the grass is itself a child . . . the produced babe of the vegetation.

Or I guess it is a uniform hieroglyphic,
And it means, Sprouting alike in broad zones and narrow zones,
Growing among black folks as among white,
Kanuck, Tuckahoe, Congressman, Cuff, I give them the same, I receive them the same.

And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.

Tenderly will I use you curling grass,
It may be you transpire from the breasts of young men,
It may be if I had known them I would have loved them;
It may be you are from old people and from women, and from offspring taken soon out of their mother’s laps,
And here you are the mother’s laps.

This grass is very dark to be from the white heads of old mothers,
Darker than the colorless beards of old men,
Dark to come from under the faint red roofs of mouths.

O I perceive after all so many uttering tongues!
And I perceive they do not come from the roofs of mouths for nothing.

 I wish I could translate the hints about the dead young men and women,
And the hints about old men and mothers, and the offspring taken soon out of their laps.

What do you think has become of the young and old men?
What do you think has become of the women and children?

 They are alive and well somewhere;
The smallest sprouts show there is really no death,
And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait at the end to arrest it,
And ceased the moment life appeared.

All goes onward and outward . . . and nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.


 

Thursday, October 22, 2015

365 True Things: 207/Joshua Tree

In this morning's workshop, we were instructed to think about a place that resonated for us. A couple of places popped into my head, but soon I found myself wandering, a little girl of eight or so, around a campsite in Joshua Tree National (then) Monument. That place does resonate for me, always in a good way.


We were then instructed to write in the present tense about the place in question. I did, from my eight-year-old vantage point. It ended up being an interesting journey, with me scampering around the rocks at the camp, taking a brief detour (in past tense—oops) to Cochise Stronghold in Arizona, then back (that same morning) to Joshua Tree, but this time communing with the spirits of people—cattle rustlers, the law, the Native Americans who left their mark on the rocks with pictographs—long dead.

I love Joshua Tree and have been there many times. I am fortunate enough to have a couple of friends (brothers of my good friend Kathi) who own small houses—cabins—very near the northern entrance station. I've gone there on retreat with artist friends, writing friends, photography friends. The place, including those cabins and their exquisite setting, always makes me happy.

Eschar, Trashcan Rock, 5.4
I've also been to JT a number of times rock climbing. It's an interesting place to climb because so many routes were put up back in the early days of the sport, when the equipment was minimal and only so much was "possible."

In those days (the 1950s), the hardest rated climb, one called "Open Book" at a place called Tahquitz/Suicide Rock, was rated 5.9 (with the easiest, "The Trough," also at Tahquitz, rated 5.0). The 5 stands for "fifth class," an evolution of Sierra Club assessments of terrain difficulty.

At Joshua Tree, though, many climbs are rated 5.8+. What's that about?

As people started climbing more and more, at Joshua Tree and elsewhere, and as equipment improved, it became increasingly clear that there were plenty of routes that were plenty harder than "Open Book." But the rating system only went to 5.9. So anything that was pretty darn hard but not humanly impossible? It got rated 5.8+.

That all changed in the 1960s, when new ratings were added—not just 5.10, 5.11, etc., but 5.10a,b,c,d; 5.11a,b,c,d; etc. As of 2013, the hardest climbs in the world were 5.15c: "Change," in a cave in Flatanger, Norway; and "La Dura Dura," in Oliana, Spain.

If you think about it, from 5.0 to 5.9 is ten steps; from 5.10 to 5.15c is
. . . one, two, three, four . . . twenty-three steps.

So since the day in 1952 that "Open Book" had its first ascent by Royal Robbins and was rated the hardest climb in the world, climbs many, many, many times more challenging have been put up. The 5.15c's don't get climbed often, but they've been climbed more than once.

I can't imagine.

Which brings me back to Joshua Tree and "sandbagging," as it's called when routes are actually harder (sometimes much harder) than their rating suggests. You can't really trust the ratings of any routes in JT that were put up back in the heyday—and that's an awful lot of routes.

So you always look at the guidebook to see when the first ascent was made. And anything that's rated 5.8+? Just forget it. (Once a rating is assigned, it never gets revised. Even if it's a total sandbag.)

Probably the hardest climb I've followed at JT was the three-pitch Bird on a Wire (5.10a; first ascent 1977), on Lost Horse Wall. The hardest I've led was the neighboring Dappled Mare (5.8; FA 1973), four nice pitches.

Walk on the Wild Side
The scariest climb I ever did at JT was Walk on the Wild Side (5.8; FA 1970). Not because it was technically all that difficult, but because of wind, and a stuck rope, and watching David tiptoe a traverse waaaaaaaaaaaay to the left to get it unstuck. If he'd fallen . . . it would have been bad. Very bad. (Me, I had rapped down on the other end of the rope and was watching, heart in mouth, from below.) But he managed to whip the end free, then veeeeeeerrrrrry carefully cinched (and inched) his way back until he was directly over me. Then down he came, and all was good again.

I haven't been climbing at Joshua Tree in years. Writing about it now—and having had my spirit encounters this morning—makes me want to go back and give it another go. But will I? Are my rock climbing days behind me?

God, I hope not.

I've moaned in these posts a few times about wanting more adventure. But at my age, perhaps my adventuring should be more sedate?

That is not a thought I am willing to entertain. Not just yet.





Wednesday, October 21, 2015

365 True Things: 206/Writing

Last year I participated in the wonderful Writing by Writers conference, organized by Pam Houston, at the Marconi Center in Tomales Bay. I was feeling fired up about my "Amber Moon" project, and it was exciting—and very fun—to work with Andre Dubus III. Also to spend five days with my fabulous sister-in-law Patty. It was a terrific experience.


Early this year, I decided that, hell yeah, I'd do it again! This time I went for acclaimed poet and memoirist Mark Doty, who advertised a workshop on cross-genre experimentation.
Unscrew The Locks From The Doors:  New Forms for Poets and Nonfiction Writers
Walt Whitman, early in the “language experiment” he called LEAVES OF GRASS, calls on his readers to open the locked doors, allowing unexpected speech and surprising formal inventions like his own extraordinary free verse. In Whitman’s spirit, this generative workshop is designed to invite writers to move in new directions, blending poem and essay, memoir and lyric, word and image, fragment and whole. We’ll look at the work of some writers who defy easy classification, including Maggie Nelson, Claudia Rankine, Anne Carson, Nick Flynn and Terry Tempest Williams. Mostly we will write and write, suspending judgment, diving deep into what we don’t know how to do yet, seeking insight, complexity, and forms that lead us, like new roads, to new places.
Sounds great, no? I applied in January and was in.

That was ten months ago. In the meantime, my writing has gone . . . moribund. I haven't been researching Amber Moon. The only writing I've been doing has been this blog—which, granted, isn't nothing. But it doesn't feel especially "creative." It's fine writing, workmanlike. But . . . I aspire to something more . . . serious.

So I arrived today at the Marconi Center feeling some trepidation. I'm surrounded by writers—writers who actually write, don't just talk about it.

In our introductory session, Mark had us go around the room and tell who we are and what struggles we have in our writing. People mentioned all sorts of things: fear that you're not good enough; finding the right structure in memoir; discovering plot, story; finishing; finding the "golden thread" through a longer piece of writing. He had something wise or insightful or pithy to say about each problem.

Me, I said simply: "Starting. I feel like I spend so much time circling the desk, staring at the blank page." He said, "Well, you've come to the right place!" I immediately felt a flush of relief. He reminded us that this is a generative workshop. Not only that, but the beauty of a conference like this is all the fire: we're all sparks of creative energy, and we spark each other, teach each other. That reminded me of last year's workshop, which was stimulating, sometimes a little scary (coming up blank on a prompt or two), but mostly absolutely fun and inspiring. I came home feeling energized.

So . . . I'm hoping for something of the same this time.

This evening we heard Mark read many of his poems and a piece of prose. Wonderful stuff.

I'm ready for the sparks to start flying.





Tuesday, October 20, 2015

365 True Things: 205/Floods

Had dinner with some friends this evening, and we were revisiting the floods of 1995—one of the last good El Niños we've had. January and March of that year both had lots of rain, and at one point, on March 13, 63 roads and 15 bridges were closed.

The Highway 1 bridge over the Carmel River—access to Big Sur—was washed out on the 10th. Residents of Carmel Highlands now had a 6.5-hour detour to get to the Safeway grocery store on the other side of the bridge. Though I suppose the market in Cambria was (figuratively? literally? virtually?) closer. If mudslides didn't block their way.

Carmel River bridge no more

In any case, for a good 24-hour period, Monterey Peninsula was figuratively/literally/virtually an island.

Pajaro River: Monterey/Santa Cruz county line


That evening, we had intended to drive to Santa Cruz to spend the evening with a friend, but once we got on Highway 1 northbound, traffic was at a standstill. We decided to bag it.

Good thing, because we wouldn't have been able to get home—to our cat— for a couple of days. 

Salinas River gobbles up Highway 68


As for Highway 1 southbound, within a week a military "Bailey bridge" had been constructed. Our dinner companion Tim, a deputy sheriff, was on duty there during that week and talked about how efficiently the soldiers soldiered that beast into place, sectioning it together until it reached across the river and could be plunked down. Meanwhile, a new permanent bridge was designed; it opened on May 5, and construction was completed by September.

Building the Bailey bridge



I recall running into some friends of ours during that wet, wet weekend, while driving some back roads, marveling at the havoc (the forests got pretty thrashed as well). They were from Vermont/ Massachusetts and had often—like, every time we saw them— mentioned how dry California is. I just had to ask, given that we were now an island, "Is it wet enough for you now?"

There is talk of this coming winter being another wet one. A big El Niño is on its way, "too big not to happen." The question still remains whether it will affect mostly Southern California, or whether we'll get it too.

I hope we get it. It will be such a relief to have rain, rain, and more rain. Since I don't live on a floodplain, I can even say I wouldn't mind a little flooding (which after all is a natural phenomenon—I just hope people who own homes in floodplains have flood insurance). And I sure hope, if we do get rain, that it comes on cold weather systems, because what this state really needs is snow. In the mountains.

Snowpack is what quenches this state's thirst.

Monday, October 19, 2015

365 True Things: 204/Birds

Today I took our female kitten, Luna, in to be spayed. Next week, her brother, Ravi, gets the equivalent treatment. (I am going to miss his furry little balls, I confess.) After that, we will start the big let-the-cats-outside experiment, in very limited quantities of time.

The big impediment will be the bird feeders. Already, the cats sit on their post or on my bedside table and gaze longingly (hungrily) at the birds. I do not want any birdie presents. Gopher presents will be just fine. But not birdies.

So yeah: not sure what we'll do about that. It could end up being a very short-lived experiment, and they'll just be indoor cats, like it or not. (And yes: I know all the arguments for not letting cats be outdoor cats. I will be responsible. If I were a cat, though, I know I'd want to be able to lie in the sunshine on the dirt and smell the strawberries. Not to mention hunt potato bugs. At least for an hour or two a day. But we'll see what happens . . . )

Anyway, here are some photos I've taken at the feeders over the years. Mostly, we get house finches, sparrows, and dark-eyed juncoes, sometimes oak tits and goldfinches. On very rare occasions we've had acorn woodpeckers and black-headed grosbeaks. Mourning doves often come and pick up what's fallen to the deck. I always enjoy seeing the flurrying activity at the feeders.










365 True Things: 203/Power (10/18/15)

It is 9:10 p.m., and we have been without power for over fourteen hours. Something about a tower falling down at Duke Energy and clobbering all the transformers. PG&E “promises” (okay, predicts) we’ll be back online by 11. We’ll see.

The entire neighborhood is dark: no streetlights; just a few house windows glowing with candles. And those little solar-powered walkway lights. If only it weren’t overcast: it would be a perfect evening to see stars.

Reading Sky & Telescope by candlelight
Inside, we’ve lit some candles. I’m enjoying the absence of electric hum. The cats are kicking a tin-foil ball around the living room; David is sitting in the recliner reading a magazine, so I hear the rub of leather as he shifts his position and, occasionally, the flip of pages. My own tapping at the keyboard. It’s very peaceful.

For the most part, a lack of electricity hasn’t been a problem today. Fortunately, we have a gas stove, so we could boil water for the all-important coffee—and our hi-tech drip coffeemaker is so decrepit that the filter holder, now fully detachable, works virtually like a low-tech Melitta filter, assuming you find just the right balance atop the vacuum coffeepot. And yes: vacuum, so the coffee stays hot without a heating element.

Ah, the simple pleasures.

I did have some work to finish, but my laptop was fully charged, and it’s still at 37% after my having finished said work. My cell phone was also fully charged, but since we have virtually no 3G connectivity at the house (and the wireless is down, obviously), I haven’t had much cause to use the cell today. And blessedly, the landline didn’t—couldn’t!—ring. Given that the only people who call the landline are solicitors.

The lack of modern conveniences encouraged us to take a longer-than-usual loop walk at Garland Park this afternoon with the goofy dog.

It also occurred to me late in the afternoon that we should mount a rescue mission on the ice cream before it melted completely. Fortunately, our stocks were low. The mission was easily accomplished.

Since the power is out all over the Peninsula, spottily, we decided to take ourselves out to dinner in the opposite direction: Salinas—which we never do. But our old favorite Thai restaurant in Marina moved to Salinas several months ago, and I’ve been wanting to try it. So that was easy! And delicious (Panang curry with the tenderest squid, plus a scrumptious duck dish).

Mostly today, I sat and read an old-fashioned book. Finished it too. Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being. Very satisfying! I’m already looking forward to the next book, though I haven’t decided just what that will be. Maybe I’ll start on it by headlamp in bed.

9:30 now; laptop: 32%. Shutting down, just in case that 11 o’clock projection was wildly optimistic.

[Postscript] 11:08: power is back! In the intervening time, we sat cozily by candlelight and chatted, and then I read the first section, “Courage,” of Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear—out loud. By headlamp (and ambient candlelight). It’s been a very pleasant evening.

I’m glad to have power again, I have to say. But it was also so fun to have a day somewhat outside the norm.



Saturday, October 17, 2015

365 True Things: 202/Zombies

This morning I volunteered at the 2nd Annual Zombie Run in Pebble Beach, a benefit for the local fire department. As part of the festivities there is ongoing Zumba (I did not partake), as well as face-painting. First Serena got herself an awesome makeover, and when Nadene decided to get one too, I wandered over to take pictures of her transformation. The second artist's chair opened up, and she asked if I'd like to get my face done. I said nah. But then as I stood and watched—on the sidelines, as usual—I thought, Oh heck, why not? After all, I did just the other day say I wanted to lighten up more. What better opportunity?

I was smiling a little: it was so silly!
Nadene and Serena were properly solemn . . . or rather, ghoulish.

I enjoyed watching the first season of The Walking Dead, once it came out on DVD, and always thought it looked like the zombies had the most fun of anyone on that series.

Of course, there's more to being a zombie than face paint.

Still, it was fun to be part of the crowd that was playing along today.

On our way home, we stopped to fill up the truck and forgot we were made up. The looks we got! A family of tourists from up north was walking past and asked if they could take our picture with their teenage daughter.

When Ivan, one of the SAR deputies, showed up to pay for our fuel, Nadene and I wondered if we could get a photo of the three of us. He said sure, and asked if he could point his gun at us. ("It takes two shots to the head to kill a zombie," he observed.) I think that would have made an excellent picture, but of course we didn't do it.

Ivan asked young Justin why he didn't get made up, and Justin answered, "Because I'm a mature adult."

For one day (or a few hours, at any rate), it was fun not being a mature adult.

Friday, October 16, 2015

365 True Things: 201/Work

This is not said book;
this book is about ants.
On Monday, I finished off a big editing job: a textbook; over a thousand manuscript pages. It took me eight weeks, but I confess I did not exactly jump into the job with both feet. I trudged very slowly into it. Toward the end, though, I was pretty much living and breathing "Judaisms," as the book is called.

Because, deadlines.


I had been "batching" the project, meaning sending it to the author piecemeal—which is not my typical practice, but it's such a big book that I figured it would help expedite the schedule. So on Monday I sent off the last chunk, chapter 12: text, copious notes, and sidebars (renamed "special topics").

And then I sat back and let out a big sigh of relief. Then promptly curled up on the couch and got back to reading Ruth Ozeki's A Tale for the Time Being.

When I'm editing, I don't usually read, for pleasure or otherwise. If I do read, it's a schlocky mystery: plot driven, a puzzle to be solved. But a Facebook friend recommended the Ozeki, saying it's transformative —and transformation is just what I need at the moment, so I cracked the book open a few weeks ago. And fell in love with the voices and observations and philosophies of the book. So yes: I've been picking it up as often as I can. Even while I've been editing. (This may be unprecedented.)

So what a pleasure it was, on Monday, to be able to settle in and just read. Then on Tuesday, I spent the day with fellow wilderness rangers hauling some abandoned sleeping bags out of a backcountry camp. My left knee is still complaining after the twelve-mile hike (especially the couple of long downhills), but it was wonderful to do work, hang out with friends, and sweat. On Wednesday, I cleaned house. Also a pleasure, at least the aftermath—but yeah, even the activity of cleaning was a pleasure, because I could slow down and do it with concentration, without any neglected chores (or jobs) niggling at my conscience. In the interstices I've visited with friends, both in person and on the phone—reconnecting. Always returning to the book, though. Every time I realized I had a little time and no editing to worry about, I was back to the Time Being.

That abruptly ended yesterday, when a long file of "activities" to accompany the textbook arrived via email, belatedly. So now I'm back to editing. Should finish that up tomorrow or Sunday.

And then on Wednesday, I'm off to a weeklong writing retreat.

What will Monday and Tuesday bring? Perhaps I'll finish the Ozeki book. And start a new one. I have a few on my bedside stack, waiting patiently. My main goal, in any case, is to relax. Have a little vacation.

Because in November, a new editing job will hit my laptop. But this one, about some aspect of music, promises to be beautifully written. I worked on a two-volume biography of Stravinsky by this author many years ago, and I recall that the most I ever had to do was, very delicately, add or delete a comma here or there. It was a matter of rhythm— appropriately enough, for a musicologist.

I've edited hundreds of books since then, and maybe my memory of the Stravinsky is tinged with nostalgia—but at this point, I'm looking forward to this next job.

Which will be my last.

I've said that before, but this time? I'm ready to quit. Editing, anyway.

I did, coincidentally, get a query from the Getty Museum today about proofreading exhibition catalogues.

The Getty—art? And proofreading? That sounds like a winning combination. (And I bet they pay better than an academic press.)

But after the music book, I'm going on a nice loooooooooong vacation. And I will focus on reading. And writing. And book arts. Maybe even some painting. Back to my own projects.

I look forward to it.