Archive for September, 2007
Writing by the Hand
A fellow writer, with great intent of supporting me, told me to abandon my writing by hand in my journal. I’m sort of known around here as the one in the coffee shop who hunkers deep into my writing, my silver pen or my 24 year old Lamy fountain pen sliding over surface, thoughts ambling along, and I rise my head up intermittently to look off blankly. “It’s a waste of time,” he said. “Do all writing on the computer!” Tweak it, save it, manipulate it, cut, paste, modify, send, delete…treat the words like electronic putty. It’s wonderful advice, and I do write by computer, but I will never give up writing by the hand. For me, it’s not exactly about the words; it’s relationship of the hand, the heart, the pen. The pen serves as a quiet seismograph of the connection in the moment of the writing.
When I was in middle school, a teacher made an assignment that we each write ourselves a letter, looking ahead to the year 2000, and that we seal it and not open it until January 1st. Being the dutiful student that I was, I did just that. I tucked away that letter, and on January 1, 2000, I rode my bike high up into Toro Park, sat in the tall grass, and read my long awaited letter, and soon my tears rolled way off my eyes, off my cheeks, onto the paper. What stood out so much to me was not the naïve sweet advice and predictions I gave myself then as a teenager, but the rounded careful writing that froze that person, who was me looking in the future at me, and in that moment, I returned to that teenage girl who at once was so brilliant and so scared, and I wanted to hold her to mutually love ourselves.
In college, I lived my first year in the dorms at Cowell at UCSC. I had one of those mailboxes that had enough glass to it that I could even see from outside the building if I had mail. My dad wrote me letters almost weekly, arriving so tidy in a long white envelope, his distinctive even writing in pencil addressed to me, and inside, on yellow legal paper, there it was: row upon row of perfectly formed words giving me details of all the important parts of living I was missing: the weather, the fish, the books, the walks, and always, the writing served as a warm embrace of love from my dad that pulled me through yet another week of the unknowns of being suddenly single in college.
My sister! Every note is filled with a variety of well rounded, doodly, colorful or cursive words, with flourish and joy, design and detail that makes me impulsively pick up a pencil and begin to create like her.
My mother, a perfect form, a sign of the era that she grew up in, and even today, with limited eyesight, she can still write in small smooth writing full of her determination to be independent, feminine and sophisticated. That was the way she was trained, and her writing at times gives me the false hope that she will live forever as the strong willful person that she is.
Ah, love letters…full of such great exclamation points and hearts and joy and words written really big, and carrying those letters absolutely everywhere, and feeling the heat of them even through being stored in the middle of thick novels, textbooks or in backpacks…pulled out and tasted over and over again, looking at those words like physical touches and kisses with the movement of black or blue line over blank sheets, words written in the desperation of lack of paper; words written on napkins, paper bags, ticket stubs; words written with passion and urgency and silliness and life, so much life.
My friends, each one, I could name the person by the hand, as clear to me as hearing their voice or feeling their touch. So many letters I would get, and tuck away into my pocket to savor in just the right spot, and would read and reread and taste and enjoy over and over again, not even needing the words any more, but loving the form, the dance of shape that is so distinctive to that person, loving the crossing out of words, the missing words and letters, the postscripts, all of it.
Writing always takes time, and on the computer, it just is so optimum, it’s true, I can’t deny that…it’s precisely what I am using in this moment! But never do I want to give up the writing by the hand, the gentle gift of recording a sort of heartbeat of soul and time. Always, always, I treasure even the smallest of handwritten notes of all my people, the preferred font being the one moved exactly the way their hand pushed that writing implement.
Cholla and the Rats
Well, okay…this is how it went. I had a rat infestation. A really bad one. I bought a Rat Zapper, which I would highly recommend, because it is humane; the rats walk in, they get electrocuted, and bam; instant death. It’s tidy. You pick up the blue box with a cute picture of a yellow rat with big whiskers on it, and slide that fat guy outta there in a plastic bag, and that’s it. But, with a rat infestation, it’s a way different scenario. The first morning I got up to the flashing red light on the Zapper box, I thought, “cool,” and slid out the refrigerator where the box was to check out the kill. Well, a king sized rat came tearing out from under the refrigerator, ran over my foot (ouch!); I naturally screamed and darted for the highest elevation I could find. Once composed, I charged over to the computer to write my email to the company titled: “A Rat Ran Over My Foot,” and demanded explanation. Apparently, one big Mama sized rat can eat a smaller one in the Zapper. Ick. So I gave it another go, and successfully killed, I can’t tell you how many rats; it’s too mortifying, but, at which point, someone in the colony must have “ratted” on me. End of Zapper. Rats are smart. One evening alone I killed 7 rats while I was on the phone to a friend. He’ll back up my story if you ask.
All right, all right—what brought the rats on? I don’t know; I do have a problematic neighbor who is registered with the city as an issue and everyone downtown starts conversations with me in regards to her as “I’m sorry,” and we all know her as “Cat Lady.” Why doesn’t her covey of cats kill these guys? I don’t know! She feeds anything alive and furry in our little urban area, and once accused me of killing “her” possum. She periodically has problems with open sewage, and other really awful things that few people believe unless they get into her domain. She stands on her roof, chattering in Russian, watering the plants that grow out of the tar and gravel. If you catch her eye, she looks wild: the kind of person kids will warn generations of other kids about, which is in fact her legacy here. Folktales are based on her. I’ve met the now adults who used to live around here, who tell stories about her only I could believe. So, I think that’s where the rats originated.
These guys can squish their little bodies down into pencil thick diameters to get into your living area. They chewed through the phone line, chewed on wood, boxes, even cans. Nothing was safe. I would open the cabinet in the morning to see it full of rats. I shiver even now as I write about it. My neighbor on the other side spent thousands of dollars on various exterminators and contractors to solve the problem, as he put it, “before he got divorced.” He didn’t have Cholla, fresh from Mexico.
Lita was great at identifying where the rats were. She would stand at the wall, look right where the rats would be on the other side, then look firmly at me, giving me a clear, informed bark, that basically said: “There it is, mom! Take care of it!” Lita was a dog born in the USA. She has had kibble presented to her in her ceramic bowl for her entire life. Treats come ripped off of the corners of sandwiches or in cellophane bags from Costco. Not Cholla.
I discovered this one morning as I was getting ready for work, and one of those Mama sized rats bolted across the room. Cholla was lounging around under Russ’ caress, belly up, eyes closed, then all of a sudden she wasn’t. She was tearing around so fast; all I could see was a small brown running thing and a bigger brown running thing, and I could hear her crying, this high pitched squeal. I kept telling Russ: “She’s been bitten!” But Russ was laughing; he thought she was mega excited about the passion of her kill, and was crying in excitement. He was right; she got that rat by the refrigerator, whacked it side to side, making an instant rat death and a happy dog. How did she know how to do that? She was so little! We congratulated her profusely, until she dropped it bloody on the white carpet, clearly with the intention of eating it, then there was this conflict: no no no no!, and yes yes yes! Both of us told everyone about her hunting abilities that day. We were proud adoptive parents. Picture us; big smiles, telling over and over again in great detail how big the rat was, how it looked in her mouth, tail hanging off to the side, her brown eyes so wide.
After that, she would park herself in various favorite spots around the house. She had a hunting style to her. She would creep so quietly up to the spot, give a peeved sidelong glance at Lita, who wanted to bark in alarm. She would then simply wait. Like a cat. Then came the wolf like pounce, the side side hit, and it was done. She’s a pro. One morning, Cholla killed off a whole family. She lined them all up in a tidy row, one after the other. But even for her, it was a bit much. Russ and I went on a vacation, loaded up the place with poison, and went cross eyed with the smell when we got back. Dead rats under the house are not pleasant!
So we got a rat break for a while, until some time after Russ had his diagnosis for cancer, and he was so sick from everything. The rats came back. It was unbelievable to me. Russ sick, throwing up from chemo, he was sound sensitive, Lita was sick and throwing up, relatives were coming around, everyone was crying, and then came the rats. Then, as even these things can go, it got a little funny. I opened up the dishwasher, and there was a big one with the famously long tail. I called, “Cholla—Rat!” who by then knew her role and duty around here. Low to the ground, she was immediately there, leapt into dishwasher, snagged that baby by the neck, then looked fully at me, triumphant in pleasing me. What a pup!
I think it was with that particular rat that Cholla and I figured out it was the two of us in for the long haul together. She wasn’t an easy win to the home life of the USA. Most domesticated dogs have that sense of the almost godly status of master, but Cholla had perceived “master” as one of convenience. With the dishwasher rat, we both became clear about our survival roles. Not only did we have health and vitality, we had to utilize it. We had to survive, especially through the unlikely and crazy surprises of living. So, no more Russ, no more Lita, even the rats are scarce, but Cholla and I are plugging along, and pretty darned well at that…
At the Farmer’s Market, there is a lady who sells honey. She has a table set up with an amazing array of every shade of amber colored honey poured into plastic smiling bears, shiny big mason jars, or skinny tubes for sucking on while walking the market. There must be 30 varieties. I’ve been buying honey from her for years. I’m set on sage. It’s my favorite, though I continue to indulge in sample tastes on the little sticks she hands me; each one rich, creamy, sweet; liquid earth sliding down my throat. But there’s something else about this honey lady; she has beautiful hands. She has hands so wide, thick, and gnarled that I am drawn to clamber into them and climb them, finding the secrets of honey in the deep lines. So I find excuses to touch those hands; more tastes, more change to parcel out slowly in payment for honey. I watch her hands move around the tables, hoisting around boxes of honey jars. Those hands have been places. Those hands have talked to bees. Those hands are not shy about living. I stand back and watch, entranced.
Hands. I most definitely have a “thing” about hands. That itty bitty hand with fingers unfurling with the newness of life in a newborn, each finger delicately taking on the experiences of beginning time in this world. The sweet long chains of children safely connected, walking down the street on a field trip, one fat hand held in the other. The rapid sure hand of the flatpicking guitar player, moving chords in forms so complex and fast I can hardly see it happen. The slow moving hand of age, the bones showing through, and the fingers closing up in the form that they first began. I love them all, and they all speak to me.
That is how I first noticed Russ. I saw his hands from across the room. Really. I was at the coffee shop, talking with a friend, and I stopped mid sentence to say Look at those hands! They are so beautiful!, and I watched them; I watched them talk, sit still, move around a bald head. I don’t think my friend understood. Russ’ hands were mini bear paws; strong and furry with a ferocious sense of protection. His hands were used. He made stuff with his hands. Homes were built, sailboats sailed, mountains skied, cars worked on, and all done with a surprising tenderness. There was nothing better than feeling one of those paws probing the soft hair at the back of my head; through that touch I settled, like a lizard warming on a rock.
I remember a woman I saw years ago in Thailand; speaking to my father and I about something nondescript…but after all these years, I remember her hands, moving all around her like doves, like jellyfish, like wind that I could see; and I asked her about it. She said she went to a school in Thailand to learn how to make her hands dance, to make them float like feathers. It was regarded as an art, and there she was, carrying those hands with her everywhere she went.
Some so delicate, some so tenuous about living, and some so rough and rich and swarthy with life.