A Choppy Recap of Where I've Been and Where I Am

Being away from blogging for a few months, then hopping back on the bandwagon, is not like riding a bike. There are considerations. What do I tell Tom, first of all? How do I recap? What if I'm bad at this now? Are a bandwagon and a bike in the same sentence mixed metaphors? Too many people to mention, too many incidents to cover important days adequately. I'll start. I got a few haircuts. I got a new job. 9,000 writers came to town, including Sara and her new son, who flew through the 12-hour clouds from Kodiak to Seattle to here. We walked to the middle of the park to eat blackberries and comte cheese and figs and honeyed almonds on a white sheet we stole from her hotel. In the foothills, we feasted on eggs and toast, strawberries and yogurt, and huevos rancheros running over the edges of wide white plates, and wondered at the rocks bursting into stillness along the front range.

We listened to dozens of writers talk about their doubts and their duties at the AWP conference, and I showed Sara the places here that I love. She showed me that you can ache for simple things: fresh fruit sliced by someone else. Thirsty land that stretches, red, under a rainless sky. People from Alaska have this rare sense of gratitude and awe (tinged with a certain sadness) for "life down south." They reintroduce me to what I should appreciate: art, sky, fresh produce, restaurant design.

I love having visitors because it reacquaints me with hunger. No matter where I live, I always feel that the place is lacking. Maybe it's the ocean or the heat or the colors I loved in some city on its homes. For me, getting to share my home with someone makes me realize what I have and what I wish for the most.

Sometimes I wish to be in certain places, but lately I wish for time. Time to write, time to read, time to be. My friend Annie says she and her dad have a favorite thing they do together and it's "just being." Just to be. To sit and be one person in one chair with two hands and two feet.

In the writing classes I've been teaching, I've been trying try to create an arc--the students should sense the scaffolding from one class to the next, not just learn how to accomplish disjointed series of exercises. Sometimes I have no idea what my own arc is; I remember moments like snapshots, but they never assemble into a neat little story with a lesson.

We moved, too, and all the shake-up came with. When I first came to sign the lease, the crumbling house out back scared me. Handshakes held drugs, trash reached through the chain-link fence when I walked by with the dog. Luke and I went back to our old house, still full of our things, and I had this deep sense of foreboding that I had made the wrong choice to move our books and blankets into a less-safe neighborhood, albeit into a loft that felt, with its high ceilings and clawfoot tub and concrete counters, that it had more life.

The Victorian homes and the shades of purple and the amount of people lingering on the sidewalks of our new neighborhood reminded me of New Orleans, but then I wondered, is it fair to keep moving our lives closer to a life I used to have, or should I be wherever I find myself, and just try, like Annie and her dad, to be? Maybe it is by just being that our lives attain their arcs, and when we think too hard about how they play out, we strangle the intuition that creates our direction.

Another thing that happened recently is I got a bad cough and Luke's dad gave him an orange bottle to give to me.

"Don't drive on this stuff," Luke said, handing it to me. The grains glinted on the top layer of the liquid. I took a little swig.

"Is it a daytime or a night-time drug?" I asked him.

"Daytime. Nighttime. Just don't drive."

Ten minutes later I felt like a cloud with no arms. I bumped into the dresser and missed my mouth when I went to drink water. I forgot the conversations I had at work the next morning. Tussionex: a narcotic cough syrup made of hydrocodone and chlorpheniramine. Not recommended for human beings who plan on functioning. My cough is better.

I'm getting used to where we live now, too. The Tai Chi instructor with the studio downstairs keeps encouraging us to come, and I will, if he gives me enough time. There's a house I want to buy, down the street, with trees that smell like jasmine, a red door, and a yard covered in petals. When we walk here, the kids follow the dog and speak two languages.

Last night, I listened from our deck as a mariachi band burst through applause three yards down, and the Burlington Northern train let out an extended moan over its tracks, like a synthesizer chord being held down by heavy fingers. I thought of the kids in the drughouse out back and hoped they could sleep or hoped they know what hope is and don't grow up thinking they have to stay in one neighborhood and watch images repeat themselves without evolution.

Today, on my way home from work, I saw two figures standing in that yard. Two nuns were slipping through the chain link gate, smiling under their long white veils with navy blue edging. They're the Missionaries of Charity, and like everyone you can see around here, they live right down the street. The kids jumped off the tiny, broken trampoline, beaming, and let the fabric of the nuns' habits run through their hands while they circled around the swaddled women.

Lately, I've been thinking about the insights from the panelists at AWP. "You can learn to look at things," Robert Wilder said. "Examine where you live." Pam Houston mentioned how being from a place makes it hard to see it for what it really is. And someone else, I can't remember who, urged her audience to "fall in love with something every day." That's what I fell in love with today. Those two nuns and that group of happy kids, singing in the trash-strewn yard.