Tag Archives: home

peeling away what isn’t home

graffiti on cement sidewalk of smiling daisy growing out of a potGood morning, good morning.

It’s good to have a ritual, an opening, a way to say hello. I’m here in the quiet green room, the birds just percolating in the apple tree outside the windows, the sun spreading her thick, buttery smile over the top of the apartment building across the way. The garden is quiet (only the bees and cabbage moths awake), and home is figuring its way into my mouth once again.

Back from a few days on the other coast, in that place where I used to be from. I can’t call it home. I can’t lay any claim to it. Home is supposed to be the place where you were born, the place where your parents are, the place where there is a house you can return to.

How many of us actually have a home like that?

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what if home is and isn’t?

graffiti of butterfly shadows...I leave home to go home for a week (with only intermittent internet access!), and then leave home to come home again.

What does home mean, when everything is relative?

Robert Frost is supposed to have said or written, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.

What if you don’t have that sense anywhere?

Someone asked, What if home is wherever you are? Yes, yes, that’s ideal: but where is home if you don’t yet have that sense within yourself, if you haven’t yet crafted a substitute within your own body?

(What if home isn’t a place? I know, I get it: home is an idea, an ideal, a sense of being, not any physicality. But what if I want it to be? What if I still have that movie-screen fantasy of the place you go and immediately relax into, feel welcomed in, know yourself to belong in — that house, that familiarity, the place that was always yours. What to do with that desire, any desire, when it’s impossible to attain?)

There’s more here; I’ll keep coming back to it.

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There were Monarch butterflies everywhere during my time home, back in Nebraska. It’s their season. They danced around me, reminding me of their orange-and-black majesty, how I adored them when I was little. That small visual, a monarch opening its enormous wings, its black and white body perched on a wild onion flower, or hanging off the salvia, while the cicadas throbbed the air around me and the crickets and grasshoppers snagged all the rest of the space with their scratchy songs and the humidity stickied my skin: That’s a little piece of home. That lives in my blood and memory. I carry that always with me, and when I see it again, have the sense of being allowed in — so maybe there is some of Robert Frost’s home for me, too. Is home a cobbled together thing, something stitched and piecemeal? How could it be anything but?

I tried to take a picture of every monarchI saw. That’s a good vacation, I think.

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What about this as a prompt: Home is the place where… Just begin with that.

Write it over and over, if you want, completing it anew with every rewrite. Notice what comes for you, for your writing self, as you read the phrase, as you copy it into your notebook, as you begin, and let yourself follow that inspiration and pull. Write whatever comes, and follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go.

Give yourself 10 minutes, at least.

Thank you for your majesty, your fierce tenderness with the beauty around you, for your kindness, your persistence, your words.

singing and sleep away

graffiti fromm Istanbul: two yellow hands holding the strings of balloon eyesgood morning good morning good morning.

It’s hard to be chipper in the grey, isn’t it? At least, that’s true for me this morning.

I’m having a longing for true (i.e., Midwestern) summer. Someone brought deliciously deviled eggs to our Write Whole: Survivors Write potluck last night (we have a potluck on the last night of each workshop, a wonderful chance to share food and a bit more of ourselves as well) and I almost got teary with missing cookouts, family reunions, home food. Maybe this weekend I’ll make some ambrosia salad, of course it won’t be even remotely the same, eating it without all my cousins, my sister, my grandma there.

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Today we’re working on the pup being able to be in her kennel and alone; she seemed like she’d gotten accustomed to this, and pretty easily, too. Then the Mr went away for awhile and I had to leave her a couple of times, and she started having some separation anxiety. It’s not remedial work, though, is it? It’s different work this time around. She doesn’t want to play or eat in the kennel, though I haven’t yet found her a toy that would only live in the crate. That’s the next thing to try.

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Today is a rest day, a transcription day (meaning a day for typing up workshop writes), a walking-with-the-pup day. It’s a day to be present, again, with this homesickness that’s settled into my chest. Maybe I’ll take 20 minutes and look at the cost of tickets to NE, or CO, or both.

And so today, too, I’m thinking (again) about what homesickness means when one doesn’t have a solid or clear sense of where (or what) home is.

The first time I remember feeling homesick was when I went to sleep away camp for the last time (well, at least until band camp when I was starting high school, and where I met my first love — you know about those loves that start at band camp). This was after my mom moved in with the man who would be my stepfather. This was early on in their relationship — I can’t for the life of me remember now why I would have been allowed to go. It was surely a YMCA camp, located somewhere between Lincoln and Omaha. I’d been to sleep-away camp before, back when we’d lived in Lincoln — we would go to day camp for a week or something, and then the last day of camp included an overnight trip (It was at those earlier YMCA camps where I learned to sing “Proud to be an American” whenever I pledged allegiance to the flag. I still have that song memorized. Talk about indoctrination). This time, now that we were in Omaha and now that my parents were divorced, it felt different. This must have been early in their relationship, maybe even before they were married. I wanted so much to get away from the house and then, once I got to the camp with its cabins and bunk beds and strangers, I wanted to be back home with mom and my sister and even with him. I remember feeling confused by this — why did I want to go back there? I felt like it said something good about me, that I was homesick — I wasn’t the bad kid he told me I was. See, I missed them and it hurt! I remember telling them about it (or did I write a letter? How long was I gone for?) after I got home, how I had that feeling — did they name it homesick for me? I think he was glad, proud, that I missed them (him), and that I was safe from his persecution for a little bit after I got home. I don’t remember anything else about that camping trip, just that I was scared to be alone.

So it’s not like I can’t understand where Sophie’s coming from with her separation anxiety.

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Here’s something I noticed last night, though, speaking of senses of home — I felt very much ‘at home’ during the writing workshop. There wasn’t anywhere else I wanted to be, nothing else I wanted to be doing. That was tremendously reassuring and settled something in me that had been afraid.

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As our first prompt last night, I read Martin Jude Farawell’s poem “If I sing” — then we wrote for 20 minutes. Can you give yourself 20 minutes with this prompt today? Notice if there are particular phrases from the poem that stay with you, that spark your writer’s imagination (John Fox also suggests, as a prompt from this poem, filling in the phrase: “If I ___, then I___” as a beginning place.)

I’ve used this poem as a prompt several times in the last year since John Fox first offered it at last summer’s Healing Art of Writing conference, and each time my own response has been different; it’s something to keep in mind, when I’m afraid of offering folks a prompt that they might have had in a previous workshop with me — every time we meet a prompt, we meet it fresh and new; we get to go someplace different from the first time we used the prompt.

Here’s my write from last night:

I sing in the car — it’s about the only place I feel free enough, when I’m behind the wheel, when I’m alone. I put on the country music station or push in one of  my sister’s mix tapes, and I sing, and if I am very lucky — I think it’s about whether or not I’m lucky — I will cry. That hard lump rises, the ache spreads it’s webby fingers from throat full into my chest, my arms, my eyes fill and I catch my breath. Everything gets warbly and thick and then I am not just me now, it’s me and my sister in the back seat of the VW bus or in the old red Mercury Monarch or even later in the black Jetta. we are singing along to the radio, our voices tinny and high, climbing over each other, twinning together. We were showing off; I wanted to know every song better than her, than anyone. We sang Pat Benatar, the Pointer Sisters, Hall and Oates, we sang along to the old folk records at Grandma’s house, we sang with the Beatles and Jody Collins on dad’s old reel-to-reel. We wouldn’t stop, our voices were everywhere, there was nothing we couldn’t capture, emulate, no curve or strain of voice, no fold of tremolo, no tottering pop crescendo, no predictable chord change that we didn’t want to hold in our own mouths. We sang dad’s made-up songs, every Christmas carol, even along with Steve Martin being a wild-and-crazy guy. We mimicked and imitated and even started making up our own songs.

Isn’t it true that once upon a time, you couldn’t shut us up? Who taught us to tuck our sings away? She went on, my baby sister, sang choir in school, then studied opera. She was the designated singer, the one whose voice had a way to go, a frame, a structure, a harness. Neither of us were freefalling through words or melody anymore — one day we were singing along with the cassette tape recording of the Broadway musical they brought home with them from New York City, and the next day the car rides were full only of horror and implausibility; the radio was turned off. There was too much noise already just with him in the car, just with all we weren’t saying. How could it e that, with all we had sung, with all the notes and possibility we learned to turn our throats, our tongues, our voices around, we hadn’t learned to say thing — even just say the one thing — that should have been able to save us?

Thanks to you, today, for your songs. All of them: the ones sung and the ones unsung. Thank you for your writing, too, for your words.

a relationship with home again


Yesterday we hiked up a mountain — a small mountain, Tiburon mountain, sure, but when we came to the top, we could see the full body of that orange Golden Gate Bridge, hugged thick by fog, nearly weighted down. We could see the whole fog-heavy morning laid out in front of us.

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This week, the workshops begin again — tonight I’ll be meeting with a full Write Whole workshop, and throughout the day, I’ll be communicating with folks who’ve signed up for the online Reclaiming Our Erotic Story class. I’m making my first videos ever for the online workshop — I feel like we get closer to the ‘in person’ experience if folks can hear the prompt, rather than read it. We’ll see how that goes.

I rarely watch or listen to recordings of myself — this is good practice in releasing self-judgment. Yesterday I felt like I joined the modern age: I took a shower and fixed my hair and got dressed up, all so I could create a youtube video. Then I changed into my regular clothes again.

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It’s getting close to shower-time. The puppy is tearing up a toy and having a great time. This morning we walked up the hill to the old church that sits above our apartment building, and I missed my mom, who walked up there with us the first time last weekend.

I have been homesick for a long time, and I’m not at all sure what that means. How to feel homesick when you don’t have a singular or solid sense of home? And yet, this longing is true in my body, a welling in my belly, filling the whole front of me, chest, shoulders, pelvis, with ache and want. Is it a honing toward a sense of place, a desire to know the people who my blood would call family, a wanting the deep damp and heat of midwest summer?

What does home mean for you? What about homesick?

I realized yesterday that I’ve been away from the place I was born for a generation. My cousins all have babies, some of them grown, and I barely know any of these people. Do I have a right to still call that place, these people, mine?  What is this desire to go back, or to go forward into that land that for so long I couldn’t even imagine being able to escape?

The land itself wasn’t my prison, and those places hold history for me, they hold stories I barely remember, they hold the rest of my stories, the ones that don’t live all the way in my body. And the truth is that I need those stories, those connections, that place that holds me like something right fitting around my shoulders. People who talk like I do, even when I don’t always agree with what they have to say. Could it be that I’ve moved far enough away from my desire for ideological perfection that I could have a relationship with ‘home’ again?

Anyway — a prompt for today: What’s home mean? Let’s start with this phrase: This is what home means for me (or him, or her, or you…) Take 10 minutes, write down every free association, every image or voice or feeling that arises. Let it all come, in its wild and complicated, painful and gorgeous and frustrating mix.

Thank you for the ways you let home come into you, the ways you let yourself become home, for different parts of yourself and for others around you. Thank you for the ways you write yourself home, for your words.

more visibly messy than I already am

You know those times when something really big is happening in your life and all you can manage to do is just hold open the space for it to emerge? I’m pretty sure I’m in the middle of one of those times.

Something very important in my life transformed itself over dinner last night — which means it ended, and it’s about to begin again. It’s something confidential, and one day I’ll tell you more about it. For today, I’m in kind of a quiet mourning place, and a place of enormous gratitude. (Thank you & love you!)

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Also, feeling nostalgic, and missing home; and by home, here I mean the land, the way Omaha smells (and I don’t mean that in a derogatory way), the way the people sound. I would like to be able to be there today. We could rent a three bedroom house in Dundee for less than half (way less than half) of what we pay for our place here. Don’t get me started (Jen, don’t get started) on the brutality of the Bay Area’s cost of living.

Have you read Tim Redmond’s essay that introduces the latest Guardian? It made me feel like crying. What’s true is, when I moved here 7 years ago, I thought maybe all the excellent radical artist dyke/queer culture and survivability that I’d been reading about since the early 1990s still existed in San Francisco: but it’s gone. So many of us can’t afford (For as much as I could pay for a house to rent in Omaha, I couldn’t even get a room in an SRO) to live there and do our art, do what we love, without a patron (be it in human or govt form) or student loans or many jobs.  Even if the people are still there, the culture, the city, looks/feels so very different from what I expected. I expected difficulty; I didn’t expect a community that could hardly manage to get together because it was so damn busy scrambling/working to pay the fucking rent while also jealously guarding tiny bits of time here and there for its art. Maybe that’s just my experience — maybe others are managing to do it better.

I don’t honestly know if this is a place I can stay; I don’t mean I’m leaving tomorrow, or even next year (because how could I go away from this ocean?!); I mean that I’m broken-hearted. The cost of living feels personal, feels like, why don’t you want us here? I know I’m protected from most of the worst of it: I have a good-paying part-time job that leaves me with energy for my workshops, and during the workshops, I can get some writing done. And yet, I’m getting tired. And I just don’t see things turning around here — now that the developers know they can take the city, why would they give it back?

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I just discovered there was a TEDx in Omaha just last weekend — please don’t make any jokes about that, just go check it out.

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Today’s my two-workshop day: first, I meet with the MedEd Writers at UCSF for an hour of creative writing-as-professional development, and then I head to the Flood Building for tonight’s Declaring Our Erotic meeting. The writing that always emerges from these spaces will fill me up — I can’t wait.

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I’m sorry I don’t have very much this morning. I can’t tell what exactly I’m feeling. Some days are like that. If I were at a cafe, in front of a notebook, I would pour it all out — but for right now, it feels too intimate, more of my insides spread all over the blog. That doesn’t mean I don’t trust you; maybe it means I’m scared of being much more visibly messy than I already am.

Maybe a prompt for today: Take 10 minutes or 20, and write about mess, about things that get messy (spaces, people, relationships, landscapes, cities…). Follow your writing wherever it seems to want to go.

I’m grateful for you today. I keep on being grateful for you.

Amending my soil

Our cucumber plants -- and one curving cuke!This morning it’s dark enough at 5:35 am that it makes sense for me to have a little candle at my writing desk, which makes it feel more like I’m up with the “holy dark.”  It’d be quiet outside in my little San Rafael neighborhood if not for the loud industrial garbage truck, chewing and hollering its way through the early morning.

There’s a creek that I pass on the way to the bus stop in the mornings, it’s a block away, loaded down and over-banked with trees, and the water’s clearish enough that I can see that there are no fish there, very little apparently living in the water.  The mallards like the small sand bar.  It’s a tidal creek, which is something I continue to appreciate about so many of the bodies of water around here — the idea that they’re breathing with the bigger tides, are connected that way. Lake Merritt’s like that, would be shallower some mornings on my way to BART, and other mornings would be full up around the legs of egrets and herons.

Yesterday there was a turtle floating in the water, floating horizontal, head just poking out up into the air. I’d been looking for, hoping for turtles, wanted the little sand bars and side-of-the-stream rocks and logs to get cluttered with their roundness on hot days.  This is the first one I’ve seen, but I think I’m hopeful (could I be hopeful, do I want to be, after reading Derrick Jensen yesterday)? I think I’m gratified, I think I’m just glad. Glad that something’s living in the water, the water’s not dead.

Last night, my bus got in at about 10:30, and so I said hello to my little garden in the dark.  We’ve got space enough to grow things here, but I don’t know anything about the soil, so until we can get it tested I’m planting things in containers.  I have a small, overcrowded pot of lettuces just now bolting, a bucket of tiny chards, a tall, flowering and spindly tomato plant, a jalapeno plant, cucumbers vining over an old piece of short fencing and in amid the rest of the containers, purple string beans (that grow from light purple flowers, and that turn green when you saute them with a little garlic, in olive oil) — and a pot holding something that was supposed to be a melon, and then I thought might be eggplant, and now that I’ve given it its own growing space & good soil, I see is actually a weed.  Ah well.  I’d planted seeds that I brought with me from Maine, so they were at least six years old; the only things that grew from those seeds were a couple of wild flowers — some clover, a couple daisies.  None of the melons or peas even sprouted.

My little flower garden in the back-back, the second backyard behind the studio, is slowly spindling itself along.  I’ve got a few callas, the clover and daisies, plus some borage, yarrow, and nasturtium.  I want a little path back there, something to mark the space between this that I’ve reclaimed or am resituating and the tough, lovely plant that had previously laid the whole area beneath the magnolia, live oak and apple trees. I don’t know what it is, but it grows in colonies, sending out shoots that are tough and difficult to loosen from the clay-y soil, and puts up a gorgeous yellow flower int he spring. I’d like some calendula back there, some echinacea, some mallow. Things harvestable, dryable.  Some oregano and Fresh! has been having a hankering for lavender, big fat sprays of it up in the front of the house. We do it little pieces at a time, as we have enough extra for another plant at the farmer’s market, as we’ve got seeds from a weed whose flower has past, as we’ve got a bit of plant that’s put out roots in the water, and I’m ready to risk laying it in some soil.

I wish I had my mother’s green thumb — she’s got the ability, or it has seemed to me, to turn any barren bit of land into something lush with chaotic order, new vegetables, flowering life. Every fall she’s overrun with her harvest, puts up veggies for the winter, stores apples and carrots and squash in her cellar.  I am grateful when I get one pepper that ripens, when the tiny chard reddens and lettuce ready to be thinned so that we can have a tiny salad; there’s something about the kind of attention I paid, I think, how in Maine I was out in the garden every morning, but it was wide enough that  you could walk through it, and for some reason the deer didn’t come into the yard and eat all my plants down to nubs, even though we lived right at the edge of some pine woods (and now here, in the just about middle of San Rafael, now we have to keep the garden fenced). There, I walked through the rows, picked off japanese beetles from the snow peas and dropped them into jars of soapy water, set down straw hay mulch, weeded around the tomatillos, the tomatoes, the black beans and soy beans.  I walked around the whole yard, checking  the wild things, too, the blueberries and raspberry canes. I only ever amended the soil with compost that we’d created — so I don’t know how amended to soil actually was, how healthy or fed.

Here I have enough time to say good morning to the buckets of life as I walk past to the bus. I make sure the new bed of seeds is still damp, and check the tiny leaved plants just beginning to sprout, but mostly I forget to do both of those things.  I’m running late, I need to get to the bus.  I see that the tomato, the cucumber, the pepper plants are still there, haven’t been reconsumed by the deer. I glance over the tomato — any little green lobes? I see that the soil in Stella bucket holding the chard is still moist — maybe too wet. Maybe there aren’t enough holes in the bottom, or they aren’t big enough.  And then I take off — I’m rushing into the city. But didn’t we move here so there’d be space and time for a garden?  What needs to change here?

I want big healthy plants, sturdy, solid. Plants strong enough to hold the life I’m asking them to produce for me. I need them rooted well — and so I shouldn’t be surprised that this is where my trouble is. We moved up here so that I could refigure what it means to root, to say, I’m gonna stay awhile, to trust a thing that could be called home. What’s next, then? Me and the plants learning to trust what we can dig our energies into, eating whatever’s given us, seeing what happens.

What I need is help — some fertilizer that isn’t made of poison, better soil, more knowledge. I’m of the trial-and-error school of gardening, just tucking a seed under the dirt and waiting to see what happens. Maybe nothing will happen.  Oh, well! But let’s say I wanted to use these vegetables to make it less necessary for me to buy stuff from someone else’s garden — then maybe it matters a lot what happens in these pots.  I’m learning about the dense clay-y soil up here, learning where to find better stuff. I hate buying dirt in plastic bags. It’s like bottled water — putting life into plastic and sealing it up, selling it for a million dollars. But a couple weekends ago we brought home three bags, one of composted manure (for the flower patches, the places with established plants, the places with no young roots that could get burned) and then two bags of potting soil. I spent the afternoon filling new planters Fresh! had found somewhere, after he drilled holes in the bottom, and then replanting the things that were getting overcrowded in their shared spaces.

That I’m thrilled every time there’s a new flower on any of the plants — I finger them, wanting to help with the fertilizing, I resolve to lant more flowers so that we’ve got more bees. I think I want to admit that I’m both an inconsistent gardener and a gardener in thrall — I adore those little plants, and I want to see what they’ll do next!  Yet, at the same time, they need some help, some food and water, to do the next best thing — and I don’t know what they need.  This here is a big reason I’m afraid to be a parent (there are so many reasons): I’d sort of want to just watch and see what happened next, how the child grew or investigated or attempted to get a response from the world.  If you don’t intervene, as a parent, you’re pretty much not doing your job at all.

My neighbor has a stalky tomato plant; its trunk is thick green, sturdy — and his chard looks like what like big chard leaves!  His chard are huge, fat, deep red. When I talked with his partner, she tells me he gets his soil from the local dump, makes a mix of that compost and something like peat moss — I’ll have to talk with him about what I can do with my little plants for now. There’s something here, about being willing to ask for help, about devoting both attention and time (and sweat!) to the things you’re growing new, to not knowing the answers, about learning what’s neeeded from the situation at hand. Amending my soil, and intervening where it could be helpful, knowing that’s not taking anything away from the plant itself. (I get it that I have an issue with control here, with power, and with a survivor’s ability to over-identify with everything.)

What’s your garden look like (either in life or in your imagination)?