Walking Shadow

Quote from Macbeth.

Image by Estela. My most favorite Shakespeare quote.

I read that in 1979 there were 79 MFA programs across the country. In 2014, (Flavorwire: “27 Writers on Whether or Not to Get Your MFA”) there were 854.

I took my first creative writing class at a community college in 1980. There weren’t that many in the class. A dozen? More or less. Everyone else on campus, pretty much–students,  faculty, staff–thought us impractical, quixotic losers. I’m sure especially me. Given I was in my early 30’s, divorced, with three children, and needed to think about career and living independently. Everyone (including family) thought I should have a more realistic goal than a desire to be a poet. And they were probably right. But I couldn’t do it, cuz I’m a fucking dreamer.

Even my creative writing instructor didn’t think much about his students: a bunch of wannabes. But he liked me. I wrote a journal, because I didn’t have a clue about how to write a story or a poem (other than a rhyming ditty). We could write whatever we wished, including journals, and letters, if we couldn’t come up with an idea. So, I wrote a journal. He edited my entries, and commented more and more as I continued to turn in my writing project. He taught me so much. Including about life.

I didn’t get involved with him while he was my teacher. That came later. I don’t regret it, and I do. I regret I was vulnerable. Had I not been, that affair would never have occurred. It lasted a year before I finally said, “I don’t want to do this anymore.” He looked crushed, and said, not looking at me, but straight ahead, at nothing, “Yes. I knew this day would come. Of course. It has to be this way.” He was 50. Married. I was 32. I wasn’t in love with him. I liked him because he was a poet.

The aroma of fresh brewed coffee permeated his office. He used a cone to brew his cup of Peet’s. (Peet’s was then a small store on the corner of Walnut and Vine in Berkeley. It was the only place you could purchase Peet’s. It had a rather cult clientele–“Peetniks.” I still prefer Peet’s to Starbucks.) He was six foot, had a goatee, a small mustache, wore corduroy dungarees, and a blazer with patched elbows. His blond hair, in a conservative cut, but long at the crown, was parted to one side, and he constantly swept back the hair that fell over his forehead and his eyes. His blue eyes were like two small beads. He wore small, gold, round, wire rim glasses with a thick lens, and he had a bit of a schnoz. Not handsome, but he looked to me like a beatnik. He was the first college educated man I ever knew. We talked about poetry, poets, writing, writers, and artists. And life.

At a reading a few days ago, a chick I met about three years ago, who has an MFA (as most of the readers I meet at readings), and who I hadn’t seen for a while, asked me, “Are you still writing?” I said, “Of course.” She laughed a little, and said, “Good answer.” She teaches middle school, is probably in her late thirties. Never married. (My youngest child is over 40.) She seems to like my poetry, but since I don’t teach, and I don’t have an MFA, she, and others I know like her, seem to think themselves “the real writers.” I guess they think what I do is a fucking hobby. I don’t even like what most of them write. It’s all the same boring shit. It’s rare, extremely rare, I like any work I hear from anyone with an MFA. Three, maybe four, two of whom I first met twenty to thirty years ago.

It’s my fault. I haven’t pursued publishing adamantly enough. My son goes, “You don’t go to all the readings like they do.” I told him, “Going to readings doesn’t make you a writer.” Besides, I hear most of them say, “I want my voice heard, my stories heard.” That isn’t my motivation or goal. Mine is to create art. My son called me pretentious. I said, “I don’t matter. It’s the work that matters.” He goes, “Psh.” He’s published too, in small mags; he doesn’t have an MFA; he works a corp job, but he’s also a political activist and involved in the community. He’s lived here thirty years. He’s very social. I’ve only been here ten years. I’m more reclusive. I worked on a community project once, seven years ago. I had to put up with egos and condescension. But I really wanted to be part of the project, so I didn’t argue. A couple years ago, I was asked to participate in a poetry book publication, with the same community organization. I started to, but realized it was going to be the same shit as last time. I withdrew, and even told them not to publish my poems. Sure, I want to be published, but I don’t want to be hard up about it.

Anyway, what’s on my mind right now is mostly my mother, and my health. She has dementia, I have heart issues. I see a cardiologist on Friday. I’d been putting it off, cuz, well, I’m scared.

My resentment over my mother’s narcissism has been put on a shelf. I feel badly for her. My sister said my mom got up all night and insisted she wanted to see her mom and dad. She’s 93. My sister was dragging at work, losing sleep. So, she put my mom in a care facility. I hear she gets scared and kicks her feet and refuses to let the staff approach her. She keeps telling them to call my sister’s husband to come pick her up. It breaks my heart. She told my daughter, “My mom doesn’t know where I am.” I don’t want to go there, as that little crappy town is nothing but darkness for me. I told my sister I’m getting a new phone, so maybe I can see my mom via vid call. I haven’t seen her in ten years. I’m doing this for her, not for me. “I don’t know how to use it,” my sister said. I told her, “I’ve never used it either, but I can learn.” So, hopefully my sister will cooperate, and I can “visit” my mother from a safe distance.

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Broken Heart

A Christmas cactus in bloom sitting on a window sill.2017 began on a beautiful note. I saw my beloved granddaughter Jan 2, (whom I hardly ever get to see) who is happy and excited after completing her first quarter as a freshman in college. Seeing her is the greatest joy.

Our furnace broke down on Dec. 29, so we had to use a portable heater until the issue was resolved. After a few days, checking this, checking that, it was determined that it was more economical to replace the furnace than to repair it.

I live in a flat. (In San Francisco.) This is an old house (prob built around 1900, if not earlier) converted into two units. This house survived the 1906 earthquake. (Hell, I’ll bet it once had beautiful Victorian era windows, wood framed, not these modern, vinyl framed, banal things. Bet they’re from Lowe’s.) The guy who owns this house lives

Banal modern double pane window.

Our windows look like this. Banal, double-pane windows. Ugh. Bet this house built in late 19th, early 20th century once had more interesting Victorian era windows.

upstairs. A friend of my son’s, actually.  (I live downstairs with my son. He doesn’t live with me, I live with him. I wish he’d buy his unit. I’m sure his friend would be cool with that. But that’s not my call, darn it.)

It’s the coldest winter we’ve had in a few years. Naturally, the winter our furnace gives out. Our cold weather isn’t severe, like sleet, ice, or snow. But it’s brrr cold. On the third night with no furnace, I couldn’t sleep. I wore two sets of jammies, sweatpants, my warm bathrobe, a scarf, double socks, and was wrapped in a Snuggie under my blankets. (I, personally, would never buy a Snuggie. I think they’re silly. My son won it in a raffle. They are warm and soft, I must say.) Still, my nose felt like an ice cube, and I shivered. Next day, I added leggings and a thermal shirt to my night wear. That helped some. I kept the portable heater on overnight, in the room where Isabel sleeps, because I did not want her to shiver in her crate. Her little feet felt like ice cubes. Better I shiver than she, my precious little gremlin.

Chihuahua mix looking into the camera, looking a bit worried.

Isabel, aka Belly. Chihuahua mix. My precious little gremlin.

A new furnace was installed on January 3. I’m privileged to be warm and cozy and safe.

Unfortunately, last year ended on a scary note. I guess I’ve had my heart broken so often, by love, by life, and sometimes by my own self, that it’s physically damaged now. I said to my son, “Figures, I’d have a broken heart.”

I made an appointment to see my doctor a couple days before Christmas, not feeling well. She was not in (probably vacationing in the Bahamas), but I saw an NP (nurse practitioner). She had the nurse assistant do an EKG. It registered abnormal. The NP had me take a blood test. It was negative for enzymes that would’ve been very bad news. That was a relief. She ordered a stress test, which I took on Dec. 30. Bad news. My heart is misfiring. An echo shows, whatever that means. She referred me to a cardiologist. I haven’t been yet, but that’s coming up.

I’m too afraid to look this shit up on the net. I’m taking it a step at a time. I’ll let the cardiologist give me the bad news, explain what the fuck is going on. I’m terrified and sad.

At the end of November, I learned of a writing fellowship I’d love to apply for. I was going to scramble and apply right away before the Dec. 3 deadline, but I decided to wait until the following year (this year), to give myself a chance to feel prepared. I’m a bit agoraphobic, and I have a fear of finding my way to new places, whatever that phobia is called. I’d have to commute to the University, in a different city. I hardly know much of San Francisco, after living here ten years. I only go where I need to go, that’s it. I don’t explore. Too much anxiety and fear of unfamiliar territory. It’s sad, and embarrassing. People don’t understand. My children don’t understand. “Why are you afraid?” Hell, I don’t know. Cuz I’m phobic.

I have to find my way to CalTrains (which I’ve learned is virtually around the corner), and I have to figure out how it works (I’ve never used it), and I have to find the courage to board it and travel to the University. All these things are easy peasy for the average person. For me, it’s overwhelming. Once I do it, the fear will dissipate. This, I know. The first step is the hardest.

I’ve struggled my whole life with varies phobias. Some, I’ve gotten over. Like riding escalators. Was a time I couldn’t do it. I’d ask strangers if I could hold onto their arm, if I had no choice but to use one. That was so embarrassing. They were always chivalrous and kind. I was young and cute. I guess that helped. I was 37 when I finally conquered that fear. I used to be terrified of dogs. Now, I love them. Very much.

I hope this heart problem doesn’t prevent me from applying for the fellowship. I’m so scared. I want to live many more years. There’s still much more I want to do: be published, conquer more phobias, and I’d love to teach creative writing. If I got this fellowship, it would do so much for me. I’d achieve dreams deferred.

My life’s been a rough ride. I’m still thankful, though. I learn, I grow. I think I romanticized the suffering, starving artist. Surely, that impacted my life too. I’ve had enough of that. I hold on to hope. I’m praying. I do know, what is meant to be, will be; que será, será.

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No More Drama

Acrylic painting of black cat on top of a shower door.

Painting of my cat Rude-E (RIP) on the shower door. Acrylic by Estela.

Every time I hear Mary J. Blige sing “No More Drama,” I cry.

Broken heart again.
Another lesson learned.
Better know your friends,
or else you will get burned.
Gotta count on me,
cause I can guarantee
that I’ll be fine.

You ever hear about “crabs in a bucket?” If you put crabs in a bucket, I’ve been told, and one of them tries to climb out, the others will pull it back down. When people are miserable and/or dysfunctional, they do not want you to succeed or be happy. Crawl out that bucket, and don’t look back. Kiss the drama good-bye.

This morning I woke up to the news that Trump beat Clinton. Some people worked so hard trying to get Bernie Sanders elected to run, but Clinton supporters won the battle. Now, look. For the first time in my life I am shocked at election results. I’ve been disappointed before, to be sure, but NEVER shocked. Ever. After the shock wore off, I realized that it DID cross my mind that Trump might win. I just refused to believe it. I’m like, “Naw, surely…” Good thing I don’t care anymore. No more drama for me. Whatev’s.

Some people wept last night to hear the news. Some people feel afraid. Some people are angry. Me, I’m amused. I no longer buy the rhetoric or the platitudes. I lived through Reagan, two Bushes, Clinton, and Obama. I’m not afraid, and at the same time can’t be more afraid than I already have been for a long time. To stop being afraid, is to let go of the drama. I don’t want to be afraid.

It isn’t what Trump says that matters, anyway. It’s what he will do. We don’t know what that will be. Let’s see if he will “make America great again.” (That presupposes that America isn’t great right now.) Does it mean he’s going to bring back manufacturing to this country? Because that is what made everything peachy. I really doubt that is going to happen. I have no idea what his plans are. If he has any.

All I know is that life goes on, and change happens. Like when the Pinta, Niña, and Santa Maria crossed the Atlantic. Change is the only constant.

I think it’s hilarious that Donald Trump won. Donald Trump is the next President of the United States of America. Wow. Anything is possible in this world. Anything. That’s exciting and also frightening. But I don’t want to be afraid. I prefer to be amazed and amused. Fate called it. History now has it. I accept that.

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The Weeping Woman

Surreal image of a black ghost woman flying about in the night on a full moon.

(The Weeping Woman passing by.) La Llorona is a Mexican mythological figure similar to Medea, a woman who murders her children. Her ghost roams around, grieving. Image by Estela.

I “live” on the internet, pretty much. Not exactly on social media, like so many. That includes my children, always on Facebook. I suppose most people “live” online these days, “socializing,” or working. Without a computer, I’d have no life at all.

I read lit sights. Electric Literaure, for instance. That’s a pretty cool one. I think that’s where I learned about this book. Or maybe it was some other site, I don’t remember. Anyway, I’m reading The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break. I just started it, and I’m loving it. Geezus, just the title. The writer’s name is Steven Sherrill. Awe, man, I feel a self-pitying jealousy. I love this guy’s bio. He dropped out of high school in 10th grade. Later got a Welding Diploma at a community college. Then somehow ended up with an MFA in poetry from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Now he’s an Associate Professor of English and Integrative Arts. Super, super, super cool. (This past summer, I wrote a poem where I referenced the Minotaur. It’s a poem called, “The Spell of Love.” Not that it means anything. Just interesting to me that suddenly the Minotaur has shown up twice recently.)

I dropped out of high school too. Got married in 11th grade, and didn’t return for my senior year. Divorced at 30. Raising three kids, got my BA in English at 38. But that is where my accomplishments end. The rest is simply survival. Office jobs I hated, and quit. I didn’t mind the work, I minded the people I worked with and for. I did a little bit of substitute teaching, which took so much out of me, but I have fond memories of difficult students I won over. The “real” teachers were shittier to deal with. And in some schools, administration was shitty. But I’ve reached “retirement” age, so… I write and work on creative projects. Which to me is my real work. But I gotta get published, legitimize my writing, and myself as writer.

I told this Poet (that is capital “P”) here in The City, “I don’t even know if I really am a poet.” He says, “Don’t worry about a label. If writing makes you happy, then just write and don’t worry about the rest.” But writing doesn’t make me happy. It scares the shit out of me. What makes me happy is when I write a poem, or anything else, that I like. That is the  shot in the arm. Or when I hear cheers when I go up to the mic. Or when someone tells me they like my poetry. Recently, a woman, who is a science professor, and also writes novels, who bought my little DIY chapbook, sent me an email

Chapbook of poetry titled "For the Hell of it".

My little DIY chapbook.

and told me she read my poems and was in awe. Wow, that was a great compliment. She said she was having company over for dinner that night and planned to read some of my poems to them. I never asked her if she actually did. Nor, will I. I wonder if she read “What it’s Like.” It starts out, “I know what it’s like/to get drunk/and fall on my face./It isn’t pretty./”

I need to feel compelled to write. You know, inspired. One of my long-time fave country singers thinks that anyone who claims they have to wait for inspiration isn’t a real artist. That it takes work, that’s all. (She didn’t say it, someone else did. She simply agreed.) Well, yeah, it takes work. But I need inspiration to get started. I need to feel something deep inside me that I dig for, grab, wrestle with, and then release. It’s a lot like giving birth. It’s painful and also joyous. But the pain is emotional, psychological, not physical. Well, actually, I do feel something physical. It’s heavy and I feel its weight. Anyway, I was disappointed that this country singer I love agreed with that statement. It hurt my feelings. I certainly don’t know her personally. I’m just a fan. I was following her on Twitter, and she responded to someone who said it, someone she knows. (I’m not on Twitter anymore.) It pushed the buttons of my insecurity. That low self-esteem I’ve been trying to kick. It fucking sneaks up on me.

Maybe I’m not what I think I am. Maybe I’m just a wannabe, a pathetic fool. Is my verse alive? Does it breathe?

I wrote a short story called “La Llorona (The Weeping Woman)” a couple weeks ago. I’m polishing it now. I cut out a chunk and am going to make that a separate story. I’m hoping this project turns into a number of stories, or a novella. I’ll have to see what it wants to be. I don’t control my writing, as much as it controls me. It wants to be born. My part is to help it come to life.

I drag my feet on submitting. I submitted last year to this particular mag, and they never responded. Didn’t even bother send me a rejection. Not by mail, not by email. Didn’t even return my poems that I sent with an SASE. All I got was crickets. Chirp, chirp, chirp. I had told someone, “If they reject me, fuck ’em.” We both laughed. I meant what I said. Fuck ’em. Yet, truth is, I was injured and I bled a little. Maybe I did something wrong. I don’t know. I actually do believe in my writing. It’s in myself that I lack confidence. I told this science professor/novelist,”I’m super shy, but my poetry isn’t shy.” Goddamnit, I’m such a weenie.

I had a recurring dream last week. Been having it for at least 25 years. I dream I’m late, and miss a deadline, or a date. The dream itself changes, but it’s the same theme of running late, being caught unprepared, and missing out. It’s a dream of losing, actually, of being a fuck-up. In this one, I had a school assignment due, a poetry reading to give in front of the class. But I ran late, and then couldn’t find all my poems, wasn’t ready, and I got there an hour late with a couple poems in my hand, hoping I could pull it off anyway. The teacher (not a professor I ever had in real life) frowned and told me, “You’re too late.”

Graphic of happy skull with "Happy Halloween" in black with orange background. .

Happy Halloween card, by Estela.

BTW, Happy Halloween.

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My Sunshine

with sun, green grass, and a purple flower, and blue heart floating near it..

“Summer” by 4 year old Athena

I was painting, one summer day, years ago, and my daughter called and asked if I would watch my granddaughter for a while. Gratefully, and happily, like a kid asked if she wanted candy, I said, “Yeah! Bring her over.”

My granddaughter was four at the time. She loved spending time with Grammy, as much as Grammy loved spending time with her. So, she comes over, and she’s all joy and smiles, and I’m all joy and smiles. I pick her up and hug her firmly, and she hugs me firmly, with those sweet, little arms.

I’d been painting, so I gave her a small canvas and told her, “Let’s paint.” She says, “OK!” enthusiastically, with that beautiful, bright smile of hers. My sunshine. She painted quickly, joyfully, and a few minutes later, she announces, “O.K., Grammy. I’m done!”

“Oh, that’s lovely,” I say. “Why don’t you paint a little more on there.”

But she said, “No. I’m done.” Well, if she’s done, she’s done. It’s her painting, I think to myself.

That was fourteen years ago. I still have that painting. She never named it, but since it was summer, I’ve titled it “Summer.” I love the floating heart, and that she painted it blue, not red. Artistic license. I also love the way she placed that sun in the corner, half of it in view. Not to mention giving it dimension with orange lines. I love this painting.

She starts college in the fall. Last week, she attended her orientation. She will be a math major with a minor in computers.

I taught her how to use my computer when she was four. I showed her how move the mouse around, point, and click. I opened a word doc for her, set a large font size so she could easily see the characters. She keyed letters, numbers, and special characters. I showed her how to spell her name. She keyed enthusiastically and joyfully. As she did everything. She put together easy jigsaw puzzles, concentrating intently, putting six or so pieces together. When she was done, she’d say, “Grammy! I did it!”

“You’re amazing,” I’d tell her, “Look at you. Just clicking away.”

One time, she was at the computer. She’s there, click, click, slide, slide, click, click, putting together a puzzle. She turned to see what I was doing. I was reading. I guess she wanted my attention. So, she says, “Look at me, Grammy. I’m just clicking away.”

“Yes, you are,” I said, joyfully laughing. “Look at you, just clicking away. Aren’t you amazing?” That made her happy. And her joy was my joy. Still is.

Since moving to San Francisco nine years ago, I’ve only seen her maybe half a dozen times. Not seeing her more often is grief I carry. Imagine my joy when I do get to see her.

I saw her in June. She told me she has a Tumblr blog. I said, “Oh,what’s the name of it? Can I look at it?” Her eyes averted mine, and I saw her looking here and there, like she’s trying to figure out how to get out of this. So, I said, “That’s all right. You don’t have to tell me. If you’d rather not, you don’t have to.” She looked relieved. Then she proceeded to tell me, with that same enthusiasm she’s always had, what it’s all about. I don’t remember what she said, really, because I think she referenced something she’s familiar with and I’m not. But she talked about her friends liking her blog, and having fun with it. It just makes me happy that she’s happy.

I asked her who was her favorite band. She told me. I said, “Oh, my gawd. I’ve never heard of them.” She chuckled. I don’t even remember who she said. The name just didn’t register. I smile. And I feel sad at the same time. Because she’s in her world, and I’m in mine. But if she’s happy, I’m happy.

Graphic art of a yellow rose.

Yellow Rose, graphic art by Estela.

When she was little, we were shopping one day. She’s sitting there in the cart, and she says to a woman, a stranger, as she passes by us, “This is my Grammy!” Pointing at me, as if I were some grand prize, a superstar, or something. The woman was cool. She went along with it. She goes, “Is that your grammy? Aren’t you a lucky girl!” She wiggled with delight and joy. I beamed. The woman smiled at me, and we both laughed. She understood this special love, this bond that my little one and I had. My little granddaughter was so charming. She still charms me.

When she was eight, we used to have pretend performances. It was her idea. I’d announce her name, and she’d go up onto the pretend stage. She’d sing and dance. I’d applaud enthusiastically, while she bowed with grandeur. Then it was my turn. “Ladies and gentleman, Grammy!” And I’d do a little song and dance. Then she’d applaud, enthusiastically, “YAY!” Sometimes we did pretend poetry readings. Damn it, I wish I could remember more of the words, but I only remember “into my heart.” She looks up toward the ceiling, a serious expression on her face, dramatically raises one hand up the air, the other on her chest, then cupping her hands over her heart, she says, “…into my heart.”  She didn’t know yet that I sometimes did poetry readings. I have no idea where she got her idea of poetry readings. But I was delighted, and impressed, really, with her words, and amused by her melodrama.

I’m not surprised about her minor in computers. But the math thing surprises me. Apparently, it’s an interest she picked up in those nine years that I wasn’t a constant in her life. Hell, I thought she was going to be a writer. She would come up with scripts for us to play out. She’d get a doll, and give me one. Then she’d give me the scenario. Her doll would say something. Then mine would. But she didn’t let me come up with my own lines.

“No, Grammy. She doesn’t say that,” she’d say. Very seriously. Like I didn’t know what I was doing.

“Yes, she does,” I’d say, defending my lines.

“No,” she’d say, shaking her head authoritatively.

“She doesn’t?”

“Uh, uh.”

“Well, what does she say?” And she’d tell me. I tried, again and again, to come up with my own lines, but, no, uh, uh. That wasn’t what my doll was supposed to say. This always amused and charmed me, of course. I thought, well, maybe she’ll grow up to be a playwright.

My granddaughter doesn’t need my attention in the same way she once did. I need to “grow up” too. Give her space for herself. She’s a young lady. About to enter college. I’m excited for her.

She sent me a sticker that states I’m a grandparent of a student at her university. Awe, that made my day. I adore her. I adore her so very much. To me, she’s poetry. Poetry dressed in glitter.

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My Mother Raised a Fool

Geezus, it’s June already. Half the year gone. It’s been months since I posted. Some people post daily. But that ain’t me, babe. That ain’t me. I wish it were. I mean, I wish I felt that free, that light, that easy. That simple. Well, maybe not. I’m ok being me. I’m ok.

Time is running past me. Age slapping another

Painting of old woman in black and white.

Visionary Woman,
Acrylic painting, by Estela

fucking wrinkle on my face, sucking up more moisture from my body, leaving my skin a little more limp, less taut, by the fucking minute. Fuck!

And I’m all, “Getting older is a gift, because not everyone makes it to old age.” I have to remind myself of this shit, this claim I make, all fucking self-righteously, as if I were some woman of fucking great wisdom.

I wish I were 30 again, so I could have a fucking do-over. But, of course, I’d have to know what I know now, otherwise, I’d be the same goddamn fool. Geezus, I would not want to live through that again.

In the last week of May, I did a poetry reading in Oakland. There were three of us featured readers. I love the other two readers, and was happy I read with them. I received $20 for reading. I didn’t know I was going to get paid. It was only 20 ducats, but I liked getting paid, being compensated, for my work, my real work, what too many people in my life once treated as a triviality, a “hobby,” a useless endeavor and interest of mine. All right. It was just a 20 dollar bill. And these people, who are no longer in my life, would scoff at that. It meant a lot to me. Poetry means everything to me. ‘Cause I’m a fool poet. I sold a few chapbooks too. That made me a happy fool. 🙂

Sometimes I hear people say, “My mother didn’t raise no fool.” Wish I could say that. Shit, my mother did raise a fool.

But I’ve wised up. Some.

So, I also I did a reading on Saturday, the 4th of June. Here in San Francisco. A woman I met at Cal, published her first book. At her reading, she invited writers to read, people she had met in the course of her writing journey, people whose writing she knew and admired. She talked about the circumstances under which she had met each of us. I thought it was a beautiful celebration for her first book release. When she signed my copy of her book, I told her, “Your next book should be easier for you, now that you’ve broken the ice. You’re a beautiful writer.” She was sitting down. She looks up at me and smiles. Then she stood up and hugged me. It took her thirty years to get past her inhibitions, insecurities, and writing blocks. She’s a beautiful writer. She teaches at a city college in northern Calif.

I was in my late 30’s when I met her. She (I’ll call her Emma) was in her mid 20’s. We met in the last creative writing class I ever took. I chose not to file a formal complaint against that instructor. I knew (by instinct, I guess), or suspected, it would be I who would look bad, I who would pay, not she. I would mar my reputation more than I would affect hers.

Anyway, I didn’t file a formal complaint. I had shared the issue with a professor. She told me I could file a complaint, but that I should wait until the semester was over. When the semester was over, I just wanted to move on, forget about it, leave it behind me. But I guess I haven’t really left it behind me. It’s a shadow that follows me around.

Emma did not have the same experience as I. She feels proud of having taken a class with this writer, who has some lit fame. I almost told Emma about my experience, but I chose to keep it to myself. In introducing me at the reading, she said she met me at the university, in X’s class. “Yeah, I took a class with X,” she said proudly. I have never told anyone that I took a class with X. I mention other big names, but never, ever her. I felt “outed.” But I didn’t say anything. I didn’t touch it. I just let it be.

Because of  X, well, not to blame her, I blame myself, but she is the reason I decided to leave creative writing, instead of majoring in it. That was a fool move on my part. It impacted the course of my life. Not in a good way. But, anyway, it was just meant to be. Everything is.

“It went the way it had to, the way it was always going to.”

As I look back, I see how I gave some people more credit than they deserved. I raised them too high in my estimation. But that was because I was at the curb of self-esteem. From there, everything, everyone, looked higher up.

I saw a writer I admired back then being interviewed on T.V. recently. There was a time, he could do no wrong. This time, seeing him, hearing him, I thought he seemed like an old fool. I sensed a desperation in him. He’s lost his edge.

A few months ago, I came across a video in which my first women studies instructor was speaking about where women stand today, how the role of women has changed in our society. She told the same story she told us students, about how she got her job. It’s a good feminist story, I’ll give her that. Her goal was to have a career. She says, proudly, “I had that job for 40 years.” She got a huge applause from the audience, which I’m presuming were women. It dawned on me that what she wanted out of life is not something I wanted. Yes, I wanted to work, because I had to support myself (and three children, until they were grown) since I got divorced, and I certainly had no family fortune to fall back on. But poetry, writing, art, “living,” and freedom were more important. What I wanted is not something that meant anything to her. I remember she didn’t think much of Emily Dickinson. “Humph, what did she do? Locked herself in her room and wrote poetry.” I didn’t say anything. Dickinson was (and is) my hero. Bukowski is my hero. Plath. Shelley. Rimbaud. Kerouac. Because I’m a fool dreamer.

I took the road less taken. The hard road. The mad road. To me, the more interesting road. I’ve paid for it. I even at times have fool regret. But I really couldn’t live any other way. Every job I ever had made me feel miserable and suicidal. I bought myself a house once. But it didn’t make up for having to work with petty bitches and idiot supervisors, and no one gave a shit about poetry. And at the time I was going through menopause, which kicked my ass. I was an emotional wreck. I about lost my fucking fool mind.

I don’t know what it would have been like if I had gotten a master’s in creative writing. We always imagine that “if only…” would’ve made everything all better. But a fool never really knows what would have been. We can only imagine.

Going to a reading tonight. Gonna open mic this new poem. It’s called Nemesis. It starts out:” You remind me/of my mother.” I wrote it a year ago, but I kept editing it. At times I thought it wasn’t going get to a final form. I like it, but I’m nervous to read it. I’m sure of myself, and unsure at the same time. I’m a scared fool all the time.
♠    ♠    ♠    ♠

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Death, Dying, Life, and Living

Image of peace sign.

Peace

We are born to die. Not that death is the goal, just that we are not meant to live indefinitely. Generally, most of us, want to stay here in this thing we experience as life, in this consciousness, this earth walk.

I’ve heard some folks say they want to live forever. But we have an expiration date. Like flowers and vegetables in a garden. Except, we live longer than a rose, longer than a tomato. Though some don’t make it past infancy, have a shorter lifespan than a flower or a berry. My cousin lost his firstborn to “crib death,” sudden infant death syndrome. And my sister lost her baby before it was born–the placenta, apparently, detached from her womb. These are horrible experiences for a parent. My cousin, forty years later, still feels the horror of finding his lifeless infant in its crib. My sister was beside herself, and the doctor told her that sometimes God knows there’s something wrong with the infant, so he spares it from suffering by taking it before it can be born. She accepted that. I’m glad for her, because it helped relieve some her grief. Poor thing. (I would’ve asked why does God pick and choose. But that’s me, and that’s another subject.)

I don’t know about heaven and hell. Except what I experience here on this earth. I don’t know about reincarnation. Though, I don’t disregard it. I just don’t know. The energy, or life force, the spirit, or what some call “the soul,” leaves the body, or just goes out, like a light, poof! and the body disintegrates. Only the bones remain. That’s all I know for sure.

When people die very old, which to me is past 85, even if it makes me sad, I generally take it in stride. “They had a good run,” I might say. But not everyone gets to grow old. That’s why I think getting old is a gift. In my book, it’s a blessing.

When John, a family friend, died of cancer ten years ago, I was devastated.

Photo of woman looking down at her pet cockatiel sitting onher chest.

Romie and Estela, photo by John Taylor. 2005

He was vibrant, healthy, smiling, joking, singing, snapping pictures. He had bought himself a camera and started taking snapshots of everything and everyone. Family and friends nicknamed him Paparazzi. Then, out of the blue, cancer. Four months later, gone. He was 44. I was stunned. Talk about feeling helpless.

Picture of man with camera at a baseball game.

John Robert Ward Taylor, aka Paparazzi, at Oakland A’s game, 2005.

The professor/poet with stomach cancer passed away a couple weeks ago. He was much loved in this community, where I now live, and where he once lived, and where his heart seemed to remain. He was 61. He died less than a month after his cancer diagnosis. Man, 61 is still too soon to go. Too soon. But Death determines when it’s time, and she hands us our Pink Slip. Ready or not.

I don’t want to fear dying. I do. But I don’t want to.

I once heard a (mediocre) poet say she didn’t agree with Dylan Thomas’s Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night, and she read her sentimental poem sentimentally about going out “gently.” It just struck me as hilarious, and a cynical, “Hahaha!” jumped out of my mouth. I was glad to be sitting toward the back of the room, because I really didn’t mean to be rude. I quickly put my hand over my mouth, and said, “Oops.” The (former) friend I was with shot me a mad dog look. I don’t think I’ll “rage against the dying of the light.” But going out gently hardly seems right. I hope to at least have courage.

A.D. Winans just turned 80. He’s still writing. Sometimes he sends out new poems to an email list, and I’m glad I get to see them. In fact, he sent one last night. It’s called Dream Poem. “Your smile hovers over me like/a hummingbird,” he writes. It sounds rather like a love poem. But it also expresses anxiety, “nightmares dark as eyebrows/do battle with the ghost eaters of night.” I know he struggles with insomnia. He had some wild days in his youth, which he’s written about. He drank with Bukowski, and he used to drink at the same bar as Richard Brautigan, my two most favorite writers. I recently re-watched the documentary, Bukowski: Born into This, and I saw Winans in it, a figure there in the background. I’ve watched this documentary so many times, and every time wondered who that man was (is), who seems to be a close acquaintance or friend. Now I know. What’s interesting to me is that when I watched this film, I wondered about this man in this particular scene, and I never would’ve guessed in a million years that one day I’d meet him, that he and I would both be invited to read at the same reading. Of all the poets I’ve ever met, Winans is the one that means most to me. I love his poetry. Love it so much. To me, he’s the real deal. (As opposed to pretentious academics, or mediocre MFA’ers.) A natural poet, like Bukowski. He has his own style and voice, though. Naturally.

Winans doesn’t seem old to me. But it’s all relative, though, isn’t it? When you’re twenty, 30 is old, 60 is super old. Then, if you’re lucky, you turn 50, and you realize you don’t feel old. In your mind, you are the same as always. When I see myself in the mirror, that’s when I remember I’m no longer young. I might say, “Oh, yeah. Shit.” Because no one likes to age, have their hair gray, thin out, and their skin wrinkle. But I’m really ok with it, at the end of the day, because I’m alive, and in fair health, and I have poetry to write, and read, and hear. For me, living is an art. I haven’t particularly done it exceptionally well, like I once did drinking, and despairing, and self-hatred, and self-destruction. But I’ve gotten better at it, and I love it.

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