Wednesday, April 30, 2014

I hope they wear shawls

No one wears shawls anymore. Maybe they do in Venice, I've never been. John Singer Sargent would be bummed if they didn't. So much of "Street in Venice" depends on her shawl.

When you are a writer and your first job out of college is working for an art museum, you start to think, and write, about art. Sargent is one of those guys that struck the right balance for me in style, substance, emotion, palette. And like some of my favorite writers, he went after every day life. He didn't miss the moments where everything comes to a head. That singular moment where it's all happening, but it's up to you to figure out what.

The girl with the shawl. The cat to the right who can't take his eyes off of her. Her walk, the way she kicks her skirt. Where she is in the street, her pace, the idea that she is going to be out of view soon, so if homeboy wants to say something, to get her attention, he better do it. But he can't, he just stares, struck.

I don't think he has a chance anyway. She is clearly thinking of other things. Maybe she's just left being with her guy. Maybe she's contemplating if it's time to get out of Venice, go somewhere new. Maybe she needs a drink.

Red wine is good for warmth.

Venice seems like a place you'd drink red wine. I don't guess the craft brew movement has caught on there.

Maybe she's got a Josh Ritter song stuck in her head.

It's only a change of time.

Maybe her shawl isn't doing it's job, it's cold and her heart can't keep time's changes. Maybe she makes these walks more than she wants to.

Each time I start shaking, shivering, have to breathe.

It's the shawl though, the skirt hem. I lose Venice for them. I lose the guy's gaze. It's what's on her mind. Whether it is life, whether it is love, whether it is want.

I still want a chance. More than anything.

I've never been to Venice. I don't know how people dress there. But I hope they wear shawls.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Spring smells like

The first thing I do when I get up in the morning is breathe in coffee beans. It's almost a ritual. Fill my nose with the smell of coffee, maybe in anticipation, or maybe to see if I can imbibe some caffeine through the nose.

Spring is a smell season. It's the smell of coffee brewing in the house. It's the smell of newly mulched and planted gardens. Of cut tulips on the table. It's the smell of whatever is on the grill for dinner. It's spring ale right after the top is popped. It's the smell of warm rain on the grass. Or if you're Carl Sandburg (fast forward to summer):

Summer mornings on the docks I walk among bushel peach
baskets piled ten feet high.
Summer mornings I smell new wood and the river wind
along with peaches.

Yeah, I know Sandburg is smelling summer, but he's part of why I got thinking of spring smells, so work with me. Peaches and new wood and river wind. If Yankee Candle made that scent, we'd have it in our house.

Smell is the step-child of the senses. If you had to give one of your senses up, which would be the first to go? Sight? Hearing? Taste? Touch? Nope. So long smell. But spring would suffer for it.

Smell wakes up in the spring after taking the winter off. Roll your windows down crossing the Bay and spring smells like salt.

For our girls, spring smells like the Oxford Park. It smells like snail hunting and collecting on the rocks along the Tred Avon River. It smells like river water splashed on your clothes while you're eating ice cream in an oldish Ford truck, with the windows down, letting all the spring smells swirl.

Monday, April 28, 2014

On Air

Air is possibility. We don't even notice it until it adds voice and motion as wind. When air becomes active. When I run I can't drink in enough air, filling my lungs, clearing them, repeat. When the big shit in our lives happen, when heavy or tense or anger or sad happen, we instinctively take deep breaths, looking for air, but not naming it.

Before we got too smart, the ancient Greeks, pre-Socrates, had the Universe broken down into air, water, earth and fire. The elements. Now we've named everything so fancily, we can't even get our minds around it. But we can breathe.

I'm being bird stalked when I run these days. Mostly by male cardinals. For a couple months now, every time I run, I get swooped by one. Almost always when I've forgotten they are watching me, and a fastball of red, or maybe it's a sinker, I don't have a batter's eye anymore, swings by, standing out against green trees and air. Once one lit for a second on a fence right next to the rail trail, nodding as I went by, and I smiled at him. Birds have air figured out.

Air is part of what my heron tattoo is about. The heron inhabits both air and water. Maybe he looks at home in both, or maybe not quite in either. I wanted to make sure both elements were part of the design. Herons inhabit and invoke both.

Wind is air at its most vocal. Air that says, don't fu** with me. The big bad wolf has nothing on wind. I lie in bed and I can hear the wind talking to the trees, unsure who speaks louder in that conversation. I drive over the Bay Bridge to work and feel wind push the car, which when you're that high above the water, that slight reminder says enough. Be kind wind. Be kind.

Brenda Hillman writes the elements. She is working through books on each. Her "Pieces of Air in the Epic," moves through air. She reminds us how cut off, out of sync we are with air:

Wind will rend the suburbs
With information seeking nature

or more depressingly:

They were mostly raised
in tanklike SUVs called Caravan or   Quest; winds rarely visited them.

When we're inside, packed away in our house, or seat-belted comfortably in our cars, we forget that air can be wind. That we absolutely need it to live, to breathe, but it doesn't need us. What if we get so comfortable, so cut off, that the winds rarely visit us? That would suck. No, that would blow.

Hillman brings us back with writing. I think Air is why I run. Elemental Air, filling my lungs to bursting, on the final mile home, Jimi Hendrix's "Stone Free," in my ears, heart pounding, talking to Air. In conversation. I'm not sure who is speaking, who is listening, who is breathing.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Blue on blue

I run under the blue. If the sun is coming up, on a weekend run, the sky is azure. If I'm running in the morning dark on a week day, then the sky is what Haruki Murakami paints it:

"The sky grew darker, painted blue on blue, one stroke at a time, into deeper and deeper shades of night."

Blue on blue, overlapping to make night. Deeper. Blue has always been my favorite color. Our girls know it. Dad's favorite color is blue. I don't discriminate against any blue, any coffee or any beer, they all rate highly, from azure blue, to Pabst Blue Ribbon to Blue Mountain Coffee. But if you push me to pick a favorite blue, I go darker. Levi's blue. Blue jean blue. Navy blue. But that's not it either. Darker. Midnight blue. Closest.

It's a blue you can see through, but not to the other side. It's a blue that permeates skin and soul. It's the blue Miles Davis had in mind when he titled, "Kind of Blue." It's the blue that oceans inhabit.

It's not the blue that people yell at umpires at baseball games. My blue doesn't have balls or strikes or rules or boundaries.

It's the blue of the sky at its edges, stretched beyond where you can see it. It's the blue of midnight, reflected in blue eyes, running through the blue dark, trying to see what's happening in the stars. It's blue on blue.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Gnarly Grown-Up Feet

Kids grow up here with tan, tough callused summer feet. Feet that have built tolerance to stones, to hot pavement, to dew wet morning grass, to oyster shells in shallow, brackish water. I did not wear shoes from the time school got out in June until after Labor Day when we had to go back. Until I bought a skateboard, but that's another story.

For the past couple months I've been carrying around Robert Hass's book "Sun Under Wood." It's the fourth or fifth time I've read it. I'm not sure why I started carrying it this time, except that sometimes books speak to me from my bookshelf. Hass speaks to me fairly frequently.

When Hass wrote "Sun Under Wood," or at least parts of it, his marriage was ending or had ended. He knocked the crap out of me with this from, "Regalia for a Black Hat Dancer,"

Walking down to Heart's Desire beach in the summer evenings
of the year my marriage ended--

though I was hollowed out by pain,
honeycombed with the emptiness of it,
like the bird bones on the beach
the salt of the bay water had worked on for a season--
such surprising lightness in the hand--
I don't think I could have told the pain of loss
from the pain of possibility,
though I knew they weren't the same thing.

The pain of loss and the pain of possibility. And not being able to tell the difference. Shit. That hits like rocks in the gut. And I think of a statement I have heard from more than a few folks, "It sucks to be a grown up."

Sometimes it does.

As we grow up we put on shoes in the summer. Our child feet go soft, lose their tan, lose their feeling. They forget what cool mud feels like between the toes on a sweaty summer day. Men's feet get pointed in wingtips and women's get deformed by high heels. Runners' feet lose toenails and earn blisters, hikers' feet can't wait to be freed around the campfire. I have horrible, gnarly feet, though my Clark's and running shoes are comfortable. Mine are feet that used to not flinch walking across a gravel parking lot. Feet so shoes-pale you'd never know they were once tan, tucked under the hiking strap of a Laser or pulling a Whaler up on a beach worth exploring

Maybe shoes are our downfall. Maybe that's where we start to lose touch. Maybe shoes in the summer are the end of our innocence. Maybe we would do well to fight them off with everything we have, to feel the grass, sand, mud, oyster shells at any cost. What shoes are worth not being able to tell the pain of loss from the pain of possibility? Cripes, man!

What do we do, Hass? Hey, leave the man alone. He's just a poet trying to live his life. Why would he know anything we don't.

There was a thick old shadowy deodar cedar by my door
and the cones were glowing, lustrously glowing,
and we thought, both of us, our happiness had lit the tree up.

Happiness. Even after loss? Even after shoes? Yep. Happiness. It's still there for grown ups. It's still there after innocence. It's still there after mistakes, missteps, regrets and the summer feet fading. The kind of happiness that lights up trees.

That's good. Because I think my summer feet are beyond repair. They look better in shoes. Though I'm not afraid to put them bare in the mud, or the sand, or the dew wet grass.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Dreams and Understanding

Park ranger is the first job I ever wanted. Really wanted. Daydreamed about. I pictured driving a truck around a national park, clearing trees and trails, helping out visitors, hiking trails, observing wildlife. Then coming home to a log cabin, either solo or with a wife and kids I hadn't pictured yet, hanging out, catching up, writing and reading. My writing and reading would be for me. John Muir, Edward Abbey, Gary Snyder style. That was the dream, life outside and in the world. And now I drive four-plus hours to and from work and sit in a cubicle for most of the day.


Understanding. Both yourself and someone else. I don't think I really got that until this last month. That's something I have stared down in the mirror and where I've made my biggest change, I think. Really understanding someone else. Getting out of my own way, my own selfishness, my own head. Maybe it's like empathy, but deeper. Much deeper. It's both easy and hard; hard as shit, maybe impossible until it's there and then, when it is, you wonder how it could not have been there.

I understand. That maybe wasn't true until this last month. It took some rough, heavy life to find it. I get you. I hear you now, when I didn't before, and now I don't know how I didn't. And I'm sorry.

And life feels different.

Dreams and understanding. I've found one. Maybe there's still time for the other.