daily fieldnotes

Feeling category archive

Over the Hump 2

Yesterday there was a morning walk under the pines, cut short by a squirmy toddler. But not before we heard doves, and saw them perched among the branches. Not before we saw the tall rattlesnake grasses, as high as my shoulder. Not before we felt dry, golden grass against our legs. Not before we heard the sound of our feet crushing crispy brown pine needles. Not before I felt my muscles working as they pushed the stroller up and down the hills, and remembered how a morning walk opens things up like nothing else.

But the day was still long afterwards. Wednesday, the middle of the week. When the heat bears down all day long, it’s easy to go stir crazy. To feel like a prisoner of the air-conditioned house. To crave an outing of any kind. But even a walk around the block or to one of the parks nearby has no appeal when it’s 100 degrees outside. When the black asphalt radiates heat that is almost visible in its intensity.

So in the evening we went to the library. The county library here is in the top floor of the Alcazar, the famous and imposing fortress that reigns over Toledo’s skyline. From the windows there are sweeping views of the city, and the wide open plains beyond. I look through the wooden shutters into the distance and imagine a watchman warning of the approach of an army in the distance in centuries past. Basil jiggles with giddy excitement at the sight of another child, toddling up to him and offering a book. “Hi” he says, and when the other small boy says nothing, he tries “hola”. I smile at the mother and wonder if she’s as glad to have her child entertained as I am, or if I should redirect my enthusiastic little boy.

After the library we went to a park. The parking garage where JJ’s parents have passes hugs the side of the hill by the Alcazar, its roof level with the street next to the fortress. There is a big square on top of the garage, and in the late evening when the sun goes behind the buildings and it finally cools off a bit, children play there. Parents sit along the edges talking and looking down at the river below, or have drinks in the café tucked in one corner. Basil watches a group of boys playing soccer. He follows two little girls riding their bikes around. And then he toddles into the play area and climbs up the slide behind a much bigger girl. I watch his cheerful attention to the other children, and feel guilty for how little he sees other kids here.

Now it’s Thursday and I can feel how things are shifting towards the end of our trip. Basil’s abuela has started saying she can’t wait until he leaves, which is her way of saying how much she’s going to miss him. Abuelo has begun to ask Basil for kisses all the time, linger longer over him at mealtime, and get jealous when we spend time with Great Grandma. JJ comes back from Barcelona tomorrow. We are going home soon, and a sense of possibility has replaced the mid-trip restlessness.


Unexpected reflection 1

Ironing tends to pile up in a basket at the bottom of the closet in this house, favorite shirts crumpled in balls next to skirts not worn for months. Then one day I pull it all out and try to make a dent. Today, still weak after days of the flu, I set to it.  Pressed a striped, black shirt I haven’t worn since February. Sprayed steam and smoothed the wrinkles from a new flowered blouse I’m anxious to wear again. Hung each one in the closet as I finished, walking from the living room where Djokovic was beating Nadal in the Italian Open final, to the bedroom full of morning light. Another shirt. Two more pairs of pants. Sweating and tired of it already, I went to hang a red cotton shirt with round white buttons, hoping the pile remaining would look smaller.

As I slid open the mirror closet door, bright slants of light caught my eye through the sliding glass door. I lay the shirt on the bed, grabbed a camera, and started playing with the composition. But the pictures just looked like lines of light on painted, brown deck wood; nothing interesting after all.

But then I noticed the supple curves of Twin Peaks reflected in a small puddle of water along the railing above the slants of light. I moved closer, crouching down, trying to see sky, trees and hills. I ran for the other camera, kept looking for a different angle. Just like that, the morning felt like magic, as I caught this reflection of our familiar view in a stripe of last night’s rain.

Questions from the beach 3

Filled with words, mixing together as I try to tell a story while sick with the flu. How I drove to the beach on a whim last Saturday with my mom and sister. How we talked about the big questions of life. Why do you make decisions? What are the biggest decisions of your life? Feeling surprised at their answers, mostly about relationships – with men and children. My mom deciding to leave her first husband, stay with my dad. Have more children. My sister deciding to leave the father of her first child, stay with her current husband. Not have more children. More surprised when the conversation turned to a debate about the meaning of pride. What does pride really mean? When have you felt proud in your life? Struck as both of them talked about their children, feeling proud of things they’d taught them. I didn’t say at the time, but I thought about how I am proudest of my education, how far I’ve come given where I started.

I felt the cold spray on my face as we walked, barefoot, along the shoreline. Gave my scarf to my sister and pulled up my hood against the gray cold. Felt how big questions open you the way being near the wild North Pacific does, tilting your perspective on the here and now. Felt how quickly the focus had shifted to them, how I heard about their big decisions, their memories of pride, and never said my own. This is who I am in my family. The questioner, the one who often prefers to ask and listen, rather than competing to get my own voice heard.

It’s frustrating at times to have to fight so hard for attention; being one of six children (five of them girls) will do that. But I appreciate how Saturday’s conversation leaves me with so much to think about. Questions still turning themselves over in my mind nearly a week later. I want to ask everyone I see; find out their thoughts and experiences.

Instead, I blog from the couch, sick as a dog. So I turn my questions to you, because it fills me so to have this conversation through blogging. What does it mean to have power over your decisions? What drives the big decisions of your life? What does pride really mean, and how does it matter in your life?

Maybe it’s a sign 0

I don’t remember the last time I’d seen a rainbow, and then two in one week! I looked up from breakfast with my mom yesterday morning, and there it was, arching over the view I see out my kitchen window every morning. I’d like to think it’s a beautiful, colorful sign that things might shift toward the lighter and more positive in this house. Too many low, dark moments lately!

Last night I dreamed of my childhood, and woke up rested and happy. I was playing in the back of the school bus we had on our land. (Yes, there was a real yellow school bus by my house growing up. My dad converted it to a greenhouse and grew sprouts there that he sold to local health food stores. Lots of stories to tell about that!) In the dream, it was summer, and I could feel the warmth of dry, brown grass on my bare feet. I’d lost something in the bus, and was worried about how grimy it was in there. But I felt warm and content, filled by the sunny possibilities of my childhood summers. The feeling stayed with me after I got up, got ready, gathered my things, and went to the corner cafe to write.

Today is the first day of spring, and I’m feeling a shift toward the warmth and color that lies ahead.

Ginkgo and Maple Light 3

It rained hard last night, and this morning the sidewalks and buildings looked scrubbed clean, waiting, like the floors of a restaurant not yet open for the day. Outside our house the rain drove the Ginkgo leaves to the ground, fanning around the tree like a skirt whose elastic has snapped. Fall comes late here, the leaves only beginning to fall with the post-Thanksgiving cold mornings and dark rainstorms, so it’s easy to forget it happens at all when other parts of the country are already talking about snow.

I am writing more, making phone calls, filling out papers, jotting down lists, finding hope in routine and action, inspiration in fiction (I just finished Barbara Kingsolver’s The Bean Trees, which I can’t believe I’d never read given how much I loved The Poisonwood Bible and Prodigal Summer). It’s been a dark time, but the yellow wildness of these leaves on smooth city pavement, and satisfaction of moving at last, calms the worries.

As does my wonderful guy, with his humor and warmth and habit of not shaving until he can comb my hair with his chin.

And time with my dear friend, and her smiley little girl, playing in piles of yellow and red maple leaves, keeping the baby from eating (too much) mud, walking and talking about moving and our nomadic lives and how hard graduate school can be.

Did you know shaking a branch into a hail of yellow leaves could make a baby giggle endlessly? You should try it, there’s no feeling sad when your hair is full of leaves and an 8-month old is chuckling with glee in your arms.

Sand, Ocean, Rocks 1

Sand, pushing against my steady gait, filling my shoes, hiding the city behind with tall, grassy dunes.

Ocean, rolling waves toward the shore, carrying surfers and foam and piles of coiled, hairy seaweed.

Rocks, piled with sand dollars, funneling the quicksilver water and turning it to foam.

After years of living in SF, I’ve “discovered” the beach is right over the hill, a mere 15 minute drive. I will be back.

360 Degree View 2

Too many days are dark like this November sky in the last few months, pulling my mind into strips of heavy worry. Dissertation blues, family squabbles, hormonal ups and downs. It’s all rather dreary and hard…

And so I take a walk. I leave the house, walk down a steep hill, the concrete clean from last night’s rain, sidewalks strewn with yellow and green leaves. I walk over Market Street on a bridge, passing a woman talking loudly on her cell phone, her dog giving me a suspicious look as if to say, “are you the one making my owner act like that?”. I climb stairs, wind along a small trail past an elementary school, and along a flat, residential street that hugs the side of the hill. I smell paint, and pass a man spray-painting a lamp gold, brown hands holding the metal against a sheet of plywood in his sunny garage. Finally, I reach the last set of stairs, up the mountain, and I’m there, at the top of one of the peaks (there are actually 4), surrounded by panoramic views of the city, bay, ocean, and a sky full of clouds.

I walk up and down the four peaks, sneakers slipping on old, weather-worn wooden stairs caked with mud. The hills are bare, no trees, just scrappy bushes and bright green fall grass, which always pushes up through the dry summer grass this time of year. No one else braved the possible afternoon rain, so I’m alone. I see scrappy, brown birds with bodies as small as plums, hopping about in the wet grass. I see a fat, mustard-colored banana slug, sliding along the rocks.

At the top of one peak, I stand, braced against the whipping wind, trying to stitch a 360 degree picture on my phone.* Between the cold and wind, it’s hard to hold still, and many pictures have fissures of overlapping color, shape, sky. I play with vertical panoramas, adding layer upon layer of sky to the glowing pre-storm horizon.

Then the rain starts, but I keep turning in circles, trying to take a full 360 degree panorama of the city. My hands are cold, raw. I put on a fleece headband and tighten the strings in my hood. The rain comes from the northwest, hitting my hood with a hard “thwap thwap thwap”.

So I head home. I walk down the last hill, noticing how the view of downtown San Francisco is obstructed by a sheet of rain. I can’t see the downtown towers, only vague outlines, and the gray blur of water falling in the distance. I cut right to follow the path, my shoe slipping a little in the dark mud. When I reach the street, I cross, and rejoin the path down the last hillside to a neighborhood street. I look downtown again, and the rain has passed. Market is clear all the way to the Ferry Building. The skyscrapers of the financial district stand tall once again, and I can even see the East Bay hills beyond.

The rain has stopped up here on the hill too. I walk home, considering how a storm, a mood, can come and go so fast. I can’t stop saying to myself, “see, it can all change in a moment, a storm can blow in, rain pelting down, and if you focus on your path, one foot in front of the other, by the time you have a chance to look up again, the storm has passed”.

*I took the panoramic pictures with a fabulous iphone app called “Pano”.

Spinning in Sunsets 4

It’s hard to talk about wanting a family, and not having it yet, and being in the in-between space of wondering what to do next. At every turn there’s advice. Give it more time. Get help right away. Try acupuncture. Take this test. Avoid that test. Try homeopathy. Eat better. Drink more water. Drop caffeine.

And of course—relax. Always that.

Everyone wants to help. And lots of it is good advice.

But none of it helps with the feelings that come along with “trying” and not having anything happen. Like rowing a boat with holes in my oar, pushing hard against the current and finding myself only swept further downstream, each month is a little harder than the last. Isolation becomes more comfortable than trying to talk. It’s easier to spin around in my boat, burrow deeper in, try to patch up my oar and keep going alone.

It’s easier to change the subject and talk about sunsets.

Like how the sinking sun lit up the clouds on our way home from school last week, made the downtown buildings glow like Mordor. How the deep pomegranate red turned to persimmon orange, reaching out to engulf us. How cars inched across the Bay Bridge, and instead of noticing how slow it was, we all turned our eyes to the sky and enjoyed the journey.

What do you find hard to talk about with the people in your life? What helps?

Or how about you just tell me what’s making you smile today, ’cause I’d love to hear about it.

A Different Angle 2

Taking the camera with me a lot lately, finding that looking through the lens, framing light and color, is a break from the ups and downs. (Here, from the back of a convertible on the Bay Bridge–which I’ve crossed innumerable times, and never taken pictures of.) Writing and walking a lot too, finding pause and rest from mood swings in putting words to page, walking up and down hills.

Listening to new music, The Boxer Rebellion, loving how their beats and voice resonate with my moods.

Thinking about a series where I post pieces of writing I’ve been working on here, once a week. I like the free flow of blogging, that captures where we are, today, in photos and words; but I also love reading blogs where people post more crafted writing, less often, and have imagined doing that here. I think of it as a way of developing and sharing something from the pages and pages of writing I do every day and never show anyone.

Balancing anxieties 1

Talking with my husband’s 90 year-old grandmother in Spain the other day, I was asked, again, “¿bueno, algunas noticias?” (“so, any news?”). She then began worrying at me, saying “and at your age you shouldn’t be wasting time”, and “you should look and see if somethings wrong, if one of you “no vale” (literally, “doesn’t work”). All I wanted to say was “mind your own business”, but at the same time, I want people to feel like they can ask how things are going, because it’s a big part of our life right now. This is a hard balance to strike, because I’m both wanting to share how it’s going, and not wanting other peoples’ anxieties to make my own even more pronounced.

Every other week or so my mom tells me about some naturopathic doctor she ran into at a farm market while selling her dolls, or an old midwife friend she saw who had some advice for getting pregnant. (The latest, told with a good laugh, was to eat goat balls. Yes, goat balls. According to this 40-year veteran midwife, it works every time.). It makes me realize my mom is bringing me up a lot, and it also makes me think how when you know someone who’s trying to start a family, they’re the first people you think of every time you see something related to fertility.

It kind of makes me wish we hadn’t said anything to anyone. But too late for that. On Halloween, grandma’s 91st birthday, it will be a year since we started, a year since we whispered in her ear on her 90th birthday that we were trying for that great-grandaughter she’d been asking us for. And in some ways that’s a long time, and I get anxious about it. And in other ways, given that this last year was very stressful and unsettled for us, it’s really not that long at all. So for now I’m trying to be relaxed about it, tell people how I’m doing when they ask, but avoid letting them get inside my head with their own worries.

Not an easy balance to strike, but it feels good to try. And I’m glad to be talking about it with people–it seems somehow better to be open about it than secretive, the way people used to be.