Like a miracle, we were wakened by wet stuff beating down on the metal clad air conditioner so thoughtfully placed in the wall next to our bed in Faculty housing. As most everyone knows, California is in the midst of an historic 4-year drought…parched yellow grasses, trees shedding autumn leaves in August, exhortations to Conserve! Re-use Grey Water! Turn in your water-wasting neighbor! (just kidding, sort of.)
Hooray, awesome timing that we now call CA home, today is but a tiny taste of the winter to come: El Nino and driving, drenching, floodwaters are expected in the Bay area. For whatever reason, the serious-faced newscasters intone that this won’t be the magic solution, no, the water will roll off the sun-hardened clay earth instead of penetrating to the roots and reek havoc on the traffic and hill-dwellers (Megan up in La Honda is in full-on prep mode for the closed roads and mudslides.) For such an incredibly optimistic place, it’s hard to reconcile the good news is bad news interpretation going on.
We marked 90 days in California this week. I also finished another revision draft on the novelistic sister saga—Polly and Jenn are now resting a bit. We’re all talked-out. The moving tasks done, markets and new doctors located, David’s new job ramping up, and the driving structure of the work on the novel put aside for a week or more, these gray skies coincide with a rising inner gray wall to contend with. How does a good place turn so quickly to bad, in such an optimistic time in my life?
Well, well, well, for crying out loud. This is the stuff courage calls for: physical distractions waning, I’m alone with myself and the choices we’ve made. Everyone says to me, it’s so amazing what you’ve done, given up a carefully constructed life, decades-long friendships, business, home, things, and then started anew, how gratifying to have found love in telling stories. To which I think, nah, the decisions were taken one step at a time, an accumulation of left fork, right fork, new paths and wanting to know what’s just beyond the bend. The scary part is now.
The rain is here. More is on the way. Time to invest in a raincoat, right?!
We saw Anna Deveare Smith at a talk last week and I was struck by her down-to-earthness, her sheer presence. When she mentioned Studs Turkel, one of the great storytellers of our time, I thought how apropos, because she is surely in that class. What a powerhouse. She interviews people at or just after a moment of crisis, partly because (sorry, paraphasing badly here) “People talk themselves into realization…” and she just brilliantly captures that elusive essence, those fleeting moments of our lives when we are fully present. Working it out. Not yet understanding what has just gone on—a doctor at Charity Hospital abandoned by FEMA during Katrina, just one example—but telling Anna the story brings “realization.” Her resulting performances bear witness, raise up the voices we wouldn’t otherwise hear. And the thing of it is, she’s incredibly grateful, she knows the gift people offer her (and us) to allow her in.
So, aha! Outside, the rain has ended. Blue skies are off in the distance. The sun may yet shine.
Writing is realization, too. The stories clamor to be told, little sparks waiting for elucidation. Is it too much of a stretch to say that artists that capture those fleeting moments, the essence of human experience, are the ones that I should be reaching for when the gray wall descends? A reminder that it’s just an accumulation of left fork, right fork and realization could be right around the next bend. No, not could be there, surely and most assuredly will be there, waiting.