road trip: a meditation

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I’d hoped to hit the road at dawn. The 2:30 a.m. phone call blew that plan. On the other end was a situation emergency enough to require my husband to get dressed and head to the ER. Grateful to have a partner, I stayed in bed, alternating between dozing off and being afraid, one hand on my phone as I waited for an update.

The situation resolved itself enough by morning that I could still depart, mother-guilt added to my more practical luggage. I pulled out of the driveway around 8:30 a.m., bound for Pismo beach, then San Diego. When I’d considered my options for the trip, they looked like this:

a.) Drive the full way to San Diego in one shot.

b.) Divide the trip into two days.

Having spent enough time on the road to know how miserable I get by hour eight or so, I opted for the latter. And since I was splitting the trip up anyway, taking 101 and staying somewhere beachy was clearly more inspiring than slinging myself down the 5. I haven’t spent much time in SLO (did have a singular experience the one time I was in Pismo before) and liked the idea of exploring the area further.

Despite rarely coming to the Central Coast as a child – I vaguely remember a camping trip to Morro Bay – the area triggers nostalgia. Unlike all the SoCal spots I regularly visited, the view and the vibe evoke a certain 1970s California. Everything is in soft focus, weathered and golden.

I don’t reminisce much. I grew up in a place bereft of the kind of culture I sought; besides a few good friends and great parties, my memories of it are not pleasant. I was too smart for my teachers, not racist enough for my peers, too evolved to take the conventions of my Catholic high school seriously, stunningly naive regarding boys. My parents split ugly when I was 15. There was a drug phase. I left high school early because it was stupid – California proficiency certificate instead of a diploma – so no prom or graduation or homecoming to look back upon. I left the desert right before I turned 18, never looked back, not even when I had to move back for a time. My mom sold my childhood home and relocated to the Valley within a couple years after I left. I have no family there and little family elsewhere and not much contact. And this is all fine – things worked out well for me. I have my own people and beautiful life and amazing jobs. It’s just the usual situations that people look back upon wistfully didn’t manifest in my childhood. But I also, unlike some girls and boys, didn’t get molested by the priests at my high school, and I had good jobs even as a teen and my lack of a senior year hasn’t mattered and my boyfriend from back then stuck around to become my husband and this’ll be 28 years of togetherness in March, so yeah, I’m hanging in there.

All to say, this nostalgia certain parts of the coast brings out, it’s not personal exactly. I think it’s a way in which my love for this state manifests. I never loved Lancaster, but I have always been infatuated by California. The geography, the stories, the compulsion people elsewhere have to Come West. All songs about California are good songs. Sure, the state has its ugly parts, sordid history, riot, earthquakes and oncoming coastal flooding that will cause the world to come undone. Still, to stand on the beach – or better yet, be in the water – as the sky turns color and the ocean glows and a peak in the distance boasts a scattering of snow – I love that.

And I do have stories. Nights on the back of a Harley in Hollywood, New Age parties in Topanga Canyon, tripping back over the Baja border as the sun cracked over the mountains, watching that same sun drop into the ocean from one of the state to another. Beach bonfires. Sleeping in the redwoods. Going to the Op Pro. Riots. More riots. Riding my bike along the concrete sluice shepherding the L.A. River to the Pacific. Going to clubs in El Ley at 15, at 18, at 22. Moving north and diving into the Trinity River, a different kind of wildness. Learning to surf. Being surprised that beauty also exists inland. I have built a life that encompasses much of this state. I have become more and more myself with each move, from the desert to the beach, from the south to the north.

Southern California being what it is, development has reshaped the places I remember, some beyond recognition. I tend to look ahead at where life leads next, where I want to go. But every so often, some innocuous thing – a freeway sign, a row of faded blue houses, particularly robust bougainvillea or a glimpse of a beach where I once made out with a good-looking boy, skin warm from sunshine, the future a blur of promise, the present delicious – my heart warms with sentimentality.

I have a lot of stuff on this trip, the result of hurried packing. It bugs me; I prefer to travel light. But the extra clothes and multiple pairs of shoes are of no mind, really – turns out I’m carrying more than I realized anyway.

solstice

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December twinkles. Flickering candles and Christmas lights. The rain refuses to relent. We embrace it – “Finally!” – pleased for the fish, even as we tire of the mud tracked in the house, the smell of wet dog permeating, the friction that comes when everyone is trapped indoors. Curling up against your lover while rain beats down on the skylights is lovely. Dodging drops in the Co-op parking lot in the pre-holiday shopping madness is not.

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This year, December has had me on the road twice, gone a week here, there. The first trip took me from Humboldt to Sacramento to Santa Cruz to Monterey to Santa Cruz to San Francisco to home. The second trip, I left Humboldt for San Francisco to Santa Cruz to Santa Barbara to Santa Cruz with the plan to depart for Humboldt in the morning.

Both are work trips, both overlaid with friends and family, drinks and dinners. Two times I was invited to the lighting of Hanukkah candles. A friend took us out on his boat to see sea otters and whales. I even went caroling in the rain, a madcap revelry involving many children and culminating with a boisterous “Jingle Bells” in an all-but-empty Denny’s.

In between, moments of solitude present themselves. Occasionally I use them to my advantage – a walk, a book, a string of words beyond a status update, a few yoga poses, another attempt at meditation. But mostly, work aside, I’ve been lazy. There’s been a lot of Facebooking.

I’m not surprised. December, for all its merriment, reverberates with giving up. Sweet and sentimental holiday ideas are tossed aside due to a shortage of time. Surfing gets sideswiped by darkness and too-big swells. It’s a sure bet that I will lose neither weight nor bad habits during this month. The year draws to an end and I am no closer to the usual goals than I was back in January, when optimism prevailed. Alone, I get glum, wonder if this is as good as I’ll get and if so, what that means for the rest of my life.

Dreary, I know. Then again, the darkness of winter solstice serves as a fine excuse for more somber thoughts. It’s all these long drives, the disorientation of not being home. So much thinking happens. There’s much to love about the time traveling – learning new places, the steady beauty of the coast, the chance to connect with old friends, to visit my children who’ve flung themselves into the world beyond Humboldt. But there’s a trick to it, too. The same tricks, I suppose, that make any type of life happier – holding on to morning ritual, spending your time thoughtfully.

I am not without confidence. But I grew up believing anything short of perfection was failure and so was too busy being embarrassed at making mistakes to learn from them. Understanding that making mistakes is a necessary bridge between ignorance and skill escaped me. The beautiful people seemed born knowing how to do all the things – sing, play guitar, dance, get straight As, make people love them – while the rest of us stood by watching, biting our lips and unsure what to do with our hands.

When I discovered myself pregnant at 19, at 23, at 25, people shook their heads in disapproval. I was stupid, they said – what didn’t I understand about birth control? I wish younger me had realized that I understood more than they did, being intimately familiar with the inadequacy of various methods. Instead I thought I could prove my worth by being a perfect mother to the children I never considered mistakes. So misguided, the need to be validated by one’s critics.

And yet, so human – who else might build us up as well as the people who have torn us down? I find myself still sliding back into that place where the ghost of younger me resides, hurt and angry to be devalued. “You think I’m worthless? I’ll show you,” she says, all narrowed eyes, stomping feet, clenched fists. I want to make them all confess they were wrong, that I am worthwhile. I catch myself, take a breath, step back into the light. Remind myself that the people who deserve my attention, my thoughts, are the ones whose friendship has never wavered, whose support has been like the lights strung up every December: bright, cheerful and strong.

I owe my life to my friends, my husband, my children. When I imagine succeeding for them, the determination emerges just as strong as the more vengeful version, but unburdened by loathing. It’s a lighter, transcendent ambition.

When I took up surfing is when I first learned to make mistakes. Standing on the board on a wave was a sort of coming home to myself. I wanted to do it over and over forever. Which meant going out and falling down and looking like the kook that I was (am) and still going anyway because if I kept going and going and going I might someday be okay at this thing that gave me more joy than just about anything ever had.

Likewise, watching my children play baseball and softball, seeing them strike out or miss a catch and continue to step back up to the plate or run for the next pop fly. I never had that kind of bravery as a kid. I loved watching them. I love them.

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So, December, you glittering beast of a month. You’ve put my head in a weird place, again, but it’s okay. The shallowest part of my life is lovely, the deepest parts, amazing. To get from one to the other, from the beach to where the waves are breaking means traversing the impact zone – oh, surfing lends itself to the corniest metaphors! And yet, it works.

Tomorrow I’ll drive myself, Nick and Kaylee toward our Humboldt home, stressed, no doubt, by the predicted storm, lousy to drive in. But we’ll make it and be welcomed home by Bobby and Chelsea, house warmed by the fire, rain smattering against the skylights, the days incrementally growing longer once again.

surf sessions #34, #35, #36, #37, #38

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I just need to note these happened. My surfing consistency continues to be on the decline. I want to make next year different – with regards to many things. What would it be like to finally transform effort and desire into simply a way of being?

#34: Magical.

#35: Magical.

#36: Meh.

#37: Really fun.

Will be looking for waves here in Santa Cruz today – or more specifically, there’s no lack of waves, but we will be looking for the ones less smashy. I have a fun-looking loaner board to try out and K’s stoked on us going, so anticipation of an inspiring session is high.

on politeness and the fallacy of political correctness

In other news, I wrote about intent vs impact a while back, which prompted this response from someone I know:

The only reservation I would have about what you had to say, there, is that I fear “politeness”…
Seems innocuous enough, politeness.
But we don’t love our friends because they BEHAVE

Which I interpreted to mean that if people are too on guard, afraid of offending, friendship suffers; if you can’t be “real” with someone, how can you truly connect? Sometimes people are afraid of debate, turning disagreement with someone’s ideas into labeling that person as inherently disagreeable.

I’m quite possibly wrong in my interpretation, and, of course, being a woman, I felt compelled to point out that girls know better than anyone the pitfalls of politeness. If you are raised to be “polite,” the parallel consequence is, standing up for yourself feels “rude,” which means you can be taken advantage of. People that grew up able to speak their mind don’t understand how the trained among us might find ourselves wordless in the face of abuse, but that is what happens; the cop who hassles you unfairly, the guy who shoves his hands onto your body, the boss who demeans you – if you’ve been discouraged from making others feel uncomfortable, you learn to absorb the discomfort yourself.

But that’s definitely not what my colleague meant, so let’s step back and address politeness between friends. I believe in the higher principle of etiquette; making others feel at ease is a good thing. Being able to assess a situation and respond accordingly is a skill of the highest order. Don’t confront someone at a wedding, for example. Talk to the person who looks lonely. Arrange your face into a sympathetic visage when the child in front of you breaks down into the tantrum to end all tantrums and the mother is helpless in the face of it – if you have children, you know how insane they can be, and if you don’t, revel that you’ll never have to know. In either case, the high road is the right road.

But again, I digress. Who are we with our friends? That, I suppose is the question. And yet still, I tend to err on the side of being polite. I love my friends. They matter to me as much as clean air, drinkable water and windless, sunshiney days. I know that friendship means accepting people when they are less than their best and in return, the same people continue to love you despite your insecurities, flaws, ridiculous drinking habits, but still – if someone loves me so much to tolerate my endless texts about the same tiresome problems, wouldn’t I want to return the favor by being kind, thoughtful? Take our interactions as an opportunity to reenforce how much I value and respect them?

Politeness that results in timidity? Bad.

Politeness as a way of being a functioning, compassionate human? Good.

Maybe it’s all semantics.

Which leads me to the concept of “political correctness.” First, I thought we were done with that term – it seems outdated, a way for the politically conservative to reduce new and important conversations about race and gender to eye-rolling – but then a friend posted a link to a column in which several comedians decried political correctness as “killing comedy.”

I think what’s killing their comedy is a refusal to evolve. Robin Tran wrote a response in xoJane that reflects my own thoughts:

I know lots of comedy fans who are just yearning for something new and different, and they’re tired of hearing the same old clichés and stereotypes. There are only so many times you can hear jokes about black people stealing, Asians’ inability to drive, and heteronormative dating jokes where “women do this but men do that” before it gets exhausting, boring, and unfunny. These comedy fans are generally progressive-leaning, and they’re oftentimes unfairly accused of being humorless.

Many progressives love Inside Amy Schumer, a show that is not “PC” at all, and more liberal-leaning websites are constantly posting articles about what a genius Louis CK is. A few of these liberal comedy fans may take some jokes too personally, but to brush this entire group as humorless and PC is dishonest and lazy.

I could go on, but I need to hit the road and besides, funnier and smarter people are already on this one, so let me leave you with a clip from one of my comedy heroes, Aziz Ansari:

surf session #10: tiny plastics (not fun), small waves (fun)

Thousands of tiny pieces of plastic, a few millimeters in diameter littered the sand, dotted the seaweed left strewn by the tide.

We were combing Point St. George’s beach for trash and anything that might have washed up from the 2011 Japan tsunami. This included part of a buoy, several plastic water bottles, a lot of rope bits and other random debris – several buckets’ worth of garbage. But the microplastics defeated us – too numerous and too small for us to make any but the slightest dent.

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All fun and games until someone loses an…

In the meantime, the sun shone, a light northwest breeze picked up and the tide swelled in. Conditions looked promising for our next move – a quick surf at South Beach. We’d been warned that a jet ski contest might compromise our good time and parked at the north end to minimize any interaction. (The controversy over the contest had resulted in poor attendance, which worked out very well for us.)

Bobby came out with me for the first time in months and, of course, caught a wave within a few minutes of paddling outside. I envied his easy athleticism for a moment, then was awash in happiness to see him having a good time. I caught plenty of my own waves, easy waist-high, longboardy rights that seemed like they might fade out, but kept peaking back up until I was almost to shore. Ridiculously fun.

I watched a couple preteen girls catch whitewater on softtops and flashed back to all the times we’d brought our kids and their friends to South Beach. Nostalgia threatened to flatten me for a moment. Oh, my little children! Now all grown up and catching waves in Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara. I miss them, miss surfing with them. But glad they took this gift I was able to give them out into the world. I smiled, and paddled for the next wave.

surf session #9

It’s taken me a week to get around to chronicling this!

I wonder how different my experience would be if I’d started surfing as a child. Would I be less hesitant, less hung-up? Or is that just an unshakeable part of how my brain is wired? Given how much I love being in the ocean, why would I ever sit on the beach thinking, “Oh, I don’t know. It’s cold. Look at all those people. Ugh.”?

The ghost of the shy kid I was lingers.

Another truth: One’s comfort zone is determined by the regularity of engaging in the activity. When I’m surfing daily, the hesitation fades – I’m tugging on my suit while sizing up the waves, perhaps unsure how it will be, but not going ceases being part of the conversation. I paddle for more waves, sit deeper, assert myself better.

And given the burgeoning crowd at my favorite spot, there’s no room for anything less than the confident taking of a wave. Given a choice, I’d ask for a nice day full of head-high rights and the occasional overhead set with me and maybe six familiar faces in the water. Reality, on this day, was overhead lefts, no rights to speak of (but the lefts were glorious) and about 35 people crammed into a 10-foot takeoff zone. I did not recognize many faces. And I’m still babying my shoulder. And I lack confidence because I’m not surfing so much. See? All the usual hangups. It was good to be in the water, to paddle, to readjust my attitude and reacquaint myself with the scene, but I did not catch many waves, just a few leftovers – my fault, as I opted to hang on the side and wait for something to swing wide instead of planting myself in the pack.

But even if I were more competent, having to fight for waves undercuts the joy of being in the water – and joy is the point. The only solutions are to either surf elsewhere, in lesser quality waves, or be good enough that the crowd issue ceases to be so significant.

Although – irrespective of my own situation – this was the worst etiquette I’ve ever seen at this spot. Several times, multiple people dropped in on a wave. I saw boards fly a few times as surfers jerked away trying to avoid collision. A friend who was out commented that although she doesn’t endorse bullheaded localism, some old-fashioned regulation sure would be helpful.

last bit about the ol' checking accout

I’m sure I’ll catch up; I always do. Besides, tax return time is coming right up!

But this reminded me of a piece I wrote some time ago, so I thought I’d post it.

“Insomnia #3”

Finding the poetry in love affairs comes easily. The river as metaphor, the cry of the geese as wildness incarnate, the passion that bursts like overripe fruit upon the birth of a child, these I can revel in as easily as a dolphin riding a sun-drenched wave.

Tragedy, or the specter of it, lends immediately to elegance in words. Injustice awakens eloquence. Even certain small moments glow with universal meaning: two hands touch as both people reach for the pot of just-brewed coffee, the sunrise slanting orange and pink between the blinds, the trill of the birds lightly in the distance; the laughter, exhuberant, of a small child who has spied a butterfly paused on a sidewalk crack; the nervous look on the face of a first-time Little Leaguer as dad and granddad look on; the baking of bread.

But where is the poetry in the small struggles, the ones that singly may be slight, but together overwhelm the way water eventually wears away even most stoic stone?

Where is the lyricism in checking a bank balance online to discover the $3 check I wrote went through right before my deposit cleared and now an overdraft charge has left me $22 poorer and that $22 blow means I now have no money to put gas in my empty-tank car so how are I supposed to drive to all the various places a responsible working mother-type needs to go to?

And I can’t really expect a room full of strangers, or even friends, to suffer my complaints as I still have my health and my children’s health and a lovely home on the beach and a job, a job that even though it barely pays at least has good perks, and a husband who says I’m beautiful as often as I’ll let him and what’s $22 anyway when millions of people are starving and dying while my husband paints a sea dragon on my new custom-made surfboard a friend carved as a favor.

After all, I do know how good I have it with the kids and the husband and the house and the surfing and the lifestyle, but then again I also know the whole enchilada balances both on fate’s whim with regard to my luck and my own strained and rather questionable ability to accomplish absolutely everything work-wise and mom-wise and wife-wise and homemaker-wise that needs to be done every day to maintain the front I’ve so successfully established and this is what it’s like living on the edge of zero and this is why I can’t sleep.

Because I know the effects of that $22 loss only begin with the gas and will continue into the PGE bill and snowball onto the oh-so-inconveniently due car registration and wouldn’t I know my son needs field trip money for school today, right now, and so I sigh and write another check and pray that this week at least I get to the bank before that check does and I wonder, again, what ever happened to the poetry in my life?

and a bit more

For the record, my biggest problem with money is likely a lack of time to properly pay attention to my bank account combined with the constant demands of needing food, gas, etc. I always think I’ll figure it out later, which is never a good idea.

But yeah, as M said, cash is the way to go.

On the happy-making side of things, I had the nicest email at KSLG from a dad who had requested some songs for his daughter who was on her way to compete in a swim meet. I played his request and then some; he wrote back how happy I’d made her, which made my day.

this is ridiculous and then some

I need a financial advisor. Or a bookkeeper (did you know “bookkeeper” is the only word in the English language with three double letters in a row?). In either case, having one cannot possibly exceed the amount of money I spend on overdraft charges and related bank fees. I am truly missing some vital piece of information explaining why what I budget out on paper never matches up to what actually happens in my life. I’m not stupid, I swear. I’ve had a raise and acquired another job; I should be comfortable, not scrambling. And yet, there I was as Target, listening to the clerk tell me my $2 debit card transaction was declined. Fortunately, I had an alternative option: using my Wells Fargo card, as that bank’ll approve anything and screw you over for it later. I need to get a grip. I need someone else to handle my money since I’ve proved so incompetent. I’m good at lists, good at math, good at understanding how things work. Why is properly budgeting so continually problematic?

In better news, I surfed yesterday. Camel Rock. Beautiful, clean, small swell. I hustled out, caught a few fun rights. But my wetsuit is so, so, so beyond worn out. The cold permeated every bit of me. I actually skipped surfing today because I couldn’t bear the thought of suiting up in that damp, holey suit and facing the icy air, chilly water. I keep thinking, “One more paycheck,” but then Christmas happened and now I’m still catching up.

Thursday night, I’m again hosting spoken word at Muddy’s Hot Cup. Wouldn’t it be nice to write something new for that?

At least I have some good interviews set up for the Eye over the next couple weeks. I thought I’d start the year off with a resolution to write a kick-ass column every week, but so far, that hasn’t happened. At least there’s always hope, right? Just like another wave comes along, so another paper does, too – damn, but surf metaphors are always so corny.

Nick’s doing well. We’ve had some low moment this past week, but not enough to change anything. He and I sandboarded twice over the weekend. What a blast! Falling, which I did every time, wasn’t too bad, since the sand was soft. Not that I wasn’t sore the next day – I was! But I didn’t break anything. The “run” is a gradual slope, not too steep, but I get going fast enough to get a rush. The speed and height are intense compared to surfing, and I think this whole sandboarding thing might be helpful. Suddenly, snowboarding has appeal. Assuming there’s a lodge nearby.

80

Hung my 2007 surf calendar (1 day so far) and tallied 2006.

80 sessions.
Pathetic. That’s the least I’ve surfed since 2002, when I started. No wonder I’m taking so long to get better.
My goal each year is to surf at least half the days – 183 times. I’ve come close, but never made it, what with the shifting sandbars, huge winters and other life commitments. But maybe 2007 will be the year of dramatic improvement. One can hope.

(And yes, from another perspective, the fact that I found 80 chances to surf last year evidences the relative cushness of my life. Not forgetting that. That said, the fact is, one must aspire to actually do the things one is passionate about. Surf. Write. Parent. Otherwise one’s not really a surfer/writer/mother/etc. – don’t you think?)

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