Why work when there’s soccer on? Ten for Yesterday 

October 7th
 
It’s supposed to be feel-good Friday. How do I feel? Not as good as a Friday. Perhaps there’s too much pressure to respond to the collective psyche of the week day or weekend start day. That kind of pressure–conformity–always bums me more than just a little.
 
Measuring the days is a waste of time, though I’m programmed (self) to do just that. Yesterday was a productive day. We’ll call it productive Thursday, or throwback Thursday to a time when I was productive every day. Yesterday, I paid bills, cooked a meal, landed a couple of contracts, wrote a couple of blog posts, wrote a short essay for the blog, posted my social media blurbs for dollars, and enjoyed an entertaining evening and night.
 
I had more completed tasks than today. This morning, I completed a writing assignment due by noon with time to spare, so rewarded myself. I played with the puppy, started research on my next project, took a break to lie a bit, thought about writing some more, ate lunch, tried to walk the puppy (not successfully), and wrote a little more. Then I napped, and awoke to the cat staring at me. So I started writing this.
 
When the kids came after school, I watched Cameroon and Germany play for the Women’s Final something or other in soccer. My 8 year old great nephew watches soccer with me while his little sister downloads apps to my phone, ones with many animated pink girls, animals and purses. They are supposed to be my daughter’s charges, but somehow the powers of procrastination and the loose hand of the babysitter drive me to play.
 
So soccer on a Friday isn’t bad. It’s just that I didn’t get very far into researching that article I’m supposed to write. But I did make inroads into breaking my procrastination habit–one of the top items on my to do list for today. I thought about procrastination most of the day.

 

pixabay/soccer-competition-game-women

Angst: Poem 8


We’re leaving the Great Park.
It’s a scorcher out there.
Her team just lost six to one.
She’s quiet on the tortuous zag from the fields.
I don’t think she feels responsible.
At 17, she’s philosophical, albeit a touch cynical and weary.
She carries her angst in her pocket.
“What is nihilism?” she asks the road ahead after a while.
“Lately, I’ve been thinking about how minuscule
we are, especially in light of the cosmos and
the improbable non-existence of other life, somewhere.”
I haven’t hydrated enough.
My head hurts slightly.
“Well, it’s sort of like nothing matters,
an extreme sort of skepticism,” I immediately regret saying.
Her eyes widen and the depths of velvet brown
endlessly recede, raw terror swallowed–stored in a gap.
“But it’s not just the life’s a bitch then you die philosophy.
There’s something freeing about understanding our
insignificance in the larger scheme of things and our utter
significance at the local level, where we live.
It doesn’t have to be about uselessness.
The randomness and chaos of our births and deaths–
some take comfort in the just-is-ness of it.”
She still stares out at the road ahead of us, but I hear
her thinking it over, this great question of being and nothing,
all tied in knots to her senior year of high school,
turning 18, the possibility, potential, and unknown…
she who has always tightroped the anxiety fine line.
At 65 mph, those last 5 minutes take us no closer to home.

The Best of the Best (Ten today)


July 30, 2016
 

We are in Carlsbad, parked in a cool-shady spot near the beach, car lounging before the next game. The slogan of this soccer tournament boasts that only the best of the best walk through the gates to compete on their well-groomed fields. My daughter and her teammates deserve to be here…on some days. When they want to–her included—they are unstoppable. When they don’t, they’re not. 17 year olds are like that, I guess. They can taste freedom to make their own mistakes just at the other end of the table.
 
This daughter, like her older sister, I know so well and don’t know at all. Her cynical, critical eye is inherited. Her sensed, inarticulable experience of the world is inherited. Her logic, forethought, anxiety and perfectionism are inherited too. She’s more outer driven, while I’m more inner. I want to live up to my own standards. She needs a watcher, a fan and a stern stick behind her.
 
But I respect her. She knows what she wants, I trust, and will have to figure out from where her limitations come should she decide to exceed and conquer them. I give her words and a model. And while my older daughter allowed me to help her, push her to push herself, this one never has–not in the same way. They’re a study in people hood. How humans fulfill their cellular and cultural destinies–endlessly fascinating, the best of the best.

Game 

zero-sum

Your move. Now mine.

Yours, mine, yours,

we play politics, soccer and love.

Games of words and alignments under-girded by

luck, skill, wiles, wit and speed, overlaid intention,

drawing a letter, or a trip and cheat,

fallen, kicked and stalled, all tactics:

dive, grimace and grovel.

End goal?

Save, fail, score, win, promote, chest-bang, leave, shout,

cry out your props, boost your stature, grow tall and shiny or

make other plans; just so you know

might makes right

might makes right

might makes right.

You’re damned right.

No one ever won quietly fostering

connections and alliances, powerful

listening before empathetic action.

Subtlety, often like soccer games, ends

scoreless, some zero game.

 

Image: zero sum portent

Travel Notes Sitting on a Bench at the Farmer’s Market

Woke up to sleeping bodies in the dark, slurping in sleep’s sweet succor. I was ready. Yoga at the hotel fitness center cured the morning blank canvas of what will it be today? It will be all right, says yoga on the mat in a small hotel fitness room with one other exerciser on the treadmill making miles go statically by.

Before long, the world intruded. Breakfast with Pascal and talk of more violence, Facebook posts on how to understand Black Lives Matter and white resistance to the reality that no white person has ever awakened black in America. How can anyone not black know for sure? Listen. What can we do? Keep compassion in our hearts; let it soften fear at the lack of control we all surely have over what happens despite our illusions. And no more than ten minutes pass and my voice raises in anger at the lack of care, people, fear, ignorance, helplessness. People die, no stopping it. But people got to live too, be allowed to live.

For now, however, the warm breeze in a characteristically cold place soothes the upsurge in remembering the world out there spreads chaos inside. But oh, there is a bass fiddle and tuba piping out deep sonorous puffs of scales, notes and contrapuntal tunes, while the appreciative fold claps. Two low lying dogs yap at one another in the passing. There are dogs and people and stores with reggae music drifting in the rests of the two live musicians on this wood and concrete terrace along the store fronts, sidling the quaint corner farmer’s market.

The booth in front of me advertises Capay organic cherry tomatoes 2 baskets for $8. And now the bass fiddle takes up the bow, and there is a sweet, lilting classical tune that tells the story of parlors past with hooped skirts and tight ankled pants, wide buckled shoes. 

The air passes in muted bustle, not quite loud and frenetic as Saturday morning’s cruising in this Sacramento side street tucked between a bank building and artisanal strip mall, boutiques and coffee shops, and Peets coffee, the largest one I’ve entered.

Pregnant young mom, ahead of trailing chapeau’d dad and stroller. They are on their second. He wears mustard colored shorts with his felt feathered bowler and sky blue shirt. She wears running shoes, baggy grey shorts and beige shirt. They scuttle between tomatoes offered here, mini watermelons there and cantaloupes.

Straw stetson’d tattoo young man with a full bust of some man tattooed on his left calf and a mythical looking,  hair-flowing, witchy woman on the right. He and his son pull up on mountain bikes. The son plops the mini melon on the scale.

Colors of the market cheer up the asphalt upon which merchant stands rest under canopies like a parade of white circus tops. One stand sports a red umbrella for shade: Certified California Grown. And the bodies saunter and browse, dogs or kids in tow, some singles and childless, dog less couples. Mostly white folks selling and buying. Very few people of color. And there it is, the crying toddler that incriminates the moment’s peace.

Sipping a one pump vanilla soy long pull latte from Peets, Bob Marley says, “Everything gonna be all right…don’t worry ’bout a thing…” And it’s true. Buy the shirt or shoes if it pleases you. Small pleasures. Dogs bark to each other, communicate or ignore one another, just like we do. Hey, see me, I exist. See me. No, huh? Maybe the next one. And so it goes. 

Travel Meanderings


A yellow school bus slices open a wide swath of chaparral, the road it travels invisible to the distant traveler, me, him and them. We travel north til nearly the northeastern edge of the state, destination Davis soccer tournament. Mounds of tomatoes peek above the semi’s trailer, slowly steaming along this blanched roadway from heat, oil, dust and wind. 

Passing telephone poles look like cemetery markers, wired crucifixes, testament to scorched lives and anonymous death. 

Stockdale Highway in one mile, roadway to The Tule Elk State Reserve and CSU Bakersfield. Never far from a Jack in the Box and Subway at a gas station, even when the surrounding desert flecked with patches of green, low lying crops of indecipherable genus paint the landscape endless. Astonishing that this waterless wasteland harbors any life: bleached rock and sand. But there they are, tiny patches of great pines and firs engulfing secluded ranch homes visible from the highway, a contrast forest green to the sage, amber and tans of the desert floor.

A glance at a blur-by motel housekeeper outside the door of a room leaning upon her cleaning supply cart, seemingly hinged on the highway’s terrace, checking her phone. Who texts her at work? Who stays at this hotel in the midst of nowhere?
 
Long green corn stalks half grown, foreshadowing the kernel largesse to follow in a month’s time when seeking the sun’s vigor–sustenance–the sturdy stalks stretch open to the sky 8, 9 and 10 feet tall, or so it seems.
 
The hay tractor kicks up the dust as it slowly rounds the corner of a field’s dirt pathway, and of course, he has to say it, “Hay!” Hominem of humor on repeat. Now I know I am on a road trip. That and the question, “How far are we?” To which we reply in unison, “Half way.” No matter where we are, we are half way. That is our tradition–to torment further our restless children, now adults, or nearly so.
 
The almond trees. I’m not sure why they pique curiosity in me: Where did Christo install his umbrellas? Was it in the Grapevine or somewhere past Bakersfield? I tell my students the latter when we read Dillard’s essay about the stunt pilot who renders the air art in shredded ribbons of lines drawn and dissipated. 

Lost Hills Paso Robles sign reminds me of the trip we made in the 90s to the Central California wineries. The two-lane highway dips and dives through hilly tree covered expanses ranches tuck into. We found our dream ranch home hidden just off this little traveled wending way.

San Francisco is 238 miles away. She wants to go to school there. She and her teammate traveling with us plan to attend SFSU. Or prepare to by attending the JC there. Far away enough to inhabit her styled rebellion and independence but still an hour’s plane ride for safety net parents.
 
Romas on the side of the road arranged like marbles readied for the game do not look like they fell off a truck so much as were placed there, a peculiar sight.
 
Low lying shrubs dot the clean shaven desert floor in tans and ecrus. Twisselman Road. Spell check tried mightily to fight that last road name. 

Heather lined highway, peppered with sage colored brambles and bushes, blonde dirt, sticks, twigs and tumbleweeds every where halved by the steel girded dividing rails. C.R. England semi sidling by. Slower traffic to the right. We travel the passing line a bit just like the other California drivers. Except we know better. They probably do too. Some of them–with impunity.
I tease, “You think you’re thug coming all the way from Huntington Beach? Oh wait, you were actually born in Fountain Valley. Oh, you bad.” I laugh.
She pipes up in a flash, “I’d kick your ass even if I came all the way from Belmont Shores!” Her friend and teammate spits her water in laughter. Some of it splashes on my face turned to my opponent in the rear most bench in the van.

Coalinga Canal, near Fresno. Trucks parked, their cargo brimming over in red roma ripened in stark contrast to the surrounding dessert. A dairy farm, dismal to witness and inhale. The heat, dung, lethargy, exposure and pollution overwhelm the senses. Factory farming. 

A burst of Gerber daisies or black eyed Susans flash by, a couple dozen in a row, brightening the heather in sun bursts. Card board boxes fallen from some speeding vehicle mar the steady stream of browns and tans, sage and hunter greens. We swerve. He’s typing on his phone. “Do you want me to drive?” No. Apologetic and slightly defensive.

A faraway lover professes sweet adoration in my memory chewing upon the scenery. Warmth in the desert.

Twelve Minutes at the Bar


Perfect. I’ll do my ten-minute write here, a place I haven’t visited in a while. The last time I imbibed here–my usual IPA per the bartender’s suggestion–I wrote a piece that my editor thought worthy of publishing. Perhaps inspiration will visit again. 

Swallowing quickly the two offered shot glass sampler selections, surprisingly I choose the Pale Ale. It’s smooth and hoppy, more like an IPA than the IPA the bartender had me try.

I have not been here–a place exactly five minutes walking distance from my house–because I drink beer here, always drink a happy hour beer here, and I have not wanted to anesthetize in beer-land for a couple months or so. But today feels like the day. There is nothing to hide from, just the spirit of the day I nod to in being here.

Tomorrow I will embark on a road trip up to the far up north, another soccer tournament. With three soccer 17-year olds and a commiserating partner in tow, I will head for Davis and watch the road blur by as I gaze out the window and ponder the big and small questions: What did Jack Kerouac do on the road when he wasn’t taking notes for his novel? How many almond trees are actually out there in endless rows? Will I have time to yoga? Will she play well? How did pioneers foot and horse all of this, leagues and leagues of open vistas, dirt, dust and brush?

My eyes welcome open spaces, too often closed in confined spaces of the classroom, bedroom, kitchen, grocery store and local restaurants for a bite. Change of scenery flips the creative thought channels. Floating. Not like a pc drags me through the cyber-sphere.

The ten minute timer went off, but so did my notification buzz for a text message. She got a haircut and lost ten pounds. She looks the same–memory mine. 

Seated at the after thought extension of the bar, maybe the disabled low table, the woman next to me, leaving half her appetizer over, declares to the server, “Close out.” I ignored her while I wrote this but meant to pay her a few words of invitation to conversate. Too late, as ever.  But I’m sure her life bends back way past this moment and my feeble speculations about her momentary needs, wants and reasons to be at this bar. Now I’ll just have to create her story without her.

Five Years Ago–Happy Revolutions


Facebook reminds me that I have a memory from five years ago, a picture of my then 12 year old daughter in braids and new-budding body and me, lean and less harried (the intervening five years ran roughshod over my face and spirit), walking a 4th of July 5k that is an annual staple of my town, that and the parade that follows. A rare photo in that my younger daughter awoke early to participate in this event with me. She has seen me run all of her life, even gone with me via stroller or bicycle. Running and soccer predominated over our home all of her life.

Except my daughter, a soccer player since a toddler following in her older sister’s footsteps, literally, has never enjoyed running. In fact, her particular style of soccer reveals a constant strategy to minimize sprints and chases. She outsmarts rather than outruns. So, this particular photo reveals the rare and typical: the two of us in an early morning race–walking. 

I remember this day vividly. She and I raced to the race, having awakened late. By the time we reached the starting line, the race had begun and we raced along in the throngs of sneakered early-morning celebrators. We ran our race before it began, a well-known mistake for one who had run dozens of prior races, short and long. Pacing. We had not paced ourselves, so the photo captures us walking at the three-quarters mark, me with serious intent and recovery written on my expression and she with discovery and rescue broadcast on hers. We were enjoying the moment of breath and notice, me ever deep inside myself and she with wonder of the street lined masses outside.

The friend who took the picture much to my surprise traveled in a group tour with me to the Costa Rican Carribbean rain forest jungle on a yoga retreat. We became waterfall hiking companions as well as yoga classmates on the trip and afterward at the health club we both attended. I did not know he had taken the picture until he posted it on my wall. That memory and all it blankets coupled with a coffee quiet morning foreshadows a lovely 4th. 

Happy, peaceful revolutions to you all.

Taraxacum

image
A metamorphosed dandelion lay intact  in a vast grassy field

Where children played in muddy boots and soccer cleats,

Where footballs landed in small arms no bigger than a pigskin

Punted by big-shoed daddies tossing at small footed brothers.

The sun beat the grass and sent the hornets flying as players

Passed the ball with scuffed leather knotted Adidas and Nikes.

Even after the beach folding chairs and rainbow shade umbrellas

Came Dragging across fields drying from the morning showers,

She stood straight peeking above the tallest blade, puff and stem,

One lone lion’s tooth floret-filled seed head unfazed, full bloom

Miraculously untrammeled, an uncrushed testament to fortune

And delicate obedience to the will of a higher chaos than ours.

I’m a Teacher


I visited my father at the hospital this morning right after teaching my Tuesday morning class. In small talk, he asked me if I enjoyed teaching. When he is not at the hospital, which is always, he lives with me, so we have had this conversation before, I am certain. But this is how it is with him. He idles in conversation, never moving forward nor backward.

I said, “Yes, I love teaching.” To which he replied,

“Maybe that’s what you were born to do.”

I had to think about that for a moment. It’s probably true. I don’t believe he was accusing me of being too pedantic. The context did not warrant it. I’m sure I have been accused of that one before. Sure of it.

But he may be right. I have been a teacher or tutor or coach just about all my life from having younger siblings to helping out the kindergarten kids when I was a sixth grader to tutoring sociology in college for pay to side jobs through college as a Berlitz School of Languages instructor to a high school English department reader to a high school English teacher fresh out of college as my job while I finished law school.

I thought I should be a lawyer (my mother always said I should be), but as it turns out, I was always a teacher and returned to it after practicing law for 12 years and have done so ever since. 

I have had the great good fortune to teach so many classes, so many, many of them from composition and writing, to American and British Literature, to paralegal and law courses, to creative writing and life story writing, to art and cooking. I coached soccer for nearly 20 years.

So yeah, maybe it’s true. Maybe I was born to teach. I certainly do enough of it. After all these years, I have a knack for it, maybe even a certain talent, though I am equally certain that I am not the best. There are far more organized and structured college instructors than I am. And my ratings on ratemyprofessors.com are an average of mixed reviews. I have been accused of being a tough grader. That is true. One reviewer wrote: “If you’re stupid and you know it, don’t take her class.” I’m not sure what to make of that.

But it’s National Teacher Appreciation week. My students aren’t aware of that, and I am not bound to tell them. But I don’t need to. I am still friends in real life and on Facebook with students I taught in their senior year of high school 32 years ago, professors, business owners and lawyers themselves now. Folks I taught writing tips to ten years back in a class entitled “Writing the Story of Your Life”at a few senior citizen centers down the road 45 minutes are still friends. And dozens of students I see from time to time around town who I’ve taught at the local community college in the last fifteen years have popped up in that amount of time. Kids I coached when they were little are now showing up in my college class room.

I know they appreciate what they learned. Somehow I do. But I don’t think teachers are appreciated enough and in fact, are often ridiculed and belittled as the children they are charged with educating. They certainly are not respected given the status and pay afforded to them in this country. Perhaps that is one reason I felt–against my better instincts–that I should become a lawyer rather than “merely” a teacher when I graduated college. And I have vivid memories of teacher friends having to defend themselves from the old “you have summers off and I wish I had your job” patronizing.

Yet how many of us can remember at least one teacher that influenced them, taught them something and gave them stories to pass on to their own children? We take their continued existence for granted. We take them for granted–except for the one obligatory nod mandated by celebrated days of a week each year in May, primarily in grade school, when kids bring in flowers, apples, mugs, cards or chocolate to their teachers, who smile and fuss in return. I remember my years as room mom in my kids’ classrooms, having to coordinate that event each year as well as the holiday gift in winter and the parting gift in summer. 

And I often get Starbucks gift cards or gilded thank you notes at the end of the winter, spring and summer sessions. These are lovely tokens of appreciation. But I also get shorted a class and thus lose my family’s health insurance every five years when the district, state or country suffers budget crises. I’ve been through three of those cycles in fifteen years, sometimes at perilous times in my family’s health history. I am also never guaranteed a class as I do not work under contract, just the good will built over time of performing my job. 

This semester was the first in fifteen years that I was paid for office hours, though I hold them throughout the day and night outside my classroom when it ends, at tables on campus, on my way to my other job via telephone and at night when I return via laptop.  And I am happy to do so. I love my job. I just wish teaching were as respected and well paid as other jobs with comparable education and training. And the more I teach, the better I am at it, though there is always something to learn as a teacher.

Teaching is in my bones. No doubt. I’m fortunate to do what I love. Remember your teachers this week, most all of them givers–in the spirit of the profession. Hugs to all my teachers, good and bad, for helping build my life and teaching me to pay it forward.