Fill Your Paper…

Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.
–William Wordsworth

When I sit to write my blog, I am like the slot machine that comes up with one lemon, one X and one banana peel. It takes a few pulls to get gold. As I sat late this Sunday evening to write the elusive *something* I wanted to write, I saw the clipped-out graphic with those words from the aptly named Wordsworth. So, to follow my own instructions, here is what is breathing in my heart.

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I want to write beautiful, wrenching things that leave clawmarks as I drag them into light.

I want to describe the color of my daughter Simone’s eyes, how they are the greenest, sea-green, peridot jewels, and how sweet or sad they sometimes look. When I see her I remember her a toddler holding my leg with one hand and her bottle with the other, laying her head against me until she was too tired to stand, and then fitting into the crook of my arm while we napped.

I want to describe the things that scare me, or used to scare me, that don’t scare me as much as exhaust me, bore me, weigh on me anymore. How they ceased to frighten and turned to lead. How they still drag on me, without fear, but yet with consequences.

When I sit at my desk the hourglass trickles away the grains of time and will I ever get to say it all, spill the words that clog my throat? Will I die before they make it to the page? Will the daily drag, like sodden clothes weighing me down in a flood, keep me from that end?

I want to have left it better than when I came in. Better stories, cleaner air and water, rebuilt lives, warmed hearths. I want there to be lions and elephants and whales for my great-grandchildren and for theirs, too.

I have words in my head, in my chest, still forming, bumping around like polliwogs without legs and arms, without what they need to stand alone. I’m busy, too busy, and time slips past, and the year is almost over, and I have to do these things, and then the words have dried up, used up all the air and died. I was gonna write about that, but I missed it. It’s over. It was a one-time thing, but — I get anxious, sometimes, and the words are there but the hands won’t perform. Or the words want to come but the anxious makes the body tired, so the words stay in.

I want to write about the stories of my ancestors who struggled, who suffered, who caused suffering — but I need to see it, process it first. So the filing and sorting is going on in my head and I’ll get it right, eventually, if there’s time. If I can just get it down.

I want to think that I’m winning at this, that I’m succeeding in a pool where everyone is splashing at the same time, and it’s hard to see who’s got the ball. Is it my turn? Can I catch it? Can I throw it? Can I even see it coming? Is the water too deep? Am I just going to slip in and get wet, and then get out and dry off and call it a day?

I want to write about bigger, deeper, more — and I’m afraid the instrument is too blunt. I’ll smash it instead of shape it. It won’t work, and no one will want to read it anyway. I want to do it just for me, except I don’t, really, because it’s the tree in the forest without an audience, making noise for whom?

I want a way to harness all this energy, to light up my own world, and maybe yours, if I could just —

If I could only — you know. Write.

Home at the Edge of the World: Alameda Poet Laureate Inaugural Poem

Home at the Edge of the World
Alameda Poet Laureate Inaugural Poem

2015-01-06 13.03.12There are houses down your shaded streets –
beneath your oaks, your ginkos, your avenues of palm –
Leaded in glass, shingled in fish-scale, spangled with gingerbread,
Victorian ladies tarted up for Carnival,
their history and lore curving like a staircase into view.

Gentlemen strolled in spats, ladies swung their parasols,
bay breezes curling with fog and the clank of halyards, snapping flags. Water, at every turn,
glittering to shore, to ship, to ankles and toes.

Neptune would have been pleased to see his name emblazoned,
to hear the calliope, the splash and crank, the punch of tickets.
Men pummeled each other in the ring at Croll’s, the Nickelodeon competing with the cry of merchants, seagulls, girls on the beach.
With popsicles and peanut butter.

The famous train stopped here, golden, spiked. Immigrants worked invisibly,
then vanished from the record,
as if they’d never owned that shop, inhabited this neighborhood.

We’re at the edge of the continent, a dot on the map, an island of sand and silt.
We have our own secrets, our dirty clothes, our backyard politics – small minds and big mouths –
our stories of brutality and red-lining, of spite and malice.

I came here a refugee from the Marriage Wars, empty-handed at Starbucks, where I found a roommate, a latte, a lifeline.
The past was closed to me then, our future uncertain
as airplanes crashed into buildings and fell to dust.
From desperate shores I washed up, crumbled like the missing tower of City Hall.

I didn’t know yet2014-08-27 10.58.35
That in Alameda the past is under your feet, in shell and sand.
That the streets of Bay Farm were paved with the bones of other people’s ancestors.
I didn’t know
That some islands are real and some islands are made.
That we could live here for three generations and still be new.

But I have roots here, I’m an Alamedan, too —

My mother, just a child in the Depression, came down
from tawny oak-strewn hills for sand from the beaches for her sandbox.

My father, just off the ship, his Navy uniform still salt-damp from the Sea of Japan,
took a drink at Wally’s Corner, then
crossed the green bridge, up the road to the University, to stand at Strawberry Creek and think,
I’m finally home.

He brought my mother down Trestle Glen, Park Boulevard, Grand Avenue, Webster, through the Tube to their apartment on Lincoln Avenue – the Ulysses S Grant – to take out trash and mop the halls in exchange for rent.

My brother came, a squalling newborn at the hospital where consumptives once went
to bask in sunlight, to dry their shattered lungs.

He crawled, he walked; my sister followed, and we moved away
to suburbs where there was room to grow.

But I came back.
My daughters became Jets; my stepchildren were Hornets,
my allegiance to the home team shifting when the rent was raised.

I’ve met a prince here, and been a pauper,
and married the same man twice on green grass by the water,
lived in houses big and small, with stories of their own.

2015-07-19 20.32.23Alameda, Alameda, your name is lyrical on my lips —
you showed me how far I could walk on shifting sands before drowning.
Before I was in too deep.
Before I thought to ask for help.
Before I learned to save myself.

Alameda taught me that even the least of terns has power.
That even people living in mansions sometimes lose their beach.
That two newspapers are better than none.
That when there’s trouble, raise the bridges.
That when in doubt, hold a street fair.

Alameda, Alameda, you’ve unfurled me, shucked me like an oyster.
Tell me your secrets. Send me scribbling
to the page.

 

Julia Park Tracey
Alameda Poet Laureate
2014-2016

How is This Possible? Coincidences and Other Disasters

CANjuliahandscrosstopSI spend a lot of my time howling the cosmic yawp into the blue beyond. It looks, to mortal eyes, like I’m making lunch and beating a deadline and running errands and remembering to put out the trash cans. But I assure you, a goodly portion of every day is given over to caterwauling (mostly in my inside voice but not always) on the WHY of everyday living. The WHY of how did we get here? The WHY of how can X be happening?

I’m old enough to know better. I am hitting that midpoint in life. I have successfully raised 4.9 kids (just 1 year left on #5). We have a retirement plan (sort of). We own our cars (not new ones, God, no!). We’ve traveled around the world a bit (more when single than together) and we’re not on our first marriage (to each other, yes. In total, no.).

So you can bet that I don’t believe in fairy tales, magick, the Virgin birth. I do, however, believe in Something. It’s just too random that my husband and I met when we were both at the nadir of our love lives. I find Something in the spectacle of my own resurrection after that hairy divorce when I was a shadow of my ex, a skeleton of who I was and had yet to become, up to now, when I feel fully fledged and mighty as Aphrodite on steroids.

I have worked as a journalist for some 30 years now, writing poetry and short stories and a novel or two between times, trying to write the one story that was true. Reaching for Hemingway’s One True Thing. I have almost had it once or twice. Missed it by *that* much.

I was talking with my very elderly Aunt Doris about four years ago, telling her about my new story idea. I want to do a sort of “Diary of Anne Frank,” but a fictionalized version. Tell that teen girl’s story in a different way. Be in her shoes. Tell it sideways. Something like that. I told my aunt this on the phone, knowing I would see her the next day, and she encouraged me, as she always did, with alacrity. “Oh, that sounds wonderful,” she said. The next day I drove 70 miles to her house to see her, but she was gone. Still breathing, but the essence of her had slipped down, underwater, to where I couldn’t reach her anymore, and though I talked and talked to her, she wasn’t really there. We never spoke again.

So we held her memorial and sprinkled her ashes and cleaned her house, and my mother handed me a heavy old box of letters and journals. I took them home for later, feeling heavy myself, and wondering at the why, the how, the WTF of it all. We cleaned her house, and I brought home her desk, her martini glasses, her car. I slipped a ring onto my finger that had once adorned hers. I had her glasses remade with my prescription and one day opened that box. The diaries were there.

A few months later, I began typing up the diaries. I posted them on Twitter and Facebook, talked about it on the radio, made friends and followed trails back some 90 years. I’ve been working on this project for four years now; The Doris Diaries, her words, the diaries of a teen girl. Telling her story in a different way. I’ve slid into her shoes, a little sideways.

I’m not sure of the why. I only know that there’s truth here. I don’t know the right questions to ask, but the answers are somehow here anyway. It’s Something. Something I can’t explain.

 

Fall 2015 Events

Women’s National Book Association

Alameda Reads

North Coast Redwood Writers’ Conference

  • Sept. 18-20: Annual Conference: Reading + two workshops (Social Media for Dummies/Why You Need a Platform; Creative Non-Fiction for Writers: Writing Essays and Reviews)

Banned Books Week

  • Sept. 30, 11 a.m. Reading marathon at Alameda Free Library (Main Branch)

Litquake (San Francisco)

Poetry Reading/Workshop

  • October (date TBA): Teachers and students of Sumiton Christian School, Sumiton, Alabama
  • I’ll be traveling and doing research for a book project and will have my nose in books, maps and libraries in…Alabama!

Book Launch Party

  • Nov. 6, 7 p.m. Alameda Museum. Guest speaker Woody Minor. Champagne. FREE!

 

I Get Anxious

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy husband says I’m a delicate flower, and while, yeah, that’s true, it’s not all that’s true. I have anxiety. I have PTSD. I have issues.

This is not a case of disease-or-malady-of-the-week, a la celiac wannabees, or whatever Madison Avenue tells us this month is wrong with us (You need oat bran! You need Vitamin E! You need aloe!).

I really, really get anxious. I take a little pill each morning which cuts out the crazy part of anxiety — the part that screams all day long in my ear WE’RE DOOMED. YOU F*CKED UP AGAIN. EVERYONE HATES YOU. DIE DIE DIE. And for this, I am truly grateful to Big Pharma for coming up with a chemical that counteracts the panic in my brain.

There’s no need to panic. But my brain/body panics a lot. Count yourself grateful that you’re not me. Because it is beyond sucky to get into your car, and then be unable to leave the driveway because you suddenly had a vision of yourself hurtling down the highway and crashing headlong into another vehicle, and the impact accordions the front of the car, I am crushed, I can’t breathe, I am being squeezed to death, and blip, I actually, truly feel my soul slip free from this dying body. I felt it. It was real. #truestory that never actually happened.

There’s no need to visualize my daughters’ bodies severed under the rumbling wheels of the kiddie train at the zoo. It’s unnecessary to waste minutes or hours waiting for the earthquake that will flatten the house on top of me. I can feel the roof coming down. I can taste the grit in my teeth. I can see the meteor coming with my name on it. I think these things. I have done so for years.

But usually my anxiety is of a lighter shade of freak: I don’t want to go to a party. I don’t want to be on the freeway for an hour. I don’t want to go out and face the eyes that feel like a thousand needles or the smiles that sometimes seem like bared teeth. I don’t want to have to explain myself. I used to force myself to go, and ended the day feeling exhausted, broken, unable to string words together, my skin erupting in hives and my hands shaking with the palsy of terror.

But I don’t make myself “be good” anymore. I don’t perform because other people might be disappointed. I know how it feels to be kind to myself and how it feels when I’m not.

I didn’t go to an event yesterday that I had wanted to cover, that I’d looked forward to writing about, because when it came time to go, my inner animal said no. It didn’t feel safe or wise. (And it was totally safe — a gathering of women to celebrate other women heroines. Utterly, completely safe as can be.) I took care of my inner fear-bot with books and ice-cold raw cucumbers and pineapple chunks, with a lemon freezer bar and a nice walk around the block. I didn’t die a grisly death and no meteors hit me. I feel better today. I’m writing now, aren’t I?

You know the positive part of this? I write good stories. I make my imaginary stories feel real. I can use this power for good. Most days that’s what happens. But sometimes I drop out because it’s too much. I curl into an armadillo ball and breathe until the baddies go away. (By the way, if you also suffer from anxiety, try tapping for anxiety; it’s pretty amazing. It’s free, it’s drug-free, and you can watch it on the Internet. Plus, it works.)

Don’t take it personally if I don’t show up sometimes. It’s because I can’t. But I’ll show up the next time. Probably.

I am a delicate flower. And it’s OK that you know that about me.