Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Weeklings

An essay I wrote years ago is up on The Weeklings. It's twice as long as what's published and the story only gets more disturbing. I like to say that my writing is unpublishable, but that's not true. Each piece just needs to find it's home, even if it takes five years.

Here is the link: Licks

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Wildwood and Summer, and Chaos and Peace

Last week, I went to Wildwood, New Jersey, with my husband, and a bunch of family, ten people altogether. In my youth we went to Wildwood every summer. 

Every trip back home, for me, is stressful and chaotic. This time I tried to seek moments of peace. I visited my grandpa a few times in the hospital. I thought he might not make it this time, but when I walked in he said, Sara. He said, where's your husband. He said, you came from California? He said come here, come here. He wanted to give me a kiss. 

My husband and I walked down the aisle together at his sister's wedding, as a groomsman and bridesmaid. I love my husband and it has been nine years and I only love him more as time goes by and I think that we must be lucky. 

In Wildwood I got to see family I usually don't get to see, and had a couple conversations about my family and our history, which I am trying to understand. 

There were no jellyfish in the ocean and we all jumped in the day we got there. My ten year old niece was scared of the ocean, and I am always scared of the ocean, though I love the ocean, but because she clutched at me, I carried her in and I wasn't scared at all. 

We took our nephews and niece to a water park one day and that night I fell asleep believing I was still in a tube, floating along the lazy river. I felt peace in the water park, and on the ferris wheel. Ferris wheels, airplane windows, views from tall buildings, these things make me feel so suddenly, almost violently peaceful. 

We bought a beach umbrella and played in the sand with the kids. We made moats and sand castles and   buried each other. I laid on a purple sheet under the umbrella and listened to the ocean and read a book and my husband laid next to me and the kids played in the sand at our feet and it was one of the happiest 20 minutes of my life. 

Later I came in and someone had emailed an article. I quickly scanned over it. It was about writing and networking and how to sell a book and write a book that sells and how to be a successful writer and I didn't care. I cared about sand and kids and husband and ocean and the colors of the beach umbrella and reading my book. Sure, I care about the book I am writing. Sure, I care about my stories and essays. I love them and need them and they are me and I will never stop. Sure, I will keep trying to get published but the truth is, right now, I don't care, or I don't want to care. I don't want to think about success and networking. I want to live my life. I want to have a baby. I want to write. I want to spend time with friends and family. I want to learn and figure things out. I want to visit home and not feel the chaos. I don't want to care about what you do, your trajectory, how I stack up against you. I don't want to be compared to anyone else. I want to live my life, just live it, and I want that to be enough. 

Thursday, July 04, 2013


Driving up to Sequoia last weekend, we listened to some TED podcasts. Podcasts are one of my favorite things. The TED talk was about vulnerability and shame. Shame is, at its core, a fear of not being able to connect. We shy away from what makes us feel vulnerable because we are afraid we will fail at connecting with other people. Picking up a telephone makes us feel vulnerable; text messaging does not. The TED speaker said that if we dull our vulnerability, we dull everything about us that makes us human. I am so good at lifting half of myself out of any situation in which I find myself, I've only recently noticed I do it at all.

I am naturally wide open when I hike, and even walking on city streets lowers my guard. I throw my heart and soul into crowds at concerts. Into books. Into, I think, I hope, my writing. But when it comes to people, I hide behind walls, which means my walls are there all the time. I am trying to fall my walls because they hurt me, they shield me from love and chance and luck and optimism. And social media, I think, are walls to hide behind. Safe. Secure. Nothing like the letters we used to write, meant for one person, with our souls all over them. A self can get diffused, scattered into the Internet, tiny meaningless tidbits that are disconnected from our true selves.

I have a media addiction-- facebook, twitter, email, TV, and I don't think I am alone. Right now it's socially acceptable to have your face in a screen at all times. We are all behind walls. We don't want to be fully present, anywhere, at any time. At concerts, the experience is mitigated by millions of tiny screens, experience shoved into a box, so everyone behind you has no choice but to watch you shrink down your own experience by taking yourself and everyone else around you out of the moment. 

In Sequoia, there are no cell phones, barely any wireless signals. There are young men in cowboy hats on payphones. The lodges have DVD rentals, free book libraries. People play cards and listen to the radio. My husband and I, driving or hiking through the park, mostly just looked around at everything, the trees, the mountains, the deer, the stars. We stopped for a mother bear and her baby to cross the road and it was all we could talk about for hours. 

Another TED talk says to raise your arms up in the air or stand like Wonder Woman and instantly, you will feel less stress, more happiness. In almost every picture of me that weekend, I have my arms up in the air. 

We go for hikes through Sequoia groves. I read an article a few weeks ago that said plants do math, advanced trigonometry, and in calculating how much to eat and when, they anticipate the future. Giant Sequoias are immediately recognizable, bright, fiery orange in forests of brown and green. They are the biggest alive things. They take their water from the air and the earth. They reach for one another underground, intertwine their roots to help stabilize one another through the centuries. They not only live through fire, they need fire to survive. They are entire universes to some small species of animals who never know anything but their tree. They live for thousands of years. We are delusional if we think we have an afterlife and they do not, that we are more alive, more conscious than they are. We are crazy, we are lying to ourselves (I understand I have no idea what I am talking about here, because how can I), if we think there is an afterlife for us and not the Sequoia, the whale, wind, water, fire. 

I want there to be an afterlife because I want there to be answers. I want to know the things I can never know. I am thinking about the afterlife because it is the reason for all religion and everything supernatural. I can’t decide if or how I believe in god. I can’t decide which story I want to tell myself.

There are fallen sequoias everywhere, and in their footprints new sequoias grow, and the dead giants slowly disintegrate back into the forest floor. Everything happens for a reason and that reason is to keep the world turning, keep life alive.

Fire is the only thing that will open the tiny Sequoia pine cone to release seeds, and the seeds will not grow on a bed of leaves, they need freshly burned ground. Sequoias have a thick, light skin that looks like fire, is made for fire, because it needs fire, and we need suffering, all life does, because we will not grow if we don’t suffer, individually or as a species. We are all of the earth, we and the giant trees and the small fish, and we live by much the same rules.

We did a hike we had never done-- Big Stump trail in Kings Canyon. There are giant, alive trees and a graveyard of stumps of trees cut down by man. It's sad to see the stumps, but also, in a way, thrilling to lay in the middle of a stump and imagine the ghost of the tree growing from your stomach, to feel the ghost of its energy.

Mark read the sign for the stump, and he said, "Sara, did you know this? They sent a cross section of this tree to the Museum of Natural History in New York." I grew up fascinated by that cross section of a giant tree behind glass, a permanent exhibit in the museum. I went on class trips and family trips and it was, next to the blue whale, my favorite thing at the Natural History. I could not imagine that it could be real-- a tree so old, so big. In the museum, there are little signs on certain rings that say, "On this year, Alexander the Great was born." Going back in time thousands, THOUSANDS of years. I never imagined the stump from which it was cut could still be in existence, much less than I would encounter it someday, on a spur of a small trail in Kings Canyon National Park, on the other side of the country, deep in the Sierra Nevadas. I stood on the stump and felt the long lines of thread connect me to my younger self, full of wonder at the museum, and to all the decisions in between and the millions of other people who gazed at the cross section in the Museum of Natural History, or who stood on this stump,  and I felt tied together to nature, god, chance, wonder, curiosity, and I thought, yes, we are terrible for killing this giant, but this giant has done some wonderful things for humanity.

I don’t know how to tie my thoughts together. I think that’s what I am getting at. There is so much, and I want to face it all, life and the universe, and I want to breathe it in. I want to be an open field. I want god to be a million different things.

Many of the trees in Sequoia have names, and I stopped as I walked by Clara Barton. She was by herself. Her roots were gentle hills and I walked over and pressed my body against her curves. Her roots were so steady, strong, light, and they supported her giant body, careening straight up into the sky. I thought, I need stronger feet, I need to press them into the ground, I need to be exactly where I stand, I need to pull myself down when I notice myself drifting away. I need to welcome the fire.

Friday, March 08, 2013

Coincidence. Synchronicity.

I've always had precognitions and dreams that came true. I grew up in NYC and it was a regular occurrence for me to be on the subway and think of a person who would then appear. I could be walking down the street and casually think of an acquaintance or even a minor celebrity, who would then round the corner. Carl Jung calls this 'Synchronicity' and when you begin to notice, when you write down your dreams and pay attention to coincidences, you will notice that this sort of thing happens all the time. This American Life's episode, No Coincidence, No Story!, got me thinking about the major coincidences in my life and what, if anything, they may mean.

In my late teens I dreamt of boys and shortly thereafter would meet them in real life and in each case, I thought, he must be my soul mate. This must mean something. It must. I dreamed him. Here he is.

The boys didn't agree. To them, I was just another girl and in truth, I was too scared of love, too frozen to trust. And for a dream of this sort to come true, the other person needs to believe you are their soul mate too.

When I was 24, I was just getting over a bad relationship with a lying, cheating, enchanting alcoholic who exceeded all my intellectual and sexual needs and I had lost my hope, my wonder, my curiosity, and every spark of my identity. I prayed to god, and I never prayed, I said my heart cannot take this kind of pain again. I cannot. Please god send me a nice boy who will be kind to me, who will marry me, who will be a good father, please god I want to feel peace and I don't want to be alone.

I may not actually believe in god or in prayer, but I believe that you can tell yourself a story. I believe in stories.

One night I had a dream of a boy's face and when I saw him at a bar the next day, I didn't care. I told myself, this doesn't mean anything. It never means anything. So you had a dream about him. It doesn't matter. Nothing matters. I mentioned the dream to a girl I didn't know very well (and soon would never see again) and she unzipped my sweater, told me to pop my boobs out and shoved me towards him. The boy's name was Mark and a couple nights later we went on a date, and I told him I had a dream about him, and I didn't think anything of it. Five years later we were living across the country in Los Angeles, and were talking about getting married but something was stopping me. I was scared. Scared of marriage and repeating the mistakes of my parents and more than anything, scared of falling the frozen walls around me that I had always imagined to be diligently keeping me safe.

We were driving up to San Francisco on a neverending stretch of flatland interstate when it began to rain. We were listening to This American Life, the segment that involved putting a band together via classified ads to play a cover of Elton John's Rocket Man. In the episode, the man who puts the one-day-classified-ad band together is a man named Jon, from The Mekons. He explains that at the time he was disillusioned and didn't have high hopes for the project. He explains that there were a number of "lucky accidents" during the making of the project. On his way to the recording studio, his taxi driver was a flute playing, Carl Jung-loving, 'Synchoronicty' fan.

As the segment ended, a green minivan cut us off and a child's fingers reached out the window to catch the rain.

A moment later, the green van flipped over and toppled down into the embankment and into the endless farmland. Mark, without a thought, swerved the car onto the shoulder, and slammed the breaks. We were a ways away from the crushed mini van. A few other cars stopped, but most people don't stop to help victims. For a moment, I watched hundreds of cars drive by.

Before I really understood what was happening, Mark was out of the car and running towards the mini van. He ran. I hesitated because I knew there were dead bodies. I hesitated because that is what I do. I put up walls and I freeze. But Mark is wide open, sincere, good. I slowly searched the trunk for our emergency kit. I tried to find something that could cut steel because I knew there would be people trapped inside the van. We had nothing in the trunk that could cut steel. I quickly walked over.

There were three alive children lying still on the grass. There was a man walking in circles and screaming. There was a dead woman. There was a dead child. I handed our emergency kit to the off duty EMT's who had happened to be driving by. I knelt next to Mark, at the foot of a child's head. His name was Darwin. Mark, Darwin and I talked about movies and cartoons. We waited for the helicopter to come.

The helicopter took away the three alive children. We walked back to our car. We were on our way to my cousin's baby shower. We could think of nothing but dead children.

I had never seen Mark so shaken. I thought of the quick moments when he pulled over, opened the door and ran. I wanted to marry him.

The weekend proceeded and we were quiet and we held hands and at times I saw tears in Mark's eyes. I wanted to tell him, I want to marry you, but I didn't. What if he is a good man, but not a good husband? What kind of world is this, where children die? Why should anything matter if nothing matters?

On the way back down the 5 to Los Angeles, we passed the exit where the accident happened. We looked for wreckage on the other side of the road. There was nothing there, just empty flat land like nothing ever happened. And then, on the radio, Elton John's 'Rocket Man' came on the radio. We raised the volume. "Oh my god," I said. It felt like the Universe acknowledging that the car crashed happened, that children lost a mother and a brother, that three children had lain still on their backs, waiting for a helicopter to come. That my boyfriend was a good, loving man with the most tender of instincts. That the the world and life and all of it is beyond understanding, there is suffering, but there is also this man I love, who loves me.

I am the sort of person who lets whisps of doubt seep into my brain. I choose to view the coincidences in my life as signposts, arrows, cairns that communicate, "You are going the right way." When I write in cafes listening to music, and I write a word and it is just the word that I then hear in my headphones, I smile, and I am filled with light, and I feel, for that moment, that I belong in this chair, I belong in this story I am writing, I belong in this moment, inside of everything around me.

In our early days, when I doubted our relationship, I'd ask my husband why we should be together and he'd always say, you dreamed of me. That doesn't mean anything, I'd say, and I'd say that because a precognition and a dream come true had never amounted to anything meaningful before. What I didn't see is that Mark also believed in my dream. He also believed we belonged together. I wasn't alone in my belief. It took the two of us believing in our relationship to make it so.

Moments of coincidence, of sychronicity, lucky accidents, fate, God, whatever you want to call it, cannot happen without our noticing them. They are there if we pay attention. They are there, at the very least, to pull us inside of moments, to notice the clashing potential magic of our surroundings, they are a small gift for paying attention to the spinning world around us.