Yesterday was our beautiful, dignified old pup’s last day on earth. A few hours before she passed, we lay together in the sunshine, awash in blue sky. Her warm body against mine, I began to think about all she had taught me. Old dogs are wise, and Jules was no exception. She understood the world in a clearer and more distilled way than the rest of us, and I appreciated that about her. I decided to write down a list of what I learned from Julesy in her fifteen years of life, as a way of marking the memories we shared.
- Defend those you love
Jules in her early years scared off dozens of mailmen with her bark. If another dog snarled at us on our walk, Jules would snarl back louder. She wouldn’t bite, but she did know the value of letting her teeth show once in a while. I never felt unsafe home alone, even late at night, because I knew Jules wouldn’t let anyone in that she didn’t approve of. While at times her strong protective instinct gave us pause, I think ultimately it was one of the things I loved most about her.
- But don’t be afraid to let your guard down.
Julesy loved more than anything else to have her stomach rubbed. So once she was sure new visitors were safe and approved, she rolled over and waited. It endeared her to all of our friends, who laughed at her silly smile and white tummy. Julesy was a people dog, and even just simply patting her head made her tail thump vigorously and loudly. In this, she and I are the same. Following her example, I offer my heart freely to those around me, and though I don’t often get tummy rubs out of the deal, I do have a lot of love in my life.
- Spend as much time as possible outside
Jules loved to hike well into her old age, and even when hills and long trails were too much for her, she still delighted in fresh air and sunshine. She was mopey if she was inside too long, a trait we share. As 2016 approaches, I have decided that one of my New Year’s resolutions is to spend even more of my life in open spaces, thinking always of my beloved dog.
- Enjoy your food
This one is self-explanatory. Jules never had a meal she didn’t relish, and I think that’s admirable.
- Take breaks.
Jules in her later years spent a fair amount of time dozing, something I am jealous of as a busy college student. But while I may not be able to spend half my day asleep on a soft bed, I can take time for myself to rest and recharge. I think we often forget how important that is, and I know Jules would want me to kick up my heels in her name.
- Most importantly, enjoy every moment with the people you care about.
Jules didn’t like being alone very much. She wanted to be in the middle of the action, where there were people laughing and talking and maybe even a little steak dropped her way. She had a habit of laying across the entryway to our kitchen. People tripped over her, but they also usually stopped to say hello. And that was our girl’s favorite thing, to share a moment with people she had given her heart and soul to. Jules spent every day in the company of people she saw as her pack, and that, ultimately, is the best thing she ever taught me. I spend my time with people who love me, and I love them back. That’s what makes my days full of belly laughs and long conversations. It’s what makes me smile as I fall asleep and what makes me willing to get out of bed in the morning.
I already miss my sweet dog deeply, and I am heartbroken that I will no longer see her rush the door when I come home from college. Julesy was a remarkable creature, and there is always a raw emptiness when those creatures pass on. But she won’t be forgotten. Today and every day, I am going to try to live my life a bit more like my dog.
Hello, all–this piece was difficult to write. It was painful but important. The issue it is about is even more so. This piece is a response to volunteering and offering solidarity to families who have loved ones in the Northwest Detention Center, one of the largest immigration detention centers in the country and only ten minutes from my front door here in Tacoma. Please read this piece, and consider joining in the fight for immigration reform. This issue is not for tomorrow, or a decade from now. This issue is for right now, today. This isn’t a matter of politics–It is a matter of basic human rights. Please read and share.
Visiting Hours at the Detention Center
I can’t get her shoes out of my head.
They were tiny, white, and incredibly feminine. She wore small lacy socks with them and above these her little brown legs grew like sprouts.
Someone had carefully fixed her hair, which shone with gel, ornamented with pink baubles to match her ruffled pink dress.
Her small hand rested in a much larger one, which was connected to a stony faced man resolutely trying to disguise despair. He pulled his little daughter along at a fast clip that for her shorter legs was nearly a run. This would have been comic if it was not so heartbreaking.
He spoke to her in Spanish so quiet I couldn’t make it out, gentle instructions and reprimands. She responded with a voice that sounded like Tweety-bird, high ad thin. Her big brown eyes were lakes, and only in them did I see her fear, her confusion. Only there did I see that no one had explained. How on earth could they?
All of the careful preparation– that was what killed me. It almost would have been easier to bear if these people had walked by me wailing, their clothes torn. Then the horror would be in the open. We could see it, and face it, and force it to obey.
But this way? This way was harder.
It was their sheer act of attempting to carry on that split me in two. This man was here to visit a relative who had been jailed for nothing at all, whose only crime was trying to live in a nation someone, somewhere told him was a place of opportunity. And instead of raging and roaring and beating his chest, that morning this man woke up, took a shower and brushed his hair and put on a clean collared shirt. And then he dressed his daughter, and told her they had to go see somebody. And then he took her to a strange neighborhood of factories and abandoned train tracks, and she worried about getting dust on those lovely shoes. And then he parked, and took her out of the car in front of a high grey building with small windows and a big fence. And he composed himself, willed his daughter to do the same. And they walked by me with their bravest faces, ready to tell someone they loved that they missed them, that they were there for them, that they would wait. They didn’t cry because tears don’t help anybody, tears don’t get citizenship papers.
Their strength astonished me.
I am a collection of stars
Not yet a constellation
I am a handful of sky
And I feel black night slipping and sliding through me
My veins filled with inky discovery.
I am a winking canvas,
My fingertips glowing with white anticipation.
I don’t yet have a shape.
I am somewhere between being free and unmoored,
A patch of night among many.
I don’t know my destination.
But does that make me lost?
I’m not sure.
There’s no astronomer to draw lines between my twinkling edges
There’s no one to form me.
So I suppose only time will turn my bright beginnings
The students are bent over their desks, and the only sound in the room is pens scratching across paper. Their focus is intense and wonderful to watch. One is so intent upon his work that he presses the pen hard enough to imprint his words onto two pages, like a carbon copy. After we collect their notebooks to store at the end of the day, I notice the mark, and the ghost words on the back page make me smile. After their twenty minutes are up, my supervisor, Lucia, and I ask the students who would like to share. There is a quiet moment, but eventually one volunteers. She begins to read, and at first her words are halting—she is not sure she should have put her hand up. But soon she begins to flow, and I hear pride in her voice. After all, she has just laid a piece of herself out on the grey desk, revealed herself like a child uncurling their hand on a summer night, letting out a firefly into the dark.
I tell her she did a beautiful job, and she smiles back shyly.
We ask what about this activity was difficult for the students.
“I had too many ideas,” one girl says. I can’t stop myself from grinning—what more perfect problem could she have?
Facilitating the summer writing program these students are enrolled in is the bulk of my summer internship, and working with them has been both a delight and an amazement. Rising seniors in Huckleberry’s Wellness Academy, the students were enrolled in the program to work on their personal statements for college, but also just to have the chance to tell their story, something that they don’t often get the opportunity to do. It is a reality that first generation students climb high mountains to reach college, but rarely are they allowed to talk about that. Rarely does anyone ask them about their lives, or what makes them who they are. At its core, our program is about one thing: giving voice. Lucia and I developed the four-week curriculum together, and our students have been kept busy—a mix of readings, daily free writes, lessons and discussions, and outdoor activities. We even had a workshop with a teacher who had trained with YouthSpeaks. Each of our students has a unique voice and experience to share.
When they began sharing their work with me, Lucia and each other, I felt that I discovered new aspects of all of them. I didn’t know that they had such a capacity for poetic language; such a natural tendency towards humor; such simple, heartwrenching honesty. The last two weeks of teaching them have been an amazing experience for me, and I am looking forward to the next two. When I enter our classroom, I feel I am in my element—discussing my passion with students who are happy to learn and incredibly complex, fascinating people. It is an absolute joy.
My fingers hover above the shutter of my fire engine red point and shoot camera, a Christmas present from my parents. The dog pulls at her leash, ready to go home. But I am not done yet. The camera’s screen becomes like a second eye, and with every click, I see the sunset anew. Whirls of color paint the sky, changing from a brilliant coral to the stately purple of a lupus flower, and finally to a soft dove grey, the color of a child’s bedroom during an afternoon nap. But with each change, fading versions of the former color remain, layering over one another to create a quilt of hues. The twilight is emboldening velvety and adventurous. The dog pulls me the last block to our house, and I relent, opening the door for her. But I don’t even go inside—I have much
more to see. Our quiet country neighborhood is suddenly an unexplored world. Minus my partner in crime, I stride back out, alone.
I take more pictures of the sky, and more. From every possible angle, I snap the faded pinks and purples. Then I take pictures of the moon, zooming in as far as my camera will go to try to see the craters and bumps, the fascinating imperfections, appear on the screen. I walk up a few blocks to where I know the view is best and try to take pictures of San Francisco, the twinkling lights a reminder that the wine country is not so isolated an oasis. When the dreaded “Low Battery” message appears on the camera’s screen, I switch immediately to my iPhone. The pictures are grainier and not nearly as good, but the feeling of freedom and discovery remains. I don’t see another soul in my wandering around the neighborhood—I see lights, hear laughter sometimes, but no one is out but me. It feels like all of beautiful Sonoma is my own personal paradise.
As a writer, I am constantly choosing words, adding, subtracting—especially as a poet, where every syllable matters. It can be a painful process. Sometimes, creating exhausts me. I stare at my blank Word screen and sigh, close my laptop and read a book. Other times my mind cannot handle all the possible stories and scenes that crowd through it. I occasionally wish that I was not born with words pulsing through me. Sometimes I wish I had another art.
But tonight, I am not trying to be a writer. Seeds of poems appear in my mind, but I push them out—that is for later. Now is for playing with images. I don’t have to make the picture, only to take it. I don’t have to worry about word choice, or rhythm or arc or argument. I’m sure a professional photographer would have hard decisions to make like I do with my writing—but I am not a professional photographer, just a girl standing in the street, the click of a shutter in her ears. It is meditative, even primal.
When I walk back in the door, the dog sniffs at my leg, smelling fresh summer night on my skin. I smile at her, pat her head, set down the dead camera on the table. And then I sit down and open my computer. I am desperate to get a fresh word document to open. My fingers begin to fly across the keys. Despite the peace, the quiet focus of taking photos, in my heart I am a writer. I can’t help myself—words are my lens. I look out into the now-inky night, and I want to write it all down.
11 Things I learned at my First Grown Up Writing Conference
I was lucky enough to be sponsored to attend the Santa Barbara Writers’ Conference last week, and I had a great time. Here’s a few of the things I learned from a week of workshops and great conversations
1) There really are male, straight romance writers. I met one, and he was incredibly interesting and dynamic. Check out his website at aragrigorian.com, or better yet, read his new book, Game of Love
2) When you think a poem is pretty good and a Guggenheim fellow reads it and gives you feedback, you learn it really wasn’t, but it could be, if you work on it.
3) Once you work on it, the Guggenheim fellow will tell you it is “better.” Not great, or even good. Yet. Because it isn’t done. He does not mean this to be discouraging, and you should not doubt your entire artistic promise because of this comment
4) Staying in a critique group until 1230 at night really is fun. When you text your friends and tell them this, they will doubt you. This is understandable, because to most people, sitting in a room listening to people read their words and reading your own for 3 and a half hours probably wouldn’t be.
5)Stephen Chbosky, author of Perks of Being a Wallflower, is a humble, smiley man. I might even go so far as to say jolly (No, I didn’t meet him, unfortunately. I did hear him speak, though!).
6) When you read a feminist essay in front of a critique group of older white men, you may be surprised by their responses. I received very insightful, helpful feedback—from people who had obviously thought about feminism and considered it important and also happened to be cisgender Caucasian men over the age of fifty. It was awesome.
7) Travel writers get to do some amazing things. Like interviewing George Lucas, and getting trips to Australia paid for. They mention these things offhandedly, as if they are not terribly important details. This makes them infuriatingly glamorous
8) At a Writers’ Conference, the first question people ask is not “What do you do?” but “What do you write?” I found this incredibly charming.
9) The Free Book Table isn’t as great as it sounds. It is mostly trashy paperbacks with hot pink covers or bad illustrations. You will, nonetheless, take a book from the Free Book Table, because it is there.
10) Paranormal Historical Fiction is a genre, apparently. I met a woman writing a book in it.
11) Finally, importantly—at a writers’ conference, you will be reminded why you love not just writing, but people who write. Writers are so wonderful to talk to. Just to sit and chat with. There was such a remarkable flow of ideas at the conference that I often felt as though I was buzzing, like my skin was electric. I look forward to many more in the future!