A Contemplation on Heat

Spring is turning to summer. Temperatures have risen to triple digits in the East Bay, depending on where exactly you are. The green grasses which have grown thick and long from an El Niño winter now have golden kernels of seed dangling down and dancing gracefully in the wind. The time has come to prune the fruit trees, and it’s probably past time to figure out what to do with the grape vines. I have never had a grape vine, so I don’t have the smallest clue of how to care for them.

In the peak of the day, the light streaks down bright and sparkling in waves of heat. Summer weather is such a visceral experience, calling your very molecules back to historic days when the heat was just as heavy. While I was out in the heat at around noon, I recalled the Florida summer I helped my grandparents move their shelves and displays from the smaller location of Palm Harbor Natural Foods to the new, larger location. The truck we rented had no air conditioning but it sat up high on the road. Higher even than the few trips I’d taken on the school bus. The novelty of this made the radiating heat in the truck cab more bearable.

But once we arrived at the storage unit to unload the dozens (or was it hundreds?) of metal shelves the novelty wore off and exhaustion rolled over us like the mushroom cloud of heat that escaped when we rolled up the storage unit door. I struggled to be helpful as a scrawny eleven-year-old with an able body, but melting will. Eventually I just sat under the elevated chassis, dripping into a puddle, while my uncle and grandfather hauled metal shelves and stacked them like dominos. I can’t remember the particulars, but I think that we went to the beach afterwards. Maybe we didn’t, but my memory will be better if we did.


High Heat on Las Trampas trail, before the grass turned gold

High Heat on Las Trampas trail, before the grass turned gold

Back to current-day California, the hills are beginning to smell of composting grasses. Grass has a sweet and nutty smell if you let it break down into soil. All around our Alhambra hills region of the East Bay there is a nutty warmth raising up like reflected light from the hills. The smell is almost as visible as the golden hue of the grasses.

This same warm nuttiness permeated the air at the farm the one time I bailed hay for a horse farmer. The barn was warm and dusty, the air wet with humidity. Our feet balanced on pyramids of hay, stacked so intentionally in an alternating pattern so that the farm workers would not fall to their doom in a cavernous void in the middle of the barn come January. The hay would have long since given back it’s heat, the nutty smell faded to a stale mustiness. The only other time I’ve smelled the baking of grasses was in our compost bin behind the house in Ohio. That grass pile, added to from March until September would give back it’s heat and smell of nutty decay well into the autumn, melting the snow from the top of the heap on November afternoons.

There’s one key difference between all of my previous high-heat experiences and this crackling dry California heat. Florida and Ohio have a humidity so high you need a snorkel to breathe. The water molecules in the air transfer the heat energy even into the darkest shade of the forest. There is as much similarity between California’s heat and Ohio’s heat as there is between a raspberry soda and a raspberry cobbler. Same scent, completely different mouth-feel.

What will our kids think when we bring them to Ohio again? Will they even be able to lift their bodies against the weight of the air?

The Painful Truth of Fiction

About two months ago I began writing a short story about a woman who has recently run away from her established life to avoid facing a very traumatic loss. I’ve laid the foundation of the story, building up the aspects of her character. Some hints have been given as to the nature of her loss. Her character flaws are beginning to appear.

I spend a lot of time getting familiar with this character. Thinking about her as though she were someone who I’ve known for a while now. I love this character and I feel like she has something very important to discover. She’s about to experience some deep conflict. Her flaws are about to begin to disrupt her sense of safety. It’s hard to know that she has to crumble down her defenses in order to rebuild.

IMG_3930I don’t have a lot of experience writing fiction because I’ve always been a bit afraid to put myself out there. It’s easier for me as a non-fiction blogger to say, “I did this, it was hard, I learned this…” because I don’t have to write about it until it’s been tied up neatly on the other side of the conflict. But reading fiction, in particular the short stories of T.C. Boyle, Annie Dillard, Tim O’Brien and others has moved me to want to chance it myself. This blog post doesn’t get to be from the view-point of “I learned this… let me share it with you.” This blog post is from the middle of my own conflict.

I don’t want to bring my character through the pain this story has in store for her. I know how much she will hurt and how hard it will be to live it with her with honesty and integrity. It is the same emotional block that has prevented me from being a believable actor when I was younger, and from trying to write difficult fiction in college. To tell the truth you have to feel it. And to feel it you have to hurt. To write a real character you have to love her. And to love her, you have to suffer when she suffers.

Can I do that? Would someone out there give me the courage to try?

Alone time is for Extroverts too

A few weeks ago, just before Mother’s Day, Rob took the girls into work to do some computer programming for the Signal Conference Lemonade Stand. I know. That sounds amazing. And it was on a Saturday, which meant that I had nothing else planned for the day and could join in the fun. I’d probably learn something on top of hanging out with my favorite people on the planet.

But I also wanted to be alone. Kind of. Sort of. In my heart I knew I had been doing too much lately. How do I decide between doing fun stuff with my favorite people and doing fun stuff alone? Or heck, doing nothing at all alone?

Rob solved the problem by telling me to stay home. “There’s no reason you need to come, so don’t.”

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So I stayed home and it was awesome. I went on a run. I read. I knitted some. I caught up on some work and did some wonderful planning. I loved it. And then everyone came back and I didn’t feel like I missed out on anything.

So what did I learn? This mega-extrovert needs the people who live with me to lovingly tell me not to come sometimes. Super Extroverts like me are slaves to our own fear that something amazing is going to happen without us. Being a homeschooling mom means that I don’t even have those moments in my routine where I’m by myself by default because the kids are in school all day. These people are awesome, but these awesome people are ALWAYS with me. But we extroverts need our down time to recharge, just like introverts. I have an interior life which I continually neglect because I just love being around other people so much. I have to stop doing that, and I suspect your favorite extrovert does too. I’m on a mission to find time for me, every week and in the daylight. I think I can do it, and I probably won’t miss out on too much fun either.