Sometimes it seems there is a corollary to everything I write in this blog. There is an equal and opposite. If I had a work-apron tied around my waist, the way I did last Saturday, at the farmer’s market, in one pocket I would need words and phrases like “on the other hand,” or “nevertheless,” or “but,” or “in contrast,” or “to contradict.” Every time I wrote what smacked of epiphany, insight, or certainty, I’d instinctively reach into that pocket, ready to deploy. “I will lean into the light,” I wrote. Reach into the apron, pull out “But.” But that very night, after I wrote those words, I acted like a jerk. I will lean into the light. What hubris! I will try. A little closer to the truth.
As I look out my window right now, I watch the ducks shake their tail feathers dry after their morning swim in the pond, three white ones bright against green grass. I envy the fowl. Do they ever feel bad about themselves? They don’t have to work to lean into the light, into life, lean out of the mind's "monkey chatter," as my yoga teacher puts it. They are in life, smack and dabble.
Last night, Craig scolded me for tinkering with his black beans in front of our friend, and I was embarrassed. I’d bustled in, hungry from yoga, and Craig was there in the kitchen tending a homemade tortilla cooking in a cast iron pan. It was 7:45 pm, and after 15 years with this man, I know that by that time of day, after working with a pick and shovel and a hard swim, he was hungry and grumpy from low blood sugar. But my beans! I’d tended the black beans all day, left them cooling on the stove when I headed to yoga, for final touches from Craig. But obviously, I still felt possessive. Like the geese, I am far from subtle around food, around cooking. I don’t use my voice to screech and hiss, but maybe I use everything else, my body language, my actions. I leaned, not into any kind of light, but across the stove, lifted the lid, and shook some chili de arbol powder onto the surface. Craig said, “I already added cumin” at the same moment that about five tablespoons of chili powder broke free from the clump in the jar and landed all over the beans. And Craig got mad. “You would never tolerate me monkeying with the food that way if you were cooking!” I spooned off what I could, stirred the rest in, and hoped for the best. Our friend Kevin, who’s known us long enough to have seen it all, looked the other way, sipping his ice water. If I were a goose, I would have hissed back at Craig, and then just walked away. And forgotten about it. But I held it close, ate in silence, and it was like ingesting not food, but a shadow. Or chili de arbol powder, straight. I went to sleep with that hurt, that indignation, held close to my chest as a stuffed animal. And I woke up at 2 am, with the usual shadow-boxing going on in my head, but also the new shadow I’d added the night before, spicing up the mix.
After reading a bit, chewing a melatonin pill, I fell asleep and dreamed that I had to return to high school. (That old dream, don’t you love it!). No, I wasn’t naked. But I was late for a test. I’d been informed that I had never taken a long, written, essay exam, so had never officially graduated. I sat down with the blue book among a large roomful of teenagers and wrote as fast as I could with a pencil. I had to catch up with everyone else. Before I could finish, though, I was called out of the room for some dream-reason, and when I returned, the time was up. The room was empty, except for a woman collecting pencils who told me that it was too late now. I’d have to take the test again some other time. “But,” I said, puffing myself up like Wally, the lame rooster, “I’ve published three books! Doesn’t that count for anything?”
She hesitated. I could tell she thought I was making it up, but was considering. “Just check Google,” I insisted. And then the tea pot whistle woke me.
“I’ve had cancer! Doesn’t that count for anything?” Well, no. “I’m 49. Doesn’t that count for anything?” No again.
At the farmer’s market last Saturday, I helped my friends Peter and Lauren sell vegetables. Peter is a 60-something farmer/philosopher/socialist trained by a legendary organic farmer in Santa Cruz in the 60’s. Craig actually worked on this man’s farm when he was in college. Lauren, who is 20-something, is Peter’s assistant, but that’s not an adequate word. For over a year, when Peter was getting the farm started, she volunteered for him, working 60+ hour weeks, because she believed in his cause, which is to provide food to the common people, affordable organic food. Not just to well-off people, the usual demographic for organic. He sells huge bags of lettuce for $3 (at the grocery store, a much smaller bag goes for $6). A glorious bunch of spinach for $2. An enormous bundle of carrots or beets for $3. Bok choy or tat soi: $1:50 a bundle. I helped with the harvest last Friday, so I know what goes into just the picking and preparing of each of item (and that doesn’t count the weeding and fertilizing and treating with organic pest products). I’d witnessed the careful way the lettuce is boxed in the field. The loading of boxes onto the truck, the unloading of boxes at the wash table under the lychee trees, the hosing down of the lettuce, the draining of water, the icing, the reloading back into the truck. Over a hundred bunches of carrots get piled on that rickety plywood table to be hosed and repacked and iced. At the market, at 6 am, the boxes are opened, and each bib of lettuce is dipped in buckets of cold water, old leaves trimmed off, and then it is bagged. The carrot bunches are dipped in cold water and arranged on the table. Now, at last, Lauren gets paid, but Peter barely makes enough money to cover her hourly wage, and the wages of part time workers like Joey, who come for the harvest or for transplanting on Sundays. What’s left covers the cost of seed, organic fertilizer, equipment, repairs. Peter never stops working those four acres, sometimes alone. He’s a dawn to dusk guy. The whole 10 hour day we harvested the farm for market, I never saw him take a break or eat more than a banana or two. Did he even drink water? I think I saw him take a swig once or twice from a coconut when Lauren reminded him.
I kept fucking up all day, both harvesting, and at the market. I cut the lettuce at too much of an angle. I sprayed water over the celery, instead of slowly moving the hose between the plants. I flooded the rows by watering too close to the edge. I made my beet and carrot bunches too big or too small. I stacked the truck wrong. I gave the wrong change. I hadn’t passed the test. I still haven’t.
Three books, cancer, college, whatever. In the grit of the everyday, no, it doesn’t count for much. It doesn’t help me pick lettuce faster, or count change when I’m distracted. It doesn’t give me any kind of certainty or righteous answer. If you lean too far toward light or darkness, as my yoga teacher says, “you end up on your ass.” Actually, he says, “The more you try to force this, the greater the chance that you’ll end up on your ass.” I am grateful for the moments when it all seems so clear. Just lean into the light. It’s that simple. But it isn’t. I lean and I fall. Can I change it now? Take it back, reach into the pocket of my apron, grab one of those phrases that counteract certainty, a kind of anti-venom to the word “should?” Tack it on? Nevertheless, last night, I fell into my own shadow. And I stayed there for twelve hours. I forgot that life is beautiful and temporary and that I’m lucky to be in it.
Anyway, who says geese have all the answers? The goose in yesterday’s post is named “Tippy” for a reason. It’s because he’s so front-heavy, sometimes when he leans, he just topples over. It’s weird to see a goose fall down. Once, our friend found him helpless on his back, stuck that way for who knows how long. That’s another thing my yoga teacher says, when we’re lying on our backs trying to bring our crossed feet behind our heads: “The more you try to force this, the greater the chance you’ll get stuck this way forever.”