Monday, July 09, 2012


Lately, when I look back at my life I'm struck by how different I seem to be. I feel like I'm a different person altogether, not that I've turned into someone different but maybe I've grown into something else. Would people from my past who haven't seen me in a long time notice the difference?

My old friends assure me I haven't changed much over the years.

I'm standing in the library staring at a bunch of Federal Reporters. It's late at night, probably sometime after 10:00 pm and I have to pull some cases for the attorneys. We have been working night after night, weekend after weekend on this case, our lives a flurry of document productions, depositions, seemingly endless ex parte motions, and the intricate court rules of the Central District of California. The library light is warm and friendly, the rest of the hallways are dark. I like it here in the quiet. No one else is around except my team and the occasional patent prosecutor. I like this place, this job, and the attorneys. I'm young, naive, and believe completely in the goodness of these people who are all so much better educated than me. In the end, they didn't let me down at least not in the ways where it counted.

I still like working with attorneys so I guess in that way I haven't changed. The people I used to work with have all scattered and I am still trying to find a place for myself. The process of working on litigation cases is so intense that sometimes you bond with people. If you're lucky those bonds will stick.

I wanted to say that I'm so much more in touch with my inner life than I've ever been but that's not true. I'm just more in touch with my writing life and have made it a priority.

I'm sitting at the kitchen table in the dining room. It's late and I don't remember what I was doing at the time. Reading something? I don't know. It's just me and the dogs. All at once I look up from what I'm doing staring into the lovely kitchen then I look to my right into the darkened living room. The two dogs are lounging on the denim couch, looking back at me. Behind me is the sliding glass door. I hear the sounds of the water from the huge turtle tank we own. Something inside is nudging at me and it's so strong that I have to stand up and walk around. I open the sliding glass door to the big deck that runs the length of the back of the house, leaving the door open. The dogs follow me out. I don't look out at dark, instead I'm looking down the deck into the other rooms. I can smell our wonderful redwood trees and the darkness and quiet are heavy like a cozy blanket. I realize everything as it is now can't possibly last, that everything is going to change, and it's not going to be something I'll be able to control. I'm terrified by this thought. I have no idea what it means. Then I think if that were to happen what would I really, truly want to do then? And I think: I want to live and work in San Francisco, become a writer, and be left alone. I got my wish with all the wonders and heartbreaks associated with it. My wish came at very high price.

I don't think I'll ever live in a house with a kitchen as wonderful as that one.

My wish was a terrible source of guilt, a little secret of mine I refused to admit even to myself. It seemed to me that though I wasn't the cause of this upheaval in my life, I made it happen just the same with this one selfish thought. It took me years to come to terms with that little moment and I'm still grappling with the feeling that it was all my fault, even though it clearly wasn't.

I still can't shake this feeling that I'm different. When I was younger I felt so much more relaxed and easy. I was very externally oriented and people focused. Now I feel I've withdrawn inside my own world and I feel much more closed off than I used to be. I have difficulty talking to strangers though when I do it's almost always rewarding. Sometimes they even stick, making that rolling, shifting transition to friends.

I'm working a little late at the office and there's a party going on for the attorneys. An office friend of mine and I are supposed to see some gallery openings but he's frantically trying to finish a last minute project. We manage to leave at a reasonable hour. This is the first time I've been out with him. He announces that he needs to call another friend and that he'll meet us at the first gallery. He talks about this guy all the time. I see him down the street and we wave at each other. The new guy is a little shy but he asks me if I live in the City. That starts the ball rolling. Next thing I know the three of us are on a crazy adventure. We crash an art gallery opening for a famous ballplayer where no one is allowed in unless you're on the guest list but somehow we get in. My new friend stays with me amidst the crowd of other famous ballplayers, the press, managers, city officials, and minor celebrities. He tells me who everyone is. We lose our friend in the crowd, something that's very difficult since he's so tall. Somehow I lose both of them and wander on my own. Later, my new friend finds me and says we have to leave. The two of them have a show to go to (but in the end I went instead!). He's standing on some steps at the back of the gallery which is being used as a dance floor, smiling, and holds his hand out to me. I take it and thus begins our real friendship. There are plays and musicals to go to, crowds to navigate as we wander through the crush of people in the Castro, there are parties to attend, long, lovely conversations, and the occasional nutty adventure. How did I get this lucky?

A fair question. I did get my wish to live here and write but even though I tried I was never left alone. When I first arrived here, broken and starting over, I thought I deserved to be left alone, that nobody would ever want to be around me again but my friends proved to me that my assumptions about that aren't true. So maybe I haven't changed except to have grown into myself, perhaps. Maybe the only thing that's really changed are my thoughts about what I think I deserve.
You never know what you're going to find out. I read somewhere that another person, especially someone you love, functions as a kind of mirror so you can actually see yourself. This is true. No matter how self-aware you think you are it's still difficult to get away from your own view of the world, the lens through which you look at yourself. And if you have a lot of baggage it becomes almost impossible.

I'm sitting with my new friend at Ti Couz, a rather well-known crepe restaurant in the Mission. It's later in the evening, perhaps after 10:00 pm, and there are plenty of people. We met when my tall friend started talking to her while we were having lunch. I'm trying to explain something to her about the writing, something really important, and she knows it. She is patient and lets me stumble around trying to put this important thing into words. Finally, I tell her I don't think my writing is all that good but I love my characters and story so much, so very much, that I can't help but think that love has to be communicated to the reader in some way, on some level. As I'm saying this to her, tears come to my eyes and I can see she is moved. At that moment, I finally see what it means to be a writer. It's not about technique, brilliance, or even talent, all things which which I don't seem to have much of. No, it's all about love and my job is to try to convey that love to you, the reader, as clearly and as simply as possible. I'm lacking in a lot of things that other writers have but love is something inside me that never runs out.

My friend's recognition that I was struggling to say something important and her patience was the most important thing about that exchange. One of my biggest stumbling blocks is the belief that I have to do everything by myself. I don't know where this attitude comes from. Some misguided, twisted childhood belief, no doubt. And yet through my own actions I know I can't do everything by myself. I have all these wonderful people who love and support me and if that weren't enough I have a whole tribe of characters I've created. Looks like I've called my own bluff.
It's strange but when I was kid I was lucky. Good things would fall into my lap and sometimes my life seemed to be an endless parade of all's well that ends well. I've lost touch with that feeling. I seem to have retreated from it in favor of hobbling myself so I can go through life with my arms clenched around me. Maybe if I hang onto myself tight enough all these true, real things will finally leave me alone. Maybe my luck will finally run out but...I know that's not going to happen even with my best efforts to make it so.

So I suppose I haven't really changed all that much. The essential part of my nature remains intact. I guess I feel different because I've been able to maintain that lucky core even with all the ups and downs of my life. My focus is different and I've grown more into myself but I'm still the same.

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