To read an excerpt from the book, please click on the following link:

Monday, November 30, 2015

Transcendence of a Mountain Lion.

This is a rather long post.  I don't yet have pages yet on this blog, and never really have done so, or else this would be in two parts.

There comes a time in writing a book when the original euphoria becomes harder to find: when the real work begins. When writers conceive of a book, many times they have a sense of the whole book, existing on its own in some bookish spiritual universe.

After a point, many writers hit the wall and don't continue.  For me, the task of writing Asha's book is daunting, the experience of losing her so painful for the people who knew her, the detachment so hard for me.  I realized a few nights ago why I resonate with her so much: I was pregnant once with my first child, far from my family, in circumstances where people in my immediate life were, to say the least, unsupportive of me having a child.  I could not return to my mother because the atmosphere at home in Los Angeles was even more dysfunctional than the one I was in.  There was, literally, nowhere to go.

If I had left and lived my by myself at that time, I would have definitely had little money to live on except perhaps for welfare and food stamps (which I had no idea I was eligible for) and my low-paying job as a teacher's aide, which I thought would eat up much of the money if I had tried to pay childcare and work. I had no idea that there were childcare subsidies available from  Human Resources to cover these things. I had no idea that I might have had a slim existence living on these things, but an existence nonetheless, and healthier than the one I was in. I did not even know I was eligible for Medi-Cal.

 My father took me off his insurance when I was eight weeks pregnant, stating that "I was on my own now." I ended up nearly owing my doctor thousands of dollars for the labor and delivery, and remember being grilled at eight and a half months pregnant, by the office manager as to when I would pay the bill, and that they would kick me out of the practice if I didn't pay up. I finally applied for Medi-Cal when someone in the office encouraged me to apply, and I bless my obstetrician for accepting it, even though he did not usually do so.

My circumstances were very different than Asha's, but I know the feeling of realizing I needed money to raise my child, to try and make a good place to live. Things were even more brutal in 1982 than they are now for people who need social services to raise children, though society's prejudices are always there to judge women.  Waiting lists for getting housing were unbelievably long (as they are now).  I had no idea that, as a person on the brink of becoming homeless, and pregnant with a child, I might have qualified for a housing voucher also.

This is how I was in the year after I was raped by a professor at my Catholic university.  Because of what happened to me, I did not go to graduate school, did not have the life I wanted. I left my application to graduate school unfinished. I simply became a pregnant woman, alone and with minimal support in a place I did not really know, though I loved Santa Cruz.  Within a year, my first poem was published and I had begun to be a respected part of the writing community here, but I could not have predicted this then.  I was alone: that is what I knew.  I had only my writing, and the child I carried. Because of what happened to me in college, I also felt helpless, as I had before, my strength sapped. I carried a broken psyche like a sword in my heart.

I realize Asha's circumstances were far different than mine.  She was far more courageous and resourceful than I had been when I found myself with an unplanned pregnancy. I had only been in Santa Cruz County a couple of months. It was 1982 and the country was in a recession with well over ten percent unemployment.  Santa Cruz County had been particulary hard hit.  Asha had employment, she seems to have had many friends to support her, and was admirably resourceful. I was not as brave, not as resourceful,

I resonate with her on many levels, and the realization of what I might have to write about in this book--my own experiences--stops me. I have to cloak many things regarding my life circumstances then; I am putting myself at some risk; I have to go back and look at a time of such pain that I was, up until a few days ago, stopped in my tracks. 

Sometimes when a writer begins to mine a well of pain that they have to push away every day in order to stay sane, they never complete a project.  They return to the task of "pushing away."

Enter the mountain lion.

 I know they are a dangerous animal, but I shamelessly love mountain lions: that we have our very own "big cat" in the United States seems very special to me.  My home in a heavily forested area of Santa Cruz County means that I am lucky to have a bobcat sighting once or twice a year.  I know there is a huge one around, as I saw a stag chase it off a couple of months ago (it was definitely a bobcat, with a very beautiful, reddish-tawny coat and a short tail, and those amazing pointed ears). I have heard a mountain lion screaming and growling occasionally here, and making a few other vocalizations also, more often at some times of the year than others. 

Many people know the story I've told about seeing a mountain lion creeping across the road on Highway Nine between Felton and Santa Cruz, many years ago.  It was probably 1994 or 1995, during another terrible drought; the night air felt hot and dusty, and I had the windows of my van open. My kids were in the van, chatting and getting sleepy.  We rounded a bend and I had to brake for an emaciated mountain lion , with an animal in its mouth, creeping across the road. At the time, I was uncertain as to what the animal really was: I expected a mountain lion to look differently than this.  Not until the kids and I, while playing , spoke to  a ranger up at Loch Lomond that I realized I had seen a mountain lion.

Frustrated with the book, and sad about other things, I stood on the deck of my Lompico house a few night ago, with all the lights off so I could have total darkness.  I deeply missed someone and worried, as always, that my awkwardness as I stayed in contact with him would make him go away.  It is a chain around my heart. My therapist told me that it is not healthy to be so afraid every day that someone would reject me. It's not, and has nothing to do with the way he treats me.It's the same way I stood balancing on hope when I wished people in my life would change, would cherish me. It's been hard to access faith in general.

 I also felt sad and frustrated about not knowing in any way where to go with the book.  A certain key person has refused an interview for the book.  I realize it's horrible for him to have to remember all that happened, but I have had the nagging sense that he wants, on some level, to put Asha and Aninabehind him, to forget. I don't know if I am right on that.  Plus a nagging sense that this writing is not good enough, that I am failing in every way: artistically, failing Asha, not doing justice to her memory.

Sadness, sadness, insecurity, and more sadness.  Still, it was nice to stand on my deck as on the prow of a ship, which surely must be going someplace.  I asked Asha then--I "talk" to her and believe she hears me in the spirit world. When I finished pouring out my sadness and need into the night, I asked Asha for an indelible sign, something so rare that I knew without a doubt that it came from her alone.

I asked to see a mountain lion.

Sightings of the big cat are very rare, and most people do not have the chance to see one in their lifetime. I was lucky to see the one many years ago. I knew it was kind of a risky thing to ask...who knows if there is really anyone out there to hear these fragile cries of ours? Still, I will close now with a true story which I originally posted on Facebook.

This happened two days after I asked Asha for that particular sign:

I was driving down Lompico Road (forest/canyon road) late at night when a large, buff-colored cat, about the size of a pit bull, leapt out from the creekbed alongside the road. It landed some distance from my car and started running ahead of me. I slowed down, but kept the cat in my headlights. Thought it was a bobcat until I saw the long tail, darker at the tip, and roundish, non-bobcat ears. My companion on the road was a juvenile mountain lion, who shortly vanished up a hillside, quick as a ghost and quite true to a nickname for mountain lions: "ghost cat". I had a feeling Mama was close by. I drove on through the night, deeply grateful for such a blessing.

note: the young mountain lion has been sighted several times since in the area.