Brackish Water

This is a hard and exhilarating season. I am in between one life and another—not really, of course—not in the Samsara sense, or in the “I see a tunnel, and a bright light” sort of way. But I am nonetheless perched between my former life and my new one, at the age of 57, and I’m feeling a little like I’ve jumped into a river that is about to meet up with the enchanted sea but I’ve got to get out of the whirlpool I am in first. Let me explain.

I am only living in two geographic locations: Fresno and the bay area, but in the past week I have slept in five different beds, and I’ve been engaging in this sort of gypsy behavior for the past two months. I’ve started a new job in San Francisco, doing something I have never done before—teaching English courses to middle and high school Chinese-American students in a private learning institution. I am still trying to be proficient at using the bus, BART, and Muni to get me around, which has resulted in a couple of “Oh crap I’m on the wrong train” sort of moments, which aren’t terrible but at the end of a long work /travel day when it’s time to eat/pee/chill/sleep (none of which I can do on the BART—though some people do) it makes me feel stupid, and a little pathetic, sitting there with my suitcase at my feet and my smart phone in my hand; it makes me miss my husband, who I don’t see nearly enough these days. It makes me miss my dog.

I think I’m very tired.

One of the first things I learned from my beloved/irritating writing professor—who shall remain nameless but who, I will say, has an affinity for Melville and an aversion to the word “issues,” because, he claims, it’s a weak euphemism for what it really means, which is big fucking problems—is that writing is not therapy. Or, at least it’s not supposed to be a therapeutic endeavor. Is that what he was saying? I’m not really sure, even after hearing him say it repeatedly over a span of years. Because it never made sense to me. Like math, I couldn’t make his philosophy fit into my brain.

But out of respect for my mentor, and courtesy for my reader, if I still have one, I’ll keep the analysis and self-examination to a minimum.

IMG_7684A couple of weeks ago I was hooded for a master’s degree in creative writing out of Fresno State’s MFA program. I had amazing and inspiring professors and creative, hilarious, talented fellow students; I hope and pray to stay connected with this wonderfully strange family of people I have grown to love.

I walked away from a volunteer job that I loved, and it still hurts to think about it. The inmates I met, and soon adored, who were in my writing group at Fresno County jail, greet me in my dreams almost nightly; they want to know why I left without saying goodbye. In real life, they know why, because I told them repeatedly months in advance that I would be leaving, that I was graduating, getting a job in the city, and that I had a grandson coming. But still. In my dreams they look at me without trust.

I am still trying to do my job at Dakota House, where I have been the founding director for fifteen years. I am doing a bad job, though. I’m too scattered. And I miss the kids so much sometimes it makes me want to drop everything and run back to that little neighborhood, just in time for prayer and announcement time, where I can wrestle and snuggle and hang out with kids I love and with whom I can entirely be myself.

And then there is my grandson Mason. Nobody prepared me for this sort of love. Oh yes, they all said things like “It’s wonderful. You get to play with them and then send them home to their parents. It’s great!” This sort of sentiment doesn’t even touch the feelings I have for my grandson. He is only 2 ½ months old, and I am completely smittenphoto, out-of-my-head in love, and would basically climb any obstacle, put up with any inconvenience, and sacrifice nearly anything just to stare into his face and watch him drool and blow spit bubbles. It’s ridiculous. But seriously, can you blame me? I mean, look at that face. And he already has a personality that outweighs him by twice his size, which is not surprising in the least if you know his parents.

Wikipedia defines brackish water as “water that has more salinity than fresh water, but not as much as seawater” and states, rather obviously in my opinion, that “it may result from mixing of seawater with fresh water.” I’ve always liked this idea: the coming together of two different things to make something new, something that contains elements of both, but is neither. It is brackish.

My life in this season still has elements of the life I have been living for years now: our big old house that I love, with its crumbling walls and lush garden and bright kitchen; my noble and neurotic weenie dog, Hector; my Dakota House family; my extended family; my four amazing kids; and of course my husband, Brad—they all have my heart and my love and that has not changed.

But so much has. I am no longer a student. Wait. What? Yes. I am no longer a student. I had to say it twice to make it go in. I’ve been a student for so long—literally been in and out of college since 1990, and that doesn’t even count the early half-hearted, mostly social and debauched semesters in the 70’s and 80’s when I racked up some units at Fresno City College and C.O.S. in Visalia. I don’t remember what it’s like to not be learning, doing homework, complaining about doing homework, and commiserating with other students who are complaining about doing homework. I can’t recall what it’s like to read whatever I want, without taking notes or wondering how I could work this in to my next paper. I can’t remember what it’s like to NOT have an assignment hanging over my head. I have vague recollections, and I am starting to feel it now, but I think I don’t trust the feeling yet and haven’t given it permission to settle in just yet. I’m not even sure I like it.

More things that are different: I don’t sleep in the same bed as my husband every night anymore. I live out of a suitcase most of the time. I don’t get to have my dog with me. I rarely have time to cook and eat my own food. Half the time I don’t know where my stuff is. I don’t get to see my DH kids enough. Ever. But these are just the bad things.

I get to see my kids who live in the bay more. I actually spend several nights a month staying at their place(s). I get to see the amazing adults they have become; I get to enjoy them and hang out with them in their world. I have a new son, the father of Mason, who I coincidentally have loved for many years (I’ve even, in former years, been accused of making him my favorite DH kid–a preposterous notion, of course).

Sf cable carI get to breathe fresh salt air all the time now, which always has and still does feel like a gift, a precious, lovely, moist, not-valley-air gift. I regularly move through and stay in a beautiful city, taking in sights, and encounters, and discoveries that often astound, delight and intrigue me. I am not bored. I am learning new things all the time—I am teaching so I am learning along with my students. I have exposure to a new (to me) culture and am learning about it through kids that are funny, smart, curious, angry, happy, bold, shy, serious, and silly—just like all kids everywhere.

And there’s my grandson. The boy with the moon and star on his head, the boy who holds my heart in his chubby little hand, the boy who makes all the world right when I look into his eyes.

Hopefully, someday Brad and I will have our own place in the bay, and things will be easier; I will have more time with my husband, and a place for our grandson to come play, and I won’t be traveling back and forth so much; I’ll feel (and look) less like a tired and disheveled gypsy.

But this brackish season has its beauty. It’s not my old life, but it’s not my new one either. It’s something in between: a time to figure out some things about myself, my family, and my priorities. A time to discover what is out there besides everything I already know and live. A time to make good decisions while still recovering from the bad ones. A time to make bad choices and really figure out, for sure, that they are bad. A time for our family to grow and morph into what it will be in the years to come.

Wikipedia also says this: “Certain human activities can produce brackish water.” I’ll have to agree with that. It’s taken a lot of activity to get me where I am, some of it good and admirable, some of it not so good and admirable, but all of it mine, and all of it very human.

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2 Responses to Brackish Water

  1. Joan Edgar says:

    Jamie, how I love reading your page and hearing, through your beautiful writing voice, what is on your mind and in your heart. I am so proud of you for all of your accomplishments and especially for your embracing of the new and unfamiliar, your willingness to wade into the brackish water. I love thinking of you walking through that beautiful city, taking in the sights, smells, sounds and sensations it has to offer!

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