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I Fell in Love with Every Place I Went

April 20, 2020
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Dogwoods, Yosemite National Park, May, 2010

I am opinionated. Everyone knows that. And they comment on it. I have never been so proud as when I found out that one of my college professors told a friend, years after university, “Oh, Sue? She was quite a radical, that one.”

One of my most strongly held opinions was that I couldn’t exist apart from California. My family moved here early on both sides – in the 1860s and 1870s, which in some places is practically yesterday, but in California’s timeline is ancient history.

I felt like I was Californian more than American. California, as much as people love to hate it, was in my bones.

I didn’t expect to fall in love with other places. I knew I would visit and like some of them, but sitting here in my rented room among strangers, I feel the pull of the lands I visited and made my temporary home. I realize I have fallen in love with so many of them. A friend’s Instagram picture of dogwoods blooming brought tears to my eyes as I realized I would not see the dogwoods bloom this year. I have only seen them bloom twice in 58 years, but that doesn’t matter. Remembering a lost love, one only remembers the time together, not the years of absence.

I want to be everywhere at once. I want to wake up to the sunrise over the pure sugary dunes of White Sands National Monument. I want to have my hat blown off as I walk along the Mendocino cliffs. I want to smell the piñon burning in Taos under that purple-blue sky. I want to hear the bayou frogs and flip on the radio to hear Cajun music playing. And yes, I want to sit beside a creek and see the dogwoods bloom.

Physicists talk about alternate universes – that our universe may be like one slice of bread in a loaf with similar universes on each side of us. I wonder if my longings are being fulfilled in the universe next door.

My sister used to say that you needed to do crazy stuff in life so that, when you got old, you’d have something to look up at the ceiling and think about. I never knew the opportunity to sit still and think about things would come so soon, but thanks to social distancing, it has.

So please, appreciate the dogwoods for me. I will go down to the harbor and watch the seals for you. And in some alternate universe, let’s all meet again.

The Story of Leel

April 10, 2020

Leel was born whole, perfect and complete. But the one thing the Skurn could not abide was someone who was whole, perfect and complete. With their knives, they waited.

Each time someone hurt Leel, a gap appeared in Leel’s protective armor where the Skurn could reach in and slice off a piece of Leel’s body. An insult left them space to cut off a finger or an ear. A big betrayal gave them a gaping hole big enough for Leel to lose a leg. As life wore on, Leel became smaller and smaller.

The Skurn could fly thousands of miles in one day and would carelessly drop the pieces all over the world as they flew.

Leel thought a partner could provide protection from the Skurn, so Leel married Gul. But Leel was wrong. Gul hurt Leel so often that the Skurn chopped Leel down to almost nothing. Leel got a smaller suit of armor because so little of Leel was left.

Finally, the only part of Leel that remained was just a heart. Leel tumbled out of a gap in the armor and rolled down a hill, away from Gul. Gul didn’t even notice because Leel was so small and hadn’t spoken for so long. What was left of Leel miraculously kept beating there alone in the grass. 

Rardna, the Being of Mercy, heard the lonely beating heart and came to visit Leel. 

“Do you want to become whole again, Leel?”

Leel was unable to answer, no longer having a mouth. With great effort, Leel managed to beat hard enough to jump off the ground and impress Rardna with the ferocity of the response.

“Very well,” Rardna said. “If this is what you truly want, here is a magic basket woven from my own silver locks. You must take it everywhere the Skurn dropped a piece of you, collect them all, and knit yourself back together.”

For a tiny heart, such a journey isn’t easy. First, Leel had no map to where the body parts had been dropped, so the search was long and arduous. And Leel had to keep beating the heart hard enough to bounce down rocky roads, over rivers, and across mountain ranges.

Finally, Leel found a missing piece and put it in the basket, but did not know how to reattach it. As Leel was resting by the river and wondering what to do, a wise old Owl appeared and, seeing Leel’s bravery and exhaustion, showed Leel how to knit the piece back on stronger than ever before. Leel trusted Owl because it was easy to see where Owl had been knitted back together. Owl offered to accompany Leel on the journey and would fly beside Leel, carrying the basket. Owl, having flown high and far, could also point Leel to the places where the Skurn often dropped the pieces of their victims.

Whenever Leel found a body part, the journey became a little easier. When Leel found a leg, Leel could hop instead of beating the heart so hard. Rediscovered ribs protected the heart from damage. A foot made the trip quicker, and toes added to the balance.

Piece by piece, Leel gathered what had been lost. The trip took years and by the time Leel and Owl were done, Leel was much older and looked a little strange, having been knit back together from pieces. But Leel knew every millimeter of every part of the reassembled body because of the long nights spent knitting.

Leel, whole, complete, and far from perfect, thanked Owl and then returned to Rardna to stand before the Being of Mercy. 

“Rardna, I have completed the task,” said Leel, at last able to speak. “I would like to say thank you and to return your basket, but I have one question.”

“What is that?” asked Rardna.

“How will I protect myself from the Skurn now?”

“Your knitting will protect you,” said Rardna. “When you knit yourself, you did such a good job and became so strong the Skurn knives will no longer be able to slice through you.”

Leel sat the basket at Rardna’s feet, knowing another would soon need it, and walked away, listening for a lonely, beating heart. 

In Memory of Ish

March 25, 2020
Ish watching Elephant Seals 2011

Ish in 2011, watching Elephant Seals near Cambria

Ish died of a heart attack on March 20. He had been a good friend, but we had drifted apart over the past few years. It was a complicated relationship where I chose loyalty to one friend over friendship with him.  He understood.

He was a funny man with powerful enthusiasms and tastes. He had an unstoppable zeal and curiosity. One time, we went to a Jewish film festival. Another festival-goer, seeing Ish’s obvious Filipino looks, asked “Are you Jewish?” Ish replied happily, “No, I’m just a fan.” That was Ish. A real fan.

No one could order food like Ish. We would go out to dinner, discuss the food and think we had our order set. Then he would throw in more and more items, until the server started looking at us with wide-eyed skepticism. We would end up with a table overflowing with food and bags full of to-go boxes.

Ish July 2010

Ordering food at a fancy restaurant on my birthday in 2010. He bought new shoes for the occasion. He usually wore black t-shirts with a dark overshirt and jeans.

He loved music. He went to every concert he could make time for. I don’t go to many shows, and yet I look back and remember off the top of my head that I was with him at Los Tigres del Norte, Cafe Tacuba, Dwight Yoakum, Adam Ant, Los Lobos, The Bangles – an eclectic mix for sure. He was on top of the latest bands – Pitchfork and Rolling Stone were his bibles – and he always caught KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic.

He worked as a contractor for the military and spent years out on San Nicholas Island, or “San Nick.” He was proud of the dock he maintained and loved fishing off of it. When we visited the Monterey Bay Aquarium, his primary comment on the fish was “Oh! These are good eating!”

He loved cooking shows and the idea of cooking, though he was more likely to eat out. A ribeye was probably his favorite thing on earth. He won our church chili cook-off by making steak and bacon chili – but who wouldn’t win with that?

He loved security. Guns, knives, locks, self defense moves, tips for avoiding scams and criminals, and flashlights. The best present I ever got him was an AAA membership, which he thanked me for every time he saw me.

He was a US Army veteran who served in Germany, cementing his love for a good schnitzel. For some mysterious Army reason, he always backed into parking spaces.

Ish was devoted to his mom, Bernarda. He lived with her on and off for years and loved helping her out, taking special care with her yard and swimming pool. He admired his parents for taking the risk to move to the US from the Phillippines. His father was serving in the Navy in Kodiak, Alaska when the terrifying 9.2 (second most powerful recorded) 1964 earthquake struck.

I have missed Ish a lot recently and will miss him even more. Rest in peace, my scrappy friend. Thanks for all the flashlights.

Ish and CC at Los Tigres del Norte

At Los Tigres del Norte, with a jalapeño cheese dog

Ish at Hearts Castle crop

Hearst Castle, where his highlight was talking about the pool filtration system with the man who worked there.

Ish Bernadette Georgia

Mom Bernarda, sister Georgia and Ish

Ish wins chili cookoff 2007

Winning the chili cookoff, 2007

Sue and Ish at Morro Rock

Visiting Morro Bay, 2010

Alone Again, Unnaturally

March 22, 2020

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Ever since I was a toddler, my main goal in life was to get some peace and quiet. When I was little with 5 siblings and 2 parents in a small house, I hid in the hall closet where I made a comfy nest.

I remember walking down the street at age 8 and crossing the street to avoid someone I knew. Even back then, I thought “This is probably not normal.” Nobody had told me about introversion.

I always lived with someone – family, roommates, boyfriends, more roommates – until I finally got my own place when I was in my 40s. It felt like a puzzle was finally complete – “Oh, HERE is what I was looking for this whole time.”

And then 14 months on the road by myself in an RV. I met a lot of people who said “I could never do it by myself,” and I would think “I could have never done it with someone else.”

But even the lifelong hermit has her limits. I was talking to my friend about the COVID lockdown the other day and she said “It’s like I have lost my identity.”

We all have. We derive our identity from our friendships, our work, our community activities, our clubs and teams and churches, temples, gurdwaras, mosques, ashrams. We want to reach out and connect and hold each other, and we can’t. And we’re all mourning that loss at once. It’s significant, and it’s ok to grieve.

Take some time to process your emotions, to be afraid and sad and let those feelings flow through you. As Glennon Doyle says “We can do hard things.”

Breathe. Write, dance, make art, sing, set up a Zoom meeting. Do what you have to do to survive isolation. But also realize that your identity is far beyond what you do or create.  You were made a precious child of the universe, period. Doing and making are just the icing on the cake. You are you, and that is enough. Breathe.

 

The Narrator Voice

March 18, 2020

The more time you spend by yourself, the more you talk to yourself. Or at least, that’s what I tell myself, out loud and often.

My trip has a narrator, and that narrator is British. From her accent, I think she’s a Londoner, slightly upper crust. She is encouraging and slightly enthusiastic.

“Why, yes, darling, I do think a rest stop would be a good idea.”

“Darling, do be careful backing. That tree is frightfully close there.”

“You can do it. I know you can. It’s simple, really.”

If you hear me talking to myself in a British accent, don’t worry. It’s just my narrator.

To honor my narrator and her helpful advice, I got a pretty tea mug. As she knows, a good cuppa and a bikkie sets everything right.

Do you have a narrator?

Cuppa

Huelga

March 17, 2020

IMG_20200315_130204My travel plans change minute by minute, turn by turn. It’s how I do it, and it has worked out for me so far. I was headed into Death Valley. It was very windy, and the messenger in my head said “Nope.” So I turned as soon as I could and headed in a different direction.

A while later, the nudge was to get off at the next exit, up in the mountains near Tehachapi. A road sign pointed me to the César Chávez National Monument in Keene.

A narrow winding road led to a building set in the middle of a beautiful garden. Only one car was in the parking lot, and a woman was raising four flags – US, California, National Parks Service, and the red and black eagle of the United Farm Workers.

The flowering plums were dropping their petals in the breeze, a spring shower of soft white floating down onto the walkways.

After a little hesitation, I entered the building. Social isolation from the Corona virus was just starting in earnest, and I wasn’t sure they were open, but the young woman said “For today, we are. Today.”

The museum has many photos from the UFW organizing and strikes, as well as an example of farmworker housing, Chávez’s office, and a shrine.

The Corona virus and our coming struggle were much on my mind as I learned about what the farmworkers went through.

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The first strike lasted five years. Five years. On day two of Corona virus panic, people were already losing their minds, and these humble workers had spent five years giving up everything – their homes, their cars, their health – for a better future.

They had faith…”the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” No one guaranteed them anything. There was no sign they would make any gains. And yet they persisted.

In the center of the garden, near a waterfall representing the martyrs of the movement, lie the graves of César Chávez and his wife, Helen. I stood there and prayed a while. May we all be touched by their strength.

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Self-Isolating

March 15, 2020

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I headed to the desert to self-isolate because of the Corona virus. I feel like the luckiest person on earth to be able to do this. It feels surreal, like another world. It’s weird knowing I won’t be meeting other people. No museums, no Elks Lodges, no church. It’s a strange time.

If you are fortunate enough to be able to isolate, here are my podcast recommendations to pass the time.

This American Life – the radio show that started it all. There are hundreds of great episodes archived, and each one holds different surprises.

The Daily – your quick deep-dive into one of the day’s issues, brought to you by the New York Times. Consistently brilliant.

Armchair Expert – I always assumed Dax Shepherd was kind of a bonehead from his roles on TV shows. His long, free-associating interviews with all kinds of interesting people prove otherwise.

The Moth – True stories, told live. Bonus: my lovely blogging friend Alexandra Rosas has several stories.

Fresh Air – speaking of interviews, Terry Gross has interviewed almost everyone of consequence in the decades of her show. If you have a favorite celebrity, flip through the archives to find their moment at the mic.

Throughline – modern issues enlightened through the frame of history. It often leaves me literally open-mouthed with amazement.

Here’s the Thing – Alec Baldwin’s voice is like deep chestnut honey. It’s a good (if very occasional) interview show, but for me it’s main use is to soothe me into an instantaneous, deep sleep. Better than a meditation app.

Enjoy. Stay safe. Wash your hands. Pray for us, all of us.

 

 

 

 

Three Short Lessons I Learned From Rving That Can Be Applied to the Corona Virus

March 14, 2020

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I learned some valuable lessons from RVing that are helping me panic less in this time of Corona virus.

1. Pay attention to the conditions around you. You might save your life. Traveling in an RV, it might be the person with the overloaded trailer weaving in front of you. In CoronaWorld, it’s the person coughing into their hand and then using the door handle you’re about to use. It’s better to open it with a tissue and look like Howard Hughes than to spend two weeks in quarantine.

2. You can redefine “necessary.” You need so much less than you think you do. Hunker down. Look out the window. Make some calls you have been putting off. Enjoy what you have. Say a little prayer of gratitude. You’ll feel better.

3. The best thing about being human is being adaptable. Adapt. If you run out of milk for your coffee, bust out that can of coconut milk gathering dust in the pantry. Trader Joe’s doesn’t need you today, trust me.

Be well, my friends. Be kind. We can do this.

Recalled to Life

March 6, 2020

I have been home in Ventura for three weeks. I had forgotten how utterly nice the weather is here. I tuck my head down and smile secretly when people complain that it is “freezing” when the temperature drops below 67 degrees F or “so hot” when it is above 72. People, it is neither freezing nor hot. It is perfect, as it is day after day after day here. The sunlight has a pure, clear quality. The air smells like ocean and strawberries. Aaaah. Home.

Gladis is off seeing Mike at the RV spa, getting some treatments done – a little Botox, a little herbal wrap. I am renting a bedroom from a lady and her grown daughter. It’s clean, comfortable, and a real bargain.

And my health is improving. It is an odd feeling. It’s like when you live next to a busy road for or so long that you get used to it and there’s a road closure and you can hear the birds again. You think “Oh, I forgot about birds!” I forgot about energy and waking up feeling good.

I have to thank Dr. Cold Russian Fish, who was the first person to take my concerns seriously. I had been unwell for so long that it seemed normal to me to have no initiative and to need naps every hour or two. I felt kind of sheepish even mentioning it. But her eyes flew open and she got very, very interested. She did a lot of expensive testing and gave me a protocol to follow and guess what? It worked.

I had been convinced that my life would be one long tired beige slog to the end. Then I woke up in full Technicolor in Oz, and I’m not quite sure what to do with myself, but I’m positive it will be good.

 

 

 

 

A Day in the Glamorous Life

February 7, 2020

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This morning, I awoke in Gladis on the shore of a crystalline lake. A hot spring bubbled near the shore, so I slipped off my silk robe and took a quick soak before…

Joking. What really happened is that I awoke about 4 am in the back parking lot of a Cracker Barrel in Albuquerque. Hey, Cracker Barrel is an RV-friendly place, and free is free.

I finally got up at 5:30, made coffee, and put on sweats. Going out to turn the propane tank off for travel, I noticed that the homeless guy I had given $5 to the night before was taking a leak in the drainage ditch at the back of the parking lot. His buddy was still sleeping under a blue plastic tarp. Flurries of snow were starting to fall.

I started Gladis and got on the road at 6:15 a.m. It was still dark, but I really wanted to escape the snow. My weather app made it seem like the storm was landing in ABQ and heading east. We were going west. Good.

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Stopping at a casino outside of town to get gas, the wind cut like a knife. I was completely overjoyed to find my favorite kombucha at the mini-mart. Gas stations NEVER have good kombucha. It’s the little things.

I was feeling smug about leaving the snow behind. Then it began to snow. And snow. For three hours, the snow fell in tiny flurries and we crept slowly along on the interstate. No side roads for me during a snowstorm. I was thankful all the cars and trucks were keeping the road fairly snow-free. A semi truck lying on its side on the highway served as a cautionary tale.

I stopped in Gallup, New Mexico to work. I had technically taken the day off, but you know how that goes. As soon as you say you have a day off, everyone has something that just has to get done. A Subway parking lot was my office. It also gave me a chance to cobble together a breakfast protein shake with ingredients I had on hand. The secret is cinnamon, people. Lots of cinnamon.

After that, I only stopped to buy gas and to eat lunch at the entrance to the Petrified Forest National Park for about 10 minutes. I was tempted to visit and see the sights, but I knew it was already going to be a long, long day. I kept asking google maps how much further and then swearing loudly when I found out.

I went from the plains to the mountains back down to the plains and up and down mountains. The west wasn’t won, people. It’s still out there, and it is gorgeous.

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What did I do to pass the time?
I listened to podcasts. Throughline, The David Chang Show, Good Food with Evan Kleiman, The Daily, Fresh Air.
I sang songs, badly.
I talked to God.
I thought about my trip and all the places I had visited.
I checked google maps again. Swore again.

When I rolled into Mesa, Arizona, it was 4:03 pm. I had been on the road since 6:15 a.m. 475 miles, probably my longest road day ever, but I’m that much closer to home.

I may not have started my day soaking in a mineral pool near a crystalline lake, but I ended it in a jacuzzi in an RV park across from a strip mall in suburban Phoenix. Close enough.

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