Lemon juice. Butcher paper. Ironing board. Iron. Reamer. Pyrex measuring cup. Sieve. Candle. Hairdryer. Two cheap paint brushes I must have gotten twenty-five years ago. I am working with what is at hand. The ordinary materials of of domestic existence. The ordinary magic of homemade invisible ink held up to a candle. I took the trash out last night and saw something - someone? - moving strangely in the darkness of the sidewalk. I went back in for a flashlight. It was a man with a bike and tarp-covered trailer - the delux rig for so many homeless people here. I held the flashlight for him as he reattached the trailer hitch, which had come undone as he was riding and had nearly flipped him off the bike. The rain and wind were wild. He declined various offers of assistance - to hold the bike, to hold the trailer steady, to get a crescent wrench if it would work better than his Allen wrench. He told me people called him MacGyver because he never had the right tool and always had to make do. For some things - maybe not fixing bike trailers - there is no right tool. Racism. Misogyny. Heteronormativity. There is only what you have under your sink. It wasn't intentional, but now it seems essential - that I use familiar materials...domestic tools...to interrogate the familiar, domestic oppression. This violence is cooked up, tended, mended in the home: in the pantry, in the kitchen. There should be no polish on the surface of this work. No seductive, sealed-up, done-ness. I said to MacGyver that it must be hard to work with his hands with it so cold. He said, Ya, especially when you've only got one. One hand? I said. Ya, he said. Jesus, I said. Are you sure you don't need help? Ya, he said. It's been twenty years. I know what I'm doing. I noticed then that he had his coat sleeve pulled down like a mitt over what must have been the end of his arm - is a wrist a wrist when it doesn't lead to a hand? - which he used to steady the bike. I thought, Marilyn and I have been together twenty years. It is absurd to compare my near-vestigial organ of race-consciousness to this man's missing hand. There is no pat analogy in the reality of another person. And I was not made hopeful or inspired by this interaction. By the after-the-fact analysis of what else I could have offered. There is the analogy - to my after-the-fact analysis of how race was the determining factor not in Trump's election, but in the entire history of American politics. Flashlight. Lemon juice. Allen wrench. Ironing board. One good hand. Some words.
Spent the last five days sequestered in the Oysterville cottage of a dear and generous friend who fended off the world while I completed a polish of The Warmest Season screenplay. I can feel this story. I can see it perfectly. Sometimes I think it should be a picture book for grownups.
Bastille Day. Spent the first half of the day working around the snag. Cleared the hydrangea. Cleared the raspberry patch. Ate three berries from the anemic canes, crowded all season by horsetail fern and blackberries. Very sweet and mild. Found a woman’s low-heeled shoe, two Santa Claus statuettes, a couple broken pots, a lawnmower (I think—still mostly covered), and a hefty iron part to some contraption that consists of a split wheel, a shaft, and a couple rods. Old ideas about the garden emerge as patterns of rotten 2x4s and brick edging stones, interconnected sections of hose buried shallow as part of a makeshift irrigation system. It is satisfying to pull them out—like removing blackberry thorns from my hands at the end of the day. I could do this work all day every day. I have a hard time stopping. Right now I want to be out there even though it is so hot and even though when I am done with this area, it won’t really look better—just tamer, more tended. I don’t feel this about writing—I do not indulge in it because it is satisfying, I am not eager to continue, I have to force myself to continue, and when I am done with something (a sentence, a paragraph, a story), if it isn’t beautiful, then it discourages me from future work. In the garden, as I clear things out and begin to see the edges, the shape of things, I am inspired. I can conceive of the next phase of work and am eager to undertake it. Not so with writing: I do not seem able to stand back from the work and be compelled, either by my progress or by what there is still to do, to step back in again. What is the difference between how I garden and how I write? In the garden, I value and enjoy the labor itself, not just the beauty. I recognize and appreciate progress. And the land—the plants—hold my place when I stop for the day. It is also never done. There is no narrative in the garden. Some day, someone—or just time—will undo what I have done with a sense of satisfaction or relief or frustration or with no sense at all. And nothing will have been lost. Because it all will have been only a very labor-intensive process—a long, long middle with no beginning and no end.