I am so grateful. And rather amazed to hear myself saying so. In a few weeks, I’ll no longer have a job or any known source of income – which is more than enough to make me wake up with a start many nights. My dear madre has conspired to see to it that I have a soft landing pad on my duff. Hopefully whatever fall there is won’t be too hard – or too long lasting. In the meantime, I keep tossing proverbial sticks in the fire and believe (though I can’t promise you I’ll say the same thing if you ask me in two days – especially at 2 a.m.) that one of them will light on fire – brilliantly – at just the right moment. Any minute now…

Namely to do work that is worthwhile in the company of good people; to be there for my kids; and to maintain this home, which is a gift unto itself.

In addition to applying willy nilly for jobs at places that range from banks and libraries to the Department of Epidemiology (just got the letter from the latter today, informing me they’d found someone more “suitable” and wishing me “luck” in my search – which feels akin to being handed a face mask at the beginning of an H1N1 outbreak), I am meditating on what I want:  namely to do work that is worthwhile in the company of good people; to be there for my kids; and to maintain this home, which is a gift unto itself. I am more sure that I want to teach again – but something new, something with a spin. Writing through grief? Yoga for teens? How to have a good divorce ? … There’s something out there that I’m supposed to be sharing more actively, and I’m excited – albeit a bit terrified – to pull it out of my velvet top hat.

Tobey and Bella on the Gulf of Mexico - the sweet life.

As I wait for this year 2010 to arrive, an inexorable wave that is just out of reach, I sit here, tea cup in hand, and smile with pleasure for the many beautiful moments that shine brighter in my memory than any of the dark places of 2009. I can be dark – yes, I have my moments – but Lexapro free as I am of late, I amaze myself at my ability to see plenty of light. For this, I credit the moments that have provided me with grounding –  like the two times I visited  the ocean this year. I’m thankful that at 43 I am no less enthralled by the power of water. The Atlantic — well, really the Gulf of Mexico — provided the most LOVELY day of all 365. Just one day. Perhaps seven hours, when you come right down to it. At a friend’s beach house with my mom and my kids. They dug for sand crabs and carved out  moats, while I read Peter Mayle’s fluffy but totally pleasurable Hotel Pastis cover to cover. Wow. Talk about gratification.

A page from Dan Eldon's journals.

There was also Los Angeles and my dear friend Kathy’s house. I was there working on another book about her son, Dan Eldon. I spent a day with his journals – such amazing reminders of what a life well lived looks like. It looks like Pleasure. It looks like Passion. It looks Curious and Open Ended. The journals always leave me feeling wide OPEN to possibility, so I was in a good space when I left them, first to visit  my friend Kyle’s store – a craft shop that is an act of love by one single mama/artiste  – and then to listen to my friend Hope read from her book – a book that gets to the heart of motherhood and the soft spine of creativity. Later that night, meeting Barb at Lucques, I had one of my favorite meals of the year.  I don’t remember what I ate, but I vividly recall talking and talking in a cozy room while people brought wine and refilled water and Barb laughed. The next day – capping off all of this creative energy – I stood with my toes in the the Pacific, remembering its ineffable return and our briny beginnings.

The wishing rocks, Topanga Beach, Malibu, USA

One of the greatest ongoing blessings of my year was my yoga practice. I took classes with several outstanding teachers in Los Angeles, including Bryan Kest. A trip to San Francisco brought me to two studios in the Mission, the most memorable of which was a lovely class with a buoyant teacher named Peter Guinosso. My own little corner of the earth is now teeming with yoga. The opening of Heartland Yoga, which recently celebrated its first anniversary, makes me feel ever more at home here; my belief that I belong and have a like-minded community, ever more intact. I remain amazed, after more than 15 years of practice, as to how powerful yoga is for me as a creative force – or, rather, as a tool to renewing my creativity and shedding any hunched-shoulder weariness that comes with mamahood or from gray jobs.

Shoes awaiting their yogis, Santa Monica.

Oh, for the time in my life when I used to keep a journal in which I wrote the title of every book I read and by year’s end, pages had been filled with appraising comments and explanation points.

Outside of that woozie, delightful entire-book day on the beach, my reading was woefully limited this year. Oh, for the time in my life when I used to keep a journal in which I wrote the title of every book I read and by year’s end, pages had been filled with appraising comments and explanation points. Hopefully, I’ll experience that again, but for now, I get through 1/3 of the Sunday New York Times – always starting with the Style section (shame, shame). With the oh-so-sad demise of Gourmet, I have become a fan of Chow, which I read online as steadfastly as the Buddhist magazine, Tricycle.  I love the little dashes of honesty and wit that I find online among friends like Aimee at Artsyville and Karen at Cheerio Road.  And I enjoy bumping into new friends and new ideas, such as How Art Saved My Life and Bulls Eye Baby.

The life of a single mama doesn’t even lead much time for films. Most of what I’ve seen, I’ve seen with my kids. Often, this is satisfying, but sometimes, as on my birthday when we sat in a movie theater during a rainy beach vacation, watching Up (a good movie, but not what I had in mind that day), I want to cry. As with reading, I remember being in my 20s in Seattle and going to movies all of the time. Matinees alone. Weekends with friends. Rainy days. Summer nights. The Neptune. The Egyptian. The Harvard Exit. The Guild.  Now, the kids and I forego the big screen of the mall cineplex and snuggle up with my computer to watch in bed. We went on a documentary spree last winter, my favorite of which was Girls, Rock! More recently, I saw a documentary about a Tibetan monk in search of the reincarnation of his lama. Unmistaken Child is a beautiful film that raises unique questions about spirituality – who leads, how they’re chosen, what is valued. Food, Inc. made me once again struggle with just what to buy at the grocery store, an overwhelming ethical dilemma worthy of Martin Luther. Undoubtedly, though, the film that  hit closest to home was Everlasting Moments, which I saw in NYC last March. Set in Sweden in the early 1900s, a woman gets a camera and discovers both a gift and a passion – which spells joy and trouble, not necessarily in that order.

So that trip to New York in March also brought about one of several Food Moments of the year. Most memorably:  oodles of  noodles and other goodies round a lazy susan in a crammed Chinatown restaurant with five friends who didn’t previously know each other — three writers, an editor, a photographer, and a painter. Loud but blissfully so! Another meal so loud that I nearly lost my voice was at avec with April on a weirdly mild winter night in Chicago. We couldn’t get in until 9:00 pm and by the time we left, it was well after midnight, but we were more that sated. So happy, that place. Then there were the croissants — oh, too many croissants for one woman to have eaten alone whilst working on a book in a borrowed apartment — from Tartine in San Francisco.

And the steamed oatmeal from Doma — so good that I’ve slowly been adapting it at home on my stove, which has seen plenty of action with boules of no-knead bread, chocolate gelato, and Mark Bittman’s divine – I mean really, on-your-knees divine roasted corn salad.

Steamed oatmeal - recipe, please?Hands down, though, the best meal of the year was a mid-July feast in honor of Bastille Day. The place: Kristin and Kat’s screened-in porch. My attire:  a Chinese red dress. The menu: 7 or so courses, climaxing with a variation on a Patricia Well’s Mediterranean rabbit.  The company: Impeccable. Especially the man at the far end who piqued my interest. A week later, I introduced myself on Facebook. I have a lot of women in my life, I basically said, and they are wonderful. But I am trying to cultivate some male friendships. Are you game? The answer pinged back, indeed, and we haven’t stopped talking yet.

And that, folks — along with generous mothers and block parties celebrating the neighbors’ legalized marriage, along with stellar children’s holiday concerts and a nest of baby hawks in the alley — is reason enough for hope at the end of a year that could be overwhelmingly gloomy. When the glass could seem half empty, Life threw a party, replete with glasses of rose and marinated olives. It brought a lovely human being into my midst and suddenly so much that felt impossible is within bounds. Jobs. Money. Even a new roof. All is within the bounds of the possible. All is within the potential waves of the coming year. Salut!


collaboration is not a dirty word

It’s like the difference between meditating or doing yoga alone versus practicing in a group:  You can do it alone, of course, but it’s usually more powerful when others are around giving off energy.

My friend Aimee over at Artsyville introduced me to the notion of co-working – bringing together like-minded creatives to work in the same space. The way Aimee and her pals did it – with ripened strawberries and dabs of glorious color everywhere – looks so inviting. But as I look around my scattered, dusty house (truly dusty – the kids have been scraping plaster off of  a wall that’s getting redone), I can’t imagine such aesthetic bliss occurring here. Couldn’t someone else just invite me to their house every other week?

Still, it’s a great reminder of my craving to work with other people. Collaboration remains my biggest hope, but working side by side might just be the next best thing. Sharing a space can be tough for writers, who need a certain degree of quiet in order to concentrate. I get so tired of hearing of all of the NPR that my visual artist pals manage to consume in a week! Still, variations can work, like The Grotto in San Fran, which has spawned multiple writing communities around the country. Even if you’re semi-secluded in your writing cubby, there’s an undeniable buzz that can come from working near other who are also creating. It’s like the difference between meditating or doing yoga alone versus practicing in a group:  You can do it alone, of course, but it’s usually more powerful when others are around giving off energy.

Years ago, I had a weird but wonderful job as the photo editor of a series of sports CD-ROMs at Microsoft. My co-workers were amazing – a novelist, two photographers, several designers. We went through the entire Sunday New York Times on lunch at Monday, compared Morning Edition throughout the week, and shared every movie we saw – which were lots, because none of us had kids yet. The work itself was repetitive and dull, but the company more than made up for it. Much as I don’t miss the 9-to-5ness of it, I can get choked up thinking about those people and their creative depth. 

When I do manage to get out and work with other artists, such as my recent trip to NYC, I get so jazzed. The ideas just flow. So why can’t I keep that going when I’m here? I know so many artists locally, and yet many of them are mothers, which means we work odd hours and the overlapping times we do have sans kids beyond precious – reserved on week days for Major Cram Time or on the rare weekend evening for, well, Drinking Red Wine. (These seem to be two activities that most mama artists do quite well.) As one painter with whom I keep trying to meet so that we scheme about Creative Ideas together, said as I grilled her on her schedule: “I’m telling ya, it’s feudal!” At first I thought she’d said futile, meaning our chances of getting together, but then I realized she was describing the nature of her sunup to sundown, booked time line.

To break out of this, I’ve thought of hosting a monthly art night where mamas and kids come together to work in a common medium — clay night, say, or charcoal. My hunch, though, is that the mamas would be really into it and the kids would be wild and all over, and then it would just be that much sadder to have to stop one’s art making in order to oversee a time out or to clean up spilled juice.  

And so I sit, nursing my tea, imagine the other worker mamas scattered around town and across the country, each hunched over her laptop or her sketchbook, keeping an eye on the clock before the after-school pick up and wondering, absently, whether to have soup or spaghetti tonight.