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Where are You Lately?
How is Juke already a year old? We're celebrating with a new contributor smorgasbord, and you're invited to join in!
Hey everyone! I can't believe how quickly this happened, but tomorrow is our one-year anniversary! Maybe the last 12 months felt like a normal amount of time to everyone else, but to me it feels like I was just building the first Juke pages a week ago. Now I look back at the archives and, whoa, we've published so much great stuff. How did that happen?
I want to just jump into the smorgasbord (you'll see why in a couple paragraphs.) But first, for newer readers, let me explain how Juke's anniversaries work. Every three months, I send out a question for all of our contributors. Last time, it was "What are you eating lately?" That was a truly enjoyable conversation. This time, the question is, "Where are you lately?" I knew everyone would have their own spin on the idea of what “where” means (physical places, states of mind, etc.) but I was absolutely bowled over by the fascinating and heartfelt replies that have rolled in. So read everyone’s responses, then leave your own in the comments section at the end.
I’ll begin by answering my own question...
Where am I lately? Honestly, I'm tied to my desk. If I were a good liar, I would invent some lovely story about how I'm wandering around and listening to the birds and communing with the forest sprites and whatever, but I haven't been doing any of that. I've just been staring at my computer and worsening my already frightening myopia.
There's an upshot, though, to spending weeks locked in a cave with a shining screen, and it's this: I made a book.
Seriously. We have a book now.
The Juke book will be available as a paperback by May 1st. (Don’t worry. I’ll keep reminding you about it.) If you order one, you'll have a real-life totem from the last year of this lovely corner of the internet. You can scribble notes in it, if you want. You can spill coffee on it or dog-ear the pages. All the little joyous things that come with having a real object in your own grubby little hands. (And, because this is 2023, you can also get a Kindle version. Kindle pre-orders are available now.)
So keep that in mind. But FIRST, let's see where everyone else has been lately. Surely somebody's been out there enjoying life...
The first of April and I am between flights. Last week I traveled to England. Next week I will fly to the U.S. At present I am sitting in a café in the North, scribbling in a notebook, intermittently swigging a latte whose conscious, if coffee drinks had a conscious, would reject the idea of a swig, a 16th word that denotes a large gulp of alcohol. As always, words and worlds come in pieces. Last week, days were spent on Lund Farm with family and friends. Dear Walter, now ninety-five years old and bedridden, said: “They are no longer my sheep. They are Simon’s sheep now.” In the city, several of the old used bookshops have closed. Alex and Mickle Gate have gone online. Amber, just two years old, chased after Aunt Lizzie and Sebastian, as they made a short race to the 12th century chapel. Up here, in the North, it snowed so much on a Friday that the schools closed. Yet something in the air has shifted. The trees have tiny buds. There are rumors of certain birds returning. While waiting for the bus, I watched a rype fly overhead with brown feathers streaked through the white ones. Next week I will be in the Southwest. I hope the land will smell like spring, like sage and warming stones and tamarisk. I will attend the Climbing Eros exhibition at the Saranac Art Projects in Spokane, Washington, as well as the premiere of Gently as We Go at the LoKo Arts Festival in Potsdam, New York. There will be visits with family and friends and late nights of life gifting life. Tomorrow and through the weekend nearly all the shops and cafes will be closed, including this one. I have milk and potatoes to purchase before I catch the bus home. We’ll say god påske to each other, as we take our seats and leave them. Between here and home, the countryside will show signs of change, and hardly a thought will enter my mind. Just the sunshine. Just enough.
Where am I at lately? The first thing that comes to mind is “All over the place,” but that’s not really true. It’s just a flip, cheap response. I’ll keep this short and send it to you in a comma-separated list so as to save that precious digital space. Everything has a price. So here we go.
On my bike, online, on edge, on the Eastern Seaboard, on the verge of getting some work done, on my toes, over the moon, under the sun, all around the town, in and out, up and down, inside some good books, outside of pop culture and not outdoors enough, with my people, with the hound, driving around, on the road in my head, lying down, waiting, hoping, scheming and dreaming.
This is not an easy question for me.
I guess I could answer this literally - I’ve been in my studio in Bigfork, Montana. But I took it as an inquiry into the deeper question of state of mind. I have never been one able to describe my feelings very well. Perhaps because I have a tendency to suppress them. I prefer to let my art speak for me.
But I will say that lately I have been thinking about life.
One thing about being of a certain age is that you have a lot of life to reflect on. The journey ahead is unknown, but, the road traveled is clear to see. Every wrong turn, U turn, speed bump and pot hole; every detour and every blockade. I’ve been lost on side streets but blessed with long stretches of smooth sailing at 80 mph with the wind at my back. I’ve run out of gas, weathered the minor fender-benders and survived the collision that totaled the car. The rear view mirror sees all with 20/20 vision.
The good news is I survived and had a mostly good time along the way. Here’s the rub - that leg of the road trip is over. Done. Can’t be changed. No do-overs; no going back. It’s been recorded in time like an old 8mm home movie.
I logged in a lot of miles on the journey that got me here. But I have arrived.
I am settling into this place. I will take time to hang out for a while; wash off the road dust. And then, when ready I will continue down the highway, eager to see where it takes me.
Quantum physics being what it is, I’m where I was a few minutes ago, although everything is different now. The unidentified baby birds beneath the deck are about to come out of the nest. I’m waiting to see if my favorite hickory tree survived the winter. The day wants to rain. Thick clouds are weighing down the sky.
In January 2022, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. There weren’t any symptoms, but my PSA (Prostate-Specific Antigen) test was elevated. I was referred to a urologist who delivered the dreaded cancer diagnosis. The doctor unequivocally urged me to have a prostatectomy. As the date of my surgery loomed closer, I got darker and darker. I had made a social media post about my diagnosis, and multiple people had reached out to me with stories of treatments they or a loved one had gone through. It was a loving embrace of information, but what my doctor had dismissed as minor annoyances: erectile dysfunction and incontinence, were a recurring theme from most of my respondents. Then, I met with the surgeon. He spoke at a breakneck speed. I’m southern, y’all. We don’t talk fast. And he was clearly reading my chart for the first time as he gave his spiel. I left his office feeling resigned and hopeless. I reached out to my urologist to inquire about alternatives to surgery. He offered to let me talk with another patient who had undergone a prostatectomy, and I declined.
I got darker.
I fell deep into an abyss of hopelessness and unable to conjure a way out.
Finally, I reached out to the urology practice at UAB, Birmingham’s world-class university hospital. The person I spoke to led with, “First, I’m so sorry you’re going through this.” It was a simple act of empathy, and something I craved desperately. After reviewing my records, I was assigned a doctor, whom I met with via Zoom for well over an hour as he detailed all of my options. Longish story longishly short, after an MRI, he and his team determined I was well-suited for a much less invasive treatment dubbed HIFU (High Intensity Focalized Ultrasound). I call it the Harry Potter method because they stick a wand up the patient’s butt and magic the cancer away.
During the interim, I established a relationship with a therapist which was hugely helpful for my mental state of being, and I’m happy to report that the HIFU method has been successful in eradicating my cancer. My PSA numbers have dropped significantly, and other than the out of pocket expense of $25k since my insurance refused to pay for the treatment, I’ve had no negative side effects.
So where am I lately? I am in the springtime after a year-long winter. My first collection of poetry, Miracle Strip, was published by Brick Road Poetry Press in January. I spent months working with Ned Mudd’s music to create audio tracks to accompany each poem in the book, and I came up with a creative way of delivering the audio version of each poem directly to my readers. I’m healthy, happy, and trying to create a little bit of art and beauty in the world around me.
It’s hard to know where you are in April, especially in a year like this where winter started early and holds fast. Our ski areas will be open until nearly May. The locals say it will be good for August. (Nine years in place, and I still don’t count myself among them.) It’s tempting to get ahead, but this year, the trees still carry their leaves from the fall. We took a trip to the Oregon coast for Easter, deluged in rain. I’ve never seen that coast under blue skies, but for me, it’s a place for shoulder seasons. The state had the foresight to pass the Beach Bill in 1967, making the entirety of its coastline publicly accessible, and you can wander for miles without a fence or sign to disrupt you. In many places, the dunes and seagrasses are high enough to blot out the houses. It’s easy to lose your way. I love that. On Saturday, just before heading to bed, my mother says, “He is risen!” “Well, no, not yet,” I reply, a bit too quickly. It’s tempting to get ahead. Even without benediction, Tenebrae holds a certain gravity. Walking the beach in a driving wind, Wren taunts the waves. The thing about that stretch of coastline is just how shallow and wide the borders are. The difference between low and high tides can be 200 yards or more of sand, but the waves are tricky with that much margin exposed. Every guest house posts warnings against “sneaker waves”. One moment you’re walking a clean expanse. The next moment you’re thigh deep and shivering or, worse, headed out to sea. “Take it, Papa,” Wren yells. He stands facing the water, hands behind his back with the heel of one foot stabbed into the sand. We line up next to him and stab our own heels in. Konka, our 10-year-old retriever, dives ahead unfazed. As the water recedes, Beka looks to her boots. “You stand in place long enough, you start to sink in.”
Wednesday, April 12, Imogen Cunningham’s Birthday
The bell rings. I write one last note and rush to the door. I smell peach blossom vanilla in the hallway outside the women’s restroom. I turn my head. The sun shines in my eyes. Students wave hello and rush to their next class. The bell rings. I walk to my desk and notice white roots growing on the stalk of the monstera deliciosa.
Since COVID forced Jeff and me into a reclusive lifestyle, I've wondered how I fit into the community. Recently, that position hasn't felt comfortable. Trouble is, I've rarely felt comfortable no matter where I've lived.
When a place became intolerable, a relationship broke my heart, or conditions at work shoved me out the door, I felt at a loss. Invariably, my little voice would say, "Hey, you haven't tried so-and-so yet." A new spark would flare up, relieving my paralysis, and lead me to the next phase.
In 1978, the wall I'd hit in my hometown of Salt Lake City pushed me to haul my earthly goods to Santa Cruz. All areas of my life were falling apart. I was not pretty enough, smart enough, or morally clean enough to attain the celestial standards of the community.
Within a couple of years in Santa Cruz, however, my karma started hitting other people's dogmas. Then I met Jeff and the next door opened. We were soul mates; but neither of us was politically correct enough for Santa Cruz.
Jeff wanted to move to Truckee, CA. For me, it was a step backward. I remembered how driving past Truckee on I-80 made me shiver. I could not imagine living there. The people must be as cold as their environment. Yet, I found a rich mother lode of writers who spurred me to stretch my abilities. I learned a lot from them as long as I ignored the "cool sophistication" that edged on hostility.
Thus, the weirdness returned. While aspects of these environments failed, each time something ended, something else would take its place. Soon an escape route appeared. We moved "off the hill," to an acre property in Minden, NV. Right on schedule, the intensity of people's beliefs slammed against mine. I soon realized I was not American enough.
Sometimes it feels like I've left a trail of wreckage, dabbling in stuff here and there without accomplishing anything. While I bemoan my fragmented trajectory, I won't waste energy regretting my nomadic track? I like where my choices led me because a new pathway has been revealed. I have 73 years of lessons to share with my new grandson. I know the time will come when he will think I'll totally uncool, but for now his smile tells me I'm enough right now.
I am essentially exactly where I’ve always been. I can’t really stray much further from here, risking going somewhere that I’m not, which is everywhere except right here. Here remains the planet Earth, which is essentially where it’s been as long as I can remember being on this thing.
Funny enough, since 98 percent of my body’s atoms are replaced every year, I don’t feel exactly like I’m here. I feel mostly here, but not totally. Parts of me are always catching up while other parts are long gone.
While I’m here, let me assure everyone that I know what I just wrote is similar to something a narrator of an eighth-grade science textbook might compose. I find that when facing an insurmountable challenge, such as answering this question, it’s best to admit I can’t explain much about anything effectively in under 10,000 words.
March 30, 2023
Here I am on my living room loveseat, wrapped in a fleecy blanket with a pot of tea at my side and a salad lovingly prepared by my husband in easy reach. I am working on what I hope will be the final edits to the Expert Witness report I have been retained to provide for a court case about literary plagiarism. I have a dog at my feet and a cat on my knees (he's tried multiple times for my lap with soft but insistent paws, but my laptop is there), and I'm watching the rain bucketing down outside my window in yet another Atmospheric River or 'Extra Tropical Cyclone' as I recently heard these unusual storms described. This is California, for goodness sake, where even when we're not in a drought, we never have huge storms. In the thirty-five years we've lived in the San Francisco Bay Area I've heard thunder and seen lightning only half a dozen times. Even when it rains, it's usually been a quiet and polite patter. But not this year! This year the deluge has been pouring down since before Christmas. And not fifteen minutes ago a heavy tree branch crashed into our garden, narrowly missing both the concrete birdbath and the roof of the shed.
I am sitting here writing, working hard to finish this report so it will be done by the time I fly off to England next week. I am hoping the rain will not cause travel delays because I am so eager to get to our daughter, who has just birthed her new baby girl. This is the child she and her husband have longed for through more than a year of miscarriages and surgeries, the one who has finally made it into the world and into their arms. "She's the same soul, Mom," our daughter confided to me via Facetime, moving her phone so I could see my granddaughter latched onto the breast, eyes closed, sucking deeply. "I just know it. She tried to come to us over and over. And now she's here."
My eyes tear up when I hear this, but I love the notion that despite the sadness of pregnancy loss and the pain of medical procedures, in the end maybe nothing is truly lost. The baby is here now, and the soul is the very same one who was always planning to come, who just needed a viable body to inhabit. Now she is where she is meant to be--just as I am, her grandmother here on the other side of the pond, watching the rain with the weight of the cat starting to numb my knees. I will fly to her very soon, unencumbered by cats and reports, so eager to meet this new little one! I will thank her for biding her time.
I’m biding my own time--wrapped in my blanket, listening to rain, writing hard, edging the cat off my legs, planning what to pack. I’m longing to cuddle my baby girl and her baby girl. And maybe that’s pretty much where we all are lately—both biding our time in the here and now and plotting our next moves into the future. I’m thinking maybe we are, each of us, right where we’re supposed to be.
I'm in evaluations at the University where I teach.
When I’m in town and want to chill, I go to Barton Springs. Barton Springs is a natural oasis in downtown Austin TX.
If I go late at night or early in the morning, it’s just me and a few locals. The water's always cold, and fresh with a natural bottom and concrete sides.
People have been going to the springs for 10,000 years. If you want an old school, Austin hippie vibe — this is it.
Now I am there, in a memory that smolders An image that curls up and floats through the hole in my stomach Dripping like fuel on a tiny flame It’s the kind of burn that can go either way Hot enough to take down an entire city block Or make a man collapse in on himself But there’s another option Where ash becomes charcoal And destruction reappears As a unique and inspiring revolution
Depending on who you ask I am either on my way up Or sliding down the slippery slope Taking the high road Or lost in translation I’m holding my own Or I’ve turned into my parents I’m either burning the candle on both ends Or I’m the last of a dying breed
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