I was reading a book about Spinoza this evening and had a thought about my significant other and baking soda. You see, he stashes boxes of baking soda everywhere, in the refrigerator, in the cat’s kitty litter, in the bathroom cabinet, plus, stored in the ordinary place for baking soda, next to the baking powder on the shelf with the flour and sugar, waiting until they are called upon to replenish others.
Why, does he do this, I ask, not to be critical or to suggest some other methodology, only to be curious. Why does one household require so many identical boxes of baking soda?
He looks at me and says, “They are cheap enough. And I need them.”
We are long past any friction regarding wayward toothpaste caps or discussions about which way the toilet paper is supposed to roll. In no way, do I wish to cause a brou-ha-ha about baking soda. But maybe, if I were to be totally honest, maybe I had other motives.
I think the ghost of his mother lives here. I know that sounds very B movie-ish, but I don’t consider it a bad thing, I simply recognize her presence. We are living in his mother’s house, a lovely woman whom I met twice before she passed away. I have been given clearance to do what I will with rearranging and redecorating, but it takes time for me to settle into a place.
I see his mother in the curtains neatly piled on closet shelves for different times of the year, an array of colors to allow her and the house to change with the seasons. I recognize her practicality in the kitchen with the coffee and measuring cups within easy reach. I see her understated love of nature with pictures she has placed on her walls, scenes of flowers and birds. Mostly, I understand the choices of a woman who once she had the option to build her own house, decided on the best she could afford, thick rugs, lots of storage space, and a garden filled with the iris and zinnia.
The logical systems she organized during her lifetime are still in place, including her appreciation of baking soda that has been passed along to her son.
I also see a small gift that I gave her in the front of a display cabinet that contains her prized doll collection, and I thank her for everything she had put into place to help us to build our lives together.
We start now.
As I write this post in August, I’m aware that the High Holy days are approaching. I recall the teachings of the rabbis at Kehilla Community Synagogue in Piedmont, California where I’ve been a member. I’m wondering about that “still small voice” that resides somewhere inside me. Where is it, maybe hiding in my throat, balanced on my vocal chords and waiting to speak, embedded in an artery at some juncture between my heart and my foot, or in both places?
I know. Not likely.
The thing I loved about living in the in Bay Area all these years with its confabulation of marvelous music (Yoshi’s in Oakland for superb jazz), techies galore (try Tech Liminal for expert help in getting your WordPress on), food (wonderful restaurants everywhere and note to reader, I miss baguettes slathered in creamy butter), museums (Jewish Museum,Oakland Art Murmur for a museum of the streets), incredible vistas (drive along Highway 1 to Bolinas), and a list that could fill up the remainder of this blog post, is also the thing that wore me out. With the constant availability of physical and intellectual riches and feeling like I could never miss an event, I found it difficult to know my own priorities. I guess I had a classic case of burn out.
The Bay Area with its swirling diversity of all things made possible, also made it difficult to hear my still small voice, especially at a time when my muse was advising me to dig into new territory. With a greater maturity that age and experience brings, I felt ready to begin that exploration, much like the way Rabbi Isaac Luria and his followers advised that a person only study Kabbalah after developing some serious life chops.
Can I hear my voice more clearly in Monroe, Louisiana where my own true love resides, where I enjoy daily bike rides around Bayou Bartholomew and watching the neighborhood kids stride across the bayou ditch, hunters in search of small prey?
I’m told that to skin a squirrel, you must nail its head to a tree, slit it up and down its middle and pull off its fur.
There’s something reassuring about the specificity of those directions.
I received a postcard today from a K. Satterfield in Berkeley, California with a picture of an elk cut and pasted from what looks like a magazine with a hand-written entry, “How long did he stand alone on Pike’s Road, due center, branched horns curling north?” I’m not sure I know the answer to the question, but I did wonder about it, admiring the red and yellow triangles pasted on the back of the card. K. Satterfield took care in sending this message, part of a weekly exchange amongst a list of poets.
The elk stands poised on the center of the highway. The edges of either lane appear hem-stitched in white. The road is empty. Not a car in sight. Why is the elk on Pike’s Road and what is it waiting for?
I am also waiting. Rain is coming from the northeast, rolling slowly into the parish. Birds hearing the same thing, call out to each other, anticipating a downpour as the skies begin to light. And crackle. The storm cannot be far away. It gets humid just when everything should be cooling down. The sky is dark and ponderous. Cars make their way to work. It’s Friday and everything can use a good soaking after a week’s worth of triple digits. One yellow leaf floats to the ground, then another. A breeze lifts the fronds of the ferns on the porch; mailboxes stand at attention. The Southern Oak across the street stretches its limbs. Suddenly everything gets quiet. Leaves rustle. Thunder marches closer. Lightning streaks the sky. Cassie, the cat, jumps into a rocking chair and sits next to me on the porch. Then she decides to stalk the marigolds and chews a blade of grass. I have been sitting here for more than an hour and I’m growing impatient. I hear signs and sounds of rain, but Mother Nature doesn’t deliver.
Isn’t that the way it is, the long wait for some new creative force that comes out of nowhere but was always there in the first place?
The elk and I are kin.
This evening I attended services at Temple B’nai Israel in Monroe, Louisiana. The rabbi noted that the birthday of Edna Ferber, author and writer of “Showboat,” had just passed. Her motto, he said, was “seize the day.” Somewhere between waiting and seizing, that’s where I must go.
I’m in the process of relocating to Monroe, Louisiana from Oakland, California. Love is the reason and answer.
Most of my friends who live in California where I’ve resided for the past 20 or so years can only relate to New Orleans—thank you Gulf Oil Spill, Hurricane Katrina, and also Louis Armstrong.
I wonder to myself, “Can I move to the south from Oakland, California, a city that is smack dab in the middle of the flourishing Bay Area where almost anything is possible to a place where there are no direct flights from or to anywhere and frankly, where I feel like I’m a converso amid blocks and blocks of Baptist churches, where I’m always sweating in 95 degree plus summer heat?”
Okay. You got the drift. So back in the Bay, I was working in high-tech. A specialized niche as a writer. Now what, I ask myself, recently returned from a writing workshop in Istanbul where I attended Shabbos services at an Orthodox Sephardic synagogue, Neve Shalom. The synagogue was bombed twice, the last time being on November 15, 2003. The bombing turned the synagogue into ruins and killed many people. Since then, the building has been restored. Security is tight. I had to submit a copy of my passport several days in advance to be admitted.
The once active community surrounding the synagogue, located near the Galata Tower in the Beyoglu District of Istanbul, has dispersed. Services are held only on Shabbat mornings, special holidays, or occasionally rented out for weddings.
Mel Kenne, a poet and expatriate who translates many outstanding Turkish poets and who lives near the Galata Tower, told me that he often hears Jewish neighbors speaking Spanish. So it seems that all congregants living in the area have not completely moved away.
When I left the synagogue after Kiddush, an accordion player stepped out on the cobblestone streets and started to play Tumbalalaika, a well-loved Ashkenazi tune. Istanbul is a mélange of languages, cultures, and civilizations. When I was there, I wrote a poem entitled, “Faith Has No Name.”
So what am I going to do in Monroe? I don’t want to be a cashier or a security guard, job posts that frequently appear on indeed.com. There’s a different economic basis here, a back and forth between environmental cleanup and ongoing pollution thanks to companies like Dow Chemical, Georgia Pacific, and refineries that form the underpinnings of Baton Rouge. Maybe after years of being a single mom and raising a family, I could dedicate myself to writing full time…I mull the thought over and it mulls well.