The Poem of the Dock

 I said in my last post that I had things to say about how quarantine has had a positive effect on my spirit and soul.  Of course, I now  feel obligated to say what that is, and i can’t.  

Lao Tse said of the Dao that the minute you try to describe it you have lost it, and I think the same can be said for trying to explain oneself. So I’m going to do something else instead.  I’m just going to let the random contents of my brain out for a little  spin without trying to force them to add up to anything.

Someone once said it’s not what you look at but what you see that matters, and the dock here has been a good place to practice. Here’s how that went this morning as I sat in the warm sunshine with my coffee.

The water is so calm, it makes perfect reflections of the trees

The movement of these reflections  reminds me of impressionist paintings

I wonder how they would paint this…

I wish I could paint

Could I learn to paint?

Where is my heron?  It’s high tide. It probably doesn’t like that

I wonder if it flew over and thought, “ oh, crap,  my shallows are gone. Maybe I should go back and take a nap.”

A nap sounds nice. Maybe after lunch…

Oh look! Two kayaks!

I wonder what it’s like to be out there right now…

The water just inches from you, the sound of the oars in the water…

I wonder what it’s like to be that duck over there…

I wonder what it’s like to be that puff of wind on the water…

Wow!  There’s a dog on that paddle board with that man!

I wonder what it’s like to be that dog…

I need a photo of the dog!

Do I really need a photo?


There’s a man sitting on the dock on the other side of the inlet

Has he noticed me too?

I wonder what I look like to him….

Funny how we never actually see our own faces

If I cross my eyes I can see my nose.

Oh wow—a raccoon— no two! 

The smaller one is in front, turning to watch out for the other. 

What is the understanding they have?

Are those little squeaks coming from them?

Their world is perfectly in order.

It would be nice to see an otter

I can relate to otters…

Is that why I like them? Should that matter?

Quarantine is over tomorrow. I can’t believe I don’t really want to leave.

I should have put on sunscreen.

I should have put on more sunscreen my whole life

We used to call it suntan lotion, like a tan was the whole point

If I were young I’d be wearing a bathing suit and trying to get a good tan

Now I am out here because the sun feels good both where I’m  bare and where I’m not

Faint sounds of sirens, hammers and plane engines— people having days unlike mine…

I  have nothing at all to worry about.

Maybe I should go accomplish something…

Why? I’m good right here.

So that’s the report from inside my head. I am very far from Buddhist enlightenment with such a distractible mind, but it was nice to take a practice from meditation and just let my thoughts pass through without judgment, without thinking I have to do something about them. I have the affliction shared by most writers (and many others) to try to make everything mean something.  It’s nice to let that go for a while. 

The poet Archibald MacLeish said “a poem should not mean, but be,” I think that applies equally well to the poem I try to make of my life.   


Grounded! And Regrounding

How I look as I write this post.

This second week of being grounded ( i.e. in quarantine) has been an interesting transitional time for me. Being forced to curtail my usual distractions has given me an opportunity to get  in touch with myself in ways I think will be of lasting benefit to my body, mind and spirit. Since I have a few more days here, I will stick with the first one, my presently beleaguered corpus, and leave the other two for a subsequent post.. 

All this sitting is hard. Really, it’s the hardest part. Occasionally during my regular life I will veg for a day or two, a but typically I am out and about, and it is a rare day in which I don’t walk a few miles, if nothing more. I see now how much that affects my sense of my age. A few more weeks of this, and I will indeed feel my seventies in a way I normally don’t. 

Not being able to exercise is the best possible reminder of how important using my body is to my well being. I see going to the gym as a way of meet-and-greet with my body. Hello arms, hello shoulders, hello legs! Even on days when I have had to drag myself to the gym, I am always glad for that check-in with myself.Far more hellos to my abs and back are definitely in order when I am out of here!

Like so many people, I am not happy with my post-Covid body. I loathe tiny workout rooms, and I am not the type to get down on the floor and do crunches, so I have had long hiatuses from gyms while on cruises. Whenever I got back, I bemoaned how much ground I had lost, how little stamina I had, how much less weight I could handle on the equipment—the whole gamut of remorse. No more!  I am going to say, without judgment, “this is the baseline. Beloved body, let’s work on it from here.”

Fitness is one part of the toll Covid has taken on my body, but something I have learned over the decades is how aging redistributes weight. I kept enough clothing in the back of my closet over the years, as my weight fluctuated, to know that even when I got back to the point where a jacket or dress ought to fit, it just didn’t anymore.  I know some women who have managed to keep their shape from changing too much, through fanatical efforts at fitness, the help of hormone replacement drugs, and expensive nips and tucks, but I am not going there. I accept that this is my body at 71. I can make it fitter, but I can’t get back through diet and exercise the waist, flat belly, and tight upper arms I once had. I need to embrace this in the same way I do my six inches of gray hair. It’s what I really look like naturally now, and that’s fine. Aging gracefully..That’s the thing.

And speaking of weight, one of the things I tossed when I simplified my life was my scale. I don’t know how much I weigh, and I’m not going to find out, because I will bring unnecessary judgment on myself. It’s not so drastic that I have to replace my wardrobe. I just can’t wear some of my clothes anymore. 

Considering how much life changed with Covid, I have done fairly well, even if almost nothing with a button closure, top or bottom, still fits.  Even if  I hadn’t done this well, it would still be okay. I am working very hard right now on banishing self-judgment. I hadn’t realized how much the opinions of others about my appearance still mattered to me, or how narrow my parameters were for feeling good about how I looked. I still care.  That’s probably not going to change.  Still, now I think that when I look in the mirror I will notice more how I am taking care of myself, rather than how anyone else will judge me. And with that in mind, I took the photo at top today (wow, do I ever need a haircut!)

Thank you, body, for getting me through Covid. Enough of the horrified looks in the mirror. Enough of the fear of the bathing suit. You look just fine, and my guess is you will soon look better not because I am unhappy with you but because soon you will come more into line with the way I usually live. And if I don’t fit into all my clothes, I’ll let someone else have them.  Fitting into my life is far more important. 


And Away She Goes!

 I have finished my vaccinations. i am nearing the halfway point in my quarantine with two negative tests behind me.  I am ready to burst out and be the post-lockdown Laurel when my fourteen days are up. And boy, do I have plans for her!

This feeling of bursting out is bigger than that, though. In the last year I have had an amazing run of creativity that I haven’t written much about, because…well, that’s just the way I am.  I feel ready to share a bit more now.

When I first started writing for mainstream adult audiences, my first book, Until Our Last Breath, was non-fiction.  I found that terribly frustrating because I had to strangle my desire to imagine stories beyond what were in the historical record.  What I really wanted to do, I decided, was exactly the opposite: write fiction, where I could make better use of my imagination.

What I loved most about historical fiction was the dialogue I was free to invent.  In fact, my first drafts of books are heavily weighted towards dialogue because that’s how I find out who the characters are.  I think my books in the end rely more heavily on dialogue than many authors, because that’s what I love writing most.

So last year, when I revisited my decision to quit writing historical fiction, I realized that my love of dialogue made me well suited to writing plays instead. Upon discovering the story of Alfred Loomis, a Wall Street tycoon who used his private fortune to fund some of the most critical research in World War II, I knew in my bones it needed to be a play.  And now it is.  The Glass House was written in the months before I left for British Columbia.

I loved writing a play, and immediately upon arriving in Victoria, I began writing another, about the city’s “favourite daughter,” Emily Carr.  I am pleased to say that, with the support of several people in the theatre community, EX3 (Emily Times Three) will be workshopped later this month in Victoria, and from there, I hope to get it placed for production.

Something about writing these plays reawakened my desire to tell stories, and I came across a wonderful one a few months back. Novelists are reluctant to talk too much about their plans for future books for fear of being scooped, so I won’t say more, except that in the next few days I hope to write the first pages of a novel about one of the most amazing female world explorers ever. This one is too complicated to be a play, but it would make the most amazing musical.  SInce that is probably beyond me, I’ll write a novel instead.  Then, who knows. Anyone out there looking for the next Hamilton?

Oh, and one more thing:  shortly before my husband Jim died in 2012, I finished the first draft of my fifth novel, The Intuitive.  I put it aside then because I had a far more important matter to pay undivided attention to.   I had lost all my enthusiasm for the publishing process, so after his death, I never opened the file on my computer. Actually, I didn’t write anything. For years. Another project since I moved to Victoria has been a huge revision of that work, and now it is sitting again, waiting for the time and circumstances to be right.

One novel rewirite and two plays in a year!  I guess you could say I am on a roll.  Add to that, I now have a number of cruise assignments from this fall into next summer.  The  idea of planning travel is exhilarating, and of course I have some great ideas for a few new lectures, also a major source of creativity for me. So, break out the champagne and the brass band—the girl is back in town! 


Settling Into Solitude

I am sitting on the dock in my place of quarantine, watching a heron prowling the shallows looking for a meal..  Yes, dock, —I’ve never had a dock!—which I get to across a grassy yard from an apartment on the lower level of a house in Victoria (view from house above)

This being my third quarantine, I am getting better at finding a place that will make isolating as light a burden as possible.  My first place was maybe slightly bigger, but it lacked even a balcony or a window with a view of much of anything.  The second was in a nice wooded suburb of Victoria, with a yard big enough for a bit of contact with the outdoors.  This one is a gem, and the first place I have stayed where I thought, “you know, I really could live here indefinitely.” Even weirder, I think of the friends I would like to invite over once quarantine ends, rather than dreaming of escape. My apartment is the lower level shown here looking up from the dock.

I must have been ready for some quiet time, as I settled right down to work on several writing projects.  I didn’t do a lick of work since I left Victoria almost a month ago, and in fact didnt even bring my laptop with me, so sure was I that I wouldn’t get anything accomplished.  What I did accomplish was a lot of quality time with friends, which was restorative beyond measure. I loved every minute, hopping from coffee date, to shopping, to al fresco dinners and lunches, to vegging on the couch with popcorn and Netflix at my host Annie’s condo.  I even fit in a two-night trip to the desert with my friend Jane, to see friends in the Palm Springs area (and play my first pickle ball).

My road trip back was everything I hoped for—beautiful scenery, doable daily drives, and many stops to see friends.  Crossing the border and getting on the ferry to Vancouver Island (limited to essential travel these days) went without a hitch.  In fact every last detail of the entire trip went without a glitch of any kind.  Lucky, lucky me!

I came home to a sudden deluge of offers for cruises.. Looks as if I will be very busy from the fall through next summer, and will probably have some more opportunities as well, taking me a far afield as Tonga and New Zealand on one assignment, to the Suez Canal and Dubai on another, with a heap of Mediterranean and Caribbean thrown in between October 2021 and next summer.

As I sit here in the warm sunshine thinking about my charmed life, I feel the familiar push-pull of the two sides of my personality.  I loved all the socializing on my trip, but I am so glad to have to speak to almost no one for the next two weeks.  A blessed retreat into solitude it is shaping up to be.  Still, the world of people is out there waiting for me, and I love that too.  For now, I’ll watch the heron be perfectly suited for its life as well.  Fellow creature, hail and well met.  


Memory Highway

Mont Diablo

Forget memory lane. California Highway 101 from Santa Maria to Napa was one long blast from the past for me.  I lived as a child in Danville, a little town east of San Francisco, and every summer my mother, sister and I would make the trip south on 101 to visit my grandparents in Santa Barbara.  In the late 1950s, 101 was maybe two lanes each way and far more like a rural road than the freeways of today. Many of the spots along the way became landmarks for us, starting with Pismo Beach, where we caught either our first or last glimpse of the ocean. Little Pismo Beach was barely on the map back then, and I was flabbergasted to see that it now requires seven exits stretched across its sprawling length.  

A string of towns brought back associations as I headed north—Paso Robles ( which for some reason is pronounced Paso Robulls by Californians), Atascadero, and King City.  This last has special meaning because it was the halfway point in the trip between Santa Barbara and Danville. Either my sister or I would get to stretch out in the back seat of our station wagon and nap the endless miles away, and then we would change seats in King City. I remember pretending to be asleep and my sister complaining  about my fakery when my mother said we’d change when I woke up.  Ah, the inequities of childhood! King City is still very much the speck on the map it was back in the late 1950s when we were making these trips.  

I jumped forward to another time in my life as I passed through Salinas. It is in this part of the state that Cesar Chávez, Dolores Huerta and others mobilized the laborers in the fields into the new United Farmworkers Union (UFW).  Here El Teatro Campesino and others laid the groundwork for much of the vibrant Chicano culture that evolved. I remembered my college years when none of us would touch a table grape or drink Gallo wine, in solidarity with the movement. 

My mind went further back in history to a time far before I came on the scene when “Alta California” was part of Mexico, and this region was divided up into great encomiendas ruled over by Mexican grandees.  In this era, the church built the famous string of California missions, a day’s ride apart, so that now you pass the signs for them about every twenty minutes. Every once in awhile there’s a sign for a historic adobe, but little remains of what must have been at one time the most significant houses in the area. I am sure that foreigners must be fascinated by these signs of the past, but they make me cringe, recalling the terrible things that were done to indigenous people and Mexican laborers, in the name of imprinting the region wth the faith and power of Spain.  

I was making such good time that I decided to take a slightly longer route so I could stop in Danville to drive by my childhood home and take a drive up Mount Diablo ( see photo at top), which was the site of so many outings.  I’ve gone back to my neighborhood several times and with each passing year I remember fewer of our neighbor’s names and recognized fewer of the houses. One indelible sight remained—the huge oak tree a few houses down from us, and now sixty years older. Here it is.

After looking out on the valley from Mount Diablo, I decided to gird myself for a quick trip into downtown.  Danville, when I lived there, was a quiet little town with few pretensions. Now it has become very upscale and expensive, its streets  filled with trendy boutiques and chic restaurants. It was weird to look around and see so few people who were even alive to know it as I did. I had a good laugh when I looked a a sign pointing to the “historic district,” and wondered if that meant the way it was when I lived there (ouch!), but was surprised to see how many buildings were actually much older. I guess when you’re a kid the buildings are just not something you notice. 

One thing in town remained the same—a little dam that I have no idea the reason for, but which used to be the center of attention in the winter when it overflowed and created the most newsworthy story of the weekly paper. Behind it, there’s a peek of a stretch of bucolic wild creek ( see photo), which in my childhood extended up to our house and beyond, and became the playground of those years and the place where my imagination first began to run wild with stories.

Memory highway indeed. Our stretch of the creek was rockier and had banks we could access, but it’s gone now, channeled for flood control. There will never be a place as special to me as this creek, nor any place that played a more important role in the child I was and the person I became.