Today I built an outhouse. The old shed was taken out by an oak tree, which was taken out by the five inches of rain that soaked our hill in under a week. That rain came all the way from Hawaii, just like me. I welcomed it. And when my landlord called me at work to tell me that our bathroom had been crushed to splinters, I felt relief. I had been dissatisfied by the old structure since I moved to the land. It was a four-post box propped on the ground, leaning and wobbly. The roof consisted of layers of black plastic and rubber, set on unfastened bamboo beams, weighted with redwood branches that had either fallen on or were placed intentionally, artistically perhaps. The rain would drip in the sides and through holes in the plastic. The toilet paper would get wet. The drape that served as a door would sag and drip, so that I often just left it wide open to the path, hoping the resident who lives at the end of the trail wouldn’t walk by. As I sat, I would push the walls upright and plumb, only to have them lean back towards me when I let go. I had been administering minor adjustments to the structure as weather necessitated, but building a new bathroom was not at the top of the monstrous list of projects around the property.
Work was slow this week, and I requested a couple of days off. “The property needs some help after the storm,” I told my boss. And I need some rest and recuperation, I told myself. So today I awoke and approached the decimated bathroom. The thick spidering oak branches arching from the hill over the path welcomed me to the scene. I set to work, clearing debris, measuring sides, digging post holes, finding level and plumb and pitch. By the end of the day, I had four stable, straight-ish posts, redwood sided walls, and a temporary plastic roof nailed tight. Usable, a vast improvement, with only some interior design touches left to go.
This is not an essay about building a bathroom, although I am about to make a metaphor beyond the elimination joke you might be expecting. It is about finally doing the things we put off, the things that bug us every time we sit down to think, (or “meditate”, as some men friends dub their toilet time.) This is about blatant signs that urge us to move forward and take the steps towards what we know we’re supposed to do. Purpose, vision! Seems like a stretch? Maybe. Maybe I should stick to poo jokes…
I have been struggling to start this blog. I’ve known I need to write for years now. First, I thought a childhood memoir! Or perhaps start with a book on my year in Hawaii. I whittled the goal further to a short travel story of my most recent cross-country road trip. And now, just to get going, a blog. Something, at least, to motivate me to write, right? Well, the blog idea has already grown out of infancy and is nearly a toddler. I finally started snooping domain names in October, and bought one in December. But how to start? When to write? There’s always something else that seems like it must come first. Even in setting up the writing “space”, just so. Perhaps if I buy that special pen, or notebook, and finally, a yellow legal pad for my “serious entries”.
New Year’s eve I found myself on a glimmering morning bike ride through Santa Cruz (my first bike ride in the two months I’d lived here), which landed me in a crowded yoga class. The teacher led us through twelve sun salutations, sparing us the tradition of 108 for the new year (I’ve never done that either). For each sequence, we were instructed to reflect on a month from the previous year. Woah boy! I braced myself…January: Hawaii, Dad visits. February: Hawaii, Mom visits. March, April: Hawaii, a partner leaves. May, June, July: Hawaii, grieving the partner, getting ready to say goodbye to a home. August, September: On the road, Arizona, New York, North Carolina, road tripping, solo adventuring, reconnecting with old friends, healing, writing. November: Santa Cruz, the next home base, the perfect situation manifested. December: Holidays, rush, work, activity. I kept my eyes shut tight as I moved, feeling the emotion of the past year. “And now,” the teacher instructed, “let it all go! Move forward.” Around me the class let out sighs and bounced around, shaking it off. Yet I felt nostalgic, held back, and I realized, not for the first time, that my stories need to be told. The people, the places, so real and sharp in my mind. I must write. Isn’t that what I came here to do after all? Why I’m staying in one place, seeking stability?
And if committing my time to writing means I must also commit time to cultivating inspiration, and if for me inspiration comes in the form of dance, nature, travel, love, and music, then I guess that’s just part of the job! Maybe I will write it off my taxes.
I left that class with the resolution to “Launch the Blog!” New Years day, how perfect. I had already celebrated Thanksgiving, Solstice, Christmas Eve and Day, even Hanukkah. Only appropriate that New Years would bring an unexpected surge of inspiration and renewal. I sat outside the class and recorded the whole day on that “serious” yellow legal pad, designed to be my first blog post.
Last night, January 11, I finally scheduled some time (starting at 9:00 pm), to write out my New Year’s inspiration. And it felt dull, uninspiring. Of all the moments when I realized I should write, in the middle of the ocean, sitting in a sacred valley listening to a Hawaiian native speak about the protest on Mauna Kea, on a bus in San Francisco, that yoga class no longer felt very special. I deleted the draft, discouraged, second guessing my goals, and turned on an old Jon Cusack movie from the ‘80s.
Then today I woke up and built a shitter. Meanwhile I thought about writing, wondering if my inspiration would come back, wondering if I should even start a blog, even try to write. Fortunately, over the years, this mind has watched enough cycles to have confidence and calm in the face of such anxious fatalism. Like a parent who is accustomed to the tantrum, it spoke through my distress, Of course your inspiration will come back, Michelle, it always does. But I didn’t know when, and I couldn’t push it, and that was frustrating.
Inspiration had not returned by the end of the day. I had no desire to retreat to my cabin to write. Thursday…wasn’t there some sort of Dance? Nah, but it’s cold, and getting late, and I don’t always feel comfortable in those Ecstatic Dance scenes, with all the people super into it and spinning around the room. Yet something about being in a warm room with trancy music, jumping around seemed alluring tonight. I’d felt so limited lately, needing to cut loose.
I doubted my decision to go all the way into town, wondering if I should turn around and go home to my warm cabin, rather than a room full of strangers. Then again, that seemed kind of nice, anonymous. As I drove I caught site of the perfectly round moon, rising into the clearest sky in weeks. Ohhhh, so that is why I am restless and must go dance! Ok, moon, I heed your tidal pull.
The room was dimly lit with red bulbs, watery light effects dancing on the back wall, a huge square wooden floor. I stripped my work clothes and Goodwill rubber rain boots and sank to the floor, stretching, moving my body as I’m most used to, as I’m most comfortable, wondering what other planes of movement lie dormant and unfamiliar in me. I started slow, the music was perfect, melodic and epic, with beats mixed in by the pro-snowboarder turned Dance Facilitator/DJ. Within me, and around me, there was no sense of judgement, and I felt immediately free in the environment, but more importantly, in myself. At first I stayed small and tucked and closed. I danced with my eyes closed. The music started slow and tucked too, and by the time I had exhausted all of my floor stretches, the rhythms were energizing. I rose and stood with my feet anchored in the ground, eyes closed as I swayed subtly, testing out creaky, work-stuck joints. I’d open my eyes and get carried away from myself, wondering if I should be moving more like the others, perhaps I should also experiment with crawling around on the floor, or dancing with partners. So I’d shut my eyes again and retreat back into my own world where I moved without thinking, in ways that surprised me. I hadn’t felt so uninhibited in years, in my hips, my arms, my head and hair. I thought of my niece, Ella, and her passion for dance. I remembered how I used to dance when I was young, without the typical melancholy, because here I was feeling it again, finally free.
As I am inherently so controlled, I crave expression, passion, absorption. There was one song woven in the mix, that lifted me out of the room and away. A gentle acoustic guitar trickled through a pure tribal beat, like sticks clinking on tree trunks as they blow through a forest. I moved and listened, and felt transported to a tropical island culture, pure nature and rhythm, simplicity and wholeness. And I started to cry, just as the beat switched and I had to move on, let go.
Eventually, after enough time tucked in with myself behind closed eyes, shaking loose and pounding out whatever was adhered to the lining of my wings, I was able to open to the world around. Perhaps I had resolved whatever I needed to, or perhaps I had created a strong enough tether to my root, but when I finally looked around, I felt no judgement, no insecurity, as I have in the past. Just joy. My own joy allowed me to appreciate and accept the joy of the dancers around me.
I stayed through the end, into the closing circle, where we took turns sharing breathes and gratitude, realizing as we spoke our experiences how words can tend to muddle purity. Then I layered on my clothes, thanked the DJ who transfixed me with the quality of his presence, and walked out into the cold, clear night, and back to my car.
On the sidewalk beside my parking meter a man slept on a pile of bags, his legs on the cold, hard cement, and his wheelchair toppled backwards against the wall. A thin fleece blanket covered his torso and face, and a scrap of another rested on one thigh. I watched him squirm beneath his thin covers, his feet and legs pressed together on the sidewalk. I had a sleeping bag in the back of my car, but I was not ready to let it go. I also had a sleeping pad, which I loved, which was a hand-me-down from the partner I had been letting go of for months. I sat for a while, debating, wrestling with fear of this unknown man. I almost drove away twice. What if he didn’t want the mattress, what if he couldn’t figure out how to use it? But something about his legs on the cold ground kept tugging at my heart. I waited until he peeked his weathered face from the blanket, so I knew he was awake, and got out to get the pad. I approached timidly.
“Excuse me sir, do you want this mattress?” I asked.
“Huh? What are you talking about?” he grunted, confused from a lack of sleep that stretched beyond this one cold night. I pumped the pad up next to him, trying to show him how it worked, and laid it close to his body. He reached out a strong, stout hand towards me, needing help to move. I felt fear, caution. I didn’t know quite what he was asking. “Help me, please!” he coughed gruffly, impatiently. I scooted the mat closer as he adjusted his stiff body towards it. When he finally had it under his head, cuddled in his arm, I rose and got back in my car. As I drove away, I watched him roll his body all the way on it and I felt glad, that he would hopefully be a little warmer tonight. At the same time, I thought of my past partner. That was the last piece of him that I had. More release.
Back at home, I stood in the driveway for a minute, transfixed by the moon, a low veil of clouds racing past as it stood still and calm. Moonlight always makes me want to whisper, even in my mind and my movements, like there is something fleeting that I’ll miss if I am too loud, or too hurried. I thanked it yet again, for the irresistible restlessness which lead to great things. I was inspired.
So here I write. Finally. Not at all the version I expected, but a start. This blog will be a place where I can share stories, adventures, and inspirations. It will be where I will strive to fulfill a purpose that I feel grateful to have found. Life is full of metaphors, lessons, perspective. And magic, that is just waiting to be focused on. In writing here, I am making a commitment, taking a step towards discipline and “walking my talk”.
And if committing my time to writing means I also must commit time to cultivating inspiration, and if for me inspiration comes in the form of dance, nature, travel, love, and music, then I guess that’s just part of the job! Maybe I will write it off my taxes.
This site will start small and simple, as I learn the ropes. Please have patience. I have to start somewhere! I hope you as readers enjoy. Thank you for giving my purpose a purpose.