Monthly Archives: August 2015

Annie Dillard

I am reading Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. The Annie Dillard book. It is a journey of nature and mind. Written about a creek in Virginia.

The tone, the beauty. It inspires me to write. Annie isn’t a writer. She is a painter. You can feel the wind in her words. They glow with the sunshine. There is so much beauty in every day. But we miss it because we are busy. We don’t stop. We don’t look.

And we wonder why our lives are dry and dull.

I want to write. To paint the scene on the page. If I could only learn how to type.

I am sitting on my bed spread. It is black and white. Flowers of black with a white background. On pillows in the corner. In deep sleep. My Baby Girl rests. Sound asleep. She is also black and white. She looks like a Holstein cow. I guess I don’t know cows. I thought it was a Jersey cow. Until I just checked it on Google.

Where did we get information before Google?

My bed now is a mess. Piles of books. A bag of cheese bread sticks from Wal-Mart. The books are both from the library and some I own. I read far too many books at the same time. Or rather I try to read.

Right now I think maybe I am reading five or six. Cat toys are on my bed from when I cleaned the floor.

The time for rest is nearing. I will join Baby Girl in dream land. Maybe tomorrow I will continue on my novel. But today I needed a break.

Work was good. A new worker asked me today, “you bounce around all over the place?” I replied it was just what I did. “Is that why they hired you for?” “No.”

But I like it. It is always a different day. Yesterday it was deli for most of the day. Today I spent a lot of time in Dairy stocking eggs and milk. We sell gallons and gallons of milk at our store.

Some days I push carts. Some I run the register. Some I feel like I run from one thing to the next all day long. But I still like it.

An older man asked me today to help him get some sugar off the top shelf. I’ll meet you over there I told him. There was another person with a question. Then I did something else and forgot. But then I remembered and when I turned to walk down the main aisle I could see him peaking around the corner. I apologized. But he was friendly about the whole encounter.

I am trying at work to not speak in a negative way about my co-workers. Some of them don’t make it easy. Judged by my own standards they are not performing their job duties. What I have to remember is I am not paid to monitor what they do or how they spend their time. Just focus on what is the task before me and focus on doing it the best I can. Tomorrow is day 5 of 8.

What I have to understand is my standards are mine.

Chapter 4

So Chapter 4 and I still am not in school. Is this going the be the slowest book ever?

We got some education in the years living with my great-aunt. First grade is when I started school. We had moved to Ahwahnee. Two miles down a dirt road. We lived with a rooster. And across from a nudist.

All day he sat and watched traffic on the road. He was friends with mother. Don’t ask, I don’t want to know. Sometimes he would give us a ride to the main road, or into town. But, I have memories of walking the two miles. At least once alone. There was a berry patch along the road. We would stop and pick berries.

The rooster attacked my sister once. Maybe this is why she didn’t want to live with us. Or maybe there were other reasons.

I remember more of what people told me about first grade. Other kids said I used to pee my pants in class. The school was a couple small buildings. I went to the Fourth grade and part of the fifth grade at the same school.

Math is something I remember. Not because it was hard. It was boring. Why go over and over the same numbers. But I did my homework. I cared about my education still.

Naturally there weren’t friends so far away from people. But I had my sister. One time we got in a dirt clog war. They burst like bombs when you throw them. Sometimes the dust is like smoke. We got pink eye.

We may not have lived at this house long. My memory of the time is so sparse. Memories of mother are even more so. The house was a mess. Life couldn’t have been easy for a single woman, alone, two kids. Not to mention living two miles from civilization with no car. We didn’t have a car until I was in the fourth grade.

Growing up mother would say she couldn’t afford new clothes because of us kids.

I know the next year, I was in the second grade at a new school. Living back in Coarsegold. Also we lived at my great aunt’s for a short time. This is when mother knew my little brother’s father.

Ahwahnee is a small town. Just a few buildings, a school, a bar and a post office. The town itself was about two miles down the paved road. Then two miles on the dirt road was our place. Why would someone think to live in such a place? With two kids? No car?

Whatever length of time we lived there, the next stop was my great aunt’s. We lived down in the trailer. My sister and I spent our time going to the river, often alone. There was a tractor on the property and small road to the river. Sometimes my great aunt’s friends gave us a tractor ride.

My sister once tried to get me to eat a puffball. Not something which seemed like a good idea at the time. The property now had a small eucalyptus grove. After the rain I would shake the trees. The scent in the air, the moisture as it fell from the leaves was wonderful.

This was the last time we lived in the trailer. To mother’s credit our housing improved as we grew. We started the second grade in a new house. But it will be a new chapter.

The area I grew up in is south of Yosemite. The core town is Oakhurst. North of which on highway 49 six miles was Ahwahnee. South of Oakhurst 11 miles on Highway 41 was Coarsegold. Students from all these towns went to the same high school.

The whole area was rural. Slightly racist. Conservative and religious country. The big event in Coarsegold was the rodeo. There was a lot of ranch land. Also many people worked in Fresno, an hour south on 41.

Taco Bell came to town while I was in high school. Soon after the first traffic signal. It was at the corner with the Talking Bear. A large plastic figure. When you pushed a button it spoke about bears. Of course all the real bears were gone.

Our family was never accepted in the community. Later a school secretary told our neighbors, “oh you live by the dump.” This isn’t the place to explore white flight. But the shoe fits. People didn’t understand us.

Maybe they felt like we children needed help. Sometimes they called CPS. Or Child Protective Services. Mother had a big job, with two and then three kids. Were we in danger? Not physic danger. We ate. We weren’t hit.

We did have friends. They were few. I can’t remember most names and faces. With one exception, they were not lasting.

We can view our lives through so many lenses. The people we know and knew. The places we are and were. The things we did and do. My life has been full of places and people and things. It feels a little like a drawer of mis-matched socks.

The Land

I have said I live with my great-aunt. And her friends. It was a cult in some ways, but we will discuss more later.

The property was big. It wasn’t just one house on the land but many. Driving in from the road, the first two buildings are on the left and right. They are close to the main road, right after the ravine with the leaning tree.

We lived in the trailer on the right for a while. This is where mother dug the phone trench. I recall sleeping in this trailer. A storm brewing outside. The sound of thunder. And the light flashing in the window. We slept on bunk beds. One night the thunder was so loud it broke a transformer. We lost power.

Close to the trailer was an outhouse. Not a bathroom. Well a couple out houses. One was for storage. My aunt had the idea the other would be a school. There was a leak once near this building. Abner, one of my aunts friends on the property fixed it.

This is where we got King. The Doberman. This may be the oldest memory I have of mother’s father. He was a grumpy old man. But he was the one who gave us King as a puppy.

We lived in this trailer on and off for years. One time when we were young mother was opening a can of pasta sauce. She cut her finger and screamed. She was making such a to-do I thought. And, what was blood and what was pasta sauce?

Years later a Hispanic family lived in this trailer, until burned in a fire. This is the place me and my sister tried to run away from. Between the trailer and the main road was a field.

There are a lot of memories. We plugged up the toilet with a toothbrush. Though I don’t know why we even had a toothbrush. Mother told us about water being blue because it reflects the colour of the sky.

I learned to ride a bike while living in the trailer. There was a tire swing in the front yard. A family lived across the street. Their children would come and play.

On the left was a trailer/house where relatives of Abner lived. Lavonne and Abner owned the property. My great-aunt lived there for years. As well as another woman, Elsie. They were religious, Christian. But they had their own path. They beat pillows as a form of prayer.

When I had intestinal issues they said it was a demon of lust. When they read, “the first Noel,” it upset them. They called god, El. By the traditional Hebrew name. “no-el” meant no god to them. So they changed it to the first Ya-El. Ya being another name they accepted for god. But, there was only one. So they changed it again to “the only Ya-El.” Noël means Christmas.

But I digress. I was taking you on a tour. Up the road we see barns on the right. A gate leads to the neighbors on the left. This is where the skeleton hung. There was a water tank near the fence. Once we wrote a welcome to our great-aunt on the tank.

To the right is another trailer. I don’t recall who owned or lived in this trailer. Next to it was a pile of sheet rock. Most likely made of gypsum. We used pieces of it for chalk. To write on water tanks. Going past here, the road turns and goes up a hill. Passing over a cattle guard, the main house sits before you. It was a big house. When I was a child they added a room. This is where Lavonne’s mother lived. Where later she lived, and died. There was a yard, a green house and a small garden. Next to it was a giant water tank. We had two sources of water. One had green faucets and the other red. The red water was from the river and not to be drank. I am sure I did anyway. The green was well water for drinking and house use.

Between the house and the water tank was the path to the river. The road goes on to the right. Passed a couple of trees me and my sister used to love climbing. Further off to the left was an orchard. The upper house was where the women lived when we were children. This is the place I once cried and tried to not leave.

I was also a big house. Well in my memory. But if you’ve ever returned to your childhood home, you will wonder when it shrunk. The house had two small detached rooms, and a small shed. It also had some fruit trees. On one of those trees I got a small apple once. I tossed it at some baby chickens in folly. And killed one. Me and my sister buried it without telling anyone. But I felt terrible.

We will come back to many of these people and places again. Except for Elsie who died of cancer while I was still young.

If I had grown up any other place, I wouldn’t be me. If I hadn’t had the space to explore. It was a lot of space. And the people who helped raise me. I know they cared about me, each in their own way. But none of them could contain me and didn’t try to keep a leash on me.

The only people I ever remember respecting as a child were those adults. One time other children came down the river. They threw things at us and called us names. We went back and talked to the adults about the incident. It felt good to believe they could do something about those kids.

Those are the only adults who I ever trusted to protect me. And after I left at a young age, I stopped trusting them too. Not because I felt they didn’t care anymore, but I felt they couldn’t.

Behind the upper house was a small chicken hutch. And a fenced in area for goats, with a lower barn for the coats. And sometimes cows. There was a clothesline I once almost killed myself running into. You know the wrestling move, “the clothesline.” Well, I did it in real life. A path from the upper house went to the lower barn. But another path went into the neighboring property. It followed the fence and crossed back, to go to the lower trailer.

One thing we enjoyed as children was feeding the goats. We would gather acorns. And I don’t know why it was acorns. I remember being young and helping load hay into the barn. I thought I was so strong. They used to milk the cows in the barn, and the goats. This is what I grew up on, meat from cows raised on the land. Eggs from the backyard. Milk from our own goats.

Sounds magical doesn’t it?

Not much time…

I don’t have much time today. But I do feel like writing.

I had a dream last night I was climbing a trail up a cliff. It was steep. For some reason at one point I found some debris left by previous hikers. For some reason I picked it up, and it wasn’t heavy, but big. I tossed it over the edge, thinking someone could pick it up at the bottom. Only afterward did I think about the chance of it hitting someone. I kept on climbing up the trail afterwards.

This morning I feel good. I have work in a couple hours. Closing the deli. In some ways I like closing the deli because I like cleaning. Transforming dirty into clean. But as far as the time issue, it has been a problem in the past. I hate to feel rushed at anything really. Which is part of the reason I don’t write more.

Right now I feel a little rushed. I have two hours before I need to be at work. But I want to get there in time to eat, I want to shower, I want to do a few other things online. This means I don’t have time to write and write and write until I feel the moment pass.

The moment is passing quickly with or without me.

Chapter Two

Now where was I?

Yes, the yellow house. It was on the edge of the town of Coarsegold. I don’t recall when I lived in the red house, but lets talk about it next.

The red house was in the middle of town. It was next to an oil or gas storage facility. The fact the tanks were above ground speaks to how long ago I lived there. Also the fact the man who watched it let me follow him around. I recall many a conversation with the man. Though I don’t recall his name. For months after moving from the house I would look for cars like his.

It wasn’t dangerous. Just something no one would allow today.

A lot of the things I did when growing up were unusual. Maybe not just now, maybe even then. But those are the things which shaped me. Talking to adults and being alone. As well as not having a strong parent. It has made me a more self-reliant person. Maybe more self-aware. Maybe more selfish. It is also harder for me to trust others.

The red house was next to the creek. On the other side lived a girl. We were good friends at the time. Now I can’t remember anything about her. We would play in the creek. There was a small walking bridge over the creek. Some pipes also crossed. But there was no bridge for cars, they had to drive through the creek.

Thinking of concurrent events I believe I was five or six. The next place I lived was when I was in the first grade.

My sister didn’t spend much time with mother and me. At the red house I spent a lot of time alone. When not playing with the neighbor girl. My first solo adventure may have been in this house.

I doubt I went far. The only memory I have is climbing the hill beyond the creek. Sure I had spent hours exploring my great aunt’s land. And the neighbors as well. But this was an adventure into new land.

Another memory from this time is bad. I stole a toy from the girl. And while I returned it. I felt bad. I didn’t live at the red house for long.

It was during this time I ate tofu the first time. Friends of ours lived on 415 and were vegetarian. They served it in pasta with marinara sauce. At the time it tasted good to me.

There were other people I knew who didn’t eat meat. Even at a young age I had an opinion. Some said they didn’t eat meat because there would be no meat in heaven. Will there be any food in heaven I wondered. Didn’t make sense to me then or now. But today I am vegetarian for my own reasons. And heaven isn’t one of them.

It is more of a misplaced memory than anything. I will share it now because it was around this time -at least the same area. Mother, me and some guy were driving around on a dirt road. Just driving out in the hills. The road was a ranch road in the hills west of town. Somehow we got stuck. Even being young I felt like I knew how to solve the problem. I also felt like the adults were ignoring me. To their loss I add. So I started walking alone down the road. I’m not sure where I was going to go. Just get away from the mess because it upset me. And how was it all resolved. I don’t know.

What I do know is I decided to let people fix their own problems. Something I have still do. Unless I am asked for help, I try not to offer.

Memories are like puzzle pieces. You try and put them together into a coherent image of your life. This piece next to this because it fits. But sometimes the pieces don’t seem to fit. This memory of driving on a country road. Writing this now I wonder when it did happen. I am sure where it happened.

There is a part of my adult self which doubts myself at five or six behaved in such a fashion. Though it is possible. Mother had few friends. There were few adult men in my life. This one may be the same one who lived on Deadwood. The mountain between Coarsegold and Oakhurst. If so, the time is accurate. Because our paths went different ways while I was still young.

All I recall about him was he lived on Deadwood and had an old truck. You see how the puzzle falls together.

There was another place we lived in the town of Coarsegold. It was a house behind the pizza restaurant. It was one of those places with sawdust on the floor. The smell comes to my memory still. Greasy food and pizza. Mother spent time in the pizza place and so did we. Even though it was a bar. I remember thinking about the aesthetic of sawdust on the floor. While I didn’t use such a big word. I knew it was a gimmick. Though I still don’t understand the point.

I have almost no memory of the house itself. And sometimes doubt ever living there. Now when is a question I don’t have enough pieces to tell you. When I was young, very young.

I guess this is chapter two. And a short chapter. I still haven’t reached a thousand words. Though I am getting close. Sitting here I am thinking of all the memories of my life. How do they fit together and how many are from this time.

When we are young I think it is easier to live in the moment. We have fewer memories of the past. Things to regret or miss. Our thoughts about the future are often our feelings about the past. If no one had even hurt us, we wouldn’t fear hurt in the future.


Did I just start a novel?


For many years now I have thought of writing a novel. A book about my life. But my life is still ongoing so it never has felt like the right time. Why now. Because, I am tired and ready for my life to change. To go on being my life, but to be different.

The novel would be to the people I have known, and about the people I have known. I feel like many of them have been left behind, and I am sorry. My life also feels fragmented sometimes. In a real way I enjoy the feeling, but in another way all those pieces of my life hold a part of me. I have no clue if I could ever bring them together for a whole picture. Who am I?

Starting with where I was born would be the most direct, and pointless way to start the story of my life. Sure I was born. It was in a hospital, and my mother was there – but my father wasn’t. The hospital was in Berkeley, California. I moved away from Berkeley with my mom at a young age. As you can see there is no point to starting at the beginning.

So where does the epic tome about my life begin. Today is a day like many days for the last two years. I went to work, I came home, I ate and took a nap. I watched Netflix and soon I will sleep. The only novel point of the day is the start of this journey. Again no logical reason to start to story at today.

A natural starting point could be an ending point. If I had done something great. It would be a launching point. A knot to tie the story together. But all the ending points in my life have been failures.

Failed work, failed relationships. I guess I shouldn’t say all the endings. It is just the ones fresh in my memory. As a child I was not a failure.

Growing up in the foothills of Yosemite, north of Fresno, was grand. The river and land were a natural canvass to explore. Many hours as a child I wandered alone. I also wondered about life in my head. Being a thinker is always been a part of who I am. Sometimes for better and sometimes for the worse.

My great-aunt’s land seemed so vast to me as a child. Covered in hills and dales. And cows. I recall little of my youth, but I know I lived there for years, and explored it well.

When I lived there with my mother we had to dig a trench for the phone line. The trailer we lived in had no phone. The phone company wouldn’t install a line for free. My mother didn’t want to pay, so she dug a trench from the road to the trailer. And she did much of it by herself.

I recall the dusky evening. I know it was summer because the days were long. My great-aunt lived with another couple – it was their land. The man did come down and help with the digging. I assume the ditch was dug. The phone installed. But I don’t remember.

What I do remember is walking and talking to my mother. The dogs were barking in the yard. One of them I believe was our Doberman Pinscher named King. My mother never taught us much.

Hygiene was one of those lessons I have had to learn on my own. In this memory we are talking about tooth brushing. In my memory of the event I felt bad about not brushing my teeth. I felt bad, and my mother’s tone seemed to imply it was my fault. A young child, to blame for their own lack of cleanliness. It is something I don’t understand now.

I try to think different now. But to be honest it is hard. Once you start to blame yourself, to stop.

Now, my childhood was also good. Living on a natural property with a river had to be good. Mother didn’t just dig phone trenches. Sometimes she would dig swim holes in the river sand. Handful by handful. We spend many hours in the Fresno river. It forked and one side was the calm side. The other was the scary side. At least as children it was scary. In later years I couldn’t help but wonder if it had tamed.

The river was where we went fishing with safety pins and white beans. Yeah, we didn’t catch anything. We took friends to swim in the river. Once some visitor found a toy skeleton. It had hung in the neighbors tree for months. My great-aunt and her friend told us it was evil. I was curious, but also scared of the skeleton. Then it disappeared.

The kids who found it in the river thought it was real. They called the sheriff. The sheriff came out and told us it was fake. I don’t even know who those kids were.

Of course when I say we, I mean me and my sister. I lived with my sister more than anyone as a child. I moved from my great-aunt’s to my mother’s and back. She wasn’t a bad mother, just struggling with life. She did the best she could.

My sister was my friend. Not my best friend. My only friend. When you move and move and move and move, it happens. It wasn’t until the fifth grade we grew apart.

Now I have written for so long. I don’t know where my story is and where I need to take it next. To be honest, this is the longest I’ve ever written on this topic. Right now it is just under a thousand words.

When not living with my great aunt, we did live with mother. There were many houses. I wish I could recall their order. The yellow house was the first I recall.

It had a yard, with a garden. This is where I got my cat Smokey. So many times I cried over the cat because I thought we had lost him. I know he was there because I recall him hunting a mole. Was my male cat not a male?

In the yellow house mother we be angry because we at the chocolate chips. I don’t know she ever punished us, but she got angry. Now we can’t make chocolate chip cookies, she said. But who cares, chocolate chips taste better when you sneak them from the bag in the freezer. At least my childish self thought this was true.

The yellow house was were I drank some dirty water one day. It is the first time I had the thought living didn’t matter. There have been many times over the years. It was also the place I broke my arm the first time.

Me, my sister and a friend were jumping off the back of a chair. (Oh the things kids do for fun.) The friend pushed my and I fell and broke my arm. I remember a little of the fun of jumping off the chair. But not the broken arm. It is funny how our memory works.

Sometimes I play a game. I try to think of what my earliest memory is and how old I was then. Problem is how do we date our memories. I remember the yellow house and I remember the red house. But which one came first. I scan the memory itself for clues. It was the yellow house, I think. But this isn’t science. Geology or archaeology with their dating layers.

So my earliest memory. When I was two I went to Stockton with mother and my sister. The only part all these years later I recall are walking through the city in the heat of the sun. Could I it be a two-year old was walking through a city with his mother and younger sister?

Mother didn’t have a car. Around the foothills where we lived she hitch-hiked, and we did too. Pretty crazy when I think about the idea today. Walking was something we all did to get from where rides dropped us off. Also sometimes to get to a place with more traffic. I know we walked a lot. My great aunt told me to look out for my sister. It made the young small me feel important. But, what could kids do?

One time we tried to run away. We went out to get a ride. When someone stopped we got scared and ran home. My sister was my friend.

But the yellow house was close to town. One day I walked down to the end of the driveway. Cars on the highway were leaving town and speeding up. I talked to a man and watched cars for a while. I told him the police could catch speeders. Drivers were anticipating the speed limit change, before it changed. My mind was always thinking. When I think of myself at the yellow house, I didn’t feel like a child.

My sophomore English teacher wanted us to write our biographies. I didn’t do it. I couldn’t. I was failing anyway. By the time of high school the yellow house was just one of many. I think we may have lived in a dozen places, in three or four close towns.

In some ways the yellow house feels special to me. It makes me think of Van Gogh’s yellow house. Vincent had big dreams for the house. Maybe I had big dreams for my life. In my memory it was summer. The light was golden, like a movie. Things were simpler and better. But still I was debating the meaning of life. Or the value of life.