I’m in what everybody calls limbo. They ask me what I’m going to do next and I say I don’t know and they say that this is limbo. But I’ve been in limbo for at least seven years if not longer. Limbo probably started when I left Adam and moved overseas to teach English, but it may have started even before that when I got my undergraduate degree in Literature and moved to the country with Adam. The Limbo, from Oregon to Korea back to Oregon and then to California, followed me around like a stray puppy dog. It begged to be noticed and fed and understood. I never understood it, but it wouldn’t go away and here it was being verbally returned to me because everyone else could see it again. For three years I was off the hook. For three years I was back in academia getting my postbacc degree and my masters in fine arts at a small private school off of curvy Lombard St in San Francisco. For three years I studied photography and conceptual art, I got a DUI and I moved three times, and I quit my job at the running shoe store, and I started smoking again, and I became even more of a hermit relying on social media as my contact with the outside world separate from the classroom.
The first of those three years I replaced my obsession with a coworker with a fairly miserable affair with a boy who I was positive was gay. I accused him of being gay and he proved to me that this wasn’t the case, though I later decided he was bi. And after him there was my friend’s boyfriend, but he had assured me that they were broken up and that she had cheated on him. Later he accused me of ruining his life and being the reason she nearly committed suicide on her birthday. After that I was raped. I guess it was a pretty lousy few years. They ended with graduation, and I walked across the old theater stage in a flowery dress, and watched as a boy with a fifth grader’s science project quality MFA show won best in show from our final exhibition, and watched as the main alpha dog of our class got up and gave a ten minute mundane speech about passion and commitment to our practice as artists. Twenty minutes later I was far away from all of the students, and except for an an hour one afternoon a week later to clear out the remaining trash in my studio, I was free and far away from everyone I had blissfully ignored this past year from school. The closest I had made to a friend was a girl who needed a ride to the graduate exhibition the last week.
Undergraduate was somehow a polar opposite experience and yet also very much the same. I was still a hermit, completely flattened over my bed, staring at the ceiling, and hiding from people, stoned and melancholic. That was five years of undergrad. The most outgoing was freshman year in the dorms when I bought a two-cd set of love and kindness meditations and made an intense effort to be sociable and find my clique. I did find them, and we four girls started an online journal called “poop in my butt” and each of us had nicknames of a similar embarrassing nature, and from there we created and dramatized the freshman year experiences for our online readership and for our scrapbooks and our later retellings subsequent years when we split into different houses and boyfriends and branches of friendships. We remained good friends until the very end of undergrad, when two of the girls moved to Portland, and one moved to California and I stayed in the country with Adam. This was when I first decided to be a hermit. Adam told me that I needed to be dead to the world. It was a concept meshed somewhere between Sri Aurobindo and Osho, and further enhanced by my recent class in Middle English Mysticism and the Cloud of Unknowing. I needed to close all my doors and burn all my bridges, and need for nothing, and become detached. And as I burned bridges and cut ties I placed all those cut ties around Adam, and cinched him closer to me, and together we worked and lived and made love and argued and fought for a year, side by side. At the end of the year he said he needed to live alone and I became upset and my restlessness and fear of ending up further entangled with someone who could never imagine marrying me sent me all the way to Korea where I taught children how to speak english better, or at least how to talk about recycling and global warming in english, and how to smile on camera, and conduct an interview from a tree.
In Korea I practiced being a hermit without a boyfriend. I shaved my head and wore a hat to school. I fell into a LOST marathon depression, curbed only by this new passion for photography and LOST and reading. I took bus trips to Seoul. I ran to the center of town and ate street food and bought cheap shirts with english writing on them from the local department stores. When the year was over and my contract completed I backpacked southeast asia, and then I flew back to Oregon and had sex with Adam and returned to this emotional limbo that echoed what I had been living inside. This was the beginning of a more externalized limbo. I no longer looked near marriage. I no longer had close friends or a job that could lead to a career or even made sense (I began working in computer sales and later running shoes). I no longer had a place that really felt like home. From Portland to New Jersey to Berkeley, California, I ran away from one mistake and into another that seemed like a potential something.
There’s nothing nearly so aggravating as someone telling you what you already know, and telling it to you like it’s going to be a great lesson and that this major insight will change your life. Because they don’t know that this is what everyone says. About love. About finding something. About settling down but not settling. That everyone says these things. About it all happening when you least expect it and not to sell out but not to wait and not to expect too much. Everyone says these contradictory things and they are all stemming from what we’ve told through contradictions of dreams and reality our whole lives.
School ended for the last time and my parents came to watch my graduation. The one boy I had thought was cute in our whole 100-person class said hello in the long warehouse hall the last day I cleaned my last pile of photos and frames from the studio. He said Hi and I said Hello as a Bye and Goodbye, and that was the end of a chapter. I even said as much on Facebook: “This is the end of a chapter” and my friend asked what was next and if I might return to Portland. I joked that the weather was better and that the people were too, and from that my crazy cousin lost her mind again and de-friended me. Is that even a real word? So another bridge burned, a flimsy one made of old twine that needed to go and fall into the river and be washed away along with the pretentious boys from my class and the timid professors and the spaced out narcissists.
Limbo is a series of fragments and distractions. It’s procrastination and moments of intense awareness and truth. It’s loneliness and clarity and desire. It’s little moments where you forget where you are and stare at a little green bug for fifteen minutes. It’s mistakes. It’s sleeping with a boy you met from the internet and wanting so bad for it to be destiny and getting mad when you know it isn’t. It’s panicking when all of the general goals you had are finished and not knowing where or how to create a new goal. It’s sitting over the sunset. It’s fearing meeting someone else who will try to cut all your ties and burn all your bridges and consume you completely. It’s realizing that there are no bridges left to burn. That’s one Limbo anyway. That’s my Limbo.
I moved to Calaveras County. Every American knows the name Calaveras. You may not remember why but you do. It’s from a short story by Mark Twain, The Jumping Frogs of Calaveras County. If you go to the little town of Angels Camp you’ll see plaques from all the winning frogs who jumped the farthest distance each year. The whole historic downtown is covered in them. The town I moved to is even smaller. It’s covered in wine tasting rooms and clovers instead. Clovers are painted on the street like little Irish emblems. People come to get drunk and sit and enjoy the sunset over glasses of wine and tapas. I moved to a hilltop looking over the vineyards. This isn’t a story about being in Limbo, but a story of moving to a small town three hours east of San Francisco.
Irma helped Buttercup farms find this house. She said she found the house and it was basically her house and she would be damned if anyone would steal it from her. She didn’t really say it like that. She smiled and looked at me condescendingly. She’s tall so she looked down at me and told me about he previous tenants who nearly ruined it. She was worried about my cat. “We’ve never had a cat here before. Your dog is okay but your cat has to stay in your room.” “But she’s an outside cat most of the time. She liked to go in and out.” “You have to keep her in your room and take her out yourself.” I opened the window a crack. At 5:30 in the morning she woke me eyes wide in panic. There was a grey wolf she said, and it had something in its mouth. “Is your cat inside??” “I don’t know. What time is it?” I went back to bed and my cat came in the window half an hour later. It had been a coyote. Two coyotes actually. An owl was hooting. Or maybe it was a dog howling. It was hard to tell. Maybe it was a coyote. I couldn’t sleep.
Irma went back to her husband and her actual house in Oakland. She would be back again a few days later to check up on everything. For the farm. For her house. She wanted to make sure everything wasn’t ruined. But I spent these days alone in solitary bliss. I swatted mosquitoes. I drank beer and watched shows and got a P.O. box and a bottle of expensive red wine that smelled like blackberries.
If you walked around at night with all of the lights turned off you could see Saturn and Mars and the sky looked like a giant black wall speckled with white paint. It looked a little like my old studio floor, and I downloaded an app for the stars and tried to learn their names. I unpacked my keyboard and guitar and record player and surrounded myself with music. I practiced with violin and the harmonica. I studied french. Mom called and asked me when I was going to find a real job. She got excited when I applied to the Pentagon as a reporter and got an email that I was qualified and might hear back. “Tell them your parents were in the military. Did you tell them that?” “When would I have told them that? On my resume?” “Whenever you can, it will help you. Tell them about your dad’s experience with the CIA.” They emailed me the next day and said the position had been filled. I ordered a telescope and bought a state parks pass. I took my dog up to the Sierras and hiked. I bought a peanut butter cupcake.
31 years old. This is when everyone I know is sharing baby pictures on Facebook. This is when I’m no longer a child but not really considered an adult. The old lady still looked down on me and frowned when I asked to redecorate. “I just want to put up my old paintings.” “Where?” I waved at all of the walls in my room. She took down the little cliche flower her husband had photographed and grimaced. “Well, that’s alright. But this is a trial period. I don’t know if you’ll be staying here. I don’t know if you’ll want to. Don’t do too much.” I took down the other flower and stored it in the closet with the ironing board. I hung the painting of the Alhambra, and the painting of the little girl with the cello. I vacuumed the worms and spiders off the carpet in all the corners. I dusted the bathroom. The mess apparently didn’t stop after the last tenants left, but Irma’s hip replacements made it hard to bend over and maybe she didn’t know about all of the worms and spiders and dust. I threw the trash out at the carwash. I left all of my extra books and clothes in the barn.
Murphys, the town of wine and clovers, was first started in 1848 by the Murphy brothers who came to mine for gold. One brother made nearly 2 million in gold and left to marry and become the sheriff of San Jose. The town burned down three times. The gold disappeared. Vineyards popped up around the valley. The first nobel prize winner in Physics was born. Mark Twain visited. Hells Angels camped out. Outlaws stayed. The town had character and wine and art and culture. Little Murphys with pastel sunsets and a haunted hotel.
I don’t know where my cat is. I have been here only a week and I’m afraid a coyote got her. The old lady kept worrying about it, waking me early in the morning, and telling me to keep her in my room. Well, that was impossible. She’s a nocturnal animal, so it’s either I get sleep and she is happy roaming around, with the only side effect being a window open enough to let the bugs in, or I close the window and she starts using a litter box again and is angry and making noise doing everything to keep me up at night. I would use the rest of the house, let her roam the living room and the kitchen, but Irma wouldn’t have that either, so here I am possible dead cat I’ll never see again. I’ve been thinking about it all day. Irma would say I told you so. Coyotes tearing her apart. I thought about when I got her and she peed all over the bed, and sat huddled in the closet covered in clothes. I thought about Portland, and Berkeley, and Oakland, and San Rafael, and all of the times I dragged her to a new place, to have her throw up and foam at the mouth, completely losing her mind with the change, and then becoming comfortable, and kneading my belly like a content little sister. What if she doesn’t come back tonight. And tomorrow. I’m going to put everything off, and sit here and think about it. Call her name quietly so Irma doesn’t hear. And hope. Miyoki. Miyoki. Miyoki.
I’m also thinking about Einstein. My first cat junior year of undergrad at Oregon. Einstein who came up to me at the animal shelter all black and white skin and bones and large white whiskers sprouting off of her face like a mad scientist. Both cats had wild green eyes. Einstein lived with me and five other people so she was more sociable, more friendly, but smelled bad and some people called her Skunk or Pepe le Peu. I took her to the Oregon country and she killed all of the rodents and placed them at the front door for us when we got back from work at midnight. Sometimes we’d step on a dead rat and yell at her. Einstein who sat in empty boxes. Einstein who tore up newspapers and ate the family of baby mice out of the toilet paper under the sink. I left to teach in Korea for year and she only lasted three months, and then she stopped eating and Adam said it was because she was sad and missed me. I told him to take her to the vet; I would pay for everything. He didn’t and a week later she was dead. He said he cried. He said he put her in the ground and prayed for her, but I cried more and screamed at him over the phone and refused to talk to him for two months. I was pissed that he killed me cat. I was pissed that he kissed another girl who was closing the health food store with him now and going home with him after midnight to an empty house with no cat. I couldn’t believe he did that to me. I blamed him. He said she had digestion problems, and that’s why she smelled. I fucking hate you, I thought. Fuck you. Fuck you. Fuck you.
Fuck Irma for saying my cat would get eaten by a coyote. I think if it’s true it’s her fault for making it a possibility. They smell fear, and she sweats it out of her like an old, ripe onion.
Before I came to Murphys I spent the night at the farm. The farm is my dad’s friend’s farm half way between Calaveras County and San Francisco. It’s just as hot and dry and brown in the summer. It used to be a race horse ranch and now it’s an organic farm with berries and vegetables and herbs. Miyoki disappeared the morning I woke to drive to Murphys. I couldn’t find her and I opened a can of tuna and walked around the house and street for an hour. I looked in all of the rooms of the house, and under the house and called her name and glared at the Italian boy who had come to WWOOF with the farm, and was standing there doing nothing, smoking a cigarette, waiting for the day’s schedule. I finally found her hiding in the office closet, invisible in a corner like when I first found her on craigslist and brought her home. She was lost and hiding away in a corner, and I was relieved. So maybe she found another interior corner to hide. I looked in the bedroom. I looked under the couches. The only other place would be Irma’s closet and I can’t go in there without proving I lost my cat. So I’m sitting out here watching the sunset, and frowning. I wish Irma would leave. She’s not supposed to be here. She lives in Walnut Creek with her husband and her renovation plans on an Air BB. She should be there, and I should be here by myself with my dog and cat. I hate how this family friend puts me in these situations. “I have a nice hilltop house you can stay at. $1 a month”. Hell yes. I was paying $1200 for a closet, and grad school is over, why not? I will come here, apply for jobs. Except it wasn’t on the farm it was in Calaveras County. Okay no problem, it’s in the boonies. Except it’s not a house for me, it’s shared with an old lady who comes in and out half the time because she pretends to be working to organize the mercantile store in Angels Camps ten minutes west. That’s where Mark Twain wrote about the famous jumping frogs of Calaveras County. Downtown is a strop of old wester buildings and plaques with the names of all the winning frogs and the length the leapt.
Four years ago I left Portland, Oregon, and drove all of my belongings, with my cat in the front seat of a Uhaul, to the farm. From there the family friend, (John, who was in the Air Force in Spain with my parents and said to have introduced them), flew me to Guatemala with him to check up on his dying sister. She had a little room in the middle of nowhere, an old drunk with a fake bronze wilted tan, and gold nail polish and bleached hair. She looked like a Barbie Doll that fell in a bonfire. We figured out who was helping her cope with her last days, and money that had somehow disappeared with the help of shoddy caretakers. I felt like I was in a detective story. We flew back to California and a couple of days later I flew to the east coast to work for John’s company as a creative director. I quit art school for this, and daydreamed about being a powerful business woman in New York City. Except I wasn’t in New York, I was in New Jersey, and the position wasn’t as powerful as I imagined. I was serving taste tests of an organic chinese food from the New Jersey factory to Whole Foods in New York, and the rest of the time fighting the actual business leaders with the their shitty Logo and brand design ideas. I felt like I was the actual artist, and my opinion was meaningless. I felt like I wanted to stay in New York. I liked walking through Central Park. I even got a membership to the MET. But I was only there a month and John grew angry that I wasn’t doing what I was told with the logo, and that my ideas weren’t real business ideas, and without pay and without discussion, he flew me back to California to work at the mercantile. This is when it was actually owned by the farm, which is no longer the case. When he flew me back he had disgruntled volunteers serving sandwiches and ice cream. They all were my age, and complained about how small the town was and how they didn’t really want to be there doing that. They were like exchange students without the classes, and they were as disappointed as I was living in Clifton, New Jersey, between the longest sewer system in the world and a conglomeration of Russian food shops and Chinese factories. I couldn’t afford New York but I couldn’t survive the mercantile, and the lack of freedom and the dream to get a masters in fine art left me reeling, so I pleaded with my mom to wire me $1000, and I moved into a place I found on craiglist in Berkeley. I knew Berkeley from undergrad. I spent two summers there, one working as a door to door canvasser for the environment and one working at Mills College as a lifeguard and living in the architecture frat at UC Berkeley. This new place was a basement apartment shared with a manic depressive girl who just broke up with her boyfriend. She hated me two days after I moved in, and I was too exhilarated to be free again to notice. The move to the east coast and back wasn’t in my list of life goals, but being near San Francisco and pursuing art was, so I signed up for classes at the largest art university in the city and got a job at a local running shoe store. I quit smoking again. I ran and I went to class and the girl moved out and I move upstairs. What I forgot to mention was that when I was in New Jersey my cat was left on the farm with the promise that she would somehow be flown out to me. And yet a month passed and she never was and I missed her and worried about her. So part of returning was to see my cat again, and here she was on the farm, anxious and waiting. I took her to the basement apartment and she was also anxious, hiding in the bathroom, annoying the mani depressive roommate. So the move upstairs into a larger studio apartment was the first time since Portland that she was happy, and because of that I was also happy. We stayed there for two years. The first year I studied at this art school for a term. I learned that it was a real estate market. I learned that they had buildings all around the city and that it was a commercial hazard and students that went there were terrible and losing money for nothing. I learned that it wasn’t respected as a true fine art university, and my coworker at the running shoe store, a recent graduate from a true fine art university, told me what the good schools were, and how I had made a mistake. So I quit of course. And a term passed and I worked full time looking at people’s feet and telling them how to run better, and what shoes to wear and what size to start buying. I then enrolled at another university, a respectable prestigious school overlooking Northbeach and a block from curly Lombard St. I bought a new camera, and got extra financial aid from Wells Fargo and a grant and a cosignature from my mom that sent my dad reeling. I worked and I went to school, and then I spent three years at this school until it was all over and I had a masters and here I was, talking to John again, trusting him again. I couldn’t help but think about his sister with the gold nail polish and fake tan, the fake hair and the glossy alcoholic’s eyes. She was sent to live in a little house in the middle of nowhere. Wasn’t I sent to live in a little house in the middle of nowhere? I looked at it one way and I was given $1 rent house to take my time and find a good job for the next chapter of my life. I looked at it another way and I saw a man that I discredited as a lying, pretentious jerk, and told to take a hike and bailed on four years prior, with no verbal contact for two years until circumstances had me leaving Oakland and my parents insisted I communicate with him again. The convoluted mess that is this story wraps up in Murphys, where I’m sitting here watching the sunset and worrying about my cat. All of the chaos behind me, and the little stories I plan to tell from the Bay Area, and through it all from Portland to Murphys was my cat, and now the only noises are the birds, and my loud head saying her name again and again. Miyoki. Miyoki. Where did she go?
I’ve been looking for jobs all day. Actually I started the day climbing out the window because I didn’t want to see Irma. I think she has been friendlier and everything is fine but I just didn’t want to see her so I climbed out and drove around for a few hours. I went to Mercer Caverns and instead of going in, because I had my dog with me, I wandered around the gift shop looking at geodes. A member of the cavern staff came up to give me pointers on finding a good geode (they are the light ones that actually have anything in them worth slamming them on the ground for) but he dropped one on my toe and I was upset, my foot swelled up from the heat but probably also the geode and I left to figure out my mail situation. It’s complicated but nothing has arrived yet so I was talking to a post office clerk and another female clerk, probably in her fifties and experiencing menopause, chastised me for letting my little dog’s paws walk on the hot cement outside. She didn’t even get right into it, but started with a friendly “Is it hot out?” I was taken aback but ended the conversation with “you’re rude” and when she tried to speak said “no, I don’t want to hear it, you don’t know what you’re talking about” and then I mentally patted myself on the back because I am sick of old people acting like they know what they’re talking about, and just taking it like I’m still in high school.
I’m 31. I’m going to be over the hill in nine years. I’m not going to go from being treated like a careless child to an old lady just like that, I need a few years of individual power and admirable leadership. I came back to the house and was on hold for twenty minutes with another post office clerk. Stupid mail. I don’t even have mail, why does it matter? And then I picked apart my resume for an hour, and made a new one on a free site that was $2.95 to download it with the formatting all fucked up and so I was back to the beginning with my shitty resume that has only half of the customer service jobs I’ve worked over the years. Turns out that doesn’t look good on a resume.
Nobody wants to know that my first job was a clerk in a bookstore, and all the years babysitting, and selling Lladro and Swarovski crystal. No one cares that I worked eleven hours a day to canvas door to door for the environment or that I made sandwiches in a bakery or tutored foreign students at my university. Absolutely nobody wants to hear about performing gait analysis except for maybe the time Danny Glover bought two pairs of vibrams for his size fourteen feet. The years as a cashier and gift shop clerk, and computer salesman would bore everyone, though my stories are endless. Teaching abroad was exotic. That might be the only thing worth keeping on my resume. Creative director would have been good if I had been paid and lasted for more than a month. So here is my haphazard resume. I cut most of these life experiences out. I highlighted my name and added some skills. “Enthusiastic” is a skill, right? I’m more like Eeyore, but no one is going to interview me to find out.
Maybe I’ll just live out the rest of my days on this hilltop, melting in the heat, asking my dad for some extra money, and apologizing for being a loser. Also, I found my cat. She was in the storage house.
Conversation with mom: She thinks I’m selfish. She thinks I better hurry and find a job, I’m putting my dad in his grave. She thinks I was better in high school, when I won awards, and made honors lists. Now I’m unemployed and I don’t get along with anyone.
Conversation with John: My mom is stupid. She’s an idiot. She’s negative. She is shaming me. (John was in the military with my parents. Them met in the sixties and drove around Spain together to castles and cathedrals and the running of the bulls. My dad and a rabbi became fast friends with John and they’ve been friends ever since.) Now he owns this house on the hill I’m living at, and is letting me stay for a dollar month to figure self out. I said I know myself, I just need a job and a home of my own. It’s been a month since I got my MFA, which would be no big deal but it was expensive and my parents didn’t like the idea to begin with or the extra money I asked for to support me living in the bay area. Now that it’s over I’m still broke and dependent and so the pressure is on. Take time for yourself John says. But I know they think I’m selfish. I know my mom thinks I was better back then. “This college you applied to, why don’t you just go there and talk to them?” This isn’t the sixties. “I got my last job in 1993. That’s what I did when I became a nurse in Jackson”. This isn’t 1993. You apply online. You email your resume. Why can’t she understand that, it’s like talking to a gopher. Come out of the ground and spout your opinion then go back under. My mom is a neanderthal but she also has retirement money and a home, and so she can be self righteous and it doesn’t fucking matter, I’m still broke.
So I need quiet they say. I could teach English in Guatemala and live at the house John’s sister died in. He mentioned it and I just thought about her gold nail polish and leathery alcoholic skin. I feel trapped. Maybe that’s why I’ve been driving so much, to Folsom, little Columbia town and Angels Camp. I read a book, and went to a gold miners museum. I panned for gold and drank a strawberry milkshake. All these things are fun, but they also feel like distractions because I need to get out from under this pressure, and I’m not sure how I’m going to do that, and who is going to respond to my resume. Are two degrees not enough? Am I unemployable? Am I fucked?
I have been here a couple of weeks now. Yesterday I hiked the Arnold Rim Trail. Beforehand I went to the logging museum at the foot of the trail and two older women, probably in their eighties, insisted I volunteer as a docent. I apologized, said I’d love to do something like that, but I had to find a job first. They weren’t hiring. Of course, they insisted I volunteer so I could forge connections but it just sounded like time I should be spending doing something else.
There’s a mouse in my house. There’s a lazy cat at my feet. My skin is dry and sunburnt. I almost went to Twelfth Night at a local vineyard but I didn’t want to go alone. I asked the lady in the trailer but she didn’t have any money, and she just returned from Fourth of July at the farm where she also went to a horse race and saw John’s horse come in second. I love horse racing. They didn’t invite me because I’m “not wanted on the farm”. I asked my mom why and she said she just knew that and nothing else but I don’t need anyone to tell me it’s because John thinks I’m negative and lost. To him only marketable trades are anything more than hobbies and wastes of time. Photography and writing from me are to him as pointless as an online degree or a trip to Florida. I think he considers everything I’m passionate about as a pure of waste of time, and honestly I don’t know what he thinks. Maybe he is bitter I ever fought against his direction four years ago when I was turned from Portland to empty promises on the east coast. Either way, we will never see eye to eye and he doesn’t want me there because of this misunderstanding. I hate being dependent on ignorant people. I hate being in a culture that prizes business over art, and where art often is only a business. And by art I mean art, and literature, and science, and anything that is rarely considered worthy of someone’s time if it is not first and foremost marketable.
There is this little town fifteen miles from Murphys called Copperopolis. It had a new town square built a mile from the old town square about a decade ago, and then no one could afford to continue funding it so half of the buildings are deserted. It still looks like a scene out of Pleasantville, with Mariash Carey playing out of the loudspeakers in the little dog park in the middle, a lively BBQ grill, and coffee shop where couples watch soccer and drink Coronas to get away front he ninety degree heat. The old town square is a shabby saloon with a brick arch across the street, a cubicle size post office and a small garden and flower shop. I marked it off my list of towns to visit. This time I had tacos on special at the coffee shop, ate them as fast as I could in the scorching patio with my dog, and then left. That’s when I first went over to Arnold and the logging museum, an extravagant log cabin of small dioramas of logging equipment and old photographs and life-size models. I read beside Arnold Lake and tried to relax but honestly the heat continually turns me catatonic and I just want to sit inside under the fan and scratch my dry skin and drink ice water. Someone on Instagram says “yes, but it is dry heat”. Oh shut up. I grew up in moist eastern Texas, and I know the difference, it doesn’t make this dry, waterless 90-100 degree weather any less unbearable. I keep a close eye on my dog to keep her hydrated but also to gauge the heat. She insists on being carried through parts of the Arnold Rim Trail, the pebbles to hot on her paws. Her tongue flashing in and out of her mouth and eyes staring up at me like she’s stoned. So there it is, my proof that this catatonic feeling is vindicated.
I love the night though. It’s still warm but relaxing. The sky fades from peach to mango to light graying blue and the moon shines bright, followed by Mars and a few stars and then the sky is one giant IMAX movie, shifting slowly to my right as the earth spins left and I stare up at it connecting stars from my space app, and listening to the owls and coyotes. This is the best part of the day. The night. I don’t know if anyone is ever going to respond to my job applications, or if I’ll ever have a real job. Sometimes I wonder if I’m just not suited for anything serious. Maybe no one can take me seriously enough for a career, and it’s apparent even over a resume. However, these things matter less when it is late and everyone is asleep and the temperature is perfect and space is almost within reach.
Here I am in Calaveras County. Mark Twain talked about frogs but he really spent his time here to dig for gold. Here I am, in old Gold Country and I’m broke. Now that’s not fair. I bought a pan and I only used it once in Columbia. So it’s my laziness and ignorance.
Gold fever! That’s why anyone moved out here in the first place. Not me but the people before me, and many people still who buy expensive equipment and set out on logging roads and into the creeks and sides of private property. I’m afraid I’ll run into a meth trailer, get shot by a farmer. The precious metal. The commodity. The mineral. I’m afraid I’ll be bitten by a rattle snake, or fall over front he heat and dehydration. A symbol of power, wealth and success. The initiator of expeditions and wars. The provoker of lust and greed. Gold. Do you know how you pan for gold? The simplest method is to scoop up the minerals and soil on the river bed, and swish water around in such a matter as to even out the minerals inside so that the heaviest fall to the bottom of the pan, the heaviest being gold. Then when you slowly dip water and dirt and minerals out of the pan you won’t lose the important ones, being garnets and peridot, and then the heaviest of all, the gold and potentially even silver. This land is still seeping with gold and other minerals, but less people care about them, or talk about it. Most of the mines have closed except for a hand full. The leftovers are people working in forestry and service industry and tourism, and heading out with a few supplies on the weekends and early mornings before the sun and druggies arise. I bought a lottery ticket. Maybe I should spend less time writing bullshit online and buying lottery tickets and more time digging for gold.
There are levels of problems. I think I worry a lot but only to a limit for primarily no more than 2-3 things at a time. When I was in the bay area it was sometimes more than this because you think you have all you want to worry about and then something unexpected happens. I hate surprises and there were always surprises there that in time led to my decision to come out here to the middle of nowhere.
Some of these things were little things, like not being able to find parking at Trader Joes or taking up smoking again and all of the consequences involved in that and the look my dad gave me when he found out and reminded me that my grandpa’s last words were asking for a cigarette.
Some of these things were bigger, like the DUI, and the near fatal accident that caused it, and the crazy lady craigslist move into the city, and the mugger in Berkeley and alcoholic neighbors in Oakland.
Some things were continuous. The traffic. The Alpha type A personality people and the lack of sincere friendships. Maybe it was me. Maybe I couldn’t hold down to a friendships because I was too wrapped up in my own problems. And the effort involved in seeking and holding onto a friendship wasn’t ever inspired there. The first month in the bay area and I had run from the farm and used the money mom wired me to find that little basement apartment with the manic depressive girl. The first month I was unstoppable and exhilarated to be free, so I got a job and befriended the creative artsy girl and soon after walked around Halloween night with a cute coworker who was also a Triathlete at Cal and had pretty eyes. I became close to both of them and just as soon as it started it was over. She was jealous and flighty, as I learned most of my artist friends were, and he had a girlfriend abroad who would be back in December. So it was over by the end of autumn and I never carved out any potential long-term friendships after that. Just acquaintances and small gestures of affiliation like a concert here or a one night stand there. It wasn’t always by choice and I’ll probably talk about that more later.
But back to these problems and how I tried to leave them behind and remain in the bay area. The last year of grad school I moved to the north bay, at the foot of Mount Tam and only a 40 minutee drive from the ocean and the redwoods. I could hike and explore. I could park without too many problems. It seemed like the perfect solution and the weather, though one of the driest years recorded in California, seemed closer to how I remembered it in Oregon with mist and fog. The only snag was the price of everything, from rent to food to gas. I couldn’t afford it and so I graduated and I came here for $1 a month. The parking is even more incredible here. I can park anywhere I want, within reason, and only once have I seen a sign for $3 parking and that was for the Fourth of July when the town park played free music and had a fireworks show I could see and hear from my hilltop on Saturday night, the day after the 4th.
The land here isn’t covered in mist and fog. It’s dry dry dry. They said a dry year, watch your water usage, and I see signs of this everywhere. Yesterday the soil around my camping chairs in front of the house started smoking. It was literally turning black and smoking. I couldn’t figure out what it was from or the accompanying smell that reminded me of toxins we’d studied in safety class at the beginning of entering my fine arts school. Here was a little black spot next to another little black spot mysteriously starting to catch fire and I grabbed the hose behind the house and soaked the whole front lawn down. And by lawn I mean patches of gold grass I’ve been watering morning and night since no one is here to scold my water usage and I want a garden. The black spots blended in to the rest of the soil, and everything turned a dark brown but I couldn’t figure out what the smell and smoking was caused from, and now I have a little problem with only a couple of hypotheticals. Is it from the two stumps I brought from my MFA exhibit? The dark spots were near enough one of the stumps and so maybe it has chemicals on it. I found them in a junk yard after all. The other idea was that it might be something already buried in the ground, but if that is the case, and this is the second time the soil has smoked, then I am in trouble. I’ll have to be near most of the time just in case it happens again and I need to hose it down. I’m not sure if this is a big problem or a little one. It seems like a big one but that’s only in relation to the lack of problems I have here, which are this, a problem receiving my mail, and the problem of knowing no one and doing nothing social, which are both problems I can fix if I just go out and do something about them. The latter, regarding mail, I’m working on. The former, regarding people, I will get to when I’m sufficiently tired of being alone, but with a dog and cat seeking other accompany and the problems they could initiate seems unnecessary.
It’s early and the sun isn’t out with full form yet, so this could be a good day to drive to Yosemite. The drive would be about the distance it used to take me from Eugene to Portland, and with less traffic and more winding roads. I fill up my camelback and nalgene, and a ziploc bag of dog food. I’m still debating between that and watching the tour de france in England online. Each morning is a decision like this- remain on the hilltop and do little rings, or go out and explore new unknown things. I think today I will explore. Every other day seems to be good for an exploration. The sky is still calm and the rooster down the hill is still sleeping (I think it doesn’t come out until the heat is unbearable) and a humming bird is occasionally dropping by my cup of coffee as if asking for a taste. My dog is grumbling at every little noise and the mouse is still hiding in a corner of the house ignoring my death bucket of water and peanut butter held by chopsticks
If you are quiet and sitting right at the edge of the hilltop looking over Murphys, you can hear the clouds moving. I’m not sure if it’s the clouds or if it’s traffic or a plane in the distance near Columbia, but I always assume naturally that it’s clouds, and they’re rumbling in the distance, and that maybe it will rain and it will be the greatest welcome surprise of all.