Thursday, February 24, 2011

CHAPTER 37: In California, Torn Between Two Time Periods


It started at lunch, on a hike through the astonishing Joshua Tree National Park.

Those starkly beautiful trees, the spiky limbs reaching skyward toward the pure blue desert sky. Everywhere you turn, there are gigantic piles of coffee-brown boulders scattered on the desert floor. Some of the rocks look like monstrous loaves of unbaked bread. Some look like God's idea of modern art.

I am eating a tuna wrap, sitting with my husband beside one such monster sculpture when it starts.

It's not the Joshua tree that does it. It's the prickly leaves of the live oaks -- growing in abundance around the picnnic table where we sit. Suddenly I am "streaming." Shifting back and forth, sitting side by side there with my husband eating lunch, and then sitting side by side with Sister Teresa, beneath the live oaks on the hillside behind the convent.

She is telling me to write. She is telling me to write the early history of my life with Antonie. She is saying it might help me.

Writing does help. And maybe the reason I am feeling so incredibly torn in two today is that I haven't written in several days. Writers who don't write start to go a little nuts.

And here, today, in Joshua Tree, it is happening to me.

I finish the sandwich. I sit there, just staring out into the extrarordinary desert. I try to calm myself. I try to tell myself that I am here in California for a week's vacation. I want to enjoy this visit. I want to enjoy this present moment.

I don't want to go buzzing back to 1883.
I start to worry: I am trapped in this time travel story. I will never escape. Even when I finish the story, even when I finally free the nun, which I am going to do, I will still be torn between two time periods, just like I am today.

I feel the anxiety grow. I don't know what to do to calm myself.

I keep trying to tell myself to enjoy the day, to focus on being HERE, NOW, here at this astonishingly beautiful, one of a kind, landscape.

But nothing helps. No matter what I tell myself, that awful feeling persists.

Staring up through the twisted limbs of the prickly live oaks, I realize why it is so bad today: it is precisely because I am in California that I am having this torn-in-two feeling. This stark landscape is throwing me bodily into the kind of landscape that Renata inhabited. The live oak trees. The azure blue skies. The warm dry air. The reddish brown, powdery sand.

ALL OF IT CALLS ME, BODILY, BACK THERE.

I wander back to the picnic table. I tell my husband that I am feeling squirmy, that I am rolling around in time, feeling like I am trying to be in two places at once.

Thankfully, he is the kind of guy who understands the artist's mind. Yes, it can feel like a form of insanity sometimes, being a writer, inhabiting other worlds, but most of the time, it can be fun. And not dangerous to anyone.

He doesn't flip out. He doesn't overreact. His attitude is, just relax. Just accept the feeling, whatever it is, in a mindful kind of way and it will pass.

A little later, we take a hike through a marvelous canyon called Hidden Valley. At one point in history, cattle rustlers would "hide" droves of angus in this rock-strewn paradise and nobody knew where the cattle had been squirreled away.

We walk for a while, and then we climb onto two gigantic rocks. My husband and I have the same idea: we will sit there in the desert sun for a while and just meditate.

It helps. I sink cross-legged into the rock, let my eyes settle on one spot in the distance.

I stop fighting it. I feel the immediacy of the sun, the rock, the air, the slight breeze. The quiet settles around me. And finally, the torn-in-two feeling passes.

Twenty minutes later, we are walking again, and photographing the golden teddy bear cholla and the spiky prickly pear cactus.

Ah, thank you. The torn-in-two feelings are gone.

We spend the rest of the afternoon at Joshua Tree, and it is a lovely afternoon.




1 comment:

Lynn said...

Thank you for letting me be there with you, from my office chair! xoxo -lynn