by Zinta Aistars
Sun on a Sunday morning, even if directly in my eyes—there cannot be any complaint. The winter unflexes its muscle, even if for a day only. Yesterday’s 52 degrees broke records in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and I spent a good hour, perhaps two, mesmerized by the crystal waterfall spilling down the sides of the shed’s roof in my backyard. Shimmering silvery streams cascaded down the black shingles, turning ordinary material to diamonds. I sat, staring. My cats sat at the window, staring. My dog, standing in the thinning layer of snow on the back deck--staring. The world was melting, weeping with a quiet joy.
This Sunday morning, the sun is in my eyes. Having taken up residence at the corner table at Water Street Coffee Joint, best table in the house, where my view is of the entire room, however small, ideal for people watching, but I still have to deal with this bright winter orb. I’ll be here for a while. It will pass, soon, over the low skyline of Kalamazoo, the old train depot first, then behind the Kraftbrau Brewery, then on over town. I’ll still be here. I can do patience. It’s a good spot, despite the wall of windows, and if I maneuver my laptop screen just so, it cuts the light, and myself, straddling two chairs, just in the middle, I can take advantage of the wooden slat down the window to at least slant in shade across my eyes. And there, in a little while more, the sun is behind the Brewery and I am in warm winter shade, unblinking.
A week ago, early that previous Sunday morning, I was hanging my father’s paintings and drawings along the inside wall of Water Street Coffee Joint. I glance up at them from time to time, with a sense of pride. I watch a few other gazes over coffee cups linger on the paintings and drawings, occasionally peering closer at a detail, a slight nod.
I witnessed last week how this place fills, quickly, with long-sitting clients, the studious sort, the Sunday morning newspaper-reading sort (still on crackling paper), the book reading and notebook filling and manuscript pondering sort. Writers, I suspect, many of them, and certainly many readers. This morning they are here, too, a few of the same faces, many new, including my own. I haven’t been hanging out here much, now that I commute daily to another city north for work. Hanging Dad’s paintings here last Sunday reminded me … I like it here. Mom shrugged her shoulders and wondered aloud, why do they all sit here? With their books and papers and laptops? Have they no homes? Is there some racket there they wish to avoid here? Perhaps. But I suspect most here come for quiet, unspeaking companionship. A silent camaraderie, not wishing relationships or intimacy of any kind, so much as the nearness of other life, the quiet electric frequency of human thought, shared daydreaming, maybe even the rubbing of shoulders between muses, all while sipping cups of aromatic coffee, nibbling on scones and pastries and quiches. Do we know why coffee shops so draw folk? The coffee can be just as good at home (this place, too, sells its own beans). The silence at home, deeper. Too deep?
I’ve come here this morning to connect with a new friend at high noon. We’ve been working on a common assignment for a couple weeks now (I’ve written the press release, she will be doing the distribution, so why not brainstorm?), communicating through e-mail, so it made sense to make actual eye contact at last, over that cuppa. Recalling a week ago, I thought it might be pleasant to set up my own laptop reading and writing corner this morning, so came in early, why not. Arrange my own shop. Galleys of a new book, soon to be published, that I am reviewing. Notebooks of notes from half a dozen interviews, to be shaped into an article for a college alumni magazine. A poetry book, for nourishment. I arrange them around me on my table, beside the big blue cup of Costa Rica coffee and the orange plate of egg and chorizo burritos, warm. I’m set. It’s Sunday, and the coffee is hot, and the company, not bothering me but pleasant to be around, all those pondering and daydreaming minds, just waking up.
The tables are all full. For a while, a professor with whom I once worked in a previous place of employment, sits down beside me, hey Z, fancy you, here, awaiting his own table, and we chat … what’s new at the college, what’s new in your writing, what’s doing. How about that sun. A table clears. He nods, smiles, gets up, balancing his cup, scone, and books, and we wish each other good beans, he retreats to his corner and sets up in his own thinking man’s shop.
Time for another cuppa.
While I wait, a friend (?) on Facebook "tags" me to list 25 random and odd factoids about myself. I come up with ...
1. I love to procrastinate whenever it is time to write something important. The more important the piece of writing I have to do, the more I procrastinate. Guess what I am doing now? (Trying to write a good sentence never fails to scare the bejeezus out of me.)
2. I was 42 years old the last time my father grounded me. Yes. Grounded me. He had just heard me say, live over the local radio station, that I was planning on skydiving the next day. I jumped from the plane, 14,000 feet, the next day anyway ... and lived to write this note about it. Meanwhile, my mother tripped over her own feet on flat and solid ground while I was in midair and broke her wrist. Me? I only broke Dad's rule.
3. I have this thing for mushrooms. Raw, in butter, sautéed, stuffed, sliced, diced, marinated, fried, breaded, doesn't matter. If you want to lure me somewhere I don't want to go, toss me a 'shroom. Toss me another.
4. I am the founder and editor-in-chief of the literary ezine, The Smoking Poet. Good writing, good cigars. Yes, I occasionally light up a fat stogie. Or a dainty one in a silver tin. Don't tell Dad. He would ground me.
5. I can talk grammar for hours. Literally. And I work with a tussle of writers who relish same. It's a kewl office. On the other hand, I enjoy misspelling words like kewl and stoopid and seester (who is kewl, not stoopid).
6. English is not my first language. Nor is it my last. Currently, am hammering espanol into my head. Sometimes it hurts.
7. I was homeless for three months some years ago. Gave up my home, my job, my past, packed up sleeping bag, tent, guitar and old cat, and traveled across 10 states with a few hundreds to my name, and finally found a place I wanted to call home. Got the lease on a handshake and a promise I would be employed within the month. I was. It was one of the best times of my life (I made $4,000 that year and was never late with my rent). Thank God for handshake-worthy landlords.
8. The longest I've spent on the road in one stretch is 10 months - in an RV from Kentucky to Alaska. I lived in Haines, AK, and landed my first job on a newspaper. I had no idea what I was doing. But I did it anyway. Pretty well.
9. The RV was stolen in California and I had to go back to Kentucky. Dang.
10. I have had the same dream since earliest childhood, unchanged: to live in a cabin up north and make a life out of creating art. All kinds of art, literary and otherwise.
11. I have had over 30 different addresses in my life. After 30, I stopped counting. The house I am living in now is the longest I have been in one place, ever. It will not be my last house. See #10.
12. I was six months pregnant with my beautiful blondie before I told anyone. Except her daddy. He kinda noticed. In my sixth month, my brother-in-law called me to tell me my seester Daina had just given birth to her first daughter. It only took her 36 hours. I threw up.
13. I have never been more in love than on July 5, 1980. That was the day my daughter was born. The second time I fell that much in love was 20 months later, when her brother was born, 2-28-82 (guess his favorite number). I didn't know a human heart could contain something so big, so deep, so strong. It keeps growing.
14. I was 13 years old when my first story was accepted for publication in a magazine. I was 19 when my first poetry manuscript was accepted for publication. And 21 when my first story collection was accepted. I have had a great deal of trouble completing a book manuscript all these decades later. I keep starting over. I keep rewriting. Okay, so I have completed a couple of manuscripts. Okay, maybe three. I show them to no one.
15. There is a beast living in my attic.
16. My favorite season is winter. I detest summer. Yes. Really. I get sad when the snow starts to melt and the temps climb past 40.
17. I have been an emotionally battered woman. I am the strongest person I know. It can happen to anyone. I get it now.
18. Seven times in one day.
19. I sometimes take a sip of something, coffee, tea, a cold brew, then get distracted. Someone will say, "Z? Swallow!" and I think, oh yeah. Gulp.
20. My parents called me The Professor when I was a child, because of my tendency to daydream, be absent-minded, be scatterbrained, or to chatter on endlessly about the meaning of life and such. Or forget to swallow.
21. There is a chunk of silvery driftwood under the silvery, tall pines along the Baltic Sea, near the village of Piltene ... just on the edge of the white sand, and deep into its silvery bark is carved ... well, he knows. I wept, then laughed, when I saw it.
22. I argue with God a lot. I am trying not to. So much.
23. The older I get, the more I crave silence. So that I can truly listen, and hear, what matters.
24. I still remember how to love.
25. There are things I would not put into writing, on any list, ever. They will die with me.