Monthly Archives: November 2019

One Perfect Oyster Shell

I have acquired an enemy.

I don’t intend to out the person.  I will strive to avoid gender, circumstance, and character.  I don’t want to complain, kvetch, gripe, grumble, or grouse about this individual’s apparently unrelenting campaign to discredit me.

I just want to talk about one perfect oyster shell.

I got the shell at lunch on Saturday.  My friends Jim and Nancy ordered oysters to start their meal.  We sat at the last inside table at Sam’s Chowder House on a length of Cabrillo Highway which could be Montara or Half Moon Bay; I’m not quite sure.  The infinite blue sea stretched beneath the cool creamy azure of a California sky.  A table of adorable people on the deck beyond our window delighted us:  Mother, father, son, daughter, all in little fisher-people hats to shield their delicate skin from the sun’s zealous affection.  

Sam’s is one of three places at which I break my vegetarian diet to eat seafood.  Jim and Nancy’s kitchen is another, along with that restaurant in Jenner at the mouth of the Russian River which serves overnight tomatoes and freshly-made lemonade beside fish caught in the harbor and all along the coast.  At Sam’s, I had perfect fried cod and coleslaw, with a Chardonnay and gluten-free apple-crisp for dessert.

Nancy wiped the debris from their oyster shells and offered one to me.  I wrapped it in a napkin and buried it under my wallet in the bottom of my handbag.  I promptly forgot about it.

Last night, I saw a trail of my enemy’s bombardment in a virtual realm.  One of the other hostel guests sat adjacent to me at the table with its sign suggesting that we talk with each other.  I’ve got an an enemy, I told the lady, with whom I had been exchanging increasingly less superficial conversation for an hour or two.  I shared a little bit of what I knew about the rising anger of my attacker.  We talked about the sadness which must drive the person to spend so much time castigating me.  She told me the story of someone whom she had found to be equally adverse, and how she handled the controversy.  I liked her ideas.

I drove home by way of San Ramon today because I had an hour or two in which it didn’t matter whether I got anywhere or not.  For that matter, I could probably wander, lost, for a couple of decades.  My son might text. My sister Joyce would certainly call.  But most everybody has become accustomed to my strange behavior and besides, they have their own lives.  Eventually, alarms would sound but I reckon it would take at least a few weeks.

As I drove, I gazed over the rolling hills and towering trees of Contra Costa County.  Mount Diablo sat on my right.  I remembered the day that I foolishly decided to climb its southern face in my Toyota, and the trepidation, if not hysteria, which coursed through my body.  I felt again the tenseness of my hands as I clutched the steering wheel and the fervor with which I begged whatever angels had not abandoned me to stay by my side until the end, bitter, sweet, or boring.  Again I reminded myself that I had to keep living.  I have a lot for which to be thankful, but even more for which to make amends.

When I got home today, my neighbor Barb greeted me with the news that power had gone out.  She didn’t know if it was local or island-wide.  Jackie, who knows most and sees more, answered my texted query with updated information and an estimated time of restoration. I talked a little with Josh, who lives in the converted school bus and plays exquisite music on a soundbox with stretched wire, as he has been known to describe his guitar.  

Then I carried some of my things inside and opened the curtains.  On a whim, I rummaged in my handbag and unearthed the wad of paper.  I slowly pulled its edges back, and studied the oyster shell.  After a few minutes, I nestled it among the rocks in my mother’s old bowl.  I stood and beheld the pale blue of the Delta sky and the rising limbs of the tree above my neighbor’s house. 

I suddenly recalled a telephone call in which my son and I participated after Marshall Rosenberg died, a peace call, I think the Center for Nonviolent Communication called it.

Dr. Rosenberg divided communication into giraffe language and jackal speech.  I’ve still not perfected the former, but I recognize and strive to eschew the latter.  All jackal speech arises as a tragic expression of an unmet need, Dr. Rosenberg taught us.  My enemy apparently spends a fair amount of time hating me; and so much energy expressing that hatred in oblique, sad ways in obscure venues.  I wonder what unmet need drives the fury.  I closed my eyes and let myself feel the venom.  I tried to manifest the force of wrath and allow it to flow through me, with the hope that I might perceive the unmet need.  When I opened my eyes, my gaze fell on the delicate contours of the oyster shell which my friend Nancy gave me, on a joyful afternoon, two hours west of here, on the coast of my Pacific.

It’s the third day of the seventy-first month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.


“All violence is the result of people tricking themselves into believing that their pain derives from other people and that consequently those people deserve to be punished.”

— Marshall Rosenberg


When my son was about three years old, he leaned toward me from the seat of the grocery cart and said, Mommy, you tell me not to talk to strangers, and you do it all the time.  He studied me with his serious eyes until I responded that there were different rules for grown-ups.  I don’t know if he believed me.

I talk to people wherever I go.  I suspect this tendency springs from a perverse desire to fight my essential introversion.  The search for different factions of my tribe compels me.

Last weekend, I met a woman at Pigeon Point who had come for a weekend respite, to write and walk on the bluffs above the sea.  Today she and her wife traveled from San Francisco to share coffee and watch the sunset on the ocean off the point at Montara.  An easy comfort settled on our conversation.    Odd that I originally had intended my hostel stays in the reverse order of how they have happened.  I would not have met Joyce and Jane in that event, and two dear souls would continue moving outside my orbit.

Now I sit at the same table as I occupied last evening, near the little chalk board exhorting me to talk to others rather than hammering on my keyboard.  Another woman writes in a chair beside me.  From time to time, we exchange observations, remarks about the work each of us pursues, or some other idle talk which gives us the companionship that the hostel gods seemingly want us to enjoy.  Neither of us needs more.  A cup of cool water, a shared power plug, and the knowledge that someone else understands the drive to pour one’s thoughts upon the page.

It’s evening, on the second day, of the seventieth month, of what has become My [everlasting] Year Without Complaining.  Another perfect day in paradise draws to a peaceful close.  Life continues.


Forty-five Years to Here

I first saw an ocean in 1974 at the Jersey shore.  The Atlantic spans cold and cruel, stretching beyond one’s imagination and certainly beyond the reach of yearning.  The Eastern sea never claimed my affection, though I gasped as I crested a hill and first beheld her wide expanse.

I lived in Boston for ten bleak months after graduating from college.  I never felt at home there, nor did sound of the Atlantic ease my perennial longing.  I came away unconvinced that I could ever feel peace anywhere but the landlocked Midwest of my childhood.

Then I wandered westward into the irresistible pull of the Pacific, into the wave of welcome for which I yearned.   The Atlantic scorns your adoration; the Pacific invites you to rest on her shores and heed her song.  I’m older now, of course.  As the last third of my dubious life commences, it stands to reason that I might see romance in different quarters.  But my heart did not fabricate the sonnet of the western sea.  She might not speak especially to me, but neither does she silently sit on the wide expanse of the horizon.  Her endless melody drifts to shore on following winds.  I lay my head upon the meager pillow and fall asleep to the soothing rhythm of her voice.

It’s the second day of the seventy-first month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

“Heart is sea,
language is shore.
Whatever sea includes,
will hit the shore.”

― Rumi

“May you have fair seas and following winds.”

Continuing on the #journeytojoy

I passed the entrance to the hostel twice today, once upon arrival and later, after dinner.  I’ve improved my turning skills and navigated back each time, through the gate which will close at 11:00 p.m. and along the edge of the sea to the bottom driveway.  I sit in the dining room next to a little chalk board extolling me to forswear my laptop, and to enjoy “each other’s company”.  That command sits right next to another sign suggesting that I follow the hostel on Facebook.

The kids used to play a computer game on DOS in which the hero crashed his plane on an island and had to navigate through various challenges to save himself.  One had to type commands and do so in precise sequence.  You could not tell him to walk into a hut without first directing him to open the door.  If you said, “Pick up the flashlight” before “walk into the hut”, the program would say, “I don’t see any flashlight here”.  

When I read the invitation to partake of the other’s company, I thought, I don’t see anyone here.

The friend whom I met for dinner brought her six-month old puppy, half Dachsund and half something else.  She kept the little thing in a scarf which hung low on her body, like a baby sling or a papoose.  We exchanged updates on our lives since we last shared a meal, which we strive to do a couple of times a year.  I met Kristin three or four years ago on one of my first trips to the coast for medical care.  She’s like a slightly younger, cooler version of the woman that I always strove to be.  She wears flowy clothing, designs and creates jewelry and fabric art, and writes poetry.  She lives in El Granada and has a wrap-around deck overlooking the ocean.

I can’t even hate her for being so cool because of her amazingly kind personality.  She’s also forthright and intuitive.  Dinner with her leaves me wishing that I lived closer to the coast.  But then, she’d probably get tired of me.

The hostel lady moves around the kitchen, retrieving abandoned coffee cups which the users should have washed.  A family has taken over the back dorm in which I normally sleep, the one with the good bathroom.  But there’s a lady in my room who is an attorney and a writer.  She recently returned to California after four years in Maryland, where she exhausted her savings while writing a book.  Now she’s come back, to look for work and edit the manuscript.  She helped me put the fitted sheet on my bed and complimented my yellow hat.  I seem to find angels everywhere I go.

Tomorrow I will walk down to the point to watch the waves break against the rocks.  Eventually, I’ll make my way to lunch, to an afternoon coffee, and then, with any sort of luck, to a gorgeous sunset in Half Moon Bay.  This afternoon the ocean reached out to wash over me as I stood at the rail on Rockaway Beach.   Her calmness seeped into my soul.  A vague euphoria lingered long after my clothing dried.

It’s the first day of the seventy-first month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.


Peace flows into me
As the tide to the pool by the shore;
It is mine forevermore,
It ebbs not back like the sea.

I am the pool of blue
That worships the vivid sky;
My hopes were heaven-high,
They are all fulfilled in you.

I am the pool of gold
When sunset burns and dies, —
You are my deepening skies,
Give me your stars to hold.

— Sara Teasdale