The month of April is a lot like practicing balancing poses in yoga. You have to be okay with falling, breathing and getting back up. No better meditation on whether or not you love your work than when you have to write a big tax check to the Feds. So yeah, choose work you love. And if that means taking a risk…take the risk.
Not much in the rearview mirror I regret. Not the poodle cut or shaved head. Not the rose petal bath in a Union Square penthouse (is that REALLY appropriate first date material?! Even with Bush as president?!) Not taking a swing at my friend, Amy, after a horrific betrayal. But…I was always afraid of being broke, so until ten years ago I always chose “safe” careers with paid sick leave and stock options.
Ironically, I have little to show for playing it safe and own shockingly little for someone my age: a house, a car, an aloof husky. Fact is, she owns me, and the bank owns the other two. The upside of that is when I need a fancy dress for a black tie event, I borrow it from my banker…see how beautifully Karma works! On paper, I have failed miserably at accumulating wealth, so it’s probably a good thing I didn’t have children…they’d be selling paper cups of lemonade roadside, just for school supplies and ankle socks.
Somehow though, I’ve always had enough. When I showed up on the Oregon Coast, nearly ten years ago, in my silver bullet loaded with high-heeled shoes, sequined tank tops, and the last of a wine collection, I was four months into a road trip I was hoping would last at least a year. Channeling Tennessee Williams and his flamboyant manner of dress, I was counting on the kindness of strangers and a clean, fresh credit card.
That hot, July day I blew out of Albuquerque, bitterness gripping the steering wheel, my aim to get as far away as possible landed me with a cracked windshield in Hanksville, Utah. It was 109 degrees and blowing red dust. The guy at the front desk of the Best Value Inn, a cross between a pro wrestler and Nick Nolte, tap, tap, taps my shiny credit card. “Romero. Italian?” Shrugs, swipes it, then hops back on the bulldozer he’s using to fill in the pool.
Supper was at the Red Rock diner. The waitress, Esther, wore her gray bob tied up with shreds of what looked like the American flag and called me “sweetie” even though she hovered in a way that implied if I didn’t clean my plate, she’d kick my ass. Other than Esther, it would appear I’m the only woman alone in Hanksville, which means a cloud of suspicion hovers over my head. Every man in the Red Rock diner wears a buzz cut and a frown; the father and son next to me appear to have just waded out of the shallow end of the gene pool (soon to be filled in), their eyes much too close together for comfort.
Esther is intrigued by the book I have propped open next to my chicken fried steak and Coke. I quickly explain that the title, “Heat” refers to the culinary arts. I don’t want Esther thinking I’m reading some kind of porn in her family restaurant.
“Bill Buford? I think I know that guy. What else has he done, sweetie?”
I couldn’t help myself. “Well, he was fiction editor of The New Yorker for seven years.”
Esther squints behind her bifocals.
“And he was the founding editor of Granta.”
Now Esther is looking at me like I’m speaking French and not in a cool, silk scarf way but in a we-only-believe-in-freedom-fries-around-here kind of way.
“How ‘bout some pie, sweetie?” That’s my Esther. Polite to the end.
Over butter crust, she tells me nobody can remember the last time it rained in Hanksville, a comma of a town between buttes and towers, knobby-kneed spires, every shade of red, amber and cream. I remember pulling over next to a road sign with two crows perched on top, on a span so empty I hadn’t passed another car in over an hour, and standing in the heat of beauty awesome and lonely and possible, I came into tree pose on that treeless stretch and sobbed. I had nothing but what was in my car, not even a home address. Yet, I had everything because I got to be fierce with strong legs, standing under an endless blue sky full of stars and dreams. Then, I keeled over.
Eventually, I headed towards the rain. And now that the silver bullet has been traded for a dog-friendly Subaru and the high-heeled shoes for a yoga mat, I have to remind myself that every time the Ranger and I argue about money, there’s always Hanksville. No, not the place. But the idea poet, Mary Oliver, so eloquently expressed in “The Summer Day.”
I don’t know exactly what prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day…
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
I’m doing it. Every day. On the mat. On my bike. Close to the ocean. And you really can’t put a price on that.