Day 3 4:47PM: Lost Hills Love’s, Arby’s, and Forgetting My Own Poetry.

And, yes. Because I had to come back here. Lost Hills. I had not intended to come here. We had so many good times. I didn’t want them to end. Coming here was an acknowledgement it was over. And it’s over.

It’s over. Shit. I had intended to come here, triumphantly, with the road behind me and the newfound wisdom it had bestowed. I had intended to talk about the acceptance of what is unresolved. I had intended to write about the peace of resolution.

In other words, I had expected some kind of resolution on this return to Lost Hills. Whether I accept stopping, I accept moving on… All good. But not this.

The Love’s I enter seems a lot smaller that I remember. Everything is there, but bunched together. More rummagy. The hats with the Shiny bands are there. The fireball candy and beef jerky. All there. The audio books claiming “Like a Movie in Your Mind,” there. That stupid caterpillar toy with the thin fishing line that you can make crawl up your arm. Yes. It’s there. I remembered these things, and here they are.

But this is an Arby’s, not a Del Taco.  And there’s a Pilot across the highway, and I know we spent some time in there, too., and I realize there is, besides remembering and forgetting…acceptance and denial, motion and stillness–there is another type of memory. It’s a difficult poetic memory, where details are concentrated and crystallized and forced together with the heat and pressure of the soul.

And this makes the poems shine. It makes the writing sparkle, the scenes unforgettable.

But when we apply it to our own memories… Especially if we diminish ourselves before our pasts and our surroundings, which so many of us do. We begin to put all the good parts of ourselves, all the good parts of our histories and our memories into the relationship we have at hand. We concentrate all that good stuff and attribute it to the love we feel for that special person, those special moments, that special connection. It is so special, we give our relationship the greatest gift we think we have.

We turn our relationship into a poem.

And then what? Sometimes I look at the work I created, all shiny and sparkly, and glowing and I cannot believe it came from me. I refuse to believe it. It’s all the setting, it’s all the inspiration, It’s all the community. It’s all their stories. It’s all their brilliance. I just write shit down about it, but it’s all them.

And I do this to my own history. I cede my identity, my self-esteem. I put everything into the Love’s I am in infusing it with any literary magic I can offer. And then I forget my own role in the result.

But now, I come in here, and think–if it looks like this now, in the daylight–out of the photoshop poetry of my memory. If it is just this–then where the heck did that other stuff come from? It wasn’t a wrong memory. It wasn’t made up. Where did that magic come from?

It must have come from me.

Me. Wow. Me.

There were many good things about what we had. But not all the good things. There were many things I could not have done without her. But that goes both ways. I am a poet, a writer. I am also a pretty magical person, and kind of neat. Let’s remember all of that goes wherever you go, girl, and that’s yours to keep no matter what, K?

Okay. <3

I get into my beautiful Honda with my Arby’s version of the Diet Coke/lemonade I always make. Hey, maybe there was a bit of resolution here after all.

But I am not thinking of Lost Hills.

I am thinking of me.

Day 3 3:04PM: Avenal Rest Stop

If you ever want to run into Asians on the road, go to a table in the shade and look for the coolers and packages from Costco. There’s like a completely different vibe between the folks who bring their own food and the ones who stop at the Del Taco. Here, you get more families, more dogs. Folks who need to walk a bit. You get immigrant families speaking other languages. People who might not feel comfortable, for one reason or another, at a roadside cafe.

I am having ice cold coconut water from my cooler and it is the best coconut water ever, because ever since Santa Nella, I had forgotten to take a drink, and my air conditioner is very weak… It works enough to make things bearable, but that’s kind of about it. It is not the worst heat ever, but it is still plenty hot out. On the drive I am seeing cows gather in even the barely there shade afforded by the transmission towers. I am thinking if I could only erect a giant shade-casting statue of “Gertrude, Goddess of Cows” it would be so much fun to watch the throngs of cows gather beneath her shade, affording many theological debates to traveling passers by.

Shade at the rest stop is also prime real estate, and at the table in front of me, a latino family has their space laid out. They are eating cooler mexican food, not cooler asian food, but it;s still the same cooler, and probably the same Costco. The father is full of tattoos, with a big “Pride” on the back of his right arm. His left arm has a big “Brown” in matching size and font.

And despite so many folks here, I think a queer get together would have been wonderful. I miss my queer family here. It is really warm outside, and the stream of ink feels like blood coming out of my pen. But that’s the most violent image I see. It’s too stupid hot to do anything more than rest and eat in the shade. I would love to share some coconut water with my queer family, to bust out queer costco stuff from our coolers. i have a nice table in the shade.  Here, I want to just make sure the family is ok. That everyone is hydrated. That is enough.

We come, rest, pack our stuff, leave. Everyone here is not from here everyone is going somewhere else. In that, meet as immigrants, as aliens, and  we come and go in peace.

 

 

Day 3 1:38PM–yes yes yes–But I need to use the bathroom.

Yes yes yes I know I am going to leave, but soup is mostly liquid and caffeine is a diuretic….

Time to leave Santa Nella. I hate the voice inside my head rushing me out. I hear the voices on the road, as well. I have seen women rushing into the bathroom, sometimes, girls in tears, as the men in their lives will be impatiently waiting, doing what they think is the manly thing to do, which is rush everyone ahead, to the destination they need to be at right now.

I stop in the women’s room at Andersens, and it is a very nice restroom. On the walls are plaques of angels and unicorns and affirmations of strength and faith, laughter, and holding family together. Patience. Wisdom. I stop by the alcove where there is a prayer to the Virgin Mary, and an older woman sees me and nods–mistaking my attention for actual faith.

Or was there a mistake? I really love the message. It gives me comfort. Regardless of who the author is, if it is a good message, it is a good message. A meaningful one. For anyone.

I think of back in the days of my childhood, thinking about movies like “Old Yeller” with Fess Parker and Alan Ladd in “Shane.” Movies where patience, quiet, faith, wisdom… These were traits that men shared, as well… That were part of being a man. Even love. Now–it seems that a patient, quiet, wise loving man is an anomaly.

Impatience, loud noises, trusting your gut, acting on instinct, not trusting anyone but yourself–these seem to be what makes a man nowadays… We talk of hypermasculinity–but one cannot hyper everything. In order to hyper some things, others must be discarded. And what is discarded seems to be placed in the women’s room, adding to the burden of everything else that is placed therein.

And if we are putting messages of love and faith and strength and patience and family and humor all behind a door that men will not cross–then what on earth is on the walls of the men’s room?  I am not sure if I want to know. Instead, I look here, and the strangely comforting statue of the Virgin Mary  Here, amongst the rushing, the comforting, the breathing and washing of hands. The knowing looks. The nods. Here, to hear the little inhalation that a mom takes before leaving to face an impatient dad. The last look at a unicorn, a cross, a “home is where the heart is.” Here, before the picture of footprints walking along the beach, alone, in the sand.

 

Day 3 12:51PM: Santa Nella. Andersens–100 degrees and hot Pea Soup.

This is what I have been waiting for all trip. Andersen’s Home of Split Pea Soup, because nothing goes with late June on the I-5 better than steaming bowl of split pea soup. Sure, go ahead and roll your eyes. But for me and a whole bunch of “Pea Soupers” in the Sunday queue, a stop at Andersen’s makes a road trip complete.

“The Pea Soup Andersen Story” talks of how the patriarch Anton Andersen came to California from Denmark, with his dream of opening a restaurant with a brand new electric stove. On the menu, the most popular item by far was his wife Juliette’s recipe for pea soup. And there it was–first down south in Buellton, and then where I am now, in Santa Nella, where Hap-Pea and Pea-Wee are diligently splitting peas on on roadside billboards for miles down and up road.

Inside, I ask if I can grab a seat at the bar, which I do. Thank goodness. I ask for a coffee and a bowl of soup and enjoy a bit of atmosphere and air conditioning. It’s hot outside. There are a hundreds of miles behind me, and hundreds in front of me, but the I-5 is being its usual Goldilocks self, too long, too short, and sometimes even just right.

The pea soup is its usual, dependable, super yummy self. It is that it is. No frills, but really well-made, and the recipe is there for everyone to see, but there’s something yummier about having it here. Do something. Do something well. Do it so well, that people can depend on it. Not the entire recipe for success, but definitely a huge part of it. I think of my own work, my own writing, and my own community. Do I have the confidence in my work to match this amazing and unadorned pea soup? Can my work be there for others, whenever they need it. Am I dependable as a writer? As a person? Do I have all the ingredients I need to make a recipe of my own?

Of course, if I worry too much about such things, the pea soup gets cold.  So, I try to pull back from my own writing thoughts to what is going on around me this early afternoon. I wonder about queer identity, and what it would bring here, and the best answer beyond all the art stuff that I can give is perhaps added appreciation for pea soup. Because again, no rainbows in sight. To a large extent, I know what it is like to be alone in crowds as I am here. But being awkward is a different thing than being discriminated against, and although they often coexist, it’s so darned vital that we know the difference. There are same sex couples in here, eating soup–and though presence alone does not mean all is well, I wonder if there is a point, especially for a queer writer, where you just have to see this as a chance to get to know more people?

At the bar, I am having a conversation with an older couple from Livermore, who are driving south to see Catalina and their grandkids, not necessarily in that order. They always stop for soup. Or they eat at Harris Ranch (near Coalinga) “but service can be slow there, so be careful if you are in a rush.” It is a short conversation, but a sweet one, and I think we are all delighted to be connecting with someone we might usually never talk to.

And that is so wonderful–I mean, that  is something I dream for my work, as well. To engage with readers I did not now were there, while coming away not only with more knowledge of someone else, but with information that applies and illuminates our own travel. I am thinking to the best thing that happened to my writing all year.In my novel He Mele A Hilo, I have a character who uses an artificial leg. He is loosely based on my uncle, who broke his back, but was still my uncle, and also a really good fisherman.

And a really cool person from Easter Seals thrive put it on the Easter Seals reading list, and said how great to have such a disabled character in the book. And it touched her. And I swear… To hear my work reflected in the eyes of a reader in a way I had never thought. I swear, there is nothing better than that. I am so grateful to her, to Easter Seals Thrive… For reading a work they might not ordinarily have read, to engage with it, to search for a common thread…then to contact me, thank me, even as they made my story part of their own.

 

Day 3 12:19 PM Love’s in Santa Nella

So here is the Love’s I wrote about yesterday. The one I said was in Lost Hills. It is in Santa Nella. There is a Love’s in Lost Hills, too, but this one has the Del Taco. And it sells cowboy hats with shiny jeweled bands. And I realize how important this Love’s is because I have been avoiding the Lost Hills Love’s because it is hurts to think of that place.

That I know, That is true. But in trauma–in avoiding places, our memories can drift. Become faulty. They don’t fade–they remain vivid as ever, even moreso, since they are fueled by fear and when we fear something we tend to sharpen it in our minds. I feel terrible about this. In my mind, I had everything laid out. The good guys, the bad guys, the struggles, the  surrender. Lost Hills? Too triggering. Stay away.

But here I am looking at this place. How could I have been this far off? Perhaps because the events were so traumatic. And since I avoided them, there’s no way to backcheck the details, to keep them in accurate. When I deal with personal trauma, or traumatic events, part of the courage I suppose I must have, perhaps, is to go to these places, and face them. In a way, I owe it to myself, my stories, and even those who hurt me–I do not want to write vivid half-true settings, augmented by my nightmares and phobias and need to be loved.

Here, at this Love’s, in Santa Nella of all places. I feel so ashamed, so humbled. That I got so much wrong. That my feelings might be genuine, but my memories, which seemed so clear, so perfect, were both 130 miles too near, and 130 miles too far.

Day 3 10:02AM: Online Teaching and Sharing

I teach online. And today, before I head out to do more queer work, I am reading a stack of essays from my students. Not really a stack. A virtual stack. I am thinking though, of how this conference, is also trying to define itself in a different type of virtual way.

What makes a conference, a space? A community. Do we need buildings? Do we even need computers? I am traveling along this road and what seems to be linking us is shared experience of being here. Perhaps what is needed is experiences that can be shared. Which means, if we think of different ways to frame experiences, that itself can be community–so it’s not the building, but the experience of being within the building. Not being online, but the experience of being on the same platform. As it is with the I-5 here.

And in terms of sharing..how we share this, we need to remember that each of us share in different ways–personally and culturally defined. Which in way perhaps makes culture/vocab/iconography/art function in part as common shorthand for sharing experiences. Sometimes, though, culture can get in the way of understanding. We mistake the details for the function. it can’t can’t be a conference because there are no buildings. It must not be good education, because it’s online.

We need to be careful of such things. Because we say things like “it can’t really be a marriage because it’s two dudes.” Or “That can’t be a woman because that person can never have children.” We mistake the cultural and physical shorthand for shared experience. Who says one cannot have a meaningful education experience online. Or have a conference on the road?

I am thinking about how people sneer at online education and how many folks were a little circumspect about the idea of a conference taking place without buildings.  This is hard to argue–and at the end, comes the writer’s adage: show, don’t tell.

I can argue my womanhood until I lose my voice, but that may not be as effective as simply living my life. Maybe in the end some of my students will have meaningful professions and do a lot of good in this world as educated inhabitants of planet earth.  I get that and continue to get that. And that is why I am thinking rather than explaining the idea of this conference, simply doing it would open a new method of sharing. As much as I try to explain, to tell–perhaps it’s better to actually engage this like a story, and to simply show.

OK–now how behind am I on my grading… :p

Day Two 8:11pm: I’m Nobody, Who Are You? Santa Nella (2)

I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you in Santa Nella, too?
There there’s a pair of us-oh well!
We publicized, you know.

How weary to be a Queer Writer!
In traffic, like a Frog
Then think about one’s coming out
And put it in a Blog!

 

 

Day Two 5:47: Lathrop McDonalds, the Best Laid Plans, no Wi-Fi and Chicken McNuggets.

Oh Lathrop, California! How I counted on you! There, just a dozen miles or so from Stockon, how I wanted you to be this magical place at the end of my trip north–past the 580 into a part of the 5 I drive upon so rarely it seems like intergalactic space. I did my best; I got profound. I was very queer. I made heartfelt observations, and learned a whole bunch of new things. I saw antique bicycles and an old Asian woman eating a waffle cone. I broke down, healed, broke again. I had gummy peach candy and refilled my fountain pen with runny purple ink

And all of this, I was going to write at a dependable McDonald’s in this town I have never been to. Why? Because it was right, dammit! It was poetic–the push beyond my limits, the profound surprises. Lathrop–you were in the right place at the right time. Lathrop, you were going to be queer literary conference star!

Alas! Your bathroom, Lathrop McDonalds, is dirty. It is not a pleasure to use. And there are flies, which makes me not want to eat. Your Wifi is down, which I do not find out until after I paid for the Chicken McNuggets I ordered only because I was going to use your Wifi.

And there is a very small baby with a very large voice auditioning for the helium version of Queen of the Night. Oh, wait–now I hear her understudy, as well.

Ah… Crud. Seriously, I am sooo tired, but part of me has to smile. The sweet manager is apologetic about the bathroom, explaining that he hires college students, and teenagers and a couple did not show up for their shifts, and I am just laughing because I am a professor and so get flaky college students.

And I do get the families and the babies. It’s McDonald’s. Getting mad at kids being kids here is like being upset at kids laughing at Disneyland. Families together. Sheesh. At least they have figured out how to have a family. Part of me would trade places with them in a heartbeat. Not a large part, but enough that I feel a little ache inside. And even though I am still really not happy about the Wifi–if this crew can’t handle a toilet, I am not bothering with tech questions. (McDonald’s if you are reading this, though–2 of 3 Mickey D’s had no Wifi on this trip and I am not Lovin’ It.)

Here, at what was supposed to be the end of the road, I realize that you can’t really control how the end happens. You can plan. Everything seems right. You can build and work and create narrative. You can drive an extra 100 miles. You can cry. You can pray to the highway, and even hear the highway respond, feel the miles give you wisdom. Rainbow Bob Ross is painting happy queer little clouds across your heart.

But then it’s Lathrop and there’s a poop mostly in the toilet.  I never want to see another Chicken McNugget again. Yeah. Let’s see how long that lasts.

Oh well. Time to head south. Besides, the conference is only halfway done! :)

 

Day Two (no idea what time) : Santa Nella (1)

I am driving in a daze after Firebaugh. I am telling myself come on, girl, get yourself together. But I am not really together, to be honest. And so I miss the Santa Nella exit. You can also see the gap between this and the last Day Two recap. Sometimes existential thunder happens in the desert and it leaves you shaky. We don’t have much time in our day-to-day to be in this mental state and it’s more than “getting away from the city.” It’s being on the road, dealing with trucks and rough patches of road. Of changing lanes. Not changing them.

A whole lot of nothing, where you are still aware that your Honda is careening down a highway at 80 mph, and if you hit something you will get very injured. Plus, I am alone on the road. So it’s this dull, placid, bucolic, slightly terrifying focus, driving here.

The periphery of the I-5 is far more beautiful than I think people give it credit for. Not for what it has, but for what it has not. The hills roll gently, plants and trees grow gently. Cows! Outside of the occasional political sign, there’s really nothing breaking up the rather featureless scenery. It’s like a Bob Ross canvas, colors blending into each other, the occasional highlight, the Van Dyke Brown, Indian Yellow, Phthalo Blue (use just the teeniest bit).

And driving here, the only thing left is you. Where are you in this world. It’s like Genesis, right?  But the Lord called, “Where are you?’” Where will you place yourself, put yourself. And the weird thing is, rather than the generalities that come forward–it’s the details. Not “queer or not, we are all human”–but its opposite.

Human or not, I am queer. Trans. I am Asian. I am Japanese. I lost family in Fukushima. My car is green. I like donuts. I don’t know how to make love last. I wish I did not have to pee so often. I really like my hair. My pinky hurts.

As Bible God would say, “Where are you?” As Bob Ross would say “This is your world.”

Where am I, in my world?  What would I say–if I had to do it over again. Me, with all of my aches and poems and closet of clothes I do not wear enough. In love with someone I cannot love? What would I say? Have I really travelled so much? How do I go forward in my world?

So I miss the exit. Not that it really matters. I think I need more time here, with myself, on the highway, in my world, wondering where exactly I am.

Day Two 3:41pm: Firebaugh, Rest Stop, What We Cannot Cross.

Sometimes, a highway you know takes you somewhere you did not expect.
I am playing the same CD to my favorite anime.
I am riding this same stretch of road and thinking of the same issues I have had
with her for years, and how it all exploded as I in a way I am not surprised.

It is all the usual frustration, but the music is playing, and there
is yummy food someone bought for me, who’s been encouraging me to sing.
And somehow, her words have gotten through to me
in a way that I had never thought of and I am listening to the music on my CD

and thinking of the piano and my nephew whom I gave a piano lesson to
and loves music, and how now I have to deal with my blood
family alone. And how terrifying that is, and how much unresolved
terror I have of them, and of losing them. How much terror
I have of losing everybody. How she told me I set her off before
I knew it and I had no idea what she was talking about and BOOM!

It makes sense, suddenly, I see her there, asking for help, in a language
I actually understand and I realize this whole time she was on fire and I
was spraying her with a fine mist of gasoline…
And no, this doesn’t change anything or save anything,
or anything like that, but suddenly

I realize I have hurt her worse than I’ve hurt anyone in my life
and she was the one I loved more than anyone at all,
and she has got to know right now,
and I know I am doing this I-5 Conference thing,
but the road is giving me nothing right now but this one rest stop

and no phone signal, so I am walking from table
to table the bathroom to dog park finally getting enough on a signal
to text I am sorry, so sorry,

I want her to know now that I am sorry,
that I finally get it. That I had no idea before, and even if it’s too late now,
even if this doesn’t change us, I want it to change you, to know 

you got through to me, finally, and maybe you’ll get through
to someone else in the future and I am pulling over at the Firebaugh rest stop,

which is actually two stops, almost perfectly matched,
each with its own bathrooms and vending machines and dog parks and picnic tables,
but one is Northbound and the other South
and between them there are four lanes of fire back and forth
over the speed limit, the sound barrier,
the speed of light, if could be angels with flaming swords, for all it matter.

I just know that I want my voice these words to reach her,
to say I get it, I am sorry, I could not have known without breaking up
and fuck you, who tell me all about love being a journey shared.

If only I had known. But I did not.
If only I had known. But I could not.

If only it had been easier.
If only we had time.

What we cannot cross, what we cannot cross. There is your wasteland,
there is your soul.