A couple weekends ago, Drew dropped me off at Pier 41 and I got on the ferry to Angel Island, to go read at Poetry in Parks with Quiet Lightning. They accept submissions on any theme, and then from what they get, they curate a literary mixtape. All the writers come and read out loud, in the midst of other artsy events. On my day where was a guitarist who did a couple sets, and there were some younger writers (middle and high school).
I’ve never been to Angel Island, and I had no idea what was out there. There are walking trails, and you can go around the entire perimeter of the island in about 5 miles. I got there way too early, so once I figured out where I was supposed to be, I just hung out for like…two hours? and admired the view. Drew caught the later ferry and came over.
Performing is not my thing. It was nerve-wracking. Plus, I had made some edits to my piece, but got there and realized that literally everyone was reading along in the book, so everyone would know what edits I had made. So I just went with the original, but you’ll get the smoother version below.
After I was done, and I walked back around the crowd to sit down with Drew, a guy turned around and said, “Good job,” which was nice. Then a woman came over and sat next to me during the one after me, and said, “What you just read…that’s my life.” And I said, “Oh, how old is your kid?” And she said, “Eleven.” And—that felt really good. I think connecting over the journey of parenting is low-hanging fruit. It’s easy to bond with someone when you’re going through something so similar. And let’s face it—it may look very different close up, but from far away, it’s all the same. But it felt really good to have faced this fear, and done the thing, and then have the immediate gratification of someone saying, “I heard that, and I feel you, and thank you.”
So…I got through it! And we spent a day hanging out in the sun at a state park neither of us has ever been to.
Maybe Inside a Black Hole Is Better
A woman writes the code that manages to get the first ever photo of a black hole. It looks like a blurry Spaghetti-O and for two days everyone is sharing the photo and making Interstellar jokes and talking about aliens and how This Is the Beginning of The End. You look at the photo and think it’s cool, and then for a few days you see a lot of online content hyping the coder who helped make it happen, and then the Mueller Report gets released and it kind of pushes the black hole thing out of the news cycle.
Your daughter’s sleeping is shit. She’s never in her life been a good sleeper—and now, at age three, she goes through cycles where she’ll sleep all night long and you get used to it, and then she’ll start waking up at night. Lately, she’s been waking up at night. A lot. The first time it happens in a night, you’ll stay calm and soothing, talk gently to her, give her water or blankets or find the unicorn she dropped. But then it seems like that’s all you have to give, because when she starts crying again, less than 20 minutes later, you feel your internal thermometer spike and you don’t have that calm, soothing voice anymore. You whisper threats at her and swear that you’ll take away her favorite toys if she doesn’t stop. making. noise. right. now. It never works, and now you’re up for a chunk of time in the middle of the night, looking at Twitter even though you know that’s not helping. The black hole photo doesn’t come up anymore…now it’s all uproar about a transphobic kids’ book that’s come out, and memes of this guy pretending to ride a miniature pony.
On the fourth night, when the crying starts at 1:45, you fight it for a moment, feel your body try to sink into the mattress. But your husband has already been in there around midnght. You wonder if other people think about the Path Not Taken as often as you do. Then you throw the covers back and put your glasses on and pad to your daughter’s room. She doesn’t seem to actually be awake.
You slide back into bed and google the black hole. Your husband is awake and he asks what you’re looking at and you tell him. “That thing scares me,” he says, without rolling towards you. The phone screen reflects off the white wall beyond his side of the bed. It’s probably keeping him from falling back to sleep. You scroll. Your daughter starts to whimper, and the whimper turns into a full-blown cry.
“Maybe inside a black hole is better,” you say, rolling back out of bed again. The brightness from the picture on your screen—even a picture of a blurry black hole—has thrown off your night vision. You don’t need it to find your way into her bedroom and to the side of her bed, but then your pupils still haven’t adjusted and where her head should be on her pillow, all you see is the fire-red outline of a black hole, 26,000 light-years away from Earth. From inside comes the pitiful, grating, debilitating sobs of a child who can’t stay asleep, and can’t explain why.
You wonder if she would agree with you. If there’s a way to send your entire family directly into the center of the black hole. You wonder what you would find there. If it would be calming. You can do this. You take a deep breath and summon up your most gentle voice, gentle touch. You rub her back. You know it will get better. You picture the quiet stillness at the center of it all.