Deserted Valley

"The Hovenweep I had begun to know held its grip on me as I imagined time in solitary confinement might; nothing to break the silence except me. I could scream at the top of my lungs and no one would hear. I could lie in the middle of the trail looking up and lose myself into the blue. I could sing my favorite tunes as badly and loudly as I wanted, without fear of anyone but the coyotes judging me. Sometimes I just sat, looking around, listening to nothing. It was the biggest sound I had ever heard. All that nothing, with nothing but me to fill it. I usually didn’t even try." I have so much gratitude for the editors at SugarSugarSalt , who recently republished my creative nonfiction essay, "Deserted Valley." Pilgrimage Magazine originally published the essay in 2013 in print, and at the time I was over the moon because it was my first publication. It was the first time I really thought I might actually do this writing thing! I'm equally excited now, because t

As Good as it Gets

"This is as good as it gets," says the grocery store check out man. I had innocently asked him how he's doing today as he swipes my items one by one across the scanner. 

He smiles as he says it, but there's ironic glint in his eyes as well. In that brief second before I respond, the phrase lodges in my brain and I wondered what it actually means. There I am, another day in line at the grocery, wearing a mask, hoping to avoid the virus that has caused so much suffering over the past two years. Working too hard at my job, while taking care of my family, squeezing in entertainment, volunteer work, and a new side gig as best I can. Recovering from two weeks sick in bed with a throat abscess, which was awful enough on its own, but it forced Rob and me to cancel our first vacay together in 16 years. And most challenging of all, struggling to find a publisher for my memoir, querying for 18 months, with no leads and no luck. Watching other writers take leaps and bounds into success, while I wobble in my writing. If this is as good as it gets, then I definitely want a new measuring stick.

The grocery man grabs my attention back from my pity party. 

"Wanna hear a joke?" he asks, double checking the weight of my broccoli. I nod. "What's the difference between a buxom lobster and the NY Port Authority?"

"I have no clue."

"One's a busty crustacean. The other's a crusty bus station." Despite the mask, I can see his smile. 

I laugh out loud. I hadn't heard that one before and tell him I like it. 

He's at least 65 years old, thin grey hair on top, wearing all black. He glances past me, assessing the line of shoppers growing. Why is this elder working as a cashier? Does he want to be there? Does he need the paycheck in these unstable times? Why isn't he wearing a business suit and getting ready to retire from a high paying career he'd built for himself? Is this as good as it gets for him?

"You want this apple juice in a bag?" 

I shake my head no.

"Whaddya call a Frenchman wearing sandals?" 

"Don't know."

"Felipe flop," he says as he bags my cereal boxes.

I laugh again. "I'll have to remember that one, though I'm no good at jokes," I say. 

"We all have something we're good at, don't we." He says it as a statement, rather than a question. I wonder what this man's skill is. What is mine? 

"I suppose," I say. "But it's not always what you want to be good at, is it?"

"True. But we find our way, don't we?" He scans the last few items. "Why do they call seagulls seagulls?"

I've heard this one before but can't quite place it. "Because if they flew over the land, they'd be landgulls," I say. 

"Close," the man replies. "If they flew over the bay, they'd be baygulls." 

He tells me my total, much more than I'd intended to spend, and I slide my card into the machine. I thank him for the jokes and the service. As I walk away, I hear him greeting the next customer. I'm smiling. This elder grocery store man has taken one of the most mundane acts of modern daily life and turned it into a simple, happy moment. I had been fully present the entire time. Not thinking about my troubles, or the next errand on the list, or how I'm going to deal with my angst.

I've had moments much more thrilling, fun, and powerful, moments more sorrowful, painful, and boring than this one. Life doesn't give you the highs without the lows. But the grocery store man reminded me that somewhere in between the striving, the holding on, the falling in love, the hopelessness, and the success, there are other moments to sink into. Other moments equally worthwhile, equally good, if you pause to experience them.

This act, buying food for my family, is something I have the privilege and ability to do each week. It's mundane, but it doesn't have to be. And I'm pretty sure this is as good as it gets.