Where It Started


I went through Furious Spinner and found places where I talked about the beginnings of Church of the Old Mermaid and I've plugged them in here. When we went to Tucson in January 2006, I had no intention of writing, but I reread The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway. I wanted to write a simple story like that, full of compassion and passion, from a woman's viewpoint. I was going to write The Woman and the Old Sea. I imagined a woman walking through the wash and picking up trash to sell at a table she sets up on 4th Avenue in Tucson. I thought she should call it a church. But what kind of church? That's when the Old Mermaids came my way. Church of the Old Mermaids is not anything like The Old Man and the Sea, except it is full of passion and compassion; like most creative processes, my original idea evolved. And I'm very happy about that.

January 5, 2006

We're still having a fine time in Tucson. I'm living the perfect life. I wake up next to my sweetheart. Eventually we get up, have breakfast, then walk the wash or a trail at the park down the road. If we walk the wash, we stop by the Quail House first and turn on the heater and air purifier. Then we walk. After our walk, I go to the Quail House and write, and Mario goes back to the casita—the opposite of what we did last year. At lunch time, I walk back to the casita and Mario feeds me, usually beans and rice or a sandwich and soup. Then I go back to the Quail House and write some more. Usually I take a break to walk the wash. The character in my novel walks the wash, too, so I'm usually walking the wash for her or with her. (How many times can a person say "walk the wash" in one paragraph?) I'm looking with her eyes as I walk. And she has found some astonishing and ordinary things: bottles, pieces of metal, pieces of plastic, an arrow, a shovel, and more. I've been putting what I find in the novel.

January 26, 2006

We're leaving in a couple of days. Both feeling sad. We could do this the rest of our lives. Who couldn't? Virginia Woolf was right. A little money and room of one's own really does facilitate creativity. (If you haven't read it, "A Room of One's Own" is very inspiring. It is especially good read aloud.) This has been an absolutely lovely month. (Despite a skin condition that kept me up many nights and left me itchy and jumpy during the day.) I had Mario, this place, and my novel. Ahhh, bliss. We were quite compatible with our housemates as we went about our lives, separate, yet together under an umbrella of creativity.

I wrote and sold an essay, "Healing the Wounded Wild," the first week I was here. The next three weeks I worked on a novel, Church of the Old Mermaids. I finished the first draft last Friday. During that time, I also went to the jaguar conference, and I talked to conservationists, a biologist, ranchers, Mexicans, migrants, and others about border issues and jaguars (as separate issues and related issues).

By the way, I took some photos of the border wall and of an area in the Sonoran Desert (in Arizona) where many migrants have crossed and some have died. It is also a beautiful place. Huge old cottonwoods line the empty river. Last year when I was at this particular trail, a man with a gun came up to me and said, "Have you seen any illegals?" I guess he hadn't read the sign at the entrance to the trail: no guns. We said, "How would we know?" He said, "I just rustled up about six of them." This day, the day I took the photos, we saw no other humans beside ourselves, but I found a great deal of evidence that others had passed this way.

La frontera—the border—is a complex place. Myla Alvarez, the hera of Church of the Old Mermaids, said of the border, "Thresholds. That was what it was. La frontera was a threshold. Like the wash. A betwixt and between place. Magic existed. Even though the magic was sometimes cruel and arbitrary."

January 29, 2006

The Old Sea

We’ve left Tucson and are now in a hotel in Valencia, California, just outside of Los Angeles. Close enough to the ocean to hear it. Almost. Mario is reading the paper right now. I’ve got the television on for the first time in six weeks. The Weather Channel. Interesting how I can step so easily out of one world and into another. Yes, it does feel like a different world. For six weeks I have not been inundated with advertising and news. I have not received the ever present message “be afraid, be very afraid,” for six weeks.

I finished the first draft of Church of the Old Mermaids. Did I say? I wrote about thirty pages on Friday, January 19, and I figured I’d finish it the following day. But after dinner, I felt antsy, so I sat down at the desk in the casita while Mario did the dishes and wrote the last scenes. It was only about ten more pages.

I could hardly believe it. I had written nearly 80,000 words in three weeks (almost 300 pages). Fictional words. A novel. A story that dropped out of the clear blue sky or from the fingers of the old mesquite. Maybe it came to me from the empty wash. Of course, the wash is not really empty. It’s filled with sand. Fairy sand, maybe. It got all over my shoes. My soles. Filled up my soul with fairy dust. Old Mermaid dust.

After I finished writing the book, I spent the rest of the week thanking the Universe for this story and this place where I came to remember it.

On Thursday, something seemed different in the wash and all around the house. Not different. That's not quite right. Hmmm. Maybe I was different. Something shifted. As if I could finally hear. Or see. I followed my instincts. Like following a child, a young girl, who still understands the trees, wind, rocks, birds. I followed coyote tracks and found seven sea shells in the dirt. Sea shells in the desert. I walked into the wash and saw a hummingbird at the top of a mesquite. I guess the hummingbirds in Arizona can sit still. Then it let go of the tree and flew right down toward me, all ruby-colored, shimmery, shiny, like Dorothy’s shoes. Sometime later, I followed a road runner. After it disappeared beyond the horse corral, I looked down at its “x” marks the spot prints in the sand. Such mystery and truth in those lines.

Mario and I took our chairs and sat near where I had found the sea shells. We listened to the sun go down. I could not sit still for long. The wash was calling to me. Or something was. I walked down the left part of the Y, near the barn. Softly. Quietly. I stood at the crossroads of the Y, then walked back toward the house.


I went up near the house, out of the wash, and stood at the skeleton of the sweat lodge. I looked down at the stones in the middle. Thought about going inside but didn't. I stared at a splotch of bird shit that looked like a pictograph of a person, arms outstretched.


I wondered if I should stay out here all night to get a vision. Then I turned and walked a few steps, toward a picnic table. The setting sun light, golden, fell beneath the palo verde and mesquite that grew side by side near the front of the house, fell like a kind of twilight spotlight, or a wave of sweet light—that kind of light where you’re certain anything can happen. As I gazed at the place beneath the tree, something turned to me and opened her eyes. The sun had set in her eyes, golden red-like, split in two. She blinked and came into form. At first I thought she was a coyote. Yet her gaze was different. More fey. More direct. And her ears had tufts. Her face was rounder. I couldn’t place what I was looking at. I put my hands together at my heart. “Oh,” I said. And something else. Maybe, “stay”? I can’t remember. She stood, sleepy, and I saw her whole body. I knew the form now. Saw her short tail. Bobcat. She was smaller than what I would have imagined. She walked away slowly, down into the wash and across, back up into the desert. She looked back at me once. Then she was gone.

I looked for her. Looked for her prints in the old mermaid dust. It was enough I had seen her. Enough that she sat under the trees, next to the bench, close to the house. Enough that I asked for a vision, and she let me see her.

I went back to Mario. This trip has been filled with felines. The jaguar conference. My interviews with a conservationist and then a biologist about jaguars. Tigers, mountain lions, and jaguars had visited my dreams. Was it any wonder a bobcat appeared in waking life?

Later we had dinner and conversation with our new friends, after the owl called out.

On Friday, a week from when I finished the book, I took the items I had found in the wash, the ones I’d put in the book, and I assembled an Old Mermaid out of them. I called Mario over to help with the tail. We used palm fronds and prickly pear. We both got pricked several times.


When she appeared to be finished, I thanked the spirits and beings of the place, I thanked the Old Mermaids, I thanked everything and everyone, and offered the art piece as a gift. I poured out water in the four directions.


So much feels healed from this trip. I feel different. I don’t think I feel like the Furious Spinner any more, at least not in the same way. I'm not so angry. I feel more like an Old Mermaid, learning to swim in the ocean of my being, in the old sea that is this world. I am a novice in the Church of the Old Mermaids. I found solace and peace at the Old Mermaids Sanctuary for thirty-eight days. I want to carry that solace and peace with me. The Old Mermaids solve problems differently than I do. I want to learn from them. And that bobcat. She was invisible until she opened her eyes. She was invisible until she turned and looked at me. But she wasn’t, was she? When I saw her, she saw me. I saw the wild looking at me. It sounds like a song doesn’t it? One I could sing for the rest of my life.

Today, as we left the place where we stayed, a coyote walked by our car. Just like last year: at the last minute, Coyote said hello and goodbye. We thanked him and went on our way.

The journey continues.


May You Swim in Beauty!

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