December 19, 2017
Nevada City, CA
I was awakened by someone biting my arm. This is why I constantly look as though I’ve just come through a blackberry thicket, my forearms dotted with bloody nicks and scratches. Sid is the biter—short for Obsidian, my eldest black cat. He started this biting thing a few years ago as kind of a love gesture, which, being single and middle-aged, I tried not to think about too closely, but it has now become a food prompt and less metaphorically worrisome.
He does this at about 2:30 a.m., and again around six. If I’m sick or really exhausted or something and the arm doesn’t do it, he bites my face, which always works. The four other cats lie around in front of the woodstove waiting to see if he’ll be successful, and then when they hear my feet on the bedroom floor, they all rush to different spots in the kitchen to wait for me to give them some Friskies Party Mix cat treats, Original Flavor. It is too bad I’m not a behavioral scientist or someone studying addiction, because I would have such comprehensive data. Both about their addiction and my enabling, plus how well they’ve trained me to get up and feed them when I’d rather be asleep.
I didn’t go into the kitchen right away, in order to preserve a little dignity. I brushed my teeth first, washed my face in cold water, and applied Aveeno Positively Radiant daily moisturizer, SPF 15, a useless product for anyone my age, but comforting nonetheless. Then I went into the kitchen and gave everyone—Sid and India on the floor, Jack and Grace on the kitchen counter, and Mimi on my grandmother’s old credenza—half a handful of Party Mix each. They all bowed their heads in concentration except India, my stout cat, who kept looking up to see if Sid was done yet, and who almost always gets a mouthful of someone else’s whatever-it-is. He takes after my side of the family, poor thing.
After that I rushed out to my current favorite coffee shop for breakfast and to pretend I could ignore social media by leaving my phone hidden in my wallet, a mere seven inches away from the mason jar of yogurt and granola and chopped-up persimmons I had ordered, and the latte, ichor of the gods.
Carrying a second latte in my own ceramic cup, I drove the three blocks to my office that I should be walking to and worked with four clients in a row, two more than I ever usually have in a row, so I was jazzed about that. I cannot, of course, give you details, since the appointments are confidential. I will say that being a life coach has turned out to be a great balance for being a poet. They require similar skills—rapt attention and knowing how to look at things from odd angles, for instance—yet one is all about the client and the other is all about me, so I am now only half-self-involved, which takes the pressure off. Coaching also pays a decent wage, which we all know poetry does not.
The other thing I like is the little cascade of chimes from my phone when the hour is up—a real, whole, full hour, thank you, not the hobbled 50 minutes of therapeutic fame—which tells both me and the client that we should probably begin to wrap up our conversation. I do see that taking the 10 minutes between clients could be useful, giving you time to go to the bathroom, for instance, or get a glass of water, but since part of my kind of coaching involves revealing ourselves as human to the client, having to announce you need a bathroom break is part of the work. We also always offer a sliding scale, because teaching clients to “ask for 100 percent of what they want 100 percent of the time” is part of the work, and you might as well start with the hard stuff, like money, just to prove you’re serious.
By this time it was 1 p.m., and since I’m self-employed and four clients is a lot of personality to be fielding, I went home and took a nap. The cats did not wake me up. At 2:30 I woke myself up, stoked the fire, washed my hair, and put on more comfortable, nonprofessional clothing. I sat at my desk at the back of the kitchen, overlooking a deck surrounded by two birches, a sour cherry, and a box elder, all of which I helped to plant, and critiqued seven poems for a doctor in Berkeley who sends me his work once a month.
For me, critiquing starts out a little slowly, and I can’t believe I do this for a living it’s so painful, but then I fall in love with the writer after about page three and it becomes fun and I get smarter. Sometimes the difference, as today, is noticeable, and I have to go back and make my first three pages a little kinder and smart enough to match the rest of it. Then I emailed him the critique and the bill, and wrote the bill amount on my running tally of how much money might perhaps come in this month.
That all took about two and a half hours and was the end of my workday. I fed the cats their fifth-of-a-can each of wet food, stoked the fire again (wood heat is a bear), and went over to my friend Susanna’s house for dinner. Sometimes I bring things (“What’s in your icebox? I have brown rice, mushrooms, an avocado, and goat brie.” “I have some chicken, we could add it to the rice, and I have crackers to go under the brie”), but this time she was experimenting with one of those meals-in-the-mail services, so she did the work and all I had to do was bring fizzy water. The company is called Sun Basket, and we’re pretty sure it’s linked to Williams-Sonoma because the weekly menu is so glossy and well photographed and they keep mentioning W-S products in the recipes. The food tasted good: a kind of chicken marsala thing over raw spinach, and I can see how it would come in handy to not have to shop for stuff, but there’s way too much packaging involved, and not everybody wants to pay $11.50 a meal for dinner.