Not Knowing

Write, even when you think you have nothing to say.

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Photo by Dan Russo on Unsplash

Sometimes, I have to write without knowing. I force myself to write, regardless of whether an idea surfaces or not. Tonight is one of those times.

In fact, most days in this young year of 2019 have been this way. I must force myself to write because each day I don’t further entombs the realm of ideas.

Yet, have I followed my own advice? I’m afraid not.

My vow at the end of 2018 was to write daily on Medium.

I think I’ve written twice.

I forget my own advice. To write, simply write — anything.

Thats how it is with me, anyway. The more I write, the more ideas I have, the more excited I get, the more I write, and so on. The mere act of writing triggers ideas.

It begs the question, why do I stop at all? What gets hard? And why does it get worse, day by day? Because that’s what happens. I begin to freeze over. But those are questions for another time.

Let’s take the present moment.

I’m listening to Mary Ann McPartland’s Piano Jazz Show on KCSM. Mercer Ellington, Duke’s son, is on the show. He has a laugh that burbles up through most of what he says. He finds opportunity to laugh at every turn, at every chance. His voice is peaceful, sonorous, somewhat lazy.

It’s lovely after a trying time fighting our way home from Redwood City tonight.

It took forever.

A car jacker fleeing cops on Highway 880 crashed into several cars and was taken into custody, leaving at least one lane blocked for the duration. Traffic was at a standstill on the bridge, on the roads. 880 was a sea of red.

My son was driving. I pushed my seat back and tried to relax. My legs felt jittery and restless. My back complained.

The Waze app directed us through San Francisco, but neither of us really wanted to try that. Sometimes Waze is wrong, we’ve noticed, and when you get stuck in the financial district at rush hour, it can be claustrophobic. We soldiered on, fleeing the highway several times for surface streets, which everyone else in the know was also doing.

After 90 minutes, we stopped at Safeway, not my preferred grocery store, but the closest. We needed milk, eggs, cheese, vegetables, and some kind of protein for dinner. Or not.

Of course, we didn’t need animal protein for dinner. I had lentils in the drawer, walnuts in the freezer, anchovies in the fridge. I wanted animal protein. Lamb chops, or chicken thighs, crispy and juicy with a bit of char.

Bo, my son, waited in the car. We commute together, and he was driving.

“Be quick!” he said.

And I was. Within ten minutes, I’d swept up the vegetable aisle on the right, gathered kale, collard greens, scallions, a leek, a single, deep-red bell pepper, a bag of avocados, and red, white, and yellow onions — one of each. I bypassed the cauliflower, though I wanted it, because it was wrapped in plastic.

I made my way over the back wall of the market, grabbing a half-gallon of whole organic milk and a crate of organic eggs, and loped down the other side, where I made a beeline for the butcher counter so I could get chicken or lamb wrapped in paper.

I’ve been crazed about plastic for a couple of years, sick to death of plastic, of buying it and throwing it away, over and over and over again. I read this week about little Greta in Sweden missing school every Friday to protest the destruction of our planet at Parliament, and decided to harden my resolve against plastic.

So, I was upset to find the butcher counter dark and empty. We’d been in traffic so long, the store was near-closed. I turned toward the packaged meats, wincing internally. I knew before I looked everything would be wrapped in plastic, styrofoam trays wrapped in plastic. Sighing, I grabbed two packages of organic chicken thighs and put them in my increasingly heavy basket.

Near the registers, I grabbed two (plastic-wrapped) packages of Emmenthaler cheese and made a mental note to google how to buy cheese not wrapped in plastic. I promised myself for the umpteenth time to try harder to shop responsibly.

Bo appeared to be sleeping when I got back to the car, but roused himself.

Within a few minutes we were home. I found a recipe for chicken roasted on a bed of onions and garlic with sliced lemon and sprigs of rosemary and thyme. I freed the chicken thighs from their plastic and styrofoam, tossed the detritus in the trash, cranked the oven to 500 F, nestled the thighs amid mounds of sliced onions and garlic, and slid them into the oven’s maw.

I started a pot of buttery rice, toasting it over a medium flame first.

I trimmed the leek, sliced it length-wise, and rinsed it, fluttering the edges under tap water the way my friend Erin’s mother taught me in the mid-1980s. I cut the halves into little half moons and tossed them into a cast-iron pan with a knob of French “Président” butter. I sliced the collard greens and dark-green dinosaur kale and added them, with a few pinches of kosher salt and grindings of black pepper.

Now, it’s morning of the following day.

My daughter called down the stairs, “Mama, it’s 6:30. Get up.”

I turned over and buried my head in my pillow, grasping for shreds of a dream.

“Why is papi here?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” I responded.

We heard her father pulling the garbage cans out of the driveway for the garbage collection.

He burst into the house, whistling.

I thought I might be able to sleep a few more minutes.

I called, “Renzo, there’s bacon that needs to be made before it goes bad. And chicken and rice for Nina’s lunch.”

That didn’t go over well.

“I BROUGHT LINKS,” he said angrily. “I can’t handle you telling me what to do! I can’t handle your voice!”

I got up and went to the kitchen.

Nina came down. She watched her father for a few seconds. He roamed the kitchen, leaving the refrigerator door open. He hacked at some bagels. His movements were rapid, staccato.

“Papi, you’re really intense right now. You’re super quick to anger. Do you notice this?”

Incredibly, he stayed calm with her. She has a way. She can speak to him and be real with him in a way no one else can.

He muttered something then strode out of the house, Daisy at his heels.

“He’s really bad right now,” she said. “He’s losing things, getting mad.”

It’s true. He’d lost his phone twice in a month and currently didn’t have one at all.

“How’s his driving?” I asked.

“Not good. Yesterday, he was going like 100 miles an hour in the Zip Car.”

“Before when he was like this, you always said his driving was okay.”

“Yeah, well, it’s not now.”

“Maybe I should drive you today.”

“No, it’ll be okay.”

I finished scrambling Nina’s eggs and spooned them onto a plate, alongside a toasted bagel with butter and two strips of bacon. I made her a cup of Earl Grey tea with milk and sugar.

“See, normally, he’s on time. Even when he’s super manic, he’s usually on time. It’s five minutes after 7. We should be leaving now. Where is he?”

I went outside, peered up the street. Renzo was nowhere to be seen.

A few minutes later, he raced into the house, “Come on, let’s go,” and they were off.

“Drive safely,” I called as they peeled away.

It’s not much, perhaps — this missive. It’s not a clarion call for compassion, a treatise on mental health, a searing memoir. It’s not anything at all really.

But it is a slice of life. It’s a sharing, a processing, a reflection. It serves a purpose — several, really. It cements in place an experience. It tones our writing muscles. It reminds us to pay attention and exercises observation skills, and our recall. It pauses life. That alone is amazing and more than ever needed.

All of this is beneficial.

And maybe, if we’re lucky, writing something, anything, touches a chord of familiarity in someone, making them feel less alone, even if just for the moment.

It graces the mundane with a little bit of magic.

That’s the hope, anyway.

Writer, copywriter, editor, and word lover. Subscribe to my newsletter at

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