Thoughts on Fishing
My junior high school English teacher asked each of her students to find a poem and bring it to class. Flipping through the pages of my parents’ Viking Book of Poetry, I settled on “The Fish” by Elizabeth Bishop. In exquisite detail, she portrays an ancient, grandfatherly fish that could fight no more. Old hooks and pieces of line were embedded in his jaw but what I remember most was the sadness and surrender she described in his eyes as she held him half out of the water alongside the boat, before letting him go. Her poem resonated with me in an almost visceral way because I’d often gone fishing alone or with my father.
When I was eleven, I would take my pole and tackle box and head down to one of the Tiburon docks along the shore of the San Francisco Bay. A couple of alleys along Main Street led to the rear of restaurants and other businesses that welcomed boat traffic. I’d find a spot on one of the docks where I wouldn’t be in the way, bait my hook and drop my line in the water. With the sun on my back and the pole in my hand, those were some of my happiest moments. Occasionally, someone would wander by and ask if I was having any luck. It wasn’t often that I had a decent fish, such as a rock cod or perch, on my stringer to show them. I’d throw back the smelt and the slimy bullheads and anything undersized. Sometimes on busy summer weekends, when boats lined both sides of the dock, I’d fish back behind the ramped walkway. There, in the shadows of the overhanging deck above, I’d sit cross-legged on the gently rolling dock, listening to the waves wash clusters of mussels clinging to barnacled pier posts. Occasionally, I’d hear the clink of a fork against a plate as someone above tucked into his Shrimp Louie.
For me, the image of dropping a line in the water is analogous to sending off a completed manuscript. Although the wait is much longer, I find the anticipation no less delicious. The trick is to have more than one line in the water at all times and not become discouraged. A yellowed strip of newspaper on the bulletin board above my computer reminds me of six well-known authors whose contemporary classics were rejected numerous times.
How many times have we been told we need to “hook” our reader? I know I’ve written something well when it triggers an emotional response. As a reader, I love writing that makes me want to laugh or cry or visit a place I’ve never been before, like Hedgehog Hill Farm in Sumner, Maine or the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The written word has the power to connect each of us to another in this giant web of human existence, whether from an ancient religious tome, a favorite child’s fairy tale, a popular novel that has us squirming in rows of metal folding chairs, eagerly waiting for an author to speak or a poem you’ll never forget.
Recently, I’ve turned to writing as a tool for healing. During a time of emotional upheaval, I find it provides a catharsis for my soul. It’s been helpful for me to “think” in rows of double-spaced type, laying the words down one after another, arm’s length from my heart and the tangled mess in my head. I believe it’s in solitary pursuits such as fishing and writing that we can find the peace necessary to clarify our thoughts or invoke our muse.
The more I write, the more I wonder if I’ll ever catch up to myself. All around my desk at home, I have spiral notebooks and scraps of paper filled with responses to prompts, musings and random flashes of inspiration, waiting to be shaped like a glob of clay on a potter’s wheel, into something beautiful and durable. What gets in the way? Life. Period.
In the white space of time that appears between this paragraph and the one above, my mother passed away. When I sat down to write her obituary notice, words seemed to hide themselves in the dark shadows at the water’s edge. As I went through my mother’s office and some of her personal effects, I was astonished by how few words someone can leave behind. Like her mother before her, there was very little, save brief notes among her records. My grandmother left only recipe cards, written in her own hand.
My father, who rarely reads more than newspapers or magazines, boxed up some books and stowed them in the garage. He asked all of us to look them over and choose any we might want. He planned to donate the rest. My husband spied the thin, soft cover travel journal we’d given my mother when she and my dad left to visit Europe in 1993. I wouldn’t have been surprised to find it unused but was delighted to see page after page filled with her lovely script. Now Dad is able to enjoy their adventure all over again.
I guess that’s one reason why I’m compelled to write, so that when my turn comes, I’ll know I’ve gotten most of it out of my head and off my chest. I’m hopeful, too, that someone may find a story or passage that resonates, in the lines I’ve cast.
California Writers Club Literary Review, Spring 2012 Inaugural Issue
MONDAY MORNING –
The first slightly damp, yellow sticky note appears on MY quart of 1% milk in the co-ed dorm kitchen refrigerator.
“Needed a bit for my coffee. Thx!”
I poured what was left over my frosted Mini-Wheats and tossed the empty carton with the note into the trash.
TUESDAY MORNING –
Damn. I forgot to pick up milk. Opening the fridge, I found a new carton, with another yellow note.
This time, I tipped just enough into my bowl to take the heat off my instant maple and brown sugar oatmeal. I found a pen in one of the kitchen drawers and added a message to the bottom of the note.
WEDNESDAY MORNING –
Same milk carton. New note.
“What time do you eat breakfast?”
I decided to skip cereal and had juice and toast instead.
“7-ish”, I wrote.
THURSDAY MORNING –
No milk or note or bread or juice. I grabbed the last lousy spotted banana from the counter and resolved to buy milk after class.
FRIDAY MORNING –
7:15 a.m. No class today but I’m up early and pouring a cup of coffee. A pink box is placed beside me on the counter. The yellow note on top reads: “Donut?” Looking up, I’m immediately grateful that I showered, dressed, and didn’t wander down the hall in my old, raggedy, teddy bear robe and slippers.
He smiles, peels the note off, sticks it on the counter and opens the box.
While I reach for paper towels, he adds “I’m deaf” to the note.
I sign “Would you like some coffee?” and introduce myself.
THEMA: In Kay’s Kitchen, Autumn, 2009