Sometimes your life waits for you somewhere without your knowledge. Like my former boyfriend, David Kirchner, who still happens to be a friend. We met in the Anza Borrego Desert. Eventually we discovered that we’d attended the same elementary school in Davis, California. Actually, I attended Valley Oak Elementary School, and he went to East Davis Elementary School. We quickly ascertained, however, it was the very same school. By the time I was three, his family had moved to La Jolla (I was still facing the big oak tree in the kindergarten playground). Still, I wondered if his parents had ever run into my parents during the early sixties.
As my life turned out to be firmly rooted in the Pacific Northwest before I came of age, I had no intention of ever leaving. Yet twelve and half years ago I found myself heading south to work with the late Zen teacher Charlotte Joko Beck. I didn’t know anyone else in San Diego, but once I arrived, I ended up encountering a bunch of characters that were vaguely recognizable.
Take Mai Lon Gittelsohn. She also could have walked past my parents—though in the Bay Area during the fifties. Her husband Mark did meet my father back then, in one of the UC Berkeley libraries. In fact, he remembers half the staff my father eventually worked with in the UC Davis library (my father left them around 1975). The thing is I met Mai Lon in Forest Grove, Oregon. We both signed up for the low-residency MFA program at Pacific University. Low-residency means students can live wherever they want and show up in Oregon twice a year for ten days. Which is what we did. Then we’d fly home to San Diego.
Mai Lon is old enough to be my mother. She does have a daughter exactly my age. She and her husband, Mark, used to socialize with one of the people who helped to hire me as a community college librarian in the San Diego area some twelve and a half years ago. His name is Larry Sherwood. I guess he and his wife, Virginia, and Mark and Mai Lon used to hang out together before I met any of them. My friend Patricia Santana remembers Mark from her UCSD days. She was employeed as a student worker in the library, where he worked as a librarian (she also helped to hire me, though I’d never met her before the interview). Virginia Sherwood worked in the UCSD Library. David’s mother—Florence—once worked for UCSD, though not in the library. For that matter, so did Joko Beck.
At 79 Mai Lon was the oldest student in my graduating class at Pacific University (class of 2012). She’s just turned 80, and she’s hoping to publish a book of poetry about her Chinese American family. We recently figured out that her grandfather was living in Red Bluff around the same time my great-grandmother was living in Redding. For the record, my great-grandmother ended up in the Sierra Nevada foothills, and Mai Lon’s family ended up in Oakland. And I ended up in the Pacific Northwest and Mai Lon ended up in Del Mar.
This weekend Mai Lon and I will be heading off to Alameda to take a performance poetry workshop with Ann Randolph. I expect we will have plenty to share.