Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Creekside: or Elective Affinities

You know a weekend is off to a good start when the stranger picking you up at the BART station has decent priorities: no road trip, however short, should begin without coffee, water, a bathroom (input/output) and a GPS. In other words, Noa and I hit it off in an instant.

Both on the invitation list for Elizabeth's 50th birthday party in Sonoma County, we knew each other only as, well, a fellow FOE: friend of Elizabeth. We sorted basic information out in the first few minutes--our connection and history with our mutual friend; level of A/C needed in the car; and tunes or no tunes, and then quickly moved on to the crucial things. Like, should we barrel ahead to Glen Ellen or will anyone notice if we stop at this free tasting at Cline on the right, right there, oh my God, it's free. Virtue won out, and we rolled past, heads craning wistfully in unison.

Elizabeth greeted us at the Gaige House Inn and was rightly proud of the place she had chosen to host us. It was beautiful, well-appointed, and serene, with jetted tubs in the suites and a constant supply of homemade cookies in the main house. The atmosphere was festive, and we all ran about like children afraid to miss something: there were the inviting suites, but oh, a hot tub and a pool, and a creek, and wineries, but look at all the people arriving and the hugging and squeals of recognition and long, evolved relationships playing out in the moments of embrace in the entryway. Just as we would settle back into the deep couches and leather chairs and our heartbeats would slow, someone else arrived, and we all jumped up again, so many panting puppies, clamoring to be part of the welcome. And in truth, it was our reunion, too. Even the ones never met in person were part of the storied pageant of Elizabeth's life, and we had all heard, had all seen.

At sundown, Noa started up to her room to observe the lighting of Shabbat candles. She was encouraged to stay in the living room and the handful of us there gathered around the table with her. In that moment, the peculiarities of our respective religious traditions didn't matter. We were with Noa as she lit the two candles and prayed, and with each other as we considered the week past and the weekend to come in silent, heartfelt connection. I stood with my eyes closed and my mind's voice uttered the names of all those around me, of Elizabeth, of her parents gone before her, of my own loved ones, and then eyes open and "Shabbat Shalom" and kisses all around. A deep, centering breath. An exhalation of peace. All the meanings of Sabbath knitted together and please don't let me cry so early in the weekend.

Neil had inquired at the Fig Café down the road about dinner for such a large group. While they didn't take reservations, they did think they could accommodate us with an hour's notice, so we gathered flashlights and headed single-file down the road in the dark. We must have been a sight to the other diners, all jammed as we were in the entryway, grown men and women giggling and pawing each other, beams still waving madly from the still-on flashlights stuck in coat pockets.

The restaurant staff moved tables together and finally we were seated and enjoying a lovely meal…except for Chad and Harry, whose plan to split a salad and a pizza was dashed by the acoustics in the venue and the fact that Terry was sitting between them. The dotted line of communication yielded up two salads and no pizza. Still, we all had fun and were not thrown out of the restaurant for laughing too much, even when we caused a scene trying to remember the name of the Magic Slate™ children's toy. "No, no, not the Etch-a-Sketch™"--and we all made the knob-turny motion with our two hands in the air, much to the alarm of patrons at the next table. Was this a sign? When a group, double-digit in size, starts to make the knob-turny motion in unison while cackling loudly, it does tend to cause a suspicious narrowing of eyes among those in proximity.

In keeping with the child theme, dessert for most of us was a glorified and decadent ice cream sandwich. Terry, though, chose the Artisan Cheese Plate, which inspired a round of pondering at my end of the table. Just once, I explained, I longed to see a Pasteurized Cheese Plate on the menu. A foil-wrapped wedge of Laughing Cow™, a squirt of Cheez Whiz™, a Kraft™ American Single in its cellophane wrap…and we were off into a pairing dilemma around the proper cracker for such a feast.

By the time we returned to the inn, most of us were starting to fade. A few toddled off to the hot tub, a few to enjoy their luscious suites, and a few had a glass of wine in the living room. I said goodnight and went to #10, filled the tub, cued up The Dale Warland Singers' "Lux Aurumque" on the iPod-outfitted stereo, and engaged the jets. Sacred choral music is not often thought of as the soundtrack to an evening in the Jacuzzi™, I'll grant it. I never claimed to be conventional.

I awoke Saturday and showered and made it to my 9:30 breakfast seating. Eve served me coffee with hot milk and Chad regaled us with stories of, um, his beautiful, beautiful friend Betty. It was moving. Really. I can't repeat it. But it involved a menorah and a nativity scene and that's all I'll say. *wiping tear* I gave Elizabeth a birthday card with an insert. She blushed.

After breakfast, we retired to the drawing room for a refined game of Jenga™. Both Eve and Noa refused to consult the rules, but it was exciting, if unsportsmanlike. While most of the group went to tour wineries, I and Neil and Terry wandered into town and had sandwiches at a sports bar-ish kind of place with aggressive flies and a man in a Hawaiian shirt. I wore my sunglasses. The sky was blue. Audaciously red Japanese maple leaves lined the gutters, and I grinned from ear to ear in sheer relaxation and brazen inattention to the work e-mails piling up in my inbox.

In the afternoon, I had a back facial in the spa room upstairs. This is like a facial, except on one's back--why it's not called a backcial, I couldn't say. But it involved the customary cleansers, exfoliants, and unguents and no shortage of massage. The highlight was the placing of warm rolled towels down either side of my torso, followed by the torturously slow dribbling of lines of hot oil, in sequence, over the whole of my back. I drifted from weeping to sleeping to drooling and back again. I may have asked the aesthetician to marry me in a particularly blissed out moment--I can't promise I didn't.

Everyone re-convened in the main house in their festive dinner party clothes. We filled cars and headed toward El Dorado Kitchen in Sonoma, where we were treated to riches upon riches: Prosecco toasts, nibblies on trays, a fabulous dinner punctuated by tributes and poems and dedications to Elizabeth from her family of friends, and mostly the flushed faces and sore cheek muscles that come from uninterrupted smiling and laughter, not to mention Pinot Noir. Chad, Harry, Robert, and I returned home in the rolling Gospel-mobile, Robert swaddled in his woolen wrap and leading us all in a rousing chorus of "This Little Light of Mine."

Somehow a water blessing ritual morphed into a spontaneous dance party, sacred and profane, seamless. Candace fetched her iPod player and Sharon, Neil, and I became DJ Triple Threat Old School, no doubt, yo. Why Neil had Chris Williamson on his iPod and I had the Weather Girls on mine is anyone's guess, and yet it seemed strangely appropriate.

Sunday morning ushered in the long goodbye. Lingering over breakfast, lingering over coffee, lingering over the newspaper, lingering over the notion that we should all make a pact to do this every year, to form an intentional retirement community at the end of it all (Neil: "this is my kind of assisted living"), to keep expansive and spacious and smile and grace and generous and gift all pedestrian words in our lives' vocabularies. Trust your instincts, indeed.

And now we're all back in our homes, whatever that means. Elizabeth, this blog's for you. We all showered you with words of gratitude for the gift of time, space, each other, and your enduring friendship, and we meant every word. I, for one, know that your best gift was seeing us all happy and in love with the experience you gave us. And you did. And we were.

Thank you, dear friend.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Don't rain on my parade.

But, of course, since this is Seattle, a little rain never stops anyone.

Up at dark:thirty on Black Friday, eager to get downtown with my friend to claim a spot in a parking garage and have breakfast down by the water. I had made a hair appointment for 10:15 the month before, not realizing that it was the biggest shopping day of the year.

But we were in good shape, time-wise, and would have plenty of time to greet the day over coffee, eggs, and a view beforehand.

The closer we got to downtown, the more crowded it got. Surely this wasn't all from shopping (said the clueless nonstrategic shopper to herself under her breath), I mean, there were whole SCHOOLBUSES pulling into surface lots! I knew I was not the most committed to a bargain, and so perhaps there were truly people who made shopping on this day a varsity activity--I was never one of those people, and always chose Varsity Sleeping Late over shopping when given the chance.

But as we inched along in the car, it soon became clear. Long lines of gangly teenagers wearing ill-fitting band uniforms, Santa hats, and carrying all manner of instruments, check. Families with folding chairs, check. A parade! But it was raining! As a relative newcomer to Seattle, my first response was to be devastated for all the parade planners and participants, and then I realized that this was, of course, exactly what "normal" looked like here on the day after Thanksgiving. No one seemed concerned, so I quickly re-calibrated my expectations and looked for parking.

Once settled, we decided to scrap the sit-down breakfast and grabbed a latte and a breakfast snack from my favorite Italian purveyor.

We have a ritual. I enter with a flamboyant "Buon Giorno!" and he always puts his hands over his heart and flirts and tries to speak Italian with me. He knows I am all show and no go when it comes to Italian, but he loves me for trying. I would marry him in a heartbeat, if he promised to talk to me like that every morning.

Back out into the street, hoods pulled up and beverages steaming, we made our way past the staging area. Various kennel club breed groups play heavily in the Seattle parade scene, evidently, since we had to pick our way through sequential gaggles of Scotties, Dalmations, and English Sheepdogs, all bedecked in holiday attire (bless their patient but humiliated little canine hearts). They were delightful. Their owners frightened me as they held umbrellas over their charges.

The high school bands were all over the map. There was the disciplined and organized school from the affluent suburb, counting under their breath, with mascot-appliqued covers for the tubas and music with triplets. They were followed by the ragtag group with a young band leader, all marching out of sequence and playing Christmas medleys in the manageable key of C and in 4/4 time.

The boys in this group looked, to a one, like they would rather be swallowed up into the bowels of hell than submit themselves to the utter humiliation that was befalling them at this moment. Insensitive mothers ran out and got into their sons' faces with video cameras, beaming with pride as the boys closed their eyes in shame, still counting "1,2,3 and 4" as the rain dripped from their noses onto their music.

My favorite was the inner-city drum corps and their parents. The drummers took this as their debut onto the world stage, by God, and they were going to KICK it. Their parents ran through the crowds, staying even with the band, shouting encouragement and announcing "that's my baby!!!!" There was a dance group preceding them from the same school, and they strutted and turned and snapped and threw their heads back and everyone knew they were fine, fine, fine. Yes, ma'am.

I, for my part, indulged in a rare swelling of "oh, why didn't I have a child?" sentiment, as I watched dads hoist little ones onto their shoulders and moms clear the path for THEIR kids to get the candy being thrown from floats.

But that's not where I went with my life. I came here instead. To a life filled with ups and downs, regret and relief, incredible friends and a loving family, annoyances and blessings.

It's the end of the Thanksgiving weekend. I slept some, ate some, talked to many, collected a few experiences, have a refrigerator full of leftovers and an iPhone camera full of memories of a soggy parade.

It's not what my Aunt Mildred would have wanted for me, but I quite like it, all in all.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Not knowing what...

I met D. at the bookstore at noon.

It was already a good day...a holiday, so I slept in. I had just stumbled down the stairs and started making coffee when he called at nine. We had planned to take advantage of the day off by doing something, but we weren't sure what.

Not knowing what--and committing to it--is a fine way to spend a windfall of time.

I padded around the apartment in my jammies for a while, sipping coffee, checking e-mail, deciding not to clean or organize or pay bills or any of those other things that would get in the way of not knowing what.

A quick shower, a pair of jeans (oh, midweek transgression, JEANS!), and out the door to wait for my cab.

I stood in the drizzle, considering the fallen flower blossoms next to the fallen leaves on the ground, and noted that this would not have been possible in Minnesota. There the seasons were distinct. A caesura after each stanza and before the next one began. Summer. Stop. Fall. Stop. Winter. CONTINUE FOREVER AND THEN STOP. Spring. Stop. But in Seattle, the seasons overlap and recede and progress in ways that are more insidious than jarring.

Once at the bookstore, D. and I poked around and picked books up and put them back down again. Not knowing what means you don't want to be heavy laden with books at the start of the day. We crossed the street and took our chances at getting a table at Carmine's. We were just early enough that it worked, and Maria plied us with sausages and polenta and Montepulciano, while Frank Sinatra crooned and Carmine roamed the room and made sure everyone was happy. We were. We laughed and talked and schemed and ate and toasted and knew that such days were gifts.

Back outside, we wandered around Pioneer Square, peeking in stores, tucking little purchases in my bag, not meeting the eyes of the park bench dwellers, wrapped in sodden blankets amidst their woeful lean-to's of bags and cardboard.

Drizzle and chill sent us onto a bus, and we careened along First Avenue to the Pike Place Market, where we wished we had room for the pierogi and bought rosmarino salami for later and regarded the vistas of vegetables and meats while planning the dinner parties we would throw if we were each made of time and money. We tucked into the Athenian and grabbed a booth by the window to watch the gulls and ferries out on the Sound and to warm up and sit for a bit.

We headed up to the core of downtown and said our goodbyes, D. to head back his way and me to walk home. I stopped in my favorite little Italian café and had a cookie and a coffee, the house wine of Seattle.

By now it was dark and had started drizzling again.

I made it home, head down but without the hood of my raincoat, and find myself sitting at the computer now, confronted once again with my Real Life. It's not a bad one, truth be told, and I almost feel guilty for having departures that are no better than the place I live.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

blood is thicker

I called my dad this morning because it was cold out.

I grew up in the hills of the Ozarks, and my family has made a culture out of the love of crisp air and fallen leaves. Perhaps it's because summers are so long and still and steamy there, or maybe it's more about the kinds of things that represent comfort in cold times: warm beverages, fires in fireplaces, enveloping clothes, the conversations that become more spacious as activity slows down.

He is always so delighted when I call him, and this time his brother had come up from his cabin to sit in front of the fire and talk. He got on the extension, and so I spent a while with them. My uncle and I differ on many things, and our relationship is evidence that blood is sometimes thicker than politics or religion--I adore him and he me. We talked about the algae abatement plan on the pond, and about the 4 bass he had caught. My dad filled me in on the beaver dam and the excellent crop of pears.

My uncle was crowing about the white oak that had been hit by lightning and about the wood pile it had produced last spring and about this morning being the first test of how good it was. It was good. He said he heard the birds sing when it got going and then launched into one of his stories: an old man, dying, claims he can hear birds calling from the fireplace. His wife leans in close and tells him that the birds sat on those branches when they were still a tree in the summertime, and that the birds' songs got stored up in them. Warming the branches again releases the song.

I told my uncle and my dad about one of my favorite short poems by Wendell Berry:

Best of any song is bird song in the quiet.
But first you must have the quiet.

The three of us sat there on the phone in the quiet and pondered that, and I heard my dad's hound dog out on the porch, wailing at the approaching mail truck still a mile away down the gravel road. When there are no cars, sound carries.

I am homesick this morning.

Not because I don't love my life--I do. But because I know where my life came from: the earth and angle of the light and persimmon trees and creeks and branches and hunting dogs and coffee cups and lichen-covered firewood.

And the people who are old and full of life. Who love me and each other in spite of differences. Who take time on a Saturday morning to have a conversation.

I wish I had a fireplace.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

But I *AM* charming!

So I'm sitting on the big swath of steps outside the Whole Foods in my neighborhood at noon today. A diverse group of people tends to go visit the various hot bars/cold bars/sandwich bars and whatnot at lunchtime and then spread out on these steps when the weather's nice.

I have my turkey chili and I'm hunkered down, legs akimbo. My shopping bag is on the step below me, between my legs, and I'm leaning way over, so I don't dribble chili on my grey silk scarf.

It's a great day. Blue sky, golden leaves, breezy and brisk, a little too cool to be sitting outside, but the sun is blazing down on us all and the mood reflects it.

This older woman walks in front of me, wearing a wool coat and carrying a pocketbook. You ladies know what I mean when I say pocketbook--carried over the arm in the crook of the elbow; metal clasp. She stops in front of me and glares.


She walks a few steps further, looks sternly back over her shoulder, and stops. She turns around and comes back, and stops again.

Huh? I'm getting puzzled now.

Finally, she leans over towards me and hisses: "I miss the good old days when women still went to CHARM SCHOOL."

Monday, September 29, 2008

No title, no resolution.

I. An employee was sitting in my office today, asking me to look over a grant application. I couldn't really do it, since I will be involved in deciding whether she gets the grant later, but I told her I would be happy to just listen to her describe her project to me and ask questions.

She started and I listened. It was fascinating, so naturally I jumped in every now and then and inserted a little comment or inquiry. She would cock her head and her eyes would get big and then she would tear into the answer. It was a great conversation.

She stayed a long time, and when she got up to leave she said she knew I couldn't be her mentor, given our relationship, but that the talk had made her think of me that way.

I just said "Oh, E, all I did was prime the pump. All that stuff was in there, dying to come out. It's a miracle I didn't get washed away once you opened up and let it go!"

II. I don't prime the pump in other people's lives enough. It's hard to get things going just enough and then to shut up. To let them come to their own conclusions in my presence. To bear witness to their shivering into an answer without wrapping them up in my ready-made cloak of authority.

III. I walk around a lot and I've begun to mark my walks by what I find in, on, or near chain-link fences. They're like see-through memorials, these fences. Sometimes I stand at a fence and wonder who left all the stuff there, the litter, the remnants, the discarded. I wonder if they were sauntering parallel to the fence and just dropped something distractedly, or if they walked right up to the fence, perpendicular-wise, acknowledged the barrier, and just said "well, I can't continue. I'll leave this here as a sign of where I gave up." I wonder where they all are now; whether they made it to the other side.

This is one of those blogs without resolution.

For you musicians, I'm sorry to leave you hanging on a 7th. ; )

Sunday, September 28, 2008


I'm parked outside a Krispy Kreme doughnut shop on 4th Avenue and my parents, aunts, uncles, and other extended family are in a caravan on the street. I need to run back to help my dad with something, and when I return, my car has been stolen. I panic and call the police to report it. Only the police department has adopted one of those "press 1 to report a rape; press 2 to report a break-in; press 3 to report a committed murder; press 4 to report an impending murder..." systems. I'm pressing ZERO ZERO ZERO, since that usually goes to a live person. Which is what I get. Only my live person is an outsourced police switchboard person in India somewhere and he can't understand me.

Monday, September 15, 2008

South Beach Diet™, you owe me.

I busted up my knee about a month ago, and have not been able to get around on it until now. That, combined with the fact that I tend to go out for just about every single meal with my Fellow Gourmands and Varsity Enablers, aka my friends, has led to me feeling sluggish and icky.

So today was the day. Kick Start City! Wrestle those cravings to the ground! Phase I, hear I come!

I got all ready this weekend, buying the requisite groceries, lining up my cheese sticks and whatnot, trying to convince myself that Splenda™-sweetened fudgesicles were going to be JUUUUUUUST like a glass of Tempranillo in the evening...

I made my lunch for today, and got the greens and cherry tomatoes in their little bags, the tuna mixed up with a couple of capers, some Dijon, and some inky black olives, made sure I had some parceled out almonds for a snack...oh, I was feeling so organized and motivated! I had my Last Supper, only I substituted pasta for Body and Chianti for Blood, and then it was off to bed.

Fast forward to this morning. Overslept. By a lot. Leapt out of bed, cleared the bathtub edge like a doped up hurdler, wet my hair and reached for the...D'OH. Empty shower bottle. I had meant to replace it yesterday. OK, no problem, out of the shower, new bottle, back in without slipping in the pool of water on the floor, showered without further incident, back out, dried the pool and myself and my hair in record time (of course by now I was in a lather again, but no time to remedy that), wrestled with clothes in the closet, leaving a pile of empty hangers twisted in the dark recesses of the closet floor, threw on my day's raiment and then hobbled down the stairs.

Oh, right. South Beach. No grabbing a cheddar-dill scone at the coffeehouse on my way to work. Um, OK. Now imagine this next part speeded up, with The William Tell Overture playing: a little tin of tomato juice is retrieved from the fridge and set down next to the computer. I break an egg into a bowl and beat it quickly and dump it into a skillet with some Smart Balance™ and diced Canadian-style bacon and a trace of low-fat cheddar cheese. Easy peasy! Onto a plate it goes, and I sit down to log into LL quickly as I'm eating.

I grab my tomato juice can and shake vigorously, and...

NOOOOOOOO. I had already opened it!

Tomato juice all over me, the keyboard, the pens in my pen holder, the wall, the rug under my desk chair.

I wish I could say that the scene got reeled back in, rewind-style, and that it was just as gripping* as the first part of my tale, but truth be told: it was more like a newsreel of a defeated WWII soldier trudging along in a rain-gutted road, vacant-eyed and resigned to whatever was over the horizon, as I cleaned up the mess and changed clothes.

Anyway, I finally got to work, half an hour late, and announced my entrance with a loud, dramatic "DON'T ANYONE CROSS ME TODAY, I MEAN IT" as I brandished my bag of almonds.

Tomorrow is another day.

*Editorial license

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Fugue: Hot, Mild, Hot Again

I. I remarked to someone that you can take the folks out of Arkansas, but you can't take the Arkansas out of the folks. My parents, brother, and sister-in-law arrived last Wednesday, and I picked them up at the airport. They were here for four days and I learned that a) they could charm a dog off a meat truck; b) my mother had never seen a bluetooth ("What is that thing going off in that man's ear??? There's blue lights buzzing in there!!!!"); c) I am too impatient with them as they grow older; d) the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

I made them go sailing. My mother, once seated, refused to move a muscle and my father hunkered down in the floor, terrified we would keel over and they would be dashed into the Puget Sound to be gobbled up by errant killer whales.

I took them to La Carta de Oaxaca and made them do a tasting flight of salsas, from mild to hot. My mom said "I'll tell you what, that's so hot, it'll melt your earwax!" but proceeded to do everything but clean the little bowls out with her finger.

We went to the locks to watch the salmon leap and flop up the salmon ladder and my dad said he wished he'd brought his pole.

My brother and I tried to act like we weren't as alike as we are and my sister-in-law assured us that, oh, yes, we were.

II. On Sunday morning, we got up at dark:thirty in order to get to the airport plenty early for their 7:30 AM flight. Since they had booked their travel, I had learned that I would need to go to a memorial service back in Minnesota, so I got a flight at 9. I got them to their gate and went on to mine. I left without incident and they sat and sat and sat, while their bum plane was repaired. They missed their connection in Atlanta and had to spend the night, but not before they called me at a diner in Edina, MN--interrupting my dinner with a friend--to frantically ask me to "get on my iPhone" and look for another flight. No luck.

III. Speaking of dinners with friends, I tried my best to soak in time with a beloved one instead of squandering it by regretting all the time I didn't spend with him when I lived in MN and had the chance. But now I'm here to say that I regret that water under the bridge. B, come visit. Door's always open for you. I live within walking distance of 40 movie screens.

IV. I drove to my old town, and past my house. The kids who bought it (BLESS THEIR HEARTS) have repaired one of the sagging retaining walls and have domesticated it entirely. Lots of hearts and geese and "welcome to our home!" signs and it is so not me and so appropriate for that town. Which may explain why I'm no longer in it. But I'm glad they're happy and I hope that I left good juju there for them.

I think about the stray hairs from my now-dead feline companion that must get sucked up into their vacuum cleaner now and again, silky black ghosts of a sweet soul who loved that house more than I did.

V. The memorial service. Let us be silent and reverent about that. A life well-lived was celebrated and a passing mourned. My shoulder was soaked with tears by someone who feels lost and alone right now. Krumkake was baked in preparation, a box of ashes was picked up at the mortuary and some flowers arranged, a Norwegian flag draped around the vase. Songs were sung and a certain woman from Seattle remembered that music resonating through her vocal chords and face is like a sacred drug, even when the way out is through passages swollen from crying. A throng of old friends was greeted. Family and friends were gathered around a table afterwards to laugh and tell stories and eat and sigh and wonder how the empty space will ever be less gaping, knowing, though, that it will.

I realized that my decision to leave them all and move to Seattle was absolutely the right one.

And yet I still stopped at a Scandinavian import store on the way out of town and bought a Krumkake iron to be sent to me.

My life is like a fugue. The one line ends, the other line picks up, but the first line weaves back in, again and again.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Don, Rest in Peace

When Don and I were in high school a few miles from each other, we both spent many summer weekends at the Buffalo River in the Arkansas Ozarks. It was an ongoing party, and everyone belonged. There was indiscretion and wild abandon and merriment, floating the river during the day and talking by multiple campfires at night.

We joked over the last few years that we had probably encountered each other back then, just by the law of averages and geography.

When we met the first time in person, we were convinced of it, though. Either that or we had been separated at birth, one of us snatched from the nursery in a hospital in Van Buren County, to be separated from the other for 45 years--never mind the couple of years in difference in age. So clear was our recognition of each other. So intense was the feeling of seeing kin in each other.

We used to end phone calls with "you're my people." I told this to his sister yesterday and she started crying and said "me and him, we're just alike. I tell that to everybody I love."

He used to comment on my blogs with "it's time for you to come home."

He knew I was a restless soul and loved crashing around in the world. But he knew, and mirrored back to me in every conversation, that I was a girl from the Ozarks before I was ever anything else, and that red dirt and sorghum molasses and sweet tea were running through my veins as surely as blood.

He delighted in pointing out the soft contours of my accent, where the South remained and couldn't be hidden.

He made me promise never to dumb myself down. God, D, no one can get away with finding my vulnerability and saying it out loud. How did you pull that off?

I've been thinking a lot about the various handwringings about how to honor him.

And I think he wouldn't want it.

He was not a fan of the grand gesture.

I think he would want us to love each other, not suffer fools, say the hard word when it needed to be said, and extend the shoulder to cry on when that was called for.

He would want us to own our own issues and work on them with no need for attention.

He would want us to laugh at ridiculous youtube videos and poke fun at excess and putting on of airs.

He would want us to live our lives with integrity and call people and text them and IM them and remind them that someone far away thought they were worth the bandwidth and time.

He would want us to drink ordinary coffee and eat lots of Petit Jean bacon and say "pfffffft" when someone turned up their nose at it.

And shop at Wal-Mart.

And get on with our lives, and give away our love and commitments wantonly.

I am proud that he thought I deserved his friendship. I will miss him terribly.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

city. summer.

I. I ate lunch at an outdoor table today, since the only thing better than outdoor dining in Seattle in July is, um, well, lots of things...but it's pretty darned good. Trust me.

At the table next to me was a middle-aged man, attractive in that Dick-Clark-You'll-Take-My-Youth-Elixir-Out-Of-My-Cold-Dead-Hands kind of way. He was wearing a wedding ring and got up every few minutes to take a call from a cell phone. He always came over closer to my table, turning his back on his dining companion, and spoke in hushed tones to someone named "yes, dear"--I presumed his wife.

Remaining at the table was a very young man, Asian, petite, with delicate features, a furrowed brow, and a nervous titter. His English was passable, but clearly not his first language. He was wearing a tennis visor. He looked in the opposite direction when his companion took his calls, with his fork down and his hands in his lap.

Between interruptions, the middle-aged man fawned urgently, apologetically, over the young one. He cut his food for him, cooed, and took little morsels between two fingers and fed them to him, as if to a bird.

When they were finished, the older man stood up and pointed to the hotel entrance next to the patio where we were sitting, and the young man shuffled off, looking for affirmation over his shoulder.

I wanted to hope that this was all a happy scene, but I know it wasn't.

II. After my evening walk to Lake Union, I returned home by way of a little community garden. Everything is a tangle of vines, fragrance, color, and texture right now. Raspberries hang over the fence. Lilies stick out between the pickets.

I cut through the garden on a public path, stopping to admire a particularly lovely blossom, or to squeeze a bit of lavender between my fingers to smell.

Under an overgrown rosemary jungle, I saw a book, open. Holding it was a woman, laid out on a sleeping bag. Next to her were multiple shopping bags, her shoes, several recycled jugs, and some cigarettes.

She lives there.

People like to say "those who live outdoors" instead of "the homeless" here. Supposedly it bestows dignity on the outdoor dwellers. But I think it just bestows a guilt-free pass on the rest of us.

Why, it's just like urban camping, when you put it that way...

III. Next day: I walked downtown for lunch and passed three homeless people sitting in the entrance to a building. They were having a big old time, laughing and sharing a cigarette. I looked over and smiled at them as I strode past, and the woman sitting between the two men leapt to her feet.

"Will you do something for us?"

I confess to ripping through my mental rolodex of excuses for why I was not about to give them money. She held out a disposable camera.

"Will you take a picture of us? We're best friends."

My shoulders relaxed and I smiled again, this time the awkward smile of someone pinballing between relief, guilt, and admiration. I took the plastic camera and the woman ran to crouch down between her two friends. They all slung their arms over each other and put their faces together, mugging for the moment.

"One, two, three, smile!"

I returned the camera, they thanked me, and I walked away, brow furrowed...but of course it wouldn't have made any sense at all for them to have a real camera.

Where would they keep it?

I had cauliflower and thyme soup with goat cheese crostini for lunch.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Eddie, where have you been all my life?

I have to say that I came late to Eddie Izzard. Thanks to my friend Joseph, I finally put together the person I had seen in dramatic roles with Eddie the Comic. As much as I loved the first bits of the the first DVD I saw, I have come to become one of those One Drink Shy of a Stalker sorts of fans. And, I mean, I'm OLD. And have a grown-up job! And a Ph.D.! And...and...and it's unseemly, isn't it?

Still, I adore him. Not just because he's funny and darling, but because he's brilliant and HUMANE and ETHICAL and involved in the world.

In preparation for his show at the Paramount in Seattle, I sat in front of my computer when the pre-sale tickets were about to become available, password in hand. Refresh, refresh, refresh, refresh, and then SCORE! Front row seats. I knew I would move heaven and earth to get Joseph up here from California to go with me, because I couldn't imagine a more perfect Eddie Accomplice for the evening.

To say we loved it is a ridiculous understatement. To say I now bark orders to my co-workers in fake Latin and mimed coughs (*cough* TIGER *cough*) doesn't quite get it. To say I ask people accusingly where their quilt is when I'm missing something only makes sense to people who saw the show.

But here's the deal: this is a man who, in spite of his fame and cult following, stands for things. He puts his money where his mouth is. He advocates and gives back and pays forward. He comes out of the stage door and talks to people as if they're real, respected fellow citizens.

He wears his various passions on his sleeve unapologetically, and couldn't the world use a hell of a lot more of that? All while nursing aching faces from two hours of sustained laughing and grinning.

One could do worse on a Saturday night.

Saturday, July 5, 2008



I. This train is bound for glory...
or at least Vancouver.

It's Thursday, and my window seat gives me a view of the fields. The window on the other side of the aisle, by the seat I want, the one with the Puget Sound, is covered with a curtain.

A whole family has spread itself out, like in a tent, settled in for a nap in the sun. But there is no sun, only grey mist, and my earphones dripping thick sounds of Leonard Cohen into my head.

They have Indian passports and several generations. The grandmother is my seatmate, and her purple silk sari brushes my arm whenever she moves. She burbles and gurgles in a tongue I don't understand, and her daughter is up and down from her own seat to adjust footrests, open packets of food, dispense water, and offer tissues.

When I am old, I will be the Blanche DuBois of train travel...relying on the kindness of strangers to show me how the seat reclines. No daughter will hover over me.

But for now, I am young and free and and moving north, with a train whistle heralding my approach.

II. There are two kinds of travelers. One kind knows things and has seen pictures of things and has read things about their destinations. They are going to strange places in search of the familiar.

The other kind sets out with no itinerary, no plan, no knowledge of the new place. There is a need to be estranged, to start from scratch, to think that a surprise might be around every corner, and on every unknown face.

Sometimes I'm the former. This time I'm the latter.

III. I'm sitting on a low wall at Robson Square, near the Law Courts. Gaggles of attorneys stride by in both directions, pulling rolling briefcases along. It's humid here, and warmer than the forecast had predicted. The men carry their suit jackets over their shoulders on one finger. Sweat is lightly stamped on the backs of their dress shirts, and they don't care. But the women dab constantly at their temples and pull their blouses away from their backs, as they walk fast and look up at the men and never stop smiling.

I wonder what percentage of a Canadian man's Canadian dollar a Canadian woman earns.

IV. I sit in the hotel bar alone at the end of the evening. I have walked and walked and walked, but my head is less fatigued than my body, so I look at the wine menu. I choose a tasting flight of British Columbia reds, and the little glasses are brought to me with olives and smoked almonds. It's a Thursday night, so I'm all alone, except for a couple of businessmen at the bar proper, and the musicians.

The drummer is young, white, and blonde. The guitarist is old, black, and dressed to the nines. He is decked out, from his excellent fedora to his spats, and he knows he looks fine. I'm seated right next to them, and the old man looks at me as he speaks into the microphone: "How are you, young lady?" Oh, candlelight, you lying seductress. I grin at him and tell him I am well--even better, now that I am here and about to hear him play. They do a couple of old jazz standards and forget that I'm there.

I write and sip and think that I might get a fedora before too long...


Rainy Saturdays and big art museums in old buildings are meant for each other. I hit the Vancouver Art Gallery as soon as they opened, because there were two shows I really wanted to see.

I spent the first part of the day on the two floors devoted to "KRAZY!"--a wonderful collection of cartoons, comics, graphic novels, animé, video, and everything in between. It was curated by Art Spiegelman of "MAUS" fame, and it was truly remarkable.

Aside from the fact that I loved it myself, I loved that the spaces were packed with young people who might not otherwise have darkened the doors of a museum...

But the second show was the one I really came for: Zhang Huan's "Altered States"--a retrospective of his work, spanning his first years in China, his move to New York, and then his return to Shanghai.

His most recent work is what caught my fascination. When he returned to China, he started observing people at Buddhist temples. They would signal their devotion by burning incense and then placing the sticks in the sand at the foot of the Buddha. Barrels and barrels of incense ash were produced on a daily basis, and Huan contracted with the temples to haul it away. He now makes large scale sculptures of human forms, using the incense ash.

As he puts it, he is sculpting out of the dreams and wishes of his countrymen, and the sculptures--full of desire and fervent devotion, but soon ashes to ashes--will disintegrate over time.

I sat on a bench and stared and stared. No one else seemed particularly drawn to these sculptures, but I could not take my eyes off of them. They made me cry and smile at the same time.

The train ride home was odd, because I was again swept into an Indian family. The northbound grandmother wore a sari; the southbound grandmother wore a sweater that smelled of mothballs.

Both of them wore brown socks that had the big toe divided from the rest of the sock.

This time I had the Puget Sound window, and beautiful scenery. I saw two bald eagles. I listened to my iPod. I wrote in my little Moleskine cahier.

I came home.

Now I am going to crawl into my very own bed and rest well. I've already got the coffee ground and in the pot for tomorrow. All I have to do is stumble down the stairs, open the door for the Sunday paper, hit "on" and greet the day...

good night, all.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Big Hand

It has to be a really dark night, still, no moon.

It has to be a red dirt country road in the South, no streetlights, no pavement, no cars.

It has to be still, no breeze, and warm and sticky.

It has to be quiet. The only sound can be junebugs and chuck-will's-widows and katydids and locusts and a distant hound. And the nervous titter of little children and the long, crunching strides of grown-up feet on dirt and rocks, with the quicker, irregular pat-pat-pats of the kids.

Way down the road is someone with a broom--the Big Hand--hiding in the brush in the ditch or behind a cedar stand on the side of the road. No one knows where the Big Hand is. No one knows.

And everyone walks, single file, ten feet or so apart, down the road in the dark in the stillness and the quiet, waiting and walking.

The grown-ups have broad smiles on their faces in the darkness, remembering what the kids are feeling right now.

The kids are about to throw up from excitement and fear--but not really, because Daddy is right behind me.

Please don't let the Big Hand get me. Please let me be the one the Big Hand gets.

At some point, unpredictably, the person with the broom LEAPS out into the road, shrieking "BIG HAND!!!!" and runs after whatever shadowy shape is closest. Everyone goes wild, screaming, laughing, running, tripping, hearts pounding out of ribcages, and the ruckus can be heard in every holler for miles.

The first person to get swatted becomes the Big Hand, and the game starts over.

Once we get back to the house, Mamaw gives us water from the well bucket and we all get on our pallets on the floor in the various rooms. She goes from kid to kid with a basin and cloths, washing first our faces and then our feet. We cover up with the sheets and giggle, still juiced up with adrenaline. We hear the muffled conversation and laughter of our parents and aunts and uncles out on the porch and finally, like a drug has taken effect, we bat our eyes more slowly, let go of our cousin's hand under the covers, and drift off to sleep.

It's a good game.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

bran muffin

One of my great pleasures in Seattle is strolling through the Pike Place Market early in the morning, just as the vendors are setting up.

No tourists yet, just old Asian women arranging flowers and strapping lads raking ice into place for the fish.


Today, a gaggle of tottering oldsters, all bedecked with tour company baseball caps, cameras, fanny packs, and brand new Rockport shoes had been disgorged by a bus, and they were shuffling hither and yon. My friends and I were trying to get through the line at Lowell's, so we could order our eggs and find a table by the window. There were any number of container barges and cruise ships and ferries to be monitored as we drank our coffee, and we were eager to get seated and start the stirring, sipping, and reflecting.

But no, the universe had other things in mind. A snarky cashier needed to be brought together with said oldsters, all of whom were hard of hearing. The cashier had a litany, and these congregants had not realized they were slacking in their half of the call and response:

"I want eggs."

"How do you want them?"

"And a bran muffin."

"THE EGGS, how do you want them?"

"And a cup of coffee."

"How do you want the EGGS?"

This was bad enough, but then disaster struck when a blueberry muffin was produced instead of a bran muffin. The wife of the man ordering had already walked off with the muffin, as he was trying to exchange it for a bran. Between the wife not understanding that she had the wrong muffin, the man not understanding that he had to return the blueberry if he wanted to get a bran, and the cashier not understanding that no amount of shouting and tattoo-wielding and piercing-clinking was going to intimidate the old man and his wife into understanding the dilemma, the line had snaked out the door and into the produce stand next door.

S. and I tried to ask the universe "how can we help you give the man his bran muffin so that he will get the !&@! out of the line?" (we really took the zen movie to heart), and eventually the universe caved in and spoke to the cashier: "Look, Chica, forget about the math. Two out, money for one in, it's all good."

All this time, "Disco Inferno" was playing. I thought about inviting the whole assembled congregation to forget about the muffins and join me in a little liturgical dance, but I refrained.

It was an oddly satisfying, if cognitively dissonant, soundtrack to the morning.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Zen. Not.

I. How to Cook Your Life is a lovely documentary about Zen Chef Edward Espe Brown. I watched it with my guest/collaborator over the course of our evenings, as a peaceful reward to our hard work during the days. S. was able to flow effortlessly into the film. She is more focused and obedient than I. When EEB said to the people in the film to breathe deeply, S. breathed deeply, too. When he said to BE the package of cheese you can't get open--to ASK the cheese package how you can help it get open--S. nodded solemnly in affirmation.

By this time, of course, I had hauled my laptop over into my lap and was checking the weather, answering e-mail, reading blogs, and wondering how the Garage Band application works.

II. I had noticed earlier in the day that my tires were dangerously low. Let me quickly gloss over the embarrassing fact that I've never put air in my own tires. Oh, right, I can't gloss over that, damn it, since the fact is central to this story. OK, so sue me, I've never done it. I've always been a religious "every 3 months" oil changer, and the tires were always serviced then, and somehow I've just made it coasting through luck on Good Air Juju. But sure enough, I knew that I had to take the plunge, so S. and I set out to find a gas station.

I'll skip over the 20 minutes of us standing in front of the air machine, reading and re-reading the instructions. I'll delete the section about the panhandlers trying to get money from us. Finally, S. went in and confessed our shame to the assembled masses in the convenience store area, and returned with some guy wearing a solicitous smirk, who showed us how to do it.

It looked so easy. The first one was done, he stood up and handed me the hose, and sauntered (I swear the grin reached all the way around the back of his head) away.

I grasped the hose like I was holding on to the head of a deadly snake and went to my knees.

I took the cap off the, uh, air thingie, and promptly dropped it into the wheel well (or so I thought). I scrambled and patted the concrete, reamed out the inside of the wheel well with my blind, fumbling hand, and S. said the thought she saw something on the ground.

I'll skip the part about S. crawling under the car, looking for the cap and getting stuck in bubblegum, and me shouting to the tire "TELL ME HOW I CAN HELP YOU FILL YOURSELF, YOU @!$#!! TIRE!!!"

By this time, we were both weeping with laughter, and had pretty much tied the entire car up in a huge bow made of the air hose. But the tires are all plumped out at roughly 30...um, some measurement.

III. I don't see myself joining a Zen monastery anytime soon. I'm pretty sure I would be kicked out in the first 10 minutes.

Monday, June 2, 2008


However befuddled I am as they begin, they are just that: a beginning. I should never doubt Mondays. I fidgeted my way through the entire day at work, so I could come home and have no meeting, no plan, no social engagement, no responsibility to be the boss of me.

Work shoes off, walking shoes on, and I was out the door. I meandered up and down the streets of my new neighborhood, discovering things I've never seen while in my car. A tiny park with a group of people playing, of all things, kickball.

Oooh, Danny Dixon, wherever you are, you are still frozen in my mind as the hottest sixth-grader ever. The sound that reddish ball makes when it's kicked, hard, across the field brings you right into sweet focus in my mind's eye. My now transported pre-pubescent heart flutters at your memory...but my grown-up heart re-boots and suspects you're lying on a couch in a wife-beater, somewhere in rural Arkansas, drinking a Pabst right about now.

Down at Lake Union, I step between goose turds and pigeons hoping for a bit of bread from the boys eating hot dogs gotten from who knows where. The sun is behind clouds and there's a hole in the wooden boat moored at the landing.

I head back up the hill and step into a taco stand for dinner. There are 6 people in there and we are each alone. We are divided evenly between those of us staring straight into our food and those of us with eyes darting from person to person, looking at the space above each person's head, conscious of how we display our chewing, our swallowing.

I e-mail an iPhone picture and drop a glop of guacamole onto my pant leg.

I don't care.

It's the end of the day and one needn't worry about messes. 7:35 PM and I am blessedly unfettered.

I might just take a bath.

With bubbles.

Now begins The Great Silence.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

SIFF and meat loaf


I leave my office at noon, since the showers have blown through and the sun is coming out. I need to pick up my tickets for the Seattle International Film Festival downtown, and think this will a) take care of an errand; b) give me a reason for a noontime walk.

Two blocks away, and I remember that I have left the confirmation sheets lying in my printer, so I dash back home, race upstairs, grab the documents, and am off again.

By the time I screech into the SIFF booth at Pacific Place, I'm deep into my lunch hour, and am starting to realize how silly it is to try to pack all of this into 60 minutes. But I figure "breathless, and wearing sunglasses" is a good persona for someone buying SIFF tickets, no?

The boi working the desk is quite ultra-deluxe, in that all dressed in black, tragically hip kind of way, but he's got nothing on me. I'm wearing black and charcoal. Ha.

I saunter up, grin, lean forward, and triumphantly (but not TOO triumphantly, because that would be so NOT cool) slap my sheets of paper down in front of him.

He's all business and grabs the sheets up, scanning the sheets for meaning.

Can he not find the confirmation code?
Has the printer garbled something up?
Did it spit out blank paper?

None of the above.

He looks up at me with the blank stare of someone being addressed in a completely foreign tongue.

What I have handed him is an unsolicited but dutifully printed out e-mail from my mother, giving step-by-step instructions for how to prepare her MEAT LOAF.


That is the sound of my pride hitting the concrete floor.

Thursday, May 15, 2008


I wore linen for the first time this season.

I retrieved it from the back of the closet last night and washed it, just so I could hang it up to dry and be all fragrant and fresh when I pulled it over my head this morning.

I opened the window in my office this morning so the breeze could ripple the fabric and my bangs.

I smiled a lot.

I looked down at my painted toes in my sandals and wiggled them. The polish is a bit chipped. My socks didn't care this winter, but the sun pays attention to these things.

Friday, May 9, 2008

one (wo)man's trash is another (wo)man's treasure

This is part travelblogue, part journal, part connection to far-flung friends, part tap-tap-tapping of fingers on touchstone keys.

I'm drunk on lack of sleep and overstimulation--too woozy to offer up anything coherent, too wired to let it go and slip under the covers.

I've been to the other side of the country and back, I helped a friend say goodbye to her mother, I kissed men in subways and women on the street next to steam pipes. I broke bread with people I see too infrequently. I learned to drink single-malt scotch. I took iPhone pictures and fired them, little moments in time, deployed across space to the other coast and into a friend's eyes. Sometimes the images were refracted back to me through his wry comments.

I took in all manner of art and believed that it's the only thing that will save us in the end. I told this to people standing next to me and they agreed.

I saw a dress made of discarded teabags. It was part of a rite of passage. I was humbled to stand next to it and its creator.

I thought it high time to start singing again. I wonder if I will.

I was greeted like a soldier returning from war at my favorite restaurant, even though I was there last week…I realized that I was a "regular" someplace. Me of the restless soul.

I relinquished my competence and control and softened into a willingness to be pampered. A good night's sleep and I'll be back to my usual armored self, but with a chink.

I made someone shush and listen to geeky choral music. He didn't mind.

I taught a friend a word I love that doesn't exist in English.

It's "Lebenskünstler" and it means an artist whose medium is life itself.

I think my life of dabbling in every experience I could wrestle to the ground has always been an attempt to be one of those. Singing and taking pictures and painting and weaving and throwing pots and acting and writing have all just been a foil, a legitimation of my gluttonous desire to do, see, hear, taste, feel, and know everything in my range.

I unpacked my bag, washed its contents, and folded it all right back into the bag.

The car picks me up at 0530 tomorrow, and off I go again.

Thursday, May 1, 2008


+ I love my iPhone and the ability to take reasonably decent pictures and send them to my friends on the spot. This one is so green and pink and red and fresh and lush and spring. I know spring isn't an adjective. Sue me. ; )

- I hate living in a condo I love, only to have the owner try to sell it out from under me. From his perspective, I've been paying his mortgage while he speculates and invests. Now that he has a little cash flow issue, on the market it goes. "Can we go month to month when your lease expires at the end of this month?" he asks. "Sure we can" I answer. After two weeks of disrupting showings, I have given notice and paid a deposit on a new loft. He's horrified! He has cash flow issues! What about the rent I've been paying? Karma, dude. I feel not one speck of guilt. OK, maybe one tiny specklet, but only because I'm a nice person.

+ I love procrastinating about going to the gym, finally going at the last possible moment in the evening, and coming home to feel great AND virtuous.

- I hate suspecting that someone called me yesterday under the guise of wanting to chat, and spent half an hour to get around to what he really wanted: to know if a mutual friend is "available" for a romantic relationship. Just call and ask that. We're not in junior high. Don't waste my time.

+ I love that I am curious.

- I hate that I have a great recipe for taramosalata and a jar of tarama and no one around to appreciate it.

+ I love that I get to go get my hair cut tomorrow. I'm pretty sure I have such short hair so that I can go really often, and I'm equally sure that I'm more interested in the shampoo and head massage ritual than the cut.

- I hate that I don't have any particular flourish of an ending to this blog.

+ I love that my friends won't care and others won't read it in the first place.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

who I am

"Rinsk" is a made-up name, given to me by my dad.  Sometimes he embellishes it, and then it's "Rinsky-dinsky"--I don't know where it came from, but he's the only one who calls me that.  It's not his serious name for me, when the conversation involves money or death or pain or disease or war.  It's a "come home soon" name.  A "you are smart and funny and you're my daughter" name.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

I am so going to blog about you (or: my 50th birthday)

I am so going to blog about you.

Actually, I'm not.

I'm going to blog about strawberries, and how giant, red, sweet, perfect, succulent ones should be in abundant supply at all times.

And I'm also going to blog about good beds and vacation house kitchens that are well-stocked and porcelain bathtubs in spacious, wood-floored bathrooms.

And people who open up their home with gracious hospitality and an attitude of "well, why wouldn't we?"--even though they had never met me.

And old, weathered men who burst with excitement to show me the nesting peregrines with a spotting scope and go on and on about "breathing" season.

And seagulls that let me walk right up to them.

And friends who make long drives, bearing healing balm and laughter.

And other friends who take off work early to buy me dinner and presents and make me wish I lived closer.

And old movie houses with seats that are beaten down by decades of use.

And tractor pulls and purple flowers that are everywhere but no one knows what they're called and windchimes and competitive joke-telling and handmade birthday cards.

And having perfect company and a supportive witness as I gingerly stepped from one decade into the next.

And feeling, therefore, so rich.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008


I was the first patron of a young artist yesterday.

I had seen a student show and remarked on one of the pieces. I got a call from the studio and was told that the young man was there packing up everything, if I wanted to come down. He had been told that there was someone interested in his work, so he had a heads up.

He was so nervous! He feverishly laid everything out for me, including other things in his portfolio, things he pulled out of binders...I half expected him to empty his pockets onto the table. He talked very earnestly about the series of prints, and put things into the "I'm happy with this" pile or the "this one's not very strong" pile.

I asked him how he was going to price everything and he looked like a deer in the headlights. He asked how much I would pay, and I said he would have to just get right over that. He was going to have to step up and name a price, as awkward as I know that felt to him.

He gulped and said a number. I said I would take #4 of the series. He grinned and looked over at his instructor and SHE grinned. I took his e-mail address and asked him to set the piece aside for me.

As I left, I heard the unmistakable sound of a "high five" being exchanged, and before the door closed behind me, he was babbling and giggling like mad.

It almost doesn't even matter if I get the piece now, although it's intended as a gift. Watching that kid go from "one day I want to be an artist" to "I'm an artist and I just sold my first piece" in the course of a half hour was worth what I paid and more.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter weekend '08

Friday afternoon, 6 PM, work is done for the week and it's still light out. It's that long shadow kind of day, and I walk in and out of patches of sunlight where they fall between downtown buildings. It's a familiar straight shot to the water from my place, up and down hills, and I take it fast...long strides distancing me from the stress of the last few days. When I crest 2nd Avenue, I get my first glimpse of Elliott Bay, and I grin every single time. This is the perfect end to the week, and it's become a (good weather) ritual: down to the water, snapping iPhone photos as I go, along the market, back up Pike Street, the dive-y Vietnamese noodle shop, and home.

There's a blind man with a guitar in front of the piroshky shop, singing "you are all I need…I lay all of me at your feet." At his feet is an empty coffee can that plinks when coins hit it. At the next corner is a blind man sitting cross-legged with a blind dog. And walking along Pike, a blind man with his stick in front of him and a group of ne'er-do-well hecklers following along behind. I feel guilty for my sight, and for wanting to photograph all of them, for reasons that are unclear to me.

Crossing 3rd is an old woman dressed in white from head to toe, carrying a 24-pack of white toilet paper.

Saturday is a blur of tax documents, photocopying, organizing, and cursing.

Today brings a 70mm screening of Lawrence of Arabia at the Cinerama, which will clock in at closer to four hours than three…I'm thinking aisle seat…followed by tapas and the theater with friends.

I can find no parallel to resurrection in my weekend. I have risen, indeed, but only from my bed on an Easter morning in March in Seattle.

Monday, March 17, 2008

waste not, want not

My great-grandmother fried two chickens every Sunday. She parceled out all the pieces to everyone around the big oblong table, and took the fried chicken backs for herself. She claimed they were her favorite. She had hair down past her hips, and every night she removed the hairpins, unloosed the bun, and brushed her hair. She then pulled the hair out of the hairbrush and put it in a bag. When the bag was full, she stuffed the hair into homemade pincushions that she fashioned out of fabric scraps and sewed them up.

She made all my childhood clothes.

Spring has sprung for the time being in Seattle. It may rain tomorrow or the next day, so I walked and walked and walked in the sunshine today. I was greedy and demanding as I pulled down the rays to my upturned face, and I took no notice of whether or not I was getting more than my fair share.

I don't feel the least bit guilty.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

just melting sand

I spent yesterday watching glassblowers in a timbered shelter in the middle of old growth forest north of Seattle.

Every turn from I-5 got progressively more remote. The trees got taller and thicker, the lichens greener and hardier. Small signs warned “no visitors”, but we had an invitation (would I have been less excited if everyone could wander in? I fear I would have been…). We were a bit early, so we parked the car and stood in silence near the pond.

Silence is not golden, it’s green and lush and slick with the remnants of a rain shower.

At the appointed time, we walked in single file up the path to the hot-glass shop, where 2 teams of artists were working. It was cold out, so the closer we got to the kilns, the more delicious it felt. We didn’t want to be in the way (or maybe it felt too sacred up close…like walking right up to an altar or standing on a grave), so we stood back a bit, where cold outside air and hot fire air played tug of war. The whole space glowed orange, and all the artists’ faces seemed to beam. Maybe it was just the sweat, but surely giving birth to such incredible shapes helped. Globs of molten glass were pulled out of the oven on poles, cajoled and prodded into swirls and orbs with torches and metal paddles. How utterly improbable.

I was transfixed.

I want to do that.

I want to throw my coat off, reach toward the fire, birth beauty, and sweat and beam.

One artist looked up at me and knew me. “It’s your first time.” He grinned at my speechlessness.

“We’re just melting some sand, baby. Just melting sand.”

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

grown up and cool

One of the things I love about living downtown is that I can leave work, shake the dust of the office off my shoes, and then head into the traffic and lights and humanity at "Feierabend"--a not very translatable German word that is both the end of the work day and the greeting you give to people to acknowledge that transition from professional to personal.

This evening I walked down to the Pike Place Market and bought a loaf of 8-grain bread at a bakery. The guy was horrified that he didn't have the 12-grain that I wanted, and he gave me his card and told me to call ahead and that he would hold a loaf for me next time...and then he gave me the 8-grain for half price.

A homeless woman shouted out to me "I love your earrings!!! It's the first thing I noticed when you walked by! Those are GREAT!" And she grinned a big, lopsided grin and ducked, waving, into an alleyway.

Another woman fell out of her wheelchair and hit her head on the street at the corner of 6th and Pine and 15 people swooped down to tend to her, while another 5 directed traffic away from and her and 10 more called 911 on their cellphones. I was useless, except to hold her hand and talk to her. She said she was afraid, and to please keep talking to her until help came. Once the firetruck with the first responders arrived, about the same time as the woman's son got there, everyone dispersed silently. We'll never see each other again, so we can't test the bond that formed in a second around the woman on the ground.

I stopped in a little risotteria and had a glass of barbera and a plate of tomato-y rice by candlelight, all by myself. I felt more grown up than alone. The waiter talked to me as if he found it more cool than pathetic to serve a single woman with a loaf of bread and cheeks flushed from a walk and a streetside drama, surreptitiously taking iPhone pictures at passersby on the other side of the window.

Dean Martin crooned.

It was good.

Monday, February 18, 2008

living the questions

What a gorgeous morning. What began as a series of curses, a smashing of the alarm clock with a hammer, a stumbling into clothes and to the gym--I forgot it was a holiday and made an appointment with my trainer for dark:thirty, stupidstupidstupid, but ah, well, now it's done--has turned into a bright expanse of day ahead of me.

I may take a leisurely bath with salts and unguents instead of a utilitarian shower.

I may walk down to the Sculpture Park and turn my face toward the sun instead of ticking off a life maintenance errand from my list.

And I may ponder questions instead of tilting at the windmills of my life, my career, my relationships, my age, money, unrequited loves, unredeemed dreams...there's time enough for that tomorrow and tomorrow.

...I would like to beg you dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.

Rainer Maria Rilke, 1903
in Letters to a Young Poet

Monday, February 11, 2008

In Praise of the Humble Saltine

I don't quite remember when it happened. First there were Ritz crackers, then Wheat Thins and Triscuit. Then "water biscuits" and pita chips and lavosh and rosemary-scented crispbreads of every stripe.

But somewhere along the line, the humble saltine cracker was tossed aside as old school, as passé, as soooo last century.

The saltine was the go-to snack of childhood camping trips and interminable car rides to visit relatives in the southern part of the state. The package held up well, and served as deferential companion to cans of Armour potted meat, vienna sausages, and sardines, along with a little bottle of Louisiana hot sauce: a long, rectangular, waxed paper bridesmaid.

My dad would pull the Rambler over to a roadside picnic table, and we would all peel our sweaty skin from the car seats and race over to get spots on the end. My brother was terribly fair-skinned, so my mom would secure a cloth diaper around his little shoulders with a diaper pin to prevent "blistering"--it was never just a sunburn, always the apocalyptic-sounding blistering.

The saltine tin came out, then the cans (the potted meat can was wrapped in white paper), the bottle of hot sauce, and then--finally--the metal ice chest with bottles of Nehi grape soda and Big Red. If we were lucky, there would be a bag of orange slices or marshmallow circus peanuts to round out the repast.

My stomach churns to think about most of those things today. It's a wonder we survived.

But saltines, I feel, got a bad rap. Tossed aside for no reason other than fashion, they did yeoman's work for years and years as vehicle for peanut butter and pimiento cheese, as binder for salmon croquettes, and as the lunchtime accompaniment to chili or tomato soup (the night time upgrade was cornbread for chili and grilled cheese for the soup).

I, too, passed them by for more glamorous starch, until I got sick in December. I was eating lots of soup, and, well, being sick just calls for comfort any way you can get it. No mom here, no grandmother to dab at my fevered brow, no dad with a brand new coloring book and crayons from Woolworth's...

...so I reprised the saltine, out of sheer nostalgia and desire for something that hearkened back to home.

And now, by God, I'm leaving Oz and its fancy crispbread, and returning, unapologetically, to the saltines of my youth.

There's no place like home.
There's no place like home.
There's no place like home.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

chosen families

Since I was flying out of Arkansas at dark:thirty on Sunday morning, I decided to spend the night with my friends J and J, who live in Little Rock, as opposed to on a dirt road an hour and a half north.

After a too-short visit and too much wine, I crawled into "my" bed, which is always made up for me as if I am the Queen of Sheba, and forced myself into a few hours of fitful sleep before 0500 reveille. They got up with me and made me cappuccino while I showered, stood in their robes on the porch in the dark, and waved and blew kisses as I drove away. What sweet boys.

Uneventful flights to NYC.

First revelation on the ground: the iPhone's sensitive "touch" pad is way too sensitive for keyboarding in a speeding and lurching New York yellow cab. My "I landed safely" e-mail to my parents and J and J ended up being something like "A banjo ate me." Imagine their horror. I'm sure my mother believed that her worst fears about NYC had been confirmed.

I raced to meet Tara for a late brunch. We picked up right where we left off (only I come to lament that we live on opposite coasts more and more, each time we hang out). This time we had a lively conversation about things that are usually shared in privacy. The fact that conversation pretty much stopped between the two guys to my left tells me that we had an audience, who got an earful. They also got to witness two grown women fall on a basket of gougeres with passionate abandon.

Because we were so focused on our conversation, we didn't notice at first that everyone in our area had left, the waitstaff had removed all the tables but ours, and the water had been withheld for hours. Passive-aggressive bastards. By the time we looked up, we resembled a table for two in the middle of a vast, empty dance floor.

We relocated to a Korean Tea House, where T had good tea and I had something that smelled and tasted like squash baby food. But the Asian plinky-plinky (T's term) musical rendition of "Hey, Jude" wafting through the air made us giggly, and we continued on until dusk and "look at the time"--since we both had other plans for the evening.

I can't say too much about the transcendent meal I had at Bouley that evening, because it would be sinful to lord it over the blogosphere. It.Was.To.Die.For. I got back to the hotel 5 minutes before the end of the Super Bowl, just in time to figure out that all the subsequent hullabaloo outside was happy cheering and not Cloverfield screaming.

Meeting the next day. Blahblah.

Got to Newark for my 6:45 PM flight at 4:30. That would have been fine, except for the fact that my flight didn't actually leave until 9:45. The plane had been a victim of a bird strike, which meant lots of cleaning, checking, and maintenance men coming out with tales of carnage afterwards. The pilot warned us not to be alarmed if we smelled a Thanksgiving turkey sort of odor as he fired up the engines. TMI. Let us live in ignorant bliss, please.

After 6 hours of flying (and sleeping a bit, thanks to the Not Full Flight Gods, the incantation of a helpful friend, and a row to myself), I got home. Thankful to have spent time with my family, both blood and chosen, thankful to have friends in all corners of the world, and thankful to have a wonderful Tempur-pedic mattress to come home to.

I'm not particularly thankful that the Giants won the Super Bowl. I had about as much investment in that game as in, um, some other thing in which I have little investment.

Monday, January 28, 2008

This is so (not) about me.

My aunt will die within the next few hours.

I started a webpage for our family on a non-profit site that allows loved ones to communicate with each other, sign a guestbook, leave loving, thoughtful, supportive words to each other as we all wait these last days.

I did this freely.

I adore my family. At our core, we are very similar and share the same values. But I express mine very differently.

The guestbook is already filled with deeply felt sentiments that have the common thread of the Lord's loving arms, making the final journey to a heavenly home, trusting in the comfort of Jesus.

This is so not about me.

This is about a faith life that my aunt has led and that has been shared by her family and friends--all reflected in these comments.

This is so not about me.

I want to write in the guestbook in big bold letters that this is sad and she is dying and we should all be wailing and there is no heavenly home and this is sad and she is dying and going away and she has suffered and she will have rest and we will miss her and this is sad this is sad this is sad.

I am sad and I don't feel embraced at all by the Lord right now.

This is so not about me.
This is about the life she has led and how she and her family choose to understand this part of her journey.

I want to be selfless.

I want to be gracious.

I want to understand grace.

Saturday, January 26, 2008


My dad and one of his younger brothers, 77 and 75, have spent the last few years trying to piece together the family history. Working off the margin scribblings and tucked in scraps of notes in the family Bible, they've chased a number of metaphorical rabbits down holes, over hills, through hollers, and back again.

Many dead ends.

My great-great grandmother and great-great grandfather, it seems, were married in the home of her parents in Lamp, Arkansas. Trouble is, Lamp no longer exists.

But they got lucky last week, when a distant cousin sent them a collection of old, old maps of the region. And there was Lamp, about 5 miles from our property and on the other side of the churchyard where all the family is buried.

My dad and his brother got up early this morning, loaded up two metal thermoses of coffee and some leftover biscuit and sausage sandwiches wrapped in wax paper, called all the dogs--who leapt into the bed of the truck, howling and dancing--and took off in search of the town that no longer is.

They pulled the truck over onto the shoulder about where they thought the center of town would have been, and lowered the gate on the back of the truck. They spread out the maps on the truck bed and weighted the corners with stones.

There they sat, drinking their coffee, eating their snack, and talking about the kinds of things that brothers can say with few words. The dogs sniffed around in the field next to the truck, and after a while, another truck pulled up behind them. After all, why would two old men choose to have an early-morning picnic in the dead of winter on the side of the road in the foothills of the Ozarks? Were they OK?

Turns out, the couple in the truck knew all about Lamp, since their family had lived on this road for generations. There had been a school, a store, and even a post office at one time, see? right here on this spot on the map...and they knew our family name.

After an exchange of phone numbers, the couple left and Dad and my uncle folded up the maps, gathered up the dogs, and took off, too.

Dad was so excited when he recounted this to me on the phone just now. A ride in an old truck, some simple food, the steam off a metal cup, a beloved brother, a wide place in the road where a part of his life still pulsed, and some new friends...

May I have such Saturday mornings when I'm 77.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Ladies Who Lunch

Tomato Roma Soup with a parmesan toast at the Seattle downtown Nordstrom café is the coda to my monthly Saturday haircut. My appointment ends around lunchtime, and I stroll over to the store, wander about through various departments trying to avoid the shoes--I failed today, and have a new pair and a dinged up budget--avail myself of the Women's Lounge, and then round out the ritual with soup.

I love it. It's a perfect match for my knockabout clothes and battered Saucony shoes and no make-up, topped with a killer new coiffure. Soup drives right down the middle between comfy and coiffed.

This particular café features a long leatherette banquette with six two-top tables in the middle of the room. It's a high traffic area, and the only people ever seated there are solo women, who always sit on the banquette side, with their shopping bags serving as mute companions on the facing chairs.

I've never seen a man in this area. It's the Ladies Who Lunch section, period, and the types are the same. There's often one elderly woman who has a paperback book, reading glasses, and wears her knitted cap throughout lunch. This type orders a sandwich and a large cookie with black coffee, and she packs up half of each to take home.

There's the Overdone Type. She will have too much make-up on, have too big hair, too much jewelry, too ostentatious clothes, too much food, and be too demanding of the waitstaff.

My favorite is the Proper Lady type. She's in her 80s, and lives alone, since her husband died many years ago. She still keeps house, still goes to church on Sunday morning with her offering envelope filled out in spidery script, and comes to Nordstrom on Saturday with her pocketbook, her outmoded but well-maintained skirt suit, her pearls, her pumps and nylons, and her handkerchief.

She has a salad, tea, and a fruit tartlet, and she savors every bite. She is the one who engages me in conversation and murmurs "oh, my!" as I answer each of her questions, as if I'm the most interesting and exotic person she has ever encountered in her long life.

I was seated next to a Proper Lady today. She had never seen an iPhone and was completely puzzled and fascinated that I would photograph my soup and then send the picture to a friend.

I liked her. Of the three types, she's the one I want to be when I grow up, although I have nothing in common with her. I don't have a husband, so I can't be a widow. I don't tithe, so my spidery script will have to fill out something besides an offering envelope. And God knows I would sooner stand on my head and spit nickels than willingly don nylons.

But she was curious. She was out in the world, she was her version of All Dolled Up, she was looking around, she was registering and observing, and she was brazen enough to chat up a perfect stranger.

Well done.

She's my hero today.