Wednesday, September 17, 2014

On the Job with Frank Herbert

We listened to an audio recording of Dune, by Frank Herbert, today at work, for at least four hours. It's grim, but Herbert is a superb storyteller and language-spinner; and the production, on Audible, is top-notch. As I'm on my feet a lot, I kept missing pieces of the story, but I think I'm getting most of it.

The invented vocabulary is fascinating and marvelously odd. There is a term that kept coming up— Kwisatz Haderach — which means one who can be many places at once — and every time I heard it I also heard knick knack paddy whack which then evolved into cuisinart heart attack.

No way to explain any of this. No need to. The brain loves patterns.

It's a rare treat, listening to an audio book on the job. We are so rarely all sitting down at the same time, and it's even more rare to be able to go long stretches without the necessity of some work-related conversation.

This book may take months, but no one's complaining.

(And yet another reason why I feel so fortunate to be making art for a living.)


Sunday, September 7, 2014

Please Don't Be My Neighbor (please)

This morning there was a knock at the door, and I opened it to an older woman, (she seemed "normal" enough) who told me she was going to make an offer on the house next door and wondered what the neighborhood was like. After extolling its virtues (possibly, in retrospect, a mistake), we walked down to the sidewalk and stood on the boundary between both properties.

"Something's gotta be done about the landscaping," she said. "And look at that fence!" (Pointing to my old lattice fence between houses.) "Is it a fence or not? It goes one way, and then another! I don't know. Will I have to put up a new fence? Is that my responsibility? Something is clearly wrong with that one."

I didn't bother to tell her that it's my fence, on my property, and that when we put it up, it had to veer a few inches from the straight line on one end to accommodate tree roots.

She went on: "And this tree! The ivy! LOOK AT IT!"

I was looking at it.

I said, "Yeah, once a year I come out and pull out as much ivy as I can. It's a bear to deal with."

"AND LOOK AT ALL THIS STUFF — THIS, AND THIS!"

(She shouted.)

I didn't bother to tell her that she was talking about MY YARD. The feral part. Funny thing is, it's on my list of things to work on this weekend, but because it's been 85 degrees, I haven't done it. Yet. But I didn't tell her that.

"And this tree, it's gotta come down, or get topped. LOOK AT IT! IT'S TOO BIG! THERE'S A FUNNY PLACE WHERE THE BRANCHES GO IN! IT'S A DANGER! DO YOU SEE THAT? ABOUT HALFWAY UP? IT NEEDS TO BE TOPPED! THE REALTOR SAID IT NEEDS TO BE TOPPED!" She was speaking faster and faster.

I was looking at it. It's an 80-year-old Douglas fir which straddles the property line, which is beloved by me, and is ecosystem unto itself, which I did tell her. I also told her that the city came and trimmed that side of the tree, away from the power lines, 20 years ago. And I told her that topping a tree is probably the worst thing one can do, as it makes the tree susceptible to rot from the inside, which kills the tree.

She ranted on, about how the realtor told her this, and the realtor told her that, mostly a lot of hogwash which had obviously gotten her considerably worked up.

Twenty years ago, a previous owner had approached me about taking down the both the trees on her property, because she didn't like the way they dropped things on the grass and hurt her feet when she walked barefoot. Keep in mind, for the three years she lived there, she went out in her yard possibly 2.3 times, give or take. Anyway, this previous owner and I were standing out on the sidewalk, and the conversation was beginning to get heated, and Mark came out and escorted me into the house.  Of course, I was furious — at both the neighbor and my husband — but nonetheless, the tree still stands.

Anyway, at this point in this morning's conversation, I was ready to retract my earlier statement about the wonders of B-Street, but couldn't get a word in. She talked. And talked. And talked some more.

the cinderblock foundation the carpet I hate carpet I have lung problems I love wood the sewer line the grandkids AND THAT GARAGE THAT NEEDS PAINT [my garage] the dirt the grass the other tree the bidding war why aren't there cute trees planted in the parking strip what's wrong with these people doesn't the city have a program don't these people know it looks cute to have trees in the parking strip up and down the street it shields the houses from cars even fruit trees the paint the siding the the the and and and. . . . 

STOP.
God help me. 

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Will You Be My Neighbor?

The house next door is for sale, and today is an open house, so there have been people in and out all day, poking around under things, picking at the siding, peeking a look over the fence where I've been sitting on my deck eating the remains of a brownie/chocolate-chip-cookie concoction that my son made.

The yard next door, which for most of the 27 years I've been here, has been mowed, and that's about it. Last week some yard maintenance people came in to spruce things up, and I swear, they brought out their vacuum cleaners and sucked up every shred of dried leaf from the property. They also mowed down a lovely patch of vinca and severely pruned some shrubs in the front yard, so where my side yard was previously private, it now is in full view of anyone walking by on the side walk. Sigh.

And there are now two Grecian urns on the front porch planted with conical conifers. (Eye roll.) Whoa there, Nelly. Let's not get all fancified here.

Twenty-seven years ago, this neighborhood was boarded up windows and cheap rent. Today it's gentrified and hip, and I fear that I've become one of the remnants of a previous era, kind of a post-hippie oldster with a falling down garage out back and a garden that wants to go feral. (And parts of it does.) Rising property values, rising taxes. The world spins on.

A house on the next block listed this week for $950,000. Um, that's slightly less than a million dollars. A MILLION DOLLARS.

The good news is, despite the fact that my mortgage is inordinately high because of ongoing payments to dead men, I've gained a little equity, so all is not lost.

Soon I'll be leering down from my balcony at the new neighbors, if they're the kind that goes out in their back yard. (I've enjoyed many years of relative solitude outside with stay-inside neighbors.) Who knows — maybe I'll like them, and vice versa. Maybe they'll be the kind of neighbors who aren't averse to sharing a glass of wine or two, in keeping with our B-Street traditions.

Of course, the best possible neighbor would be male, single, late 50's, erudite, literate, easy on the eyes, etc.

I can only hope.




Sunday, August 31, 2014

Cognac and Fire Vents

Sitting on the back deck tonight with my boys, the light fading, sipping some VSOP Cognac that R. pulled from his stash, and I couldn't help but let my mind drift back to 1983, on my honeymoon with Mark in France. Cognac usually is the key to this memory-visit, and Calvados sends me back without hesitation.

Normandy. September. Apples everywhere on the ground, trees weighted low with them, the air overwhelmed with their fragrance.

The boys (well, men, actually) were rambling on and on about this and that while my thoughts drifted, and N. mentioned how he and his dad installed some special fire-protection vents in the soffits when we did the remodel back in 2003. He said, "you know, Dad was pretty freaked out by that fire." (He was referring to an apartment fire in 1987.)

This was the first I'd heard of this particular detail. N. does this every now and then — he comes out with some fact or other about his dad, something I'd not known, which just astonishes me, all these years later. That there are things I don't know — that's the surprise. And it's hubris to think that I know it all, because, well, obviously I don't. And what great delight it is when one of my sons tosses me the gift of a new fact about their dad — my husband.  Like someone out-of-the-blue mailed me a photo of me from years ago. Like I'm peeking through the fence boards with one eye for a view of something which I cannot possibly see full-on, because it's so far away.

There are few left who possess any of this knowledge of my boys' father, as his mother and sister — both chroniclers of history — have passed. Those who remain — his father and older brother — are remarkably taciturn individuals, quick with a laugh but eschew anything even remotely sentimental.

So anyway.

Tonight it was Cognac and fire vents — incidentally the fire vents had been pulled out to access the hornet's nest.

I can only wonder how many other secrets this house holds, and what pesty invasion will be the key to another unveiling.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Bee Gone

There are dead hornets lined up on my kitchen window sill, dozens of them, finally given up after visit #4 from George the Bee Man who wreaked his havoc with poison powders. It all makes me a little nauseous. Who gave me the right to authorize this small-scale (in the scheme of things)
hornet-ocide? More aware than ever of the delicate balance in which we reside on this planet, tipping as we all are to certain annihilation.

This was brought to mind this week, as we dumped trash at work into plastic sacks:


The journey of trash, coming soon to an ocean near you.

Remember when litter on the side of the road was a big issue?

But back to the hymenoptera who were munching away at my sheetrock, constructing their exquisite and alien-looking condominium development in my crawlspace. It came down to them vs. my house. And I won, I guess, seeing as we didn't seem to be able to co-exist without doing each other harm. And, well, I'm bigger.

Not a sting to be had, though.

I'm thinking that perhaps a hornet funeral is in the works for this weekend.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Bambi Wedding

Ah, family weddings. My niece got married yesterday, at a farm-venue, and there were doves released from the dovecote when they were pronounced legally bonded. Beyond the rose garden, a meadow with deer — deer within a fence, and children were picking apples from the beautifully espaliered apple trees and throwing them to the deer, until one of my nieces (she's 12) shouted: "You shouldn't be picking those apples!" And everyone was ooing and ahhhing over these lovely, lovely delicate creatures, the fawns very Bambiesque, some with tiny sharp prongs of baby-antlers beginning to emerge. When they startled, they'd do that upward leap-thing, all very elegant. And I recalled that my sister said that this was a working farm, not just a wedding venue, and, well, all I could think of was venison. These weren't deer, they were venison.

Sigh.
So much for the cute factor.

But here's my little sis and moi, with a backdrop of empty Rainier Beer cans.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

How Do You Fly?

Been talking/thinking a lot about flight lately, about the fact that, despite our technology — despite the fact that we have complicated fighter jets that can swoop and loop in formation in the skies over my house, among other things — still humans cannot fly without the aid of an external device. We cannot loft ourselves skyward without large constructed wings and fossil fuels or a decent updraft. Oh, yes, I know: our bones are too dense, our bone structure is all wrong, we weigh too much, yadda yadda yadda. But still. I'm wonderin'.

There are wingsuits and parachutes, yes, but these allow us only to glide. I said to my friend T. tonight: "I want to fly home. [Five houses away from mine.] I want to rise up from your deck as if I'm a common sparrow, and flutter home."

So, yeah. I walked.

But in dreams, well, many of us manage it quite nicely.

I asked some of my co-workers today to describe their experiences of dream-flight, and I was awe-struck by their answers:

C. said that, in a dream, he must jump up with great force, and if he's lucky, he "sticks",  and is able to soar, Superman-style, above treetops and rooftops.

M. said that she dances with such intensity that the dance becomes flying, and to stay aloft, she only has to continue the dance. What a wonderful metaphor for life, I think: continue the dance, and you'll soar. (Wish my own dancing wasn't so lousy!)

My own in-flight dreams begin with great concentrated thought, a kind of be-all in the moment, and if I'm successful, my body floats up. Controlling the flight can be tricky, as I'm often distracted by the sights below, and sometimes I gain too much elevation too quickly and I wander a bit too far from earth. (Hmm. Beginning to sound a lot like my awake-life here on the ground.) I must sustain the concentration, and it's exhausting and difficult to maneuver a smooth landing. (Again, life imitates dream-flight!) Focus!

Consider, for a moment, if we could switch our awake-time with our dream-time; if our day-to-day routines were indeed dreams, and the dreams were "reality". Maybe it's all a lucid dream. Maybe some of us do indeed fly, in sketchy, gauzy landscapes where the unreal and wildly imaginative narratives we define as "dreams" are quite the contrary.

Consider it. And do tell me how it is you fly, if you do.

And although the following brief film has the power to make me believe in the possibilities of dream-flight-come-true, it comes with a disclaimer. Alas.

Dutch filmmaker admits faking viral 'human bird wing' video....
(Read the bad news here.)

Monday, August 18, 2014

Extermination, of Sorts.

George the bee-man looked at my $1.99 can of Wasp & Hornet Death and said, "You know what this is good for? Put it in a drawer at your bedside. If your house gets broken-into, grab it and fire it up. Shoots 25 feet. "

And here I was, thinking about my house getting broken-into, as it were, by hornets; and lo and behold, already we'd stepped it up a notch.

"And what happens next? If you hit the intruder in the face with the stuff?" I asked

He paused. Looked at me. "Well, let's just say that it will incapacitate your intruder."

He noticed a four-foot wooden rolling pin I have leaning up against the doorjamb in my kitchen. He picked it up and waved it in the air.

I said, "hit 'em with that?"

"Yup," he said. "But don't quote me on any of this."

Well, bust my buttons.
Not what I expected.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Saturation/Mortification

As they decline, their color intensifies. Perhaps the life force, the energy draws itself in to let loose a final rush of color. Something. All I know is that this bouquet of dahlias was on my bedroom dresser for two weeks, and day by day I took close note of its progress, if you will, towards decay. For a while I kept telling myself to ditch the wilted bunch, and then suddenly, when they seemed verging on total done-ness, their color became richly concentrated, while all the water in the vase evaporated.

Joseph Campbell talks of all things having consciousness, and I am without doubt that the consciousness of these spectacular colors continues to inhabit my living space. But are they still flowers, or purely, now, color and fibrous tissue? It matters not.

They are exquisite in what we would call death.





Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Heat, The Garden, The Work

Barely able to compose more than a simple sentence these days. I come home after nine hours of work and collapse in a limp heap on my mattress, the fan on HIGH. Yesterday was an uncharacteristic 90-something degrees and I thought my face was going to melt off. Honestly. I live in Seattle because it doesn't get this hot.

What I wanted more than anything tonight was for someone to bring me dinner.

Okay, well, that didn't happen. So instead I plucked up one of the beautiful onions from my parking-strip garden, as well as a few zucchini and a bowlful of cherry tomatoes, and sauteed the whole pile of them in some olive oil, then tossed them with some chiffonaded basil and sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. A glass of Sauvignon blanc, the NYTimes Sunday business section, outside at a table on my deck, and life was good.

We've endured a massive (for us!) turnover at work in the past six weeks, losing four staff and now, happily, stable with two new people. Young (relatively) and energetic, these two infuse the workspace with a youthful, intelligent chatter, and we're a better place for their presence. If I had the energy, I'd try to reproduce some of the conversations of late. I know that today, as I packed up some champagne glasses, there was something about ethnomusicology, and yesterday we were deeply into the subject of cultural appropriations in the Native American community. Last week we learned how to roast an entire pig, and there were generous samples of the aforementioned porcine. Yum!!

New employees so often shine lights of an alternate spectrum into our workspace. Because of the nature of the work, there are often several-hour blocks of time when we all sit at the big table and attend to various tasks. Times there are when I prefer to sit quietly and soak up the conversation, thankful when a loquacious workmate fills the airspace with narrative. Yes, yes, I do love to spin my own yarns, and have begun to not only tell tales but to affect the speaking-style of whoever happens to be the subject of the current tale. I suspect a latent thespian lurks within.





Wednesday, August 6, 2014

I am in constant wonderment at the silence and calm that has sifted down upon my days, so huge a contrast to the many years prior. Decades. And in this slowing down, I find much to take in, so much more than ever, which often seems impossible, in that I've always felt a limitless reservoir within, an infinite capacity to take it all in. (So much that I've often had to turn away, tune it out.)

Just yesterday evening, grumbling because I had to drive to the bank after a very long day to deposit my paycheck, I was struck speechless by the canopy of trees beneath which I traveled. Had these trees grown considerably since I last noticed them? Was the light different? Why was I just now dropping my jaw in awe at a landscape I've traveled through hundreds — possibly thousands — of times?

Honestly, I nearly wept.
I thought, I live in paradise.

And I can't seem to get enough of it.
 
Nor can I get enough of these, snipped
from a neighbor's yard. What are they?




Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Not Paris

Sitting at a traffic light tonight after work on my way to the post office, 84 degrees, the smell of exhaust: oddly nostalgic of my first summer in Europe, 1977, backpacking with two friends. Who would guess that nasty exhaust would drum up such a memory? But there I was, late afternoon, just off a train in some city (Paris/Florence/Barcelona), in search of a cheap hotel, a place to unload the backpack, get a decent night's sleep, if lucky. I could feel the hunger rumbling up in my belly, anticipation for dinner — what would it be tonight? Would I understand the language of the menu? Would there be an odd translation? ("Mixt, with Starters".) I pulled out my dog-eared copy of Let's Go Europe and headed for the closest one-star restaurant for my $2 dinner.

All these recollections, and the traffic light hadn't even changed yet!

A long line at the post office, and there I was again: American Express office, Paris, checking for mail. Back in the day, in the previous century, friends and relatives at home could address mail to me at any American Express location. All I had to do was flash my Amer. Ex. traveler's checks  — proof that I was a customer — and I'd pick up a stack of letters.

Heaven! I received funny antics-reportings of my cat Alex from my little sister ("Alex pooped on your bed the day after you left"), tales of my mom's daily activities ("went to an Altar Society Meeting yesterday and I was elected secretary; I don't want to be secretary") and missives from various older sisters. I still have those letters, archived in a box in my basement.

The one I recall most vividly, though, was from a semi-boyfriend: a man who was twenty years too old for me, twice married, once divorced (yowza, if you get my drift), who explained to me why he wasn't going forward with our "relationship".

I remember sitting on the stone steps of the Amexco office, sizzling in sun, feeling my stomach lurch down to my feet.  The world got really silent for a moment — all the street noise, the traffic and constant rush of people — silent. It wasn't a surprise, but damn, I was in Paris. I was twenty. The world should've been more glamorous, but here was proof that it wasn't.

I can still see his handwriting — precise, cursively taut, in fine green ink. (He knew I loved green ink, damn him.)

And then, in a flash,  I was back in line at the post office in Seattle, listening to a clerk speak way too loudly to a customer, as if volume could make up for a language barrier. It wasn't Paris. There was no bundle of letters for me behind the counter, no sad-sack last story from Mr. What's-His Name (who, according to my mathematical calculations, is nearing decrepitude).

Back in my car, windows rolled down, I imagined for just a moment that I was leaning out a train window, baguette and a round of camembert in my backpack, bottle of cheap CĂ´tes du Rhone ready to be uncorked. Life was ready to roll, man or no man, and I intended to roll with it.

For a moment, I imagined I'd have to find a hotel, find a place to eat, possibly do a currency exchange. I was hungry, and tired, but I was confident I could manage every detail of it. Those things were, after all, only details.

By then (back to reality in Seattle), I was pulling into my driveway. Not Paris. Leftovers in the fridge. A bottle of two-buck-Chuck already uncorked, and chilled. And thought: here is my life, 37 years later.

Two years forward, I would return to spend the entire summer in Paris, work permit in hand, going broke while becoming culturally wealthy. I thought then that my entire life would be different after this trip, but the truth of it was, when I got back to Seattle (okay: Renton), I rented a room from my mom, and started graduate school in Creative Writing at the U.W., feeling stuck, not wanting to be where I was. 

It took me another 25 years to understand that those first two trips abroad informed every decision I would make from then on out. My job in the art universe today stems from those summers where my days were suffused with lush visual imagery and the sense of infinite possibilities. Growing up in the shadow of the aerospace industry, my logical career path pointed to Boeing. But I ran in the other direction, and haven't regretted it for a moment. (Except when it comes to dental insurance, ha).

And here I'd intended only a quick stop at the post office, and ended up, instead, immersed in the scents, sounds and tastes of summers abroad three decades ago. (Maybe I should go to the post office more often.)

Anyway.

I'm about ready for that glass of wine. Anyone have any camembert?



Not Paris, most likely London. 1977.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Aviary

Was so close to a baby robin tonight (she was perched in my hazelnut tree, dozing), that I could see her heartbeat: with every breath, her tail feathers moved up and down. I was immediately brought back to my early years of nest-climbing, those impossibly blue eggs and a mother robin frantic nearby as close as possible as I peered in, counted the eggs. Lucky, later, if a broken shell-shard littered the ground at the base of the trunk. What was so beautiful had been cast off to make room for the new.

My hummingbird was as curious as I was — she fluttered around and around the dozing baby (who opened her eyes halfway, then returned to napping).

Last week a long trail of tiny amber ants took over the nectar feeder, gorging themselves into a drowning stupor. It took several tries and I finally had success (for now), by moving the feeder to a hook suspended from a rope strung to support the rampant kiwi vine. Farther for the ants to travel, but time will of course tell. At first I had it nestled in amongst some of the large roundish kiwi leaves, and was sternly reprimanded by my resident birds. Too hidden, I'm guessing. So I moved it to a more open space on the rope, and they immediately took up to feeding once again.

Such drama in my little back yard!