Thursday, February 26, 2015

Silence in Winter

Although my father was an accomplished musician — he played both violin and piano — the only tune I can associate with my memory of him is Ave Maria, sung by a man named Andy Sedlack at his funeral in 1966.

And back then, with no longer anyone to play it, my mother doomed his violin to the far-back of the basement, in the company of the wheezy furnace, and a lump of rosin entombed within green velvet in a black violin case.

The piano she sold to the neighbors, and we rolled it from yard to yard on planks laid end to end.

I must wonder at her grief, and her clearing-out of those sources of so much joy. (When I think of my father at the piano, I recall his hands moving quickly over the entire keyboard, containing, in my child's imagination, all 88 keys with seemingly zero effort.)

He died in early January, and those winter evenings stretched out interminably silent. We did our homework at the kitchen table, or read in quiet companionship in the living room. There was so much that was absent of light, as if half the lamps had been unplugged, and they hadn't been.

And there must have been a hubbub of voices — how could a family of (now) eight possibly maintain much quiet? But indeed, all these years later, it's the silence that speaks loudly to me now, roaring through the decades to this late February night.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Couch, with Teddy

When I'm walking home and it's close to sunset, and people have begun to turn their lights on inside their houses, there is that passing flash of a moment when I can see into someone's life: the color of paint in a living room, art on the walls, sometimes a glimpse of pans or a shelf of spices in a kitchen. When the weather warms, there are cooking smells also, curling out their wisps to the early evening air. Screen doors shutting. Someone playing drums. A symphony in full blare from speakers. Fragments of conversations from open windows.

We're beginning that slow transition to a more public neighborhood, that seasonal shift as the air warms. Now, after work, there's someone walking a dog every half-block, and sometimes kids in the street with a ball, or bikes, or skateboards. All these lives that have survived buttoned-up these dark months slowly raising their curtains to the new angle of the sun.

And some days, the private inside is carted out onto the sidewalk.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Not Snow

This afternoon my sister and I bundled up and walked down and down, from the bluff high above Alki Beach, down narrow tree-lined streets that seemed like secrets, houses perched on cliff-edges, switch-backing & winding down to the water's edge where the wind was fierce and biting, the sky inordinately blue, and people were larking about in shorts and tank tops. What the hell?! I was so cold, despite my sweater/coat/scarf/beret, that I put my hood on too and then held it tightly closed at the neck.

There were windsurfers out in the bay, rising up into the air and then cutting back into the waves. Amazing that they didn't get tangled up in each others' lines! A large group huddled around a fire, and they were putting food out, but I can't imagine how they kept it all from going airborne.

Cargo ships, perhaps six of them, sat idle on the Salish Sea, immobile due to a labor dispute. An eagle flew just above us, really just above our heads, maybe thirty feet, and I turned to watch it as its white head flashed in the sun, and it glided on thermals for what seemed like forever, not a flap of wing, until it disappeared far in the distance.

And then it was back up the hill, steep and steeper, the wind easing considerably away from the shore. And we unbuttoned and unscarved, huffing and puffing, warming as we climbed, up and up to the tidy hilltop, land of wide green parking strips and blooming pink ornamental cherry trees and views of mountains on two sides.

It's difficult to remember that it's still winter.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Sneak Online Preview!

These won't go live on the website until, most likely, next week, but I just couldn't resist posting these to my world of readers. (All, what — six? Seven of you?!)

I shipped the first collections of these out this week, and we're once again in full production mode. (Got my whip out.)

Can't decided which I like best; it seems to change on a whim, a mood, an angle of light. I am enamored of the new textures (love to run my fingertips over them!), and the minute-by-minute fluctuations of coloring as the light changes in the workroom: sun to cloud, glare to somber.

Bubbles, Seascape, Surf and Tideline are all developed from images Melinda took last fall at Cannon Beach, Oregon. Hours and hours spent poring over hundreds of photos, cropping and highlighting, color to black-and-white, contrast tinkering, printing and reprinting, sandblasting, experiments +++, yadda yadda yadda. And then, and then, and then. A massive undertaking; damn close to genius, actually.

They take my breath away!

A forest of Forests




All photography by Alec Miller.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

In The Elf Factory

The seven-foot-tall man came in from his job (catering at a large corporate hotel), and after a few minutes of our usual banter (we were all sitting at the big table, deep into painting), he said that coming from the corporate environment into our groovy painting scene was like walking into a Keebler elf factory.
Elves aside, we're starting production on the new lines, and it's thrilling. I've been working here for eight years, and, honestly, I think this is Melinda Wellsandt's best work to date. Doing a photo-shoot tomorrow of the new pieces, so I'll post some pics here when they're ready.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Gabriel Marquez: Seattle Artist

Here's an irony: I am teaching the artist Gabriel Marquez —whose work is pictured below — how to paint on glass. He's been with us in the studio for a little over two months now, and this tremendously talented young man, a very quiet study, has been slowly and methodically learning the idiosyncratic techniques that we employ to keep this thriving art business rolling.

Every time he shows me a photo of some new work, I feel humbled beyond belief. This is a man entirely lacking in the hubris/ego department. In fact, a small dose of ego would probably do him some good, but whatever. He is refreshingly modest.

On MLKing day, he brought his nine year old daughter to work with him, and she and the boss's boyfriend (who is seven feet tall) sat at the table for two hours and cut out snowflakes. Giant-man vis-à-vis little-girl: utterly charming.

If I had spare cash, I'd buy a piece of work from Gabriel. I wish everybody would buy a piece of work from Gabriel!

Friday, January 30, 2015


Marveling, this week, at the light that lingers past 5pm, and more so for the sunny afternoons. Mornings rise tamped down in fog, which fades not completely as the hours tick by, a shadowy film on the anemic winter light. In the middle of my workday I step outside, look up — and turn around and around. There is no end to the wonder of these ordinary days.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Open Mic: Happenstance Poets

It always wracks my nerves to stand up with a microphone in a busy bar and introduce my 4th Monday Easy Speak. An exodus usually follows, leaving behind our motley bunch of poet-stragglers huddled in booths with beer.

But last night, no one headed for the door. Yes, there were some surprised looks of WTF, but everyone quickly settled-in to the evening — and a remarkable and uncharacteristic quiet descended upon the low-lit room.

Once past the intro, my resident butterflies calm themselves down, and I begin to enjoy myself.

Last night there were about a dozen readers, and not enough musicians. (One of the poets played one song on one ukelele.) There's always some droning, almost always some yelling, but mostly it's pretty damned good writing, well-presented. We're lucky. I'm lucky.

After everyone on the sign-up sheet had stood his/her time at the podium, I wrapped up the evening with the usual banter, said good-night, and went to turn off the microphone, when an older man sitting at the bar asked if he could say something.

Well, of course I said yes, and he came up to the mic and introduced himself, said he was from Somalia, and that in his country, everyone loves poetry.

"In Somalia, poetry is organic. Everyone can recite poems. Poetry is very important to us!"

He went on for a few minutes speaking of the poetry scene in Somalia, then went to sit down when a cry came up from the assembled crowd:

"Recite something for us!"

And so he did, in his language (Somali? Arabic?), and not recited but sung. Sung! It was a little bit of magic, even not knowing the words.

I like to call these unplanned participants my happenstance poets. It's occurred only a handful of times in the past year, always someone who just happened to be at the Hummingbird Saloon on the 4th Monday. They stay, they listen, and they decide to go for their own spontaneous five minutes at the mic. And each time, it's been a bright sparkle layered upon the already inspired recitations of an evening.

Ali — last night's Somali poet — drew the heartiest applause of the evening.

I always feel a glow, a fullness of heart when the open mic is over and my poet-friends and I hunker down for the next hour or so crowded into booths. Someone almost always orders Tater Tots.

The post-poetry poets' exodus is a slow trickle of good-byes. When we're done, the bar swells with late-night patrons and the sound of pinball machines. The jukebox pounds out a bass line.

We laugh and deconstruct the evening, catch up on poetry gossip. We laugh some more.

'Round about 11:30pm, I glance at the time, curse my early next-day rising, settle up the bill.

It's a mile to my house, and in the few minutes it takes to drive home, I wonder, every time, why those butterflies, every time?

Maybe one of these months they won't be there. But I'll tell you: they're worth it, and they're short-lived. Last night's happenstance poet was the evidence I needed, the reminder to keep going despite my vexing anxieties.

I remind myself: I'm lucky. Again.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

I texted my friend T. this morning:

"Wanna come to dinner tonight?"

I hadn't yet had coffee; in fact, I was still enjoying my Saturday morning in my bed.

He immediately called me:

"Did you invite me over for shingles?"


"I don't have my glasses on, and I guessed shingles."

"No! Bingo! I invited you over for bingo!"


"No! I said swing dancing!"

"SWING DANCING?!!" What time?"

"Seven. And there will also be dinner. See you then."

I like to call this intentional mishearing, or creative misinterpretation. It drives my kids crazy and they insist I need a hearing aid, when, in fact, I've heard them just fine. I love these little verbal jazz riffs! In any case, I started my morning with a hearty laugh, and can't think of a better way to begin my weekend. (But, alas, there will be no bingo, or swing dancing, and absolutely no shingles.)

Thursday, January 22, 2015

So how do you feel about that?

Yesterday people told me things, all manner of things, and I listened.

There was an account of a planned suicide by pistol, that was cut off at the pass, as it were. There were two separate incidences of rape. There was a recounting of high-school years as a drug addict, and the subsequent recovery. There were Zulu warriors at a public ceremony.

I thought: this is what it must feel like to be a therapist.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Eliot was wrong: January is the cruelest month.

In six days the sun will set at 5pm. I've been keeping track of the accumulating minutes of additional daylight each day, +2 minutes 17 seconds, + 2 minutes 40 seconds, etc., divided disproportionately between sunrise and sunset, a little here, a little there.

And not enough anywhere.

It's the 5pm mark that seems to spill me over into fragments of hope. 5pm: the shift into evening, the close of the work day, the beginnings of the evening meal preparations; and in earlier times, the arrival of the evening paper and all that it contained. 5pm was when my father came home from work — until he didn't, after an untimely and early death.

5pm has always been about change, about the permission to let go of the day's requirements and slip into a more relaxed mode. Today it's about a glass of wine, the NYTimes crossword puzzle, playtime with the cats. (Even they recognize the hour.)

Winter is once again beating me up. I just cut myself two pieces of a lovely cornbread I made yesterday, heated with butter. Dinner, and almost like cake. In the middle of January, it's hard to face a cold salad.

I googled "January is the cruelest month" (a riff on Eliot's "April is the cruelest month") and the first hit was a NYTimes article, by Neil Shubin (full text here), that spins a marvelous perspective on this ever-challenging battle with the shifting seasons:

"Our clocks tie us not only to other creatures, but also to the formation of the solar system itself. The spinning of the earth and rotation of the moon form a backbeat that thumps inside the chemistry of our cells. The Apollo missions returned more than 840 pounds of moon rock and soil samples. Analysis of minerals inside reveals that they have a chemical signature similar to those of Earth’s crust and are in this respect unique among other bodies of the solar system. 

The current theory that accounts for all the evidence is that a Mars-size asteroid hit the Earth over four billion years ago. The mélange of Earth’s crust and asteroid debris ejected into space, ultimately congealing as the moon and tilting the primordial Earth. 

With that great cataclysm came our seasons, months and the duration of days. Our internal timepieces, and some of the maladies we suffer, lie as artifacts of this moment in our planet’s history." 

Small comfort knowing that my acute awareness of winter's day-length points even more to my insignificance as a single organism in the universe, at once an artifact of primeval debris and just a 58 year old woman at 47.6097 degrees N and 122.3331 degrees W trying her best to slog her way through yet another sunrise/sunset.

But mostly ticking off the days until the light really returns: 5pm, January 25th.  

Wednesday, January 14, 2015


Twenty eight years ago today, on a dark January night, I pulled my son from a fire. He was nine months old, asleep in his crib, and it was 25 degrees outside.

Still haven't been able to write much about that event, the unreality of it, how when I even begin to talk/write about it, it sounds like a bad Hallmark movie.

There was no terror once I had R.
in my arms, once I ran outside; the adrenaline was running high by then. There was an office building behind the apartment, and a maintenance person let us in out of the cold, and I recall watching the back of the apartment go up in flames, flames that sparked high into the sky. Astonishing.

I can still smell the smoke that lingered for months in everything we salvaged, despite the incessant scrubbing. Smoke permeates everything, no holds barred.

How different my life would have been had that fire never happened: my circle of friends, my work, my home and community that I love are all offshoots of that single plastic garbage can that was left too close to a heater by the downstairs tenant.

We like to think that we choose our direction, but so often, the direction stumbles us forward whether we want to go that way or not.

I laugh to think this: I had a fire put under me, and damn, if it didn't get things rolling!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Stranded in Winter

The gutters are dripping, a perpetuity of grey. Yesterday this entire landscape appeared swathed in wet dryer lint. When the mountains aren't out, my world lacks perspective.


What I miss most not having a partner is the companionable silence that imparts texture to the hours. The buzz of a game in the background, another person's footsteps. Someone who is not me opening and closing a door. The secret duets of private jokes, layered one upon another.

How to endure — not a question, exactly.

(Waiting on the daffodils to ruffle up those yellow skirts.)

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Two Tartes, Redux

I lingered tonight in the doorway of the nearly empty café, a constant drizzle on my shoulders, the sidewalk lit by a single streetlamp. In the glow of the apricot-colored walls, I could see the vinyl floor my husband installed (with leftover 12-inch tiles stacked in our basement from his flooring days), the oh-so-high ceiling our sons helped to paint, the old battle-axe of a convection oven that cranked out its roaring heat beginning at 5:30 every morning. The pastry case with a couple of plates of cookies, the cold case lined with pop cans, the blackboard with its chalked specials.

How many times have I dreamed of this place in the past ten years? How many times, while I slept, have I stepped back through these doors and resumed my rightful place in the kitchen? (Always, it's close to opening time, the shelves are empty, the customers lining up.)

So much history. Odd to think that the current owners have been here nearly twice as long as I was. (How is that even possible?) And even more curious that this storefront, where my heart resided for only a few short years, has taken on a significance of much greater proportions. Those years spanned two husbands,  a car-accident/death, a multi-million dollar lawsuit, the demise of a long-standing friendship, and, ultimately, the loss of this very place. Hard to imagine that much living is possible in that amount of time.

And how many cases of butter? How many 50# sacks of flour did I heave into the plastic bins? How many times did I wrap a 10kg block of Callebaut dark chocolate in a clean towel and whack it with a hammer?

How to measure my broken heart? Teaspoons? Cups? Gallons? 

I stood there, gazing in, not going in, not caring what the girl behind the counter was thinking. (Who is that strange woman, and why is she just staring?)

The light inside was soft and warm.

It felt like home, or a kind of home, the kind you can't go back to. And this time there was no sadness attached to it, only a sweetness of recall.

I stood as long as I wanted to.
It was my moment.
This was my life.