Friday, December 30, 2011


A few weeks ago I was in a Ross store buying some tights, and the clerk, who was -- maybe -- 12, looked at me and said in a monotone: "Are-you-55-or-older." No question mark. Just a statement. Something she said to all the old people, I guessed. But why was she saying that to me??!!

I stuttered, "Well, I'm 55, but not older!"

She replied, "Okay. You get the Tuesday Senior discount."

There's a first for everything, and this was the first time I saved 46 cents for being "55-and-older".

Obviously, this is not my path to riches.


On a brighter note, my friend Robin and I walked the trails of Cougar Mountain this afternoon, awash in pale winter sun: a universe of ferns and alders, big-leaf maples and cedars. The stream was high from last night's rain, and spilled over a cliffside onto rocks draped in lush moss, slipped under a lashing of windfall saplings, vanished beyond our vision into second-growth forest.

It's been too long since we've shared this pleasure of walking these trails, but thank god we figured out the world in that hour and a half. There are few secrets left between us, I'm guessing.

And weren't we just in our twenties, when we were certain the world was a knowable entity? I admit a certain sense of thanks for reaching 55 (and not 555, which I just typed but corrected) and realizing that the world needs figuring-out on a regular basis. A daily basis. An hourly basis. Minute to minute. Right now!

I don't know about Robin, but I certainly didn't feel 55 or, for that matter, any age. But then, just what does 55 feel like? I think it feels like this (which was in my head this morning upon waking):

Rain City

I possess an unwavering affection for Seattle, especially in the rain....

Monday, December 26, 2011

Reality Check

After the fuzzy la-la-la-chorus-of-angels-humming scenario I posted yesterday (stars a'twinkle) the oven overheated and the parchment nearly caught fire, the bread burned, the Kabocha squashed charred (but what was scraped free was incredibly sweet) and the baked garlic-mashed-spuds formed a crisp blackened carapace, which, though nearly impenetrable, did reveal edible potato within.

The smoke alarm BLARED AND BLARED AND BLARED and we opened all the windows and a door and it didn't stop so we got out the Giant Fan and cranked it up to hurricane force. My son and I engaged in a shouting match on the subject of the pizza stone in the oven and the general lack of oven space because he'd decided to make candied blood orange slices (which he should've done the day before, not an hour before dinner), and we were forced to yell REALLY LOUD to hear each other because of the gale force winds blasting through the kitchen.

He retreated in a pissy huff to his room (are we two years old again??!!), abandoning his remaining dinner prep.

I poured myself a tumbler full of punch, with extra vodka.

My guests were mercifully late.

Sunday, December 25, 2011


I managed to slip away just now for an hour or so, to the silence of my upstairs room-amidst-the-trees, with bread set to rise on the stovetop and pork shoulder slow-cooking in the flame beneath. Riles is attendant in the kitchen, setting his white-chocolate ice cream to spin in the electric ice core. Friends arriving in a few hours.

Yesterday evening, before heading down the street for Christmas Eve with neighbors (aka My Chosen Family), both boys were in the house: R. was shaping strips of red & white dough for candy-cane cookies, N. was wrapping. I was funneling my homemade vanilla bean liqueur into small bottles, and then corking them. R.'s holiday music sampler included some Jimi Hendrix:

I admit I didn't know who was playing, and I don't think R. takes greater delight in anything more than when I have to ask him who we're listening to, especially when it's someone from my generation. (I was too busy, as a teenager, working out on the piano the most mournful of Chopin pieces.) I'm discovering the music of my youth three+ decades late, but that's okay. For some reason, it makes more sense to me now.

Anyway, as I was exclaiming how f---ing fantastic this electric guitar was, I couldn't help notice that the flavor of this Christmas -- from the week-to-week buildup (which contained, astonishingly, almost zero baking) to this moment with the three members of my family unit in the family house at the same time -- was decidedly different from any other Christmas. Few, if any, of the old rules remain. The prime directive is to eat well & laugh often. Other than that, it's open to anything.

And I thought: this is it -- a moment of absolute contentment, where, for that tick of the clock, the house quietly humming with filial activity, all is as it should be in this planet we claim as home. In this house that's seen more than its share of heartache and yet is still the best place I can be, and the place where I can just be best.

You know what I'm saying?

I didn't expect this, long given-over to worry and a pervading sense of perpetual sinking doom. And yet there it was, wave upon wave of well-being -- and I was afloat, head above water, not gasping for a damn thing.

I may need reminders of this fleeting, flashing moment on the afternoon of Christmas Eve, when January grabs hold and threatens to pull me under the icy surface of winter.

But for now, there's dough to punch down and a cranberry punch to spike up.

And a Happy & Merry Etcetera to every last one of you!

Friday, December 23, 2011


There exist days where the schedule is lickety-split sewn-up, everything happens according to its location on the list. And then there are days like yesterday, when my car wouldn't start, then almost started, then went dead dead dead. Called AAA, called the mechanic, and then the car started with all kinds of Warning! Lights! Lit! Egads.

I managed to get it to the shop, then headed back home afoot, 28 degrees and a hint of sun easing through fog. Plugged in my earbuds, cranked up Handel's Messiah and set out on a route I've only ever driven, down the long decline from the top of Beacon Hill, across the light rail tracks, back up another hill, through a neighborhood that some would think of an unsavory but I look at for the diversity. My zip code is the most ethnically diverse in the nation, and I passed elderly Asian men on their morning constitutionals, African-American teenage boys in their oversized coats and butt-saggy pants, Muslim women with little skin unswathed. A storefront church with JESUS SAVES painted on the plate glass. My Vietnamese dentist with his red neon tooth in the window. Lots of empty storefronts: "For Lease". A corner store with a large HALAL MEAT sign painted on plywood.

As I neared the small business district of Columbia City, everything suddenly became tidy, swept, minus the peeling paint and tired disuse visible just two blocks prior. Gentrification seems to have strict boundaries sometimes, edging out from a few core businesses. Signage goes from hand-painted to factory produced. There's a not-so-interesting Starbucks, and an even less-interesting Subway, and about ten independent restaurants, all relatively new. A co-op gallery, a used bookstore, a florist, a butcher. People were out, but not in any great number.

It was the first day of winter, and despite the below-freezing temps, with Handel piping into my ears I was content in my wandering back home. And flowers -- what a surprise! I counted eight
different varieties in bloom in front yards or parking strips -- nothing I'd ever notice while driving:

It continued, one surprise agenda following another, about which I will not bore you, except that while waiting for a prescription at Costco (where I had to park [in my son's car] in The Outback: Costco was very tiny in the distance), a woman sat down beside me and commenced to talk about back fat. WTF?!

The car was repaired for less than a thousand dollars, which is a Big Deal.

I was treated to a martini and a bowl of French onion soup at Cafe´Presse. Heavenly comfort.

I participated in a lengthy debate about the women's movement, which in the end, turned into a semantic argument more than anything. Words!

And Christmas! I nearly forgot about it.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


My computer is achingly slow. I come here to respond to comments and the whole damn thing goes Rainbow Wheel. So that's my excuse.

Edging closer to Christmas, the solstice. Can it just be spring already?

I'm theorizing that if I can just keep cooking I can get through this year. Three more months to come full circle, to begin what will be my new year. This grieving sometimes gets its teeth into my neck, the bones of the vertebrae, and shakes me until I'm ready to fall down. And damn it if I just don't crawl back up. One millimeter at a time. Slowly slowly slowly.

Yesterday I hung old glass ornaments on the skeletal pink dogwood arching above the sidewalk. Some are handblown and not old, and if they're stolen, may they find a good home.

Riles has cassoulet on the stove, and I just pulled two loaves of sourdough baguette from the oven. Old friends -- from the beginning of time I do believe -- are coming to share in the feast.

I don't really know how to be divorced.

Monday, December 19, 2011

My weekend of funk....

Not one, but two live performances (unquestionably better than dead performances) by Seattle groups, two nights in a row.

Hard to choose which I liked better, so I'll say I loved them both.

First up: The Balls Out Booze Band --

The curly-topped, hip-spectacled guitar player on the left is Gus, aka P.J.Williker, who spent a good chunk of his early years at my house. He lived down the street, and was the best buddy of my boys. (I claimed him as one of my own.) So how in heck did he go from his Ninja-Turtle-cowboy phase to this ultra cool guy on stage with idiosyncratic style and uber-confidence? All I can say is dayam. I knew him when.

And to add frosting to this already marvelously sweet evening, BABB performed at a new music venue a mile from my house: The Royal Room. I am SO lucky to live here!!

Funk event #2, plus a family Christmas party --

My late-husband Mark's family hosts an annual event at the local community club, and this year included a performance by the reformed (minus several band members claimed early by hard living) Acapulco Gold, a seventies-era Seattle funk band. This is the best part: before I knew this family, when I was in high school in the suburbs, this band was the one to get for school dances. (And also the most difficult to get, they were so scheduled-up.) I remember listening and dancing to them at a club when I was in college.

When Mark and I were first living together at the eponymous "109" (former neighborhood grocery store building), his brother and an ever-transient assemblage of musicians lived downstairs. Those were some sweet days, albeit with all the glassware tinkling in our apartment because the volume emanating from below was, well, at times deafening. My favorite music memory from then is of entire afternoons of Mark's brother Paul doing riffs on his electric guitar: a mightily talented man.

Several times Paul borrowed Mark's car, and while we were at work, Paul and his friends -- perpetually cash-poor artists -- came up to our apartment and helped themselves to breakfast, leaving a mess of dishes that made it appear as if an entire touring roadshow, groupies included, had converged in our tiny kitchen for a feast. It wasn't long before Mark caught on to the trick, and lent the car minus our apartment key. I don't think either of us would have minded so much if that had just cleaned up after themselves, damn it!

Bittersweet moment last night, sitting with my two sons listening to their uncle perform. Life has completed a circle, despite fewer of us sitting in the warmth of the extended family beside the Christmas tree. There was delight and elation in the listening, as well as a wrenching of the heart that Mark wasn't with us.

And even more bittersweet in that, had I still been married to NoGoode, I most likely wouldn't have been sitting there, wouldn't have made the Sunday evening trek alone across the lake to Southeast Seattle. (His interest in anything Seattle was/is marginal, at best, even as colorful a piece of history as Acapulco Gold.)

Big sigh.

Here they are in a cheesy iPhone video, but trust me, these guys (even with a noticeable decrease in hair) are HOT!

And finally, cousins....

Saturday, December 17, 2011


I was shopping at the Seward Park Clay Studio Sale yesterday afternoon when a woman came in the door and announced: there's a head in the lake. Of course, all five of us inside immediately turned our attention to this messenger and voiced a unified what? Right away I pictured the grisly remnants of decapitation: the sawn neck, bulging eyes, the skin bloated and discolored. I thought -- this is Seattle's latest incarnation of Ted Bundy (who once used Seward Park as a dumping ground for one of his victims, and indeed decapitated 12 of his victims), or of Gary Ridgeway -- the newest murder-and-dismember modus operandi.

I was soooo relieved to be wrong. This instead turned out to be a case of "guerrilla art repositioning": someone had taken a clay head that was on display outside the studio and placed it ever-so-carefully in 5 inches of water. Eerie, but benign. Phew! And good for a damn big chuckle. I LOVE stuff like this.

Thursday, December 15, 2011


3:30pm, and every street locked up tight with stopped cars, so I did a u-turn in the apartment building parking lot where my former step-son once lived and where his father bought him out of his lease because he heard gunshots at night. Welcome to the city. Ho hum.

But to the point: I was enroute to yet another meeting with the Big Bank re: $$$, and, finally freed from gridlock, made a quick escape down Yesler Street, a hill which careens almost vertically into downtown Seattle, and which gives one the impression of being dumped into Elliot Bay aka The Salish Sea. Luckily I managed to hedge dunking, and zipped up 3rd Avenue, only to be greeted by a Do Not Enter 3-6pm sign: buses only. Feck!! And late, to boot.

Downtown Seattle is made up of one way streets, crazy steep streets, a freeway which slices through everything, and water. One would think that I'd have it all under my belt, having lived here since the previous millenium, but I try to avoid driving down here and WHY IN HELL DIDN'T I TAKE THE LIGHT RAIL? (Because The Bank was offering validated parking and I thought piece of cake lickety-split. Wrong.)

And then this story came onto NPR about the 1500 grebes who crashed into a snow-covered Wal-Mart parking lot at night, mistaking it for open water. I thought: I can't listen to this. It's too sad, I'm too anxious about this f---ing meeting. No stories about dead grebes. I wanted to cry.

The entrance to the free parking lot was down a one-way street on Mars, as it turned out; and after driving around first one block, then another, and driving under the freeway, encountering yet another Do Not Enter, Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect $200, I parked on the street, grabbed the leather briefcase that my deceased mother-in-law gave me 14 years ago that I've never used, and high-tailed it down the sidewalk to the highrise (floor 17) (did I get the correct bank of elevators for god's sake?!).

Jesus Mary and Joseph: life shouldn't be this hard.

And all in vain.

(Did I mean: Life shouldn't be this hard and life shouldn't be all in vain? Maybe.)

Getting back to the car, my parking expired, I switched on the radio, and there it was again: the dead birds, trying to find safety, only to crash-dive onto Wal-Mart blacktop.

This is our world, folks.

No matter how hard you try to follow the migratory patterns proscribed by your specie, you are doomed to end up beak-down in a parking lot with a Price! Rollback! special on a Disney Cars Lightning Mcqueen Twin Bed just footsteps (or wingbeats) away.

I felt the doom of every last grebe, heading for a safe port in a storm, only to be smacked to death by corporate America, by greed.

(Now put your glasses on [this is not victory, but compromise, and so must be whispered]:

Upon returning home, I called yet another functionary of the above-mentioned Big Bank, who, months back, had offered me a see-no-evil-speak-no-evil refi, and who I'd kept on the back burner if all else failed.

Within about ten minutes I was approved: Merry X-Mas to me. Ho.
It's not as good as I wished, but for us poor slobs making less than $200k per annum, it's almost acceptable.)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

George Whitman and Shakespeare & Co.

From the NYTimes:

PARIS — George Whitman, the American-born owner of Shakespeare & Company, a fabled English-language bookstore on the Left Bank in Paris and a magnet for writers, poets and tourists for close to 60 years, died on Wednesday in his apartment above the store. He was 98. Read more here.

I had the good fortune, in the summer of 1979, to sub-let a Paris apartment with a college friend. When we weren't idling away long afternoons-into-evenings lingering over a single glass of Côtes du Rhône (very limited budget!) we could often be found at Shakespeare & Co., amid the musty books shelved, stacked and piled floor to rafters. It was a maze and all quite amazing, and we felt like a part of some secret society, like characters from a page of French history. Once George Whitman, who I remember as somewhat cantankerous, gave me a vintage Parisian address book, circa 1900, with marbled end-papers and written in elaborate fountain-pen script. (I still have it -- when I dig it up I'll post a photo.)

What I've seen of this film is marvelous (I admit I've jumped around in it) -- but I'd venture to say that it's worth all 52 minutes if you are even remotely interested in Paris, literature, or quirky characters.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

At four o'clock this afternoon I was outside (wearing a dress and an apron), Sawz-All in hand, tree propped ready for lopping when my phone rang, and I stood out there in the cold and talked to my friend Jeff until my fingers began to lose feeling and I thought why am I standing outside? It's f---ing cold out here!

Because the phone rang while I was out on the deck, I felt like I had to carry on the conversation in the same location where I answered the phone. Still rooted in those old habits: as if tied to a cord. Uh, walk inside, dolt! Go towards the heat!

Nonetheless, the tree got its trunk trimmed and I shimmed and propped the damn tree in the stand BY MYSELF and tightened the screws and untightened the screws and repositioned the tree and stood back and looked at it and said damn. It's crooked.

And it's still crooked: crooked with white twinkle lights and about twenty ornaments.

My poetry group came over and I made crème brûlée and seviche and yam chips and a chili lime dip and cocktails. Lots of candles. Five minutes before people were scheduled to arrive I went out to the yard in the dark and cut strands of ivy and snipped the tips of the lowest branches of the Douglas fir. Inside I prised open a pomegranate and took the last of the satsumas and twirled the ivy and the fir snips around the candles and nestled the oranges in with the ripped-open pom. Lit the candles.

I took three old apples, leveled the bottoms of each, took a melon baller and scooped flesh from the stem-end, making enough space for a votive candle in each. Onto the windowsill with these.

Cava, cranberry-pomegranate juice, triple sec: swirled ensemble in a pitcher, poured into wine glasses, slung an orange twist over the lip of each glass.

Damn it was FESTIVE.

And what a great group of people: poets and poets and poets.

My element.

My people.

In my home.

On my turf.


Lap of Cats.... the Life of Reilly.

Sunday, December 11, 2011


I could not have imagined, before today, the ease with which one picks out a Christmas tree by oneself. No yackity-yack, no dithering, no opinions. Just look at a few trees, walk around for a few minutes, look at the trees again and then bam! Done.

No more tree lots on every other corner, no Boyscout troops raising funds. I succumbed to Lowes (Home! Improvement!) -- a couple of miles from my house, a minimum of carbon fuel burned in the process. Everything bondaged-up in a plastic mesh and crammed into my trunk.

The romance of it -- I used to love tree-shopping -- is just plum gone.

I forgot to have them lop off the trunk end so I have to lug up the Sawz-All and get all butch with my boy-tool.

There were two or three charmed years when we picked the kids up from school, stopped for some hot chocolate, and headed east to Hobart, in the Cascade foothills, to a tree farm. I recall the boys running slap-happy down a rut-pocked hillside, choosing first this tree, then that, every last one of them too tall and frightfully broad at the hips (the trees, not the boys). We found one, of course. Draped with lichen, mossy. An honest-to-god tree. Alive.

So fleeting, those years; and also at times interminable. It all ends: the shape-shifting of time.

Which brings me to here.

Blogging about it.

The tree, as yet un-Sawzed, lies in the front yard.

(And admittedly, solitary pseudotsuga menziesii shopping is dreary.)

Friday, December 9, 2011

Surrounded by hydrangeas still, in various stages of losing their blue. Two stems have taken root in their glass vase, sprouting bright leaves as if spring were upon us. One small sprig I've let dry completely on a shelf in my bathroom.

Ice fog this morning.

The kitten is back from the vet, snipped clean of all her internal girl parts. Sad incision up her belly. Subdued. All her minx seems to have eked from her. Nothing but sleep, a limp purr.

I intend to succumb to a Christmas tree this weekend.

Thursday, December 8, 2011


My red binder, repository of years of research, has thankfully resurfaced. It's been missing since August, when I lent it to a friend. (Stupid thing to do.) And why would I do such a thing? Because she wanted to make a load of cookies, and my red binder has all the secrets: every last instruction of all my best formulas for personal happiness, perfected during my tenure as The Baker at Two Tartes Bakery.

I paged through it tonight, and relief and joy bubbled up. Old friend! Everything was as it should be.

Some of the pages are so stained and tattered, I'd surmise that entire microscopic plant/animal kingdoms exist on the paper. I could do tissue samples! (Eww.) (How utterly unappetizing!)

The day I made my final exit from TTB -- the day I discovered that there was something fishy going on, and confronted my business partner -- I had the presence of mind to grab the binder. I found out later that she wanted to sue me for what she considered to be her intellectual property (figure that one out), but her attorney told her not to bother. The recipes were mine, and she possessed no rights to them.

(She turned out to be a criminal; I had managed to expose only the tip of the iceberg, it turned out. And although I was summoned to testify on behalf of her husband at their divorce trial, she's managed to evade prosecution.)

I haven't written much here about Two Tartes, and stories are simmering on my back burner. Those few years there -- beginning with the building of the business until the demise of the partnership and long-friendship -- are best summed up by Dickens:
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us....
Ah. Yes.


(But the red binder: all mine.)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Post has been deleted by blog administrator.
(That would be me.)

Monday, December 5, 2011

Tuesday Poem: Seamus Heaney

From Clearances

When all the others were away at Mass
I was all hers as we peeled potatoes.
They broke the silence, let fall one by one
Like solder weeping off the soldering iron:
Cold comforts set between us, things to share
Gleaming in a bucket of clean water.
And again let fall. Little pleasant splashes
From each other's work would bring us to our senses.

So while the parish priest at her bedside
Went hammer and tongs at the prayers for the dying
And some were responding and some crying
I remembered her head bent towards my head,
Her breath in mine, our fluent dipping knives--
Never closer the whole rest of our lives.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Other Woman

It never fails to stun me when a woman betrays another woman. I don't care what the story is, the bottom line is: we are sisters. We are sacred. We honor each other, and we honor the relationships that each of us nurture, and that sustain us. Period.

Recently I rendez-vous-ed with a high school friend who I hadn't seen for many years. She told me that her ex-husband left her for her best friend. WHAT???!!!! I was dumbfounded. What woman would do this? Is any man worth this?

The answer is a resounding "NO!" I don't care how "in love" you profess to be with someone else's husband, you just don't do this. End of story.

No matter what he tells you about how bad his relationship is, remember that you are hearing it through his filter. There is no way of knowing just what kind of damage your hijinx may prove to cause. And another thing -- if he can cheat on his current wife to dilly-dally with you, you can be certain, and I mean certain, that he'll do the same to you. It's just a matter of time.

So women, if you're entertaining this idea, let it go. Not. Worth. It.
Consider your own sense of self-respect.
Consider the potential for long-term harm down the line, and on and on. The fall-out from your actions most likely will go farther and hurt deeper than what/who you can, at this time, imagine.

If you are reading this, and feel perhaps just a little uncomfortable, well then perhaps you should feel a lot more uncomfortable. Yes, I'm talking to you.

And shame again.

Friday, December 2, 2011


As the afternoon glowered down on me, my paint colors got brighter and brighter. Payne's grey gave way to cadmium yellow and alizarin crimson.... The darker it gets outside, the more challenging painting becomes, everything shifting with the light, losing intensity, going dormant.

Our annual studio sale is this Sunday and the next, and Melinda and I have been cranking out the work at a manic pace. Post-Thanksgiving reorders are trickling in -- yay! Job security. But the big push is getting all our seconds in sell-able shape -- it's the big draw for this sale. So it's been out to the sheds in the cold, digging back into the webbed corners and lowest shelves to extract boxes and boxes stashed all this past year.

It's a little like reliving the past twelve months -- an evolution becomes visible in the painting style, the color choices. As Melinda comes out with a new line each year, there's always a handful of the early versions of whatever it is that's currently in demand. I have just a moment to feel wistful, then it's on to the next thing.

I'm rather bleary and just a bit dizzy from this pace. There's not a lot of breathing space in a small business like this, especially in these unpredictable times. If all goes well at the studio sale, there's a chance that M. will take her work to the NY Gift Show in January -- a new venue, potentially new clients. Keeping fingers crossed. We're ready to grow into the next phase.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Wednesday, November 30, 2011


I've been taking lessons, free of charge, from a young man who's doing graduate studies in Arts Administration, and who is also a musician and dancer. As part of his thesis work, he is pulling together a 200-person choir to create "a river of song" in the park behind Columbia Library, where 100 years ago a river did flow but has been long filled and forgotten.

He's a tall, understated, erudite man, healthy and square-shouldered, handsome, with blue eyes. He speaks in the voice of a poet and sings as if he's the (undiscovered) lead in an opera. I used to sing -- all the time -- until the morning I woke up (twenty years ago) and discovered that the middle register of my voice had vanished. The cause: a drip on a small section of my vocal cords, allergy-related. Antihistamines help only marginally. I can still sing a decent first tenor, and an okay limited-range second soprano, but my alto -- where the heart & soul of my voice resides -- is nowhere to be found.

Campbell -- my teacher -- is absolutely certain that his instruction will bring it back, or release it from its constraints. Singing with him this afternoon in the studio at work, my voice cracking and cutting out, it felt as if all good sounds were trapped somewhere in the back of my head, lodged in a part of my skull: impenetrable bone.

I am less confident of the potential for success.

We're working on relaxing the throat muscles. My homework is a lot like the breathing exercises that one encounters in yoga, and that which I find most difficult in yoga: being still, listening, breathing. Isn't breathing something we do automatically?

Campbell spoke of the necessity & importance of silence -- as necessary as the presence of voice. Then he said:

"Think of your voice as a flame which melts away that which is bad in all people."


At the rate I am not progressing, I fear that evil may well exist on this planet for a long time.

Nonetheless, I have my assignment for the next month while he jets off to NYC to assemble a choir similar to his Columbia Park choir, but on a slightly smaller scale.

Tra la!!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Melinda and I are doing a holiday show at the Rainier Club in downtown Seattle tomorrow afternoon. Check it out here.

We've been advised to wear "business casual", but since neither of us had any inclination to go out and purchase a "business casual" ensemble for a three-hour gig, we both decided, instead, to go, um, "artistic". Which means, to us, "normal".

My own composed attire will include the "recycled" skirt that I bought yesterday at Value Village for $4.99.

The Rainier Club is very Olde Seattle. Exclusive. Moneyed. I figure that we artists are going to be their little December sideshow. Exotic! Quirky!

But as long as they wield their wallets generously, I won't be complaining. Their money is green.

And we're allowed one complementary cocktail each. Woot! Party!

Saturday, November 26, 2011


It's late, Saturday night, and I've been playing music for hours and my hands aren't aching, despite painting at work all afternoon. Did someone shoot some cortisone in my knuckles when I wasn't looking?

It's really weird.
I like it.

There's a piano piece that my sister taught me in the 1970's that I like to play, but for years I haven't been able to summon up the bridge. I don't even know the name of it. But tonight it suddenly came back -- go figure. I started playing and there it was, unlodged from some previously-dormant part of the brain. I remembered it, played it through, was astonished. Who can account for lost melodies, suddenly called forth?

I played three of six Bach Variations. I played Moonlight Sonata, if even in the absence of moonlight on a rainy November night. I played and sang "Gravity" by Sara Bareilles.

Stacks of music heaved from the big wicker basket: Chopin, Mozart, Fats Waller, Strauss, Carole King. Single sheets of notes, out of order, rag-eared & ripped. Ghosts of pianos past. Notations written in pencil, some from the 1960's.

Buried in the basket was my melodica, unused for years because of a wonky key. I said fuck it and got my handy-dandy multi-tip screwdriver and took the damn thing apart, poked out the loose pieces, repositioned them, put the screws back in, et voilà: music. And of my own doing.

I worked out Cal Scott's The Lighthouse Keeper's Waltz, key of G.


Friday, November 25, 2011

Post T.G....

....and the pecan pie is gone.


Nonetheless, it was a grand feast for the six of us, my dining room aglow with new paint, the furniture in a yet new configuration, candles lit for the comfort they offer. The kitchen hummed with cooking.

Earlier I clipped the last of the cosmos from the garden, a sprig of borage and two sprigs of pink valerian. Meager, but still in bloom.

My massive harvest of five sugar pumpkins yielded squash for pie. Fresh sage for stuffing, parsley from my neighbor Candy's garden.

For the first time ever I love my house.

I am grateful for it.

Grateful for my convivial, big-laughing, handsome sons.
For the friends who came bearing vodka and vino: grateful for their reliably generous and loving hearts.

I would not have guessed -- a year ago -- that T.G. would be hosted this year in this reconfigured house, this life-under-construction. But here we are, here I am, and (dare I say) it's a good thing.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


My mother would wax her kitchen floor late, the night before thanksgiving, all of us in bed. It was the only time she could be certain of no one making tracks across her gleaming floor. But me? I'll be lucky if I get the floor swept, much less mopped.

And do people really still wax floors? Mine is old-fashioned (but not old) vinyl composition tile, and could definitely take a wax coating, but lord, who could be bothered?! Yet I still judge a holiday by the cleanliness, or lack-thereof, of my kitchen floor.

It will be swept.

Will make an honest attempt at mopping.

But mop or no mop, our dinner Thursday is going to be damn good.

And that's enough by me.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Tuesday Poem: Nesting

(collage by Michael Bristow)

(I've posted this before, but it seemed so appropriate for today, for right now -- )


--for Mark Benchley Anderson
September 28, 1956 - November 21, 2003


You called me out for a sparrow
fallen from the Douglas fir,
the nest invisible in the endless web
of branch upon branch reeling above us.
And what comfort was I,
your earth-bound wife, nine months
pregnant, barely moving?

You lifted it into the warm cradle of your hands
and for a long moment we didn’t speak.
The child inside me shifted and turned —
a certain impatience, I suppose, to get on with things.
And then so gently you balanced the bird
on a low bough, out of reach of cats.
We knew it would not survive the night.


The City Light crew
has trimmed the upper branches,
sheared off most of one side
to keep us safe, they say, from a collision
of evergreen and wire. Now it stands
lop-sided, north-heavy.

In wind I fret over gusting limbs,
a shattering of glass and timber —
I keep watch over our sleeping children,
yet they wake and cry
to the rhododendron’s rasping
against storm windows.
My bones shiver
under cover, safe
from careening branches, from small birds
dropping into darkness.


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Minus Poundage + Youth

I've shed more than a few #'s in the past seven months, and suddenly realized (or, rather, it was pointed out to me by MMW), that most of my clothing is literally falling off me.

And then this week when I tossed the last of the summer things to the back of the closet, there remained but a handful of things actually in my size. I know, I know -- I should be rejoicing in the New & Improved Me. It's just that the journey (which I've been advised to trust) has been a chapter straight out of hell. (The Ninth Circle, to be exact.)

Okay. This is really boring.

This is not boring -- came home tonight to this framed photo, a birthday present from my son Nelson:

In September he did something called "Warrior Dash" -- an "extreme 5k dash from hell". And although the photo is obviously photo-shopped, he really did leap over fire, muddy legs and all, carrying a beer the entire way.

Yes. That's my boy.

Damn -- to be 23 again!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

These are not girly hands. More likely to be smudged with paint. More nails jagged than smooth.

They can heft a Sawz-All as easily as a pie crust. Rub a cat's belly and come away with torn skin. Never polished. Often softened. One ring, two. Or none.

Can quickly raise a middle finger in an emergency, but has raised a thumb just once. Left thumb smashed at age six in a car door before Mass, the bone crushed and a dearth of ice. The writer's lump still evident despite years now of a keyboard. Will push concertina buttons, but not for cash; plunk plastic chipped piano keys.

They toss garden gloves quickly: in love with cool dirt. Deadhead cosmos with a snap, pinch dahlias. Caress the unfurling of a frond. Check a grape for sugar.

They uncork like a sommelier: quick & snappy. Pour, twirl the glass. Sponge lip-prints from rims. Wipe spots with a linen cloth.

They rub eyes, a furrowed forehead. Conceal a yawn. Rest atop the body as if in prayer, but only in sleep. And only in dreams do they pause -- poised as if gloved in kid, tender as a peach, blushing.
Pablo Neruda nails this one:

Ode to the Present

present moment,
as a wooden slab,
immaculate hour,
this day
as a new cup
from the past--
no spider web
with our fingers,
we caress
the present;

we cut it
according to our magnitude
we guide
the unfolding of its blossoms.
It is living,
it contains
from the unrepairable past,
from the lost past,
it is our
growing at
this very moment, adorned with
sand, eating from
our hands.
Grab it.
Don't let it slip away.
Don't lose it in dreams
or words.
Clutch it.
Tie it,
and order it
to obey you.
Make it a road,
a bell,
a machine,
a kiss, a book,
a caress.
Take a saw to its delicious
And make a chair;
braid its
test it.
Or then, build
a staircase!

Yes, a
the present,
by step,
press your feet
onto the resinous wood
of this moment,
going up,
going up,
not very high,
just so
you repair
the leaky roof.
Don't go all the way to heaven.
for apples,
not the clouds.
Let them
fluff through the sky,
skimming passage,
into the past.

your present,
your own apple.
Pick it from
your tree.
Raise it
in your hand.
It's gleaming,
rich with stars.
Claim it.
Take a luxurious bite
out of the present,
and whistle along the road
of your destiny.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Monday, November 14, 2011

Tuesday Poem: What the Living Do

by Marie Howe

Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days, some utensil probably fell down there.
And the Drano won't work but smells dangerous, and the crusty dishes have piled up

waiting for the plumber I still haven't called. This is the everyday we spoke of.
It's winter again: the sky's a deep, headstrong blue, and the sunlight pours through

the open living-room windows because the heat's on too high in here and I can't turn it off.
For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries in the street, the bag breaking,

I've been thinking: This is what the living do. And yesterday, hurrying along those
wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk, spilling my coffee down my wrist and sleeve,

I thought it again, and again later, when buying a hairbrush: This is it.
Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What you called that yearning.

What you finally gave up. We want the spring to come and the winter to pass. We want
whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss--we want more and more and then more of it.

But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the window glass,
say, the window of the corner video store, and I'm gripped by a cherishing so deep

for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I'm speechless:
I am living. I remember you.

--Marie Howe

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Been back in this house since the first of May and other than a few potlucks this summer on the back deck, there hasn't been a whole lot of entertaining going on. Just haven't had the heart for it. But yesterday I inhaled deeply and hosted my first full-on dinner party of this new life in the B-Street house.

I just had the living room painted, and haven't yet hung a single thing on the walls, so it felt a little austere. I sent my son to the hardware store in the afternoon to pick up a picture-hanging kit and he came back with something completely other than what I expected. (Growl.) Sigh. Bare walls.

Nonethless, low lighting and the warmth of candles amped up the ambiance considerably. And then there were the numerous bottles of wine, all of them, incidentally, French, save for the 1957 -- yes, 1957! -- bottle of Tawny Port and an 18-year-old Jameson's. Ah. Lovely stuff, every drop.

I've still not unpacked everything that was frantically stuffed into boxes last April, and when it came time to serve the meal, I hadn't a platter anywhere. No baskets for bread -- wait! My sister had just minutes before given me a beautiful red basket for my birthday, so it was put to quick use. Espresso cups? Teacups? A sprint down the basement stairs solved that, a hurried rummage through a box labeled, amazingly "teacups". Okay -- that wasn't so hard.

Last week my trusty Joy of Cooking reappeared (minus the first 167 pages!), but my red binder with all my own recipes is still oddly nowhere to be found. I've done this gotta-move-immediately twice now in this lifetime and if I have to do it again, may it be in another lifetime. It fucks everything up, washes away every last remnant of carefully constructed foundation. (I'm a girl who needs the underpinnings to be not only solid but thoughtfully reinforced.)

Rebuilding, one cookbook at a time, one teacup at a time.

The big hit of the meal was the stuffed pork loin -- the scent of onions and red apples sauteeing and caramelizing yesterday afternoon was the stuff of inspired dreams -- made even better with a handful of chopped fresh sage, panko crumbs, nutmeg. Tied it, rubbed in a generous portion of S & P plus some spices (my son pulled the rub together), layed two slices of bacon along the length, roasted it for an hour. (It just occurred to me that we no longer "bake" anything: we "roast". Ha. Even the language of cooking has its ins-and-outs.)

Dessert was an ice cream pie:

-crust of crumbled ginger snaps and melted butter
-softened vanilla ice cream for the bottom layer
-pumpkin mousse for the top layer

Um, yeah. Divine.

My toast: "To loyal friends and family -- may you endure."

I did it.
And I think maybe I can do it again.

God it's good to be alive -- really alive, this right-now alive, this moment.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


I want to be here, under this sky, in this mist, on this beach....

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


I often leave my monthly writing group in a kind of spell, charmed by the company of poets. Tonight was no exception.

Eve appeared, and also Lucifer, and a Danish audiologist named Old Bentzen who died from laughing in 1989 while watching A Fish Called Wanda. There was a hummingbird and the beating heart of a bird, a grieving carpenter, the semi-colon, blond spiders and live music (guitar & voice). There was a reading from the New England Journal of Medicine about the changing language of medicine. There was a saw.

The spell begins to diminish the moment I walk out the door, and lingers always not long enough. I hear their voices, though, for weeks afterwards, as I pluck and prune the flaws from a poem-in-progress.

It's all good stuff.

Sunday, November 6, 2011


I've not done this:
played music with friends.
I've sung, played piano, sung harmony, but not an instrument with other instruments. Do I have permission to do this? Do I need permission?

Guitar, mandolin, concertina.

I'm new to it all and play badly, and every time J. picked up the beat I'd lose it and my fingers would begin to stumble, tumble, and T. would give me a look like I don't think that's part of the melody and then of course I could barely stop myself from dissolving into laughter. GAWD it was hard to concentrate and not forget fuck-all. To makes things worse, really bad, they decided that I was the one to follow because the concertina is dominant and I HADN'T A CLUE.


We were in luck.
The music police weren't patrolling that street; no one banged on the door demanding cessation; the two other musicians were patient; our audience of ONE was very mellow.

But when it worked, when I hit the right buttons and J. and T. hit the right chords, it was a hallelujah moment, an I-can-barely-sit-still-for-this-joy moment.

The question, of course, is Why Did I Wait So Long To Do This?

(I'm not sure why All The Upper Case Letters but sometimes they just leap to the fingertips and demand to make their presence known.)

Anyway, I survived.
And here is John Boutte in NOLA singing his version of Hallelujah (a song which has been covered at least 200 times):


Hello early darkness.

Fall Back

It’s returned, that hour lost last April,
slipped in at 2am while a half-moon
gleamed in the pine. Hovered
while I slept, unclaimed
angel, tick-tock.

I don’t desire to use it yet: I want to be
selfish, to hoard, tear it into ten
minute bits. Fold one into
my wallet for the late

in the vegetable bin to forestall wilt.
Under my pillow to prolong
the dream, into the oven to
extend the fragrance of
Quick Yellow Cake

I’ll give one to my son to get out of jail
free. One I’ll bury in the garden
in eternal plastic, mark an X
with apples. Maybe I’ll
forget it’s there.

maybe, in the next century,
someone will unearth this
ten-minute treasure,
and it will be that one
extra moment they’ll
need to save their life.

© T. Clear 2011

Thursday, November 3, 2011

How It Is.

Out of focus and off-kilter.

The Dimming of the Day

Richard Thompson closed his show last night with this:

His voice drops me to my knees, makes me weep.

Today at work I said:

"No more inspiring words. I just want to feel better."


It's been one of those weeks.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Yoga Strange & Wonderful

It was a little like walking into a prayer -- an unremarkable bungalow, circa 1900 -- going to "Quiet Yoga." My friend C. and I were the only people there other than our facilitator, a beautiful young woman named Lin, whose hair was pulled back in a long black braid and moved with the ease and grace of the young and fit. All very hushed, no music. Silky light. We unrolled our mats and Lin told us we could do our own practice or follow her.

At first the silence was disconcerting -- we were all-breath, and without a melody or chanting the breath-sounds grew magnified and took on greater importance. My usual (bad practice) breath-holding was more evident than ever, and finally I settled into a rhythm, air in, air out. Who knew breathing was so important?! (Duh.)

Stiff. Out of yoga-shape.

At one point I was facing Lin's calendar, and saw that she volunteers at the Crisis Clinic. It struck me as very odd that here I was in someone's home, knowing nearly nothing about this person. (C. had seen an advert. for "Quiet Yoga" on a local reader-board.) Lin had opened her door to us, complete strangers. And we took off our shoes and went to work, bending and contorting our limbs in this stranger's house.

Lavish blue blossoms and some East Indian characters were painted on a wall; paper shades concealed the sliver moon, city lights. The energy was that of peace, at a slow simmer .

When an hour was up, and we regained speech, she asked if we'd stay for meditation. Alas, it was time to go.

C. and I walked the half-mile back to our houses through dark November streets, a day past Halloween. No pumpkins lit, the noise of the world turned way down.

Life continues to offer up the new and the unexpected.
I bow my head in gratitude.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Intermission, Carmen

I headed for the nearest refreshment stand in search of anything to assuage my hunger. The choices, unfortunately were cookie, cookie or cookie. I opted for a Big Cookie , paid my $4(!) for a single cookie(!), slung my vintage evening bag -- seventy years old and a hand-me-down from my mother -- across my arm and began to make my way through the wine-sipping crowd. The cookie was ridiculously big, and cake-like, and I decided to break off a piece instead of taking a bite from the whole thing. When I did that, a big chunk crumbled off and fell -- ah! Dinner on the floor! Did it again, and another chunk fell to crumbs at my feet. Damn. At least it wasn't very good. Tasted like whoever the baker was substituted oil for butter to cut costs, and didn't add any salt to compensate. Bland damn thing, even with the chocolate chips.

The cookie was crumbly, I was grumbly and still hungry. Then someone pointed to me, pointed to the carpet and said, "I think you lost something."

About four steps back was my iPhone. As I stooped to pick it up, one person, and another, and then another stepped in front of me -- as if choreographed -- hands extended with currency. What the? For me??!! I couldn't figure out what was happening, but as long as people were stepping out to hand me cash, I was going to grab it.

Then I figured it out: after I paid for the Big Cookie, the ancient clasp (shaped like a rose, gold-toned) had failed, and my vintage silk evening bag, slung near my elbow, was swinging wide and free. And I, (as Gretel), while attempting to negotiate my Big! Cookie! was leaving a trail of not only crumbs and cookie chunks but five-dollar bills as well.

After a good long laugh, I headed back to my seat. As the curtain rose for Act II, I had a short-lived moment of panic, thinking "Keys!" In the darkened performance hall, I reached my hands into the shallows of the purse: credit card, driver's license, lip gloss, phone and, yes, keys. Whew.

The whole story would've been much better, of course, if I'd ended up with more cash than I started with, and even better yet if each handing-over of cash was accompanied by an aria excerpt. Come on people! Be dramatic!

But I don't wish to appear ungrateful.
So thank-you to the good people of Seattle, thank-you taffeta-skirted opera-goers!

Sunday, October 30, 2011


Getting into the trenches, the deep deep archival depths, on the borderlands of gravity. Reaching up to top shelves and pulling down the reams of legal paperwork from seven, eight years ago, nearly puking at the language, the presumptions of people that I paid $$$ to drive away demons. (And who were not really all that successful.)

So out I went with my box of baggage, to the fire pit which hasn't been lit yet since I've returned to B-Street. I sat in the nearly-dark and lit the whole of it, sent flaring paper-fluff & embered bits high into the air until it all vanished. The rain held back save for a drop or three. Warm enough to go coatless. No cats.

What pleasure to be done with it -- that box of saved damages, the evidence of a life prior to the most recent undoing: the layers and layers upon which a life is stacked. I must say it's teetery here at these heights, but I'm feeling an approaching balance, albeit faint as yet, and tinged with smoke, fogged at the edges.

Consider this:

The words solitary and solace both contain the word sol.
(And precariously close to the word soul!)
(The sun each of us holds within.)


I'll be 55 in a week, and would not have guessed that I'd be rebuilding a life at this age. But then, the surprise of sorrow may as easily be the surprise of joy: equally possible.

I say Bring It On.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Lucky me -- I have a friend who does reviews for a Seattle arts organization and gets free tickets to various events, and last night she invited me to Carmen at Seattle Opera: fabulous.

I'm generally about a 50% opera fan -- I can listen to about half of any opera before my ears start to go wonky with the tremendous vibrato pounding my eardrums. But Carmen was an over-the-top spectacle of non-stop color, dance, costume and song.

AND there's the added bonus of seeing ordinary people in their not-s0-ordinary going-to-the-opera costumes. Seattle, with its recent roots embedded in grunge, tends to dress-d0wn for most everything, and neutral tones are de rigeur in this city. Clothing and fabrics tend to reflect the sky (grey) and the soil (brown). Not so at the opera. I saw women in full-length taffeta strapless gowns with -- get this -- color! Woot! Not so many man in tuxedos, but there were a few. And as expected, the birkenstock/feed-sack crowd was appropriately represented.

Our seats were Orchestra Center -- about ten rows from the front. Hard to beat.

Sitting there in the first act, the stage aswirl with skirts, dance and song, I couldn't help thinking of the color-names of the oil paints that just a few hours before I'd been rubbing onto sand-blasted glass: Prussian blue, luminous violet, brown-pink. I couldn't help thinking that everything one experiences in life is linked to something else. Earlier in the day, these colors were at hand, just inches from my eyes. And then there they were on stage, in glorious lighting, a spectacle that seemed to crawl into my every cell and take up residence for those few hours, and that lingers still, the next morning, in the muted rainy greens and slate greys of an off-stage Saturday.

Off now -- it's grape pressing time!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Enigma of the Keys

Is this staring me in the face?
If it is, I'm lost.

As are several more keys.

The day following my lost-and-then-found-in-the-apron key adventure, Melinda (for whom I work) suffered a key disappearance after opening the trunk of her car. Between the car and the kitchen, her keys did their magic act. And no white bunny of fortune to point us in the right direction. We looked:

1) in the car
2) in the street
3) in the garden
4) on the porch
5) under the porch
6) in the kitchen
7) under the kitchen

No luck.
A mystery.
A *poof* of disappearance.

And today, the secret hidden spare also went missing, with the last remaining set of keys inside the house and both Melinda and I outside the house.

No, it wasn't in my apron.
It wasn't in my jacket pocket.
It wasn't anywhere.

It isn't anywhere. And although that's technically impossible, it's what I believe. It is GONE. Whoosh.

The locksmith arrived while we both shivered in the October chill, and told us that he recently went to a job on Norman Street. His first name is Norman. The next street over was the same name as his last name. What are the odds of this? He said he was able to take a photo with both street signs visible. Cool.

Then he waxed philosophical on the value of locksmiths, and said that a previous governor, Gary Locke, enacted a Locksmith Appreciation Day. I asked Norman if that had anything to do with the fact that the governor's last name was, well, Locke.

"Well!" He said. "I hadn't considered that!"

Well indeed.

He also said that, in light of the fact that Melinda's assistant called the locksmith and not Melinda-the-homeowner-herself, he (Norman) could be charged with a felony if this wasn't indeed Melinda's home. A quick show of ID remedied that worry. I mean, what if we were two middle-aged woman burglars sitting out in the cold trying to gain access to someone else's house? Cherish the thought.

But the thought I'm cherishing -- or not -- at the moment, is this ongoing theme of lost keys.

Lost keys.
Entry denied.
The opening of doors.
The opening of new doors.
The reaching for the unreachable.
Entry gained.

It's a cliche, and threatens to smack me in the head, this symbolism. But sometimes synchronicity isn't just synchronicity.

Equal Temperament

More about this later.
My head is too filled up at the moment with the science, the mechanics
and the mathematics of sound.
Got it?
Me neither.

\sqrt[12]{2}=2^{\frac{1}{12}}\approx 1.059463094359295264561825294946
\approx  \frac {18}{17}=1.05882352941176 (98.9545922303676 CENT)
\approx  \frac {107}{101}=1.05940594059405 (99.9066043792227 CENT)
\approx  \frac {11011}{10393}=1.05946310016357 (100.0000094845790 CENT)
\approx  \frac {18904}{17843}=1.05946309477106 (100.0000006728490 CENT)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The first inspiration of today comes from Elizabeth at a moon, worn as if it had been a shell. She's a baker extraordinaire, and when she writes about food, I always want to drop everything and head to the kitchen. Elizabeth is taking a class called Food Crafting 101 -- a kind of home-economics redux, where she'll make cheese, jam, bread, and mustard, etc.

I suggested to my son that we make our own mustard, and he said, "I've done it."


It's hard to find something he hasn't made.

Last week it was ice-cream, again, and -- the brat -- he failed to let me know that there was HOMEMADE DARK CHOCOLATE PEANUT-BUTTER CHUNK ICE CREAM in the freezer. This is grounds for expulsion, I think, but then, who else would come into my kitchen and cook up a storm of everything marvelous?!

This is my small benefit of the recession and an unemployed son. One can always find blessings, often right under one's nose (and apparently in one's freezer).

But back to the ice cream: the first spoonful, and the second, and the third, ad infinitum, was an OMG moment. An OMGOL moment. (O! My! God! [Out Loud!]) So chocolately (gawd, I sound like Keebler elf) it was almost black, with spoonfuls of chunky peanut butter. Sublime.

Earlier this summer, there was fresh coconut ice cream, served with sugared blackberries just moments off the stem, and then there was fresh blackberry ice cream with a color so deeply and so perfectly purple I wanted to sit down and weep. Wanted to roll in it. Wanted to wear it, which I would've done had I given in to the urge to roll.

I do believe my son has found his niche.

Anyone looking for an ice-cream maker? That is, a human one?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Spirits ran fairly high all summer, despite the barrage of seemingly never-ending Major Life Events. Walks to-and-from work buzzed with activity: people gardening, people playing music with all the doors and windows open, people walking to the store. Children riding bikes, children in the middle of the street with balls, children on the sidewalk, bright chalk at hand.

Fresh-cut grass, smoke from a grill, the sweet vanilla breeze from my neighbor's hedge in bloom. From every house and from every life: evidence of the here & now.

A child's cry from down the alley. From an open kitchen window, the clink of dishes being washed. From the synagogue: chanting, or prayer, low and rhythmical.

Life hummed along at a pleasant pitch. Bees hummed in lavender, and if someone told me that tomatoes hummed in their ripening in parking-strip gardens, I would have listened, and I would have heard.

Then every evening: dinner in the garden, a glass of wine beneath the kiwi and grape vines, an abundance of birds in the apple trees. I existed outdoors: a walk around the block at dusk, a midnight accounting of stars from my upstairs balcony.

And now with autumn in full leaf-fall, everything appears shut down, closed out, turned inwards. My one-mile on-foot commute is minus the soundtrack of people living their urban lives. Curtains are drawn, windows latched. And only a few bees persist on the last few flowers: cosmos, calendula, here and there a dwindling rose. A sudden damping-down in the volume of life, a volume that, in summer, was easy to keep wound-up.

Descending into melancholy.
Feeding it, one song at a time.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Take my advice and take shelter from "Take Shelter"....

In his October 17th review of the movie "Take Shelter" in The New Yorker, David Denby states that our protagonist, the apparently paranoid-schizophrenic young husband/father Curtis (played by Michael Shannon) is "definitely paranoid" but "not totally crazy."

On the screen we watch Curtis conjure -- in his mind only -- terrifying and ominous lightning storms, tornadoes, and clouds of menacing crows. He loses his job while rebuilding a tornado (aka bomb) shelter in his back yard, loses his closest friend, and nearly loses his marriage. It's a movie about mental illness with all the cliches about mental illness: the delusional "crazy" man doing delusional "crazy" things.

David Denby, on the other hand, sees a greater metaphor, that, for me, was sorely lacking and, if it exists at all, is beat to death by the ponderous and repetitive takes of Curtis' twitching eye or his wife Samantha's (Jessica Chastain) full-lipped, red-haired stares of incredulity. Denby states that "Take Shelter" could become as iconic an image of this moment of American unease as Edvard Munch’s 'The Scream' has become for all the anxieties of modern life.

Did I miss something? This movie drowns itself in the tired fantastical notion of what too many people consider mental illness to be. In real life, mental illness often drags along those suffering from it day after day. Drags along, drags down. Drags. Sure, there may be drama, but it's often a more quiet, insidious drama, or any number of small dramas piling up one atop the other. There is no ridiculously dramatic soundtrack in real life, and, if there's a denouement, it exists, as in all of life, in death.

Admittedly, this is my soapbox rant -- I've dealt with mental health issues, and have been an advocate for mental health education, all my life. It is something I know intimately. It's an illness, not an "attitude problem". You can't fix it by "pulling up your bootstraps" or "looking on the bright side", just as you can't cure emphysema or diabetes or cancer by "bucking up". And furthermore, if someone close to you came to you with a diagnosis of any life-threatening illness other than mental illness, would you tell them that they just need to be more positive?

It's a condition for which, often, you need the meds so that you have the where-with-all to ask for the meds. That's where, for me, the "crazy" part comes in. It's insidious. Confounding. Enraging. Life-destroying.

When I say I know this intimately, I don't say it lightly. My first husband's death was caused by untreated -- or, actually, self-medicated -- mental illness. Two days prior to his car accident, he agreed, finally, to seek help. Too late.

Mental illness played a major role in the disintegration of my second marriage. I've intervened in attempted suicides (yes, plural) and have initiated and participated in less life-threatening interventions, some of which have been successful, some not. There's no "fix". There's no cure. Brain science is primitive at best, but when something works, when a medication allows life to happen, with a degree of happiness and success that would otherwise flat-out not be impossible, then by god, bring on the meds.

If I hadn't been sitting smack in the middle of the theater last night, I would've walked out -- and I had the notion to do that several times.

Towards the end of "Take Shelter", we see Curtis and his wife speaking to a psychiatrist who suggests in-patient treatment. I thought -- okay, this is a redeeming moment on the part of the film-maker. He might have slammed us with cliches, but at least at the end, he's taking a responsible role. (Although I thoroughly expected to hear the words "insane asylum" at any moment.) But my relief was short-lived: he throws it all away in the closing scene, and I left the theater spitting nails. (With apologies to my movie companion.)

Denby goes on to say that "the movie makes you uncomfortable, but in a good way." Oh please. Let's ditch the horror-movie romanticizing of mental illness. I know -- no one made me go to this movie. It was my choice, but based on a review by a critic whose writing I respect. And who let me down.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Lament for a Rainy Friday

Getting ready to walk to work in the rain....a piece of music
I'd like to learn.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Perfect Tree

It's officially Autumn and here's the Official Tree:

It belongs to someone named John, or Johnny, with a last name I've heard pronounced a half-dozen ways. What I remember is Johnny Eubanks, which has evolved, in my head, to Bob Eubanks, who hosted the original Newleywed game, which debuted in 1966.

This tree is not owned by Bob Eubanks, though. I'm sure of that. Bob lives somewhere in California, I'm guessing, and doesn't own a little pickup truck and is most likely not a carpenter. Johnny Eubanks, aka something else, does own a little pickup truck and is a carpenter. And is the owner of this fabulousness....

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Encounters, by Chance

Leaving work today on foot, I headed downhill to Columbia City to meet a friend for a drink. Halfway to my destination, I encountered a tall, thin young man wearing tiny wire-framed glasses and a close-fitting green jacket & jeans,  with a complexion so pale you'd miss him if you blinked.

"Excuse me," he said, holding out a green seedpod for my perusal, "but do you know the name of this tree?" He pointed to a tree in the parking strip about thirty feet away.

I peered down at the odd-looking fruit in his hand. I peered at him. He resembled the tree for which he was seeking identification, and his jacket was the same color as the seed pod.

"No, but I have this cool iPhone app called Leafsnap and I can look it up. All I have to do is take a photo of the leaf, and it'll give me a list of possible trees."

"Really? I iPhone app? Huh? You can?"


Yikes. What was I doing?! I was already late for my drink.

"And," I said, "failing that, I know who lives in this house. She'll know the name of the tree for sure."

Again from the young man, "REALLY?!"

I plucked a leaf from a branch, laid it down on the sidewalk to photograph. (Leafsnap instructions: lay leaf on white surface. Uh, no.) At the same time, I was ambushed by an excited wiggle-and-twist of blond fur: Leishka -- my friend Connie's dog -- unleashed and jumping on me and licking and nipping at me, way too happy. The leaf flew up and away, disappeared. The thin young man stood aside, a kind of half-smile overtaking his face. Leishka was loose! Where was Connie?

Abandoning my tree-name-seeker, I went in search of Connie, found her embedded in foliage at the side of her house, hard at the work of fall-cleanup. Leishka levitated and yipped at me, desperate for my attention. What the heck? This dog was literally jumping straight up, as if on a trampoline. Circus dog. Tricks.

Connie pushed a gentling hand down on the dog's side, shushed her, calmed her.

"Hey Connie. This guy wants to know the name of that tree."

"Styrex Japonica."

Count on Connie to whip out the Latin, lickety split. Connie: a quiet, steady intelligence. A reliable intellect.

Our Thin Man nodded, satisfied, then asked a most unexpected question:

"Do you know the location of any artesian wells? I've heard there are a few, but can't find them."

And even more amazing, was Connie's immediate response. I mean, she didn't even take a breath, she was so certain:

"Yes," she said, matter-of-fact. "In Lynnwood. Take I-405, exit to Lynnwood, follow the exit ramp west until you see a bunch of people lined up. That's the well."

"Oh." Mr. Thin Man. "I've heard of that one, but do you know the address?"

Aha! iPhone!

Me: "It's on 164th Street, just off I-5."

"Wait -- you just looked it up on your phone?"

I thought: this is all so strange. I'm late meeting a friend. A stranger asks me to identify a tree. I'm set-upon by a small dog named Leishka, followed by a discussion about local artesian wells. I don't think I've ever even said the two words artesian wells out loud. Ever.

I made my exit, abandoning trees & water-talk, exuberant dogs.

Did I leaf them (and the barking) in peace? (Well, yes.)

(Note: sometimes a conversation about a tree is just a conversation about a tree. No social/psychological/cryptic/symbolic/metaphorical significance.)

The End.

Lost & Stuff

Apparently there is an iPhone app for finding lost keys -- here -- go figure -- but on Sunday I couldn't brag that I was in possession of any such device when my keys vanished -- whoosh, gone.

Riles and I were up to our elbows in pie crust and apples when our neighbor Roy knocked on the door to help us move The Behemoth (an ugly white vinyl massaging recliner acquired by my younger son and then conveniently abandoned when he moved out -- presto! Out of sight, out of mind.) It weighs slightly less than this:

And moving it Out Of The House required tripping it down ten steps. Not something I was going to attempt without sufficient manpower. Moved my car from the driveway so we could park The Behemoth beneath a tarp in the shadow of the quince.

And then finally: done.

I stood outside in the chilly October afternoon, no coat, and chatted with Roy about learning to play the concertina by watching YouTube videos; and Roy, an old-time fiddle player and, at age 65 (or so) approaching the state of a grizzled, lean H. Brandonium, demonstrated clog-dancing that he learned from -- yes, watching YouTube videos. Roy does nothing without wit and a wryly-humorous narrative, and within seconds I was overtaken with delighted laughter at his fancy footwork and tale of feeling oddly embarrassed practicing clogging alone in front of the computer screen.

Back inside, Riles and I resumed our apple-turnover adventure. Once they were in the oven, we continued the seemingly never-ending task of Cleaning Out Stuff. I've been back in this house nearly six months now, and it feels like I'll never fully liberate it from its fraternity-house atmosphere. New paint helps, as does the reinvented bathroom.

But: STUFF. I believe that once you are successful in removing any amount of STUFF from a house, the remaining STUFF not only inflates itself to fill the newly vacated space, it undergoes a kind of mitosis. Replication of STUFF is a bad thing. And there's a sneaking suspicion that it happens in my house the minute I leave a room. Emptied and then: BAM! Filled. Repeat.

We had to prepare a third and final room for painting, and I'd been amazingly successful at avoiding this room all summer. Because it was already filled with STUFF, it became the receptacle for all STUFF that couldn't find a home, including:

1. a single black hiking boot
2. a popover tin
3. strewn baseball cards
4. a mattress
5. a survival-print coverall
6. a box of transformers
7. retired baseball caps
8. a pile of mismatched gloves
9. pennies
10. other

My biggest achievement of the day, other than the banishment of The Behemoth, was in discovering that surface of my dining room table, piled-high with STUFF for months -- apparently it's a lovely butcher-block oak table, circa 1980. Go figure.

The kitchen now fragrant with cinnamon and golden pie crust, I hung up my apron and prepared to go out for the evening.

And no keys.

A cursory search yielded nothing, and even fewer clues. And because we'd moved and cleaned so much in the prior hour, nothing was where it used to be. I took the search to the second level, seeking out keys behind and under sofas, in and under sofa cushions, under tables and under chair cushions, in boxes where the tiny bits of accumulated and random STUFF had, by default, congregated. 


Level Three: garbage can, food waste bin, recycling bin.

Again: nothing.


Level Four: up and down the front steps, with a flashlight in the garden on either side of the steps, to-and-from the car (tidily locked up, no keys within), in-and-around the tarped Behemoth.

Nothing nothing nothing.

Screamingly: nothing.

My friend Tom came over and helped -- or should I say, "god help me, there's someone digging in the darkest corners of my house aka my subconscious." I felt flayed open, unmasked, denuded. Tried to keep my mind from wondering what Tom would find other than keys. Yikes.

But still no keys. They didn't seem to be hidden, wedged, under, between, or even in plain sight anywhere.

I gave up for the night -- and resumed my futile quest in the morning.

Now for the math:

no keys + no spares = no car

no keys + no car title yet (complication of dee-vorce) = communication with ex, re: spares?

text message to ex + voice mail from ex = more complicated title info and still no spare key

voice mail from ex [after months of < zero communication]  ≈ anxiety multiplied by π = I have to wait ten days until new copy of title arrives.

(Grrrrrr.) (Hrrrrmmmphhh.)

 Remember all those kids in high school math questioning the point of taking any math at all, and the question, "When will I ever use this?"

Well, apparently they never anticipated losing their car keys while making π.


(No, the keys were not embedded in an apple turnover.)

Having hithered and dithered for an entire workday about the absence of keys, I came home and got out the ingredients for a nice sausage-kale-potato soup. I donned the necessary apron, which fell off the hook into my hands with an uncommon weight and a jingle: AHA!

But nothing is without its lesson and delights: in searching, I was inclined to think that the reason for the keys' invisibility was my overabundance of STUFF -- that they'd become lost in the swirl of getting-rid-of, had become victim to my desire to purge and purge again. And then the sound of my ex on the voice mail, like a ghost, as dee-vorce is so much a death in its own right, sent a disturbing chill up my back and into my skull, wrapped its wriath-like fingers around the lobes of my brain. There was the actual physical sensation of a punch to my gut. And yet there he was, with his verbal explanation, in nearly live-time, recorded for all perpetuity on my iPhone. And for all intents and purposes (for all intentional purposes?) dead to me. 

The perspective gained, from yesterday to today, is significant. Yesterday I was myself lost to any freedom to move forward, albeit if only by car, and the world seemed locked out to me, inhabited by voice-mail ghosts. Felt as if, once I closed a door behind me, I'd never again go back through it. 

But it wasn't the presence of STUFF. I wasn't locked out to anything except my ability to consider that this was merely a single day, with its minimal significance. 

I can appropriately blame the misplacement of keys with my apron-wearing obsession and my own rapidly-leaping thought process. My brain had already moved on to pie when I unconsciously slipped the key-ring into the apron pocket.

And now, a day later, I can say that I've repossessed the key(s) to a happiness, of sorts -- a happiness that was always here. (Kind of a Dorothy-returning-to-Kansas experience.) And that doors everywhere are opening to my command.

Who wants pie?