Friday, December 26, 2014

Musical Chairs

The only Christmas cookies in my house this year were baked by a Jewish friend, delivered yesterday afternoon while I was up to my elbows in potato peels. I can't recall a year when I didn't bake in December — even my early years were spent in sugar-dusted glee, with sprinkles afoot most of the month. I work too many hours these days to spend much time in the kitchen, dog-tired at the end of each day. Not a complaint: I am blessed with a job that sustains me in many ways. There are trade-offs involved, and things are good. And if the only cookies in my kitchen were baked in someone else's house, then so be it.

Yesterday's dinner guests were all refugees from changing lives of their own, the shifts that occur when loved ones age, when marriages crumble and houses, metaphorically, fall. I wasn't even sure of the guest list until Christmas morning. It kind of felt like musical chairs: when the music stopped, we all sat down for dinner, and one person was missing. (And yet so many others, too, gone now forever.)

I doubt there was one of us that didn't ponder the make-up of this new, loosely-formed family. But no matter: we wasted no time getting to the important stuff: laughter. Rolling explosions of laughter, rising and falling gales of laughter, for hours on end. I think that from the outside we must've sounded like a party of twenty or more, but there were only seven of us.

A failed attempt to set the Baked Alaska aflame provided additional entertainment (a blow torch was involved) and fears from my nephew that the house would, at any minute, go up in its own fiery blaze. We did manage a trickle of blue flame down one side of the meringue-flocked Mt. McKinley, and the dearth of alcohol-fueled drama didn't in any way mar the fabulousness that is Baked Alaska (cake, ice cream, meringue).

A stupor of exhaustion set in once dinner was finished, in everyone, it seemed. No charades, no Cards Against Humanity. We sat in the candlelit, tree-twinkled living room, slumped onto couches, as our stories and laughter dwindled, most of the dishes done, the melting Alaska ferried back to the freezer.

The day after Christmas possesses its own happy wreckage — the kitchen overflowing with leftover abundance, emptied wine bottles, and that plate of cookies, still untouched. This morning I sat in misty sunlight with my coffee and read from Louise Glück's new poetry collection:

"...ah, behold how we have aged, traveling
from day to night only, neither forward nor sideward, and this seemed
in a strange way miraculous. And those who believed we should have a purpose
believed this was the purpose, and those who felt we must remain free
in order to encounter truth felt it had been revealed."


These hours.
These days.
This life.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

After the Mall

The only antidote to yesterday's mall-ing (where I vowed I would not visit this holiday season, but, well,) was a walk in the woods, so I hurried down to the park this afternoon in the last hour of daylight on this winter solstice.

Upon first stepping onto the trail, a couple pointed out a pileated woodpecker bobbing its beak up and down high in a Douglas fir. The bark was riddled with large holes — evidently a great place for grubbing! The tap-tap-tap echoed from every side, and up in the canopy a breeze rustled the treetops. Waning light. Cedar scent, moss and damp humus scent.

Further along, some people were talking about the bald eagle's nest, and a man was spading in some native plants where invasive blackberry vines had been yanked out.

Deeper into the park, I came across a young couple outfitted for a wedding (knee-length dress!) and a photographer. They were very cautiously wading into the salal, while the man with the camera directed them. The young woman in barely-there shoes, her lace-and-chiffon dress just itching to snag on a twig. The young man in a black suit so crisp it seemed able to reflect light.

Because of the lateness of the hour, I'd anticipated a solitary walk, but it wasn't to be had. Joggers, dogs, more dogs, a group of teens trailing the scent of weed.

I cut off the main path into deeper woods and mud, carried snippets of fir branches to toss onto the trail when the mud was too soggy to traverse. Fewer humans here, and once, when I thought I heard someone rustling towards me, I discovered instead that I'd stumbled into a flock of small birds — juncos, chicadees — who were flitting through the underbrush, perhaps thirty of them, mostly unconcerned with me. And I saw almost none of them; rather, I saw the things they rustled through:  the feathery branches of hemlock, maple leaves caught up in twigs, the everpresent ferns. They moved through the forest at perhaps knee level, a constant quiet motion. I wondered about the life of a bird, wanted to have a conversation with a chickadee. I wanted to know what life looks like from the perspective of a junco.

And then I was back on the main path, back to the car, up the hill to my house.

Friday, December 19, 2014


I turned on the porch light so the UPS driver could bump the giant box up the front steps.

"It's all in the legs," she said, "otherwise you blow your back out. Biggest thing I ever delivered was a lap-pool, in 17 boxes. Luckily, there was someone home, otherwise I woulda stacked those boxes up on his front porch. And you wouldn't believe how many mattresses I've delivered. "

My son's new mattress, compressed into this cardboard box. Does it spring up when opened, taking in air? I can't imagine how this will happen.

This is our world: need a bed, order it on Amazon Prime: free shipping, delivery in one or two days.

I bought a white, hotel-quality fitted queen size sheet last night at Goodwill, for $4.99. A little bleach, some hot water, and it's good as new. I thought, I never need buy anything new again.

There is so little that I need, or want, besides two weeks on a beach in Maui. Can I deliver myself to  Kapalua in a giant box, overnight, free shipping?

If only.

The UPS pick-up today at work was in a rented truck, apparently a common occurrence the month of December, when they run out of their own delivery vehicles. So many things, so much stuff, circulating the planet, driving the dollars-and-cents of the economy. But isn't there enough of everything to last us all at least 50 years, possibly more?

When I brought this point up at work, I was reminded that we are makers of stuff. Oh, um, yes. It's stuff that's driving my own economy, paying my mortgage, fueling my own machine of bones and flesh. Seems there's no way to avoid it without a dramatic change in lifestyle.

So where does one start? I started at Goodwill, in the sheet department. Fitted. Queen sized. $4.99.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

What it's really like to do art for a living —

We like to joke about the comments that have accrued over the years, things like:

     You are so lucky! You get to stay home all day and do art!
      It must be so great that you don't really have to work!

(My boss used to say that she had a factory in her home, now she says that she lives in a factory.)

And then there are the comments in another vein altogether:

     When are you going to get a real job?
     Are you still doing that little art job?
     Did you go to New York to do shopping?

Shopping? SHOPPING?!

So, in case there's any question, yes, it's a real job. I run a small business, a small booming business with one helluva boss/artist-in-chief, and there's nothing "little" about it.

Today we discussed scheduling the shipping for this year's wholesale show, and we're up against a frighteningly close deadline. We lost a troublesome full-time employee yesterday, a mixed blessing; while our other fully-trained assistant is on sick leave with a seriously debilitating illness. Two new hires, a full line of prototypes to make and, wait, did someone mention Christmas?

We'll slip under the wire; we always do. I'm so used to pulling rabbits out of hats that the hat is frayed on the edges, the rabbit is getting on in years.

I have a fear that I'm going to succumb with a paintbrush in my right hand, an order in my left hand, the timer beeping on the "kitchen kiln", shipping labels being spit out of the printer while the UPS truck waits at the curb, engine idling.

But hey: abracadabra!

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Pod of Privilege

I drove my first loaner car today, a brand spanking new Volvo, because my son lost the only key to my, ahem, not so brand new Volvo. The loaner is sleek, white and new. NEW. I haven't been anywhere near a new car in a long time, and this one was, well, more than a bit intimidating.

When I stepped inside and closed the door this morning, immediately the outside world ceased to exist. I was transported into a hushed, plush universe, with a seat significantly more comfortable than my bed. I felt safe, yet disconnected. Barricaded, yet not part of anything. Is this what it's like to live in a gated community? This thought trailed me all day, the feeling of being closed-out, the how-many-inches of padding there were between me and anyone/thing outside. It felt like privilege, that subject in the news in the wake of the Ferguson riots and the ongoing protests in NYC and elsewhere. And to make my point more dramatic, I'll say it again: my Pod of Privilege was white. 

The car itself was a bit confounding. I couldn't figure out how to adjust the side-view mirror. I couldn't find the icon for turning off the heated seats. The windshield wipers kept alternating patterns — wait! Was that a figure eight? Never mind trying to figure out the computer screen on the dashboard. (Where's the scroll button? The mouse?! Can I send an email? Is there a facebook icon?)

There was a button marked "My Car" — dare I touch it, even if the car isn't mine?!  There was a button marked +/-, which I suppose is handy if you want to practice your arithmetic on long drives. Altogether too much gadgetry for me, but for the .8 miles to and from work, I experienced life in an alternate dimension. 

Let's not mention that it's taken the dealership five days to re-key my car. From the difficulties the guy on the phone kept explaining (in my daily call to Ravenna Volvo), you'd think it was an 1895 model with a ten mules strapped to the front hood, expecting hay and water twice a day. "Problems with the software," he said. "We can't figure it out." Apparently today's mechanics need a degree in computer engineering along with the toolbox.

And in the end, the key was found, on the sidewalk outside my son's job. But too late! The car had already been towed, and the new keys had been cut. Damn. son's car, which has sat idle for three months needing repairs for which he didn't have the cash, suddenly started running again.

All this, just so I could spend time inside the Pod of Privilege.

If anyone wants to do some math problems, come on over. I'm itching to test out those plus and minus signs. What could possibly be more entertaining on a Friday night in December?

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Inside the Red Tomato

My mother, she told me I could cut the pin cushion open, to see what was inside. I was five, and the scissors were bigger, and exclusively mom's, but she let me take them and so I did, gouging open the red cloth tomato, and the sand within spilled out onto the spread-open piece of newsprint. And with  it — so many needles! A family of lost needles,  mom-needles and dad-needles and big-sister-needles and even some baby-needles, as fine as a single strand of baby hair, or so it seemed. Needles let-loose, escaped needles. Found needles.

For the rest of my childhood I persisted with my one request: may I cut open the pin cushion?

My own red tomato pin cushion is going on forty years old, as yet unthreatened by scissor blades. Every now and then, I compress it just enough to reveal the tips of embedded sharps. I've come to believe that the cushion-gutting of '61 was a singular event in the timeline of my life.

Never before, and not once since.

But thank-you, Mom, wherever it is that the dust of your essence exists, thank you for that one extraordinary moment in my fifth year, when you showed me the secret within the red tomato, showed me that treasures are to be found in the most ordinary of places.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thanksgiving Eve, with Cognac

Winding down after peeling spuds and cubing bread in anticipation of tomorrow's feast. These are tense days on the job, scrambling to finish the last of the gallery orders as we prep for the home holiday sale, and then it's on to prepping an entire product line for the big annual wholesale show on the East Coast. An employee gave notice last week, and M. and I interviewed six prospective studio assistants yesterday and today. It's never dull.

Of the six interviewees, five are new to the area, a couple as new as two weeks. Seattle: land of milk and honey, apparently. And while a resumé provides a curriculum vitae, nothing quite matches sitting down face to face with a new person....

The woman with high heels, jeans and salon-nails was a definite "no". The jumpy young man who was eager to please and laughed nervously (a lot) throughout the interview and looked as if he'd easily take out a tableful of glass with a single nervous swipe of an arm was a "no". The adjunct- college-professor/painter with a three page resumé (which included an impressive and lengthy list of solo shows) was a "no" because, honestly, how long would someone with her CV last as the go-fer and bottom-of-the-totem-pole glass slinger?

We did, however, narrow the list to two (the quiet and placid 31-year-old graphic-designer/painter with a wife and a nine-year-old daughter, and the even younger effusively cheerful man who knows how to sandblast) and M. will contact them this weekend to set up start times. And then it's training time, long and arduous. NOT looking forward to that. Sigh.

What I am looking forward to, though, is the new life that will come into the studio, new life with all its attendant tales and dramas, all its earnestness and frustrations. Again, it's never dull.

Okay, well, that's a lie. It actually does get dull after hours of painting the same size pieces, and the color palette seems to shrink. A favorite complaint: "I'm all out of colors. I need new colors. Someone, please, invent new colors." Recently there have been requests for lots of blue tones — a curious thing, that. Blues and purples. Must be the colors of the hour.

Mostly, though, I'm looking forward to tomorrow — to Thanksgiving, my favorite day of the year.  We will be an atypical small crowd of six, which suits me just fine. My son is making a purple sweet potato pie, in his quest to break from tradition. I, on the other hand, am sticking to My Favorite Menu of the Year, as starch-laden as that may be. (Or so I've been told.)

So bring it on, baby, I say.
Bring it on, because I'm hungry.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Small Business Hysteria.

I mean: hysteria.

I announced today that since I couldn't do anything about the looming backlog of orders on account of being down one employee for the past week that I was going to turn off the simmering panic that always heats up when, no matter what I do, I can't do more. There's absolutely zero wiggle room on this tightly-run ship, and when we begin to list to one side, the drowning waves swell mightily with their threat to capsize us.

Yesterday's meteorological event lingered at the edges, like the bits of blue paint that never seem to wash completely from the palettes, a perpetual residue. I could've sworn a Payne's Grey cloud floated  just below the ceiling for the better part of the day.

I wasn't feeling the least bit my usual jolly self. Head down, I juggled (so to speak) the several hundred pieces of glass in the current order rotation, continually moving things from one phase of completion to the next. Storage shed, back-room staging, main work table, sandblaster, studio, sink, grinder, The Hot Shelf, back to the work table, kitchen kiln aka the oven, back to the work table again, back to The Hot Shelf, signing shelf, shipping staging, and finally, finally, back down to the studio to be boxed up for UPS pickup.

The home holiday sale approaches, but wasn't it just summer?

The question, Is this my life? swept over me, a softer wave now, no longer worried about water in the lungs since I crossed out hysteria.

Yes, I silently answered, it is.

And then it was 4:11pm, and sunlight broke through the cloudcover just at the horizon, and a Payne's- Grey/brown-pink light illuminated everything.

Nice that they're color-coding the sunset to match our painting, I said.

Mmmm. Murmers.

On the windowsill, freshly oil-painted glass lit up with the sudden light, as did the tiny vases of assorted foliage, now dried, that have been accumulating since summer: hydrangea, rose hips, dogwood seedpods, a red twig.

Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata — which sounds like audio velvet — was playing on the iPod. It was a moment to get lost in, the briefest interval of time into which to slip, to forget the daily irritations, the trials. The three of us approached a moment of perfect harmony. A major chord/accord. Everything was flowing smoothly, or smoothly enough.

I stepped outside for just a breath of that lit-up air, took it deeply into my lungs before returning to my work.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Clang, Clang, Do It Right

A hundred years ago, or so it seems,  I did piece-work for a local paper-maché artist whose basement studio was filled to the gills with suspended fairies, these:

There were several dozen of us women taking work home, most of us looking for a way to be  with our kids and still bring in some cash. I spent endless hours at my kitchen table, doing various stages of construction of these pieces, while my sons took naps, ate lunch, started school, got on and off buses. (The table a heap of rice paper strips, wheat paste, paper towels, scissored-lengths of aluminum foil and my toirtoiseshell cat named Alice who liked to sleep in a box in the middle of it all.)

It was nit-picky work, with zero margin of error. A piece not up to snuff at the weekly check-in clanged into the garbage can with a dismissive sweep of the hand by the supervisor, and the garbage can did not equal dollars. Standards were standards, and when your paycheck depended on the quality of your work, you did it right. It was often grueling, but it allowed me to be home for my kids. And that was enough.

Some time in the late 1990's, the business owner laid off all her piece-workers after a successful foray into offshoring; production moved to China. The owner and her partner moved to Carmel-by-the-Sea, in California. My piece-work career thudded to a halt. Alas. (No tears shed.)

I was reminded of all this today when dealing with quality-control issues at work. My role tends to lean to the bad-cop side of things, as I'm the person final-checking each piece of glass prior to shipping. Some days roll along smoothly, no bumps, no cracks. Today repeatedly tried my patience, with several hours spent fixing other people's sloppiness. The back door was (repeatedly) left open (it's c-c-c-c-cold outside), and when I forcefully pushed it closed, I inadvertently squeezed the cat's paw, resulting in a a feline shriek of epic volume. I felt as if I'd committed a diabolical and intentional act of violence. The cat skulked off to the farthest corner and disappeared in the back of a closet under bags and boxes. I slunk back to my chair and continued the fixing, repairing, repainting, waiting for the day to end.

Meanwhile there was a small typhoon brewing which resulted in a spectacular display of emotion from Someone Else. The boss and I managed to keep our wits together and modeled a united front, with only one outburst of complete indignation (from me).

I shall not disclose more, except that I was reminded of the many jobs I've had where I was given a task to do, and I had to do it correctly, period. No arguing, no questioning, and, especially, no tears. I couldn't stop thinking of the paper-maché fairies I used to make by the dozen, how the angle of the chin required the precision of the width of a single millimeter.

Mostly, I kept hearing that clang into the garbage can. And before long, that recalled-clang drowned out the sniffling and sighing that was going on beside me.

In a way, I'm thankful for the clang. I resented it fiercely back then, but the point was well-taken, sound effects and all.  And the larger lesson — do it right! — was the take-away from those years hand-sculpting rice-paper figurines, while my sons napped, the cat snored, and (mostly), no one cried.
The work got done, I got paid, everybody was happy.

But there was more to it — there was the necessity of releasing the ego. So easy to consider now, to look at the young and relatively-inexperienced with an air of disdainful impatience. Easier now, after-hours, with the perspective that only time and distance allows.

A part of me wants to suspend one of the imperfect glass vessels high above the garbage can, let it go at the perfect dramatic moment so that it ends its usefulness in a spectacular, gravity-driven crash.

I won't, of course.
But I'll keep this little fantasy tucked away close-by for quick reference.
Listen up:

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Vapor Trails

It was a family function, a wedding shower for my grand-niece, about 25 women packed into an overstuffed-furniture suburban living room, with all the various and complicated how-are-you-related conversations going on, some people that I've known for 40+ years, others more recent, and still others whom I'll probably never know.

One woman, a few years younger than me, the sister-in-law of my brother-in-law (and how that relates to me by definition is anyone's guess), sat on the next sofa over. We've never actually met, but I went to her husband's funeral two years ago, and know so many details of the decades of her late husband's leukemia, the two sons they raised, the struggle. She was engaged in an animated discussion with her sister-in-law, and from the gist of it (and from the size of the diamond on her left hand), it sounded like they were talking about a new husband.

I was only able to glean fragments of their conversation, but it was enough to get a read on the level of hope, of let's-do-life-over-while-there's-still-time gist of it. Boy do I get that — made my own stab at it a few years back. I know the space that opens up, that gapes in front of you, where you know you can take that leap if you dare to. She seemed to sit smack in the middle of it, stacking up various types of mid-life healthy successes.

But the long years of protracted grieving hung about her like cigarette smoke; I swore I could smell the slow burn of it, the way it swirled around her with its own gravitational pull, a grey aura that seemed to emanate from her every cell. I was fascinated and also deeply moved by what I witnessed, and I've carried a wisp of her essence with me all through this day.

The best part of the afternoon, though, was that three of my sisters and I sat side-by-side for the duration, nestled in amongst each other, with lots of tête-à-têtes. I kept looking over at them, and found myself repeatedly doing a head count. Missing: Patty and Lorraine. One on the east coast, the other away for the weekend three hours away.

For years, in my hometown, and especially in the Catholic parish where we grew up, we were an entity with a title: The Clear Girls. Often we were recognized by no other name, as if we were an amorphous lump of female flesh (and I suspect my brother to have entertained similar notions). The farther down the line of sisters one was, the smaller the chance that someone would know your name. It was easy to disappear among the folds of made-over Easter coats, among the pleated skirts of an older sister. It's taken me decades to claim my selfhood in this community, and yet still I know I can rely on a certain invisibility if I so choose.

But I'm rambling.

I find that, more and more, I want to be in the presence of all of my sisters, all at once. The years are beginning to stack up, and the once-unthinkable is now clearly baring its teeth in the not-too-distant future: we're not all going to be here forever.

Which of us will be left to drag behind us the vapor trails of lost sisters? (I can't believe I just typed that.) This I do know: whoever it is, it will be as visible and palpable as the one I witnessed yesterday afternoon.  If it's me, I know I'll be able to feel it, like a veil, a netted mist about my face, through which the rest of my life will surely have a decidedly altered focus.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

In Which Leaves Became My Enemy —

— as I went airborne, slipping on a dark and wet heap of them, skidded to a stop with my forehead to the pavement, my glasses skittering away (but thankfully intact). A faceful of mud and some particularly colorful abrasions/bruises/lumps: head, hip, hand.

I recall flipping off the front of my friend's sting-ray bike while riding the dirt paths through the filbert groves in Sommer's field when I was ten, landing nose-down on the hard-packed earth: no blood, nothing broken. Tonight I can feel that impact again, all these years later. My shaky-kneed walk through the woods back to my house, pushing that damn bike all the way. 

What a strange sensation that is — the moment when you realize that you're no longer upright and yet also not yet back on the ground, that brief flight, that joyless soar. And then the brutal truth of impact, and all of this in only two or three seconds where you know it's happening but there's little to be done but try to minimize damages. Amazing, also, that in this oh-so-brief flash of time — which feels like a slow-motion explosion — that you can move your body (somewhat) in order to ease the landing.

Anyway. My love affair with autumn leaves is over.

My son helped me remove the bits of dirt and gravel from my forehead gash — no easy task. What we really needed to do was use a scrub brush, but I just couldn't bring myself to endure that. The stuff was seriously embedded. OUCH.

Turn Over A Leaf

Facebook has been overrun with autumn leaf imagery of late; and while I want to shout "Halt! Cliché!"— I must remind myself that there are no cliché images in nature, and that it's the redundancy of social media posts that wears down my usual sense of awe. Better to get out in it, as I made myself do this morning by walking to work instead of opting for laziness via automobile. And anyway, don't you find the undersides of leaves perhaps even more intriguing just by the nature of their understated nuances? No shouting here —

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Pilfered Apples

Every morning on my way to work, I step into a forbidden yard and gather the day's accumulation of yellow apples, wet on the grass, some worm-pocked, some rose-blushed. It seems no one else but me commits this small theft from the yard where the garage tilts dangerously to the right and the roof on the house is sparsely tar-papered. Once I saw a woman sweeping the front steps, but apart from that, there's little activity.  I fully expect to be shouted-off the property some morning, but until then, and until the season has given the last fruits of its harvest, I intend to fill my canvas bag with enough apples to weigh me down, slow me down not enough to cause alarm, lugging my appled-self the last half-mile to a an honest day's work.

Monday, November 3, 2014

...and just like that, we're swept into the darkness and rains of autumn; it always seems to happen while I wasn't paying attention for, oh, I don't know, a minute or two. Yes, yes, thankful I am for this rain which descends like a magic everywhere-waterfall from the sky, turning the gutters into little rivers that carry away October's red leaves like tiny ships, gone, gone, gone to November. At night the rains pelts the slanted roof just inches above my head, and I go to sleep with the lullaby of it, snugged-in among pillows and quilts, hoping to wake to one of the cats at my feet.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Dangerous Toast

Don't argue with me: the best way to eat toast is darkly toasted, almost burnt. (The toast, not me.)

The problem with this, though, is that I usually can't wait long enough to get that perfect nearly-black hue, when the smoke-alarm is precariously close to blasting and the first spirals of smoke are rising from the red coils. I don't consume much bread, so it lives in deep freeze. And takes longer to toast in its frozen state. And, the rest of my meal — an omelette, a bowl of soup — is already hot and ready to go while I tap my foot and peer anxiously at the toaster in anticipation.

I know, I should time it all better, but I don't. Blame a rampant hunger, a long day at work, a glass of wine. Whatever. All I know is that I end up waiting, or trying to wait, and somewhere between 40 and 50 seconds, I cave and hit the "up" button and the inadequately toasted slices of bread pop — POP! — into the air at least 6 inches above the toaster and fall back askew: a disappointment in iron-poor brown, a "milk-toast" toast. Lacking backbone. Lacking burn.

Tonight was no different. My beef stew: peppery, steaming. My toast: in progress. But I had time to think while I waited:

1. There was my ex-husband who insisted we spend $$$ on a toaster. I disagreed. "Look," I said, "it's a set of electric coils in an insulated box. The bread doesn't care what the box looks like or how many  settings (bagel? pastry? waffle?) it boasts."
2. Never put a knife in a toaster in an attempt to extract toast while the toaster is plugged in. How many times had I violated this cardinal rule, and lived?
3. What was it that had been too close to the toaster and melted onto it? And how many years ago had this happened? Had I tried recently to scrub it off? (Yes, I answered myself, I had.)
4. How many settings, that I never use, are on the blender? And don't they all do the same thing: blend? (Either the blades turn, or they don't)
5. (Isn't this damn toast done yet?)
6. When was the last time I opened the little door on the base of the toaster and shook out the crumbs?
7. Is the butter soft enough to spread?
8. My ex-boyfriend and his current 20-years-younger-than-me girlfriend are in London, and I wondered if they've been sitting across from each other at breakfast, holding hands across the table, sleepy after a night of no-sleep love-making; between them, a plate of phallic sausages oozing grease. Fried eggs. Half a watery-tomato each. And the requisite toast rack with upright slices of pale, cooled white-bread toast.
9. How long has it been since I've waited for my toast to properly almost-burn?
10. Too long.
11. How long has it been since I've slept with a man?
12. See #10.
13. There it is! The curl of smoke!
14. POP!

And there it was, the almost-charred, the just-about-scorched, cauterized, dessicated slice of multi-grain bread.

Perfection, rubbed with just enough butter. It had just the right amount of crunch. Enough, in fact, to reel me back from leering dangerously-close to thinking about my love life. Maybe this was the reason I've not let my bread linger in that insulated box long enough: a little time to think can be a dangerous thing. Let's just stick to marginally-toasted bread, and leave the romance for another time.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Second Summer

After a week of rain, and relatively-warm October temps, I walked out into my garden this morning to see a sudden surge of growth had occurred, a late flowering, a last gasp. We are just weeks away from the first autumn frost, and yet in a few days the mint has sprouted up new green tips. The lamium, after our seasonal August-September drought (when I water only what is necessary), is once again lush and vibrantly green. The nasturtiums, which languished and seemed to merely exist through September, have sent out several 2-to-3 foot runners, as if to say, I can still do it! Watch me! (Perhaps they need their own facebook page.)

I've yet to do any fall garden clean-up. This fleeting resurgence is as beautiful as the decline, though: a late shoofly flower as lovely as a skeletonized leaf, one last lingering ruby rosebud in November as spectacular as an apple gone to worms. The remaking of all life, the blossoming, the fruiting and going-to-seed, the decline, where we nurture youth and make room for the new. Endlessly repeated, measured in numbers of years for which there is no number, going back before there was a single soul to charcoal a slash mark on a cave wall. Before there was a cave wall.

Not quite time yet to fire up the furnace, or set a pot of soup simmering on the stovetop. But already I'm thinking of the warmth of autumn spices: cinnamon, clove, nutmeg. There's a small sugar pumpkin on my kitchen table. Might just be time for pie.
Virgin of Guadalupe disappearing in a flush of late-season lamium

the ongoing decomposition of James Fenimore Cooper

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The end of summer — admittedly three weeks ago — always seems like, well, The End. A shutting down. The show is over, the lights are out.

And now. How to get through these other essential months now that the main attraction has run its credits by us, played its closing music, and gone dark?

How indeed.

Have you seen this?


Sunday, October 5, 2014

Hooting Lessons

The Seward Park woods possess their own variety of solitude — that sense of walking in a true forest, with its velvet-humus paths and ferny, salal undergrowth, while still holding (in the back of the mind, hopefully) the reality that we're in the middle of a nearly 4 million person bio-region with all its attendant traffic, pollution, crime, density, etc.

Mostly I try to forget the urban as I detour from the main trail bisecting the park, and venture down any of the winding side paths where one is more apt to see a pileated woodpecker than a sidewalk. Yesterday, though, that fact was quickly diminished when the blare of music from one of the weekend-anchored yachts in Andrew's Bay cut through the primeval silence like manufactured thunder: at once obnoxious, offensive, painful. Never mind that someone else's taste in music is not my taste in music; never mind the fact that whoever the arrogant bastard was that cranked the volume up was in blatant violation of a city noise ordinance. This was just a simple violation of the laws of nature. I doubt the owls — who I'll get to next — threw a party to coincide with the blare. Nor, I'm thinking, did the otters, or the turtles, or the tanagers or bushtits or chicadees or finches or salamanders or eagles or.....

But what do I know?


Finally the music stopped, and lo and behold, if we didn't hear an owl hoot, from just above us, and then another, from the other end of the park, and then another from yet another direction, and then a fourth, in varying tones (including a series of almost comical hoots about which my companion said, "sounds like someone's getting hooting lessons!")

We stopped, backtracked a bit to try to find the source, but the sounds were coming from high up in the camouflage of the maple and fir canopy, a swirl of a thousand shades of green with late afternoon sunlight cutting through. I turned in a circle, my face turned upwards, and they hooted again, like park sentries from the four directions, seeming to reclaim their euphonic rights in this 300 acres of temperate rainforest.

And then they were done. Silence: the silence of thousands of tiny white mushrooms just beginning to emerge from the sides of decomposing logs, the silence of a single leaf releasing itself from the canopy, the silence of worms beneath our feet, the silence of a slug or a hundred slugs, each without fanfare, going about their quiet business.

We were not silent; our footsteps, however calculated to lightness, sounded their soft thuds. And our breathing announced us to the gnats, to the spiders strung out in a lattice from alder to hazelnut branch, from huckleberry to Oregon grape.

Far down the hill, the lake flashed sparks of light through the trees. For a few moments, I forgot the city humming on every side of us, and heard, however briefly, the earth sending out a sigh: the sound of our unspeakably magnificent planet precariously existing.

Maybe I'm lying. Maybe I heard nothing. Maybe it's only the poet in me believing that there's a larger hum to the universe, and that the absence of peripheral noise opens up a wider auditory ability in our decidedly limited human consciousness.

And then again, maybe I'm telling you: this is what I heard.

And it is.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Switched-On Gutenberg, Weather Issue

Delighted to see these two poems of mine today, published in the online zine Switched-On Gutenberg. (Their pairing of my work with cloud photos caused me to gasp with delight.) It's moments like these that make the mostly-solitary work of writing poetry worth it.

You can read them here and here.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

I don't cotton to religion.
For the record.
But an endless fascination with the iconography, well, yes.

Friday, September 19, 2014


Another Dune day around the big table, the almost-over-summer-sun burning through the morning haze shortly after noon, the air warming to just about perfect, temperate, just short of balmy. C. announced that the lure of Dune is a great work incentive, and he grumbled about not taking the time to bring his lunch, which necessitated a walk down the hill for his meal, which meant we had to pause the recording.  A. settled in to her end of the table, quietly listening, applying masks. I expected to be more excited about this book than I am, but it's about war, essentially, and the war theme exhausts me. I can barely read the news these days without feeling like all the hate/violence/corporate-greed/corrupt-politics is boring into my skull with a suctioning dremel, extracting my brain matter, abrading my epidermis. Nothing seems to change. Maybe it's the onset of Old & Jaded, but whatever you want to call it, it's grim.

But not all grim —

The cosmos (flowers) whose seeds I gathered last summer from a neighbor's parking-strip flower bed have bloomed in a dazzling display of cross-pollination: pale pink with dark fuschia ruffled edges, white with pale pink edges, ruffled white petals with dark fuschia centers, fluted fuschia petals, dark fuschia petals with pale pink centers.....  The variations seem endless and provide daily fascination and delight. If I had my way I'd plant them up and down the street, an entire block of them, the beds eight feet deep, an elixir, a balm against all that is wrong in the world.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

On the Job with Frank Herbert

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Please Don't Be My Neighbor (please)

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

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

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

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

I was looking at it.

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


(She shouted.)

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


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

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

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

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

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

God help me. 

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Will You Be My Neighbor?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I can only hope.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Cognac and Fire Vents

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

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

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

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

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

So anyway.

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

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

Friday, August 29, 2014

Bee Gone

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

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

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

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

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

Not a sting to be had, though.

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

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Bambi Wedding

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

So much for the cute factor.

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

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

How Do You Fly?

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

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

So, yeah. I walked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 18, 2014

Extermination, of Sorts.

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

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

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

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

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

I said, "hit 'em with that?"

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

Well, bust my buttons.
Not what I expected.

Friday, August 15, 2014


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

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

They are exquisite in what we would call death.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Heat, The Garden, The Work

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Not Paris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Not Paris, most likely London. 1977.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014


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

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

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

Such drama in my little back yard!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Drilling, Crowns, and A Suggestion for the Overhaul of the Insurance Industy

Somehow, it seems wrong to continue on about this tooth business, but after a conversation today at work, I just couldn't resist, insurance hoo-ha and all.

First off, I  wasn't going to let anyone go away without viewing this gem (REQUIRED VIEWING):

One of my new work-mates found this for me, and I watched it today while screaming. SCREAMING! I felt almost every one of those teeny drills boring into my jawbone, because the lidocaine shot into my gums wasn't sufficient. The dentist had to shoot it directly into the root, and work it in as he exposed the root bit by bit. Had enough yet? I have.

The really bad news, though, came later, when he was finished. He told me I need four crowns. Well, of course I do!  I want one to be diamond-studded, another emerald, the third sapphire, and the fourth in rubies and pearls. Let's get on with this immediately!!

But four. And not an exaggeration.(Cracked/worn/unstable/chipped.)



Feels like if I type that number enough times, it'll become real. Not quite ready to sell my house to finance my mouth but I'm veering mighty close to it.

And now, for the insurance/lack-of-insurance rant.....

I'm proposing that the insurance companies divide the human body into segments, and price their policies according to which parts you choose to insure.

For example:
The Torso Policy would cover everything from neck down to groin.
The Limb Policy would cover arms and legs.
The Head Policy would cover brain, skull, face, ears, eyes, nose and mouth (including teeth).

For those unwilling or unable to parse the body in such a manner, there could be the Grand Corps Policy, covering everything form the top of the skull to the soles of the feet.

Or there could even be a more itemized list of options, such as The Hangnail Policy, or The Hair Policy (which would cover bad haircuts). The Earlobe Policy. The Eyelash Policy. The Elbow Policy (handy for tennis players).

For ages 13-17, there could be The Acne Policy.

For men there could be the Erectile Dysfunction Policy (I mean, why should I pay for their ED Rx's.?).

The possibilities are infinite!

Honestly, I'm surprised that the insurance universe hasn't descended to this insidious level of trivial itemization.

I'm happy to know that you can purchase a policy which will cover what your primary insurer won't cover, ie, deductibles et al, euphemistically called "Supplemental Insurance". I'd like it renamed to "Bleed Your Wallet Insurance".

Is this madness?

Thursday, July 10, 2014

An Early Bake

Up early to bake a cake before work
for a friend's birthday, in cool morning air.
Outside, the Sunday Times crossword
where I left it last night, the paper rippled
with dew, perpetually unfinished.

Later: chocolate ganache
and 90 degrees. Few words.
Summer crackles forward.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Summer, Summer

It was a slow-maneuvering day, yesterday, at 91 degrees. We are a temperate people here on the far northwest tip of the USA, more at ease with damp and drip than crackle and flame. And lord have mercy it simmered down sometime in the night, the air a sweet cool ribbon that wended its way in my window-in-the-trees, carrying the scent of the lake like an offering to all of us with heat-prickled skin and moss crackling, drying up behind our ears.

No desire to be indoors; the flung-open blue of the sky calls me out at all hours, no matter the time, equally inviting at noon or 3AM. If only there was no need for sleep.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

No Matter the Mindfulness —

No matter how many slow walks in the woods, in the company of many
thousands of ferns. No matter the single owl I saw last Sunday,
who swiveled his head away from my gaze. No matter how
many evenings I spend on my balcony gazing at clouds.
No matter the hummingbirds with their scritchy-
almost-no-song. No matter the red rose, well
past petals, and no more buds. No matter
waking at dawn with the sun on my
pillow. No matter the dawn birds
in song at once. No matter the
dinners in the garden.
No matter the
No matter
the hour.

Today opened to another month,
and damn if I can't get time to ease up, just a bit.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Hire them all, almost.

Interviews today, three out of four were damn fine candidates, all willing and wanting to work for not a lot of money because it's not working for The Man. I sat and listened to artists speak about what is important in the world, how experience and joy trumps the dollar. Granted, experience and joy generally don't pay enough to pay the mortgage, but sometimes they do, and we find out that we're getting by just fine.

I don't know how M. will say no to any of those three. Such earnest souls, people who get why we do what we do, here at the Glass Factory. Just about makes me weep, the honesty of each of them, the insight.

And then there was the fourth one, who arrived thirty minutes early, was loud and overbearing with one of those old-girl smoker's coughs, her voice gravelled down somewhere deep inside her lungs. Appeared to be older than me but, I'm guessing, was probably not. A helluva lot of really hard living hung about her like a sooty cloud. Her jag-toothed, leering smile. Oy.

And the man with the massive hands, who I know couldn't manipulate his hands down inside most of our vases that get painted both on the outside and the inside. He was nervous, talked a lot, had a lingering sweetness. I looked at his online painting portfolio, and there was some fabulous stuff. Again, why is he applying for this job?

I don't know which one said this, but it was spot-on:

"When I work a traditional job, like retail, it zaps all my creative energy. I come home and don't want to do any of my artwork."


For us artist/writers, that creative energy is essential to being alive.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Sunset Therapy

I stood in the street tonight in front of my house for a long time, turning in circles to take all of this magnificent sky in. (All I've done to this photo, taken with my iPhone, is ratchet down the saturation.) I couldn't get enough of it, wouldn't if it went on for the rest of my life. What is it about color, anyway? I can feel it deep inside my brain, like the best drugs possible. And no Big Pharma involved!

On the eastern horizon, it looked like someone had taken dustings of mahogany and fushcia chalk and sifted them down into the puff of clouds. Tonight was color-feasting of the highest order.

All well needed, as we're in the midst of major fluctuations at work, two people on the way out and one new person in training. Another new hiree has already been let go. It's pretty easy to tell, early on, if it's a good fit, and this one was definitely not. Pretty painful, as she really, desperately wanted the job. On to more interviews tomorrow.

A few things have surfaced, while reading cover letters from prospective employees: they're all "'passionate about art" and are excited about "bringing their skill set to our team." And so many applicants are tremendously overqualified, it breaks my heart. This is an entry level position, not anything even remotely glamorous. It's hard physical work, with a fair amount of tedium, yet today within a few hours of posting the ad, there were at least forty responses. Most of them have BFA's (Bachelor of Fine Arts) and not a few have MFA's, and impressive resume's.

It's all rather exhausting. And while all this is going on, the production schedule continues to demand my attentions. Shipped out to Boothbay Harbor, Maine today, a gorgeous collection in mostly tones of blue, grey, turquoise and yellow ochre, colors most unlike the performance of tonight's western sky.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Hornet House

Hornets in the eaves, hidden behind boards, coming and going through 1/4 inch spaces. I'm loathe to exterminate them (exfoliate, electrocute, exorcise) — they are good pollinators and, who am I that is so important? An ethical dilemma.

Maybe all I need is an AK47, blast the hell outta them.

But seriously.

Since I'm a bit sting-shy, and don't relish the thought of great hordes of them rushing my face, I'm hiring a friend to brave himself up on a ladder and point a can of lethality at them.

But until that happens, in a few days, I anticipate a nightmare or two where they drill through the sheetrock and swarm into my bedroom, hissing clouds of unrelenting pain. Wasps, hornets: they sting multiple times, and with little consequence to themselves.

My brain tonight is overfull with buzzing, even as the hornets ease into dusk.

The lives a house contains, the many thousands incubating as I type.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Gardening the Unremarkable, on the Solstice

I've humbled myself down to a garden of unremarkable plants, yet they are plants no less loved than anything more exotic. When talking gardening out and about in the world, the conversation always gets back to that which is less than ordinary, and my aim when I'm elbow-deep in the muck is to nurture what wants to be there, not that which I'm tricking into growing.

There's white anemone, and a few kinds of mint. There's borage and a shasta daisy or two. (Or three.) Cosmos. Cornflowers. Some penstemon, whose latin variety-name I know not. Alstromeria. Lemon gem marigolds. Lamium. Hosta. Nasturtiums. Geraniums.

Oregano, chives, sage, parsley, thyme, basil. Rosemary. Fennel. Tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, green beans, onions, carrots, chard.

No exclamation points, no misty-edged photos. On this morning of the longest day in the northern hemisphere, I yanked out weedy invaders, filled my watering can and lugged it from bed to bed, ever-aware of conservation, only watering what needed to be watered.

There are no photos to show here, nothing about which to exclaim. I worked my ordinary garden with a quiet mediation in the abundant early light of the first day of summer. And I could not have been more contented.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

In Clouds

I laid on my balcony tonight and watched clouds, something I haven't done in I-don't-know-how-long. Rain rolling in, a quick clipped wind, the undersides of leaves flashing white.

How easy it was, though, while lying there, to feel part of the larger world, an inhabitant of a larger planet with atmospheric shifts occurring right there above me. So good to visually step out of the small world of day-to-day, that downward focus that snares us in and keeps us from expanding our vision outward.

How long has it been since you laid down on the earth and spent time looking up?

(I had a notion that clouds would be fascinating seen through binoculars, but I was mistaken. )

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

There's a nail, a bolt, a screw, a giant something stuck in one of my car tires. I could hear it all the way home Monday night from my open mic, ten miles of click click click and of course I feared the worst, it was close to midnight and the road along the lake was unlit and I was alone.

I calmed my alarms down, no flat tire, rolled uneventfully home.

Do you hate dealing with car stuff as much as I do?

Especially glad for the walk to work this morning. Car worship is something I've never been able to understand. It's simply a tool, a vehicle, if you will, for getting from point A to point B.

I'll drive it the two miles to the repair shop tomorrow, do my best to communicate the issue with the proprietor whose first language isn't English. And if I say that I want life to be easier, I'll remind myself that this is easier, all things considered.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Silence of Fathers

When I think of my father I think of apple trees, his apple trees, all four of them, and how his work with them seemed a kind of meditation, all these years since. So many years. I'd bring my dolls out and sit with him as he pruned, or thinned. Or I'd climb up in the trees: not far to fall. Not much talk — a quiet man.

I can recall few conversations with him: he taught me how to tell time, a complicated lesson which involved the sun and the rotation of the earth. I was six, and didn't understand much. But I remember sitting beside him on the couch while he went off on what seemed to me far-reaching tangents, all too advanced for my first-grade understanding. There was an awe, and a fear of him, a serious man.

He tried to teach me to row a boat while camping in the San Juan Islands, and I failed, utterly. We fished together; again, a quiet study.

I wonder what our adult conversations would've sounded like — I like to believe that we'd have sparred on issues of philosophy, politics, the need for art. Which side would he choose? He could debate anyone under the table. (I have one of the medals he won as a champion on the debate team in college.)

My fear is that we'd have been polar opposites in our philosphies, that he'd disapprove of poetry. But then, what do I know, really?

I do know, though, unquestionably, that we would have talked gardening, and apples. I know he'd have the remedy for my six-apple tree.

Every year on Father's Day, I lie under the radar of families celebrating.
I work in my garden.
I keep quiet.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Moon, and Treasure

A back-and-forth email with a friend has evolved into its own odd thread, an excerpt below:

The vacuum, well, it lingered alone
in the basement stairwell, back where the foundation sagged,
all those hundreds (thousands?) of pounds of brute house force
yanking it downward. Gravity was the problem,
as it ever was.
Frown lines.
An old quilt whose stitching wanted nothing more
than to lie down and say goodnight.
And wasn't sleep the goal, after all?
The buttermilk moon, the lemon moon, or whatever the heck it was called
remained nested comfortably behind a swaddling of clouds.
Nearly summer, and a cold wind pushed its way in
through a window left open for the cats.
Not a night for music.
Even those velvet-cream sheets lay limp as kelp.
It had been a brain-scramble of a week,
and, well, sleep was indeed the goal.

Maybe tomorrow, she thought,
in the light of midday. Maybe we'll amp up that music
and get on with the harmonizing.


And then a dream, in which I find treasure — yes, treasure! — a pile of large boxes on my kitchen floor: strange and ancient coins, piles of silver and gold charms (including about three dozen Eiffel Tower charms), old first-edition books (autographed) in mint condition, pristine vintage clothing. There were two pairs of women's silk shoes, one emerald green, the other fuschia, and I had to snatch them up quickly because there was some urgent need to get away and hide them, something pressing on my consciousness: I'd overslept, it was 10:37am, and was going to be late to help my sister move.
I want back in to that dream.

The metaphor doesn't escape me: I exist amongst treasure, this being alive is what it is.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

DIY Dentistry, Day Two

Of course, the "dental adhesive" didn't last, and I'm left with a hunk of 28-year-old molar-shaped gold and a jagged gap in the back of my skull. I was telling my co-workers about this little adventure today and E. said this:

"My hygienist is the funniest hygienist ever. She used to do forensic dentistry, and she can tell what part of the country you come from by your fillings."

(Long pause.)

"Of course, that was a while ago, when I had dental insurance for a hot minute. It's been a while since I've been to the dentist."

I had one of those hot minutes myself, ten years ago, and the luxury of dentistry was mine for a short time. Not so much now. Last time I was in, the doc said he could only glue this crown back on one more time. Not enough tooth left, nothing to anchor. (Which might account for my repair failure.) An implant is a fantasy at this point, so I'm looking at extraction. Ain't that swell.

But enough of that. Our two divine employees at the Glass Factory are both leaving at the end of June, off to greater adventures. I've been in mourning over this, not only that we're losing two wonderful workers but we're losing two marvelous, radiant individuals who have graced us with their presences this past year. It's been a gift to sit beside each of them and listen as their life stories have unfolded during the long hours at the big table. I'm a better person for it, and my own imagination has expanded in ways I never thought possible. I am reminded, again, at how much there is to learn from the people in our lives.

M. posted a Craig's List ad for replacements, and had over 60 responses. Phew! Most applicants were crazily over-qualified, including someone whose resumé listed "Creative Director for Polo Ralph Lauren, New York." Why in hell does this person want to work with us?

But it looks as if we may have struck gold — again— if that's possible, with the two new hirees. I spent all yesterday and today training, or rather, teaching from the ground up, and it's going well. Fingers crossed. The learning curve is steep.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

DIY Dentistry

Just today at work, while wielding an x-acto knife and picking away at a "cavity" on a piece of glass, I mentioned to one of the new employees that if she needed any dental work done, I'm her girl. I even have a drill! (Well, dremel, but it's got a diamond tip and I'm exceptionally precise. Maybe I missed my calling?)

Unfortunately, or maybe, fortunately, tonight I'm my own girl. My crown popped off, and minus dental insurance and/or a cache of spare bucks for a dentist, I googled "how to reglue a crown", and I was in business. Went to Walgreens for some dental cement, and after a few attempts (including, at one point, losing the crown and finding it in the garbage can), it seems fairly solidly in place. We'll see. But $3.60 is significantly less than $120. And the difference between the two will buy a helluva a lot of groceries.

But not to perseverate.
Earlier, I was sitting on my back deck with a glass of wine and the NYTimes Sunday Review, which I dole out to myself day by day, article by article. A state of utter contentment. My hummingbird buzzed up to my ear, hovered there until I acknowledged its presence. What was there to possibly complain about? Not a thing.

And now I sit, crown repositioned and feeling not unlike some kind of dental queen.

The bottom line: when you have to do it yourself, you find a way.