Monday, December 29, 2008


Andover is folding itself into a late afternoon fog and we, in this particular holiday household are on pause. The 6-yr old nephew and his mother, my sister, are out at a movie. My parents are at work. My brother in law is working in his bedroom. My old friends are off in other towns. The dog is asleep. In this pause I breathe more fully and relish the quiet.

In another hour the household will rev up again for the evening. The TV will blare, drinks will be poured, both gentle and biting arguments will begin. In this house,traffic jabs and shifts around oversized furniture in miniature rooms. There is no flow. In this house, without a single curtain, drape or blind to its name, all our noise and jagged movements are advertised to the neighborhood.

I love this family but I'm ready to go home to a cover of rain, velvet curtains and the familiar sweeping silences of my Portland life.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Oh shortest short day ... Good riddance. Let the light creep back. Let the rain come down. Melt, melt, melt.

Right now, I'd like to persuade some scientists to work on getting the earth's axis straightened out. What, you say you like variety? You like the seasons? Oh, okay. Keep the tilt and bring me better boots and a few more bottles of wine.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

On the first day it snowed, we opened the door and tried to see if the cat's instinct to go outside at any and all moments extended to an outside sugary white and blustery cold. No. She, like us, ran back in and spent the day under blankets.
On the next couple of blustery cold and painfully bright days we woke to ice art that had grown on the INSIDE of all of our old, thin windows. We worked when we had to but we returned when we could to our blanketed warmth, our huddled protest of a winter we both thought we'd left behind in New England.

It continues today and tomorrow and into next week. Damn stuff. Maybe, when I fly to Boston for X-mas I will find a mild, soft drizzle, a perfect Portland holiday.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Another draft done to throw on the pile. If, in the long run, this book goes no further than the folder on my desk, at least I built a mighty stack of words with all my efforts. I still have to go through this and fill in a few details (How many legs does a crayfish have? What are the names of the different positions on a roller derby team?). I still have to address a few issues I've already noted. But lets call the damn thing done. Done for now. Done for this round. Then I'll let it sit while I find the right readers. It will sit and the cream will separate from the crap. Hopefully, it's a richer mixture than the last batch.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

In the spirit of playfulness, I decided to share my Christmas present to myself with the cat. I couldn't resist the cool new pod/rattles that Carol Lebreton made this year. Shake it and it sounds like sleigh bells. Sitting on my desk it looks a seed from a Dr. Seuss tree. On the floor with the cat, it looks like a mild amusement to be ignored at the first sign of a stray rubber band.

Today didn't feel much like play, but it was productive nonetheless. If my vision is correct, I have only one scene left to write before this draft is done. The last bitter bite to gnaw through. If I was writing this by hand from a tropical hammock, I would push on through to the end. As it is, I'm cold, it's dark and my eyes are about to burst from staring at the screen all day. Ah, the rewards of a successful day of writing.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Creativity and Play

I am nearing the end of another draft of my novel. Only a couple more chapters to go. As I push forward, grinding through sentence by sentence, I found this TED video a good reminder about how being playful encourages creativity. It's so easy to get stifled by an idea if that idea is held too closely, too seriously. Preciousness can be a disastrous thing in a creative project. Self-censorship can kill it off before it even begins. So here's to more brainstorming, more mistakes, more play.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

A few thanks

I'm thankful for the local beauty...
And the beauty strange.
I'm thankful for my family blood...

and my family built.

Thankful, always thankful, for my good little life where I wander through hundreds of secular miracles every day.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

I haven't been posting much in part because of the weird time warp that I've slipped into. It always seems as though I've just posted, a day or two ago, wasn't it? But no, a week has passed. A day is devoured and another and another and yet the week never feels full. It's Sunday again while I'm still on Wednesday.

Everyone has this problem, I know. While I just pulled up my tomato plants, or rather, I pulled them up some time last week, it will be time to plant again in a flash. While I gather chapters for my book, piling up the words on a daily basis, the hours are too slippery and I can never pin down enough of them. A whole hour disappears getting a character from kitchen to bedroom. It can take a week for some of them to complete one true thought.

I look forward to spending some time with my 6 year old nephew this Christmas so I can remember what it's like for a day to feel impossibly long. Banished to my room for a few hours was sufficient punishment when I was that age. I only wish my hours now went by so slowly.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

This time of year, I can go days without opening the door except to grab the mail. But tonight I finished working and went out into the dry twilight fall and was reminded of why I love Portland. This is a city of real neighborhoods; Here we sleep and eat and work and meet, all within a few friendly blocks. I recognize a certain portion of the people on every walk I take. It isn't until I go to some less pedestrian friendly city or suburb and see how lucky I am to be able to thrive here without a car for 15 years.

I slip on my ipod and listen to the shuffle of old R.E.M, Nick Drake, The Cult and Violent Femmes. I watch the calm blue sky. I watch the cats waking up for their evening shift and the people turning on their lights for a night in. I listen to the crunch of leaves under my feet and admire the dahlias still proudly yellow and orange and pink. I feel the quiet like a bass note beneath the music.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

So here we are, in our first week of hope. As Homer Simpson says after his chiropractic appointment, "Hey, it feels a little better."

In the spirit of hope, I am charging toward finishing another draft of my book. Today I was searching in the nightmarish maze that is my writing folder on my computer for a scene I once wrote long ago. The fact that I couldn't find it and can only vaguely recall its components simply confirms that it is the keystone to this novel. Ah well...

During the search, I came across a file titled "Poker Face-novel." It was like discovering a container of old spaghetti sauce in the back of my fridge. I had no idea it was back there. When I opened it up, it looked awful and smelled worse. Still, all this time I've been thinking of the book I'm working on as my first novel. In fact, this other thing is, at least the 150 pages of it that got written. That was my practice novel. This new one is the one that I'd like to get right. I hope, I hope, I hope.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

This was downtown Portland last night. My neighborhood, normally rowdy with drunks from the local bars celebrating their drunkeness, was rowdy with drunks from the local bars celebrating Obama's smackdown. For once, I was thrilled at the noise.

I tried to imagine the same kind of energy and excitement being generated by some other democratic candidate and find it hard to imagine. Would we have pulled out the drums and the flags and danced in the street if Kerry had won? Would the world be celebrating in the streets with us? Of course, I'm sorry we had to slog through eight disastrous years to get to this point, but here we are. Relieved, ready and actually excited to move forward.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

I see the notion of talent as quite irrelevant. I see instead perseverance, application, industry, assiduity, will, will, will, desire, desire, desire.

-Gordon Lish

This month, while others attempt to write a whole novel, I will attempt to revise the rest of mine. Much of this will involve writing whole new scenes and chapters and here, on day one, it already hurts. I don't understand how people write quickly. I plod. I feel as if each sentence my characters speak is a bit of hard-earned labor as if they thought in Swedish but had to speak in English. I feel as if each move my characters make is done by me lifting them and posing them like giant mannequins, but they're not mannequins, their real people. Oh wait...

It's true that sometimes this is the result of my critical mind, but just as often it is my creative mind seeking the right thing. Not even the perfect thing. That comes later if I'm lucky. All I'm looking for is what is plausible and, for me, that is rarely overwhelming and obvious. I'm not sure why.

So how will I get to the end of this novel in a month? I'll have to either give up my job and much of my sleep or I'll have to find a new way. I fear some kind of electro-shock get up will be required or some threat of humiliation or loss. Or maybe there's a way to re-route my panic over the elections into a sense of high stakes for my writing. If you have some better ideas, please let me know.

Friday, October 31, 2008

I waited all summer for these asters to bloom. The green of it just grew and grew, sprawling across the flowerbed, crowding out the competition, but never any buds. Finally, last week, they busted out. Now I'll have November flowers. The literal late-bloomer wins again. They glow in the dim light of this latest gloom, the dark damp that will, most probably, be with us for the next few months.

Time to get some work done. Head down against the rain. Eyes open and undazzled.

Monday, October 27, 2008

It's been a while since I've posted any cat pictures here, so indulge me, please. This is what we do, Mao and I. We find a spot of sun, grow sleepy in it, but not so sleepy that we can't keep on eye on things – A vary wary eye on the world, it's people and their inability to provide the proper amount of treats.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

You'll be driving along depressed when suddenly
a cloud will move and the sun will muscle through
and ignite the hills. It may not last. Probably
won't last. But for a moment the whole world
comes to. Wakes up. Proves it lives. It lives—
red, yellow, orange, brown, russet, ocher, vermilion,
gold. Flame and rust. Flame and rust, the permutations
of burning. You're on fire. Your eyes are on fire.
It won't last, you don't want it to last. You
can't stand any more. But you don't want it to stop.
It's what you've come for. It's what you'll
come back for. It won't stay with you, but you'll
remember that it felt like nothing else you've felt
or something you've felt that also didn't last.

from Leaves, by Lloyd Schwartz

Sunday, October 19, 2008

I haven't checked the DSM-IV, but I think someone should look into this condition I've developed. It starts with a mild curiosity about people I've lost touch with and snowballs into a pathological obsession to share my most embarrassing photos of myself. This one makes me laugh so hard I almost cry. 1985, 9th grade graduation dance. See? Why do you need to see this? Why do I need to show you?

Fall does this to me. I get nostalgic, though my youth was so angst-ridden that I can't reflect fondly on it. I have to simply reflect. That and join Facebook. Such a funny phenomenon. I got sukered into it because the photos of the people I wanted to stalk were too small to see without "becoming friends" with them. Over the last few days I've gotten in touch with people I haven't seen or spoken to in 20 years.

I'm not sure why this is satisfying since I was barely in touch with them while we were walking the same halls and sitting beside each other in English. But there you go. Saying hello, I remember you, gives a small, gentle tug of kindness. It's a nice reminder that despite the angst, we made it through. We can spy a bit on each others lives and imagine the other paths we might have taken. We can celebrate the roads were on.

Thankfully, my condition does not extend into a need to attend my 20th high school reunion happening in a month or so. If I start making plans for this and report them here, please, send a professional. I'll be needing some serious help.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Here are a few things I haven't killed. One I tortured with, apparently, insufficient amounts of water all summer. The other I'd written off as a boring old sprig of grass that neither grew nor blossomed, that is, until this week. And so ends another lesson: Be patient. Be generous. Rewards will follow.

Also, if you stare at your garden close enough and long enough the death knell of the empire dampens to a tolerable if not exactly soothing level. Try it.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

It can be hard to motivate to walk along the beach when the beach is sitting in your front yard. With my long streak of outstanding Manzanita weather still intact, we gathered on the porch and watched the water from a close but comfortable distance. The radio never came on. The football game ran on mute. The sun, food and fine beverages gave us all a healthy glow.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

You can feel it can't you? The need to escape. Wouldn't I love to hole up in a cabin in the woods. Or flee to a heat-soaked beach. What about that trip to Barcelona? Or the one to see my distant, but delightful Italian cousins?

Of course, I can barely manage the trip to the Oregon coast we'll be taking in a few days, but the balm I know it will provide is invaluable. There is little that a view of the ocean and a good book can't soothe.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Back in the warm July air, flames weren't really required, but who camps without making a fire? Maybe most grown adults are uninterested in glow sticks, but who wouldn't enjoy watching their friends fumble around in the dark with fairground toys tied to the ends of rope? Some of us needed a little bit of beauty and some needed to hold off the wide silence of the forest with the sound of crackling wood and laughter.

I don't have glow sticks or a fireplace these days so I'll have to find other distractions from the scary things lurking inside my silent radio and dark TV. I think it just started to rain again. I think that will do.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Thirty-eight today, though, in my mind I've been thirty-eight since the start of the year. 2008? 38. 2009? 39. Born in 1970, I've always clung to the simple math of year and age without the subtlety of month or day. This produces a predictably anti-climactic celebration every year. Oh well. Anyone who knows me well knows that no matter what my number, I am always old at heart.

So this is it: Garden dirt clings to my arches and the chipped paint of my nails. The sun becomes precious, each hour of it a gift, as a long column of cartoon rainclouds appear in the forecast. I see ahead of me a year of increasing solitude and silence, not shutting the world out but hiding inside it without fuss or fanfare.

Friday, September 26, 2008

I realize that Google's "street view" maps have probably been up and running for a while now, but I didn't know the full extent to which they'd mapped out my childhood and my dreams. This is where I lived from third to sixth grade. With Google's help I can now click down my route to school. I can check in at my friends houses and the scary gated mansion that I used to babysit at. I can follow the route through the bird sanctuary, around the corner and up the hill that still appears in my nightmares now and then.

I find this whole thing both fascinating and disturbing. As I clicked my way past my old church and into the shopping area (remember the day I fell along that route...I can still see the scar), I came across one image that showed a whole family getting on their bikes in their driveway. They will now be forever imprinted in this virtual map. And for some reason I feel this irrational urge to save them from such a fate, as if I could enter this space in some real way and warn them to stay inside.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

In mid-summer, the squash hadn't started devouring the yard, the flowers had yet to unfold. Those tomatoes were still green and tight to the vine, but there was life there, no doubt. And yes, that blue string in the foreground is attached to a barely visible but reliably mischievous cat at the edge of the gravel.

The backyard haven has not fully materialized. These things take time and more effort than my writerly ways usually allow. In the long-shot above it doesn't look like much, but let's consider where we started and appreciate the progress that we've made.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Cherry Tomatoes
by Sandra Beasley

Little bastards of vine.
Little demons by the pint.
Red eggs that never hatch,
just collapse and rot. When

my mom told me to gather
their grubby bodies
into my skirt, I'd cry. You
and your father, she'd chide—

the way, each time I kicked
and wailed against sailing,
my dad shook his head, said
You and your mother.

Now, a city girl, I ease one
loose from its siblings,
from its clear plastic coffin,
place it on my tongue.

Just to try. The smooth
surface resists, resists,
and erupts in my mouth:
seeds, juice, acid, blood

of a perfect household.
The way, when I finally
went sailing, my stomach
was rocked from inside

out. Little boat, big sea.
Handful of skinned sunsets.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The party girl across the street was sitting on her front steps this morning from about 5am to 7am crying out every ten minutes for her lost dog, more a grief-stricken moan than a real attempt to call the dog back.

The sky this morning is a thick, solid gray.

Sometimes you round a corner and everything has changed.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Inside city limits, I think there's almost nothing better on a late summer day than reading stretched out on a quiet bit of dappled grass (these days its my regular re-reading of Mrs. Dalloway). I have two big, gorgeous parks within walking distance of my house and probably half a dozen smaller ones, but I think almost any bit of cool grass or well-worn bench would do as long as it was relatively quiet. I guess that's the tricky part. Silence and city are so rarely good companions. Still, it's worth seeking out to find those few moments of perfect language in perfect light.

Monday, September 15, 2008

I'm turning the news off for a little bit, otherwise I might go mad. I already feel the threads of misanthropy spooling around my brain. It's not good. I don't think I can be a good a writer and a misanthrope at the same time. I don't want to have to choose between the two. For at least a few days, I'll shut down input from the outside world and try to focus on the good, close things.

Walking down to the Willamette on the east side is always a joy. I like the roughness of it, the mild stink of it and the maze of metal and concrete. I like a small wooden boat called Hope tied up on the pier. Late summer in our pretty city is a good, close thing.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

I love that I live in the land of mimosa trees, not just mimosa cocktails. At the end of summer these trees explode in soft pink tufts, filling the branches with faint sweetness and covering the ground with a mess of fallen blossoms.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

I remind myself to admire the shadows now while they are still shadows, a contrast instead of a constant. Soon enough the rippled glass will seem solid and the sill will be lost in the flat grayness of the day. Flat and gray has its advantages, of course, but now, as the days burn themselves out it's good to feel the glare and the comfort of shade.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

A new garden brings new creatures. Hummingbirds, dragonflies and praying mantis. It's nice to know that such strange beings still exist in an urban setting, their wildness broken up into backyard plots and parking strips.

Monday, September 08, 2008

We curl beneath the mossy umbrella of the forest where mushrooms climb trees and salamanders climb hillsides. We breath an extra inch of air into our lungs. If this is why you go into the woods, then don't camp on the weekends. It seems that, on the weekends, at least some people stake their claim along the river and beneath the trees to recreate campsite-sized dive bars as if the beauty around them were superfluous. This weekend at Nehalem Falls there were more cackling hags than I've heard all summer in my bar-soaked neighborhood. But still, they couldn't destroy the hushed thrill of waking up to the sound of rivers and birds.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Every day, as a massage therapist, I cup heels in my hands and match my fingers to each arch. The hand fits the foot with precise beauty. Not only does this feel good on the sole, but in the palm as well. Metacarpal. Metatarsal. Phalanges. Say this three times, like a witch's spell and then go rub your sweetie's feet.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

The sweatpeas are dead. All that's left are faded brown loops and curves, tendrils that reached and swerved and yet found nothing but other loops to latch onto.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

flying saucer squash

If it weren't for the sharp hair of this forest I would want to shrink down and have a look. If I could put on a slick thick coat, I would climb this bramble of yellow and green and chase the dappled light sneaking in through the broad-leafed ceiling. If I could shrink, I might stay there for a while and befriend the worms.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Oh September. September always brings me back. Back to school. Back to cool. Back to blog. Let's see what's here. Let's see what's hiding, shaded and in plain view.

I promise to not always be so slow and subtle, but sometimes its good to watch the wind.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Over the five days of my trip I must have spent no more than half an hour alone. Much of our time was spent driving from one pretty place to another where we would hop out of the car, snap a few pictures and drive off again. An obligation to record rather than an impulse to appreciate.

And so, with that, I announce that I'm taking a break from this weird blogging world. Maybe it's a result of spending so many back-to-back hours with my partially deaf 94 year old grandmother and my loud, argumentative mother, but silence and privacy now sound like the ultimate ideal.

Thanks for visiting.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Over the river and through the woods. . .
It is predicted to be 85 degrees on Sunday at my grandmother's house. Hell ya. I will be there, soaking up every wave of sunlight I can get.

We will also be taking grandma with us down to Carmel and Monterey so my father can get his birthday present: a round of golf on one of those fancy courses overlooking the ocean. While I'm sure my father will be as giddy as a stoic New England businessman can get, I find the whole thing fairly obscene. At least he won't be playing Pebble Beach. A round of golf there is $500 and you can only play if you stay at least 2 nights at their lodge where the cheapest room is $675.

My father hasn't been longing to play one of these courses. His sense of self-worth isn't tied up in a swanky loop around the links, but there are people out there who depend on this stuff. So much of our culture admires this kind of excessive wealth. There seems to be no way to diminish the allure.

I look forward to seeing my grandmother and parents, but I'd be just as happy seeing them here in my slanty shanty with my common law and my cats. These are my riches and they are plenty.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Here's my new ring by jeweler Carol Greiwe. The stone is a weird agate I picked out. To me, it looks like a little rural scene, a scarecrow in a field or a tree in a marsh.

Carol makes some mighty fine baubles. Check out her wares at her new website. She does custom work and will treat you like a queen.

Friday, April 04, 2008

by Jane Kenyon

There’s just no accounting for happiness,
or the way it turns up like a prodigal
who comes back to the dust at your feet
having squandered a fortune far away.

And how can you not forgive?
You make a feast in honor of what
was lost, and take from its place the finest
garment, which you saved for an occasion
you could not imagine, and you weep night and day
to know that you were not abandoned,
that happiness saved its most extreme form
for you alone.

No, happiness is the uncle you never
knew about, who flies a single-engine plane
onto the grassy landing strip, hitchhikes
into town, and inquires at every door
until he finds you asleep midafternoon
as you so often are during the unmerciful
hours of your despair.

It comes to the monk in his cell.
It comes to the woman sweeping the street
with a birch broom, to the child
whose mother has passed out from drink.
It comes to the lover, to the dog chewing
a sock, to the pusher, to the basketmaker,
and to the clerk stacking cans of carrots
in the night.
It even comes to the boulder
in the perpetual shade of pine barrens,
to rain falling on the open sea,
to the wineglass, weary of holding wine.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Ah, urban living. I know the yard I have would be considered vast in other cities. It's a nice, manageable size if I were a person with garden manageing skills. I am not. I spent the afternoon planting a few scared looking plants in my front yard and pulling more weeds in the back yard. I am highly aware of not knowing what I'm doing, but it must get done.

Instead of beach houses and tropical palapas, I am now focusing my procrastinating powers on building some small semi-private sanctuary out of this bland patch of earth. Hide. Hide. Hide. This picture doesn't even show the worst of it. The view out my office window, the window I sit next to as I write, is five feet from my neighbor's crowded, cluttered patio. It's quiet over there now, but as the warm weather returns it will fill with squealing teens and middle-aged drunks watching baseball.

I've got to get my fortress growing. I've got some shy characters over here. They scare easily and don't like rowdy parties.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Periodic cat photo:
Here's Mao trying to get into Middlemarch. She had about as much trouble with it as I did. She gave up and decided to play with her toy mouse instead. I gave up and tried Tolstoy.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

If only I could make these blooms my umbrella. Fat pink joy.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The New York Times has this page up. 4,000 dead U.S troops.

Meanwhile, there's the civilian death toll. Over 82,00, at least.

Go ahead, vote for McCain.