Thursday, December 23, 2010

A reason to celebrate

A frenzy has descended on me these last few weeks.  I'm not even celebrating X-mas this year, not really, and yet I seem to have caught everyone else's insanity like a bad cold.  My poor multi-tasking skills have been put to the test.  The results of that test?  One big "F."

I thought a little trip to Powell's would calm my rattled nerves.  I love looping around the remainder shelves and the employee pic shelves and seeing what catches my eye.  Middle of the week, middle of the day, the place was swarming.  In among the bookshelves, the energy felt celebratory instead of crazy-making, at least to me.  Then, to my delight, I found myself in a long line that ran down the full length of the "E through O" fiction aisle.  I will always celebrate a long line at the bookstore.

I'm liking my new bedside book tower.  Sometimes a Great Notion from my own "been meaning to read" shelf, a collection of essays from the library, Salter's A Sport and a Pastime, Fernando Pessoa's The Book of Disquiet(my Powell's purchases) and Philip Lopate's selection of personal essays that I've been digging through for a while now.

I can't wait to hang the "closed" sign on my office door, curl up under a blanket with a nice glass of wine and slow everything down to the deliciously slow pace of words on the page.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Ready to roll

Okay, so by "signing on" to the whole life reflection thing I mentioned in my last post, I really meant "fleetingly interested."  I've been getting the prompts every day but very quickly I realized that so much reflection felt stifling right now.  As I said, this whole year has felt like a pause.  There's been plenty of time in there for endless mulling.  I'm all mulled out.  The inertia has fallen away and the last thing I want to do is dwell on what I've been doing these last twelve months.

Now that the earth is soft from all the rain, it's time to stretch out on top of the grassy hill and roll, with messy, reckless wonder, until something brings me to a stop.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Reverb 10

Okay, for some reason, I've signed on for a month-long series of reflections prompted by the site Reverb 10.  I doubt I'll write every day on their suggested topic, but we'll see what happens.  Yesterday's prompt was to sum up the year in one word and reflect on what that word might be at this time in 2011.

For me, 2010 was one big PAUSE.  There was a pause in my writing life where I finished one project but struggled for much of the year towards something new.  There was a pause in my professional life, not outwardly, but internally as I wondered about how to keep my massage work interesting and viable long into the future.  Pausing is different than being stuck, though.  Pausing leaves time to absorb and replenish.  Now I feel ready.  In 2011 I can push PLAY.

Today's prompt asks "What do you do each day that doesn’t contribute to your writing — and can you eliminate it?"  I blame the sun when it's sunny (gotta get it while you can).  I blame the rain when it's rainy (who can work when it's so dark and cold?).  I blame my perpetually messy house and my piles of laundry, my slow computer, my random schedule, my sore elbow and tired eyes.    All this blame takes time and effort.  With so much finger wagging to do, I barely have time to work on my writing. 

So can I stop blaming the outside world for luring me away from my words?  I've already started to find a way to get past this.  My schedule now goes up on my computer desktop.  Writing time gets blocked off like any other kind of work.  If it feels uninviting, then so be it.  Going to the bank, grocery store and dentist are on the schedule too and I have no choice but to follow through.  My schedule says "Work on essay" for this hour, so off I go...

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Belated but not belabored thanks

  • Thanks to the Italian blood in my family that turns each large gathering into a loud, passionate and loving brawl.
  • Thanks to the little evil geniuses, princesses and brats (both of the world and of my clan) for not being mine.
  • Thanks to the elders and the elders' elders for showing us one way and letting us wander off in another.
  • Thanks to the quiet, rainy home to which I will always return.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Woo-Woo versus Screw You

I recently spent four days in a certification program in massage that serves the elderly, ill and dying.  Compared to the detailed techniques of angle, pressure and position I've acquired in other workshops, this work is much more about being focused on the moment, learning to communicate and being open to unpredictability.  It's about facing the fears most of us have about our own mortality and the kind of lives we may lead in our old age.  In other words, this workshop was a wonderful, difficult doozy of an experience.

I don't, in general, do well with any activity or language that veers toward the spiritual and in particular, the wide and varied realm of new age beliefs.  I don't like the packaging of these rituals, the blurry language and blurry thought.  I don't like how it simplifies the world into bullet points or spirit cards or mantras.  It in no way enhances my life or deepens my experience of the world.  It's just doesn't work for me.

At this workshop we started every 10 hour day "in circle."  As soon as I heard that term, a little cold steel cage went up around all my more vulnerable spots:  my brain, my heart.  At the end of every day we did a variety of activities to enhance our personal growth.  I felt the bitterness snake through my body.  But here's the thing – it's really, really hard to stay hardened against a group of people willing to work with this population.  It's really, really hard to do this kind of massage work with any kind of judgment distracting you from the person you're with.  And so I had to find a way to move through my resistance and get what I could from it without cynicism or hate.

What finally worked was this:  On  my last day in the health center where we were visiting and working with the patients, I had the opportunity to work with a woman I'll called May.  I don't know May's diagnosis but the first time I worked with her during the Level One training, she was almost entirely non-verbal and very stiff.  This time, she exhibited a series of repetitive motions and was very talkative, though she had aphasia so her words were jumbled or non-sensical for the most part.  As I tried to enter her world on her terms, I became fascinated by the way she used language.  A white sweater she asked me for became a "white water fall" in which she wanted me to hide my hands. Her verbal tics were playful and fun: "choosy, cheesy, chintzy," she said.

I suddenly realized that it wasn't that I had no interest in enhancing my life or deepening my experience of the world.  I simply already had a way of doing this that worked for me:  Language and story.  In this case it was the unexpected language May shared with me, but it's also this story that I can tell and all the other stories that I'm still working on telling.  All the stories out there to hear.

I will never fully embrace the woo-woo or completely abandon the screw you, but I'm beginning to see a way to balance the two.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Politics sucks but the leaves sure are pretty.

As if nature understood that we needed a balm for our political headaches, we are offered this:  one last sip of summer, windows knocked open and the streets alive with the applause of bright leaves.  None of this is enough to make me forget the gains of the willfully ignorant and blatantly deceitful in this latest election, but it is a reminder that beauty can be blind to politics and a note of gentleness can ease the pain of change.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Abstract oceanviews from a stormy weekend at the Ester Lee Motel in Lincoln City, OR. 

Saturday, October 23, 2010


It must be that time of year again.  The gray and gorgeous Oregon coast gets more than it's fair share of posted photos as I long for some salt water rhythms.  Another day of work and then I'm off to a mini two day retreat of writing and writing and writing.  Honestly, I wasn't sure I'd ever say that again.  I wondered if the idea of myself as "DL" or "Dead Lazy" as I was occasionally called by my father, would settle in so thoroughly to my bones that it would be impossible to ever lift them again.

Laziness is just a subset of fear.  Do nothing and never fail.  But finally the fail better ethic of my beloved Beckett has set in.  I have joined a new critique group and yesterday was awed by the talent on display.  Sometimes, it takes this kind of force-fed brilliance to kick my sluggish competitive genes into gear. If my fellow writers can show up with such a delicious, meaty feast then I better get cooking.  OK, not cooking.  That lame metaphor only makes me panic.  "But the only thing I can make is cereal!"

All I need to do is hole up in a quiet room, ocean before me, and crank out some bright failures.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Hugs all around

There are dozens of ideas roaming dumbly around my head these days.  More than a few of them are about the physical distance we keep from one another and the rare moments when that distance disappears.  I've got my own observations on the subject whispering in my ears to become some kind of essay (and by essay I mean scribbles in a notebook pleading to be turned into fiction and not dropped on the page all naked and vulnerable), but for now I simply offer a few articles on the power of a little skin on skin:

For some scientific backup for my profession as a massage therapist click here.
For a broader article on the power of a pat on the back click here.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Booty from the land of book nerds

Every once in a while, I stop and wonder why I'm still so devoted to Portland.  My neighborhood is crawling with boys in handlebar mustaches and girls in skinny jeans and big, ugly glasses that sneer at the outdated.  I can't walk to the store or the bank without being aggressively smiled at and cajoled by some poor wage slave promoting the ACLU, HRC, or Greenpeace.  The traffic is ridiculous for a town this size.  The housing costs are still overinflated.  Our summer is six weeks long and at night the screams of a thousand drunks filter through my windows.

BUT THEN...Wordstock comes around.  Every year this festival brings together a dizzying mix of author readings, workshops and panels scattered among rows of vendors hawking books, journals, and other ephemera.  Even though the convention center setting makes me feel like I'm in a miserable hybrid of multi-ring circus and strip mall, I never fail to thrill at being surrounded by masses of other book nerds.  If nothing else, Portland is a city of readers.

For me, this isn't just the source of a few cute facts like Portland's libraries being among the busiest in the nation or that Powell's buys 3,000 used books over their counters every day.  It means I'm part of a huge, wildly diverse tribe of residents who value the written word.  This is no small thing. 

I caught the last bit of Anthony Doerr's question and answer period at Wordstock and he said, more or less, that novels are one of the most essential ways we have of getting into another person's head.  The empathy we get from fiction (and nonfiction for that matter) makes us better people.  It's nice to know that, even though we may fail to retain the lessons learned from all those pages, we are at least trying.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Lake Quinault: A trip report

Maybe it's a sign of a deep acceptance of myself as a Pacific Northwesterner that, for my birthday, I chose to take a trip to the Quinault Rain Forest on the Olympic Peninsula.  It could also be a sign that I couldn't afford a week in the Caribbean. 

We stayed at the Lake Quinault Lodge which was built in about 3 months for $90,000 in 1926.  The property sits directly on the lake and from the grounds there are several easy hikes either along the lake or into the forest that seems to be trying its hardest at every given moment to repossess the land carved out of it by humans.
 Whereas Portland receives a little over 3 feet of rain per year, this area of the world gets about 12 feet.  When we arrived at the front desk of the lodge I heard the receptionist saying into the phone, "There's no guarantee. It rains even in August.  It's the rain forest."  While she remained pleasant, I could tell that she said this many times a day to people hoping to find a patch of sun in this wet, moss-rich landscape.
We were lucky, lucky folk that the most rain we saw was on I-5 on our way there.  The clouds parted right around sunset and stayed away for the rest of our trip. 

An inviting dock pulled promises from us to return in the summer. Of course, we knew that in August the dock would be full of screaming children, all the sweet solitude of it crowded beneath dozens of slapping feet.
We watched for cougars.  We saw none.  We didn't watch for foxes, but were briefly blessed with one crossing the main road.  One fox, half a dozen blue jays, and dozens of strutting crows.

The best place we found for a good thick coating of moss was the Maple Glade trail on the North shore of the lake.  Past the field of elk, we stepped into the creepy, quiet and boggy glade. 

 There's a partially restored homestead on the trail and it was interesting to imagine a family settling there in what felt like the middle of nowhere in 2010. Is there any way these monstrous, fuzzy trees seemed less frightening at the turn of the century?  How many months of cool, gloomy days would it take before you surrendered to the moss?

I don't know what those homesteaders thought, but all I could think about was how the whole place was simultaneously strange, beautiful and a good place to hide a dead body.
Back at the Lodge, a good dose of fire-warmed couches and sturdy wood beams cleared my head of most of its morbid thoughts. . .

That is until I looked up at the stencils of teeth-bearing indians and stalking wolves painted onto each of the large pillars.

 Better to stay focused on the beauty outside: the lake, the dew drying slowly from the lawn and the Adirondacks, coupled and waiting for company.

Friday, October 01, 2010

The Day After

In 1983 ABC broadcast "The Day After" about nuclear war between the U.S.  and the Soviet Union.  I was in 8th grade and still remember how, by the end of the movie,  I had decided that when the attack came (and it was coming at some point without doubt) I wanted to be among the glowing skeletons, evaporated in an instant.  Surviving the cruel halls and danceless crepe-papered cafeterias of junior high were difficult enough.  As much as I hated my boring little town, there was no way I was going to survive its destruction and my own radiation poisoning.

Of course, instead of a nuclear winter, I eventually wandered into the black and gray folds of a teenage depression.  Accompanied by a persuasive goth and indie soundtrack I started to believe it was loneliness and/or boredom that was going to kill me and not some angry Russian.  My own bitter brain was a far more real enemy than any of the blatant bullies or cold-shouldered whisperers I'd actually encountered.

By the time I was sunk deep in the disappointments of a poorly chosen and disastrously executed college career, I was pretty sure that I'd not see the ripe old age of 40.  In my early twenties, I was so sure of this that I took on the persona of a cranky old lady.  It was as if I had to make sure to get in all that unfettered complaining about annoying people and their stupid ideas before it was too late.

And now, here I am, the day after my 40th birthday.  Not only did I make it, but with the help of my beloved city of Portland, a surprisingly appropriate career and a small but brilliant cadre of friends, the bitterness has diminished and what remains of my old lady persona is finally age-appropriate.  My beau now joins me as we shake our fists at the drunk fuckwads shouting outside our house at 2am.  Get off our lawn!  Don't you know people around here are trying to sleep?! 

Oh yeah, that's the stuff.  Here's to 40 and long beyond...

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Late bloomers

This is the first year I've planted dahlias.  I can see how the man I bought my bulbs from got obsessed.  His whole property is devoted to this prolific late bloomer.  I only got one of mine to mature, but every day there's a new bud unfolding its crazy pink petals.  It doesn't care that today is the first day of fall and that the Japanese Maple in the front yard is sending out its red warning signal – Danger! Danger! Winter approaching!  The dahlia exists in a state of denial that I can fully embrace:  Fuck that chilly breeze.  Fuck that sagging dresser drawer loaded down with sweaters.  It's summer, dammit...look at me shine!

My affinity for this late blooming beauty makes sense in another way too.  In one week I turn 40 and I'm surprised to find that it feels like cause for celebration rather than despair.  I just slipped into a pair of jeans I haven't been able to fit into in several years.  The various body aches and pains that plagued me for the same amount of time are gone.  The chaos that consumed my psyche in my teens and twenties and the hurdles thrown at me in my thirties have grown smooth and calm. 

At 40 my mother had a 9 and 11-year old and was preparing to take us on a tour of Europe.  As V.P. of a candy company my father traveled weekly between Chicago and New York.  My life is very different, but I have no complaints. Being on a different schedule than the rest of the garden flowers can be a pretty good thing.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Summer spent

My disappearance from this blog all summer is not necessarily an indicator of a season full of activity, too busy and brimming with heat to bother slumping down in front of the computer to post a thought or too. Our six short weeks of tepid, cloudless balm were sweet but largely uninspired. Nonetheless, here are 6 highlights.
  1. In search of warmer weather we drove south to camp in the Willamette National Forest in a new spot with a frigid but beautiful swimming hole.  Standing on a narrow bridge over the Santiam River, we looked into the clear night sky and saw the milky way.  No pictures.  Forgot my camera.
  2. I took a workshop in massage for the frail elderly.  I rubbed lotion into the thin map of skin on the hands of women in a skilled nursing facility, some of them able to offer nothing but a vague grin, some of them responding by returning the favor and rubbing my hands.  As I said to the instructor, this work is going to force me to be a better person.
  3. At 30 I bought my beau a gorilla suit, a massive contraption of fur and rubber.  This summer, when he turned 40, we went to Men's Warehouse and I bought him a monkey suit.  There is something very sexy about a man in a tailored suit holding a guitar.
  4. I coaxed from the earth a towering sungold tomato plant, a plodding zucchini, a handful of strawberries and a single dahlia plant that looks like a pom-pom from Dr. Seuss.
  5. I entertained my entire immediate family for nearly two weeks straight with only the briefest of less-than-generous behavior.  Six of us packed into a giant air-conditioned SUV, shunning the flash of hot weather, and drove to the coast, the gorge, the valley. 
  6. I sat in the dappled afternoon light of my living room and read The Odyssey and Lia Purpura's magnificent essays, On Looking and Gregoire Bouillier's funny, crazy wonderful book The Mystery Guest.  I thought a great deal about writing, about why I started writing and why I should continue, both here and elsewhere.  I haven't come up with the answer yet, though I feel a slow but powerful shift beneath me, aiming me in a slightly different, more challenging direction.
Cannon Beach
Mt. Hood
Kale grown for the sole purpose of making kale chips
Spider playground.
My view for the last hot day of the year, August 30th.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


In the summer, there are three things I need to accomplish to feel that all is as it should be:

1. Berry picking at Sauvie Island Farms. Despite getting the first bee sting I've had since I was 5, the day was gorgeous, the berries plentiful and I was surprisingly tickled with the new added feature of a wagon ride out to the fields and back. It was driven by this young lad with what has to be one of the sweeter summer jobs for a teenager–driving a tractor around and around while listening to your ipod.

2. Half an hour in from the coast sits my favorite camping spot. Last year we got shut out and had to settle for a day trip to the swimming hole, but this year there was plenty of space. The water wasn't too cold, though the chilly breeze let us dip no deeper than our waists. Instead we watched salamanders crawl among the seaweed, watched hawks circle the sky. We admired the giant evergreens, and lush, mossy campsites kept in tidy order by an inmate with what has to be one of the sweeter prisoner work gigs - a shovel for ash, a pair of clippers to trim back the foliage creeping onto the paths and the tall, bright forest all around you.

3. Tin House runs a week-long workshop every July and every July I hop on my bike and savor what becomes a well-worn path out to Reed College to sit in on lectures and readings. This year, my favorite bit of advice came from Steve Almond's lecture about the particular torture that is the life of a writer. It is this: If you can find some more efficient form of rescue, I recommend you do so.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Hello summer

Finally, it's hot. Say what you will about leaping from 55 to 95 or how it makes you lethargic or how you have to rush from one air conditioned container to the next...I love it. I'm in love with it. I'm lovin' all up on it. After so many months of cool wetness, this all-encompassing, full bore blaze is like a long hot kiss.

I love the long days and the way the heat builds across the hours. This is the brief time of year when direct sunlight actually flirts with my bedroom, licking the window sill and curtains just before it drifts behind the neighbor's house. The view is less than stellar–a wobbly red fence, the meeting point of two garage roofs and beyond the giant swaying trees–but for a few minutes, the curtain glows and billows like a jellyfish. The breeze stirs the heat without distilling it, like in a hot bath made hotter by the sway of a knee.

Love it, I say. It won't be here long.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Kelly, Lime and Forest

Mud green. Moss green. Fresh-from-the-seed green. Pine, pond and sea-foam. Three hikes in one week: Angel's Rest, Tryon State Park and Falcon Cove. I feel like a forest creature, slicked in mud and swallowed in leaves. Eyes made of wet emeralds. Blood made of bark dust. The clouds float through me and I drink.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Good glowing fruit

I can't deny that the relentless wet of May and the cool, damp of June have left me less celebratory than I usually would be this time of year. But then I remembered the strawberries I planted for the first time this spring and suddenly the tiny harvest is beginning to pay off. It's 55 and misty but I just ate this luscious fruit grown in my backyard. Behold the perfect palate cleanser: Bitterness removed. Sweetness restored.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Poetry x 12: Belonging

I'm late on reporting on the Poetry x 12 challenge for May. But late for what and for whom? I'm pretty convinced that the vast majority of the hits on this blog are from Japanese pornography spammers (now there's a term I couldn't have imagined using ten years ago.) Oh well. Whose to say Japanese pornographers don't like Iranian poetry.

May's challenge was to read a poetry collection from another part of the world. This was a perfect opportunity to read my former classmate's translation of poetry written by Iranians in exile. Belonging is a beautiful book that offers Niloufar Talebi's translations of three different generations of Iranians all of whom left their country because of the 1979 revolution.

This collection was appealing, in part, because I'm drawn to literature that either evokes a strong sense of place or explores place as a theme. What does it mean to have a home you will never see again? One of the more well-known poets included in the collection, Nader Naderpour, writes in his poem "Conversation in the Dark":

World of swarming crowds,
And of all that avails on the endless horizon,
If we have a destiny, it is our loneliness.

I love Mina Assadi's simple, evocative expression of longing in "Yearning for Saari 1" where she addresses the wet weeds of her homeland:

tell the breeze
that so lovingly passes through you,
someone on this side
of the world is also enamored
of the scent of your bodies!

Loneliness is not the only subject here, but it is the one I was most drawn to. There is actually great diversity of style and subject in this sampling and I was continually impressed with Niloufar's translation abilities. Despite the fact that the original poems accompany each of the translations, it was easy to forget that these were not written in English. This is a great introduction to a world of voices of which we've heard far too little. For more info on contemporary Iranian literature and the other interesting work that Niloufar is doing, check out The Translation Project.

This month's challenge: The classic poetry collection you always meant to read but never have. Coincidentally, I purchased a copy of The Odyssey a week or so ago and have dug in. This is not only in keeping with the Poetry x 12 challenge, but in keeping with my habit of reading large dense books during the summer. I swear, I don't do it on purpose, but clearly my subconscious is in rebellion against the breezy beach book. But more on that another time...

Monday, June 07, 2010

The green fuse drives the flower

More nothing. Just a bit of documentation. Garden as of the first week of June. Now all we need is a respite from the rain for a little while so I can sit out here and watch the crows watch me and watch the squash unfurl oh. . . so. . . slowly from the earth. Green strawberries. Baby, slug-nibbled lettuce. Ugly little Dahlia shoots struggling up into the light.