Wednesday, October 27, 2010

In Cases Like This

"It's cases like this that remind firearm owners about the importance of gun safety and making sure their children understand they should never touch firearms without their parents' permission."

The case referenced (Seattle Times, Oct. 26) is that of a four-year-old boy (not in Seattle but in Kitsap County) accidentally shooting his mother with a shotgun. Yes, I said four - not fourteen, but four

How could a four-year-old even hold a shotgun, you might wonder? Well, he wasn't holding it. And it wasn't loaded when he walked up to it. This little boy placed a round of live ammunition in the gun, whose bolt was already "pulled back and locked open" while it lay on his parents bed, ostensibly "under a blanket." 

The boy "slipped a shell" into the gun and "pulled the trigger." 

How did he come to have a shell? According to the police: "the boy's 25-year-old father had, at some point, given his son a shell to handle because he was curious about firearms and ammunition."

Really? He was curious? Well, it's good for children to be curious, isn't it? That's how they learn. And we should encourage healthy curiosity. Most of us don't encourage it by giving children live ammo to play with, or maybe that's just me - and everyone I know. To be clear, my former husband and his family were hunters. His was a lifetime NRA hunting family. I'm a vegetarian pacifist, but I really do believe the best we all can do is to live according to our own conscience. And I lived with it because my in-laws were also conscientious and clear about gun safety. My children's father kept his guns locked in cases, not lying around, and ammunition was locked in a separate case from the guns.  

The Sheriff's Office spokesman was quoted in the Seattle Times article as saying no arrests are expected but that if prosecutors decide to file charges it would be "something along the lines of negligence." He noted that the family "has been pretty shaken up by the incident." 

I'm writing with a lot of italics in this piece because what struck me as I read the Seattle Times article was that it matters very much how we say things. How we say things reflects a great deal about how we live and how we treat one another, how we take or don't take responsibility for our actions. And here we have the authorities who are charged with protecting us all giving this Dad a pass in a situation where he clearly and obviously was not only negligent but put his family in harm's way. The authorities might well say they have not given him a pass, that they are taking all appropriate action.  I hope that is true, but their words are not reassuring in this regard. 

At the time the child shot the gun the father was not at home. I imagine that the father did not intend the child to do what he did, but he made it terribly easy for the child to do. Because it's hard to wrap one’s brain around this, I repeat: the gun was on the bed, the child had his live ammo which Daddy had forgotten that he gave him, the bolt was pulled back and locked open

"All the kid did was drop the shell in the chamber, touch the bolt release and pull the trigger," the Sheriff's spokesman said. "He had probably seen his dad do it a hundred times."

Fortunately for everyone involved in this case there was a chair between the gun and the mother and the chair took a lot of the impact. The pellet wounds were less severe because of that and she was treated and released from the hospital.

That quote at the top of this page? It's from Dave Workman, who the Seattle Times says is the editor of Gun Week and a nationally recognized firearms authority. Experts are doing such a great job of guiding gun owners about safety issues, aren't they? 

In case you're worried about the little family affected this time, to recap: the 23-year-old mother has pellet wounds in her back, the father is, according to the Sheriff's office and the newspaper's headline, "kicking himself" and I'm guessing the little four-year-old boy is scarred for life. In cases like this, though, that's to be expected. 

Monday, May 24, 2010

Anonymity and Intent

Why be anonymous? I don't get it. I understand the value of stealth, as a friend puts it. He enjoys visiting cities because he can move about in them, among all those people, but still retain his privacy because no one knows him. For instance, he can sit in a coffee shop, undisturbed.

Here's another iteration of anonymity. Someone left an anonymous comment on my blog. It was a useful comment, factual in content and helpful to me because it addressed an error I made. I had relied on a memory which proved faulty and am glad to have the misinformation corrected.

The thing about the written word is that we cannot always catch the tone or subtext of it. However, we often do have an idea of tone and subtext when we know the person whose words we are reading.

In this case the correction seemed to have some attitude embedded. I could almost hear the words "you idiot" attached to the end of each phrase, which may or may  not be an accurate interpretation of tone.

I'm already mortified when I realize I've said something that's not accurate. And my friends know that I'm quick to own my mistakes, so it's difficult to imagine a friend commenting anonymously. Yet in this case it's most likely to be one of my Facebook friends who left the comment as it came very soon after I posted the blog to my Facebook page - odder still, as we are not anonymous on Facebook

In any case, it's okay to be a smart ass. Some of my best friends are smart asses. But I take their criticism better when I'm looking them in the eye. And as I said, I could be misreading the intent because of the fact that the writer didn't identify himself.

Critical comments are helpful to me, as this one was, and I do appreciate them. Some things are hard to say, to be sure. But this comment should not have been hard for anyone who knows me to say publicly or privately. 

I've changed the blog so it only accepts comments from people with names. I've never sent an anonymous letter to the editor, though sometimes that might have felt the safer thing to do. An anonymous comment on a personal blog? If the intent is good, what's the anonymity about? If the intent was to embarrass or shame, be honest enough to own it.

Sunday, May 23, 2010


Summer of 2001 I moved to PT. I didn't know anyone in the town, just my son's future in-laws who live about 20 minutes out. The job of unpacking, moving too much stuff into a smaller house, figuring out how to make home alone in a new place, was exciting and daunting. One evening as I stood in the garage breaking down boxes, the blush of sunset in the sky got my attention. I threw down the box-cutter, closed the door and started walking the mile and a half to North Beach.

I was just in time to walk down to the water and watch the sun set over Vancouver Island. There I stood, shivering, since I hadn't yet learned how chilly it is at the beach in the evening. Soon as the sun set, I turned to start the walk home, chanting silently "sweater, sweater, sweater. Next time: sweater sweater sweater" and hugging my goose-fleshed arms.

There was an enigmatic-looking man standing at the edge of the beach and as I passed he said "Don't you think it's a little declasse to leave 15 seconds after the sun sets?" Smiling, I shook his hand and we introduced ourselves. Small town. He knew I was new. I acknowledged that I was. Then he said this: Well, you're going to have to decide what kind of artist you are, since you live in Port Townsend now. I thought for a second and said "I'm a writer. Nice to meet you." Then I refused his offer of a ride and set off walking home.

As I walked, I thought about what I'd said. I'm a writer. I thought of how Dr. Emmel had encouraged her writing students to do that. "Do you write every day? Then own it."  I am a singer, a photographer, an actor, too. But the thing I can't not do is write. The fact that I haven't sent anything out to publishers feels delegitimizing, but I keep at it. I think of Mary Oliver writing for 25 years, seriously, before trying to get published. Patience. I keep at it, working at a daily practice.

Variety of experience certainly gives a person more to write about. It's fine to have other interests. But now, nine years after that evening on the beach, I'm still not sending stuff out and I feel more than a little foolish. The business of making myself the best I can be is unfinished at a time when the life I have ahead of me is scarily shorter. I am feeling the pinch of time.

But I do remember, that one day when a stranger on the beach asked me to choose, I did. What I have to do now is get up every day, choose again, and do what needs to be done.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Another Day in Paradise

Walking with Shadow at the end of a busy day  - just a quick spin around the dirt path behind the school and a walk through the fairgrounds was my plan. But right away we came across an off-leash dog, Stormy by name, sweet by nature. I unhooked Shadow and the two trotted towards one another, did a bit of circling and sniffing, then continued on to greet each others' women. The other gal doesn't live in the neighborhood year-round but shows up in summer to stay at her sister's for a while. Delighted to see Shadow, she seemed amazed at how fit the dog is.  "She's not even limping anymore!"  This past year of consistent daily walks, increasing our distance, has been good for us both. Shadow trotted off, signaling time to continue our walk, and I caught up and leashed her. Another perfect afternoon was passing too quickly.

Then we were walking through the fields at the fairgrounds, another woman walking towards us. She was carrying a couple of canvas shopping bags in one hand and what looked like an empty glass pie dish in the other. I recognized her as a local artist who I've met a few times and called out:

"Foraging for pie?"
"What?" she queried back.
"Are you foraging for pie? Because I don't think you'll find any out here - doesn't hurt to try."
"Whaaaaaaat?" she said, thoroughly puzzled.
"Oh!" said I, "that's not a pie plate after all. Sorry - I was being silly."
"Wondered what you knew," she said "because I was just having pie, but no, this dish had poppyseed cake in it."

She offered Shadow the dish to lick, saying "Now I won't have to wash it." She said she'd just been at her friend's memorial service and that it was a very good one. Given the direction she was coming from, I asked if it was for Etta. Yes, it was.

Etta is one of the first people I met here. She had a flower farm next to the fairgrounds, a beautiful place. She made bouquets and put them out at the end of her drive in canning jars on a table with an umbrella to shade them. She kept a small, slightly rusted tin there and a sign saying "Bouquets $6." You could put the money in the tin, or there was paper and a pencil if you needed to leave an IOU. Her bouquets were beautiful - sweet peas in spring, then peonies, then a grand variety of blooms and colors through the season. We walked past often to look or to buy.

I'd first met Etta when my son's wedding was drawing near and his future mother-in-law didn't have enough blue flowers in her garden for the arrangements she wanted to make. I walked down her dirt driveway, knocked on her door and asked Etta if she would have many blue flowers in August. She said that she would and, true enough, sold us two big white buckets-full on the wedding day and at a reasonable price, too. Somewhere I have a photo I took of her Gypsy Wagon out by the flower field where I found her that day when I went to pick up the flowers. She told me she kept it there for sleeping in summer.

From time to time after that I'd see her walk across San Juan Ave. to Admiralty Ave. to get a horse she had pastured there. I was sad when I heard this lively woman had died of cancer. But today I learned from her friend that she'd done well at dying. She'd taken charge of how she wanted it to go and her family and friends had been there to help and support her.

Still, this woman and I agreed, it's hard to lose one's contemporaries. We all know we will lose our parents and that's a tough thing. But we don't think about our friends dying. And when they do (as I learned a few years ago when two of my dear ones died in a month) it's a particular kind of loss. Our closest friends know all our secrets and we theirs.  And though Etta and I were not close, it comforted me to hear that she'd gone as well as she could and that her friends were holding the memory of her close.

It's not a half-bad thing when even strangers you touch remember you well. Just yesterday I'd remembered a woman named Judy, stopped at the corner of Admiralty a few years back when I met her on my way to the beach. Her bicycle lay on the ground, helmet still on her head, as she picked and ate thimbleberries. Picked isn't the right word. She, in fact, introduced me to thimbleberries, which I had never heard of, and showed me how they will fall into your hand with almost no encouragement when they're ripe. She's gone now, too, but for memories.

What happened there in the field today, though, was that this other woman and I talked about how much we love living here, how we are steeped in beauty and are always reminding ourselves how lucky we are to be  here. Then she pointed and asked me was that an eagle floating on an updraft above us. It was indeed and we watched it for some time.

Then, as we parted the woman asked me to remind her who I am, how we know each other.

I thought for a second, then remembered.

"I met you first, several years ago, at a Verbal Tease, those monthly readings that used to happen Uptown. You read a piece about how you had lived on a boat and the practical difficulties of that and I liked your work a lot. Also, you stopped one day when I was walking in the rain, to see if I needed a ride. That was awfully nice of you, but I was nearly home and said no thanks."

She smiled and we hugged and went on our way in opposite directions, both carrying and riding the ebb and flow of life in a small town.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Weeding Thoughts, Weeding Words

I'm supposed to be in the garden right now. Yesterday evening I mowed, so the weeds are far more noticeable. And I want to be out there working among the pink tulips, blue wood hyacinth, the blushing rhody, the budding lilacs. I'm a pretty hardy gal but I do not weed in a chilly rain - a warm misty rain, yes - but not this.

So instead, I am writing.  Maybe I should be grateful for the rain since I've just finished a draft of my third poem in two days. The pages of notes I have to write from, notes scribbled while traveling or in church on Sunday morning, to remind me of some thread that seems to be calling for examination and expression, remain untouched. The hands keep typing, though, which feels great.

The animals wonder why our breakfast is delayed and they're starting to prick my leg to nudge me along, but this is what I want to be doing - writing. When the day dawned chilly and wet, Plan B should have been: pay the bills, which have been waiting since last week. But my mind keeps weaving thoughts so I keep writing.

Today I was editing yesterday's work when an ordinary moment, something from about 13 years ago slipped into my head again to haunt me. Now that seems an oxymoron to  me: ordinary/haunting. But, though it's ordinary, it's an image that often comes to mind. Probably because it was sweet, unexpected, made me feel loved. And I crave that a lot - feeling loved. I crave romance; want to be wanted. Who doesn't? But why, of all the experiences in my past, does this one little moment keep coming to mind?

It wasn't a moment that signified the ultimate satisfaction of my wish to be desired and loved. It was an early moment in a two-year love affair, which ultimately left me sad and disappointed. But it was a sweet moment, a real moment. So I began with that and wondered why an ordinary moment can mean so much after years have passed. Then I thought of two more moments, not of the same ilk, but each their own. In the poem I describe each of the three moments. I reflect on each. And there it stops, at six three-line stanzas.

I read it over and wonder if the poem is whole. Is it saying anything? That final writer's question: so what? I don't know yet. It takes time between a draft and knowing if the work is meaningful.

At this particular moment, I think it's time to be grateful and remind myself that I'm weeding and cultivating one thing or another, rain or shine, inside or out...and that even poets need to pay the bills.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Lucy Chronicles. The Lost Blog.

I found this in my string of copied blog articles on my desktop and don't see it posted on either of my blogs, so for the record, this was written between Oct. 15 and Dec. 16, 2009 the day Lucy died.

Me, Lucy and the sometimes-miracle of steroids

As I wrestle Lucy out from under the bed again, it hits me. She feels good on this drug. A year and a half ago I was ordered to take prednisone for three months because, a. the medical people I turned to for help thought it was the cure for what might ail me and b. when it became obvious that wasn’t the cure, they decided to keep me on it anyway because I was in pain and they thought it might help. It didn’t. I felt like crap. I was dull witted (it later turned out that could have been from B vitamin deficiencies), I was not physically relieved and I began to have the weight gain associated with prednisone use. Now Lucy, a cat, is having all the relief that I did not experience from the drug.

She had an accident in June, most certainly took a tumble in one of her Evil Kneivel style leaps, broke off a fang and split her lower jaw. She got repaired and recovered. For three weeks early in September I noticed her nose running again (the symptom that got us to the doc in June) and I started taking her in to find out what was wrong and get her some help. We saw two vets, in the same office, six times in less than two weeks. The first guy thought our regular vet had maybe missed a piece of tooth in surgery in June and it was infecting her jaw and sinus. The original vet didn’t think so but gave us antibiotics and said everything seemed okay. I persisted in returning because I have known and lived with this cat virtually every day of her now 16 years and I knew something was wrong. We had to find the reason for this recurring infection and treat her.

But no one was getting the urgency of the problem. I tried desperately to describe her struggle to swallow with all the mucous draining down her throat and the bare fact that breathing was becoming a constant struggle for her. Finally I took one of her quarter tablet antibiotics with me and asked the tech to please give her the pill so they could see for themselves how she reacted while trying to swallow. Then maybe they’d get why she was losing weight. I heard Lucy choking in the exam room. The tech stepped out a minute later and asked if they could do xrays. “Yes, please,” I said. Then the vet called me in, deeply sobered and said: “There’s a golf ball sized growth behind her heart, and two smaller ones in front, possibly on the lungs. I have to have a radiologist read it.” He gave her a steroid shot and by that night she was her old happy self, eating a bit and wanting love and attention. That was a Monday.  The report confirmed there was no hope, although specifics could only be learned through surgery and neither of us thought that was a good idea with a 16-year-old cat, especially given that the cancer was so close to her heart. He said to bring her the next day for a super steroid shot that would carry her 1-4 weeks and we would just work to keep her from suffering.

Lucy and I struggled through that night, me sure that each breath might be her last and at some point hoping it would be so she would not suffer anymore. Obviously, Monday’s  steroid shot had worn off. At one point she jumped down from the bed and continued gasping for breath under it. I fell apart, sobbing. Lucy jumped back onto the bed and came next to me again. So many times in my life I have seen cats do that, come to my side when I am crying or sick. I toughened up for her sake and just kept repeating “I’m sorry dear, we’ll get some help as soon as the vet is open.” And I called at 7:30 and asked what was the earliest time one of the offices would open so I could go in, warning them that we were not coming for the steroid shot because I did not want to see her struggling for breath again through another night when that shot wore off. By the time we got to the office I was not sure I should go through with it. Tony let me in and said he’d changed his mind about the shot and would instead give me a good supply of amoxicillin with prednisone in it and I could give that to her twice a day to keep her comfortable. This seemed a good idea. It took until night for her breathing to normalize again after another prednisone shot and I was ready with the pink liquid to keep her levels up so she would not be in distress.

Lucy’s amoxicillin/prednisone cocktail stopped working entirely after about a week. I was, in fact, taking her in to have her put to sleep when the vet remembered the stronger steroid shot (depo something) and that gave her a miracle week of being herself again. However, a week later another depo shot seemed to have no effect at all. That was Thursday a week ago. Last Monday I called and he suggested still another of the depo shots and this time, by Tuesday night, she was feeling better and we’ve had a whole week of comfort and cuddling.

This morning the nose is running again, the sure sign of another downward slide. I think we’ll just keep getting the depo shots until the cancer takes her or the shots no longer give her relief. I’m so grateful to be able to keep her comfortable and she seems to have adjusted to the little intrusions of weekly vet visits and me wiping her nose. She didn’t even run off this morning after I did that. I’m grateful, too, quite selfishly, for this extra time with her feeling well. I was not in a great frame of mind to accept another loss through death. Sharing these days with her, knowing where we’re headed, is helping me work towards acceptance.

Lucy and I have had lots of hours of petting and reading to her on the bed. I can’t know if I’ve got her for an hour more, a day, a week, a month, or six months. I believe she will die sooner rather than later and I remind myself this is about her, not me.

Born feral, Lucy has always been alert and watchful. Yet she’s a gentle, graceful companion who often pricks my skin, ever so lightly, to ask for petting. When I first come to bed she marches around me in circles, sometimes circling the whole body, sometimes just my head, crossing my chest each go ‘round. If I turn over, and boy do I all night long, she adjusts. She generally cuddles into some curve around my hips but lately has nestled a little higher near my chest. Remember that American Indian saying “It’s a good day to die”? Well, maybe so. But it seems to me that each day is another good day to cuddle with Lucy.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Some writers have a muse. I have a mess.

Sometimes when I start a new poem it feels so chaotic that after I sketch the ideas onto paper my head hurts. It's as if I birthed it, physically pulled each line out of my brain. There is no energy left for excitement about the birth. It's more like a crazy, messy conception, the aftermath of an unforeseen passion seeking honest expression, demanding it, refusing to be denied. The wildness of this process, followed by the sudden relief of having begun it, leaves me spent. Yeah, I see that this is all a terrible sex metaphor. Sans the cigarette. Anyway, when a poem begins that way, I have to put it away for a while. When I pick it up again, most often I'm surprised at what's there. Sometimes I barely remember it.  A few times I really have not recognized my own words. This has even happened with what I thought was a finished piece of prose. More than once in my life a teacher read my work aloud in class and I didn't know it was mine. But other times, with these crazy obsessively scribbled notes, it's like finding an old friend and being happy to see the familiar face. And then I'm ready to get to work on it.

I first wrote this note on the back of a page I started a new poem on a week ago. I still cannot go into the paragraphs and lines that are meant to become a poem and see what's there to shape. Just now when I turned the page over and glanced at it, the second I remembered what it was about I had to turn away.

So instead I wrote two new poems today. The first was exploring joy, love and gratitude in a complicated relationship. The second poem was the shadow side of the first. The part I'd left out. Because I have a tendency to do that: to look on the bright side and make that so important that I don't have to see the shadow for a while. But ultimately the shadow will be seen. By me at least. I usually can't look away for very long.

For now I'm calling it a day. Two poems. One with a good start; one out of too much pain to be good yet. And a third, raw still, which I can't look look at for now. And that one is the one - big surprise - that has the most potential. Of that I am certain.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Deliberate Fortunate Change

Since March, 2009, I've been keeping track, with a list on my Facebook page, of miles I'm walking. The idea is to keep myself honest so I don't fall into the trap of "thinking" that I am walking most every day when, in reality, it only seems that way. I reread an entry on this blog from last March this morning and was both heartened and warned by what I saw in comparing then to now.

The best news is that back then I was thrilled to be walking up to 3/4 mile each day (with an occasional 2-3 mile walk to push myself) and I was walking the 3/4 mile in about one hour. One hour, people. The year before that it was taking me half an hour to go around the block. It's a small block. Now I can walk three miles in an hour. I know that's not record breaking race time, but I'm not racing. I'm just trying to get healthier. I am noticing that my efforts to increase my daily distance are working. I almost never skip and almost never do less than one mile. And more often I do two. So I'm pushing myself to do two or  more, hoping to average two in a couple more months. I just checked my tallies and I was fairly consistent. The problem month was August. My cat Lisa was dying and I spent more time with her. A couple of days after she died, the second week in August, my neighbor died. My dear friends' dog died the next week. All of these things meant I spent a lot more time with friends and caring for Lisa. And then my Mother died. A trip to be with her. Only walking in hospital corridors. A trip to our hometown for the funeral and travel back to my own home. Only 21 miles that month. Plus, I had been walking less because the doc had diagnosed me with shin splints, which were causing a lot of pain. I had been so enthusiastic about walking thirty miles in March that I had done 41, 49, 47 and 49 the next four months. Clearly my body was not ready for this. But in September I did 26, then 39, 48 and a half. But only 31 for December because Lucy cat died on the 16th. and those last three weeks I was mostly in bed reading with her. January found me back up to 42 miles for the month despite being sick with a cold for a couple of weeks and completely missing a few days of walking.

What I'm getting from this review is that, while I am ready to increase my miles, I'd better be sure to do it gradually so I don't end up with shin splints again. Still, the fact that I am walking further in less time is most encouraging. And the fact that I've been pretty consistent, with the exceptions being for obvious good reason, makes me feel good. I'm off to a good start in February - my "month" starts the 28th. and ends the 27th. because that's when I started keeping track. I have two three-mile days in already, with one at one mile and another at 2. Today is one of those dreary, rainy, chill-that-goes-to-the-bone days, but I will probably still walk. Thanks be to Shadow for this! I don't like to let her down.

I've lost about 20 pounds these eleven months. Slow and steady. People are starting to ask me if I'm on Weight Watchers. A woman told me on Sunday that she saw me at a reading a week ago and noticed my face is getting thinner. I've always believed that change involves patience, consistency, honesty and a change of habit. Like a lot of people who live alone, I had become a lazy eater - even though I'm a vegetarian. This laziness seems to be absent now and I am cooking more, eating better. I feel less craving in general and less need for chips and desserts. I feel - satisfied. And that's got more to do with my whole day and the accumulation of good days, than simple appetites.

Another habit I've gotten into while living alone is procrastination on tasks and cleaning. The past two months I see a big difference in that area. Walking out to the living area in the morning I feel happy to be up and starting my day because the house is basically clean and there are not constant backlogs of everyday chores staring at me - no piles of dirty dishes, laundry, no fur-covered carpets. I'd even gotten to the point where I let burned out light bulbs linger in their lamps until maybe 6 or 7 of them waited to be changed. You can see where that left me - in an increasingly depressing darkness. Not now.

So maybe it's a bit of a reverse domino effect. One good thing leads to another. Maybe someday we'll have a catch phrase: Good things come in threes!

Last night, at the end of a lovely happy day, I pushed the envelope and stayed up until 1 a.m. again. I used to do this all the time and wrote about it last March as a twisted way to try and lengthen my life by lengthening my waking hours. But re-reading that post reminded me of how awful I feel when I get up without enough sleep. And the body has its own clock; one does wake up at the expected time, even, usually, when exhausted. So I am reminded that the price for late hours is too high for this body. It throws me off for days. I get less done. I get discouraged. So when I am tempted by a 10-midnight Improv class, I must remember: it's not worth what it costs me later in body damage and disruption. I'll wait until I can take an earlier class.

Meanwhile I'll keep stretching, keep walking, keep cooking. And I'll keep making the hard choices. I skipped the Requiem performance yesterday in favor of getting the laundry done and spending quality time with a friend. I've turned down two performance opportunities in favor of maintaining this healthy momentum. And here I am putting writing first on my agenda today, another promise I made myself, regarding changing habits.

I titled this blog entry Deliberate Fortunate Change but I haven't said anything about the fortunate aspect. I am conscious of the fact that despite some tragic turns in my life, even in the past few years, I am so fortunate to be financially stable and not have to search for a job (yet) or work at one I hate or have to expend most of my energy to do. I've volunteered a ton in my life partly out of appreciation for my own circumstance. But I am also fortunate to live in a beautiful, nurturing place and to have dear and loving friends. I am grateful for all of this every day. I know how lucky I am.

As for the job of being my best self, I'm finding more quality in more time at home. I think I appreciate everything more because of the choice to do less and be more.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Cutest Couple in the World

Can you be cute if you're 6'4" and you're wife is 5'9"? My brother-in-law Paul and my sister Kathy are not an elderly couple so we're not talking cute in that longevity sense. They are not silly people who wear odd colorful clothing or have unusual hobbies. They are Evangelical Christian, Republican, grandparents, loving and hard working people who have a sense of humor. And it's a good thing they do. Things happen. Things have always happened in their lives, home, orbit. And the sense of humor gets them through - no that's not fair. The sense of humor helps them be in their life and not standing outside it, whining about what might not be going well. So this little example of how they relate is not anything original out of my head. It's something my sis shared with me in an email the other day and I find it too good to keep to myself.

She wrote that Paul had taken the day off work because he had not slept at all the night before. When she woke up he confessed to her that he had tossed and turned all night long because he could hear a woodpecker that had previously drilled a hole in their house, sitting in the cavity, repeatedly fluffing its feathers. The head of their bed is on an outside wall and they have always had trouble with woodpeckers working on the wooden clapboard siding on their saltbox set in the Pennsylvania woods. I'm sure Kath understood and empathized with Paul's dilemma. Then he said: "Yeah, it was driving  me crazy, this woodpecker just fluffing its feathers over and over. Then I realized that wasn't what I was hearing. What I was hearing was you snoring."

Fluffing its feathers. Snoring. What kind of mind and imagination comes up with that as an explanation for a mysterious sound in the night? It was an "aaaaaaaaaaah" moment for me when I read it. And then Kath signed off her email saying: "So he's home napping now. Either that or he's moving his stuff into the guest room."

Monday, January 25, 2010


I keep trying to take myself seriously. It’s a process. I’m at that point where I’m staying conscious that writing is the most important thing, for me, that I do. Yet I don’t give it nearly enough of my time. So today I remembered that Monday is the day that local poets gather at Lehani’s from 5-6pm and put their names in a hat to get time to read aloud to one another. It’s been months, if not a year, since I last went down to try out new material and see how it’s working. Today seemed the ideal time to push myself towards being more present and diligent as a writer. I pulled out the poems I’d written over the past four months and read them through to see which might be most ready to read. I was only looking at those I felt were my best of the recent efforts and wow did that bring home how easy it is to start congratulating oneself on new work. Poems I thought were done, polished, as near-to-perfect as I could make them, all seemed suddenly slight. Then, I wrote a new one, based on things that came up as I took a long walk in the woods today. I worked it and liked where it landed on the page. It looked good, sounded good, too. But if poems I’d been working on for 1-4 months seemed less desirable after a little time out of sight, how could I trust a new one? Still, it’s important as an artist to stand and deliver. I find that I know better how well a poem is working when I read to an audience, rather than just to myself at home. It’s not just whether and how that audience reacts, but the fact that my own awareness is heightened by risking the reading of my work to people I know are discerning and thoughtful writers themselves. 

So I printed out half a dozen that I thought, for various reasons, might be my strongest choices, punched them, put them in a notebook and drove downtown. (I'd likely read three but I prefer to have choices even in this situation.) When I got to the door I saw no familiar faces inside. In fact there was almost no one there and it was 4:50. The owner confirmed that they had indeed changed to Friday evenings at 5. I deflated. I was not relieved, but disappointed. It was like standing on the edge of the dock with my toes hanging over, bent into first-dive position; or taking my paddle firmly in hand to push off the bank of the Nantahala River and into the rapids. When you’re ready, you’re ready. Not necessarily ready to succeed but ready to try. Maybe this is just a reminder to me, like the title of that song by Madeleine Peyroux that I’ve been listening to so much lately: Don’t Wait Too Long.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Come to Mama! I've still got it - cooking a fabulous sauce.

Maybe it was because I lay on the couch last week, sick with a cold, and watched some Julia Child episodes on a public TV fundraiser. Or maybe it was just my kitchen-womanly pride, but I wanted to cook this week. I mean really cook. So I did. Thursday evening my friend David was stopping by upon his return from a trip. I'd offered a homecoming dinner. I felt lousy at that point but figured I had to eat, too, so I made a risotto and wow did it taste good. Just a classic arborio rice, glazed in some hot oil and garlic, then a cup of white wine cooked into that, followed by the long simmering to absorb, cup by cup, about a quart of broth. The result? Hot, creamy, flavorful risotto. I made a side dish of acorn squash halves, baked with some butter melted in the cavities, and then filled those with peas which had simmered with finely chopped onion and dill. Talk about comfort food!

Then Sunday, while visiting with  my friend Denise, I roasted some parsnips, onions and pears (after tossing them in olive oil) and blended half of that with broth and half with cream and then simmered it all together while reducing a cup of balsamic vinegar to a thick drizzling garnish. WOW! What a success. Actually I worried that after coring the parsnips (which I've never done before and am not at all sure is necessary) that they were not enough, so we added some carrots to the roasting mix. This soup was a savory, delicious treat, far exceeding my expectations. I would not have known there were pears in it but I surely won't try making it without them. Something very right was going on in that roasting pan and soup pot. I've already bought more parsnips and pears to try it again without the carrots. I accompanied the soup with my favorite corn bread, which is made with sour cream and is corny enough while also being moist and tender. It worked but I think I'd prefer the soup paired with a yeast bread or chebe bread.

I guess I was feeling my oats at this point, because I invited another friend to dinner on Monday night. I had an unexpectedly busy day Monday so found I was very tired by mid afternoon. But as the dinner hour approached I decided I did not want to compromise the meal or choose some easy old standby to make. I'd been thinking all afternoon about what I'd like to have and at about 4:30 it came to me. Pasta with Vodka sauce. My friend Shari shared the recipe with me years ago and I could not find it to save my soul Monday night. So I made it from memory. First I sliced some tiny carrots julienne style and sliced up some baby zucchini, green pepper, then sauteed all that in some olive oil with herbs and crushed garlic until just tender. Then I turned off the heat and put a lid over the veggies to keep them warm. For the sauce, as Julia would say "first you make a roux:" 2tbsp. butter/melted then 2tbsp. flour stirred quickly in; then add a cup of cream, slowly whisked into the roux until smooth. Stir in, a bit at a time, a cup of white wine - I make this recipe with white wine because I prefer the flavor of wine to vodka. I used a full bodied chardonnay. [Now is a good time to start the pasta cooking.] When the wine you've added to the initial cream sauce has smoothed into a velvety texture, gradually add more cream until you have about 2 1/2 -3 cups of it. Then, stir in a couple of big handfuls of fresh, finely-grated Parmesan. Fresh Parmesan melts in nearly instantly. The "fresh" grated stuff we buy in the store takes too long and leaves the sauce vulnerable to separating. I hadn't made that pasta sauce in years. Sometimes Alfredo is disappointing to me - bland. But I love this.  I laid the pretty melange of veggies over the pasta which I'd tossed with about 2/3 of the sauce. (Next time I might saute mushrooms until brown and have just those with more pasta and the leftover sauce.)  I did scratch the idea of making hot chebe bread. I felt the pasta was enough starch for this meal. Such a rich entree, though, demands a salad. I had some good green leaf lettuce and added to that a cut up fresh pear, some toasted walnuts and a few shavings of Asiago cheese. I shook up a quick dressing of finely chopped leek with balsamic vinegar and olive oil. The balsamic and leek made a great flavor contrast to the pear and Asiago.

Honestly, I surprised myself. Like a lot of single people living alone, I'm pretty out of practice at putting actual meals on the table. I take a lot of short cuts but try not to compromise myself nutritionally. It's just easy to bake a potato and steam some broccoli or make a quick omelet. But a meal like this one makes me wonder why this gluten free vegetarian ever goes out to a restaurant. Plus, I'd been feeling worn out and yet I did this. Not just any old meal, but this. Telling about it, I'm reminded of my Aunt Van, who was maybe my age now (nearly 62) when I saw her leaving my Mom and Dad's house one day by the back door in the kitchen. She paused at the round mirror over the radiator where my  mom kept a hairbrush and always checked her hair and make-up before going out. Aunt Van, a statuesque woman with dyed chestnut hair and I Love Lucy red lipstick, thrust out her chest like a pin-up and said aloud to the mirror: "Uh! Van, you still got it!" As I floated around the kitchen and felt myself near accomplishing my vision of a lovely meal, I felt a little like my spunky Aunt Van. Come to think of it, I don't think Auntie, fabulous as she was, would ever have pulled that off.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Sunday in Seattle

When I moved here someone told me that Port Townsend is one of those places where it's easy to stay put. They say we're at "the end of the line" which practically means our postal estimated delivery times (for mail going off the peninsulas) are usually off by a day - or a week. It also means The City of Dreams that PT was supposed to become did not materialize. The train ultimately didn't come here but went, instead, to Seattle. I believe most people who live here still think of PT as The City of Dreams but in a more personal sense than was originally imagined. So yes, indeed, I found myself settling in and appreciating the fact that I live in an environment which other people save up and pay money to visit on vacation. But in the back of my mind the little voice reminded me "if you want to stay happy here, get out of Dodge once in a while!"

My first thought when I consider getting out of town is to go to Seattle. I love the city and figured, when I decided to live out here, that Seattle would still be my city since I'd chosen to live in a small town. Every small town needs a city to claim as its own.

So last weekend I took Sunday in Seattle with a friend. First stop was the Calder exhibit at SAM (Seattle Art Museum). Alexander Calder caught my eye first at The Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, CT. [The Atheneum is the oldest public art museum in the U.S., established in 1842.] I remember my joy at showing my children, nieces and nephew the Calder sculptures in the courtyard, including one of the red dinosaurs, and my own joy at being greeted by a new Calder mobile on the sidewalk outside the entrance one day. Having grown up in a town that was isolated, and in circumstances where it was unaffordable to travel to museums, I was excited to be raising my sons where we had access to this wonderful place.

So it was a joy to see Calder's work, and a lot of it, in SAM last Sunday. We were a little disappointed that despite fans installed on one ceiling over a very large mobile, none of them moved much. The air was just too still. A large circle on the floor quietly warned us away from the mobile's space. Once, later in the day, I wandered back to look at it again and saw a guard make a sudden shift in movement toward me. Looking quickly down at my feet, I danced away from the line, raising a hand and smiling at him. He smiled and nodded back and returned to his position but I saw him do this dance with several other mesmerized viewers.

The small pieces of work, both mobile and stationary, were delightful. The alligator, a piece of colorful, carefully folded metal is perfect and one of those items I'd never tire of seeing. There was also some flashy jewelry, or as Calder described it "swell joolery." A woman could not blend into a crowd wearing his spokey, flaring earrings, that's for sure. The photographs of him at work and in studio were not terribly captivating. There was a video running of his circus that did seem to have people mesmerized. I was taken with his mechanical/artistic meldings for entertainment's sake but more-so with his pure joy and the loss of all artifice as he made crude but ebullient sound effects and played like a giant child with his tiny and complex creations. It was very like watching my young son play with his plastic dinosaur village or his older brother at play with legos or toy cars. In the end it was more engaging to me to watch Calder's face and listen to his vocalizations and take in his pleasure than to be entertained by his circus. It was good to see Calder again, like an old, not very close, but admired friend.

Next was Michaelangelo. Normally I only try to take in one show each visit and perhaps wander the other exhibits before leaving. This time we both wanted to see these two so we dug in and spent some time. Most interesting to me was getting an overview of Michelangelo's life and time, with a time line and quotes placed throughout the exhibit. I was stunned to learn that he carved his Madonna of the Steps at fifteen years old, two years into his apprenticeship. He dedicated all of his youthful energy to perfecting his art. Late in life he burned most of his drawings so that history would only know him for the perfection he accomplished. Fortunately a few remain and it was fascinating to see the changes he made between drawing and finished painting, in one showing the Virgin Mary as accepting Jesus' judgement on the sinners suffering below them. Whereas in the drawing Mary was shown in her role as interceder, pleading with him for mercy on the sinners. The quotes on the walls revealed a man at times suffering for art and greatly disheartened and at other times arrogant in his accomplishment. And then there was the one that said he was sorry that he would die soon when he was only at the stage of having learned the alphabet of his art and had so much more to accomplish.

We could not leave the museum without visiting a piece we had seen last visit, which I fondly refer to as "The Head." It is that. Or appears to be one wrapped in moire silk, all brown. On close examination it is one piece carved of wood and the texture achieved is amazing. So after seeing that again we passed the larger than human black rat sculpture, made it past the stupid stupid cars hanging from the ceiling (I know, "One man's meat...") and got out onto the street again. We walked up to Belltown and caught a cab, as the bus would have been 15 more minutes wait, to Seattle Center. This gave us just enough time to find lunch in the food court before the matinee performance of Electra. I'd never seen the show and I was mesmerized start to finish. I will admit to thinking at first blush "oh, dear, I'm going to tire of this girl's suffering." But I did not. The entire cast was perfect. And they seemed to me a viable ensemble who had worked out their relationships among the characters and knew how to bring them true. The set was just right with interesting use of chain link fencing among a few pillars and tiers. There was tension and physical play between the players throughout, even to taking the murders "inside" the castle, then dragging out the bodies with great effect. The contrast in costuming for the commoners and struggling oppressed with the styled queen was very effective. She represented regal and sensual and the line between passion and perversion beautifully in a classical one shouldered draped formal white gown. He, Aegeius, came on in the final scene to a laugh because he entered in a white suit, hair slicked, looking like a smarmy wise guy. And yet. His sorrow on viewing his wife's body was incredibly moving and brought us to the point of looking at all sides of the story at a perfect moment to do just that. The other men were ragged warriors and convincing in that, and the women wore various shades of white, layered, passing for ancient Greek draped dress. The nun and servants were clean and simple and the sister was pure and innocent and Electra was a hot mess. Not hot as in sexy but as in energy. She was filthy and didn't give a damn, which added tremendously to her character. When it was done we were on our feet instantly applauding the professionalism and achievement and our own fortunate experience as witnesses to the play. I'm very grateful that my friend chose this show. I probably would not have. Which is why smart people sometimes choose challenging friends.

Our favorite Indian restaurant was closed. Second choice was not to open for another hour plus. So off we walked toward downtown and the ferry. I cannot tell you how wonderful it felt to be walking from the Center to the ferry on a balmy January day. I remembered how two years ago when I was ill I felt the acute loss of that ability and how limiting it was. I could not even go into Seattle by car for fun. And now, here I was, swinging along again, a friend at my side, though my favorite, well-loved city, Seattle. I stopped to show my friend an architectural feature I liked: triangular wedges that were balconies - so refreshing after seeing thousands of tiny rectangles hanging in the air. Then I noticed the wedge complimenting those, or vice versa, hanging over the main entrance to the building as a marqui/entry roof. He then explained to me that this is the sort of design they are looking for in the uptown business district in PT, where larger buildings are broken up this way, with a variety (as this one had, going from rectangular features to triangular and then with a globe atop one end) and not just big flat facades. Then my friend was kind enough to guide me to some bridges and walkways which pedestrians can use to get closer to the waterfront so we had a beautiful walk down to the ferry. A ferry wait is not so bad when you have good company and a nice drink to talk over in the bar at the terminal.

When we got to the other side I remembered a new Indian place in Bainbridge so we popped in there and ate well before coming along home. That one day, to me, was a vacation and a lift. The advice I was given to "get out of Dodge" still proves true today. May we all have these options. I did not, growing up. I'm grateful that I do now.

Friday, January 15, 2010

I Have a Code Id My Doze or What I am Learning from a Cat and a Dog While Lounging on the Couch

I asked for it, really. I've been bragging for months that I have not had a cold or flu in four years. Tuesday morning I thought I has having an allergy attack so I got up at 6:30 a.m. and changed the furnace filter. I'd checked it a week before and thought it was fine but my incredibly painful and narrowed throat suggested otherwise. Indeed, it was fuzzy. Not black or grossly dirty but, well, fuzzy with dust. So I switched it out. Usually a few hours later my throat would be fine. Not so this time. So I may have to acknowledge, after several days suffering in the headache, sore throat, earache, sinus pain department, that I have a cold. You can be sure if I'm lucky enough to have a long hiatus between colds again, I will not be bragging about it. Because clearly this is karma, yes? Or I'm just due.

So this is how I found myself lounging on the couch, feeling grumpy and miserable and alone. But wait. I'm not alone. I have Gracie and Smokey and PJ, the cats, and Shadow, the dog, to keep me company. Far as they're concerned, prayers have been answered. I am finally where I belong, all the time, except for when I creep into the bedroom to try and sleep at night. Gracie and Smokey are relatively well balanced cats, emotionally speaking. They like attention, but like most cats, they do not need attention. Their dignity is in tact. Fine examples for an independent woman of a certain age.

On the other hand, PJ is a cat I often describe as "the neediest cat in the world." I have also noted before that he is the best example to me of why neediness is not an attractive quality. Everyone who loves cats loves a lap cat, surely. I do too. But this cat gives me no time without his considerable weight balanced in some way on my body. Laying on my side on the couch, watching tv? No problem. He curls up on my hip. Not next to it, not snuggled behind in the crook of my legs like Gracie likes to do. This fellow perches on my hip, which is less than comfortable for me. It makes me feel, too, that I am his slave because any sudden move could roughly dislodge him and send him tumbling. Try to sit up and read? Good luck. Reading, to PJ, is an invitation to lay on the paper. Or to keep scrunching above it as I wiggle to try to insinuate my discomfort and discourage him from his position, until finally he is effectively resting on my bosom, fur in my face, as I try to turn pages.

And then there is the question of food. Being sick gives one license to eat while sitting in front of the tv, yes? It is also an invitation and challenge to PJ and Shadow to join me in case I want to share, or maybe drop a morsel or two. Typically, PJ is at my right hand, once moved from my lap, and Shadow sits at my left, one eye on PJ, one on me, as if to say: "Do you not see that cat there? Wouldn't you like me to move him for you? You're not thinking of giving him anything, are you?"

Naturally I want them to respect my space and that this is my food and so I have been trying to ignore them both while eating. PJ doesn't give a rats ass. He just continues to wait at my side. Shadow, on the other hand, has lately taken exception to the fact that this cat is spending so much time on the couch with me. And Shadow is doing something a friend told me her cats would do when she had offended them. Shadow is giving me the back. Yes. She looks at me imploringly. Shows me that she is being very polite in not chasing the cat and not stealing food from my lap. And then she simply turns her back on me and waits. Head high. Regal. None of the slumping and sighing she's done in the past when I deny her requests. She is working me, people. And next to those moody eyes, this is her best tactic. So far it's not paying off, but it does make me feel that I have offended her terribly and threatened her status.

That's my little report from the infirmary today. Right now it's time to warm up some leftovers and see what psychological ploy the fur family will use on me this time.