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.