Friday, December 31, 2010

Dear 2010,

I was suspicious of you when you showed up, because everywhere I looked people were crowing about how they just knew you were going to be great. I have watched for long enough to be sure that there are forces and factors out there indifferent to our optimism. My plan was to have the best you that you'd let me have.

I visited a lot of beautiful places this year--San Francisco and the Hood Canal, the Oregon Coast, Orcas Island, New Orleans. I watched the country spool out ahead and behind from Arizona through Utah and Nevada and Oregon. I gained technology and heartbreak and another year of graduate school, and watched more nature documentaries than anyone probably should. I defied gravity and common sense, made a list and crossed some things off. I built a tiny stegosaurus, got a new tattoo, made an alliance with a noisy hummingbird. All the things that make up a life.

2010 was the year I lost my grandma, and so subsequently also the year I really learned about living with grief. In one part of Meghan O'Rourke's excellent series on bereavement following the loss of her mother, she talks about trying to make a pie from her mother's recipe. She had questions about gaps in the recipe, questions she had always before called her mother to ask and never noted the answers to, because calling her mother was part of the experience of making that pie, and now this was one more tiny tradition broken in the aftermath of death. This was the hardest thing for me, the constant snapping of tiny stems, always blindsided and made a little unsteady from a fresh wave of loss. She concludes with, "Loss doesn't feel redeemable. But for me one consoling aspect is the recognition that, in this at least, none of us is different from anyone else: We all lose loved ones; we all face our own death. And loss, strangely, can attune you to what is beautiful about existence even as it wounds you with what is awful. You live with a new sense of what the Victorian critic Walter Pater once called "the splendour of our experience and … its awful brevity," too."

I was reading an article a couple of days ago about mortality projections in the global population, and the study was centered on the notion of focusing on providing people with a life worth valuing instead of one longer lived, figuring that one will likely follow the other. It was relating to populations in non-industrialized countries, but I think the concept holds true for everyone. It's my plan, anyway. Doing more good and less harm, crafting a life to be valued. Looking and seeing and remembering, in the grand tradition of adventurers everywhere.


Friday, December 24, 2010

Somehow it is already Christmas time. Staying home instead of traveling makes the whole holiday season feel sort of distant. It's relaxing, sure, but that also feels kind of weird--Christmas isn't about being relaxed, really.

I think we're going to go to midnight mass tonight. I've never been to a Christmas Eve service, since I wasn't raised religious, but I do enjoy tradition and the feeling of being surrounded by people all believing in the same thing. Tomorrow I'll get up early and call my family before I go to serve lunch at the shelter, and then I'll watch cheesy movies with friends until it's time to go to the bar. I don't really have any Christmas traditions of my own, so this will all do fine for me. It will be quiet and friendly and slow.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Before the big freeze I took my hummingbird feeder down, figuring that the noisy little guy that lives in the trees across the way had probably headed somewhere more temperate for the season, following the pull of zugunruhe and the call of brighter flowers in other places. But then in a morning a few days after Thanksgiving I looked out the window and saw him sitting on the topmost branch, looking bewildered and a little irritated about the uncluttered landscape of my balcony.

On the Saturday during the big rain I looked up in time to see him sitting there, drenched and forlorn, at the feeder. So I have been doing research to help make sure he makes it, since it seems that my little friend is wintering here in spite of the lack of flowers. I'm worried about him, of course--hummingbirds are always just a few hours away from starving to death because it takes so much energy just to keep themselves going--but it's comforting to be able to make the effort to keep something else alive. Even if it turns out that my hummingbird is the kind that tends to overwinter in town, and it's only that one has never before decided to do so within range of my own home.

And it is comforting to have a compatriot in this winter time, hunkered down almost within reach, waiting through the waiting and the wind and the cold. I'm already concocting stories about how to get him into a little sweater and all of the unlikely adventures we'll be going on.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

For the past few days we've been having the sort of rains that you feel in your chest and the backs of your knees, the kind laced with so many secret messages that they clog up the storm drains and fill the streets with puddles.

By Monday evening the rain had been going on long enough and heavy enough that it had bruised all of the lavender and rosemary bushes along my route home. I could see the people stopped in their cars at the stoplights feeling sorry for me, buffeted by the wind and rain and clutching my space umbrella. But they were missing the important part, wrapped in the dark on the sweetly spicy sidewalks all swept clean by the rain.

I was cold and wet and almost exclusively just wanted to be home already, but on the other hand I have never smelled anything quite so perfect.

Monday, December 13, 2010

It seems that in the depths our only options are to grow bigger eyes or to lose them altogether.

I think about eyes a lot, how we evolved ourselves into them and all of the avenues we can go down to evolve our way back out of them. How we see differently after each eclipse and Venus transit, and how we can't see our own glow but our old friend the mantis shrimp probably can. Just because of what is going on inside each of our own eyeballs, whatever kind of magic had to happen to get us from no eyes to these eyes.

And the changes, too. From the crystal eyes of the trilobites to here, and whatever happens next. Like that spider who can see at night not because its eyes are made of mirrors but because it grows a whole new skin of cells on each eye every night that gets destroyed by dawn. So much responsibility for something so little.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Someone gave me my first advent calendar this month, and now I finally understand the appeal. It's filled with candy, after all, and it looks so jaunty with my pink sparkly Christmas tree.

It is the end of the quarter and I am sick, like clockwork, which I sort of feel is just the price of a life lived at this pace. There are so many people around all the time, and lately so many of them seem to want to be touching me, so some of them are almost certainly covered with germs. It's just a numbers thing. (Dear people of Seattle: please stop touching me. I am not a puppy.)

I am spending the holiday at home this year, and taking the week after it off as well, and so I am laying in supplies. Cookbooks and Watership Down and stories about ethnobotanists discovering zombies, documentaries, sweaters. Tiny pink Christmas tree. Quiet, and still, and hopefully snowing.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

As soon as it gets dark I think that every bright star is the North Star, every constellation a dipper. The night that we went to look at space I learned that I have precisely no idea where the North Star is, in awe of the woman who, without even stopping to consider, could point unerringly to anything in the sky with her magic green laser and tell us the story of it. It's lucky that I don't have to navigate anywhere, since each evening I am positive that any number of wrong stars are the right one, and I would likely lead us off the edge of the map were I behind the wheel. Heading toward Ultima Thule is only an adventure if you're planning on going there; otherwise, you're only teetering dangerously on the edges of cliffs you don't even know are there.

I could point at the sky and tell you the story of whatever is up there too, of course, but it would be the wrong story for the wrong sky.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The voodoo museum was small and dim and softly creepy, a rougarou propped up between a jumbled pile of crosses and a dusty case filled with potential fillings for a gris-gris. I don't not believe in voodoo, so I left an offering to Papa Legba by the door, in case he felt like opening up communication with anyone else. So hopefully something was paying attention when I wrapped an offering in a wish and knocked nine times on the wishing stump. I can use all the help I can get.

In the graveyard I left behind my tooth-shaped rock and wandered dizzily through the tombs, wondering at all of the monuments that have lost their names. Nothing is sadder than an unmarked grave.

And then there are the other parts, sitting in a bar in the middle of the night barely needing a cardigan, sipping drinks while the sound of a tuba wafts through the open door from somewhere. Battling a stiff wind in search of doors that ended up locked, sharing a taxicab with friendly strangers, fantasizing about a new life filled with cast iron and blues and gumbo, the same old gulf smells mixed with new ones.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

I have trouble teasing it all apart. Smoothing a slip over thighs encased in tights and the lost vistas of the Terra Nova expedition. A hopeful rumor that steadfastly refuses to resolve itself and a treacherous journey down an iced staircase late in a smoky frozen night. Wandering alone for miles, spirals of metal strapped to my feet, watching the chill glimmer open up as far ahead as I can see even though the sidewalk under my feet is covered with something the soft gritty consistency of the sand I knew growing up on beaches. The feeling of snow on my fingers, shockingly cold, because snow in my head is still the neutral confetti of my childhood malls.

I am sure of less and less the longer time goes on, but a thing I do know for sure is that I am terribly thankful about how even though in some ways my family keeps getting sadly smaller, in other ways only grows larger and larger. How in this life we need never lack for love, and friends, for ill-conceived shenanigans and general hilarity.

Happy Thanksgiving, friends! Enjoy your turkeys and turkey substitutes.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

It's lucky that I live in walking distance of my office, because the commutes were hopelessly snarled last night. The wind kicked up snow to scour my face and nearly knocked me off my feet, but that's nothing compared to trapped for hours in cars and buses, abandoning them and walking home.

A friend got snowed in with me, and this morning we bundled up and took a walk around the neighborhood, marveling at the truck on its side down the street and all of the cars abandoned all strewn across the hills. It's still too cold for anything to melt, but the remnants of my garden are wilting. And in the meantime, the city glitters everywhere, looking covered in the fake snow I remember from growing up in Florida.

Tomorrow, I am heading to New Orleans, where it is currently 80 and sunny.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Hearts don't really understand hiatus, is the thing, stretching to include whatever they come up again, like the tree that snatched up the antlers of a deer and grew tall, making branches out of what previously belonged to the ground. The way we move so quickly through space, all fire and heat, just means that we bump up against more and more and faster. Leaving and taking, until we're maybe not even made up anymore of what we started out with.

Sometimes during a pause in the crackle and whirl I can hear Chamfort just beneath my ribs, tired out with this world where the heart must either break or become hard as bronze. Like text sewn into the lining of a jacket, and only the person who put it there knows what it says.

In England they found spiderwebs from 140 million years ago, perfectly preserved in amber. The thinnest threads, somehow hardened and kept secret forever.

Monday, November 15, 2010

There are mornings--cool, misty mornings, when everything is hidden in fog--when I suspect that the only real way to know anything is to quit everything and devote myself to learning about lichen.

Lichen are maps for everything, everywhere--time and moisture and change and pollution. They grow on plants without eating them and on rocks where there's no soil and little air, and they can survive unprotected in space. Lichen thrive on mysteries. If we asked them to, lichen could probably tell us everything.

A while ago it was suggested that the rocks that rove in Death Valley each move for different reasons; that there are so many microclimates in that desert that no explanation is going to cover everything. As though there could even be an explanation for rocks that move as fast as people and yet haven't ever been observed budging an inch--which, in its own way, is very comforting. Still, maybe the lichen know why.

Yesterday I crouched on my balcony, clearing the debris from my garden to prepare the soil for winter sleeping, while a hummingbird sat on the top of the tree across from me and shouted at me for being too close to the feeder. I posed no threat to him, but there was no way he could have known that, and in the meantime there was the dry dirt on my hands and the spicy smell of pea vines and broken tomato branches. For just that time, everything went still enough that even the mysteries were at rest.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

I have some questions about our perspective, in the way that we were looking for the caldera at Yellowstone only to learn that we couldn't see it because we were standing inside it, and the only way to know where it was turned out to be from above. How there's never a time when we're not in the forest, even if we can only see one tree at a time.

If the economics of our brains require that we're always finding a pattern, maybe the trick is to look for the patterns that come next. The ones that we notice first seem to lead us in the same circles, which is useful, certainly, but not valuable.

More to the point, I suppose, is that I've been thinking about the Cadillac in the Attic again, about saying yes to whatever comes up for the meaning and for the pleasure, and never mind interpreting the runes that my footsteps leave behind. Getting all Emma Bovary, the way that fits best in the fall.

Or I guess, in the way that the inside of my head is always poems even if I'm talking science, feeling like the inside of Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle, which has somehow in the last few years become like an old friend. "During that summer--/Which may never have been at all;/But which has become more real" and "It was a summer of limitless bites/ Of hungers quickly felt /And quickly forgotten/With the next careless gorging."

"The bites are fewer now./ Each one is savored lingeringly, /Swallowed reluctantly."

Thursday, November 04, 2010

I fell this morning on my way into the office, full length on the floor of the lobby. Since it's a school day I was carrying my bag of heavy books--being close to the same size as my bag has been getting me in trouble for pretty much my whole life--and I landed hardest on that side, on that hand and knee. My bag hit the ground and almost everything stayed inside, except from somewhere in the depths of the bag came a penny, which rolled out and landed, heads down, a few feet away.

I'm pretty sure gravity is out to get me.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Me and my granddad

This second anniversary of my granddad's death might have been even worst than the first one, if only because it's compounded by the additional loss of my grandma this year--the sure knowledge that in some ways my world is only going to get emptier and emptier.

Last Christmas, PZ Meyers wrote a thing that stuck with me, that I think about whenever I miss them, which is often:

One of the lies we always tell ourselves is that the pain will go away with time, that we'll get over it, that time heals all wounds, and it's not true. Every loss is forever raw, and we can feel it all again with just a thought or a reminder, like a Christmas phone call to the family. The older you get, the more of these moments of grief you accumulate, and they never leave you....Grief can grow, but so can joy. We can find delight and contentment in moments that balance the grief, without detracting from the honor we give the dead, and those moments also accumulate and never diminish in the happiness they bring to us. I can remember the good times I had with my dad, and the good times I've had with my children, and can look forward to a future of fulfilling cheerfulness with friends and family — this is how we cope. We embrace both the sorrow and the joy, letting neither reduce the other, and fill up our lives with everything. Hail and farewell, goodbye and greetings.

So it's the other things I'm looking at, the places that are filled with joy. Being an elephant and hanging out with Lloyd Dobler, the little guy dressed as a very serious chicken and joining us for his first brunch. (He was very much in favor of sucking on a spoon that had been used to stir coffee.) All of the fun holidays coming up, the promise of a winter filled with snow, carrying an umbrella with the solar system just above me. Sometimes, the only way out is through.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Truly, there is neither problem nor trouble, not in any real sense, but if there were it would likely be housed somewhere in our amyclaean silence, in our refusal to mention the holes in our defenses until it's almost too late. Maybe we should mention the arrival of the Spartans when we notice them lurking around our walls, instead of waiting until they've invited themselves over for dinner and pillaging. As an experiment.

We all already know that I'm incapable of even having a hand without showing it to everyone, but there's got to be a middle ground somewhere. Periander, one of the Seven Sages of Greece, concealed his burial spot through a remarkable trail of carnage, hiring two men to kill him and then four to kill those two, and then another bunch to find and kill those four. The plan worked, in that we still don't know where Periander was buried, but I'm just not sure that all of the mayhem and baroque planning is the way to go about getting anything done. If Periander hadn't been such a jerk his whole life, he probably could have just found a faithful friend or two that would divert a river over his grave and then take the secret to their own final resting places. Not to belabor my point.

Somewhere between Periander and putting all of my cards on billboards, I think. Figuring out the moral instead of writing out instructions. In all of that space in the middle there, there has to be a reasonable place to settle.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

I think that we've probably taken our farming metaphors too far, that we've moved from sowing seeds to slaughtering lambs, and really our whole economy is wrapped up in vending those tiny lamb pieces even though we've convinced ourselves that our worth is just measured in wheat and cotton and soybeans. But if we planted ourselves in our fields, I don't think we'd be so fond of what we'd sprout.

But then there are things in the world like that salt mine in Poland, with a cathedral and statues and chandeliers carved out of salt. All of those miners down there over all of those years, coaxing shapes from the walls because it wasn't as though they were doing anything else. Just, you know, farming table salt for a few hundred years. All of this under our feet that the planet--the same one with the supervolcanoes and intraplate earthquakes--has arranged for. To keep us guessing, I suppose, in the way that everything that's already big just gets bigger until it turns out to be so small you could fit it in your pocket.

If, as I fear, my bones really are made of cement and the only roads that I won't sink into are the hard ones, then maybe I should plan a trip to the Valley of Flowers. You know? To sink into the soil someplace beautiful, plant myself somewhere hard to find. Become a statue, or a signpost, or a warning.

Friday, October 22, 2010

On Wednesday a lady walked up to me while I was waiting for a bus. She didn't look crazy, so you can imagine my surprise when she squinted at me for a couple of minutes and then, nodding, let me know that it's lucky I'm so thin, because otherwise the skirt I was wearing would make me look like a fat pregnant lady. Her civic duty apparently done, she kept walking down the block. The woman standing next to me caught my eye, and the only thing to do was laugh.

Morale around here has been low lately, and I notice that this is when my list of irrational fears is the loudest. All of the rational ones, too. Supervolcanoes and intraplate earthquakes and how the ground is basically waiting to explode and then swallow us up all the time, even when it seems like it shouldn't. After all, it isn't as though it hasn't all happened before. The planet is hostile, if more friendly that all of the alternatives.

It's the thinking around it that makes me so tired, to the clear spaces where gravity never fails but also doesn't hang quite so heavy on the shoulders.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Spiders need breakfast too

Sometimes...sometimes I get distracted by the misdirection, rolling hearts between our fingers like marbles, absently, eyes elsewhere. Not even noticing all of the juggling we could be doing, if we knew how.

Sometimes the nights smell of lavender and jasmine and brine, of the undersides of newly fallen leaves, sweetly rotting moldy things and bourbon and fire. And maybe that's when the moon leans in close to watch, I can't be sure, but I'm pretty certain that even still the only thing left to do then is stand very still and wait. For whatever happens next, or doesn't.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

So, I never learned my times tables. I've been faking it my whole life, and then recently a friend who is a teacher mentioned being appalled that her students didn't know their times tables, and it felt like the time to come clean. I still count everything on my fingers, or on little dots made next to the number I'm trying to multiply. I know most of the fives, and a bunch of the threes because of Schoolhouse Rock. (Well, mostly because of the Blind Melon cover, if I'm being perfectly honest.) The rest is just a total mystery.

The school I started at believed less in math and science and more in praying and coloring, and when I switched to a public school in the middle of second grade they were already on division. Since asking for help might just make me burst into flames--you never know--I didn't mention it to anyone. And then not knowing how to multiply just got to be embarrassing, so I continued to not mention it. Still, multiplying is a thing that comes up all the time, and I'm starting to think that my times tables might be a useful thing to learn. Memorizing them can't be more difficult than continuing to fake it for the rest of my life.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Just in case 10/10/10 actually is lucky, I'm glad that I spent part of it celebrating a wedding, all attractive people and funny speeches and happiness. I love weddings, and how there is a specific set of jokes that are only amusing at weddings, and watching families and friends all mixed up in one place and dancing.

Of course, after all of that is the part of leaving the wedding, alone in the unseasonably heavy rain with a pink umbrella and a black trench, because that part has to come some time. Anyway, it's more cinematic like that, all curls and contrast and a tiny girl on a wide empty street. And maybe that's its own kind of luck.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

You'll have to forgive me, but I have been researching bat fungus kind of accidentally for something related to school, and so I have bats and fungus and their particular relationship on the brain. (There is no connection between getting an MPA and learning a lot about bat fungus, but somehow this is not stopping me. Not that that surprises anyone.)

Anyway, the thing about this fungus is that it's creeping all over all of these hibernating bats in North America, colonizing their wings and throwing off the balance of what keeps them alive during the winter. They won't necessarily even realize it, instead just getting colder and colder and not waking up. Similar bats in Europe get the same thing, but it doesn't kill them.

They think that maybe the bats in Europe have had it longer and learned how to survive around it. And now it is here, and these bats have to learn to do the same. Though how one is supposed to learn to survive something that happens during sleep is anyone's guess. I suppose it's mostly a matter of waiting.

Monday, October 04, 2010


Our merry band of reprobates did Orcas right, with the weather on our side and all of that scenery just begging to be looked at. On Saturday morning a deer walked right up to our porch like it was going to ask for a cup of sugar, which is the closest I have ever been to a deer. On Saturday night we sat around the fire with cabin tea warming our hands and Vacation Josh making everyone laugh until they cried. In between, we wandered through the woods to some waterfalls, played some ping pong, and I managed to successfully catch not even one fish off of the dock. (It took me until I got to the dock with my fishing pole to realize that I have never caught a fish in my life and would have no idea what to do if I did. I mean, aside from shriek and probably drop my fishing pole in the water.) There were at least two impromptu dance parties, a couple of rounds of Celebrity, chili, and mimosas. Although I have no basis for comparison, I'm pretty sure that Orcas is my favorite of the islands.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

In some parts of the world, when a sunshower is happening, they say that there's a funfair in hell. Other places, it means that a witch is making butter or brushing her hair. Sometimes any number of different animals are getting married, or else the poor are, or perhaps a widow. The devil figures into it all pretty often as well. I find it interesting that an event that so often leads to a rainbow is mostly associated with something scary, how when given circumstances we can't explain our first instinct is to call it sinister. Perhaps that makes the eventual rainbow a more pleasant surprise.

I think sometimes about how shopworn these paths can get, how well-trampled even when covered with fresh leaves or baby ferns. How even the mantis shrimp must get tired sometimes of looking through its own complicated eyes in the same simple burrows.

I keep thinking that there are other lessons to learn from those crustaceans, something aside from seeing forward through time and mating for life. Something more about playing to our strengths, about ensuring that even if our strikes are less than direct our aftershocks will still communicate a point. About hiding in plain sight like that spider who looks like an ant carrying another ant.

Maybe the thing to learn from the mantis shrimp is somewhere in the sonoluminescence, in using sound in water to make light, creating a sinister impact to make our rainbows more pleasantly surprising. In the mantis it takes complicated instruments to notice their light, of course, but it takes five shrimp end to end to make one of me, so it could be slightly less complicated to make heat and light visible to the naked eye. If heat and light were the ultimate goal, no matter how they might dry the leaves and wilt the ferns.

Maybe our sunshowers aren't the worst thing about us.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

In a couple of weeks I'm going to go speak to a high school class about, oh, any number of things, but partly about how I got to where I am now. (Public speaking scares me nearly to tears, which is obviously why I'm doing it: if I'm not going to let a little thing like gravity defeat me, why do I continue to let myself do it? I am in charge, here.) So I've been thinking about it a bit, off and on since I agreed to do it. How did I get here, in this cool misty town, surrounded by science and whiskey and laughing and adventure? It's kind of a hokey thing to consider, but then, it's not like I've ever been one to stop doing something just because it's unbelievably cheesy. (The answer, by the way, is probably sheer stubbornness. I'm not particularly talented or outgoing, but I am very stubborn.)

Being teenagers, of course, it's more than likely that they will be not so interested in my personal journey and much more interested in things like glowing tumors and why I'm still single, but it probably isn't the worst idea to consider how I got here in order to help decide where to go next.

Friday, September 24, 2010

As is my custom, I have been reading up about the equinox and its cousin the equilux. I don't mind the shorter days, the dark and the rain and the mystery. We don't care much about the moon anymore, just one more thing cluttering up our sky, but I find it terribly interesting how for just a bit yesterday, for one fixed point, every person on earth was having the same experience. Even if they didn't notice. We all started a new season together, however the hours of actual light and dark were split. There are too many geographical artifacts scattered around for that sort of thing to matter anyway.

Coincidentally I was also reading just recently about the transit of Venus in 1761, when science decided it would up and collaborate and observe the transit from all over the world in order to determine the exact value of the astronomical unit. (I have been reading this, which has been unexpectedly delightful, if confusing to the old man on the bus who asked what I was reading about that was so funny and received "astrophysics" as a reply. I'm always accidentally alienating people with enthusiasm and nerdiness.) Venus transits happen in pairs eight years apart every hundred something years, and the timing worked out so that there wasn't a single one during the whole of the 1900's.

In 1761 and then again in 1769 a whole mess of scientists took off for their expeditions regardless of weather and geopolitical disputes, and as is always the case came to a conclusion that was less than precise, but better than what came before. Eventually we invented technology that just plain went to space and measured what needed measuring, which is certainly efficient but lacks the romance of exploration. I much prefer to think of all of these people in their lonely outcrops, staring at the sky or straining through instruments in the hopes of learning something new.

Venus transits the sun, after all, and we know that looking at it too long or finding it too suddenly burns the inside of our eyes and photochemically dents them. All of those people staring at all of those skies maybe changed that day, physically, even if they didn't know it, eyes altered in the same way. Different, then, from all of the people who had never lived in a time of a transit, and from all of the people who did but never knew to look up.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

My urban family doesn't stay put any better than I do, so next weekend we're going back to Orcas to count more animals and wear flannel and drink more cabin juice and maybe stage another dramatic reading or two of the guest book. (Cabin juice is an unlikely combination of hot tea, powdered cider mix, whiskey, and honey that manages to be delicious.) We all get the zugunruhe too, restless in our bones like birds and butterflies. I wouldn't mind returning to the islands every fall, all the cold water and tiny crabs. We've got all of this nature around, we might as well go and visit it sometimes. There are a lot of rocks out there that I haven't thrown into the water yet.

Thursday, September 16, 2010


There's nothing much between now and Thanksgiving--which I'll be spending, I think, in New Orleans, because why not--except work and school and cooking for one, so I'm trying to pack on good ideas and fond memories like bears in salmon season or layers of sweaters in the arctic. Filling refrigerators with balloons and throwing pebbles in the water and floating in the rain on Lake Union. I know these long weeks and these quiet empty evenings, and I know better than to think that they might not come around again. Just about everything is seasonal somehow. So I'm preparing, with my mustard cardigan and space umbrella and bag full of books. For whatever happens next.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


I was reading an article recently about how there are only a handful of quiet places left, areas where man-made noise doesn't happen for at least 15 minutes at a time, a few in the US and none left in Europe. How we've spread out and up and over, just bigger hive insects, soothed by our own buzzing--the sort of thing it's hard to even have feelings about, because quiet is at its best when it doesn't last for very long. And secretly, we know that.

On Sunday we took a walk maybe too far along the beach, the air all warm around our shoulders and the water cold around our ankles, and by the time we turned back a quick fog was already closing in. In almost no time at all every feature of the landscape was gone, and it was just us and the sand squeaking under our feet, the light all gray and hesitant. Whether there was noise or not I couldn't hear it, my own breathing too loud in my ears. And the next thing that could be called noise was inside the house, a gas fire and friends and the opening sounds of a beer can.

Sometimes I get a little too Emma Bovary--you know, "for her temperament was more sentimental than artistic, and what she was looking for was emotions, not scenery." Mistaking longing for need and different for better. But then it happens that at times, emotions and scenery are the same thing, and the best of all possible anything.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Because I can't stay put for more than three minutes at a time, I'm taking a long weekend to ride in an RV down to a house on the Oregon Coast. I have neither been in an RV nor to the Oregon Coast before, so obviously this will be an adventure. For so long most of my traveling was done on an airplane and alone, and while that's its own sort of fun I do dearly love piling into some kind of vehicle with my urban family and looking around somewhere new.

It's been something of a melancholy summer, in general and from the weather, and I'm looking forward to a new season. I've had fun, certainly, but it feels a lot like I'm treading water even though I'm trying very hard to swim. I'm sure things will change when they're good and ready, but I am getting mighty tired of being patient. So a few days by a windy beach, reading books and drinking whiskey and learning to play poker and maybe digging for clams, seems like a nice way to align myself in fall sort of ways. Sweaters and band photos and laughing and pies.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Finished tinysaur

I don't have the steadiest of hands, but I built a tiny dinosaur anyway, dipping each piece carefully in glue that never would stay where I wanted it to go.

When I built the ship in a bottle it was partly because everything outside was too big, and I needed something tiny to focus on, something smaller than me with pieces that would do what I wanted. They didn't, of course, and I ended up covered in cuts and punctures and paint, but it all turned out to be an apt metaphor for weathering life at that moment. It's a little wobbly and somewhat poorly constructed, but it's my ship in my bottle, and I'm always pleased with it.

I built the tinysaur on my couch in an afternoon, recovering from a weekend enveloped by love and hugs and singing and dancing. (You guys. There was a DANCE BATTLE at my birthday dance party, and I may never recover from how spectacular that was. I love a good dance battle.) For just this moment everything outside is just the right side, and though my hands are still unsteady, my heart is pretty even. I'm almost ready for whatever the fall might have in store, and my bright miniature dinosaur is fitting in just fine.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Today is my 28th birthday.

Ten years ago today I moved into my first dorm room, hauling things up the stairs with my family in the Florida heat to a room with no air conditioning. That dorm room was hot and haunted and full of ants and possibly the terminus for one of the many secret passages in the building. We had so much fun in there.

3,000 miles later, I'm still having a really good time. I'll spend tonight wearing a pretty dress in a bar I like with a lot of my favorite people. It's a pretty great life.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010


In a couple of weeks it will be six months since we lost my grandma, and Friday will be the first birthday I've had where she won't be calling and singing. Her voice has been gone for so long now.

The singing, you know, is just one more thing I didn't know I would miss until it was gone. It's remarkable how that list just keeps getting longer and longer. She really was a very remarkable lady. I was so lucky to have had her at all.

Monday, August 30, 2010

I guess it's ok looking

Of course, sometimes when you say yes to everything that might end up being fun, you also could end up sleeping on the ground in a tent, freezing fully dressed in a sleeping bag under two blankets, wanting to murder every crow ever invented and maybe also the sun. Having been camping twice now, I think I can say it is not the lifestyle for me. I never understood the point of camping in Florida, where everything wants to eat you, and I don't really understand it here where hypothermia sets in after dark. I like nature best when I can go to a place with walls after experiencing it. It seems like it would be really easy to be murdered through a tent wall. I mean, even easier than it is to be murdered all the rest of the time.

It's lucky, then, that it's pretty impossible to be miserable and awake when things are this beautiful and people are that funny. I'd never spent any time on Hood Canal before, and though it wasn't clam digging time there were a lot of tiny crabs to look at and rocks to throw and sausages to eat. When the tide came in the water was warm enough for wading, which was a nice surprise. While I would prefer to never ever have to sleep in a tent again, camping at Potlatch was definitely a mighty pretty way to kick off my birthday week.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

In Thailand a few hundred years ago someone made a giant Buddha out of gold. It's a good 10 feet tall and, as one might expect from something made out of solid gold, mighty heavy. When the Burmese invaded Thailand in the 1700's someone covered the statue in plaster and moved it to a shed outside a minor temple, at which point everyone forgot that it was there. All of that gold made into all of that statue, hiding in plain sight.

One day in the 1950's the monks in the temple tried to move it and dropped it in the mud, a bad omen that scared everyone away from the site, one that was only reinforced by the flooding storms that showed up shortly after. The next morning someone came creeping back in and noticed the cracks in the plaster and the real statue shining through from underneath. Which must have thrown a major wrench in the whole idea of the accident being bad luck, because if they hadn't dropped it this whole big treasure would have remained hidden and forgotten indefinitely, just this ugly heavy statue that no one was really sure what to do with.

Which, obviously, makes me wonder what else we're missing.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Having a policy of saying yes to just about any adventure that comes up means that some nights you find yourself on the deck of a converted fishing trawler, floating around Lake Union while a small orchestra plays something based on Little Red Riding Hood. Even though it's August and supposed to be summer it started to rain, but the universe had a reason for that, too. Because outside was nice enough, but if it had stayed clear I would never have ended up snugged down in the living space in the boat, a stranger on a bean bag propped against my shins and a cute guy playing a pedal steel over by the fireplace.

And it means that an afternoon learning about canning in a living room might just end up as a pizza party in a hotel penthouse, fuzzy with wine, an infant on the floor grinning and licking my hand like a cat, warm and funny and bigger than he was a week ago.

It's probably for the best that I never could have imagined living this life, because it's so much better as a surprise.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Oh, just looking at space...

The best thing about space is that, no matter how many stories we try to bracket it with, it's always going to be indifferent to us. Space is always going to be the biggest and the farthest. We're spoiled by fancy digital things and telescopes up in space that make us think that it's close and explainable, but that's really mostly a lie.

The way to the telescope is up a creaky winding wooden staircase. The telescope itself has been there for over 100 years, which is obviously the part I like best--how so many people for so long have looked at that sky. And how some parts of that sky are the same and some are different, and either way whatever is happening inside our eyes happened first in space long before. Through the telescope there was a star, faint and fuzzy and farther away that I can even fathom.

As the sky darkened we went to the parking lot to look through newer telescopes at the moon, bright and clear, so close we could almost touch it. Near the observatory we were given glasses and taught about how to tell an element by its spectrum, and that's when I learned that everything just might be made of rainbows. As though there was any doubt.

(Thanks for the tip, Steve! We would never have known that this was there without you.)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

If cryptozoology has taught us anything, it's that everyone else's imagination could turn out to have been making up something true. The screaming bird who shrieks in the nights in Sri Lanka turned out to be a very shy owl, and the oarfish was what turned out to be scaring sailors, creeping ribbon-like and sinister just under the surface of the water. Animals with two heads that hopped like frogs in the end were only kangaroos, and the only thing left related to a giraffe looks like a giraffe in the front and a zebra in the back. What we imagine is there turns out to be true just as often as it's not.

The other thing cryptozoology has taught us is that what is inside our head is generally significantly worse than anything nature can cook up. (With the exception of the honey badger. Those guys are legitimately pretty scary, although I am a fan of the African myth about how the honey badger and the pangolin each came to be, because pangolins are my favorite.) Which makes sense, in a way--if you're expecting the screaming in the woods to be an omen of impending doom, it would be a pretty big relief when it turns out to be only an owl with an unfortunate laugh.

Cryptozoologically speaking, Bigfoot probably doesn't understand why you keep refusing to go to the movies with him, and the Loch Ness Monster could really use some help keeping her floaties inflated.

Friday, August 13, 2010


The funny part is, I don't remember ever going fishing with my granddad. I remember fishing with my nana, half the family draped listlessly around a dock accidentally catching blue crabs and flip flops. And I remember going scalloping with my aunt and uncle and cousins, pointing out the scallops from the safety of my little boat tied to the side of the bigger one while my cousins dove for them.

It's hard to tell what the dates of these maps might be. On them, the Courtney Campbell Causeway is still called the Davis Causeway, which suggests that they're from sometime between when the bridge was built in 1934 and when it was renamed in 1948. One of them has the Gandy Bridge, which was opened in 1924, and it looks like it only has the one span, which was on its own until 1956. None of them have the Howard Frankland, which opened in 1959.

So maybe the maps of Old Tampa Bay are from somewhere between 1934 and 1948. (The maps of Crystal River and the Withlacoochee and other places inland and up are even harder to figure out.) But if you're making maps for fishermen, they don't much care what the bridges are called, just that they're there. So they might have kept printing them until at least 1956, and maybe as a novelty after. My granddad was born around 1935, so if they're from the early end of the spectrum they almost certainly didn't originally belong to him. It's all something of a mystery.

Ultimately, of course, the when of them doesn't matter. That they were his is the important part, and that they show a side of where we're from that was gone by the time I was there.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Aside from being the scariest thing you can do while fully clothed and hooked into a harness, trapezing puts some serious strain on one's laughing muscles and one's reaching muscles. I didn't even realize that there were muscles on my ribcage and in my armpits, but I sure am aware of it now. I use my laughing and my reaching muscles a lot.

These are also the muscles involved with getting out of bed, as though that isn't an excruciating enough experience already.

As of last night I have finished my journey through nonprofit law, which turned out to be a subject that ate up a lot of my life and made me very, very glad that I decided against going to law school. This means that there are six whole weeks before I have to pick my double life back up again. If going to grad school has done anything, it has made me very thankful for the weeks when all I have to do is work full time. I have a lot of park sitting and bbqing and dance partying to catch up on.

Sunday, August 08, 2010


We finally made good on the plan to take a trapeze class, which was a life list goal.

When we got there, they ran us through the plan--you climb up to the platform, lean out, grab the bar, and jump off. In the air, you take advantage of the tops of your swings to hook your knees over the bar, take them off, and backflip off down to the net. Nothing to it.

About halfway up the ladder, I realized that there was something significantly wrong. I made it to the platform, got myself all hooked in, turned to face the bar, and sure enough, something was wrong. I was a zillion feet in the air and about to lean out into space and then swing from a goddamn trapeze. This was all against the laws of physics and good common sense.

The instructor could tell that I was panicking. (It was probably the sweating and trembling and refusing to move that tipped him off, not to mention the mewling in despair and begging to be let down.) Another instructor climbed up, and between them they tried to coax me into grabbing the bar with just one hand. I could almost do that, but letting go with the other was beyond me. I have never been so scared in my life.

I eventually hopped off the platform and swung in the air a few times, and I would be lying if I told you that there was a rush of exhilaration then that made all of the rigmarole on the platform worth it. But I wasn't about to be defeated by space and physics and abject terror, so after a while I made my way back up the ladder. At the top I promised to leave the ladder in under 10 minutes this time around, and he said, "Well, at least you're up here, instead of at home on the couch, dying slowly." Sure, I thought, better to fall off the circus contraptions and break my neck and die all at once.

Although I never did get my legs up and over the bar--I don't actually have any muscles anywhere, so I lack the strength required to move even my weightless body--I did manage, by the fifth try, to backflip off the trapeze.

On the way out, the instructor congratulated me on doing a good job. I laughed at that, because he had after all been up there with me. But he hugged me and said, "Hey, you got back up there. Most people don't." Still, if I run away to join the circus, I think I'll stick with lion taming.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

I like the way we translate and re-maneuver, noting that the ice in this iceberg if melted could run the Nile for so many years, that the sand over here could fill this many Grand Canyons, that this many marmots standing on each others shoulders could go to the moon and back so many times. How everything could fit into everything else in unexpected ways, just to make sure we understand size and scale and monumental importance.

I like remembering the feeling in the Naples underground, threading through dark tunnels and caverns, cold and strewn with years and years of debris, and finding a tiny greenhouse growing plants with spotlights and the air's own humidity. Finding all of the forgotten places and growing new things in them.

This weekend our light turned hazy and red, making all of our movements slow and dreamy and soft. Fires from somewhere else staining our skies. I walked home, stepping carefully along sidewalks thick and slippery with fallen fruit. Plums, maybe, staining the sidewalks purple, warm to the touch and then staining fingertips. Everything just a little bit less than real.

Last night we would have seen the Northern Lights, if they had only leaned down a tiny bit further.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Maybe it doesn't surprise you, how often I think of Saturn, sitting surrounded by rings of ice, and how for so long we thought the rings were few in number but large. And how now we know that there are thousands, maybe, smaller, shaped and carved and pulled around by tiny moons, moons that we only recently had eyes to see but moons that have maybe been there longer than we have been here. And we'll keep sending stronger eyes into space and sharpening what it's possible to know about what there is, but also reminding ourselves of everything that we didn't know we were overlooking.

It takes a while to consider all of that when we are stuck down here with hearts of crystal, strapped to dynamite and mistaking the blinking of our detonators for heartbeats. I think sometimes that the force of our explosions might propel our hearts into space, that what is ringing Saturn is really each of us, cold and hard and tugged at by moons we've never even seen.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The trouble was that when we jumped out of the stars it was with the sun in our eyes, so we could really tell where we were going until we got there. And then we just had to make the best of it.

Recovering is easier in the summer, visiting other neighborhoods, sitting in parks and petting kittens on leashes. (Seatown, why are you suddenly bringing your cat with you everywhere?) Chatting with people I usually only wave to, corresponding in secret, starting dance parties and collecting mishaps in my fingertips and beautiful things in the backs of my eyes. I'm painting myself into wherever just because I'll have to wait for it to dry. I don't want you in my shopping cart quite yet, but I haven't lined it with spikes and tigers and razor wire either. Not yet.

Sometimes this sort of calm feels false, but for now I think I'm honestly bobbing on top like a little cork girl. I'm not too worried about how heavily I might be weighing on your aqueous humors. In the summer time, there's light enough for all of us.

Monday, July 26, 2010


When I started grad school I had to mostly give up going to see bands all the time, and a lot of the time I miss it. Festivals are their own whole other universe, but there is a very particular thrill involved in all of the running around and shooting a million pictures, pausing for a moment to realize that I was standing in a photo pit taking pictures of a band during the golden hour on the mainstage that was once a band that I first wrote about in 2007 after a free weekday show at a bar that has since closed and then reopened. A little bit of unearned pride in how far people have come and could go next, just in the time I've been watching.

Photos from the weekend are slowly going up here.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

I consider what you would think, coming across me buried to my knees in a field, scaring away the crows, smelling faintly like jasmine only later, in your memory. I think I would like the feeling of the soil warm around my shins, the sun darkening my freckles and scalding the soft pink of my scalp, the rustle of things growing around my toes. No need for explanations when your only companions are stillness and breezes and thin papery leaves, earthworms and the occasional wandering dragonfly. Perhaps the best way to become tall and strong is to plant ourselves in new soils and see what happens. It could be that I am actually a tree even though I have spent all of this time curled like a fern. We can't always be sure when our secrets are lies.

A few years ago a farmer cobbled together some pieces of fossils, and science called it an archaeoraptor, a missing link. The farmer had told people he found something they all wanted to believe in, hope in the dirt somewhere in China. Everyone got mad when it turned out to be a hoax, but I don't know if it was. Maybe the only way to find a missing link is to make it ourselves.

(Seattle, I'm coming out of retirement for the weekend to take Block Party pictures for these guys. Let's drink beers in the street.)

Monday, July 19, 2010

We keep inventing new ways to look inside and underneath and through, to make it easier to see what before couldn't be seen. Rocks and skins and bones and space. I'm just not sure we're always solving the right mysteries. Everything doesn't need to be made clear.

I'd rather you not see my bones, or any of the universes I keep under my skin. I'd rather we stick strictly to fresh cherries and mantis shrimp and champagne, the mechanics of catching an anteater by the tail, where in the park we plan to sit and lure friendly puppies. Maybe we should play to our strengths. Just for the summer.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The buttercups are mostly gone now, fallen to the lengthening afternoons and rising temperatures, taking back with them their poisons and their shine and their ways of telling the truth. In their places are dandelions, brightly incubating our wishes for the summer. Soon our skies will be full of them.

I keep hoping, you know, like an idiot. For whatever. An explanation or an olive branch or an apology or a carrier pigeon or an explosion. A time machine to last month. I'm not very easily won, but I am pretty easily won back, and I am finding it difficult to believe that it is so easy to disappear on a person. Some lessons I am unlikely to ever learn.

In my garden everything is blooming, falls of bold orange and yellow nasturtiums and climbing shy pink sweet peas, spikes and clumps of red geraniums, little yellow flowers and smaller blue ones. Everywhere I go lately seems to be with an escort of soft white butterflies, and I'll be hanging a hummingbird feeder just as soon as I can figure out how to get up that high. One of these mornings I hope to wake up and find bunnies and baby deer picking out my outfit for the day. All of this color and growing and newness is inexplicably calming. Still, I am ready for the breeze to be burdened with wishes.

If I'm not careful, my face is going to freeze like this.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Sometimes I am amazed by our hearts like holy grails, emptied and refilling against science and reason. Crying crumpled in a bathroom full of strangers and later planning 30 new adventures, cracked and leaking at the sight of a blanket bought out of the back of a truck but stretching to find room for new friends made in the late nights. All that time surrounded by laughter that coats your bones like a forcefield, strong and warm and heavy in the hands. All of this serendipity and these warm soft adventures, the jokes and the babies and the flowers and the long walks home.

If this is all, this would maybe be enough. This is more than most are allowed. I have to keep remembering that.

After all, it's only parts of my heart that are broken.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

The sad fact is that I was hooked like a largemouth bass, and no amount of distance, common sense, or shouting is going to easily change that.

You learn not to expect much, to avoid thinking about all of the things that should go without saying but somehow have just gone, shaking your head ruefully in your more exhausted moments about all the work of navigating what would be better were it just open road. I have never been good at being coy or mysterious, and I generally want to skip all of the nerves, all of the counting days and calculating hours, and head right to the high fives and open communication. (My way has its own faults, though, since along that path things quickly overwhelm and explode and burn down acres and acres of forest.) My instincts are terrible and without a map my sense of direction worse. And yet this time there were maps and signposts and declarative statements and when that happens, you know, you start to think that this is a path that is new and different and leads to somewhere interesting and worthwhile.

But it wasn't and it didn't. Maybe the maps were wrong or maybe they got left behind. I don't know, exactly, since the declarative statements dried up like a shallow pond and the path up and completely disappeared. Turns out, nothing is different.

You like to think, after all of this work, that you at least have changed. But all you are is that same china figure in that same bull shop, a little more cracked than before, still waiting.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Some of the nights when I'm not sleeping I re-read my grandfather's old Hardy Boys books. In my favorite one they have some trouble with some pirates disguised as smugglers. Which seems to be a pretty ridiculous cover--pirates disguised as smugglers disguised as people on boats. I recognize this thinking, in layers of bad ideas like Russian nesting dolls, figuring that it will all work out because enough bad ideas must cancel each other out.

This thinking never works, pirates disguised as smugglers, take it from me. It always gets uncovered by a couple of upstarts with too much money and an unlikely amount of luck.

I don't pretend to know how any of this works, why we treat each other the way that we do, how regard turns to disregard without even sending a memo. Some days it seems like that's all this is, just a series of people treating each other poorly because it never occurs to them to do otherwise. You know? Only uphill everywhere, bad ideas inside bad ideas.

But then in the late nights, when I have exhausted all of my recriminations for both myself and everyone else, I think about how it's 50 years this week since Atticus Finch told us all that courage is knowing you're going to lose even before you start and going ahead anyway. And how maybe all we're each doing right now is the best we can against the worst odds, even if most of the time our best isn't nearly good enough.

Monday, July 05, 2010

I waited until I got home to ask, because I knew the answer or lack of answer was going to make me cry, and if 2008 taught me anything it's that public crying is worse than any other kind because it's more real and it's impossible to deny. I had gambled big, and I was about to lose big. I could sense it. These are the risks.

So, fine. Everything was broken but there were still parties I had promised to go to, and I could be that girl. Wanted to be that girl--sparkly and shiny and hard, brittle and compelling and more charming than made sense. Just because I had stopped quite some time ago didn't mean that it wasn't easy enough to slip back into being that girl like into a dress too revealing to often wear. That girl did a lot more breaking than being broken, which seemed like the best idea going. It was so nice to see me, said my acquaintances. They'd missed me. As though I had been on a long trip instead of calming down slightly and honestly trying to be less of a jerk. Their smiles clinked against my skin.

But the next night at a wedding I couldn't do it any more. I could write a book on bucking up and smiling and faking "I'm fine" even though your heart is rattling hollowly behind your ribs, but I was spread just a little too thin, had wanted just a little too hard, had believed just a little too much. I love weddings, but they're a very specific kind of difficult, especially for the recently discarded--they allow plenty of time to think about how you accidentally ruined everything without even realizing it while all of the couples are up slow dancing together. And the world tends to look awfully narrow through the bottom of a champagne glass. If I am unlucky in love, though, I am also incredibly rich in friends, and they gave speeches and danced and told jokes and made faces, and even though my date passed out before the cake, at some point I found that my smile was almost no longer fake.

It isn't enough, not really, but it's good enough for now.

Friday, July 02, 2010

I'm pretty simple to figure out, you know, just this clown who went over Niagara Falls in a barrel because it seemed like a good idea and got my stupid clown shoes stuck in the rocks. Sheepish, I might ask you to fetch my red foam clown nose from where it is bobbing in the shallows. My flowerpot hat is probably full of water and already sunk. I won't drown, most likely, but I'll definitely spend a lot of time sputtering foolishly and cursing the waterfall for being so tempting.

Those electric blue butterflies you find in all the shadowboxes, the sparkling Blue Morpho, have tiny ears hidden on their wings, ears more complicated than moth ears--ears that can tell the difference between pitches, not just hear a sound and fly away. They don't know quite why a butterfly might need such advanced little ears, although it probably has something to do with the difference between a singing bird and an attacking bird, between resting and running away. But think of all the songs you could hear, as a butterfly with ears, moving so often and ranging so far, all of the winds moving through all of the stems, all of the gossip from all of the bugs. The different tones in shafts of sunlight at different times of day and the soft fall of the leaves. To be so beautiful and hear so much, spending all of your days sitting quiet on flowers and just listening.

I think I would have made a much better butterfly than I do a girl.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

I'm seeing thistles everywhere lately, climbing hills formerly lined in ivy but now guarded by thistles, rounding corners to find thistles looming, purple-topped and foreboding, thistles in every neighborhood garden and roundabout and curbside grass. Small thistles masquerading as clovers but secretly covered in spines. Thistles where formerly there was nothing. TMS says that it's a sign that the universe is listening to my oft-repeated mantra about thistles bearing unexpected figs, and that the only thing left to do now is to figure out what sign the universe is trying to send me.

Is it mocking me with all of these figless thistles everywhere I turn, or is it promising an abundance of upcoming rewards from all of the up again and at anothering? Have the thistles been reading my horoscope, which has been telling me for months that since Saturn has spent the last two and a half years teaching me lessons it's eventually going to start handing out presents for working so hard to become a better person through all of the death and sorrow and bad luck and failing and near misses and crying in cabs? (Dear Saturn, do you need my address? I could use a serious break.) Or are noxious weeds more interested in rain than sun and therefore faring better than the plants who are waiting for nicer weather?

Life being what it is (a total dick), the universe is probably mocking me, and a weed is probably just a weed. After all, the whole point of combining figs and thistles was originally about how good things don't come from false prophecies, even if Millay sure managed to extract a lot of brilliance out of all of those things.

Here, though, it's more about how thistles are related to asters and daisies, their sweeter, less rebellious cousins, and my irritating tendency to believe that somewhere behind the thorns there might always be flowers--that everything spiny and unforgiving might one day decide to relax and grow fruit. And though I am both very tired and very merry, as a rule, I am also lately plagued by thorns, and a little worried about what that might mean. This kingdom of metaphors always gives us answers, but not always the answers that we want.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

There was one man who officially survived both atomic bomb blasts in Japan, having his eardrums ruptured and his skin blasted in Hiroshima only to head back to Nagasaki and find himself surrounded by the same white light. A documentary a few years ago located a whole bunch more double survivors, but only the one was ever officially recognized. (I bet they gave him a really nice certificate.) He figured that since he could have died on either of those days, the rest of his time here just counted as a bonus, and he lived until just a few months ago.

So I mean, technically we could really survive anything, and each day after everything is basically a bonus. But that's an awful lot of responsibility to be carrying around with us. Especially since everything else is already so heavy.

I wanted to give you planets, plucked from among the more distant galaxies, but my arms are just so tired from the heft of trying so often and failing so hard. And planets spoil so quickly, much faster than you'd imagine that they would, wilting and expanding.

Late at night I couldn't sleep because the phone wasn't, hasn't been ringing, and somehow I started reading about cellular memory. It appeals to me, the idea that we keep parts of ourselves stashed in all of our cells instead of just in our brains, that someone with a transplant can develop ideas and habits and memories unrelated to the rest of themselves. Later, in my dream, I swapped our hearts while you were sleeping. You didn't notice the change, commenting only that colors seemed suddenly brighter and plums sweeter, but I missed my own uneven thump so I switched them back.

I don't think it was my heart you wanted, anyway, and I need it for surviving all of the anything awake. My heart is just as tired as my hands.

Monday, June 28, 2010

It's discouraging to start to summit a molehill only to find halfway up that you are actually on a mountain, and the ground and the top are equally far away and hostile. I'm not sure what business molehills have, hiding their mountains until it's too late to find somewhere safer, but there should have been a warning. A sign or an angry rhinoceros or 30 feet of razor wire. Something. Because now I'm stuck.

I think about those photos of insects covered in dew, sleeping and jeweled, turning back into plain old insects once they wake up and move, and how few who hadn't seen them transformed and sparkling would ever believe that they could be so beautiful. And the bowerbirds of Australia and New Guinea, amassing collections of beetle shells and flowers and fruit and arranging them carefully for hours, hoping that their combination of colors and objects is the right one. That one hypothetical golden frog left behind on the riverbanks of Panama, waving to no one at all. About how most of nature centers around the fact that almost no one gets to have what they want, but are still driven to try for it.

If I were smarter, I'd bring mountaineering gear with me whenever I left the house, ready to encounter frozen summits and hostile conditions around every corner, accepting that almost all surprises are unpleasant ones, that almost none of them come with warning signs or tiger pits or guards with machine guns. If I were smarter, I would have learned my lesson by now.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Sometimes I think of all of these love letters stacked unread in my fingertips, waiting, and I worry that they will end up forgotten under floorboards and behind walls, still unread. Discovered only later, maybe, by a generation who has never heard the beating of my little bird heart. Like the cactus I saw in the desert, holding their blooms for moths that might never come.

There's this documentary about making a documentary in the Amazon that I watch all the time, where a local tribesman pulls an anaconda out of a hole by its tail. They tell the camera that the point of doing this is to relocate the anaconda somewhere where it is less likely to eat a cameraman and get itself killed, but really I think the point is to watch a man pull a giant snake out of a hole by its tail. It seems that the anaconda emits a scent that makes it hard to miss, and I wonder about the people living in those jungles in all the years before the cameras came, learning that that smell meant snake and that it was possible--even desirable--to forcibly remove it from where it had hidden. Like pulling a rabbit out of a hat, if rabbits ate jaguars.

I think about those lost Amazon tribes living among the snakes, not knowing they were lost until strangers showed up to tell them that they had been found.

And I think about how we are all sometimes, a little bit, a lost Amazon tribe waiting to be found by someone intrepid and not even realizing it. Looking for explorers who know only how to mangle our languages and customs but would like to learn why we tip our poison darts with rainbows scraped only from the reddest of frogs, how we pull magic snakes from thin air, what the names of our constellations are. Lost and foreign, but not unknowable.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Salt flats

1.Laying on a deck chair in Arizona, propped up by an arm not my own, feeling the warmth of the day gathered liquid in my bones. Watching for shooting stars and not seeing them but also not caring much because I can feel them, too, in my bones, fizzing like champagne.

2. After a couple of days watching out the window I had seen the landscape open up unexpectedly into all manner of shapes--scrub grass and cactus and wide windy valleys, cloud shadows and canyons and trees. In lower Oregon, after careening around curves that left the whole of the road ahead a mystery the world out the window folded in a new way and spread apart to reveal cows threaded along the shoulder, ambling, forcing the car down to their speed. Close enough to touch.

3. Around us the world had started to look familiar again, tall trees and grey skies, my insides sinking out of vacation and back to real life. If I had blinked I would have missed it, but on the side of the road stood a small sign informing passers-by that they have just crossed the 45th parallel north, that they are at the halfway point between the equator and the north pole, and like a balloon with a cut string my brain is in both steamy jungles and the frozen north at once. I imagine another trip along that line, through Acquitaine and Lombardy to Croatia and Mongolia and back around to South Dakota and Oregon. All of the halfway places up here and then maybe after, all of the other halfway places.

Sunday, June 20, 2010


After 1,900 miles of road, we are home. Not one single scorpion or rattlesnake anywhere along the way, which turned out to be a little disappointing after all of the dire warnings from everyone and their brother. Also, the southwest doesn't seem to believe in roadside stands at all, which was kind of a shame because I believe very deeply in roadside stands.

It's always amazing to watch the landscape change, how Arizona fades into Utah which abruptly becomes Nevada. We have so much space that has so few people. A lot of our route was along two lane highways where it was possible to not see another car for an hour or more, just asphalt spooling out in front and behind and trees and clouds everywhere. I don't think I would like to be a long haul trucker, but I can definitely see the appeal.

Monday, June 14, 2010

On the way to North Carolina I flew through Chicago. Chicago was my first trip on an airplane as an adult, and turning into the airport the sky and the water were the exact same shade. This time was the same, and turning toward the airport I couldn't tell up from down.

A mile up in a different sky going home, we pass next to and sometimes over a huge storm, brutally beautiful, flickering brilliantly with lightning. For a few minutes the storm is all I can see and I watch it, flashing constantly, crackling audibly even from this distance. Once we fly past the end of it I can see inside the storm, the lightning illuminating pillars of clouds, and I think that this is something people were not meant to see.

We're leaving for the desert tomorrow, not bringing the computers, and having a plain old adventure. I'll be back sometime this weekend, probably sunburned, dusty, and relaxed.

Friday, June 11, 2010

A mile in the air and during the time when it is late at night across the country I woke up disoriented, crammed against the window. Outside the ground was dark but the sky was covered in stars, closer than I had ever noticed them. I wondered briefly if they were noticing us, too, and then the quiet weight of the stranger next to me shifted and the scarf covering my legs slipped and I lost most of the stars to a few stray wisps of clouds.

At the airport, a woman waited with a balloon and her camera trained on the doorway. She had been standing there some time, and so by the time I found my family and said hello and dumped my bag on one of my brothers she was shifting her weight from one foot to the other, clearly uncomfortable standing so long in her high brown wedges. We waited a while, to see who she thought was coming, but if they were in the airport they were slow to find the way out.

Later, we took a walk with the dogs, fireflies glinting in the hedges. Every few steps the breeze swept down a new gust of magnolias and everyone working in yards or sitting on porches waved when we walked past.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

On Sunday I went to visit Niko again, bringing his parents some dinner straight from Coolio's cookbook. He's reached the witching hour, which is a little misleading since it goes on for way more than an hour, but you can't blame the guy for being a little annoyed about how things work here in the outside world. (Although as a grownup, I'd be pretty stoked about sitting in a vibrating chair with a white noise bear on my head. I'll have to look into recreating that.) His little brain is disorganized, all of his little elves trying to file a whole world full of new information as quickly as possible, and it's making him a little grumpy.

Anyway, a trick from one of the books about babies is to wrap the little guy up tight, hold him on his side like a football, jiggle him a little, and shush loudly near his ear. When you do this his eyes get all round and his elves take a breather, and I would really like to find a way to incorporate that process into my own life. All of my relaxation techniques are coming from baby books from now on.

Friday, June 04, 2010

I'm starting to learn the differences. Between feelings and enthusiasm. Between running and leaving, between heads and hearts, between sunrise and sunset. Sometimes it takes me longer than average, but I almost always get there. I love maps, only I can never seem to find them for the places I really want to be. Maps of eyes instead of maps behind eyes. They're all differences that feel subtle but turn out to need bridges and rope swings and dirt bikes to navigate.

I wake up in the night and listen to the sounds, doors slamming and buses passing and those birds that never go to sleep, plotting in my head how future archaeologists would recreate this scene, these days. Because they are much more important to the future than any artifacts I might leave behind. All of these shoes are great, of course, but they are ultimately not the point.

But you know, even if they tried to recreate it, it wouldn't be quite right. Like those dioramas in the Museum of Natural History that you just know have slightly missed the point. They'd get the duvet and the clock right, but forget the birds. So I scribble maps to these times in my head, x marking the spot, repeating the directions over and over to myself until I know just how to get here again.

It all means more to me than it would to those future archaeologists, anyway.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

The mildly insane part of the trip I'm taking next week is that it is to go watch the older of my baby brothers graduate from high school, an event that is making me recall with alarm the shenanigans that we got up to during that summer after graduation. But you know, my siblings are so much younger than me that I don't really know what it's like to have siblings, and I am excited about the possibilities of having adult relationships with my brothers. I am also excited about how it's only a couple more years before I will have an ally (read: drinking buddy) at family gatherings.

About a day and a half after I get back from that is where the actual lunacy happens, because I will be flying down to Arizona and then driving back up with a boy I have only recently begun dating, and about whom I am obviously not going to say anything aside from to point out that this trip was his idea, which points to an encouraging commitment to adventure and/or slightly insane decision-making skills. I have been lucky enough to see a lot of the country out of car windows--up and down the east coast, diagonally from the Atlantic to the Pacific--but I have never seen the desert from anywhere. We're going up through Utah, which gave me space poisoning and cowboy poetry when I was there a few years ago, and then across the top of Nevada and up to Oregon and then home. Almost a week of not being at work, with great tunes and someone I like to smooch and the potential for some spectacular roadside stands, one sunburned arm, and a soft seersucker dress sticking crumpled to the small of my back. (Also: swimming in the Great Salt Lake with all the sea monkeys.) It could be a disaster, of course, but Magic 8-Ball says "outlook good".

All I need is air in the spare, friends.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

It has been two years now since I came back from Italy, and I find myself drifting into daydreams of other places, ranking where it is I would rather be, changing my imaginary plan and the places I want to see. Distantly, when I am done with grad school I want to spend a little while in Greece and then maybe Spain, but that is far from now. I want to carve out tiny pockets in the wall of all this time to go other places, to climb to the tops of new buildings and lean out far into unfamiliar winds, to sit in dim bars late into the night talking to strangers, sink my bones into unfamiliar soil. I don't know how so many people stay so firmly planted.

So I am making plans, friends, and that means that in just a few weeks I am going to see the Grand Canyon. It has always been on my list of places to go, but vaguely--it would be nice, and all, but who goes to Arizona? Turns out, I do.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The end of my first year of graduate school is rapidly approaching, which means that I am something close to halfway done. This looks like progress but still feels like the very beginning of things. Time has turned into a series of funhouse mirrors that I am very much on the wrong end of. I'm sure that at the end of all of this I will say that it seems like it started only yesterday, and if that happens someone should probably just go ahead and kick me. Hard.

There's quite a bit of traveling coming up, to the east coast and back and then down to the southwest and up--if you have been wondering to yourself whether or not I am doing anything mildly insane in the name of adventure soon, the answer is, as usual, yes--but first I have to get through the next couple of weeks. Turns out, these final papers aren't going to just write themselves.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Given an opportunity to have my genes looked at and analyzed and pinned to boards like butterflies I of course went for it. Our bones are mysteries that we can see like shadows, but our genes are as remote as space and I will takes the chances I am given to look both out and in.

It's reassuring to find out that my genes tell me things that I already know--that I am likely to have a heart that beats in 3/4 time and creaks now and again, that I have blue eyes, run poorly and with little coordination, am overly sensitive to pain and less likely than average to learn from my mistakes.When all of my puzzle pieces were fitting together even before I was a person, the universe was making for me these possibilities, leaving unlocked doors that would turn out to open without me even knowing.

We're still parsing genes, of course, and science is science but even it can't go very far. Sill, space is always coming closer and so are our insides, and it might not be too long before we're sure that we ourselves are where they meet in the middle.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Some people study zugunruhe, the urge in migratory animals to move. When they're trapped and unable to go anywhere we can watch them, notice the disruption in their sleeping habits and how anxious they get just around dusk, measure the changes in their endocrine controls and what it is in their bodies that tells them where to go and how to get there.

You can fake zugunruhe by simulating long days, tricking brains into thinking that time is moving in different ways inside than it is outside. Our brains don't know both at once, of course, so the trapped fakely long days are what's real, forever, or at least until they end. They think that the more days a creature is stricken with zugunruhe, the longer their habitual migration might be. You'll have the longing to move for many more days if you're going across the world or to the moon or all the way under the water than if you're just going downstate. For example.

For a long time they thought that only species with active migratory patterns felt the longing, the endocromatic urge to run until it's too dark to see, for days and weeks and months. But now they have started really looking, and have noticed the restlessness even in species that seem perfectly content to stay where they are. The feeling is just as precisely timed for these animals, too, but they have evolved to think around it and stay put. It's still there, though, somewhere, and if they ever need to move again their brains will remember how, and where to go. They can all get somewhere else, once they realize that they need to.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Sometimes life writes itself, but most often it wriggles in my hands like an impatient kitten wanting badly to be somewhere else. Which is a shame, really, because what we ought to be keeping closest is the afternoons sitting sun-drenched and laughing in favorite places, making outrageous plans that will never come to fruition because their appeal lies entirely in the planning. The time smiling and high fiving about adding a new member to our little community to bring up with love and laughter and outrageous plans. The waking up slowly, content, in a bright strange room slowly becoming familiar, listening to the songs from nearby church bells. This is what we fight through the everything else for.

Things tend to all go wrong, one after another, but every now and again they go right in the exact same way.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Honestly, what I could use right now is a vacation with a swim-up bar and for this baby to go ahead and get himself born so that I can snuggle his tiny face off and then commence with our very serious agenda of reading AA Milne poems together. I'm getting kind of tired of reciting "Buckingham Palace" to myself.

This morning between snooze alarms someone knocked at my front door, which is never good news, since good news sleeps between 2 and 8 AM. Sure enough, I stumbled groggily to the door and opened it to find my building manager in his bathrobe, standing in a lake that was suspiciously specific to my apartment. At some point during the six hours between when I went to sleep and just then, my water heater finally gave up the ghost.

Honestly, it's something of a relief. I had been waiting for the thing to go since my refrigerator gave up last year, all of the new appliances signaling that I have been living in the same place for perhaps too long. Not that I'm going anywhere, except eventually back home to see what in my apartment is seaworthy in case Lake Samantha sticks around for a little while. I've always wanted to stage my own pirate battle.

Friday, May 07, 2010

The thing is that I only know how to play my cards anywhere but close to my chest, handing them out to strangers instead, showing them to anyone who passes by, planting them in fields across three counties. Cards visible from space! Cards sewn into the lining of all of my clothes and craftily made into hearts to wear on my sleeves.

You would think that, after losing all of these decks of cards over all of these years, I would have learned how to be cautious. To figure out the intentions of the other players before I throw my hand in the air like confetti on new year's. You would think that, but you would be wrong. Head first is the only way I know how to run, no matter how many paper cuts, or where.

The real trouble is that I want to see all of your cards, too, but there's just no delicate way to ask without looking like I am cheating at this game, when the truth is that I don't even know the rules, and I am tired of cards. Tired of cards and rules and hearts and space and wondering and betting and losing and running.

One of these days, I will show you my cards and you will show me your cards, and then we will leave them on the table and go walking instead. One of these days.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

I think I went back to Florida partly looking for a story, for a narrative to tie together all of these threads that had suddenly been snipped. I hadn't expected to be so untethered, so frightfully lost, and so somewhere inside the folds of my brain I was sure that giving it all wrapping would make things make sense, would explain how I had ended up in this place without a path. Even if I had to force it a little.

When we were younger we wore mood rings, and our insides never matched the cool blue of their stones, so we would blow on them to heat them up. The effort of turning them red paradoxically cooled our rage for a moment, giving us time to take another breath before everything started up again. The thing about everything is that it always starts up again.

There aren't any stories, of course, which I really knew all along. Everything that throws us off the rails doesn't get to mean anything at all. I might not like it, but the act of looking diverted my panic enough that when I looked up again I realized I could figure out a way back. Not to where I thought I was going, maybe, but in the end somewhere is better than nowhere.

Monday, May 03, 2010

The buttercups started showing up this weekend, stretching gold through all the green, poisonous if too readily handled but sweet all the same. By next weekend my slow stroll home from Sunday brunch will be lined with them, sparkling invitingly, asking to be held to all manner of things in order to show the truth. If I could I would pickle a jar full of them to have in the silent winter months when yellow means nothing at all.

This morning I ate a tangerine too ripe to wait, falling brainlike from the peel before it was half gone, tumbling itself into sections around my hands. It was too sour to eat, maybe already past the point of ripeness, and it made the whole peeling experience suddenly somehow sinister. I am blaming all of this on the wind.

Friday, April 30, 2010

You could almost set your watch by the revolutions in my runaways, how as soon as the spring shows up somewhere under the clouds and behind this terrible wind all I want to do is run downhill and away, someplace new, into space. Adventure or misadventure, or both.

Soon it will be time for coming home at dawn soaked in sweat from dancing and laughing, shoes coated and sticky from liquor spilled down bare legs in crowded rooms and damp from running through unattended sprinklers, smelling of smoke from bonfires and tasting of bourbon. I think a lot about my apple tree, this time of year, and how in the first burst of spring it puts all of its effort into making flowers that are unlikely to be visited by the right sort of bees, only making leaves once the blooms have faded.

If it turns out I'm missing, it will be because I have tired of fighting the wind and have hopped on a tramp steamer bound for Argentina to start a new life learning the tango and making maracas and hunting crocodiles. Adventure and misadventure.

Monday, April 26, 2010

I'm thinking almost exclusively in boating metaphors, lately, all about ballast and tempests and ports, under the water and the nature of the sunrise, and the last three lines of Gregory Corso's "Leaky Lifeboat Boys." It tends to make one a bit seasick, of course, but on the other hand the world of boating is rife with the sort of forced metaphors that I so dearly love.

We knew all about boats once, or at least enough about them not to get swallowed by the waves, enough to find scallops for cooking and shallows for swimming. But then we moved away from the water and the sun and our stride slowly lost the soft rolling motion of the sea. I don't really know anything at all about boats anymore, although I still dream in heat and sand. Still, there is a certain kind of truth to be found in the tang of salt water and ropes of windblown hair, a truth forgotten over all these miles and lost under all these words.

But then, one that we might find again, remembering under trees and skies that are different but still softly similar.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Angry inchworm

I met this inchworm this weekend. He seemed friendly enough, inching along the picnic table, until we nudged him. Quick as anything he reared up, back legs anchored firmly and front legs splayed, looking for all the world like he would gladly chew our faces off with his angry little jaws.

I took notes. I'm not sure that this is a bad way to react to all of this in the unfortunately lately and now-and-again.