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.