Saturday, December 31, 2011

Oh, 2011.

I started you off kind of poorly and almost seriously injured so you and I, we only had up to go from there.

We had some bumps, still, along the way. I spent a lot of you quite sick with George Washington's germs,  and recovering from the buildup and subsequent disappointing collapse of my trip to Nicaragua. A lot of time spent being just plain tired. But then at the same time there were so many weddings and celebrations and dance parties, so much laughing all over New York and magic Orcas Island. I learned about shooting guns and circus skills and finishing graduate school, and December in particular has brought an incredible number of impending babies and marriages. I have done a lot of kissing and dancing and, as always, had a lot of fun.

So I don't know. You remember how this time last year I was thinking almost constantly about the ways to build a life worth valuing, on how to do more good and less harm. About all the fires that we walk through just to be able to look ourselves in the eye, and how these are really the only battles that matter. More and more I think about the Larkin poem I mentioned the other week, and about making ships in bottles out of more good things than we could fit back out the doorways. These are still my plans, you know--doing more good than harm, looking and seeing and remembering, holding on to the best parts of these adventures and learning from the rest. As though there was any other option.


Friday, December 30, 2011


In Switzerland the children are visited by Samichlaus, who shows up kind of whenever with a guy dressed in black named Schmutzli. The two of them knock on the door and check their big book of sins before giving the kids a little lecture on good behavior. They have to do penance by reciting a poem and promising to do better before Samichlaus will reach into his bag and hand over fruits and candy. This is secretly something I think about all December.

My flights home were some of the most harrowing yet, the sky thick with towers and pillars of clouds nearly the whole way along. I changed planes in Newark, and had to close the window shade against the unsettling sight of the solid expanse of thick grey clouds that we were sinking into, unable to shake the feeling that they had solidified and we would be trapped there forever. Landing in Seattle, the plane bounced so hard it nearly launched itself back into the sky again.

The perihelion is on the 5th, friends. Best to start baking cakes for the sun now.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

I'm heading back to North Carolina tonight to spend Christmas with my family. Flying alone at Christmas time is almost always the most invisible sort of flying, because I'm not generally very bustling. Everyone else is always juggling families and bags and frenzy. One of my favorite things about airports is how anonymous it is possible to be in them, and that is never more true than now.

My favorite thing about traveling at Christmas time is flying through the dark over towns covered in Christmas lights, twinkling up at me like festive constellations. All those towns I'll probably never go to, filled with all those people I'll probably never meet, having their lives without realizing my airplane is there. It's comforting.

I'll be spending the holiday hugging the dogs and annoying my brothers in the grand tradition of older sisters everywhere. And then coming home, which is always the best part of going away.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Hyak Sno-park

I went in search of snow this weekend. It still is a wonder to me that the mountains are so close, holding any number of secrets cupped in their valleys. We found a groomed trail covered in snow and strolled for miles. Down the road a bit skiers peppered the hillsides, and all around us everything glittered, so brilliant I had to close my eyes. I'm not what anyone would mistake as outdoorsy, but even still I had been craving the peace to be found in those trees. 

I think a lot about what all of those rocks and those trees have seen in all of these years, the time before people came and what has occurred after. All the scars we have left on them and the structures we have built to shore them up, whatever remains of the people that had passed through those vistas before me. More generally, I guess, I think a lot about the last line of that Larkin poem: "What will survive of us is love", and how we make that more visible than all of the scars.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

It's in between breaths that we disappear, thinning and fading and slipping, tethered only barely to nothing at all. Everywhere is always riddled with cracks, and it's easier to fall through than to not.

Equally easy, though, is falling in love with the soft whisper of a leaf brushing against your cheek in the chill sparkle of an early morning. So that's lucky. All of last week we were plagued by stagnant air, a hand pressing down on what is usually so light, reusing and poisoning and passing around. All foggy in the morning and brutally clear later, and no new breaths to be had for any of us. As though our lungs don't lay heavy enough in our chests, doing all the work of leaving and returning.

In the late nights I feel around the fist of my heart jumping wildly around in my chest, trying to dispel the fog with its own erratic rhythm. I'm almost sure that when I go transparent my heart hovers there in the air, waiting for me to come back. I almost always do, eventually.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

I remember when we learned about our light, the way we are always glowing even though our eyes haven't yet figured out how to see it.

In my head when I think about sonoluminescence I pronounce it with an m instead of an n, unconsciously. As though we are sleeping when we create light from sound, and maybe we are. The thing I like best about sonoluminescence (aside from how the mantis shrimp makes it happen with its hands like bullets) is that although we know how it works we still don't really know why. Maybe it's because of thermonuclear fusion, or vacuums in the middle of bubbles, or something we haven't even invented yet. Whatever the reason, I like to think of us shouting secrets under the water, telling them in just the perfect way to make them a stream of light arcing almost across oceans. Staying secrets, but so lovely that we don't really mind. And then when we wake up not even remembering, but feeling satisfied, columns of light still hidden under our skin.

Except the only problem is that we don't live in water, we live in space, and we can't see the glow coming from our skin. This I find harder to reconcile. Still, it makes sense given all of the troubles that we have. Just standing there far apart, made of poetry and bones, shining softly and shouting secrets that turn into nothing at all.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

This is my week of jury duty, which is I guess a pretty good literal representation of how the rest of everything goes, all the archipelagos of waiting, dim islands of something all surrounded by the milky swamps of not much at all. All of my pathways seem lost in the mud, the corpse candles as always leading in circles. I don't know why we always follow them, drawn without reason to their bright flash even though we know better, turning to look back once we leave the swamp and finding ourselves drawn back in. Maybe it's only that the lure of something different is stronger that the thought of something new.

At the end of an essay about forests John Muir talks about the hidden lairs of all the animals, nearby and yet as difficult to find as if they were in the sky. But I think that's true of the habitat of most of us, unknowable as the sky, hidden in unexpected corners and cracks. Sometimes that's a comfort, our hands like sieves since what's important is somewhere safe, our eyes filled with only new things. Mostly, though, I think it would do us best to unearth each molecule of everything and have a bonfire with it, all together. To start emptyhanded from the same place.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

On Saturday I will finish grad school, which as far as life list goals go is perhaps not the most romantic but is still kind of a big deal. It's been feeling a lot like an anticlimax, and this I believe is because two days after I finished my undergrad I moved 3,000 miles and started a whole new life. The week after this milestone, I have jury duty, which is not exactly another revolution. Not unusually, I am feeling restless.

I started down this road two and a half years ago because I had realized that this life of public service is the one I want, but I've been working for the same nonprofit for seven years now and that's a pretty limited view of the landscape. (Also, you know, I like to do things properly and officially, because I am secretly a little old man.) I needed new angles.

People keep asking me if it has been worth it, which is a valid question--I've invested a lot of time in the whole thing all while working a full time job, gone back into student loan debt, and written a whole lot of nonsensical papers about things like bat fungus and tax law. (Although, regrettably, not both at the same time.) Higher education is such a highly contested thing these days, with a lot of shallowly reasoned arguments on both sides. There are absolutely a lot of problems with the whole system, and my program itself is pretty deeply flawed, but even with all of that in mind it's always felt like the right thing for me to do. I am frustrated and exhausted and restless, but also a better and more thoughtful public servant. And that was really the goal all along.

Monday, November 28, 2011

West Beach

It's funny to me, how we came to this place on a whim three years ago, piling thirteen people into rooms built to hold twelve, letting all of the laughing blow all of the reds out from under my eyelids. And how in the time since it's become this beautiful anchor that rests just under my skin, one of my favorite places just a ferry ride away. It's funny, all of the places our hearts call home.

This time of year the lowest tide is well past dark, so it's possible to take your winter adventure boots and a flashlight and walk all the way out on soil that is usually hidden and cold and dark. Which is lucky, since that is almost always exactly the soil I want to see.

Monday, November 21, 2011

I went to the woods this weekend, just for a day, happy to wash the restless off of my bones for at least a moment. Lately I have been thinking about the Nietzscheism "We want to be poets of our life — first of all in the smallest most everyday matters." I suspect that it is my very need to construct all of this beauty and meaning with my own hands that makes it so frequently far away. I suspect, generally, that poetry is something the universe gives to you only when your hands are closed. I suspect that some things are just never going to come closer. Still, I think that the closest approximation often comes with movement and watching and finding tiny frozen mushrooms in trees, with looking at the oldest things with my newer eyes.

We're going to celebrate Thanksgiving on magic Orcas Island this year, my whole merry band of reprobates tumbled like puppies into the cabins for days on end. I know I said this last year, but it's still true that the thing I am most thankful about is that I find myself never lacking for love and friends and laughing, for ill-conceived shenanigans and hilarity and adventures. And sometimes, for poetry in the smallest most everyday matters.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Not too long ago I read an article that suggested that the reason the octopus is so smart is because it evolved out of its shell, and so suddenly became soft and free and able to explore. The sudden unmooring of the octopus from the bottom of everything gave it a chance to become all brain, to line its tentacles with tasting and its mouth with poison and its actual mind with all of our shapes. Maybe this is why they need three hearts. Sometimes that makes sense, but then mostly just the one seems so difficult to maintain.

Last night we were watching a documentary in which a man in a jungle climbed a giant tree to steal honey out from under bees with his bare hands. It took him more than an hour to get to the top of that tree, to hack into it and send down baskets of honey to his family. (Men of the Aka people reportedly spend more time with their families than any other known society, enough time to make defying thousands of bees a commonsense activity.) I like that story each time it's told, about pulling uncommon things from surprising nooks in the world with our hands, building layers of serendipity and hard work and magic.

The documentary didn't finish the story, pulling away with the man still standing in the tree, no clear way back to the ground. The way down is never as important as the struggle up.

Monday, November 14, 2011

It is time for planting paperwhites, for making something bloom in time for Christmas, all bright white in dim rooms. Paperwhites are related to daffodils, their perfume too strong to just be ghosts of spring's shouting yellow flowers, their bulbs and leaves still laced with poison. The stories say that the whole genus of narcissus stems from the youth who fell in love with his own reflection, but in the language of flowers a gift of paperwhites is a sign of hope, of a belief in the sweetness of the recipient. Paperwhites are the only members of narcissus that don't require a period of cold and dark to bloom, and perhaps this accounts for it.

If I could I would write messages with paperwhites under your windows. If I could, I would tell you all of my secrets with flowers.

I have been to the edges all alone, hands torn and ragged, talking in science and thinking in poems. The secret of ultima thule is that it is only blank space, that the world off the edges of our map is where nothing like monsters live. I would put my hands over the holes in you, give you the space to breathe and to heal, if only you couldn't see all the way through me already. I would throw your secrets off the edge of the map, over the cliffs I have already risked so much to see. At heart ultima thule is only the place beyond the borders of the known world, and so I think that the closer we walk toward it the farther away it always gets. I don't know if it's the distance or the height that causes a freezing that starts in my marrow and shatters my bones, but maybe it's only the freezing that will cause everything to mend again. Maybe the flowers to be found there will turn out to be the sweetest ones to harvest.

Saturday, November 12, 2011


The hummingbird and I have been doing a careful dance since we first noticed each other last year, recognizing perhaps in our advancing and retreating a certain set of similarities in the too-quick fluttering of our hearts and the frailty of our bones. The fortune teller in Italy told me that my spirit animal is probably the sparrow, tiny and drab and wallowing happily in the dust, but sometimes I wonder about hummingbirds. There's something familiar in how the energy they need to keep themselves alive is conversely what keeps them always so close to starvation. As though in the late nights they can probably hear their bones clattering together, too, all hollow and anxious.

It was comforting to have the hummingbird in the trees through the hard winter of last year, to have a focus on needs other than my own. In the summer it ranged farther away, not needing me anymore with all of the flowers to visit and neighbors to meet, but in the last few weeks it had become a constant visitor again. I have spent much of the same time camped in my apartment, finishing my thesis project, and we have slowly become more familiar.

This afternoon I took down the feeder to resupply it with liquid, and when I went back on to the balcony to hang it back up the hummingbird was hovering around the window boxes, searching for it. It moved just out of reach while I put everything back together and then moved right back in as soon as I stepped away. It seems we've come to some new understanding, the hummingbird and I.

Monday, November 07, 2011

I've been looking for fortunes in all of the dregs, drinking to the bottom of cups and rivers and oceans and eyes. Someone has to be hiding the future somewhere, I figure. In a teacup or an orange peel or something.

It's been nearly a year since I threw open the doors to Legba, wrapped up a wish with tribute to the voodoo queen and knocked nine times as instructed, looking for secrets in legends. They say that Legba stands at the crossroads, speaking all languages, deciding who gets to talk to the spirits. In some cultures under other names he can be tricky, dispensing destiny from a sack worn across one shoulder. I wonder what is at the bottom of Legba's cups, all the secrets in the smoke.

The wishing stump belonged to the voodoo queen Marie Laveau, although the question of whether it was the property of mother or daughter is still somewhat mysterious. They say that there were at one point many voodoo queens in New Orleans, but that the competition all faded away once Marie Laveau decided to be queen. She's queen still, and the inside of the stump is layered with wishes. In this way it is something of a comfort to think of my wish snugged down in there with all the rest, waiting for whatever happens next.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

My ants are slowly dying off, lying curled in the bottom of the tank. If they had behaved in the predicted ways the living ants would have brought the dead to the surface where I could have swept them out, the tank slowly emptying, the last ants wandering alone through once crowded tunnels. My ants have so far done everything backwards, and dealing with their dead is no different. Since there's no way for me to get to them without finding my fingers in the grip of those pincers I have left them there. Each day it becomes a little more disturbing, watching the living ants sleeping among the broken bodies of their fellows, at the bottom in a graveyard they built themselves.

From now on, I am sticking with sea monkeys.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

What I have learned is that the red in fall leaves comes from anthocyanins, which is possibly not news. It turns out that the anthocyanins work as a kind of sunscreen, protecting new leaves and autumn leaves from certain kinds of damage and stress. It seems that what they didn't realize until recently is that maybe the soil is sometimes to blame for all the red in the leaves, that trees in poor soil make more red in order to keep the leaves stuck on the trees long enough to store up enough food for the winter. All these trees are becoming vibrant in order to survive.

I don't know if I believe that the secret is all in the soil. Seems like the sky and the rain and the wind are probably involved too. Still, I wouldn't blame you if you started carrying nitrogen around in your pockets, ready to coax the most brilliant colors out wherever you travel.

Friday, October 28, 2011

My hummingbird has been showing up regularly again, now that the flowers are fading and my apartment is a major source of food, and I wonder about why it is that the zugunruhe seems to vibrate more consistently along my bones than it does along hers. If it's true that the length of the zugunruhe is supposed to correspond to the length of the instinctual migration, it worries me slightly that I seem to be constantly fighting the urge to move, restless and adventure-laden basically all the time. Seems to be baked into my bones.

I like to consider the Valley of Flowers, a nearly inaccessible national park sitting way up in the Himalayas. It's a place of incredible diversity, they say, partly just because it's so hard to get to that no one willing to travel there would be willing to damage what they see. It's the sort of place where the only real reason to visit is simply that it exists, to look at it and then leave again. The fight between hope and experience is daily so much work, and it helps that the Valley of Flowers exists. If only for its use as a metaphor, and an anchor.

But I've been thinking about constellations, about all the paths in the stories that ended with being placed in the heavens. It was a punishment just as often as it was a reward, sometimes both in the same story, but immortality is immortality. Even if you're being held up for your mistakes forever, it's still something to be able to always light the way. Maybe that should be the goal, rather than spending so much effort on the execution.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Probably the first sign was the disorder in my circus train, all of the lions having tea with the trapeze performers, the elephants holding up the lamps and the clowns serving cocktails. Garden variety mayhem. It was obviously only a matter of time until the ringmaster shaved off his mustache and shot himself out of a cannon. There's a certain inevitability in the chaos I grow around here.

I keep watching the video of the baby elephant learning how to use its trunk, just over and over and over again. It's a major appendage if you're an elephant, such a large part of how you interact with the world, but I guess you have to learn how to use it just as much as anything else. I was looking at pictures of elephant brains the other day, thinking about how complicated it must be to be an elephant, but I left trunks out of the equation altogether. Maybe you'd need an extra limb to deal with all that brain.

If I were to run away and join a circus, I think I would probably want to be an elephant.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

I think back to that lone Panamanian golden frog, waving to no one at all on a riverbank. The point of all the semaphore is that the water is too loud to hear anyone croaking, and so just because it maybe hopped off to run an errand one afternoon it is doomed to wave without answer. As though breathing through your skin might not be the most dangerous thing of all.

Anyway, it turns out that to your average Panamanian the sighting of one of those frogs is considered to be good luck, which is sort of a cruel joke given that all the rest of the survivors were scooped up and spirited away to a secret location. All that's left is that one hypothetical leftover frog, dispensing luck with all his might, friendly and waving and breathing through its skin. The secret is that its skin is also making a neurotoxin, because luck is a thing that should be seen and not touched. Maybe that's where the luck is, in coming so near the most toxic of frogs and living to tell, in wanting to hold it in the palm of your hand and yet refraining. Maybe they're just as lucky in captivity as they are next to cool green riverbanks, when the only option is to look instead of touch.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The only logical course of action, given an unbroken stretch of wet cement, is to avoid it completely. We know already that an expanse of pristine snow is always better than snow that we've stepped on, that the satisfying crunch of the ice under our feet doesn't usually cancel our how our steps are left behind us. Given the relative permanence of cement, better just to leave it all to the leaves and the roots and the raccoons.

I think about your fingerprints, you know, all the ways you are leaving them on all the faces and the hands and panes of glass. Cavalier, as though you have an unlimited supply, as though it doesn't worry you in the least that some day they may wear through. As though the most significant danger isn't simply that we will fade away altogether. I wonder if the largest challenge of wet cement is simply that we might fail to leave an imprint at all, no matter how hard we press, that even when approached thoughtfully permanence might be just beyond our reach.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

I understand the lure of Atalanta, running sure-footed and alone along paths and through time. Seems to me like being left on a mountain-top and raised by a bear would be an excuse, but probably not the reason. It's easier to enjoy running when no one's looking when no one is ever looking, hands full of wishes and eyes full of thoughts notwithstanding. I wonder about how clear those paths might be, Atalanta speeding down them in soft shoes and hair streaming behind. If this is the only way to become a warrior.

I was reading about Hinduism and tonsure, all of these pilgrims shaving their heads and sacrificing beauty and vanity in the name of a fresh start, and how when they leave all of the hair is gathered and sold to make artificial hair weaves. I know that sometimes the same process is used for humiliation and punishment, but as usual it's really the sacrifice that I'm interested in. I love the feel of sacrificing vanity to absently fuel vanity, the way all of what we give up in the hope of something better is so often taken from where we left it and turned into the opposite, the way we hide nettles just behind our roses and wonder why we come out of our runs all covered in welts. As though the only way to truly make a fresh start is without our skin altogether, only nerves and muscle and bones, speeding through time. Hands full of wishes and eyes full of thoughts.

Monday, October 10, 2011

In a box on the side of the road I found a quena, playing quietly. Maybe it was just the wind, wandering by, peering through the cracks in the box. More likely I think it was just that our bones play themselves, making music even when liberated from the confines of our skin. If our bones are flutes, maybe we don't need harmonicas for hands after all.

I've been thinking about the legend of the quena again lately, now that the rains are back and I can breathe again, about the Incan princess who never knew how long the memory of her bones might be around. I wonder about how the legend splits, how in half of the stories the forlorn lover is inspired by her memory to make the quena out of reeds and bamboo but how in the other half it is her bones themselves that form the instrument. And how the legends are equally split on whether he was driven mad by his loss or if making the quena was a perfectly logical act. In the way of most legends, the answer is almost certainly somewhere in the middle of it all, and yet nowhere near any of it.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

I can't even tell you how many things I am touching with palms lately, knuckles all sore from carrying these fists for all this time. Maybe it was the trees, sinking their calm and their quiet through my palms all summer while I was busy looking elsewhere. Maybe we've just followed the corpse candles all the way through to the other side of the swamp, and touching with palms is the reward for making it through the adventure almost entirely alive and intact. There are more swamps, of course, all laid out in a row and full of wolves and candy and shiny diamond monsters, but the point is that this one here has been crossed. The second rule of fairytales is to pause in your clearings whenever you find them, since there's no way back but forward. 

Thursday, September 29, 2011

I hear that in Haiti there are all of these gingerbread houses that survived the earthquake, left standing where everything else had been shaken to rubble. The houses are more than 100 years old and have largely fallen into disrepair, all fading wooden lace and ghosts. Now in the absence of anywhere else to go people are moving back into the gingerbread houses, rehabilitating them and re-imagining all the ways they can be used. Given that it's Haiti, I'm sure everyone will just live alongside the ghosts. Which is an outlook we would probably all do well to learn.

I have been reading a lot of John Muir lately, thanks in part to a really thoughtful birthday present. In one of his essays he talks about a valley with two skies, blue above and an unbroken carpet of gold below, both stretching as far as can be seen. Lately that's how all of these paths are looking, two skies and something lovely in every direction, all wrapped up in the soft approach of fall.

Monday, September 26, 2011

In the night I crept through quiet rooms, stopping to rearrange your strings, wanting to make this game of cats-cradle the easiest to win and lose. My hands are clumsy and my heart worse, and it's not really cheating if you're only stacking the deck a little bit. It's only that I've still just got enough iron under my skin for this one nail, so it would be a shame to let it all go to waste. There are so many things that can be fastened by so little.

The answer lies somewhere in those strings, wrapped around your heart thumping sweetly in your chest. I have every intention of creeping in as often as possible to move them around, to make more room for the winning hand. And if while I'm in there rearranging I happen to expose a tiny golden frog or untold treasures, well, that will just be one more good thing to add to the list.

If I were to come with a set of instructions, they would tell you to look for me in the maps without oceans, where the territory that falls off the edge is the same as what starts over again on the other side. They would point to my own heart and its uneven wobble, to the chambers all full of gold dust and candy. They would tell you to look for me, scattered, sown broadly across the land, becoming strong in the sun and the rain and torn backwards by the wind. Some assembly required, certainly, but perhaps not recommended.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Tomorrow I start my last quarter of graduate school, and if I had it to do over again I would definitely rethink the also working full time aspect of things. It must be easier to do one thing at a time, instead of all of the things at once. I'm feeling spread thin, and there already wasn't much of me to go around.

Still, it's funny to think back to the start of it all, to the summer of not overthinking and all of the ways things have not changed. I've made it almost all the way over this mountain, and still I don't quite know where these foothills lead. To somewhere better, I hope, or at least brighter.

During the summer that this all began I was also supposed to be writing a horror movie with a friend. I've still never seen a horror movie all the way through, and I also still haven't written one. Maybe the ends of all of my paths are covered in haze. Maybe they just don't have ends.

Friday, September 16, 2011

I started an ant farm last week--because this year I turned eight and started an ant farm and tap dancing lessons--and the main thing I have learned is that nature is even more inscrutable than I thought. I could chalk this up to the fact that these ants are living in space gel instead of dirt, but I feel like they would have responded in pretty much the same way. The very first thing those ants did as soon as I dumped them, chilly and hazy, into the tank, was to build themselves a tower. And even though they have since dedicated some time to constructing tunnels, they have devoted equally as much time trying to figure a way out.

This isn't a thing mentioned in any materials anywhere, how determined these ants might be with their giant jaws to chew their way through the rubber seal and then presumably through the plastic above it, and so I'm not really sure how to respond to it. For the moment I'm content to let them work it out on their own, but I worry that there will come a time not too far from now that they figure out how to break free, standing on each others tiny shoulders and eating their way out. Fortified by space gel, it'll probably only be a matter of moments after that that they will also eat their way through me.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

I have all of these secrets, all of these things to say that, honestly, will probably turn out to be untrue some time in the near future. No matter how true they are right now. I've been thinking up ways to preserve them and see if they keep. What if what's true now keeps being true? Stranger things have happened, I'm sure. Somewhere. Ghost ships might mean storms, but then they might also mean that the atmosphere has gone perfect for just a little while.

Anyway, what I want to do is write all of these secrets down and plant them next to something that flowers soft and small and sweet. If it grows with those words printed all over those petals, I'll know for sure. At least, as sure as I ever know anything.

But about those ghost ships and their atmosphere. I was reading about Fata Morgana the other day, the trickiest kind of mirage, where you could be seeing basically anything at all that's not actually there and believing that it's real. Over and over and over again, sometimes. Upside down and backwards all at once, and totally solid all the way through until you get there, which of course you never can. Because the atmosphere is tricky like that. This kind of thing caused all sorts of problems for explorers, naming mirages after people and mounting expeditions to find lands that don't actually exist no matter how real they look through your binoculars.

I'd be perfectly happy to go and check on what exactly it is that's just over the horizon, casting these reflections, if only it would stop slipping ever so slightly out of reach.

Friday, September 09, 2011

It was only after you proposed a new adventure that I paused, caught in the puzzlingly indestructible beam of your glance. And here I had thought it was just the sunlight filtering down through the trees, all this time. Had I turned just a moment later I might have crashed into that beam and smashed all the plates in my hand, never really understanding that what was getting in the way was only how you were looking at me. But I saw, and everything shifted, and it turned out there was adventure just in front of me where before I had only seen tables and chairs. In the usual way.

Last night I went to look at some Bierstadt paintings, glowing sweetly through all of the rooms. It's probably not surprising that my favorite was the one that turned out to be almost entirely imagined, a landscape based on what he thought rather than what he had actually seen.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Science speculates on what happened to the magnetic field of Mars, whether it was catastrophic or slow enough that no one noticed. Did a giant asteroid or two knock the heat flow in the middle out of commission? We know that it had a magnetic field once, and that without it it has ever since been systematically stripped of atmosphere and water and tiny televisions and shades of green, we just can't be sure what made it up and leave one day. I imagine that being a magnetic field is not particularly interesting, always guiding everything else and only staying put, and so I find it likely that it used the asteroids as an escape and is still out there somewhere, touring the universe.

The better story lies somewhere in what would happen if it came back.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

One of my favorite things lately is the bat billboard, a design for a bat habitat that doubles as a billboard, to give bats a space in urban areas and to study them, and to teach people about how bats aren't bad even if they are kind of alarming. While I do not like things that swoop I am pretty fond of bats, especially the ones that go to space, and I am very sorry about their troubles with that fungus that kills them in their sleep.Obviously, the best part of this project is the idea of translating what the bats are saying to each other, all these little bat stories that bats can't read over our cities. Bat secrets.

But then the other day I read Bradbury's The Veldt again, and I started thinking about all of the problems that could arise if all of the desires of bats were out there for all of us to see. How we would get so used to them talking about mosquitoes that we probably wouldn't notice when they started talking about us, and all the ways down from there.

Monday, August 29, 2011

I have been trying to discover the details of the painting that frightened me so last week, to no avail. In its own way this worries me more, almost enough that I am tempted to send one of my New York friends to the museum in search of it. How is it that in my overly-documented life I did not write any of this down? Something is amiss somewhere, and I'm idly worried that I'm imagining spooky paintings where no spooky paintings exist. This would hardly be a surprise.

As has historically been the case, my birthday is this weekend, and I am as always thinking too much. About how all of these days have slipped by so softly, about milestones missed not from a lack of trying but simply from a lack of succeeding. Feeling ever so slightly sorry for myself and softly blue. Aging doesn't bother me, but sometimes this lack of forward motion gets under my skin. Still, the fact that my main problem is essentially just that my waters are too calm means that there is no actual problem at all. To complain would seem ungrateful, and I am definitely not that--just spinning with all of this energy and nowhere to direct any of it. Making up spooky things that may not actually be there.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

At least one of my tomato plants is suffering from blossom-end rot this year, a sign I think of our unusual rollercoaster summer. The plants just don't know how to deal with drinking water when the temperature is moving in so many different directions.

I am home from vacation. I sat outside drinking sangria and watching the heat lightning and inside cozily ordering another glass of wine while outside it poured. I watched the guards in MOMA watching the people, and the guard by a Felix Gonzalez-Torres piece try hard to convince people in several languages to pick up and eat the candy. (Fun fact: Felix Gonzalez-Torres is one of my very favorite artists.) I was surprised by a spooky Hopper painting in a corner by an elevator, and I walked through Little Italy in a rainstorm, shoes and shins and the hem of my dress soaked but still without needing a sweater. I met a wild-haired Frenchman who I can only assume was an early birthday present from the universe (dear universe: thanks for that), and I looked and looked and looked at dinosaurs. I finally, finally went to the Cloisters, and I went with someone I have known for approximately 27 years. I did a lot of eating, a lot of watching, and a lot of laughing. These are all my favorite things.

Now it's time for the rest of the summer, and as long as the creek doesn't rise it might still be salvageable.

Monday, August 15, 2011

I had lunch with the little guy and his dad today. Monday afternoon lunch is always a sign of vacation and therefore a thing to be celebrated, but today was even more exciting because they officially announced the Habit Labs merger. I like how my friends do cool things, especially when they're things about making life better and more fun.

I'm going to go on vacation, look at some dinosaurs, do some serious lounging. Regain my perspective. Let's meet back here in a week, and get ready to spend the fall making life better and more fun.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Planning for my trip next week has almost exclusively involved watching the videos about the World's Largest Dinosaurs exhibit over and over again, debating about whether or not to spend two days at the museum, and organizing drinks in rooftop bars with very funny people. It's been a while since the last time New York and I were in love, and right now I am bored and restless in my bones. In the summer my angry robot always demands a change of scenery.

Last week I was watching a documentary about migration--two of my favorite things are butterflies and the zugunruhe--and they talked about how it takes three generations of monarchs to get from Mexico to Canada, but only one to get back home. They say that the information that tells the butterflies if they are aligned with the Earth's magnetic field is kept in their antennae, a chemical compass right on top of their little heads.

In my head is the story of a butterfly who just can't keep itself straight with the rest of the group, and it's only later that it finds out that its own antennae are aligned with a magnetic field somewhere else. Jupiter, probably, or even the lost field of Mars. Someplace further than it can get to but that it never quite stops trying to reach.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

It turns out that maritime law has all kinds of jargon for different kinds of wreck, a whole universe of nautical meanings for things I never thought to remember to check on. All different kinds of consequences for each of them.

So what I now know is that flotsam is what you find floating on the surface, the wreckage of the ship or what was inside. Jetsam is what you throw overboard in distress, all of the machinery and barrels of spare cows and bales of love letters that eventually either sink or wash ashore. Lagan is what you leave on the bottom of the ocean to be picked up later, when the storms have blown over or the ships have gotten bigger.

Obviously, for my purposes, it's the derelict that we're interested in, which could turn out to be all of the above--all of that which is on the bottom of the ocean but without hope of being reclaimed. Just another wreck. In the laws, it turns out that dereliction is at least initially all about intent--if the crew is abandoning something without planning to go back and find it later, it starts out as a wreck. In those cases it seems like the only redemption is in salvage, in finding what was abandoned and reclaiming it from the waters.

Maritime law gets poetic when it talks about salvage, maybe because salvage is less law and more suggestion. Still, in 1989 they amended the previous convention to include acts of attempted salvation with little chance of success, if what they're trying to save will otherwise be irreparably damaged. The conventions are all talking about compensation, of course, but I think that what is gained either way is still not quite the point.

Friday, July 29, 2011

I have been thinking about the Tennessee Williams poem Life Story, and about how summer seems to turn the volume up on everyone. How everyone seems to be shouting all the time. Something about right now makes me so tired, soft and worn through. I keep accidentally convincing myself of things that aren't true, imagining up a cataclysm just for something to do. Everything interesting seems to be hiding below sea level right now.

Mostly, I guess, I have been thinking about Henry Miller: "I got that way from sitting beside a mirror and watching people pass; there are no climaxes in life like in mirrors. People fall in and out of the picture and you don't have to touch them."

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

On Sunday I walked from my house to a party. (Resolved: This summer's drink is Thug Passion. See also: Tupac, although we've amended his recipe to one part Alize to three parts champagne.) The early afternoon was already warmer than I was comfortable with, so I meandered an extra half of a flat block rather than going straight up all of the hills and found, to my surprise, an elaborate hillside garden. Just sitting there all this time, only a little off to the side of my usual route. Riotous with color.

I tried to explain when I made it to the party, but there isn't really a way to talk about how you were just shooting through space as usual until you found yourself stopped dead by something beautiful hidden in plain sight again. Plain sight is where all the best things are hidden.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Another thing I have been doing lately is eating raspberries, raspberries so ripe that they bruise and break open at a touch, staining my fingertips and lips. I didn't realize that I like raspberries until a few weeks ago, or at least I couldn't remember why I thought I didn't like them. And anyway, my general strategy is to taste whatever is in season, since soon it won't be.

My favorite part is when they have burst gently on the inside, leaving a tiny pool of bright red in the hollow at the center. If I were just a little bit smaller, I would go swimming in there.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Flushed with our brilliance we installed a kissing gate at the entrance to the swamp. Only people and nothing else going in and out through that gate, we were sure. Forgetting about all the tiny things, the squirrels and the sparrows and the smaller monsters. All the scary things aren't only the ones we can see from far away.

I've been quietly having a lot of feelings over here lately, going to bachelorette parties and board meetings and home, hearing mostly bad news and even more often no news at all. Thinking in that way I have, simultaneously too much and not at all. The other day a stack of flotsam fell off my end table and revealed a star chart I picked up last year. August is coming around again soon, and I sat for a while and tried to decide if it would be accurate again this year, and if it would be better if it weren't. I could look up the answer, I suppose, but the answer is mostly beside the point. I'd use it for navigating anyway.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Earlier this week I woke to find the top half of a torso, all twisted like a jack-in-the-box, sitting on top of my dresser, waving its arms and wagging its head. I stared and stared at it, waiting for it to do the usual thing and resolve into shapes and voids and a regular case of nighttime crazybrain, but it refused. Just kept sitting there, waving, creepy.

Fortunately, it disappeared when I turned on the light. As unnerving as the thing was in the dark, it would have been seventeen million times weirder in the light.

I have been reading the letters of Henry Miller and Anais Nin. In one of the letters, during the early times when they mix love and books and before anything has had a chance to go wrong, she mentions the legend of the quena. Of all the tales that there are, one in which a person makes a flute from the leg bone of their dead loved one is maybe not the sweetest, but there is something about making music from such an unexpected place that makes sense. They say that the sound of the quena is sad, although probably not for the reasons we would expect.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Icebergs are like icebergs, we know for sure, but then so are people like icebergs. These are the waters I am unsure how to navigate, how to keep from crashing in to all the secrets we keep down in the cold and the dark. Good secrets and bad secrets, and all of them keeping quiet until a warmer current happens by and melts them a little.

The trouble with being icebergs is tripping over our own submerged outcroppings. That's the thing about ice, how it keeps everything locked up in layers and bulges. No matter how far forward we try to move, it's never quite far enough to get past what we're bringing along with us.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

I always forget how much I love fireworks until the hours leading up to them, but they're pretty much the greatest thing in the world. We threw a party and put it on the internet like total nerds, but as usual all the best parts are missing. And then I walked home through streets filled with merriment and alcohol and the husks of firecrackers, in an evening warm enough to not really need my jacket.

This is the best part of all of this--all the magic to be found in our skies.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

On Monday I volunteered at an event full of farmers, for an organization that is focused on protecting threatened farmland and sustainable farming practices. This is a thing I am interested in anyway, and since I am also interested in eating delicious food made by famous chefs and trying things I wouldn't normally do, these sorts of events are made for me. It's lucky for me that I know so many people who are committed to the realization of interesting ideas, and who are open to letting me help out sometimes. I like being helpful.

In any case, during dessert there was a panel that involved some farmers and a chef and their collaborators, and it struck me that the narrative behind how all of them got to this place was simply that one day they realized that strangers were making their essential decisions for them, and the only way to be sure of what they were putting in their bodies was to make it themselves, to create a network of people all working toward the same goal. And now that they have done all of this work, the question has become who will take it on next. How do we ensure that there will be new farmers ready when the old ones retire?

I spend a lot of time thinking about all of the things we are building, our webs and bridges and our vast empty spaces. What goes away, and how and where. It's good for me to be reminded sometimes that while I am thinking about these things like they were a TS Eliot poem there are people out there actually working on it, quietly burying their hands in the dirt and securing everything that is to come.

Friday, June 24, 2011

My trip in August is slowly collapsing, and I have been trying to navigate the decisions appropriately. I have a tendency to over commit to follow-through, to do what I have said even if it is no longer the best decision, to be true to my word even in the face of overwhelming conflicting evidence. And so I am trying to be thoughtful instead of stubborn, but it's all difficult and disappointing. Everything is always so hard--I need an intern, or a life coach, or maybe a personal shaman. A time machine. A puppy. Something.

We welcomed the summer this week by throwing out our usual routine and spending the solstice on a series of boats. It's a thing that people with sailboats do, I guess, racing around the lake and then tying their boats together in the middle and having a party. It's lucky that there's so much fun to be had while so many other things are crumbling, all the strangers to make friends with and hilarious dinghy rides to take. Life is a lot smarter than I am, even if it is also sort of a dick.

Monday, June 20, 2011

They say that cattle are colorblind, so it's not the shade of the cape you are waving that makes a bull mad but the fact of the waving at all. It's just us that need a signal for what is about to happen, that shortly there will be something dangerous. Otherwise we might miss all of the action.

I dawdled home yesterday in the waning parts of the afternoon, thinking about Stendhal and an article I read recently about a neurological basis for crystallization, how our brains re-wire themselves to find perfect what would otherwise be something less. I read a book last year that is basically how our creative actions predict what it turns out our brains already know and this seems to me to be obvious, how inside of our heads are universes that our bodies struggle to mimic. Often I get distracted by the every day and now and again, but sometimes alone in the soft evenings everything draws back enough for me to remember looking at the moon last summer, hanging like a jewel up there all this time. I talk a lot about the moon but that was the first time I slowed down enough to examine it rather than its motions and the ways that it draws on everything else. Everything changed then, lightly, turned just a little toward something new, and my brain reconfigured itself to recognize as beautiful something that had always just been there. Colorblind, or moonblind, or both.

Monday, June 13, 2011

In the kingdom of forced metaphors there are a few rules, depending on who is guarding the gates. Communication only through lemon juice and flames, new art only scrimshaw or made from wood found on wind-scoured beaches. Regular removal of the head that wears the crown. The usual things.

In Greek there is a phrase, "istories me arkoudes", that literally means "stories with bears" but translates more closely to the sort of narrative that is so wild it almost can't possibly be true. Those bears, though, they're everywhere, courting mayhem and raiding the honey pot. They're the ones behind all of this everything that can't be true and yet somehow is. Bears under the ice in Antarctica, going all lumpy and making everyone re-think how glaciology works, bears sunburning hands and hearts with a variety of different lamps. Bears everywhere.

Yesterday I sat at a table with a tiny two-and-a-half year old girl (although she tried to convince us that she was five) and a cup full of strawberries, much too adorable to possibly be real.

Monday, June 06, 2011

My airplane tickets are bought, and so I am officially going to Nicaragua for a couple of weeks this summer. Because it's a research trip--have I mentioned that I will be finally finished with graduate school this year?--most of my itinerary is already roughed out and full of meetings. There are a couple of days at the end of things where I plan on doing little more than sitting in hammocks and wandering around volcanoes in Granada. The difficulty with having a full-time job and a regular course load is that there is not a lot of time for relaxing, so I am looking forward to the whole thing. To using my brains instead of mostly just my patience, and making new friends. Running my eyes across whole new horizons.

It's a lot easier to be calm and wait for all of the things that may happen next when I have an adventure on the horizon. This, at least, is a thing I have some control over.

Friday, June 03, 2011

I spent so much of the winter listening for the funny shout of my hummingbird neighbor, listening closely to make sure it was still alive, that I have started to hear the hummingbirds scattered all over the city. It's funny because people tend to think that my feeder is a set piece, a pretty addition to my garden. They don't hear what I hear, a city laced with tiny grouchy jewels, hovering only long enough to be noticed and then darting away somewhere else. Turns out, they're everywhere. Miniature friends who flicker past for just a moment. I find this comforting.

Tomorrow I am chaperoning a high school prom. This is especially amusing since I couldn't even be bothered to go to my own prom. But I know some of these kids--I have spoken to their class, and some of them have written me very entertaining thank you notes--and so somehow I agreed to become a chaperone. I like nature documentaries, and this promises to be essentially the same thing.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

As the hurricanes in my hands downgrade to tropical storms I find myself touching more and more things with my palms. Not people, often. Not most of them. Still, all movement counts as forward.

This time last year I was planning a trip through the southwest and home, in that moment when it seemed like everything was changing before it all crashed back into the same old ruts. Before I went over Niagara Falls in my stupid clown shoes and barrel. I thought a lot in the late nights about how future archaeologists would stage those scenes then, sitting in the sun on my balcony with beers talking about trilobite quarries and the Grand Canyon. Speaking only in adventure and hope. One night last summer I was in an airplane that flew past the biggest storm I have ever seen, pillars of clouds and whole constellations of lightning, brutally beautiful and terrifying. If I could have I would have read all of our futures in those violent stars, in the lines and the booming noise and the violence. If I could have, I would have put that whole storm in my mouth.

Sometimes I like the feel of things in my hands: cups of coffee in the early afternoons of brunch, satisfyingly shaped apples. A few faces, the occasional high five. Most often, I find myself fitting my palms on trees when no one is looking and pushing wishes and good intentions into the bark and down to the roots. The trees will keep my secrets, their bark reassuringly rough at the base of my fingers, solid and silent and green. I'm doing my best to cultivate unexpected fruits wherever I go, to counteract my natural disasters.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

I read a story a week or so ago about three teenagers lost in the ocean for more than a month, in an unlikely boat and without food or water. It was exactly as planned out as you would expect, which is to say not at all--just three kids who got a little drunk and decided that it was time for an adventure. That they made it through is maybe not the biggest miracle, but it's definitely not the smallest.

More immediately, NASA tells us that it plans to stop listening for transmissions from the Mars rover Spirit tomorrow. I think about that rover more often than I care to admit, sunk into the soft sand in the middle of a crater all alone, a tiny point in that vast empty landscape. The other one is still up there, wandering up all of those hills and through all of those valleys. Sometimes I wonder if it will come across its twin, fixed and sculptural there, if it would even recognize it as another of its own. If the communication links that have broken down between the planets can work between robots. Or if it won't, and which would be worse.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Right now my garden is almost the exclusive property of mysteries. You would think that, given my obsessive attention to detail in almost all other arenas, each pot would be meticulously labeled and separated into sections so that I would know just what to be expecting and when. But somehow in the early spring I tend to disregard the possibility of plants from last year making a return and instead scatter seeds without regard across all of the exposed dirt, figuring that by the time I am ready to visit the farmer's market for new things to grow everything there will either be coming up or else never to be seen.

And so now we are in the days of revelation, where all manner of things are becoming green and tall, appearing each day unexpectedly somewhere new. I don't have any idea what is going to pop out of any of them. Is it the sentimental blue coming back, the sweet peas returning to climb delicately over everything, or the four o'clocks rubbing their leaves together in anticipation of seducing my shouty little humming bird friend again? Will I be growing a growling monster with diamonds for eyes or a cluster of elephants hanging by their trunks? A rainbow or a pot of gold or the secret to eternal happiness?

Each evening, I water my mysteries. I'm sure that they'll be beautiful when they bloom, but just now I like them better this way.

Friday, May 13, 2011

From what I understand about resonance, everything has a natural frequency at which it vibrates. Elephants and wizards and whatever else too, buzzing along all on its own. And somehow sometimes that thing might be moving through space and hit the same speed as its own, becoming incredibly flexible and then flying to pieces. They say that resonance is how our clocks keep time and so forth, but it seems to me like someone should have mentioned the dangers. With so many other possible ways to disintegrate, we might as well have some warning about the ones we can predict.

Essentially, what I understand about resonance is nothing. But if science is willing to admit the possibility of resonance disaster, I'm pretty sure I should be too. Catastrophic failure has a certain kind of ring to it.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

It probably wasn't the best idea to follow the corpse candles so deep into the swamps, but we paved the way by avoiding the wolves with such success. Breadcrumbs and broken shoes, and out the other side alive. Who's to say we couldn't do the same thing again? I only really wanted to feel that cool fire under my hand.

I dug all of those paths, even though they filled right back up with water, just for the sake of doing something. Progress, or at least the next best thing, and all the time being followed by trucks with no headlights and a hand on my calf. As usual, much too vulnerable. Anything for the sake of those flames, the green fire soft between my fingers.

The truth of the matter is, I will almost certainly follow that will-o'-the-wisp to whatever swamps and woods and canyons and deserts it chooses to traipse through. I'm not sure that "astray" is the same thing as "lost", and even if it is there are worse things to be.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

I've been carrying around all these wishes for you, just inside my eyes, in case you ever need them. The lucky thing about wishes is they don't go bad, but I am starting to think that they might go a little less, instead, a little softer. All of this time just sitting there, waiting for someone besides me to need them.

I have been reading a book about Haitian voodoo in which they discuss the components of the zombi poison. They grate the skull of a baby and an unrelated leg bone into the concoction, explaining dismissively that every good potion contains bones. The book goes on to discuss the pharmacological properties of the rest of the ingredients, but I think it's really the bones that are the important part. Bones are where we keep our secrets, and most of our magic.

But it's also true that I am filled with all of these spare wishes, all of these love letters, doing all of this looking, just in case. Because I don't know quite how to do anything else, and you never can be sure when any of these things will come in handy. Prepared to draw a soft shining net around whatever you might need hidden, holding everything safe in the creases of my palms.

When I think of all the time left to come I wonder about what will happen to all of these things, piled up in lovely sweet layers in all of my rooms, still waiting for someone to need them. If that's what the future dictates, it's lucky that each of them will keep. It's the secrets and magic inside my own bones that I worry about.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011


Friends, I have been back in San Francisco for the last few days.

My adventure started, as so many of my adventures do, with sitting at a bar talking to a drunk old man and then a second one about poetry and love. I don't know why they always come to me, but poetry and love are two of my favorite things to talk about anywhere, even in the middle of the afternoon in an airport bar.

I was there to celebrate a wedding, which is great because two more of my favorite things are celebrating and weddings. San Francisco itself clearly felt like this was a wedding worth celebrating, as it was sunny and warm the whole weekend. The bride was beautiful and everyone was happy, and I cannot wait until the next wedding. (There's another one in three months.)

The last time I was in San Francisco was very pleasant, with nice weather and great food and very funny people, but the city really stepped it up this time in the shenanigans and flattery departments. I did a lot of lounging and making friends with strangers, learned to meringue at 5 am, and nearly got kidnapped by a wandering band of partiers. I'm still not interested in moving there, but if the town was trying to convince me to visit more often, it definitely succeeded.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

What I think is that there is more room in my lungs than is taken up by the air that I am given, and that part of what makes me so restless with the now and then again is how shallow the breathing is. And how useless it is to look for new atmospheres if you haven't yet found the keys to the doors in front of them. How is one supposed to operate a battering ram without sufficient breath to even get up the hill?

In China one evening we got ourselves accidentally kidnapped by a friendly cab driver who drove us up into the hills outside of the city to the dining room of a tiny lady with a freezer full of truly disgusting popsicles. Later, when we returned to our cab to head back into the city, I couldn't help noticing the haze and the heat and the tiny lights of the town below wrapping their fingers around my arms, marking my skin with their fingerprints, the unexpectedness of the whole evening like surfacing in a pond.

There is a lot of room left under my skin for all of the things I haven't yet seen.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Something about spring is always just like moving under water, slow and pressed down by the weight of the oceans. I missed the woods last weekend, laid out under a weight of antibiotics and misery, which is a little bit too bad because I have been thinking about John Muir these days. But then I went to a park I haven't visited before, and had dinner on a rooftop overlooking my city, and heard some thrilling news about an impending new member of my urban family, and I thought about how I once read about him calling the whole universe an "infinite storm of beauty." Even under water, I'm still pretty sure that that's true.

I like Muir, and his commitment to perspective, never minding when people would come across him dangling over the edge of a waterfall or exploring what life is like for a tree, gaining the eyes of a prophet. It's comforting to know that his molecules are still around.

George Washington's are still here too, probably in the part of my throat that has been making life so difficult.

Friday, April 22, 2011

I'm pretty reliably always either coming down with or recovering from a cold, a side effect of spending so much time on public transit and having an immune system that's more a series of suggestions. A few weeks ago I came down with something spectacularly virulent even for me, a lingering sort of something disgusting that has left me listless and just plain tired out. I decided that three weeks of a sore throat was at least one week too many, especially since it had migrated to my ear, and so today the doctor confirmed: I am full of grossness.

I think about how that happened, how a sore throat crept into places it wasn't supposed to be and turned into a thing that maybe also killed George Washington. All the ways that we can be broken.

The better news is that of all the outcomes from being hit by a drunk driver that are possible, my friend turned out with one of the luckier ones, with a broken pelvis and some time to be spent on crutches, but otherwise alive and intact. Still, I'm going to the woods this weekend, and with the way things have been going I think I'll be trying extra hard to avoid things like bears and the edges of cliffs. Just in case.

Monday, April 18, 2011

A couple of weeks ago I read Graham Greene's Brighton Rock, and in it he describes a girl as looking "like one of the small gaudy statues in an ugly could pray to her but you couldn't expect an answer." It comes back to me at odd times, maybe because of all the things I believe in that's the sort I believe in the most--the dim voodoo wishing stumps and underground temples and stacks of buddha. All of the left behind places and the weatherbeaten statues. In Herculaneum I was amazed at how the ruins blended in with the town, broken and yet still so perfect, found only through a complicated series of small signs pointing the way through the streets. Seems to me that since everything comes through the way we least expect it, we might as well hedge our bets and believe in the underdog, in the small sad statues and poetry and flowers while the soil is still hard. Any answer is always a surprise.

A friend was hit by a drunk driver this weekend, cut out of the car all smashed, and though she will ultimately be ok I am still afraid to move for fear that something will notice how lucky we are. I keep telling my plants all about it, in hopes that they will filter out all of the worst case scenarios in the same way they filter out all of the pollution. It worries me how easily we can be broken.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

I'm planning a trip to Nicaragua in the summer, for some language immersion and policy research, and I'm preparing for it in the usual way. For no logical reason going to Central America is more intimidating than Italy or China were, and obviously my natural instincts for planning go a little bit out of control in the face of that much uncertainty. (It's especially ridiculous given that I'll actually only have a couple of unplanned days anyway.) Still, it's nice to be planning something again, since weekend jaunts don't really count, especially when none of them involve sharks and rhinoceros beetles.

Apparently Nicaraguans love a colloquialism as much as I do, so a friend has been trying to teach me some common ones. My favorite is about how there's more time than life. I think Nicaragua and I are going to get along just fine.

Friday, April 08, 2011

I'm not sure it's right to call some words "untranslatable" simply because we can't squish one word into an equally small space somewhere else, as though the number of letters involved is more important than the feeling of either. Like we shouldn't be as thoughtful to language as we ought to be while using it. It calms me to know that somewhere there is a word for everything that I am feeling. Likely even for that, recursive whorls of words about feelings about words. In a perfect world, at least.

But even if we knew them we couldn't remember them all, and so we enter these woods armed only with a handful of words and the faith of a child, believing that these are the tools that will get us through to the other side. Sometimes this looks like a path that leads straight to Chamfort, but in just the right light it appears that lightly and sweetly armed is truly the only way in.

I started my garden inside this year. Somehow the weeks left before everything comes up on its own just seemed too far.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

For weeks late at night I would sneak down to your river, carting away the water in furtive cupfuls, slowly revealing the layers of sediment and the quiet build of time. I wasn't sure quite what I was after, only that it was a secret that you maybe didn't know was there but that I wouldn't be allowed to see in the light. My heart thumped at each rustle in the trees and each time I dipped my cup in the water it ran around my knuckles and through my fingers, cool and clear and sweet.

But each morning I felt guilty for trying to peek and crept back down with my bottles of champagne, trying to bring the water level back up to where I had found it. In the sun the bubbles sparkled as they entered the current, and that seemed almost secret enough. And yet there I was, back again each night, slipping through the fence with my teacup, panning for needles in an invisible haystack.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

One of the stories I tell myself starts with a pangolin and a star-nosed mole who become friends through the walls of their exhibits. Pangolins are nocturnal but the moles, living mostly underground, are active day and night, and over time one mole discovered that it took great pleasure in explaining the daytime to the neighboring pangolin, the differences in sound and temperature and scent, all the nuances that it wouldn't have even thought to notice if it hadn't been asked to describe them. Zoos don't throw many mixers for the animals, so neither of them know that they are in a special exhibit for peculiar-looking creatures, or indeed that each is different from the other, which is the uncommon freedom that comes only from being born in captivity. But then one day there is an earthquake and their exhibits are torn open, and two creatures who have only ever known the dark and the damp step out into the light together.

Sometimes I think about all of the avenues for change, all of the forks in paths I didn't realize were there. All of the lives I'm not living, passed by and glimpsed through windows in the late nights. I never much liked Robert Frost, but I think of his Birches and how he interrupts himself from his reverie with facts before falling back into the story. If one must choose between a real ice storm and a story about a soft summer day, the choice seems obvious. Today my horoscope suggested that if I am wondering where my heart and brain are hiding it might be because they are on the other side of the world, discussing things together. Which makes as much sense as anything else. And it's true that the stories I tell to myself, alone in the late nights, are untouched by the cool chill of facts, which might not be the case down any of the others of those forks.

Truly, one could do worse than be a swinger of birches.

Friday, March 25, 2011

There's no need to hide a thing under floorboards when our skin is lined with all of these veins like tiny little mailboxes and pigeonholes and knots in trees. Maybe that's the benefit of the mystery there, all of the things we'll never see. Sometimes I'm not entirely sure that that isn't the secret, that all of my veins aren't inscribed with love letters and the first half of jokes and five million puns. It makes as much sense as anything else.

I worry a lot about the things we leave behind, all of the rainbows and smashed plates, bouquets and empty bottles and boxes full of crumbs. I've seen a lot of things broken lately, and nothing to do by to try and help with the first half of jokes and five million puns. But I think about the ways to grow flowers to cover our footsteps, all of the things left unwritten and stacked in our veins. Building seems scary in a world full of chasms, but the open sky isn't always a friend either, and the only plan possible is to leave behind less that is broken and more that is fixed.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Grandma and Reggie

It's been a year now since we lost my grandma, and I'm not going to talk about grief any more. We all know all about that. I'm going to tell you a secret.

There is a tree I pass twice a day, on my way to and from work. It sits near a vent that breathes steam, and this I think makes the air around the tree a little warmer than the air around all of the other trees. As a result, this tree always blooms first--thick fleshy pink flowers (magnolia, I think) awake and ready for the spring before anything else. That is where she is for me, in the earliest of all the beautiful things--the first trees to bloom in the spring and to be shot through with red in the fall, the first clumps of daffodils and days warm enough to sit outside, the first snow sinking softly through the yellow glow of the streetlights. And though I miss her all the time, in those moments it feels almost like she never left at all.

Monday, March 21, 2011


I bet it surprises you not at all to learn that I did not particularly enjoy shooting guns yesterday. As with the trapeze, my instincts tend more toward the flight end of things, and especially with this big one here I could not manage to force my body to lean forward. You want me to put my face on this gun? I am not overly fond of my face, but I do greatly enjoy that it is attached to my body, and would prefer to keep it that way.

None of the people giving us these lessons were particularly pleased with me as a potential assassin--my hands were too small to adequately grip the pistol, my neck too short to see very well through the sights of the rifle, and I could not manage the recoil on the Glock to save my life. (So to speak.) They all seemed just as glad as I was when my turn was over, since I think we were all wondering if I would manage to get through without accidentally turning the whole place into a bugs bunny cartoon. If I decide to pursue a career as a mercenary, it will definitely be against the odds.

Fortunately, the next stop on the adventure was a whiskey tasting, and if I am terrible at shooting guns I at least have a great talent for drinking whiskey.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

I was still in bed on Friday when the east coast started checking to see if we had been washed out to sea over here. My mom called first, and it took me a few minutes to muster up the courage to walk out of my bedroom and make sure the landscape was still intact. This is a fear of mine untethered to natural disasters, that one day I will miss the end of things and wake to find only devastation, the sea having turned our hills to islands. Not with a bang, but with a whimper.

It's a treacherous thing, to think only in TS Eliot and shadow puppets, a grimace that in retrospect was a rictus of fear, all of the ways that all of everything can go wrong. Perhaps it's better to return to making living tissue from cotton candy, seeding the sweeter channels with possibility, since it's all going to end up the same way in whichever cases.

Maybe we just too seldom look past our Prufrocks and Wastelands to our Little Giddings, to the salvation in unity and the discovery in circles. Things get a little too Pentecostal in there, true enough, but there is also an uncommon peace in the rhythm. Of all the rabbit holes on offer, some are certainly more likely to be lined with spikes than others, but we'll have to go down one eventually.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

If all rectangles were squares it would be easier to find a place for everything, all fitting together and evenly spaced. And if we are going to be making mountains out of molehills, it would be nice to know where to find the steps to the top. As a change of pace.

Something unexpected is what we need, and in my head is a plan to glue harmonicas to the hands of everyone in the world to listen to the songs that their gestures sing. Because I have heard all of these tunes before. I want to pack a jar full of squares and bury it somewhere deep, so that by the time it surfaces again we'll be able to remember what it was we once saw.

It's only that the spring is there, just under my skin, sheep in wolf's clothing and china in bull shops, and I am tired of everything that was. In November I knocked softly nine times on a stump and wished for the future, and I grow worried that the future didn't hear me, that I should have knocked much louder, preferred my wish over a desire to not attract attention. Maybe this has been my problem with the future all along.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

If you look into the ogre-faced spider--not literally, although that's probably fun too--it seems like no one wants to talk about its eyes, only about how it likes to cast nets like a fisherman with many many legs. And that's an impressive technique, to be sure, but if there's one thing I've learned about spiders it's that the only consistent thing among them is their tendency toward wackiness in looking for food. But the ogre-faced spider somehow missed the day in evolution school where their eyes got the reflective predator membrane, and so instead they had to learn to grow a new layer of cells every single night. You know how I like to think about eyes, and it's remarkable to me that it's not remarkable to everyone else. This spider, it looks at everything with brand new eyes practically all the time.

I sliced my finger badly last night, cutting something carelessly while sitting on the couch. What I should have done was jump up and run to the bathroom, to avoid getting any blood on my grandma's quilt, but it seemed to take ages for the blood to reach the surface. I couldn't move until I saw what came out--a rainbow or a monster or thirteen poems. But it turns out I am only full of blood after all.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

It's easy to think that we would surprise the fish, if they knew about what was happening just on the other side of the water. All of our cars and psychoanalysts and cold fusion. After all, the fish surprise us all the time. But I have been thinking about how we expect outerspace to be teeming with others, how insulted we continue to be at the lack of contact from other planets. How surprising it would not be if hooks suddenly dropped from the sky to haul us above the clouds and into something different.

The daffodils are coming back, slowly, coaxed by February's ritual false spring. Those bulbs divide every year or so pretty much indefinitely, outlasting all of us and showing up in unexpected places. It's mostly our cultivation that causes them to go blind and stop blooming, cutting off their leaves before the plant has stored enough food for the winter. Each time they show back up it's a little bit of relief that we haven't ruined one more thing with our impatience.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

I try to picture what we would grow, broken down into our components and scattered in furrows on a soft dusty field, if our hair would grow flowers and our fingertips corn, if our hearts would sprout volcanoes and tropical fish and asteroids. Given that our molecules are all from elephants and Einstein and remote control cars, anyway.

Last night I was learning more things about under the water--no matter how many documentaries they make about it, under the water always comes up with something new--and they were talking about a kind of spider crab that walks and walks to join zillions of other crabs in breaking out of their skins every year. It seems like the best way to grow, all at once and surrounded by others, and the camera whirled around, briefly catching sight of one small crab hitching a ride on the back of a large one. I am sure that, although the story of the gathering was interesting, the story of those two crabs is probably even better.

Monday, February 14, 2011

It seems like we are losing people faster than we are gaining them around here, all of this death unexpected even when it's anticipated and prepared for. One more person we knew and now don't know any longer. In the late nights we recite our blessings like prayers, reminding ourselves that lost is only gone once we've stopped remembering. Making plans for planting flowers and then letting go, one more time.

They found a whaling ship, last week, lost for the last 188 years under the waves near Honolulu, except that there was no ship. The warm water has softly washed away all of the wood, every bone of the vessel. What was left was a suggestion of the ship, a harpoon and some accessories, an outline of what had been lost. Most of what was found has already been swallowed by the coral reef. Likely many things that haven't been found have also already been taken by the water and the animals and time. Two other ships had gone down in the same place in later years, and it was only the collected debris that identified this spot as that ship's resting place.

Of all the places to be lost for almost 200 years, those warm waters are probably not the worst.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

For a long time my grandma worked in a real estate, and she would sometimes take me with her to the houses. There was one that was old and creaky and maybe sinking, definitely empty of people and full of dust. In the dining room sat a tall cabinet full of pairs of salt and pepper shakers.

I remember a set shaped like wooden shoes, and another like a man and a woman. Dozens of sets, all lined up on the shelves, looking out into a dim room that only rustled slightly from visiting roaches. For years I thought about those salt and pepper shakers all the time, wondering who had gathered them and why they had been left behind to stand sentinel in that quiet place.

I wondered about what happened to them all the time, but of course she didn't know. In my head they're still there, inside that old house slowly being reclaimed by saw palmetto and moss, their little ceramic eyes keeping watch through the dusty glass.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

When we finished with the trapeze class (I'm going to keep referring to that until it is no longer the scariest thing I have ever done, which I guess means I need to take up something like skydiving, alligator wrestling, or falling in love) they suggested that we try aerial silks next, since you start on those pretty close to the ground. We gave it the first shot yesterday, trying out all of the other circus contraptions, and the main lesson I took away from the whole experience is that while I have not even the slightest desire to be an athlete or the sort of person who does yoga or whatever, it probably wouldn't hurt me to be a little more flexible and a little stronger. If only to cut down on the amount of time I spend mewling in pain after these sorts of experiences. It's easy to fool people about how out of shape I am because I am little, although on the other hand it is a lot easier to get other people to do things for me this way.

Anyway, next month I'm going to shoot an AK47, provided I can lift it. I'm not very fond of guns, but I haven't ever shot one before, so I figure I might as well try it out once.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Favorite place

A whale showed itself on Friday, unexpectedly, off the side of the ferry. Not an Orca, but other than that we really can't be sure what sort of whale. Gray, perhaps. The ferry passengers all united in excitement for a few minutes. I missed the first appearance, but I looked back in time to see it spyhopping, probably just as curious about us as we were about it. It was a good omen for us, but I'm not sure that the same is true in reverse.

I think about all of these trees along all of these coasts, locking up their years in rings. Growing more dense or less dense depending on the pressure of the world outside. And all of the things that they have seen locked up in there too, all of the first explorers and the last whales, all of the animals coming and going and some of them never coming back. All of the ones that never knew people, growing remote and then falling before anyone had a chance to come through, recording only simple histories of rainy years and dry years, fat times and lean times. If those trees could tell stories I'm sure they would choose not to, holding them instead deep in their bones.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

This place

For the next three days, all I plan on looking at is this. It's lucky that it's so easy to go to a place so close and make time disappear.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

They say that it's mostly when your brain is tired that you experience jamais vu, when you can look directly at something that you know you know and yet still not recognize it. In a way that's creepier than the opposite, if only because feeling connected is better than the alternative. Our brains get tired so easily, if not so easily as they should.

I find it comforting to read all of these lists about the names for the ways that we feel in all of the languages that they happen, I guess because fitting boxes around feeling disconnected and tired and strange makes it all a little less. I like making order out of something that ought not to have order, someplace firm from which to go forward. Because mostly there's so much that means so little.

I like maps so much, after all, and all of these words are really just maps to places that might otherwise be invisible.

Friday, January 21, 2011

You know, Herodotus told us that the fruit of forgetting is all that the Lotophagi eat, that it is sweet and that they also make wine of it. There are a lot of candidates for what the lotus fruit is, exactly, because the Greek word can mean any number of things, but more and more I think that it is all of them. Clovers and persimmons and soporific water-lilies, nettle-trees, thick desert shrubs.

So it would be easy to never make it back out of the land of the lotus eaters, surrounded by hills and meadows and shores filled with something sweetly distracting. Odysseus hauled his sailors off, but I imagine that not one of the men who had tasted the fruit ever really stopped wanting to go back. And I would bet that at least one of the sailors who had been left behind to guard the ship slipped away one day, drawn back to the island by the tales of his companions and the lure of those flowers.

Still, the thing I really want to know is what happened to the Lotophagi, and where to find seeds for all that they grew.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

At first when I woke up and my face didn't quite fit, I didn't think anything of it. It is after all winter, and my habits of both hydration and moisturizing are haphazard at best. My skin often feels incorrectly attached. But now under my skin are all of these secrets, an elephant nose and a sunken treasure ship, five songs and thirteen poems. I'm not sure where they came from, but now they are mine. My skin will just have to learn to adjust.

In Utah last year we reached the salt flats and I squinted for a while at the horizon line, trying to make out its shape. I had read somewhere that it was so flat that you could see the curvature of the earth, which seems suspect to me. I like that this is a thing that we think about, though, all of the places from which you can possibly tell that we are on a planet and not just this ground in front of us. I couldn't tell if it curved anywhere, but the bright hot white stretched out in front of me and I thought about the Donner party, struggling through that land, losing the days in a slow battle that would lead to catastrophe. Even I am not dramatic enough to have seen that as a sign at the time, although I would be lying if I told you that the thought hadn't occurred to me sometimes in the very late nights since.

I've been doing a lot of research on tuberculosis lately, which obviously means I have subsequently being doing a lot of thinking about adaptability, the ways that we keep up and the ways that we are left behind. All of the ways that everything is bigger than we are, even when they're also smaller.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The first rule of fairytales is not to go into the woods alone, so what happened next shouldn't have been surprising, all of the wolves and dead ends and houses made of hundred-year-old candy. But I mean, what else was I supposed to do with this handful of bread crumbs? Seems to me like trails and adventures, or else nothing at all. Wolves made of hundred-year-old candy notwithstanding.

I've been eating mulberries lately, softly dried and by the handful. They say that mulberries are good for your cardiovascular system, so at least if my blood sings in the key of sentimental it will also be tasting of apricots and raisins and perfume. It's better to be delicious if you're going to wander off into becoming a meal. Pyramus and Thisbe were to meet under a mulberry tree, entering the woods alone, and look at what happened to their cardiovascular systems. A handful of bread crumbs wouldn't have helped them, either.

I keep walking holes in the bottom of my shoes and not noticing until the weather veers toward wacky and I end up with really cold toes. Still, I bet this means that my footprints will be recognizable, should you need to find me once the birds have made off with my trails and the hundred-year-old wolves with candy have made off with me.

Monday, January 10, 2011

I keep imagining rats everywhere in the middle of the night, waking fully to find myself standing in the bathroom door staring hard at a dark corner trying to separate the rodents from the shadows. Sitting up straight in bed knowing full well that the shapes beneath my mirror are shoes and yet still believing that they are rats. It amazes me how each time I think my brain has showed me all of its tricks it still manages to pull something new out of its hat.

The sources all say that rats in dreams mean nothing good, that they mean poverty and illness and untrustworthy associates, but the thing is that my dreams are full of dancing. It's only my sleepwalking that teems with rats. Which is probably worse.

I know where the rats are from, but that doesn't seem to be making them go away. The world is full of dangers even where you don't expect them.

I don't usually sleepwalk on vacation, though, so it's lucky that we're planning another trip to our island again, although this trip has gotten much bigger than I would prefer--not only my urban family, but people on the outskirts. This is a distinction only I seem to make ("INFJs are selective about their friends"), but I'm really uncomfortable with the new direction, not being one who believes that more actually equals merrier when so many strong personalities are trapped on an island together. In the end, though, it is neither my plan nor my call, and so I am using it as an opportunity to practice things I am not good at--letting other people make all of the decisions, not investing in the plan. It feels like I'm losing something important, but I'm hoping that if I'm patient enough I will gain something equally valuable. Orcas is made of magic, so anything is possible.