Saturday, December 29, 2012

2012, I think that you were at least three years worth of year.

We started you off with just so much loss, losing babies and family and marriages, losing dignity and grace and a helping of our faith in the universe. I have always had trouble dealing with the size of the universe, with the idea that everything in it is connected and related, and this is partly why. That is a heavy burden of sadness to bear, and the responsibility for many things that are out of our hands. In any case, at the beginning of you most of what we though we had built so beautifully tumbled down around our ears, and we spent a long time bewildered and lost.

So we set everything on fire and careened around the world waiting to see what would emerge from the flames, which flowers are the quickest to bloom. This was a big travel year for me, made mostly of places I've never been before. I went to Iceland and looked down into the cracks in the earth and to Victoria for tea and romance. I turned 30 in Paris, surrounded by friends, fulfilling a promise made to my much younger self. I went back to North Carolina to watch my baby brother graduate, out on a sailboat and over to the fair. I did a mentionable amount of park sitting and whiskey tasting and giraffe feeding, and ate more delicious food than is prudent for one very small girl.

We lost a lot this year, but maybe in the end we gained just a little bit more. In any case there are always the constants, the love and laughing and champagne, books and dance parties and adventures. In February I went to see Dave Isay talk about the latest Storycorp book. Some of the stories he read, but for a few minutes he played the recordings from the Storycorp booth. We all bowed our heads to listen, the whole auditorium of strangers drawn close for a moment by these tales of love found and then lost and lost and then found. We stumbled out later, a little shaken, changed in some way. Sad, and somehow better people than we were when we walked in. If you have taught me anything, 2012, it is that we may never run out of new ways to feel the iron in our bones but that we will also never stop surprising ourselves with how close we are to the divine heart of ourselves. That life often is both cruel and generous and that, as Steinbeck says, nothing good gets away.


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Sometimes, when the air is frozen but the ground is not, the sap inside of a plant will swell and burst open, making cracks and holes all along the stem. The plant can't stop drinking from the ground, though, and so it continues to pull water all along its capillaries, water that freezes once it meets the air and then gets pushed out further by new water coming forward and freezing. If you're a regular plant this gives you flowers made of frost, and if you're a tree it gives you a long soft beard. In either case these frost formations are so delicate that, if they make it past dawn, they crumble at the touch.

It turns out that these flowers blossom similarly on young ice, in places where the air is colder than the water. On the sea the ice manages to draw into itself large concentrations of salt, which seems like it would make anything living inside the flowers impossible. Except that as usual life finds a way, and if you collect a flower and bring it inside you'd find that each blossom holds a million tiny creatures, doing no one knows what. Building little bacteria societies, maybe, in flowers made of ice like a fairytale. Writing little bacteria laws, having little bacteria parties, and disappearing back into the water. Or to wherever it is frost flowers go when their air gets warm.

Monday, December 17, 2012

There is nothing to be said right now, not any way to make things right or better or good. All there is right now is the promise of time's softening hand and our own intent to double our efforts to be kind, to continue the struggle to not let what is bad overtake what is good.

All that I can give you is again this letter written by Henry James:
Don't melt too much into the universe, but be as solid and dense and fixed as you can. We all live together, and those of us who love and know, live so most. We help each other—even unconsciously, each in our own effort, we lighten the effort of others, we contribute to the sum of success, make it possible for others to live. Sorrow comes in great waves—no one can know that better than you—but it rolls over us, and though it may almost smother us it leaves us on the spot and we know that if it is strong we are stronger, inasmuch as it passes and we remain. It wears us, uses us, but we wear it and use it in return; and it is blind, whereas we after a manner see.

My dear Grace, you are passing through a darkness in which I myself in my ignorance see nothing but that you have been made wretchedly ill by it; but it is only a darkness, it is not an end, or the end. Don't think, don't feel, any more than you can help, don't conclude or decide—don't do anything but wait. Everything will pass, and serenity and accepted mysteries and disillusionments, and the tenderness of a few good people, and new opportunities and ever so much of life, in a word, will remain. You will do all sorts of things yet, and I will help you. 
All I can do right now is the best I can, however little that might be.

Monday, December 10, 2012

In hurricanes sometimes birds will get caught in the edges of the storm and work their way into the eye where it's safe. This is a risky strategy, since they're usually stuck there until the storm dissipates, sometimes flying much longer than they're able and forgoing food and water until the sky quiets down. At the end of things these hurricane birds end up in entirely new places, sometimes far away from their homes. Bird watchers love it when this happens, since it gives them a chance to see birds that they would otherwise miss.

Some of the stronger fliers force their way through any hurricane in their path, the zugunruhe more convincing than the winds and the rain. These birds know where they're going and the likely consequences of not getting there.

Once a year all the hurricane birds get together, I bet, to reminisce about the day they were all swept up together and taken someplace new. The migratory instinct is built into their bones, we know, enough to cause some of them to defy a hurricane, but even birds could use an excuse to start over somewhere new.

Still it seems that it's just a matter of time until something evolves to live only in the eyes of storms, searching the edges of the clouds and traveling in the calm places. Eating only rain and lightning, wings always open, migrating with the hurricanes.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

We went to see Chasing Ice last week, which happens in part at the top of some of the glaciers I was at the bottom of in May. Iceland is sort of an alarming experience to think about since I find plate tectonics even scarier than birds, and Iceland is the place where you can basically see all the way to the end of everything. I try not to think about how thin the layer is that separates us from a fiery death. Just rocks and the whims of an indifferent planet.

At one point a glacier in approximately Greenland the size of much of Manhattan breaks off and rolls over. It happens over an incredibly short amount of time, especially given how long it took to make. Anything nearby would have been frozen or drowned or crushed.

Sometimes it's a wonder we ever make it out of bed at all.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

This time last year I was out on Orcas island, waiting until very late at night to take my boots out to wander along all of the usually hidden land that was exposed by the low tide. I like to turn over all the rocks, see whatever it is that is usually hidden by the cold water and the weight of years.

We've been spending a bit of time lately at a bar that serves rum from all over the world. I'm usually a whiskey drinker, but I've been amusing myself tasting rums from unlikely places. I like the tiny little bits of novelty in the middle of my routine, safe in both ways, trying what I would never otherwise think to taste.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Tomorrow is my favorite holiday, which I will spend with possibly the nicest family I have ever met.

As is usually the case, I am thankful for the families we make and find, for all the laughing and ill-conceived shenanigans, for the vast amount of love and adventures in my life.  I'm not sure how I managed to fall into this life, but I am sure that I am grateful for it.

Monday, November 19, 2012

I really don't mind the rain and the dark of a Seattle winter, but this does not mean that I am above booking a winter vacation to Hawaii, which is exactly what I have done. We are going to Maui in January, where I have every intention of drinking everything with an umbrella in it and putting my face near some fish. Relaxing, tropical, and beachy are not usually words that you would use to describe my vacations, so I'm looking forward to sitting in those kinds of places with my favorite guy and reading all the books I can get my hands on.

Truthfully, one of my favorite things about traveling is preparing, reading all the guidebooks and travel stories. Planning and adventures are two of my favorite things, so I suppose it's only natural how much fun it is to combine them.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

In Clarice Lispector's Near to the Wild Heart she says, "I don't feel madness in my wish to bite stars." Some nights this seems like the most sensible way to deal with the weight of the universe, all that emptiness pressing like a palm on the top of my head. As though we must bare our teeth and push back or be lost.

This weekend I saw some landscape paintings painted on aluminum that shone through the spaces that would normally be solid, all the water and clouds and pieces of sky. These were places that I wanted to walk through, made of light and transformed.

Some nights I want to put the stars whole in my mouth, turn sizzling and bright. Some nights it seems that the only way to deal with the vast emptiness of the universe is to become larger than it.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Four years ago we rallied and marched in frustration with the passage of California's Proposition 8, feeling like we had to do something to mark our disappointment with anyone who would take away the rights of others. It felt a little silly to do it, since it wasn't our state, but without the option to cast our vote for equal rights in our own state it was all that we could do.

Last night we finally had that chance, and Washington almost certainly passed Referendum 74--a vote for equal rights, not against the criminalization of them--making history with Maine and Maryland by making these decisions through voters instead of lawmakers. It still feels a little wrong to have to vote for it, that a whole population's rights can even be up for a vote. Still, this effects the lives of many people I love very dearly, and I am looking forward to a lot of well-deserved parties. You know how I love a wedding.

The R74 campaign involved a lot of phone banking, and one account included this exchange:
I was talking to a guy who sounded like he might be in his 60s. He was torn on the issue: He was a religious person who thought homosexuality was a sin, but wasn't so sure his religious beliefs should dictate everyone else's lives. (We talked about how Catholics might oppose divorce but don't struggle to make divorce illegal for everyone else.) He was split right down the middle.
We teeter-tottered in this discussion for awhile and then I said: "Well, how about this? If we have an opportunity to make people happier rather than less happy, shouldn't we take it? Shouldn't we want people to be happier?"
He seemed to like this idea, and said he'd be switching from "undecided" to "possible supporter."

I am really happy to live in a state where the majority of people are in favor of more happiness, of kindness, of tolerance and love and of parties.

Monday, November 05, 2012

A while ago I saw a photo of a sculpture by an Italian artist with a baby tree carved inside of an older tree, full size and towering and vulnerable. It shows all the layers inside the tree, all of the things it has seen and never otherwise mentioned, all the years it has kept all locked up inside other years. In these trees you can see right through the past.

They do this with bones too, of course, and I can't say it's not tempting, opening up the insides of our bones to let the air all through. The carving might not be the most pleasant thing, but we could turn our bones into lace and see all the seconds we've lost to time.

Monday, October 29, 2012

A paper nautilus was picked up off the coast of southern California a couple of weeks ago, swept out of its native waters by a current that swept it close to shore. That's the story that science tells us, anyway, but I think we know better. The paper nautilus is also called the Argonaut, who in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea are known to use their paper-thin shells as boats and their tentacles as sails, floating around on the ocean surface and presumably having uncommon adventures. And why wouldn't you, given the example set by the sailors on the Argo, off on a journey to find the Golden Fleece, ending up as Argo Navis in the sky. Surely for an octopus who dreams of adventures the path ahead would be clear, to be a boat and land among the stars.

This is the better story, of course, the fragile exotic knocked off course, not long for this world, trapped and studied for as long as it remains whole. At home I am watching all of the falling leaves and the rain, dancing and drinking and cooking, happy in ways not so exotic but also much less temporary. Following the plan Alice Walker proposed at the end of "We Alone": This could be our revolution: /to love what is plentiful /as much as /what’s scarce." One never knows which adventure will finish in the skies.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

I dreamt of performing magic for a hundred years, together, across lives, of preparing to perform a spell to keep all that magic entangled through the future. All the fairy tales, maybe, or simply the actual magic, made fresh each day and drawn close around us.

As usual opinions are split on the meaning of dreaming about magic, but some say that to dream about performing magic is to predict pleasant surprises and profitable changes and travel, creativity and wonder. I woke preparing to ask the room for the final ingredients, spell uncompleted, but it isn't as though magic and wonder are in short supply around here awake. That's been part of the adventure through all these lives across all those years. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

A few months ago they punched through the top of Lake Vostok in search of 15 million-year-old secrets. They've spent all the days since then looking inside the drops they brought back, looking for tiny monsters hidden under the ice for all these years. In the end, it turns out they came back with nothing. Undeterred, they plan on going back soon, to reach a little further into the top layers of the lake and see what they can bring up.

I don't know much about drilling, but it seems to me that it must have made enough of a racket that all the microbes packed up their suitcases and made for safer waters. They want to study the inside of the lake in order to figure out something about astrobiology, and I think that the microbes probably want none of that. I think that, if they have lived all this time in all that cold and pressure, they should keep their secrets. The mystery is better than the answers.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The rains returned this weekend, and I walked home yesterday in Saturday night's dress with my umbrella and unseaworthy shoes feeling the spiked hands of summer retreating from my muscles. The sidewalks were covered in a layer of wind-tossed debris and the last of the fruit from the bushes and trees, everything all sticky and sweet and slippery. I have missed the taste of this air.

Not too long before the rains left for the season I walked down that same street listening to a song about missing bullets when something snapped and a burden that I had been carrying lifted for a moment unexpectedly. Everything was in its usual state of turmoil and I was keeping secrets and waiting impatiently and seeing signs and omens everywhere, and the sudden break was such a nice surprise that I ran all the way home, all elbows and knees, thinking that I had just realized how closely I had escaped what had been haunting me.

Of course nothing is ever that simple, or that obvious, and what I had been waiting for for all of those months showed up just after I gave up waiting for it, since as usual the universe is much smarter than I am. It seems that generally there's no way out but through, and if I could I would bottle up this air just now for whenever things might go dismal again. It isn't as though I've stopped seeing signs and omens everywhere, just that they are all happier ones, painting my walls with nothing but air. For now the best-case scenario is simply what is.

Monday, October 08, 2012

I couldn't even say for sure what I've been thinking about lately. Cogon grass, for sure, and its way of inviting fire and burning hotter than anything else around it in order to make room for more of itself. A tiny miracle baby belonging to a friend, born only on the edge of life and fighting along a blurry line next to death. A poem by Deborah Pease about a hummingbird held in the hand and a picture of a wombat and a wallaby snuggling together.

I have been thinking about the crooked forest in Poland, this grove of trees all bent deliberately by human intervention and then left uncut. These trees sit surrounded by trees that grow straight, kneeling in quiet mystery. No one knows for sure why anyone would need such curiously bent trees, and the trees themselves are keeping their secrets.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

We went to a wedding this weekend in a church covered in stained glass, all incense and wood and hope, the mystery of rituals from a religion I never followed unfolding in front of me. Somewhere around the middle of the ceremony the sun came out, lighting up the altar and the incense and the bride and groom. We all know that one of the things I believe in most deeply is the sweet profundity of little coincidences, and the outside couldn't have picked a better time to show itself inside.

On the way to the church we walked along sidewalks lined with clumps of clover for a few blocks when I was overwhelmed with the certainty that there was a four-leaf clover just to my left. We found it and tucked it into the groom's pocket, although as far as I could see neither one of them needed any luck beyond what they had already made for themselves.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The air has softened, finally, and last night walking home started to smell like fall, the brine of the water and a fire in someone's fireplace somewhere above me. I am, as usual, thinking about eyes.

Not too long ago I was reading about chitons, who live under the water with eyes made of rocks. They're covered in eyes, eyes all over their shells, rocks with retinas and lenses although not much of a brain. It's a curious evolutionary choice, since the chitons tend to live in the tidezone, where their limestone eyes are easily eroded by the salt water and the waves. It seems to me that they have almost the opposite problem of the ogre-faced spider, having to grow whole new eyes every now and again instead of a new protective layer each night, but either way just a means of keeping themselves safe. If your eyes aren't connected to a brain, I wonder if wearing them off in the water wears off everything they've seen. I wonder if you'd even notice.

I'm collecting ideas for how to see next, in case I ever manage to evolve myself out of these eyes.

Friday, September 21, 2012


I didn't spend much time alone in Paris, which is unusual but not unpleasant. Somehow, though, in the Musee D'Orsay I found that I had lost my friends somewhere in the rooms behind me. Near the top the glass is shaded, with one small spot clear to see through to all the sculptures below. For the moment, at least, the hallway was empty, and I got that old see-through feelings, like the ghost of the museum. It's one of my favorite parts of traveling, the moments when you could be anywhere and so are instead nowhere, just existing in this space outside of your own life, like the awake version of waking up from a dream with no idea of who or where you are.

I thought about staying there, moving in, a little mouse in all that big train station. But then my phone shook with news of the location of my companions, and I remembered that the Impressionists are not necessarily the paintings I would want to live with forever. So I turned and found the escalator. Going clear is always more fun when you can start being seen again.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012


 It's difficult to untangle my actual feelings about Paris from my expectations of Paris, expectations built on years and years of studying French and reading books and books and books set in Paris. In any case it was impossible to believe that I was actually in Paris until our boat brought the Eiffel Tower into view, all impossibly delicate and so formidably sturdy at the same time. In retrospect this is perhaps true of all of Paris, but what was true at the time is that being in Paris felt so right I thought I could burst, like in dreams when you find a room in your house that you realize was there all along. I can understand how Franz Reichelt believed that he could fly in just his overcoat, jumping off of that tower. If it was going to work anywhere, it would work there.

I suppose it's pretty much impossible not to romanticize Paris, but Paris does its part by living up to the hype. I am lucky enough to have been to some places that are just beautiful no matter which direction you look (remember Venice?), but Paris is the sort of beauty you can settle into, that you could live in without feeling crowded. Ginsberg once said of Paris, "You can’t escape the past in Paris, and yet what’s so wonderful about it is that the past and present intermingle so intangibly that it doesn’t seem to burden." If I could, I would go back to Paris tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Paris at night

We took a boat ride around the Seine on my first night in Paris on a boat that conveniently sold bottles of wine at the dock and timed itself to arrive at the Eiffel Tower just as the light show started. We drove back around almost to our starting point, waving at the people lining the concrete shores of the river. The boat approached one final bridge and the guide got as far into his sentence as "This is the most romantic bridge in Paris" when a group of boys with long hair stood up on the bank and mooned the boat. Why the bridge is so romantic was lost when all of the passengers erupted in laughter and cheers as the boys slowly faded into the darkness and Notre Dame loomed above us. And so it's fair to say that getting mooned by teenagers was one of my favorite things about Paris.

Sunday, September 09, 2012


Paris has left me exhausted and bruised and completely in love. I imagine I'll be spending the foreseeable future plotting how to move there.

Friday, August 31, 2012


On Monday I'll be 30, and I'm not even going to pretend to be having any existential dread about aging or leaving my 20's or the looming threat of mortality or whatever it is that's supposed to be upsetting about milestone birthdays. Getting older has been great, and I am having much too much fun looking forward to all the adventures up ahead. In the balance, it seems that things go right just slightly more often than they go wrong.

In Paris I'll be reading a book by Clarice Lispector, a Brazilian writer who was born in Ukraine and grew up in Brazil, who spent much of her life traveling, a renowned beauty who tried to put out a fire in her house with her own hands. The narrator in one of her books says, “I can’t sum myself up because it’s impossible to add up a chair and two apples. I’m a chair and two apples. And I don’t add up." This seems to me like as good a place to start whatever happens next as any.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

I like the light in the evenings this time of year. It's light that has lost some of the frantic brightness of the summer, light that knows the days are coming where it doesn't have to get up so early and stay out so late. I walk places in the evenings and it bends around everything softly, cradling instead of pushing.

In Iceland it was bright almost all the time, dimming to something almost twilight in the latest hours. This made it hard to sleep, but there's something appropriate about being on top of all that fire and chaos and bathed in light sunshine. The light in Iceland made the place feel lonelier, more remote, as though the sun's rays couldn't be bothered to make it as far as all of those volcanoes.

Friday, August 24, 2012

I have been waiting for this one to come around.

A year ago tomorrow I had dinner with some friends and then wandered onto a rooftop bar to take advantage of the sunshine and the waning days of my vacation. There is sparse documentation of this evening anywhere, because I was spending most of my time having a lot of fun and the rest of it complaining about how my diamond shoes are too tight, but it's there in my foursquare history--HG Lodge, 8:10 pm. I stayed long enough for a drink and to give my phone number to someone I had met for the second time a few months before, and then left for another bar and a dance party.

At the time I was reading a lot of John Muir, all wrapped up in how he talks about the paths through the mountains, with rocks on all sides and flowers just ahead. My favorite part was his two skies, a valley of unbroken gold flowers below a cloudless blue sky, reflecting each other in beauty. He called the universe an "infinite storm of beauty" and it is this I have been thinking about recently, the storm that has carried us to these new places, this exquisitely beautiful wreck of a year.

Sometimes it's still so startling, the way this has ended up, how everything that was smashed at the beginning of the year has been reconfigured into something even better. I wouldn't relive those months for anything, but I cannot argue with the gifts that all that turmoil has brought me. As usual the universe is smarter than me, and while I unfortunately still can't predict the future I am certainly looking forward to it. Next weekend I'll go to Paris with a bunch of friends and my favorite guy and turn 30, happier than I've ever been, having found a path through the brambles that lead right back to where I started. It seems that the fourth time is the charm.

Monday, August 20, 2012

On Friday I went to the lake, escaping the heat in the cool shade and breeze. Lake swimming is growing on me, the longer I live in the northwest, but there's something about the creeping feeling of cold water on my skin even when I'm all the way submerged that I just can't get used to. Cold water requires so much focus.

Saturday evening I took a train toward the mountains, curling along the coast in the sunset. The clouds covered most of the sky until late in the evening when the cleared up to the mountains. There was lightning there, in those clouds, that looked like the heat lightning of my youth even though the air was chilly. I suppose there is something to be said for the mountains, out away from all the light. In any case we stood there and watched the sky flicker in a handful of different ways, including one brilliant streak of shooting star. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

After James Dean died a friend wrote to his family, saying, "So few things blaze. So little is beautiful. Our world doesn't seem equipped to contain its brilliance too long. Ecstasy is only recognizable when one has experienced pain. Beauty only exists when set against ugliness. Peace is not appreciated without war ahead of it. How we wish that life could support only the good. But it vanishes when its opposite no longer exists as a setting. It is a white marble on unmelting snow." This a thing that sticks with me, an explanation of what keeps us casting around for the brightest lights in the darkest places, why we follow the corpse candles all the way through the swamps. Without the contrast we'd have so little to look at.

Sometimes I get distracted thinking about the fish who find treasure, waving their tails around in the dark and uncovering a glimmer that flashes only in the twinkle of the nearby bioluminescense, there and then gone again. Covered up by the next fish passing above and looking the other way, and never to be seen by us at all. Sometimes I get distracted thinking about all the lights I'll never see.

Friday, August 10, 2012

It's always hard to completely move past a certain lack of trust in the integrity of doors, to shake the feeling that someone is sneaking in or around. Just before I fall asleep I find myself bargaining with myself not to open my eyes back up just in case one of these times it turns out to be true. If it is, I'd rather it be a surprise. In my head it always looks like the librarian ghost from Ghostbusters, which is arguably even worse than real murderers.

All the summertime noises are the thing that make me realize that I'm continuing to imagine these things, all the fans and open windows and light heat hazy sleep. Perhaps I have just read too many of the wrong kinds of things, and now my brains don't need any help to loop whatever they feel on their own. Perhaps all the elves that run me have a taste for pulp television that the rest of me is too scared to watch. Perhaps brains and hearts and the insides of eyes are all a mystery, even to their owners.

Monday, August 06, 2012

I have only been swimming once in the years I've lived in Seattle--lakes being cold and full of monsters and all--but this weekend turned out to be too hot to do anything else, so lake swimming it was. All the heat and sweating makes my angry robot all hop around, but it almost certainly would have been worse anywhere else. And I suppose that this summer has largely been about doing the things I don't usually do, between the lake swimming and the canoeing and the learning how to ride a bicycle again. I suppose I might as well revisit these things before I turn 30 in a few weeks, to give that some gravity.

A while ago I read an article about a climate scientist who is racing both the warming climate and his own mortality to acquire ice cores from all the icy places, so that we will have a better shot of knowing what has come before. It's his heart that's turned against him, in the usual ways, and it's almost regrettable that the cores of people don't have the same kind of layers and rings, that we can't see their growth years and drought years the way we do with ice and trees. Almost regrettable, but maybe still best left secret.

Monday, July 30, 2012

This summer is passing like the last lines of Donald Hall's "Summer Kitchen":
We ate, and talked, and went to bed,
And slept. It was a miracle.

This is especially pleasant given how last summer was so hot and sticky and unraveling, all discovering gardens and old star charts, leaving town and sleeping poorly and imagining up disasters, losing cherished friendships because of decisions not made years before. Right now I am doing mostly new things and feeling mostly new feelings, anticipating a few upcoming milestones, enjoying the quiet time before whatever upheaval shows up next.

And so it is times like these that I wish I knew how to paint, because things have turned so vividly colored. Lately everyone wants to talk about the possibility of human tetrachromats, people with eyes made for seeing whole ranges of colors that the rest of us aren't built for. An article I read recently suggested that there are many people with eyes prepared to see this way, but who don't because they've never had the need. In which case they think that these eyes could be trained, that they could gain the ability to see the world in colors they could never describe. It seems like then it would be summer nearly always, feeling an entire universe of colors that you couldn't possibly explain.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

I woke up for a minute this morning just after dawn, warm and comfortable, to find all of the lake out of the window stained pink. It was disorienting at first, all these colors I never see and the lake almost empty of boats, the sky streaked with white and the water striped in currents of lighter and darker blue. I would be lying if I said that it was enough to make me understand why people wake up so early, but what it was was beautiful. I fell back asleep and had a pleasant dream about a simple adventure.

We're going to Paris in only slightly more than a month, which makes me so excited I can barely stand it. It's funny how this trip that was hanging precariously not too many weeks ago is now not just planned but becoming increasingly full of friends. And so now it's about time to start fretting over what to read and what to wear while I'm over there.

Monday, July 23, 2012


I have never seen anything move quite like a giraffe. Surely this is at least partly just from not being a tree in Africa--documentaries are pretty fond of showing giraffes serenely walking across the plains, but I'm not sure I've ever been given a tree's eye view.

We spent a little while afterward trying to describe how it is exactly that a giraffe moves, with its body fixed in place so far away and its head suddenly zooming so close. It's an otherworldly sort of movement, almost like they're secretly under water, and I was in no way anticipating something quite so strange. He hovered around for a few minutes, eating all of our leaves suspiciously, walking away to look at us all sideways and to nibble on the bushes across the way. It was almost impossible not to touch him--he looked so soft--but eventually we broke away to let the next group through.

And now I am more sure than ever before that giraffes are totally magic.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Cryptozoologically speaking, it seems unfair to tell something that it doesn't exist simply because we haven't yet been able to trick it out into the open. I like to think that the council of cryptids gets together occasionally to discuss strategies on looking blurry in photographs and disappearing just as mysteriously as you have appeared. Perhaps on trapdoor and treehouse construction, shrubbery rustling, faking footprints. Annual meetings to tally which members have been discovered and stuffed. It could be that they're all legend, but then again it could be that they're mostly smarter than we are.

So really, cryptozoologically speaking, the only difference between being real and not being real is documentation. This is perhaps not the worst lesson to keep in mind, for when it becomes prudent to stay more shadow than solid.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

We've talked before about how Treasure Island was lost to Stevenson once his original map went missing, how the story with the new map was always a little bit of an imposter. In the way that we start our stories with laying out their boundaries, how no one else's version is ever quite our own because their outlines are always different.

Recently a documentary told me that although it takes eight minutes for a photon to reach Earth from the sun, more importantly it can take thousands of years for that photon to travel from the core to a place where it can even leave to head in our direction. That little bit of light spends most of its journey getting knocked around by other particles, wandering and wandering through all of that fire until it finally gets propelled out into the dark and cool of space. I was dozing on and off through the documentary, but I wondered about all of those tiny pieces of light and the maps that they carried with them to the center of the sun, a center that almost certainly would look nothing like their maps once they made it here to show us the path. And if in that way our sun could ever really be their sun.

Monday, July 09, 2012


We went to Victoria this weekend, another beautiful place in the string of beautiful places the Northwest is laden with, all sunshine and flowers and seafood. It never stops being remarkable to me that this is where I've ended up, that these are the places I get to go.

Victoria is completely charming in a way that may mostly be true in the warmth and the sunshine, but was the best of all possible places to spend some time sitting in places eating and drinking things, all warm and happy. This is what the summer is for.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

I was reading the other day about Honore Fragonard, the cousin of the Rococo painter. The more interesting of the Fragonards, Honore was expelled from his job at Paris' veterinary school after a few years for being a madman. He had a fondness for flaying specimens, preserving all of their insides, and setting them up in theatrical ways. Eventually he supported himself by making grotesqueries for the aristocracy, dissecting and reassembling creatures at home in the usual way of madmen. (What is actually remarkable is that, given my fondness for Frederik Ruysch and his similarly creepy morality tableaux, I am only now learning about the habits of the Fragonards.)

In any case I feel like the appeal should be obvious, the need to take things apart and put them back together again, to turn all of the mysteries inside out. But in that case it is perhaps not surprising that his cousin, who painted imaginary lives in vivid color, is the one we remember.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

These early summer days write white, passing slowly and softly and sweetly, like my favorite lines in "Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle": The bites are fewer now./Each one is savored lingeringly,/Swallowed reluctantly. Some days it worries me, how well things seem to be going, how happily I seem to be spending most of my days, as though the universe might notice and take it all away again. Some days I think that being superstitious is really just common sense.

In college someone gave my a copy of Annie Dillard's The Writing Life, which I read dutifully even though I have only ever been a girl who wanted to read books instead of writing them. In it, she advises the reader not to save ideas for later stories. She says, "The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.”

I find this to be equally true about happiness.

Maybe this is just how summer goes, all new each time, but I have so many adventures planned, weekend trips and parties, dinners to cook and ice cream to make, dance parties to have. My instinct is to keep this all cupped safe in my palms, to store it up like a squirrel in the fall, but that would be a waste of all of this. I'm not sure yet how best to find the words for all of these sunbursts, but then I guess that's just one more thing to look forward to.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

In Roman banquet halls they would paint roses on the ceiling, a sign to anyone who looked up that whatever was said under the influence of wine would remain a secret. The story of sub rosa is a complicated one dates back to a misunderstanding of a picture. The Greeks and then the Romans saw Egypt's Horus, the child-god whose symbol was a rose, making a finger to mouth gesture, in Egyptian the hieroglyph for child, and mistook it as a gesture of silence. So they called him Harpocrates and gave him the job of taking the rose that Aphrodite gave to Eros in exchange for keeping everyone's secrets. This seems like a poor exchange and an awfully murky path, but the end result is the possibility of lining our skies with roses and keeping everything under them safe.

I woke up today thinking about this, along a rather circuitous route. Today I'm going to meet a tiny baby nicknamed Ozzy. Thinking about this baby always makes me think of Shelley's poem "Ozymandius", which reminds me through a tattered old copy of "Prometheus Unbound" in Rome of Keats' last view. I was reading about sub rosa recently, and thinking about Keats made me comb through my memories for Rome for any rooms under the flowers.

We are planning for Paris, and so the only places I can think of are other places. Other places, and all the secrets they have to tell me.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

It's almost impossible to articulate the ways that life has changed in recent months, how I looked up one day to find that the world had spun to someplace unexpected. How I came home one evening, the air all charged around me, knowing that there would be something waiting, and found instead of what I had been anticipating something I never would have imagined.

In truth I'm a little afraid to try to explain, as though outlining these shapes may remind them that they have better places to be. Still, the weather is changing and the air is warming, and in my head most days is the low hum of Carver's Hummingbird, like powerlines all along the road.

A few months ago in Germany they discovered 500 new fairy tales that had been locked away in an archive for 150 years, which is something of the making of a fairy tale itself. The tales were collected around the same time as the brothers Grim were doing their work. The tales were written down faithfully just as they were told, without any attempt to put any storytelling gloss across anything, a fact that makes these stories rough and unpolished and different from all the others.

I have a feeling that only good things can come from any of this.

Monday, June 18, 2012


A major theme during our time in Iceland was the running list people kept giving us of possible ways to die, given the apparently vindictive nature of the landscape around us. Partly it seems that the options for our demise were so endless because Iceland doesn't really believe in fencing off its nature, figuring I suppose that if one is dumb enough to try and cross the ropes--ropes in some places outlining areas that are smoking furiously and smelling foul--one almost definitely deserves whatever happens. But also I think Iceland is very sure of the fact that their land is full of forces beyond their control, laced with trolls and elves and tunnels open to the very center of the earth. I think it's possible in Iceland to think you're staying on the right side of the ropes only to blink and find that the ropes have moved around you.

Because of this all of our warnings came along with grim stories. Do not get too close to this waterfall because search and rescue will not be able to find you. Search and rescue was looking for some missing Germans on this glacier only to find the bodies of some Swiss hikers that had been lost 50 years earlier. The last woman to get too close to this water was swept out by the current, just far away that no one could save her. We're always taking our life in our hands when we move through the world in any way, but the hazards are much closer to the surface in Iceland. The only thing you will be murdered by in the safest country on the planet is the Earth itself.

My next big adventure will be to turn 30 in Paris in September. This trip has gone from being in jeopardy to booked in just a matter of days, and I am almost incoherently excited.

Friday, June 15, 2012

I was reading not too long ago about a plant researcher at the beginning of the 1900's who speculated on whether or not it was possible to breed carnivorous plants with poisonous ones. The idea is especially alarming given that he also believed that plants had memories and feelings and could hold grudges. The last plants you want holding a grudge against you are the ones who might kill you and then have you as a snack once you'd stopped struggling. These are the things that make me thankful for roots.

He believed that the deadly nightshade was full of hatred, which is what made it so poisonous. It doesn't seem that far of a stretch. (I am allergic to the fruits of the genus Capsicum, which are also in the nightshade family, so I tend to have a lot of opinions about the feelings and grudges these plants are all holding against me.) I've been thinking about the whole Solanaceae family lately, how some of the plants make delicious tomatoes and some of them make poisons on top of poisons. How we never seem to clarify if the feelings make the plants poisonous or if the plants make the feelings poisonous.

I wonder this about the old stories, too, if they are all populated by queens and neighbors and robbers that would hurt to touch, if the poison shows through their skin. If the stories were written first by the plants and only later translated by us, the people with the ears to hear leaning low and writing down the whispers of the leaves.

Monday, June 11, 2012

I've been in North Carolina for the last few days, watching my baby brother graduate from high school. (Let's just pause for a second and consider how he was in about the 4th grade when I started writing here.)

I fell asleep on the plane from Raleigh to Atlanta--I'm becoming adept at sleeping on essentially any form of transportation even as I become less likely to be able to sleep in my own bed, just like an infant--and I woke disoriented as we were landing. Looking out the window I wondered for a moment why we were flying so low over a graveyard only to realize that what I thought were tombstones were actually houses much farther below than I thought. I made a mental note to read something more cheerful soon than the books I brought with me.

My flight home was delayed by an hour because of weather, but we finally made it up over the clouds and headed towards the westward rainbow of sunset that filled the horizon just ahead of us. We flew just a bit slower than the sun, and each time I looked out the window the light was lower and the rainbow dimmer. By the time we made it to the mountains the only light came from the towns far below and spread out to the sides, nestled in a dark anonymous landscape.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Perhaps unsuprisingly it is too cloudy here to make watching today's Venus transit in person likely, so I'll be watching it on the internet through whatever collection of telescopes makes that possible. We've talked before about that set of transits in the 1700's, when science got together and decided to scatter across the globe in the name of adventure and in the face of an indifferent planet and unstable geopolitics. It's possible to say that more things went wrong on those expeditions than went right, but then I guess it's usually possible to say that and be mostly correct and yet still miss the point entirely. Everyone was different after the Venus transit, just by the fact of having been there. All changed in their eyes and brains, all of their paths shifted just slightly sideways.

What I wonder about are the travelers that went too far for the first transit to leave and come back for the second, who settled into new places for the eight years in between, everyone who was thought lost in the pursuit of knowledge. If it's possible to come back after that at all, having committed to speaking the language of the skies come whatever they could throw.

I wonder how our eyes will alter today looking only at the sky through our computers, what different people we may be by sundown.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012


When I was making the life list I put "See a reindeer in Iceland" on there sort of offhandedly, because it seems like reindeer are a thing that happen in the northplaces and I vaguely remembered reading once about someone taking a reindeer sleigh ride. So it seemed like reindeer should be everywhere. It didn't really occur to me at the time that Iceland, being an island and all, probably wouldn't have much in the way of native animal life and that large mammals would probably have been brought there by someone.

It took three tries for the reindeer in Iceland to stick, with a herd finally making it through the winter in the mid-1800's, and not a single person while I was there seemed to care about them at all. Perhaps that's the difference between East Iceland and West Iceland, but the reindeer weren't even among the list of animals one of our tour guides recited.

It turns out that what they really love in Iceland is their horses. Their horses are built from the stock of the ones who can deal with the climate and the volcano eruptions, but they're also strangely delicate--so many years of isolation has made it so that they can withstand the inside of the earth coming out but not any sort of foreign virus. As a result, Icelandic horses aren't allowed back in the country if they leave it. Reindeer might be a symbol of the frozen north, but these compact little horses with adventure and hard luck in their past and future simultaneously, just pressed right into their bones, are so very Icelandic. And with their manes blowing in the unrelenting wind among the steaming hillsides, much more picturesque than an average reindeer.

Thursday, May 24, 2012


The ride between the airport and Reykjavik is through a surreal moonscape, all black rocks and thick green lichen. It's a landscape that lends itself to darker skies, and the way that the sky is a freshly scrubbed shade of blue makes the ground look all the stranger. These are rocks that take all the light and give none of it back.

Rift valley

Iceland is a place where the Earth shows all its seams, slowly tearing apart where the North American Plate and the Eurasian Plate meet. All the way through the country the ground steams, hinting at just how close to the surface the center really is. In some places it seems as though you could look into one of those cracks and straight down to the middle. Jules Verne started the journey to the center of the Earth in Iceland, and it's obvious why.


On Sunday we took a fourteen hour ride over the south coast and back, landing at the midpoint in a lagoon where parts of the glacier break off and become icebergs. As we were leaving the lagoon our tour guide gestured offhandedly at the seawall across the street and mentioned that there was no land between where we were right then and Antarctica. No land, and an entire planet.

Monday, May 21, 2012

I'm going home tomorrow, to readjust to the time difference and hug whoever I can get my hands on. Iceland is beautiful and charming and desolate and cold in a number of different ways. I've looked at how fire and ice can shape a landscape and then destroy it and how one scrapes a life out of stone and wind, and now I am ready to go back to my own sweet life full of love and green things and sleeping volcanoes. At least until the next adventure.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

I'm off to the frozen north in the morning, going to wrestle Vikings in a hot spring or whatever it is you do in Iceland. It's kind of a funny time to be leaving Seattle, since life in the last month or so has gone all romance and intrigue and upsets and reversals and unexpected shenanigans. I am sorely in need of a vacation, and I'm looking forward to making friends with a new city and some icebergs and fjords. I am restless in a way that suits a landscape of active volcanoes. As usual.

When I get back we'll talk about reindeer and puffins and cold clear air, and maybe a little bit about romance and intrigue too.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

A trial by ordeal could have involved almost anything, it seems, given the right amount of invention and shame. This is what I've learned. Soil and water and plans and imagination, and what looks like guilt subject to change on a whim.

Some cultures favored the trial by poison, in which the accused would be made to eat a calabar bean. The toxins in the calabar bean work like a nerve gas, confusing the communication between nerves and muscles and rendering the accused eventually asphyxiated due to a total loss of control over the respiratory system. Some accounts say that the poison ordeal was the most accurate of them all, that the innocent would tend to swallow the bean quickly and defiantly whereas the guilty would nibble slowly at it, hoping for some outside intervention. The body reacts more completely to swallowing the whole bean, forcing the person to regurgitate it and therefore exposing them to very little of the poison; eating the bean slowly allowed the body to not notice that something wrong was happening until it was much too late.

The antidote to calabar is atropine, which can be taken from plants in the Solanaceae family, most of which are full of toxins of their own--belladonna, mandrake, Jimson weed. Poisons fighting poisons. The antidote isn't always perfect, though, and sometimes the combination of the two poisons will kill a person faster than they would on their own. The prevailing wisdom is that atropine will save a person who has taken three and a half times the fatal dose of calabar poison but will kill them quickly if four or more times the fatal dose has been taken. No account seems willing to explain how the casual observer is supposed to know the difference.

Given all of these variables, it seems to me that quickly is the only way through the ordeal. Poison or no poison. Trials of ordeal are said to have died out over the last couple of hundred years, but I'm not entirely sure that I believe that to be true, at least not here in the kingdom of metaphors.

Monday, May 07, 2012

I'm in the anxiety stage of leaving town, where it's too early to actually start packing but close enough to leaving to really want to pack. I like to be prepared for the inevitability of my plans getting derailed, which is exactly the sort of recursive thinking spiral that I find comforting if only in its familiarity. (As an added bonus, it tends to drive everyone else around me insane.) We all know that a thing I am not is patient, and the time between now and going to the airport next week is going to be excruciating. Let's just get to the adventure, already.

Because of a fire recently I got to see what a room looks like under the floorboards. I like knowing these things, the insides and underneaths and inbetweens. This I think it part of the appeal of Iceland, all of its movement and geothermal activity the underneaths and inbetweens of the planet. Like the beginning and the end of the world all at once.

Monday, April 30, 2012

For years I've been growing an orange tree, one I bought in an airport and brought home in defiance of the recommended climate for orange trees. It has grown tall but never strong, refusing unsurprisingly to flower and bear fruit. Just now, for the first time, it has sprouted one single blossom. It still won't be growing oranges, but I am happy in this surprising flowering after so many years of only green.

In my Tennysoning I'm usually distracted by the Lotos-Eaters, a poem I came to in a roundabout way as a child through a mention in one of the Little House books. Lately I have been struck more and more by Ulysses, a poem that Tennyson wrote after the death of a friend. Ulysses is nowhere to be found in the Lotos-Eaters, although in the stories he bundles his crew back on the boat to continue their adventure home. By the time he shows up in Ulysses he has returned home and found himself beset by the restless, considering his eventual death and how little of himself is left. Eventually he begs his sailors--who are all, at this point in the story, dead in foreign lands anyway--to "Come, my friends,/'Tis not too late to seek a newer world./Push off, and sitting well in order smite/The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds/To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths/Of all the western stars, until I die." If you ask Tennyson, Ulysses spent the entire Odyssey striving to get back home only to realize once he got there how badly he wanted to leave. Ulysses was kind of a jerk, but it's hard to argue with the pull of adventure.

A dim conversational pathway recently led from the fruits of forgetting to mullein leaves, which are potentially what Ulysses waved at Circe in order to keep away from her spell and free his men. In the time of the Romans mullein was supposed to have an overpowering effect on demons, which made it a great thing to use for torches--what better way to light a path through the darkness than with the one thing that would definitely keep the demons away? (Boiled and put into water, mullein is also a plant that can cause fish to drown, which leads me to question the otherworldly integrity of fish.) I didn't really think about the mullein past that until one ended up in my hand yesterday, where it turned out to be soft and resistant to my nervous fidgeting. Seems to me these are obvious qualities for anything one might want to be using to unsettle the demons.

Friday, April 27, 2012

It was in the soft hours just before dawn, when the light has a watery gray quality even in my dark bedroom, that I came up with my plan to miniaturize you. The instructions for how had been there all the time, hidden in the even fall of your breathing and the scent that wafts up sometimes from the neck of your shirt. It's a common misconception that all that's needed to fit someone in your pocket is to build a shrink ray, but that's simply not true--each person miniaturizes in their own way.

Once I unlocked the plans it was only a matter of gathering the right tools. I assembled the machine in secret, gathering a wrench here and a pile of ashes there, the color yellow and a screwdriver and five elephant molars. A waterwheel and the headwaters of the Nile, five rocks from inner outerspace, a sledgehammer, three nails. All the things you would expect.

I don't know if I want you in my pocket, of course. Still, it's nice to know that I could if it turns out that I do.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

I've been thinking about the anechoic chamber in Minnesota, a room that cancels out nearly every single bit of external sound. You can't be in it for very long without needing to sit, because we orient ourselves in the world by the sounds around us. Without the cues that tell you how to balance and maneuver all you can hear is the inside of your own body, and you become too disoriented to stand. After 45 minutes in the room, you'll go mad. We can't hear only ourselves for very long; the world only makes sense when we can filter out our own most important noises from the cacophony. When the choices are larger than only one of us.

I've been thinking about when Adrienne Rich wrote "Tonight I think/no poetry/will serve" just in between lines about feelings and then lines about precision. I've been thinking about the overwhelming gurgle of our own lungs and eyes like poets sore from the sun, and how it all misses just when it could save everything, about the sharpest sweetness just past all of the words.

We sat in the sun this weekend, warming our bones and petting dogs and grilling, opening rooftop barbecue season in sundresses and spring pastels and ill-advised novelty drinks. I've been thinking about when Frank O'Hara wrote, "Now I am quietly waiting for/the catastrophe of my personality/to seem beautiful again,/and interesting, and modern." and how he was a man widely known for his warmth and passion. I've been thinking about the noises we might contain if we could find a room that canceled out the sound of our hearts and our lungs.

Friday, April 20, 2012

I've been reading the Icelandic Sagas in preparation for my trip, in my usual way. They're extra interesting in that they're the very prosiest of prose--when I think Medieval literature I think of all the poems, all the Beowulf and the Canterbury Tales and Sir Gawain. In the sagas the poets are still the most important, placed highest of the warriors (everyone in Iceland was a warrior, apparently), but the stories themselves are plain and matter-of-fact even when dealing with the most mythical of subject matter. From what I can tell no one seems to know why that is, why they're written in prose when poetry was overwhelmingly the convention of the time, although it seems consistent with everything I've heard about the ways and spirit of the Icelandic people.

Anyway, as a result I've been thinking a lot about nithing poles, the old Viking way of cursing an enemy. It's a pretty straightforward process--I don't think Vikings were really ones for subtlety. To raise a nithing pole all you have to do is carve a pole with runes of curses and stick it in the yard of your enemy with a freshly cut horse head on the top. In one of the early sagas Egil sets one up to make sure that the guardian spirits of a place can't find their home until they drive out his enemies, but the truth is that the tradition is still kept up today. Just a handful of years ago a farmer set up a nithing pole for his neighbor after the neighbor ran over his puppy, cursing him to be haunted until he was either outlawed or dead. (To be fair, puppies are really cute.)

Things keep going wrong around here, and I've been fighting down a rising wave of superstition. It's hard to not see omens and signs in everything when you're struggling against a tide that refuses to turn, especially when you naturally tread on the side of magical thinking. As a result Iceland is starting to loom in my head almost as a refuge, a whole land of people keeping up their old traditions and believing in the old ways, decapitated livestock and magic and all. Maybe there are answers to be found there.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Last night I walked home in the hour just after sunset, past thatches of dandelions with blooms still mostly held tightly together, gathering wishes from the soil. Scattered among them were a few that have already flowered and fallen, all white puffs in patches. So I guess some of our wishes are ready to be handed to the wind, the softest early ones heading out to colonize ahead of when they're lifted out and scattered by the handful. That feels about right.

My medical professionals have told me that my heart is working too hard lately, which is a conclusion that you could see from space; this is the only way my heart knows how to work. In any case, they assume that this is the cause of the careening my heart has been doing, trying to throw itself straight from my ribcage and out into orbit. I've been measuring it for a week or two now, to see if it is beating harder or faster, if it has picked up a rhythm you could dance to or a new irregularity to add to its uneven thump. As a result I'm building a slow electronic record of life lived at this pace, of building secrets late into the night or walking home in the soft twilight, of long naps on the couch or waking from dreams about drowning or staying for one drink too many talking too fast and laughing too loud. The only conclusions I have so far is that there are no conclusions at all.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

I caught myself there, painting demons and unicorns on my walls, sleepwalking my way into disasters of my own making and following the unlikeliest of outcomes right over cliffs. The heart wanders where it will, of course, but every now and I again I wish that it would take the rest of me along with it. Sometimes I try to outline the shapes our days hammer into our hearts, all scratched and dented and ringing from the blows, to see if there's secretly a jigsaw puzzle in there. Sometimes I am almost brave enough to fit my hands around your edges, to walk out from the shadows and look right at your bruises though I am still afraid to meet your eyes. I want to tell you that I know all about the dread that takes root at the end of the night, the flames we just can't help but touch, the miracles we need more than air.

Late nights as the hours drag on it turns boring, looking for all these answers under all these stones, panning for gold when all I'd rather do is sleep, tightrope walking when all my training is in rodeo clowning. Still I'm sure that the only real option is to thrust our hands right into this fire, even though the outcomes are almost always to either burn badly or turn to glass. Especially since the alternative appears to be learning to ask for what I want instead of around it, which is a longer drop than from that tightrope and a sharper burn than from those flames. Better the demons that I know than the answers I can't anticipate, even if it is the coward's way out. I'll work my way around to the right side eventually, although by then I may very well have missed what I was looking for.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Three days of dancing:

1. On Thursday I started taking a salsa class. The framework for the class is that the leads stand in a big circle with follows switching from person to person. For a moment, moving awkwardly between strange and sweaty palms, I had a vision of the dance scenes in period dramas, of ladies in swishing skirts wafting daintily between partners. Our room was the opposite of that, clutching strangers and apologizing constantly, treading on toes and spinning off-balance, pushing my dampening bangs out of my eyes with a forearm. Slowly, eventually, getting it mostly right.

2. On Friday, two of my very favorite people were djing together, so I put on a new dress and my dancing shoes to match my towering good mood and prepared to get sweaty. Deep into the fun I slipped back out of the crowd and around to the other side of the bar to watch. This is my favorite part of a good party, stepping back to watch my loved ones have fun, dancing and laughing and unselfconsciously silly. Just as I settled down for a good happy wallow something in the technology went wrong and the music came to a crashing halt. Everyone dispersed to buy another drink or mop the sweat from their faces, and by the time it started up again no one remembered that it had ever stopped. Much later that night, in the smoky afterhours, members of the bar staff practiced salsa dancing with me to music that didn't match at all.

3. On Saturday we went to the demolition derby out in Monroe which left us well-placed to stop for a couple of pitchers of beer in nearby Sultan. We settled into a booth in the back flanked by peeling taxidermied deer just before the band picked up their instruments. They swung into covers of the hits from the 70's and 80's and we bopped around in our booth, singing and flailing, drawing amused stares and at least one thumbs up from the group of bikers nearby. Hours later, on the way out, the band cajoled us into staying for one last dance, unexpectedly starting up with Nine Inch Nails's "Closer". We shrugged and peeled our layers back off, almost never able to turn down a dance party, feeling slightly dissonant dancing to that song in that place and happy with all the ways there are to have fun.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

There's a ghost ship heading toward us, I hear, set adrift after last year's earthquake in Japan. It's been ambling across the ocean all this time, carrying mystery cargo and probably rotting. The first thing we intend to do when it shows up, it seems, is sink it.

Some of the news stories are calling the boat derelict, which is interesting. As usual, maritime law seems to be a matter of interpretation. Broadly, they call ships and their parts on top of the water flotsam, while derelict is what is on the bottom of the ocean without hope of reclaim. But then it seems that that's only derelict cargo, which is likely to sink anyway--you could abandon a ship on the high seas and still call it derelict. Theophilus Parsons gave the answer an even finer point in 1859 when he wrote his treatise on maritime law, explaining that a ship that is left with the intention of returning isn't a derelict ship. (If the whole ship is kidnapped, the ship is factually derelict, but not legally so. Assuming, I guess, that eventually the crew can escape the pirates and take their ship back? It seems that it has always been difficult to pen the sea in between the hard lines of our laws.) So from what I can gather the matter of dereliction works in the same way as that of salvage--what you call whatever is on or under the water begins with intent and only then leads to fact.

Which leads me back to our ghost ship. Japan didn't intend to cast this boat off, the Earth itself did that for them. The boat probably didn't intend to wander off into the ocean, although I suppose we can't really be sure about the feelings of boats. And yet at the same time the Japanese also don't appear intent on getting the boat back, while we are pretty sure we want to send it to the bottom of the ocean. So. By intending to punch it full of holes we are making sure that this boat is derelict, whatever it was when the ocean first shook it loose, but then what was it all these months while it was just wandering slowly across the waves? Just a ghost, I guess, drifting above all the fish and under all the clouds. It's only when we noticed it was there that it became something else.

Monday, April 02, 2012

I don't know about you, but I seem to have spilled milk all over this molehill, and am finding the path both treacherous and muddy. Seems like the better option would be to stop and go around. Or maybe just stop.

We went to a party at the Space Needle this weekend. Always before I've been up there in the daytime. From my apartment you can see cameras flashing from the observation deck in the twilight, twinkling like all the stars had come down close, and I've wondered what it looks like to watch the city dimming and turning dark from above. It was nice to be up there with my friends, watching the clouds wrapping themselves around us and my city spread out below. Mostly, this is a pretty nice life.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The breeze shifted for a moment, smelling exactly like Arizona, barefoot and dusty and halfway in love, careening through the scrubland with no one around for miles. The air sweetened later that night, the only lights from our car, staying awake by looking for shooting stars and never finding them. I think about that some afternoons, everything right and happy underneath the open empty sky, all those minutes still spooling out over the desert. There's still a me out there somewhere, holding all of that in my hands.

And then the wind shifted back and I found myself plain old bareheaded in the rain like usual, walking nowhere much toward nothing at all, sinking slowly into the sidewalk. I'll blame it all on the wind, all the mistakes that happened or maybe didn't or even more likely are still happening, all this wind that nudges at my bones and pulls hard on my limbs. Sometimes it's only that the weather turns and I can't help but turn with it and wait for everything to shift again.

Friday, March 23, 2012

We're now two years into a world without my grandmother which, you know, is still something I think about all the time. Sometimes it feels almost as though I'm trying to talk her back into being, and maybe I am.

Last week my friend Rick was reflecting on the year that has happened since a close friend passed away, and later he compares this past year with thinking of a friend who was lost long ago. He said, "My friend Valerie passed away 16 years ago now, and I still think of her all the time. The memorial date of the anniversary, I find, takes on less meaning as the years go by. The memories and love just come to you at random times, when you’re doing this or that. And, of course, when you are with close mutual friends. Some years I even miss the anniversary of Val’s passing. I don’t even notice it until a week or two later. But what I’ve learned is that your love, and your memories for them, don’t die, they don’t fade. And perhaps that’s best. I dont’ want to remember her death, I want to remember her life. And so I shall, through the years."

It was this that reminded me of my own impending anniversary. In some ways it's line the lines have blurred--each day without north on my compass is just that every time. We talk a lot about grief, especially lately, since the tides of loss have been sweeping the feet out from under so many people around me. The thing I find myself talking about the most is the luck of it all, which blurs all the lines too; the luck of having known such a person isn't made any less a miracle just because they're no longer here. Henry James wrote a letter to a friend about grief, and it in he said, "We all live together, and those of us who love and know, live so most. We help each other—even unconsciously, each in our own effort, we lighten the effort of others, we contribute to the sum of success, make it possible for others to live." The gift of grief is that we have the chance to pass this love back and forth, across time and space, disregarding all the lines.

Many years later Steinbeck wrote to his son about love, telling him, "Nothing good gets away." I have been finding that this only grows more true as time goes on.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Lately I have been dreaming of cats, of letting a new stray in each time I open the door, a tabby and a tiny gray kitten and a big fluffy white cat, regardless of my waking indifference to the race of cats. Dream literature is, perhaps unsurprisingly, expansive on the subject of cats. According to my dreams, everything both good and bad in the world is about to descend directly on my head. (Awake, my friends have been leading their interpretations with uncharitable comments about my taste in men.) Still, some say that dreaming of a stray cat at your door is a sign of good luck, and I will take all of the positive omens I can find, just in case one of them turns out to be true.

Usually at this time of year I dream of daffodils, opening up their yellow throats to shout so loudly that the stars draw down near to listen. Daffodils are pretty universally believed to mean optimism and hope and renewal, the favored child of the genus narcissus. Daffodils should never be given singly, since this brings misfortune into the house; even the flowers know that we should always hope in bunches. In my dreams they yell and yell until the whole world stops and waits, until we gather them in our arms and carpet whole rooms in gold.

Monday, March 19, 2012

So, here's a thing that makes me feel calm: I'm going to Iceland for a few days in May. Josh will already be there doing some conferencing, which is great because if you're going to ride a reindeer across a glacier to slay a volcano or whatever, he's the guy to do it with. (Plus, we have some experience crossing frozen expanses together.) I am feeling the restless all down my bones, and I haven't been anywhere new in so long. I am badly in need of an adventure.

Iceland seems like a good place for me, given that it makes policy decisions that cater to the invisibles and has a cemetery of national heroes populated largely by poets. I'm a little wary of being a tiny redhead among a race of vikings, but the first page my guidebook opened to was titled "Ultima Thule", and this I think is a good omen.The place where the monsters are is usually where things are best.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Not too long ago I came home in the gray light just before dawn, legs sore from dancing too long in the wrong shoes as usual, listening to the morning birds just waking up. This year has continued wreaking havoc on my dearly loved, stealing more organs and parents and a certain amount of dignity, but with all of that we still have our dance parties and our champagne and our laughing too loud and too long. Maybe the universe doesn't give us more than we have the friends to help us handle.

A few days ago I was walking when the weather turned, and I found myself surrounded by a swirl of snowflakes and cherry blossom petals. The wind knocked the breath out of me for a moment and all I could see was a funnel of pink and white. I imagine that if I could have breathed in, in that second, it would have tasted like just before the beginning of the world, cold and sweet and full of promise.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

I hear that someone has figured out how to make violin strings from spider silk. This is fun, since it's all modern science and research that have taken us from catgut through metal and synthetics right back around to nature. If we were paying more attention we probably would have long ago noticed all the spiders fiddling on their webs, having spider country dances and long sweet symphonies, hiding their instruments behind their backs whenever anyone else came along. Given what else we know spider silk is capable of, I can only imagine that we will be making violin strings that are impervious to bullets and fire and ultraviolet light, creating sound while the world disintegrates around them.

They found those fossilized spider webs dating back 100 million years or so, all those prehistoric spiders playing songs for the rise of the dinosaurs. Little tiny spider scientists, knowing all along what we're just figuring out.

Friday, March 09, 2012

At one point a few years ago scientists looked at the tiger beetle, with its peculiar way of running in fits and starts, and decided to figure out why. As seems to be so often the case the answer sat in the insect's eyes--it turned out that the tiger beetle runs so fast that its eyes can't gather enough photons to form an image of what it's chasing, so it just shuts down its eyes altogether. It has to stop while it's running just to see where it's gotten to; it's the pursuit itself that blinds the bug.

Maybe I think too much about eyes. It just seems like there are secrets there-- in tiger beetles and ogre-faced spiders and mantis shrimp--that we can't as easily find inside our own eyes. But then. In 1932 Helen Keller went to visit the top of the Empire State Building and wrote a letter to John Huston Finley describing what she saw up there, and in getting to talking about how it looked she said, "It is as easy for the mind to think in stars as in cobble-stones." It's a lot easier to look at eyes than the brains behind them, but sometimes I have these dreams about the tiny little pinpoints left on our brains each time we photochemically change our eyes, like you could peel back my forehead and read what I've seen like braille. Maybe I think too much about eyes, but it's just as easy to see stars as it is to think in them, so maybe I'm really not thinking about them enough.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

I read an article recently that suggested that the crumpled far side of the moon is in truth covered with the remnants of a second moon that ran into it once long ago. It's a curious trajectory in my head, this other moon veering around everything else to slowly run into a place that we can't even see. There's something I find comforting in the thought that even though those bright lights could quietly wink out one night, they may still be kept safe somewhere. They say that something similar may happen to Mars' Phobos, that it will come too close and break apart, that eventually Phobos will be one more layer of dust on the surface of the planet. They say that this has happened countless times before, that nothing can resist the excruciating careen of gravity and space and time.

Expeditions to MOMA made by some of my more trustworthy compatriots seem to confirm that the painting that so frightened me last summer may not actually exist, which is on its own a little alarming. It wouldn't be uncommon for me to make up a spooky thing where none actually exists, but this painting is something unusual. It's possible that the next time I return to New York I'll find something completely the opposite in its place.

In a late night I told a story about Pitch Lake in Trinidad. It's a lake made of asphalt, which always feels counter intuitive, and in the late 1500's Sir Walter Raleigh came across it and used it to mend some holes in his boat. No one has really spent much time figuring out where the lake comes from but they are pretty sure that whole new types of organisms are living in it. That stop in Trinidad was right around when Raleigh was searching for a city of gold, and it seems that along with his crew he must have brought along some of those microbes. An adventurous microbe might have seen Raleigh coming and might even now be colonizing something new, discovering its own city of gold.

Friday, March 02, 2012

It was a year ago tomorrow that I stopped by a bar to meet some friends and strangers for a drink and some talk about Robocop and tuberculosis and walked back out into a world that had shifted slightly sideways. I couldn't have known it at the time, not even with all my rustling the next week about needing something unexpected, but by the fall I would be well down the path toward another hard lesson. I suppose I should know by now to be careful with what I wish for, or at least more specific, but there are some lessons I am unlikely ever to learn. Somehow the only thing that is ever actually unexpected is the universe's consistently indifferent sense of humor.

Still. If we could turn our blessings into money, we would have enough to purchase the moon. If we could turn our blessings into blueberries we could make a million giant pies. Blessings to frogs for gardens and symphonies of ribbits, to diamonds for a glow to outshine the sun. Everything could always be worse, but that has not yet stopped me from wanting everything instead to be better.

I find myself hoping that the spring will bring the sort of calm to be found in the lines of that Beckian Fritz Goldberg poem: "Each time we fall out of love we/ say it wasn't really love at all as if/ landing, a plane would say no, not actual sky." And even if not, whatever else happens will still be unexpected. That's just how springtime works.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

There was a time when we could drag the porch couch out into the steaming afternoons, under the heavy fruit trees and thick branches hung with Spanish moss. The cushions were worn through and irritating under our thighs, the air scented with everything rotting on all sides until the afternoon rains came and swept it all clean. We lounged there eating fruit and drinking sweet things for hours, spitting poison but for the moment at least awake all over.

In Iceland it's not uncommon to stop construction in order to deal with the elves or a family curse, whole swathes of farms where it's impossible to cut the hay, roads rerouted and commerce paused so as not to irritate the invisibles. They say that ghosts follow families through nine generations, and the neighbors tend to worry about what will happen to a ghost if the family is in danger of dying out. This seems like a sensible sort of outlook, given the way everything tends to go. Better to make concessions to the improbable than to be surprised when the stories come to life and take over your bulldozers. Better to be sure of magic and then find it than to miss it altogether.

There's a plan to build a food forest here in town, to plant seven acres worth of trees and bushes and herbs for whoever may want them, common plants and exotic ones. Persimmons and almost certainly clovers to attract the Lotophagi, honeyberries for the smoothest ice creams, maybe guavas to save us all from cancer. I wonder a lot about what happened to the Lotophagi, whether the island of forgetting is still there or if it slowly slipped away, but a case can certainly be made for the possibility of finding it all wherever there are magic gardens, heavy soft fruits and sweet cool rains.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Empirical evidence would suggest that the sharks have the right idea, that it's either keep swimming or drown. It's certainly always been simpler to keep a boy in every port, learning to meringue in the very late hours in San Francisco and waking up to songs in French in New York, a standing invitation to drink too much and talk nonsense about physics in warmer climates and colder ones. I am usually at my most charming when I'm leaving anyway; it's only when I stay still that I drown. The first lesson should probably be to stay away from the small or brackish ponds, but I just don't know how the sharks feel about that. Just keep swimming, wherever I am.

Or so it seems. Stereotypically, most of my friends that encourage this line of thinking are male, and last night I had dinner with one of them. By the middle of our third drink he was passed out cold at the table. I'm not totally sure what had happened aside from a drinking problem that has clearly gotten worse, but I needed the waiter to help me wrestle him to a cab. Afterward I sat at the bar, shaken and embarrassed, thinking that perhaps I shouldn't be so cavalier about whose advice I listen to just because it matches my mood. I needed a reminder to listen to my better instincts instead of my worst ones, the ones that lean toward self-preservation rather than the easiest roads.

You remember when I found the tiny owl standing on a rat? At the time I had no idea who would win. Could the owl carry off such a large rat? Would the rat struggle free and run off? I never did find out what happened, and no subsequent trip up that hill revealed any clues--no rat bones, no dead rat, no sign of a struggle. My feeling about the outcome tends to change, depending on when I feel that the rat always wins or the owl does, if I think it's better to be the predator or the prey. Right now I think that what might drown me is the weight of all these nature metaphors, that empirical evidence is suggesting that what I need is a break from making plans and taking advice and looking for reasons. Just for a minute.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

There's a Finnish proverb that I like, one of the ones with more vowels than seems prudent, that translates approximately to "don't paint a demon on the wall." In some cases it's a calming directive, a reminder not to focus on worst-case scenarios and insulate all of our walls with worries. At other times it's used to break the superstitious fear of something that's been spoken aloud, knocking on wood to clear out all the monsters. It seems like it should be the easiest thing in the world, not to paint demons on our walls, but quite often it's really the hardest.

I woke up yesterday morning after too few hours of sleep feeling insane, heart shuddering inside my ribs as though you could fold your hands around it and calm it like a bird. As though I had been spending my dreams only in running and falling. It could be that the dissonance is getting to me, all the time spent in revelry not the sort I want most, all the time laughing and drinking and still watching the door, waiting in the quiet late nights for footsteps that don't appear. So often it's true that my walls are covered in layers of demons, demons upon demons, having little demon dinner parties and playing demon board games. What I am starting to suspect is that the opposite is just as bad, crafting best-case scenarios and covering the walls with scenic vistas and unicorns and whatever else that are just as unlikely to come true. It's something of a surprise to have to fight my best-cases just as hard as my worst ones, but perhaps it shouldn't be when they turn out to be the same thing, demons disguised as unicorns and showing up to the party all invited.

Maybe the only thing left is to build a room with no walls at all.