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.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Hey look, I got a redesign! I know, you're all looking at this in a reader. Humor me for a second.

A while ago I realized a few things. I've been at this since 2003, which probably means I am unlikely to stop at least in the near future. (Let's not pause to consider how many reams of gibberish I have written between then and now.) I can't remember the last time I did anything with the design, but it has been years and years and years. I am not a very design-y girl, anyway, and in that time the tools have gotten way more complicated than my talents or inclinations. Obviously, if anything was going to be done about all this mess, I was going to need a professional.

So I asked Sarah Morgan to make me something, with basically no guidelines, just the email equivalent of vague hand gestures and fish faces, because we all know that I rarely have any idea what I want. I am super happy about how this all turned out and now feel sort of guilty for how I've been abusing all of your eyes for all of these years. Finally here's a change that is working in my favor.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Last weekend, I heard a story about a recurring dream. For years this person had dreamt of being in a room and seeing an ominous man in a window by a door they couldn't open. Years of practice in lucid dreaming resulted in one night when the doorknob finally turned and they could face the man, finding themselves in a dramatic gun battle. The dreamer woke just when they were shot, and afterward never had the dream again. Listening, I wanted to hide, sure that this dream was going to end in someone dead.

Last night I heard a story about finding a news item in an archive about an immigrant woman buried in Seattle in the 1920's and the research odyssey that stretches from it. The smaller story is about a woman who followed a love here from Russia only to be denied entrance into the United States due to apathy at the immigration office; distraught and lost and unable to move either backward or forward, she took poison and died agonizingly more than a week later. Her affianced sat at her deathbed and then died unmarried years later in San Francisco. She was buried in an as-yet unknown cemetery that my friend is still trying to pin down, his valentine's day pilgrimage to Kent having been unfruitful although he did locate the grave of the man in California. The larger story is the romance of that journey, of rediscovering what was not only lost but completely forgotten only because it doesn't make sense not to. We are quite sure that no one has visited this woman's grave since she was buried in it, but have every intention of doing so once he figures out where it is.

I walk through this city of trees every day, wondering about what feeds them, all of the things lost or discarded or buried. I wonder what secrets are drawn through their roots and stored in the bones of all these trees.

Monday, February 13, 2012

There's this cowboy poem I heard once, late at night in a bar in Utah, sick with space poisoning and fatigue and not nearly enough whiskey. I like the rhythm of cowboy poetry, how long it takes to get to the point, all the space between where it starts and where it ends. Cowboy poetry sounds like a map more than just about anything else, the call and response of open spaces and going nowhere in no kind of a hurry.

Anyway, the poem is about a woman who marries and moves to a remote ranch. One day her husband is thrown from his horse and killed, although all she ever knows is that he never comes back. Alone on the ranch she writes poems and ties them to tumbleweeds, which are taken by the wind and fall into the hands of lonely cowboys all over the plains. The poem has a happy ending, but my favorite part is the possibility of the unclaimed tumbleweeds, tangled in fences and underbrush, just waiting for whatever happens next.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

So we made it through January with our skin intact. Most of what we had planned on and much that we couldn't have foreseen was smashed or vanished or both, and perhaps our laughter has gone a little mad, but whatever; all movement counts as a victory. We inventoried what we had. Our skins, of course. Our friendships and our love of dance parties. Our much diminished but not quite killed flame of magic and romance and adventure and the romance of adventure. It's a little silly to count an attempt at brute force optimism in the wins column, since there isn't really any other option, but even false hope is a softer landing than none at all. These are thin times for good news; good luck and hard work have not been on my side for quite a while. I suppose that like any other skill, getting happy takes practice. I'm not naturally gifted at much, but I'd rather not let the hummingbirds down when they reveal whatever their secrets are.

All last year I tried to grow chamomile, but it never made much of a showing. The pot that it was in was taken over by showier but less valuable herbs, and I chalked the whole thing up to a valuable lesson about the futility of starting things from seeds. Improbably this winter it has sprung into being, practically enjoying becoming covered in snow. They say that its flowers should be harvested on clear mornings before the sun has stolen the scent. Perhaps more to the point, they also say that chamomile has the power to remove curses and spells, to attract love and money and luck. Chamomile has always been more of a working plant than a symbolic one; no one gives a gift of fresh chamomile. Curses or no curses, it's a nice surprise to find that the seeds I had given up on are unexpectedly unseasonably bearing flowers. Maybe that's all the luck I need.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

 Hey there, spring. I saw you there, hiding pooled in the first opening flowers up in the tops of the earliest magnolia tree. You're not here yet, but I can feel your slow approach in the soles of my feet and the liquid fire in my veins and pooled in my lungs, in the electricity arcing across rooms and the frantic chatter of the birds. I'm still not letting you in my shopping car yet, spring, not quite back to touching with palms, but I'm open to being convinced otherwise. 

Maybe it's just that I'm only a velveteen rabbit of a girl, not quite sure where the line is between real and Real, but still pretty fixed in my shape. Maybe there's more world than there is me.

I went to see Dave Isay talk about the latest Storycorps projects. (I watch the Danny and Annie animation a lot more frequently than I'm willing to admit.) Their newest collection is about love, love lost and found and unearthed and given away, and in the room he played excerpts of the interviews and a room full of people listened with their heads bowed as though they were praying. There's something transcendent about being in a bright room full of people listening to stories about each shade of hope that bring everyone to every kind of tears. All of us just folks there together.

Later I sat in the bar with a friend, talking about family and loss and regret, and even later alone reading stories about people who have lost something essential and become something less and yet more cruel than shadows. Thoughtless people, but also lost ones. I walked through quiet streets heading home, the thunk of my heels the only real sound, feeling the heat that comes sometimes with the uneven beat of my heart. There is almost certainly more world than there is me.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Russian scientists are close to punching through the ice in Antarctica and into Lake Vostok, which I'm sure you know makes me very nervous. They've spent almost two decades trying to get down there, but that lake was sealed off 15 million years ago and could contain any number of secrets. But there we are with our contaminated machines, just ruining things because we're too impatient to wait. Lake Vostok is more similar to Jupiter's Europa than it is to anything else on our own planet, and maybe it's better if we don't know. Let's just leave those microbes and monsters and treasure chests of gold dust to the depths and the cold. Let the lake show us its secrets when it's ready.

The insides of that lake have maybe not touched the outside world in millions of years, and given the nature of what's underneath it's likely that the opening will invite a geyser that empties the contents of the lake all over the ice, knocking over scientists and covering the land with mysteries. It's probably safer for all of us is what's hidden stays hidden.