Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013, I have had a nice time being friends with you.

I moved this year, for the first time in 10 years, in with my nice boyfriend. I changed jobs for the first time in almost as many years. After a few years of revolutions like growing new skin from knives and glitter it has been a nice change to move forward instead of just away. I wandered a little, to Hawaii and Asheville and twice to New York, back to magic Orcas. I met babies and celebrated engagements and learned how to make flatbread.

We lost my nan this year, unexpectedly, and while we are no stranger to loss in these woods it's a unique experience to lose someone who has been gone for so long. Still, as we go along we find ourselves riddled with empty places, pocked with holes, and that's never any easier to accept. Even when we grow back around what is gone.

Mostly you were quiet, 2013, a nice year for breathing and thinking and laughing. I think of Jane Kenyon's "Happiness":
There’s just no accounting for happiness,
or the way it turns up like a prodigal
who comes back to the dust at your feet
having squandered a fortune far away.

And how can you not forgive?
You make a feast in honor of what
was lost, and take from its place the finest
garment, which you saved for an occasion
you could not imagine, and you weep night and day
to know that you were not abandoned,
that happiness saved its most extreme form
for you alone. 
Or, I suppose, the most important part, like this line from Mindy Nettifee, "One look from you and my spine reincarnates as kite string." I think you're pretty alright, 2013.


Thursday, December 05, 2013

I read Cry, the Beloved Country around the same time most people do--maybe 9th, 10th grade. In Wuthering Heights Catherine Earnshaw says, "I've dreamt in my life dreams that have stayed with me ever after, and changed my ideas; they've gone through and through me, like wine through water, and altered the colour of my mind." At some point I adopted that as the best way of explaining the books that come to you just when you need them and forever alter the alignment of your brain, and Cry, the Beloved Country was just that kind. It was the first time I had heard of apartheid and it came to me as I was starting to realize for myself the startling breadth of injustice and hurt in the world. And so it was subsequently because of Alan Paton that I read about Nelson Mandela and started thinking deeply about the startling breadth of kindness and light that is also possible in the world. This is the side that I have tried to fall on ever since, and part of what led me to this life as a public servant.

I spend a lot more time thinking about South Africa these days than one would think, but I work in HIV prevention research and that is one of our battlefronts. It's one of those funny through lines that happen in life all the time, how I spend half of my days thinking about this place that was so abstract to me as a young teenager but still, for a while, a place that I spent half my time thinking about. Like wine through water.

“There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Tomorrow is my favorite holiday, and while I can sometimes get a little Proustian in the long-winded the thing right now is to get Proustian in this way: "Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom."

Just now, nothing could be better than this.

Monday, November 18, 2013

A couple of weeks ago a friend of mine lost his father quickly to an unexpectedly aggressive batch of cancer, and then a few days after that in a different part of the country another friend's wife had their first child. Sometimes I wake up wondering about their molecules and if they crossed, these two people who would never have known each other, related to two people who will never meet. I wonder if wondering makes it easier or harder.

Recently there was an article about how some Civil War soldiers after the Battle of Shiloh were surprised to find their wounds glowing softly in the dark. The soldiers with glowing wounds tended to heal better than the average Civil War wounded, and so the mysterious light was nicknamed "Angel's Glow" and everyone left the story there for 140 years. It turns out that the soil at the Battle of Shiloh had a kind of nematode living in it that hosts a bioluminescent bacteria that could live in a hypothermic body long enough to scare off the pathogens growing there. And so while falling wounded in Tennessee is not the best outcome that could have happened, it turned out to be better than most. A glowing wound is better than a dark one.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Mt. Constitution

It has been a while since we've gone to Orcas, the magic a little depleted by a series of small interpersonal earthquakes out there two Thanksgivings ago. But the island was still there, just like it's been for all this time, gathering beauty and calm.

So when the car we were riding in broke down before we could make it to the ferry, in a pocket of road without cell phone reception, it seemed reasonable to at least consider just up and living there forever. There aren't any simple ways to get to or from the ferry or out of Anacortes on the other side, but we could probably find shelter and make enough driftwood art to live off of. Until the next big idea came around, at least. Until someone noticed we were missing and came looking for us.

While we waited for the tow truck to arrive we watched two bald eagles wheeling above the trees. Not hunting, from what we could tell. Just dancing.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Our mornings and evenings have been heavy with fog, and on my way to work I passed the last of the dandelions all nodding with moisture. I worried, walking by, about all the wishes sitting there sodden, too heavy to lift through the air and plant themselves somewhere new. All those wishes that might never get off the ground.

Someone I like very much has an unpleasant diagnosis, and over the last few days I have watched something very private turn into something very public and inspiring, and...I just can't really think about it, friends. I feel outpaced by all of the losing this year and buried under trying to find what is light inside of what is dark. I am feeling fragile and worn thin and lucky and angry and tired.

Last week I read an article about a bunch of scientists out in the Australian desert taking x-rays of trees sitting on top of an unmined gold deposit. They've always known that that thing growing over gold ended up with gold in them, but they couldn't be sure if it was coming up from the ground or if it was kicked up by the wind. The x-rays show that the trees gather it through their roots and thread it all along themselves to their leaves, where it concentrates in the highest amounts. You can see it there in the x-rays, little spots of difference all along its veins. You could cut the tree open to find the sparkle laced inside, of course, but why would you? We have always known that the ground on which we plant ourselves makes up the nature of our bones.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

I am thinking mostly about cooking this fall, about keeping my small family fed and safe and healthy. There's little else that I have any say in, with this world being a basket of yarn and three kittens most days. I keep finding myself reading memoirs about kidnappings and mental illnesses and wondering how much of becoming paranoid is just good common sense.

A month or so ago I read a news item about magic in the Maldives and how a coconut was arrested on suspicion of election tampering. Coconuts are inscribed with spells in the Maldives, it seems, and no one was sure if the coconut was being used to rig the vote. The police brought in a magician who cleared the name of the coconut, and I think it seems like a good idea for us all to have a magician on staff. Just to be on the safe side.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

On our last night in New York we took a sail boat ride out into the Hudson River, just about sunset. I wrapped my bare legs in a green blanket and my hands around a glass of champagne and watched the city get further away and come into view in the way only a city can. Once out in the river they cut the engine and raised the sails, and we watched the Statue of Liberty approach, the sky ringed in rainbow, silence all around. I could have moved, I guess, walked around the boat and looked at all the angles, but it seemed like a better idea to stay part of the stillness and the quiet.

From the water, all the lights in all the windows kept their secrets.

On a rooftop visible out the window of our rented apartment stood some kind of statue, arms raised above its head. We probably could have guessed at its location and gone looking to find out what it was, but I like to think that it wasn't a statue, that it was someone who lives in the building regularly taking to the roof and greeting the sky.

Monday, September 23, 2013

I am heading back to New York this week for a vacation with my nice boyfriend. Historically, New York and I are in love like Bonnie and Clyde, all high spirits and total destruction--last month's trip left me unable to speak for almost a week--and I am itchy with the zugunruhe as usual.

Sometimes it feels like a waste of my bones to go back to the same places when there are so many other places to go. In my daydreams we go in search of the rarest--the flowers in Jamaica that only bloom every 33 years (2017, friends), and the ocean jasper. Ocean jasper is a kind of orbicular jasper--a stone seeded by needle-like crystals--that is only found by boat off the coast of Madagascar at low tide. Most jasper stands for healing, and we could make bouquets of the stones and cure all the world if we could just get there first.

More recently I read about a town in Bavaria called Nördlingen that is built from the stones of an impact crater made something more than 14 million years ago. The meteorite that made the crater hit a graphite deposit and birthed stone laced with tiny diamonds, and it is these stones that the townspeople used to make their village.

On my first trip to New York, in July of 2001, we walked out of a Broadway show to sidewalks laced with mica. I had no idea how it was possible for the ground to shine so much, but I was enchanted with that night and everything that surrounded it.

One of my favorite things about going places is how much of the world sparkles, and how frequently you can find what is rare.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

They're digging up Neruda to see if he was poisoned, which is one of those things that you know but don't think about until the weather starts to turn and everything is the greenest it might ever be. I like to think that on top of the murder or not murder they might find will be the discovery that all the poems he left unwritten will have worked themselves out of his bones. That his gravesite will be littered with words. Above the ground it starts to rain and the air tastes like Neruda, all love mixed up with nature. "At night I dream that you and I are two plants/ that grew together, roots entwined,/ and that you know the earth and the rain like my mouth,/ since we are made of earth and rain."

Sometimes in recent years I can feel a four-leaf clover before I see it, sure that one is in the grass nearby. I think in general the odds are in my favor, but mostly what I think about is all the luck I'm not finding, snuggled down there in the grass. 

In Japan the practice of repairing a cracked vessel with gold is called kintsugi, which is a way of making something broken more valuable than when it was whole. I like all these pots and cups that wear their cracks on the outside rather than trying to hide them, to fit everything perfectly back together but weaker at the joins. There's nothing wrong with having once been smashed.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Here we are now, 31 but still also kind of five years old. There's a Dzogchen tantra that I mostly forget about that goes, "As a bee seeks nectar from all kinds of flowers, seek teachings everywhere. Like a deer that finds a quiet place to graze, seek seclusion to digest all that you have gathered. Like a mad one beyond all limits, go where you please and live like a lion, completely free of all fear." Which might be right and all, except I'm not sure about that part with the lion, since all these years of nature documentaries have taught me that nothing at all lives completely free of all fear. And rightfully so.

Lately I've been thinking about this poem that talks about flies and the way that their brains rewrite themselves when they accept the pheromones of another fly, that talks about reincarnation and the possibility of committing enough injustices in this life to be reborn as flies in the next. That talks about loving to the fullest extent of our brains.

The other morning I looked at an app on my phone that randomly selects two categories of poems and brings up what fits beneath that. That morning it gave me almost 200 poems on contentment and life. Today it is contentment and youth. Both of these are true.

Monday, August 26, 2013

I have been thinking about the wedding I just went to, about how my friend managed to fill a music venue with 500 people all ready to testify to whoever happened to be near just how great a guy he is. It is uncommon, I think, to see a life lived so big, and even less common to see it all condensed together. It was lovely to watch.

On the way home I flew over the forest fires, what looked like clouds resolving itself to be smoke and a thin line of bright red arcing jaggedly across the landscape. Unseen from above were all the people almost certainly down there trying to beat the flames back.

We landed in Seattle just at sunset, Mt. Rainier looming over a line of clouds all burnt reds and soft greens, the city clear below and an enormous moon just off to the side, possibly the most spectacular sight I have yet seen on my approach home. All electronic devices were turned off, so I am keeping it just here, slightly behind my eyes, for whenever I need it next.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

I read an article about how if you make a flatworm learn a maze and then cut off its head, it still remembers how to navigate the maze. Which is no surprise, right? We already knew that we keep our memories laced everywhere, wrapped around our nerves and branching all through our limbs. We can feel them there, humming, as we move through space.

I was thinking about that Australian cryptid, the yara-ma-yha-who, who drops on you from a tree and siphons out your blood to make you weak. Once you can't fight back it eats you all up, has a drink of water, and takes a nap. Refreshed, it vomits you back out, shorter and a little red. It repeats this process a few times until you turn into one of it. This seems like an extraordinarily bad set of memories to have baked into your bones, but I don't suppose we get to choose the memories we keep.

But more interesting anyway is the memories afterward, once you have been made into a yara-ma-yha-who, destined now to spend the foreseeable future dropping out of trees and eating people. If you are transformed, do you keep your memories? If you turn a flatworm into a golden retriever, can it navigate the maze? We spend so much effort trying to keep our memories that it turns out I have no idea what one has to do to shed them. And anyway most of the time a flatworm stays a flatworm, shot through with the mazes it has run before.

Monday, August 05, 2013

We are just covered in summer around here, which leaves me mostly thinking about summer things--root beer floats and trips to New York and naps, a video of a baby elephant in a tiny pool, all the antics that bears get up to, flat shoes and how to add more days to weekends. We have attended a remarkable number of barbecues and eaten a record number of sausages. All in all, I think the whole summer thing is working out.

Next weekend I'll be in New York for what is sure to be a giant wedding with the dress code "fabulous". I'll only be there for a couple of days--really, not long enough to even leave Brooklyn so much, but you know how I love a wedding, and an excuse to fly somewhere fun, and a reason to buy something new with sequins.

Put like that, it turns out that my main goal for the summer can be newly defined as wearing sequins and drinking a root beer float. Followed by a nap.

Monday, July 22, 2013

It turns out that once you go looking for stories about doppelgangers, you can't stop finding them--it starts to seem like it's statistically unlikely that you won't bilocate yourself at some point.

Goethe saw himself once from eight years in the future, wearing a fancy suit. Goethe also recommended treating people as you would like them to be, and maybe that comes from this. If you see yourself time traveling back from the future wearing a fancy suit, what's to stop you from moving forward through time into that same fancy suit? Doppelgangers are usually harbingers of death or other unpleasantness, but maybe sometimes they're just from a future closer than others.

It turns out that you can make a brain think it's seeing a doppelganger by stimulating the temporoparietal junction, which is the spot where your brain mostly distinguishes your self. Scientists stimulated a woman's brain right there at the end of the Sylvian fissure and she felt another presence there mimicking her posture. Things got even creepier as the stimulation got more intense--too creepy for the experiment to continue. It could be that the temporoparietal junction is responsible for our sense of self, I suppose, but I find it just as likely that that's where our time travel switch is located.

Monday, July 08, 2013


I flew to Florida through strangely quiet columns of clouds, each its own contained thunderstorm. Each was unmoving and silent and seemed to be hiding an armchair for giants on just the other side. In between them we flew over a rainbow, which seemed just as distant as they do from below. By the time I pointed it out it was gone.

Coming home I found myself unexpectedly trapped nowhere near a window, each jolt of the plane magnified by not knowing just where the ground was.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

It's no secret that one of my favorite things about the world is how often it makes something drab so beautiful, how sometimes just for a day or a week a place you might never have noticed flames into something you might never forget. Like my favorite part of a Tony Hoagland poem:
so Nature’s wastefulness seems quietly obscene.
It’s been doing that all week:
making beauty,
and throwing it away,
and making more.

I am heading back to Florida in a few days for the memorial. I haven't been back since the last memorial. The last few years have seen trips back only centered around sickness and death and while I always dreaded the hot slap of the weather and the overwhelming noise of it all I even more these days dread the memories and the increasing absence of everyone. Knowing how the times when we might all have been happy and all alive, there, are flowing further and further away. 

For distraction I have been feverishly seeking out stories of these flashes of beauty, realizing over and over again that the reason they're so rare is because they can only happen in the perfect conditions, when everything comes together just before it slips away again. It is comforting, how something so rare happens so often, in so many ways. In the same way that the space between all of us has, I guess, even if some of us are now gone.

Friday, June 21, 2013

I forget in between how grief cleaves the landscape right in half, leaving me with half a brain for living my actual life and half a brain for trying to reconcile this new world with the old one. Each time--and the each time of it is exhausting in its own way, since I find myself awake at dawn tabulating how many family members I have left and wondering how I ended up with so many--it's a process of trying to build a new world out of fewer materials. I am tired.

There was an article a while ago that explained how the reason we don't like the sound of our own voices when we hear them played back because the voice we hear when we speak is conducted by our bones. Our skeletons lower the frequency of our vibrations, and so hearing our voices without them makes the air uncomfortably dissonant with what our brains expect to hear. Increasingly I find myself thinking about grief in these terms, how part of the disconnect between the world with and the world without is that we have suddenly lost something that we've always had all through our bones. Even when I am not thinking about it the world just sounds wrong, and it will take some time to right it again.

Friday, June 14, 2013

If there is one thing we have learned around here over the last few years is the solid round of loss and then grief, the phone call and then the long road back from being afraid of the phone. And here we are again, in this place all familiar and dark.

The older I get the clearer it becomes that the danger of all this love is all this loss, the constant struggle to avoid holding back on new love because there are already so many people to lose. It's been a while since I've talked about this, but I go back to this PZ Myers piece a lot:
One of the lies we always tell ourselves is that the pain will go away with time, that we’ll get over it, that time heals all wounds, and it’s not true. Every loss is forever raw, and we can feel it all again with just a thought or a reminder, like a Christmas phone call to the family. The older you get, the more of these moments of grief you accumulate, and they never leave you....Grief can grow, but so can joy. We can find delight and contentment in moments that balance the grief, without detracting from the honor we give the dead, and those moments also accumulate and never diminish in the happiness they bring to us....We embrace both the sorrow and the joy, letting neither reduce the other, and fill up our lives with everything. Hail and farewell, goodbye and greetings.
My nana had Parkinson's Disease, which hit her hard and fast and young. It's a horrifying disease that we still know so little about, and it was awful to watch her recede into herself, trapped inside an immobile body. To a certain extent, the hardest part of this time right now is acknowledging that the hardest part is past, that the person we loved has really been gone for a long time now--that this new  hole in our fabric is no longer filled by someone who has been suffering.

The geographical distance between my family and myself has shielded me from keeping the long watch, which obviously is terrain just riddled with guilt, but leaves me in the position of mainly remembering the time before. It's uneven comfort, but it might just be the most useful thing in the weeks to come.

Monday, June 10, 2013

In a dream we were required to select our favorite poems for submission to something, and so of course I feverishly combed through books and reminisced fondly and savored all of those words in the same way I do anything else delicious. I woke amused and ran through the poems I had been dreaming about, only to discover that while the usual suspects where there most of what I had been reading didn't actually exist. What are these poems, living written only inside my sleeping brain, and who writes them? Probably they are communications from the other me who lives just on the far side of where this me is, codes to a place that slips from my fingers as soon as I wake up.

In any case I of course went researching to see what the meaning is in dreaming about poetry, which turns out to lead in delightful research circles of poems about dreaming. The most pervasive of these is Dreams by Langston Hughes, which I encountered as a child around the sixth grade in the first book of poetry I bought for myself. We have talked about the poems in this book before, but one of the best things about it is that it specialized in the kind of poems that are easily memorized and fill the cracks in a person before they even know that they're there. My copy of that book is all cracked and stained, but then so am I, and anyway we have made it through all of these years together. The best thing about poems is how you grow to fit them.

Which, the more I think about it, may just be the sort of circles the other me was leading this me in. Of all the circles I've been in lately, anyway, this is certainly not the worst.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

It should not have come as a surprise, I suppose, but it turns out their are other options in the self-mummification game than eating seeds and drinking poison. I won't say that I've discovered a self-mummification rabbit-hole, because gross, but in the usual way of things one anecdote seems to have lead to another. The universe is always on the side of patterns.

And so this is how mellification came to my attention, through the interference of the universe. The self-mummification aspect is what makes it different from any other human body preserved in honey, I guess, since that's where it all starts--with honey. To become mellified an elderly man near the end of his life would stop eating and bathing in anything but honey. At his inevitable death he would be buried in a stone coffin filled with honey and and buried for a century. Once he turned into mummy candy he'd be sold in markets in pieces for curing broken limbs and other wounds.

In my head this looks like those lollipops with crickets inside of them, but really none of this should be news. We've been eating the dead to cure the living since forever, if not usually with living volunteers. Since mellified men have never been officially acknowledge they also haven't been officially banned, which leads to the remote but still creepy possibility of old men out there honeying themselves up in order to save the world. And in all cases I think the moral of all of this so far is to never open mummy boxes, not even if they promise to have candy inside. You're never going to like what you find inside a mummy box.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A few days ago, a leaf opened behind my head.

They do this all the times, i realize, leaves. Opening and aging and all the rest of it. Frequently, I imagine, just behind my head. Still, I was just sitting on the couch reading a magazine when something crackled and I turned in time to catch it stretching and settling into place. By morning it looked like all the rest of the leaves.

That plant is also slowly growing flowers, and now I am slightly suspicious that it is just waiting until our backs are turned to unfurl those as well. Everything is growing and blooming right now, and it must be the smallest symphony when we're not there--the leaves snapping and sighing, everything taking tiny first breaths and then larger second ones. Playing for the sunshine, and the cat, and each other.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

For a while in the 1700's, I hear, some Japanese monks took to mummifying themselves. The reasons why are sort of hazy, although honestly I'm not completely sure that you could present me with an argument for mummifying yourself alive that would make me think, well, sure, that makes sense. One version of the story seems to involve some lost secret tantric practices. The other version starts with a monk who decided to bury himself alive to stop a terrible famine, as one does, who turned up mummified when they dug him out three years later. Which seems like as good a reason as any to start a trend.

But you know, it's not easy to mummify yourself. For the first 1,000 days all you can eat is seeds and nuts while exercising to divest yourself of all of your body fat. The next 1,000 days takes you to roots and bark and a drink made of lacquer, so that your insides will be nice and shiny and poisonous to anything that might want to eat your fat-free remains. Finally you lock yourself into a tomb with an air tube and a bell and ring the bell occasionally for as long as you're alive. When your bell stops ringing your fellow monks seal up your tomb and wait another 1,000 days before cracking it back open to see if you've mummified. If yes, up on a platform for admiration you would go.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, self-mummification rarely worked as planned, and of the hundreds of monks that tried it only a couple of dozen mummies have been discovered. This must be part of the challenge--how do you know if you can mummify yourself until you try it? Going through the whole ordeal to end up just plain old decomposed, although also still just as dead.

We know at least the basic details of the mummification ritual, but I haven't yet been able to find an account of what it was like to crack the tomb back open. Would it be filled with a monster or a mummy or a treasure? Or more likely, a combination of all three.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

A couple of months ago I read an article about some people who up and stole a whole bridge in the middle of the night. It seems like it would be hard to be sneaky, creeping up to a bridge with your wrench and a big truck and maybe one of those cartoon black holes in a suitcase, but I guess that's just what happened. And when the townspeople woke up in the morning it turned out that they just had to go ahead and wade to work.

Anyway, it turns out that stealing bridges is not an uncommon occurrence. I suppose if you're going to pull off a caper it might as well involve stealing a bridge with some fake papers and a winning smile. Bridges don't just walk away, so it's hard to say that we would even notice if one suddenly did, if we would just roll up our pants and wade to work as though it was what we had been doing every day. If our bridges suddenly disappeared it's pretty even odds that we would just retroactively decide that bridges had never existed anyway. What bridge? No one here but us and the leeches.

In the meantime the bridge thieves are probably sitting somewhere close, on a pile of ill-gotten gains and suitcases full of black holes, wondering how to separate us from our socks.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Really it was only a matter of time until someone told me about the circumhorizontal arc. I love an optical phenomenon, and I double love one called a fire rainbow even though it has nothing to do with either rainbows or fire. All you need to make one is a sun, flat ice crystals in some high cirrus clouds, and serendipity. Sometimes everything comes together just right and make rainbow flames in the skies.

This seems like the sort of natural phenomenon that would attach itself to myths and omens, but I haven't found any. Maybe it's just that some things are too rare and perfect to be mythologized, too beautiful to be anything but a good omen. It could be that a combination of good luck and lifted eyes is its own reward. I think we should be on the lookout in any case, so that we'll be ready if whatever appears in our skies next is the key to happiness or a new planet or a sack full of gold. It would be a shame to miss something nice, just for lack of looking.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

An old man in an airport bar once demanded that I look up Bukowski's poem "The Laughing Heart". We were sitting there talking about poetry and love and drinking very tall expensive beers before noon and the poem has been sitting there all this time in its own browser window on my phone. (Although to be fair I also have a phone browser window dedicated to knock knock jokes.) I look at it once or twice a day on my way to something else and think about all of the things that strangers have taught me.

Since it lives on my phone it's become sort of my own private poem, but these have been hard times for so many people and perhaps it shouldn't be only my own any more. Perhaps it should be for all of us.

your life is your life
don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.
be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is a light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the darkness.
be on the watch.
the gods will offer you chances.
know them.
take them.
you can’t beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes.
and the more often you learn to do it,
the more light there will be.
your life is your life.
know it while you have it.
you are marvelous
the gods wait to delight
in you.
-Charles Bukowski

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

I am in the middle of moving (in with my nice boyfriend, which is a revolution all on its own), which is exactly as insane a thing to do in the middle of starting a new job as you would think. I spent all but the first few months of my 20's in that apartment, and right now it strongly resembles the way it looked in 2003, sparsely scattered with furniture and mostly empty of life.

Kristina Hayes wrote a poem called "Now That You're 21", which starts like this:
"These years will be glamorous—all the
magazines say so. You’ll learn what not
to mix tequila with, what shoes to pair
with that dress, what your default lipstick
will be, the book and movie and song
that will save you after every failed relationship,
each summer-at-the-beach fling. You will learn
the measure of patience and most important,
how to be alone. You will collect lonely like
some people collect stamps, and you will
learn to keep the light on for it, because lonely
needs company, too. You
will learn that self-love is not
dragging a random from the bar home to
sleep in your bed, but that it
is making your bed before you leave the
house for the night."

And ends like this:
"Soak in these years like sunlight. Re-position
the needle over the vibrancy of your youth. Get
up from the lawn, brush the grass from your
kneecaps. Hail a taxi.
Find your way home."

One of the things that feels the most right about this move is how I don't feel like I missed anything before--I spent all of the years in that apartment being mostly happy and sometimes a little insane, adventuring and rampaging and learning lessons and sometimes doing everything all over again anyway. I had a lot of fun being that girl, living alone in my sunny apartment, and it makes it easy to look forward to this next thing. I have had a great time so far, and I have every intention of keeping it up.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

If you need me you can find me out of my depth just about anywhere there's water, waiting to grow gills or learn how to swim. Somehow I managed to get myself thrown in all of the deep ends at once.

In Hawaii I got knocked over by a wave. The water got in my eyes and made tenuous my connection with my contacts, and before I could clear them another wave came and then another. I was stuck there for what seemed like years, not very clear on which way was up or how to negotiate standing. And then suddenly it was over, and I stood there muddy, bathing suit akimbo and brackish in and out, too disoriented to even be shaken for very long. Had I just nearly become a fish? I wasn't sure, but I was sure that I didn't want to know. Better to not think about what happens in the water to a girl without gills.

But the space beyond the waves in the metaphorical water is much less ominous than in the real water, and so I keep reminding myself that these adaptations are the way to getting what I wanted, that I've had gills all along and only need to remember how to use them. That getting through is only hard and not bad and the adventure of out of my depth is exactly all it's cracked up to be. Waiting has never been my strongest skill, but then neither has breathing water. I'll figure them all out eventually.

Monday, April 01, 2013

I read that some volcanoes erupt only once, developing in clusters in places where the inside of the earth is not quite near enough to set up a full plumbing system, spilling lava all over the surrounding terrain until their lava is all used up.

I was reading about a farmer in Mexico in the '40's who was out burning shrubbery in his cornfield when the cornfield started to burn back. The ground opened up and started smoking, and a week later they had a volcano on their hands. It took a year for the lava to overwhelm the neighboring towns, all the residents relocating to lands not scorched bare. After nine years it had finished erupting and went silent, so now the towns that were one swallowed by fire are being reclaimed by jungle, allowed to rest in the cool and the damp.

It always surprises me, all the ways there are to be a volcano.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

We learned that the third rule of fairytales is to abandon the brambles the refuse to give way, to not waste away trying to see through the thorns when there's a scenic overlook just up the road. And still I stood there for a while, feet planted firmly in the road, sure that if I looked at the problem for long enough I would be able to see through it. It never happened, of course, but the best thing about fairy tales is how much can be fixed by plain old magic, and while I waited the thorns magicked themselves away and I could walk through. Scratched, of course, from all that time stubbornly thrusting my hands into the heart of things just to see if it still hurt, but intact and slightly wiser. It turned out the sun had been hiding behind the brambles all this time, and as I walked the love letters that I had hung on the thorns in the rain began to dry out. All of our faces lifted toward the light.

I don't speak very well, and sometimes I talk myself in the opposite direction of where I was heading. Partly this is because of my habit of chercher des chichis, the French phrase that translates basically as seeking frills but more closely means to look for unnecessary complications in things. The trouble with talking is that I get tangled up like a kitten in a ball of string, careening off and smashing things when I should have learned by now to stay still. I should learn to speak only in haiku until I can be trusted not to break things simply because they are unreasonably good. I should learn to trust the magic.

I should learn to say what is actually true as simply as a poem by Izumi Shikibu: "In this world/ love has no color/ yet how deeply/ my body/ is stained by yours."

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Off the coast at Vik there are three spiky basalt fixtures. The beach is a dangerous one, the currents too strong for swimming. The story is that the trolls were pulling their boat up to shore too late and were caught by the sunlight, turning to stone. People have been navigating by these trolls since forever. I'm not sure it's the best idea to navigate by the landmarks of folly, but I suppose that in a turbulent landscape anything fixed is comforting.

Anis Mojgani's poem "Come Closer" says, "My heart was too big for my body so I let it go and most days this world has thinned me to where I am just another cloud forgetting another flock of swans but believe me when I tell you my soul has squeezed into narrow spaces." It's a lucky thing sometimes to be lighter than the trolls, to be air instead of stone. It makes our mistakes harder to see and impossible to navigate by, here in the calmer waters. Almost as though they never happened at all.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

It was two years ago this past Sunday that I stopped for a drink after class and found a world slightly different than the one I had been living in, a stop different enough to shift the path I was walking down in a new direction even though I wasn't paying enough attention to notice. We didn't think to notice the milestone for a few days, which is funny because at this time last year I was heavy with anticipation given the way that everything had gone off the rails. It's easier to quantify what we've lost than it is to illuminate what we've gained. The Greek phrase for the goings-on of the past year is "istories me arkoudes", "stories with bears"--the kind of stories too narratively complex for believability.

Spring is here, a little, up in the tall branches of the trees, tossing the magnolia petals down to the sidewalk. I still have some trouble thinking about this time last year, the months between when things went upside down and when they turned right side up again, the mayhem that resulted. Better, then, is to think about this time this year, with the cherry blossoms at the tops of the trees and adventures on the horizon and everything the way that it should be. This time this year makes this time next year look even better, and of all the bears in my stories I prefer the brighter ones. Even if they are harder to pin down.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013


It's true that everything is basically made of rocks, but it's also true that I keep going places made from the unfriendliest of rocks, the kind that will cut you for looking at them. And so I think about all of the things that are thrown against them, the shipwrecks and the fish and the tiny snails. The water surely wears them away, but not softly. All of these rocks are constant tiny storms.

The rocks in Hawaii were covered in tiny white snails snuggled into all of the crevices. They seemed unconcerned by the waves, although they must have been brought there by them at some point. I don't know if the waves ever let up enough for the snails to move around and have little snail parties, but they seemed perfectly content just where they were.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Essentially, the history of navigational instruments seems to be figuring out the best way to get home, rather than finding a way anywhere else. It's hard to fix a spot on the horizon with a spot in the sky solidly in place on a moving boat, so we had to get more sophisticated. Our arms gave way to ropes with knots and eventually to complicated machinery, because otherwise there's too much world to be sure of much at all. It's hard to keep a fixed location on a planet that keeps on spinning.

I suppose there is something to be said for making sure we know where we've been when we don't know where we're going, but sometimes I think of those early days of exploration and how it would be almost impossible to get home if you lost your arm. Perhaps this is why we outsourced our navigation to technology--if you weren't going to come home whole at least you stood a better chance of coming home at all.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Swimming hole

I started a new job for the first time in eight years after we got home from vacation, and it takes up all the brains I have. It's a nice change from what was going on before, but I am unaccustomed to being this kind of tired. My recreational research is a secret until after tomorrow, but I have been going down some soft green rabbit holes.

They say that taking rocks from Hawaii is bad luck, that Pele sees them as her children and gets angry when they're removed. Tourists send rocks back all the time in order to end a streak of bad luck. There's no similar good luck curse that I can find, but we must have brought something nice back in the backs of our eyes and the soles of our feet because things have been looking mighty bright lately. I don't know if we get the February we deserve, but I plan to keep the one I have.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Dragon's Teeth

It's funny how I think so often about what it sounds like when a city is flooded and left under the water but I don't think much about what under the water sounds like normally. So it was with quite a bit of surprise that I put my head in the water in Hawaii the first time and hear a landscape crackling almost like fireworks from fish eating rocks. Like no sound I had ever heard.

Only a little bit further under the water were the whales, chattering and singing, making cities of their own. Maybe Atlantis was never lost, just handed over to the whales, flinging their songs through miles.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013


I never liked living in a tropical place, but I always suspected that it would be a nice kind of place to visit. Everyone was confused when I told them I was going to Hawaii for a week, because of how vocally I dislike the heat, but my main point has always been that I don't like sweating, and sweating is so much less likely when your time is devoted to reading things and drinking tropical cocktails.

And now I am pretty sure that I need to focus more often on actually relaxing, since my leisure time is usually clouded by thinking about whatever it is that I should be doing instead of relaxing. And if it takes a steady diet of rum-based drinks and pineapple to do it, well, these are just sacrifices I will have to make.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

In Costa Rica there are cloud forests where the trees consider the traditional way of drinking--through their roots in the ground and up through their trunk to the very top--but also the less traditional method of through the leaves and down. This makes clear intuitive sense when you're so tall and the ground is so far away, but it makes even more romantic sense since these trees live with their heads in the clouds most of the time.

But of course everything is getting warmer and the clouds are disappearing, and the trees are going to have to find a new way to sate their thirst. They tend to drink from their clouds during the dry season, when there isn't enough rain to make it all the way up from their roots, and so the trees that drink the most water through their leaves are soon going to find themselves with no clouds and fewer leaves and just the same old ways of drinking. The soil is still not going to be enough for them, but the clouds then won't be either. They'll have to invent new ways of being, or perish in the attempt.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

I cannot even express how much I am looking forward to going on vacation, but right now it's most of what I can think about. The weather has taken a turn to the icy and I am a little tired of being cold. It surprises me to say it, but it seems that a beach vacation may be just what I need, all the turtles and sundresses and no mittens. I would like to be able to feel my hands again.

When we come back I have some big life change coming up, which I hear is good for me but which obviously makes me nervous every time I think about it. Still, if the alternative is things staying the same I will look forward to something different and try not to mess it up too badly. In any case it will all be an adventure.

Friday, January 11, 2013

I started reading a book about the Venus transits in the 1700's, which starts out by describing just what a difficult proposition it was when Edmund Halley proposed the observation project about 60 years before the first transit happened. Not only was there the obvious problem of transporting scientists from different countries across hostile waters and over unfriendly boundaries, although in the 1700's this was logistical challenge enough. More poignantly, no one at the time of Halley's suggestion had any sort of unified system of measurement, no way for these men to come back and discuss what they had measured at the ends of the earth. So they were proposing to measure the size of the solar system all using different lengths of string and dented tin cans. What Halley had done was suggest that science do the impossible, and it went out and cobbled the impossible together.

The faith of it is what amazes me, that these men who had rarely left their home towns had faith enough in the need of their mission to get on a boat and sail past the edge of the horizon. That they were going to measure the heavens or die in the attempt, that what they had set out to do was more important than politics or wars or technology. We were certain to figure it out eventually--we always had before.

Cautious by nature, I think about this a lot, the challenge of having faith in your own convictions and the inevitability of their outcomes. Are we sure we needed to know the size of the solar system? Couldn't we be content with know that it was there and wait for technology to catch up with our plans? But of course we couldn't, and we set out to fall into something we couldn't have predicted even if we had unified our measurements and synchronized our watches.

More to the point, I suppose, is Rudy Francisco: "If I was to wake up tomorrow morning and decide I really wanted to write about love, my first poem would be about you, about how I love you the same way I learned how to ride a bike: scared, but reckless, with no training wheels or elbow pads so my scars can tell the story of how I fell for you."

Monday, January 07, 2013

The perihelion was last week, but although the day strung itself out all clear and cold and dry we had all come down with the New Years plague and hunkered down instead warm inside rooms.

I wondered how the sun felt about the Venus transit, since the next time it plays host to such a show will be when almost certainly no one currently alive will be able to see it. How it spent all of the last year reaching loops of plasma out toward us which we captured time and again in photos even if we're unsure what it was offering. I wondered how it felt about us sending robots to Mars and under our ice and into the bottom of our seas, if it realizes how many thousands of years it takes for one photon of its own to reach its surface and fling itself out toward us. And if it minds that those photons would never be able to find their way back in.

The sun shrugged and continued turning, rolling back through its track in the universe, prepared to pay more attention when we decide to send robots to it.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Hi there, 2013.

I rang you in in the nicest way, in sequins and surrounded by friends, kissing my favorite guy at midnight for the second New Years in a row. I woke up a few hours later to a very pink dawn shooting through a very blue sky, which is an omen that I will take.

Still I am having trouble fighting irrational feelings of doom, remembering how quickly things went wrong this time last year, how many blind spots it turned out that we had. I keep waiting for all of the shoes to drop, which as usual is making me act a little bit like a natural disaster myself. Self-fulfilling prophecies are annoying that way, so I should probably just stay quiet and still and sober until the feeling passes. Making mountains out of anything at all is not a skill I ought to continue to cultivate.

I'm not sure how it's happened exactly, but the year is already filling up with fun plans, with trips and parties and changes. In just a couple of weeks I'll be going to Hawaii, to sit in new places and eat new things.

Let's just keep it together, you and me, and move forward in all the best ways we can manage.