Monday, August 19, 2019

Yesterday afternoon we were on the ferry back from Bainbridge Island. It's rare that it's warm enough to be outside on the deck of the ferry for more than a minute or two to appreciate the novelty, but we spent the whole ride across right at the front, goosebumped and getting in the way of people just trying to take pictures. The top part of the mountain was out, and the city sparkled as we approached it, and I started thinking, "what if there was a natural disaster right now?"

I could picture it in either direction. What if Mt. Rainier just blew, shooting its top right of into the air, raining fire and mud and ash on everything south of us. What would that kind of shock wave feel like on the water? Would the ferry stop or would we just keep creeping closer to the dock? I had two peaches in my purse and a small bottle of balsamic vinegar, which would not keep anyone for very long, and I could see the ferry full of passengers smashing and looting the little cafeteria and all of the vending machines. 

What if there was an earthquake and downtown just dropped into the earth? I could see the Space Needle slowly topple sideways, a thick cloud of dust rising up to hide the rubble, screams echoing across the water. If it was the Seattle Fault that blew, would it drop our ferry down into it too? Would we be stuck in a whirlpool like when Ursula gets mad at the end of The Little Mermaid? 

We agreed that everyone thinks that way and made a joke about it and moved on, but my crisis brain had started and as usual couldn't stop. I was almost disappointed when the ferry pulled up to the dock and everyone was unscathed, as though I had spent that 30 minutes training for a marathon that was canceled at the last minute. And then I took the light rail home and the train didn't crash at all, and I spent the rest of the evening on the couch, exhausted by all the catastrophes that didn't happen.

Thursday, August 08, 2019

Sometimes I think about the anatomical models in the Capello Sansevero, two bodies that are a tangle of the whole system of blood vessels built on top of a scaffolding of human bones, their skulls hinged so you can look inside and see all the places that blood lives in the brain. From the 1700's until a couple of years ago everyone thought that they were made of real veins, plasticized in some mysterious old time-y mad alchemist way, but it turns out they're just meticulously constructed from iron and silk and beeswax. Just like real veins.

When I was there in 2008 I was trying to cram myself back together, which is hilarious in retrospect because I didn't know then how many more ways there are to be broken. If only we could run away to Italy every time everything fractured. Those figures looked like I felt, all flensed and exposed, open for every breeze that might pass through, grotesque and familiar.

But then I feel that way most days, and it is remarkable to me that you can't actually see through my skin to the thirteen gnomes running around inside it. I seem to have a face that doesn't show much no matter how much it feels like it does, and I am reserved by nature and usually standing quietly enough that I might be invisible, a foot shorter than everyone else and nervously picking at my cuticles. I don't know that I want to be a billboard but it might be nice to give my gnomes a vacation, to let all the running happen on the outside instead of the inside.

Raimondo di Sangro was the wizard behind the collection of treasures in the Cappello Sansevero, and the rumor was that he could make blood out of nothing. He died earlier than he would have otherwise because he spent so much time working with dangerous chemicals but on the other hand he left a legacy of significant spookiness and wonder. Even if you can't make blood out of nothing it can't hurt if everyone thinks you can.

And maybe that's the trick. Maybe I will never be a billboard. Maybe I will always just be a tangle of iron and silk and beeswax instead of real veins, open and exposed and quiet and still. Maybe it's ok if the only ones who see are the ones that are looking, if the magic is a trick but the trick is magic. 

Saturday, August 03, 2019

There's a mock orange tree along my route to work that I only noticed for the first time this spring. I have walked pretty much the same way every day for the last three years, but this tree is on the other side of the street from what has almost always been my route. Lately the neighborhood has gotten more full of people with cars and my usual crossing doesn't have a crosswalk, so I can't always safely rabbit across where I'd like to. I resent it, a little, all of the cars and the new people and what they've done to my neighborhood. But then there's this tree.

Mock orange trees were introduced to European gardens from the Ottoman Empire when a diplomat in the 1500's came back to Vienna. He brought with him lilac as well, and the two trees have been linked ever since. In the language of flowers mock orange means deceit, which I suppose makes sense since it's not actually an orange tree, although it seems a little rude to lay the blame for that on the plant. Lilacs mean basically everything depending on what region and time period you're in, but they got their scientific name because of Pan, who chased a nymph through the woods until she turned into a tree to hide. He didn't find her person but he did find her tree, from which he cut pieces to make the first pan pipe--because when you've been rejected, why not pause for a second to invent a musical instrument. This seems to me like a much less comfortable origin that just being a tree that smells like another tree, and I'll always pick a mock orange over a lilac.

I have no idea how the tree managed to get to where it is. The part of the road that goes past it runs along the side of the freeway, mostly just full of blackberry brambles and unhoused neighbors--there's nothing even remotely decorative about anything anywhere near it. In the spring I was walking to work and there it was, smelling like orange blossoms and jasmine, seemingly sprung out of nowhere. The flowers have faded now, of course, but I think about how they were there whenever I pass the tree, reaching out through the brambles.

I think of how often it's possible to be surprised.

Friday, July 26, 2019

A big piece of dandelion fluff followed me home for a while yesterday. It was there when I crossed the street, hovering just above my eye level over the sidewalk. We made eye contact, this traveling wish and I, and I watched it float a little higher for a minute, moving so slowly, seeming out of sync with the wind. I turned and kept walking, but a few steps further down the road I noticed its shadow on the ground from just behind me and to the right. It startled me slightly--had my own shadow been replaced by dandelion fluff? Am I really just a wish in girl clothing? That would explain so much--but we were traveling at different speeds and were soon parted.

I don't know where it was going, but I hope it got there. 

Thursday, July 25, 2019

I read a book a few weeks ago about the last voyage of the whaleship Essex, which was rammed by a sperm whale and sank, abandoning its whole crew to a couple of rickety whaleboats and the ocean. Just when everyone was almost dead they came across a small island that had a small source of fresh water only when the tide was at exactly the right place. Three of the men from the ship decided on this island that being lost at sea is for suckers and they'd take their chances on what barely counted for land, and they watched as their crewmates sail away again. They eventually made it off the island alive but that tiny spring, their main source of fresh water, was never seen again.

Last night I was up for hours, crazybrain spinning like a mashup DJ, layering the Lizzo song that has been stuck in my head with an imaginary conversation about something I'm mad about at work with a series of ludicrous worst case scenarios. I keep hoping to age out of late night worst case scenarios (or, let's be honest, any time of day worst case scenarios) but it never seems to happen, so I still just sit there for hours counting the rats scurrying across the patio below and worrying about what if gravity fails. Last night I plotted and plotted about what to do about an emergency appendectomy this weekend while my boyfriend is uncontactable in the woods, and truly it is both exhausting to be me and to be around me, sometimes.

Surprisingly, sticking around on that island turned out to be the better option than sailing off again, since the cannibalism didn't get going until later. Elsewhere on the island were eight skeletons of people who didn't get rescued later, which must have been a disheartening sight to find once their shipmates sailed off and their water disappeared. Mathematically I'm sure the chances of them being rescued were vanishingly small--almost all of their shipmates would be dead and eaten by the time the remaining whaleboats bumped into civilization again, and the island that they were actually on was a different one than what everyone thought they were on. But civilization was bumped into and the captain of another boat cared enough to check one more place for them, and they made it out alive.

None of the guys left on the island were the guys that wrote books afterward so there's no way to know how it went, but I keep thinking about the feeling of going back to where the water was and waiting for the tide to get to the right spot and it just...never happening. I imagine you'd be haunted by a lot after a whale sinks your ship and you're lost at sea, but it seems to me that there must be moments that would stick more firmly than others, and by any reasonable standard--and my late night disaster planning--that would definitely be one of them.

Friday, July 19, 2019

For a while there it was like being a bundle of nerves in a petri dish, everyone just clustered around and watching to see what stimulus provoked a rainbow or a rat king or a neutron star. I know being performatively exposed is the way of things now, but it came to a place of feeling hollow and forced, a place where what was once a release was now a burden. I have never been much of a liar. And I was ok with having once been good at something that now seemed colorless and dry--sometimes wells go empty, and deserts are their own kind of beautiful. There are other ways to make sense of the world.

But we live in a world where the permafrost is thawing and you can find pretty much everything you've ever lost somewhere, and I guess a solid side effect of going hollow is that there's space for something to be again. Eventually. If it feels like it.

And then Mary Oliver died, and I couldn't stop thinking about the poem that is tattooed on my bones:

Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.

Mary Oliver is always right, of course.

So you have been on my mind, is what I'm saying. Last night I had a dream that I was at a party and people all around me kept saying things that I wanted to tell you, referenced over and over articles that I wanted to read and torture and turn back around. In the dream I was filling my pockets with stories, greedy for them like when stone fruit finally comes into season after a long winter of potatoes.

For the moment, I guess the wind has changed.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

The thing is...

The thing is that there are days where I scare myself with my own shadow and can't call it a metaphor, where I can feel something creeping up behind me and it turns out it's only myself. The thing is that our hands might be folded and still but our blood is still rushing around just underneath. The thing is that our blood is full of plants and animals and aliens and magic and we might never know until they've banded together and formed a resistance party and started to demand a way out. The thing is that I can feel a disaster hovering somewhere close, round and grumbling, and I don't know if it's coming this way or if it's only another asteroid that'll whistle past and pretend we weren't even here.

The fourth rule of fairytales is that there are stories stacked up in the underbrush that you don't see, and maybe that's just because they're not your stories. There are a lot of us, lost in these woods.