I took my glasses in for repair and met a man who had just flown home from Italy, where he was married in Florence and then participated in a mass blessing in Rome, and touched the Pope. He even had pictures.
We went trick or treating in the neighborhood, and saw only one or two other children. The neighbors handed out fistfulls of candy and one man offered lovely origami flowers. A few doors down the lady had packets of glass animal figures. One family had turned the sidewalk strip into a graveyard and spooky music echoed through the trees.
Yesterday I was stuck in traffic on a bridge when a rain storm started somewhere behind the car, black roiling clouds above us, just as the sun drooped down and disapeared behind Queen Anne hill.
The waning rays of the sun met the black of the storm and created, in the middle, all around the car, the same magical light I saw last year in Italy. The light of a frayed, elegant Rome on All Saint's Day.
The traffic cleared and I turned left, up Capitol Hill, and the light was there too -- pink and lustrous, the large foursquare houses on substantial lots taking on the aspect of the Bridge of Angels, of Trastevere.
At another stoplight I looked up to see the boughs of the the oak trees splayed, reaching, colored now like the pines I could see from our room near the Spanish Steps, the pines of the Villa Borghese.
The other night at the Odd Coincidence Party (aka the neighbors halloween celebration) the kids won prizes for their costumes. My girl received a porcelain cup commemorating the wedding of Sarah Ferguson to her prince, which took place four years before my daughter was born but on the same day. Their daughter, Beatrice, was born on the day of my car accident, I remember, because the birth made all the newspapers and of course the accident did not.
My son received a Jim Nabors album featuring covers of such songs as There's a Kind of Hush. My son was very impressed with the album; he is a very traditional, sensitive young man, and he held the album close as we walked home.
Yesterday I played it for him and we discovered with amazed delight that Mr. Nabors started the second side with a cover of one of our favorite songs, Honey and we sang along she was always young at heart, kind of dumb but kind of smart, and I loved her so....
Special congratulations to Carla Perry for receiving the Oregon Book Award Stewart Holbrook Special Award for service to Oregon's literary community, reflecting her efforts with the Nye Beach Writers' Series.
I mailed Gabriel his birthday present (three months late, but that is to be expected since he shares the date with my daughter): a turquoise belt buckle with a tiny gun attached to a chain, and a holster to hold it.
Gabriel wrote and said My pistol keeps slipping out of its holster. It's the sort of thing that could haunt one's dreams.
Today it is raining and the sky is gray except a spot of blue just past a thicket of trees I can see from my spot on the couch.
I haven't been singing since we moved here, and right now I'm missing the lamentations of the boll weevil song, and evenings with the chorus in my living room.
We went to a party at the home of the neighbor who has so many mysterious connections to my life even though I never knew her (college barista, friends in common, etc.) and we were sitting on the couch chatting with her relatives (the people who came to my party last summer and lived on the east coast but now live here) and I looked up and one of my very best friends from junior high was standing in front of me.
Another thrilling and mysterious coincidence. I have been in Seattle since June and I don't run into hordes of friends and relatives. Instead, I find the same specific set of people over and over again, at the hardware store, restaurants, parties.
I told my daughter see, you should be careful of who you know in middle school. The friends you make now might be the most important people in your life forever.
My mother came to visit and handed me a small box of stuff she found in the garage. It was a random assortment -- my Wonder Woman pocket mirror, a keychain with a Barbie phone, a small porcelain boy marked Made in Occupied Japan and ugly jewelry I wore in my brief adolescent New Wave phase.
The box contained a Lincoln-Kennedy penny glued to a placard detailing the Astonishing Coincidences between the lives and deaths of the two men. The placard is stamped Compliments of George's Chevron: Not Just a Gas Station East Bremerton 1973. I don't really remember my grandparents East Bremerton shop, but my mother says they used to take me there when I was an infant and put me on the counter and I would recite nursery rhymes and creep out the customers. My mother says I talked in full sentences before I could walk, always said Mother never Mama, memorized poems, held cups with my pinky extended, never dropped a crumb, refused to wear clothes if they were even slightly soiled. My mother says I was a freaky baby but very entertaining.
I wonder how these objects came to live together; they span my entire life but are not necessarily favorites. They fall into the category of things I never missed losing, though I am happy to see them now.
At the bottom of the box, dusty but still bright blue, I found the peacock sunglasses I wore in the last year of high school.
On Monday we were still raggedy and overwhelmed -- in a good way -- from the party, from seeing too many of our friends and making so many new friends. The children voted to go to Ikea so they could play in the cupboards and generally run wild in the displays while I pretended to play housewife and buy odds and ends we might need to finish unpacking the last few (scary jumble) boxes in the basement.
We were walking past the snack bar when a small child stopped and said hello and waved at me. She looked familiar but then she raced away and I peered into the depths of the cafeteria, and saw Super Dad.
I'm easily startled and when I see people out of context, my normal inclination is to hide behind furniture rather than chat. But I had meant to invite her family to our housewarming, and had searched all over for their address with no luck. To see her at Ikea less than a day after our house cleared of guests was baffling and I hardly knew what to say, but I waved and she came over and said that she was playing housewife. We laughed and traded addresses; she knew somehow that I had moved to Seattle, feeding my confusion about, well, people. I assume that nobody talks about me unless I am present.
But I also assume that I am invisible, and that is apparently not true.
She asked why we moved and I couldn't remember so I shrugged; I suppose the answer is Byron got a job but it seems more complicated than that simple response; it feels like we moved because the slipstream of fate grabbed us by the hems and shook us and we landed here, because this is where we belong.
Last week an old friend came over and we were talking about mutual friends and she said, in reference to one particular person, but you aren't talking. I shrugged and said I don't have arguments, I have expectations.
My primary expectation is that my friends deserve and require my respect, and that our relationships are formed on the principle of reciprocity. If I know someone, consider them a friend, that means we have both entered into a contract where we help each other, render support, act in considerate ways. I believe that there is a code of conduct, an identifiable etiquette, no matter how you dress or what is playing on your turntable.
This does not mean that I demand specific kinds of support; mostly I want to be alone. I don't talk on the phone, I rarely go out. It just means that I expect my friends to take care, and avoid the big and obvious mistakes.
There are a couple of people in my life who exhaust me, and I fade away. I can't do the drama, the toil. I have enough worries between finding time to work and taking care of a family; the friends who remain solidly part of my daily existence are the people who are helpful. The rest, no matter how delightful, get a limited amount of time.
I don't argue or fight with anyone, though I am prone to categorical opinions like if you ride a bike with no helmet, you will crack your skull and end up in a vegetative state and spend the rest of your days in a nursing home or you are absolutely wrong in your opinions about the economy / politics / history / literature but mostly, I don't care. I just change the subject. It is really fine if someone likes a band I hate, and though questionable voting habits might make me suspicious, when the skull gets cracked open I still go to the hospital and interpret medical language for those who have never been initiated.
It isn't convenient for some people that I have this particular theory. But that also falls under the heading of things that don't matter. I am not currently in an argument with anyone, and if any of my friends feel differently, they have forgotten the point of our friendship.
Our house is now officially warmed -- approximately two hundred people showed up between four p.m. and a misty dawn to say hello, eat, drink, and watch The Dolly Ranchers. Our party combined with another celebration plus a show meant that the house was so crowded I missed the whole show except the last two songs, and those I saw through a crack in the front door.
The party was chaotic and I don't really remember much except the strange and exquisite moments-- introducing friends from Portland to friends from junior high. Sitting with the band for a few minutes before the tumult. Hearing rumours about myself that are patently false and very funny. Swarms of beautiful children running everywhere. Snail races. Warming my feet at the fire and enjoying my friends after the crowd cleared.
Since Gabriel was here, we had to have an emergency, and this time it was the kitchen sink. A tiny pate knife with a porcelain piggy handle went down the insinkerator, and Gabriel plunged the sink with his hands and then he and a very nice fellow I've never met took the sink apart, fiddled with the fuses, then put it all back together again.
Whenever I do the big parties I always think never again but I will forget all the work soon enough. Strangers broke my hammock, gouged my wooden counter, and the sink repair will be expensive, but I think it was worth it. I love introducing people who might never meet each other otherwise, meeting new people myself, and seeing my friends.
When I was hospitalized for a month at age twelve, my sixth-grade teacher visited and brought me the Chronicles of Narnia and the adult novels by C.S. Lewis. These books were a great comfort to me as I recovered from a perilous illness; they suggested simple truths, and helped me imagine a way out of the murky horror of my situation.
My culturally atheist family offered no promises of heaven after earth, no religious justifications. There was no god and no prayer and the only salvation on offer was pure fiction, other worlds, magical creatures, brave children undertaking scary adventures.
I forgot about the books until recently, when my son bought The Magicians Nephew on tape and we listened to it over and over, the story of the book opening in my mind the story of my own past. The way the hospital sheets felt on my legs, the way my hand swelled around the IV, the poorly drawn murals on the walls of the children's ward.
Aside from the problem of my cancer, there were larger issues to worry about in the 1980's. For most sensitive children, nuclear war was of primary concern. I lived in a county with six military installations and we were informed by our elders that our town was a first strike target. We were in the top ten list for destruction. I read the C. S. Lewis books as allegory (I knew even then about his religious and academic position) about personal struggle, and about modern warfare.
Now my son is six years old, and he is exquisitely attuned to crisis and drama. We haven't been able to watch television since 9/11 because the images were too much; we have not listened to radio accounts; we have not left magazines open with photographs of the burning city. No adults have discussed the specific details of that day, or the ensuing attacks, in his presence. But he knows. He can feel it, he can taste it, and he is afraid.
We listened to The Magicians Nephew and imagined ourselves to be Digory and Polly, imagined going on their fine adventure and making the same brave choices. I thought about the witch and her Deplorable Word and realized how significant this story is, how avidly it makes an argument for peace in our own world.
Eleanor Roosevelt said Nothing we do in this world is wasted and I have come to the conclusion that practically nothing we do ever stands by itself. If it is good, it will stand some good purpose in the future. If it is evil, it may haunt us and handicap our efforts in unimagined ways.
I know too many people who say they believe in peace, or that they are committed to activism, people who need supportive friends and a community, and then sabotage their own scene with toxic gossip and stupid lies. Or worse yet, people who do not see clearly that they are hurting someone or something they love. This simple daily reality can stand in for the larger issue of rogue states and war.
This rumination may seem tangential but it leads me back to one idea: the Deplorable Word. The Word that, when spoken, can ruin everything. The Word as symbol can end cities and civilizations. The Word as daily reality can destroy beauty, community, friendship. I guess that today what I'm thinking about is how to find an antidote to that Word, how to plant a tree like Digory, that will later be made into a magical cupboard.
I don't really care if these thoughts are banal or excrutiatingly maudlin, because fundamentally, it is a romantic and hopeless pursuit to be on the side of peace and happiness. The most courageous choice is to do it anyway, to be in love, to have children and friends, to be vigilant and let go of resentment and anger, to oppose all war on principle, to embrace the scorn of the people who choose differently.
This is the most surprising thing I have learned today: Toni Tenille did the backup vocals on Pink Floyd The Wall.
I find this vastly more strange than the Olivia Newton-John vocals on John Denver songs. Though perhaps it is less startling than the fact that a song Nico did called I'm Not Saying (I'm not saying that I care, I'm not saying I'll be there, but I'll try) was written and originally performed by Gordon Lightfoot. It sounds way less creepy when Nico does it.
Last night we went out to eat jambalaya. The kids were drawing with crayons and we were gossiping and we looked up to find that our waitress was a friend who moved away perhaps six years ago.
Leslie. You are supposed to be in Chicago I said, blinking up at her. I was so accustomed to ordering from her at the Smithfield, I halfway expected to be served gooey muffins for supper.
This latest coincidence follows a whole host of odd connections. Byron was interviewed for his job by someone I went to grade school with. Many of his co-workers are people we knew in college. Both institutions are tiny alternative schools, and I would not expect to meet fellow grads in the course of regular life.
The new neighbor across the street looked familiar, and in discussion we discovered that she went to college with us and worked at one of the coffee shops and then moved to New York, where she knew some of our friends. In further conversation it came up that she is related to one of my Hip Mama friends, someone I met last year at the breakfast kegger, who lived on the east coast but has since moved to Seattle also. And when we tracked her down, we learned that she also went to the college.
The woman who co-produces one of my web sites lives here and I had known her for years before I figured out that we grew up about a mile from each other, ran around with the same kind of kids, and went to the same college. She remembers Byron from the era when he squatted an A dorm kitchen.
I was talking to an editor friend and she mentioned that her husband works at the same place as Byron. The odds of these two being anywhere near each other at work is remote, but they are in fact not only in the same building, but in the same group. This fellow also went to the same college. And he was roommates with some of our friends.
A month or so ago I went to Kubota Gardens with Gabriel, Anna Ruby, and Marisa. I was telling them a story about how my daughter ran down the hill with an open umbrella in front of her and didn't notice the bridge; she careened off a bush and tumbled into the stream.
Just as I finished the story, my foot slipped on the mud next to the stream and I fell forward, skidding on rocks and mud, landing half in the shrubbery. I jumped back up and laughed and said like that.
My friends gasped and someone asked are you okay? and they clustered around, picking foliage out of my hair, wiping the mud off my clothes. I looked at my hands, red and scraped, and then pulled my skirt up to check my knees. My tights were shredded and the left knee was bleeding, rocks stuck in the wound, and I plucked at the fabric to peak underneath.
I'm fine, I said no problem and started to walk down the path again.
While the others looked for koi fish in the ponds I sat on a bench with Gabriel. He took out his sketch book and asked how are you really, dear?
I flexed my knee. It was swelling, and still bleeding, and the tights were crusty and sticking to the wound. I didn't particularly notice a sensation of pain because my humiliation was more acute. Creeped out I replied. I'm still not used to people taking care of me
He started to draw in his notebook. But it is so nice for us when we get the chance.
Back at the free apartment, I peeled my tights off and looked at the damage. It was fairly gruesome, and I could feel it. I also couldn't bend my knee. I soaked out the rocks and dug around to find gauze and tape and then asked if anyone had Arnica. Someone handed me a vial of the homeopathic and a glass of wine and I took them together.
Marisa said You know, that won't work if you drink alcohol with it.
I wrinkled my forehead. But it is just a faith cure. My belief in the in the cure won't be damaged by a glass of wine.
Marisa laughed. I don't know which I like more, the fact that you believe it is a faith cure, or the fact that you use it anyway.
For the most part, I do believe in faith cures; I believe in the power of the placebo. I think that all medicine, even the high-tech variety, is fundamentally useful only when the patient wishes to be cured.
The real problem is that I don't know how to accept help. I'm used to being alone with injuries and illness and I'm old enough now that my solitary stoicism has evolved from a bad habit to a character trait. I don't like to go to the doctor, or any healer, even when desperately ill. I struggle and chafe under a sympathetic gaze.
A few years ago I was sick, and most of my friends disapeared, scared off by the ramifications of the disease and by my bad attitude. I didn't know how to ask for help or accept help when it was offered, and then I was sad when people left me alone. I was deep in a painful, depressive fog when Stella showed up and informed me that we were going to dinner. She took me out and talked to me and that simple act of kindness was impressive, powerful. I took it as a sign that I needed to actively get better. I kept going to my acupuncture appointments and started to think about a plan, a strategy, to surround myself with friends like Stella, with people who take care.
I believe in faith cures, and I'm practicing. I take Arnica when I get hurt. I drink tea, herbal tea from the natural foods store, with helpful titles like Wellness and Calm. I open the paper tea bag, place it in my little blue teapot, and light the stove. I boil filtered water, pour it over the tea bag, steep the tea. I pour the brewed tea into an orange cup, and hold it in my cold hands. I drink the tea and believe the label, believe the promises printed in blocky green letters, and I ignore history and facts and scientific theories and all the contradictions of my own body. I practice being healthy like it is a competetive sport. Right now I'm more like a fan of good health, a member of the audience. But I'm working hard and hoping for a junior varsity level of achievement.
When we met Gabriel and Danielle in Astoria they handed us a cooler. Inside was the wig, nicely chilled.
Back at the free apartment, my son pulled the wig out and carefully placed it in the freezer. When we moved to this house, he made sure that the wig moved along with us, and now it is resting on the bottom of the freezer in the basement.
Gabriel visited again and brought our first housewarming gift, a box of waxed paper squares from a festival in Colorado fourteen years ago. He said that while his mother served cheeseburgers he did sketches on these squares and pressed them on to the customers.
During his visit with us, I managed to flood the basement, and Gabriel was called to service in the rescue of all my books and ballgowns.
Later, on a break from helping us paint, we were sitting in the kitchen with the boxes of food that had been in storage all summer, laughing and gossiping. I looked up and saw an army of worms marching across the ceiling. I yelped and got out the vaccum, and for the next two days our visitor painted the walls orange, pink, blue, yellow; helped us preserve the stenciled rap lyrics in the sitting room; and observed as we ripped through boxes looking for the infestation of worms.
I think we found about a thousand of the worm creatures.
They are dead now.
We are lucky to have a friend like Gabriel.
I have decanted every single one of our book boxes, and am confronting the lifetime accumulation of serious readers. The living room is waist deep in tottering towers of books dating all the way back through grad school, college, high school, childhood.... it's amazing we dragged these things around with us for so many years. The literature is justifiable but do I still need What the Anti-Federalists Were For, or Images of Organization? Chadha: the Story of an Epic Constitutional Struggle gave me the shivers. I have a perverse love of public administration, and I adored these books. They are cracked, marked up, the margins crowded with my comments on various points of policy.
I found my grandmothers copy of the Louisa May Alcott books, and my own set, and my daughters set.... I found the books my parents special ordered when I was three, my name and the names of long-forgotten friends and my pets (Captain Dum-Dum and Casper and Raspberry) inserted in the text. I was thrilled to be reunited with Greg Finds an Egg.
Byron is the fellow who read literature for his degree, and all the Conrad, Wilde, Descartes, Miller, Orwell, Maugham, all the dusty and bedraggled paperbacks, are his. But the saddest of the copies are inscribed, they have loving notes from dead friends and relatives, and I can't just throw them away.
I will for now ignore the fact that the other side of the living room is an impenetrable mass of record albums and cassette tapes and cd's and photographs and .....
This is the third move in three months, and I am rather tired of the whole process. It isn't very amusing.