Monday, August 16, 2004

Just after I returned home tonight, there was a knock on my door. Can I just say that I have the best neighbors, ever? Kay and Andy, my downstairs neighbors. Kay is from Texas, but she's not a Bush kind of person. She's friendly and talkative, a counselor, always interested in my life. I've been taking her to Hydro-fit lately, and we'e been introducing our lives to each other on the drives there and back. Andy is from the Philipines, originally, and he's soft-spoken and kind. He has spent the entire summer transforming the small lawn space before our house into a glorious garden. Orange zinnias and bright pink fuschias and a profusion of plants for which I don't know the names. (I blocked out the botantical facts after working with Keely on the gardening book.) The doorsteps are covered in summer spectactulars. And I didn't do any of it. Andy did.

He's also a cook.

Yesterday, as I passed him on the front steps, as he worked on the garden, Andy told me that he caught a 20-pound salmon when he went fishing. Wow, I said. He said he was going to smoke some of it, and they'd have me over for bagels and lox soon. Okay with me.

So, they knocked on my door tonight. I greeted Kay, and her pug dog, Daisy. We chatted about her weekend in Southern California. And then Andy emerged from their front door and handed me a plate. A huge piece of perfectly grilled pink salmon, on a bed of red-green lettuce, roasted zucchini, and a roasted ear of corn. What? They just gave me this. No reason. No occasion. Just sharing. I had just eaten at the lovely party I attended tonight, so I'm saving it for lunch tomorrow. But the glowing effect is the same now.

I feel really blessed to be surrounded by so many kind, giving people in my life. This summer, in particular, I seem to be noticing the profusion of them. The orange zinnias and bright pink fuschias of my friends and acquaintances and the ones whose names I don't even know. Everywhere, it's kindness. Those are the only people I have in my life now, the ones who give.

And the ones who like to receive, because I'm the same. I love, love, love giving to people. Sending care packages to Alaska. Editing friends' dissertations. Making mix cds for any occasion. It's the only way I want to live, helping other people. Even when my kindness is not directly reciprocated, it comes back from someone else, almost immediately. Even when someone in particular responds to my gestures with silence and lack of kindness in return, and it hurts my feelings, it still doesn't stop me. I just want to give.

Yesterday morning, I made oatmeal cookies, big fat ones, and took them right out of the oven and headed to the pool. I have made so many friends there, most of them over seventy. Mary had been teasing me that I didn’t bring any food for the goodbye party the day before. So I woke up early and threw together cookies. I didn’t have time to taste them, but I knew they were good. They were enormous and filled with nutmeg. When I arrived at the pool, Mary was already in. All I could see was her fuschia-pink bathing suit straps and her white Nike hat above the blue water. “Mary!” I shouted, and I brandished the bag of cookies at her. She giggled her throaty laugh and smiled. After class---ah, the buoyant feeling after class--we all climbed out and gathered around the bag of warm cookies. Bob had to take out his bubble gum first. Everyone oohed and ahhed. It seemed it was a particularly good batch. It was a sweet feeling, all the senior citizens gathered around me in the sunshine, and me feeding them cookies.

I made a vow, long ago, to help everyone I could, in every moment. Because that's why I'm alive. Why we're all alive, I feel.

"Kindness is my only religion." --the Dalai Lama


Saturday, August 14, 2004

These summer days have been an indolent gift. Every morning, I wake up after nine hours of sleep. Do you have any idea how gorgeous that is? I wasn’t able to sleep uninterrupted for four months after the car accident. When I did finally start sleeping in April, it was because of sleeping pills. But now, I just flop into bed and sleep, sleep, sleep. Every morning, I feel a month better. So I sleep, and wake to my life, slowly.

Coffee. Ah, the French press. Or, if I’m really feeling bleary, I just tuck the button on the coffee maker into place. That’s a happy burble.

And then, I sit. I sit meditation while I wait for the coffee to brew. There’s no point in putting words to meditation, especially when most of the work in front of my small shrine is in trying to move beyond the words into that vast space of consciousness. So, I sit.

Slowly, I turn the knob to make the music come alive. Lately, it has been this Danish boy named Teitur. What? He’s from the Faroe Islands, which I barely eknew existed before hearing about him. And he’s probably 22. But his voice is so clear, and sweet, that he makes the mornings easy. (Thanks to Clown for the downloaded cd.) And he writes about childhood friends and writing postcards and riding on airplanes. And love. Or course, love. “Love is somewhere in between what you believe and what you dream.” He feels familiar.

Coffee’s ready. Ah.

I check my email, write some back. Read the Guardian and the New York Times online. Check out some other blogs (try mimismartypants for a funny read). Write more emails. Bounce up and down on my purple exercise ball. Move away from the computer (foul machine I love). That green chair by the window looks inviting.

Stretch out. A series of little exercises that keep my body from completely falling apart. It’s always about twenty hours away, if I’m not careful.

Muesli’s nice in the morning. Ah, and that chicken pesto sausage smells good.

Book of the day. When I was a kid, summers always meant hours in my room, reading away. Now, I have other activities, and most of them outdoors. But I must read in the morning, somewhere in the afternoon, and just before bed. Must. I’d like to say that I’m reading something edifying and outstanding. Hey, I’m working on the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying in my shrine room. But right now, this morning? Honest? Live from New York, an oral history of the making of Saturday Night Live. Shut up. You try to put it down. It’s like crack cocaine, without the nosebleeds. * (see below for footnote)

More email. Okay, true confessions here (which I started to type as confusions). I like to see myself as intelligent and healthy. Many, many people tell me how powerfully I have changed their lives, so I must be doing something right. But like everyone else, I have a whole bunch of stupid little idiosyncracies that don’t put me in the best light if you know them. And long summer days give me even more of a chance to see these in action. Examples? You want examples?

a) I leave cds face up all over the little table on which my cd player sits. I keep meaning to put them away, because I adore music and I want to treat my cds right. But when I’m done with one cd in the three cd-changer player, I’m usually so eager to hear the next one that I forget to put the old one back. And so, there are four or five bare-naked cds, on top of each other, in my living room. I know. I’m a horrible person.

b) There are always at least a few dirty dishes or errant coffee cup stains on my kitchen counter. I dream of being completely clutter free, but it never really happens. I’ve been meaning to clean out my living room closet, build shelves for all the photo albums, and free myself of the unnecessary items by generously donating the detritus to charity. But I’ve been saying that since I moved in, over a year ago. I don’t think it’s going to happen. I’m always going to have a little bit of clutter. And I’m not apologizing anymore.
Oh, and you should see my car.

c) I check my email way too many times a day. Seriously, like way too many times. Like every fourteen minutes sometimes. If I’m on a hike or playing with friends or out for the day or working on my novel in a coffee shop, I’m not checking my email. But driving home from it, I’m kind of excited that I can connect up again. I know, it’s sad. But the thing is? Almost every time I check it, someone has written to me. I love all the people in my life, and staying connected with them is one of tmy most potent forces. Communication is the key to all great relationships. And there are so many stories to tell. But really, I just love opening my email and seeing that someone has written to me. “Ooh, someone likes me!” And irrationally, I’m still disappointed when I check it and there isn’t an email. (If you want to help me feel more loved, write to me at shaunaforce@mac.com. I’d love to hear if you’re reading this, anyway.) I could say that I’ll try to stop, but I don’t see it happening.

So I checked my email again.

And then, it’s time for Hydro-fit. Ah, the joys of Hydro-fit. The entire morning is building to it. And it was a stellar day at the Magnolia outdoor pool today. Kate, the dippy, twenty-one-year-old girl who has been teaching our class all summer, leaves for her last year at WSU next week. Thus, this was her last day at the pool. Now, as much as I may have liked Hydrofit in the late winter/early spring, that was only a nascent crush. Now, I’m utterly in love with it. Every day, I’m at the outdoor pool at 11 am. The first plunge into warm water is like coming home, every day. And then I bob and float and run cross-country across the pool and pretend I’m a ballerina and do crunches underwater. Mostly, I feel so buoyant and delicious that I could just float on air when I leave the pool. And if I do this, then I can stave off most of the pain in my body for the rest of the day. Ahhhh. I’m daily grateful for it.

So, even though Kate seemed to live in her own little spaceland most of the summer, which made her a rather poor teacher (“You call that teaching?” Mary once said to me in the pool. “That’s being generous.”), she did show up every day. And without knowing it, she has become a big part of my summer. In the pool in the preceding days, all of us chattered and planned as we worked on our triceps. We decided to throw her a party. Because, that’s the thing. These people have become my outdoor pool family. Any group of people whom you see every day for an hour become important, eventually. And with me, it’s usually immediately. I adore these senior citizens and young people with rheumatoid arthritis and brain injuries and torn calf muscles. They know what it means to be grateful to be here.

At the end of another sunny class with Mary’s giggle and my ridiculous laugh intermingling in the air above the water, Kate said, “Okay, guys. That’s it. Now, let’s turn on the slide!” There’s a dark green, corkcscrew plastic slide above the pool, fifty feet in total. They only turn it on for special occasions, because gallons of water shoot down the center. And when you lie down in the water, you can let yourself go and the water carry you, around and around, down and down, until you plunge deep into the pool and come out reborn. Or at least laughing. So all the senior citizens whose bodies could handle it and the little kids and the overweight, middle-aged women and me--we all lined up eagerly at the stairs. And you know what I did when I was going down. WHEEEE!!

Afterwards, we ran to the poolside to eat our food. Mary had made outrageously good guacamole (“It’s not my best,” she apologized beforeheand, and now I know not to believe her). There were crackers and goat cheese. Krispy Kreme dougnuts. Cranberry juice. Carrots and salmon dip. And twenty-five people in their dripping-wet bathing suits, eating and laughing under the kind Seattle sun. People whom I would never have met if it hadn’t been for the car accident. And now, I love them.

You see why I love these summer days? That only takes me up to noon.

* I do believe I unwittingly stole the “crack cocaine without the nosebleeds” line from one of Sharon’s old stand-up routines. So, credit to the inimitable Sharon Jensen.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

My nephew has become besotted with Mr. Rogers lately. Andy told me about this the other day on the phone. Apparently, they showed Elliott his first episode, and he sat there, transfixed. Immediately, he started referring to the experience as “Frogers.” Where did he pick up the F? We don’t know. He must have heard someone refer to Mr. Rogers as Fred on one tape. All it takes is once, with this kid. Now, Andy and Dana don’t want Little Guy to watch a lot of tv, but Mr. Rogers is okay.

So one morning, Andy was feeding Elliott in his high chair. Andy was talking about the day’s possibilities. Maybe we’ll go to the park. Maybe we’ll dance. We’ll read books. And maybe we’ll watch Mr. Rogers.

At this point, apparently, Elliott became all attention. Fast, almost frantically, he waved his hands back and forth in front of him, the sign for All Done. All DONE! And then he started saying, over and over again, “Frogers! Frogers!”

I love that.

So on Friday, when I went to Vashon to spend my birthday with Mr. Baby, and then again yesterday, when I spent the afternoon playing with him, we watched Mr. Rogers. And damned if I haven’t become besotted with Mr. Rogers too. All over again.

I vaguely remember loving Mr. Rogers when I was a kid, but in the way that you vaguely remember breathing. I loved him, sat transfixed before his show, and then eventually outgrew him. When I was a big kid, he seemed kind of geeky, hopelessly corny. After all, I was trying to be cool. What was with that sweater? And of course, Eddie Murphy’s satire on Saturday Night Live is more clear in my mind than the actual show was.

As I grew older, I softened. I’d catch glimpses of Mr. Rogers in the media, or run across a show in one of my idle channel-flipping moods, and I’d go, Ahhh. He’s such a sweet man. You have to give him that.

Two years ago, when Mr. Rogers died, I felt unexpectedly, genuinely in grieving. I cried when I listened to NPR. I read all the eulogies and stories. All the geeky, gawky teenager of me gone, I no longer worried if I was cool. (I’m not. I’ll never be. And what a relief.) I just knew that this man with the soft voice and kind eyes was one of the truest beings I had ever met. And I felt like a friend had died.

But he hasn’t. Because now Elliott, who is not even a year and a half old, has made friends with Mr. Rogers. He watches, agog, when Frogers shines a large flashlight on the refrigerator, and shows how different it looks when he flashes it on the brick wall. And you know what? It is cool. Because watching it with Elliott, I see how exquisitely Mr. Rogers understood the way children see the world, what pace they need to walk. How, once in a while, he will look at the camera, instead of the goings-on, and smile wide, just so the kids know he is participating in this with them. And they are there. Elliott may not understand everything that’s being said--although I wouldn’t put it past this one--but he knows that he trusts Mr. Rogers. He never takes his eyes off the screen. And he’s actively watching, almost quivering with attention.

(Here’s how clear Mr. Rogers is. Dana’s congenitally easily addled mother, who is visiting them this week, didn’t have to ask a single question after watching Mr. Rogers!)

So on my birthday, we watched an episode called Learning is Everywhere. (It’s true!) Yesterday, we saw an episode about stringed instrument. Mr. Rogers showed a film about how bass violins are made. I thought of Kristin Korb, and her sturdy bass, once in pieces in the hands of some unknown maker, and now making gorgeous music. And I started to grow a little agog myself, watching how they come together. And then Mr. Rogers went to the music store to meet Yo-Yo Ma, who talked about how the cello allowed him to express his feelings. When he played the cello, Mr. Rogers sat quietly, his hands in his lap, his mouth open, a look of utter joy on his face. And I saw that Elliott’s eyes were open wide, his left hand tapping out the rhythm of the music on his chest, as he leaned back against me. And my mouth was open in awe at it all.

And later, I realized, that’s what so magic about Mr. Rogers. He’s in a constant state of astonishment. Constantly astonished. And it looks silly to adults, who like to be jaded and feel they are above it all. But really, what are you gaining by doing that? Because little kids are constantly astonished. Elliott is constantly astonished. Every time I hold him in my arms, and he turns my cheek with his hands to look at my ears, and he grabs the dangling green glass from my lobe, he says, every time, “Earring.” (Or a close approximation of it, in baby language.) And every time, there’s this sweet little lilt of awe in his voice. And now I sense he’s just astonished that he knows the word for it. Because that is an enormous power, to be able to name the objects in life. To name your feelings. (All these words? They’re just a more prolific version of “Earring! Ball! Flower!”) And now, by knowing Elliott, and seeing the world a little like he sees it, I’m continuously moved by it.

And after the car accident, I’m constantly astonished by life. Constantly astonished.

Just this evening, I was astonished by:

--the sight of two little girls in long blue tutus, bouncing up and down on the trampoline in their front yard, giggling as I drove by.

--the bowl of sky above the blue Olympic mountains to the left of the Aurora Bridge, pink streams of clouds twirling

--listening to My Sharona on the mystery mix cd I’d found in the car, the song a total surprise, and suddenly hearing it again like I did when I was 14, all that sex and power a possibility

--walking up to Andi (one of my favorite former-student-now-friends) at the Greenlake community center, and seeing immediately the easy confidence with which she commanded that place

--opening her birthday present in the parking lot, and gasping at the quantity of kindness. A tin of cards, one for every month for the next year, to be read on the first of each month. Plus, a mix cd to accompany each one. My god, the kindness in the world, and how easy it is to make people’s evenings.

--walking around Greenlake with her in the dark, talking and waving our hands in the near darkness, feeling close and laughing. Then, turning the corner and seeing, unexpectedly ahead of us, an ice cream truck. Walking away laughing, and sucking on Big Sticks.

--writing this. Always.

That’s the thing--astonishment is always there for us, if we want it. We’re just the ones who choose to put the scrim of expectation and disappointment on top of all the moments of our life. Remove them and every moment is sparkling new.

And along with this, it’s Mr. Rogers’ gentleness that moves me so deeply, that probably keeps Elliott still in my arms as he watches.

After all, this is the man who sang, at the end of one episode: “I like what’s inside of you. Your toys? They’re just what’s beside you. It’s you I like.” And you know he did. Truly. Do you know how much gentleness it requires to like everyone?

Yesterday afternoon, Elliott was having a hard time going down for his nap. Unusual for him--he’s a naturally sweet-tempered kid. But there were new people in the house, his mom was working again, and it was hot. So he struggled and he cried. And my brother walked him around, gently, in the bedroom, talking to him. “I know. It’s hard to be Baby. But it’s okay to have these feelings, Elliott.” And sitting in the next room, checking my email (I have to stay out of the way, or Elliott would never go to sleep), I could hear Mr. Rogers in Andy’s voice. He’s an amazing dad, my brother. Really. But in the week since Elliott started saying “Frogers,” Andy has become even gentler.

Elliott finally went to sleep. But he woke up too soon. And after his nap, he was clearly feeling a little tender and fragile. Quiet and contemplative. He wasn’t the giggly baby I know so well. That’s okay. He just wanted to dance with Andy, be held close and know that someone was willing to move around the living room with him in fluid grace. And Andy moved his feet nimbly, as they do every day, several times a day, moving through Rosemary Clooney songs and the Cucuracha cha-cha and the mambo. Elliott wanted this to go on forever.

But, after awhile, exhausted from all the dancing, Andy put on another episode of Mr. Rogers. Where he goes to the circus. And we learn that some people, like Daniel Tiger, are afraid of clowns, because “...I don’t know what’s going to happen with them.” (I know what you mean, Daniel Tiger. Some people are like that for me, and they don’t have to be wearing big pink wigs.) And Mr. Rogers sat, his mouth open in amazement, at the men and women on the trapeze. (And I whispered in Elliott’s ear: “I was on that once, Elliott. It’s hard, it hurts your ams. But it feels a little like flying, Elliott. Like the birds in the park today, how you noticed they were flying.”) And he patted the elephants’ trunks with wonderful kindness. And he turned to Betty and said, “You know? I think I’ve seen enough of the circus. It’s not necessary to see all of it. I can always come back.” See? He understands kids’ attention spans. (And mine, at that point. It was kind of a lame circus.)

And by the end of the episode, Elliott was fully awake, dancing to the music, and giggling as his dad and I planted kisses and raspberries on his belly and chin. Mr. Rogers had brought him out of his fragile mood, into the world again.

My god, I love this man.

At the end of that program, Mr. Rogers said to his television neighbors: "Do you know how special you are? Just for being you. I know I tell you that often, but it's important to me that you know this. That just by being you, you are special to me." Damned if I didn't have tears in my eyes after he said it. Again.

Because with this astonishment, always, always comes gratitude. Gratitude at how much is offered, all the time, if only we will open our eyes to see it, open our hands to receive it. I’m grateful for all of this.

Since the car accident, astonishment, gentleness, and gratitude are my only religion. I’m astonished at how much I love my nephew, how fiercely and deeply and playfully he has changed my life. I’m aware of just how gently I breathe or approach people or talk changes the air around me. And I’m grateful, so damn grateful to be here to experience all of this.

Frogers, I'm so happy you're my friend.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Yesterday was a gorgeous day--everything relaxed and happy under that big Seattle sky. The fat grey raindrops on my actual birthday (Friday) made the air clear and solvent for my big birthday party at Discovery Park yesterday.

(And no, I don’t know why I used the word solvent there, especially when it means “capable of dissolving another substance,” at least in chemical terms. But it’s the word that appeared in my head, and I trust it. See, the rain dissolved the gunk that had been appearing in the sky from the lack of rain these past few weeks. And the clear sky dissolved...ah, who cares? It felt right, and I’m sticking with it.)

So it was my, “Hey, I’m alive to live another year!” party. This year, I know what it means to be alive. And to celebrate, I wanted all the people I love around me. Now, of course, that’s not possible. I can think of a googleplex of people whose presence would have enlivened the proceedings. In fact, anyone reading this right now? I wish you had been there. But luckily, the entire year has been teaching me to let go of my preconceptions and just live, dammit. (And besides, the airfare would have been too expensive for some of you, especially at last-moment’s notice.) So yes, I wish you could have been there to share it with me. But I wasn’t worried.

Instead, I sprawled out on my green tablecloth (the one I bought new for Thanksgiving, and someone promptly spilled red candle wax on it, and I’ve never been able to get it out) with Meri, eating sandwiches from Macrina Bakery and sucking back bottles of root beer. And then my parents arrived, with an enormous blue cooler full of beverages. (At one point, Mom put one of each kind on top of the cooler, as a kind of display of what was available: Coke, Vanilla Coke, and Arrowhead water. And it looked like she was running a little store for my friends.) And an enormous Tupperware container of homemade oatmeal cookies that Mom had made that morning. (See, I learned it from somewhere.) She had Pop in tow, who was grinning like a goon under his Vashon Island cap. Always good to see that loveable goofball. And Ruth and Mel, who are my parents’ best friends, and a constant source of amusement for me as well.

Then Tita and John showed up, and we all waved heartily at them. John rarely comes off the Island, so I was honored. He was also wearing some kind of Hawaiian shirt, as was my father. And suddenly, I was dazzled by the pure Americana of the event, especially when I noticed that the giant cooler had indentations where you could place your drinks. Tita and John made me smile, as always.

Then Amy and Paul came bearing grapes and a kite. We dragged out the cheese and bread. (Have you ever had Cambozola? Well, neither had Amy, even though she’s a foodie, like me. I recommend that you run right out and buy some, right now. Amy would agree with me, now that she has devoured a lot of it.) Lisa ambled up, only two days home from a month in Spain, after one of the most gruelling returns home I’ve heard, after a lifetime of bad airline stories. That made me happy, to see her. And we all sat around and ate, of course. And told stories. And laughed. Moved into the shaded picnic tables. Both Paul and Tita stepped in dog shit in their bare feet. Yuch.

And I didn’t worry about making anyone happy or making sure that everyone was properly introduced or tried to whip round and see that all the worlds were meeting gently. Ah, fuck it. My birthday--I’m going to have some of that pasta with homemade pesto that Tita made with the basil from her garden. And of course, everyone smiled and laughed and acted like old friends immediately.

And the sun kept shining on the field off the north parking lot of Disovery Park. If I lay back on the tablecloth and peered at the sky, I couldn’t see anything but blue. And feel anything but the warmth of the sun and the dance of the breeze along my face.

Tamara arrived, with a four-pound container of Red Vines. Awesome.

And so, all afternoon, people arrived in waves, with smiles on their faces (like that kindergarten song. Did you have to sing that one? “We’re all in our places, with bright shiny faces. And this is the way, we start off our day.” I have this feeling that singing that every morning when I was five left a deeper impression on me than I’m willing to see right now.). And we lounged and laughed, inviting our souls. The former-student contingent showed up, the ones who had just graduated. They’re still really excited that they can be with me at a party now, and listen to me swear. (Oh, and swear I do. It takes all my willpower to not sprinkle fuck lightly into sentences at school. Take away the rigors of work life and I become a truck driver. Well, not technically. Just my language.) And I was really excited to see them, outside the walls of school, just human beings with hilarious stories and gorgeous smiles. Thank goodness, I don’t have to be in charge of them anymore.

Almost every single person who arrived said the following, as Jessica and Brian did: “Well, we were standing by our car, looking at the groups on the lawn, wondering if this was the right place. And then we heard your laugh, rising above every other noise, and we knew we were in the right place.” All right, I give up. I have a loud laugh. And damned it makes me happy that this is how people identify me. (Much better than that connection with Pierce Brosnan, thank you.)

So there were dozens of people there, laughing and eating and telling stories and looking relaxed. My parents had brought their bocce ball set, and massive games using wide swaths of the field ensued. I looked over once in a while to see a green ball bouncing wildly across wheat-colored grass, just to knock the red one out of its place. Everyone was happy.

Later, a big bunch of us played Apples to Apples, this goofy-ass word game that makes everyone laugh. Really, I defy you to play it and not enjoy yourself. Short of a big Scrabble tournament, things couldn’t have been better, game-wise. We shouted and pitched forward and swore and slapped the table at some of the choices. And Lisa, who complained vociferously that she hated games for the competition, even won!

Mary, my 73-year-old friend from Hydro-fit, and her irascible daughter, Katie, showed up with a bouquet of flowers and a bottle of white wine (warm, but with a ziploc bag of ice cubes accompanying) about 7:00. We sat telling stories, of course. (Apparently, Dave Matthews is a really good tipper.) Laughing. Katie mentioned something about Dick’s burgers. Eric said that he has a certain guilty pleasure there, and he has to visit frequently. Meri admitted that she’d never been to Dick’s before. Aghast, Eric and I turned toward and each other, and said, “We’re going.” So, waving goodbye to Mary and Katie, we drove down to Lower Queen Anne and ordered Dick’s specials, bags of french fries, and chocolate shakes. I haven’t eaten food like that in a long time (not since Lane Seven in Sitka). Damn, it was good. And somehow, we started telling falling stories. Because I’m an inveterate easy laugh for anyone tripping in front of me. Mostly, what makes me laugh is clever word-play, someone who really pays attention to the phrases that have arisen in the moments between us and riffs and repeats. I’m a goner. But for some reason, pratfalls just kill me. So Eric and Meri and I traded falling stories, and I laughed until I was nearly apopleptic.

What a perfect ending to a perfect day.

The party gathered friends from the most disparate places: people I’ve dragged here from New York; the little liberal private school in Capitol Hill; the tony gym in Belltown; retired folks from Gig Harbor; my little magic camp in Sitka (when I described it that way the other day, Mel wanted to know what magic tricks I had learned. ha.); the 18-year-olds who are now my friends; and the outdoor pool in Magnolia. And they’re all just fucking great. I’m so damned blessed.

Driving to Dick’s, trying to talk with Meri, I noticed that my voice had gone completely hoarse. I could barely talk. Was I growing sick? And then I realized I had been so completely imbued with happiness all day that I had laughed myself hoarse. Not a bad way to go.

(And yes, there are approximately three hundred parenthetical comments in this post. It’s my birthday. I’m allowed.)

Friday, August 06, 2004

"You say it's your birthday?
Well, it's my birthday too, yeah.
You say it's your birthday.
We're going to have a good time.
I'm glad it's your birthday.
Happy birthday to you."

--The Beatles (but, if you didn't know that, well, yaboo sucks to ya)

I woke up at 8:22 this morning, solidly happy after a full night's sleep. And when the consciousness rose up to my face, I remembered. And felt even happier. To be alive. To hear the rain pattering on the roof. To have the entire day stretched in front of me. To feel the muscles in my legs, newly stretched by days of hiking and an outrageous yoga class last night. To raise my arms above my head and not feel the sinews of my neck twitch in pain. To be able to send the breath out through my entire body and not find places blocked by muscles cramped up or holding in fear. To have an entire day off, and most of a month splayed out before me without having to go to work. To have everything a possibility. To have a body. To have breath. To be alive on another birthday.

And then I walked out to the living room, plucked the second disc of the White Album out of my massive cd book (and technically, it's called The Beatles, but you would have been confused if you didn't know that, so I'll use the colloquial), put it in the cd changer, and started dancing. I've listened to this song, in the first moments of my birthday morning, every year since I was 16. 22 years since I lived in that house on Tulane, newly besotted with the Beatles, and everything opening up before me. And every year, no matter where I am, I'm listening to this insistent beat, the raspy vocals, Paul singing me awake, and my feet dancing. Hips swaying. And thinking about all those years, all of them in my body somehow, even when I can't consciously remember them. But mostly, just dancing, instead of thinking. Dancing that happy "It's my birthday, and I'm alive" dance. Just dancing.

And this year, in particular. This year, I really know what it means to be alive. And I'm grateful.

Happy Birthday to me.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Life is good. Full. Alive. Suprising. Threaded through with comfortable silences.

I've had a slew of houseguests all of July.

Maya, Roblin, Dawn, and Forrest for a packed day. (Piecora's pizza, warm sunlight pouring through my windows, playing with Forrest on the floor while talking with Maya, driving in the heat, Indian food and laughter, and Maya and I editing her writing piece on my bed, talking like the two deeply connected friends we are. Why does it matter that I'm 37 and she's 13?)

My friend Carlos for five days--I edited his 240-page PhD dissertation in four days. (Whew.)

My dear friend Gabe for four days, which meant hours of happy talking, watching movies, and feeling loved.

Then, four days with Kristin Korb in Port Townsend, and you can imagine what joy that was. (She stayed with me unexpectedly for one night, because Air Canada lost her six-foot-tall bass case for an entire evening. We had to drive back to the airport at 11 pm, then be on the 5:30 am ferry to Bainbridge Island the next morning. Thanks, Air Canada!)

And then my friend Nick was here for nearly a week. He just left. He's from London, and he had never been to the Pacific Northwest before this. He's besotted with it. And so am I, through his eyes. We hiked somewhere gorgeous and wild every day, for four to eight hours a day. You'll read more about it later, here. But for now....Mount Rainier all day, coming down in the moonlight. Clambering up Hurricane Ridge in the Olympics, taking in the entire range of mountains and the Strait of Juan de Fuca in one slow sweep of the eyes. Waterfalls, alpine lakes, old-growth forests, burbling rivers--we've been seeing all of it. On Tuesday, we did the most outrageous hike I've ever done. Six straight hours, straight up, past a huge, surging waterall called Bridal Veil Falls, then up through the hell of severe switchbacks to Serene Lake, which is small and right up against a mountain. Black slate cathedral rocks with clouds clinging to the top. (And I'm sure they call it Serene because you're so fricking happy to to be sitting down and no longer climbing!) I'm never more happy and clear than when I'm in nature. Oh, and add to this all the lovely breakfasts at Macrina Bakery, the joyful food at Dahlia Lounge, and kayaking Lake Union.

I guess the best news in all of this is that my body has been able to do it. Six-hour hikes don't phase me at all anymore. I'm finally healing, deeply. I stood at the top of the mountain on Friday and let everything go.

But, I must admit, I'm happy that it's August. My birthday, a month left of vacation, and no planned houseguests. Hours and hours to work on the novel.

In fact, I have to stop writing this now. The characters are calling.

With all the exuberant calm of deep in the forest,

Wednesday, July 28, 2004


I’m sitting in a capacioius room in an old home in Port Townsend as I write this to you. The window is thrown wide open, the breeze ruffling the curtain. I’m listening to Keith Jarrett on my iPod, waiting for Kristin to return from her vocal class. When she does, we’ll venture into the sunshine for a long walk down the beach, taking rapid-fire and laughing. Then drive to town (all of five streets--Port Townsend has only 8,000 people, like Sitka), for lunch and the post office. And whatever else might happen.

Yesterday, I sat in this room for half of the day, listening to music and writing for hours. And then the same all afternoon, except I was on the porch outside, gently rocking in a wooden chair. It’s amazing how little it takes to make me happy these days: hours to write; good music on the heaphones; a lack of longing; a clear day; and the chance to see good friends.

Oh, and dark chocolate.

Last night, Kristin and I ate dark chocolate with raspberries. It made our evening. And this, after dinner at the Silverwater Cafe--seared ahi tuna with lavender pepper and gorgonzola rotini. Isn’t it odd how words rarely connote the experience? Not even close. Because gorgonzola rotini really should be: warm sunlight pouring through the window on our shoulders, a loving conversation about experiences about camp passing between us, warm crusty bread already in our bellies, glasses of red wine half drunk on the bar before us, and the rich, stinky cheese, mingled with salty walnuts and wilted broccoli, filling our mouths and making us close our eyes at the same time, confirming once again that we are friends, because we are equally grateful for this experience. And that’s a long sentence. But it’s not long enough. Because all of those sensations, tastes, and emotions are layered upon each other to make up a densely complex experience. But we all agree to speak in shorthand--gorgonzola rotini.

And that’s enough.

And then we went to see Fahrenheit 911, which was playing at the quaint Rose Theatre. Thank goodness we had all that good food in our bellies. Holy shit, that film devastated me. I knew it would. That’s why I have been resisting it for the last month. It’s not that I don’t care about what the film shows. It’s that I care too much. We live in such a miserable time of denial and lies. And it’s all right out in the open, for everyone to ignore. All of the facts Moore presented? I had read them in the Guardian or the Economist or the New York Times, these past few years. Given that I teach a 20th-century Humanities class, and that I’m involved in politics (because I’m fiercely interested in the humanity of this world), I feel a moral responsibility to keep current on the news. But still, there’s only so much that reading can do. And besides, I’ve assiduously avoided listening to W these past few years. When I hear him start to make a speech, I turn off the radio. His voice makes me feel a little nauseous. But there was no avoiding him in this movie. And besides, seeing mothers weep over the loss of their sons teaches far more. As the film proceeded, I just sank farther and farther down in my chair, completely absorbed and horrified. And I cried and covered my eyes at times. When the film finished, I couldn’t say anything for long moments. As Kristin and I walked down the darkened main street of Port Towsend, toward my car, we agreed: we’re done worrying out our own petty concerns, because we’re both so wonderfully spoiled; and we must all do something about this election in November. You guys, we have to DO something.

And now I’m home, typing this up and ready for bed. Tomorrow, Nick arrives for a five-day visit. I’m excited to see him--it has been since October in New York, another lifetime. He has never been to Seattle before, so we’re going to explore. Driving to Mt. Rainier for walks through meadows of wildflowers, hikes through old-growth forests, dinners at Wild Ginger, and maybe even sailing on Puget Sound. We don’t have many plans, just to be together. No expectations. So I’m sure that the week will sing and yield more stories. And that I won’t have much time to write here. But I will, when I can.

And thanks for reading.

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