Tuesday, September 15, 2020

a moment in the day: waking up

The alarm is going off. Chiming bells. I reach for the phone and make it go quiet. Shift away from the dog pressed against me under the covers, crawl gently over him to step out of bed.

The scratch in my throat reminds me where I am in place and time.

Check the online evacuation maps. Still in the clear for now. Check the air index on various sites where the numbers are all different but all labeled "hazardous."

I open the back of my little upright air conditioner and take the filter out. Take it with me into the kitchen where a huge pot on the stove sits half full of water and herbes de Provence. I turn the stove on to start it simmering. To be honest, I have no idea if this thing is helping, but at least the house takes on an herby scent over the stink of wildfire smoke.

Using an old toothbrush to clean the soot from the air conditioner filter, it occurs to me that my lungs probably look like those of a nineteenth century chimney sweep.

We're closing in on a week of this.

Through the kitchen window, the sky is a low, thick, unfathomable gray. A bit of dream comes to me. Yes. I dreamed I saw blue sky.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

a moment in the day: after the party

The little Zoom squares on our screen, with happy faces and waving hands, blink out, one by one. I hit the button to exit. On the dining room table around Stephen's laptop are cake plates and champagne glasses. The lottery tickets our hosts sent over in advance in a "do not open" sealed envelope: prizes for the anniversary bingo game that they carefully crafted so that everyone at the party would win.

As at the end of every Zoom gathering, I'm surprised by how quiet it suddenly is. Stephen starts clearing the plates away as I get up to take Nicholas out. Past the blown-up balloons and the hanging garland of paper stars. The plastic noise-makers. Thinking about our clever hosts and all that went into bringing such a large group of people together for an hour or so of laughter and nostalgia and, a weird thing these days, joy. 

Nicholas follows me through the kitchen, down the back stairs, through the door and into the yard.

The night sky is that strange washed-out apricot.

The world is still on fire.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

a moment in the day: forty acres

Walking Nicholas a couple blocks from the house, my eyes ahead and all around, always ready to make a street cross when someone approaches, I hear the man coming up behind me. He's talking as he comes. Nicholas is stopped, sniffing. There's a family with a stroller directly across the street from me. 

"I just want my forty acres," the man says. 

I haven't turned around to see him, but I know who he is. At least I met him once before. Last November, just after Halloween. Our encounter then happened in the same way, me walking Nicholas, him coming up behind me, talking about wanting his forty acres. 

"I have rights. I'm tired of this. I'm sick of it. I should have rights." 

He's talking to no one and he's talking to anyone and he's talking to me. As I turn, our eyes connect. He stops on the sidewalk. 

"People think Black lives don't matter," he says. "I matter. I have rights." 

He's at least ten feet back from me. He's wearing his mask, too, but it's down around his chin. 

"I just want my forty acres like Lincoln promised." 

I know his reference: forty acres and a mule. A promise the Union made during the Civil War, that every family unit, including people freed from slavery, had a right to redistributed land. 

He keeps talking in a mostly uninterrupted stream, as he did the last time I encountered him. "Why they want to live together? I don't want to live together until white people can answer me this question: why should we live together if white people got no honor?" 

My body all up and down wants to flee, pull on the leash and walk the other way like I usually do if someone unmasked gets too close, but I don't. I'm not sure he'd understand why I was distancing myself, and I don't want to disrespect him. It feels more important to stay and listen. 

"White people is why we have this horrible man in the White House. White people got no honor. I want to take Gay Pride back from the white people. I'm gay and they took my rights away. " 

He says it all with no real expression on his face. When he tells me white people have no honor, he doesn't sneer at me or spit the words out. It's more like we're companions and he's sharing a simple fact. 

"My boyfriend wasn't Black, he was white Afrikaner. He called them kak, which means shit in Afrikaner." He gets an impish little twinkle when he says this. A little bend of smile in his mouth. "I call them cock-casians. Because they're dicks." 

I nod my head. I want to tell him there's truth in everything he says. At my feet, Nicholas winds the leash around my legs, looking up at the man. 

"It's because of them we got Trump. We've got to get rid of him." 

"Yes," I say, "I agree." But the prospect feels heavy and impossible. I don't have much belief in the possibility of good things anymore. 

I want to say more. Back in November, I said I was sorry. As if I could possibly adequately apologize for everything my people have done and keep doing to his people. I don't remember quite what I said. I think that when he told me, that time, that white people had no honor, I just said something flimsy like, "Can I just tell you, I am so sorry." I wonder if there's any way to say it better, or if saying it is just a white person trying to make a white person feel better, but he doesn't leave an opening.  

"You deserve respect too. it's because of you that we found the guts to speak up about our rights. You should remember that. Black, gay, women, we all deserve rights. Dykes on bikes, man! Don't forget. I have faith in you." 

He starts to walk away. Just like that. And I haven't said anything to him but yes, I agree. He steps past me and down the sidewalk. Nicholas pulls the other way on his leash.

I call after the man, "I have faith in you too." 

"Thank you, thank you," he says to the sidewalk in front of him and he continues on his way.

Friday, July 17, 2020

a moment in the day: anxiety

I'm working upstairs when Stephen calls up from the foot of the steps. "Hey. I'm going to take a walk."

I get up to hear him better. Look down the stairwell. He's smiling but his eyebrows are tweaked at the center. "I'm just feeling," he says, but I already know. "Anxious," he says. 

"Because of something specific?" I ask, but I already know. "Or just things in general?" 

He says things in general, he says the world, but then he says Ruth Bader Ginsburg. 

"I thought she got out yesterday," I say. Of the hospital. An infection. 

"She's got cancer again," he says. 

That same old sinking feeling. It hits me in my center. Just another sinking feeling among many these days. Anxiety upon anxiety. Until you never know what to be worried about, when. 

Stephen goes to take his walk and I go back to my desk to get back to work, but as I sit down, there's a sound like a gun shot. 

Eleven o'clock in the morning nearly two weeks after the Fourth of July, and someone's setting off firecrackers. God bless freaking America. 

Curled up on the little bed across the room, Nicholas jumps up, his eyes on me, frozen for a moment, then leaps down onto the floor and runs for the bathroom. I follow and turn on the ceiling fan, his safety sound. He pants and shakes. I sit down next to him on his pillow and pet him, trying to give him a little comfort. 

Anxiety upon anxiety and even a dog, who knows nothing about any of it, can't catch a break.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

a moment in the day: baking

I'm baking Stephen a cake for his birthday. I'm done with the measuring, the combining, the stirring, the orange-zesting, the egg-cracking, the cake is in the (toaster) oven, and now I'm working on the frosting.

Combine butter and cream cheese and mix.

Add powdered sugar one cup at a time and mix.

Add orange juice and mix.

My hands hurt from all the effing zesting. I'll never be able to be on the British Baking Show because I just couldn't handle it if I had to do any zesting.

Also not British.

All of the sudden I start to smell it. Just a hint at first and then the whole kitchen starts to fill with it. It's the Everything-Will-Be-Alright smell. I never thought of it that way before, but that's what it is, isn't it?

It's warm and sweet and safety and childhood and Mom.

I wonder if this is why so many people are baking during this pandemic.

That, and I realize that for a good long time, all I've been thinking about is, will this cake come out right, and how in the world do they make powdered sugar?

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Play at Home at Portland Center Stage

During this time when packing into a theater isn't a smart and safe option, Portland Center Stage has been finding creative ways to keep the theatrical arts alive. One cool thing they've gotten involved in is Play At Home. Here's what they say on their website about the program:

Play at Home was developed to inspire joy and connection during this period of social isolation. More than 100 playwrights have been commissioned nationwide, resulting in $50,000 paid to playwrights during this difficult time when we can't gather together in theaters. The plays are all available for FREE at playathome.org.

I love this idea. Not only is it a way for playwrights to continue working their craft, but anyone who wants can read the play scripts or even put on a show in their living room or stage a reading across Zoom screens with these brand new short plays.

If you're missing the theater, check these out: four short plays up on Portland Center Stage's website. There are even a couple performance videos you can watch. I took them all in and it was a really interesting experience. Each of these short plays was written during social isolation and they all reflect our times in different ways. Since it's been a while since I've had a chance to see and share my thoughts about theater, I thought I'd say a little about each of these.

Three Love Songs by Anya Pearson is as much poetry as play, an anthem to survival and to silence and to voice. Although it was written before the current rise in awareness and action surrounding Black Lives Matter, it speaks to this moment:

In some houses, children are taught that lack/fear/loss/less is their birthright 
The way some children are taught that privilege is theirs.

And farther down:

If you are feeling hopeless or enraged 
because you are a person of color and you are tired of having to explain WHY our lives should matter, 

or because this all could have been handled better so that people didn’t have to die, 

or because you are a survivor and you live each day waging war on silence and stillness and the night
and this whole thing feels so fucking familiar, and yet 
the outcome is already assured, 
and sometimes you just feel a bit hollow where faith should rest...

(I know I didn't let the author finish her thought, but I just love that last bit of language: a bit of hollow where faith should rest.)

Pearson packs many important topics into her examination of quarantine lifeincluding a focus on the way our stresses dampen the creative spirit and, conversely, the way the creative spirit can save the soul during these stressful times.

A Wing and a Prayer by Josie Seid is a modern feminist fairy tale that turns the Cinderella story on its head as a group of women on their way out to a lecture get sidelined by an unexpected visit from a behind-the-times fairy godmother harboring a wish of her own.

It's a bubbly story full of humorand by god, we need humor right now. Along with the play script, this entry has a video you can watch with a cast of characters performing via Zoom. It's a good example of what you could do if you got a group of friends together (together in air quotes) to put on some theater of your own.

There's a very interesting shared element between A Wing and a Prayer and The Third Prisoner by E. M. Lewis. I'm not going to disclose it because spoilers, but reading these plays back to back, I loved discovering the serendipitous overlaps, and this one in particular.

The Third Prisoner takes our anxieties about pandemic life and places them in a literal prison where two, and then three, prisoners are held captive together. I loved the surreal tone of this play, and the dialogue is snappy and smart and funny.

PRISONER #8836729 Wake up. 
PRISONER #4588930 I don’t want to wake up. 
PRISONER #8836729 I don’t want to be alone anymore. 
PRISONER #4588930 You can talk to me while I sleep. Quietly. Very quietly. 
PRISONER #8836729 I want you to talk back. 
PRISONER #4588930 I hate you. 
PRISONER #8836729 I know. 
PRISONER #4588930 I was trying to have a dream. 
PRISONER #8836729 Was it working?

In the middle of the witty back-and-forth and the wonderfully quiet surreality of the situation, The Third Prisoner explores topics of anxiety and identity and asks the question what would be worse: being stuck together forever or always being alone.

Joy Frickin’ Hates Her Dumb Stupid Room: A Trapped Little Play for Trapped Little Times by Sara Jean Accuardi examines quarantine life in a different way: through the interactions between a thirteen-year-old girl and her hamster who may or may not also be the fifteenth century Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch.

I loved the inventiveness of this play, and it's funny throughout, even down to the stage directions, like this description of the character Joy:

Can be played by absolutely anyone who sorta feels like they're 13 and really over this whole thing.

Show of hands of people who could play this one?

Within the deadpan humor and the wackiness of the premise, Joy Frickin’ Hates Her Dumb Stupid Room gives us lots to think about, and deftly allows us to share our frustrations and our stress surrounding these strange shelter-in-place times while at the same time reminding us of our privilege. 

With humor and poetry and smarts and lots of different kinds of magic, the four plays that have come out of PCS's partnering with Play at Home are a great way to get a little bit of theater back into your life. Reading these scripts reminded me of what a particular experience it is to read, rather than see and hear, theater. I like that the writers put personality into even their stage directions, and I like that sets and casts started to materialize in my mind as I read. Side note: my husband and I have been binge watching the show Pose, and somehow as I was reading A Wing and a Prayer, the lines started to come out in my head as recited by characters in that show, and I think Dominique Jackson would make a great Begonia, just saying.

If you want to check it out, links to all the play scripts and playwright bios and more info on Play at Home is up on Portland Center Stage's website here.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

in honor of father's day: a couple old diary entries about my dad

In honor of Father's Day, I thought I'd look back into some of my early diaries and pull out some passages about him, like I sometimes do. But I think I've used up all the fun material I have in my kid diaries about him so I thought I'd look through a few from when I was an adult, and I found two passages to share. The first, from 2012, was about a phone conversation he and I had when I was writing an ebook about how to be an accountant. One of the things I had to do in writing the book was interview three different accountants and edit the interviews to have them tell their story in their own words. I can't remember whether Dad didn't want to be one of those profiles or if I chose not to use him because we have the same last name and that would look like cheating (probably the latter) but I called him to get a good rundown on the subject.

The second entry, from 2007, was from when Dad and I discovered the computer game Second Life. Actually, I misspoke in the entry and called it New Life. If you don't know what it is... well, I think I explain it well enough in the entry, actually, that I'm must going to shut up and let my thirty-eight-year-old self do the work.


July 24, 2012
I forget what day it was, but I had a long conversation with Dad, like an hour, about accounting. He explained so much and make things actually kind of clear to me—his way of explaining was so good, and I wished I could have interviewed him. Because he was that good—he explained it so well but also made it interesting, was voicy about it. Was kind of the perfect combination. He called himself a one-stop-comptroller… or something. A quote I actually pulled and used in my intro. The way things morph and change, who knows if all the work I did on the book so far will even stay, but it felt good at the time, finding an intro out of the blue, after talking to Dad. And just a nice time talking to Dad.

October 9, 2007
So I couldn't call Dad on Saturday but we had a long conversation. So nice. I keep thinking about how little I see him. Well, he's got this game he's playing right now, on computer, called New Life. Where a world is created and you get to be a character and go around in this world. Well, it seems there are over 9 million people in the Linden world. And Dad's one of them. And now I am and now Stephen is. 
It's too cool. A lot of fun and interesting but also, and for me mostly, it's this way to hang out with my dad and it's almost like being with him. The first morning I was on Orientation Island and just walking around but then Dad friended me and sent me a teleport to the house he's building and all of the sudden I was "there" with him. He was all gray at first. Took a while to fill in. But then we were talking. And for me, instant messaging is pretty foreign, so this was a big step up from email. And talking back and forth about this thing he's interested in, and he was showing me his windows and how he'd made the texture in Paint Shop Pro. 

We wanted to find out if my body would just sit there in suspended animation when I logged off, so Dad logged off and then came back. He's Lundon Little. I don't know how he got Little for a last name and there was no Little in the list when I chose. I chose Willikers Littlething. Willikers for the old nickname he had for me and still sometimes uses.

My brown-haired purple shirted character stood there and waited for him and when he returned he seemed to sort of leap into existence, and at first he was gray and at first he had a woman's body and these prominent boobs. Then it morphed into the character of Lundon Little and the color came in. I told him about the boobs. He said, what, I had boobs? And I laughed. You click one thing and the character puts her hands on her belly and throws her head back and laughs. You hear it. That was so funny again I had to say something about it like, "Oh my god, that is so funny!" And then Lundon Little laughed. Hands on the belly and head thrown back and laughing. The two of us laughing in real life and laughing in cyberspace, sharing a laugh together.