Monday, March 18, 2019

a moment in the day: tiny mystery

As I step through the living room, something catches my eye through the big front window. It’s a young woman in cat eye sunglasses, with little mini Princess Leia buns in her dark hair, standing on my lawn. She’s grinning. She seems really intent on something, staring down. At her feet? At the grass? I can't see from my angle. Then she crouches, fast, disappearing from the window.

OK, this is kind of weird. What’s she doing out there? I don’t want to stare but, well, I want to stare.

I sidestep into the bedroom and peek through the curtains. I make the tiniest opening between the two curtains, just enough to fit my eye through.

There’s a big golden-haired dog lying on his back on the grass, paws up in the air, and the woman is petting him.

Oh. Well. That’s not as interesting as I thought it might be.

But now she straightens to standing again, and instead of moving off with her dog, she stays there facing my window, pulls a small sheath of papers from under her arm, holds it up, and starts reading.

The dog rolls around, happy, in the grass. The woman’s lips move.

A mystery in daylight, this woman with her eyes glued to her stack of pages, her pink sneakers on my lawn. Reading to the dog? Reciting an incantation? Singing to the dog?

Reading to herself the instructions she printed off the internet for teaching your dog to sit, stay, play dead?

But she doesn’t look like she’s just mouthing the words as she reads silently to herself. She looks posed, proper, her back straight, shoulders straight, head up, like she’s standing behind a podium.

A mystery is how she doesn’t seem at all concerned what anyone might think, standing on the lawn of someone she doesn’t know at two in the afternoon on a Sunday, orating to a dog.

A guy goes by on a bicycle, his eyes on the woman the whole time. I wonder if he can hear what she's saying.

She does seem to be directing it toward the dog, whatever she’s doing. Although I suppose she may be casting a spell on my rose bushes and the dog’s just along for the ride.

A mystery is how different twelve little inches mean to this scenario. How much less weird this would all feel if the woman were standing just a foot back, on the sidewalk. These invisible barriers we have, these unspoken rules. That is the sidewalk. This is my grass.

And she’s not hurting anything (unless she’s putting a hex on my rose bushes), but I do feel better when she’s stepped her shoes off my lawn and back onto the sidewalk.

Still, I’m a little sad to watch her head off and away, leaving just the mystery of it behind.

Off and away but then, just a few feet down the sidewalk in front of my neighbor’s house, she stops. The dog makes a happy hop and flops into the grass strip between the sidewalk and the street. The woman sits herself down on the half wall that encloses my neighbor’s lawn, pulls out her pages, leans in toward the dog, and starts to read again.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

a moment in the day: leftovers

The leftover French fries didn't fare well. I thought they'd be okay if I put them in the toaster oven but that just made them tough and chewy. In the kitchen after the movie, I put the leftovers of my leftovers back in their container and back in the fridge.

"You're keeping them?" Stephen asks.

I bump my shoulders up and down at him, "I guess. Tomorrow I'll try just microwaving them. That usually makes them kind of floppy, so maybe floppy and tough will cancel each other out."

"You're right," he says. "The microwave will revivify them."

Revivify. That's the word he uses. Who uses the word revivify about French fries? Come to think about it, I don't know whether I've ever heard that word said out loud.

I throw my arms around him. He looks confused.

I explain, "I appreciate you."

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Tiny Beautiful Things at Portland Center Stage

Tiny Beautiful Things may be my favorite of Cheryl Strayed’s books: the way she transforms the vehicle of the advice column into a forum for deeply complex personal essays that not only fully address the questions posed by the advice-seekers but also tell her own story and, taken all together, get to the heart of what it is to be human.

When I heard this column that became a book was becoming a play I was equal parts excited and perplexed. How does someone turn a book like this into a play? How do you fashion a set around it? How do you take the question-and-answer structure of an advice column or the start-and-stop structure of a collection of essays and bend it into something with a single plot and a beginning-to-end story arc? Or do you?

Then I saw photographs of the production showing people sitting around a couch in a set that looked like someone's house—and that confused me, too. I didn't get how those pictures related to the Tiny Beautiful Things in my head.

The play opens with one of those four, a woman, alone in the house. She comes in with a laundry basket in her arms, passes through, goes into a laundry room, closes the door. Nothing for one beat, two. Then she re-emerges.

And I finally got it. This was Sugar. Or rather this was Cheryl Strayed, in her own home. Which is where all those pieces of advice, all those lovely essays came to life.

And that's what the play does. It brings those essays to life, as the advice-seekers, in the form of three actors, appear in her home, inhabiting different characters, beautifully anonymous (now he's a man, now he's a woman) hovering around her couch, her kitchen table, asking her their questions and letting her spin out her answers as the tiny beautiful essays they are.

I loved this approach. What an intimate thing, bringing these people into her personal space just as her intimate and generous responses to their questions must have brought her right to them in a personal way. Which is what the book does for the reader as well.

You might think this back-and-forth structure would get old, but it doesn't, because each issue brought up, each monologue performed, is so different and so heartfelt—at times funny, at times wrenching. An unexpected arc forms as the monologues start to piece together the story of Cheryl's life. And toward the end, something happens that takes the play to a place the book never could have gone, and it's surprising and wonderful.

Each of the players (Dana Green who plays Cheryl/Sugar, and Leif Norby, Lisa Renee Pitts, and Brian Michael Smith, who get to exercise their versatility chops playing all the advice-seekers) is fabulous. But the star is Cheryl's words and the masterful way they're shaped and arranged and brought to life on stage. Kudos for this have to go to adapter Nia Vardalos, co-creators Marshall Heyman and Thomas Kail, and of course Cheryl Strayed herself, as well as director Rose Riordan.

A good example of this mastery is a moment during the sequence advanced by an advice-seeker who calls himself "Living Dead Dad." I remembered it from the book. It's shattering. In fact on impulse—just this second—I got out my book and read that piece again and it shattered me again. The issue brought up by "Living Dead Dad" is so difficult for him to express that he presents it in a list rather than the paragraphs of a letter. And Cheryl/Sugar responds in kind. In the middle of their interaction, Cheryl walks over to where "Living Dead Dad," played by Leif Norby, is sitting, and struggling, at her table, breaks a fourth wall we didn't know existed, and hands him a box of tissues. It's such a tiny thing, but this exchange, this intimacy, is exactly what the play is all about.

I knew this performance was going to touch me, but I was somehow not ready for how much. I was holding my breath to try to cry less, because we were in a public place, and the only thing that made me feel better was that I could hear Stephen, my date for the evening, crying just as much.

Artist Jeana Edelman, also in the audience, later said, "I’d never experienced an entire house crying at once before."

Stephen expressed it in a slightly different way. He said, "In the part where she hands him the box of tissues, all I kept thinking was, maybe they should pass them around."


The other thing Stephen said? He coveted the kitchen. The set is a lovely craftsman home, the perfect setting because of its openness and its beauty but also its hominess, with a dog bed at one corner, books and shoes under the couch, evidence of life lived. If you saw our kitchen, the one un-fixed-up room in our house, with its cracked, rust orange counter tops and old, chipped cabinets and dead appliances, you'd understand why Stephen loved the layout created by Scenic Designer Megan Wilkerson, all blue and white and tiled and fresh.

"Yeah," Stephen said as we were driving home after the show. "I want that kitchen."


Tiny Beautiful Things is playing now through March 31st on the main stage at Portland Center Stage. More information is here.

The book is available here.

Photos by Patrick Weishampel/ of Portland Center Stage at The Armory

Poster art by Mikey Mann.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

a moment in the day: reincarnation

Driving home from work, I'm listening to music because NPR is having their membership drive, don't judge me. Simon and Garfunkel. I rarely listen to music these days and when I do the experience is filled with ghosts and memories.

They sing, "Prior to this lifetime, I surely was a tailor." The pace of the song slows and the tone quiets for a moment. There's a jingle like a shop door bell and a woman with an English accent asks, "Good morning, Mr. Leitch, have you had a busy day?"

Back when I was listening hard to Simon and Garfunkel in my late teens, I used to think Paul Simon really did believe he'd been reincarnated, and that he'd once been a tailor. In England. There's also that lyric in Kathy's Song: "I gaze beyond the rain-drenched streets. To England, where my heart lies." I've since read that Paul Simon's grandfather had been a tailor, and that the  Kathy in Kathy's Song was a woman he'd met in England. But I liked imagining that the fabulous musician and poet Paul Simon had once been a tailor in a small English hamlet.

Back when I was listening hard to Simon and Garfunkel in my late teens... wow that time seems a lifetime ago. More than a lifetime. It feels "prior to this lifetime," as the lyric goes. Back then, I had a friend who was obsessed with Simon and Garfunkel. He'd come over with his guitar and play their songs and sing. He'd been my English teacher my Sophomore year in high school, and he'd hugely fostered my wish to be a writer. After that class ended, he'd pursued me as a friend. He'd call me up and talk for hours, read me his writing and complain that women didn't like to go out with short men.

I always had crushes on short guys, actually, but he'd been my teacher and he was one of the most self-absorbed people I knew.

He pursued me as a friend more than a person who just wants to be your friend does. And I knew that. But I didn't like to say no. I listened to his hours on the phone. I sang Simon and Garfunkel with him. I accompanied him to the mall where he bought books and discussed his love for Harlan Ellison.

Once he kissed me. I never told anyone. We were at my house, hanging out, and Mom and Dad and Edina and Frank weren't around. I don't remember what we were doing, listening to him sing or listening to him talk about his writing or listening to him talk about his collection of vintage guitars. In the middle of things, he just up and kissed me, pushed his head forward on his neck and put his mouth on mine with his eyes closed and his eyebrows tweaked together in an expression that to me looked like self-aware romantic zeal but might have been nervousness.

He opened his eyes and looked at me. I didn't know what to do.

I was too young or naive or uncomfortable to think to say, "Oh, hey, I'm sorry, but."

I picked up the conversation exactly where it had left off, said something silly, laughed. I don't remember what I said. Just that I somehow acted like what had just happened, hadn't.

A little while later, he did it again. We were walking from the kitchen (getting something to drink?) to the family room (for more guitar and Simon and Garfunkel?), and he put his hand on my shoulder and stopped me. And he made that same romance face and kissed me again.

And I ignored it again.

Um, so, what were you just saying about that vintage Martin guitar you want to buy?

Somehow not saying no felt like I was being nice. I didn't want to hurt his feelings.

I was too young or naive or selfish to understand that "being nice" can also hurt.

His romance face slid off and he looked pained for a second. Then he picked up the conversation just like I had, and we went into the family room, and he never tried it again.

That time does feel "prior to this lifetime" to me now. Driving down Burnside in Portland, listening to the milky harmony of Simon and Garfunkel's voices, I have this almost visceral sense of having had past lives but all contained within the almost fifty years I've grown through this body of mine. That my high school and early college days were one lifetime. My circus days, another lifetime. When I look back I do feel like, in many ways, I was a different person. If you've been reincarnated, can you be new? Can your old sins be washed away?

Thursday, February 28, 2019

a moment in the day: shower

I'm in the shower at eight in the evening and it feels like joy, because this morning, because of the high winds, the power went out at four a.m., and I lit candles and I made a sandwich for breakfast, and I went to work with dirty hair.

Where I work, they have showers you can use. They're like little offshoots of the restrooms. I don't know who uses them. This morning when I got to work, I thought okay, if the power stays off all day... and all night... and then tomorrow morning... maybe I'll have to bite the bullet and shower at work.

Would I need to take my bathrobe with me? Would it be weird to walk into work with this big red bathrobe? What if someone I worked with walked in on me in there naked?

When I was with the Clyde Beatty Cole Brothers' Circus, we took communal showers every day. Well, not communal showers, but in the clown truck, where I lived, there was a shower room we all used. It was the last compartment. The rest of the truck was broken up into sleeper compartments, two clowns per compartment, and at the end of every working day, we took our makeup off in that last compartment, standing in front of two adjacent mirrors in front of two adjacent sinks. My stupid memory: I can picture those two mirrors and sinks, but I somehow can't picture the shower. What kind of curtain did it have? How many spigots? There were eight clowns in the truck; how did we arrange to take showers and not walk in on each other naked?

What I do remember vividly for some reason is one day early in the run when I walked past one of the open doors of the truck and found John there sitting on the end of his bunk with his head hanging down. When I asked what was wrong, he said that during the overnight jump, his laptop computer had fallen off the shelf and shattered on the floor. I never knew what to say to someone's unhappiness.

John was a new clown, just out of Ringling clown college, and unready for the rigors of the road. No one had said he might not want to leave a computer sitting on a shelf when the truck was making a jump to the next town. He was young and fresh-faced and sweet. He had this thing where he always shrugged but with his head, one little quick twitch of his head, like oh, my laptop smashed, but it's okay, everything's okay. He was the first person I felt comfortable around on Beatty-Cole - and I'll admit one of the few people that this shy, awkward girl felt completely comfortable with in my whole fifteen years in the circus.

He left before the season even ended, to go off to college.

Years later, I friended someone on Facebook with his name. It turned out this John was some other guy who lived in France. Soon after I friended him, he died. His feed was full of people's pictures of him superimposed with hearts and roses. People grieving openly, in English and in French. Sometimes I'd go on his page and read the remembrances of this man I didn't know. The most recent post, April of last year, says, "7 ans aujourd'hui .... 7 ans que tu as rejoinds les etoiles."

Seven years today. Seven years since you rejoined the stars.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

a moment in the day: bus dog

On the bus to work, my traveling companion—kind of—is a graphic of a dog on the window. It’s made out of a black grid of small holes and is pointed in the opposite direction of the bus, its head over my shoulder and its tail just to the left of me so that when I look out the window I’m seeing cars and houses and food carts through the semi-transparent shape of a happy tail.

I’ve been reading a good book, but periodically I have to look up and out the window because when you’re gifted with the shape of a dog in your window, you shouldn’t neglect to take advantage of it.

As we come toward the end of my ride, I put the old airline ticket in my book to mark the place and put the book in my bag. Sort of sad to leave my odd traveling companion. On impulse, I reach out and with one finger touch the glass at the tip of the tail.

I kind of want to pretend to pet the dog. Would that be weird?

Across the aisle from me, a woman has her eyes down, reading a book.

I look out the window again.

Don’t pet the dog. Don’t pet the dog.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

a random list of some of my favorite lines from city of weird

Well, the list isn't random. It's basically a favorite line (or two or three) from each story, in the order in which they appear in the book. But all put together, the list looks pretty random. But I was just thinking about some of my favorite passages, and feeling thankful, again, that these lovely writers gifted our book with them, and I thought I'd like to share. Some of my favorites are the landings to stories (for instance Kevin Meyer's last line to his story "Out of Order" is one of my favorite last lines of a short story ever), but in the interest of not popping spoilers, I'm not including those.

There was only the sound of wind, and then rain, and that curious sound sun makes, when it is speckling on the flowers.

I recognized her in the motion of her eight elegant arms, the way she plucked that kid from the ground and squeezed the life out of him with deliberate grace.

I wanted to go on Craigslist and search for a new housemate. While I waited for the happy face screen to pop up, it occurred to me it might look suspicious if I advertised before filing a missing person report.

She let go of life. Her body drifted from the sleeping pod across the moonlit water. Her daughters woke at sunrise, knowing. The echolocation of grief resounded on the rock walls.

“I wonder if this was a nice place,” Red said. “For the creatures we destroyed, I mean.”

     “Hey, boys,” he says to his Santa minions. “On Christmas day I give toys to all the good girls and boys. What do I do the other three hundred and sixty-four days a year?”
     “Raise hell, Santa,” they all start shouting. “Raise hell.”

She stole the blue right out of the sky on a rare Oregon clear day, the kind of midday that makes shopkeepers lean against doorways, mothers sit and linger on swings next to their children, and dogs stretch out on driveway sunspots.

Shit shit shit fuck shit this shouldn’t be a thing I hate this place I hate biospheres I hate huge mystery buildings I hate the stupid fucking City of stupid Roses and Aisha’s dead and fUUUUCKKKKKKK.

He’s excited to see me, and we run around in the back yard. I show him how dexterous I’ve gotten at fetching, rolling over, and playing dead. This brings him joy, happiness, w0+w1∑j=1tγt−jCRj+w2∑j=1tγt−jEVj+ w3∑j=1tγt−jRPEj, what the Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran called “your sorrow unmasked.” I, in turn, feel its biomimetic equivalent.

The Yay-yay tilted her head and looked at me again with those same Christian eyes. Those eyes, he died for you. Those eyes, he gave you his one and only son. Those eyes, Yay-yay, she didn’t know nothing about all of that. The guilt and the guilty. The make believe. It all came from me.

And I especially didn’t want the dog once I started playing Polybius, the blackouts started, and the dog was dead set on chewing my face off.

I’m inhaling an atmosphere so thick with information that my lungs are full of whispers. I think I’m on the brink of becoming conscious of myself as text, as a transcribed dream, as something printed on pulp, exuding a cloud of dancing atoms that someone on one of the loftier levels might already be breathing.

I wondered, how would it feel to climb up onto the railing of that bridge at night, to look down into the darkness? How would it feel for that one brief instant to be released from any contact with the earth?

The colors veered around the walls. He wavered on his heels, waiting for his balance to return. Light and dark swapped places, then slowly swapped back.

Sometimes she can still feel the ghosts of the little butterfly flutters in her belly, the somersaults and loop-de-loops of another living thing sharing her body. Little fish swimming along, heartbeat under her heartbeat, until it wasn’t anymore. Just another lost thing.

Her face long like it was, no makeup but the orange lipstick she put on every day. The eyebrows she drew on with the little pencil. All my life she drew her eyebrows and wore the orange lipstick.

The door to the basement is slowly closing, but before it does, I think I catch a glimpse of drab muslin and maybe scales disappearing into the gloom. An appropriate supernatural rustling sound accompanies the creaking door.

Tiny black and brown Henri, a foxy mutt with huge, furry ears and round, brown eyes. When Henri became ill, his eyes filled with slate. Robert and Henri lay together most days, both sleeping their way toward God.

The vampire has a problem with his backside that he’d rather not discuss.

He’s uglier than sin on baby Jesus’s birthday.

The threat of crying kept cropping up inside of my nose the way disappointment does. Abject disappointment, if you wanted to get all SAT prep about it.

She likes the apartment, though the neighborhood itself, with its thousand porches, bothers her. Porches have hippies. Hippies have smells. Smells have water. Water has bugs. Bugs have eyes. Eyes have caps of flesh.

Alex squeezed his bottom lip, which escaped, worm-like.

At first I was like, “Oh, great, more yuppie chic from Uncle Thrak!” But I have to say, heating my mammoth rump with fire was life-changing. Intentionally burning your food (or “cooking,” as they call it) really unlocks the mammoth-flavor. I kept thinking how great it would be paired with a marionberry compote or live ants.

     “I’m a window,” he said. “Look at me like I’m a window.”
     I looked at the window.

My name is Melquiades, and I am, in that misleadingly innocuous phrase from your police procedures, the “person of interest” wanted for questioning in connection with the disappearance of some twenty thousand of your city’s residents. Before we take up the matter of those missing citizens, nearly all of whom are quite safe, I assure you, you must first understand with whom you are dealing.

Virginity melted down into the earth with the stegosaurus bones.

     “I found a jar of mayonnaise a few days ago,” Weisman said, chewing slowly, his eyes distant. 
     Martin perked up. “Really? What’d you do with it?” 
     “I left it. A man can’t just eat mayonnaise."

The irises of your eyes got all squishy after the X. Your black irises were a painting my vision could change. I could smear the paint job of your end-of-India eyes to match the world as I saw it. The weight of your forearm, heavy on my back, our two bodies fed into each other, skin was weight and energy and bodies and warm.


The authors, in order of their passages: Rene Denfeld, Brigitte Winter, Leslie What, Leigh Anne Kranz, Dan DeWeese, Brian Reid, Stefanie Freele, Jonah Barrett, Jonathan Hill, Andrew Stark, Bradley K. Rosen, Kevin Meyer, Jason Squamata, Susan DeFreitas, Karen Munro, Nicole Rosevear, Doug Chase, Linda Rand, Kirsten Larson, Justin Hocking, Sean Davis, Suzy Vitello, Leni Zumas, Art Edwards, Mark Russell, Kevin Sampsell, Stevan Allred, B. Frayn Masters, Jeff Johnson, Adam Strong

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

a moment in the day: wheels

I pull up to the curb and sit a minute, listening. I rarely listen to music on my commute to work, but today I impulsively grabbed a John Lennon CD, and now I’m just sitting here listening to the wheels go round and round, and I don’t want to turn it off. But I got a late start and I should go in.

Listening to John Lennon makes me feel my childhood in a very visceral way. It makes my body feel weekend trips to the lake, feel myself lying in bed at night unable to go to sleep until I reach the end of the Beatles tape I’m listening to… that one vivid memory I have of riding to the dentist with Mom behind the wheel of the van, and Lennon singing, nobody told me there’d be days like these. Strange days, indeed. Most peculiar, Mama.

I have only a memory of a memory of a memory of the day he died. My mom on the phone crying. Talking to my aunt Kathy. I wasn’t even at my peak personal Beatlemania yet when that happened. With as obsessed as I was, as a kid, with all things John, Paul, George, and Ringo, I know that part of that obsession was my wanting to love everything my mom loved.

I turn off the car, grab my bags. Cross the street in a rain so fine it’s like walking through a memory of rain.

There's a heaviness under my ribcage.

My childhood is so far away.

It’s strange to think that I am so much older than he would ever be.

Open the door to the office and walk down the hall to the time clock. Punch my numbers in, in the tiny rhythm I always do.

Shave and a haircut. Two bits.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

a moment in the day: knife

I open the front door, dog in one arm, in time for Stephen, just home from work and the store, to head up the walk toward me with his grocery bag. As he reaches the steps to the porch, he glances down at the little pocket knife sitting on our top step.

That thing has been sitting there for two weeks. We came home one night after the theater and found it sitting there. It's kind of creepy to find a pocket knife on your step. You try to pretend a friend lost it or it belongs to your postman who keeps it on his key chain in case of mail emergencies, but it seems more likely that a thief tried to jimmy the lock and got scared off, leaving his tool of trade behind.

Two weeks, and neither Stephen nor I has moved the pocket knife. I don't know why. Part of it for me might be that it feels like a tiny, evil thing that I wouldn't want to touch. That thief's tool of trade. It's not like it's diseased. But I don't know what I'd do with it if I did pick it up. It's not like I'd want to use it since it's not mine. And I don't like throwing things away.

Part of it is that it feels fitting sitting there, this tiny, evil thing. After the tiny, evil start to our year, with Stephen's middle-of-the-night fall out of bed and then the ER and then Urgent Care and then my mammogram and my followup mammogram and my followup biopsy - just too many trips to the doctor and too many worries in too short a time for us both.

And part of it is that it's become familiar, this thing I always see. The other day I came up the steps and didn't see it. For a second, my brain felt disappointed and then I noticed it was still there, just off to the left a bit, lying perpendicular to the porch instead of slanty. I wondered how it got moved.  I felt possessive of it: Who moved my tiny, evil pocket knife?

Sometimes I wonder if Stephen just doesn't notice it. I mean, we both saw it that first night but maybe he's just forgotten about it and hasn't noticed it since. It's very small. But he notices everything. How can you not notice a knife sitting on your porch step? Maybe he notices it and leaves it there like me. But if so, why? It seems so unlike him, not to tidy something up.

Now, grocery bag on one arm, he clearly notices it. He takes a step up, toward it.

I'm afraid he'll pick it up and this will all be over.

With one foot, he gives a nudge to the pocket knife.

Just one nudge.

"It should be slanty," he tells me.

He hefts the grocery bag up the last step to the porch and follows me through the door.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

a moment in the day: the difference between us

Just about ready to leave for work, Stephen asks, "Do you have any fives? Can you make change for a twenty?"

I grab my bag and start hunting around. "I don't know. I know I gave Doug three fives on Thursday. Ooh!"

I pull one out.

I hunt some more. A one. A ten. A receipt.

Past the checkbook, past the folded up directions to somewhere I probably don't need to go again.


I pull one out.

A chapstick. Another chapstick.

A two dollar bill that I'll never spend because two dollar bills are cool.

Past my one set of sunglasses. Past my second set of sunglasses that looks exactly like the first set of sunglasses that I thought I'd lost once but hadn't.

"Oh, hey!"

I pull one out.

Past old, used theater tickets, an old, used airline ticket, doggy poop bags, another receipt, a gift card that might have some money on it, an old packaged tiny biscotti from an airplane that I just might need if I ever get trapped on an elevator.

A one.

A one.

A one.

A one.

And down at the very bottom:


I pull it out and add it to the pile.

Stephen grins and pulls out his wallet. "Excellent! OK, here. Wait." He leafs through bills in the wallet. Finds the twenty.

"It was filed in the wrong place," he says.

He hands me the bill. I take it. I feign distress. "It was filed in the wrong place?" I say.

I look into the bottomless pit of my bag and toss the twenty in.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Buyer and Cellar at Portland Center Stage

It's interesting, the things people choose when creating fantasy worlds in their basements. I mean people who have the money to create fantasy worlds in their basements. I mean Barbra Streisand.

I mean, if I had the money, I'd go for Rome circa 125 CE. Or Egypt circa 1345 BCE. Or, OH, OH - I'd make it the inside of a spaceship as seen through the eyes of the early twentieth century with thousands of blinking lights and one of those—

But anyway, I think the last thing I'd make is a shopping mall.

Still. The very true fact that Barbra Streisand has a life-sized replica of a mall in her basement makes for great theater. Buyer and Cellar, which we saw Friday night at Portland Center Stage, is the story of an out of work actor, not long from being summarily fired from his latest gig playing a character at... Disneyland, who receives the very strange offer of performing as the singular on-hand shopkeep of all the shops in Barbra Streisand's basement. He dusts her many collections displayed in the shops, serves frozen yogurt, even performs sales exchanges (complete with haggling) with the star over her own merchandise.

This show is totally weird, wildly inventive, and laugh-out-loud funny.

Full disclosure, Stephen and I are big Streisand fans. Stephen is hugely so (pre-1980s Barbra, specifically). As we sat in the theater before the play started, Streisand music piped in around us, he said, "If they'd play this louder, I could sing along, and if I sang along, I bet everyone would sing along."

I'd been worried Buyer and Cellar would be a musical. I can be quite a stickler where musicals are concerned, and I wasn't sure I could condone a guy giving us his life's story while crooning covers of "Evergreen" and "Papa, Can You Hear Me." But it isn't that at all. It's a charming and hilarious one-man show about ambition and the ways we create fantasies of our lives - with a sweet love story to boot.

The writing is fantastic, but what it takes to pull off this show is a really great actor. He has to stay "on" for a seventy-miles-an-hour one-hundred-minute ride with no intermission, playing four different parts (including narrator Alex, and of course Streisand, herself) (oh, and a quick cameo by Oprah, so five), has to play those parts with energy and subtlety, has to charm the pants off the audience and make them laugh for most of those one hundred minutes—and Nick Cearley did all that.

I can see this role being irritating if performed by a less experienced actor, but Cearley has beautiful timing and perfect nerdy lovability (I remember him as a great Seymour in PCS's production of Little Shop of Horrors a couple years back.). He has lots of energy but it's not over the top. As he spins his outrageous story, his face, and at times his whole body, comment on its ridiculousness with wonderful little asides. There's a great sequence where he dances while he tells his story, and every move is the elegant and perfect pairing for the words he speaks and the mood he wants to create. In dialogue, he's able to switch back and forth between characters beautifully. Conversations between Alex and his spirited boyfriend Barry in particular are absolutely seamless.

The framework for this play is a book Streisand wrote called My Passion for Design, all about the design of her home, the design and decorating of all the rooms, her gardens, her many collections. I was struck, watching the play, by the way design can mean more than just creating the look and feel of an object or a space. And by the way so many of us work so hard to design our own selves.

I was thinking, too, about the title Buyer and Cellar. How important is the idea of buying and selling to the big picture of the play? Did the author focus on this in the show's title solely for the pun on the word cellar? Or is it more? Interestingly, though the story is told from the point of view of Alex, he's not the buyer, he's the shopkeep, the seller. Barbra, haggling over price on an antique doll that's technically already hers, is the buyer. And the weird thing for me in the title is that this means Alex doesn't get mentioned at all. It's buyer (Barbra) and cellar (also implying Barbra). Or is he the buyer, too? What is he buying, with his time and his effort? A brush with celebrity? A brush with fantasy? A brush with the existential truth that we all, as humans—

Oh, sorry. I nerded out a little just now. But then again, why not? Buyer and Cellar celebrates the best of nerdiness, along with being deceptively smart, giving you lots of think about after you're done laughing your head off and go home to your apartment or your house with its very, very regular basement.


Buyer and Cellar is playing now through March 3rd in the lovely Ellyn Bye Studio (Hey, that's below ground, too! That's like having a theater in your theater's basement!) at Portland Center Stage. More information is here.

Photos by Patrick Weishampel/ courtesy of Portland Center Stage at The Armory.

Publicity poster art by Mikey Mann

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

random moments from my bus ride

A woman sits down next to me. She smells good. That's a weird thing to say, but more often than not, the smells on the bus are not good, so this makes me very happy. I think it’s the coffee she’s sipping. Something warm and sweet.

It's dark out. I read Amy Hempel. Every time the bus stops, the lights are white, and when it starts up driving again, they settle into a deep mauve on my pages.

I make a little wish that the woman with the coffee that smells good stays sitting next to me as long as possible. I wonder if people ever make friends on buses, like just start talking and the next thing you know, they’re friends forever. I don’t know what people would say to start conversations on buses. You can’t just say to another woman, “I’m glad you smell good.” 

The sun starts to come up. We drive over the bridge and everything is a shade of stonewashed denim.

When the bus empties out more, she moves across the aisle to the other side. I'm a little sad to lose the warm, sweet scent, but I'm sure she's happy to have the chance to sit by herself. Almost immediately, a man entering the bus goes and sits next to her.

A conversation behind me between a boy and probably his mother, boy first:

“Look at that sculpture of pigs!”

“I see!”

“Look at the baby one.”

“I was just noticing that.”

“They call a baby pig a piglet. That’s how they got the idea of Winnie-the-Pooh. They thought of a baby pig and made up Piglet.”

“Oh, yeah?”

“They started with an idea. Next they started by drawing. They made a lot of drawings. And then they made it into a movie. And next they promoted it. So people would want to go see it. And now we have that movie! Pigs sometimes give people ideas.”
“That’s true.”

“Not always, but sometimes they give people ideas.”

Another woman sits down next to me. Luckily, she doesn't smell bad either. Whatever it is reminds me of Irish Spring soap.

As we get close to my work, I start to look for any of the few coworkers who sometimes take this bus. The only one I really know is on vacation. There’s a woman who rides with a man who may be her husband, and he always walks with her to the door of our work and then turns around and leaves and I think he gets back on the bus going the other way. Today, I see him come from the back of the bus, by himself. As he steps down the aisle, I notice the woman sitting up in the very front of the bus, on one of those sideways benches. They don’t say anything to each other. She stands and joins him to wait for the bus to stop.

They get out in front and I get out in back. I forget to thank the bus driver and then when I come up to the open front door I think maybe I’ll shout thank you through it, but I chicken out.

In the gravel of the sidewalk just about at the intersection, a railroad crossing sign is lying face-up. Undoubtedly the sign is two-sided, so it's also lying face-down.

As I cross the street, a novelty car or boat horn plays the first twelve notes of the song "Dixie." The horn says, Oh, I wish I were in the land of cotton.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Sense and Sensibility at Portland Center Stage

I'd just had a medical test and was awaiting results, expected Thursday. I also had theater tickets for Friday. I thought, if it's bad news, will I go to the theater? Will I throw a little carpe diem on my disappointment, force a little eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die? I thought, no, I'd probably rather stay home and cry.

Oh my god, I am so glad I don't have cancer because Portland Center Stage's Sense and Sensibility is
the most delightful thing I've seen in a very long time.

I feel a little at a loss, writing about this, because to give you a sense (oops, no pun intended) of why you need to go see this play right now, I'd need to spill some details that were just so lovely to be surprised by. Let me say that it's an evening of beautiful stage magic. Brilliant stage magic. You know that thing where the characters are sitting on chairs and miming being in a car and they sway their bodies to show the car careening here and there? It was that stuff but perfected to the fourth power and used so cleverly that I laughed with delight all the way through (a couple times loudly enough to embarrass myself) at how smart it all was.

Alright, just to give you a sense (oh, lord, I did it again): Chairs with people sitting in them are skated around on stage so that it's like you're watching a film and the camera is moving. Disconnected pieces of scenery are moved and rearranged to form different settings. At one point - but, no, no, I'm not going to say more. The details are so masterful that you just have to experience it in person.

Whose idea was all that stage magic? Was it Kate Hamill, who adapted Jane Austen's classic novel? Was it Eric Tucker, who directed? Who was responsible for the intricate coordination of all that magic, a coordination that was so perfectly executed it seemed like a dance? Certainly credit has to also go to lighting director Sarah Hughey, who further refined the magic, particularly in a couple dreamy sequences that, for me, were dramatic high points of the show.

And the cast did a beautiful job, playing their (often multifold) characters and being moving (often careening) parts in the execution of that stage magic. Stars Danea C. Osseni and Quinlan Fitzgerald were great as Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, two sisters navigating love and representing sense and sensibility respectively. I also particularly liked Lisa Birnbaum as their mother, Mrs. Dashwood. Longtime Portland favorite Darius Pierce was great in a handful of turns including a fabulously deadpan... horse.

And a big standout for me was Lauren Modica as the gossipy wishful matchmaker Mrs. Jennings, who had crack comic timing and brought down the house with one particular outrageous and funny monologue.

With this great cast and the smart, funny but reverent adaptation of Jane Austin's novel and the whirlwind of stage magic that did exactly what stage magic should do (including retreating when things got serious), and which beautifully underscored the artifice of civil society that Austin was so adept at putting on the page, Portland Center Stage's Sense and Sensibility was, for me, exactly the perfect thing to celebrate getting good news.

But if you got bad news? Seriously. Go see it anyway.

Spoiler/not spoiler: my very favorite moment, which you'll get if you go see this show, is the moment with the teacup.


Sense and Sensibility is playing now through February 10th at the Portland Center Stage Armory Theater. More information is here.

Photos by Patrick Weishampel/ courtesy of Portland Center Stage at The Armory.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

an incomplete list of the ways he made me feel better during the three days between the second (and way ouchier) mammogram and the biopsy

He suggested we watch a movie and I eat a whole pizza.

He insisted he go with me for the biopsy even though I'd made the appointment for eight in the morning and he's not a morning person.

He said I get to pick all the movies we watched that weekend even if I wanted to watch cheesy Eighties adventure films.

He told me he knew it would be okay.

He said, "If it makes you feel better, I loved you back when you didn't have any boobs at all."

He put pizza on the shopping list and circled it like it was really, really important.

[If you know me, you know pizza is really, really important.]

On the night before, he rubbed my head and ran his fingers through my hair until I fell asleep.

He went to the store and came back with three pizzas.

Friday, January 18, 2019

a moment in the day: bip

It's the night before the bipsy.

That's a typo. It's a biopsy.

Bipsy makes it feel so, so, so, so much funner.

It's the night before the biopsy, and I'm sitting at the computer working on some graphic design stuff.

I've been trying to make drops of water out of nothing. Out of pixels and vectors or whatever magical things make pictures on computers where there were no pictures before. I have all these layers on top of each other and they come together to form what looks like a drop of water. Kind of. A drop of water in extreme. A drop of water in relief. A drop of water that is just a little bit too much a drop of water, and therefore not enough a drop of water at all.

The issue's not the over-bright blue color. That's on purpose for the background I'm going to set it against. It's just that it's not finished yet. I start mulling next steps. Maybe I need to take it into Photoshop and put a bit of a blur on it in selective spots.

Maybe I need to lay a thin, transparent layer of blue on top. Or start washing in a color counterpoint, a dab of yellow or a bit of purple.

Maybe I need to do a little erasing to the pointy top of that drop of water that's just a little bit too much a drop of water.

And then I remember. It's the night before the bipsy, the so, so, so much funner bipsy, and I haven't been thinking about it for five full minutes.

And you know what's weird? There's part of me that feels uncomfortable about that. Like I should be thinking about it. Like, oh no!, I forgot to think about the very important thing!

That's what this day is like. That's what a lot of my life has been like, if I'm honest. I'm either worried or I'm worried about not having been worried about the very important thing. But what is actually a very important thing is that for five full minutes I've been thinking about a drop of water and nothing else at all.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Book cover: This Particular Happiness

Creating the book cover for the next Forest Avenue Press title, Jackie Shannon Hollis' This Particular Happiness, came with a very particular challenge. From the publisher description:

As a farm girl in eastern Oregon, feeding bottles to bummer lambs and babysitting her little sister, Jackie Shannon Hollis expected to become a mother someday. After a series of failed relationships, she met Bill, the man she wanted to spend her life with. But he was a man who never wanted children. Saying I do meant saying I don’t to a rite of passage her body had prepared her for since puberty.

A memoir about not having children... I've made lots of book covers that focus on the central something in the book. But, how do you create imagery about the lack of something?

What I did first was procrastinate. A lot. And that's fitting, right? That's me performing the lack of something, i.e., working.

OK, I wasn't procrastinating so much as beating my brains out, trying to come up with a way to put this theme visually on the page. I kept thinking about this scene in the 1938 film Marie Antoinette with Norma Shearer where, to taunt Marie Antoinette for not yet having given the Dauphin Louis-Auguste an heir, Madame du Barry sends her a tiny empty cradle for an anniversary present.

There you go. A book cover showing an empty cradle.


In the end, the inspiration for the concept came from publisher Laura Stanfill, who sent me an email asking if I might create a promo piece for the book that included an image of Jackie with some words of identity arranged around it:


That list got me thinking. I emailed back:

There's something that feels very dynamic to me about your list of things she is, with the word "mother" crossed out. It makes me wonder if that's the seed for the cover, itself. Like if those words were over a photograph, maybe not even as thought bubbles but as, like, overlapping words in some way.

Then Laura to me:

Or another concept like that—a flower (she gardens), and the petals could include the words, and that is very much about womanhood and growing into your own beauty. Ooh, I kind of like that. What other vessels could hold happiness? Hold the title?

Me to Laura:

Would it be too on the nose if we explored the flower thing and the mother petal were falling off?

Me to Laura:

Because I can see something really stylized where the words aren’t just in the petals but form the petals. And maybe the title words form a pot or something.

And then I was off and running.

I made SO many versions of this concept. Versions with the flowerpot, without the flowerpot, with various stems and vines, minute changes in the flower and its petals and the words that made up the petals. Often something would be visually appealing to me but wouldn't quite convey enough of what I was trying to say.

An early work-in-progress version of the flowerpot idea, as I was trying my darndest to fit the words into the shape of the pot. Definitely too jaunty. There's joy but there's also a lot of heartbreak in this book.

Experimenting with blurred flower backgrounds with the white lines overlaid. I wasn't worried, yet, about trying to find a font that would go well with the flower lettering - just looking at the shape of space on the page.

Laura and Jackie really wanted "professional" incorporated into our list of words, and I just couldn't squish it into a petal because of the length of the word. Here I tried making it a leaf. Something to frame Jackie's name with. I knew I'd need another new word for the other side, but for starters I just flipped "professional" backward. The layout was pretty but it distracted from the falling "mother."

Adding the "professional" leaf on the stem of the flower didn't work because it, too, distracted from the falling "mother."

In fact, plenty distracted from the falling "mother," including the blurred background. Cover work can be a delicate balance. Sometimes a design element that is a plus in one way (like the moodiness of the background of the sample below) can be a minus in another (too busy against the detail of the flower).

There were versions with swirly vines all around. At this point the lettering for the title was starting to get there, although those Rs look as though they found their way into grandma's liquor cabinet..

I worked and worked to get that flowerpot thing to work. No matter how much I simplified, it was always just too complicated for comfort.

I finally got it through my head that in order for the concept to work, the whole thing needed to be simple and "mother" needed lots of space around it.

"Mother" had to be the star of the show, and all the bells and whistles I was adding were taking away from what we were trying to communicate to the potential reader.

Another change that happened at this point was the rounding-off of the flower petals because it was suggested to Laura and Jackie that pointy petals might looks like a marijuana leaf, and that's a very different particular happiness.

I was pretty happy with this sample, because the layout was really pretty to me. But Laura pointed out that the swirly... let's just call it greenery was still too distracting. And she was losing sight of the fact that the petal was falling from the flower because of the place where I connected the stem.

Come on, what was my problem? Why did I keep complicating things?

So I knuckled down, simplified the greenery, moved the stem, and we finally, finally had our cover. 

And a lovely blurb from Cheryl Strayed to boot!

This Particular Happiness comes out October 1st of 2019. More information can be found on the Forest Avenue Press website here.

And in the meantime, here's a little taste of the book:

But my body also called out for other possibilities that I didn’t pursue: to run a marathon, to climb the face of a cliff, to go beyond my limits. My longings always called out for more, more, more than what I had. 

And I kept opening the same wound over and over thinking a child would be the salve. I wanted Mom’s approval. I wanted the approval of the women in the mothering club. I didn’t like to be left out. I didn’t want to be pitied. Or judged. 

Maybe this thing I called wanting a child was a distraction from a bigger need: to understand why I was here, why I alive. My need to justify myself. 

Would a child justify me? 

Would it make me happy? 

Wasn’t I already happy?

Saturday, January 5, 2019

a moment in the day: needles

Stephen is sweeping pine needles from the space that used to be our Christmas tree.

Earlier today, I took down all the ornaments and put them away, wrapped the dead lights in loops, palm to elbow, and stowed them in the trunk where they'll wait for next year.

I picked up the Christmas waldteufel and gave it a spin for good luck for Stephen's healing.

As I worked, he'd been at Urgent Care, getting the four stitches removed from his lip from the very scary New Year's Eve two-in-the-morning fall from our bed.

He's been ailing so he hasn't been happy, so I haven't been happy. I don't like beginning a year in an unsettled place.

We've been to medical offices four times in the last six days. The ER on the morning of the 31st, then Urgent Care later that day, then Urgent Care again on the 4th when it looked like things were infected, and then today Stephen went back to have his stitches out, and as a bonus, in the middle of things, I got to get a mammogram. I'm not great at math, but that's a pretty darn obnoxious doctor-to-day average.

Scritch, scritch, Stephen sweeping pine needles. I take Nicholas out in the backyard for a walk. It's dark and he runs off across the yard, to lift his leg on the shadows of dormant day lilies.

Usually when I take down the Christmas tree, I try to make a little event out of it. Some music, some movie picked out for us to watch afterward, maybe fun food. To pretend it isn't sad to put Christmas to bed for another season. This year it seemed kind of fitting to put it to bed without any supper.

Stephen told me the removal of the stitches hurt a little. I feel bad that I didn't expect that somehow. For a pessimist, I tend to be weirdly optimistic sometimes, like, okay, this time he's just going to get his stitches removed, no problem. I feel bad that I didn't go along.

Nicholas pees on the spindly, leafless dogwood tree in the very corner of the yard. Over the fence, the neighbor's house is all dark except for one window, dead center up top, full of light. There's something furry in the window. And a man moving around. The something furry is maybe a cat, but no, it's way too big to be a cat, but it's right in the window, where cats like to be. I squint because sometimes I think if I squint, magical binoculars will appear in front of my eyes.

The man moves left, then right, then left in the window. The something furry breaks and dissolves in the movement if the man in the window.

And then I realize. The man is taking down his Christmas tree too.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

2018 for us: a year in random images


We rolled over the year at the home of Keaney Rathbun and David Brandt, two amazing cooks, who made a ridiculously fabulous Polynesian-themed dinner. The below cake was consumed before midnight, but I had to include it as it was still happily in my belly as we rang in the New Year. Photo includes baker David and photobomb yam.

Guests included the lovely Grace Weston, Michael Payne, and Lisa Kaser, seen here modeling her homemade party-themed fascinator.

Stephen's work at Froelick Gallery.

Nicholas and laundry.

Drinks with Kathleen Lane at Vintage Cocktail Lounge.

Bradley K. Rosen's Bunkie Spills and Rene Denfeld's The Child Finder on Powell's Staff Top Fives display.


My Valentine's Day card to Stephen.

Stephen's Valentine's Day card to me.

I had to work on Valentine's Day but before I left in the morning, I hid some tiny hearts around the house. Each said, "Remember when," and had a memory inside. This is a picture Stephen took when he'd rounded up what he thought were all of them (although a few found their way into daylight over the next days and weeks.)

February snow and happily-un-removed Christmas lights.

Nicholas and blanket.


Frost on the windshield, taken from inside the car.

Portland March for our Lives.

Tabitha Blankenbiller's book launch at Powell's City of Books.

Jason Arias.

Stephen with Shawn Levy.

Killer robot weather report.

I don't know what this is. It might be related to killer robots.


Starting to decide on the order of paintings and stories for The Untold Gaze.

Karen Karbo and Lidia Yuknavitch at Broadway Books.

Stephen's work on display at PUB Gallery of Art at Peninsula College in Port Angeles. In the background, checking it out, is the lovely Gloria Moe.

That time our neighbor gave us a chicken egg that was the exact color of our house.

My underskirt: Rigoletto, Portland Opera.


Stephen was visiting artist at Peninsula College in Port Angeles.

Julia Stoops and publisher Laura Stanfill at the Parts per Million book launch at Powell's City of Books. This was before most of the crowd arrived.

Sam Saxby, beloved intern for Forest Avenue Press, introduces Julia.

Stephen's photoshoppy tribute for Walt Whitman's 199th birthday.

Spinning in my Rigoletto dress in the green room of the Keller Auditorium.

The supernumerary ladies of Portland Opera's production of Rigoletto.

Liz Scott and Laura Stanfill at Mother Foucault's Bookshop.

Stephen, Colin Farstad, and Margaret Malone at Burnt Tongue, Crush Bar.


A couple of Stephen's paintings up at Froelick Gallery.

Amie Zimmerman's book launch for Oyster at Turn, Turn, Turn.

The surprise Doug Chase left for me at my desk at work on my birthday.

The card Stephen made for my 49th birthday.

Gem (one of many) found on our hike for my birthday.


Circling in on the final file for The Untold Gaze.

My birthday card to Stephen was very elaborate with many pages and I wrote about it here, but here are a couple images from it.

Lovely shenanigans for Stephen's big birthday party. Left to right, that's Michael Payne, David Brandt, Keaney Rathbun, Stephen, Lisa Kaser, and Grace Weston.

Birthday party setup. I tried to take a picture of the S that I'd tried to string up in lights in our tiny dogwood tree. Not my best effort.

Lovingly-decorated (by Stephen) envelopes containing author contracts for The Untold Gaze.


Tom Spanbauer's I Loved You More up on Powells' 25 Books to Read Before You Die (21st Century Edition) list.

With Ken Jones and Courtenay Hameister at KBOO radio after the interview she and I did in honor of her book Okay, Fine, Whatever.

Hidden sea of flowers at Oak's Bottom (our anniversary hike).

Nicholas and sunshine.

Giant inflatable flamingo on rooftop as seen from my dentist's office.

Some pictures from my August trip to California for my parents' 50th Wedding Anniversary. Family, food, games, the beach. Mom not shown as she was most often behind the camera.

And meeting my new niece for the first time!

Elly and cone.


Brian S. Ellis at Slamlandia, at Literary Arts.

Some of my writing group, the Gong Show, playing Thursday hookie from group to go watch Brian read. Left to right: Bradley K. Rosen, Shannon Brazil, Brian, Doug Chase, me.

The image I made/stole for the Portland Writers' Picnic.

At the Portland Writers' Picnic: Gypsy Martin, Carmel Brethnach, Ashley Walker, Parag Shah, Steve Arndt, and Sara Versluis.

Shannon Brazil set up a table at the picnic this year with local authors' books, including books by Rene Denfeld, Debby Dodds, Monica Drake, Margaret Malone, Karen Karbo, Mindy Nettifee, and more. With Shawn Levy and Davis Slater.

I spotted Rene Denfeld's The Child Finder at the grocery store!

Nicholas and blanket, part two.

Stephen and I were honored to be asked to host the 25th (and final) Burnt Tongue.

The Untold Gaze arrives!


At the open house we threw for our authors and contributors to The Untold Gaze. With Aliza Bethlahmy, Sue Hayes, Brian Kent Carrier, Gretchen Nation, Laura Bieber, Robert Hill, Liz Scott, and Dian Greenwood.

Our impromptu bartender, Dan Berne.

Contributor Steve Arndt checks out the stacks of contributor copies waiting in the studio.

Nicholas reaps the benefits of the cheese plate.

The Untold Gaze on KBOO's Between the Covers: Stephen Rutledge reads his piece.

Stephen and host Ken Jones.

Contributors Liz Scott and Bradley K. Rosen, who were next up to read, listening in.

Time travel, as proven by restroom graffiti.

Nicholas and grin.

Back Fence PDX, when my camera made B. Frayn Masters' head look like it burst into flames. With Co-host Mindy Nettifee.

Where I work at the Powell's Industrial Warehouse, there's a train track and once or three times in a while, there's this train engine that will run along the track, all ringing and dinging. I heard a man owns this thing for fun, sort of as a collector. He runs it out and then, a little while later, runs it back again.

We had our first Untold Gaze event at Froelick Gallery.

Our readers for the evening. Adam Strong.

Suzy Vitello.

Whitney Otto with one of Stephen's paintings in the background.

Sam Roxas-Chua.

Suzy Vitello signs books with the help of Froelick Gallery Director Rebecca Rockom.

The second Untold Gaze event was at Powell's City of Books, where they put Stephen up on the marquee.

Surprise Stephen O'Donnell masks in the audience.

I asked the authors in the audience to stand. This is only part of the group, captured at this particular part of the audience. Seen here are Margaret Malone, Liz Scott, Robert Hill, Steve Arndt, Scott Sparling, Doug Chase, Bradley K. Rosen, and Lisa Kaser.

Lidia Yuknavitch reads from her story "Judith et Holopherne."

Margaret Malone.

Stephen at the podium.

Jude Brewer.

Scott Sparling.

Monica Drake.

In the signing line: Monica Drake, Jude Brewer, Lidia Yuknavitch, Margaret Malone, Scott Sparling, and Doug Chase.

Stephen signs a copy for my writing mate Christy George.

Then there was Tammy Lynne Stoner's book launch of her novel Sugar Land at Powell's.

Along with special guest Kate Carroll De Gutes.

They had cookies made to look like the book cover! Here's part of mine.


Next up was Kat Gardiner's book launch for Little Wonder. Here she is signing a book for fellow Dangerous Writer Krista Price.

And a hug with Holly Goodman.

Doug Chase and Tracey Trudeau.

Nicholas and sun, part two.

I interviewed poet Justin Phillip Reed at the Whitsell Auditorium as part of the Film to Page series - we talked about the film Alien and how it influenced his work. Not long after, he won the National Book Award.

Also I photoshopped myself as Sigourney Weaver in the movie, because why not.

The third event for The Untold Gaze was at American Legion Post 134, with a whole host of writers. This was our "adult" show, where we could show off some saucier images and stories. Stephen even read a story he wrote based on one of his paintings. (Sorry for the quality of these. I took them.) Lisa Kaser.

Doug Chase.

Dian Greenwood.

Robert Hill.

Liz Asch.

Sean Davis.

Sara Guest.

Kevin Meyer.

And David Ciminello who came appropriately dressed for his story about a romance between a she-man and an ape.

Our audience. Dead center in back are Stephen's mom Mary O'Donnell, long-time family friend Mickey Park, and contributor Kathleen Lane.

Electrified building-in-progress seen through the window at the party after Lit Crawl.

After far too many years, we finally made it to the Multnomah Whiskey Library which commissioned Stephen to paint a portrait of a famous whisky maker for its walls. Here are Stephen, David Brandt, and Keaney Rathbun sampling the wares.

And the painting, right there over the door. Colonel James E. Pepper.

And there it is on the menu. How cool is that?

Stephen read a story as part of the November 2018 edition of Songbook PDX.

Stevan Allred's book launch for The Alehouse at the End of the World at Powell's City of Books.

A huge crowd.

And a goddess bearing donuts. Nikki Shulak.


A trip to Palm Springs with my wonderful friend Laura Stanfill to commune with an assemblage of women writers.

Monica Drake, Laura Stanfill, Liz Prato, Suzy Vitello, Michael Keefe, me.

Stephen and I were honored to be included in Courtenay Hameister's "A Very Bookish Christmas" book fair at the Siren Theater. Here Courtenay and Sheila Hamilton (and someone my camera didn't see) share a selfie.

And we sold copies of The Untold Gaze. Here is Juniper Fry with her copy.

The saddest Christmas tree lot ever.

Solstice moon under which we threw into the fire wishes that came true and we hope will come true. No, I can't tell you. That's against the rules.

Our Christmas card for this year.

A luxurious Christmas brunch Stephen made.

A patient dog waits for treats that came in Lulu and Pops' Christmas basket.

We had plans to spend New Year's Eve as we did when the year began, with Keaney and David, Lisa, Grace and Michael, good food with good friends, but a middle-of-the-night fall out of bed and a trip to the ER for four stitches in Stephen's lip prevented that. It was a scary experience but it could have been way worse.

Still, that's a sad image to end the post on. So instead, I think I'll show off some more. And end this with books. First, a handful of book covers I designed this year. This Never Happened by Liz Scott (University of Hell Press), Besotted by Melissa Duclos (7.13 Books), The Alehouse at the End of the World by Stevan Allred (Forest Avenue Press) The Animals After Midnight by Jeff Johnson (Arcade Publishing), and The Place You're Supposed to Laugh by Jenn Stroud Rossmann (7.13 Books). Wow, that's a lot of red, yellow, and orange. Not pictured because we're on the verge of doing a cover reveal very soon is This Particular Happiness by Jackie Shannon Hollis (Forest Avenue Press).

And finally, The Untold Gaze, which we designed together and was a huge amount of work this year (and previous years) and a huge labor of love.