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.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

a moment in the day: delivery


Nicholas is barking in the hysterical way he barks when there's a knock on the door, and I follow him quick down the stairs, hoping to pick him up before Stephen answers the door.

Normally these pandemic days, I'd be afraid to answer the door, but I did order some Vegemite, and I got a confirmation email that it was on its way. They'd just knock and leave it on the porch.

Still, doggy in arms, now, I stop. Stephen and I hesitate, neither touching the knob.

"It's probably just my Vegemite," I say.

When Stephen opens the door and we peak out, there's a small box sitting on the porch. On the top it says, "Fat Cupcake."

I say, "Kathleen!"

Now I understand the cryptic text my friend sent me about a "delivery" a little earlier in the evening. Cupcakes from her and from my writing group. For my birthday.

In these fraught times, the gesture gives me a slug of pure joy in my belly.

In the street, a house and a half down, a car is making a U-turn. What kind of car does Kathleen drive? Neither Stephen nor I have our glasses on. I wave big as the car makes its turn and comes back to pass in front of our house. Stephen tells me the driver is waving so I wave bigger, making thank you gestures, and then they're gone.

I take my cupcakes inside.

"I think that was a man," Stephen says.

Yeah. I'm pretty sure I just blew a kiss at the delivery man.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Anxiety Society pin


I recently had a design job that was very close to my heart. I was asked to design a pin for one of my favorite organizations, Create More, Fear Less. I can't say enough about Create More, Fear Less. It was inspired by Kathleen Lane's experience with anxiety and the connections she made with kids she met while visiting schools with her book The Best Worst Thing. Through workshops both in-person and remote as well as through projects kids can do on their own, Create More, Fear Less inspires kids to explore, create, share, and find their way through fear.

Check it out. It's wonderful, wonderful, wonderful.

The pin I designed is a limited-edition membership pin for members of the Anxiety Society, a community of supporters who help fund the great things Create More, Fear Less does.

I knew this would be a simple design, mostly text arranged within a shape, but sometimes the simple stuff can take some doing. How can you get the most out of the smallest space, the barest of elements?

Graphic novelist Jonathan Hill, one of the many artists and writers who have designed and executed workshops for Create More, Fear Less, suggested that the pin be reminiscent of old secret society pins or decoder rings. I loved that idea.



We looked at symbols that might suggest this type of thing. The eye of Horus, stars, radiating lines, hands, triangles, keys, wings... We liked the idea of an eye because it might symbolize imagination, the mind, vision. I thought radiating lines would be a great visual element and also communicate light, growth, something positive coming from something else. Kathleen suggested an icon that might look like both a paintbrush and a torch. Maybe emerging from the eye.

It was really fun collaborating with Kathleen on this design, lobbing ideas back and forth and refining as we went. I started by spacing out the words Create More, Fear Less in a ring around the outside and placing the main text Anxiety Society in the middle. Seeing that the words Anxiety and Society each have the letter I at their centers, I tried lining those up and connecting them, turning them together into the torch/paintbrush. It took some work because the letter Is were not dead center and did not exactly line up. In the font I was using, some letters, like X were wider than others, like E and T. I had to convert the letters from live font into shape and then tweak them. Then I decided to go with a different font and started that process over again.

As is not uncommon in my design work, the idea got more and more distilled as I tinkered. The icons were looking too clunky and getting in the way of the important message of the words. It was hard to make the paintbrush/eye combo read. In the end both the paintbrush and the eye went away and just the radiating lines remained, with a few stars as accents. We'd started with a concept that was embedded in the past and ended up with something modern that still has a hint of its secret society roots.

Some samples along the journey from beginning to end.


After a lot of discussion on color, we settled on our design.


These babies are now newly-minted and ready to go out to members of the Anxiety Society in thanks for their support of Create More, Fear Less. I'm so honored to have been able to contribute a little something of my own. If you're interested in being part of the Anxiety Society and helping Create More, Fear Less do the wonderful things they do (and getting one of these pins to boot), there's more information here.










Saturday, May 9, 2020

On the occasion of her fiftieth birthday, some passages about my cousin Heather in my old kid diaries, with the spelling and punctuation errors intact


[When I talk about "towns," it's a game we used to play where we each had a tiny town made up of tiny toys. When I talk about the McLittle Theatre, that was what we kids called ourselves when we performed plays and made the grown-ups watch.]

1978

May 13—today I went to Magic Mtn. I went on the revalusion. We saw a lady and a man fighting seamed like killing. Heather came too and Shena, Mara, Edina. Heather's birthday party.


1979

August 28—Dear Mandy, I went to the beach with Heather, Edina, Ryan and Tom. I cought 5 sand crabs. Heather caught 55.


1981

April 14—I am at Heather's house. I went to Swensons with her then to rolar rink. We spyed on people and we played shoot the duck. My spy person was in back of me. Heather spyed people. first one went off. Heather spyed the other. She went off. They were sisters or they liked each other.

May 24—Heather came over and we had a party. We played towns and our town adopted 2 kids Kitty cats had a baby.

June 25—Today's Mara's Birthday. I invited her to my party so she invited me to hers. Heather's at our house. She and I are making a book. it's really good. Maybe we'll get it published. Wish us good luck. 

December 28—Heather is here. We found out that our favorite Beatle Paul McCartney's 1st name is James.


1982

August 5—I went to "Marie Calenders" restraunt. I had stew & boysinberry pie mmm! My town is having a musical. I love most of my songs & most of the play..it's called "Best of Friends." The "Twilight Zone" today was good, about a dead man going to heaven. "Heather's town" is doing a musical too "not just another Monday" A song in my musical is Johnathan and its so pretty.

August 10—I saw "E.T." for my 3rd time. I laughed and cried so much. We (Heather & I) are writing letters to Henry Thomas, Stephen Spielburg, Drew Barrymore and other people in "E.T." I sure hope-wish-that we get letters or autographed pictures of them.

November 2—Morning: I remembered how Heather was singing "Johnathan" & "Remember Me" in school & her friend liked it so much that she asked for the words & always sings it. I'll try it at school. Night: I did my gene's report. I put words to some tunes I have. "Why can't there ever be a way," "Fortune & fame" & "What about me?" I made up a new story of how Gayle, Kristin, Tanya & I start a singing group.

December 30—Heather & I made contracts & screen tests for Edina & Frankie for McLittle theatre. We made a logo. We want to get buisness cards made. We're going to pay employees. 


1983

January 15—I saw "Time Bandits" a movie about a little boy who goes back in time. I loved it! We thought of a whole new plot (play) "ERA" (When women take over the earth & Heather & I (men) take a space shuttle & hit a time warp.)

January 21—...Heather & I went downstairs (Almost 12:00) to make a special drink for the McLittle Theatre's party. Dad came down & Heather saw his Head Around the door & screamed. I turned & saw Him & screamed. Our drink is milk vanilla extract & sugar.

March 1—My life is like a musical. A long time ago I sang a circus song. Frankie & his friend were making a circus for Heather & I to see. I got up and started singing about what you need for a circus. Heather joined in on a 2nd verse and we sang just like a musical. I loved it. I've sang about what to do (A song called "What shall we do today", I've sang about when Mom wouldn't understand me (A song called "What do you mean by that) etc. I always just sing. My life is a musical.

May 29—We swam in the lake again. Today I lost one of my ear plugs in the water. Heather & Frankie made up a "Star Wars" presentation & after it we came home. Tonight, Mara & Heather spent the night. We swam in the pool. We watched part of "The Blue & the Grey", I turned it off & I went to sleap.


1984

April 22, 84. Heather came over Sat. She had a great time. We watched 'Carrie' and then at night, we closed the window shades, turned off the lights, and watched 'The Shining'. That was such a scary movie that today mom told us she was lying in bed in her room listening to us scream. Heather & I clung together for dear life and dear sanity. It was maybe the scariest movie I have ever seen.
(June 7) Well, last night was the N.O.W dinner with Barbara Streisand. First, mom & I rode down to Heather's house with our clothes and everything. We got dressed & made our selves beautiful. (I went & got a dress at the mall with mom) at Heather's. A long, blue limosine picked us up and we started for the place. There were 4 seats in the back, 2 facing each other and the other 2 facing each other. We drank virgin Marys from the limo while Mom & Kathy drank champagne. It was raining. People would watch to see if we were anybody famous. We walked in after leaving instructions with our shofer (however the hell you spell it), Rob. The place was packed. I had a ginger ale & we found our seats. Dinner wasn't very great. We had dry chicken breasts with the bones still inside and some rice. Heather & I got served white wine with it. Then Heather & I decided to walk to the bathroom. In the bathroom, Heather was waiting on a stall and out came Barbara Streisand. I brushed her arm slightly as she rushed past & Heather sat on the same toilet. 
 
(Oct 7 8:53 (AM) ...After I finished clearing the table, Kathy, Mike, and Dad began to talk about something and Mom, Heather, and I began to talk about ourselves. Mom said I was intelligent, friendly, introverted, thoughtful, and that I don't exactly know who I am yet. She said Heather was intelligent, nice, and shy in that she hides her shyness behind Paula Pokrifki and Jane Barnhart and all the other names she uses. Everything Mom said was true.

Dec 8 9:10 AM. Right now, I'm over at Heather's lake house. We all went to Louise's last night (except Edina who was too sick) and Heather and I sat a little two-table. I was telling her all about Tricia and about my meditating and my self hypnosis. She told me that once, a long time ago, she was trying to telekinetically move a cup (as I always do) and she thinks she jiggled it! I like being able to talk to her about this kind of thing. Because, I can't talk to Tricia about it because it's more of a game to her (Tricia).

I have to write, now, about one of the things Heather and I discussed. The only E.S.P. I happen to possess is shared with Heather. When I was writing my first version of Toybox, Heather was writing another book of the same plot. Toybox is about some people who find out about the world going to be destroyed and they build a shelter under ground and wait the war out. Heather, without knowing anything about my book, started writing the same sort of story except her people hid out in a space ship. That is #1! I hadn't told her about it all! Next, I was writing Armistice and there was a character called Shark who was really mean and called people names like ''flea's snot'. Heather, at the same time, was writing Chapter 1 in which there was a sleazy character who was in the story for about the same amount of time and who spoke the same way. Thirdly, When I wrote my rat story, Heather was writing one and the main character happened to be named Cissy and one character in my rat story was named Sissy (same name, different spelling) but that's not all! Cissy went to work in a soda shop owned by a man named Mr. O.Reily who was an irish man, described almost exactly like a man in my rat book named Mr. O'Malley. Mr. O'Malley owned a restaurant called (I think) O'Malleys where the star, (Loraine) of the rat story worked. Also working there was Sissy, Mr. O'Malley's daughter.---

Sunday, May 3, 2020

book cover: wife | daughter | self


In designing the cover for the upcoming Forest Avenue Press book Wife | Daughter | Self, by Beth Kephart, I got to work with some really elegant art.

Here's what the publisher has to say about the book:

Wife | Daughter | Self is an exploration of the composite self—and the people we become in relationship to others. Married to a spectacular Salvadoran artist with fantastical stories of his youth, Kephart, in Wife, sets out to understand what makes love last. A near replica of her father—his face, his discipline, his crippling anxiety—Kephart, in Daughter, takes a journey with him into heartbreaking transitions—loss of spouse, loss of family home, loss of health—and emerges with deepened affection and respect. Finally, alone with a page and pen, Kephart, in Self, comes to terms with the person she wishes she had been and the person there might be room, still, to become.

For the cover, it felt natural that we feature art by Beth's artist husband William Sulit, who is such a prominent figure in the book. He gave me these beautiful pieces to work with:


(With the backgrounds already photoshopped out—thank you!)

He also gave us some lovely art for the interior, which included some captions in an elegant font I really loved, and which I figured should also be used on the cover.

So there I was with the art and the font just gifted to me. My task was to figure out the best way to use them: how to lay it out, what colors to use. It's a little nerve-wracking working with another artist's art. Is what I come up with going to honor that art? How do I marry my own vision to his vision, not to mention Beth's vision as writer and publisher Laura Stanfill's vision as publisher?

I worked in threes a lot when tinkering with this cover. There are three parts to the book, three selves that Beth explores. When I worked with that top image, the flowers with stems, I generally arranged three on a page, and when I worked with the mandala-like flower, I gave it three different colors, or three distinct shades of the same color, for its three different layers.



There is something so modern about the upright lines punctuating the title of Beth's book.

Wife | Daughter Self. 

Yet something old fashioned about the lovely font and beautifully rendered art. When I first started tinkering, I wasn't sure these elements would work together on the cover. I was pleasantly surprised when they did.

Side note: just now when I went to write the above, I thought, does it feel negative to use the term old fashioned? I paused and looked up some synonyms to see if I could find something better:

antiquated, historical, olden, traditional, moldy, obsolete, rinky-dink, fusty, moth-eaten, hoary, musty, stodgy, fossilized, antediluvian...

Um, no.

What I was trying to get at was something more like what this artwork is, which is timeless. And the perfect complement to Beth's writing, which is both spare and lush somehow, also timeless somehow.

It was a joy to work with William's art, to arrange and rearrange across the page. Here are some of my samples. As you'll notice, there were a few layouts I came up with that I really liked that only used two flowers, but in the end, the rule of threes seemed most suited.


Once we had a consensus as to which layout to go with...


...we went a little deeper into color. Beth and William liked blues. We consulted with our distributor and they liked the blues but favored deepening the background color. In the meantime we got a real blurb to replace my stand-in, and I played around further with the placement of the secondary text so we could add a mention that Beth is a National Book Award finalist (!).

And one last important change: I took the stems of the trio of flowers and intertwined them. After all, these are three selves intertwined in one.


Wife Daughter | Self is due out in February of 2021. More info can be found on the Forest Avenue Press website. And more info on Beth Kephart and her wonderfully prolific career can be found here. Some more art by William Sulit is here. Here's a little taste from the book.

You have blunt bangs, too-big teeth, uncurvy lips, scabbed knees. Your brother is the genius one. Your sister is the last. You are in between and unspectacular and (besides) no longer good, and so you riddle things up, you confuse them with your tattling elongations. Though you must confess that you have never gotten used to thisyour heart still pounds and your face still heats and maybe your eyes still acquire their demonic glow (you’re not sure) whenever you do lie. Easy to do but not easy to live with, lying is, and the lies are changing, the lies are changing you. You’re getting older. You’re weaving a web. The web is sticky, sometimes it catches you.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

a moment in the day: bird


When I step downstairs to get a glass of water, I hear, out through the open back door, a bird singing in the trees. Its song is sharp and clear.

Twee-twee... twip-twip-twip... sweeeeee.

Each time it sings, the song is different. Sometimes little buzzy sounds at the edges of things, sometimes a long, lilting whistle at the end.

Barooo-twip, twee-twee... bip-bip-bip-bip sweeeeee.

It's unlike any bird sound I recognize. I go to the door, stand in my bare feet, try to find the bird hiding among the leaves in the high branches that frame the yard. I used to fancy myself a birder, but I could never find them no matter how hard I looked. My brain tries to bend this moment into a fantasy, something like those fake stories of the dolphins cavorting in the canals of Venice because humans aren't there to push them away. You hear a lot of stories like that right now, that this pandemic is giving nature a little breather while we're forced into hiding. I want to think some of those stories are true. Animals going where they usually don't go. Things growing. The air sweeter. It only stands to reason. And wouldn't it be lovely if something good happened for this earth, at least for a little while.

It could be true. Some of it could be true.

I've never heard a bird like this in my yard before.

Bip-bip-bareee-twip, beewee-beewee... bip-bip-bip-bip swareeeeee.

Off to the side, through the open door to the studio, Stephen is painting in a shaft of electric light, listening to a podcast about ancient history. The announcer explains that the Aztecs were "hemmed in." That this once proud empire had nowhere left to turn.

"The men," he says, "were forced to make their last stand."

Poo-tee-weet?

I can't find the bird. I turn to go back inside as the podcaster continues musing on how civilizations crumble and fall.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

a moment in the day: morning


Five-twentyish in the morning, dark Portland streets, I'm driving to work. The streets are lonely this time of the day when most of the city is home asleep, sheltering in place. I pull up to a stop light and turn my head so I can look at the Christmas lights making a little blinky rainbow across a house's front porch. They're icicle lights but the kind that look like they're dripping, like the icicles are melting color down into the shadows. I watch them until the traffic light turns green.

Most years, I like the holiday lights to go away, come the first weeks in January, afraid that if they linger too long, they'll ruin the Christmas magic for me the next time around. But these days, these lonely morning drives, I look for them everywhere I go. I've plotted my route according to where I see the most twinkle lights. The rare sightings here and there on porches going up Stark Street. The white and gold lights studding Ringler's on Burnside. The white lights along shops running all the way down Northwest 23rd.

On the radio, they're talking to two New York City bus drivers who've lost colleagues, who are afraid of taking the virus home to their families.

I'm crying again and I don't want to have red eyes showing above my mask when I go in to work.

I signal, make a turn, keep driving, look for lights.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

a moment in the day: birthday


Sunday afternoon, sitting at my laptop working on an image for a book cover. Out through the little window in the dormer of my used-to-be-an-attic room, muffled, quiet, comes the sound of singing.

Haaaa-ppy birrrrrrth-day toooo youuuu..

I get up from my desk and duck my head into the dormer's little alcove, crawl around the bulk of my freestanding air conditioner, crouch at the window. A big white van is parked across the street. Behind it, at the curb, mostly obscured by the van, is the family that lives in the house, a mom, a dad, and two small, blond children. I can't see the smallest, but I'm sure he's there. The older one, a girl with a bouncy mop of yellow curls, wears a white dress and carries, together in one arm, a red blanket and some sort of stuffed animal.

The van window closest to me is open and a hand hangs out, holding onto a string. Up above floats a big, almost-cube-shaped mylar Happy Birthday balloon.

"Oh!" The mom runs into the house and comes back with a small plastic container with what look like two cupcakes with white frosting. She bends down, lost behind the van, as she hands the cupcakes to her children.

Drive-by birthday parties in the new normal.

The balloon flashes in the sun. As the parents stand at a safe distance from the van and chat through the windows, the little girl with her cupcake and her stuffed animal, her red blanket trailing like a cape, runs happy birthday circles around and around the yard.

Friday, April 17, 2020

a moment in the day: peek


Six AM. The workday is beginning. In the warehouse, masks on, standing apart from each other, we wait to find out who will be working which tasks today to get the books out to our customers.

I'm standing just inside an aisle made of tall cases whose shelves are full, up and down, with books, a coffee mug or two, a puzzle, a rolled-up t-shirt. Small slips of paper sticking up from each item. Now one of the managers comes walking across the warehouse floor, maybe to announce our assignments, and I want to step out of my aisle to see her better, but someone might be standing just beyond the edge.

I do a little tilt forward and look to one side to check if the coast is clear.

At the exact moment, peeking out from the next aisle over, is a mirror of me. His eyes right into mine as my eyes go right into his, both of us leaning out in the same slant. The same little surprised peeky look on his face that I feel on mine.

Above the mask, his eyes smile. We laugh. We straighten back up into our own aisles again.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

a moment in the day: easter walk


A walk in the neighborhood, basically the only thing I do beyond the bounds of my yard anymore. How strange it's going to be next week when I go back out in the world to work.

Eleven o'clock blue sky. Purple irises and tangerine-colored California poppies are Easter eggs I find as I go. Nicholas sniffs, then keeps walking, sniffs, then keeps walking.

We pass the parking lot of the church, empty, and I realize that it's been a long time since I've heard the church bells that always used to ring at 10:20 on Sundays.

The other thing that occurs to me is that I'm sharing this experience with the whole world. Not necessarily empty churches and bells that don't ring but the reason for them. Wars are experienced across large swaths of the earth. Natural disasters. Something like 9-11 could be broadcast across millions of television sets, but this... event, this virus and everything that goes with it, the fact that it has changed so much of the way we're living... coronavirus is the most universally-experienced "moment" of my lifetime.

Weird to be so connected while we're so separated.

I turn the corner, scan the sidewalk for anyone approaching, and keep walking.

Duck under a small tree whose branches shoot out just over my head. They're bare except for tiny buds here and there. Mostly yellow-green with a hint of pink at the top edge.

I reach my finger out, ready to touch one.

Pull my hand back.

Keep walking.

Friday, April 10, 2020

a moment in the day: waking up


It's just before six in the morning. Feels weird to wake up so early, an hour later than I used to wake up before this whole virus/layoff thing began. Lately I've been sleeping in until eight, sometimes later than Stephen, soaking it up.

Pale light through the gauzy window curtains. I ease my way out through the shush of bed sheets. Bare feet on the floor. Reach under the covers quietly toward a sleeping dog who may wake up later and find a place at the edge of the couch to pee on if I don't take him now.

Stephen stirs, makes an awareness sound.

Then, "Oh," he murmurs. "Sorry."

He thinks he's been snoring and I'm going to sleep upstairs.

"No," I whisper, "I'm just getting used to waking up early again."

Next week, I go back to work.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

a moment in the day: crow


I'm weeding at the edge of the sidewalk, pulling the little sprouts and dropping them in my bucket. Periodically stopping to consult the pictures on my phone that I snapped with Stephen's instruction. A picture with a thumbs-down means that's a weed. A picture with a thumbs-up means leave it alone. You'd think I'd stop having to ask him all the time, but that would mean you don't know me very well.

I pull another, drop it in the bucket.

Down the sidewalk come a family, mother, father, toddler, so I grab up my bucket, my discarded sunglasses, my diggy thing, and move away. I skirt around the car to the side of the house where industrious volunteer shoots of euphorbia are growing in a crack at the base of the wall. I hunker down to wait for the family to safely pass.

It's changing my brain, I'm sure of it. After this time passes how long will it take before the sight of another person approaching doesn't automatically send up warning signals?

A crow flaps down and lands on the wire overhead. She turns her head and her beak blinks white in the sun.

Corvid, I think at her, you have no idea.

From around the front of the house comes the toddler's voice. "Bye-bye, doggie."

He must be looking through the window to where Nicholas is camped out on the back of the couch, waiting for me. I wait a little while longer, pulling up the renegade euphorbia sprouts. It's a beautiful, perfect, blue-sky day. I wonder if the air tastes sweeter, cleaner to the crow.

When I figure it's safe, I get up from the driveway and step out from behind the car to the front of the house only to see the little boy standing there on the sidewalk. Little scooter, bicycle helmet, he's still staring through the window at Nicholas. Beautiful, perfect, blue-sky innocence on his face. And then his mom calls to him from down the block and he runs to catch up.

The crow on the wire is gone. I take my bucket back to the edge of the sidewalk, sit down. Start back into pulling life up out of the ground.

Friday, March 27, 2020

a moment in the day: essential


Strange, strange days. I'm driving to work like I always drive to work except that it's eleven in the morning and I'm going to clean out my desk and say goodbye to my little work space.

I used to think, what would it be like when I finally did this, would I come in really early, before the place opened, so I could do it alone? Would I get fired and have to do it right there with all my colleagues around me trying their best not to watch?

Things are never as you predict them to be. Now that this day has come, all of us are doing the same thing. Instead of shame, there's community. And we're doing it in scheduled time slots, all alone, twenty minutes in and out, rubber gloves and masks, every precaution to help keep the virus at bay.

I turn onto Stark Street, drive past the movie theater with "Temporarily Closed" big on its marquee. I expected things to look like a ghost town along the strip, big signs in restaurants and shop windows, but it mostly looks like it's always looked. The road veers leftward, up the hill, curving past big beige houses. As I drive I count the dogs I see, like I always have, because this might be the last time I ever make this commute.

One doggy.

Two doggies.

I feel a little like I'm breaking the law. On Monday, Governor Brown issued the order that Oregonians stay home “to the maximum extent possible,” except for when carrying out essential tasks. I'm going to combine this trip out into the world with an essential trip to the grocery, but going to the office? To pick up my fork and spoon? The old, holey, paint-dripped sneakers I used to change into when I used my lunch break to take a walk in Forest Park? How essential is the box of my favorite tea or that funny toy car that was on my desk when I first arrived years ago, that I kept just because it was always there?

The little decorations that made my work space a bit of home.

A woman is walking a golden retriever down the sidewalk. "Five doggies," I say out loud.

A police car drives past, going the other way.

Don't arrest me, Mr. Policeman. I'm out doing something essential. It's imperative that I retrieve my sock monkeys.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

a moment in the day: spring


Nicholas and me in the bathroom on a Sunday night, he curled up in his blankets, me sitting next to him on the floor, petting him and singing.

It's what we do when he's freaked out: the Fourth of July, thunderstorms. I put on the overhead fan, close the door, and sing over any leftover fireworks sounds that might sneak through. Tonight I've heard no suspicious noises, but lately he's been skittish and hiding in the bathroom a lot. Sometimes I wonder if he can feel my stress, somehow. Smell it with his doggy wonder nose.

I pet him and sing and he settles into his nest of blankets. I don't think much about what I'm singing until the words sound in the tiny, closed-off room.

Spring this year has got me feeling
Like a horse that never left the post.
I lie in my room staring up at the ceiling.
Spring can really hang you up the most.

a moment in the day: filing


Morning, sitting at the computer, again, again. The sky through my skylight is white, not blue, for the first time in days. I wish this room had more windows.

Filing for unemployment again, again. This time, it's the first weekly claim, and I have to answer some questions.

Did you fail to accept an offer of work last week? No.

Did you quit a job last week? No.

Were you fired or suspended from a job last week? No.

Were you away from your permanent residence for more than 3 days last week? Hahahahaha.

Friday, March 20, 2020

a moment in the day: just before I get my notice that I'm laid off


I've been sitting, staring at this computer all day, across the room from where the phone sits on the table, trying to work on a project, trying not to be waiting for the phone to ring.

They're going to call me any minute now to lay me off.

We're all getting laid off. I know this deep in my bookseller bones, have felt sure of this ever since we received notice that for some of us, this Covid-19-related, store-closure-related fifteen-day layoff was going to have to be permanent. I knew then, and I know now, in my pessimist heart, that I will not be going back to work.

I know, I know, so I wish they'd just call and get it over with.

I try not to look at the phone.

Fifteen years, I worked there. It suddenly occurs to me that this is exactly the number of years I was in the circus. My only other really lasting gig. The difference is that those fifteen years in the circus made me feel like a loser, and working at Powell's, I felt... well, I don't know if I'm wired to ever feel like a winner, but it did make me feel as close to what the opposite of a loser is, that I could possibly feel.

The phone across the room, the little red light on top that's always on.

When I click into my inbox, there are new emails from a thread of some beloved coworkers I've been talking with, and oh god, three of them have been laid off. They got it in an email, not a phone call. Tears start to wash across my stoic pessimist bookseller eyes. Three women who are some of the most competent women I've ever worked with.

This goddamn virus. And the rest of us are next, I know, I know, but for a second I stop, noticing that their layoffs happened almost an hour ago.

I check my spam folder for mine. Nothing.

I go back to the thread and read the messages of my coworkers, my friends. One of them writes, "I hope if you haven’t gotten an email that means you get to keep your jobs!"

My whole body starts to shake.

I wrap my arms around me. Then push my face into my hands and cry hard.

I cry for them, but I also cry because suddenly, for myself, I feel hope. I can't help it. And hope can be a terrible, dangerous thing.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

a moment in the day: wrong number


When the phone rings, my heart kicks me in the throat, even though I'm pretty much resigned to the fact that my layoff from work is going to be permanent and they'll be calling to tell me any day now. I've been staring at the computer all morning, trying to understand the ins and outs of my future health care options and everything's vague and my head hurts. The name on the phone is not my work; it's some man's name, but I'm afraid to not answer it.

"Hello"? Trying to sound cheery.

He's quiet so I have to strain to make it out: "—services?"

"Excuse me?" I ask.

His voice is low and a little timid, a little ragged. "Is this Financial Aid Services?"

"Oh, I'm sorry, it's not."

"Oh, OK," he says. A little pause. "Sorry. Wrong number."

I don't know how it can be so easy to hear, not only sadness or worry, but particularly some kind of tired despair, in the voice of someone you don't know.

"Oh, no problem!" Trying to sound cheery.

The air sound on the line is gone. "Good luck," I say to the dead receiver before I hang up the phone.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

a moment in the day: filing


Morning, cup of coffee going cold. Blue sky showing through the skylight in my upstairs work room. I'm filing for unemployment for the temporary (but very possibly permanent) layoff from work that this pandemic has given me.

The website for Oregon unemployment tells me I need to be able to provide my job history for the last eighteen months, including "Your salary and total income from each employer." Does my total income mean I need to total up my gross wage (?)... my net earnings (?)... for the last eighteen months, then? With cost of living increases, my hourly wage is not the same as it was eighteen months ago.

I gather my information the way I always do things. I overdo it. I make a spreadsheet.

The website that stores my paycheck information lets me export to Excel all the dates and earnings info going back to 2014. But it doesn't include my hourly wage for each of those paychecks. Looking back and forth between the dates on my spreadsheet and the dates on the web page, I click into my pay stubs here and there, up and down the list, recording the information manually.

I undoubtedly don't need my information to be this dialed-in. I for sure don't need this information going all the way back to 2014. But somehow I have this weird need to have all the information, get it all while I can, before I never have access to it again.

These numbers on this spreadsheet, these are my life. Going back through years when I felt good about what I did, when I got to work intimately with books. The years during which I, myself, got to stand at the Powell's podium in events to celebrate books I had a hand in.

Click into a November pay stub, record the number on the spreadsheet. Choose a date further down, say August. The salary's the same. Control-C to copy the November number and then control-V to fill the fields in, going down to July.

Control-V, control-V, control-V. It feels satisfying the way working on spreadsheets always does to me.

And it feels so almost like work, like me at the office working on my reports, and so already nostalgic, that I could almost cry.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

a moment in the day: live stream


During the social distancing that is the responsible response to the coronavirus right now (yes, people, right now), there are some theaters and companies in the arts community that are live-streaming performances that would otherwise have been performing... live. I mean with an audience.

Right now, I'm watching the live stream of a man playing a huge, elaborate theater organ in a high school gymnasium. A good friend of mine has parents who own one of these theater organs, and she sent me a link. Her parents know the organist and would be watching him live right now, if things were different. The picture on my screen is a view from above, the top of a man's head, his back, his hands running up and back across a quadruple set of organ keys.

He's just coming to the big finish of... that piece. The one I know and you know but I can never remember the name of. Which I sometimes think is The Bridge Over the River Kwai, but it's not. That one.

When he finishes playing, he takes the mic and announces that this is the moment in the show where, normally, there'd be a bunch of applause but even with no live audience, he'd still like to present one last piece.

He says, for the encore of our performance, what better piece could there be than The Stars and Stripes Forever.

Oh god.

Hands up and back across the quadruple set of keys—and his feet, too, stomping across the pedals. A sound so bombastic and so uniquely patriotic.

In the circus, when the tent was burning down, as the people ran over each other to get out, the band would play The Stars and Stripes Forever.

I usually think of that bit of trivia when I hear the tune, but tonight it hits a little hard.

The organist switches settings on the instrument and tiny, cheery bells ring out over the rest of the notes. For a moment, those bells, the beautifully ostentatious rise and fall and rise again of the music makes me feel light inside.

But patriotic music has a bad ring to it right now. Trump ignoring the rise of this virus, Trump disbanding the National Security Council's pandemic unit. How far behind we are. How botched our response has been that only now are we getting smart and isolating. Waiting, waiting, waiting for testing.

The organist's hands up and back across the quadruple set of keys. Feet stomping the foot pedals. The grand, old anthem winds up to its big finish.

And then it's over. The player reaches and flips a switch and turns off the organ. Turns and walks off the stage.

The silence in the big high school gymnasium is eerie enough that I burst into tears.

Friday, March 13, 2020

a moment in the day: blow


I'm getting ready for work. Just finished cooking a stir-fry and dishing it out into two matching containers for my breakfast and lunch. Food feels a little different, these days, since people have started hoarding it. Empty shelves in the grocery store. The weird run on toilet paper. Empty shelves in the frozen vegetable aisle last night so that all I could get was a potato-sack-sized bag of peas.

Then late last night, absorbed in a design project, I looked up from the glow of the computer and realized I hadn't eaten anything for dinner, and I thought, good. I should save it.

Makes me think about that Simpsons episode, the one where their dog Santa's Little Helper has to have an operation and the family is doing their best to tighten their belts.

Lisa says, I made a new bar of soap by squeezing all our little soap slivers together.

Bart says, I didn't take a bath today, and I may not take one tomorrow.

I've always fancied myself a Lisa, but as far as resourcefulness, I think it's obvious that I'm a Bart.

Stepping into the bathroom to wash my face and put on my makeup, I go to grab a bit of toilet paper to blow my nose.

Stop.

Yank my hand back.

Glance at how many rolls we have left.

No. I can wait. There are tissues at work.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

a moment in the day: trying to sleep


It's the middle of the night. It's almost morning. It's two o'clock. It's four-fifty-five and the alarm is about to go off.

Don't look.

I turn over in bed, keeping my eyes closed away from the blue glow of the clock. It's cold. I tug on the covers but Nicholas between us is sleeping on top and I don't want to disturb him. The covers reach halfway across me, stopping at the edge of my shoulder.

Don't think, don't wake up, try to go back to sleep.

I shove my hands under the pillow to get them warm. It's the middle of the night. It's almost morning. Waking up these days is that immediate, oh yeah, remember all those things you're worried about? I guess it's always that way a little, but right now, it's all too much.

Will the city shut down, will people keep buying all the toilet paper for no reason, will everything grind to a halt, will I lose my job, our insurance...

Someone I love has a health issue and I desperately want to see them but coronavirus means I can't get on a plane and arrive on their doorstep with my love and my potential germs.

Don't think, don't wake up.

I recite from the alphabet. My trick for going back to sleep. Topic: names. Where did I leave off last night? The letter K.

Kate. Kathy. Kathleen. Katharine. Kwame. (Yesterday on NPR they had Kwame Alexander on, talking about poetry, and—stop. Don't think.) Karl. Karla. Kyan. Kevin.

Drift.

The start of something like a dream. My hands moving. Coming together. The movement of my hands.

As sometimes happens when I'm trying to go back to sleep, I start to dream of doing something, and my body mimics it, and the movement rouses me. My fingers jerk. I'm wide awake again.

I was washing my hands.

Saturday, February 29, 2020

two posts from my old diaries in honor of leap day


I was hoping to find a few quick entries in my old kid dairies to celebrate the advent of Leap Day. I've kept a diary since 1978, all handwritten until I don't know when, when I finally started typing them out on computer. At some point in time I decided to type, word for word, all of my early diaries into the computer for safekeeping. With my memory sucking as much as it does, my diaries have been a prized possession, even though most of their pages are about me being a dork, but I'm lazy so basically when I want to share something about those early (and late) dork days, I just pull up the computerized versions. Unfortunately I didn't write on many Leap Days in those early years, but here's what I do have.

Note for the 2004 entry: I was the spotlight operator for a circus and also anxiously awaiting news of the birth of my sister's second child.

1984

It is now Feb 29th, the day of leap year. I got an A on a World Cultures test today. Last night, Mom, Dad, and I gathered around the television set to watch (& tape) the grammy awards. Michael Jackson won 8! I added, today, to my scrap book, a picture of him from the Register. P.S. Shena fell and broke her arm badly. She was operated upon today.


2004

Sunday, February 29, 2004, 8:04 AM—There is always something somewhat significant to me about the day of the leap year. Which, I suppose, is nothing more than a good example of how absence causes intrigue. There’s nothing important about a leap year day—in all, there simply is nothing about a leap year day. It’s a non-thing, really, in the elusive mass of reality. But because we’ve designated it something, and caused that something to come only once every four years, I note with interest every time it comes around again. And I’d love for Zoë to be born today. A leap year day baby is luckier than a left-handed baby, in terms of uniqueness. Luckier than a red-headed baby. As a child, I think she’d really appreciate it.

So, I’m sitting in the third show on the headset with the ring one par cans off, spots on amber, waiting to cue them to return to white, when suddenly the flaming hoop in the big cage is pitching forward, trailing fire, and going down. One of the cats has knocked the thing, and as it goes over, a tiger is leaping through it, and it comes down right on her. Instinctively I hit the ring lights again, to make sure there’s enough light for Juergen and Judit to see what’s going on. My stagehands are making exclamations in my ears. Maybe I am, too. I see Juergen lurch forward for the staff of the flaming hoop… Judit batting at her hair… the tiger jumping down and around toward the entrance to the shifting cages with smoke coming up from her… another tiger or two leaping around in the cage. A scattering of workers in black shirts converge around the outside of the tiger arena. Juergen gets the hoop uprighted and he and Judit spread out to calm the tigers.

In the funny combination of right light white and spotlight amber, Juergen and Judit very patiently calm the tigers and then coax the poor, surprised cat to make the leap through the hoop. And back to her seat, where Juergen awards her twice with a chunk of meat. With order restored, I see that the routine is going to continue, and I go ahead and switch the ring lights back off. And the show continues from there.

Monday, March 01, 2004, 1:38 PM. On the road to Indy.—Got online this morning to check messages. I let out a little gasp when it finally clicked in. Tim called, “What?” from somewhere behind me, and I tried to get the pictures to load in and finally said, “A Leap Year baby!”

a moment in the day: hail


At first the hail in the kitchen window looks like snow. It's so fine and white.

When I was in my twenties and early thirties, one of the games I played was that snow was good luck. I don't know how it started, but even though I liked to think of myself as someone who wasn't superstitious, I liked to pretend that when it snowed, it was an omen that good things were going to happen.

Metaphorically, hail feels sort of the opposite. At work on Friday the biggest topic of conversation in my little corner of the workspace was the coronavirus, and climate change in general, the symptoms of it, like pandemics and the wildfires that will soon be popping up again in our part of the country. Someone said "apocalypse." Someone said "pestilence" and mentioned the ten plagues of Egypt. Pestilence, flies, locusts. Fire and hail.

I go to the big window by the back door to get a better look. The hail cascades in a slant down the roof of Stephen's studio and showers off the side in a white beaded sheet.

These days, it seems there are so many things to worry about that I don't know which to worry about when. Sometimes they stack up and sit on my chest, sometimes my brain compartmentalizes them and closes them away and I sit at the computer for hours tinkering on some book cover design, focused.

All winter, when I hoped for snow and the closest thing I got was a couple showers of mostly hail, I pretended I don't play games anymore.

There's a rumble of thunder but the patter on the rooftop is slowing. Nicholas, who's been hiding in the bathroom, comes out and steps over, looking up at me. The sky is heavy and gray-white, but right in the middle, past the top of the studio, there's a patch of blue.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Some Valentine's Day Cards


Usually for Valentine's Day, we make each other cards, but this year with our trip to Atlanta and work on Stephen's studio and me with a full plate of design projects, we agreed to skip a year. Stephen said he was going to post a retrospective of the cards he'd made for me in the past so I thought I'd do the same. Here are my cards to him for the past handful of years.

2010. After Norma Shearer and Tyrone Power in the film Marie Antoinette. Inside the card I quoted, "Everything leads me to thee."


2011. After a painting by Winterhalter.

Detail.

2012. After an old Victorian Valentine's Day card.
2013. After Joan Crawford.

2014. The outside of the card, cut to shape.

The inside.

2015. Because we were performing in the opera Carmen that year.

2016. After Tom Jones. And because we were performing "The Bells" by Edgar Allen Poe on stage as Earl and Lady Bungalow.

2017. After... well, you know.

2018.

2019. After a couple of sweet potatoes.

a moment in the day: lick


I'm sound asleep when Stephen licks my elbow to get me to come awake.

Maybe I was snoringI've been snoring some lately with this cold of minebut I don't see why he would want to rouse me by licking my elbow. That just seems strange. Maybe it's because of Valentine's Day. Maybe he's making some weird frisky gesture because it's now technically Valentine's Day, and he thinks wouldn't it be cute if he just, you know, licked my elbow a little, and

Wait. It was Nicholas. Nicholas licked my elbow.

Come to think of it, that makes more sense.

I reach down under the covers to where he's curled up by my belly and pet him and then go back to sleep.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Book cover: A Small Crowd of Strangers


Whenever I start work on a new book cover, I ask myself what the challenge with this one will be. It's one of the things I like most about designing book covers, that there's always some specific challenge, whether that be fitting all the elements in place, or setting the right tone, or trying some graphic process I've never tried before, or trying my darnedest to make an idea work when it probably isn't going to work, or, or, or.

With Joanna Rose's novel A Small Crowd of Strangers, due out later this year from Forest Avenue Press, the challenge was coming up with a concept. How best to create a design around a book that's not only quirky and funny but also about some heavy topics like religion and abortion. Pattianne Anthony, the book's protagonist, and her boyfriend/soon-to-be-husband are on two different sides of the abortion debate, and it gets personal when she becomes pregnant.

My first idea for a design grew out of that tension. A figure representing Pattianne but cut in three pieces, each piece pointing a different direction. My thought was that this would show she was a character divided, someone who didn't know which way to goand if people made the connection between her centrally located belly and the topic of abortion and body autonomy, that would be great, but not necessary.

Publisher Laura Stanfill explained that Pattianne's not so much divided as falling into things all the time. The more we talked about it and the more I read pieces of the book, I realized I was focusing too much on the abortion topic when there was so much more this book was about. I tinkered with a number of different concepts but there was one idea we all kept coming back to as I submitted samples. This one started out from the characterization of Pattianne as a dreamer who, in the end, is just trying to find her people, to find connection.

That's what I think of with the figure I created for Pattianne in this early draft. A dreamer wistfully looking into the future. The second character is Bullfrog, a dog who figures significantly in the story. (And who better to exemplify the longing to find connection than dogs, amirite?) From the description of Bullfrog in the book, I figured he must be a basset hound so I looked at a lot of photos and created him from images of particularly sweet looking dogs. This early draft was before I really started tinkering with his coloring, but as an aside, I kind of liked that the color I used for Joanna's name here is rose.

We were getting feedback from Publisher's Group West that the bright color scheme along with the woman figure might skew "women's lit" so I tried a similar design with darker hues. And experimented with Pattianne removed and just Bullfrog remaining. Like in this street sign design I worked on from an idea Laura suggested to me.



In the end, between all of us and author Joanna Rose, we decided to leave Pattianne off and give Bullfrog the spotlight. But there was one more detail to work out. Bullfrog wasn't exactly Bullfrog. He wasn't a basset hound as I'd originally thought. And in fact, he had once been a real dog, Joanna's dog, and I wanted to honor that as best I could.

Bullfrog.

He had very different ears. And a very particular spot on his back. I added that spot, although I simplified him a little in keeping with the spareness of the design, so I only focused on that one spot while he has a few others. And if you look close you see some brown around his one eye.


Oh my gosh, this picture!

I asked Laura and Joanna if I could expand on that brown and turn  it into a more obvious spot because it was the only way I could keep the white of that eye from disappearing against the background. They were OK with it. Then I added some shading to the other side of the face, a shadow, to take care of the same issue. It's an interesting give and take, wanting to honor the memory of a real being and at the same time honor the principles of aesthetics. When I was done, I sent it to Laura and she sent it to Joanna and Joanna said, "That’s him!!"

My heart leapt for joy.

There was still fine tuning, with color and shading, and the darkness of the ears, and the question of shadow on the right front paw. Here's a little montage of Bullfrog through his evolution.


In the end, with Bullfrog in the spotlight and using the sunburst in the lettering that had arisen back when I was playing with the very dark, almost underwater-looking idea I showed off above, we finally had our cover.


Check out that blurb by Paulann Petersen!

A Small Crowd of Strangers is due out the fall of this year from Forest Avenue Press. More information is here. Here's a snippet from the book:

She’d always had a dog. She’d had Starla since she was in grade school, and before that there was a beagle named Short Stop who slept with his nose at the crack under her bedroom door, wanting to get in. Her mother said, No dogs in the bedrooms. And then when they got Starla, she heard them one night after dinner, her mother saying, No dogs in the bedrooms, and her father saying, Oh, what can it hurt? That night, she learned something about her father. She was only little. And it was her bedroom, not Jen’s.

She was just starting to realize that she really should call Michael, and maybe she should at least go buy some dog food and spend some time with Bullfrog before saying Yeah, I’ll take him to be my dog, but then there they were. And she wanted him, as soon as she saw him, all down low and wagging, and not shedding all that much, really. He was mostly white, just a few brown spots, and soft brown ears. She got down by him.

“Well,” Frankie said. “Really? You’ll take him?” He got down, too. “To keep?”

“Yes,” Elizabeth said. “That’s what she said. To keep.”

Then Frankie got all teary, and Pattianne did too, and he handed her a brand-new red leather leash with the price tag still on it. It matched his collar.

“I have a twenty-five pound bag of dog chow in the car,” he said. Teary.

“Okay.”

“And a big box of Milk Bones.”

“Okay.”

“And his rabies papers and all are in here.”

He handed her an envelope, and then he hugged her, and they were a circle with Bullfrog in between them, Elizabeth laughing, although she didn’t sound very happy, but she was laughing. Michael would laugh too. Bullfrog was a funny guy.

Monday, February 3, 2020

two moments on airplanes


We're thirty thousand feet up. I'm kind of terrified of flying but I love all the parts that most people who fear flying fear: takeoff, touchdown, turbulence. Generally during the flight, I'm OK if I keep my mind on other things than the possibility of a fiery death: the movie playing on the little screen built into the back of the seat in front of me. The tiny bottle containing seven thimbles full of white wine. My nine dollar box of apple slices and cheese.

Down the right-hand aisle comes one of the flight attendants, who stops at the empty seat at the end of the row before mine. She leans in and asks the man at the other end, "Where's the man who was sitting here?"

"I don't know. He's been gone a really long time."

She picks up a small backpack from the seat. "He left his bag."

Well, there we go. It's a bomb.

I'll never see Atlanta and eat pimento cheese.

The flight attendant takes the bomb up and down the aisle, asking people if it's theirs. No, I'm sorry. No, I'm sorry. Well, of course it's not theirs. The man who left it has parachuted out of the back of the plane and we're all going down.

"Excuse me, is this yours?" There are two flight attendants now, checking with passengers. I wonder how much a bomb weighs. I wonder if time bombs actually tick.

The flight attendants come back up the aisle and finally stop just about where they began. "Excuse me, sir," to the man sitting in the seat in front of the empty one. He's an older man with white hair. I don't hear what he says, but he takes the bomb from the woman and apologizes. In a second I see his hand reach back into the seat pocket behind him, slowly pulling out the book he also left behind.

*

We're on the return trip from Atlanta. There are three in our row, Stephen, me, and the guy in the window seat who keeps getting up to use the bathroom. All three of us have our screens going and ear buds plugged into seat backs, watching movies. It's been a good trip, a whirlwind that included Stephen's two art events, visits to Martin Luther King's grave and the High Museum and the Madam C. J. Walker Museum and the Cyclorama and more and more and more. Fried green tomatoes. Pimento cheese.

Now, we're heading home.

I've been watching Fiddler On the Roof, and Tevye and Lazar Wolf are singing and dancing. It's a perfect distraction from the possibility of a fiery death to immerse yourself in musical joy.

As my eyes blink from one screen to another in front of me, I notice it's all music. A coincidence of timing that lets the song in my ears run through all three visuals. The guy to my right: a guitarist wailing away in a recording studio. Stephen to my left: Luciano Pavarotti belting an aria. It's a funny little montage. No matter what they're singing or playing, the music is mine. L'chaim, l'chaim, to life.