Tuesday, November 24, 2009


Last week I was part of the second gathering of SHARE, a project started by my friend and fellow writer Kathleen Lane. Here's the description from the blog, which you can peruse here: "SHARE is a monthly gathering of artists. For two hours we work independently on the same prompt, then share what we've made." SHARE is managed by Kathleen and another friend and writer, Margaret Malone. Two smart, fabulously talented women who've put together something really unique and enriching.

One thing that makes it unique is the variety of art involved. This time around we had four writers, one musician, one sculptor, one screen printer, one illustrator, one painter, one artist who works with graffiti, and one woman described as an interdisciplinary domestic artist. You'd think it would be impossible to organize a workshop of all these different types of creativity, but it went really smoothly. Everyone worked independently for two hours - Chad, the musician, worked by computer with headphones on - and in the end the variety of art that came out of one little word prompt was amazing.

The prompt was TEMPORARY. It was texted to me two hours in advance like a secret password to a speakeasy. (Except that texting wasn't so possible in the time of the speakeasy and you weren't likely to find one hidden in a loft next to something called a 24-Hour Church of Elvis.)

Thing is, when I got the prompt, I was busy writing an email to the editor of the Pacific Northwest Reader and then going through my essay to take out the double spacing between the sentences - something he thought he'd asked for but hadn't, so I wanted to take care of it right away - which means I didn't really have a chance to roll the prompt around in my head before arriving at SHARE late because I also had the time wrong. Consequently, and not so consequently, I spent almost the entire creating period writing stray bits of rubbish and wondering why I ever thought I had the brain power to do anything creative in my life and why don't I just jump out this window right now.

Until something I wrote down clicked and I was fine again.

I'll let the SHARE blog speak for the great and varied pieces that came out of the evening, but I wanted to mention one element that was very particular. Shawn, the interdisciplinary domestic artist, brought a huge bowl of goldfish, from which she spooned two or three fish into a glass or jar for each one of us. She said these were to be ours temporarily. In the end, we could decide whether to keep the fish or give them back.

I had three - one completely gold, one a golden sort of white, and one mostly gold but with white at the bottom of the mouth. I remember this because I spent a lot of time throughout the evening picking up the jar and looking at them. Even writing about them a bit before I got a hold of what I was going to really write about that night. One of the interesting things that happened to me because of these fish was that I started to notice I had a lot of ownership attached to them even though they were only temporarily mine. For these few hours, they were mine. And as such, they were the best ones and lived in the best glass. I pitied everyone else for their inferior fish. Well maybe not, but mine were hands down the prettiest and did the best things. I watched one of mine hang in space, fins going hummingbird fast, and make tiny, jerky movements backward as if finding its own way to pretend it was moving forward, to own great distance, while it was confined. From this, I concluded that mine was an extra-intelligent, I daresay creative, goldfish. And poor Kathleen's three just bonked their faces against the glass like little fishy doofuses. There, I've said it.

But thinking about temporary while you have your temporary goldfish on the table in front of you does remind you of how temporary ownership really is. We hang a lot of security on ownership, yet in a way, every bit of it is temporary. Our ownership of our homes, our books and CDs and stacks of plates, the gardens we plant, the old letters we save, our relationships, our memories - all temporary in one way or another. The very cells of us, dying and regenerating so we're not even physically the same us in the end that we were in the beginning.

The other thing that happens to you if you have a glass of goldfish is that somewhere along the line you're going to almost drink it.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

stringing snow

The filament is invisible, but it's strung between the rows of snowflakes on the floor. The table is covered with strays awaiting stringing. One of the hard things about the process is finding a place in Powell's that has floor space for laying all of this out. Now, they're all strung and ready to go up in the windows on Tuesday. I like the idea of words, bits of books, falling in snowflakes from the sky. Then maybe you could catch them on your tongue and taste tiny stories.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Stephen's new show is up today. We celebrated this weekend with champagne and Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers films. Which is perfectly appropriate because, though Stephen's series of paintings is eighteenth century themed, the artistry has a Fred Astaire elegance and a Ginger Rogers flair. And anyway Stephen got to pick, and that's what he wanted to watch.

So eager to see the paintings up on the gallery walls. We're going to take a quick trip down when I get off work today. But the artist events aren't until December. Here's the information - and it comes from Stephen's website, which is also brand new. Have a look! Here's the homepage.

That piece at the top of the post? That's:

Monsieur le prince - acrylic on panel - 12x12 - 2009

and it already has a buyer. Huzzah!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

morning walk

For a year or so, I walked the same route to work every day. I called it the Shanghaied route. This was a superstitious ritual I started when I submitted my story for Portland Noir (because even though I don't believe in much of anything, I'm very superstitious and love to play games to make myself crazy). I wrote a blogpost for the Powell's website that better explains this particular neurosis, but the basic idea is that somehow I decided if I walked this way every day the story would be accepted. Then when it was accepted, I figured I'd better keep walking this way every day or the economy would tank enough to swallow Akashic Books up and a very fun publication with it. Then when the book came out, I figured I'd better keep walking this way or the incredible sales we were having on the book would stop.

This could go on forever. But when my essay was accepted for the Pacific Northwest Reader, I realized I could jump from one crazy superstitious ritual to another - yay! - and I was so clever that I set up the new ritual so that instead of walking one particular route, I would have to walk a different route every day. Because the essay is all about discovery, you see.

I'll admit this is kind of like the time when I was a kid and was fed up trying for miracles and said, "God, if you're real, do absolutely nothing right now," but I figure I can get away with it, because I am the God of this particular neurotic universe, and I get to make up the rules. And the rule isn't that I can never walk the exact same path I've walked before, by the way - I just have to walk differently than yesterday.

Which is excellent in autumn because you can search for the best stretches of leaves. My goal this time around has been to write down each route I take and make note of where the beauty is. I have remembered to do this exactly two times.

Yesterday: down 20th - yellow leaves against black skeleton trees - to the edge of Couch Park. Left there, just before the park, and I have lots of color on both sides and a Cleopatra path to follow down to my favorite little mini-neighborhood where the houses are suddenly Victorian... or Edwardian... or. I don't know anything about the names of houses, but they're elaborate and out of place and the trees make a tunnel like the whole place is domed. Domed with bright orange-red now, and the sidewalks are orange-red, and the orange-red leaves lying against the cherry red Chinese maple are so beautiful I have to stop and turn back to look again.

Raining soft and the hood over my head obscures the edges of things so I have to keep turning the whole top of my body to see it all. Here, I realize I've picked up the Shanghaied route, which seems a little risky. Like maybe if I take the Shanghaied route my brain will tell me I'd better keep walking this way every day or, or, or. But no, it'll be fine, and in fact, maybe I should be so bold as to follow the Shanghaied route all the way down. Cross the freeway at Glisan. The soft rain becomes medium rain. Leave the hood on but get the umbrella up, turn at 13th where the street becomes pavement lined with loading docks. Wind so strong it's got both hands on my umbrella and pulling and I have to walk along the loading docks, under awnings - up and down steps - so I won't blow away. Cargo has red lights under its awning and a new weird pink roof covering like easter basket grass. And hanging underneath the awning, too, are papier maché baby heads in plastic bubbles.

I could take the jog to Everett and continue my Shanghaied route past Everett St. Bistro, but the rain comes sideways at me like wedding rice - pointy. So I keep going down 13th, along the backs of warehouses, up and down stairs, to keep as dry as possible. Could go all the way to Burnside this way, but Burnside is boring, so I turn at Couch. Duck under little awnings when I can. Past the smell of coffee at Peet's and on to Powell's, and I think, now that is a Portland walk. Nice.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


A partial list of books I was forced to pass over while searching for white books for a Christmas display today...

Marked for Death
Already Dead
Devil's Bones
Never Suck a Dead Man's Hand

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

lonely living room

but still happy because all the paintings have been delivered to the gallery for the show!

Sunday, November 8, 2009


Don't press too hard on the French press.

Saturday, November 7, 2009


Sitting on the floor in a meeting room on the fourth floor at Powell's, shoes off, stringing book-cut snowflakes on filament, and the sounds through the window were: first the ring of the streetcar, then, quiet, the music of the Orange Room entrance violinist, then, loud, a steady pound of rain on the roof.

Friday, November 6, 2009

great lakes reader

Thinking, today, of what I would have written, had I put together an essay for The Great Lakes Reader - one of a series that sprang from the publication, last year, of a great book called State By State. The original was an anthology of 50 essays, each on one of our states, a la the American Guide series of the Federal Writers Project in the 1930s. The Readers are like State By State, but produced by region, and written by writers who are also booksellers and librarians. Great Lakes is the first, and it's just out. (And full disclosure: about 70 percent of the motivation behind this post is shameless self-promotion, since I was lucky enough to have a chance to write an essay for The Pacific Northwest Reader, which comes out next year.)

[Powell's loved State By State so much we made a movie about it.]

Of course, had I written an essay for the Great Lakes Reader, it would have been Wisconsin, and it would have been circus.

So much good material:

Baraboo - home of the Ringling Brothers - and where I lived, in the carriage house of an old Ringling mansion. (And stored extra stuff in what was once a stall for an elephant.)

Delavan - birthplace/home of all sorts of circuses and circus people you've never heard of but also the place where Barnum got his show started. This was 1871, so it was called P.T. Barnum's Grand Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan & Hippodrome. Love those old, ornate names. Here's another: P.T. Barnum's Greatest Show On Earth, And The Great London Circus, Sanger's Royal British Menagerie and The Grand International Allied Shows United.

Madison, Milwaukee, Appleton - cities where I performed in all manner of shows - on fairgrounds, in one-ring tents, in three and even five ring arenas.

The Wisconsin Dells - wacky Wisconsin Dells, the Midwest's answer to Vegas for kids, where for years I worked summers in a little circus show and spun my lasso at a broken-down children's park called Storybook Gardens (and periodically had to fill in as Cinderella).

That's what's so neat about a project like this Readers series. A place isn't just a place - it's a million places. It's different for every person who sees it, smells it, steps through its streets. But. It isn't just a million places - it's one place. With its own flavor, its look and feel.

It's this duality that is so beautifully captured by State By State and the Readers. Wisconsin to me was band concerts on small town city squares, fried cheese curds at the Friday night fish fry, watching eagles in the stinging January cold, forty-minute drives to Madison following a trail of homemade signs saying "No Farms, No Future, Don't Widen Highway 12," beer and barbecues with old stag reels projected on the neighbor's garage door, and circus and circus and circus. I love that I can own this Wisconsin - but also glimpse the Wisconsin that belongs to someone else:

[An excerpt from "Life on a Wisconsin Lake," by Margie Petersen White]

...my mother spent her last days of life floating on the lake. She had a brain tumor, and by the time August came, she could barely walk or speak. My dad would lift her into her floating chaise lounge, complete with cup holders in each armrest, and she would spend hours being rocked gently by the waves. The days were gloriously hot and dry and sunny, the kind of days you would want if you had only a few left on earth. The lake was perfectly behaved, it was deliciously warm, and the waves were neither too big nor too small. I don’t remember any pea soup that August at all. At the end of each of these last days, my mother would exclaim with utterly pure gratitude: “That was another ‘triple A’ day!”

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

i have decided to start using the phrase holy toledo.

Holy Toledo!


happy living room, part two

Now, you may say, of course you love your husband's art, he's your husband - but keep in mind, I fell in love with this man's work before I ever met him. The first time I laid eyes on a Stephen O'Donnell painting, I knew I'd finally found what my eyes and my brain had been looking for, had been created to love. That's three times I've said love in two sentences, but I'm not going to worry my thesaurus over it, because what else can I say? I love love love

what this man does.

I try to appreciate more "modern" art, but I guess my brain is as rooted in the past as Stephen's is. And is as thirsty for beauty.

The Toilette of Medusa, 2003
acrylic on panel

A piece from that first show I saw. All dichotomy and loveliness. And a straight shot, from the eyes, down into Stephen's soul, his longing for beauty.

Stephen's art does what the best kind of art (whatever it is) does: it creates a world. What could be more intimate than stepping into someone's own world - and what could be more satisfying than finding that world so exotic and so familiar, so lush and beautiful, so sad and funny, so happy, so droll.

At our wedding, a friend (and opera singer) sang a piece by Gabriel Fauré called Rêve d'amour, and the last line is,

I will make a nest where your heart can rest.

In this particular nest, I am resting in a chaise longue with a glass of very good champagne.


Which is to say: Stephen's new show, Dix-Huit, opens Tuesday, November 17, at Froelick Gallery.

714 NW Davis Street

It will be up through December.

Le Flegmatique
from Les Humeurs
acrylic on panel

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

it's snowing books

The holidays are upon us. Or, anyway, they're upon me. Have been for some time, but they're really upon me now. It's the beginning of November (wasn't it just June?), and I have to have all of Powell's City of Books ready for the holidays by Thanksgiving. That means four window displays for the entrance, one display out on the Mezzanine, coordination of decorations throughout the four-floor store (ooh, three-way rhyme), and my favorite - snowflakes, snowflakes, snowflakes.

I had the idea last year to take some damaged books and cut paper snowflakes to hang in the windows. It worked out really well, and we're wanting more this year. So far, I've cut / gathered 187 book-cut snowflakes this time around.

Here's a picture from last year with sadly a lot of glare - but it's the least glarey I've got. Trust me - it looks cool. The snowflakes that are intricate and perfect? Those ones are probably Stephen's:

Monday, November 2, 2009

wild things part two

At first I didn't want to like it. Because Where the Wild Things Are was a favorite book, and I didn't want any of that magic tinkered with.

Then I wanted to like it. Because I was visiting family in California and my nephew Maxx (10) and my niece Zoë (5) loved it.

Some wild things...




Had to put my brother in there. He just fit so well.

When I didn't want to like it, I thought maybe I'd end up liking it, and that'd be a nice surprise. When I started to want to like it, I was afraid I wouldn't and then what would I say to Maxx and Zoë?

In the end, I had some mixed feelings, but overall I did like it. In a lot of ways, it has a light touch, which made me feel taken care of, since one of the things that is sweet about the book is its light touch. The portrayal of the wild things, to me, felt so real and so regular. There was something charming and engaging in the regularness of these monsters. And how that regularness blended with wild-thing-ness so that you could have

[did i mention? spoilers.]

Carol talking like an adult human, emoting like a child, and suddenly saying he might just eat his feet off.

What I didn't like as much? How Max runs away rather than letting his imagination create a forest out of his bedroom. Especially how he scales a cliff a la adventure movie to get to where the wild things are. And how the film does not end on supper that is still hot - which is the apex of the book's poetry.

On the other hand. I did like the very last moment in the film - getting to watch Max just watch his mother sleeping - which does encompass all that "and it was still hot" says, and more. That is a beautiful moment. And one that, again, is done with a light touch. The Max in me still wants to stomp my feet a bit about the departure, but because it has its own poetry, I'm happy with it.

Another lovely moment? Max under his mom's desk, plucking at her tights as she works.

I'll just mention one other moment and the thought I had watching it. When Max is running from Carol, and KW tells Max to climb in her mouth and hide in her stomach. Not at all in the book, of course, but this felt so Sendak to me. Not only because it reminded me of the part in We Are All In the Dumps With Jack and Guy when the moon saves the kittens by carrying them in its mouth, but because it contains that same kind of elegant fiendishness that I've always loved in Sendak's work.