Saturday, April 28, 2012

a moment in the day: tree

Birds are singing as I walk Nicholas down the sidewalk. Up ahead, a woman of about twenty wearing high heels and a denim skirt that only just covers what must be covered stands under a tree looking up. She's very intent on something up in that tree and stares the whole time I approach, which is a long time, since Nicholas is stopping to sniff every stone and tuft of grass. Just about when I'm getting close enough to have to fight the urge to look up to see what she's looking at, she blows a kiss up into the tree.

She turns quick, a six-year-old's pirouette in her miniskirt, and takes off down the sidewalk. As I pass under the tree, I finally look up, and a blue jay flashes out from the branches and swoops down so close it nearly brushes my nose before it flies away.

Thursday, April 26, 2012


Like lots of people, I was perplexed when I heard they'd awarded no Pulitzer Prize in fiction this year. What this seemed to be saying was that with all the remarkable lit books that came out in 2011, nothing was worthy - which sort of felt like an insult to everyone. I know there's more to it than this, but it got my nanny anyway.

It also sparked a bit of an idea. I spoke to some folks at Powell's and put together an image, and a quick, little display was born in the Blue Room [Literature] at Powell's City of Books. Our picks for the Powellitzer Prize.

The Blue Room and our book buyers had a good time with it, which made it a really fun project. They chose a short list of six lovely, smart books:

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach,

Binocular Vision by Edith Pearlman,

Open City by Teju Cole,

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward,

West of Here by Jonathan Evison

and my favorite, Zazen by Vanessa Veselka.

Had I had more time to make the graphic, I may have gone more Portland and made him a hipster on a bicycle, but I figured staying with classical was best.

[when i was a kid, i thought it was the pulit surprise.]

Friday, April 20, 2012


The spaces between the words are dangerous. You get down in that basement, surrounded by Dangerous Writers reading and critiquing each other's work, you get to feeling a certain kind of comfortable and a certain kind of belonging, and right in the middle of someone's reading, right there in the space between the words, something will pop right out of your mouth.

Usually it's a laugh or an "oh god." With Charles, it might be a little giggle when the choice of words in someone's piece sounds unintentionally dirty. And then Sage will slip in, "Innuendo Man!" like he's announcing the arrival of a super hero.

With me sometimes it's a repeat of someone's turn of phrase. The reader reads the sentence and there, in the space after the period, right out of my mouth before I realize it come a few words, parroted back, in admiration. Last night, though, it was the mermaids that did it.

Adam was reading a beautiful piece set on a drive through Florida. The basement was all silence except for Adam's voice and the here-and-there turning of pages, and then he read the passage about the car driving past the sign reading Weeki Wachee. And in the space after the words, right out of my mouth like a hiccup: "I've been there."

I had my hand clapped to my mouth before I got that last r out, and then we all laughed and Adam continued reading, but I felt a little mortified for my outburst. So I'd like to take this moment to blame it on the mermaids. If you've ever been to the cheesy camp glory that is Weeki Wachee, you may understand why.

Here's exhibit A. Complete with dreadful song. [Weeki Wachee is a roadside attraction in Florida where girls dress up like mermaids.]

Exhibit B. Weekie Wachee in earlier days. Apparently mermaids send a lot of time drinking sodas and eating apples. Must be delicious in that fishy water.

Now, come on! How could I not want the world to know, right then and there, that I had been to this place?

Adam was recently published on Intellectual Refuge. You can check him out here.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

on starting in my new position

I'm in the middle of the switch between positions at Powell's, from In-Store Merchandising and Promotions Coordinator to Lead Visual Merchandiser. Until the Burnside location chooses its new person for the position I'm vacating, I'll be going back and forth between jobs, but today I'll be getting set up in my new spot. This morning, I'm thinking about my early days as [to keep from saying the whole title again] Merchandising Coordinator, back when window displays were one of the largest components of my job.

For my first window display, I chose a couple of favorites: Tom Spanbauer and Hawthorne Press. Hawthorne was just reissuing Tom's first book Faraway Places, and I did up a window with Faraway Places on top and a slew of other great Hawthorne titles on the bottom. Sadly, I didn't take any pictures of it, but I do have an image of the panel I put together for the top of the display.

So DIY. I created it in Word and printed the pieces out in 8 1/2 by 11 on the copier and then tiled them together until I had a panel going 46 inches across. I think I put together the sky picture from some smaller sky picture, which I reproduced a number of times and then [again] tiled and smooshed around using some online Photoshop-like program until I had some odd, not-quite-real clouds, and hoped the lettering and the books displayed in front helped hide that fact.

Since it's such a long, thin panel, you can't really make out the quote I used from Faraway Places, one of my favorites. I'd write it out here, but since it's getting late and I have to get on to work, I've put the picture in again sideways and if you want to turn your head, you'll find some poetry.

I think it's sweet that not only was my first window display for Hawthorne Press, but now that I'm making this change, Hawthorne (and Faraway Places) is at the forefront of my work again, in our big promo for the month.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

thinking about the visual aspects of anna karenina

It's a nice night when you and your husband go out to the theater to see Anna Karenina and then come home and lie on the bed with a bowl of popped-on-the-stove popcorn and watch Greta Garbo in Anna Karenina and then go to sleep singing back and forth, trying to remember all the words to the theme from the Brady Bunch. I don't know where that last part came from, but when I finally burst out with the unremembered part about they were four men living all together, and Stephen laughed out loud and said we had to sing it all the way through, I felt very happy.

I didn't come here to talk about the Brady Bunch and put that song in your head... sorry.

But watching the movie in black and white got me thinking about color and the visual and how it was used in the play. Portland Center Stage's production is quite ambitious in its take on the book, blasting through much of Tolstoy's seven hundred something pages in just a couple theater hours, and because of this, the set is fairly abstract and doesn't change - at least there aren't different pieces that move in and out to create different rooms. Change of place is done with a curtain, which I thought was really effective, taking a landscape that's sweeping and bringing it in to the intimate. As for that sweeping, change in scenery is done with light and color [and occasionally snow - it is Russia, after all]. As a former circus lighting director, I always notice the lighting in productions, and I particularly liked how light was used in Anna Karenina, setting mood and creating [again] intimacy, or excitement. There were times when the wash of color across Moscow [or St. Petersburg - the novel jumps back and forth between the two] went sepia, like an old photograph, reminding me of the transience of time and reminding me of what lay ahead in the story for Anna.

If you don't know what the climax to Anna Karenina is, I won't ruin it for you, but let me just say that when it happens on stage at the Gerding, it's pretty spectacular - and again, it's done with color and light.

The costumes, too, are well done. Stephen knows his history, and he says that as well as being beautiful, they're also accurate. The corsets, the hairdos, the jewelry, details on the dresses - everything looked correct for its time and place.

One thing Stephen pointed out to me, which I thought was interesting, is that a lot of the dresses were used doubly. One skirt but two different bodices. He said this is an effective way to be economical in costuming but that it's also accurate. At that time, ladies often had two different bodices for one gown - one for day wear and one for more formal evening wear - and the differences in the two styles were correctly used in the PCS wardrobe.

Above is Kelley Curran, who played Anna. She was brought in at the very last minute when the original Anna had to leave the production. Not only that, but she basically just closed in PCS' production of Cymbeline and jumped right into Anna Karenina. I was amazed at the job she did. Stephen and I also saw Cymbeline, and I thought she was really great. I wrote about it here, in fact. Another of the visual aspects of a show is "blocking" - moving the bodies about on the stage. Effective theater uses blocking along with set and light to direct the eye. With all the intricate blocking and the large cast of Anna Karenina, it's impressive that Ms. Curran was able to keep it all in her head and still embody Anna's character with grace, vulnerability and strength.

Anna Karenina runs through May 6 at Portland Center Stage.

Saturday, April 14, 2012


It's spring and the flowers are out. So are the artichokes, and last week, Stephen brought some home from a little farmer's market around the corner from a friend. When the farmer's market in our area opens, we go once a week and buy our vegetables and Stephen picks out flowers to arrange in the apartment, a vase in the studio, a vase in my writing room. This night, he just came home with the four artichokes, and I set them on the cutting board and started to prepare them, sawing the tops off with a serrated knife. Even without trying, I ended up with flowers anyway.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

on the sea

Portland artist Matthew Dennison sketches a quick piece every day as an exercise, as a study for new paintings, as a study of the mind. Inspired by this, I decided to try to do the same thing with my writing. Just a quick something every day, no matter how rough - in fact happily rough, giving myself the permission to just brattle something off on the computer and let it go. I'm sure plenty of writers do something similar, but because Matthew was my particular inspiration, I've been calling my little file the Dennison Project.

[Full disclosure. For me, one-a-day is more like one-or-two-a-week...]

Today, I thought I'd take the Dennison angle one further and use his sketch as a prompt. Here's where he took me.

"On the Sea"

This predicament, Dennison could have seen it coming. Or actually, or more accurately, what he could have seen coming was that he wouldn’t see it coming. And he hadn’t.
            So, he sat and floated in his little wooden box, slow drift and sway along blue-black water. This forever of water, where horizon was just a maybe-something, an unreachable nothing, beyond the curve of the earth. At least what lay in hammered steel sheets across that water was sun. At least it was a nice day.
            Through the holes in the little wooden box where his legs stuck out, water was filling up the box. Water will do that. Water will seep in and soak your trousers heavy and send that ice chill up through your middle. Water will reach a hold and sink you straight.
            At least she would miss him.
            Or actually, or more accurately, she wouldn’t.
            In the distance, the crow-nosed plane fell.
            At least he was wearing handsome shoes.

I love Matthew's work. He shows at Froelick Gallery in Portland. You can check him out on his website here.

Thursday, April 5, 2012


This is what I was doing yesterday when the e-mail went out to the company announcing that I'd taken the Lead Visual Merchandiser position.

Making homemade little signs to hang in the windows of Burnside Powell's Building Two for their display on books about vacuum tubes and tube amps.

That font? That electric? That's how I felt.

Been thinking about when I first worked at Powell's, back when I worked part-time as a cashier and part-time running the Drama section in the Pearl Room. How I started taping local theater posters to the poles by the aisles full of books of plays. How those posters are still there.

Been thinking about before ... when I worked at the gelato shop across the street, 35 years old scooping ice cream with a group of sixteen-to-eighteen-year-olds, how I'd lean on the gelato counter and look through the windows and across the street to Powell's and wish I could work there.

Been thinking about before... when I'd just moved here. Seven years ago, living in my aunt Kathy's house, sitting for hours on her laptop, browsing jobs on Craig's List, never hearing back on applications, newly divorced with no job experience in the world but putting on clown makeup and losing my pants. How one afternoon, as I sat there tired and dejected, Kathy's computer with its talking clock announced, "It is one o'clock PM" and I burst into tears.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

a moment in the day: dishes

Pizza and champagne and Dana Andrews. The movie is "The Best Years of our Lives." Every time I see Dana Andrews, I think about Noni and how once she told me a story about a friend who had dated Dana Andrews' brother and how he looked just like the actor. And how Noni started the story by asking, "Do you know who Dana Andrews was?" and I said yes and was proud.

Pizza and champagne and a warm curl of sleeping dog against my legs under the covers... I start to drift. I fall asleep.

When I come to, wondering how much of the movie I've missed, I hear clinking somewhere behind me, and in the reflected light on the bay window ahead, I see Stephen in the kitchen, alternately watching the movie from far away and trying quick to get the dishes done so that when the movie is over, I can go right to bed.

Monday, April 2, 2012

a moment in the day: dentist

They've poked so much Novocaine into my cheek that half my face is a boxer's glove, dead leather stuffed with padding, and the dentist and the assistant with the broken finger are wrenching on my glove face, and Charles Dickens is in my ears.

I'm still listening to the audio book of Great Expectations. Pip is now leaving his childhood home to find his fortune in London:

"Well, I suppose I must be off!" and then I kissed my sister who was laughing and nodding and shaking in her usual chair, and kissed Biddy, and threw my arms around Joe's neck. Then I took up my little portmanteau and walked out. The last I saw of them was, when I presently heard a scuffle behind me, and looking back, saw Joe throwing an old shoe out after me and Biddy throwing another old shoe. I stopped then, to wave my hat, and dear old Joe waved his strong right hand above his head, crying huskily, "Hooroar!" and Biddy put her apron to her face.

Dentist hands are stuffed in my mouth, yanking and poking to get that crown in there, but I don't care.

I whistled and made nothing of going. But the village was very peaceful and quiet, and the light mists were solemnly rising, as if to show me the world, and I had been so innocent and little here, and all beyond was so unknown and great, that in a moment with a strong heave and sob I broke into tears. It was by the finger-post at the end of the village, and I laid my hand upon it, and said, "Good bye, O my dear, dear friend!"

Heaven knows we need never be ashamed of our tears, for they are rain upon the blinding dust of earth, overlying our hard hearts.

Tears to my eyes, to roll out at the corners and back into my ears as I lie back in the dentist's chair and hope they think it's just the spray from the little portable water spout.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

a moment in the day: at the memorial

Stephen and I stand at the entry table for the memorial party for Marty Kruse, a man I never met - stand next to Carole, his wife, a woman whose quirky happy has always turned my heart into a little circus balloon every moment I've been around her.

On the table are pictures of Marty and a framed needlepoint proclaiming Fuck Cancer, and a child's drawing.

Carole puts her hand on the shoulder of the little girl at her feet and says, "This is Claire. She's five."

I only see Claire's pretty, somber face in profile, as she stares across the table and rubs one finger gentle along the glass that frames her drawing - green grass and the thick crayoned strokes of a tall flower.