Saturday, July 27, 2019

a moment in the day: conversation

"Why doesn't he do it himself?" Stephen asks.

"No, that's the process," I say. "I put the ideas on paper and he can see how it looks."

"Sounds tedious."

"Teedjuss," I say. "I think we should pronounce it teedjuss."

"I've got to go wash my head now."

"Because I—?"

"No," he says, "I always wash my head when the water's boiling."

I leave Stephen and go upstairs to my computer. That conversation would sound a little weird, I think to myself, if someone didn't know the context.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

a moment in the day: moon

It's 7:54 on July the 20th, 2019, and I'm sitting in front of my laptop computer in the thick air-conditioner air, waiting for the big moment.

I had set my iPhone alarm clock so I wouldn't forget to watch at just the right time. Fifty years ago right now—or two minutes from now—Neil Armstrong first set foot on the moon.

I have a Youtube video all ready to go. So I can watch the moment on my laptop  (a thing Neil Armstrong never knew about when he was walking around on the moon) via the internet (a thing Neil Armstrong never knew about when he was walking around on the moon). I googled the exact time and then used the internet to convert Coordinated Universal Time to Pacific Daylight Time (there are a lot of things I did tonight that would have blown Neil Armstrong's mind back when he was walking around on the moon) so I'd know exactly when I would need to be watching this thing in order to honor my membership in the American Society of Nerds (if there were such a thing, Neil Armstrong would surely have been a member).

I click the play arrow. I throw it into full screen mode.

The muddy, contrasty video opens up on what is apparently NASA: three big screens taking up most of my screen, the middle one showing a huge map in alien neon greens, and in the lower corner a spread of small computer consoles with men working at them, bathed in mauve. A muffled voice says, "Neil, this is Houston, loud and clear."

My nerd heart leaps.

I watch the little figures at their mauve computers move at the bottom of my computer, and then one of the big screens before them blinks. My computer blinks from the earth to the moon. The color disappears and it's all black and white and gray. Shapes that mean nothing to my eyes.

A voice says, "And we're getting a picture on the TV."

The first images I see from the moon are upside down. I only know this because the voice on the TV tells me so. When they flip right side up, I still don't know what I'm seeing—just gray, contrasty shapes—until something starts to move and I start to make out what's going on. It's Neil Armstrong's shape emerging from the rocket.

I was born on June 14th, 1969. Mom and Dad always say they held me up to the TV so I could watch. Of course I have no memory of it. I have no memory, even, of the last telling of that story. Who was it who held me up? Mom or Dad? Whenever I think about the story, it's always "we" in my head. Was I fussy or quiet? Did my eyes connect with the shapes on our TV or was I looking off elsewhere? What was I wearing? I mean, I was just over a month old. Was I naked? Was I mooning them watching their man on the moon?

On my computer, Neil Armstrong is descending the ladder. As he steps down onto the surface of the moon, I don't know exactly what time it is because I'm in full-screen mode—it could still be 7:55, it could have nudged past to 7:57. I watch the almost indistinguishable shapes of rocket ladder and spaceman. His big, bulbous space helmet. "It's one small step for man," he says, and I wonder, did he practice this speech in front of the mirror as he was shaving in the morning before takeoff? "One giant leap for mankind."

"I think that was Neil's quote," the TV voice says, "I didn't understand it."

I think the thing that has always stuck with me about the moon landing, personally, beyond the wonder of humans first doing this thing that was so seemingly impossible and magical, is that my parents held me up to see it, that the moment for them was as much about their first baby as it was the near reaches of outer space.

Or I could be projecting a little.

I pick up Nicholas and hold him up to my laptop screen as Neil Armstrong walks around on the moon. Nicholas is unimpressed.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

five days at moss rock retreat

Stephen and I don't give each other presents as a rule. We used to get together and, in a joint venture, buy some movies on DVD, but in recent years we haven't even done that. But this year, I turned fifty, and he gave me something special. A five-day writing retreat in a tiny house, all by myself, just me and my book, at Moss Rock Retreat.

Oh my gosh, what luxury. I've written through a couple drafts of the novel, have done a lot of workshopping, which tends to make you see your book in bite-sized pieces. So I printed the entire thing and took it with me. For the first three days, I read and made notes. Tried not to stop the forward momentum by doing too much editing, just jotted down what needed to be done, and then after I'd read through, I started back at the beginning and edited according to those notes, on computer.

I loved the experience and the place so much that I wanted to share some pictures and some details. Writers in and around Portland, Moss Rock Retreat is right here in Portland, within walking distance of the lovely Leach Botanical Gardens as well as a wetlands trail that I took on the second day while taking a break from my work. It's a tiny house in the middle of a gorgeous garden, and it has all the amenities so you can just hang out and work.

The reason for the name. Here's what owner Virginia Bellis Brandabur says about it:

We're calling the tiny house "Moss Rock Retreat" after the big boulder that can be seen from the porch. It's one of the boulders created 1.6 million years ago from the Mt. Scott shield volcano eruption. Half a century ago, the city dug up the boulder from under the street when they put waterlines into this neighborhood. Now it's one of my favorite things in the yard.

The tiny house! It has this sweet little porch. Sometimes I brought my work out onto the porch and sometimes after a day of working or editing I'd come out onto the porch and just relax.

At the end of the tiny house, inside, is a little writing desk where I set up my computer when I first arrived (although I moved it around a lot). There's wifi access, which was great because I was working through some logistics in my novel and was happy to be able to have access to information.

On the other end is a little kitchen with refrigerator and freezer (good sized), sink, oven, stove and dishwasher. There was everything I needed to cook and eat on, pots and pans, utensils, cups and glasses. There was olive oil and salt and pepper. They left me some eggs in the fridge from their chickens! And if you look to the left in the above picture: yes, that's a washing machine. I was amazed at what they fit in this place.

They left me flowers!

Appropriate coffee cup.

Oh, there was coffee and tea and things to brew them in. And amazing knives. Towels, pillows, extra blankets, all the things.

A tiny library with both good things to read and good reference books for writers.

Here's some tiny house ingenuity: storage drawers built into the stairs leading up to the sleeping loft. One thing to note: I was the first visitor to Moss Rock Retreat, as they were still in the process of getting things up and running. As you can see, the steps currently don't have a railing. Owners Virginia and Matthew are in communications with a woodworker to create the best type of railing for the space and aesthetic of the house. They're continuing to improve the space as writers provide them with feedback on their experience.

I have to say, I holed up in the tiny house for much of the retreat, sunk deep in my book. But I did take a walk along the wetlands trail one day and I did spend some time out in the garden that surrounds the tiny house. It's quite a large garden you can maze your way through, with a bunny hutch, a vegetable garden, lots of beautiful flowers and trees, and a very friendly cat.

And chickens!

I found this sweet little out-of-the-way spot to set up and work for a while.

The view from there: sky with butterfly.

I was joined by this guy. His name is Comb-over.

The owners of Moss Rock Retreat, Virginia Bellis Brandabur and Matthew Brandabur (and their two great kids!) were lovely and accommodating. They made me a sweet hand-made map to the wetlands trail. Alone in the tiny house, it felt good to have the family nearby and accessible should I need anything (I was also car-less for the week) but they gave me my privacy and would text when they were going out for the day in case I felt shy of wandering the grounds when anyone might be around. One night there was a huge storm and the power went out in the neighborhood for a couple hours. They brought me tea candles and an electric lantern and I relaxed with one of the books from their library.

In the end, not only had I done a whole lot of work on my book, but I'd had a lovely experience in a special place. I highly recommend it for writers wanting to get away and really commune with your work. If you want more information, you can email them at Or visit their Facebook page at

By the way, Virginia Bellis Brandabur is also one of the hosts of the Lilla Lit literary series that happens at Leach Botanical Gardens. If you're lit-minded in or near Portland, it's definitely something to check out. I loved their spring event, and will be reading, actually, at their summer event, on August 18th. More info on the series is here.

Home. Time to unpack.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

a moment in the day: fourth

It's the Fourth of July and we're in the little upstairs bathroom. Nicholas and I. Sitting on the floor with the loud bathroom fan on and the door closed. I'm sitting on an old cushion from the couch we no longer have, Nicholas on my lap, my laptop open beside us blaring music. I pet him and sing along.

I'm going to Kansas City 
Kansas City, here I come. 
I'm going to Kansas City 
Kansas City, here I come. 
They got some swingin' little fellas 
And I'm going to get me one.

Peggy Lee's version. 

It's my best defense against the war zone of neighborhood Fourth of July bombs bursting all Francis-Scott-Key outside. When I first moved in, I hated that you couldn't turn on the light in this bathroom without this loud fan coming on, but it's been indispensable for Fourth of Julys and the occasional thunderstorm. We got started in here around seven when the accumulation of pops and bangs started to get Nicholas agitated. I found an old Sherlock Holmes movie on Youtube and we were watching it together, until the sounds outside ramped up and a film wasn't cutting it anymore. That, and Inspector Lestrade and Professor Moriarty started trading gunfire, undermining my whole diversion plan in the first place. That's when we turned to the music. 

It's eleven now, no signs of a let-up anytime soon. Nicholas on my lap stares at the closed bathroom door, then settles down with his chin on my leg, closes his eyes, then head up again to stare at the door. Sometimes I can't even hear the pops that make it through the wall of sound I've created in here, but Nicholas is ever on alert. We hear a little burst and he starts panting. I pet him and sing. 

Might take a train, 
Might take a plane, 
If I have to walk I'm going all the same. 
I'm going to Kansas City 
Kansas City, here I come. 

It occurs to me that I didn't eat dinner. My butt on the couch cushion is a slab of slate. 

The song winds up to its climax and I go in for the big finish. Nicholas isn't impressed but at least he's distracted. But then the wailing trumpets die down and we can hear the fireworks again, and Nicholas' head comes up off my lap. He looks at me, distressed and starts panting. Youtube is randomly choosing the next video to play but it's not a Peggy Lee song, it's some video clip from the old game show What's My Line, and that ain't gonna cut it. Quick I reach to the little touch pad on my laptop, because I wasn't smart enough to bring the mouse, hunting around for something else I know the words to. 

I don't know from Spotify.

Nicholas starts to move around on my lap like he's looking for a place to hide. Panting. Pops and bangs through the hum of the fan. I grab the first Peggy Lee song I find that I haven't already played. I click go and the music starts again. Horns and drums. I start to sing. 

The minute you walked in the joint 
I could see you were a man of distinction, 
A real big spender. 
Good looking, so refined. 
Say, wouldn't you like to know 
What's going on in my mind? 
So, let me get right to the point. 
I don't pop my cork for every guy I see.

Nicholas stops panting, settles. He puts his chin on my lap and closes his eyes.