Thursday, December 31, 2020
Saturday, December 26, 2020
Christmas Day, and I'm taking a break between bouts of fabulous food to sit at the computer and scroll social media and give likes and hearts to friends' holiday greetings. Their photos of bedecked trees, of special breakfasts, of happy children.
Here's a photo of a family party, obviously too many people to live in one house. Big grins, no masks.
I scroll past.
A photo of a snowy backyard. Like.
A photo of a little girl making a beautifully sloppy gingerbread house. Heart.
A photo of a cat curled up under a Christmas tree. Heart.
Another Christmas Eve party, this one a series of photos, people at a front door, grins, hugs. The caption says we sure surprised them, how wonderful to see them, we hadn't seen them in so long.
I scroll past.
It hurts a little to refuse to give happy kudos to this post and others like it. It feels a little rude. A little too Ebenezer Scrooge.
Not reacting favorably to posts about gatherings that go against the constant pleas for public safety that our governors, our mayors, our media, our citizens have been making as our hospitals fill up, as we hear reports of ambulances parked and waiting outside California emergency rooms for hours, that's not about Scrooge. It's about the Ghost of Christmas Future.
Saturday, November 28, 2020
We're in middle seats waiting for takeoff. I try to remind myself not to be afraid of flying. I'm thirsty. I have to pee.
The plane is full. Why haven't they distanced the passengers? Why is no one wearing a mask?
Why are we not wearing masks?
I turn to Stephen: "We forgot our masks! We didn't bring one mask for this entire trip!"
What are we doing traveling in the middle of a pandemic? What are all of these people doing traveling in the middle of a pandemic?
The man sitting behind me is trying to get me to read his short stories, which are stashed in a box under my seat. The flight attendant drops by to accuse Stephen of forging the painting he had put in the overhead compartment. In the opposite aisle, another flight attendant helps a passenger by stowing his gun in a closet.
I get up to find the bathroom. The back of the plane is a rummage sale filled with items people are pawing over. White crockery. Scented candles. There are long lines waiting at the checkouts. People packed in. And in the corner, a bar. Everyone is having a lovely time.
I wake up in a panic. It was a dream. Sun runs across the quiet bedroom. But the panic doesn't really subside. That airplane. That is what being in America right now feels like.
Thursday, November 5, 2020
Ten o'clock and we're playing cards at the dining room table. The internet cut out in the middle of our show and we hadn't yet gotten enough diversion stuffed into our brains to shut them off for the night.
I won the first hand. Does that mean we'll win the election?
Stephen lost the first hand. Does that mean we'll lose the election?
The last time we played cards was the night of the big wind storm that was supposedly the biggest wind event in... what? Fifty years? One hundred? The power had gone out and we'd played cards by candlelight all evening long. Laughing and enjoying each other's company.
After that night and for the next ten days, Oregon and California were on fire.
The human brain loves to turn serendipity into metaphor, and metaphor into omen.
If the internet is still out tomorrow, we won't be able to access the election results as they slowly, excruciatingly slowly tick in. My stomach shoots another little fight-or-flight like it's been doing these last two days.
It's my turn. I count the cards in my hand to see how many I need to pick from the deck. Stephen's studying his. If all goes as it looks now, I may win this hand.
I reach down.
Sunday, November 1, 2020
The ghost cats live in the neighborhood where they died. Regressed to the we of the kitten pile, they nest in the roots of towering firs, soothed by the murmur passing through the fungal web that laces the urban forest.
When the moon is full, they speak as one, piercing the skin of the night to defy the coyotes, those fanged, merciless gods.
Hate! the cats hiss. Hate! Hate! Hate!
Spent, they wane with the moon. One or two drift off. No one knows where. Most just pretend at predatory things. Airborne, they chase birds whose blood once filled their mouths with pleasure. These cats know they’re foolish. The birds don’t even see them. Pleasure is for the living.
Saturday, October 31, 2020
Just back from a run to the store that was presumably for general essentials but was more accurately for enough comfort food and drink to get us through the election, I cart bags down to the basement where we quarantine/store certain items routinely because: pandemic/apocalypse. Deposit my stock of bread, noodles, the many bags of Too Many Chips.
I pull wine out of the bottle bag. Each different bottle rings a different quiet note as it touches the concrete basement floor. I put them down, pick them up, rearrange. The Dark Horse rosé on the right, the Cocoban red on the left. The Immortal Zin moves from far left to directly in between them. Yes, that works.
Pick up the cava, put it down. It's not right. Move it away. Try the Dark Horse sauvignon blanc. It's not right either. Overhead the ceiling squeaks just slightly as Stephen moves through the kitchen, washing things down and putting them away. I reach, pick up the other red. Set it down in front of the rosé. Ah, perfect.
For a moment, I pick up the bottles and set them back down, pick them up, set them down. Quiet tink, tink of glass against the rough concrete.
I feel very proud of myself.
Taking the bottle bag back up the stairs to the kitchen, I tell Stephen I just taught myself to play "Mary Had a Little Lamb" on wine bottles. He's less impressed than I would expect.
Sunday, October 11, 2020
Early morning black and Stephen is snoring, quietly, but enough that it wakes me. I try to pretend for a while that I can ignore the rhythm of it, but I finally give up and rise. Take my ear plugs out and put them in the drawer in the bedside table. Ease out from the covers.
I reach down and gently lift Nicholas from his pillow on the floor where he's been sleeping ever since the injury. It hurts my heart that he may never be able to sleep in the bed with us again.
Hip dysplasia. Thank you, 2020, for bestowing so many gifts upon us. We give him his medicine. We rest him. We keep him from jumping up or down from things, going up and down the stairs. Hoping treatment will avoid surgery, I don't want him to have to go through yet another surgery.
I carry him quiet through the dark house. Up the stairs. Maybe, maybe I can put him down on his pillow on the floor. Put the baby gate at the top of the stairwell. Go back to sleep on the little daybed.
Through the dark of the room, there's a tick-tick-tick against the skylights. It's raining. Of course it's raining. Nicholas is afraid of the rain. Even with the baby gate up to keep him from going back down, he'll pace. He'll be agitated and afraid. If I put him back downstairs will he stay if I'm not there? Will he try to find me?
For a moment we stand here, suspended, Nicholas in my arms, his little silhouette turned toward the tick-tick-ticking against the glass.
I try to believe it will be OK, that his hip will get stronger and we can manage things. But this year. I've lost so much. We've all lost so much. This raging pandemic, this president downplaying and lying even as he gets pumped full of special and experimental drugs behind the scenes for his own case of the virus that his administration mismanaged, telling people this thing is not a big deal so they'll go out and keep catching it and keep spreading it, keep dying. Less than a month away from the election, and no, I don't have hope that it'll turn out OK, because this year and these four years have taught us otherwise. Sometimes I think my brain has been permanently changed to be unable to ever have hope again that things could be OK.
Don't think about it. Don't wake yourself up. Take Nicholas back down. Maybe you can go back to sleep. At least that's something, right? A few more hours of sleep?
I turn and take a step, and my foot kicks a water glass on the floor. It cracks into pieces.
Tuesday, September 15, 2020
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
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
Friday, July 17, 2020
I'm working upstairs when Stephen calls up from the foot of the steps. "Hey. I'm going to take a walk."
Tuesday, July 7, 2020
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
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
And farther down:
If you are feeling hopeless or enraged
Pearson packs many important topics into her examination of quarantine life—including 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 humor—and 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.
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.
Sunday, June 21, 2020
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
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.
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
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
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.]
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.
May 24—Heather came over and we had a party. We played towns and our town adopted 2 kids Kitty cats had a baby.
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.
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.
(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
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...
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 this—your 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
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."
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
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
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
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 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.
Friday, April 10, 2020
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
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
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.
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
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
I lie in my room staring up at the ceiling.
Spring can really hang you up the most.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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!”
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.