Monthly Archives: November 2013

Flashback Friday: Planning Ahead, Missing Out


[This is a blog entry from the Girl Scout vault from early 2006. In case it seems I have an inconstant heart where Z is concerned,  he was home in Zimbabwe, not being my boyfriend.]

On any given day my lesson plans look something like this:

  • Discuss “Shrek” & intertextuality.
  • Do that bird exercise.
  • Have them write about that one article.

Right there, in a nut shell, is why I decided higher education was the place for me. If I taught in a high school, the administration would expect detailed, week-at-a-glance type lesson plans that spelled out exactly what I planned to do as well as the objective of the exercise. They want these, one assumes, so if you get hit by a garbage truck on the way to school, your class can continue without interruption.

I’ve never really wanted to be thought of as “easily replaceable,” so my lesson plans tend to be more along the lines of Post-It Notes stuck to the back of a recycled “Hello Kitty” folder. If I’m road kill, I want my students to flounder for a few weeks in memory of me.

I’m not a bad teacher–in fact, I think and annual reviews argue that I’m actually a good teacher. I know what I’m going to do. I know what the objective of the lesson is. But if I had to write it out, weeks in advance, it would no longer seem interesting or viable to me, so I’d have to think up a whole new set of things to do so I wouldn’t get bored. It’s more efficient in the long run to do Post-It Note planning on the drive to work.

Which brings me to my current dilemma.

Last week, a co-worker, poet, and friend, [that for our purposes I will now refer to as Belle, as in “the belle of Worcester, Mass” asked if I wanted to go with her to Ireland for Spring Break. She’s going to see her boyfriend. It’s a love story with a thirty-year interruption that I am particularly fond of, and Ireland has been a sort of surrogate boyfriend of mine over the last several years. In fact, the relationship is currently monogamous. Since I was just there in November for a week’s writing workshop with Hugo Hamilton, going again seems a bit extravagant. Also, I’m not sure if Belle really invited me or if I whined so much about going that she felt compelled to agree that I could tag along. Also, I’m not sure it’s ever a good idea to spend that much time with someone you are fond of but don’t know ALL that well. Also, I was raised with my mother’s axiom of “fish and company smell after three days.” So I’ve been torn. Mostly, I’ve been leaning towards doing the right thing–saving for a house I’ll never buy–and skipping the trip.

But then today another co-worker who just went to Dublin brought me a copy of Hugo Hamilton’s new memoir, which won’t be available in the U.S. until September, and I read the first two pages and I started longing for Ireland. Aching. Why would I NOT go to Ireland with Belle when I’ll have free lodging, will get to explore the southern bits of the country, a place I haven’t yet been. I rushed back to my office and checked for the fare she’d mentioned to me. It wasn’t there. It had gone up $130, which pretty much pushed it out the range of do-able.

What a non-planning dumbass I am.

She stopped by and we talked about the trip I wouldn’t be taking. The things I could have done. (It turns out there’s more to do in Waterford than just the crystal factory tour.) We stretched ourselves over my Irish road map and speculated about places I could have seen.

She distracted me from my One True Love though by asking what the deal was Friday with the visiting writer, my two-day crush.

What deal?

He was flirting with you, she said.

He was? I knew I was flirting with _him_, but he was flirting with me?

Seemed like it to me, she said. He was mostly talking to you all night. He kept saying that thing about having you come down and taking you up in the chopper. I think he was flirting.

Here was me thinking my co-workers were embarrassed for me last week, flirting so pathetically with the famous writer, the author of one of the best 25 books of 2005. Here was me not knowing he was maybe flirting back. Oh, how I wished I’d have shaved my legs. Maybe I would have been bolder. Maybe, at the very least, I would have gone to Comfort Inn and pelted his windows with tiny chunks of Hoosier limestone.

There really is not any Hoosier limestone here. I said that to be poetic. I apologize.

It’s hard to live your life with no foresight. It gives you the opportunity to be spontaneous (there’s no plan to stick to), but without a plan sometimes you forget what your goals are. Fares go up, you miss a trip. Legs aren’t shaved, you miss, well, out.

Hair Stylist Monogamy and Other Simple Truths

Sunset from my folks' backyard.

Sunset from my folks’ backyard.

This is how monogamous I am: I’ve had the same hair stylist since my first year out of college. When I met her, she was at the hippest salon in my little town, and whenever I was in there talking to her as the music thrummed and hair clippings fell on a groovy wooden floor that had been artfully painted, I felt like I was some place more exciting than my hometown. Friends would insist I should try “X” at some other salon because he or she was “the best”, but I’ve never really understood that mindset . . . that “new” is better or that having the most up-to-the-minute hairstyle mattered more than a connection I felt with the person behind the clippers. A few years later, my stylist left town for a while, so I had my chance to branch out and see what I’d been supposedly missing.  I now think of that as the Dark Ages. There were a host of people who were hard for me to talk to (my introverted problem, not theirs) and who seemed not to understand that I am basically a person who will forget to brush her hair on most days and therefore should not have a complicated or fussy hairdo.  One guy decided what I really needed was bangs, never mind I have only fourteen strands of hair that grow in that magical bang place, and it didn’t really matter to him that when I left the salon I kind of looked as if I was four and had cut my own bangs because he didn’t know me from Adam.


One day after what felt like five years of her absence but what was probably closer to two,  the “it” stylist of town (who randomly decided I needed to have hair like Sherry Stringfield’s on ER, mainly because there was an article about her in the People magazine he was reading right before my appointment), leaned over my shoulder and sang into my ear, “Guess who’s coming back to towwwwwwwwwwn!”


Oh, happy, happy day!


While I have embraced my new life in Seattle on several levels, there are other areas where I have not. I’ve been dragging my feet on finding a new dentist, I save chiropractor visits for trips to Indiana no matter how bad my back gets, I prefer using that Greek cobbler at home instead of finding a new one here, and since no one in Seattle really knows me (or notices if my roots are showing) I feel compelled to save hair cuts and coloring for when I’m back in Indiana. Fortunately, my trips are often enough that this usually works out. A couple of times when there have been long stretches between visits to the Midwest, I’ve gone to the Aveda school up the street to have some student practice his or her arts on my hair. The place fascinates me because it reminds me of Hogwarts, what with some students mixing potions and others doing intricate experiments on dummy heads. Plus, they are all whipping around in black and my imagination can easily turn black sweaters and tight pants into those excellent swooshy robes seen regularly on Harry, Hermione, and Ron. The Aveda school appeals to me because I never have the same stylist twice since there is constantly a new crop of students, and this makes me feel like I’m not cheating on my One True Stylist back in Richmond. I shall have no stylist before her.


One of the things that fascinates me about my relationship with her is that despite the fact we don’t interact with each other outside of the salon (give or take the odd text about Game of Thrones), we’ve watched each other’s lives unfold with joy and concern as warranted. I’ve seen her kids grow up via the latest snapshot stuck to her mirror and the stories she tells about them, we’ve had long conversations about marriage, pets, family gatherings, vacations, death and grief, our hometown, and various seasons of life. I called her the day after Z proposed because I knew it would please her. Yet, if we run into each other outside of the salon, it is a little awkward. I feel like I’m intruding on her private life. We share a few pleasantries and then exit each other’s company as quickly as we can. I don’t know how you classify that kind of relationship. Some people might say we aren’t really even friends and this is just a business arrangement, but it isn’t. The length of our acquaintance and the intensity of our talks puts her somewhere in the same orbit of some of my college friends, though I see her with more regularity.


The thought of finding a new stylist in Seattle makes me twitchy because I know I won’t find another one of her. You can’t duplicate people. Plus, I’m too old. People move around too much in this city.  It takes a lot of energy to get to know new people and I’m more tired now than I was when I was 22—how much genuine enthusiasm could I muster for a stranger’s engagement or first house or pregnancy? So I don’t look for her replacement. If I can’t make it back to Indiana to get my hair cut, I’ll probably just keep trying my luck at Hogwarts and hope that the stylist of the day isn’t from Slytherin.


That photo at the top may be confusing you at this point since it has very little to do with hair or hair care products. That’s because when I got started on this post, I meant for it to be about the superiority of the Midwestern sunset. My brain cells sometimes connect things like a Wild Mouse at an amusement park: just when I think the track is taking me one direction, there is a sharp turn and a drop.


In my earlier life, I noticed maybe ten sunsets. I wasn’t a total philistine—I’d see the sky oranging up in the west and I might think how lovely, but I wasn’t moved. The sun going down just meant it was about time for the evening line-up of sit-coms to start. And also, when you are young and from the middle bits of the country and you’ve never been too far afield, you’re basically required by law to assume that life somewhere near water or near a big city is inherently better than wherever your hick life is being lived.  You don’t even question this—it’s like it’s an inherent truth and doesn’t need empirical evidence.


Whether it was during her lengthy disappearance when I was forced into life with bangs or some other, shorter visit, my hair dresser underwent a life change when she went to Key West. I remember her telling me about it—how she’d realized how unimportant flashy clothes and jewelry were once she’d been in Key West because every night going to watch the sunset seemed like the most meaningful thing a person could do all day.  It was an event. The simplicity of it astounded her, and because it had meant so much to her, I began to realize how little attention I paid to the beauty of the natural world. And then, because I was twentysomething, my next immediate thought was not that I should enjoy that evening’s sunset but instead that I must move to a place where the sunsets are superior. I’d been living with my mother and step-father in a house in the country that is perfectly positioned between fields so I didn’t even have to leave my room to see a perfect sunrise or sunset, yet I was certain that ours were inferior simply because they were in Indiana.


What can I say? I was young. I had no idea.


When I moved to Seattle, my assumption was that the sunsets out here would be just the sort like those my hairdresser had told me about in Florida that changed her life. Give or take the Olympic Peninsula, we’re basically hanging out here on the coast and we’ve got Puget Sound for reflection purposes, so they were bound to be glorious, right? For months, whenever Z & I had a car or had made our way down the hill to Elliott Bay, we’d try to time it for the sunset, and we were regularly disappointed. Occasionally, it would be lovely, but the more frequent options were either a) gray so thick that there wasn’t much sunset action at all or b) a clear sky that meant it was literally just a round sphere that suddenly dipped below the horizon. Still miraculous, I guess, but it didn’t change our lives. We’d look at each other, shrug, and go get a milkshake.


It turns out all that dust and dirt kicked up by tractors and smog belched out by factories make the Indiana sunsets some kind of wonderful. It’s like a different movie is being projected onto a screen outside your house every night and tickets are 100% free. No two shows are the same and pretty much all of them are worth watching.  The one pictured above was an Oscar contender.


While I have little doubt that at some point I would have discovered the joy of this phenomena without aid of my stylist, I love that often when I see a particularly gorgeous sunset I think of her, think of her assertion that these are the things that should matter most to us because they’re more impressive than a new car, leather boots, or even an awesome hairstyle (bangs optional).



Flashback Friday: The Wisdom of Petula Clark

Downtown Richmond, Indiana.

Downtown Richmond, Indiana.

Before I was married, I had a blog that about three people who knew me read. I didn’t have a plan for it but only knew there were stories I wanted to record so I jotted them down. This was before I married Z, before I moved to the Pacific Northwest, and before I took a hiatus from teaching.

I’m of the school of thought that says if a blog post gets uploaded in the forest and no one is around to read it, it might be pointless. So I’ve decided to take inspiration from pop radio stations across the country and start Flashback Friday and post one of those older, mostly unread posts until I’ve exhausted my supply.

Because I was an English teacher for almost two decades, I firmly believe few pieces of writing don’t require revision, so I’ve added and deleted a few things here for timeliness and clarity’s sake. Anything in [brackets] is Current Beth narrating for you.

I give you the first installment in Flashback Friday: a little ditty about my hometown’s downtown. (Or uptown, depending on your perspective.)


 The Wisdom of Petula Clark

Like a lot of small American cities, it’s pretty easy to avoid downtown here. The major thoroughfares were constructed to circumvent it. Judging from photos, the place was hoppin’ from the late 1800s thru the mid 20th Century. In the late ’60s it blew up. (No, really. It did. People died. My great-uncle–now a saint–was one of 41 casualties and my mother, aunt, and cousins nearly were as well, were it not for a serendipitous grilled cheese.) In the ’70s it fell victim to bad urban planning and it was turned into a pedestrian mall. People quit going to the shops for whatever reason–inability to park close, economy, creepyness of the giant Alice-in-Wonderland style toadstool umbrellas, number of vagrants who enjoyed the fountains and ergonomic benches–and so a lot of the shops closed. New shops sprang up, but many of them had the smell of death on them before they even completed their first week of business. Wal-mart arrived and even more local businesses closed. In the late ’90s, the pedestrian mall was ripped up, the signs were changed from “downtown” to “uptown” in a moment of marketing optimism, and  a few coffee shops opened.

Other than the part where it exploded, my hometown’s downtown isn’t unlike a lot of others across the U.S. that are dead or on life support.

I like to think this one isn’t terminal, so I go through rituals the equivalent of lighting candles and saying prayers to the patron saints of economic prosperity and good parking spaces. I find reasons to do business downtown. I buy watch batteries at the local jeweler though it would be easier to get them at Meijer. I buy “unique” (read: “expensive”) toys for my friends’ kids at the local toy store instead of the ones from Toys ‘R Us because I love the store and think my selections at Veach’s are going to promote better brain development. I love standing on the old star bricks that supported my childhood in what is now Olde Richmond and knowing that decades of people who predated me had walked upon them. They’re so much more lovely than concrete, even if a tree root does occasionally upend one and cause passersby to trip a little.

Star Bricks, downtown Richmond, Indiana

Star Bricks, downtown Richmond, Indiana

[I also love how that unlike the strip malls that have spread like a plague across  the U.S.  during the course of my lifetime, if you look UP in Richmond’s downtown, you are greeted with architectural uniqueness and surprising elements of beauty, like the upper level of this storefront directly across from that favorite toy store of mine.]

Storefront. Downtown Richmond, Indiana

Storefront. Downtown Richmond, Indiana

As often as I can find reason to, I take my shoes to “the shoe repair guy.” This is my favorite. It’s very old world in there, started at a time when people needed to repair their shoes because they had one or two pairs that had to last…a time when people had “a craft” like cutting new insoles instead of just selling you a pair of Dr. Scholl’s one-size-fits-most pre-formed air cushions. It’s a long, narrow space, with shelves on both sides that are stacked with shoes and boots and jars of solvents and cans of polish. There are family photos on the walls, and I always feel like life is probably lived better in there than it is in most places. I don’t know why I believe this exactly, but I do. [Also, unlike in Zimbabwe, Mr. Marinakes would never disappear with your shoes for weeks on end!]

Yesterday, I took three things into “the shoe guy”: a pair of Haflinger slippers that have developed a case of leprosy, one purple Dansko clog (don’t ask), and a leather field bag I bought when I got my first post-college job in 1989. I’m thrilled to have three things to bring in, though once I’ve plopped them on the counter I want to kick myself for not spacing out the joy. Why not sprinkle out the shoe/bag repair over a series of weeks? The part I love most, aside from being in this space, is when Mr. Marinakes himself looks the items over. He’s thoughtful. Is the shoe worth saving? What can he do to fix the problem? While he examines the damage, his assistant talks to me about the weather. Mr. Marinakes turns the slippers over, tugs on the insole that looks moth eaten, and shakes his head. The slippers are good, he says, but the insoles are shot. He can make me new ones out of leather, but it will be pricey. How pricey, I ask. Six dollars, he says. I’d pay twenty just for an excuse to come in. And I really do love the slippers. He asks when I want them and I say I’m in no hurry. It’s Friday. You’ll have them at the first of the week, he says with what may be pride.

I leave feeling kind of happy and I wonder if maybe Petula Clark wasn’t on to something when she sang “Downtown.” No doubt she was talking about a more _vibrant_ city (one where you could listen to the rhythm of the gentle bossanova while looking at neon lights), but, to quote another bossy musician, this is MY hometown. And somedays, just seeing remnants of what it used to be (with the occasional horn honk) is enough for me.

I have a co-worker who writes a lot about this place, but she is a transplant from the East, and so when I read about the poverty she sees here or the grammatical idiosyncrasies of the residents or the lack of culture, I sometimes want to challenge her to a smackdown. [Now that we aren’t co-workers and collegiality is no longer necessary, I want to say something even more aggressive, but this is a Quaker town, so I will refrain.] Some of what she says is true, but how dare she judge MY hometown. It’s probably like family. You can say shitty things about your own siblings, parents, cousins, but if someone else does–even a friend–something goes icy in your gut. Where my [former] co-worker sees decline, depression, dereliction, I see a history. I see the corner where my maternal grandfather had a car lot, the post office where my paternal grandfather worked, the dimestore where my grandmothers shopped, the bank where my parents met, the movie theatre, the bakery, the furniture store, the old (better) library. It’s sentimental. It’s nostalgic. But there’s still life here. I’m not as optimistic as the “uptown” city planners about the prospects here, but I kind of love it and want the best for it.

[And now, it goes without saying, I will never not miss both its vibrant past and its current incarnation. When I drive through other abandoned downtowns in the Midwest, I’m grateful for whatever hope or vision it is that the people here have that has kept this downtown alive. It may be a shadow of its former self, but it isn’t a ghost town. This post by Richmond’s own Local Lady encapsulates many of the feelings I have about the place: plus it features a groovy postcard of Richmond in its heyday].

The Photo In Question

St. Andrew’s Steeple, Richmond, Indiana
St. Andrew's Catholic Church, Richmond, Indiana

St. Andrew’s Catholic Church, Richmond, Indiana

There are a lot of beautiful churches in Richmond, but this is the one that stood guard over my childhood. I could see the clock face from my bedroom window once the trees had lost their leaves. Some nights it looked like the moon. It stands a block away from where I went to elementary school, and I have vivid memories of watching the nuns in their habits walking on the church grounds while I was at recess on the swings. I’d say a prayer to God not to give me The Call because I was pretty sure I would not enjoy life as a nun even though I didn’t really know what it would entail other than lack of clothing options. Though this wasn’t my father’s family’s home parish (the Irish Americans went to St. Mary’s a few blocks away), we did sometimes attend mass here and I loved the neo Gothic architecture, the Stations of the Cross that kept my eye entertained while mass was in progress, the way it felt like all prayers whisked right up into heaven like smoke up a chimney. It’s still one of my favorite sites in my hometown (particularly now that I’m no longer worried about being called to convent life).  This is the photo I was taking when the man in the last post offered me the fan he’d just acquired.

Back Home Again in Indiana


Indiana has been clinging to a few leaves just for me, and when I wake up my first morning back home, I’m grateful for its effort. Every one in Puget Sound has been exclaiming about how beautiful the foliage is this year, and it is, but it is more muted oranges and russets interrupted by evergreens. In my part of Indiana, where the hills roll a little and there is almost as much woodland as there is farm land, the colors pop and sizzle. I’m convinced the only place where the fall leaf display might be better is New England, and I’m not even sure about that.  That could just be something the Vermont Tourism Board sells us.

In the first few days I am home my eye is so happy to be looking at a big sky and a horizon instead of layers and layers of office buildings and apartment complexes. Mom complains about how much worse the traffic has gotten since the ethanol plant opened up, and I do notice the loads and loads of grain being carted up the road in long-haul trucks, but compared to siren-infested and traffic congested First Hill, I could be on a deserted island, it is so quiet.

Don’t even get me started on the sunsets or the constellations I can see in the crisp November sky.  In Seattle, we’re lucky to see the moon because of the ambient light and the cloud cover.

This isn’t a home-is-better-than-Seattle post, in case it seems like it is. I’m not unhappy in Seattle, and like most good Hoosiers, I spent a fair share of my youth imagining an escape, dreaming of pulling what my friend Buns calls “a geographic”: moving across country with the misguided belief that a place other than home is infinitely better just by nature of not being the tired town where you grew up, only to discover when you arrive in the new place that all of your problems and quirks and failings have followed you.  So no. I have to let Washington be what it is and I have to let Indiana be what it is and quiet the ranking system that self-starts in my brain whenever I’m in a new place even if at some genetic level I feel like home is “better.”

But there is an ease of being that takes place in your native geography that is astounding. It’s as if I’ve spent the last few months with non-native speakers of English and have had to navigate the quirks of language to get my point across, and suddenly I wake up and find myself in the company of my paisanos, where a gesture is understood without explanation.  In this honeymoon phase of my visit, I’m so glad to be in the land of the un-ironic seed cap and people in Carhart jackets for reasons that have nothing to do with fashion.

My first day home I go downtown to look for something new and fun to wear to the wedding I’ve come home for. In the store, it seems easier to tell clerks that I don’t need help. I’m not navigating around hurried shoppers screaming into cell phones. (In fact, there are so few shoppers in the store I wonder how it stays in business.) When I leave, I stand on the sidewalk to take a photo of the church steeple that was backdrop to my childhood and I don’t have to worry about being in anyone’s way. While I peer out of our little apartment windows in Seattle, the world feels crowded and too full and I want to beg people to quit reproducing because there are too many of us and I am an introvert. But when I am home, there is a surplus of space. In Richmond, if you wanted to walk down Main Street with your arms stretched out beside you, you wouldn’t bump into anyone. At no time while I’m home, will my hips and shoulders be uncomfortably close to the hips and shoulders of total strangers. In Seattle, I’m amazed that we don’t all have communicable diseases because we’re always accidentally touching people we don’t know and pretending we aren’t, staring straight ahead, busying ourselves with our smart phones and creating invisible cocoons around ourselves.

The city is a petri dish.

While I’m snapping shots of the steeple, I hear an older man say, “Excuse me, young lady.” It doesn’t immediately dawn on me that I am no longer young and because I’ve been in the city for so long, I assume I’m in his way and he wants me to move, never mind the perimeter around me that is empty.  I apologize without looking at him and step back so there is more room on the sidewalk. What I’ve become used to in Seattle is ignoring people. It goes against my nature to selectively NOT hear someone talking to me, yet it feels necessary if you have any hope of getting to the drugstore without having to hand out all your dollar bills to the people asking for them on the street corner.

I look at him and he’s a bit scruffy. He has on a puffy, jean jacket and there is a box fan tucked under his arm, which is a little weird for a crisp day like this. He stops in front of me and takes a deep breath, tells me his friend, who is a landlord, just had tenants leave this brand new fan in a vacated apartment. In Seattle, there’s a chance that I’d just not hear him and walk away. But I’m home and it never occurs to me that he could be a threat or even a huckster.  I’m not even in a hurry to dismiss him.  “That’s lucky,” I say. Then he says, “The thing is, I’m tired of carrying it. You want it?”

I can hardly contain my smile at this unexpected turn of events. I assure him that I have no need for a fan but thank him for his offer. He sighs and says, “Well, I guess I’ll just keep carrying it then.”

Later, when I’m driving home, what strikes me is how easy the exchange was. I didn’t ratchet myself up to DEFCON 1 assuming the worst about him and his intentions. He didn’t hold it against me that I wasn’t interested in taking the fan off his hands.

It is good to be home for a couple of weeks, even if I’m missing Z in the process.

A Visit from Chickpea


The Great Wheel, Seattle

The thing about living on the edge of the country, far away from your people, is that when a friend comes to visit, it’s an event of note. In my case, when Chickpea phoned to say she had arrived and was out front, I ran out of the apartment, left our door standing wide open, opened the building’s door and raced down the steps to greet her. It wasn’t until the front door of the building slammed shut that I realized I’d left my keys inside.  Welcome to Seattle, Chickpea. Can I interest you in drive around town in your rental car until Z gets home from work?

Fortunately, the new maintenance guy broke his code and let us in when he saw us scratching at the glass, looking pitiful there surrounded by her luggage. He was gruff though. “I’m not supposed to do this.”

Chickpea and I met five years ago in the very first workshop of my MFA program. Because I’d read her workshop submission before meeting her—an essay on her tendency towards loudness—I was pretty sure I was going to loathe her. Excess sound annoys me. I have no idea why, when we can put people on space stations and every third person on a flight has on noise-cancelling headphones, we have yet to develop a silent leaf blower, for instance. I don’t need monkish silence, but I like quiet, and based on her essay, Chickpea and I were not going to be pals for auditory reasons alone.

I don’t know if any of you have recently re-lived junior high, but as a newbie in an MFA program, you’d be surprised how quickly you are transported back to the social anxiety and neuroses you thought you’d overcome when you were 13. For the first two days, I’d walk along the grounds on breaks, talking to Z, who was in Zimbabwe, so he could remind me of all the reasons the program was a good idea and all the reasons I should not bail prematurely. Fortunately, I’d packed multiple phone cards for this very purpose, though I knew how ridiculous it was that a grown woman would pace on the edge of Casco Bay, making repeated extremely long-distance calls to Africa for reassurance.  In retrospect, I’m glad for his gentle prodding for a variety of reasons including a lot more knowledge, a degree, and the opportunity to work with some great writers. But aside from that, I’m grateful not to have missed out on the unlikely friendships that developed there.

On the first day of my first workshop, I was anxious to see what Chickpea would look like. I had imagined her big and swaggery, entering a room with a shout and maybe banging a stick against a cowbell, so it was a bit of surprise that she looked normal and didn’t fill the room with extraneous noise. In fact, I can’t remember a single sentence that passed between us those first two days, but if someone in the workshop said something that smacked of the pretentious or that was too precious, she would look at me and make a face. Maybe just an eyebrow raised a millimeter. Before long, I was doing the same to her. Was it rude? Probably, though I had this sense that only we could see the faces we were making because they were so subtle. Was it juvenile? Oh, definitely, but it felt so good to suddenly not be alone in this literary endeavor. In those shared expressions I somehow felt I’d met a paisono, and this made me less inclined to bolt from the program. Within a few days, I was spending time with her and with her group of friends, with whom I felt similarly and strangely connected, despite the fact that they were over a decade younger than I was, and they were way more raucous.  It’s not that I’m incapable of making friends, but as an introvert and as a person who has always felt that old friends were just naturally superior friends, it was surprising how quickly these people mattered to me. The following year when I attended their senior readings and graduation, I openly wept. It was bewildering to me that people I had spent so little time with could matter to me so much.

When people visit us, I always mean to be an excellent tour guide. Seattle has a lot to offer, even when the sun isn’t out, but Chickpea and I were so busy talking about writing and relationships and things we hate and dogs we love, that the city seemed secondary. Sure, we went to the Market and to the Olympic Sculpture Garden, but we could have spent all that time in a booth at Denny’s if you want to know the truth. At least I could have. Sometimes out here I get a little lonesome for friends. Or rather, I don’t notice that I’m lonesome for friends until they are here and then I want to drink them up in huge gulps.

Summer before last, Z and I were away from the city for awhile, and when we got back, a giant Ferris wheel had been built on the edge of Elliott Bay. We didn’t know we’d been missing a Ferris wheel on our landscape, but then there it was, lit up like a blue and green Christmas tree when the Seahawks play a home game, and now it’s hard to remember what it was like before The Great Wheel was there. It makes the waterfront look a little less utilitarian and a lot more fun. Chickpea and I went up for our three spins around. Like all good Seattle tour guides, I spent much of the ride telling her all the things she couldn’t see because of the hazy sky: no Mt. Rainier, no Olympic range. Later, we would learn a pod of Orcas had been in the bay, so we could have been looking for those and enjoying what was in front of us instead of focusing on what wasn’t.

Chickpea lives on the east coast, so when I go home to Indiana, it’s not like she’s on the list of friends I’ll get to see.  When we say goodbye at the airport, it’s not like there is any schedule for when next we’ll be together, talking about the merits of Scottie dogs or why we loathe Joyce Maynard. Instead, we just have to be glad for the time we had together, make a plan for an exchange of our writing, and hope that not too much time will pass before we see each other again. Goodbye, Chickpea.

And then, a half hour later, the cell phone rings. Chickpea has missed her flight and if Z and I are inclined to fetch her, we get a few more bonus hours with her. We point our rental car in her direction and accelerate.