Monthly Archives: December 2013

Happy New Year from Somewhere Over the Dakotas

Skampy wants to know what your New Year resolutions are.

Skampy wants to know what your New Year resolutions are.

Either 2013 is ending well or 2014 is starting well, but the Delta gods blessed me with an upgrade to First Class on my flight from Indiana back to Seattle. I reckon this might be the only post I will ever get written on a flight. When you have bonus elbow room, you don’t sleep. You type. You knit. You do your taxes or practice a little Tai Chi. You order drinks and enjoy the novelty of a beverage in real glass. You yawn and stretch because you totally can; you aren’t going to slap anyone in the face.

Also, if you are me, you have Fergie on a continuous loop in your head sing-spelling G-L-A-M-O-R-O-U-S.

I have to say, life up here beyond the blue mesh curtain looks a lot less like a Mad Men cocktail party than I’d like. I always expect pearls and heels up here, but on the very few times I’ve been upgraded, the people look surprisingly like me. That is, like we all just stopped off at Big K after going to the VFW pancake breakfast and are kind of surprised to find ourselves on a plane.

The woman in front of me draped her hot pink puffy coat over her seat, which infringed on my First Class real estate and I find I’m feeling very territorial about it. I firmly flicked it back up over her seat and she gave me a dirty look, but I know my rights, and I also know without a doubt that she is up here on an upgrade too and doesn’t really belong here either. Let’s face it: if any of us were anybody, we’d already be at our New Year’s Eve party destination.

My destination: Rick in our messy First Hill apartment. It’s the only party I’m interested in this year.

This upgrade has taken the sting out of leaving home for Seattle.  It’s always melancholy, the leaving. Mom and I were both a little bereft at having to say farewell after being together for two months (I was in Indiana for a wedding, she came back to Seattle with me, and then I returned to Indiana with her for the holiday). It’s better to focus on the positive though: her house is going to be a lot neater without me in it, shedding hair like a cat and starting projects in the middle of the living room like jigsaw puzzles featuring the lunchboxes of my youth, or re-beading a wonky bracelet, a job  that went horribly awry and because of which, Mom will be finding blue beads all over the floor for the next 14 years.

Further balm will be seeing Z after three and a half weeks. He landed in Seattle two days ago, with, I am happy to report, his freshly cobbled shoes. Z-ma is tipping over less too, which makes us all happy. Here’s to her continued improvement in the new year.  Skampy sends his love to you all. He thinks this blog is about him.

I’ve spent a portion of this flight trying to figure out what my New Year’s resolutions should be. I’m expert at making them but rarely manage to achieve them, so I’ve decided to use a two-word motto as a sort of encouraging theme for the year. (I thought I invented this, but have discovered belatedly that it is all the rage to have a single word to claim what it is you want to focus your energies on for the year.) Here’s mine:


Obviously, I’m hoping to show up in Seattle in an hour and a half and the fine captain from Delta has suggested that we are on course for that target, so that isn’t really what I’m talking about. Instead, I mean that instead of distracting myself with endless google searches re: questions to which I am only mildly interested in finding answers, for example, I will show up at the page to write every day. I’ll show up regularly to this blog. I’ll show up to my house so it looks less like a way station where I dump things between travels and trips to Target, and more like a home where there are actual places to sit and not just piles of things. I’ll show up to meals without the distraction of a TV or cellphone. I’ll (try) to show up regularly to the gym. And finally, when I am in Seattle, or Indiana, or some other location, I will BE in that place—as fully present as I am capable of—instead of always longing for some other coordinates.

Here’s to 2014. May she be kind to us all.  Are you ready?

Please, Can I Have My Gold Star?


I’ve got this big writing project that should be well under way now that I am over six months from the classroom and more than a few months into  my Year of Writing (YOW). Instead, I’ve been staring at a lot of blank screens and notebooks whose pages look too pristine to sully. I write a blog entry or a to-do list and it feels like an accomplishment some days. I do copious research on whether it is better to journal in long hand or if perhaps I should invest in a journaling ap like Day One, and I get so lost in the research that I fail to get a journal entry written in any format.

I’m convinced that 90% of being a writer is fighting the urge not to write, while simultaneously longing to get your fingers on a keyboard and thoughts out of your head. In fact, if building split rail fences were my passion, I’m kind of curious about all the ways I might try to keep myself from firing up the chain saw. Or, alternatively, firing up the chainsaw and cutting everything in sight but the logs that would make those split rail fences.

Worse yet, people ask how the writing is going and if I am able to resist my immediate inclination (to stab them with a sharp but non-lethal object…say a spork or particularly inflexible bread tie), then I say, “It’s going,” and I quickly redirect by asking them about themselves. Often, they become sidetracked at this point and I am left in peace. Then later, I feel guilty because they were nice enough to ask and sometimes I can’t even remember what their jobs entail.

Z is not so easy to redirect though. He’s got a razor-sharp memory and he can read me too well. Also, he is my champion, and a person should never, ever discourage her champion.

When we parted company at the airport two weeks ago, I told him that my goals for our time apart were fourfold:

1)   writing

2)   exercising

3)   cleaning out some of my stuff from my parents’ house because  no one should have to navigate around the specter of the spelling bee trophy I won in 1978

4)   and most importantly, really enjoying my people and my hometown while I’m in the same zip code.

So today Z and I talked on the phone briefly, and he asked how my daily goals were coming along. I had two choices: lie and tell him I was doing them all religiously and daily so he would heap  praise on my head, which would feel good briefly until I remembered it was undeserved, or I could tell the truth. You know my record on successfully lying, so truth seemed like the best option.

“The writing is so-so,” I said, but then added brightly, “I’ve nailed a couple of the other goals though!” He asked which ones, and I told him that I was definitely enjoying myself every day (managing to maintain calm, appreciate the sunsets, the snow, etc.)

“And the other one?” he asked.

“Reading,” I said.  “I’ve been reading every day, reading myself to sleep every night. It’s nice not to be so addicted to the computer.”

“I don’t remember ‘reading’ on your list,”  he said. “Was that a goal?

We wasted precious long-distance moments trying to figure out whether reading was on the list or not.  What was that fourth goal? Finally, Z says, “I thought you were cleaning out your stuff or something. Wasn’t that the plan?”

Oh. Yeah. Weeding. Not reading. Oops.

But I really do have that “enjoying myself at home” goal mastered now. Maybe it’s better to do one thing well than four things in a mediocre fashion.

Flashback Friday: Magically Delicious (or, At Home in Ireland)



[This flashback follows on the heels of that earlier lament that I’d missed my chance to go to Ireland with my friend. At the eleventh hour, cheap airfare was found!]

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Ireland is still here. Sometimes when I leave, I wonder if it disappears in a mist. An Irish Brigadoon. Since I was here in November [for a week-long writing workshop hosted by the Aspen Writers’ Foundation at Kinnitty Castle, led by Hugo Hamilton and Colum McCann], not much has changed except the flip flops are in the stores even though it’s only 8 degrees Celsius out.

Uneventful flight. Uneventful departure from my poet friend Belle, as she headed off to Waterford, where I will meet her and her boyfriend later. Uneventful bus ride to Galway alone. I got here at 10:30, dumped my suitcase at the train station, and decided to pack as much into the day as I could before my cousin Mary and her husband collected me at 3:00. At home, I could spend a Saturday such as this doing nothing but painting my nails and looking at the window. That’s it. A day just disappears. So it is nice to know that if I really want to, I can move quickly and accomplish more than usual. Like this blog, for instance, which will end in approximately five minutes so I’ll have time to go to Charlie Byrnes, buy a postcard & a couple of books, and trot over to station to pick up my suitcase and catch my ride with my cousins.

So, I got here, I looked at the eyesore which is still an Eyre Square under construction, with fewer trees, but otherwise looking like it did before the city planners spent their millions refurbishing it.

Saturdays in Galway are market days–a sort of farmers’ market with cheese and veg and hand-woven bracelets from Guatemala (Genuine Irish). While there I found the baby shirt I had wanted for my U2-lovin’ Writing Program Director last fall when she had her baby. It says “U2: Rattle and Mum.” It felt good to be shopping like I belonged there, like every Saturday I popped down to squeeze produce and buy presents for co-workers.


Then I turned a corner and saw what looked like the poet Michael Gorman, who taught a summer course I was in four and half years ago at NUI Galway. He walked like him and wore a hat like him, so I yelled, “Mickey???” He snapped around, looked a bit frazzled, like perhaps he had enjoyed St. Patrick’s Day too much last night, and stared at me blankly. I didn’t expect him to remember me though I had had a quiet summer crush on him that was almost painful.  So I re-introduced myself, shook his hand, and he said, ‘Ah, yes! Beth!’ I’m not convinced he remembered, but it was nice to hear him say my name. The “h” doesn’t quite come out all the way. He said he was in a hurry to get the shopping done and something about a football match, but he wrote his number in my journal (“A Moleskine, I see!”) and told me to call him tomorrow for coffee. I won’t BE here for coffee and am sure he forgot as soon as he hurried off to fondle carrots, but boy if it didn’t make me feel good to bump into someone I knew here. Particularly him, still looking befuddled and artistic and cute.

In order to celebrate, I went to my favorite sweater shop and bought a new cardigan. The woman who owns it was back. In November when I’d visited, she had been out with a broken knee cap and her very charming son managed to sell my friend Isabella and me about 400 euros worth of woolens. So I asked after her knee, asked after her son, and then talked to her friend who now lives in Canada but is moving back. It was a perfect morning–making me feel, as I almost always do here, that I am HOME.

After I was warmed up by my sweater, I sat by the Corrib and watched it race towards Galway Bay. For lunch,  Fat Freddie’s for my favorite pizza. And then the Ninja Shopping commenced. Less bought than looked at, but two books, a notebook, some pens I like, and a birthday card for a kid’s birthday in June. Zipping in and out of shops on the aptly named Shop Street is invigorating in ways that shopping in the mall at home is not, though I don’t know why. My own romanticism, probably.

So, all in all, a very fine day indeed, and one on which I could reflect indefinitely about how the conundrum of feeling so home in a place so far from where I live. Instead though, I’m off to buy a few books at Charlie Byrnes Bookshop and then meet up with my cousins to find out how the Ireland-England rugby match went yesterday.

There is a hot whiskey in my near future.

Christmas with a Carpetbagger


Today, I was happily Christmas shopping in the fancy little café/chocolaterie with Mom, feeling full of holiday cheer, glad to be in one of the old warehouses of my hometown that has been repurposed instead of torn down. Though rain is coming tomorrow, which will melt the snow that has made a gorgeous backdrop to my holiday, it was that kind of snow-covered, holly-laden day you look back on as nearly perfect. Mom was trying to select a box of cleverly shaped chocolates for a dinner party she’s going to tomorrow night, and I was admiring the case of cheesecakes that have gravity-defying architectural elements.

It was a day of errands, so I was slopping around in my favorite fleece boots and oversized sweater. I’d failed to brush my hair because brushing hair sometimes bores me, and I was no doubt looking like a big, gray-coated slob. But I don’t care. When I’m home, I’m home. I’m not here to impress anyone.

This is the type of un-brushed, minimal make-up moment when I inevitably see some old boyfriend from a million years ago. Though I have no interest in such men what with Z being so fabulous and all, it is preferable to have such a creature look at you with interest or as if he is harkening back to yesteryear, wondering where he went wrong instead of displaying signs of relief that he escaped a fate worse than death by not hitching himself to ratty-haired, skwonkily buttoned you.

But on this very Christmassy day, I did not see an old sweetheart. Instead, I saw someone infinitely less tolerable: my nemesis, Voldemortress.

There are many things I could say about Voldemortress, but what you need to know about her is that she is a carpetbagger, who has no one’s best interests at heart except her own. She made my life difficult once upon a time for no good reason other than she was doing a little world building and I was in the spot where she wanted to construct a grist mill. Plus, she is the antithesis of me, and while I generally have a live-and-let-live policy with most human people, because she was a thorn in my side, I find myself loathing those differences between us, which begin with the sartorial (she’s a clothes horse, and I am, well, see photo to the right or a few paragraphs above) and ends with the way she says “important” (just like John Edwards back when he was on the campaign trail, lying to all of us about his personal life). Impordant, like that first “t” is a “d” and she hasn’t noticed.

So there I stood, salivating over cheesecake, which I do not need because my jeans are large but also tight, and I looked over and there she was, having some sort of impordant business meeting. She didn’t even look like herself. Her hair was puffier (but combed, unlike mine), and she’s done something really dark and unfortunate with her eyebrows. Was it her? I wasn’t sure, and then Mom sidled up to me and said under her breath, “Is that Voldemortress?” Confirmation.

Chocolate purchases no longer mattered. We skedaddled out of there, exactly the way I always think Harry Potter should skedaddle whenever he is in the presence of He Who Shall Not Be Named. In the face of some evils, my motto is that it really is better to run. Though admittedly, today  I wasn’t really hell bent on leaving because those tiny cheesecakes looked so good. Mom, however, was spluttering and full of rage on my behalf. I feared my mild-mannered and very gentle mother might bean Voldemortress with a box of chocolates if we stuck around. As we walked out to the car, Mom was still hissing.

What surprised me though was how light I felt. For a while now, I’ve had a variety of interior monologues with this woman that range from giving her a piece of my mind in the Meijer parking lot to stopping to help her change a flat like a good Midwestern Samaritan, and then hopping into my car with her tire iron clutched in my hand and the tire unchanged. (As I drive off in this fantasy, I am laughing maniacally.) But today, I felt nothing much really. In fact, it struck me that the three times I glanced her way trying to figure out if that was her underneath those unnaturally dark eyebrows (and what exactly had she done to them anyhow?), she was holding her hand in front of her face, as if it were large enough for her petite self to hide behind. Instead of sitting there grandly, assuming that I would cower in her presence, my presence clearly made her uncomfortable. It wasn’t nearly as satisfying as driving off with her tire iron, but the rest of the day I felt some impish pleasure, knowing that for those few minutes when we were under the same roof, she was having a hard time concentrating on whatever machinations she was putting into play with the men in suits. Possibly she feared I’d cause a scene and ruin whatever scheme she was embroiled in. She doesn’t know me well and may mistakenly believe I’m a scene maker. However, I prefer to believe that she is fully aware of what a rotten person she was to me and she was filled with something akin to shame, and thus had to hide her face.

Mostly, I can’t tell you how relieved I am that I did not give in to the Midwestern inclination (and curse) to be polite to someone who has been adversarial.

Happy Christmas to me.

A Matter of Perspective



Here in the land of excess, I am able to drive past sub-par holiday decor and curl my lip. Downtown on Tuesday there was an ice sculpture–lovely, lovely ice sculpture–and instead of being amazed that something so intricate could be cut from a block of ice, I sighed and thought, Oh, the Grinch. I was hoping for something more beautiful.

Meanwhile, in Z’s little hometown, people were camping out to see the lighting of the town Christmas decorations. It was cause for celebration. It’s a single string of colored bulbs stretched across a parking lot.  It is cheery and fun and also has pretty much cornered the market on simplicity. While I can’t personally imagine waiting outside for any amount of time to see them lit (with no guarantee that there would be power to light them), I appreciate that single strand of holiday cheer.

So my goal for the remainder of this holiday season is to think like a Zimbabwean. I will turn my nose up at giant, inflated snowmen, and electrified reindeer whose antlers move in time to Jingle Bell Rock. Instead, I will do my best to delight in a sprig of holly, a cardinal on the snow, a single strand of giant, 1950s style Christmas lights lining an eaves trough, which come to think of it, is all the Christmas I needed when I was a kid. My grandparents would hang those lights on the awning of their patio and just seeing them there, ushering in Christmas, gave my cousins and me the wriggles. I remember thinking, “These lights are so beautiful, why don’t they leave them up all year?”

Flashback Friday: Our Bold Lies, Our Selves


Now that you know the improbability of the fairy tale coming true, I thought you deserved a peek into darker days seven months before Z had his love epiphany.

Monday, March 13, 2006

It’s March. It’s hot. I hate summer, and today has been a painful reminder that we’re heading straight for the inferno. Kamikaze flies are buzzing around my lamp because I opened a non-screened window in hopes of catching a breeze. I’m thirsty and feel like I should sleep in mosquito netting tonight and go on safari.

A while ago I had a thing for an African guy I know. A friend. In my deluded, lovestruck state, I actually thought for the right man (and he seemed like the right man) I would be impervious to heat, to bugs, to dictators, to poverty, to eating crocodile. This is why women haven’t ruled the world for a few millennia: if a man is involved we believe the most ridiculous crap, and most of it is our own fabrication. This guy wasn’t hinting I should come home with him where we could make a home at the foot of the Ngong Hills with Meryl Streep and Robert Redford. Mostly, he wanted someone to go to movies with, someone to play miniature golf with, someone to drive him to the airport for his 20 hour flight home twice a year. I’m the one who filled in all the blanks.

No. It wasn’t any sweet nothings he whispered to me that made me imagine this Daktari-style future. It was all me. And yeah, I wanted him (he smelled good, he was funny, and I loved the way he said ‘banana’), but it is  possible that I also wanted to believe I am the kind of person who doesn’t require air conditioning and porcelain. A person who could say at cocktail parties, “Oh, yes. That’s when I lived in Zimbabwe.” But I’m not. I’m me. I need several months of cold weather to get me through July and August. I need a suitcase with wheels. I don’t really want to drink out of a canteen.

So I kind of know who I am, but what I wonder is this: who ARE those people we imagine ourselves capable of being? What’s the line between having a goal/overcoming personal obstacles and just completely deluding yourself? I’ve never really wanted to be a self-deluder, yet the evidence indicates that perhaps that’s exactly what I am. Perhaps that is the only way we are able to live with ourselves. I could admit–at nearly 40–that I’m never going to join the Peace Corp, yet I like the idea that I might. I might quit my job and join the Peace Corp. I might become a foreign correspondent. Or maybe one of those people who cashes it all in and lives on a sailboat.

This is how fairy tales (and heat) addle our brains.

A Sort of Fairy Tale

Zebra wedding cake topper.

December 12, 2009


Today is our fourth anniversary, and as you may have heard, Z and I are in different time zones and on different continents. I fully expected to be in a full-tilt fit of melancholia with a side order of pout as soon as the clock struck December 12th, but it turns out, it’s not happening.


Here’s the thing: we shouldn’t be together.  At all. If I wrote a book about my life (Oh, wait! I am!) and you were introduced to a character called, say, “The Reluctant Girl Scout”, and a character called “Z”, you would say to yourself, Who is this writer kidding? This would never happen. It’s just not believable!

It isn’t believable. It’s a fairy tale. Highly improbable.

1)   There is the improbability of geography. How many Zimbabweans did I meet before Z? Zero. People in Richmond, Indiana, do not meet people from Zimbabwe as a matter of course. Often people in Richmond, Indiana, aren’t even sure where Zimbabwe is or that it is a country. (There is a water slide at Holiday World in Southern Indiana called “Zoombabwe” and that’s about as close as we get.) Statistically, since Z came to college in America and stayed through two graduate degrees, there was a high probability that he might end up married to an American. But me? I haven’t crunched the numbers because I’m not that strong a mathematician, but I think the chances that I– a person who had mostly lived in Richmond and traveled primarily to Ireland and Indianapolis–would marry a Zimbabwean are about .00000000001%.

2)   There is the improbability of time. What are the odds that a visiting professor position in Z’s discipline would open up at the teeny university where I had just been hired full-time six months before? (Sub improbability: what are the odds that at this university, his discipline, which is often considered a social science, would be housed instead with the humanities, where I was, so we could sit next to each other at faculty meetings for the next two years, bonding via the series of disgusted looks we would flash at each other whenever our senior most colleague started clipping his nails in the midst of budget debates?) You’ll have to do the calculations on that one yourself, but I’m telling you, the odds are not high.

3)   There is the improbability of Z finding a cyber café with electricity (there are a lot of Zesa cuts in Zimbabwe) and then finding the ad for the position at my teeny university (not to mention the improbability that he would be hired via a phone interview alone).

4)   There is the improbability of me, an introvert, going to the beginning-of-the- year faculty party where I would have my first conversation with him and make the improbable proclamation to a friend that I was going to marry him. (I didn’t even believe in marriage at this point in my life. I thought marriage is where love went to die.)

5)   There is the probability of Z’s policies working against us. Z did not believe in dating co-workers (he says), so we were never going to happen. I did not know this, nor did I know that when Z has a policy, he sticks with it. (The only policy I’ve ever known him to break was his “I do not go to Starbuck’s” policy, which is hard to do in Seattle.  He let this policy lapse in 2009 when he was out with Z-ma  and she needed the loo.) The whole time we worked together, we never dated. Instead we had “outings”. The closest we ever got physically was when our heads bumped up against each others one night when I was helping him put together his new Kathy Ireland stationary bicycle.

6)   Z just wasn’t into me. We were friends. I was delusional. The end.

7)   I am not a tenacious person. If I have a goal and am met with opposition, I often just change my goal instead of fighting to meet it. Yet when Z left town for Zimbabwe after his job ended, instead of rationally assuming I would never see him again, I became uncharacteristically cunning. I suggested he store his belongings in my attic, thus ensuring at least one more meeting.

8)   The final, most outstanding improbability is that after five years of pining for a man who was only ever going to be my friend I was ready to admit defeat …just as he had an epiphany of his own.



So yes, we aren’t together today. Instead, we are in our respective countries looking at photos on our respective computers of our American-Zimbabwean wedding with the zebra cake topper and the fire in the fire place and the Christmas trees and the kissing ball and the hula hoops and the Scottie dog and my blue suede shoes and his rented tux that was so big it required safety pins and made him look like William Howard Taft.


We could be sad, but in the face of such dire statistics, wouldn’t that just be greedy?








Blue(ish) Christmas


RGSScreen Shot 2013-12-09 at 3.07.12 AM

Z just called from the airport, ready to board his flight for the other side of the planet.  As soon as we hung up, I burst into tears. I hate these Dark Side of the Moon hours, when we can’t communicate because one of us is in transit. Astronauts’ spouses have my sympathy, especially those wives and husbands of astronauts who did boldly go before it was possible to tweet from space.


No matter how many times I check Flight Aware and know he’s on that plane watching some Owen Wilson movie, it is not the same as getting an email from him or hearing his voice.


Prepare for some whining in the next twenty-three days. I apologize in advance, but because Z-ma has been suffering with vertigo, Z and I decided that though we were loathe to spend the holidays apart—not just Christmas, mind you, but our fourth anniversary as well—we’d feel better if he headed to Zimbabwe to help her out while he’s on break from classes. Because I have an allergic reaction to the thought of being in Seattle without him, I boarded the next available flight to Indiana two days ago, and here I will remain until New Year’s Eve. If Providence, weather patterns, and flight times agree with us, Z and I will be reunited just in time to see 2014 in together.


This is the time of year when I am torn between being delighted to be in Seattle, gearing up for the Christmas traditions of the city—the Christmas ships, the tree on top of the Space Needle, the tree lighting and carousel at Westlake Center, the scheduled “snowfall” at Pacific Place Center, the illuminated fruit atop Pike Market—and feeling a little bit envious (and maybe a little angry?) at the people who live in our city amongst family and life-long friends. Of course I don’t actually know any of these people—these native Seattle-ites with a rich web of their own tribe—but when I go past certain houses in neighborhoods with driveways and where wreaths are on the doors, I imagine entire multi-generational scenarios for them that would probably even make the Waltons envious. Or nauseous.


So, though I will be missing Z, I will not have to be hating on complete strangers in Washington just because their imagined holiday lives are more glorious than my own. Instead, I can partially live the dream in my beloved Midwest, where I have already been greeted with snow. No one here will think less of me if I wear a holiday-themed sweatshirt or my Santa troll earrings, which is an added bonus.


Because I’m not in Zimbabwe to see that it isn’t true, I can even imagine Skampy (and possibly a zebra or two) wearing a Santa hat at a jaunty angle to usher in the season.


But still, I promise you, there occasionally will be whining, gnashing of teeth, renting of cloth. I am heartily sorry.