At the day’s writing session, V. greets us from 2022 and she reports to the rest of us, still stuck in 2021 for the next few hours, that so far so good on the new year. No one in Australia has broken it yet, she says. My sensitive intuitive writing friends and I laugh at the joke, and talk about our plans and non-plans for the year. We discuss the value of goals, the pressure of goals, and some of us have lists of things we hope to accomplish and others have come up with more of a mission statement to guide the days that follow midnight. All of us are grateful that we’ve had this past year together while we create something out of nothing.
Normally at the new year, I’m equal parts hopeful (that it will be a good year, that I’ll be a productive person, that the wind will remain at my back yadda yadda yadda) and nostalgic for the year that was. Not so much because any given year was so remarkable that I don’t want to let go of it, but because it is now known in its entirety, has been survived, and seems like a tamed creature whose behaviors–in retrospect–were predictable even if they weren’t. (If you’d told me last January that even after vaccines there’d be new variants of our unwanted guest, we all probably would have been in tears. Omicron? Really? Weren’t the first several iterations enough?) It’s the difference between a book you are looking forward to reading and that book finished and how it did or didn’t live up to your expectations, how it surprised you but is no longer a surprise, and you wonder how much of it you’ll remember a week from now or five years from now.
This year I’m not looking back on 2021 with any particular fondness or hatred. It’s the first year that trying to label a year as good or bad seems a ludicrous proposition. There’s value in sifting through the artifacts (and debris) of a year and assessing how you wish it had gone, what worked well, where you’d make changes if you got do-overs, but after a lifetime of believing there was something special about January 1st or my birthday or a Monday of any week–as if it held magical properties– I’m done with that.
This past year changed for me in the middle of a week in mid August when I found out the vaccine hadn’t quite worked for me, and then–after moping around for half a day and feeling suddenly very vulnerable–I finally thought, okay then, what are you going to do with yourself since you won’t be living your life outside of these walls anytime soon? And I drew up some plans for things I’d like to get done by the end of the year: eat better, exercise more, read more, write more, submit more (writing, not to Z…I’ve never been good with submitting to anyone and there was no ‘obey’ in my marriage vows, thank you), and I did almost all of the items on my list for the first time ever in my life. Normally, 364 days after I make New Year’s resolutions, they suddenly just look like wishful thinking written by someone who doesn’t understand anything about how my brain works.
There was nothing magical about the day in August. There was no ceremony to my deciding–I didn’t light a candle or burn sage (we signed a lease where open flames are forbidden). I didn’t wait for a new moon or meditate. There’s a good chance I didn’t even have a shower that day. But I came up with some goals…or maybe “guidelines” is a better word…and the next day I kept working towards those things. And the next day, and the next day, and now here we are…on the brink of 2022 and the only thing I didn’t accomplish was getting a new website up and running. (Mainly because I’m terrified and keep putting it off, so I’ll have to face my fears and get a website up by the end of March. I’m adaptable!
We had some snow this week, which was perfect for my need for winter weather. It got really cold (for Seattle) and has required hats and scarves and gloves and given me that taste of winter I need every year to feel like myself. Z and I went out on our daily walks and it felt like a real score when we saw actual icicles on the Stimson-Green mansion up the street. Icicles aren’t usual here, or at least haven’t been for the last several years. For that matter, neither are snowmen, and we were delighted yesterday to find a few of these little mini ones that would fit into a purse like a Yorkshire Terrier. We’ve also enjoyed seeing a variety of neighborhood dogs in some truly jaunty winter coats and sweaters. Yesterday there was a black Lab in what I can only describe as a fisherman’s turtle neck Aran sweater, and he looked delighted to be wearing it instead of mortified. I imagine him at his apartment this evening drinking hot toddies with his humans by a fireplace with some soft jazz playing in the background while he waits for the new year.
As for me, I will spend the remaining hours of 2021 doing a jigsaw puzzle, hanging out with Z, and filling in the first 12-weeks of my new fabulous planner that will give the impression that I’m actually organized and know exactly what I want 2022 to be. It’s going to be whatever it wants to be and none of us can change that, but I’m hoping I can keep nudging myself towards doing the things that please me and make me feel like I’m living my life instead of life just happening to me. The problem with the last two years has been how we’ve all had to come to terms with how little control we have, perhaps.
Thank you for reading my blog this year. I hope 2022 brings all of us more of the things we want, less of the things we don’t. Fingers crossed for good sense, good health, and good fortune.
There’s a car out front that has stalled and the driver keeps trying and trying to get it started but the engine won’t turn over. Or catch. Or, well, go. It’s been so long since I’ve driven a car anywhere (almost 9 months) that I can’t remember the proper terminology, but what I know for sure is that it seems like a metaphor for this blog, for the 18 previous blog attempts I’ve made since May, and, let’s be honest, for 2020 as a whole. It’s like the year didn’t get started and we just had to push it to the curb, sit, and wait for AAA.
And now it’s October and AAA has been taking its sweet time rescuing us.
Fortunately, it’s not quite rush hour yet or there would be cars behind this guy honking their horns and telling him to get stuffed, as if he intentionally chose to make them go around him. I feel like I should go down and offer to help him push his car, but he’s not wearing a mask and I’m still wearing my nightgown and UGG boots (a sexy, sexy look on the over-fifty set) even though it’s 4 p.m. So instead, I’ll do what I’ve been doing since March and just stare out the window and wait for something about this scenario to change.
It’s not a perfect metaphor, I guess, because this year has not exactly stalled. The hits just keep coming when you get right down to it. The fact that I haven’t really written since May isn’t from lack of trying. No sooner would I start a post on whatever the latest worry or “event” was, then something else would happen making what I’d written seem suddenly less timely or worthwhile. Were I quicker writer who didn’t need to let my work steep before sharing it, you might have been reading entries about what it was like to live in Seattle during the protests against police brutality and systemic racism that resulted—for a time—in the creation of the police-free CHOP Zone not all that far from our apartment. You might have read about the fires here and in Oregon and California that left the city with unhealthy air for almost two weeks while we were in the middle of a heat wave sans AC. You might have read about how the pier downtown where we have taken the most photos of the Sound over the last decade collapsed. You might have read about my stepdad’s surgery and the two weeks that followed wherein I tried not to call daily to see if he was demonstrating any COVID symptoms. You might have read about my sadness about the passing of RBG (and what the means for women and people who aren’t corporations) or a host of other people who have died since last time we met here. More recently, there’s been grief in the extended family, though I’m not yet ready to write about that, and so I guess that shouldn’t be counted in this list, other than it’s made the prospect of writing a blog post—about how disappointed I am that the Just Born candy company wont’ be making Halloween or Christmas Marshmallow Peeps because of the pandemic—seem extra trite.
Ditto the trite but bothersome news that the store we go to most often—Bartell Drugs, which is a local chain that treats its employees well, carries local products, and has been around for 130 years—has decided to sell itself to Rite Aid. The letter they sent out to their loyal customers said nothing would change, but, of course, everything will change. It might take a couple of years for it to get that unique Rite Aid smell—cheap laundry detergent, off-brand candy, and desperation—but it’s coming. As is the 21-story building that will block our view (and possibly the sound of the bells that please me daily) of the beautiful St. James Cathedral. As will the new bus route that’s going to add a lot of noisy, dirty traffic to our already noisy, dirty street.
These are mere trifles compared to the other stuff happening in the world—to people we know and don’t know—and our country and the global environment, and so what’s the point of complaining? But I don’t like change or discord and we are in a long, ugly season of both these days.
So, I was good there for a few paragraphs. It seemed like maybe the car was finally going to start and I could tootle on down the road, but here I am again, stalled. Z and Hudge are honking at me to get a move on, but I clearly need a jump. Or gas for the tank. Or a complete engine rebuild.
What I’d most like to do is to hire a chauffeur and shout “Home, James” from the backseat while I sip a Moscow Mule and wait for the car to drive over the Rockies, through the Great Plains, and over the Mississippi towards my own ones. One of my chief beefs this summer has been seeing people on social media enjoying their vacations, time with family, and mask-less interludes with friends. Some days, I’m even passive-aggressive about it and won’t like those pictures. Z and I would both like to be with our families, with each other’s families, sitting on a beach, crowded or otherwise, but we don’t think it’s smart given my wonky immune system, Mom’s compromised one, and Zimbabwe has had closed borders for quite awhile even if we were feeling brave enough to go see Zma. I realize some people think we’re being excessively cautious. Aside from not wanting to get the virus, we’re also trying to be halfway decent citizens.
If it seems like I’m patting myself on the back for our virus virtue, I’m not. This is one time I’d very much like to not follow the rules. But neither of us are made that way, so here I am, watching a car in the middle of 9th Avenue try and try to get itself started.
Another metaphor we had to work with this summer was Chicken Little worrying about the sky falling when the ceiling in our kitchen literally fell in. Neither of us were in the kitchen—and were, in fact, across the hall asleep and didn’t realize it had happened until the next day—but it was a mess. Like car jargon, I’m also bad about house construction terminology, but we could see the rough boards above and it pulled down enough plaster where the walls joined the ceiling that we got a glimpse of the wallpaper that had been up there possibly since 1923 when our building went up. Never have two people been so happy that they are renters instead of owners, I can tell you that. Our maintenance guy and an associate had it fixed, the light re-installed, and the paint on within a day, and all we had to do was clean up some forgotten chunks of rubble.
We assumed it would be a much bigger deal and there must be some dire cause—oxen living in the apartment above us having a dance party, perhaps—but our building guy shrugged and said, “It’s an old building. It happens.” Now I’m eyeing all of our ceilings with alarm, and I suddenly understand why most of the 1990s and early 2000s were spent with my mother staring at her own ceilings and making her disapproving, I-don’t-like-the-look-of-that-crackface. I always assumed it was an irrational fear of hers, but it turns out sometimes the sky does fall.
Sorry for doubting you, Mom.
If I sound depressed or cranky, I’m not. I’ve got appropriate intermittent rage and sadness mixed in with a few scoops of joy and a lot of “I’m alright.” In January I started anti-anxiety medicine in what has proven to be my second best ever piece of intuition (after knowing instantly that I would marry Z whether he agreed to it or not). When I casually mentioned to my GP that I’d been having some trouble riding crowded buses and a particularly dastardly elevator with no buttons inside (where was it going to take me? Who knew? Maybe it was one of those Willy Wonka deals that would burst through the ceiling), the doctor said clearly anxiety was having a negative effect on my life and here, try some pills. So I started them and then the pandemic struck and while I have no idea how I’d behave on a crowded bus because I no longer ride the bus, I have noticed that in the last 9 months I spend a lot of time hearing horrible news and feeling something akin to sadness or dismay, and then moving on with my day. Maybe this is how normal people have always been functioning and I didn’t realize it and took everything personally—someone else’s misfortune felt like mine, some story about something like murder hornets had me thinking, “Well, this is it then. This is how we’re all going to die.” And now it’s more like, “Huh. That’s too bad. Do we have any more M&Ms or is it time to put in another order with the grocery?”
Oh good. The car outside has gotten started and tootled off. I no longer have to berate myself for not being a more helpful citizen. Farewell, metaphor. Drive safely.
It’s a day-to-day existence, this life we’ve been living, isn’t it? Of course it always has been, but before we could distract ourselves with book sales and concert tickets and planned trips. This Covid Time is very “Here I am in this moment. Now it’s the next moment. And the next.” It feels Zen in some ways, though I wouldn’t say it’s the peaceful, easy feeling I always imagined accompanied a Zen mindset. But I am very much aware that I’m one Netflix binge and grocery order away from either an existential crisis or enlightenment. (My money is on the former.)
Some days Z and I are so busy with work and our internal thoughts that we barely have the energy to talk to each other in depth. And other days, that’s all we do. This morning, we were lying in bed, not all that interested in getting up in the grey, cold late morning, and so we talked and then found ourselves randomly singing multiple verses in not-quite-harmony of “This Old Man/Knick Knack Paddywhack”, a song I haven’t thought of since listening to the Fisher-Price record player belonging to my cousins Jimmy and Ben circa 1972. It was weirdly delightful.
Of course we’ve spent the rest of the day asking ourselves why we feel so behind with work, but I’d rather be a little harried in the afternoon than to have missed that musical moment with Z.
I thank the pandemic for those moments. For Zooming with friends and family. For really appreciating students and reading their work because it seems more important than ever that they are doing it and we are spending time together talking about the significance of their words (and truth). For all of the adorable pandemic puppies that people have been walking. For realizing how much you really like seeing the lower half of the faces of perfect strangers and how you’ll never take a casual smile with a passer-by for granted again. From my desk, I can see the top of Columbia Tower, which is the tallest building in Seattle. During the smog from the fires, I couldn’t see it. Now it’s back, and when I look at it, I take a deep breath and feel grateful for clear air and that building even though on most days I’m mentally shaking my fist at all the high-rises that block the sky.
Several years ago, a counselor I was seeing told me that every morning he wakes up and knows his “next pain in the ass is already in the mail.” His point was, I think, you’re never going to achieve nirvana, Beth. There’s always going to be something on the horizon that is headache or sadness. At the time, I thought maybe he needed to see a counselor because it seemed kind of a pessimistic way to look at life. I was young(ish) then. I wanted to figure myself out so everything in my life would be perfect. But now I think I understand what he was saying. Back then, I was incapable of hearing the implied “but” that came with his statement. This sucks, but also, there are the _____________(moments of spontaneous song, the puppies, photos of a friend’s new grandchild, an extra long phone call home).
I’m trying to focus on the but alsos.
Last week, while I was trying to wrap-up this blog entry with my silent writing group of complete strangers that I met in a writing course I took with Lauren Sapala in August—a class I loved and a community I’m appreciating more and more each day—Z was across the hall talking on the phone with our building manager. When my writing session was over, I packed up my stuff in my basket and made the long commute across the hallway to our “real” apartment, where he told me he had both good and bad news.
The bad news? We have 30 days to get out of our twin apartments, where we’ve lived together for the last ten years (or, alternatively, where we’ve spent the first decade of our married life) because there’s some structural unsoundness. The good news involved some reimbursement for our troubles, which, at the time, didn’t strike me as being remarkable or worthwhile because I could only picture us homeless.
It seems only fair to withhold from you the story of my frustration that in the midst of this news, Z was fussing about where his slippers were and how cold his feet were because it casts him in a bad light. I was losing my mind, wanting more details, wanting him to tell me something that would calm my heart rate, and he was fussing and faffing looking for his half-dead slippers. Finally, he returned to the subject at hand. See how nice I was there, to protect him and not tell you about how it went on for what seemed like minutes and minutes and minutes?
Initially, it was really hard to imagine living anywhere else. We’ve been so happy here. Until I found it had some structural compromises, I’ve loved the crooked walls and windows that don’t quite shut, and quirky faucets. I’ve liked being in a building so old that it creaks and “talks” even if it’s meant I share washers and dryers with all the other building residents or I’ve been doing dishes by hand for the last decade, much to the chagrin of my once-attractive nails and hands. I’ve loved our weird set-up with our writing studio/guest apartment/extra-large-storage-space-across-the- hall.
It’s unconventional and meant we had a lot of guests, including me randomly inviting a writer I’d read and loved but never met to come stay with us for a few days while she was on a book tour. I’m relatively certain she wouldn’t have been inclined if we just had a spare room, but because she had autonomy, I got to meet her, have some drinks with her, and now we send each other emails and snail mail periodically because, well, I care about her now because she’s real to me. And I’ve loved wondering about the people who lived here in the 1920s when the building was new. Were they doctors or nurses at the neighboring hospitals? Flappers? Were they reading The Great Gatsby? Could any of them fathom the stock market crash? Prohibition? A second world war? That one day Seattle wouldn’t be a sleepy logging town? There’s history here, and like living in its dust and crumbled plaster.
So it was a long, sad weekend. I kept looking at everything I’d miss. We took tours at a few places, and then landed on an apartment so unlike any place I’ve ever imagined myself wanting to live that I still can’t believe we’re doing it. I’ll give you the low-down in the next post once we have the keys and have figured out how many of our worldly goods get to come with us.
Now that we know where we’re landing though—and we’ll be in the same neighborhood—I’m making lists of things I won’t miss here at our first home together: the constant diesel grit on everything from the buses that idle out front, the late-night parties that sometimes happen on the stoop by our bedroom window, the postage-stamp-sized closet, unlocking the garbage dumpster because America is so messed up we think our trash is a treasure. And admittedly, the alley is cleaner now that no one is dumpster diving, but it still feels wrong to me every time I click that lock.
These continue to be weird, weird times. I hope this finds you well, be-masked, and managing.
Z and I were downtown this morning, and the city is subdued after yesterday’s Super Bowl loss. For two weeks, the mood here has been like two clicks better than Christmas—the buildings were lit up with blue and green, the “12” flags were flapping like mad…even on windless days, and almost everyone was friendly and feeling like an “us” which doesn’t happen often. The rest of the country arguably finds the Seahawks insufferable, though the perspective here in the upper northwestern corner of the country is that they’re mostly just quirky and misunderstood.
But today? The mood was the exact opposite. It’s been a sunny, warm winter, but today it was gray and rainy, and everyone downtown looked downtrodden and as if they each had their own personal rain cloud right above their heads while depressing Charlie Brown music played. If it hadn’t been so glum, it would have been hilarious.
I don’t like football. The Sundays my father had me were spent largely in front of a televised game—the Bengals being his team, but really, any team, so long as a game was on. (The only thing worse than football season from my perspective was not-football-season when golf was on TV. I’m convinced that the background noise in Hell is that of 24-7 golf commentary.) I didn’t like football’s loudness. I didn’t like what looked to me like meanness. And frankly, I couldn’t for the life of me understand why watching a bunch of grown men play a game on TV was more fun than playing Klomp-It or Sorry! with me during our visits with each other.
Football became briefly tolerable while I was in high school and was dating a fullback, whose rudely numbered jersey I got to wear. I went to every game and worried that he’d be hurt and couldn’t wait for the season to be over so his practices would no longer interfere with my own plans for him. Like a good football player’s girlfriend, I played “Powder Puff” the one week—homecoming—when girls were mysteriously declared eligible to play, though the truth is I didn’t know a second down from a second inning and the more athletic girls were mostly annoyed with me and both my ignorance and lack of skill.
I did love that jersey though.
As an adult, I’ve hated football for a variety of reasons in addition to the sound of it in my living room. As a reader and lover of the arts, I hate the way sports takes precedent over things I care about; I hate that the players and coaches and the industry can generate huge amounts of money for pummeling each other into concussions for fun while people teaching tiny kids or college kids, and people providing real services like secretaries and garbage collectors, are sometimes working for peanuts; I hate the above-the-law lifestyle some of the players live; I hate the games’ violence and the violence off the field, sometimes directed at loved ones; I hate the way normally decent people can turn into real jerks based on team allegiance. It’s an ugly, ugly sport.
But then two things happened:
1) I married Z
2) I moved to Seattle.
Because I met Z a few years after his rugby days were over, I don’t think of him as particularly sporty, but he is. It’s taken some years with him illustrating how sports can enhance a life for me to understand that my anti-organized sports stance was no different than those people who thought I was a loser for constantly having my nose in a book. I have come to see that while I’m sure those athletic girls in high school thought of me as a “waste of space” standing there, mouth agape, while the football was in play, I was just as bad for pigeonholing them because I thought of them as dumb jocks. Maybe they were; maybe they weren’t, but my assumption was if they had athletic prowess, they probably weren’t so bright. Z, the Renaissance Man, has shown me the error of my ways.
And then there is Seattle. A city that is not really all that sporty. We have some teams, sure, but mostly the people here are all about reading some books and screwing around with their computers and drinking some coffee. Maybe hiking somewhere on a sunny weekend. Which somehow makes their love of the Seahawks more tolerable to me because I know it is not the sum-total of their thoughts.
Because of these two elements in my life and the Seahawks’ return to the Super Bowl, I got a little football crazy. I started seeing the beauty in a particular players moves and the remarkable skill involved in hurling a ball somewhere it needs to be or catching a ball that wasn’t meant to be caught. In the last three weeks or so, I’ve read more sports columns and watched more football clips than I have in my entire life. (The only reason I don’t have stats memorized is because I’m notoriously bad with numbers.) I started following Richard Sherman and his girlfriend on Twitter. I read every thing I could on Marshawn Lynch to better understand his reluctance to speak to the press and began to feel like I was channeling Chris Crocker, the “Leave Britney alone!” guy because I felt so defensive of Lynch. I tried to figure out ways to work “I’m just about that action Boss” into daily conversation. I worried about the injuries sustained by Seahawks in the playoffs. And I wondered what kind of gum coach Pete Carroll chews so vigorously.
Two weeks ago for the division championship, Z and I had friends over, whose 14 month old—the tiny Pippi Longstocking—we terrified with our screaming and hopping. They returned for the Super Bowl and it should have been fun watching the game with them and doing our best to convince Pippi that our cheers were all about whatever adorable thing she’d just done instead of a good play or a call in our favor, but for the most part, it was in agony—at least for me. I was a nervous wreck. I felt feverish and twitchy. What if we lost? It’s been such a fun year in a city with Super Bowl champs—I didn’t want to turn into Super Bowl losers.
It turns out, I’d invested so much time in learning to love the Seahawks and hate the Patriots, that I’d actually begun to think the game’s outcome was important to my life. I was elated when we were ahead, depressed when we were down, and absolutely gobsmacked at the end when a game that could have been the Seahawks’ suddenly wasn’t because of the most head-scratchingly bad play imaginable. The air was sucked right out of the room when Russell Wilson’s pass was intercepted and we all knew the game was over. Pippi started to cry, and though it was her bedtime, I can’t help but feel she was just expressing what all of us were feeling. Then punches started flying on the field and it all just felt so sad and, well, stupid.
The day before the Super Bowl, Z and I were tooling around in a rental car, musing about the NFL and the brain injury issues and some of the other disturbing elements tied to football, and he said, “You know, we talk about the Romans at the Colosseum like it was barbaric, but we really aren’t as far removed from it as we think we are.” Instantly, I got sucked back ten years, standing in the Colosseum with my cousin G, praying the tour would end soon because the place gave me the heebie-jeebies and I wanted to escape it. Some might argue it was all in my mind (though this was before I saw Gladiator or HBO’s “Rome” so there wasn’t really much in my mind other than a childhood image of a Christian being treated like a human cat toy), but I think there are vibes there—not just of terrified people being torn apart by gladiators or wild animals but of frenzied crowds cheering to see the spectacle, wanting to align themselves with the victors instead of the losers.
It’s a dark, dark place, the Colosseum.
When the game was over yesterday, I told Z that was it. I’m done. Football is over for me. I can’t do this to myself next year, this getting my life all tangled up with the performance of a bunch of men I don’t know, many of whom are only as loyal to the team as their next contract negotiation. Watching a sporting event should not require benzodiazepines. It’s a game. And even if the Seahawks had won yesterday? I’m not getting a Super Bowl ring for all my attention and cheering. So, I’m hanging up my “12” hat and going back to the books and the “30 Rock” binge watching on Netflix.
Except today, when I read that Vegas is already saying Seattle is the favorite to win Super Bowl 50 next year? My heart did the tiniest of flutters.
Bluebird considering a move to East Central Indiana.
So, here we are, nearly two full weeks into 2015. What do you think of it so far? Because of a tiny win at the casino and a melancholy-free birthday last week (very unusual for me), I was liking the new year a lot until things got hateful in Paris, and now I just don’t know. But still, it seems way too early to be pessimistic, doesn’t it? Maybe this is the year the world will get its act together.
For years, my mom and stepfather have wanted bluebirds to move into one of the birdhouses that litter their two acres, to no avail. So I took it as a good sign for the new year while I was in Indiana that a family of bluebirds momentarily poked their heads into the See Rock City birdhouse hanging on branch in the front yard. They usually snub us, but these seemed like they were ready to make a down payment. Then something spooked them off. The result is the same: no bluebirds, but I’m opting to see it as a positive sign that Mom was “this” close to bluebird neighbors.
My friend Jane and I were talking about how to us it feels like 2014 never happened. It was just 365 days of blur. Basically, I made a list of resolutions last year on December 31st, posted them to the blog, and then woke up and it was a whole year later with nothing of consequence achieved. I vaguely remember a stretch of several months where I made my bed every day and that felt like a real accomplishment, but beyond that? How did I spend those days? I didn’t change the world or even myself very much. Though I did discover Gilmore Girls.
* * * * *
One of my resolutions this year is to take advantage of this city I live in. In Seattle, I squander opportunities that I would have killed for when I was living in Richmond. Not a day goes by when there aren’t at least five good things I could do here. In Richmond, if there had been an author reading or Warhol exhibit or a chance for a ferry ride anywhere, I would have been over the moon. But here, I too often think I’ll do those things “next time.” So last Wednesday, in an effort to put one of my resolutions in action, I went to a neighborhood meeting around the corner at Town Hall which focused on what the city is planning to do to create more green space/park space on First Hill, where I’ve been living now for five years.
Full confession: because of the recent Gilmore Girls binge-watch, I was hoping that going to a community meeting for our little “downtown adjacent” neighborhood would make me feel like I was at one of the town meetings in Gilmore Girls’ Stars Hollow led by the insufferable Taylor Doose. I was looking forward to seeing Miss Patty, Sookie, Babette and Kirk, while tolerantly listening to some blowhard talk about his plans for our little patch of the city. I’d like to say it’s because I woke up on January 1st feeling more civically engaged, but there you have it: I went to feel like a character on a fictional show set in New England that aired a decade ago.
Sadly, Miss Patty, Sookie, Babette, and Kirk were not in attendance. Furthermore, despite my very middle-agedness, I brought down the average age at Town Hall by about twenty-five years, so there was a certain air of crankiness about change in the air.
We watched a Powerpoint presentation about possible plans for First Hill, and then we got to use clickers to give feedback on what was most important to us. Some of the oldest, crankiest citizens in attendance weren’t happy because only a little more than half of the clickers were working. The outrage expressed made it seem like a hanging-chad situation in a general election instead of an information gathering forum. Another, crankier attendee wasn’t happy with the plan to do the clicking before the different plans had been fully discussed by the masses. Her tch-tching was audible. One man was concerned that new park space would end up like current park space, which is to say a place that is overrun by junkies and pooping dogs and vagrants, while a younger man was concerned that the homeless would be further disenfranchised if the future parks were over-policed. Who knew there would be so many concerns about something as awesome as parks? Though admittedly, I felt a little twitchy when the presenter suggested they’d be removing a few parking spots from our street in order to extend the park frontage of a current park. We may not have a car here, but when we rent one, we like to be able to park within a three-block radius of our place.
A man came in late and sat two rows over from me reeking of garlic and—though I like garlic, it only really smells good on food you are about to eat yourself and not so much on humans—I found it hard to concentrate on which action plan should be acted upon first because I was trying to position myself so my nose was pointed away from him without seeming rude. It began to dawn on me that when the meeting was over, I wouldn’t be able to saunter over to Luke’s Diner and get a burger and a Coke with Loralei and Rory Gilmore. Plus, my friend Leibovitz had texted just as the meeting started and wanted to have a phone conversation, and I couldn’t help but feel my time might have been better spent talking to her since these parks won’t appear for several years if they appear at all, but a chat with her would have made me feel all warm and homey inside.
But hey, for an hour and 45 minutes there, I was an engaged citizen, and I was hopeful about the future.
* * * * *
Frankly, I was a little horrified when I read last year’s blog post and saw that I’d made a promise to myself, and you as my witnesses, that I was going to read something like 70 books and clear off the shelf behind the sofa that has my stacks and stacks of “what I’m reading next” books. It was a lovely post with photos as proof of how out of hand my book obsession is as well as my belief that shaming myself might make me more committed to meeting my goals. But apparently I forgot about my promise as soon as I hit publish. I read about five of the shelf books and everything else I read last year—which didn’t come close to 70 books because I was so busy reading Jezebel (and watching Gilmore Girls)—came from the library or off some other shelf of mine that is tidier with titles that were less pressing.
I believe I’ve mentioned the time-space vacuum I live in, in which I firmly believe that Future Beth will be a better, more accomplished person than Present Beth. Future Beth is like a superhero who not only gets things done, is more perfect, and better organized than I am, but who is also an extroverted humanitarian with networking skills as well being handy with household tools. Future Beth is my idol, but she just doesn’t come round often enough. She’s as elusive as Bigfoot.
I wish I could adopt Jane’s relationship to time, in which she has no faith that Future Jane will do anything but sit around flipping through magazines and eating bonbons, so she in her present state does everything immediately. Jane gets a lot more done than I do because she’s worried that her future, lazy, slug-a-bed self will bring the whole house of cards tumbling down.
But alas, Jane’s way is not my way. Doing something ahead of time is as foreign and awkward to me as when I try to use chopsticks or attempt to network at a conference. Future Beth’s failure to arrive is one of the reasons I didn’t get married until I was a Woman of a Certain Age (though I’m grateful for her delay since it resulted in Z instead of some of the less desirable options I might have ended up with). The fact that she is so often AWOL is also how I forgot to have children, buy a house, send out my manuscripts to publishers until I wore one of them down, or “Lean In” to a career at a Fortune 500 company. Strangely enough, I still have faith that Future Beth will take care of all of that—one day. Later. (Except maybe the kid thing. I think Future Beth knows I’m too tired for kids and possibly always was.)
Since you know my success rate with resolutions, it seems a little pointless to tell you about the reading pledge I made on Good Reads of 50 books in 2015, or the number of essays I’ll be submitting to various publications around the globe, or how clean my house is going to be at year’s end because of my commitment to Apartment Therapy’s January Cure. Why would I waste your time telling you all the ways I’m going to “show up” to my dirty dishes, my writing desk, my walks-to-better-health, my yoga mat, my meditation corner, or anything else, since there’s a good chance Future Beth is never going to arrive to make these things happen.
Still, I am nothing if not full of hope. Future Beth might show up. The lottery might really pay out. The inhabitants of the planet might wake up tomorrow and decide not to be such jerks to each other. And bluebirds, like the blurry ones up above, might decide not to just check out the available real estate at my parents’ house but actually take the plunge and move right on in.
Next week on my Resolution 2015 to-do list: give up my Indiana driver’s license for a Washington one, even though an Indiana license is much more attractive, makes an excellent conversation starter (you’d be surprised how many people out here have Hoosier connections), and contributes to my general sense of never having left home. I’ve lived here almost five years now. It’s probably time.
[FYI, this entry covers my inaugural trip to Seattle to help my friend Z celebrate his birthday. Keep in mind, at this point, I’d resigned myself to the notion that he wasn’t interested in me as anything other than “good buddy.” I’d been in love with him for four years and the boy just would not budge.]
There’s a reason why Meredith Grey’s hair is so flat and lifeless on Grey’s Anatomy. It turns out, everyone’s hair, especially mine, is flat and lifeless here. I assume it is the weather (rainy with a chance of rain), yet it seems like that would lend itself more to frizz.
I’m here visiting my Zimbabwean. I like saying that. It makes me feel like Meryl Streep in Out of Africa when she refers to the people she makes work on her farm as my Kikuyu. He’s teaching here, and I am in his bed. Before you get notions of me, spent from a night of international passion, you should know that while I was in his bed, he was on the an egg-crate mattress on the floor of his living room.
I ruin all the best romantic scenarios I create for you by telling the truth.
My college friend Jane emailed that her eleven-year-old son came home from school yesterday and said, “I’m just starting to realize that girls have their own secret world, and it’s FREAKY!” The Zimbabwean and I laughed and laughed over that last night when I read it aloud, but I could tell he has no idea. No idea despite advanced academic degrees that we women have secret communication-interpretation skills no Navajo code-breaker could ever crack. So when you open his refrigerator and see he has two Cokes and a package of Dubliner cheese, just for you, you swoon a little even though you’ve sworn off swooning over this particular man. When you lament how awful and Meredith Grey-y your hair looks and he says, “I don’t think so” it is, after several mental contortions, the equivalent of his saying, “Your hair is as the sun shining on the Zambezi, and I wish to spend my days basking in both the glow and beauty of it.” When he refers to his apartment as “our apartment” it is as if he has said, “I want to share my living space for the rest of my days with no one but you.” When he says, “I took off the roll of scratchy toilet paper and bought you the kind that those bears use” it’s as if he said, “I love you so profoundly that I want only the very best—softness, absorbency, and four-ply bathroom experiences—for you.” In this sick, sad world, even his choosing to sleep on egg crates instead of in his own bed with you seems like a declaration of love.
Poor eleven-year-old boy. How can he ever learn to cope in a world where half the population is this indirect, this given to fancy. . . this freaky?
So, Seattle. We walked over half the city last night and so I’m reserving judgment until we rent a car tomorrow and investigate it when my feet don’t hurt. It’s nice. Lots of coffee. The people are friendly. Somehow I had in my head that it would look and feel like Vancouver, but it turns out it’s a whole different place. Yesterday, my Zimbabwean took me to Pike Place Market. While I don’t like fish and do not like to smell them, eat them, watch them, or see them manhandled by the stall vendors, it was a unique experience. Also, there is a lot there that is not fish. Like huge bundles of fresh flowers for $4, and hippies selling art, and little dogs in plaid raincoats, and jam sampling, and fudge sampling, and street musicians singing protest songs (just protesting in general, with an undertone of “This war is unconscionable” and “George Bush sucks” thrown in for good measure), and all sorts of useless crap you don’t need like Oscar Wilde action figures, “Aunt Flo’s Tampon Case,” and cardboard cutouts of William Shatner. From there, we went to Ye Olde Curiosity Shoppe, where you can buy other useless things and see oddities like mummified human remains and a stuffed two-headed calf. We took a bus to the Space Needle but opted not to go up because it cost $14 and was cloudy. My cousin G suggested I go up not because the views are spectacular or because it is a piece of post-Populuxe history, but because she didn’t go up when she visited in the spring and apparently the only thing people ask youwhen they hear you visited Seattle is, Did you go up in the Space Needle? I will wait for a sunny day. Or at least a day when there is a chance of sun.
Last night we walked up a San Francisco style hill to see his university. He wanted decorating suggestions for his office as some big wigs are coming to campus today, but it is a hopeless cause. I suggested he buy a plant and an Edgar Allen Poe action figure from Pike Market, but other than adding some doo-dads like that, it is a hopeless sea of glass and giant industrial office furniture in the space of a broom closet. While there, I met the man who hired Z, and he tried to entice me to their wine and cheese reception this afternoon. I will, instead, be buying a birthday card and maybe a cake or some gift-ish thing for Z’s birthday. Extroverts never seem to get that the invitation to spend three hours with total strangers whom you will never see again is like a prison sentence.
After that, we walked up Broadway in search of food and so I could see, as Z put it, “the freak show.” It’s a street that apparently delights in the counter-culture, so in the space of a single block you can see goths, hipsters, drag queens, the heavily made-up, heavily tattooed, significantly pierced and spiked, as well as people randomly dressed like super heroes.
Sadly, the freaks were not out, either because it was too early in the evening or two middle-of-the-week. I will have to save those human oddities for another day, though clearly I’ve got my own little freakshow happening right inside my head and don’t have to walk up any hills to get a front row seat.
It’s been a summer of little rain here in Seattle. Many summers are like this and are the reason why you can’t swing a cat without hitting a fair-weather tourist between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Yesterday, we escorted another batch of much anticipated visiting cousins to Pike Market—a place we know to avoid during tourist season—and I’ve never seen it so crowded. At one point, the foot traffic was at a total standstill because there was such a bottleneck by the booth selling lavender sachets. Once people started moving again, if you dared stop to look at any of the other handmade wares, you were in danger of being trampled. We are a family of introverts, so I think all of us were thrilled when we finally pushed our way through and burst into the open. We stood in the park across from the market under the two totem poles breathing deeply and then taking tourist-style photos, because that’s what you do in Seattle on a beautiful day. (And even in the chaos of the market, my cousin did score a bag of morel mushrooms that she was clutching to her chest like Golum because she comes from a dry, mushroom-less place.)
I don’t know who is running the rest of the country because everyone seems to be here. Two weeks ago, Z and I rented a car and decided to take our favorite drive down Lake Washington Boulevard, only to discover we couldn’t because President Obama was in one of the fancy houses there on the shore of the lake, doing a little fundraising. The place was on lock down with lots of barriers and a strong police presence. Before moving to Seattle, I can’t say I ever had an opportunity to glance at the POTUS limousine, and now at least twice a year, if I stand on the right corner at the right time, I can flash a peace sign (or a thumbs up if he’s had a hard week) at the Commander in Chief.
So I spend a lot of time in summer marking off the days until the strangers who have descended here go home and the still-crowded city becomes more habitable. But then suddenly—because the cousins were arriving, because I knew I’d be going home to Indiana soon, because the temperature and the sunlight were just right—I fell completely and utterly in love with the city. It’s a fleeting love because I am a fickle woman; I know that. I care deeply for Seattle, yet it will never be my soul mate, like a Chicago or a Galway. But I’ve had a couple of perfect weeks where I’ve spent more time delighting in summer in the city than I meant to. And because you hear me whine too much about this city I have fond feelings for, I thought you deserved to see a few random delights.
A local gardener attempts to make the place more colorful.
This woman had the brightest, yellowest hair I’ve ever seen and she was working on a little corner garden near the grocery where Z and I walk a couple of times a week. When you live in a neighborhood of apartment buildings, seeing this sort of suburban domestic scene with urban flair is a joy.
Seattle First Baptist Church
This church spire in our neighborhood always makes me happy. It’s especially beautiful at night. One of the things I love about it is that it makes me feel a certain level of humility/shame because for the first two years we lived here, when we walked past it, I would sneer at it as I made assumptions about what the people inside believed. I was once terrified (and, let’s face it, oppressed, because I was a girl) in a church of this same denomination as a child. But it turns out I was the one being judgmental because this church was the first in the city to marry same-sex couples free of charge when it became legal in Washington to do so. Before that, they hung out rainbow banners about acceptance, insisting that all were welcome. Currently, they have a banner out demanding a living wage for everyone. It is a church committed to social justice, and therefore, a church that makes me feel hope. So whenever we walk past it, it’s a little poke at me to remember to remove the plank from my own eye before I go kvetching about the splinter in someone else’s.
Peace Child Statue, Seattle
This statue entitled Peace Child draped with paper cranes stands overlooking Portage Bay where it spills into Lake Union. We drive this route a lot and I’ve never seen it, but because we were on foot one day, (and I was growling about our lack of car) we caught a glimpse and stopped to see her. I love surprises like this.
On the same walk, Z and I had to stand and wait for the University Bridge to go up to allow a sailboat to pass through into Portage Bay. We stood on the bridge and looked out at all the activity on the water, and it was hard not to feel lucky to live in a place where bridges aren’t static and water abounds.
Deck, Eastlake Bar & Grill, East Lake Union
After our walk, we ate at Eastlake Bar & Grill, which has, arguably, one of the best outdoor decks of any place in the city. The views of Lake Union are excellent both from the deck and inside the restaurant and the food and atmosphere is good too. When G was here in June, we ended up eating here three times because, well, look at it!
When Z first moved here, there had been one of those competitions—like there are in a lot of cities with different animal shapes—called Pigs on Parade to kick off the centennial celebration of Pike Market. (Rachel the Pig, a big metal piggy bank sits outside of the market and is oft photographed.) So my first days in the city were punctuated with different colorful and clever pigs. (I particularly liked the chocolate one in front of the Chocolate Box.) While the cousins were here, I saw this one still hanging out on a roof near the Market and it made me feel all warm inside, remembering the early days here with Z.
Baroness, Best Neon Sign in All of Seattle
This is my favorite neon sign in all of Seattle. There are many in my second place list, but this one is on top and is up the hill from where I live so I see it regularly. It’s a little residential hotel across from a hospital. I appreciate that the hotel hasn’t felt compelled to install a more subdued, tasteful sign.
Photo 452 of the Space Needle
When friends of mine who’d been living in New York City moved back to Indiana, one of their last purchases (if I remember the story rightly) as they bugged out of the city that had just been traumatized, was a little replica of the Statue of Liberty that took up residence on the mantel of their new house in Indianapolis. I loved seeing it—that integration of their old life and their new one. A sort of symbol of the few years they’d lived in an iconic place during a (sadly) historical moment. If Z and I ever leave Seattle, I think a statue of the Space Needle—probably one constructed of Legos—will decorate our life wherever we land. Seeing it—even on days when I’m homesick—never doesn’t make me happy. Is it an overpriced tourist icon unworthy of my affection? I don’t care. I love the history and aesthetics of it, including the weird, steampunk-ish elevators that look like they belong on a completely different structure. I love this weird human drive to build a huge, elevated viewing platform (see Tower, Eiffel) to celebrate a spectacle like a World’s Fair, and I love that we live in a city that has such a place on its landscape.
For me, it isn’t about going up the Space Needle to look out, it’s about seeing it when the skyline comes into view as we drive up I-5 from the airport after a few weeks away, or when we’re taking the ferry back home or when we’re driving back into town from a trip north. There it is, looking all optimistic and otherworldly and a little…delicate, marking “X” on the map of our life.
Capitol Hill in the rain
And finally, after many weeks of sun, there was a torrential, Midwestern-style rainstorm. Z and I worked at his campus and stopped periodically to look fondly at the blurry outlines of cars and houses, and teasing ourselves with the promise of damper, less crowded days. When we trudged home past our favorite bits of the neighborhood, it didn’t occur to us to complain.
It got a little warm in Seattle this past week. There was virtually no humidity and were it in the 80s in Indiana with no humidity, it would be considered a nice summer’s day, but here, it is too hot. I believe you are familiar with my policy on summer and heat.
Few people here have air conditioning because it’s needed so rarely, and those who do don’t use it right, which leaves a girl clammy and gasping for breath. How we know it is hot in our place is if we have to open the bedroom window, which remains shut about eleven months out of the year because evenings here are generally cool. It’s been a week with the window open.
Our bedroom window is next to the intercom for the building. When Z moved in, the old intercom was loud and made horrible honking noises, so we were excited when they replaced it, but the new one is worse. For no good reason, it makes an electronic beep—like an alarm trying to wake you—as a guest scrolls through each name trying to find the person she knows. Beep, beep, beep, beep, beep. And then, finally, blessedly, the sound of a phone ringing and the longer beep that lets the person in. Most of the visitors seem to be friends with people whose last name begins with V and the names are sadly listed in alphabetical order, which means a whole lot of beeping. It’s a very inefficient system both for the buzzee and for the people trying to sleep next to the buzzer. In the winter, it’s just kind of a distant mosquito wing of a sound, but when the window is open, the intercom might as well be attached to a bullhorn.
The surprise of this summer when I opened the window for the first time to prop the fan in it was that our screen was missing. I have this idea that someone who wanted a screen performed some acrobatics to jerk it out of our crooked windowsill. Z has this idea— and probably the correct one because his world view is less dark and twisty than mine—that the screen became loose, fell out, and the maintenance woman removed it from where it fell. We have one of those accordion-style fans that sits in the window, so it’s sort of like having a screen, but I swear, it makes everything outside even louder because we’re down one layer of mesh between us and the noise of the city.
Z and I have been binging on Treme episodes this past week. We are late coming to the show, so there won’t be any spoilers here, wrecking anyone’s goodtime. While watching it, I’ve been feeling envious of the folks in the show, which is no mean feat because post-Katrina New Orleans where the series is set was no kind of place to be. But there is something about the uniqueness of New Orleans and all that place-specific culture that makes me extra envious. They have a parade, I feel envious. They eat a bowl of gumbo, I feel envious. They have a jazzy funeral procession, I feel envious. I didn’t eat gumbo when I was in New Orleans three years ago, I don’t particularly like jazz, and a funeral, no matter how festive, is still sad, so I’m not sure exactly what I’m envious of other than this very specific sense of belonging and culture that seems to come from the location. You’ve heard me whine about Indiana and how much I miss it, but a lot of the things I miss from there would be the same in Ohio or Northern Kentucky or Illinois. I can’t even get ten Hoosiers to agree with me that John Mellencamp is a better musician and lyricist than Bruce Springsteen. Z is used to having students who hear him and say, “I wish I had an accent” or who say, “I wish I had a culture” and he always laughs and points out to them that they do have accents, they do have a culture. At the risk of sounding like one of his students, when I watch Treme, I feel the same way. I wish I had a specific, discernible, place-specific culture.
For those of you who don’t know, much of Treme is set in a neighborhood of the same name that is musically and culturally rich. It’s a cacophonous place where you shouldn’t plan to find peace and quiet. There is music. There is hooting and hollering. There is life being lived, loudly. In one scene in the first episode, Steve Zahn’s character, Davis McAlary, a New Orleanian musician-cum-dj, turns his speakers outward to blast his neighbors, a couple who have recently moved in to gentrify the neighborhood and whom, he believes, have called the cops on him. He gets in an argument with the couple about the justification of the noise, explaining everything he believes they don’t know about the neighborhood they’ve moved into. He says to them, “You’re living in the Treme. Gotta deal with that shit.” Because we like the character and we are suspicious of all the ways our own neighborhood has “gentrifically” changed in the eight years since Z moved in, we both felt a sort of righteous kinship with Davis and his speech. That’s right. The city is about tolerance of other people. Amen, Davis.
And then later that night, the people sitting on the stoop right outside our bedroom window showed no sign of moving their party indoors. It’s a favorite place for our young neighbors to hang out with friends, smoking the cigarettes they don’t want stinking up their apartments and talking animatedly as they sip on beer, stroking their own neck tattoos thoughtfully while they solve the world’s problems. It’s mildly annoying at 10 p.m., but at 3:30 a.m. on a Sunday night, it feels criminal. So Z pulls on his relaxi pants and stuffs his feet into his Crocs and shuffles out to the front door to tell them, very dad-like, that it’s time for their party to move indoors or quiet down. They apologize and start whispering, which was, frankly, not the scenario I was imagining after hearing Davis blast his neighbors for being uptight fuddy-duddies.I thought, perhaps, there would be vocal retaliation.
The next day, Z and I walked down to the waterfront. It was a gorgeous day, as most days in the summer are. Blue, clear skies. The Olympic Mountains showing themselves in ways they rarely do in winter. Everyone happy not to be under an umbrella, avoiding puddles. But it was hot. And there were so many tourists, gawping in the middle of the street, so we had to navigate around them as if it were an obstacle course. People were hacking and spitting and riding skateboards right in front of us. Everyone seemed dirty and sweaty and loud. I complain too much about Seattle, particularly to Z whose general dispensation is about ten clicks more content than mine, so I was determined not to whine about how much I hate the city in summer, how much I hate not having a car so we can escape it when we want, how much I think if I hear one more siren or horn honk or late-night howl from a drunk that I will lose my mind. So I sweated and huffed and puffed as we started our assent up the hill to home. A man we passed hawked a loogie on the pavement in front of us.
Z looked at me and said, “I’m not loving the city today. It occurs to me, that we would not be happy living in Treme.”
I’ll probably always get a thrill when I hear John Boutté’s Treme Song playing. I’ll always have this idea that if I lived in the Crescent City I’d embrace it and feel fully alive there (and those four years studying French would finally kind of pay off). But the truth is, I’m thinking we need to start buying more lottery tickets so we can have a small fuel-efficient car and an island house where we can spend quiet, peaceful weekends. Some place with screens and neighbors on our distant margins.
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.
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).
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.