Category Archives: Non-Sequitur

Retreat. Renewal. Risotto.

In the last few years I’ve had a new yearning to travel alone.  Specifically, I’ve been daydreaming (for years) about taking a yoga / meditation / writing retreat up at Doe Bay Resort on Orcas Island.  Every time they host a retreat or a conference that would be right up my alley, I eye it, and decide not to indulge myself; balking sometimes at the price, sometimes for no reason whatsoever.  Until very recently, I’ve hesitated to schedule solo travel because of the hope or expectation of a partner; sitting here, writing that today, I don’t actually even really recognize the me who has thought that way since somehow she seems to have exited stage right in the last couple of years.  Now, I have the opposite: a hard time scheduling dates because I have so many solo commitments to myself that I’m not willing to negotiate away.

The most recent of which I’m freshly back from… a little long weekend up at Orcas.  There was no organized retreat, and my time was far too short: a day of travel, one day of retreat, one day of travel and suddenly I’m back in the city which seems, again, too noisy and fast-paced.  But man.  That one day of retreat.  So good.  So worth it.  So when can I do that again please?

I didn’t really have to plan anything, since Orcas is so familiar.  My first trip there (I think) was riding my bike there when I was in high school for a camping trip, so in some ways that island is more familiar to me than places I’ve lived much longer.  I usually stay at Doe Bay but they were booked up so I found a funky little Airbnb and mailed in a check for the deposit.  I figured I’d take Gibson for a good long hike (so I wouldn’t feel guilty abandoning her to) soak in the tubs at Doe Bay, do a yoga class then treat myself to a decadent dinner at the Doe Bay Cafe.  In between, I had plenty of reading and dharma talks to listen to, my meditation cushion, my paper journal, a bag of film and my analog cameras.  Since there’s little cell signal on the island, it was also a chance to unplug, which was glorious.

The last few weeks I’ve been really enjoying a mindfulness class at Seattle Insight Meditation Society and as I moved through the weekend the attention I’ve been paying to … well … attention … were noticeable.  On my hike with Gibson I noticed my busy brain.  Sometimes planning.  Sometimes judging.  Sometimes ruminating on the recent past.  At other times, though, I found myself stopping to take in the forest floor, nearly covered with thick, quilt-batting-like spider webs.  Stopping to gaze at the sun streaming through the trees and mist, since the morning’s marine layer hadn’t yet lifted.  Enjoying watching Gibson sniff at new smells, since the hike we chose made its way through about four different microclimates and ecosystems.  Feeling the heat of my body making my way uphill, and feeling the cool of the island air on the way back down.  And the hike did its job, tiring Gibson out enough that I didn’t feel guilty tucking her in while I spent a little time on myself the rest of the day.

After a little nap with her (the second time this weekend I fell asleep listening to one of the carefully-chosen dharma talks I’d packed), followed by a splendid yoga class (my intention: renewal), a soak in the pre-evening-rush hot tubs and an incredible dinner at the cafe, I stepped outside into the cold, fresh night air.

The sparkle of the night sky above literally took my breath.  The stars were SO bright in a moon-less sky — it was like that one time I walked by a pet store in Portland and saw kittens in the window and was shocked that I had actually forgotten about the fact of kittens.  It has been so long since I took in the night sky without the city’s contribution to ambient light that I’d forgotten about the fact of the night sky, covered in pinpricks of light, limitless, in perfect contrast.

I found the moon later, on my drive home, orange and huge and waxing crescent — it had been tucked behind the trees from Doe Bay.  And it too stopped me in my tracks.

After a second solid night’s sleep, this morning was one of the highlights of the trip. Gibson curled up on the bed after our morning walk, facing the windows.  She didn’t go back to sleep like she usually does.  She just gazed out the window toward the water watching, apparently, nothing in particular.  Her eyes were relaxed, her ears alert, and she looked completely content. She’s one of my favorite teachers. I took a break from the busy-ness of packing, and sat down on the bed with her and shared the view for a few minutes.  It had just started to rain. The muffled sound of the water lapping on the rocky beach wafted through the walls of the cabin.  And it was a perfect start to the day.

doe bay cafe breakfastI headed back to the Doe Bay Cafe for breakfast and it was perfection.  Sitting at the heavy wood table, watching the rain come down outside the windows, the mist of the marine layer heavy over the water, the coffee strong and the food fresh-picked and lovingly prepared, my journal entry for the day only just started, it seemed inconceivable that I’d be back in the city by dinnertime.  In less than a day I’d gotten so comfortable with being unplugged that I not only didn’t know where my phone was: I couldn’t have cared less.  Not having my phone on my person, it turns out, may become a new normal.

And that’s life.  Only part of meditation practice takes place sitting on a cushion, the rest happens while we’re grocery shopping or answering emails from work or stuck in traffic.  And only part of my self-care and renewal takes place on retreat; the rest is bringing my attention and awareness to the city part of my life as well.

So tonight I’m craving risotto and an untimed sitting and a sleepy puppy (which is hard to achieve since her dislike of the rain is indirectly proportional to my love of the rain) so two out of three isn’t bad.  And then this week I’ll navigate more change as I near the end of one job and gear up and set my intentions to start the next one and, as my meditation teacher would ask: “Is that okay?”  Yes.  It’s okay.  It’s all okay.

The universe is a coyote

When I pulled into the line-up outside the hotel parking garage, there was a white SUV already parked by the keycard reader, the access gate lowered.  A button-down-shirt-sleeved arm stretched out the window, inserting and removing the keycard into and out of the reader.  Insert, remove, pause, red and yellow lights mix to orange, indicating no admittance.  Again.  Into, out of, orange.  Again.  Into, out of, orange.

The attempts weren’t quite that rhythmic — periodically, the hand attached to the arm would rotate the card, or flip it over, trying a slightly different orientation that would cause a delay in the into, out of, orange, again routine.  But still, the result was the same.  Over, and over.

I set my parking brake.  I pulled out a camera.  I took two photos of the SUV, the outstretched hand, attached to a person who seemed determined that if only he tried one more time then bingo.  The next into, out of, would be followed by something other than an orange light.  I admired his tenacity and optimism while growing frustrated with it as well.  After twenty or more tries, isn’t it time to admit defeat?  To gracelessly execute a fifty-point-turn to get out of the now lengthy line of cars stacked up behind his and mine to retreat to the front desk for a new keycard?

But, I reminded myself, he’s likely a lawyer.  This is, after all, a convention center hotel, hosting a single event — the one I’m here for — a three-day legal convention.  So all bets on human behavior when faced with this particular situation are off, I thought, reflecting on the one and only time I had a lawyer for a client during my days of legal practice and let’s just say the case involved allegations involving my client’s neighbor’s property and a dangerous weapon.

Into. Out of.

Orange.

Me.  In the other Vancouver, for three days, surrounded by lawyers.

The universe is a coyote. A trickster.

My amusement shifted to annoyance and I struggled to find my way back to amusement, tired from a couple of hours of driving and from the time spent in the car by myself, alone after a number of days of near-constant distraction and company.  Feeling a mix of impatience to get into my quiet temporary home with its simplicity and lack of uncertainty and questions; and fear.

Into, out of. Orange.  Over and over.  Same result.

My annoyance shifted to incredulity.  In part, because of the scene in front of me; in part, because the line-up of vehicles containing likely-lawyers behind me hadn’t yet made a peep of a horn.

I lost count.

I thought to myself as the hand reached the key card toward the reader again. “Good God.  What does he think is going to happen?”

Into, out of.

Green.

When I arrived at my room a few minutes later after losing track of the SUV in the parking garage, I pulled out my keycard and inserted it into the reader.

Into, out of. Orange.

I smiled, and thought about all of the many orange lights in my life, only one of them having anything to do with a card reader.  I thought of the hand attached to the shirtsleeved arm reaching out of the SUV, attached to a man who believed that if he just kept trying, eventually the challenge he was facing would yield.  I reminded myself that the challenges I am facing will — eventually — yield.  And I placed the card into the reader again.

Stop. Go.

Breaking and entering

The details of a door
The details of a door

When I was in Nepal, I felt as if the place could make anyone a photographer; perhaps, because I came back from that trip looking at the world in a very different way, and some of the photos I took while I was there became a kind of home.  Something to return to when lost, or confused, or in need of comfort.

Port Townsend, I think, can make anyone a writer.  I come here, and the stories come like the tides, regularly, with a rhythm.  Take pictures with the good early light.  Write in the morning.  Cobweb clearing.  Walk the dog at the lagoon, the ducks quacking their laughter behind my steps.  Find somewhere to be in the world.  Watching people.  Recognizing family features in the faces of people I either haven’t seen in nearly two decades, or, squinting my eyes perplexed, trying to figure out how the little boy I grew up with is still nine (he isn’t; he’s the child of the little boy I grew up with).  Revisiting old places; most of which aren’t even familiar.  Some are.  Listening to stories, having the kind of easy conversation with strangers that I became accustomed to while trekking.  The kind that I’d forgotten were familiar, until spending a month’s worth of weekends in my home town, and noticing them again.  Impulse to write in the afternoon.  That time, the kind of writing I feel like sharing.  Like right now.

This afternoon’s task was to clean out the remaining six or seven boxes in my parents’ basement that I’d squirreled away down there either fifteen or twenty years (depending on the box) ago.  By volume, the boxes contain mostly books; next, paper of other kinds — that paper is the reason I didn’t just tell my parents to chuck the boxes, contents and all.  I wondered if, by taking the time to go through those boxes, I could come to know myself better.  For various reasons, I don’t remember much at all from my childhood or teen years, and perhaps the scraps of paper in those boxes might give me  a few more stories from those times before.  The rest of the contents were treasures-then-junk-now: trophies, ribbons, dried flowers, old magazines and newspaper clippings… I didn’t take the time to figure out why I’d saved each piece.  The books: sorted into a box to donate, except for a few.  The papers: sorted roughly into another box to keep, the rest recycled.  The other stuff: unceremoniously sorted into boxes to donate, recycle, trash.  All things I might have gotten rid of years before, if I’d learned sooner how to let go of things.

I didn’t learn that skill at home, growing up.  As I started sorting through the first box, my dad looking over my shoulder, my mother sitting on the stairs to the basement, I remembered something.  When we cleaned our rooms growing up, we’d get a talking to from our normally unflappable, full-of-smiles-and-love dad if we threw away anything of use.  That’s fair, of course, except that dad’s definition of “anything of use” was quite generous.  A single dangly earring, found run over by our car tires in our driveway: of use.  For example.  So learning to let go of things is something I learned long after leaving their house.  I was thirty one or thirty two, I can’t quite do the math right now, and I packed my camping and climbing gear in my roof box, my law practice’s files into a laundry basket, and a bag or two of clothes and drove away from the home I’d tried and failed to make for myself.

Things, let go of.

My early programming is still there, though — and strong — while going through boxes in my parents’ basement.  I did my best.  In the course of the month, I got through all of the boxes but two.  And I found what I was looking for.  Stories and poems and letters and pictures I didn’t remember and my high school newspapers and some newspaper clippings that I’m glad I saved, and research I did that I don’t recall an ounce of, but I’m intrigued to rediscover.

Apparently, I crafted a survey about peoples’ use of the internet, in 1995.  I posted the survey on newsgroups (remember those?) and people emailed me their responses.  From all over the world.  And I’m not sure what I did with the results — I only found print-outs of some of their emails, and my tallies of data, and a three page write-up on some of the “personalities” that had responded.  At first, I’d tossed it all in the recycle bag.  One box saved, the rest let go of.  And the one box saved, likely still with some clearing out to do.

I carried the heavy box to save up the stairs to the kitchen.  I washed my hands of the dust and grime that comes with a few hours spent in the basement.  I went into the living room to check on Gibson, and the front door wasn’t how I left it.  The little door that covers the old window out to the world was open.  I got chills: that door doesn’t open easily.  I’d left the door unlocked.  Was someone in the house?  Impossible: Gibson would have alerted.  But the chills wouldn’t go away.  I locked the door and latched the chain, second-guessing the decision, since if this were a horror movie, I’d have just locked myself in the house with whatever specter had opened the little window’s door.

When Megan and I were little and shared an upstairs bedroom, the bedroom that I’ve been sleeping in every weekend this month, the house would creak and groan and we’d be scared.  The story I remember is that a little old lady lived in the attic, and she had a rocking chair.  And when we were babies, she’d rock us to sleep in the rocking chair, and that was the creaking we’d hear:  the sound of her rocking chair.  And I think it was my mother who told the story — again, I can’t really remember.  And it was intended to calm us, to help us feel safe, to let us know that there was a benevolent grandmotherly figure in the attic, who loved us and kept us safe.  But in my mind, the little old lady in the attic was creepy.  And there were other creepy things in that house… my sister had dreams or ghosts or a prolific imagination, I don’t know which, but the upstairs and the basement have always given me the creeps.  The only safe floor, the only one without those haunted places, is the main floor.  And today, with the inexplicable window opening — Ryan at school, my mom and dad gone for the weekend, me in the house alone with Gibson — even the main floor felt its age.  Like a house built in the early 1900s that had seen it all.

I decided to retrieve my “internet anthropology” research from the basement.  I just was too curious to see what stories might be found in there; what insights might be gleaned.  As I was digging through the box of recycling, I heard the basement door above me blow closed.  I thought nothing of it.  It happens, in this house — drafts close doors.  Perhaps they open windows.  The make noises.  I was glad Gibson was sleeping happily on the sofa upstairs.

Until I went back up to finish packing and tried the basement door and found it locked.  From the inside.  Ghost, draft, little old attic lady — whatever closed the door, decided to lock the deadbolt as well.

I didn’t even bother hurrying to the front door — I could remember the feeling of the chain on my fingers, that I’d latched, from the inside, that would prevent the key in my pocket from allowing me entry.

I called Terry.  The locksmith.  Port Townsend has one, I think.  As I dialed the number, I pondered the logistics: Sunday noon.  Ryan needs his lunch.  The dog is locked in the house.  We’re in Port Townsend.  I’d imagine Terry doesn’t work 24/7.  How much damage would I have to do to my parents’ post-Victorian, home, in order to regain entry?

Miraculously, Terry answered the phone.  He was just leaving town on his way to Bainbridge Island.  He turned around, and came to my rescue.  I was still shaking, and sweating, when he arrived; he quizzed me about whether I had permission to enter the house; about what proof I could show him that I had any business being there.  Being Port Townsend, he quizzed me only hard enough for him to believe me; not enough to actually prove anything.  As he worked, he asked how I’d wound up in this predicament, and I told him.  I mostly told the whole story, a little bit abbreviated; when I confided how creeped out I was, he just smiled.  “These old houses,” he said.  “It was probably the sunshine:  it warms them up, and makes them creak and move.  Or — it could be haunted.  You never know.  I’ve seen stranger things.”

And he was kind to me, and reached through the three-inch gap the front door would make with the chain I’d latched still latched and scratched Gibson’s nose.  And I watched him try three different methods of breaking and entering my parents old house; its defenses stronger than most he works on.  I thought about the business of breaking into peoples’ houses for money, at their request.  I’d imagine that you become quite the judge of character, in that job.  The stories he’d have to tell.

In the end, the house yielded, with no damage done.  Gibson was fine.  Ryan hitched a ride uptown with his teacher, and we met him and still had time for lunch, and I told him about the papers I’d gone back for and he agreed, although inconvenient and expensive to retrieve them, it was probably worth it.  And Gibson played on the pocket beach next to Waterfront Pizza while Ryan ate slices heavy with Linguisa and I watched the water and gazed across the blue at Indian Island, a still-operating Naval munitions base, where bombs, bullets and missiles get loaded into marine vessels headed out to sea.

So strange.

This place.

So strange.

And beautiful.

I left this place nearly as thoroughly and completely as I left my Poulsbo home; leaving behind boxes and people and stories and parts of myself.  And it’s been a gift to come back; to be here long enough to know my parents a little differently.  Acceptance.  Love.  To do the work of going through boxes and finding stories from a much younger me.  To find, as I move around town, old names popping into my head as I look at houses and faces.

Remembering.

 

 

Making pictures

As if by design, I'm starting a photography class and happen to be living in a home that's full of still life opportunities.
As if by design, I’m starting a photography class and happen to be living in a home that’s full of still life opportunities.

It’s quiet in the house. It’s just me and a sleeping Gibson, who occasionally lets loose a deep sigh, or shifts a paw from its resting place in her repose on the sofa. She’s been sick — again — or injured, it’s hard to tell which, although we’re rooting for sick since then another round of antibiotics will do their work and she’ll be back to normal. Sleep, I believe, heals, and she’s certainly getting a dose of that medicine while I plunk away at the keyboard and click away at files as they move from one place to another, the faint whirr of my laptop hard drive and old-fashioned-sounding click-rattle of my external hard drive as they trade information the only other sounds coming from inside the house.

I’ve been shooting digital since 2007. After never really shooting a camera much, my ex-husband bought a Canon DSLR and I shot with it frequently until the day I packed my law office files into a laundry basket and loaded my camping gear into the roof box of my Jetta and pulled out of the driveway.  While my divorce entailed a great deal of loss, that camera may have been the inanimate object I most missed as I started putting the pieces of my life together again. I had a little pocket point and shoot that I pointed and shot until one of my rock climbing adventures scrambled the little camera’s brain. I have few photos from that in-between time — most of the ones I do have, are from my friends’ cameras, and were it not for those, I’d have no photographic proof of that free, hungry, wild phase in my life.

When I started preparing for my Nepal trip in early 2009, an indestructible little point and shoot (cold tolerant down to 14 degrees) was one of the first essential gear purchases I made. I wanted so badly to take a “real” camera to Nepal, and knew I didn’t have the budget for it (and it just didn’t seem wise to take anything that may be potentially less cold-tolerant and less shock-resistant than myself with me for that particular adventure). So my little scuba-diver-looking point and shoot started going everywhere with me. Up and down mountains. Up and down rock climbs. On road trips and eleven hour flights involving passport stamps. And I’m grateful to my past self for having the judgment to spend my grocery budget on that little point and shoot, since the photos from my travels during that time still give me plenty of sustenance.

And then, in 2011, the techtonic plates seemed to slow. I’d found myself a nice stable job, with a nice stable paycheck, and I knew exactly what I’d do with my first not-earmarked paycheck: I knew I’d buy myself a camera. Early on in that job, I’d worked a tradeshow and toted the office’s Panasonic Lumix and it was love at first click. I didn’t love the photos: they were of outdoor gear, under fluorescent lights, with either too much or too little flash, and I didn’t even peek at the manual so I shot the entire show in widescreen. But I loved the camera. The feel of it in my hands, and the click of the shutter, its pancake lens — there was just something about it. I looked at a few other options, but the Lumix was it for me, and thus began my relationship with this finicky, not at-its-finest-on-automatic little camera.

The first photos I have from it are of Ryan, and of a huge old tree dripping with moss, from a very early on car bivy of ours, on our way out to our first backpacking trip together on the Washington coast. The photos are terrible and I love them because he’s wearing his Rainier t-shirt and I had it bad for him before that trip, but good god I had it worse for him after that trip. And we shot trees and paths and starfish and rock cairns and the ocean and each other and I had an inkling of just how much I may have hit the jackpot and I can see that in those photos, even the ones of the world around us.  And that first summer and fall together I snuck photos of him that I love.  Back then, he just smiled shyly when I pointed the lens at him.

Now, two years later, he makes funny faces when I pick up the camera.  We know each other so much better now; we’re no longer on our best, most charming, most attractive behavior at all times.  And my heart still skips a beat when he walks through the back gate after the work day and once in awhile I can catch him off guard through the camera lens, and sneak a shot of his now-relaxed smile, before he raises an eyebrow or stands on his head or otherwise converts my portrait sitting to an action sports shoot.

And I’ve had friends who shot film — now that I’m learning a little something, I’m guessing my friend and climbing partner Shawn was shooting slide film of our climbing trips, and some of the most beautiful photos in my stash are his.  Tuolumne.  Red Rock Canyon.  Smith Rock.  And that film, and his eye, and that lens even makes Vantage look like a dream of a destination.  But I never really took the time to ask him about his photography process — I was too busy seeking other types of wisdom at the time.  So years later, Ryan’s stories about his friend Deann put film on my radar, but I was still trying to figure out how to shoot my Lumix with any degree of consistency and style.  The camera has taken some nice images; but it reminds me of my second horse, Danny.  He wasn’t a babysitter:  he was a teacher.  I had to work for my learning with him, and I’ve had to work for my learning with the Lumix, and I’m only still a novice at it despite coaching and good advice from photog friends.

I’d always lusted over a macro lens setup, and never had an opportunity to pick one up.  One quiet night like this one, I clicked around and found a cheap Holga lens adapter, that would allow me to convert my expensive digital camera into a sensor with a shutter behind a plastic lens — and by so doing, open up my world to Holga lens accessories, including the object of my affection: a macro kit.  Yes, it’s a plastic lens.  But I figured, around $80 or so for an adapter lens and a variety of accessory lenses?  Heck – why not toss in the Holga itself, and shoot a couple rolls of film for shits and giggles.  For just over $100, I could try out a little bit of macro shooting, play with a toy camera, and have the $600 additional I’d have spent on the real macro lens I’d been eyeing to — I don’t know — adopt a puppy and sign up for puppy kindergarden with.

And the Holga adapter has been on the Lumix approximately three or four times, but I’ve lost count of how many rolls of film have wound through the Holga, itself.  And that lead to a risky eBay purchase on which I trusted my gut, that yielded a lovely antique medium format camera that my hands knew how to operate automatically, as if the knowledge was inherited since it certainly wasn’t learned.  Perhaps from my Grampa Ed, or by osmosis from the many photographers in my life.  And while we were having that camera serviced, why not have Ryan’s step-dad’s old 35mm cleaned up for us to play with as well?  And then instead of a yoga retreat, like I’d planned for this birthday, I’m signed up for a Black and White film photography class and my gift to myself was a light meter and camera bag that can haul three of the four cameras we’re now routinely shooting, and I’m finally starting to learn how to shoot my Lumix in manual modes, since the mechanics of the film cameras somehow made everything make more sense to me than the pages of manuals that came with my digital camera ever could.

Brace yourself for photo studies from school.  I’m already on a cliche depth-of-field flower photo kick, and about half of my shooting is of Gibson, since she may try to evade the camera, but she doesn’t intentionally make funny faces at it.  I’ve always, for as long as I can remember, been a writer.  And I’ve always, for as long as I can remember, been not-an-artist.  And I’m really enjoying the increasingly blurred boundary around the idea of being a storyteller, and the chance to allow myself a little bit of artistic experimentation, even if it seems silly or self-indulgent or hipsterific … which brings me to the short, sweet reason I sat down to write today (speaking of self-indulgent)…

I saw a few things this week that I wanted to share with you.  They are:

I Am an Object of Internet Ridicule. Ask Me Anything

I’d never identified with the label “hipster,” but my affection for Instagram, film photography, and record players is making me rethink my inattention to that subculture.  I loved this blog post by C.D. Hermelin: partly, because I just watched Before Sunrise for the first time, and thought, when the busker wrote the lovers a story, that being a story-writing busker would probably be a nice way to spend some time.  Partly also because of this strange place that I occupy, doing what I do for a living and seeing everyday how the good and bad of technology and connectivity and our instant interconnectedness operate in my life and the lives of those around me.  And I read this story on my iPhone on the bus, thinking about the old pink IBM Selectric in my dad’s old office, and how much I loved that typewriter.  So enjoy.

A Portrait of America, Today

Shot by 3,000+ high schools students, this is a breathtaking snapshot of life in each corner of America, today.  I’m blown away by the talent some of these kids possess, and the enthusiasm of others.

Bosom Buddies:  A Photo History of Male Affection

I loved this post the moment it loaded after clicking through from author Lissa Rankin’s Facebook page.  I thought, as I flipped through the photos, about how different my niece and nephew’s generation may see the world, growing up in an era where (at least in Washington) the wedding photos won’t all be of women in white dresses and men in conservative suits.  And I feel thankful to be surrounded by men who buck convention and share their affection for and with each other.

And if you’re not reading my friend Thom’s blog, and you enjoy words, you’ve really got to get on that.  Like, sit down with a nice glass of wine tonight, and start at the beginning and don’t stop until you’re caught up.

That’s it.  Gibson’s sighs are becoming more frequent, so it’s time for a brisk walk in the fresh cold air of now-Fall, with the leaves starting to crunch under my toes.  If you’ve got a favorite photo blog (or, blog that you love the photography on) I’d love to add it to my inspiration file, so speak up, will you please?

 

Eighty-six years old

“Some people are just warm-blooded,” the man in the cap sitting on the bench at the bus stop observed with a smile.  He was watching a teenaged boy with spiky blonde hair out for a run.  The boy jogged in place at the corner, waiting for his light to turn. He wore a white tank top and red basketball shorts; I second-guessed the light jacket I’d chosen, as the chill of the upcoming fall is already in the air in the mornings and evenings.  I smiled, and nodded.

“Not me!” I said, loudly, knowing that he’s hard of hearing, since we’ve chatted about the weather at the same bus stop on a number of other days.

“Me neither,” he commented with a smile and a shake of his head.  “When you get older, you get colder,” he continued, “and that’s the truth!”

He was chattier than usual.  Perhaps I appeared more engaging this morning with our old 35 mm camera slung around my neck — I have to finish this roll of film and get it developed before my class next week, and the camera wouldn’t fit in my backpack.  So yes — I’m THAT girl.  Analog camera slung around my neck, while I wait for my bus.  I’d been composing a photograph during my walk up the block — him, on the bus stop bench; the fence in the yard across the sidewalk, the trees framing the view — how could I frame it, which way would I have him look — I do this in my head, and then I don’t take the picture.  That’ll change — one of these days I’ll just ask someone if I can take their picture; tell them I’m a photography student if I have to, to feel less like a creep — but for now, I’m still stuck in my own shyness, when it comes to street photography.  I get to keep the images in my memory, so it’s not a total loss.  But it means there’s no photo to go along with this post, and it gets published today instead of in a week when I get my roll of film back.

Different people have different reactions to our old cameras.  They’re definitely eye-catching, in this day of digital and iPhones.  It’s impossible to pull out either of them — the 35 mm or my Yashica Mat — without someone making a comment.  “That’s a cool camera,” is the norm.  During one day out with my Yashica, a man asked, incredulously, “Is that an old black and white camera?” and I smiled and said yes, because, at the time, I had black and white film loaded in it, so technically, he was correct.  The camera IS old.  Or, rather, it’s older than me — likely hailing from sometime around 1963 — and the photos that would emerge from that roll of film (if it hadn’t been destroyed by the photo lab) would have been black and white.

“I’m eighty six years old, you know,” the man at the bus stop observed.

My “old” camera (and myself, despite another upcoming flip of the calendar pages) are mere puppies.

I shook my head, squinted my eyes to get a closer look.  “Did I hear you right?  Eighty-six years old?” I asked, incredulously.

“Eighty-six years old,” he reiterated, with a smile, and a twinkle in his eye.

“Well I’d like to know your secrets to longevity,” I remarked, patting myself on the back for taking the time to apply sunscreen this morning before leaving the house.

“That’s why I go downtown — to get out of the house, and keep myself moving.  You have to keep moving.  Move your legs, to move your heart, I say.  And that’s the truth.”

I nodded.  He gazed down the street, toward where our bus would come from.

I asked what he does when he goes downtown, gesturing north, toward the direction we were both about to head.  He has breakfast, and drinks coffee.  This is Seattle, after all.

“I’m Gracie.  What’s your name?” I asked, using the nickname I’m known by close to home and starting to extend my hand, to introduce myself.  He didn’t hear me; and didn’t see my body language, he just watched for the bus.

I can’t imagine the amount of change he’s seen, I thought to myself.  I wondered if he’d always lived in Seattle, and where else his path had taken him.  The communication challenge was a tough one:  I don’t think he hears much, at all.  I couldn’t think of a gesture to pantomime, for “How long have you lived here?”

“I’ve lived here since I was five years old,” he started, unprompted.  “I’ve seen so much change,” he continued.  “My father and I lived over on Rainier Beach, Columbia City.  We moved to High Point when I was five.  High Point was a forest, back then.”

I stop asking questions, because he can’t hear them anyway; given thirty seconds or so of a pause, he’ll launch into another topic, usually strangely responsive to the question that’s framed like a thought bubble in my head.  My phone stays in my pocket, this morning — I’d rather listen to his stories.  I studied his face, the light, the shadows.  I didn’t take a picture.

I think of my grandfather.  After he retired, he kept his office at the University, and would go to his office for office hours long after he no longer worked there.  The man at the bus stop reminds me a little bit of my grandpa.  He wears glasses, and the skin on his face and hands is weathered like my grandfather’s was.  He wears the same kind of hat — a flat cap made of soft wool.

Happy Rose and Book Day

rose and bookI keep journals, because my memory is terribly faulty, and I like to have a record of things as they happen, to audit my less than accurate recollections months or years later. Today’s one of those days when I’m thinking back about a time, and the details and facts are foggy. I know I wrote it down, but I don’t remember which year it happened, which makes flipping through my old journals a time-consuming affair. For the sake of getting the story right, I tried; but for the sake of telling the story today, I’m going to work off of my memory. Someday, I’ll come across those pages in my journal and compare the two, and see just how far off my non-fiction can be.

I’d been divorced a year when I started traveling for a living. It’s not as glamorous as it sounds: my destinations were one retail store footwear department after another; one corporate meeting room after another; punctuated by one weekend spend working an event somewhere I’d rather be playing after another. Nights were spent staying with friends, or in (mostly) budget hotels (with the occasional luxurious night or weekend, depending on the purpose of the travel, and other nights spent sleeping in my car, a rental car, or camping out … not because my employer set a budget for accommodations (they didn’t) but because I liked it that way. Waking in the fresh air, combing my hair and applying my mascara in my rearview mirror, brewing coffee with my camp stove, then tucking my bedding into the roof box on my Jetta and strolling into work, wherever in the (usually) West work was, that day.

How I saw the world, for the better part of a year and a half.
How I saw the world, for the better part of a year and a half.

The time I spent on the road had its ups and downs — it wasn’t all idyllic, and the challenges of the work were types I’d prefer to avoid, not the challenges I embrace and enjoy — but what that time did for me was teach me how to move through the world by myself. After a twelve and a half year relationship, which included a ten year marriage that ended in divorce, with me packing a laundry basket full of legal files, my climbing and camping gear, and a bag of clothes and my toothbrush, I had a lot to learn about moving through the world solo.

After a month traveling through Nepal (solo, or with only a sherpa guide for company, during much of my trekking time because I walked more slowly than the men I traveled with) I settled into the routine of a few days or weeks in the office and then a few days or weeks on the road (depending on the season). And I learned to navigate new-to-me cities alone, how to choose where to sleep and eat, how to observe the thoughts of friends and family as I traveled and reach out to people when they came to me in my own thoughts, to learn to build and preserve relationships other than with just one spouse, like I’d done for so many years. And somewhere along that road, I found myself sitting in a coffee shop chatting with an old man. I don’t recall what year, what city, or what book, but I do recall one detail of the conversation.

“In Catalonia, we celebrate Rose and Book Day,” he said. That’s the only part I can quote, from memory. I might have said something about my distaste for Valentines Day — perhaps it was on Valentines Day, who knows.  He might have given me a flower; I can’t recall.  I think I’d been reading a book, but I can’t remember for sure.  But I do remember the grey-haired, wrinkled, stooped old man wearing dark colors — black and grey.  And I remember writing down “Catalonia Rose and Book Day,” then googling the phrase later, reading the Wikipedia article and then adding April 23rd to my calendar, recurring annually.

How better to let someone know you love them, by giving them a rose and a book?  Happy Rose and Book Day, to you.  What are your plans, to celebrate this auspicious holiday?

I’m just too soft, for a day like today.

This morning I woke up slowly, the luxury of a wide-open, commitment-free day in front of me. That would seem like a typical thing, given that I’m in between gigs, but the reality of being in between gigs is that every day is full of pitch calls and drafting proposals and interview meetings and networking lunches and while that all sounds so much more free than sitting in an office from nine to five, and it certainly is, the days are still necessarily busy. And tomorrow is one of those days, from wakeup to sun down, but today, it’s me, and the little dog who needs a bath, and a house still mostly clean from having been picked up for guests this weekend; it’s the book I want to nestle into the bathtub with and not put down until the water’s been rewarmed a few times; it’s three empty lined pages in my journal and the new James Blake album on Rhapsody and not checking my email or my cell phone. It’s sending wee little messages to a few friends who’ve popped into my mind, just to let them know I’m thinking about them, and not hesitating when a couple of hours have passed since the dog went for her last walk, and I’m happy to pull on my shoes and her leash and go for yet another walk.

And then, it’s making a brief exception to pop online, which I should know by now is typically a mistake on a day like today, but luckily I popped onto Twitter first, which means that all I see are short updates with words, no photographs, and there were enough words on my Twitter feed for me to know that perhaps today’s a day for me to not check Facebook, and to not look at news sites, and to try not to see images of the day’s events, since images stick with me in a way that I don’t always want or need.

I thought about the time when I was still practicing law, and working as a public defender. A case was dropped down to my court – it had originally been charged as a felony (rape of a child) but because of evidence issues was dropped down to a communicating with a minor for immoral purposes case.

The case was flawed. It was not clear, from reading the police reports, who, exactly, had done what, exactly, that would constitute a provable charge. Frankly, the only facts I could ascertain for certain were that a troubled young woman had met an unsuspecting and less than savvy not-as-young man, and from there, bad judgment was exercised, but what actually happened was a mystery. However, the case contained a variety of people’s accounts of what happened, and it was my obligation to review the case file, and craft a defense. And as I started to review the file, I struggled with whether I thought I could actually defend the case; and then I reached a portion of the case file that had been mistakenly included in my file, and before I knew what was happening I had read words and seen images that I simply could not remove from my mind. I stopped reading after only a paragraph or two, once I realized that the materials were from the felony file review and were not meant for me, and slapped the file shut. I called the court clerk in a near panic, and told her that I wasn’t sure what the procedure was for this, but I would not be able to assist with the case. The judge, who did not have to, accepted my unsubstantiated request to be removed from the case, and I swore I’d never pick up a case file for a sex crime again, even if the charge was communicating with a minor. Maybe that was a sign that I was too soft to practice criminal law. If so, I decided at the time, I could live with that.

And, I can live with being the kind of person who does not read the news or look at a television, on a day like today – it was a struggle for me even to convince myself to venture out into the world, since I appreciated the sheltered safety of my home, with only my own discretionary access to information and my ability to reach out to my closely held. But the dog needs food, and we need dinner ingredients, so I packed my headphones and ventured as far as a café (sans internet access) and ordered a few macaroons and a decaf soy mocha that came stacked with a three inch-tall swirl of whipped cream. Just before I plugged in my headphones to insulate myself further from the outside world, a woman with close-cropped strawberry blonde hair asked me about my brightly colored sweatshirt, and where I’d found it, and we struck up a conversation.

She’s lived in Seattle for thirty years, but moved here from Japan, and before that, the east coast. She’s a fine artist, with three grown sons, who’s never understood the lack of commitment among Seattleites: how east coasters will meet, greet, and then make a plan to have dinner the next night and stick to it. How in Seattle, commitments between people are vague “We should get togethers,” and then three months later, she’ll bump into the same person at the food co-op and hear the same empty commitment. We chatted the way people chatted when I was in Nepal, where if I sat still for a moment (and even if I didn’t) I could count on someone walking over to me, asking my good name, and striking up a conversation. It was a treat, a human connection in the middle of a city, on a day when I’m wondering, again, why it is we live in a city, when we could be somewhere far out in the country, far away from the buildings most likely to explode.

And then, I stopped at the grocery store to get some fixings for The Soup, since I believe that it’s a magical cure for all that ails, and I could use a little of that today. I moved through the store, and it felt like nothing in the world was awry — a day like any other day, perhaps because we’re geographically distant from the tragedy that’s playing out all over my internet feeds; perhaps because the people in the coop aren’t on Twitter and Facebook, so may have varying levels of awareness about what happened a few hours ago.  The consistently perky checkout lady asks me blithely, “So how’s your day going?”

“The world is pretty messed up,” I had the presence of mind to answer, substituting “messed” for the expletive that originally came to mind.  She cocked her head and looked at me curiously.  My answer, apparently, wasn’t among those that the script in her head for such conversations was written for, and I do believe it may have crossed her mind that I was nuts. To be fair, I hadn’t actually answered her question.  My day?  It’s going fine.  And the world is pretty fucked up, sometimes.

She made a disapproving noise, frustrated, I think, by my non-adherence to the grocery line conversation protocol, and I looked away, staring intently at the debit card pin pad, and averting her gaze until my groceries were bagged, she handed my receipt, and I said, “Have a really nice day,” back to her — making nice, for my earlier lack of protocol.

So, now I’ll finish my errands, and avoid the talking screens and then head home and snuggle with the little dog, and then look very much forward to snuggling with my man when he gets home from his day of work. And I’ll say good night to the seedlings that the squirrels and slugs haven’t yet decimated, and then perhaps pick up that book again from earlier today, and curl up with my family, gratefully, to drift to sleep.

Tomorrow will be another busy day – business dress, meeting after meeting, and coming home tired. And grateful. And hopefully, with the ability to avoid the talking screens. Not because I’m not shocked and outraged; not because I’m not saddened, especially because today’s events are so close to home, with friends in Boston and in the marathon community. But because – like being too soft for criminal law practice, I’m just too soft for stuff like this.

Why wear a watch?

Said watch.

Yesterday morning I did an unusual thing.  When I woke up and got out of bed, I didn’t pick up my phone.  Instead, I dug around in my nightstand and found a watch that I bought myself a few years ago during a trip to San Francisco.  The watch caught my eye at MOMA’s gift shop, with its narrow brown leather band that wrapped around the wrist twice, and its delicate rectangular analog face.  I wore it for awhile, the tucked it into a bag in favor of a digital heart rate watch, and then I fell out of the watch habit since I always carry my phone, and my phone can always tell me what time it is, so why wear a watch?

Last weekend, Ryan and I spent the entire weekend playing outside in the snowy wilderness, all of it within cell range.  Sunday night, exhausted and dirty from exertion, we left the ski hill and headed to North Seattle to do the world’s fastest quick change, and to pick up his grandma for a show.  Connie is a firecracker, which appears to be the trend for women in Ryan’s family, and the time we spend with her is a delight.  The three of us took turns telling stories during the car ride to and from the show, and all during dinner, and after we dropped Connie off at home, Ryan and I spent the car ride home talking about Connie’s storytelling.  She has a memory like a steel trap, compared to mine, which memories slip through like a sieve.  She can recall details of her life and experiences with more precision that I remember something I did two years ago.

I theorized that perhaps there is some formative age for developing our memory for storytelling — perhaps, when Connie was a kid, storytelling was the primary form of entertainment, and more of her experiences were experienced than witnessed on television.  I remember things better when I experience them (although experience is no guarantee of memorability) — and it wouldn’t be hard to imagine that we experience less when we’re tuned into televisions, or now, to other types of screens.  I did away with television seven or more years ago, but over the years I’ve gradually replaced what used to be television time with screen time:  laptops, iPad, e-readers and mobile devices.  In fact, if I’m honest with myself, I probably spend way more time in front of screens now, than I ever did when I owned a television.

When I walked into a Starbucks in my neighborhood earlier this week, there were nine other people sitting at tables scattered around the shop, or standing at the counter waiting for soy lattes and macchiatos.  Seven of them were tapping away at their smartphones.  The other two were having a lively conversation about hip hop, and taking turns hitting on the women in the shop, who barely noticed (or pretended to barely notice, their noses turned toward their cell phones).

I thought about my own habits — the frequency with which I flip open my phone to check the time, and wind up running through my own little “connectivity routine:”  check my email, check Facebook, check Twitter, check my text messages, check IM, check my news reader.  That “little” routine could take a minute, or it could take hours, depending on what catches my eye, or what I get sucked into (or distracted by).

So yesterday, I pulled out my old fashioned, analog watch, and put it on my wrist.  I got up, turned on my phone only long enough to set an alarm for when I needed to head out for my bus (without doing my “connectivity routine”), then proceeded to sit down and write my first journal entry in a few weeks and made a delightful breakfast and cup of tea for myself.  When my “bus” alarm went off at 9:30, I checked my email for any 911s, and finding none, I tucked my phone back into my pocket and walked to the bus.

I moved about my day, doing my meetings, having lunch — checking my wrist, to check the time, instead of my phone, without getting distracted.  I did do some intentional screen time, to write a blog post, to respond to some must-do emails, and to nail down plans for in-person time with folks later this week, but I didn’t use my screens as a distraction as I moved through my day.  I used them as a tool, only when needed, and then tucked them away.

And I had a really great, productive, creativity-filled day.

So this morning, I woke up and did the same thing.  And I think I may make wearing a watch, and scheduling my connectivity “check-ins” for specific times of day — morning, after my journal entry is written; mid-day; mid-afternoon; and close to the end of the work day — and then not checking other than those times, to give myself more time to actually experience my world and do the things I need to rather than being distracted by the next, newest thing I need to add to my to do list.

Who are the storytellers in your life?  How do you juggle the expectation of connectivity with your own need for distraction-free time?  I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!