The Next Big Thing

2013-02-19T15:07:52-08:00Categories: Uncategorized|Tags: , , |

Book reviewer extraordinaire and writer of elegant prose Isla McKetta tagged me in an online writer's blog series called The Next Big Thing. Isla is a copywriter by day, novelist by night, Richard Hugo House board member and indefatigable cheerleader of her writer friends. You can read Isla's responses to to the ten Next Big Thing Questions here.  And here are mine: 1. What is your working title of your book? Her Beautiful Brain 2. Where did the idea come from for the book? When my mother was in her late fifties, she began to forget. A lot. She began to repeat herself. A lot. Renowned since high school for her beautiful brain, my mother was losing her mind to Alzheimer’s disease, bit by bit, just as I became a mother myself. I began writing Her Beautiful Brain because I wanted to tell her story. But as I wrote, I realized it was my story too: of motherhood in the age of Alzheimer’s. For nearly two decades, her slow erasure shaped our family life. As my children grew, my mother shrank: slowly, for a while, but  then rapidly, weirdly, every which way. 3. What genre does your book fall under? Memoir 4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? Ah, the fun question! Mom at 60: Debra Winger? Me at 35: Rosemary DeWitt? 5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? It’s about what it was like to become a mom just as my own mother—twice divorced, once widowed, mother [...]

Women Warriors

2013-01-29T15:04:12-08:00Categories: politics, Uncategorized, war, women's rights|Tags: , , , , , , |

I claim I want to better understand war. But my gut reaction to the news about women being allowed to serve in combat positions? Queasy. As if what the headlines are shouting is: “Hooray! Women will now be allowed to do the most dangerous, spiritually challenging, morally ambiguous dirty work on the planet!” New York Times columnist Gail Collins set me straight, reminding me that “They killed the Equal Rights Amendment to keep this from happening, but, yet, here we are. And about time.” Collins goes on to recall the words of retired Air Force Brigadier General Wilma Vaught, who once told her: “I think people have come to the sensible conclusion that you can’t say a woman’s life is more valuable than a man’s life.” The logic is clear: if we invest our nation’s security in professional warriors and if we believe women deserve equal access to all career paths, then women who make the personally huge commitment to serve in the United Sates Armed Forces must not be barred, on the basis of gender, from combat roles. So why my retrograde queasiness? Because, like any pacifist, I find it so difficult to turn my thoughts to combat at all, no matter what the context. But—as I learned from Karl Marlantes’ book, What it is Like to Go to War (see last week’s post)—I know turning our backs on war is not the answer. Especially the wars we support with our tax dollars. It has been 40 years this month since we ended the draft. [...]

Curiosity

2012-12-11T06:19:37-08:00Categories: travel, Uncategorized|Tags: , , , , |

Word fashions come and go: what is “awesome” was once “marvelous,” what is “great” was once merely “good.”  What we value changes too: what we deem awesome today—a tiny car that gets high mileage; a good bottle of Washington wine—would have deeply puzzled our great-grandparents. There’s one word I bet our great-grandparents used more often than we do that I’d like to bring back. Curiosity. It’s not gone for good, it’s just fallen into disuse. You could call it a value, and you might mean that in a good or a bad way, depending on your “values” with a capital V. Or you could call it a character trait.  But doesn’t it roll off the tongue? Curiosity. We readers are likely to link it in our minds to books, beginning of course with Curious George, the monkey whose endless curiosity got him into endless scrapes. (“Scrapes:” there’s another rich old word, connoting a scrape along the outer edge of good behavior or the law or life itself.) But with George there was always an underlying moral along the lines of: Better not to be too curious. It was a moral well-suited to George’s heyday in the middle of the last century, when our elders worried that curiosity might lead us to flirt with communism or beat poetry or other interests that would cause us to stray from the proper paths of college, marriage, corporate employment and home ownership. Poor George: whisked from the jungle to a wondrous new planet called Manhattan and then chastised every time [...]

View from the Rafters

2012-10-17T12:55:37-07:00Categories: Uncategorized|

When was the last time you had an important decision to make? Did you call upon undecided people for help? via View from the Rafters. --I urge you to read the rest of my friend Kim's brilliant take on how politics has narrowed its focus to a tiny and unimaginably indecisive group: the Undecideds. And if you're still trying to figure out Mitt's "Binder" comment, the New York Times offers this great explication.

Conned

2012-09-20T14:31:52-07:00Categories: politics, Uncategorized|Tags: , , , , , |

 Seven years ago this month, much of New Orleans was under water. Hurricane Katrina remains the great before-and-after for that city and it is still making headlines. The latest big Katrina news: a lawsuit filed by homeowners against the Army Corps of Engineers and one of its contractors that is finally, after seven long years, getting its day in court. The suit asserts the Corps and the contractor were responsible for the levee failure that flooded thousands of homes. I just finished Dave Eggers’ fine non-fiction book about what one Syrian-American family endured after Katrina. It’s called Zeitoun, named for the title character, a father and business owner who rescues and helps people in the days following Katrina, only to be imprisoned on a bogus burglary charge. I was going to recommend this book to you. Now I’m not so sure. Turns out Zeitoun is in jail again, this time charged with assaulting and then conspiring to kill his ex-wife. They divorced earlier this year. I couldn’t believe it when I read it: the hero, the family man, who endured wrongful imprisonment and tried so hard not to let it enrage or embitter him, in jail on a charge like this? I felt so sad, stunned, angry.  And conned. I know that wasn’t the intention of Zeitoun or Eggers (who is channeling book profits into a foundation to help rebuild New Orleans), but I feel that way just the same: like I believed one thing about a person, only to find out he was someone else. Just as [...]

Citizens

2012-09-12T15:07:21-07:00Categories: politics, Uncategorized|Tags: , , , |

When you get up in the morning, do you EVER think, “Ah, what a great day it is to be an American consumer?” Who wants to be a consumer? Since when were we stuck with this label?  Does what we ingest, what we purchase, what we acquire really define us? And if it does, how deeply sad is that? In his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, President Obama used a different word, one that’s come to sound a bit old-fashioned: Citizen. Try that on. “Ah, what a great day it is to be an American citizen.” Maybe you don’t feel that way every morning of your life. But wouldn’t you rather wear the label, “Citizen,” with all it implies? A citizen sounds like someone worthy of respect. A consumer sounds like an appetite housed in a body. A citizen sounds like someone who cares what happens to our country. A consumer sounds like someone who cares what happens to him or her self. To be a citizen is to be a citizen OF a specific place. To care about a community larger than yourself. To live the belief that investing in the common good enriches our individual lives, too. It’s pretty simple. Citizens vote; consumers buy stuff. In his convention speech, President Obama called citizenship, quote, “a word at the very heart of our founding, at the very essence of our democracy; the idea that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another, and to future generations.” The “heart of [...]

Time outside Time

2012-07-26T08:34:33-07:00Categories: midlife, quiet, travel, Uncategorized|Tags: , |

“Wherever you’re going, we can get you there and there and there!” exulted the United Airlines on-hold record-a-voice.  Well, unfortunately, no, not on this midsummer Saturday. One packed flight from Seattle to Washington D.C. cancelled; 200-plus people, including me, suddenly stuck in airport purgatory. For half an hour, I thought a few of us were lucky: we were rebooked on a US Air flight, via Phoenix, arriving in D.C. a mere five hours after we were originally supposed to. I sprinted from one end of Sea-Tac to the other, fingers crossed. But the US Air flight was delayed four hours.  The gate clerk ordered all of us United castoffs to go back and start over. Back we went, now with no chance at all of getting a reasonable re-booking. Long story not so short—long time on hold on my cellphone; long time in line—I left SeaTac, now scheduled to leave the next afternoon. And so I had a strange, sort of secret day. No plans. No responsibilities. No one, besides my immediate family and my disappointed friend in D.C., knew I was in Seattle. I could have pulled weeds or caught up on some work. Or caught up on sleep, after a night spent tossing and worrying about waking up in time for the flight that never happened. Instead, I left a note and got on my bike. On a whim, I rode straight to a Columbia City nail shop, where the staff is friendly, the massage chairs are the tacky best and offbeat nail colors [...]

Safety, Take Two

2012-06-06T12:30:12-07:00Categories: education, Uncategorized, urban life|Tags: , , , , , |

He didn’t think there was any way to get help for his son. And now six people are dead. How did we get to this place in modern history where we routinely take better care of our bodies, our teeth, our cars, our homes than we do our minds, our hearts, our souls? If we’re lucky enough to have health insurance, it probably doesn’t cover mental health. Maybe medications: pills to make us less anxious or depressed. Maybe. But treatment? Therapy? No, our national mental health plan is to turn our most tortured souls out on the streets. Let them fend for themselves. Let them buy guns, no problem there! Let their aging parents and other relatives do what they can. But as long as it’s not our mentally ill relative, it’s not our problem. If you are that aging parent, like Walter Stawicki, the father of Ian Stawicki, who killed five people, gravely wounded another and killed himself in Seattle on May 30, you know what resources are out there for your troubled adult child: none.  A 2006 survey ranked Washington state 47th in the number of psychiatric beds per capita. And involuntary commitment is well nigh impossible, unless your unstable relative is making imminent, life-endangering threats to another person. The Seattle Times reports that every month, between 15 hundred and two thousand people are evaluated by mental health professionals under the state’s involuntary treatment act. Two thirds of them are turned away. So Walter Stawicki assumed, correctly, that there was little he could do [...]

Safety

2012-05-30T14:59:58-07:00Categories: Uncategorized, urban life, women's rights|Tags: , , , , , , |

I’m a big fan of optimism. Often, I’m brave enough to actually call myself an optimist. Other words I like are: Hope. Compassion. Love. But sometimes—and this is one of those times—we have to acknowledge that there is evil in the world. And because evil is often so random, arbitrary, senseless—all words I don’t like at all, and I’m sure you don’t either—because this is true, there is no such thing as total immunity from evil. Safety is an illusion. Let it go. Be sensible, don’t go courting evil, but just let go of the fantasy that it won’t ever touch you. Ask the families and friends of the four people killed and two wounded in gun violence in Seattle today. Today: Wednesday, May 30, 2012. One shooting happened at a café in the University District, the other in a parking lot outside Town Hall. We don’t know much more than that yet, but we will soon. We’ll learn names and heartbreaking details. Ask the family of Justin Ferrari, caught in the crossfire of an argument on a Seattle street last week, dead at 43 from a gunshot wound to the head.  May 24. Ask the family of Nicole Westbrook, just 21 and brand-new to our city when she too was killed by a stray bullet. April 22. Ask the parents of Etan Patz, missing for 33 years and in the news again because Pedro Hernandez has suddenly confessed to killing Etan, a New York 6-year-old who was excited about walking to the school bus stop [...]

Imperfection

2012-05-23T11:36:43-07:00Categories: travel, Uncategorized|Tags: , , , |

I’m having an imperfect moment. My coffee’s lukewarm. It’s a cloudy day. My go-to classical station is playing a composer I’ve never heard of. But wait: this tune is hauntingly beautiful. Balakirev, whoever you are, your Spanish Melody in D Flat is soothing me into seeing this morning differently. I now see that this gray sky is hiding some brightness; look at the way the fifty different greens of the trees are popping against it! Imperfection: It’s a great way to go. I just came home from a gloriously imperfect trip to France and Finland. Our budget was middle-brow: a dollhouse-size room in Paris; 3 to a room in Finland. But I love traveling this way. I love knowing that imperfection is going to abound, because it removes all pressure to achieve that nonexistent, vacation-ruining goal of Perfection with a capital P. We Americans don’t take enough time off. Expedia’s annual survey rates us as one of the most vacation-deprived nations in the developed world. That puts enormous pressure on the time we do take. We want every moment of our trip to be perfect. If we don’t get perfection, we feel let down. If we’ve sprung for a big plane ticket to another continent, the pressure on our precious vacation moments is especially intense. Nearly 25 years ago, my husband and I started our marriage by quitting our good jobs at a Seattle TV station, pooling our modest stash of cash and buying round-the-world plane tickets. We traveled for ten months and came home flat [...]

Immigrant Nations

2012-04-24T23:29:52-07:00Categories: travel, Uncategorized|Tags: , , , , |

By the time you hear this, I’ll be in one of the world’s great immigrant nations: France. One in five people in France were either born in another country, or their parents were. In the United States, we count differently: “foreign-born” does not include children born here to immigrant parents, who are granted US citizenship at birth. So it’s hard to make a direct comparison. But the US Census says 12.7% of us are foreign-born, as of 2010, which is close to where we were 100 years ago, when immigration was at its peak. And yet former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice had this to say in a recent speech: “I don’t know when immigrants became the enemy.”  She said one of the greatest disappointments of her career was the Bush administration’s failure to achieve comprehensive immigration reform. I know there’s a lot of anti-immigrant backlash in France, too, and I’m sure I’ll hear more about it on my trip. But it makes me sad to think that our country’s self-image of open arms and opportunity, of the Statue of Liberty lighting the way for newcomers to our shores, has slipped so far that effective immigration reform now seems further away than ever. Condi Rice went on to say our immigrant culture is, quote, “at the core of our strength.” She’s right.  And we forget, at our peril, that nearly all of us have immigrant roots. After France, I’m headed for the first time in my life to the country my own ancestors came from: Finland. [...]

Across the Fence

2012-03-28T12:23:39-07:00Categories: politics, Uncategorized|Tags: , , , , , , |

  Just as we have Mad Men to thank for reminding us of how casually men in power exuded sexism, racism, classism, anti-semitism and homophobia fifty years ago, now we have Rush Limbaugh to thank for reminding us: we still have a lot of work to do. But I’m thankful to Limbaugh.  Really. Because that outrageous statement he made weeks ago—“If we’re gonna pay for your contraceptives and thus pay for you to have sex, we want you to post the videos online so we can all watch”—well, it’s just not going away. And that may be bad for his show’s ad revenues, but in terms of getting people talking? It is good. Tricky, risky, sometimes inflammatory. But good. Have you seen that MoveOn ad in which five women repeat, simply and straight to the camera, Limbaugh’s notorious words, along with several statements by Rick Santorum and other conservatives regarding contraception? It’s in my email inbox and I expect it’ll show up a few more times, right along with the news about how our state’s proposed budget calls for cuts in funding for contraception and counseling.  Also in the in-box: my friend Liza Bean’s insightful blog post about why conservative women believe liberal women don’t like them. There’s a conversation going on here. People are talking across the fence. The MoveOn ad is getting buzz not just on MSNBC, but on Fox News, where two Republican commentators, both women, tried in vain to explain to Bill O’Reilly why this all matters: why women across the political [...]

Fear

2012-03-21T09:18:45-07:00Categories: Uncategorized|Tags: , , |

I was going to write about something completely different, until I heard the news about the third tragedy in three weeks involving young children and guns in our state. Two children dead, one seriously wounded.  Will there be another by the time you hear this? Is this some kind of horrifying epidemic?  I hope not. I pray not. What I was all set to write about was a phrase that caught my eye: novelist and artist Douglas Coupland’s contention, in a recent New York Times book review, that we “live in a post-era era without forms of its own powerful enough to brand the times.” A post-era Era.  Really? Maybe we just haven’t decided how to “brand” our era yet because there’s a lot about it that’s not pretty. Maybe our zeitgeist is fear. It is my unschooled opinion, as a non-gun-owner, that people choose to own guns because fear defines their lives. I’m not talking about hunters here, I’m talking about people who carry handguns or assault rifles.  I’ll say it again: fear defines their lives. They fear the unknown, the unpredictable, the bad thing that could suddenly happen, the bad person that could suddenly appear—and they hope that a loaded gun under the seat of their car will protect them.  Instead, their 3 or 7 or 9 year old finds that gun and a child winds up dead or gravely wounded. And the whole world grieves. And then it happens again. And again. And maybe some people think, Wow, there are a lot of [...]

Every Age

2012-03-14T08:54:22-07:00Categories: education, midlife, Uncategorized|Tags: , , , , , |

Walking up Michigan Avenue on a cold Chicago morning, I know what I look like: a middle-aged woman suited up for a brisk Sunday walk. Practical shoes, corduroy jeans, warm jacket.  Exactly the kind of outfit my mother used to make me wear when I was four years old and I would’ve rather just thrown on a party dress.  Exactly the kind of outfit I’ve worn all my life, setting out for long walks, in any weather, in the many cold northern cities I’ve called home: Seattle, Chicago, Boston, Norwich and Cambridge, England. What’s so hard to explain to younger people is this: the older you get, the more ages you are. I mean all at once. In every moment of your life.  I’m not just 55, I’m every age I ever was.  I’m the four-year-old who wants to skip and sing. I’m the teenager, walking because I need to be alone. I’m the twenty-something, wishing I could look attractive and stay warm at the same time.  I’m the mom, wishing all the children I see on this chilly day would please, please wear their hats. I was in Chicago last weekend for the ridiculously gigantic writers’ conference known as AWP: the Association of Writers and Writing Programs.  Picture nearly ten thousand writers of all ages, racing from bookfairs to seminars in some of Chicago’s most historic hotels—the flagship Hilton across from Grant Park, where President Obama celebrated on Election Night 2008.  The Palmer House, favored by Ronald Reagan.  When Reagan was president, I was a [...]

Lifelong Learning

2012-02-29T20:54:43-08:00Categories: Uncategorized|

On a recent Sunday morning in an old officer’s house at Fort Worden, it was so quiet the quiet itself felt loud. I sipped my coffee and watched the sky lighten. I thought of the layers of history on this silent hill just outside Port Townsend; how for decades, it teemed with soldiers, their cannons trained on the Straits of Juan de Fuca.  Now the Fort has been recommissioned as host to a motley assortment of visiting groups: healers, fiddlers, woodworkers, high school football teams, artists, writers.  People, including me, who mostly come in search of themselves.            I was there for the Goddard College Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing commencement. Not my own—that happened the summer before last.  This time, I was there to witness.  To applaud what happens at the Fort.            Goddard is one of more than fifty American colleges that offer what are called low-residency degrees.  At the beginning of each semester, faculty and students gather for eight days jam-packed with seminars, workshops, readings.  Then everyone goes home and writes like crazy, sending 30 or 40 page packets of work to their advisors every three weeks.  The idea is to integrate learning into life, rather than leaving your life to go to school full-time.            There’s another idea at work, which seems at odds with the low-residency concept: the notion of creative community. Of the power of knowing you are not alone: you are connected to this group of people who, like you, find meaning in this crazy quixotic act called writing.  Who, [...]

Hearts Broken Open

2012-02-22T17:51:34-08:00Categories: Uncategorized|Tags: , , |

“A broken heart,” I wrote on a poster-sized, yellow Post-It.  Then, underneath, “A heart broken open.” “Just a little inspiration for your free-write, in case you need it,” I told my students as they came in to our tiny classroom, an old office-building lunchroom.  We always warm up with ten minutes of free writing about anything. Broken hearts versus Hearts broken open: It’s a little mantra that’s been going through my head this month.  Not an original one: Quaker writer Parker Palmer introduced me to it, in his book A Hidden Wholeness. I quoted Palmer a few weeks ago, when I wrote about Washington State Senator Mary Margaret Haugen, who had the courage to change her mind and support same-sex marriage. This time, Palmer got me thinking about how one word, “open,” changes everything.  A heart broken—smashed, pieces scattered, beyond repair—versus a heart broken open: like a seed that needs to break open in order to sprout.  Or like a broken marriage that, someday, grows into a blended family. Or a tragedy or illness that breaks the people it strikes open into compassion and empathy. My own example is my mother’s early Alzheimer’s disease, which broke every heart in my family, but it also broke us open.  We know we’re not alone; we’re one of five million-plus American families who know the shape of this particular heartbreak. I put those words on a big Post-it because I thought it might be an idea that would appeal to teenaged writers.  Who knows better than they the fresh, [...]

Thank you, Mary Tyler Moore

2012-02-09T10:15:36-08:00Categories: midlife, Uncategorized|Tags: , , , |

“Girl, you’re gonna make it after all.”  Can’t you just picture Mary Tyler Moore, beaming and tossing her beret in the air as the whole world sang along to her theme song every Saturday night?  Thirty-five years ago, when The Mary Tyler Moore Show ended its seven-year run, Moore was a “girl” of forty.  And yet she was every girl.  Every 15 or 25 or 40 year old girl who has ever panicked and thought: who am I without him? Who am I by myself? Can I really make it after all? Yes, you can, Mary told us. I did, and you can too. When The Mary Tyler Moore Show debuted, she was 33. I was 13. The wacky, cozy world of her first big TV hit, The Dick Van Dyke Show, was so over, for both of us. My parents had just divorced. Moore’s character, Mary Richards, was divorced. Women like my mom and Mary were suddenly popping up everywhere, trying to make it on their own. Meanwhile, girls like me were letting go of our babyish fantasies involving princes, castles, Barbie and Ken. But we were uneasy about where to take our daydreams next.  I wasn’t old enough, yet, to embrace what Gloria Steinem had to say. But Mary Tyler Moore? She was so—real. So still wistful and a little shaky about the dream she’d given up, the one involving a NEVER-discussed ex-husband.  So clearly competent yet still lacking the self-confidence to go with it.  So easily rattled by the men who held power [...]

Yellow Table

2012-01-25T15:39:02-08:00Categories: Uncategorized|

Yellow is a color I crave.  You can’t order up a sunny sky, especially here in Seattle, but you can have a little sunshine always with you if, for example, you own a yellow kitchen table. When I was growing up, ours was buttercup-yellow formica, flecked with white.  Chrome trim and legs.  It was where we six kids ate our cereal—Oatmeal, Cheerios, Lucky Charms, depending on the prevailing parental permissiveness or lack thereof.  It was where we dunked our after-school graham crackers in glasses of chocolate milk.  It was where I sat in the evening, ON the table, my feet on a chair, twisting the cord of the kitchen wall phone as I talked to my friends. “What are you doing?”“I don’t know. Nothing. What are you doing?”A long time ago, I rented a tiny office in Pioneer Square.  I needed a desk.  When I spotted a yellow formica table, exactly like the one we had when I was a kid, in the window of a thrift store, I bought it right away.  For two years, as often as I could, I got myself to that table by my one office window overlooking the Bread of Life Mission and I wrote.  A novel.  I hadn’t written creatively in a long time.  I’d never written a book.  But that yellow table gave me courage.  On the darkest, most writer-blocked of days, it was always bright.  Always gentle and nourishing, like oatmeal on a pitch-black winter morning.   When the office got to be too expensive, I went back to working [...]

55

2012-01-18T09:30:12-08:00Categories: midlife, Uncategorized|Tags: , , , |

 I’m turning 55.  What a great opportunity to flagellate myself for all that I’ve not done or done wrong.  For all the ways I’ve fallen short! This is how the habitually self-bashing person thinks.  Maybe I’m not alone: Maybe it’s how a lot of us think. A wise man about a decade older than I am once said to me, when I made some routinely self-deprecating remark at a church meeting: “Hey Ann, you know that stuff we hear every Sunday about forgiveness?  That’s supposed to start with yourself.  That famous line about loving your neighbor?  It’s ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ remember?” Many’s the new year I’ve vowed to be kinder to myself.  And in many ways, I have, over time, learned to be much kinder to me than I was as a teenager.  Back then, the way I treated myself resembled the way Jane Eyre is treated at that awful orphanage.  You’re ugly, you’re not a good person, you’re terrible at sports, you’ll never be popular because you’re just a big loser, went the script that ran in my Orphanage Headmistress head. Things have improved considerably since then. One of the ways in which I now try to treat myself more kindly is to accept my lack of self-confidence, rather than trying to make it go away.  I used to think I shouldn’t talk about it, but talking about it can be a way of getting a little help from my friends, or at least getting them to help me laugh at myself. For [...]

January

2012-01-11T17:01:27-08:00Categories: Uncategorized|Tags: , |

Reasons why I love every January: one, every single day is longer than the day before. Two, it is my birthday month. Three, the word “January” is so lovely, lilting and full of hope after all those harsh, ever darker, ever colder, “ERR” months. September, October, November, Decemberrrrr. Reasons why I Iove this January: one, Washington Governor Christine Gregoire is NOT running for re-election, which means she can throw her heart, soul and political smarts into issues like same-sex marriage.  And two, Newt Gingrich could really, truly be out of the news headlines by the end of the month. It’s just so… unpleasant, having Newt around.  For those of us over thirty, it’s like having some annoying something you thought you were so over—athlete’s foot, a bad credit report, acne—suddenly back with a vengeance.  The bloviating, the bombast, the name itself—“NEWT”—really? You ask yourself? Again? Janus, for whom my favorite non-summer month is named, is the Roman god of gates and doors, beginnings and endings.  His face is nearly always depicted as a double profile, looking both forward and back.  Encyclopedia Mythica says Janus also represents transitions between, quote, “primitive life and civilization, between the countryside and the city, peace and war, and the growing-up of young people.” Governor Gregoire stands at the gate between two phases of her life—governor, and ex-governor—and she uses this threshold, this Janus moment, to say, This is the time to make this historic change.   Gregoire, who is Catholic, told the Seattle Times: "I have been on my own journey. I [...]

Goodbye, Oh’leven

2011-12-28T09:22:20-08:00Categories: midlife, Uncategorized|Tags: , , |

Hey 2011.  Can I call you Oh’leven? You have been quite a year.  The Year of the Protester, according to TIME Magazine.  I know: I mentioned this last week.  But I’m so not done dwelling on the significance of it.  Oh’leven will forever be the year millions of people—in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, New York, Oakland, Seattle—decided to stand up, move, do something.  Because sitting out the recession wasn’t working very well.  Neither was waiting for aging dictators to die, or democracy to just happen. I regret I did not personally take part in the Occupy Movement, which was at its height during our family’s craziest time in 2011: the Big Move from the house we’d been in for 21 years to a smaller home two miles away.  Instead of taking to the streets, we were taking endless loads of stuff to Goodwill.  But our move felt, in its humble way, like part of this larger story.  When our house sold, we traded in a big mortgage with a big bank for a small mortgage with a small bank.  We traded in a big house that served us well while raising children for a townhome that will serve us perfectly in our Restless Nest years.   We occasionally sold but mostly gave away all kinds of things we no longer needed—basketball hoop, couch, futon, rowing machine, clothes, sheets, towels—to people who need them more.  We chose a neighborhood where we can walk and take light rail.  When we tell people about making these choices, they get it, because [...]

Solstice

2011-12-21T08:58:20-08:00Categories: Uncategorized|Tags: , , |

A ribbon of orange lifts the night-sky curtain: it’s the literal crack of dawn here in Seattle, eight minutes before eight a.m.  Welcome to the week of the winter solstice, when every day tops out at just under eight and a half hours. It’s dark.  Even during our eight hours of daylight, it’s pretty dark: the winter sun is no match for these thick winter clouds.  We were lucky, the first half of December, which local weather expert Cliff Mass says was the driest on record.  But dry or not, this is the season when we can’t take light for granted.  We have to create it ourselves. And so we do: we string lights on our houses.  We drag trees inside, and cover them with lights.  We build fires and light candles.  We go to brightly lit stores and malls.  Sometimes it feels a little manic, this chasing after light.  This denial of the 15 and a half hours of daily darkness that is really what December is about. Darkness feels dangerous. Uncomfortable. Blind.  Who wants it? Who needs it? We do.  Think of how we all started out: it took us nine solid months of darkness before we were ready to open our lungs and breathe, open our eyes and see.  Newborn babies know darkness, not light.  They only learn to fear the dark as they rely on their eyes more and more to tell them where their parents are; where safety and comfort lie. Seeds lie deep underground in the winter, content and dormant.  Their [...]

Are We Old Yet?

2011-12-14T11:20:11-08:00Categories: dementia, midlife, Uncategorized|Tags: , , |

It’s kind of touching, isn’t it, the way we fifty-somethings insist on calling ourselves “middle-aged.”  As if.  People: I read in the paper this morning: the average life span in America is still 78.  Half of 78 is still 39, no matter how you slice and dice it. I remember being 39.  I do, really.  I remember thinking people in their fifties who couldn’t say the word “old” were kind of sad. At 39, I had a seven-year-old, a four-year-old, a novel I so hoped would find a publisher and a freelance career I had allowed to dwindle.  My 65-year-old mother’s disturbing memory lapses were soon to be given the dreaded label that would define her final descent: Alzheimer’s disease.  At 39, the statistical middle of an American life, I did not feel young, middle-aged or old; I felt seasick. I had jettisoned the ballast of a secure job. I believed motherhood, marriage, writing and my mom’s desire to be a hands-on grandma would be my anchors for the next decade or so. Looking back, I see my younger self as touchingly naïve.  Surely not at any sort of mid-point, any sort of stable axis. But are we ever? And isn’t that what’s so ridiculous, really, about the whole notion of a “middle age”?  Because of course we don’t know whether we’re going to get 78 years, or 98, or maybe only 28 or 58.  So when exactly should we call ourselves “middle-aged?” What we do learn, as we churn through the decades, is that whatever [...]

Hello, Ancestors

2011-12-07T12:36:32-08:00Categories: Uncategorized|Tags: , , |

     Out of a yellow envelope in a box marked “Ann’s office” they fell: four people in funny felt hats, staring at me from an 8 by 10, black-and-white photo. Three young men and one young woman. If they took off those four-cornered caps, the men would fit right in at the Comet Tavern on Capitol Hill, with their scruffy goatees and mustaches.     When you move, you don’t just let go of stuff you don’t need, you find stuff you forgot you need. Five years ago, I saw this photo in the archive of a local history museum. Undated, un-located, it was labeled simply “Finnish Immigrants.” I was so taken by it I bought a print. But it languished, forgotten in an envelope, until now.     My husband found a frame. Now it’s on my desk. I’ve taken to calling it “my ancestors.”     They could be: they’re Finnish immigrants, arriving somewhere, some dreary boardwalk of a train station, in the West. Their leggings and belted jackets and jaunty headware mark them: fresh arrivals. Their expressions are not fearful, but expectant: ready for a new life that will start somewhere out beyond where the boardwalk ends. The woman, whose hat is a knit helmet of the type favored by snowboarders, is holding a few paper-wrapped parcels: food for the journey? Letters of introduction?     My own great-grandmother traveled alone across the country with her name and destination—Hanna, Wyoming, where my great-grandfather was waiting to marry her--pinned to her coat.     I’m reminded of her, [...]

Desert Rain

2011-11-30T08:24:46-08:00Categories: dementia, hiking, midlife, Uncategorized|Tags: , , |

It was pouring as I drove my tin-can rental car up the hill outside Tucson.  This is crazy, I thought.  Crazy that it’s raining in the desert, and crazy that I haven’t turned back yet. I listened to the news as I splashed along.  An 85-year-old man, known to have dementia, was missing: went to the supermarket, never returned home. I pulled into the Tucson Mountain lot.  The rain suddenly stopped.  So I grabbed my knapsack and began to follow the first trail I saw. A hundred yards from the car, I hesitated, confused.  The trail had disappeared.  Or rather, there were suddenly half a dozen trails: all formed in the past hour, by rivulets of rain.  Whatever footprints might have once marked the real trail had been washed away.  There was no one else around. This must be what dementia feels like, I thought. I turned around and spotted a stone shelter just above the parking lot.  My beacon: When I turned around, I would head straight for it. I knew I was in no danger, not really, yet I felt queasy: do scorpions come out after a rain in the desert?  Rattlesnakes?  I had no idea.  Could the clouds gather again so quickly and rain hard enough to cause a flash flood?  Probably. I felt small and humble and not very smart.  But I pressed on, thirsty for a little fresh air and exercise.  Twenty minutes, then I’d turn around. 40 minutes later, I made it back to where I started, dry and unbitten [...]

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